Winter Blooms

As dedicated gardeners, we have long lists of chores and ideas for new projects. We head outside and busy ourselves with clipping, weeding, planting, and watering. Or we might take a restful moment in a favorite chair and enjoy the garden as we have many times before. What I propose is to take a mindful wander around the entire garden without tools or plans and really see and enjoy each plant. When I did this in mid-December, I noticed numerous plants with bright berries, colorful foliage, and brilliant blooms. Amazing, considering it was almost the winter solstice! There were four woody perennials or sub-shrubs that I found particularly beautiful and still in full bloom: Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostema lanatum) Native to California, from Monterey to Baja California, growing on the dry slopes of the Coast Range. The aromatic leaves were used by the Kumeyaay tribe as a tea to help …

THE MYSTICAL MISTLETOE, A PLANT FOR DECEMBER

Mistletoe is a parasitic and somewhat toxic evergreen plant that has been revered for thousands of years by cultures worldwide. There are a variety of traditions and myths associated with mistletoe. Most of them are connected with the winter solstice and the return of light. At this time, when the deciduous oaks are barren, the balls of green mistletoe stand out and are revealed. The ancient Celts believed mistletoe to be so sacred that it was not allowed to touch the ground. It was cut and collected by the Druid priests, who climbed the oak tree host and dropped the harvested plants into blankets below. The Celts then hung the leaves and berries in their homes to promote good fortune and peace. Mistletoe was even endowed with such power that enemies meeting by chance under the canopy of oak trees with mistletoe would lay down arms, exchange greetings and a truce could be forged for a full …

A BIRDBATH FOR THE CALIFORNIA THRASHER (AND OTHERS)

A California native bird that has captured my interest this year is the California Thrasher, Toxostoma redivivus (‘toxo’ means arch or bow and ‘stoma’ means mouth; ‘redivivus’ means resurrected, referring to rediscovery in the 1800s after initial sightings in the 1700s.) Its habitat is California and Baja California chaparral, which has been declining. The result has been a reduction in the California Thrasher population by 35% in the last 50 years. The California Thrasher is extremely cautious and shy which probably explains why I have just ‘discovered’ them in my garden. The notoriously bold and raucous Scrub-Jays, permanent residents in our garden’s large shrubs, have always demanded my attention. Their antics are obvious and responsive (especially in regard to water), so they have been my focus when I am in the garden. Often, when watering with a hose, a jay will perch close to me, loudly asking for water. I oblige by aiming at a shrub or an object that will collect …

TWO UNUSUAL BULBS FROM MY GARDEN

Two unusual bulbs growing in my garden are fascinating in both their foliage and flowering habits. The bulbs are large and also rodent-proof. They are dormant all summer, then each sends up a striking flower in late August. When the flower is finished, the leaves emerge, continuing the show throughout winter and spring. Urginea Maritima (syn. Drimia Maritima) is also known as Sea Squill. Native to the area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, it thrives in full sun, low water, and excellent drainage. Given these conditions, the Sea Squill survives without any extra care. Everything about this plant is a bold statement: the bulb can become 12″ wide (the top third should be above ground when planted), and the bright green strappy leaves are 4″ wide, forming a beautiful two-foot-tall clump that persists all winter. The leaves suddenly turn yellow in May, and the dormant bulb is long forgotten until August …

Vertical Gardening

Gardeners are not limited to the ground underneath their feet. Vertical gardening is becoming widespread as gardeners take their creativity to new heights. Vertical edible gardening has many advantages: Saves space Makes harvesting easier Can be constructed wherever you have sun Can provide privacy Easy to maintain Vining plants are grown vertically to take up much less space so a vertical container allows you to grow more in smaller areas like a patio or deck. Vertical gardens also allow for use of non-traditional spaces like walls and fences. Vertical spaces make maintaining your garden easier since problems like weeds, ground-dwelling pests, and soil-borne diseases basically become non-existent. While edible gardens are wonderful, many of us just want the beauty of flowers. Things as simple as turning birdhouses, teacups, and old mailboxes into miniature garden spaces, repurposing old furniture and bathtubs, allow for the gardener to transform gardens into works of …

IT’S IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Those of us who love to garden also love to stroll through those gardens to enjoy the colors and scents and feel the ambience. Many of us also enjoy watching the birds that come. We even en- courage   their   presence   with   bird   feeders   and   bird   baths.   Did you ever stop to think that the way we see in our gardens is not what the birds see? In the early 1970’s researchers accidentally discovered that birds can see in the ultraviolet spectrum. In fact, they are more sensitive to UV than to what we call visible light. Our eyes detect color because our retinas have three kinds of cone cells, which are the receptors used for color vision. Birds, at least those who are active during the day, have four, in- cluding one that is specifically sensitive to UV wavelengths. Each of their cone cells also contains a tiny drop …

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE

Water is more and more expensive. Dry years are more and more numerous in our area. However, there is no denying that we all enjoy the splash of color flowers add to our gardens. So let’s get the most bang for our buck. When choosing your posies, opt for ones that are edible or whose pretty flowers turn into veggies for our meals. Let me suggest a few possibilities and how to use them. Scatter petals of calendula, [C. officialis] for color or nasturtium [Tropaeolum magus] for a bit of zing in a bean or lettuce salad. Calendula petals can also be used as a substitute for saffron to color rice and brighten cheese and egg dishes. Pansies [Viola wittrock-iana], violas [Viola odorata], and Johnny-Jump-Ups [Viola tricolor] are pretty as toppings in salads. They can be used to decorate cakes and soft cheeses or sprinkled on soups, pasta or rice …

It’s Winter in San Diego County!

What does my vegetable garden need now that the weather is cooler, the winds are blowing and the rain (might) be coming? If you planted some of your winter greens in November, they are probably loving this cooler weather, but the winds can cause the soil to dry out much faster. Make sure to run your irrigation or hand water the day before a Santa Ana wind event is to happen. Set your irrigation system on a reduced watering schedule for the winter and be sure to turn it off when it rains. Your winter vegetables only need infrequent watering. Only water when you stick your finger into the soil and it’s dry to the second knuckle. If you live in a microclimate that does get frost, be ready with some type of protection for your precious plants. Cover sensitive plants with cloth, not plastic, and don’t forget to remove it each …

BEYOND ALOE VERA

My fascination with Aloes began during visits to the San Diego Zoo with my grandchildren. Most of you know that both the San Diego Zoo and the Zoo Safari are homes to collections of plants as well as animals. I was drawn to the variety of colors and sizes I saw. I have since learned that the 600 species that exist range in size from a few inches to 20-foot Aloe trees. Their sensitivity to frost limits garden usage to frost-free zones. However, for those of you in locations prone to frost, many can be grown in containers so you can move them to safety when frost is predicted. An option for those grown in the ground is to cover them with a large plastic container that is higher and wider than the aloe or with a sheet or blanket. Entrepreneurs are now even offering ‘plant blankets’. It is important …

Crop Rotation in a Home Vegetable Garden

In a home vegetable garden, crop rotation involves changing the planting location of vegetables within the garden each season. Crop rotation is used to reduce damage from insect pests and to limit the development of vegetable diseases by interrupting pest and disease cycles. Crop rotation also helps manage soil fertility by returning nutrients to the soil without synthetic inputs. Although crop rotation is usually geared toward large conventional farms, the lessons are the same for the home vegetable garden. As many large commercial farms plant the same crop, year after year, more chemical fertilizer, insecticide, fungicide, spectracide, and herbicides are needed. This will happen in the home garden as well. A three-year cycle can be used, but even this can become complicated for those with limited planting areas, so moving your plants even a few feet from where they were last season will be beneficial for the plant’s health. A …