Making the Most of your Garden

Early summer is the right time for many garden activities that you don’t want to leave to chance. Keep these reminders in the back of your mind to tackle when the mood hits you.

Pink wisteria in bloom before summer pruning

Look for any pest problems so you can do something about them before they get out of hand. I’m OK with a few holes here and there but a heavy infestation should be trimmed off or sprayed with an organic insecticide.I inspect the tips of my fuchsias regularly for fuchsia mites and clip off any distorted growth. I hate to spray even organics on fuchsias due to the hummingbird activity. Lately I’ve seen rose slugs making lace out of the leaves so I crush by hand or spray with organic BT. Walk around your garden with a beverage in hand to spot problems on a regular basis.

Many plants, both vegetable and ornamental, are bothered by aphids and other sucking insects as well as foliage and flower eating bugs. From cucumber beetles, flea beetles, stink bugs, weevils, curculios to borers , the list of trouble makers is endless.

To help deter them mix up some pepper spray in your kitchen.

  • 1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce or 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 quart warm tap water

Let stand I hour, strain and spray plants either in the morning or evening.

If you battle dandelions and don’t want to use chemical weed killers around pets and children, get out the white vinegar from the cupboard. On a hot sunny day spray straight white vinegar directly on the weed. This method will kill whatever it touches so direct the spray carefully. If the dandelion is in the lawn, wait a week, pour some water on the dead spot to dilute any lasting effects of the vinegar. Then poke some holes and drop in grass seed. Sprinkle a bit of fertilizer where the seed is planted and keep the area moist. In three weeks you won’t remember where the dead spot was and the dandelion will be long gone.

Another garden to-do this month includes summer pruning of wisteria. To increase flowering next spring and keep these vines under control cut new growth back to within 6″ of the main branch. If you want to extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new streamer-like stems and tie them to a support in the direction you wish to train the plant.

Twist off spent rhododendron flower trusses

While I have the pruners out I’ll be shearing back early flowering perennials to encourage another round of blooms. The season has just started and you’ll be enjoying lots more flowers in the months to come if you deadhead regularly. Perennials and shrubs that benefit from trimming an inch or two below the spent blooms are erysimum, lavender and Pink breath of heaven which will keep them compact.

Twist off spent rhododendron flower trusses and fertilize them.

Apply the second fertilizer application for the year to your citrus and fruit trees. The last one should be immediately after harvest. Apply the fertilizer to the soil around the drip line of the tree where feeder roots are located and scratch into the surface. Water in well. As with all fertilizers, make sure the trees are moist before you fertilize. Young trees in their first, second or third growing season should receive half the rate of established trees.

What to Do in the Garden in June

When the first real taste of summer weather arrived last week it was a wake up call for me. Over the past couple of months I’ve planted several new plants that will be drought tolerant once established but for now their root system requires more frequent watering than my established plantings. I love to be out in my garden and there are many things on my to-do list to enjoy my time outdoors.

Pruning is a good way to spend a couple of hours in your garden. I’m not talking about trimming plants into little balls but the kind of pruning that makes for a healthier and happier plant.

If you grow Japanese maples now is the time to remove dead branches and train your tree to look like one of those specimens you see in the magazines. Thinning cuts build your ideal tree limb structure. If yours is a young tree, though, don’t be tempted to head back long branches too soon. As these mature they give your tree that desirable horizontal branching.

This principle is important to keep in mind when you train any young ornamental tree. Lateral buds grow along the sides of a shoot and give rise to sideways growth that makes a plant bushy.

Ginger Gold apples with gopher control cats

Summer pruning of fruit trees controls size by removing energy-wasting water sprouts. Summer is also a good time to remove leafy upper branches that excessively shade fruit on the lower branches. Winter pruning is meant to stimulate the tree. Summer pruning uses thinning cuts, where the branch is cut off at its point of attachment instead of part way along the branch, and these cuts do not encourage new growth but control the size of your tree making fruit harvest easier.

Summer pruning also can control pests like coddling moths, mites or aphids. Just be sure to dispose of these trimmings and don’t compost them.

If you have apricots and cherries, summer pruning only is now advised as these trees are susceptible to a branch killing disease if pruned during rainy weather. Prune stone fruits like peaches and nectarines after harvest by 50%. They grow quite rapidly. Apricots and plums need to have only 20% of their new growth pruned away.

Red delicious apples in need of thinning

Be sure to thin the fruit on your trees. That’s another good reason to keep them smaller so you can more easily reach the branches. The best time to do this is when the fruit is still small. Thinning fruit discourages early fruit drop and improves the quality of the remaining fruit. It helps to avoid limb damage from a heavy fruit load. Also it stimulates next year’s crop and helps to avoid biennial bearing. Left to their own devices, a fruit tree may bear heavily one year and then light or not at all the next year. Some types of fruit trees like peaches and Golden Delicious apples are likely to bear biennially if the current year’s fruit crop isn’t thinned.

I’ll add some more mulch to areas that are a little thin. And I’ll be checking the ties on my trees to make sure they aren’t too tight and remove the stake if the trunk is strong enough to support the tree on its own.

Most importantly, enjoy your time outdoors. If a task is too big to do at one time, break it down into smaller sessions. As they say, take time to smell the roses.

Enchanting Gardens in the Mountains

Step into another world in Bonny Doon when you visit seven breathtaking and unique gardens that will be the stars of the Valley Churches United benefit garden tour on Sunday June 10th from 10am to 5pm. Here is just a glimpse of what you can expect.

Gardening shed decorated with garage sale items

I’ve shared many a delicious meal under a shade tree in the garden of Kate Smith and Bill Whiting. What I didn’t know about this beautiful 5 acre garden is that when Kate and Bill bought the property in 1981 they had no idea it had a panoramic view of the bay. You should see the view now. This garden features colorful perennial beds, many varieties of succulents scattered throughout and a gazebo that will soon be covered with a soft yellow Lady Bank’s roses. Kate has planted hundreds of blooming plants in pots to outwit her nemesis, the bunnies. The storage shed is straight out of Alice in Wonderland covered with garden art, planters, baskets filled with flowers and just about anything that a garage sale and a little paint could provide.

wisteria arbor leading to veggie garden and chicken coup

Another garden I’ve visited many a time is that of Nancy and Ed Lambing. Ed is a past president of Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club and he’ll be on hand to show you his bonsai collection. The koi pond and faux rock soaking tub and pool are inviting. A long pink wisteria covers the pergola leading to the vegetable garden and the chicken coup. Each plant is trimmed perfectly with a groundcover chosen to complement it. You can get lost in this garden.

just one of many blooming rhododendrons

The Walker-Kent residence is another garden that takes your breath away. During the last 40 years Seba and James have created a garden that matches the inside of their story-book house. From the succulent garden to the roses scattered throughout to the veggie garden and perennial beds this garden goes on and on with something interesting and beautiful at every turn. Their calla lilies are some of the most robust I’ve ever seen and there is a staghorn fern hanging from a pine tree that is over 3 feet across. James uses manure to fertilize that comes from a ranch with horses, cows, bison and goats in Soquel. The results are incredible.

Speaking of animals you have to visit the garden of Georgia Randle and enjoy her two donkeys: Melvin who’s a bit overweight and elderly Mitzi who has arthritis. This 5 acre property features a huge picnic area under the trees, a meandering shade garden, a small koi pond and a beautiful rose garden with over 40 specimens. I spent quite a bit of time smelling each one to choose the most fragrant.

path lined with pincushion protea

Another garden that can’t be missed is the Sabankaya residence, known as “The Castle”. Theresa showed me around the flower beds she uses for her cut flower business. The Pincushion protea are in full bloom and Theresa explained that when planted in a spot they like she doesn’t have to care for them at all. The salvia in this garden are 30 feet across as is the yellow brugmansia that adorns the path to the chicken coup.

Then there’s the Howe residence off Smith Grade with it’s fabulous paths, shade garden, roses, orchard and vineyard. A stunning variegated dogwood graces the from gate here.

Last but not least is the Bixler garden with its metal and ceramic sculptures, double chicken coup decorated with
egg beaters and a mega collection of egg cups. There are so many unusual vignettes in this garden. You have to see it for yourself.

So take a short ride up to Bonny Doon to visit these lovely gardens and benefit Valley Churches United at the same time. Tickets are $20 and are available at most nurseries.

Early Horticultural History of Felton & San Lorenzo Valley

Felton is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month. When I first came to this area I lived for 23 years in Felton so it’s close to my heart. My interest in early local horticulture started after looking at early family photographs of the homestead i where I used to live. My friends’ family had a resort on Highway 9 before the turn of the century. Featuring a natural spring and rock-lined forest paths it was very near the Big Tree Grove resort, now known as Toll House which opened in 1867. I remember looking at the photos and marveling at all the flowers surrounding the dwelling. The redwood trees have now grown tall but back then there was lots of sunshine- a by product of clear cutting in the late 1800’s. I could see roses, lilacs and shasta daisies in the photo surrounding the wrap around porch.

Felton Covered Bridge- present day

Most of this area was heavily forested until the late 1800’s. Boulder Creek, in 1899, was the 5th largest shipper of timber in the entire country. Quarry operations also used forest trees and shrubs to fuel the lime kilns in Fall Creek. Early logging techniques were very hard on the environment. Clear cutting was common and included the understory madrone and tan oak. After the removal of the broadleaf trees, the conifers were cut, to be followed by burning. To clear the bark from the logs and thin the shrub growth to facilitate with log removal, a fire was set. This first fire in itself was no problem since the trees could and would re-sprout from the base. But after removal of the logs by ox team, another fire was set and since these fires were uncontrolled, they would burn surrounding areas as well. The result was a sequence of fires that would kill the growing sprouts and saplings and allow invasion of shrubs, thus delaying the natural reforestation. Burning plus severe soil erosion at times so damaged the land that it could no longer support trees. In other areas the forest did not return until a long successional sequence of brush-land to woodland to forest had occurred.

So what could a woman do to make a house a home back in those days? Many settlers arrived from the east coast, the midwest and Europe and brought with them seeds and starts of plants. As early as 1871 nurseries in San Francisco were importing plants such as pittosporum tenuifolium and the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco allowed many more plants to become available to homeowners. Hebe from New Zealand were all the rage. The brochure for the world fair describes a Palace of Horticulture and Tower of Jewels as …” a great garden, itself, a marvel of landscape engineering skill… one side of a magic carpet on which these beautiful palaces are set with its floricultural splendors for a wondrous beauty, has never been equaled.”

Wildwood rooming house- Boulder Creek

By 1905, residents of the area had settled in and planted fruit trees, vegetables and ornamentals. A photograph of a chicken ranch on Huckleberry Island shows lots of landscaping around the house. Certainly the available chicken fertilizer helped the roses and wisteria that appear in the pictures to bloom.

Up on Alba Rd. in Ben Lomond, the J.N. Walters family grew strawberries and peaches. Photos taken in 1915 show palms, and hollyhocks in their yard. Out on Bear Creek Rd., the Ercoli villa featured yucca which I saw in many other photographs. Most likely they originated from the deserts in the southern California and Mexico and were brought north by the missionaries.

California fan palms and canna lilies appear in many landscapes. The Middleton house in Boulder Creek was heavily planted with native western sword ferns. Black locust trees planted for their fragrance and flowers are still seen here today where they have naturalized. Originally planted for erosion control, particularly on strip mined areas, their durable timber was used for homes.

If your relatives have lived here a long time perhaps you have old photographs that show the plantings around their homes. If you’re willing to share I’d love to see them.

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.

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