Category Archives: garden articles

Growing Fruit on the Coast

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More and more people are growing their own food these days (how quaint ;-)) and some of us are getting a bit serious about it. Planting fruit trees or hedgerows of berries is taking it to the next level, in my opinion. That’s not to say that growing seasonal veggies like greens, squash, tomatoes, etc. isn’t a big commitment, because it is, but when you plant food-producing trees and bushes, they start to take up some space! Granted, once they’re planted there is less overall labor involved, as compared to a vegetable garden, but most of us just don’t have the space sitting around waiting to be turned into an orchard. So now we’re talking real commitment and dedication. What part of your existing garden are you going to rip out??

If you’ve got to the point where you’re ready to make space, you really want to make sure that you plant the right varieties so they’ll actually produce fruit here on the coast.

First, find out if the variety you want is self-pollinating (1 plant will do) or if it needs cross-pollination (you’ll need at least 2 different varieties). Also, many types and varieties of fruit need a certain minimum number of chill hours (temp. between 32 & 45 deg.) in the winter and a sustained period of warm weather in the summer that we just don’t get in our temperate coastal climate. You can find out these requirements from either the tag at the nursery or from the catalog you’re ordering from. Here’s an important bit of info that you’ll need: we get an average of 500 or less “chill hours” here on the San Mateo County coast, so it’s usually safe to plant something that requires 400 hours or less and is early ripening (again, catalog will indicate).

Here’s a list of what we can grow, might be able to grow and probably can’t grow:

YES

– low chill apples & pears

– most plum varieties

– strawberries

– most blackberry varieties

– figs

– Meyer lemons

MAYBE

– low chill blueberries & raspberries

– low chill nectarines

– kiwifruit

– avocado

NO

– peaches

– pomegranates

– cherries

 

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Filed under food, food gardens, victory gardens

What NOT to do…

Someone near and dear to me just moved into a new house. I was so completely appalled by the “Landscaping” (obviously I’m using the very loosest sense of the word) that I had to document the mess. I don’t want to ruin your whole day, so I’m just going to show you one picture.

Ready??

So many issues, so little space… I have no more words.

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Evolution of a Gardener

When my interest in gardening and garden design began, I was drawn to very bright colors. (I also disliked foliage variegation and Hated succulents!) This attraction lasted, believe it or not, for about 10 years. Cut to 1995: I had just started my business and was doing mostly flower garden maintenance. A little planting and design, but not much. I would also occasionally help out Sue Fitzsimmons, garden designer extraordinaire (and the reason I do what I do). What I noticed about the plants she chose was that there were a lot of pale, pastel, muted colors. In other words, the gardens were Cool. Sophisticated. Relaxing. Calming. Ahhhhh. Ok! I thought, these are the kinds of garden that Real designers create. And it wasn’t just Sue. Everywhere I looked- design magazines, plant catalogues, garden tours, etc. there were muted shades of greens, grays, blues, pinks, creams and whites. It felt really good to me and my preferences started to change. I eventually got to the point where I said that I disliked most reds, yellows and oranges in the garden. I considered these colors to be garish, harsh and aggressive. Now granted, I live on the Coast and we have lots of overcast or foggy days and cool colors in the garden do complement these gray skies, but NO hot colors at all?? Pretty closed minded, right? Here’s some pictures of my garden that were taken 2 & 3 years ago:

See a theme?? Very Coooool….. For the record. I love these images and I love these colors, but recently I’ve been ITCHING for something more. COLOR. Bright, vibrant, warm color. Tangerine, raspberry, lime, and purple.

I saw this image from Annie’s Annuals recently (see a couple posts ago!) and can’t get it out of my head. It has inspired me to go for it in my garden this year:

Vibrant Colors- from Annie's Annuals catalogue

Aren’t these colors just luscious?  (broken record?) I’ve just now completed stage one in my color renovation. I’ve planted about 30 new perennials & annuals in the ground. The reason I had the room to add these plants is because this winter the gophers ATE about 40 Bearded Iris (bastards!!), 4 Nepeta ‘Six-hills Giant’ (which take up lots of room…) and also a few of my large English Lavenders decided to give up the ghost on their own. All this space is now filled with soon-to-be-brightly-colored plants with nice, snug gopher baskets around their roots. There’s nothing I can do about all my softly-shaded roses at this point, so it should be interesting to see how all this comes together!

The next stage is POTS. LOTS of color-poppin’, gotta-dance pots.

I’ll keep you posted!

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Filed under color, me in the garden, personal, potted gardens, Roses, Uncategorized

New Favorite Author

Wicked Plants, by Amy Stewart

Wicked Plants

The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and other Botanical Atrocities

by Amy Stewart

Did you know that Abe Lincoln’s mother died from “milk sickness”? Well, I didn’t, and why milk sickness is caused by a weed is something you’ll learn if you read this delightful book by Amy Stewart. Yes, I did just describe her book about “Botanical Atrocities” as delightful. The descriptions of the annoying, toxic and often deadly plants are accompanied by interesting anecdotes that make this book fun to read. Even if you’re not knowledgeable about plants or not interested in gardening, but you do you love a good story(s), you’ll like this book.

Take,  for   example, (but  don’t really  take it or you’ll  get   terribly  sick,  or worse!) the castor bean plant. A deadly poison extracted from it was allegedly used by the KGB in the London “umbrella murder” in 1978. Stewart goes on to describe how and where the plants grow, what parts are toxic and why castor oil, from the same plant, is safe to use. And then there’s Freud, who’s entire outlook on life was changed by the coca plant, or more accurately, the extract from it called cocaine. To quote him, “…I have felt wonderful, as though there had never been anything wrong at all.” This he attributed to a plant that Stewart describes as being able to inspire humans to go to war, both against each other and against the plant.

See what  I  mean? It  sounds cool, doesn’t  it? I bought   my copy at Coastside Books in Half  Moon  Bay, but  it’s available anywhere  fine books are sold. This author has also written some other books worth reading… Google her!


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Kinder, Gentler New Year’s Resolutions for the Garden

My Beloved Felco #2s

or,

Things I’m Really Gonna Try To Do

I just was reading some favorite garden blogs and saw a few lists of New Year’s resolutions for the garden. Hmmm, the concept sounds like a good way to get motivated, but I thought a lot of them sounded like a set-up for failure, knowing what I do about human nature. (especially mine!)

Here’s my kinder and gentler take on their resolutions.

instead of:

resolving to plant any plants I buy at the nursery as soon as I get them home, making sure I have all potting soil, pots, space, time, etc. at the ready,

I resolve to:

plant the plants that I have at home waiting (at least the ones that haven’t died yet) before I buy new ones. (unless I totally have to have them!)

instead of:

resolving to water my plants more faithfully,

I resolve to:

keep up the mostly consistent watering I do do and to be more accepting and forgiving of myself in late summer when I inevitably slack off in my duties.

instead of:

resolving to learn more about, and practice, seed collecting & saving,

I resolve to:

continue to let my plants reseed themselves and also to support my friends who do collect seeds.

instead of:

resolving to add several new rose varieties to my garden,

I resolve to:

remove several underperforming rose bushes and replace them with more flowers that bees love.

instead of:

resolving to clean my tools after each gardening session with a water/bleach (10/1) solution before putting them away,

I resolve to:

try to always put my tools away in the same place so I can find them the next time, and to wash them with the bleach solution once in a while.

So, I could go on and on, but my point is, sure, resolutions are fun and can be great motivation, but go easy on yourself. Think about your personality and your lifestyle and go ahead and make some resolutions that you’re bound to keep!


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The Beauty and the Benefits of Clover

Trifolium repens (Dutch White Clover) in bloom

Trifolium repens (Dutch White Clover) in bloom

Once upon a time, clover was an acceptable part of a lawn mixture… but then came the era of the “Perfect Lawn”. Though many of us are still stuck in this mode, we’re also torn because we know that perfect turf lawns are expensive to maintain, time consuming and bad for the environment. But what to do??

I’ll share my story with you:

When I moved into my house, the front yard was basically just a gopher mangled lawn and and a few half-dead shrubs. I tore all this out and planted a variety of fairly drought-tolerant plants that are all doing fine 3 1/2 yrs later. Included in the new design was a very small (aprx. 10′ x 12′) lawn area. My front garden is west-facing, so I thought we might want to sit out there in the afternoons. It turns out the only sitting we do out there is on the porch or steps, or while pulling weeds! The lawn isn’t much more than a pretty swath surrounding the path to the side gate, though I still spend time mowing and watering and feeling guilty when I don’t. So… I thought I’d try something new this year. This spring I’m going to over-seed my lawn with white Dutch Clover (Trifolium repens) seed, and this is why I think you should too:

– Clover is a nitrogen fixer- meaning it takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and collects it in nodes on it’s roots and passes it into the soil- meaning once the clover is established in your lawn, you don’t need to fertilize it any more. Yep.

– It grows fine in poor soil and is drought tolerant, Also, it stays green through the summer. All of which adds up to a lot less watering your lawn. Uh huh.

– No more using broadleaf herbicide. (because it will kill the clover, but don’t worry, the clover will crowd out other “weeds”) This is starting to sound better and better.

– Bees love it! We all know they need all the help they can get right now. (one caveat; be careful if you’re allergic to bee stings- this may not be the right choice for you) Go bees.

– Clover tolerates low-mowing (you’ll just have less flowers) and, get this; doesn’t turn yellow when your doggy friends use it as a potty. Wow.

trifolium_repens_flowers

– It’s pretty! Who doesn’t like beauty? (I mean besides Oscar the Grouch) You can enjoy this beauty close-up while making flower necklaces and crowns, and searching for 4-leaf clovers!

What does all this mean?? It means you get to have a nice, green lawn without using chemicals or lots of water. Selfishly, this adds up to less maintenance time for you and unselfishly, you get to be an earth-saving hero! Yay you.

You can get the seed on-line at groworganic.com. Make sure you get white Dutch Clover. There are many kinds of clover and some aren’t appropriate for home lawns.
Mix the seed with compost or soil mix and distribute evenly, following instructions, over freshly raked and weeded lawn. Water regularly (if no rain) for a few weeks. It may be necessary to reseed in 2-3 years to make sure the clover gets firmly established.

Let’s let go of our need for the “Perfect Lawn” and go with more of what nature intended… the imperfectly perfect lawn!

CML

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