On Being Thankful

bamboo_forestIt took a trip to beautiful Hakone Gardens in Saratoga recently to put it all in perspective. It’s easy to overlook what’s really important in life when we are busy with everyday things. With Thanksgiving approaching the gardens were quiet on this crisp fall day giving me the opportunity to slow down and listen to the lessons of nature.

Majestic shoots of black bamboo emerge from the earth and tower above me 30 feet. The timber bamboo shoots are over 4 inches across and rise even taller. Bamboo is as strong as steel and sturdier than concrete. Very dense fibers give them extreme flexibility, allowing them to bend without snapping. They are strong and graceful at the same time reminding me of my sister who faces great physical challenges with character and poise. I’m thankful for every minute I get to share her now. Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

At the pond a dozen Koi swam slowly over to me. They are huge, probably over 20 yeawisteria_trunkrs old. What have they heard from the thousands of visitors who talk to them over the years? Each koi is a unique fish and no two are quite the same. They have different color, scale types and patterns. They look wise with their beautiful patterns of orange, white, gold and navy. I’m thankful that… “Each of us is a unique strand in the intricate web of life and here to make a contribution”.  Deepak Chopra.

Hakone Gardens was first designed over a hundred years ago in 1917. As a traditional Japanese garden it was created to last forever. A landscape architect group from Japan comes to Hakone every other year for ten days to make improvements and oversee the constant care and maintenance. The wisteria arbor roof was raised not too long ago. The structure has a big job supporting the decades old vines which twist only in a clockwise direction. Wisteria, like other legumes, pull nitrogen out of the air from bacteria on their root nodules making it available to the plant. So many lessons to be learned from wisteria- perseverance, determination, self-reliance, I’m thankful for each new challenge which helps me build strength of character.

Japanese_mapleA Japanese garden mimics nature in a smaller setting. Designed for peaceful contemplation, each element -stone, water, plants and rocks – strive to provide a spiritual haven for visitors. Old wizened Japanese maples are pruned to capture their ancient power yet bestow peace and tranquility in the garden. I sat under the canopy of a lace-leaf maple to appreciate the glowing fall color backlit by the late afternoon sun. I’m thankful for this tree which symbolizes strength and endurance. To quote American novelist, Don Williams, Jr., “The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”

My visit to Hakone Gardens helped me remember that being grateful is something I should focus on every single day. When I don’t know something it’s an opportunity to learn. Be thankful. Each new challenge helps me to grow. Be thankful. And especially be thankful for the best things I have like friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving from The Mountain Gardener.

Plant Combinations that Inspire

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Bearded iris with blue fescue

Outside my window a Townsend warbler feasts on suet. It’s a rainy day and my obsession with low water use plants is momentarily taking a break. Each day the soft colors of my fall garden are becoming brighter and more vivid. Backlit leaves take on a whole new look. There are so many ways of combining plants in the garden. I’m taking notes so I remember my favorites to include in my own garden and future designs. Fall is a good time for planting or planning.

Many of my grasses and plants are deciduous and are in the process of going dormant. Even when I mix in broadleaf evergreen plants these groupings lose their impact this time of year. I have only been gardening at this house for a little over a year so the new plants are still young. I’ve had to replant many shrubs and perennials as I was a little cavalier with my gopher basket use. But I persevere as I love color in the garden, especially foliage color.

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Festival grass with leucadendron

It’s the combinations that look great year-round that hold a garden together. I’ve got two leucadendron that are real troupers when it comes to drought, mucho summer sun, zero winter sun, sandy soil and deer browsing.

The ’Safari Sunset’ shows off those vivid burgundy bracts nearly year round with the best show starting during the summer and extending through the next spring. Leucadendron require good drainage and prefer acidic conditions. It’s easy to love this plant to death with too much water. I mulch mine heavily with bark chips. I’m thinking of adding the South African, long-blooming bulbine ‘Hallmark Orange’ at its feet. The combination of the two guarantee color year round.

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Blue and yellow plant combination Cream Delight phormium, Blue fescue grass, semperviven succulent

Blue and yellow are another combination that always look good together. You can pick from yellow and gold foliage plants such as phormium ‘Yellow Wave’, abelia “Kaleidoscope’, coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’ or sedum ‘GoldMoss’ and pair it with a dwarf blue spruce, blue fescue or blue oat grass, hens and chickens, a blue euphorbia such as ’Glacier Blue’ or ‘Blue Haze’ or the blue-gray succulent senecio mandraliscae.

In these days of converting lawns to low water use landscapes, choosing the right plants is even more important. Use to be a row of foundation shrubs between the lawn and the front windows were the norm. This was not a very inspiring look at best. Think of the possibilities to create a whole new look for your front or back yard.

I like all the colors so it’s hard to whittle down a plant palette to just a few for the whole garden. Breaking up your areas into different “garden” rooms allows you to pair colors like silver, purple and black in one section using a bronze phormium, a burgundy loropetalum and silver thyme.

In another section of the garden that can be seen from a window might you might want to attract hummingbirds.

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Red / Gold plant combination Red phormium, Abelia ‘Kaleidescope, rosemary, phytostegia

Blooming late in the season the super tough Pineapple sage with eye-popping red flowers combines well with the dark green of an upright rosemary and an Amazing Red phormium for an architectural dramatic touch.

In a garden that inspires you the plants should be ones that you love looking at and taking care of. Some of us like the look of dark green plants while others like grasses that move in the wind. Others are not fans of succulents. Whether you grow plants to feed the birds and attract wildlife or want a little bit of everything there’s a combination of plants that’s perfect for you and your garden.

Feels like Fall

pumpkin_and_mumsThere’s a chill in the morning air now. Several gardeners told me that their thermometer registered 32 degrees recently and there was frost on the pumpkin. Well, actually they said the white stuff was on their peppers but you get the idea. I’ve heard this saying for years so I looked it up and found some picturesque fall scenes described for gardeners and farmers a hundred years ago.

Thanks to James Whitcomb Riley who wrote the poem ‘When the Frost is on the Punkin’ we can picture the landscape in Indiana in the early 1900’s. Tall corn, when dry was gathered into shocks which were teepee like in appearance and tied at the top. Left in the fields winter_squashthey were used as needed for livestock feed.

Pumpkin was a staple food for the early pioneers. It was easy to grow as a few seeds dropped into a shallow hole grew into a mature fruit. Yes, technically they are a fruit not a vegetable along with summer and winter squash and gourds. Their thick rind would allow them to be kept almost indefinitely.

Another stanza of Rileys’ poem describes an autumn scene not so different than our own gardens. Whether you grow apples and pears or a landscape for wildlife your garden is gently going to sleep now. Enjoy this time of year. Here’s the whole poem.

WHEN THE FROST IS ON THE PUNKIN
by James Whitcomb Reilly

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and the gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’; of the guineys and the cluckin’ of the hens
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O it’s then the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock

They’s somethin kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here -
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny monring of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock -
When the frost is on the punkin and fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries – kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A preachin’ sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below – the clover overhead! -
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too!
I don’t know how to tell it – but if sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me -
I’d want to ‘commodate ’em – all the whole-indurin’ flock -
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Edible Plants for Birds, Bees and People

rain gauge Nov1With every rain forecast I hope for enough precipitation to give my garden a good soak. Last Monday I was not disappointed. I heard the pitter patter of rain on leaves and jumped up in the morning to check the rain gauge. To my delight the last storm dropped 1.67 inches of the wet stuff on my garden in Bonny Doon. The prior three October showers had barely totaled a tenth of an inch. Last year, the hills and meadows were already greening up with 3” of the wet stuff. After this much needed precipitation the deer are happy, the forest is happy, our gardens are happy, everybody is happy.

Some weather forecasters are predicting a drier than normal November for our area while a recent NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) report predicted El Nino rains starting this November. I’m going with the folks at NOAA. A November 1st rain event qualifies them as the best forecasters so far.

I’m enjoying the vibrant colors of the fall garden. Everything is brighter after a rain. I’ll also be looking for some new plants with berries for the birds, more shrubs with fall and winter interest and a couple new grasses. With water conservation in mind here are some of the plants I’m considering. Some put on their best show at the end of the season.

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PIneapple guava edible flowers

I can’t get enough of delicious pineapple guava fruit thanks to my best friend, Karen. Her plant is loaded with fruit this year. Pineapple guava has been on my wish list for a while because of its versatility and this fall I’m going to plant one. Easy to grow Feijoa sellowiana needs only occasional watering. An established plant can survive without any supplemental water but If you want to enjoy more flowers and delicious fruit give them a little extra water especially during flowering and fruiting periods. Mulch the soil around the plants to protect the shallow roots and conserve moisture.

The early summer flowers are showy, contrast nicely with the gray green foliage and are completely edible. You can eat them right off the plant, toss them into a salad, add them to iced tea or make jelly. They have a fruity flavor and bees, butterflies and birds also appreciate them. The pineapple-flavored 2 inch oval fruit is produced three to four months after the flowers. It’s easy to cut the little fruits in half and scoop out the fleshy inside with a spoon.

Pineapple guava grow at a medium rate to about 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. You can easily train one as an espalier, hedge or small specimen tree. They do well in containers, too, so if you’re like a lot of people with limited space or time this is a good plant to grow. Did I mention they’re deer resistant? This is one unfussy plant.

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Toyon berries

Another plant that is definitely going to be planted in my landscape this fall is a California native. Each year when I see a toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) covered in red berries I vow to get one for myself. They have very low water needs even in the summer and make a good addition for the back of the garden. Irrigate them occasionally during spring and summer to promote fire resistance. Although they often take a few years to establish, their deep roots are good for soil erosion and slope stabilization.

Also known as the Christmas berry, no berry is more sought after when is season. Robins love them. Waxwings and purple finches also rip open the fruits to eat in great numbers. Unlike pyracantha berries birds do not get drunk on toyon berries. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers.

Toyon is one of the classic shrubs of the California chaparral. Except for an extension into Baja, the shrub only occurs in California. Its resemblance to European holly and abundance in Southern California’s Holly Canyon were the origin of the name Hollywood. The name toyon was given by the Ohlone tribe and is the only California native plant that continues to be commonly known by a Native American name.

Toyon make good container specimens and the berries can be used in place of English holly for Christmas decorating.

Confessions of The Mountain Gardener

Everything in my garden does not always turn out the way I imagined. I make lots of mistakes. From putting in all the drip emitters backwards- yes, I actually did that- to my ongoing banana slug relocation program I should be able to face challenges in the garden and come out triumphant. But alas that is not always the case.

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Gaura linheimeri ‘Belleza Dark Pink’

If you’re like me there are always plants that end up in the wrong place. My Gaura languish and reach for more light. My mildew resistant crape myrtle never recovered from last May’s foggy weather and has nary a blossom. Other plants shrivel up in too much sun. The possibilities are endless. Every garden is different. A plant that should be able to look great growing in full sun might get too much of a good thing in your garden planted up against a wall or near a flagstone patio. Conversely, some plants that should bloom just fine in partial shade never really do in parts of my garden or grow sideways reaching for more sun, finally flopping over in a valiant effort to get enough light.

I study my sun and shade patterns throughout the year. Really I do. I plant similar plants together in hydrozones to maximize irrigation efficiency. But still as the season winds down it’s obvious that I have made bad decisions along the way. Throw in the rogue gopher, the dog digging for said gopher and the occasional deer and mole and I seem to remember more failures and near-misses that successes.

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Gaura reaching for more light

I hope to learn from my mistakes and it’s never too early to start. Now’s the time to move those plants that will never do well where they are now. It’s time to plant new ones including native plants or transplant those in containers into your garden. October through February offers the best time to do this. In the fall the soil is still warm which encourages rooting and rain will be coming soon. Late winter offers natural rainfall to help plants establish before the next warm season arrives. Rearranging the garden makes for satisfactory fall work. After all you already own some of the plants, no need to buy everything new.

Transplanting and installing succeeds best if you take care of the roots as well as the top of the plant. Good growth comes from root health. Here are some tips for happy roots.

Prepare the new location first before transplanting any plant. Dig a hole twice as wide as the rootball but just the same depth. If the hole is dry fill it with water and let drain. Amend the native soil. Don’t be shy about loosening roots. Cut roots will form new, dense, healthy roots. Don’t add soil over the rootball. Keep the rootball a little higher than grade to allow for a layer of mulch and for any settling. Plants need oxygen at the soil level. Firm the soil after planting and water thoroughly.

Lessons I have learned that are easier to follow include when to expect our first frost. I’ve kept a weather journal for many years. Weather patterns change from year to year and we get updates from the media if frost is expected. You should prepare now as the first frost can come in November. Occasionally we have had a late October frost but mostly the first frost arrives about the second week of November with late November being the most common. Be prepared by bringing in your houseplants and moving frost tender plants like those fancy succulents under an overhang or porch.

I’m not sure when I’m going to be planting my wildflower seeds. Normally, I’d do it now but with the potential heavy rains we are hoping to get. I think I’ll hedge my bets, planting some now and another batch in February. By waiting until late winter I’ll be able to hoe off any tall weeds that have germinated that would outcompete the wildflowers.

One last thing and you’ll be happy to hear this. Fall is not a good time to prune. Wounds heal slowly, leaving them more susceptible to disease. As a general rule, don’t prune when leaves are falling or forming. To avoid sap flow on birches and maples prune after leaves mature next year.