Enchanting Gardens in the Mountains

Step into another world in Bonny Doon when you visit seven breathtaking and unique gardens that will be the stars of the Valley Churches United benefit garden tour on Sunday June 10th from 10am to 5pm. Here is just a glimpse of what you can expect.

Gardening shed decorated with garage sale items

I’ve shared many a delicious meal under a shade tree in the garden of Kate Smith and Bill Whiting. What I didn’t know about this beautiful 5 acre garden is that when Kate and Bill bought the property in 1981 they had no idea it had a panoramic view of the bay. You should see the view now. This garden features colorful perennial beds, many varieties of succulents scattered throughout and a gazebo that will soon be covered with a soft yellow Lady Bank’s roses. Kate has planted hundreds of blooming plants in pots to outwit her nemesis, the bunnies. The storage shed is straight out of Alice in Wonderland covered with garden art, planters, baskets filled with flowers and just about anything that a garage sale and a little paint could provide.

wisteria arbor leading to veggie garden and chicken coup

Another garden I’ve visited many a time is that of Nancy and Ed Lambing. Ed is a past president of Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club and he’ll be on hand to show you his bonsai collection. The koi pond and faux rock soaking tub and pool are inviting. A long pink wisteria covers the pergola leading to the vegetable garden and the chicken coup. Each plant is trimmed perfectly with a groundcover chosen to complement it. You can get lost in this garden.

just one of many blooming rhododendrons

The Walker-Kent residence is another garden that takes your breath away. During the last 40 years Seba and James have created a garden that matches the inside of their story-book house. From the succulent garden to the roses scattered throughout to the veggie garden and perennial beds this garden goes on and on with something interesting and beautiful at every turn. Their calla lilies are some of the most robust I’ve ever seen and there is a staghorn fern hanging from a pine tree that is over 3 feet across. James uses manure to fertilize that comes from a ranch with horses, cows, bison and goats in Soquel. The results are incredible.

Speaking of animals you have to visit the garden of Georgia Randle and enjoy her two donkeys: Melvin who’s a bit overweight and elderly Mitzi who has arthritis. This 5 acre property features a huge picnic area under the trees, a meandering shade garden, a small koi pond and a beautiful rose garden with over 40 specimens. I spent quite a bit of time smelling each one to choose the most fragrant.

path lined with pincushion protea

Another garden that can’t be missed is the Sabankaya residence, known as “The Castle”. Theresa showed me around the flower beds she uses for her cut flower business. The Pincushion protea are in full bloom and Theresa explained that when planted in a spot they like she doesn’t have to care for them at all. The salvia in this garden are 30 feet across as is the yellow brugmansia that adorns the path to the chicken coup.

Then there’s the Howe residence off Smith Grade with it’s fabulous paths, shade garden, roses, orchard and vineyard. A stunning variegated dogwood graces the from gate here.

Last but not least is the Bixler garden with its metal and ceramic sculptures, double chicken coup decorated with
egg beaters and a mega collection of egg cups. There are so many unusual vignettes in this garden. You have to see it for yourself.

So take a short ride up to Bonny Doon to visit these lovely gardens and benefit Valley Churches United at the same time. Tickets are $20 and are available at most nurseries.

Early Horticultural History of Felton & San Lorenzo Valley

Felton is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month. When I first came to this area I lived for 23 years in Felton so it’s close to my heart. My interest in early local horticulture started after looking at early family photographs of the homestead i where I used to live. My friends’ family had a resort on Highway 9 before the turn of the century. Featuring a natural spring and rock-lined forest paths it was very near the Big Tree Grove resort, now known as Toll House which opened in 1867. I remember looking at the photos and marveling at all the flowers surrounding the dwelling. The redwood trees have now grown tall but back then there was lots of sunshine- a by product of clear cutting in the late 1800’s. I could see roses, lilacs and shasta daisies in the photo surrounding the wrap around porch.

Felton Covered Bridge- present day

Most of this area was heavily forested until the late 1800’s. Boulder Creek, in 1899, was the 5th largest shipper of timber in the entire country. Quarry operations also used forest trees and shrubs to fuel the lime kilns in Fall Creek. Early logging techniques were very hard on the environment. Clear cutting was common and included the understory madrone and tan oak. After the removal of the broadleaf trees, the conifers were cut, to be followed by burning. To clear the bark from the logs and thin the shrub growth to facilitate with log removal, a fire was set. This first fire in itself was no problem since the trees could and would re-sprout from the base. But after removal of the logs by ox team, another fire was set and since these fires were uncontrolled, they would burn surrounding areas as well. The result was a sequence of fires that would kill the growing sprouts and saplings and allow invasion of shrubs, thus delaying the natural reforestation. Burning plus severe soil erosion at times so damaged the land that it could no longer support trees. In other areas the forest did not return until a long successional sequence of brush-land to woodland to forest had occurred.

So what could a woman do to make a house a home back in those days? Many settlers arrived from the east coast, the midwest and Europe and brought with them seeds and starts of plants. As early as 1871 nurseries in San Francisco were importing plants such as pittosporum tenuifolium and the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco allowed many more plants to become available to homeowners. Hebe from New Zealand were all the rage. The brochure for the world fair describes a Palace of Horticulture and Tower of Jewels as …” a great garden, itself, a marvel of landscape engineering skill… one side of a magic carpet on which these beautiful palaces are set with its floricultural splendors for a wondrous beauty, has never been equaled.”

Wildwood rooming house- Boulder Creek

By 1905, residents of the area had settled in and planted fruit trees, vegetables and ornamentals. A photograph of a chicken ranch on Huckleberry Island shows lots of landscaping around the house. Certainly the available chicken fertilizer helped the roses and wisteria that appear in the pictures to bloom.

Up on Alba Rd. in Ben Lomond, the J.N. Walters family grew strawberries and peaches. Photos taken in 1915 show palms, and hollyhocks in their yard. Out on Bear Creek Rd., the Ercoli villa featured yucca which I saw in many other photographs. Most likely they originated from the deserts in the southern California and Mexico and were brought north by the missionaries.

California fan palms and canna lilies appear in many landscapes. The Middleton house in Boulder Creek was heavily planted with native western sword ferns. Black locust trees planted for their fragrance and flowers are still seen here today where they have naturalized. Originally planted for erosion control, particularly on strip mined areas, their durable timber was used for homes.

If your relatives have lived here a long time perhaps you have old photographs that show the plantings around their homes. If you’re willing to share I’d love to see them.

Felton Library Garden Tour

Ah, it’s that most anticipated time of the year- the spring garden tour season and I’m really looking forward to being inspired and learning something new at the same time. What could be better?

I was in Arizona on a birdwatching trip so missed last Saturday’s garden tour of seven gorgeous gardens in Felton and Ben Lomond which helped benefit the new Felton Branch Library and Nature Discovery Park. The tour was organized by the Felton Library Friends.

Koi pond on Manson Creek, Ben Lomond

Prior to the tour I was able to visit two of the gardens that were featured on the tour. I’m familiar with the Certified Wildlife Habitat on Manson Creek as I helped design the upper garden many years ago. Adra Ross and her two dogs were happy to show me the new additions she has made. As we walked the five acres Adra stopped often to pull a weed or two. She explained that her philosophy of gardening is to let grow what does well. She says there’s a “daisy cycle” and a “matilija poppy cycle” where these plants flourish in abundance without any work on her part.  Adra says she loves the shasta daisies and Santa Barbara daisies because they are showy and deer tolerant as are the matilija and California poppies.

Adra told me the huge, and I mean huge, koi pond was there when she brought the property in 1973 but she has improved on it’s operation by having a silting area installed which keeps the water clean. She has come up with the right mix of water plants to filter the water which makes the 10 or so koi happy, too. Other areas of this spectacular garden include a 20 foot tall metal giraffe sculpture with calf, a redwood grove with circulating path and garden art tucked in unexpected places. She keeps her paths weed-free with a little rock salt. You learn something everyday.

succulent filled fountain

Another garden on the tour featured a succulent wall like nothing you have ever seen before. I helped Carla Richmond with other parts of this garden but the living wall was all hers. The wall contains hundreds and hundreds of succulents as well as other low water use plants. All the colors of the rainbow are represented by the colorful plants as well as the gorgeous green serpentine and orange jasper boulders. Every succulent garden is different and Carla has created a totally unique living wall.

Custom bridge and railing leading to hot tub

The other garden I got to preview was  the two-acre sanctuary of Jenni Fox and Paul Gould with its paths through stately oaks that surround an art studio, private yoga studio and a pool. It’s beautiful.

There were pop-ups with bonsai demonstrations by Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club, 4-H bee hotels for pollinators and displays at the new Felton Library and Nature Discovery Park at its new location by the Felton post office. Sorry I missed the event but looking forward to the new library which breaks ground in late summer.

4-H Clubs Promote New Felton Library

A couple of months ago I met with local 4-H club members as they started to plan for their upcoming spring project. This year 4-H members from Felton, Scotts Valley and Quail Creek in the Zayante area are putting their minds and enthusiasm to good use to further educate themselves and the community about the importance of beneficial insects to our world. They will share their efforts at the upcoming Felton Library Friends Garden Tour on May 19th. Proceeds from the tour will benefit the new Felton Branch Library and Nature Discovery Park project slated to break ground this summer.

Bee hotel’s provide nesting sites for solitary bees

With Kristin Praly as their mentor these dedicated 4-H’ers are busy creating posters to be shared at a pop-up at one of the tour gardens and also at the 4-H Spring Fair at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds on May 12th. Some of the posters will depict beneficial bugs, their natural habitats and how to encourage them in your garden. Other members have chosen to work on the “bee hotel” which are places for solitary bees to make their nests. Bee hotels are fast becoming a backyard staple and are vital as wild nesting habitat like standing dead trees, fallen logs, broken branches and bushes are missing in their environment.

In the process, the kids are integrating the goals of 4-H which is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills. The 4-H motto is ‘To make the best better” while its slogan is “Learn by doing”. This group is an inspiring look into what young people can do when nurtured in a positive way. Though typically thought of as an agriculturally focused organization, 4-H today focuses on citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering and technology programs. 4-H reaches kids in every corner of America- from urban neighborhoods to suburban school yards to rural farming communities. Our neck of the woods has a little of all three.

4-H’er Sophia Arghavani displays her beneficial insect poster

So far the group I met with has had two more meetings to further develop this project. Some have finished their posters while others are gathering materials for the bee hotels. Kristin Praly, their adult mentor, is an inspiration to others. Her own daughter is nearly out of school but Kristin says she plans to stay involved in 4-H as she “loves what this organization teaches young people: community service, leadership, self-confidence. These skills they’ll use for a life time.”

The new Felton Branch library will have a Nature Discovery Park along Bull Creek at the back of the property. Native plant and riparian restoration demonstration areas will promote land stewardship. There will be natural play areas for children to climb and build as well as a place encouraging nature art. A pollinator garden is planned along the path with benches for strolling, conversation and relaxing. The new Nature Discovery Park is going to be an outdoor learning and gathering space for visitors to experience and learn about the aspects of the natural world. Along with the new library it’s going to be a great addition to the Felton community and the local 4-H clubs are eager to contribute to its success.

Growing Great Vegetables- Part 2

I know many people who wait until the beginning of May to start their vegetable gardens for the summer. Conditions may not be right for them to grow cool season vegetables like beets, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, unions, radish and spinach. Those plants don’t mind cold soil and chilly weather. But it your’ve been waiting for the perfect time to plant those scrumptious tomatoes you crave- wait no more. And if you plan your garden right you can still grow some of the cool season crops in the shade of your other sun lovers.

Indigo Rose tomatoes

Crops that prefer night temps of 55 degrees and over are tomatoes bell peppers, corn beans, squash, cucumber, muskmelon and pumpkin. Distinctly warm weather, long season crops that need temperatures in the 70’s are watermelon, eggplant and chilies.

Rotate the beds when planting your vegetables to avoid a build up of diseases and insects that can survive in the soil or on plant residue. Don’t plant the same or closely related vegetables where they grew in the last 2-3 years.

Pay attention to the watering needs of each kind of plant, otherwise you might plant high water use vegetables beside ones that need need less water. This can not only waste water but can actually harm plants. A good guidelines is to group plants by how big they get and how fast they grow. The bigger and faster they grow, the more water they’ll use. Plant heavy water users at one end of the garden, light users at the other.

Raised vegetable beds

For instance, plant shallow rooted beets, bush beans, carrots, lettuce, spinach, radishes and other greens together as they grow at about the same rate and use similar amounts of water. Corn, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes and squash combine well as they all grow rapidly and need lots of water. Another tip is not to mix new (successive) plantings of carrots, lettuce and other crops with existing ones as water use changes as the plants mature.

Calico Indian popcorn

Vegetables at maturity that root over 48 inches deep are tomatoes, watermelon, pumpkin, winter squash, asparagus, sweet potatoes and artichoke. When watering wet your soil to this depth to keep them happy. Moderately deep rooting veggies -36-48 inches- are beet, beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, muskmelon, peas, pepper, summer squash and turnip. Shallow rooting -18 – 24 inches – veggies include broccoli, cabbage, celery, corn, garlic, lettuce, onion, parsley, potato, radish and spinach. Water less if your plants aren’t full grown yet.

Vegetables in containers are a great solution if you don’t have much space in the ground to devote to them. Pots warm up quicker in the spring, too. Just about anything that grows in the ground can also grow in a pot or half barrel. This includes vegetables, herbs and even small fruit trees.

Small plants like lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard and herbs grow nicely in smaller pots near the back door while large edibles like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, cucumbers and melons need more room like a half barrel or large 7 or 5 gallon pots.

It’s important to use fresh planing mix in your containers each year. Heavy producers need fresh nutrients and deplete the soil by the end of the season. Also feed your containers for the best tasting fruit and vegetables and water on a steady basis. Skip a day of watering when larger plants are at their peak and you can lose your crop. There’s no such thing as dry-farmed tomatoes in a container. Growing plants is containers is low maintenance. No weeding required and one of the easiest ways to success.

Tips for Growing Vegetables in the Shade

I’m envious of those who garden in lots of sun. Well maybe not so much on a hot July day but mostly I wish I could grow more edibles in the opening of my tall redwood forest. My neighbor gives me volunteer Sun Gold cherry tomatoes each spring and some years all the stars align and I enjoy these sweet morsels, picking them mostly as I putter in the garden. They rarely get inside on a salad, but boy, are they delicious.

Indigo Rose cherry tomatoes, peas, radish

I’m often asked for suggestions for gardening in the shade. By taking advantage of a few sunny spots and carefully choosing the vegetables and herbs you plant you can harvest food from your own garden. Without much sun, plants photosynthesize less and produce less sugar. On the other hand, shade does offer some benefits. Gardens in the shade don’t have to be watered as often and weeds don’t grow as quickly.

There are three types of shade. A partially shady location is one that receives 2-6 hours of sun, either in the morning or in the afternoon. It can also refer to a full day of dappled sunlight. Most edibles that prefer full sun will grow in partial shade, especially if they receiver their hours of fullest sunlight in the morning. A lightly shaded garden receives an intermediate level of shade. While it may receive only an hour or two of direct sun during the day it is bright enough the rest of the time to allow a variety of edibles-especially leafy greens to grow. Full shade is found under mature trees that have dense, spreading foliage. Unpruned oaks and maples cast this kind of shade in summer. Heavy shade under mature evergreens is often dry. A fully shaded location like this is fine for woodland plants but in not a great place for edibles.

Whatever level of shade you have in your yard, make the most of the situation. First, if you have the choice, opt for afternoon shade. Shade in the afternoon is more hospitable in the summer when the sun is fierce. The severe temperature swings created by a combination of shade in the morning and blazing sun all afternoon are difficult for most plants to withstand. Gardens facing east will enjoy bright sun all morning and shade in the early afternoon.

If you garden under deciduous trees you can give plants a head start by starting the seeds indoors or direct seeding early before the trees leaf out. All trees, however, bring roots as well as shade to the garden and tree roots will compete with garden plants for water and nutrients. Any plant grown where there are tree roots will need extra water and fertilizer to make up for the competition. If you can’t get the garden out of the dense shade of trees, at least get it past the tree dripline where most of the roots are located. If that’s not possible, it might be better to plant in containers beneath the trees to prevent tree roots from invading the root zone of your vegetables.

Blue Lake pole beans

Shade tolerant vegetables for your brightest spots-the partial shade areas- include beans, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, summer squash and early maturing tomatoes like Early Girl, Stupice, San Francisco Fog, Isis Candy as well as other cherry tomatoes. Corn and peppers will be lankier and bear later and only modesty in partial shade.

Root crops and leafy plants can tolerate more shade than fruiting crops. Beets, carrots, celery and turnip will grow quite happily in partial shade. So will shallots and bunching onions, cilantro, garlic, chives, kale, leeks, parsley and thyme. Leafy plants can tolerate partial to light shade because their leaves grow larger to absorb the sunlight the plants need. In very light shade areas concentrate on leafy green like Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, radishes and tarragon.

Shade can be decidedly helpful to some crops. Leafy greens will be more tender and succulent, without the bitterness they tend to acquire when conditions are too hot. A combination of a bit of afternoon shade and an abundance of moisture will help cut-and-come-again crops like broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and celery stay in good condition longer in hot weather.

Whatever plants you grow in your shady garden, be sure not to crowd them. Plants tend to sprawl there and if placed too close together they will compete for available light. Place your vegetables plants wherever they will get the most light even if it means putting different crops in separate places. A small harvest is still better than no harvest at all.

Those of us who live under the trees know a shady garden is a pleasant place to spend time working on a hot summer day. Be thankful for what you do have.

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