Category Archives: Being thankful

On Being Thankful

bamboo_forestIt took a trip to beautiful Hakone Gardens in Saratoga recently to put it all in perspective. Itís easy to overlook whatís 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. Iím 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. Iím thankful thatÖ ďEach of us is a unique strand in the intricate web of life and here to make a contributionĒ.† 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, Iím 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. Iím thankful for this tree which symbolizes strength and endurance. To quote American novelist, Don Williams, Jr., ďThe road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.Ē

My visit to Hakone Gardens helped me remember that being grateful is something I should focus on every single day. When I donít know something itís 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.

500 Columns and Counting

Little did I know when I walked into The Press Banner office and offered my services as a gardening columnist back in October of 2005 that Iíd still be writing for the paper almost 10 years later. Time flies when youíre having a good time.

Since I wrote my first column about the benefits of fall planting we have had some really wet winters and some very dry ones. A couple of winters challenged our gardens with deep freezing nights while early or late frosts challenged our enthusiasm. Itís all a part of growing plants and designing gardens and I hope I have helped you by providing helpful tips over the years.

Sherman the buttermilk/moss slurry eater

Everybody likes a good chuckle and we gardeners need more than most. Gardeners love to swap stories. So go ahead and laugh at my attempt to be Martha Stewart in my own garden. When the following incident was unfolding I was a bit frustrated. Time has softened the edges.

I moved up to Bonny Doon last year. The existing garden has some beautiful old rock walls created from many kinds of fieldstone and covered with moss. Another section has a new concrete block retaining wall lacking any character. So last fall I scraped off some moss from the old wall and mixed it with buttermilk hoping to spruce up the plain one when the moss took hold.

With bucket and 4 inch paintbrush in hand I tackled the wall slapping on the moss slurry with abandon just before the winter rains started. I had almost completed my project and looked back to admire my work imagining how beautiful the wall would look covered with dark green moss.

stone walls in my garden

What I didnít count on was Sherman, the Welsh springer spaniel. He had been following me licking off most of the buttermilk. I added hot sauce to the remainder of the slurry but that barely slowed him down. Between Sherman and all that rain we got last December most of it washed off anyway and there is only a smattering of moss here and there on the new wall but itís a start. Hope springs eternal for a gardener.

I learn so much from other gardeners. Usually Iím invited into their garden and I have passed on many of those great ideas. But donít be surprised if I walk up to your garden one day on a whim like I did to my sisterís neighbors, Bob and Bev when I saw them picking raspberries and strawberries early one morning. I introduce myself and ask for a garden tour. Being gracious they agreed but asked if they could have their breakfast first! Later I got to sample many a berry, watch the goldfinches flitting about and hear how their vegetable garden had evolved.

I always make the most of any excursion. You donít have to go to an island off Honduras where gardeners protect their plants from nocturnal blue crabs by planting in washing machine baskets to find interesting solutions to gardening challenges.

From Doc Henckeís wonderful arboretum-like landscape I learned about trees, from Robby, the serial mole killer, I learned about smart irrigation and from the collections of Ron, Marc, Pete and Ed of Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club I discovered the world of bonsai.

The Maloney’s of Scotts Valley shared rose growing tips. Al Hiley up in Felton is a wealth of local history knowledge and Vickie Birdsall of Montevalle Park in Scotts Valley knows how to replace water thirsty lawns with low water use plants. Cactus expert, Professor Loik of Felton got me up to date on why and how to grow this interesting plant in our times of drought. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of knowledge Iíve gained including visits to our own UCSC Arboretum, Casa Dos Rios in Gilroy, Stanford campus, Napa, Carmel and a dogwood nursery in Corralitos.

So keep those emails coming. Iím happy to offer helpful solutions or at least a shoulder to cry on. If you have an idea for a column let me know. And if you want someone to appreciate your gardening efforts as much as you do invite me over. Iím available. Happy Gardening.

Garden Tasks for Late Fall

honey_mushroomsIt came out of the earth suddenly, pushing soil and plants that were in it’s way to the side. Just a bit of moisture had allowed this large clump of honey mushrooms to emerge and start its path to reproduction. At this time of year when the trees are turning the color of flame and some have already gone into dormancy it seems the earth is growing silent. Winter will soon be here. For nature life continues. Look around you and be thankful for the bounty, the restfulness, the time to enjoy these beautiful mountains that we call home.

The Giant Pacific salamanders in the forest duff are resting up for next seasons batch of young. Maybe now that we’ve had some rain the deer will have something to eat other than my garden. young_buckAs the weather cools, my garden plants are looking past their prime. The seed heads that remain invite small song birds to feast on what remains. Chickadees hop from plant to plant. They even find something to eat in the Japanese maple leaves and the old dried hydrangea flowers that have turned a dusty rose color. Spotted towhees scratch for seeds buried under fall leaves. I’m always slow to cut down and clear everything away but  there are some things I should be doing this autumn. I’ll pay if I leave everything for next spring when it all needs doing at once.

First, I’ll cut back perennials such as hostas, asters and mums, which collapse into a gooey mess and shelter slugs and snails. I’ll pick up and dispose of diseased  leaves, especially under the roses to prevent pathogens from spreading. Coneflowers, ligularia and rudbeckia flowers and ornamental grasses can stay to contribute winter interest for me and the birds.

I’ll leave as much foliage as possible to provide cover, protection from cold winds and foraging spots for other critters and good insects. I’ll wait to cut back the stems and foliages of not only the grasses but evergreen perennials, salvias, hardy fuchsias until spring. There are few things as rewarding as seeing your winter garden turn into a sanctuary for wildlife.

As weeds emerge I’ll spend a little time here and there keeping up with them. There are 300 dormant weed seeds per square inch of soil and I don’t want to add to that.

I don’t have the space to plant a cover crop so I like to top dress the soil with compost or bark chips. I have a few new trees that need staking to secure them through the winter. This prevents breakage and allows new roots to grow deep and stable. Be sure to set the stake on the windy side of the tree and tie loosely so it has some wiggle room This movement stimulates the trunk to grow thicker. Come next summer the trees will  probably be ready to stand on their own. I don’t want to keep them staked longer than necessary. Also check any trees or shrubs that were transplanted and are still tightly bound to a stake. Remove or reset the stake so the trunk will not become girdled as it grows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA word about all those leaves that cover the ground, the lawn and the perennial beds at this time of year. You can build up your garden soil by running a mower over them to chop into smaller pieces and spread over the soil. Worms and other organisms will start to break them down right away. Next spring dig what’s left into the soil. If you leave more than an inch or two of whole leaves on top the rains will compact them into a soggy mess and prevent oxygen from reaching the soil. If you have too much of a good thing when it comes to leaves, it’s best to put them into your green waste can.

Hummingbirds still need a nectar source at this time of year. Anna’s hummingbirds live in this area all year long.  They need your nectar even more in the winter when very little is in bloom. My abutilons are a winter favorite for them in my garden. Keep your feeders up year-round and keep them clean.

Thanksgiving Plants & Food

Have you noticed how many plants are named after food? At this time of year when we are thankful for friends and family and this wonderful place we call home, I can't help but think about food, too. It's the most important thing we share year round. We eat to celebrate, we eat to comfort ourselves. Surround yourself with plants that remind you to give thanks whenever you look at them.

What makes you think of Thanksgiving dinner more than pumpkin pie? Many versions have been created to appeal to just about any palate. If you grow Pumpkin Pie African daisy you can bring these recipes to mind whenever you admire the blooms in your garden. Flowering over a long season starting in the spring their showy, vivid orange flowers attract birds and butterflies.

Maybe you're a gourmet cook and desserts after Thanksgiving dinner are extraordinary at your house.  If you're not a fan of pumpkin perhaps a creme brulee  would be more to your liking. This classic dessert first appeared in cookbooks in 1691. Creme Brulee heuchera with its peachy-bronze leaves, Creme Brulee coreopsis with custard yellow blooms or a fragrant Creme Brulee shrub rose growing in your garden would remind you year round of this delicious dessert.

Someone often brings deviled eggs as an appetizer before Thanksgiving dinner usually sprinkled with a dusting of paprika. If you have several Paprika achillea in your low water-use, deer resistant garden you can think of these goodies every time you see them.

Who doesn't like chocolate any time of year? Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, hot chocolate, white chocolate, they're all good. Plant Chocolate Chip ajuga groundcover  with its beautiful lacy blue flower spikes in spring in sun or partial shade. It really stands out. And who could resist a rose called Hot Cocoa? This award-winning floribunda rose with ruffled, very fragrant chocolate-cherry colored blooms was first introduced in 2003 and has remained popular ever since.
If you don't have a chocolate cosmos to enjoy on a summer day in the garden you're missing a rare experience. Very deep burgundy flowers really do have the scent of chocolate. They make a good cut flower, look great with green and white in a bouquet and the fragrance is good enough to eat.

There are many plants that remind us of Thanksgiving with family or a get together any time of year and they all sound so delicious. Raspberry Sundae or Bowl of Cream peonies sound yummy as do Mango coneflower, Strawberry Candy daylily, Plum Pudding coral bell, Cranberry Ice dianthus, Lemon Swirl lantana, Watermelon Red crape myrtle, Tangerine Beauty bignonia or Wild Cherry azalea. How about Bowl of Cherries campanula, Carolina Allspice, Strawberry Lemonade mandevilla or Raspberry Tart coneflower?  I could go on and on.

My blooming Thanksgiving cactus says it all. Almost overnight it has burst into bloom reminding me of all the many things I am thankful for. Take the time to tell those around you how much you appreciate them and count your blessings every day.

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


Thanksgiving Blessings

Electric orange trees decorate our gardens and forest paths this time of year. During the summer when trees are quietly green we almost forget they are among us but then seemingly overnight they turn on the lights and glow with flamboyant fall colors. Thanksgiving is that time of year when we are reminded of all that we have to be grateful for. The world is so beautiful and we’re lucky to live in such an amazing place. Here are some things for which I’m thankful.

1. Food
It’s the most important thing we share. We eat to celebrate when we’re happy. When we’re sad, we eat to comfort ourselves. We eat for fun and the greatest thing you can do for someone else is cook a meal for them. Simple delicious food is a gift. I could never do without sharing a meal with friends or family.

2. Nature
Our sense of sight allows us to see the colors of life- an orange sunset to end the day, a rainbow after a storm, new green leaves emerging in the spring, clouds and blue skies.  Smell the air after it rains or the fragrance of a flower. Touch the softness of a velvety leaf or feel the breeze of the wind. Hear the rainfall dripping from the redwoods or the winter wrens calling to each other under the canopy. Taste wild huckleberry or thimbleberries along a forest path. I’m grateful for the beauty of nature that visits my garden.

3. Gardens
Big or small, in a pot or an orchard, growing something is a way to say you believe in tomorrow. Being able to pick a Sungold tomato off your own vine or a bouquet of flowers for your dinner table is a reward well earned. A cool spring, a heat wave in July, raccoons digging up your new seedlings, nothing can deter a gardener. Hope springs eternal each year as we plan for next years garden now evan before winter has started.

4. Lovable pets
Whether you have one or get to enjoy someone else’s you know the joy and love you receive from being around these amazing creatures. There’s nothing like that greeting from a pet when you come home. It can make your day or erase a bad one. They bring us so much happiness and ask for very little in return. Just petting their soft fur can help us cope when we’re sad.

5. State Parks, National Parks and Monuments, County Parks
This year I was able to visit The Pinnacles National Monument, Lassen Volcanic National park, Ano Nuevo, Candlestick Point, Bean Hollow, Pogonip, Wilder, Natural Bridges, Moss Landing, Marina and Pt. Lobos as well as our local Big Basin, Fall Creek and Henry Cowell state parks. Being a native Californian I’ve been to the far corners of our state over the years. I remember as a kid camping with my parents and thinking that every state had as many cool places as ours. Located on mountaintops, on the pristine shores of sparking lakes, alongside rivers, take advantage of these special places preserved because they are unique.

6. Blessings
Count your blessings. Be grateful for friends who understand. Appreciate what you have. See the beauty around you. Live in the moment. On Thanksgiving we have a chance to gather and appreciate the friends, family and the blessings around us. Imagine if everyday you took a moment to be th