Category Archives: holiday gifts

Gifts from the Garden

Lesser_GoldfinchLesser Goldfinch

With the colder, rainy weather my feathered friends appreciate the seed in the feeders I have around my house even more. The Anna’s hummingbirds still frequent their feeders regularly now that the pineapple sage flowers and flowering maple are about the only nectar source in my garden. I strive to attract wildlife to my garden with the right plants, water and shelter.

That brings me to Christmas. The turkey leftovers are gone signaling it’s time to dust off the Christmas list. I add an idea for a present for a loved one and then one for me. I’m the easy one. I like everything. Sometimes I’m stumped, sometimes it all comes together seamlessly but whatever I decide to give I know some of the best gifts are the ones from nature or that I make myself. With that in mind I have a few ideas up my sleeve.

A friend loaned me a book entitled ‘Wildlife Gardens’ that is published by the National Home Gardening Club. Within the 8 chapters, ranging from “Who’s Out There and What are They Looking For” to “When Wildlife is a Problem” are many ideas, reminders and advice to discover the wildlife garden. Whether yours is a young friend or a long time friend that’s on your gift giving list, there’s a gift idea from nature for everyone.

The wildlife garden is a place to relax and recover a sense of connection with other creatures. Nesting boxes, flowers and other plants encourage birds to make their homes in your yard. Give a bird feeder or suet feeder to someone and they’ll be hooked. You can make simple feeders yourself. A platform with edges gives many birds a chance to feed at once. You can add a roof supported by branches you find in your own garden to upgrade the look.

Plants provide needed food year round in the garden and especially during the winter. Why not give a friend a

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASwallowtail butterfly feeding on butterfly bush.

plant or offset of one of your plants that birds, bees or butterflies would appreciate? Some easy-to-divide favorites that attract birds include foxglove, coral bells, red-hot poker, California fuchsia, mahonia and purple coneflower.

You might have one of the following butterfly favorites that you could divide and pot up for a friend. Yarrow, aster, veronica, agapanthus, astilbe, coreopsis and gaura to name a few that butterflies favor. Ceanothus and columbine are two plants that self sow in my garden and would be great to pot up for a gift.

A fun thing I like to do during the holidays is decorate a plant or tree outside with edible ornaments for the birds. You could trim an evergreen swag and decorate it as an easy gift. Both fruit-eating and seed-eating birds will appreciate the dietary boost during the lean winter months. For the fruit-eaters attach dried apples, hawthorn berries, cranberries and grapes to the greenery. You can also thread them onto wire loops with raw whole peanuts in the shell and wire orange slices to the branches.

Seed-eaters relish stalks of ornamental wheat tied to the branches, along with ears of dried corn. The favorite of all the “ornaments” is peanut butter-coated pinecones encrusted with wild birdseed mix and hung with florist wire. Millet sprays tied to the branches are a hit, too. Look around your garden for other berries that you can use to decorate your own trees or plants or a swag of evergreen cuttings as a present for the birds and the nature lover on your list.

succulentsAlso on my list of gift ideas is a dry arrangement of seed heads, pods and foliage from my garden in a thrift shop container or tea tin. A selection of little succulent cuttings you can spare look great in a recycled container or pot and would be a welcome addition to anyone’s kitchen window.

The holidays, maybe even more this year, are a time to bring a smile to someone you care about. Your gift doesn’t need to cost very much to show your love.

Blooming Gifts for Gardeners

Echeveria_LaceIt’s as fun for me to give a little something during the holidays to those I care about as it is to receive a present. I admit I look forward to what might be under the tree but half the fun of the holidays is putting together an inexpensive gift that is just right for each person on my list. With so many gardeners on that list, the choices are endless. Here are some ideas that you might find just right for those you love.

Succulents are easy to grow. They are very forgiving plants with variations in watering and light conditions. Seems I’m always coming across someone who has a story about how long they have had a particular specimen and where it came from. “You see that hens and chicks over there?”, they say. “Well my aunt gave me a little slip way back in… and it blooms every year.”echeverria_ruffled

I’m particularly drawn to the many frilly and ruffled echeveria that are available now. There are 180 different species of this succulent and hundreds of hybrids to choose from. Many of them are blooming at this time of year making them a showy gift that’s sure to get you a lot of thanks. With names like Afterglow, Easter Bonnet, Red Edge, Coral Glow, Perle Von Nurnberg, Morning Light, Blue Surprise or Fire and Ice you can pretty much pick the shade of scarlet, tangerine, purple, opalescent blue or nearly black, often with a combination of colors.

These rosette shaped succulents are native to Mexico. The brilliant colors of the leaves never fade and the waxy flowers last a very long time. They make ideal potted plants and are easy to propagate. The perfect gift in my book.

Another simple, inexpensive gift for the gardener on your list is the tillandsia. Sometimes called air plants, these relatives of Spanish moss and pineapple have tiny scales on their leaves called trichomes which serve as very efficient absorption systems to gather water. They are very tolerant of drought conditions and will grow with just an occasional spritzing of water although I like to run mine under lukewarm water to mimic the showers they might get where they normally grow in tropical tree limbs.

Tillandsia prefer the light frtillandsiaom a bright window but not direct sunlight and are among the easiest of indoor plants to grow and maintain. Wire one on a branch or piece of driftwood or place in a shell where they will live happily for years growing pups at the base that replace the mother plant.hyacinth_jars.1600

It’s not too late to start a couple of hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator to give as gifts. Part of the fun is watching the bulbs put out roots well before the fragrant blooms. Choose a hyacinth jar or other narrow necked jar that will support the bulb just above the water and keep in the frig until roots start to fill the jar. Take the bulb out of the dark and give it a bit more light each day for a week until acclimated to bright light. The house will fill with the sweet scent of spring even though it may only be January.

They say that we often give a gift that we ourselves would like to receive. Simple is sometimes the best but they all say “love”.

Christmas Wreath Traditions

This is the story of a holiday tradition and how it all began. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Nine years ago just before the annual neighborhood Christmas bunco game and Secret Santa gift exchange, everybody in the group drew a name. Gifts were traditionally an ornament or small holiday decoration. Barb, her real  name, had been really busy that year and didn't have anything ready when the time came for the get together.  On a whim she went into her yard, cut some greens and foliage branches and threw together a wreath on a wire coat hanger. The gift was the hit of the party and so began the annual wreath making party. Everybody wanted a piece of the action.

Between rain storms this year the wreath makers met to share stories and laughter and listen to holiday music. I asked several of the original members if the group had an official name and was told "not really". Now the pressure was on and a name was decided. Gold Gulch Wreathers worked for everybody although one of the founding members lives in Forest Lakes where I live. Close enough was the consensus.

Part of the fun for the group is sourcing new materials to try in the wreaths. Barb and Martha and their husbands collect for a couple of weekends at the end of November and locate as much colorful and interesting foliage that they can find. This year they found a new source from a school in Watsonville who allowed them to cut grape vines, olive branches and several types of fir and cypress. They were able to harvest lots of variegated holly this year as the guard dog had moved out. The new owners were more than happy to have a free pruning for their shrub. Mostly though, they find materials in neighbors back yards and green waste cans.

Bright foliage added to mixed greens in a wreaths can really make a creation pop. This year we are experimenting to see how Safari Sunset leucodendron and Ed Goucher abelia will hold up. Both have reddish foliage. Another new item are purple-leafed varieties of loropetalum. It looks awesome when mixed with variegated pittosporum tobira. Rosemary and Mexican bush sage flowers are added for their wonderfull scent. Sprays of tristania berries hold up well in a wreath and add a touch of yellow to the other colors.

More material than ever was collected this year which is good because many of us will gather several times over a two week period to put together wreaths for gifts for family and friends. As many as 50 wreaths will be made by friends near and far including some nurses from over the hill who work with Barb's daughter, the bunco players and grandchildren. Martha hopes to break her record of 7 wreaths and is in competition with Barb for the fullest wreath. I witnessed these beauties being created. We call them "Kardashians", they laughed.

Everyone has their own method for putting together a wreath. Some gather bundles of the various greens and foliage in their hand, trim the ends and attach to the frame with wire. Some are more meticulous grouping each bundle with exactly the same mix. Others glue cones, berry clusters, driftwood, lichen, feathers, shells or flowers to grape vines. There's no right or wrong method when it comes to wreath making. As long as you have gloves, clippers and wire on a paddle it's easy to create beautiful wreaths for the holidays or any time of year.

I love the idea of neighbors coming together to enjoy each others company, This tradition has become a highlight of the season for many of us.
 

Art & Landscapes @ the DeYoung & Palace of Fine Arts

Still thinking of what to give that special someone for Christmas? Recently I spent the day at the De Young Museum enjoying the Renaissance paintings on loan from Venice, Italy. Also got over the The Palace of Fine Arts for the exhibit of the the Impressionist, Passarro.

 The paintings are powerful and inspiring. I was especially drawn to the landscapes. Looking at the pomegranate, olive and apple trees gave me some ideas for holiday presents.

Because Venice was literally built on a forest of tree trunks driven into the mud of a marsh it's geography is unique. In a city built on water, plants were highly valued and nurtured on terraces and courtyards. There was a longing for natural settings and this is clear in the the Renaissance painters work. Mediterranean plants from the mainland were brought over to grace the houses of the wealthy. Laurel trees, signifying purity and chastity, are often depicted in these masterpieces.

What a great gift one of these masterpieces  would make. But what if you don't have millions to buy an original? Here are some other ideas to consider.

The landscapes depicted in many of the paintings inspired me to work on my Christmas list.  I'm a gardener starved for color, life and greenery.  It was 29 degrees in my garden in Felton this morning and I know many of you experienced even colder temps after the brightness of the stars on a clear overnight sky.

Thick frost finished off this year's garden- what was left after the wind storm anyway. Even the more sheltered places look a little winter weary this year. Winter is here a tad early for our California gardens. Make the most of those empty spaces in your garden and those of the fellow gardeners you'd like to remember during the holidays.

Are your containers looking a little sad about now? A little bleak and bare? Then so are everybody else's. Why not go beyond cabbages and pansies and give some inspiration with colorful textural combinations that will last through the darkest days of winter.

Native plants grow well in containers. Sure most are great drought tolerant additions to the garden but have you thought about putting them together in a container for giving to someone on your list? Any of the cool blue succulents in the dudleya family look breathtaking planted in blue glazed container. A manzanita like Dr. Hurd  looks quite dramatic in a large pot. Don't worry about if the plant will outgrow the container eventually. You are essentially planting a giant bonsai and root pruning every few years will keep both of you happy and healthy. Drainage is the most important aspect of planting most natives so be sure to add pumice or lava rock to your planting mix.

What else would make a good gift? There's always a new pair of gardening boots for that special gift but if you're thinking smaller, maybe a dry arrangement from seed heads, pods and foliage from your garden in a thrift shop container would fit the bill. Leaving dried perennials and grasses to overwinter in the garden is a present for our birds who appreciate the banquet. There's no need to tidy up unless they've collapsed in a slimy heap. Take advantage of the excuse to kick back over the holidays and enjoy yourself.
 

Holiday Wreaths

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. The garden's been put to rest for the winter covered with a nice blanket of compost. The recent wind storm provided me with lots of material to make a beautiful holiday wreath for the front door or swag to decorate a window. Wreaths are easy and fun to make. They cost virtually nothing and make wonderful gifts for family, friends and neighbors, too.  I was invited to a neighbor's 8th annual holiday wreath making party.  I could hardly wait.

Kinda like a barn raising party without the barn, this fun group gets together for the first two weekends in December each year to inspire each other to create wonderfully unique wreaths and other decorations from natural materials. Each crafter is encouraged to invite another friend or relative and as many as 32 people will be joining my neighbor, Barbara, for the fun over the next two weeks.  Some will come from as far away as Folsom and Roseville and include both men and grandchildren who take part in the festivities.

Creative people amaze me. Amidst dozens of downed branches, the wreath makers started to work. Barbara and her husband started collecting foliage and berries weeks ago in their pick up truck. She laughed when she told me that this year they were very sad because they were unable to get trimmings from their favorite variegated holly as it was being guarded by a pit bull. Mostly they collect from neighbors trees. Green waste cans of friends might supply a wonderful mix of hydrangea flowers and other pruned goodies. Monterey cypress and pines from the Davenport area are coveted along with Hollywood junipers, cedar, leptospermum, eucalyptus sprays and variegated pittosporum foliage. Large piles of English laurel, purple hopseed bush, rosemary and bottlebrush surrounded us. Last year was the first for acacia branches as they didn't know if it would hold up but it worked great and is now a staple. Tristania leaves and berries are another new addition to the wreaths.

Barbara explained that she once took a floral making class at Cabrillo. "I got hooked", she says,"now I'm obsessed". Some "wreathers" as we're called work fast putting together bundles of mixed foliage with lightening speed and attaching them to the frame with wire on paddles. Others are more meticulous grouping each bundle of various foliage with exactly the same mix. That's pretty much it for required tools- gloves, clippers, a frame and paddle wire. A hot glue gun is a nice too for attaching accents like cones, berry clusters, driftwood, lichen, feathers, shells or flowers. Floral picks work nicely for small fruits like Meyer lemons, clementines or small pomegranates.

The record for most wreaths made in a single season is apparently held by Martha who created 7 in the course of two weeks to decorate her home and to give away as gifts. Our hostess, Barbara, holds the record for making the largest wreath which measured in at 36" and graced her front door last year. Wreaths for a front door, she explained, should be able to hold up to constant movement so she is careful not to use berries that might loosen and fall. California pepper and nandina berries usually work in this location. You can bet her front door this year will sport another marvelous creation.

Look outside your door for different shades of foliage and spent flower heads, With just a couple of bags worth of materials you can make wreaths with your kids for many of those on your Christmas list.

Christmas cactus

Every year I’m amazed how many flowers appear almost overnight on my They bloom their heads off despite little care on my part. The show will continue for a month or more. They are the perfect plant in my opinion.

What’s my secret? Well, I don’t do any heroic moves some garden books recommend like giving them 12-14 hours of total darkness each night from September through November. Nor do I lower the temperature of my house to a brisk 55 degrees or lower each evening.  I do fertilize them every couple of weeks during the summer with a liquid fertilizer high in phosphorus ( the middle number ).  I use one of those fertilizers with a dropper. It’s easy and I don’t have to drag out a spoon to measure.  I’m all for convenience.

I grow mine under a small florescent plant light but a bright window would also be good.  Let the soil dry a bit between waterings from spring though September. They thrive on neglect.

Christmas cactus and their relatives, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus, live in trees in their native Brazil.  They are true cactus but the spine are so tiny and soft you never notice them. They prefer rich, porous soil like what may accumulate in the crevices of tree branches. Repotting is only necessary if plants become top heavy. Use a course, fast draining mix, such as one that’s suitable for orchids. I haven’t transplanted any of mine for many years. Nearly every outer leaf makes a flowers, so the bigger the plant, the heavier the bloom. Next spring I’m going to transplant mine to the next size pot, I promise.

Now that the plants have set flower buds, though, I don’t let them get too dry. This could cause them to drop their buds. Use room temperature water for all your houseplants.  Don’t put Christmas cactus near ripening fruit, the ethylene gas could cause bud drop.

Christmas cactus are incredibly forgiving. They can live for 25 years or more. Pick one up this season an you’ll see why gardeners often treat them like a favorite pet.