Plant of the month // Cornus alba (various cultivars)

Cornus is another shrub valued for its winter interest. For Cornus this is its stunning red bark which makes for a vivid contrast against snow and bleak landscape.


Common Name: Red Twig Dogwood

Genus: Cornus
Available cultivars: (red-barked) elegantissima, kesselringii, sibirica, aurea.

Native to: Asia

Form: Vase-like

Maximum height: 2.5-4m
Maximum spread: 2.5-4m
Hardiness: Extremely hardy

Light: Full-sun to part-shade
Flowering time: Spring and summer
Fruit: Autumn

Ornamental value: Red bark for winter interest, white flowers and fruit
Planting: Mass plantings as free-form shrub, single planting for specimen value



For summer interest you can also choose cultivars such as ‘elegantissima’ which has a variegated leaf or ‘aurea’ which has greenish-yellow foliage.


Cornus alba ‘elegantissima’ in summer, left, and ‘aurea’, right.


Cornus alba has a suckering habit, meaning it propagates itself by sending new shoots from the root. Unfortunately for Cornus this is its one downfall as this means annual pruning in order to keep it looking beautiful. For this reason its usually best to plant Cornus in groups or limiting areas where they won’t interfere with other plants.


Cornun alba ‘sibirica’ in winter, planted in groups


In order to maintain Cornus, it’s elegant vase-like form and it’s size, cut suckers as far as you can to the ground. If you have some particularly unwanted suckers, dig down a bit and cut the sucker below ground level. Do not hedge prune Cornus, prune selectively by hand.


Flowers of Cornus alba ‘sibirica’ left, and ‘elegantissima’, right.


Keeping your cornus attractive requires just a little seasonal pruning. Their branches, so red in winter, gradually fade with age. In winter or before spring, last years branches should be cut to the ground in order to allow new, young and very red branches to grow. As a general rule, shrubs can be pruned safely by 1/3 annually.


Cornus’s berries, left, and covered in snow, right.


Cornus is an incredibly hardy shrub that grows heartily and requires little attention other than pruning if planted in full sun. In shadier areas it will grow slowly with long, sparse branches.
Enjoy this eye-catching winter specimen!
Available in spring in garden centers across berlin.


The Fantastic World of Mushrooms

Perhaps the world’s most recognizable mushroom, Amanita muscaria.


Mushrooms inhabit shady, damp places, growing out of rich humus as well as from under bark and atop decomposing organic material. 


Dictyophora indusiata, left and Aseroe rubra, right.


Most vegetation on earth uses photosynthesis in some way or form to produce sugars for food. Fungus, mushrooms, mold, rust and yeast instead feed on organic debris. This sets them apart so radically from other plant life that they have been given their very own kingdom, the kingdom of Fungi.


A Shaggy Ink Cap, left and Staheliomyces cinctus, right.


Botany still has many secrets to unravel regarding vegetative life and mushrooms are as mysterious as they are odd. Mycologists presently have no answers as to how mushrooms use sunlight to their benefit since fungal organisms do not contain chlorophyll and decompose matter as a food source instead of photosynthesizing light. It is clear however that mushrooms and fungi do respond to the sun, as they grow towards natural light just like all other plant species.


Lactarius indigo


Fungus plays a very diverse role in nature, both as a life giver and also a grim reaper. Their survival mechanisms are a reflection of this, helping mushrooms flourish in the nature by means of three growth habits: symbiosis, saprophytism and parasitism.


An edible mushroom, Hericium erinaceus


A fungus that relies on symbiotic relationships adheres itself to the root system of another plant organism. Here it steals carbohydrates and sugars from the host in order to feed itself. In exchange, the fungus synthesizes minerals, water and nutrients from the soil which the host plant absorbs through their fusion. An example of this are Mycorrhiza, which are extremely beneficial to a healthy, organic garden. They can be purchased at garden centers and tossed into soil before setting in new plants.


Mushrooms chillin’


Saprophytic mushrooms grow on logs, damp organic material and excrement. They nourish themselves by decomposing these materials (literally eating them) and fixing nutrients in the soil. You may see them on lawns, mossy logs or even buildings.

As parasites, fungi generally select dying or weak host plants. While they do not always directly kill their hosts, they do hasten their death by siphoning resources in order to feed themselves. This process plays an important part in natural selection and ecosystem renewal.


Colus pusilius, left and Lycoperdon curtisii, right.


Mushrooms are made of chitin instead of cellulose, the building block of most herbaceous plants. Chitin forms long, thread-like filaments that branch off in all directions called hyphae. They look very much like the branches of a tree, in fact, or a system of roots. A collection of hyphae is called a mycelium. A mycelium could be said to be the true body of a fungus.


Mycelium with long hyphae exploring a leaf, left and a log, right.


A mushroom that we see above ground is actually the sex organ, or fruiting body, of the mycelium. It carries the spores necessary for its reproduction which it will distribute from its gills (what you see under a mushroom cap) or pores.

Making more mushrooms is a bit of a romantic affair. A spore contains only half the genetic material required to reproduce, meaning that eventually it will have to seek out another mycelium in order to produce mushrooms again and thus more spores.


Amanita jacksonii pushing its way up through the forest floor.


What is so unique about fungus is that it can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Asexually, a mycelium can clone itself indefinitely, dividing its own cells to produce more hyphae, to reach further into the wild in search of a partner. This cloned mycelium will never be able to produce mushrooms until it finds another mycelium to share its gene-containing nuclei with.

When it does, the two mycelium will fuse their hyphae. Here they will transfer their nuclei through cell division from one to the other so that both hyphae contain one of their own nuclei and one of their partners. The mycelium can then form fruit and will send up what we see as mushrooms. Inside the mushroom, the two nuclei finally fuse. Here the genetic information of the two mycelium is joined.



Following this union, the nuclei then divide again through meiosis (the same cell division used by us to create sperm and egg) to make four new nuclei all containing half the genetic data necessary to reproduce. This data is encapsulated in a spore and released into the wind. If it lands in the right place it will germinate and grow into a brand new mycelium which in turn will ultimately spend its life cycle in search of other mycelium with whom to produce mushrooms.


Decomposing the decomposer. After a mushroom releases its spores, it dies and is decomposed by molds.


For us home gardeners, mushrooms can be cultivated at home with very little effort thanks to readily available mushroom kits. With just a little misting and some indirect light, you can have fresh mushrooms within a few weeks. If you are interested in growing your own mushrooms, please enjoy the video below and the following links.


Hawlik Vitalpilze


Pilzbrutversand Krämer


words to make you sound cool:
Mycelium mīˈsēlēəm the vegetative body of a fungus


What is Permaculture?

Ever heard the word “permaculture”, had an inkling as to what it meant but never quite knew the details? This week, Daisy Dukes is here to give you the lowdown on one of sustainable gardening’s most important movements.


Companion planting


Simply put, permaculture is about design.


Permaculturalists model gardens based on processes found in nature. In essence, they are agriculturalists, farmers and gardeners that farm and garden in a way that best harnesses, utilizes and disposes of natural resources, just as nature does itself.


Permaculture takes into account the natural resources we have at hand – water, earth, air, the sun, and geothermal energy – and determines how one can design their landscape to use these elements as productively and harmoniously as possible. Through good design you can reduce waste, limit energy consumption and maximize sustainability.


Look at the size of that motherfucking cabbage (note mulch to right.)


There are a few words essential to this philosophy…


Waste and Productivity


The principal tenant of permaculture is to reduce waste. Nature is seen as non-waste producing since everything produced by it is eventually used and done so over and over again. The most basic example of this would be the leaves of a tree. A tree produces leaves in spring, sheds them in autumn where they then decompose and are used to nourish saplings in spring. These saplings grow into summer, produce leaves of their own and shed leaves in fall to nourish themselves and new saplings the following year.


In this way, a permaculturalist can say that nature is the most productive element on earth. It wastes nothing and uses its own forces to replenish itself and feed and nourish all living creatures on earth.


Reducing waste in permaculture can be seen in composting and rainwater barrels. Composting utilizes what would otherwise be considered a waste product as a fertilizer and nutrient giver to next years gardens. Instead of pumping water through pipes from afar and needlessly draining watersheds, the natural system of rainfall is harnessed to collect and store water to sustainably irrigate crops and gardens.


By observing nature and mimicking the way it manages itself, we can reduce waste and know efficient productivity.


An attractive rain barrel for collecting rain water


Energy and Sustainability


Limiting energy consumption not only has to do with your heating bill or electricity usage. It also has to do with a person’s own energy and physical labor. Permaculturalists find ways to reduce a person’s load of labor through sustainable practices that in the end may end up being more productive.


If you find yourself in the garden toiling tirelessly against weeds and pests, you may be doing something wrong. A permaculturalist would quickly assert that we can look to nature for a better way. In this instance, the easiest solution would to be place a layer of mulch on your garden. This can drown out weeds and also protect the soil from nutrient depletion through sun and rain.


You could also plant companion plants that do not compete with crops but fix nitrogen into the soil, shade the soil so that weedier plants cannot grow beneath them, repel pests and help with pollination. Nasturtiums deter pests from lettuce plants, horseradish keeps potato pests away, onions repel carrot flies and peppermint deters aphids. These are just a few examples.


Marigolds planted among swiss chard to ward off pests


Because all these methods are completely natural, they are also infinitely sustainable.
These gardens consume less in order to grow. Water consumption is lowered by using rainwater, the dependency on fertilizers and pesticides is reduced through on-site composts and mulch from vegetable or farm animal waste, less energy is then spent revitalizing soils.


Homes are made energy-efficient through conscious design. This could include the height of your ceilings, which was your home is facing and where your windows are placed. This affects solar harvesting, minimizing the reliance on artificial heating and promoting natural cooling by understanding airflow through your house. If interested, a person could also find natural sources of power such as a local waterway or though home wind turbines and solar panels.


Zones and Layers


Zones are an intelligent way to design a permaculture area. The zones run 0 though 5 and exist in a permaculture design to better a person’s understanding of their relationship to the natural places they interact with.


Permaculture garden with rain barrel in center, definitely a zone 2.


Zone 0 is your home. Here you can harvest sunlight. This can be for yourself and your personal happiness or maybe for your houseplants. As an idea, you could have solar panels to harvest energy for home appliances, heating and so on in this zone.


Zone 1 is the zone closest to the home zone and where you should plant things that require daily attention and watering. This reduces the energy that you spend trekking yourself and resources to and fro, for example carrying water or compost across a yard to an area you put them daily . You wouldn’t want to have to go far do these things, especially since you might lose interest and discontinue to do so.


Zone 2 is for perennials, larger garden areas and compost bins, zone 3 main crop areas, zone 4 semi-wild areas and zone 5 completely wild areas. The zones are organized according to the frequency of maintenance required and level of cultivation.


Permaculture also analyzes the layers of how humans, nature and animals connect and interact in order to better efficiency, productivity and harmony. Nature is layered with canopies, lower tree layers, shrubs, herbaceous plants, rhizospheres, vertical growing plants and the soil’s surface. One can observe how these various layers interact with one another to subsist, grow and perpetuate indefinitely.


Animals in permaculture are an interesting layer. Chickens for example are not just an egg producer limited to a coop. In permaculture, what energy a chicken consumes, what productivity it will then yield, and how to best structure its life to exercise its assets while allowing it live naturally are all assessed.


Bet you never knew a chicken was so layered.


An interesting example of this are mobile chicken coops. When I was farming in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, Canada, the couple who owned the land where I stayed built a strange chicken cage with this very purpose. It was made of wire, arched, with a roof for shade and no floor. When they were in the field they would put chickens into it and place it in between the rows of vegetables, advancing it every so often. The chickens would pick at the ground, eating pests and insects and till the top soil with their constant scratching and pecking. What they ate came out as fresh manure. They were also quite happy to be outside of course. It was a win-win situation for all, as innovative and strange as it was!


The relevance this has to all of us and especially food production is that it is all possible. Permaculture in its essence strives to be simple. It may not be feasible to convert all of your energy to solar or have chickens run through your rooftop garden but a lot can be achieved in little ways. This could include collecting a little rainwater to use for gardens in addition to city water supplies or simply using a Bio bin. For industry especially, waste reduction is not only in their best interest in terms of efficiency but reusing resources could potentially maximize profitability.


If you are interested in finding out ways to integrate permaculture into your life, Berlin has a very active permaculture community which can be accessed through the links below.


Permakultur Akadamie
Kreuzigerstr. 19


Calendar of events:


Permakultur Zentrum Berlin
Kiehnwerderallee 1-3



Permakultur Projekte (seminars and outdoor training from Nino Permakultur)
Schierker Straße 9 a
12051 Berlin


Price list:

Caring for Cacti

Beginning of a Cactus garden on my windowsill (not much but more to come!)


Cacti are universally regarded as the simplest indoor plant to care for. But don’t be fooled, even though these beautiful desert plants promise very little in the way of maintenance and require virtually no water, they still need just a few moments of your time in order to be loved and flourish.

Cacti are often called succulents, the same types of plants as Jade and Aloe Vera. “Cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are Cacti” (not meant to be a riddle!). These plants are woody shrubs with thick fleshy bodies and/or leaves that hold large amounts of water.




The cactus first made its appearance nearly 30 to 35 million years ago after global cooling created the arid conditions necessary for members of the Cactoideae family to thrive. Since then, botanists have identified nearly 2000 species of cacti.

They are a very diverse plant, inhabiting sandy deserts, grasslands and mountains, even shady tropical forests. The role they have played in human evolution and development is unmistakable: they have been a food source, a living canteen, a medicine, a strong hallucinogen and a religious object.

If there is one thing they are known for, it is their barbed exterior. The spines of a cactus are essentially dead woody fiber.

Although it may seem that their only function is to prick you unforgivingly when you’ve mishandled them, these spines are essential to cacti survival. Protection from predators is but one purpose along with protection from the sun, a place for dew to collect (which will then be used as a water source) or a way to self-seed when latched onto those who come too close.




Cactus Wisdom


The most important rule when caring for a cactus is providing it with light.

This is why most cacti find themselves on windowsills although a sunny shelf or countertop will do the trick. But you must give your cactus sufficient LIGHT.

I have found cacti under blankets, tucked in corners, left in closets. They wither, brown and shrivel. All they need is light. Put your cactus into the LIGHT.


Do not over water.

This is what makes cacti great. You hardly need to water them.

Okay, I will admit it. I have killed many, many a cactus in my time. Those defenseless little cacti…I overwatered them. Yep. I became so frustrated, it seemed there was nothing I could do to stop them from shriveling and looking like little exhausted cactus bags.

I dropped water on the soil with an eyedropper. Dead. Filled a saucer and let them soak up water from the bottom? Dead. Transplanted them and watered only once every 2 months….jeez! These things won’t stop dying! So what is the trick? The secret was given to me by a friend. He told me…”just mist the top of the soil with a spray bottle”.

And there it is, the golden number one rule to watering cacti…when you see soil is too dry, that is, pulling away from the sides of the pot, that your cacti are looking a little worse for wear, gently mist the top of the soil once every 3 weeks to a month.


Cacti do not like to have their roots messed with.

If you can avoid it, do not transplant your cactus. If you can’t resist a little cactus dish garden or just found some incredible pot you think is going to make your cactus look sauve, try to disturb the roots as little as possible.

When transplanting a cactus, move them to the smallest container possible that they will fit in. Cacti do not need expansive pots to fill as their roots grow very, very slowly. At best you may need to repot your cactus once every 1 to 2 years.

When you decide to do so, move them up to a pot just one size bigger. Make sure the bottom has holes in it and is filled with some good drainage material such as stones, broken glass pieces, beads, marbles, anything that will get water flowing out of there. Then mix some organic material (i.e.. compost) with sand (or vermiculite) for good drainage and fill the bottom of the pot 1/3 full. Place your cactus on top and continue to nudge the rest around the root ball until the container is filled with your soil mix.



Do not fertilize.

Cacti do not need to be fertilized. Unless you are growing them in a greenhouse for propagation.


Put your Cacti outside in the summer months.

They will love you for it. You want to bask under the sun too right? When temperatures begin to drop below 13 celcius at night, you can bring them back inside. And damn, they will look good.


Cactus keep pricking you?

Wrap a large cactus in a towel or newspaper in order to move it. Make sure you keep one hand under the pot so they don’t slip out!



You can divide your cacti.

Sometimes your cactus is having such a good time where you put it, it decides its time for some little ones. You can keep these new little cacti where they are or you can transplant them to another pot.

Again, try to disturb the roots of the mother plant as little as possible while gently separating the smaller cactus from the root ball. Plant in a small pot appropriate to its size with the soil mix mentioned above and you have a new addition to your cactus garden.


Don’t give up.

Sometimes people think that once their cactus is shriveled, browned or dead looking, they are gone forever. Cacti can be revived. Just put them into the light, mist their soil and do not disturb. Follow this for 6 months and if you have the patience and put in the time, they just might surprise you.


Love them. Cacti are neat. All they need is love!

Plant of the month // Hamamelis

Hamamelis, more commonly known as Witch Hazel, is one of my favorite winter shrubs! What is better than a burst of life in a cold winter landscape? This low maintenance plant will be sure to live up to your expectations as a winter show piece and ask for little in terms of care and maintenance.

Common Name: Witch Hazel

Genus: Hamamelis
Available species: ovalis, virginiana, vernalis, japonica, x intermediata and mollis

Native to: North America, Japan and China

Form: Vaselike, architecturally interesting

Maximum height: 4-5m
Maximum spread: 2.5-5m
Hardiness: Extremely hardy

Light: Full-sun to part-shade
Flowering time: Autumn and winter

Ornamental value: Winter interest, fragrant flowers

Planting: Mass plantings as free-form hedges, single planting for specimen value



During the spring and summer months Witch Hazel can easily fade into the background but as soon as the snaps of cold brought by autumn arrive, prepare for a show.


Hamamelis in summer and autumn


Just before dropping its leaves, Hamamelis reveals its curious seed pods which resemble hairy little molars.


Hairy little molars (really a 4-chambered capsule), left. When the seed capsule bursts, it shoots seeds in every direction, right.


Witch Hazel will be enjoyed long into the winter months as its vibrantly colored, octopus-like flowers explode on every branch giving this shrub its moment to shine. Hamamelis offers not only texture and color but a delicious scent as well. These captivating flowers are sweet and fragrant with a delicate orange perfume.


Hamamelis Mollis

Hamamelis Mollis looking snazzy as hell in snow, left. Hamamelis x intermedia Jelena in a temperate climate, right.

Hamamelis vernalis


Plant Witch Hazel in rows as a free form hedge. Do not shave this plant into a box or rectangle! Instead prune selectively. Or plant on its own to highlight its specimen value.

Cut off branches in winter for flower arrangements. Use the leaves and bark to make a distilled extract that can be used as an astringent for acne, scabs, bruises and wounds.

Or just enjoy its pretty smell and lovely flowers!

Available at garden centers across Berlin.


Wildflowers in ruin

Kleingartens are a staple of Berlin garden culture providing cozy summer shacks and a little plot of earth for flowers, veggies, dozing under the sun and relaxing. These tranquil seasonal communities allow cityfolk a complete escape from the city within the city and a chance to enjoy the fruits of tending the earth.

Many Kleingartens date back to the early 1900’s and were originally formed by neighbors and neighborhood groups with an environmental or social agenda. Purchasing a plot means paying a one-time fee plus necessary upkeep costs to a Kleingarten association which in turn leases the land from the city.

Thumbing through listings is a bit overwhelming and it’s hard not to want them all: would you rather doze by a lake, sit high in a multi-story bungalow or carry your basket and trowel just a few blocks from your apartment? Kleingartens start for as little as 2500 euros.

If you interested in purchasing a Kleingarten, listings can be found here:

Across from a very misplaced seafood restaurant in the depths of Neukölln stand a group of Kleingartens abandoned since late 2010. Nine Gartens were slated for demolition in order to build a highway, the A100, to connect Treptow to the southeastern end of Neukolln. However, as with most development projects in Berlin, the plan was derailed by concerned citizens and in true Berlin style the lots were left abandoned, already partially demolished.

While the group Aktionsbündnis A100 stoppen keeps up the good fight, the rest of us can pause a moment and enjoy this paradise of ruin and natural beauty.

One of my favorite summer time memories of this year was being introduced to this abandoned Kleingarten, wandering through the fallen cottages and picking wildflowers. Where else in Berlin can a person could go to enjoy complete solitude and pick flowers under the sun?

The Gartens are not exactly open to the public but they are open for exploration. Just be careful as the police circle this area frequently and the Gartens now house various squatters, so don’t go alone if you can. And of course, remember to bring a basket for flowers.

Erigeron grows prolifically throughout the Kolonie

A Clematis vine reclaims an armchair

A room with a view

A beautiful Echinops enjoys growing wild

Apple tree saplings sprout up 

The Miscanthus in the bottom right hand corner would make a damn fine feature in a home garden


A Hops vine pops through a window above a thicket of Blackberry

Skeletal remains: elements of change, renewal and death

The greenish hue of summer turns yellow and soon the skeletal-like remains of a leaf can be found. It is intricate in design, knit in webs. The veins of a leaf are akin to those of all other living beings.

A leaf falls because a plant organism is programmed to go through a senescence. No divine intervention, only plant hormones and an environmental change.

Life is mysterious and botanists alike are perplexed: how does a plant use hormones to induce itself to die?

This we know, that the shortening of days and lengthening of nights plus fluctuations in temperature gradually prevents and shuts down a leaf’s ability to photosynthesize. As the levels of chlorophyll in a leaf diminish, the leaf weakens. The delicate webbing of veins within the leaf are used to slowly drain any useful elements to the root system of the plant and then are closed through an abscission layer at the base of the leaf. The leaf drops.

Plants of every kind will drop their leaves at some point but not all do so at the same time and neither all at once. Evergreens and needled-plants are no exception.

Walking through the trees in autumn is a simple pleasure and while the spectacular change of color is a charming process of nature it is in a way a reminder of our shared life-force.

Green spaces, in their constant cycle of renewal, likely give the illusion of perpetuity. But a seasonal senescence, most grandly illustrated in autumn, is also part of a plant’s biological aging. It is when they pause, shed and start anew…one season older, aging and wheeling towards the inevitability of death just like us.

But what mother nature leaves for death, she also gives new life. The skeletal remains of leaves decompose, return to the earth and fertilize their surroundings. Soon the reflective tone of autumn is replaced with the pregnant ecstasy of spring.

Take this time to reflect and, most of all, appreciate fall…it’s really one of the prettiest times of the year!


Words to make you sound cool:
Senescence si-ˈne-sən(t)s the process of biological aging