Maintenance Gardeners Often Need Help

Gardeners can rake leaves and mow lawns, but may not be qualified for some of the more specialized horticultural techniques.

Even some of the most avid of garden enthusiasts get some of the work in the garden done by maintenance gardeners. In many regards, even the common ‘mow-blow-&-go’ gardeners can be very helpful. As long as they are not expected to work with trees or shear anything (or everything), they can be remarkably efficient at the tedious and most demanding of tasks that are not much fun. For example, and as the job description implies, they can mow boring lawns and blow inert pavement. We can tend to our own meticulous chores, such as pruning roses and burying bulbs.

However, as professionals, gardeners must be as efficient with their time as possible, so rarely have the luxury of devoting the sort of attention to our gardens as those of us who enjoy gardening as a leisure activity. Consequently, they tend to be more generous with automated irrigation than they need to be. The immediate symptoms of insufficiency are more apparent than the symptoms of excess; so too much seems to be better than not enough. To make matters worse, the driest area of a lawn or bed is the limiting factor for automated irrigation, since everything else that gets watered along with the particular dry spot gets the same frequency and duration (volume) of irrigation.

At a time when many of us are already trying to use significantly less water, it is frustrating to notice any waste. In most gardens, lawn uses more water than everything else combined, but is also the part of the garden that many of us relinquish to maintenance gardeners who are not always there to notice waste. Regardless of any drought or water conservation, excessive irrigation is expensive and unhealthy to trees and many other plants.

Unfortunately, irrigation schedules can not be prescribed, but must be determined by direct experience with the lawn or landscape being irrigated. Even without rain, lawns and landscaped areas require less water through the (normally) cooler and shorter days of winter. The trick to rationing is to give the garden only as much as it needs to survive without allowing it to get too dry, which will undoubtedly cause some friction with any gardeners who may work with it.

The Great Pumpkin

P81007The Third Day of Creation was when it all started. Plant life was created just two days after Heaven and Earth, and Night and Day. It must have been a pretty big deal. Humans were not created until three whole days later!
After all this time since Creation, the flora of the World is still just as important as it has always been. Vegans can survive without the consumption of animal products, but no one can survive without the consumption of plants, or the consumption of animals who were sustained by plants. We breath oxygen generated by plants. We live in homes made of wood. We wear clothes made of cotton. Until relatively recent history, wood was the primary fuel for cooking and warmth through winter. Even modern fossil fuels that have replaced wood are derived partly from fossilized plants. There seems to be no end to the long list of what plants do for us.
As if all that were not enough, plants provide pleasure. Some are dazzling desert wildflowers. Some are majestic forest trees. Most are something in between. Many are invited to inhabit our gardens, landscapes and even our homes and offices. Some are bred to do what they do even better than they did originally.
David Paul, in the picture above, made a career of cabinetry, which involved all sorts of fancy and exotic woods. Most of these woods were derived from genetically unimproved trees that would have been found growing in the wild. Most were from eastern North America. Some were from other continents. Some of the favorite maple burls were specifically from New England and the Pacific Northwest. David Paul was no horticulturist, but he knew quite a bit about the flora that produced the fancy woods that he worked with.
The pumpkin is another story. David Paul grew giant pumpkins for several years in Colorado Springs merely because he enjoyed doing so. It required serious dedication throughout the entire long growing season. Yet, the pumpkins were grown only for the fun of competition. As huge as they were, they were not to be eaten. That is the epitome of growing something merely for the fun of it. This is such an excellent picture of that epic pumpkin that it was the illustration for the obituary of David Paul.

Saint Fiacre Day


Today, September 1, was the Feastday of Saint Fiacre, the Patron Saint of gardeners. I would not have known if I had not earlier seen this very thorough and informative article written by Doctor David Marsh of the Gardens Trust;

In all my writing, I had mentioned Saint Fiacre only once, and only in regard to garden statuary. I described how Saint Francis, who happens to be the patron saint of animals, is popularly believed to be the patron saint of gardeners because his statue is so popular in gardens, often in conjunction with statues of frolicking animals, but that statues of Saint Fiacre are very rare.

Besides the Feastday of Saint Fiacre, this September 1 also happens to be the first year anniversary of my blog. I have now been posting articles from my weekly gardening column, as well as other elaborations, for an entire year. With the exception of September 2, the day after establishing the blog, I have posted an article daily. Since participating with the Six on Saturday meme, I have been posting two articles on Saturday. There were even a few days in which three articles were posted.

Unfortunately, back in February or March, my weekly gardening column was discontinued from the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers, which was the first newspaper group that I started writing for nearly twenty years ago. Silicon Valley Community Newspapers still has access to the articles, and can use them if they choose to; but I am no longer employed with them. Because I write for several other newspaper groups, I did not want to stop writing my weekly gardening column just yet. I enjoy it too much. I will have been writing it for twenty years in October, but blogging is still new to me.


Upgrade Today

P80624This is it; the big day. I will delay it no longer. I said that I would upgrade quite some time ago, but had not yet done so.

Will this upgrade improve anything? I really do not know. I tried to do a bit of research in regard to the advantages of an upgrade, and could find very little of the information that I was looking for. It seems to me that upgrading will initiate more work for me, but will not necessarily make my articles more accessible or appealing. I will need to make improvements to the presentation of my articles on my own. Upgrading makes these improvements possible, but does not execute improvements without my efforts and direction. Nor does it change the content to improve accuracy for a broader audience. My articles will still be half a year late-or-early for Australia and all other places in the Southern Hemisphere. Harsh summer heat and winter cold will still be topics that will be lacking merely because the climate here lacks such variables. Upgrading can do only so much.

After my minimal research, I determined that the most efficient means by which to determine if an upgrade would be beneficial is to try it.

Something should be done. The newspaper group that I started writing for nearly twenty years ago no longer features my gardening column. Other newspapers that feature it only do so occasionally. Some do it monthly. Some do it when space is available. One of the larger newspapers features it weekly, but only for their online version. It is not easy to justify writing my articles if they are not being distributed like they had been.

By the time you read this, the upgrade will have been initiated. We will see what happens.

25 Yrs


P80624.jpgThis autumn, it would have been twenty years that I have been writing my weekly gardening column for the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers, affectionately known as SVCN. It would have been excellent if it had lasted that long, but it was discontinued a few months ago. There was no warning, although we all know the direction that such media is going nowadays, and that such changes are abrupt. Nothing is like it was nearly twenty years ago.

My weekly gardening columns will continue for the other newspapers that still use it, even if they do not use it for their print versions. Again, due to the way such media operates nowadays, I have no idea of which newspapers who have access to it actually use it, or if they use it for their print versions or merely their online versions.

I could elaborate on the history of my garden column and its inclusion into the various other newspapers that continue to use it, but that can just as easily be another topic for another time. Perhaps I will merely put a bit of that information in my ‘About’ section if I ever get around to updating it. I have another topic to discuss now.

I would like to upgrade this blog. I would like to make it as fancy and user-friendly as some of the other blogs that are out there. I know that the last thing I need right now is more work, but I also want to maintain this as an venue for my weekly gardening column, particularly if other newspapers are likely to discontinue using it in the future.

Upgrading will include selling add space, or at least making add space available to advertisers who can use it. Newspapers pay very minimally for my weekly gardening column, and the newspaper group that payed the most for it no longer uses it. Advertisements might help to justify the work that goes into writing a new gardening article weekly. Hopefully, no one will be to bothered by these changes. I have enjoyed writing my weekly gardening column for almost twenty years, and would like to be able to continue doing so for a while longer.


Warm Season Vegetables Start Now

P80312The calendar does not always agree with the weather. It really is about time to start replacing aging cool season vegetable plants with fresh new warm season vegetable plants. Earlier warm and dry weather had suggested that it was getting late. More recent frosty weather followed by rain suggested otherwise. Regardless, there is no point in arguing with what the calendar determines.

The last seedlings for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts (for those who are able to grow them) should be well established in the garden. There should be enough cool weather for them to finish before the heat of summer causes them to go bitter. No more should be planted this late. Also, the last seed for beets should have been sown already. Peas should finish soon.

Warm season vegetables like tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber, corn and bean are the main concern now. Tomato and pepper are most easily planted as seedlings purchased in cell packs. A packet of seed costs as much as a cell pack, but must be sown and grown into seedlings, which is extra work. If necessary, varieties that are unavailable in cell packs can be grown from seed.

The other warm season vegetables grow so fast from seed that there is no advantage to planting them as seedlings here. Some would be distressed from transplant as seedlings. Besides, so many individual plants of each type are typically grown together that it would be expensive to purchase so many cell packs. Squash might be an exception if only a few plants would be enough.

Bush beans may seem like they would be easier to grow than pole beans because they do not require support. However, pole beans can grow on the sunny side of a fence in the background of a vegetable garden, utilizing otherwise useless space. If it would not damage the fence, string can be strung in a zigzag pattern (up and down) between nails pounded part way into the top and bottom of the fence. If the string is held an inch or so from the fence (at the heads of the protruding nails), bean vines would be happy to climb it.

If you want your garden to grow, you have to talk to it.

P80131So the spelling is a bit . . . off. Ignore the ‘E’ before ‘If’ and the ‘n’ after ‘grow’. They are crossed out . . . sort of. ‘wont’ means ‘want’. ‘haf’ means ‘have’, as in ‘have to’ or ‘need to’. It made sense at the time, more than four decades ago. Perhaps I should rephrase it.

If you want your garden to grow, you must talk to it.

You must talk to your garden in order for it to grow.

Your garden requires regular discourse for healthy growth.

This concept dates from a time of big Boston ferns and spider plants suspended by coarse macrame with big wooden beads. Coleus and rubber tree were popular house plants too. Remember terrariums? There were big flowered daisies, tam junipers and big petunias in the yard. A group of three European white birches was cool, as if it was somehow unique . . . even though everyone else was doing it too.

Some people believed that gardens and houseplants were healthier if they were regularly engaged in conversation. Some of us would say that this is true only because those who talk to their gardens and houseplants are more involved with them, and are therefore more attentive to their needs. That makes sense. Otherwise, the theory has been neither confirmed or disproved by any reliably documented data.

I do not need data. My gardens did quite well with this technique. So did many of the annuals, perennials and trees I got to plant back then. The little disfigured Monterey pine that I met on my way to school ( ) is still doing well, long after all the others that I did not converse with are gone.

Change of Format


This blog is now two months old; so it is about time that I start to recycle old articles instead of writing so many ‘elaborations’. The articles are probably more interesting and relevant anyway. They will be from the same time last year, or previous years. Like I have been doing with new articles, the old articles will be split into two separate postings. One will be the main topic. The other will be the ‘plant’ of the week. So, one new article and one old article split into two postings each week leaves only three days for ‘elaborations’. Redundant articles will be omitted. Eventually, I will refrain from daily postings. Also, I will try to keep my ‘elaborations’ brief. I know I tend to get carried away with this. Alternatively, I may recycle another article each week, leaving only one day for ‘elaborations’. I will figure this out as I go along.

While I am taking the time to post something that has nothing to do with gardening, I should also mention that one of my main objections to writing a blog is that so much of what I write about is specifically for the climate in which I live, and not necessarily applicable to other regions. My articles are written for newspapers between San Francisco and Beverly Hills (in Los Angeles County). However, since starting this blog, I have found that not only do the newspapers that I write for already share my articles with newspapers in other regions, but that people who read my articles in other regions are already as aware of regional differences as I am. People in Australia seem to be as interested in reading about autumn during their spring as I am interested in reading about their spring during autumn. People seem to know how much of the information that I present is actually useful to them, and can distinguish information that is not accurate for their respective applications. Now, I feel much better about posting my articles, as well as writing about whatever I want to write about.

If you are wondering how the picture of Rhody above is relevant to the posting, it has no relevance. He just had a way of getting you to read my blog earlier, so I tried it again, and it worked.

Change Of Scenery


Hollywood is the Capital City of the entertainment industry because there is such a variety of scenery within relatively minimal proximity to Southern California. Before Hollywood, silent movies were made mostly in Niles, located about halfway between San Jose and Oakland, for the same reason. Snowy mountains, foggy forests, arid deserts, idyllic beaches, open prairies, placid lakes, and wild rivers can all be found within only a few hundred miles. California really has it all. The Santa Clara Valley alone has more climate zones than the entire state of Kansas.

I have not moved around California much. I spent a few summers in San Bruno and Montara, went to school in San Luis Obispo, and sometimes work in the Los Angeles area, but otherwise lived in the two adjacent counties of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, just a short distance from the homes of my ancestors. Los Gatos is actually in both counties. Technically, most of my gardening has been within Sunset Zones 15 and 16. However, my garden in the Santa Cruz Mountains gets more than two feet of rain, which is about twice what the western side of the Santa Clara Valley gets, even though it is in the same zone!

That is not the only difference. Instead of homogeneously rich alluvial Santa Clara Valley soil, I work with a variety of strange soils; sometimes filled with pulverized sandstone, sometimes sand under a thin layer of forest duff. I do not know what I will find until I start to dig. The Santa Cruz Mountains are such that I might have less flat area dispersed over nearly nine mountainside acres than friends in the Valley have on a single flat suburban lot. Much of it is shaded by tall coastal redwoods. The deer in the Mountains eat more than the gardeners in the Valley can steal.

This all makes it very challenging to grow many of the plants that I enjoy so much and acquired from the Santa Clara Valley. Some adapt quite nicely; but many of the most important ones really want to be back in the Valley. The rhubarb from my great grandfather’s garden looks great, but seriously lacks flavor. I just want to keep it going long enough to find a sunnier and warmer spot with richer soil to relocate it to. The two quince trees that were grown from cutting from an old tree in western San Jose seem to be fine, but much of the fruit gets taken away by rodents before it develops.

Then there are the fig trees. There are fourteen of them! About half are copies of the first fig trees I ever met when I was a kid. Some are black figs. Some are white. I think that only one is a honey fig. They are all very important to me. I am very fortunate to be able to grow them. However, like the rhubarb, they need a sunnier and warmer spot. If they make any fruit at all, it is bland and pithy. My objective with them now is to grow them in the cool and partly shaded spot where they are presently located so that they can provide cuttings to plant when a better situations becomes available. In that regard, they are actually doing just fine!

I really wish I could do my gardening in the Santa Clara Valley; but if I had to do it the other way around, it would be just as difficult. I mean that if I had a big garden in the Santa Clara Valley, and had to give up gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains, many of my favorite plants would not like the transition. The Mountain grown apples that I have always taken for granted would never be as happy in the Valley. Neither would Douglas firs or bigleaf maples. Redwoods are common in the Valley, but are not the same as they are in their natural range. There’s no place like home.