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.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Best Laid Plants... I mean, Plans...

Well, it didn't quite happen like I'd planned. I ran into one of my garden gurus, Elaine in the parking lot after tennis. Remember I told you about her? Well, she thought it was still too cold to plant vegetables, particularly tomatoes and peppers. We are expecting some cold weather again this week. I felt badly because I told you that I was planting and I wanted to send you an e-mail saying my plan was derailed, but then that would have been presumptuous. If you did plant, you'll probably be fine. You may want to shelter your seedlings from possible frost by putting a cardboard box over them. Their little struggling roots is a bad thought.

So I decided to refresh some pots and plant some more flowers. You really can never have enough of them. I bought some six packs of purple Petunias, Stock in a variety of colors, Alyssum, Marigolds, and Cosmos from  Green Thumb. Did you join their Facebook page yet? (see previous blog). I admit, I also bought some from Ace Hardware. I was there picking up some lightbulbs and couldn't resist. 'Tis the season. I'll let you know how they do.

Watering flowers can get a little out of control once our warm weather hits. I don't want to feel responsible for my flower pots like feeding the dogs. I have the solution: Succulents! They're amazing because there are so many different shapes, textures, and colors AND they do not need a lot of tending to. AND, many bloom amazing colorful flowers. I have some tucked in garden beds combined with other flowering, leafy plants throughout my yard. It makes it interesting.  Oh, here is another wonderful thing: You can take cuttings from many succulents, stick the stem in some dirt (or a pot) and voila, you have another plant! Big, big fan of succulents. Mine were a little beat up by the frosts we had this winter, but they seem to be reviving themselves. If your weather gets really cold or if you live in the snow, only plant in pots and bring them inside during the winter. It's worth the extra effort.

My friend, Chandra and I had so much fun planting over a hundred pots with succulents, displaying them at our homes and inviting our friends to come buy them. We did that twice (one Fall and one Spring) and then realized that our friends could only buy so many succulent pots and sales would likely decline. Our business is Buds 'n Blooms and someday more fun, creative ideas will bloom with my bud. We both love to dig in the dirt!

If you click on the picture, you can see the pots enlarged. There are some amazing ones, if I do say so myself.

This was our first show at Chandra's. We were so proud of our creations and had so much fun making each one that we never wanted anyone to buy them.
This is Chandra's back deck. Amazing view, eh? Okay, now look at the succulents!

If anyone would like to hire Buds 'n Blooms to refresh your pots or create new ones, just let me know.

Sad garden story: the artichoke I transplanted? Well, it's not dead, but it's not real happy either. I am going to cut it way back and hope that it comes back next year. For the time being, it's not the beautiful sculptural plant that I envisioned. In fact, it's so ugly, that I can't even photograph it for you. The even sadder truth is that there are two baby artichokes growing. I really stressed out this mama artichoke! Better luck next year.

Time to clean out the bird feeders and birdbath. I loyally feed my flock of yellow finches. They like Nyger seed and they go through a tube about every two weeks. Not quite as bad as the dogs, but a small feeling of responsibility. The birdbath is a pain because the water gets murky quickly, but its a nice feature in the garden and it's pretty awesome when you get to witness a bird playing in it. This is the best cleaner: SuperBac Nature Birdbath Scrub - "Melts Away Birdbath Scum". That about says it all.  I like it because the solution is safe for the birds and the brush is part of the bottle. I don't have to go find the brush each time (I'm big on convenience). You can buy it at the Wild Bird Center in King's Court Shopping Center, Los Gatos for $11.95. I had my first bottle for almost a year.

Gardening Tip: 
When you plant  flowers in the ground or a pot, pinch off some of the buds ( I just can't bring myself to pinch them all off) and then the plant will focus on growing its roots rather than blooming those buds!

I had an epiphany. I love having epiphanies. As I've mentioned, hopefully several times, I have a few gardening gurus who I've learned so much from. I decided to feature some of these wonderful people in my blog. My next blog will feature Carla, from Green Thumb. You know when you meet someone and you just hit if off immediately? Like old friends from way back? That's how I feel about Carla and she's a great gardener too! Wait till you see her backyard!

No dirty stories this week other than I discovered that some of my tennis gals can really dance it up! Even in our tennis outfits amongst a scene of well-dressed party-goers, who, no doubt ended up envious of our fun. The sun was shining that night. Or was it a full moon?

Speaking of full moon... Carla says,  "Italians plant by the full moon of April". That's this weekend.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ready? Set. GO!

I get excited looking at pictures of past summer gardens. I can see how much the clematis has grown from last year. I pulled those Hollyhocks out that you see towering above the arch (the white flowers). I see the Dahlias in the lower right hand corner and it reminds me to get some bulbs. And hurry up! The exciting thing is the different looks you get each year. For me, its not too planned. Sure, I have certain areas for the flowers, for the herbs and the beds are thoughtfully planted, but I also like to randomly tuck things in odd places to see if they work and to add color or texture to a boring area. 
In any case, its all fun. It's not meant to be stressful or overwhelming or burdensome. It's not meant to be a source of more tasks or a source of bad feelings. It really should be about rejuvenation, relaxation, attention to nature, and patience. Of course there is work and there are points in the season where you'll need extra time... like, harvesting time. But, you should plan your space according to how the work makes you feel. If you are thinking that it may take too much time, then plant a small garden. How about a garden just for salads? Plant some lettuces, cucumbers and tomatoes. Just three things and see how that goes. I've heard some friends say, "I don't have enough space". Then, make one small bed. Its not about size! Its just about the experience. (Okay, I didn't really just say that.) I've also heard people say, "I don't have a green thumb". I don't get that. Green thumb? Does that mean that there is some magical energy that some thumbs have that make plants grow and those that don't have this thumb can never have plants? There is NO SUCH THING. A brown thumb is just an uneducated thumb. Usually someone who doesn't understand how much to water or someone who doesn't know that you have to actually feed plants. 
Okay, so you get the picture. Bottom-line: A garden should be a source of enjoyment. And if something doesn't work out, who cares? 

Seeds v. Seedlings:
Having said that, let's get started! I am going to the nursery this week to begin picking out my summer veggies. I am not really good about planting seeds, but each year I give it a try. I have been successful with chard, lettuces, and radishes. In keeping with my low stress philosophy, I usually buy seedlings at the nursery. Then, I can visually plan out my beds by placing the seedlings where I want them. It is fun to use some seeds. But, up to this point, mine have been on an experimental basis. I also suggest planting your seeds sooner rather than later as it becomes more difficult as the sun gets stronger. Only once have I grown something inside and then transplanted it. It was a chard plant that ended up producing me mounds of delicious, beautifully colored leaves. Believe it or not,  it was actually hard for me to pull that plant out when the time came because I had watched it start from a seed. 
More space planning: 
If you have your beds made already, try to plant east to west for the greatest sun exposure. And, plant your tallest crops to the north so they don't shade the rest of the garden. Sometimes this is hard to do, but I use it as a guideline. 

And try to incorporate some type of resting spot for yourself. Like a table and chairs, or a bench, or a stool. Just something to sit down and admire your garden. A place to take your morning coffee!
By now, my soil is ready for planting. I hope yours is too. I'm going to Yamagami Nursery this week if you want to join me. Time for action, people! 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Barrel O' Fun

Cheesy title, but the point is that you can utilize a wine barrel to decorate your garden and control space.
There are some plants that wreak havoc on your garden unintentionally and a wine barrel is the perfect solution. Take mint, for example. I planted some pineapple mint amongst a few other varieties two summers ago. This Spring it came back again full-force. If it was in my beds, it would spread aggressively and take up too much space.. especially for the amount that I use it.

Mint is great for Mojitos, obviously.. but its also used in Mediterranean dishes, which I make a lot in the summer with all the summer veggies. I also make this Mint Sauce that is fabulous with grilled lamb chops or lamb kebobs. 

Mint Sauce
3/4 c. mint, coarsely chopped
1 c. flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
3T chives
3T capers
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lemon zested
3 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. olive oil
Puree the mint and parsley in a food processor until smooth, then add the remaining ingredients to the processor. Add the olive oil last and in steady stream.

Strawberries are another plant that I keep out of my main beds. I don't get a large harvest by putting them in a wine barrel, but that's okay for now. I nibble on them while I am working in the garden or pick a few to put in my cereal in the morning. Strawberries need a lot of water and they like nitrogen. 
Pam Peirce (Remember her? Did you buy the book yet?) says that the strawberry pots you see in the nurseries, the ones with large holes in the sides, don't really work. She claims that strawberries need four inches in each direction for root growth. 

I bought an artichoke plant to put in my winter garden from Green Thumb Nursery.  Join their Facebook Page and learn about specials going on and other fun information. I didn't know much about artichokes other than they take up a lot of space. And mine proved that theory right! They are supposed to bear fruit February and April, but mine didn't bear any (garden failure). However, its the most beautiful, sculptural plant and I couldn't get rid of it, but I also couldn't let it use valuable summer real estate. So, I used a wine barrel! Transplanting can be tricky, but I've had as many successes as failures.  If anything, it will  add a new element to the back end of my garden. I read that artichokes grow in the same place for several years so I may have found a wonderful solution. You'll be the first to know when I eat my first artichoke. 

Oh, it's Boulder All the Way. Go Buffs! Getting closer to that day of real transition. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Introducing ...

I really don't profess to be a master gardener or anything remotely close to that.. I'm just someone who had an idea, took a 6 week class at the Campbell Recreation Center, had some boxes built and has learned from reading, listening and trial and error.  I now have two summer gardens and two winter gardens under my belt.


I decided that this summer it would be fun to document each step and see for myself how it all goes ... and grows, while sharing it with anyone who is interested.
I've had a few people ask me to come over to their house and help them so it's possible that this may spark some curiosity. If nothing else, my friend, Vicki told me I could publish this into a book at the end of the season and save it for my kids... as if....

You'll need a few things to get started. The first, is what I will refer to as the Bible. Its Golden Gate Gardening, by Pam Peirce.  Its perfect for gardening in this climate and Pam makes it all sound so simple!

Once you buy that for just under $20.00, think about these things that you'll need:

1) Space that gets good sun
2) Soil thats amended
3) Adequate access to water

Here is the space that I started with:

I walked out different sized beds and marked them with string by taking four wooden stakes from Ace Hardware and then attaching string to resemble the sides. It was important to be able to walk around and in between all the beds. I also knew I wanted a path wide enough for a wheel barrel to manuevre though all the beds. I ended up with 3 4x10 and one slightly shorter to accommodate an apricot tree (which never blooms by the way).

After awhile, it looked like this:

As you see the boxes are filled with soil. I used regular organic soil that my gardner brought in, but depending on how much you need, you can get it at any nursery or larger supply store. If you're not using raised bed, that is great too! Afterall, you probably paid a lot for that soil, already! I would still recommend amending soil that you already have and plotting out a space with actual dimensions. To amend the soil (make it delicious for the plants), I use chicken manure and some compost. My friend, Elaine is my gardening guru. Between her and "the bible" (did you buy the book yet?), I've learned a ton. We will get into composting later. But for now, just use chicken manure and buy some bags of compost like you see here.  Save the compost to lay around the plants after you've set them in the ground. Blend the soil and chicken manure about six inches to one foot down. The soil should be loose and crumbly.

This is my son, Jeffrey.  Don't get too excited. This is rare, he owed me money and I translated that into garden labor. He was my mixer for an hour.

So there you have it. Four beds that will sit for a week or so. Its best to let the chicken manure rest for a bit before planting so it doesn't burn the fragile roots. Ahhh, now I can sit and rest and think about the veggies that I want to plant. 

We'll get into water and plants, and wine barrels planting and tools and... 
 I need to get packing to take my son to Boulder for an "admitted student" weekend! Perhaps even a little more exciting than my soil and possibly will result in some material for more dirty stories later...