Category Archives: The Mountain Gardener

A Thanksgiving Poem for the Santa Cruz Mountains

pumpkin_and_mumsA Thanksgiving Poem  by Jan Nelson,  The Mountain Gardener

Once upon a time when our area was under the sea
there were no parks or trails or trees or gardens.
I’m thankful that our mountains rose from an ancient ocean
and we can now enjoy this beautiful place we call home.

I’m thankful for the bigleaf maples with leaves as big as saucers
and for the giant redwoods that sprouted long ago
and the five-fingered ferns that grow lush
along Fall Creek on the way to the old lime kilns.

I’m thankful for the pond and western turtles who live at Quail Hollow
and for the unique sandhills, grasslands and redwoods
and for the western bluebirds and other creatures that call it home.

I’m thankful for the dog park and soccer field at Skypark
where little kids and dogs both big and small have a place of their own
and for the picnic area and Fourth of July fireworks,
and the Art and Wine festival and Music in the Park on summer nights.

I’m thankful also for all our parks from Garrahan, Junction, Highlands,
Fall Creek, Henry Cowell and Felton Covered Bridge in San Lorenzo Valley,
to Lodato, Siltanen and MacDorsa parks in Scotts Valley.
Each place is unique and is each one of us.

I’m thankful for Bonny Doon where I can see both sides of Ben Lomond Mountain
and for the Ecological Reserve with its fossilized marine animals and sharks teeth
that are exposed in the mountain made of sand.

I’m thankful for California’s oldest state park. Big Basin, with its waterfalls and lush canyons
and slopes covered with redwoods sorrel, violets, fragrant azaleas and mountain iris
and for the banana slugs, marbled murrelets and red-legged frogs who make it their home.

I’m thankful for the whisper of the wind blowing across the water at Loch Lomond
and for the gentle whir of fishing reels along the bank,
thick with tan oaks, redwoods and madrone.

And finally, I’m thankful for friends, family and neighbors
who share the knowledge that in nature life continues.
Look around you and be thankful for the bounty, the restfulness,
and take time to enjoy these beautiful mountains that we call home.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

Happy New Year 2012

Another year has passed in the garden and this is what I've learned.

  • Have a plan for how you want to use your garden. This is as important as selecting the right plants for each garden room. Allowing some empty places for new plants, transplants or garden art, makes your garden your own. Add whatever  makes you happy and your heart to soar when you're in your garden.
  • Pay attention to the size that a plant will attain. This will save lots of headaches later.
  • Pruning is free therapy. What better way is there to feel good than to improve the life of a plant?
  • Your garden journal chronicles your life as well as what happens in the garden. Making frequent entries, no matter how short, will make you smile when you read it again at the end of the year. Journal your successes and failures, making notes of plants that performed well and ideas to try next year.
  • Enjoy a beverage of some kind often in your garden. That clean up or transplanting will be there tomorrow.
  • Weed regularly. The 20 minutes you spend every week or so pulling or hoeing will save hours of back bending work later.
  • You, fellow gardeners, are unique. I can't imagine any group of people more diverse and feisty and independent than gardeners. Yet we have such a connection. We love and are fascinated with nature. We find our deepest satisfaction in coaxing plants from the earth, in nurturing their growth. We are enduring pragmatists.
  • Edible gardening offers more than just vegetables and fruit trees that feed the body. They are better than a whole medicine cabinet of pills.
  • Accept a few holes in a plant: Unless it is being devoured, share a little with other creatures.

Happy New Year 2012 from The Mountain Gardener

 

New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

Last year I was brave and published my New Year’s resolutions– at least those that pertain to the garden. It’s now the day of reckoning. Let’s see how I did and which ones I’ll  keep for 2011.   In the garden, as in life, simple changes can make a big difference over a long time. I’m adding a couple new ones that are important, too.

Learn something new every day. Whether it’s something new in the garden or elsewhere, keep learning. I’m starting to learn about local mushrooms. They come up in the most beautiful places. I’m looking forward to the Fungus Fair in January.
Enjoy the simple things. Laugh often. Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.  Everyday is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.


Of the 16 gardener’s resolutions I made last year I can honestly say I achieved half of them.

I did pay more attention to the size that plants grow and believed the tag when it said "spreading habit". But I also found that pruning shears are life savers  when you just have to have that new foliage plant that just came out.

I started making garden journal entries in February instead of January as I resolved. But then I tried to make up for it in March, May, June, October, November and December.  I missed 5 out of 12 months. I get a "C-".

I added more pollen-producing flowering plants to attract beneficial insects which kept the good guys around longer to eat the bad bugs. And I learned what quite a few of the good guys look like.  ( That counts as two resolutions )

I sat in my garden and enjoyed it, not jumping up to rearrange containers. (This one was easy)

I applied to get my little garden certified as a wildlife habitat  with the National Wildlife Federation by making sure I provided food sources, water, cover, places to raise young and used sustainable gardening techniques.

I fertilized my perennials a couple of times this year with organic compost and fertilizer instead of just once and boy were they happy. The trees and larger shrubs really only need a light dose once a year so I was good there.

I wore sunscreen everyday. (My doctor wants a hat, too. Maybe this year I’ll wear one.)

The other half of last year’s resolutions are being recycled as they’re still good ones:

I will not buy a new flower, shrub or tree until I have a plan for it in the garden.

I will sharpen and clean my garden tools so they look spiffy and work better.

I will start a worm bin with my kitchen scraps and a compost pile for leaves and plant debris. (I have so many raccoons it’s like a party out there at night but I’m going to come up with a critter-proof solution.)

I will weed regularly- not waiting until they’re so tall they swallow up my gardening tools when I lay them down.

I will accept a few holes in my plants but tour the garden regularly to identify if a problem is getting out of control and I need to break out an organic pesticide.

I will prune my maples, transplant my overgrown containers and divide my perennials when I’m supposed to.

I will plant more things to eat. Edibles anywhere in the garden feed the body and the soul. (This summer was so cold I didn’t have much luck in my partial shade.)

I will stop rationalizing my plant habit is better than gambling, clothes shopping or smoking.

I will do better to practice what I preach in this column.

Happy New Year in 2011 from The Mountain Gardener

Landscaping Tips for Great Gardens

By this time of the year, you probably have planted some new perennials for color in your garden. But if you look around and still feel something is missing the answer may be that your landscape needs more than color. As a landscape designer I am often called upon for ideas to create richer landscapes that provide four seasons of interest. Here are some tips I pass along.

A more sophisticated appeal and enduring quality in your landscape can be achieved if foliage color is used to complement, or contrast with, other plants within the design. This technique unifies the overall look while offering appeal throughout the season. One plant that would make this happen is Rose Glow Japanese barberry. Their graceful habit with slender, arching branches makes a statement by itself but it’s the vivid marbled red and pinkish foliage that steals the show until they deepen to rose and bronze with age. In the fall, the foliage turns yellow-orange before dropping and bead-like bright red berries stud the branches fall through winter.

Abelia Confetti is another small shrub that can be used to unify your landscape. Growing only 2-3 ft high and 4-5 ft wide with leaves variegated white, their foliage turning maroon in cold weather. Abelias are adaptable plants, useful in shrub borders, near the house or as as groundcover on banks. White, bell-shaped flowers are plentiful and showy during summer and early fall.

Texture in foliage is very important in good garden design. Varying the size and shape of leaves creates diversity and variety among neighboring plants. Striking visual interest can even be achieved when working with two different plants with similar shades of green.

An example of this would be combining Gold Star pittosporum tenuifolium with grevillea noellii. The first has dark green oval foliage on 10-15 for dense plants while the latter is densely clad with narrow inch long glossy green leaves. Clusters of pink and white flowers bloom in early to late spring and are  a favorite of hummingbirds.

Using the same plant shape throughout a landscape can create and tie the entire design together. Forms and shapes of plants and trees can be columnar, conical, oval, round, pyramidal, weeping, spreading and arching. A loropetalum with its spreading tiers of arching branches could be repeated throughout your garden to create visual interest and balance. A dogwood tree could also repeat this same form as their branches grow horizontally.

Consider also layering plants to create a beautiful garden. From groundcovers all the way up to the tallest tree, natural looking designs mimic nature.

Don’t forget about focal points. This could be a Japanese maple cloaked by a wall of dark evergreens or a statue or pottery at the end of a long, narrow pathway. Focal points draw attention and even distract the eye from an unsightly view.

There are many solutions to make your garden complete. Consider using some of the above design elements to make your landscape beautiful. 

Companion plants for the Vegetable Garden

Many of us are growing our own vegetables this year. Homegrown vegetables taste better and can be picked fresh from the garden preserving valuable nutrients. We can reduce our carbon footprint as our own produce doesn’t have to be delivered by truck. It’s also a good way to get the kids involved and spend time together.
And there’s nothing quite like picking a warm tomato or raspberry from the vine while you work in the garden. 
Whether you’ve started your garden already or are still in the planning stages, here are some useful tips.

Group vegetables together that have similar watering needs. A good guideline is to group plants by how big they get and how fast they grow. The bigger and faster growing they are, the more water they will use. Corn, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes and squash, for instance,  all grow rapidly and use similar amounts of water.   Deep rooted  melons, beans and tomatoes, however,  can get by with a deep soak (down to 4 feet) after they have flowered and started to set fruit.

Growing companion plants with your vegetables is one way to avoid problems with pests and diseases. Companion plants that repel pests or attract beneficial insects work best when planted from 1-6 feet away. Plants, when attacked by pests, exude chemicals and hormones that actually attract nearby beneficial insects.

Flowers make great companions in the vegetable garden

  •  Dahlias repel nematodes.
  • Geraniums repel cabbage worms, corn ear worms and leaf hoppers.  Plant them by grapes, roses, corn and cabbage. 
  • Marigolds discourage beetles, whiteflies and nematodes. They act as trap plants for spider mites and slugs. Don’t plant them by cabbage or beans.
  • Nasturtium act as a barrier trap around tomatoes, radishes, cabbage and fruit trees. They deter whiteflies, and squash bugs and are a good trap crop for black aphids    ⁃     
  • Herbs that help deter pests include:
  • Catnip/catmint which repel mice, flea beetles, aphids, squash bugs, ants and weevils
  • Chamomile improves the flavor of cabbage, onions and cucumbers. It also accumulates calcium, sulphur and potassium, returning them later to the soil. It also hosts hoverflies and good wasps and increases productions of essential oils in herbs.
  • Summer savory repels bean leaf beetles and improves the flavor of beans. All beans enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen. They are good for planting with all of your vegetables except onions, garlic and leeks.

Your garden may be one raised bed or a few containers on the patio. Whatever the size, plant some of these colorful and useful combinations and you, too, will be bragging about how many vegetables you grew this year.