When my partner husband and I moved the 45 miles from San Jose’s fertile Rosegarden district to San Francisco’s Noe Valley a few years ago, I was ready for gardening challenges. I knew from my visits as well as my dog-eared and trusty Sunset Western Garden book that I was entering not just a new Zone but a terra incognita of cold summers, coastal fog, and lack of winter frost. And my new home in San Francisco would be a condominium with only a couple outdoor spaces for container gardening. I was leaving behind a lush yard sporting loamy soil on a valley floor that once supported a thriving Blenheim apricot orchard in favor of a cute kitchen balcony and a rooftop with views from Twin Peaks across Noe Valley and the Mission all the way to the Bay.
But my gardening thumb was the deep greens of heat-loving gingers, citrus, Madagascar jasmines and yes, one old and well-tended Blenheim apricot. San Francisco gardening? I was up for the challenge and full of confidence. Little did I imagine that in a few short years I would be ruing my view of Twin Peaks, with its accompanying cold and drying wind, nor that my green thumb would be tinged red with embarrassment.
For I had become the person the nursery plants dread – that one who trots off with potted flowers and herbs in the prime of their young lives, and in a few short weeks on a rooftop botanical Guantanamo, batters them into the plant equivalent of brain-death. Still alive, perhaps, but no longer growing; no longer flowering or producing delicious little leaves for my kitchen.
I do my research, checking the local websites for tips on what might grow. Still, last summer I confessed to family and friends I had harvested precisely three green-grape tomatoes – and that from an heirloom variety from Siberia!
I still try – gardening is a need, in my blood. I’ve restricted myself for now to buying geraniums and spearmint. If I can keep them growing, I may let myself try nasturtiums again. And then who knows – the sky’s the limit! I’m doing okay so far – although truth to tell, the spearmint is being a bit difficult. I feel a bit like I am in a Bad Gardeners Anonymous meeting, confessing I can barely get mint to grow.
>p>Sure, I still have that kumquat that I brought from the patio in San Jose, in a state of suspended animation on my kitchen balcony. It isn’t dead yet, but I feel its pain every time I give it water, and look fruitlessly for signs that it is reviving. I have cymbidium orchids that manage to thrive, and the warm and windless autumn this year has even lulled my Mexican lime into flowering, and tiny green babies are taking hold. But I’m not holding my breath. And I’m saving my pennies for a lean-to greenhouse.