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Archive for the ‘Southern California Gardening’ Category

Irvine, California

Pink Coneflower

 

 

Durango, Colorado

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I mentioned the passing of our amazing Bea Grow a while ago. Her death last December was sad, but now comes the truly unbelievable news that her garden is to be dismantled bit by little bit. I was as shocked as I imagine most of my fellow gardeners were when I read the craigslist notice of the sale of the contents of her house and garden that my friend sent me.

Disposing of the house contents I can understand, but taking apart the garden? Say it isn’t so!

This is a beautiful and amazing space. Bea was a true master of her craft and the garden she created on a hot, Southern California hillside was a joy to see. There are surprises and delights wherever you look — an adorable beehive watering can nestled amongst the greenery, graceful fountains and pedestals, a bird house with Bea’s little wren friend flitting in and out, delicious color combinations, and, amazingly, a rhododendron. Who but Bea could grow a rhododendron in San Clemente?!

Bea was very generous about showing her garden and with gardening advice. You could ask her anything and she would tell you her formula. I was pleased to hear that she credited watering with a weak solution of fish emulsion (one of our favorite techniques) for her success with containers plantings.

And it wasn’t just the garden that was beautiful. Bea was as lovely and gracious a person as you could ever meet. She was kind, funny and humble. The day I visited I asked if I could take her picture. She said yes, but she didn’t think I really wanted to do that. She told me she wasn’t a very good subject as she was very plain-looking. On the contrary, I told her, and I meant it. See for yourself. Not conventionally beautiful perhaps, but beautiful nonetheless; Bea was as lovely looking as any flower in her garden.

Bea (3rd from left) sharing her gardening tips.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Bea and her garden since I heard the news. The sale of the contents of her garden seems so wanton and disrespectful of a life’s work. Surely there’s some gardener out there who would love to buy Bea’s house and put his or her touch on this jewel.

I know all about change and impermanence and have meditated on this concept often. But this week I am struggling with it. Sometimes it’s just too soon.

And, no, I’m not going to the sale. As much as I’d love to have a small piece of Bea’s garden to put in mine, I don’t think I can bear to see the destruction of her work. The memory will be enough.

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Another in a series of posts to bring you interesting garden-related stories. This week we have links to a few articles we think you’ll like and news about events in Southern California.

A Plan to Turn Brooklyn’s Unused Acres Green: This article is about a truly great idea that a group of Brooklyn gardeners called 596 Acres (the total of unused public acres in Brooklyn) had to find and cultivate all the unused lots that dot the city. LOVE this idea!

Humans aren’t the only ones making things grow. Apparently the male Bowerbird, who builds elaborate bowers to attract a mate, is responsible for a lot of new plant life.

Here’s a lovely tribute to a lovely woman and an amazing gardener, Bea Grow. I had the pleasure of meeting her and visiting her beautiful garden a couple of years ago. Bea died last December and is sorely missed by the O.C. gardening community.

Click the link for a round-up of all the O.C. garden tours. Should have gotten this link to you sooner for all the April tours, but there are plenty on the list for May. One I highly recommend is the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour. It’s free (donations encouraged) and it’s fabulous — this weekend, May 5 – 6.

There will be a workshop on Edible Gardening in Small Spaces by my fellow Master Gardeners at the Orange County Great Park this Saturday. Here’s the description: Limited space? Master Gardeners are here to show you the ins and outs of getting a great yield from little places. Choose your favorite vegetables and learn how to make the most of them.

And finally a few words about a great event that I was a part of last weekend at the Orange County Great Park; the Artisan Food and Arts Festival. It was an all-day celebration of artisan food, sustainable gardening and art.

Chef Linda Elbert (of The Basement Table) and I collaborated on Seed to Plate: Cooking from the Garden, a presentation about growing your own vegetables and preparing them. I really enjoyed sharing organic growing tips with our audience.

Afterwards, I was able to spend time taking in the other chefs’ demos, the restaurant booths, sampling the food from the food trucks and seeing the art exhibits. Some of the art is still up. I highly recommend that you go see Tom Lamb’s exhibit of aerial photography called Marks on the Land: The View From Here.

The entire event was so much fun — kudos to my friend Maya Dunn and the Great Park staff for a fabulous job of pulling it off in grand style. Let’s hope that it comes back next year!

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I’ve been in my house for most of the time that I’ve lived in California — 19 years. And in all that time I’ve missed having the big, productive vegetable garden that I had in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of reasons that I haven’t been growing vegetables here; too little time, not enough sun, etc., but the big one is the really crappy soil in our area.

Soil is so very important for growing veggies. Of course light, water and nutrition are key elements, but you can have all of those and still not be able to grow much in the way of vegetables if your soil is lousy.

My soil is compacted and low in organic matter, a result of building practices in developments such a mine. Builders come in and level the ground, bulldozing away the fertile topsoil. Add the fact that the soil in this area is full of heavy clay, which stops tiny little roots dead in their tracks, and you have very inhospitable veggie growing conditions.

The solution is to build raised beds that you can fill with beautiful, fertile soil and loads of compost. Which is what I did last week.

This project is pretty easy. In spite of having only the most basic woodworking skills, I had no problem getting good results. I started with plans, which I modified it to match my needs, that I found on Sunset Magazines website. Now some of you may laugh at how little mine is (4′ x 4′), but I have only one tiny spot that gets enough sun for growing anything but part-shade plants.

I decided on a smaller version than Sunset’s also because this is test run that I didn’t want to sink a lot of money into. If it works, I’ll get some of the eucalyptus trees that surround my yard trimmed or removed (Have you priced this kind of job lately? Yowzers!) and redo my landscape to accommodate larger beds. In the meantime, this project cost me about $90 and took about 4 hours. Here’s how I did it.

Materials

  • One 16-foot long 2 x 12 cut into 4 equal pieces (ends up being a tad less than 4′ each due to the saw cut)
  • One 8 foot long 2 x 4 cut into 4 16-inch pieces with some left over
  • A box of 2 1/2″ decking screws – you’ll only need 12 of them though
  • One roll of 1/4″ hardware cloth (I had to get a 3′ x 10′ roll — a 4′ x 10′ would have been better)
  • Five 1 cu. ft. bags of organic topsoil
  • Three 1.5 cu. ft. bags of organic planting compost (total topsoil + compost should be 9 – 10 cubic feet)
  • 2 cups organic Tomato & Vegetable food
  • One small Jack Russel Terrier, optional

I went to Lowe’s (wish there was a real lumber yard in the area) and bought top grade pine. You can use pine, redwood or cedar. The latter two will last a while longer but there are sustainability issues with the cedar. DO NOT BUY TREATED WOOD even if they say it’s the new, safe kind. I don’t believe any of it is food-safe and it’s certainly not organic.

When you are selecting the wood look down the length of the board to make sure it’s not warped. A tiny bit bowing or twisting is ok, but it should be very, very slight. Also eliminate any lumber that has more than very minor splits on the ends or lots of knots.

Lowe’s will cut any lumber you buy to your measurements for no additional charge — good thing because these boards would never have fit into my car, nor could I have managed the larger piece by myself.

Some of the changes I made to the original plans were: I used 12″ lumber for the sides because I couldn’t see any reason to use two 6″ boards as they did in the Sunset plans. And I switched out their recommended 4″ x 4″ corner posts for 2″ x 4″ because my bed is smaller and I thought it wouldn’t compromise the sturdiness factor — besides it saved a little $$. I didn’t add the piping for the row cover hoops because it never gets that cold here, however my resident bird population may cause me to regret not being able to float some bird netting.

Tools

  • Electric or battery-powered drill, plus a screw driver bit and a drill bit that is slightly smaller in diameter than the decking screws
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Metal snips or shears

I assembled the bed upside down right where I was going to place it. In retrospect this was probably a mistake that accounted for my not getting the box perfectly squared. So I recommend assembling it on a flat surface like your patio, deck or garage. I did the whole thing myself, but if you can recruit a helper (one with opposable thumbs) so much the better.

  1. Lay down two of the 2 x 4s and place one 2 x 12 on top of them so they are right angles, lining up the 2 x 4s at opposite edges.
  2. Drill pilot holes to prevent splitting the wood. Use 3 decking screws for each end. Screw through the 2 x 12 into the 2 x 4s.
  3. Repeat for one more side. You should have two sides with legs and 2 sides without. (As you can see I switched out my little battery-powered drill which didn’t have enough torque for my electric drill)
  4. Attach one plain board to one board with legs, making sure that the corner is square and the legs face inside the box. Be sure you place the screws so they go into the wood and not the gap between the side and the leg.
  5. Attach the second legged board to the opposite side.
  6. Attach the final side.
  7. Next you should try to get the site as close to level as you can. 
  8. Then turn the bed right side up and mark the soil where the legs will go.
  9. Dig holes four inches deep for the legs.
  10. Place the legs in the holes and fill them in tamping the dirt around the legs.
  11. If there are slight gaps under the sides, take some dirt and mound it along the sides to fill them.
  12. Cut the hardware cloth to fit and lay it on the bottom. This is important if you live in an area with moles and gophers.
  13. Dump the soil and compost in and mix thoroughly using the shovel and the cultivator. Soil should come to within 3 inches of the top.
  14. Add the organic fertilizer and mix that into the top 4 -6 inches.
  15. Using the bow rake, level the soil
  16. Gently spray water to moisten soil.

Now you’re ready to plant!

It is little, but I’m very excited to have a vegetable garden again — no matter how small. Now Emmie needs a nap and so do I!
Update: I should have mentioned that you can increase the size of this raised bed by at least two feet in length with no issues. I wouldn’t recommend increasing the width. For raised beds 3′ to 4′ is as wide as you’ll probably want to go. It makes it easier to reach into the bed for weeding, planting and harvesting.

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Why are we startled? Really!? Fall comes every year at the same time, yet we always seem to be caught off guard when those first cool mornings hit. For most it means the end of the growing season and a welcome respite from our garden chores. But not so fast buckaroo! There’s still the Fall Cleanup to do.

There are actually two sets of chores in the garden now. One is cleaning up your garden, which we will look at today. The other is tool cleanup and storage which will be our post next week.

#1 Take stock.

Go out into your garden with your garden journal (You are keeping one, right?) making note of what worked and what didn’t. If a plant didn’t thrive, was bug infested, or disease ridden, it just might be time to “shovel prune” the thing to make a space for something that’s more suited to your climate/micro climate. You’ll have all winter to ask around and see what worked for your neighbors, or to talk to the folks at your local nursery about more suitable plants.

Bring your camera along and take a few photos to have when you’re looking at garden catalogues in the dead of winter. Not only will it cheer you up, but you’ll have a better idea of what new plants to order and where they should go.

#2 Final harvests.

Keep an eye on the weather reports. Harvest the last of your veggies just before that first frost hits. Or, put up some hoops and floating row covers to protect your crops for the early light frosts extending your growing season by a few weeks. Mary Beth did this in June, but you can still install them as a weekend project if you hurry.

#3 Clean, clean, clean.

Remove dead and dying plant material from your garden beds to prevent diseases from overwintering. Be especially vigilant in your rose beds — leave not even one fungus-infected leaf behind! Here’s a link to a great video on the Annie’s Annuals (amazingly great source for plants) website that shows how Annie “tears up” the garden in November to get it ready for spring. (Thanks for Dirt Du Jour for posting this.)

#4 Dig up dahlia tubers.

Yes, we know you hate this chore, but do it! You’ll be patting yourself on the back when these beauties are in full bloom next year. Click here for MB’s great “how to.” In coastal California you don’t have to dig up dahlias. You can just cut them back to the ground in November.

#5 Plant spring-flowering bulbs and wildflower seeds.

In Southern California this is the perfect time for putting in some spring-flowering bulbs. Click here for a list of bulbs that will do well in our warmer temps and for some good sources. You might want to consider filling in some early spring blank spots with native wildflowers. Planting time for wildflower seeds is mid-November through mid-March, but get your seeds now. Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano has nine mixes formulated specifically for California gardens using only native plant seeds.

#6 Cool Season Crops for Southern California.

Here in So Cal we really don’t get much of a break from gardening, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your energy level any given day. Regardless, fresh, homegrown veggies on your dinner table make it all worthwhile. You can grow arugula, beets, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, mache, escarole, favas, green onion, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mesclun, mustard, parsnips, radicchio, radish, snap peas, spinach and turnips.

Seeds should have gone in mid-September and you can probably get away with planting most of them if you do it right away, otherwise buy some starts and you’ll be right on schedule.

Ok. That’s enough for now. Next week we’ll talk tools.

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We are deep into summer weather now and it’s proving to be even hotter and drier than last month in SoCal — no real surprise there. What’s also not too surprising is our general lack of enthusiasm for gardening lately. It always happens this time of year. Most of the plants are well past their big flowering and there are far fewer things to anticipate and look for as we walk around our gardens.

Of course that doesn’t mean that we can take a gardening vacation. There are fruits and vegetables that need picking and preserving, weeds to get rid of, and lots of deadheading to do. And, for goodness sake, pay attention to your thirsty plants. When the temperatures rise you need to give your plants additional water, especially the containers, sometimes as much as once a day. So put on your sunblock and get out there!

Things to do in your garden in August:

  • Deadhead roses and other repeat bloomers
  • Remove suckers from roses and prune lightly to improve circulation
  • Continue to spray roses and other plants for powdery mildew
  • Remove seed pods/berries from fuchsias, cut back by about a quarter
  • Pinch flowers off of coleus and cut back a bit if they’ve become too leggy
  • Remove spent bloom stalks from agapanthus, daylilies and society garlic
  • Pull spent stems from alstroemerias – yank them right out of the ground! Sounds violent, but it will encourage new blooms
  • Feed flowering plants, ferns, and tropicals
  • Harvest vegetables regularly
  • Keep an eye out for those voracious green monsters, aka tomato hornworms
  • Keep up with your weeding. Doing it after you water will make it much easier
  • In the mountain region, it’s time to get row covers installed to protect your crops from the cool night-time temps

The fall catalogues are starting to show up in our mailboxes and that means it’s time to start planning for fall planting and cool-weather crops. You can even do a bit of preparation for spring planting by taking pictures of your garden when it’s in full bloom. This winter when you’re ordering for next year’s garden you’ll have pictures to remind you of where the empty spots are and to help you decide on some new color combinations.

Stay cool!

 

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Even though Mary Beth and I are Master Gardeners with many years experience we are often vexed by gardening questions we can’t answer or situations where we’ve tried everything we know and problems are still not resolved. Other times we’re pretty sure we know what we’re talking about, but we want to be damn sure we are giving the most accurate information to our clients and readers.

So where do we go when we need answers? We have a few tried and true suggestions. Certainly the following list is not comprehensive, but we think you will find them to be very reliable sources of information that will provide answers to most of your questions.

University cooperative extensions are a source for the most up-to-date, researched-based information on plants, plant diseases and treatments, and insects — good and bad. The scientists at the extensions also track new plant diseases and  invasive insect species. (BTW, here in California where university budgets are being slashed, the extensions are taking a huge hit which impacts, if not cripples, their ability to track and stop invasive species and new plant diseases. If things continue this way, there will soon come a day when all we can do is watch while some of our food crops and ornamentals are decimated by insects or diseases that no one has the funds or know-how to stop. This is what smaller government will get you. Scary and depressing.)

UC IPM — University fo California’s Integrated Pest Management website has pretty much everything you want to know about insects, pests, and diseases in the home garden. IPM is the practice of using the least toxic methods first. We, of course, recommend that you never go past the organic line.

Colorado State University Extension — visit PlantTalk for everything garden-related in Colorado (in English and Spanish).

Other state universities have extensions too if you’re looking for information specific to your area.

Sunset’s Western Garden book is one of the first places we look for information on individual plants and their cultural requirements. Sunset Magazine’s website is also a great place for plant information as well as landscaping and design ideas, garden projects, and more.

Garden Design Magazine and website —  we used to find this a little out of our league (well, more than a little) with all its high-end furniture and design ideas, but they revamped it a few months ago and it’s much more down to earth with a lot of great garden design ideas, outdoor entertaining, and information on new plants and products.

Organic Gardening Magazine and website — we love this magazine. We read cover to cover as soon as we get it.

Dave Wilson Nursery — this website is loaded with great information about Backyard Orchard Culture. Check out Fruit Tube, DWN’s You Tube videos with demos on planting, pruning and caring for fruit trees.

And if you can’t find the answer in any of these places, send us an email (barbara@beesandchicks.com) with your gardening question and we’ll be happy to help you.

Happy gardening!

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