California Giants

I’m currently in Northern California for the Blogher Conference. I’ve been to these parts once before but the massiveness of the plants, most especially the invasives really stand out this time.

Monster Nasturtiums

I assumed this patch of renegade nasturtiums was a random fluke. Until I turned the corner. And the next one. And the next. And then I saw the hillside covered in nasturtium flowers of every colour with leaves the size of dinner plates. No one warned me that here in California nasturtiums will have you for breakfast.


This is what happens when radishes roam free — all plant no radish. At least the flowers are tasty.


I will admit that I did notice the fennel last time. It’s hard not to since the stuff is everywhere! First I came upon this fennel forest and then I noticed….


…BLACKBERRIES! I proceeded to gorge myself on the ripest of which there were many. And by many I mean enough to keep the multitudes bloated on blackberry pie. There have been past discussions on the forums describing the impenetrable invasiveness of blackberries in the North West. I want you all to know that I get it now. For real.


You have to see how jade grows in Southern Ontario to understand why this scene is such a marvel. Our sad little plants live in sad little pots on window ledges where they remain sad, and little for decades.


I have to admit that it was a 1997 trip to San Francisco that first inched geraniums off of my hit list. Until that point I was only familar with the pathetic little annuals peddled through school fundraisers and shotgun planted into every maple leaf motifed public garden across Ontario. These twisty, tangled sculptures are a whole lot more interesting.


The first thing I would do with a garden in this climate is grow a HUGE rosemary bush. Even the snails that eat the rosemary bushes are cool.


Aeoniums rate high on my list of favourite succulents so to find one this beautiful and in bloom no-less was a huge thrill.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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8 thoughts on “California Giants

  1. Whenever I see the massive patches of nasturtiums I always think of kudzu. It was the rosemary and the jade plants that first impressed me when we moved out here, but the realization of how much the nasturtiums have spread has, erm, “grown” on me.

    I still have little pots of them, in a effort to lure away aphids, but I worry that I’m in some way contributing to the problem.

  2. In Los Angeles, most of these plants grow without any help at all. Fennel has naturalized everywhere, and you can find nasturtiums growing in unexpected places, and my favorite (it’s actually an invasive weed in some places)- milk thistle! But it’s so damn dry- you guys are so lucky to get some rain! (Wait, you do get lots of rain, don’t you?

  3. Justina: I don’t think you can do much damage growing them in pots.

    Loretta: I knew about milk thistle in your parts. It’s a great herb but hard to get rid of. Yes we have rain although some summers here in Toronto are dry. However, this summer has been wet and it happens to be raining as I write this!

  4. I purchased your book about a year ago – seduced by the sassy, groovy cover – with grand designs to do “something” about my courtyard-turned-prairie. I’ve done almost nothing new to the courtyard except house an unused hottub, so you can imagine my pleasure with all the blackberries growing wild on the property (check out

    After my sister, Beth, met you at BlogHer, your book is now front and center on my table. Is it too late to save my weed patch?

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