Don't Give Up, Planting Time is Now

The weeks we are having right now are the best time of the year to plant shrubs and perennials for our summer dry climate. The soil is still warm from summer and autumn, but now it’s also thoroughly moist from the first weeks of good rain. The sunny days with fluffy, white clouds that come between rainstorms are the ideal time for planting. Newly installed plants will have five or six months to get their roots down into new soil before they get their first drought stress test, often in late May or early June when the first dry hot day of the new year comes along.

Mint bush ( Prostanthera rotundifolium ) during its brief bloom period in April.

Mint bush (Prostanthera rotundifolium) during its brief bloom period in April.

In the last few weeks I’ve planted mint bush (Prostanthera rotundifolium), some groundcover grevellias (Grevillea ‘Mount Tamboritha’), Euonymus japonica, (in a shady corner where the yellow leaves will make it pop), Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (also in a shady spot where the silvery leaves will light up the space), and some Sideritis syriaca (a new plant for me, a silvery small tough shrub which makes a yummy medicinal tea). Also a beautiful Australian fuchsia (Correa reflexa) and a beach-loving sage from Africa (Salvia africana-lutea). Of course, don’t forget the California lilacs, beautiful Ceanothus of many sizes and colors from white through light and dark blue are available now. I’ve added two new varieties to my gardens. Many of these plants and others like them can be seen in the borders at Garden for the Environment.

Salvia africana-lutea  in bloom.

Salvia africana-lutea in bloom.

Do you have a bit of earth where you could plant something permanent? Maybe a local community garden would be glad of some new shrubs, or maybe your child’s school garden has neglected spots. A front or back yard, or a sidewalk garden around a street tree are also good options. Many neighborhoods in our hilly city have oddly shaped streets that leave little triangles of open space. If these are covered with concrete, or dead looking weeds, a little investigation may reveal that they could be planted by the neighbors. Sometimes an elderly or busy neighbor would be glad if you asked to plant something in their yard. My neighbors’ yards are full of plants that came originally from me. Or come to GFE, or volunteer with Friends of the Urban Forest, and get a chance to dig some holes and plant some trees and shrubs.

When our air is full of smoke and ash, and our aquifers are sinking, it’s good to remember that nature has already invented the balance for these conditions. Green plants, especially perennials which don’t require the soil to be cultivated each year, take carbon out of the air and replace it with lovely cool oxygen. Then they use their deep root systems to transfer some of this carbon as food for the soil microorganisms that keep our soil alive and open. That in turn allows rainwater to penetrate the soil and rebuild our aquifers. When the rain hits our city, we want it to hit a sponge, not a brick. Is there some little bit of concrete that you can remove and replace with living plants? Or some dead, hard soil that you can break up and bring back to life?

Every time we plant a green plant, we are making a tiny commitment to the future. We don’t need to invent some Dr. Seuss Carbon Scrubber Dubber and run it off electricity. Green plants will do the same thing naturally, and give us shade, wildlife habitat, food, and beauty with no additional inputs. They are fully solar-powered and use carbon from the air to make their own batteries. Their “batteries” are the complex molecules that store energy in their woody tissue, sap, sugars, and waxes. All these are built from carbon that has been removed from the air, and it can stay there as long as the plant lives, or even longer.

During the apocalyptic smoke days, it was hard to have hope or be motivated to work for change. The damage seemed so overwhelming at times. But a wise friend pointed out to me that hope and despair are human emotions. Situations aren’t hopeless, people are. Garden for the Environment is full most days of people who are not hopeless. Knowledgeable and realistic, yes. Hopeless, no.

A green earth is in our hands, literally. It will take all our hands to bring it about. If we try to do the next right thing, a path will open. If we give up, that’s on us.