Category Archives: Design trends

A Thanksgiving Poem

Morning fog filters through our precious redwoods.

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

I’m thankful for the Bigleaf maples
that shower me with leaves as big as saucers
as I walk in Henry Cowell along the river trail
and for the giant redwoods that sprouted long ago
at the time of he Mayan civilization.

I’m thankful for the Five-fingered ferns that grow lush along
the lower parts of Fall Creek
and for the canyons, hiking trails and small waterfalls
that feed the year-round creek.

I’m thankful for the sweet music of the violist
who practices inside the Felton Covered Bridge
and for the sound of children laughing as they play in the park.

I’m thankful for the pond and western turtles who live at Quail Hollow
and for the unique sandhills, grasslands and redwoods, too,
and for the plants and other small creatures that live only there.

I’m thankful for Bonny Doon where you can see both the Pacific Ocean
and the San Lorenzo and Scotts Valley
and for the resilience of the people recovering after the fire
on the mountain made of sandstone and shale.

I’m thankful that California’s oldest state park, Big Basin, with its waterfalls and lush canyons
and slopes covered with redwoods sorrel, violets and mountain iris
will recover in time as will the salamanders, 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 at the edge
of thick tanoak, redwood and madrone.

And finally, I’m thankful for friends and family and neighbors who share all this with me.
There’s always something to be grateful for. I wish you all a Happy Thanksg
iving.

Is Fall Your Favorite Season?

Flowering dogwood in fall color light up the garden

The end of daylight savings time signals to me that autumn is really here in our mild California surroundings. Enjoy these crisp mornings and warm days and to make your garden more compelling try mixing in late flowering perennials as well as trees and shrubs with bold leaves and a wide range of autumn color.

Bright trees and shrubs add color flashes to fall gardens. Sasanqua camellias have already started blooming and will continue to flower throughout the winter. In addition to asters and rudbeckia, Japanese anemones are the stars of the border at this time of year. The electric blue flowers of dwarf plumbago contrast with reddish leaves as night temperatures dip, Encore azalea and Endless Summer hydrangea are still blooming now, too.

Other perennials that are blooming now are California fuchsia, Pineapple sage and Mexican bush sage.

California fuchsia provide nectar for hummingbirds.

I love California fuchsia. Starting in the summer and flowering through fall this California native is covered with orange or scarlet-orange flowers that attract hummingbirds like crazy. A great plant along the path or draping over a rock wall this perennial thrives in areas that might fry other plants. Also known as Epilobium canan or Zauschneria it is in the evening primrose family and native to dry slopes and chaparral especially in California.

Mexican bush sage look great blooming alongside California fuchsia. Orange and blue are opposite on the color wheel so they look fabulous together. The bright red flower spikes of Pineapple sage look pretty nearby so the whole area is a hummingbird feast.

But what about vivid foliage in the garden? Which plants put on the best show in our area? Here are some of my favorites.

A great tree for the gardener interested in edibles is the Fuyu persimmon. This beautiful small tree is ornamental with glossy green leaves and also offers a dramatic fall display in shades of yellow, orange and red. Bright orange fruit begins to develop in late October and clings to bare branches usually through December. The tree looks more like it’s covered with holiday ornaments than fruit. And have you priced persimmons in the store lately?

Blueberries are a must for the edible gardener. They make a beautiful hedge that provides showy red or yellow fall color. Because of our colder winters here in the mountains, we can grow both northern highbush which are self-fertile and southern highbush which produce better with another type to pollinate them. They can be great foundation plants around the home as well as in the garden.

A vine that lights up with the onset of autumn is Rogers Red California grape. If you have an arbor, wall or fence that need covering quickly, this is your plant. The green and gray leaves are transformed in autumn into great draperies of rich, scarlet red leaves with clusters of summer fruit turning all shades of purple.

Japanese barberries are deer resistant, low water-use small shrubs that make them superb hedge plants, background plants against fences and foundations or accent plants. Red or lime colored summer foliage changes to orange, red or amber in the fall. I love the graceful growing habit of many of the varieties but there are pillar forms and also dwarf types.

Bright foliage on trees like dogwood, red maples, liquidamber, Chinese pistache, ginkgo, ornamental pear, cherry or crabapple, and Purple smoke bush add color flashes to the fall garden.

Light up your garden as the light fades and the days shorten.

Cover Crops Enrich Soil & Prevent Erosion

A mixture of grasses and legumes grown as a cover crop and tilled into the soil in spring increases soil fertility.

If you’ve been waiting to plant a cover crop , wait no more. The soil is now moist and still warm enough to germinate seed easily. Remember that every drop of rain that hits bare soil is destructive. Over 3000 years ago the Chinese protected their soil from erosion and increased fertility by planting cover crops. Early Nile Valley inhabitants also practiced this method of agriculture as did first century Romans. Lupines were planted in poor soil when no animal manure was to be had. Planting a cover crop is another way to improve and retain your soil.

A cover crop is really anything that covers the soil and protects it from rain, trapping nutrients and preventing them from leaching downward. Cover crops can increase the tilth of the soil. Quick germinating grasses easily loosen the top foot of soil with their root mass. Legumes have a tap root, a bio drill, that penetrates 30 inches downward while alfalfa roots can grow even deeper.

Cover crops like bell beans, vetch and fava beans are especially valuable as they increase nitrogen levels in the soil in two ways. Atmospheric nitrogen can be “fixed” and left in the soil to fertilize subsequent crops. This is in addition to the nitrogen left from the foliage of the legume. Growing a cover crop also increases beneficial soil bacteria.

Cover crops are called green manure when they are chopped up and turned into the soil in spring before going to seed. The planting of legumes like peas and beans can actually increase nutrients in your soil giving you a net gain which is needed to offset what you take out of the soil when you harvest fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Now through the end of November is the best time to sow cover crops. You will need to irrigate lightly a couple times per week if it doesn’t rain. You can also wait to sow just before the rains start. Be careful about working overly wet soil, however, as you can ruin the structure of your soil.

Recent research now recommends planting a mixture of grasses and legumes. Annual cereal grasses such as oats, rye and barley germinated quickly to hold and shield the soil until the legumes take hold. Bell beans, fava beans and vetch, which are the best legumes for our area, grow slowly the first 3 months then take off growing 70-80% in the last 3 months. The ratio of grass seed to legumes can vary from 10% to 30%.

Orin Martin of UCSC Chadwick Garden demonstrates the remarkable root structure of bell beans.

There are other legumes that fix nitrogen but nowhere near as efficiently as bell beans. Crimson clover seed is more expensive, needs lots of water to sprout and competes poorly with weeds. Mustard causes competition with the fruit trees as bees will concentrate on the mustard flowers instead of the fruit tree flowers.

You don’t need to use inoculants on legume seed. Our soils have a native resident population of good bacteria that will break down the seed coat and encourage the plant roots to fix more nitrogen especially after cover cropping for a few years.

Work the soil lightly with a metal bow rake then broadcast 8-10 seeds per square foot. Weeds should be already cleared but this step doesn’t have to be perfect. Afterward the area should be raked again lightly 1-2 inches down and covered with 3-4 inches of straw. Wood chips would be fine, too. Mulch heavier if you have bird competition. Cover crops are vigorous and will come up through just about anything. Water in lightly.

If you plan to let your small vegetable garden lie fallow over the winter instead of planting it with a cover crop you can cover it with manure and straw.

The Holloween Garden

The Cinderella pumpkin “before” carving by Scarlett Biles

Halloween is just around the corner and besides deciding what you or the kids are going to be this year, it’s time to bring in any plants that you plan to overwinter in the house. Whether they’re the houseplants that you put out on the patio for the summer or frost tender plants that you want to save, this is the time to bring them in and here’s why.

Although our nights are still above freezing, plants need to acclimate to the indoor environment before you start turning on the heater regularly. Be sure to wash them thoroughly and inspect them for any insects that may have taken up residence while they were vacationing outside. Usually you can dislodge any hitchhikers with a strong spray of water but if that doesn’t do the trick, spray them with a mild insecticidal soap or one of the other mild organic herbal sprays like oil of thyme.

Another tip: 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. Wait to prune most trees until late in the dormant season or late spring after leaves and needles form. To avoid sap flow on birches and maples, prune after leaves mature.

If you want to decorate for Halloween there is plenty of plant material you can harvest from your own garden or nearby woods. Manzanita branches can often be found on the ground and make great arrangements combined with nandina or other berries. Some of the trees have started to turn color and their leaves can also be used for wreaths. The leaves of New Zealand flax last a long time and add fall color in bouquets.

Mums are the classic fall flower. They come in nearly every color except blue and the flowers have many shapes from daisy to spider mums. They are perennials and make good additions to the garden. Best of all they make excellent cut flowers.

Several years ago a friend gave me a Blue Hokkaido winter squash to decorate my front entry and eat afterwards. It was delicious. Another year, a good friend gave me a Cinderella pumpkin (Rouge viv d’Etampes) he grew. IIt’s said to have been the inspiration for Cinderella’s carriage. This French heirloom pumpkin was very popular during the 1880’s and will be tasty in pies and savory dishes later this fall. For now, the glowing orange-red color contrasts magically with the very pronounced lobes and flattened top.

The Cinderella pumpkin is one of the very best for growing, cooking, eating and storing

Many gardeners feel the Cinderella pumpkin is the very best pumpkin to grow in your garden. It’s the first to set fruit, first to ripen and is mildew resistant. Their bright orange creamy flesh is perfect for baking. Oven roasted they produce a pumpkin puree that is neither watery or bitter. Delicious in pumpkin spice muffins, pumpkin soup, or with vegetables and sausage. I even found a recipe for pumpkin mac n’ cheese baked in a pumpkin. I’m so excited.

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.

If you decide to grow the Cinderella pumpkin next year, you can start inside in pots or wait to plant in the ground when night temps are 55 degrees or over. In the garden, group them with other deep rooted plants that grow rapidly and need lots of water such as corn, cucumbers, melons and tomatoes.

Favorite Japanese Maples

A Sango Kaku Japanese Maple in fall color

I have two Japanese maples on my deck. They are not nearly as large as those I had up in Bonny Doon but you have to start somewhere. One is a common acer palmatum seedling and the other a ‘Sanguo Kaku’. They have not started to show any fall color yet. It’s been a hot summer as you know.

Many of you readers were evacuated last summer and your garden did not get watered. This summer has been hot and everyone is trying to conserve water. So if your Japanese maple has suffered from hot weather, smoke and just plain tough conditions you may not get a spectacular fall foliage display this year. I see trees of all kinds going into an early dormancy showing a touch of fall color only. Every year is different.

Other things besides hot weather and not enough summer water to consider regarding fall coloring is that it can be disrupted by wind and rain coming at the wrong time. Japanese maples have a more delicate leaf than some of other trees and are more susceptible to the elements of nature. We most likely won’t get rain spoiling the display but wind during this time will put a quick end to the autumnal display.

At a local wholesale nursery recently I walked through their 36 inch box Japanese maple specimens getting ideas for future projects. Several that caught my eye included the variegated ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Oshio Beni’ with its orange and crimson fall coloring. Other notable maples that display vibrant fall coloring included ’Seiryu’, an upright laceleaf variety which turns bright gold, yellow and crimson in the fall. Also beautiful, the ‘Autumn Moon’ maples promised varying shade of gold to red.

Leaves change color when they are going into winter dormancy. When nights get long enough, leaves develop a corky layer of cells between the leaf stalk and the woody part of the tree. This slows the transport of water and carbohydrates. The manufacture of chlorophyll is slowed and the green color of the leaves begins to fade, allowing the other pigments to show through. Since the transport of water is slowed down, food manufactured by the remaining chlorophyll builds up in the sap of the leaf and other pigments are formed which cause the leaves to turn red or purple in color depending on the acidity of the sap.

For example, sumacs and California wild grape almost always turn red because red pigments are present and their leaf sap is acidic, While many of the oak and sometimes ashes will get a purplish color because the sap is less acidic. Trees like birch don’t have much orange pigment, so they appear mostly yellow in the fall. Others don’t have much yellow pigment and turn mostly orange or read. Some trees have a balance of pigments and look pinkish. The brown color or many oaks can be attributed to a buildup of tannins which is a waste product in the leaves.

So don’t miss out on Japanese maple season. You won’t regret getting a new one for your yard or patio.

In The October Garden

I love to read those articles in gardening magazines with titles like “How to Create a Complete Backyard in a Weekend” or “This Front Yard in Just one Year.” If you’re like me you think, “Can I really do that?” There are some short cuts that can make this happen and fall is the perfect time to try out some of them.

Start by making sure you have paths where you need them. Simple flagstone set in sand or soil work fine for meandering through the garden. A more formal and permanent path is needed to lead guests to the front door but stepping stones are quick and easy in other areas. Hardscaping like paths, walks and fences establish the framework for everything else to build from.

Russian Sage

If you want your garden to fill in quickly, choose key plants that grow fast and are suited to your conditions of sun exposure, soil type and water availability. Plants given their preferred conditions will grow and flourish more quickly. Designate irrigated areas for must-have plants and use plants that like it dry in your other areas. Most important, if you are going for high impact quickly, choose plants that perform right away instead of those needing a few growing seasons to grow in.

Begin your planting by choosing trees and shrubs for structure, especially in the winter. Fast growing trees include chitalpa, red maples, mimosa, birch, raywood ash, flowering cherry and purple robe locust. Shrubs that fill in quickly are butterfly bush, bottlebrush , choisya, rockrose , escallonia, hydrangea, philadelphus, plumbago and weigela.

Next come perennials that mature quickly and make your garden look like it’s been growing for years. East Friesland salvia is one such plant and blooms summer through fall if spent stems are removed. Their intense violet-blue flower spikes cover plants 18″ tall spreading 2-3 ft wide. They look great in wide swaths across the garden or along the border of a path and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

One of hundreds of different salvias, Hot Lips.is a favorite or hummingbirds.

Don’t forget the other salvias. There are some 900 species of salvias. They all grow quickly and are the workhorses of the fall garden. Autumn Sage (Salvia greggi) is drought tolerant and deer resistant (really). Although it tolerates some shade it looks best when planted in full sun. To encourage repeat blooms trim off spent flowers stalks when they start to look rangy. They come in a wide range of colors to accent or match any garden. Recent selections include magenta, burgundy, red, rose, pink, salmon and white.

Walkers Low catmint is another perennial that keeps going and growing. This vigorous spreading member of the mint family blooms profusely with little spikes of 1/2 inch periwinkle blue flowers from late spring through fall. Catmints are easy to care for. Shear plants back by half at the beginning of the season and after flowers fade. They are drought tolerant, too.

Where you need a big clump of color to fill in a space look also at penstemon, mondarda, purple coneflower and yarrow. They all put down deep roots and mature quickly. Be sure to include combinations that bloom in different months.

Yes, creating a garden slowly over many years is satisfying, but if you need to fill in a new area quickly, draw on some of these tips and your bare dirt will be full and beautiful in no time.