Small Space Veggies & Fruit Trees

Crunch container snap peas. photo courtesy of Reneesgarden.com

You know that growing your own fruit and vegetables can supply your family with fresh tasting and nutritious food. But what if you don’t have much space for a big garden or an orchard of fruit trees? I’m definitely in this category. Now days there are lots of dwarf and compact varieties available for smaller yards and containers. Here are some good ones to try.

The best veggie varieties for growing in containers are: beans, chard, chili peppers, kale, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, sweet peppers and tomatoes.

photo courtesy of Reneesgarden.com

Renee’s Garden www.reneesgarden.com – offers seed for a French Mascotte container bush bean which sounds delicious. Both ornamental and easy to harvest for a long period. There are many bush bean varieties to try. They also offer a container chard called Pot of Gold that I want to grow. Renee’s Garden also offers seed for kale, many lettuces and a snap pea for containers called Crunch that I want to try also. With so many choices my lack of space won’t keep me from growing edibles this year.

Pot of Gold chard. – photo courtesy of Rennesgarden.com

Peppers, both chili and sweet varieties do well in containers, too. You might want to try growing bite-sized sweet peppers for you pizza or snacking while out in the garden.

Tomatoes are always popular to grow whether in the ground in a small garden or in pots on the patio. Bush types (determinate) don’t grow as large as indeterminate vines. If you like large size tomatoes, plant Bush Beefsteak and you’ll be harvesting clusters of delicious 8 oz. tomatoes in just 62 days. A half wine barrel can house a taller tomato like the ever popular Sungold. Small gold-orange cherry tomatoes ripen early and are oh-so-sweet. You’ll plant these every year after you’ve tasted one.

Zucchini lovers might try the non-rambling Raven or Astia varieties which won’t take up as much space as a traditional type. If you have a little space to spare grow the round French heirloom squash, Ronde de Nice. Jade colored zucchini produce over a long period. Harvest the fruit when they reach golf ball up to baseball size. They are sublime grilled or try them stuffed. They are unique in the garden and wonderful in cuisine. A tip to encourage pollination when squash or melons bloom is to pinch off leaves covering the blossoms in order to give pollinators a clear path to the flowers.

Herbs make good additions to the smaller garden, too. They can be kept compact with frequent pinching as you harvest sprigs for cooking. They also attract beneficial insects to the garden. Oregano, chamomile and fennel are good insectary herbs.

Dwarf fruit trees can also find a place in the smaller garden. They can be grown in large pots or half barrels on the deck, too. Dwarf Garden Delicious apple is self-fertile and bears at a young age. Greenish-yellow skinned fruit with attractive red color ripens in late September into October. They grow to 8-10 feet at maturity.

Compact Stella cherry is also self fertile and is a good pollinizer for all sweet cherries. The fruit is large, dark red or nearly black. Firm, sweet, dark red flesh has good flavor and texture. Stella cherries grow 10-12 feet tall and bear at a young age.

If it’s almonds you crave for your patio or mini-orchard, plant a Dwarf Garden Prince almond. This compact 10-12 ft tree blooms mid-season with beautiful pale pink blossoms. Dense attractive foliage and good quality sweet almonds make this tree a nice addition to any garden.

A patio-sized peach for smaller yards is the Dwarf Southern Flame. Large, yellow, aromatic freestone peaches are firm, crisp and melt in your mouth. Tree height is just 5 ft and the fruit ripens early to mid July.

Don’t let lack of space stop you from enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables this year.

The Fragrances of Spring

When I walk out my sliding glass doors it hits me. Blooming now since early winter, the pale yellow primroses fill the air with the sweetest scent. It’s only the yellow ones and not all shades of yellow that are fragrant but these make your head turn. The sweet alyssum I planted last fall on the deck is getting a run for the money in the fragrance department.

Many other spring bloomers are deliciously fragrant, too. Whether you’re planting edibles in the vegetable garden or containers on the deck, include plants that entice you to linger and enjoy their sweet scent.

The word fragrance comes from the 17th century French word fragrantia, meaning sweet smell. A garden’s fragrance can be as unforgettable as its appearance. The scent of a particular flower can make you remember past times and places. Plant them along a garden path to enjoy as you stroll, in containers to scent a deck or patio or locate them beneath a window and let their aroma drift indoors.

Old fashion lilacs will be blooming soon. Nothing ways “spring” like the legendary scent of these shrubs. Give them a spot in full sun with enough room for them to spread 6 feet wide. While most plants accept slightly acidic soils, lilacs are an exception. Dig lime into your soil at planting and side dress yearly if your soil is acidic.

Looking for something in vanilla? Evergreen clematis vines make a great screen with 6 inch long, glossy leaves and creamy white, saucer shaped, vanilla-scented flower clusters. Provide study support for them to climb on. They are slow to start but race once established.

Outside the veggie garden, citrus blossoms can scent the air. Plant lemons oranges, mandarins, kumquats, grapefruit and limes in full sun areas. Established trees need a good soak every other week during the warmer months so keep them on a separate watering system from your other edibles.

Inside the veggie garden, include scented plants that attract beneficial insects. Fragrant lavender and sweet alyssum are good choices. For sheer enjoyment, plant perennial carnation and dianthus for their intense clove fragrance. Cinnamon Red Hots grow to 15 inches, are deer resistant, bloom all spring and summer and don’t need deadheading. Velvet and White border carnations are among the least demanding and most satisfying perennials in the garden. As cut flowers they are long lasting and highly fragrant in bouquets.

Combine the old fashion fragrance of carnations with nemesia for a real treat.

A fragrant perennial to tuck among your other plants or veggies is Berries & Cream Sachet nemesia. Intensely fragrant blossoms are purple and white, just like blackberries covered with cream. They bloom for months without any special care but if flowers decline, cut plants back to stimulate new growth.

More scented perennials include sweet violets for spring fragrance and chocolate cosmos for later in the season. Plant several chocolate cosmos for the strongest effect. They really do smell like dark chocolate on a warm day. Vivid purple heliotrope smell like vanilla and licorice.

Fragrant shrubs that are easy to grow are Mexican Orange (choisya ternata) which blooms most of the year. Pittosporum eugenoides, tenuifolium and tobira all have tiny blossoms that also smell like oranges. The tiny flower cluster of Fragrant Olive (osmanthus fragrans) have a delicate apricot fragrance. Other fragrant shrubs include California native Philadelphus lewisii (Wild Mock Orange) and Calycanthus occidentals (Spice Bush) another native to our Central and Northern California mountains. Their fragrant burgundy flowers smell like red wine. Ribes viburnifolium, carpenteria californica and rosa californica are mildly scented, too.

Plant for fragrance. It’s your reward for all the care and tending you give your garden.

All About the Easter Lily

Whether you observe Passover, Western or Eastern Christianity Easter when this time of year arrives I love to have a couple of Easter Lilies in the house. I love those huge, fragrant, white trumpet-shaped flowers. It’s a tradition that marks spring along with decorating eggs, chocolate bunnies and Easter baskets.

Easter lilies that are blooming at his time of year have been forced under controlled conditions to flower in time for Easter. This is a very tricky process since Easter falls on a different day each year dependent upon celestial bodies. Falling on the first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Easter can be any day between March 22 and April 25. Crop scheduling and timing is critical. The flowers must bloom exactly when they’re suppose to with no margin for error.

Did you know that over 95% of all the bulbs grown for the Easter lily market are produced by just 10 farms in a narrow coastal region straddling the California-Oregon border? Known as the Easter Lily Capitol of the World, the area offers a climate of year-round mild temperatures, deep, rich alluvial soils and abundant rainfall which produces a consistent high quality bulb crop.

The Easter lily or Lilium longiforum, is native to the southern islands of Japan where it was grown and exported to the US until WW ll. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 the Japanese source of bulbs was abruptly cut off. As a result, the value of lily bulbs sky-rocketed and many who were growing lilies as a hobby here decided to go into business. The Easter lily bulbs at the time were called ‘White Gold’ and growers everywhere attempted to cash in on the crop. By 1945, there were about 1,200 growers producing bulbs up and down the Pacific coast from Vancouver to Long Beach. But producing quality, consistent lily bulbs proved to be quite demanding with specific climatic requirements. Over the years, the number of bulb producers dwindled to just the 10 current farms near the Oregon border. Even after the Japanese started to ship bulbs again after the war, they have never been able to come close to the quality of our U.S. grown bulbs.

Here’s how to make your Easter lily keep on giving. For the longest possible period of enjoyment, remove the yellow anthers from the flowers before the pollen starts to shed. This gives longer flower life and prevents the pollen from staining the white flowers. Place the plants in bright indirect daylight, not direct sunlight, and water when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Do not let the plant sit in water.

After blooming, plant your lily outside in sun or part shade after letting it acclimate to brighter conditions for a week or so before transplanting. Plant in a well-drained garden bed that has been amended with lots of organic matter like compost and mulch the surface with more compost. As the original plants begin to die back, cut the stems back to the soil surface. New growth will soon emerge but go dormant again during the winter. Next year the will bloom naturally in the summertime.

Easter lilies are a great addition to the flower border. Easy to grow, fragrant and hardy.

Planting for Wildlife

Ribes King Edward VII – Pink flowering currant are a favorite of hummingbirds.

I confess, I’m a lazy gardener. In July, my idea of working in the garden consists of removing seed pods from the fuchsias and trimming a few parsley and basil sprigs for dinner. I don’t have to spray for harmful insects and diseases because the birds and other creatures I encourage in my garden provide natural pest control. Having wildlife in the garden saves me time and money, too. I have a tiny garden now on Boulder Creek but attracting wildlife is just as much fun.

A wildlife garden doesn’t have to be messy. It just requires the right balance between form and function. Areas close to the house can look more refined because they get more attention. Spots farther away from the house can be a little more relaxed because they are seen at a distance.

Plant in layers, providing a canopy or tree layer, a shrub layer and a ground cover layer. This provides the greatest range of sheltering, feeding and nesting sites for birds and other creatures. Towhees, black-headed juncos and robins like to stick to the shrub layer but are frequently found foraging in leaf litter on the ground where they find insects for food. Warblers and chickadees tend to search for insects in the canopy layer.

Many native plants provide essential food and foraging areas for wildlife. Plants from similar climates like the Mediterranean region also have benefits for wildlife.

Coffeeberry are a favorite for many birds. This native grows in full sun or partial shade and isn’t fussy about soil. Established plants need no irrigation but will accept regular gardening watering unlike many other natives. They make up for small inconspicuous flowers with large berries than turn from green to red to black as they ripen. Use this 4-8 ft. shrub for your middle layer.

If it’s summer color you’re after, look to vitex agnus-castus. This large shrub can be trained as a multi-stemmed small shade tree if you like. Fragrant lavender-blue flower spikes cover this plant summer to fall. Even the leaves are aromatic with handsome lacy, fanlike leaflets. Vitex thrives in heat with moderate water and is deer resistant.

Pacific Was Myrtle (myrica californica) makes a great screening plant and the
berries are loved by warblers.

Pacific wax myrtle is another shrub to use in your middle layer as a screen. This 10 ft evergreen can also be trained as a small 30 ft tree. It’s one of the best looking native plants for the garden with aromatic glossy dark green leaves. Clusters of tiny berries are a favorite food source for several species of birds, especially warblers.

Other natives for the middle layer include Howard McMinn manzanita, Ray Harman ceanothus, bush anemone, western redbud, snowberry, pink-flowering currant and philadelphus. Native plants for the ground cover layer would also include Emerald Carpet manzanita and Yankee Point ceanothus.

You don’t need a lot of land or a huge garden to use the layering principal. Even the smallest yard can have all three layers that offer beauty and shade for us and nesting sites, food and foraging areas for wildlife.

What You Can Do to Help the Bees

Common garden plants like this echium ‘Tower of Jewels’ can attract bees to your garden.

Outside the birds are chirping like crazy in anticipation of this year’s nesting activities. The bees are becoming more active every day searching for nectar in the flowering trees and shrubs. Ceanothus season is coming soon and then they’ll really be busy. Last year was a banner year for my native bees and bumble bees. There were also a lot of European honey bees around. Maybe I was just lucky. What can you do to help our pollinators in these times of diminishing habitat, disease, climate change and pesticide use?

There are 1600 species of native bees in Santa Cruz county. They are solely responsible for pollinating many of our native plants. Being solitary they do not make a hive but make nests underground or live in wood, one female per nesting hole and she lays her eggs there. Leaving areas in your garden near flowering plants un-mulched helps her find a nesting hole. The hard working females mate, make nests, collect pollen for their young and lay eggs. Males live to mate and only pollinate inadvertently when they visit flowers for nectar to fuel their flight.

Common native bees in our area are the yellow-faced bumble bee and the long-horned bee which has stripes a little like a yellow jacket. The hard working bumble bee is easy to identify from its bight yellow facial hair and yellow bands on their backs and abdomens. Female bumble bees’ hind legs widen to form pollen baskets often filled with bright yellow, moistened pollen pellets.


The Long-horned native bee gets their name from the long antennae of the males although the females do not have this. Males may be seen by day jostling for female attention above a patch of blooming plants while the females are collecting pollen. Only the females have branched hairs on their legs for carrying pollen.

Bees eat two things: nectar which is loaded with sugar and is their main source of energy and pollen which provides proteins and fats. Some of the common native plants that are recommended for our area to attract bees of all types include yarrow, columbine, California poppy, coral bells, silver lupine, penstemon, ceanothus, toyon, big leaf maple, mahonia, monkey flower, buckwheat, western azalea and purple sage.

Common garden plants that can attract bees to your landscape and vegetable garden are herbs such as African blue basil, oregano, mint, catnip and cat mint, borage, rosemary, chives, hyssop, dill, comfrey and fennel. Edibles that attract bees are blueberry, pumpkin, squash, sunflower, blackberry, hazelnut, artichoke, beans, cucumber and peas. Crabapple, iris, lavender, salvia, sunflowers, monarda, aster, butterfly bush, sweet alyssum, alstroemeria, red hot poker, gloriosa daisy, scabiosa, coneflower and echium also attract bees of all types.

The higher temperatures that come with climate change can affect a bee’s ability to detect a flower’s pollen. A flowers scent is what tells a bee that nectar is present. If the weather gets too hot the plant will spend less energy on producing fragrance and just try to survive. When flowers stop emanating these enticing smells, some bees have a tough time finding food and may abandon certain area. Studies have shown that warming climates already have affected our central coast bumblebee population during the past 30 years especially the California bumblebee.

In your own garden an abundant and healthy population of pollinators can improve fruit set, quality and size. Crops raised in California depend on both domestic honeybees and native bees for pollination of almond, blackberry, cucumber and artichoke crops.

Honeybees and native bees need help to survive and we’re the ones to give it. Besides planting nectar and pollen sources you can help by buying local honey which support beekeepers.

Rethink the Lawn & Save $

This garden sitting area looks inviting after the old lawn was removed.

Water is a precious and vital resource. Our bodies are about 60% water and our brain – a whopping 70%. Less than 1% of the water on the Earth, however, is suitable for human consumption. With the population increasing and the water supply staying the same, water conservation indoors and out is important. A well planned landscape makes water conservation outside the home even easier. Since up to 70% of summer water use comes from landscape irrigation it’s a good place to start.

Both San Lorenzo Valley Water – http://www.slvwd.com – and Scotts Valley Water Districts – http://www.svwd.org – offer many tips and incentives to conserve water. Scotts Valley Water District is even having a limited time offer to double your Lawn/Turf Replacement Rebate from $1 to $2 per square foot when replacing with low water-use alternatives. All sites must have a pre and post inspection completed my June 30, 2021 so don’t miss out on this great opportunity. You can apply on their website by requesting a pre-inspection lawn measurement before April 15th.

The fun part begins when you redesign the area where you took out the lawn or modify the plantings in other beds to include same water use plants. It doesn’t make much sense if you have some plants that require more water than others in the same bed. You have to water to the highest water-use plant to keep everybody happy.

Hydrozoning is the practice of clustering together plants with similar water requirements to conserve water. A planting design where plants are grouped by water needs improves efficiency and plant health by avoiding overwatering or underwatering. And as you move farther away from the water source your plantings should require less water.

An edible garden replaced the old lawn.

When redesigning your landscape start with simple things. Rock, stone, and permeable paths and driveways add visual interest to the landscape and don’t require irrigation. Improving your property’s soil quality aids in saving water regardless of the plants grown there. Organic materials added to the soil help establish a strong root system for plants. Nutrients in the soil allow the plants to become stronger, too. Adding a layer of mulch increases the plant’s efficiency by retaining moisture and keeping the soil temperature stable.

Choose the right plants for your location. California natives or plants from similar climates in the world are low maintenance, low irrigation plants and usually need less tending, fertilizer and pruning. Your choice of groundcover can make a big difference, too, in how much water the landscape saves. Keeping grass areas to a bare minimum reduces the amount of water needed to keep the landscape looking green and fire safe.

Your method or irrigation helps conserve water. Hand watering where possible, especially new plantings, directs the water exactly where it needs to go and you can shut off the hose as soon as the plants receive enough water. A soaker hose is another efficient option that reduces evaporation during the watering process. An automatic irrigation system with a rain sensor, weather based controller or soil moisture sensors is the newest way to save water.

There are lists of drought-tolerant plants and water smart grasses, as well as replacing lawns with drought tolerant or native plants on the Scotts Valley Water District website. Permeable landscape materials such as mulch, decomposed granite, permeable pavers are other ways you can keep your yard looking beautiful and also be water efficient.

Now is the time before it gets hot to look at your irrigation system, plant choices and rebate options to save water and money and recharge our aquifers.

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