Don't Touch that Dial!

Don't Touch that Dial!

As our rainy season draws to a close, gardeners everywhere are turning their irrigation systems back on in anticipation of the dry summer months to come. And this year, with the drought emergency officially over, it’s with an easy conscience. After all, why not treat the garden to a little more water this year? After all those lean water years, don’t the plants deserve it? Whoa! Don’t touch that dial!

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Yikes! Oxalis!

Yikes! Oxalis!

At GFE, our south orchard is full of Oxalis pes-caprae, otherwise known as sour grass. This horrible weed originated in South Africa in a climate so similar to ours that it has gone crazy in California, invading everywhere. It’s bright yellow flower and clover-like leaves can be found on roadsides, in restored or disturbed natural areas, parks and gardens. It is relentless and it never sleeps. Many a gardener has spent hours weeding this pest, only to come back a week later and find it fully re-established. So what can we do?

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Winter Projects

Winter Projects

It’s been a long, dry summer, with plenty of bad news. The Sierras were on fire, we were flushing our toilet with buckets from the shower, and the city gardens and streetscape were full of dead, dying, and stressed trees and plants. It was hard to feel inspired to get outside and work in the garden. But now the local soils are starting to hold some moisture, there’s snow in the mountains, and fingers are crossed for a wet winter. Here are some easy projects to help tempt you back outside.

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Space, The Final Frontier

Space, The Final Frontier

It is good to know that now is the second best time to plant water-wise plants. The deeper soil layers are still moist from our December rains, and the soil is also beginning to warm up. As the sun feels stronger, plants shake off winter and start to grow and bloom. But wait! Before you run off to the nursery to buy new plants, take the time to make some space in the garden. Grab your pruners and saw, your gloves and your green bin, and head outside. A lot of what’s hanging around in your garden belongs in the green bin.

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Sidewalk Gardens

Sidewalk Gardens

I’m excited about a new element in the streetscape, sidewalk gardens. More and more frequently, I pass sections where the sidewalk has been removed and small gardens have been planted even where there are no street trees. Here are blooming yarrows, geraniums, sages, and lavenders. There are dramatic effects with New Zealand flax and muscular succulents. Grasses, wallflowers, and California natives like hummingbird sage or ceanothus, thrive in a profusion of colors and textures.

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Why I’m Planting Ceanothus Now

Why I’m Planting Ceanothus Now

This year, I'm desperate to plant Ceanothus now. There are hundreds of reasons to plant this sturdy, tidy, beautiful, fragrant native, but this year three of those reasons are pushing me into urgent nursery buying excursions. If not now, then soon, landscape watering is going to be very limited. So working slowly, section by section, I have been replacing plants in my gardens that need summer water with new choices that will be drought tolerant once established, like Ceanothus. I invite you to do the same.

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The April Gardener is June-Minded

The April Gardener is June-Minded

Spring is here, and the long-awaited rains are blessing the garden. By the south gate of Garden for the Environment, I can look with satisfaction at the bright bursts of color from harlequin flower and spring star flower blooming on one side of the pathway, while colorful grasses, rock roses, and irises light up the other side. But this is no time for a gardener to rest on her laurels. The flowers that are blooming today are the result of work done in fall and early winter. And today’s work must plan for the upcoming months.

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Grow Your Own Food

Grow Your Own Food

This year more people than ever seem ready to start growing at least some of their own food in their gardens or on their decks and balconies. The weather is rarely cold enough to stop all plants from growing, so we can harvest food from our gardens all year round, even in December and January. On the other hand, it doesn't ever get warm enough for many crops which other regions can grow in the summer time, especially that hallmark of backyard gardening, the tomato.

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Fall Weed Strategies

Fall Weed Strategies

The new growing season also means an abundance of seedlings in the garden soil. In well-tended old gardens, many or most of these seedlings will be desirable plants, cool season annuals emerging from last year’s seeds. But just as reliable are the weedy seeds. Good gardening calls for an organized strategy to combat the new weed season.

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Climate-Wise Spring Bulbs

Climate-Wise Spring Bulbs

Tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses need a frosty winter to bloom successfully. Here in our mild winter climate, those who really want to see these flowers in the spring must buy the bulbs early and chill them for 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator before planting in order to get a successful show. In our climate, but the real gangbuster spring bulb shows come from bulbs which have their ancestry in climate zones similar to California’s.

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Generosity of Nature

Generosity of Nature

Every year I bring the inspiration from my annual trip the Eastern Sierra back to my own gardens, and try to create on a small scale a reminder of this generosity and strictness. To create a natural feeling in the garden, it’s important to resist the temptation to plant one specimen of each of your favorite plants. Instead, repeat the most successful and best suited plants. This way you can create the same feeling of ordered wildness we loved in the mountains.

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Newborn Spring Meadow at GFE

Newborn Spring Meadow at GFE

Last fall during the Get Up! program, one of the class projects was the removal of our small turf lawn. Although only 9 feet by 12 feet, our lawn demonstration has become obsolete in the 21st century. Even a small turf lawn requires more water than we want to commit. After some experimentation, we decided on a water-wise meadow as a replacement for the lawn area.

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