Palo Alto Demo Garden

Sixth Year, 2008

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Now in its sixth year, Palo Alto Demonstration Garden (PADG) continues to serve north Santa Clara county community as a valuable gardening resource.  Our vision of sustainable gardening, demonstrated in the two portions of the garden - edible and water-wise - continues to thrive.  With the ever-changing plant choices in the edible side and the maturing water-wise garden, there are always new and exciting discoveries for visitors.

In 2008 PADG continued the high level of quality of classes and public events and greatly increased our educational outreach to the community.  The first Saturday of each month is devoted to a one-hour workshop on a timely topic, with discussion and open garden afterwards.  Even repeat visitors learn new gardening best practices in each workshop.  With workshops in starting seeds to Family day to Fall in the garden there is something for everyone.  Through the year the attendance gradually increased indicating a large interest in the workshop concept and helped support the decision to continue this program. 

The major events hosted by PADG were the plant sale in April and the Family day in July.  Both were attended by over 200 people the majority being repeat visitors but many being first timers.  As well as events hosted by master Gardeners we were asked to participate in the Going Native Garden tour again.  This was as in previous years, a huge success for both organizations bringing many new visitors to our garden.

Water-Wise Garden:

Fortunately Mediterranean region plants thrive in our climate and soils with minimal care.  Blooming throughout the year, plants and bulbs enhance the garden with color all year round.

Planting and Care
As usual in any garden, pruning, dividing and deadheading are done as needed.  The new plants from fall planting are given weekly water for the first summer.  We are always looking for new plants that we hope will be water thrifty and attractive.  Last year, we planted several new California natives and gray foliaged edging plants. We experimented with other Festucas to find a placement that will have more longevity and sun tolerance. The Idaho and California fescue were low water tolerant but do better in the shadier areas.

Frost and Drought
There was not the frost damage that we have seen in previous years.  Last winter we had many frosty nights, resulting in more frost damage than in previous winters. Other plants thrived with the cold winter and bloomed more vigorously than ever because of the additional winter chill: roses, iris, and rosemary.  As in previous years, rainfall was much less than usual so we hand watered most of the beds.  There did not appear to be the same stress as spring appeared, so we watered successfully.

Several events through the year attracted visitors specifically to the Waterwise garden.  The Family Fun Day encouraged the visitors to draw, search for bugs and generally enjoy the garden. The Going Native Garden Tour was again very successful in attracting over 300 gardeners interested in low water plants. Our water-wise garden is open to the public from dawn to dust, but we are not always there!  Our new signage is helpful for our visitors and we encourage home gardeners to try some of these beautiful, easy care plants that need little water or fertilizer to thrive.


Edible Garden


Direct Seeded Bed

In 2008 one bed at PADG was dedicated to experimenting with the directing seeding of vegetables. This effort was inspired by three issues:

  • For many attendees at our sustainable vegetable gardening classes and other workshops, the task of raising their own seedlings is a new and daunting task, and purchasing them can be costly.  Direct seeding is a simpler way to get people started on a vegetable garden.
  • The pest quarantines of 2008 made transporting seedlings from home to PADG worrisome. Planting seeds directly avoided this dilemma.
  • Direct seeding is the most sustainable approach to creating a vegetable garden, requiring fewer inputs than gardening with transplants.
  • Three seedings were done:  early spring cool season, warm season, and fall cool season. In each of the three plantings, all vegetables in this bed grew from seeds planted directly into the soil. Vegetables raised in each of the three seasons are shown in tables for each planting.

Early spring cool season (March-May)

  • Seeds of carrots, chard, cilantro, Asian greens, lettuce, parsley, radishes and scallions yielded a bountiful harvest through April and May.
  • Interplanted radishes and carrots grew rapidly in a small bed specially prepared by sieving soil to a depth of 12 inches.
  • Thinning carrots when the plants were 2 inches tall (radishes having all been harvested by that time) insured large, well-formed roots. 
  • Potatoes (from tubers, not seed) grew quickly, though the crop was harvested early (after 10 weeks) to make room for summer vegetables, limiting the size of the tubers.
  • Leafminer on chard was successfully controlled by regular removal of affected leaves.
  • The biennials chard and parsley, were kept in the beds and were harvested every week through the summer and fall. Other crops were removed in May to make room for the warm season planting.

Crop Variety Date Planted Date up First Harvest
Beet Forono cylindrical 3/10/08 Failed (old seed) None
Carrot Bolero Nantes 3/10/08 3/17/08 6/30/08
Chard Bright Lights 3/10/08 3/17/08 5/19/08
Chard Pot of Gold 3/17/08 3/24/08 5/19/08
Chives Fine Leaf 3/17/08 Failed (old seed) None
Cilantro Slow Bolt 3/10/08 3/31/08 5/12/08
Greens, Asian Pan-Pacific Greens 3/10/08 3/17/08 5/12/08
Lettuce Merveille de Quatre Saisons 3/10/08 3/17/08 5/12/08
Lettuce Black-seeded Simpson 3/17/08 3/24/08 5/5/08
Parsley, Italian Gigante 3/10/08 3/31/08 5/19/08
Potato Red Thumb 3/17/08 3/31/08 6/24/08
Radish Easter Egg II 3/10/08 3/17/08 4/21/08
Radish Beauty Heart (Mantanghong) 3/10/08 Failed (old seed) None
Scallions Delicious Duo 3/10/08 3/20/08 7/7/08
Alyssum Tom Thumb 3/17/08 3/24/08 ---
Nasturium Amazon Jewel 3/17/08 Failed (old seed) None


Warm season (May – September)

  • Tomato, shelling beans, bush beans, sunflower, winter and summer squash, cucumber, and watermelon germinated quickly and grew rapidly in the warm soil (60°F by May 5). With the exception of the tomato and the galia melon, all crops produced abundantly.
  • Summer and winter squash were particularly successful, producing huge, productive plants that out performed those raised from seedlings in other beds at PADG.
  • Watermelon trained onto a stepladder was not as productive as plants allowed to sprawl on the ground in previous years, but did produce mature, tasty fruit.
  • The tomato plant was vigorous, but the first ripe fruits were picked in late September. (Palo Alto is a new name for a mislabeled variety from the 2003 Spring Garden Market that has been grown from saved seed at PADG and in a master gardener’s home garden for the past 5 years.)
  • Galia melons were planted too late to set fruit.

Warm season (May-September)
Crop Variety Date Planted Date up First Harvest
Basil Profumo di Genoa 5/08/08 Failed None
Bean Indian Woman Yellow 5/05/08 5/12/08 8/25/08
Bean Roma Improved, Bush 5/12/08 5/26/08 7/21/08
Bean Purple Queen, Roc d'Or 5/26/08 6/09/08 no record
Bean Jacob's Lima 5/26/08 Failed None
Cucumber Soarer 5/05/08 5/12/08 no record
Melon Galia 7/07/08 7/14/08 no production
Squash Renee's winter squash mix 5/05/08 5/12/08 9/01/08
Squash Renee's summer scallop trio 5/05/08 5/12/08 6/30/08
Tomato Palo Alto 5/12/08 5/26/08 9/29/08
Watermelon Rainbow Sherbet mix 5/12/08 5/19/08 8/11/08
Alyssum Tom Thumb from spring --- ---
Sunflower Valentine 5/05/08 5/12/08 ---


Early fall cool season (September – )
Highlights of early fall cool season planting:

  • Even though seeding of fall crops did not begin until mid September, a bit late for Palo Alto, harvest Chinese kale, Red Russian kale, broccoli raab, and highly ornamental ‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard began within 6 to 7 weeks. 
  • Chinese cabbage, beets, lettuce, and bok choy will be ready for harvest in another week or two.
  • The remaining crops may not be harvested until the spring, particularly the carrots and peas.
  • Last spring’s chard and parsley continuing to produce vigorously.

Early fall cool season (September-)
Crop Variety Date Planted Date up First Harvest
Beets Early Wonder Tall Top 9/15/08 9/22/08 ---
Bok choy ChingChiang 9/22/08 9/29/08 ---
Broccoli Raab --- 9/15/08 9/22/08 10/27/08
Cabbage, Chinese Chorus 9/15/08 9/29/08 ---
Carrots Purple Haze 9/22/08 9/29/08 ---
Carrots Bolero 9/22/08 10/06/08 ---
Chard Italian Silver Rib from spring --- on-going
Cilantro Slow Bolt self sown 10/13/08 ---
Escarole Great Batavian 9/22/08 10/06/08 ---
Garlic Susanville, Mild French 10/13/08 11/03/08 ---
Kailaan Ryokuho 9/15/08 9/29/08 11/3/08
Kale Red Russian 9/15/08 9/22/08 11/03/08
Kohlrabi Kolibri 9/15/08 9/22/08 ---
Lettuce Merlot 9/15/08 9/22/08 ---
Lettuce Black-seeded Simpson 9/15/08 9/22/08 ---
Lettuce Flame 9/15/08 10/06/08 ---
Mustard Ruby Streaks 9/15/08 9/22/08 10/27/08
Parsley, Italian Gigante from spring --- ongoing
Peas, shelling Green Arrow 10/13/08 11/03/08 ---
Peas, snap Super Sugar Snap 9/22/08 10/06/08 ---
Radish Mantanghong (Beauty Heart) 9/29/08 10/06/08 ---
Spinach Oriental Giant 9/15/08 9/22/08 ---
Sweet Peas mixed 9/15/08 9/29/08 ---
Alyssum Carpet of Snow self sown --- ---
Calendula Solar Flashback Mix 10/13/08 10/29/08 ---


Lessons learned
Contrary to what many assume, growing from seed does not require additional “fussing” over the beds in either the cool or warm growing seasons. The seeded beds were tended once a week, on our regular work day, as follows:

  • Watering: Because of the cold, dry spring of 2008, drip lines were run the usual 3 times a week. For the first three weeks as seeds were germinating and young plants getting established, beds were given a gentle overall sprinkling once a week on our work day. No other additional watering was done in any of the three planting seasons.
  • Protection of emerging seedlings: In each season, seeded beds were kept covered with row cover for the first 2-3 weeks to protect from temperature extremes and pests, particularly birds. The row cover also helped keep the soil surface moist so that germinating seeds could break through.
  • Thinning and transplanting: Because most seeds were at least one year old, all crops were sown more closely than indicated on the seed packet, to allow for reduced germination rates and some pest and/or environmental damage. This meant that plantings had to be thinned as they grew, in order to keep seedlings growing rapidly.  Two to three weeks after emergence, extra seedlings were easily transplanted to fill in any blank spots in the bed or row or to substitute for a crop that had failed to germinate.

Plants grown by direct seeding are healthy and vigorous, often outperforming similar plants that are put into the garden as seedlings. They easily “catch up” to seedlings started earlier in the year.
Vegetables requiring a long warm growing season (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers) are not candidates for direct seeding in our climate.  Although the seeds may germinate and the plants may even produce mature fruit, the harvesting season will definitely be cut short.
This method does not lend itself to keeping beds constantly replanted as harvesting takes place. Re-seeding part of a harvested bed may not be possible, as established plants may shade emerging seedlings or there may not be sufficient time remaining in the growing season to bring the new seeds to maturity. However, for leafy vegetables, close planting followed by successive thinning until plants are finally at optimum spacing keeps beds full and extends the harvest.

Growing vegetables directly from seed is an inexpensive, easy, and very sustainable way to garden, producing strong, healthy, productive plants without the need for plastic pots, potting soil, or artificial heat and light sources. Several conditions are important for direct seeding success:

  • The soil must be warm enough for seed germination.  If you plant too early, seeds may rot in cold, wet soil.
  • While seeds germinate and get established, seed beds must not dry out nor be constantly soaking wet. Row cover laid on the soil surface will help retain moisture, without the need for frequent sprinkling.
  • Delicate emerging seedlings must be protected from temperature extremes. Row cover offers protection from cool nights in spring and fall and hot days in early summer.
  • Snails, slugs, and birds find young plants irresistible. Sluggo controls snails and slugs, and row cover or a screen cage will keep birds away until plants are big enough to survive attack.

Last but far from least, there is something particularly thrilling about seeing tiny plants emerging directly from the soil and turning week by week into an explosion of vigorous, productive plants! We hope that more master gardeners will experiment with direct seeding and will encourage the public, particularly beginning gardeners, to try this economical and sustainable approach.

Asian Bed:

Cool season 2007-2008:
We again concentrated on winter Asian greens.  Dwarf grey sugar peas started slowly as in past years but the blooms are spectacular. Green Fortune and San Fan Bok choy were both grew very successful and tasty as well. The Japanese spinach, Akarenso, was beautiful with striking red stems and arrow shaped leaves.  It was a success in both beauty and taste.  We again grew Japanese Long Scarlet radish with continued success.  But for direct seeded turnips (Hidabeni, red turnip) there was not much success and we will try with transplants next year.  The carrots, direct seeded, were very successful in all areas: growth, flavor and beauty.  The most successful were Purple Dragon, Hybrid Coral II and Scarlet Wonder.  The Lunar White and Solar Yellow did not perform up to the standard set by the others.

The rice barrel was left empty during the winter months.  Because it dried out it would not hold water, a plastic lining was added.  New transplants of Japanese rice, Koshihikari, were started in the barrel and grew until harvested in September.  The cardamom that had not thrived for five years was removed and replaced with lemon grass under the bamboo trellis.  Also around the trellis we planted Japanese onions, Shonan Red, that grew quite well under all the other growth and when harvested yielded wonderfully big red onions.  A new container for water chestnuts was started and put into more direct sun.  As a result green slime covered the surface and continued until we installed a semi-circulating water system.  The water chestnuts did not do as well with all this trouble.

In late spring we transplanted seedlings of Napa cabbage, Blues.  It was ready for harvest by 5 weeks and was quite delicious.

Warm season 2008:
We started eggplant, cucumber and basil seeds at home in January and February to be transplant-ready in April.  We planted Red Noodle Yard long Beans by seed.  The cucumbers were transplants as well as direct seeded.  With great success, we grew these varieties of cucumbers: Armenian (Kitazawa and Renee’s Seeds), Green Fingers (Renee’s Seeds) and White Star (Evergreen Seeds).  Edible basils, Siam Queen Thai Basil and Thai Lemon and ornamental (to attract beneficial insects) basils, African Blue and Holy Basil, were all very successful.  We grew Japanese Trifele tomato again, a beautiful black ovate tomato.  No peppers were grown.

Unfortunately the eggplants were overgrown by self-sown amaranth and did not receive the sun and warm required for optimal growth.  Lesson for next year - remove self-sown seedlings to allow eggplants to thrive.

We tried water chestnuts again in a new ceramic container.  The container was in an area where the sunlight was much greater and we had problems with green ‘pond scum’ growing.  This growth did not allow for optimal growth of the chestnuts.

Lessons learned:

  • Remove self-seeded ornamentals to allow more sunlight
  • Cover eggplants with row cloth around small tomato cages to stop flea beetles.  This can be removed when the plants are about 1 foot tall.
  • Direct seed as well as transplants for some warm season crops lengthens the season
  • Water chestnuts need to be in some shade to keep down ‘algae’ growth
  • Do not plant so densely so plants creating too much shade.
  • Cucumbers on tomato cages do quite well

Mediterranean Bed:

The Mediterranean Bed is an example of year round home gardening. Vegetables are planted in amounts that can be used by a small family. As they are harvested, other, seasonal crops are added. This year cool season crops like lettuces, onions, leeks, chard, cabbage, kale, broccoli, and artichokes were grown. But this past winter the bed rested with cover crops for the first time in 5 years so we “borrowed” space for Mediterranean winter crops from an adjacent bed.

Before planting beds are prepared by digging in composted horse manure (Wheeler Farms) and alfalfa meal. Diluted fish emulsion is used for plants needing extra fertilization. The composted manure is also used as mulch around the plants.

Winter vegetables grew with mixed success. Many of us raved about the Sucrine lettuce. This crackly crisp, small sweet lettuce with attractive spoon-shaped leaves is similar to Little Gem. The artichokes were particularly delicious this year but less productive perhaps because the plant was moved late last year. The baby leeks stayed very small, perhaps not surprising, but the fava beans grew to forest-high.

After chopping and digging in the cover crops the summer garden was planted in April and May. Lettuce, bush beans, chard, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant filled our summer baskets. The tomatoes were supported by a variety of cages to show what is available, commercially and home-made. All of these cages can be stored flat. One cage is made of 2”x2” wood with bamboo rods. This cage can be completely disassembled for storage. (Instructions are shown on our MG website, under “best picks”.) Attractive plant supports for peppers and eggplant were made of rebar topped with painted wooden balls. The arbor was refitted with reinforcing mesh to add structural support for climbing plants.

Outstanding vegetables were hard to come by this year. Most of the pepper plants were small and un-productive. The selected tomatoes got mixed reviews from our tasters. We grew Flamme (Jaune Flamme) an orange French heirloom, Costoluto Fiorentino, an Italian heirloom and San Marzano Redorta, a Tuscan heirloom plum tomato that was very productive but lacking flavor. The trombolina squash only produced one fruit but the shallots were plentiful and delicious. The chard leaves were badly riddled by leaf miners.

In keeping with our theme of “Edible Landscaping”, flowers are grown among the vegetables for beauty as well as to attract pollinators. The arbor provides a cool respite for the gardener. Kitchen herbs are tucked among the vegetables and a caper bush is growing in a large pot. A small quince tree shades the north end of the bed. It is an un-named variety but produced many large delicious fruit. An oddity was grown in a nearby half-barrel container: edible ice plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum). Its crunchy, salty, succulent leaves were either loved or hated by garden tasters.

This winter the bed has been re-dedicated and is now an “English Cool Season Garden”. One area is planted in cover crops but the rest is planted with leeks, rutabagas, turnips, purple sprouting broccoli, lettuces, and peas.

The Garden of the Americas:

The garden this year was emphasizing a bean trail.  We started with 4 kinds of beans, 2 yellow and 2 green.   We had both bush and pole beans.  We were looking for taste as well as production.  Availability of yellow beans was also a consideration for the trial.  See below for results of the trial.

We also grew tomatoes, peppers, herbs, squash, and several flowers.  All of the vegetables did well except for one tomato, which was the Giant Green, which died shortly after, it was planted.  It was a Master Gardener plant.
We had good success with the other tomatoes but our peppers did not grow well or produce many peppers.  It may have been that our summer was too cool for peppers to do well. 
The flowers we grew all did very well.  We had lovely large red zinnias and we encircled the garden with violas.  They are very nice to use as a border plant but we have at this summary writing in Jan. 2009, hundreds of small violas coming up all over the edges of the garden.  It would not be a good idea to use this plant again. 
We began our garden by re-digging some of the areas that we replanted.  We worked in some Wheeler compost and mixed some alfalfa into the soil when planting the vegetables.  We added extra compost and alfalfa as needed.

Bean Trial 2008

  • Goldrush – Bush bean – excellent production and very good flavor.  Production 20+ lbs.
  • Green bush stringless – Snap – they were not stringless, but tough and stringy, low production, curly looking, will contact Burpee.  Letting them dry.  Burpee’s explanation was that this was a one-time crop that they knew might not do well.  They refunded our money for the seeds.
  • Matilda – green pole – excellent long narrow bean, tender, no strings, Production 30+ lbs.
  • Gold Marie Vining - yellow pole bean – excellent flat bean, tender and great taste. Production 30+ lbs.

By the end of the crop, the yellow bush and the yellow pole beans had each produced as many pounds of beans as the green pole beans.  The Burpee green bush beans were very tough and stingy, so we stopped picking them but while we were picking them the amt. of beans was considerably smaller the either of the other three. 

We all decided the yellow beans both bush and pole had excellent taste and good production.  Since the yellow bean has excellent flavor, I wonder why the yellow beans are much harder to find except in catalogs.  Several people I talked to thought yellow beans were stringy with no evidence to prove that.  Maybe they are not as popular because they are less well known.  Also, green beans are just easier to bring to market because they do not show marks whereas the yellow can show bruises.

Fruit Tree Plantings:

At PADG there are two areas designated for high-density fruit trees (3-in-one-hole groups) and espaliered trees.  These show visitors a large variety of fruits in a small area.  The areas received the same treatments and pruning as last year and produced very well.  The new Empire apple tree settled in nicely.  A line of soaker hose was added to water the both sets of fruit trees.  The water schedule is 4 hours once a month.


Again there was a beautiful display of roses in the spring.  The Rose of Ophir was exceptionally beautiful even with its ‘deadly’ thorns.  There were many ‘Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate’ (Polygonum orientale) that draped its beautiful rosy plumes over all.  The barrels contained both edible and ornamental plants.

Center Circle:

This bed is in the middle of the four international edible beds.  With an 8' redwood tuteur, it is designed to be a focal point for the garden.  Here we are demonstrating ways to grow showy annuals sustainably.
The winter planting were several colorful edible chicories offering different colors and textures to highlight beautiful winter greens.  In spring, they were replaced by sweet peas on the tuteur and self sowed annuals. There was Alyssum, Phacalia, Violas and Poppies, all volunteers.  This created a cacophony of colors and forms with a very pleasing appearance.
We try to demonstrate a variety of sustainable practices to our visitors such as drip irrigation (2x a week) and a layer of organic mulch. The flowers that attract beneficial insects are becoming an important part of integrated pest management.  Bees and predatory insects, which are attracted to the center circle flowers, will also be useful in the surrounding beds. 

Blueberry Bed:

The blueberry bushes were mulched with chopped oak leaves and pine needles and the soil was acidified using sulfur.  After the pruning the bushes grew very well and the crop was exceptional.  A new structure was constructed to hold the bird-proof netting and worked quite well.  The structure was made from ripped two by four (making two by twos) with five feet above the ground with a wire hoop as a top support.

Events at the Garden:

In 2008 we continued the public workshops with new topics such as Container Gardening, Fall Garden Maintenance Tasks, Decorative Arrangements from the Late Fall Garden and Dormant Pruning of Ornamentals and Fruit Trees.  All of the topics were very well attended with an average of over 40 attendees for the workshops.   With two hours of open garden after each workshop visitors wandered around or engaged the MGs in discussions.  The Family Fun in the Garden consisted of various stations where visitors could learn about making lavender wands, painting and drawing, Japanese flowering arranging, composting and sustainable gardening practices.  Each of the tables was full of both children and parents enjoying the various activities.  Through these workshops we continue to educate increasingly larger numbers of the public about the best gardening practices.

The schedule for 2008 follows:

Type of Event
February 2, 2008 Workshop Easy Seed Starting 30
March 1, 2008 Workshop Easy Drip Irrigation 50
April 19, 2008 Sale Padg Plant Sale >250
April 20, 2008 Tour Going Native Tour 309
May 3, 2008 Workshop Container Gardening Basics 35
June 7, 2008 Workshop Sustainable Gardening Practices in Action 50
July 5, 2008 Workshop Family Fun in the Garden 50+
August 2, 2008 Workshop Cool Season Gardening Tips 51
September 6, 2008 Workshop Saving Seeds from Your Garden 35
October 4, 2008 Workshop Fall Garden Maintenance Tasks 30
November 1, 2008 Workshop Decorative Arrangements from the Late Fall Garden 11
December 1, 2008 Workshop Dormant Pruning of Ornamentals and Fruit Trees 75+

We will continue to conduct workshops with ever changing topics reflecting the needs and wishes of the community.

Photo credits go to Marianne Mueller, Vera Kark and Rosalie Shepherd.