All the photos in this blog were taken by me. The information is taken from friends, books, magazines, conversations at nurseries, the internet and a few of my own amateur-gardener thoughts. Please feel free to share your own knowledge and experiences in the comment section that follows each posting.

Friday, April 13, 2012

New Beginnings

In an effort to write again in less than 365 days,  I opened the newly revised Google Blogger format and was astonished to find that 83 people visited my blog last month and five just yesterday. I was even more flabbergast to read that I have over 4,500 hits. What? Who? The interest in this blog has inspired me to begin writing again. After all, spring is a time for new beginnings.

I find it interesting that I happen to be facing another chickadee leaving the nest as I sit down to reflect on the past twelve months. I often write about the speed of time because it fascinates me. If only I could have understood it more when I was younger. I wonder if I would have lived each day even fuller if I knew about the speed of life earlier on?
Maybe not.
Just something to think about.

New Land

 I have a new garden layout that excites me. I transplanted two large Leucadendron, and a Rosemary to make way for more vegetables. These will be planted in the ground rather than in my raised beds. Below is the "before" picture of my new planting land. I am letting the poppies do their thing until the nights warm up and I can plant tomatoes and peppers.

 A Few April To Do's

  • April is a great time for soil preparation. I always add chicken manure, some of my compost and alfalfa pellets. I till it into the soil and then let it sit for awhile before planting. This year the evenings are still quite cool, so the soil is waiting patiently. 
  • Clean up any flowering shrubs like azaleas and rhododendrons and begin feeding them their acid plant food once a month until the Fall. 
  • Check your irrigation system thoroughly unclogging emitters and testing timers.
  • Begin to add mulch to existing plants just covering the roots not too close to the stem. 
  • Design your vegetable garden so that you are ready as soon as the weather permits to plant warm season vegetables. 
Can You Guess THIS Spring Flower? 

Its a succulent! 
Aeonium Schwarzkopf

If you are a follower of this blog, you know that I am a huge fan of succulents. They add texture, variety and interest to all gardens. They also show off long-lasting flowers.


In honor of Chandra, who is experiencing her own new beginning after relocating to Tennessee, I re-planted a strawberry pot she made me several years ago. 
It used to be filled with succulents that happily found new homes within my garden as they grew-up. This will be the pot's first venture into strawberries. I will think of Chandra each time I harvest a strawberry. 

(See April 2010 Posting: Best Laid Plants... I mean, Plans... to read about the creations Chandra and I made with succulents)

I am excited about writing again. It amazes me that I so fondly wrote about Jeffrey's departure from the nest (See May 2010 and June 2010 Postings) almost two years ago. Indeed time speeds by. I may not have known it when I was younger. 
But I know it now. 

It is mind boggling that my second chick is leaving the nest. 
Spring is a time to celebrate new beginnings. 
And you KNOW I love celebrations! 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Forth

I feel like I just started the Master Gardeners Program and now I am already preparing for the final exam. How did that happen? Remember when you were little and grown-ups bantered about how fast time flies and you were bored by always hearing it? I take all those thoughts back. Time does fly.

Speaking of flying... near this time last year I discovered the nest of Mockingbird eggs. It was a highlight of my garden as you may remember if you're a frequent reader. If you're new, read last June's blog entries. They are my favorite so far, I think.  While its fresh on my mind and timely conversation, let me mention the insect activity that I've witnessed. On the heels of a Master Gardener's class on Entomology and Integrated Pest Management, I went out to survey my roses with a magnifying glass (or loop). I have been battling the aphids with hose showers now and then, but I never stopped to actually get involved in their world. I am not taking the aphids on as warmly as I did the Mockingbirds, but the activity on the rose stem is stunning. It's these occurrences in the garden that fascinate me and keep me coming back for more. 

Before we dive into Spring, I must share the tail-end of the winter harvest. Afterall, vegetable gardening is not just about the planting, it is also about the harvesting, which can be a lot of work in itself. You can imagine the washing, drying and preparing that went along with this typical loot. Bok choy is in the forefront followed by broccoli, chard and way too many oranges and lemons.

A soil tidbit
As we prepare for our warm season gardens, keep in mind not to till your soil too aggressively. You want to minimize disturbance to your soil and only fuss with the top layer. Let the earthworms do your rototilling. Now is a good time to add organic matter in the form of compost that you've made yourself or purchased from the nursery. Remember that compost is an amendment and not a fertilizer, but it does wonders for soil structure, water retention and the ability for your plants to absorb nutrients.

Kathy asked for some information on composting. First off, there are many ways to compost and you need to find what works for you. I used a silly little book called, Backyard Composting, by Harmonious Technologies in Sebastopol. In addition, Basic Composting, by Ebeling is great if you want to build your own bin. There are numerous sites on the Internet as well.  Find something that will help you decide how you'd like to collect and store your material. For example, I collect kitchen scraps in a Kitchen Compost Pail from the Container Store

When it fills up, I empty it into a large, white paint bucket that sits outside my back kitchen door. I bought it at Home Depot.

When that fills up, I empty it into a structure I have in the backyard. I built this using six shipping pallets. It has worked well, but it is definitely a slow method. The section on the right is the holding area, while the section on the left is the active area. In this picture,  you can see that the left side has decomposed quite a bit.

The key is to build a pile layering equal portions of green material and brown material. Then when you are ready, you start the process of turning your pile and keeping it moist. Maintaining an adequate moisture level will create a nice home for micoorganisms, earthworms and insects. It should be about as wet as a squeezed-out sponge. My pile does not generate high heat because of the size and open construction. If you use a closed container such as, BioStacks, you can create a much faster system. I am looking into a system called The Compost Tumbler. One of my Master Gardener classmates highly recommended it and she has been composting for over 20 years. 
If you want a faster system, it is best to shred or chop up your material. The smaller the material, the faster it will decompose.

Green is your nitrogen.
Anything that was originally cut from a live plant or derived from a vegetable-eating animal. All fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea (even the bag), egg shells (best to break them down first), yard clippings, grasses, weeds, flowers, horse manure.

Brown is your carbon.
Leaves, straw, sawdust, cardboard
I mainly use leaves. 

Compost is good everywhere! It is not just for the vegetable gardeners. Flowers, shrubs and even trees like compost. It is a way to slowly release nutrients into the soil. You can sidedress your plants with it just like a mulch. 
A Happy Coincidence
I was organizing some old pictures today and I found this one of a card that I read one day with Lori and Paula during a memorable occasion in a redwood grove last spring. They had one of those decks of beautiful cards that you read for inspirations and reflection. We were in a group and you had to draw a card and read it to yourself. This was my card. I love that I found it today. Serendipity is defined as a happy coincidence. What's better?

Happy Spring! 
Turn your face to the sun and blossom.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter Wonder

I started writing this blog with the intention of posting every two weeks. I've got one more week to write an entry that will qualify for once a month. I'll blame it on winter, the holidays and too much festivity. My Garden Girlz (or sometimes known as Dirty Girlz) inspired me to get writing!

While life is busy moving forward, the garden grows with ease and independence during these cooler months. I am never disappointed by its progress in my absence and I often teeter between which season I like better, warm or cool. Cool season vegetables have rich, deep colors between the dark purple leaves of Radicchio and Swiss Chard or the green/purple combination beginning in the Cabbage or the intense lime green Christmas tree peaking through from the Broccoli Romanesco or the snowy white Cauliflower. Natural art using colors I love.

For more information about Warm and Cool Season Vegetables and when to plant them, see the Santa Clara Master Gardener's Warm and Cool Season Vegetable Planting Guidelines to decide when to plant for best results.

Don't Forget to Feed the Birds.  They eat all year round. 
And if you want them to help you in the summer with insects, feed them so they'll stay!

Resource Tip:
We are fortunate in this area to have many resources to learn about our gardens. Now that I have officially started the Master Gardeners Program, I want to make sure you know about the HOTLINE. 
You can call the hotline Monday - Friday from 9:30 -12:30 at 408-282-3105.  If you have home gardening questions, ponder no more... just pick up the phone! 

January To Do's
If you haven't done your dormant season pruning, now is the time for your deciduous plants. Acid-loving plants, such as azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons are best pruned while they are blooming or immediately thereafter.  Don't forget to fertilize as well. I like to sprinkle the ground around my roses with alfalfa pellets that I get at a local feed store. It's an excellent source of Nitrogen often needed at this time of year.  It's also time to do your dormant season spraying in order to prevent problems with overwintering insects in the Spring.  All spraying must be completed before buds form. Check with your local nursery what the best type of spray is for your conditions.

Don't forget that your plants may need water during the dry weeks that we have in the winter. Make sure to check your soil. Use your water meter. You'll be surprised to see that often they are parched. Especially your pots!

January is also a good time to pay attention to our indoor plants. Dust off their leaves and flush their root systems. If you can, take them to a sink or bathtub and water several times. Let them drain well or put them in a tray with stones. Do not let them sit in their own water... unless you want their roots to rot.

Erma Bombeck says, "Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died". 
She makes you want to laugh and then say to yourself... 
that makes so much sense!

 Easy Peasy Bok Choi 
So fast, yet so good

I pick several leaves of this Win Win Choi (Bok Choi family), wash them off well and loosely chop them into bite site pieces. I put a small amount of sesame oil in a saute pan, add the bok choi, stirring occasionally until it wilts to my desire. I like the stem crunchy so I don't wait too long. Then, I add a couple teaspoons of soy sauce and voila! 
Delicious with a nice piece of salmon (with sesame oil and ginger) and a glass of white wine.
Simple is superb.

January makes me marvel at nature in a different way than June. Its amazing to me and sometimes shocking how plants make it through such miserable conditions. I've been to Tahoe a couple times this winter and I look at the blanket of white snow and envision that in a few months the whole landscape will be drastically changed. Perhaps one of Mother Nature's finest accomplishments is managing seasons. However, it would be hard to agree on what her finest accomplishment is 
because she has so many. 
Any thoughts? 

"There's one good thing about snow - it makes your lawn look as nice as your neighbour's." 
Clyde Moore

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Creative Minds

I would not want to be the plants in my garden this past week. Its got to be tough freezing all night, thawing out and trying to grow. Each day I imagine its the end of the garden and each day their resilience amazes me. The remaining dahlias and basil died the first frost indicating that there is truth to warm season and cool season vegetables. The warm ones couldn't even last a night.

The cool season vegetables that I planted this year are: 

Romanesco Broccoli
Bok Choy
Sweet Peas
Lots of different lettuces
Brussel Sprouts
Red Cabbage

"You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That's a part of it."
- Denzel Washington

GARDEN TIP:  Protect your frost tender plants when temperatures are low. The single most important thing is to keep the soil moist. Fully hydrated leaves and roots are better equipped to endure the frost. 

A contrast to all this cold, harsh activity is the fact that my cactus plant is blooming delicate flowers that beam as bright as the California sun. Another wonder how this tightly compacted, lizard-looking plant can produce such beauty. Please someone, tell me the name of this gem. 

I went to the Spirit Rock Meditation Center and attended a class led by Jack Kornfield, who has taught meditation since 1974 and is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness to the West. If you've never been to Spirit Rock, you may want to experience it. It's a special place. In any case, during my Daylong Retreat with Myra, we sat and listened to Jack's wise words.  His voice is perfectly balanced between soft and strong and pulls you in like a warm hug. One thing that stayed with me was his focus on quieting the mind. He said, "Let the mind quiet and the heart will develop".

The other day Elaine, one of my garden gurus, invited a group of women to her house to make holiday decorations. It turned into a lovely afternoon of creating alongside these amazing women. I've gathered with this group a number of times as we all share a passion for gardening, but it was particularly special actually working together, learning from each other and appreciating each others' talents. We commented afterwards about how when a group of women come together to create, something magical happens. Our minds were quieted, our hearts developed and we created. Thank you, Jack for giving me the insight to recognize that. I liked it.

Succulent Wreaths

Materials Needed:
Two wire wreath forms
Sphagnum moss
Potting soil
Plant material - tip cuttings of small sized succulents, stems approximately 2"- 3" long
Greening pins

We started with a wide variety of succulents.
   Wire, straw, styrafoam, vine wreath forms.
Put the sphagnum moss (that has been soaking in water) into the wire form. Let about six inches hang off the sides of the form as you can see below.
Then top the moss with a mound of potting soil. Pack soil down well.This is a messy and wet situation. Remember what Denzel said.
Place the second wire form on top of the first and fold the excess moss (those six extra inches) up over the top of the second wire form. Tightly wrap floral wire around the entire wreath at 1" intervals.
Poke a hole in the moss with a chopstick. Stick the succulent stem into the hole and secure it with a floral pin. 
Work your way around the wreath designing an interesting collection of succulents.
It takes awhile to fill the wreath.
Nice use of color and texture, Mary!
Sue and Lori are high school friends. We loved meeting Lori and watching the two of them work together. Lori, I might add, is a fellow Timbukt2 fan. If you're looking for a great holiday gift, check out this San Francisco company. The bags are excellent quality and you can even design your own. Just reading their web-site is fun. 
The plants we used were douglas fir, bay laurel, variegated Ilex(holly), eucalyptus, juniper, incense cedar, redwood, spruce, and pine.
We embellished with dried pomegranates, pistache berries, pine cones, antlers, rose hips, and ribbons.
Quiet creative minds hard at work. 
Jill's antler swag looked amazing! 
Melinda led the way on the greenery wreaths using the holly and bay leaves beautifully.
Elaine made a stunning 36" Magnolia leave wreath for her front door.
 I accented mine with three dried pomegranates and an amazing bow (that Elaine tied). 

An early holiday gift: 


Try it. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Changing From One State to Another

I am not a professional writer so I am hesitant to say that I had writer's block, but I did. Maybe it was a seasonal transition writer's block. I came home from traveling with Jeff to England and Ireland and it took me awhile to get excited about my garden. Hard to believe, I know, but I speak the truth. My garden had been well-tended to by my mother-in-law, but the shortened hours of sunshine affected the plants. I looked at them and could envision the work ahead. Transition from summer to winter.

Garden Travel

This was the view from our hotel room. 

One of the most visited attractions in Ireland is Powerscourt Gardens, which include it's historic house, Italian and Japanese gardens and a pet cemetery. Oddly enough, the pet cemetery turned out to be my favorite part of the garden.

Grey and Green. Dark and Colorful. Alive and Dead. 
Beautiful Transition.

One last vacation share. We went to Glendalough in Wicklow County.  It is a 12th century monastic city.  More of that wonderful green and grey color combination and more intriguing headstones. Wicklow County is considered the garden county, but I think they could make a case that Ireland is the garden country.

We can complain
because rose bushes
have thorns, or
rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Abraham Lincoln

Something Old, Something New

I am still feeling the effects of one child now in college. While I am thrilled that Jeffrey is off to a good start, I am faced with the reality that in a couple more years my job will be dramatically different. I was at a gathering the other night where a nice couple asked me, "What do you do?"

Over the years, I've gained confidence in proudly stating, "I am home with my children". When I heard myself answer the question with my staple line, I knew the next question would be, "And how old are they?"

Apparently, the time has run out for that standard party line.  I can't "be home with the kids" who aren't home! In light of all this transition, I am proud to tell you that I was accepted to the University of California's Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program in Santa Clara for 2011.  The first class is in January.


Ever get tired of cleaning your bird bath? Two wonderful gardener friends shared these alternative ideas for a bird bath for those times when you want to shake things up a little.

1) Create a butterfly drinking pool - "Some butterflies take in nutrients and salts from mud puddles through their long, straw-like mouth parts. You can make a permanent mud puddle with a plastic or terra-cotta saucer. Fill it with half sand and half composted manure. Pour water in, top it with an overripe banana, and watch how many butterflies stop by." - From Sunset Magazine.  I am going to do this in my birdbath and disguise the dish with rocks, sticks or other natural items. That way the activity is eye level and I can move the birdbath to a place that we can watch butterflies.

2)  For winter:  How about placing the birdbath outside your window and filling it with votive candles? The light coming in from outdoors will be a party stunner and you can show off your beautiful birdbath while sitting inside.


transition |tranˈzi sh ən; -ˈsi sh ən|

the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another 
That's me. And my garden.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Get Down and Dirty

If you've never known anyone who is proud of their dirt, you do now. I put a lot of energy into my dirt and I am not talking about the things I've done that deserved a hand-slap, a detention or a policeman. I'm talking about the soil that nourishes the plants. It's soil plus my compost, my worm castings and various other amendments that provide nutrients and texture. Soil has its own ecosystem full of life such as: earthworms, insects, bacteria, and fungi. It is all necessary for a successful garden.

The circle of soil's starting point is hard to determine. Is it the tomato peel that's thrown into the compost pile? Or is it the compost that's thrown into the garden bed? Do you see what I mean? It goes on and on and on. It's sustainable. Imagine these pictures in a circle:

Get it? I love my dirt.

End of Summer - Start of Fall

By the end of summer, I started seeing some powdery mildew on the zucchini and cucumbers. It looked like a light gray or white substance on the leaf. 

There are several different types of powdery mildew and it can even be found on ornamentals. To prevent it, the plants need adequate space, a lot of sunlight and not too much water or moisture. This is hard to do as our daylight gets shorter and evenings cooler. I chose to just cut out the leaves on the larger-than-life zucchini plant. However, my cucumber was so covered with it and the leaves became so brittle, I pulled the whole plant out. Poof, done, it's out of the game. There are some sources that say to use a neem oil, if you're into that, but I chose to see it as a symbol of the end of summer. It's time to move on to cool season vegetables. 

Garden Goal
I am working towards a year-round garden so instead of pulling everything out and starting with four, empty beds, I planted several winter vegetables alongside the remaining summer plants. For example, I planted a row of different varieties of lettuce underneath a billowing, leafy collard plant. It will provide adequate shading during the heat of these early Fall days. I also planted broccoli and cauliflower amongst the still-producing peppers. It's a bit of a puzzle right now, an art project. I like how it looks with colors and sizes blending together. It will be interesting as the new plants grow and the old plants wither. You know I can get fussy about the visual. 

Below is a list of some of the cool season vegetables I will plant. I like to plant a few in succession so each harvest isn't ready all at the same time.

Brussel Sprouts  
Bok Choy
Peas (Sugar and Snap)
Lettuce/Salad Greens

Don't forget herbs for upcoming holiday cooking: Parsley, Rosemary, Tarragon, Thyme, Sage.
And don't forget spring-flowering bulbs and edible flowers such as pansies and violas. 

Here is a look at the final days of my summer garden. 

The garden at the end of the pool - fully grown-in! 

The vegetable garden entrance


Even Hotter Peppers

The Basket - Peppers, Eggplants, Tomatoes, a Lemon, Basil and Dahlias! 

As you see, I am proud of my dirt. It's how we grow. It's what builds character. It makes us who we are. 
Be proud of your dirt! 

Still wondering about that policeman?