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.

Celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day celebrates the natural beauty of our planet and reminds us of what we can do to keep it healthy.  Always on April 22nd, Earth Day is a day of education about environmental issues and is now a global celebration. In anticipation of this day I recently spent the morning in nature at the UCSC Arboretum where the birds and the bees were enjoying the nectar flowers. Whether you plant a tree, clean up litter, garden, hike in the woods or marvel at emerging wildflower, be in contact with the soil and breathe fresh air outside on this day.

Fremontodendron aka Flannel Bush

My day at the Arboretum started in the California native plant garden. Plants thrive when they’re natural to your area and the flannel bush, one of the most spectacular of our native shrubs, is a good example. Huge abundant deep yellow blooms cover the plant for a long time starting in the spring.

Iris douglasiana aka Pacific Coast Iris

Impressive swaths of rich blue Pacific Coast iris bordered the path. Nearby a bush poppy, covered with 2 inch yellow flowers put on it’s spring display. It will bloom sporadically for most of the year.

The South African and Australian gardens at the Arboretum is where all the action takes place for hummingbird watchers. The courtship display of the dozens of Anna’s hummingbirds, taking place inches over your head, sure puts one in contact with nature. You can bring nature into your garden with plants that attract these jewels of the avian world as well as butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Planting wildflowers on Earth Day is a good place to start.

Wildflowers like poppies, tidy tips, yarrow and baby blue eyes provide nectar and pollen for the pollinators, including honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees. Attract other beneficial insects such as ladybugs, parasitoid wasps and army worms to be the unpaid pest control agents in your garden. Beside wildflowers, plants such as aster, goldenrod and California fuchsia attract beneficial insects and are grown to attract, feed and shelter the insect parasites and predators to enhance your biological pest control. Everything is connected on the planet.

Protea or Pinchushion plant

The pincushion protea from South Africa is one the the brilliantly colored shrubs in this garden in the Arboretum. The flowers are striking, not only for their appearance, but also for their unusual structure and pollination sequence. They make a good long lasting cut flower.

Pink Rice Flower or pimelea ferrugine

In the New Zealand garden a beautiful small shrub with small dark green glossy leaves and masses of showy, fragrant magenta pink tubular flowers was attracting butterflies. The Pink Rice Flower was in full bloom and would sure look great in my garden in my well drained soil.

Remember that plants drink their food. If your soil dries out completely, your plants will starve. Take steps on Earth Day and the rest of the year to water wisely and retain the valuable moisture. Steps include improving your soil with organic matter, planning a smaller garden, choosing bush varieties of vegetables, placing plants closer together to shade the soil which helps conserve moisture and reduces weed growth. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Keep those moisture grabbing weeds at bay. Use a drip irrigation system to conserve water.

Celebrate Earth Day this April 22nd and throughout the whole year.

The Art of Bonsai aka Tree Art

Robert Stoll joined Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai in 1989 two months after it started. He and I have something in common. We both have won a bonsai specimen that remains one of our favorites. His will be featured at the club’s upcoming bonsai exhibit while mine lives a quietly on my patio.

Robert Stoll at his work bench explaining bonsai techniques.

Recently I spent some time in the garden of this knowledgeable man while he shared stories of the history of bonsai and what the art means to him. Robert will be displaying three specimens at the show this year- the juniper chinensis procumbens ’Nana’ he has been training since he won it 20 years ago, another ‘Nana’ specimen and a pfitzer juniper that can be traced back to 1901. He dug it up 15 years ago and has been training it ever since.

An example of Penjing style bonsai

Robert has dozens of bonsai but one that caught my eye was a lovely example of Penjeng which is a style that displays an artistic or social statement. This one had a boat “floating” on sand near rocks and a miniature tree. Robert said he wanted to depict the statemen ”At the end of the day everyone needs a safe harbor.”

The word bonsai comes from two Japanese words that provide the most basic definition of this living art form. “Bon” means tray or pot, while “sai” means to plant. One of the reasons we all admire bonsai is how old they look -appearing to be veterans of years of struggle against natural forces. Some are actually hundreds of years old and handed down in families while others look very old utilizing techniques help further this illusion.

There is a technique called jin which causes weathered-looking dieback on a branch and is created by stripping a branch of bark. In nature, deadwood is created when a tree is hit by lightning, exposed to sustained periods of drought or when branches snap due to ice stress, wind or weight of snow. The wood dies off and is bleached by intense sunlight. Robert has many examples of this technique.

“Root over rock” Trident maple

As living things, bonsai are always growing, leaves and stems being pinched, branches wired into natural looking shapes, the trunks thickening and sometimes developing nebari, that most sought-after look when the surface roots of the tree or root flare are visible above the growing medium.

Be inspired and have all your questions answered about growing bonsai from the experts. Don’t miss the upcoming 30h Annual Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai exhibit Saturday and Sunday, April 14 & 15 at the Museum of Art and History at 705 Front Street in Santa Cruz from 10:00am – 5:00pm each day. Entry fee is $5 per person which includes the museum. Kids 12 and under get in free so it’s a great way to spend the day.

Saturday activities include a performance by the Watsonville Taiko, Japanese flower arranging, origami demonstrations and Sumi-e ink painting. On Sunday the Santa Cruz Todo Kai will be performing. There will be a shamisen musical instrument performance and the origami and Semi-e ink demonstrations will be ongoing throughout the day.

Every plant sold or raffled at the show comes with an invitation to the monthly Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club meetings where new enthusiasts are welcomed and nurtured.
Besides taking in the beautiful bonsai on display you can purchase finished bonsai and starter plants as well as get experienced help with trees purchased. There will be door prizes and refreshments. You might even win the raffle for the demonstration specimen created each day at 2:00 pm by Bonsai Artist Jonas Dupuich on Saturday or if you come to the show on Sunday the one created by Sensei Katsumi Kinoshita.

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