Helping people become better gardeners since 1999!

Garden Tips May 2015

Garden Tips May 2015

Sometimes life seems so complicated that it is hard to move forward.  So much to do, so much we have done, so much to learn that we can be overwhelmed with the options.  We have to plan for a vacation, or camp or summer school or the next event or party.  Work is always there and reading and then there is the family the friends the kids to take care of.  What can we do?  This is the time to go out and pull some weeds.  Weeds aren’t going anywhere soon and are always there for us.  Steady, reliable, ever present and needing to be pulled.  Think of the opportunity awaiting  just outside your door.  This is the chance to slow down for a few minutes, to get a grip, to contemplate the present moment and no more.  Every thing else can wait while you are still doing something you know needs to be done.  This month I will make yet another list of tasks or techniques so you can call yourself a genuine gardener.  Here are the tips.

  1. I am reading a book by a surgeon named Atul Gawande  called “The checklist Manifesto”.  I highly recommend it.  I have talked to several doctors recently who have said that Gawandes suggestions are brought up in seminars in hospitals all the time.  Making checklists saves lives in medicine.  It can really help in the garden as well.
  2. Think out of the box.  How can i support my tomato plants with something right here in my home?  What can I use from the recycle to mulch that will stimulate growth, save water, look amazing and inspire poetry?  How can a visit from a friend help me with my next flower arrangement?  What story can I tell to my Uncle in the assisted care facility that will lift his spirits and inspire his desire to do his physical therapy?
  3. Often when I have a problem with my computer or tablet or smart phone I have to do a work around in order to get where I need to be.  I have to put a file on a flash drive and bring it to the printer because my printer is on the blink or I loaned it to the kid next door for a thesis she was writing.  We can do work arounds in our gardens too.  If there is not enough time during our day to garden, we can put solar path lights out and go out between dinner and our bed time.  If we need to communicate with the gardener about how we want the hedges pruned we can cut out photos from magazines, paste them on a board and write “Just like this!” on it with a bold felt pen.  If this doesn’t help, there is always another work around to try.
  4. Don’t think black and white.  Life is really colorful, use the whole palate to grow your dreams. When we get caught up in Past / Future thinking or “it has to be my way or the highway” thinking we are in a rut.  And a rut is like a grave, just not quite as deep. Try planting species of plants you are not familiar with.  Research them if you want or just take a chance. If you find them in a nursery the likely hood they will last for a few months is pretty good.  Who knows, you may fall in love.
  5. I was forwarded a link by another Garden Coach in Berkeley recently and it is great.  Check it out blog.anniesannuals.com   Annie grows and hybridizes wonderful plants.  She is smart, concerned about the water situation and really wants gardens to be exciting.  This blog gave me new hope for ornamental horticulture everywhere.
  6. Recycle everything.  I finally spent some time thinking how to recycle everything.  It wasn’t hard.  I just had to think a little bit.
  7. Community gardens really do mean community.  So often I see plots that aren’t flourishing right next to plots that are.  This tells me that people aren’t talking.  Talk to your neighbors.  If they don’t want to talk to you, give them a copy of this column and tell them I said they should talk to you.
  8. Grow more than you need.  Flowers can go to cheer up assisted care facilities, hospital rooms, senior centers and day cares.  Fruit, veggies, herbs and grains (especially unique species and new hybrids you grow) can be shared.  If every body that is growing their own garden shares with everyone else there will still be plenty of business for the markets, farmers markets and the Costco’s of the world.  It will just be higher quality.
  9. Make a gourmet picnic.  I am reading a recipe / art book on “Impressionist picnics” and am inspired to pack my own lunches.  A real picnic with table cloth, flowers, salad, bread, wine, cheese and all the accoutrement is not only fun, but memorable.
  10. Take a bio break.  For mental and emotional health there are few things more rewarding than a casual walk in a park or garden.  Walk slower than usual, stop and look at a shrub or view that is particularly appealing.  Be quiet and listen (leave the ear buds home) and notice sounds .  Even a few minutes a day can make a big difference.  The kids, your friends, family, everybody will notice something new and refreshing about you.

Good Gardening

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687 (cell), by email at jack@jackthegardencoach.com.  Visit his website at jackthegardencoach.com

Garden Tips March 2015

Garden Tips March 2015

I have to practice what I preach.  For years now I have been suggesting to people to visit the great gardens here in the bay area.  A week ago I joined the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society .  I was there to see the Magnolia show.  Several are in bloom now and will continue well into spring.  It was a leap for me to spend sixty dollars for a years membership knowing that I will probably only visit the arboretum four or five times during the year.  But there are several other benefits that go along with the membership and it truly is a worthy cause.  Besides that, the Magnolias are spectacular.

Spring is just around the corner, some bulbs are finished already and the native iris are opening here in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  There is plenty to do in our gardens, plenty to try anew and plenty to learn by visiting other gardens as the spring unfolds.  Here are the tips.

  1. Think of a garden project you have been putting off for a few years and get started on that.  I have a cold frame I made years ago and never leveled it.  Once level, I will start seedlings and cuttings.  The feeling of accomplishment is a great start to the seasons work.
  2. Do a tour date of nurseries.  Invite a friend who likes gardening and plan on a nice lunch.  Leave fairly early, visit two nurseries, take notes, talk and enjoy the new inventories.  Then go to lunch, talk some more, compare notes and rest up.  After lunch, visit two more nurseries and note the differences and variety from the first two.  Take more notes and then call it a day.  Write up your notes and start planning for the next time out.  Did I mention, leave your check book at home.  This is just a tour, not a shopping trip.
  3. Visit the great gardens here on the peninsula and across the bay. Here are a few; Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, Gamble Gardens in Palo Alto, FILOLI in Woodside, Central Park Japanese Garden in San Mateo, San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park, The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek and the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley.  Most charge a fee to enter and joining supports the garden.  All have websites that are very informative.  Several have guided tours .
  4. I noticed Costco has quite an inventory of trees, flowering plants and bulbs for spring.  The prices are fair and the quality is good.  They also have tools, fertilizers and pots.  Note; they sell pretty fast and once gone, that’s it.
  5. This is still a perfect time to plant bare root fruit trees, roses, vines and other deciduous plants.  Citrus can be planted now and there are plenty in the nurseries.
  6. The biggest mistake I have seen in recent years is planting too deep.  Remember that whenever you dig the soil it will fluff up.  When you plant a new plant make sure it is planted at the same depth as it was in its pot no deeper. Then to make sure the soil doesn’t build up around the trunk; plant it at least two inches above the ground plane (the level of the soil before digging).  This will allow the plant to settle in without soil build up around the trunk which will kill it.
  7. Vegetables are in the nurseries now and the sooner you get them in the ground the better a crop you will have.  Prepare the soil with compost, add fertilizer and after planting mulch.
  8. Plant flowers and cultivate them by dead heading, fertilizing and hand watering.
  9. Make a unique garden sculpture this spring.  It can be as simple or as complex as you want.  Personalize it so you are proud every time you look out at it.  Even a scare crow can have character.
  10. When you are finished, have a garden party.  Make it a potluck, you’ve done enough work.  Provide the drinks and music, share good conversation and enjoy the work you have done to make your garden so beautiful.  If you have a plot in the community garden, I may see you there for the party.

Good Gardening

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687 (cell), by email at jack@jackthegardencoach.com.  Visit his website at jackthegardencoach.com

Garden Tips February 2015

Garden Tips February 2015

Gardens a Reflection of their Owners

I took a walk through one of the Community Gardens the other day. If gardens are a reflection of their owners, there are a lot of sleeping owners out there.  Of the tens of plots in the community garden only a handful are being maintained at this time. Those that are being cared for are flourishing and likely to produce plenty of greens, flowers, nitrogen fixing roots and satisfaction for their gardeners.  These tips will be a few ideas that might get the other plots back in action and inspire a spring and summer that starts early.  After all, this is California, we can garden year round.  Here are the tips.

1.       The first thing to work on is the soil.  If there is not good friable soil, the seeds, seedlings and plants that are put in will have to work all the harder to get established and start producing.  Add well composted organic matter. If your soil has shrunk or compacted it might be necessary to add more soil. Fill up your beds.  Remember this, the size of the canopy you want in a plant needs to have an equal amount of root space to fill into.  Want big healthy producing plants, give them lots of rich fluffy soil to grow up in.

2.       Compost does not equal fertilizer.  If it is well composted the best it will do is about 1% nitrogen (the most important nutrient) if it is not composted, it will use soil nutrients to break down.  Nutrients your plants need to grow.  Study compost and how to make it, and your  garden will prosper.  It helps the soil retain air, moisture and fluff.  All are important keys to root health.

3.       Adding organic fertilizer will add nutrition to the soil and thus the plants.  Bone meal, blood meal, chicken manure, fish emulsion, alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, rock phosphate,  green sand and feather meal are fertilizers.  Each in its own way adds different nutrients that plants need for growth, bloom, vigor and vitality.  Study and you will grow as a gardener.  Try creating your own organic fertilizer recipes.

4.       I wrote last month about how playing in and outside the garden is valuable.  I like Petanque (the French boules game).  I think a swing set or like entertainment for children (when not helping with the gardening) is not a bad thing in a community garden.  Even if there is not a child or senior (in the case of a swing chair) swinging, it reads that we are child and senior friendly.  Isn’t that a good thing?

5.       Keeping everything tidy is encouraging for all.  As an exercise, clean up someone else’s path without them knowing it.  Try offering a helping hand with a neighbor when you are both in the garden. They may refuse but they won’t forget that you offered.

6.       Recycling is always present.  Stretch your brain by thinking up new ways to use otherwise ground up recyclables.  For example, egg carton seed starting containers, clear plastic containers to cover seedlings, quart yogurt tubs with lids for fertilizer carried in a shopping bag and garden tools tied together with plastic bags twisted or braided into rope.  There must be hundreds of ways to distract birds with shiny scary things hanging from string. Note: birds adapt easily and will get used to a scare tactic in an amazingly short time.  Keep changing them to keep the birds at bay.

7.       Set up a weather station.  At least with a minimum / maximum thermometer to read and record the temperature days.  By recording this and comparing it with the temperature days information on the UC Davis websitewww.ipm.ucdavis.edu/WEATHER/ , one can get an idea when the insect eggs will hatch in your particular garden.  Right after they hatch is the best time to control them, not after you see half of your crop eaten.

8.       Set up a seed exchange. Don’t waste time complaining about big seed companies. Law firms will do that.  Just start and keep trading your own seeds. It is far more interesting and rewarding.  If you do some cross pollinating and come up with a new variety of fruit, vegetable or flower then more power to you.

9.       Keep and share your garden log (men) journal (women) so you know what you did right, what you learned, what didn’t go so well and what happened that was amazing in the community.  Your grandchildren will love it.

10.   Have an awards event announcement this month.  Set a date around Thanksgiving for the awards. This will incentivize gardeners to achieve more in the category they aspire for.  Awards can be given for Best Gardener, Best Helper, Water Guru, Best Preserves, Tech Master, Lighting Wizard, Librarian, Garden Diplomat, Media Relations Genius, Best Garden Sculptor and Most Likely Kid to be an Organic Farmer. My Grandmother inspired me to be a gardener when I was 5 years old by walking me around her garden.  Now is the time to inspire the next generations to be gardeners as well.

Good Gardening

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687 (cell), by email at jack@jackthegardencoach.com.  Visit his website at jackthegardencoach.com

This email is free from viruses and malware because avast! Antivirus protection is active.

Garden Tips January 2015

Garden Tips January 2015

I have found a sport that can be played just outside the garden gate.  It is a sport for young and old and a sport where women are as good as men.  It is not very expensive is easily learned, is simple yet is as complex as chess.  Petanque is a French (originally Roman) game of boules (like bowling) played on the terrain (the land). Unlike lawn bowling and bocce ball,  it is not played on turf nor does it require a measured and maintained court. Petanque can be played literally on a path or a piece or nearly bare ground anywhere. Using hollow steel balls ordered by size and weight to fit the player and a small yellow, green , blue or black target ball (called the couchenet or Jack) the goal is to toss or shoot the boule toward and as near as possible to the target ball or knock your opponents balls away from the couchenet.  Simple, until you try it, this is a wonderful spring / summer sport played all over Europe and Southeast Asia and now America.  One of my first games was against a retired gardener in Golden Gate Park and the women playing as our team mates were more skilled than we were. Between games they brought out wine and biscotti and spoke French, Italian, German and English in an excited fun enthusiasm I haven’t experienced in a sport since childhood. I recommend Petanque for all as a true gardeners game.

This months tips are about cleanup, pruning, planting and mulch.  I even have a catalog with an amazing selection of organic seeds, tools and books to order. Here are the tips.

  1. The website www.petanqueamerica .com.  It is the best first place to connect with this sport.  There is an online store, game rules, blog and famous player link to look at and order from to get started.
  2. After the storms there is always debris in the garden.  If it seems daunting, do just one area at a time.  Soon it will all be tidy and you can start pruning.
  3. Prune all deciduous plants.  Deciduous means they lose their leaves in winter.  Dead dying and diseased gets pruned first.  Then crossing, rubbing, straight up and straight down branches.  Remember, no stubs and always cut to a lateral branch and with an angle cut that parallels the lateral.
  4. Remove unhealthy plants, old declining roses, weeds and plants clogging the new planting areas.
  5. Amend new planting areas with compost.  Remember compost is organic matter that is partially or completely broken down.  Not wood chips, fresh prunings, grass clippings, fresh leaves or fresh food trimmings.  It needs to be broken down or it will take nutrients from the soil. Redwood compost can be bought in bags, is weed free and has been fortified with nitrogen to give plants a boost of fertilizer when they go in.  Lyngso garden supply on Seaport boulevard in Redwood City has organic compost.  They are on the east side of Highway 101. Lyngso has mulch as well.  Mulch goes on top of the soil (not dug in) after planting.
  6. Get the “Bountiful Gardens 2015 Catalog”  go to www.bountifulgardens.org.  They have an amazing seed selection.
  7. Order seeds, roses, trees, shrubs, tools and books for the New Year.  Get catalogs online or order through a nursery like Half Moon Bay Nursery.
  8. Stretch, do yoga, visit the spa for a massage, walk with friends and otherwise prepare yourself for gardening when the weather warms up.
  9. Join a garden club, arboretum, plant society or community garden for social support, education and connection.
  10. Plan now for a spring party. Remember, the third week in March is when the Cherry trees bloom.  Bulbs come up even earlier.

Good Gardening

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687 (cell), by email at jack@jackthegardencoach.com.  Visit his website at jackthegardencoach.com

Garden Tips December 2014

Garden Tips December 2014

Gardening is a bit like chess.  If you want to be good, you have to think several moves ahead.  There is a strategy that needs to be developed and if one method doesn’t work you move to the next.  Think about your garden for a minute.  You know there is something that just doesn’t work.  And there are several things that work just fine.  If most things are working fine, leave them they way they are.  Just change the plan for the one thing that doesn’t work.  And off you go on another adventure in gardening.  Whatever you change, changes everything.  Just like in chess.  Every move changes all the rest of the game.  And, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

December is the time to plan for the spring.  If we plan now, then March, April, May and June will be spectacular.  Of course there are plenty of chores to do.  And one of those is shopping for your garden.  This month’s garden tips will give you plenty to do both in your strategy for your garden and in the garden itself.  Here are the tips.

  1. Bulbs are in the nurseries now.  Think about the color scheme you want, the types of bulbs you like, and where you might be willing to have a little experimental change.  This way, when you go to the nursery or the catalog or the big box store and buy bulbs, there is some semblance of a plan.  Otherwise it can be over whelming.
  2. It is time for winter pruning.  This means all deciduous plants get cleaned up (dead, dying and diseased) and then pruned for growth (roses, fruit trees, vines) or thinned for esthetic and air flow.
  3. Plan your decorations for the season.  Note, everybody is different and some don’t do any decorating while others go bonkers.  There is a whole street off of Embarcadero that has been decorating their yards for decades and I am sure it can be seen from space at night.  Planning is what makes it beautiful.  Sit down and write out how many of what you want where.  It will help enormously when you try to tell someone who is helping you.
  4. Get help.  You know you cannot do it all yourself (unless you are a landscape contractor then you don’t even want to see a landscape on your day off).  Line up someone to help with the lights, the front porch decorations, the poinsettias on the table and the tree.  It helps enormously if you make soup, fresh baked bread and eggnog for the helpers.
  5. Clean up beds.  Remove old annuals, dying perennials, bunch grasses that have past their prime and anything that is over grown.  Plants in landscape designs almost always outgrow the space they are given.
  6. Don’t hesitate to clear out or cut down the scraggly looking background plants too.  They can either be replaced (if you dig out the roots and refresh the soil) or just left out so other plants can have some room to spread.
  7. When you get back from the nursery store your bulbs in a cool dark space until after the festivities.  There will be time later for the spring planting.  Now is the time for buying.  the reason is that savvy gardeners will buy up all the good bulbs and if you are not there to get in on them you will get the small, sickly, rejects that were left behind.  Whatever you do though, don’t forget that  you have and where you have stored them.  Mark your calendar or smart phone or computer that the month of January or February  (the whole month) is bulb planting month.
  8. Plants for December are Primroses, Violas, Pansies, Ornamental Kale, Marigolds and whatever the nursery has in that is colorful.  Cyclamen make nice borders or pot color while Nemesia is a great delicate compliment.  They both come in several colors.  For ornamental foliage, anything variegated is great.  Variegated means the edges or the center of the leaf has a yellow accent.  This is much more interesting than just plain green without bloom.  Of course a new bunch grass or flax will make an interesting textural variation as well.
  9. Continue adding and dividing succulents if you have a low water yard.  Look in the nurseries for color variations and different sizes and shapes of leaf patterns.  Mix them up or plan them to the last inch.  Both methods work.  I like to recommend sculptural elements with succulents.  I wouldn’t go overboard, just something that makes a statement.  A bird feeder is nice too.
  10. Re mulch.  Mulch is the finishing touch for a good make over in the garden.  It doesn’t have to be new mulch, but it needs to be on purpose.  Thus, when you are stomping around pruning and digging out over grown plants you will inevitably kick the mulch all over  the place and it will look like a cat fight took place.  Take a fine rake and do a cover up job, making it look as natural as possible.  Then, when you turn the lights on at sunset the neighbors  will know you are amazing.

Good Gardening

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687 (cell), by email at jack@jackthegardencoach.com.  Visit his website at jackthegardencoach.com

Garden Tips November 2014

Garden Tips November 2014

I am a late bloomer.  I didn’t know Gary Snyder had gone to Kyoto until just this morning.  I also didn’t start collecting unique plants until a couple of years ago.  I never appreciated Rothko or Pollock until a few years ago when a girl friend said it would be good to know about these guys.  I went to the new Anderson collection over at Stanford last week and was amazed.  The landscape is nothing to write home about but for the Goldsworthy sculpture on the Palm drive side of the Cantor Museum.  Be careful as you approach, you could fall into it.

Gary Snyder wrote about observations like how trees were cut in Japan just like here. How people are in ways like they have always been.  And how they can wake up.  For me, finding new plants to cultivate in my small forest container garden on my deck is as exciting as the estates around the bay area that I walk through for my work.  Size really doesn’t matter.  Attention does. And when it comes to art, in the museum or in the garden, the beauty is only partially in the object itself.  How we look at it is so important.  The questions we ask when we meet a new (to us) design or creation can take us many places we never new existed.  This months garden tips will be some of my observations.  If they inspire you to ask questions of your own, then I have done my job.

  1. I have noticed that depth in art and in a landscape is quite important.  To notice the contour of the ground where there is a berm adjacent to a swale, while subtle makes a big difference in the quality of the design.
  2. Layers of paint on a canvas make one think differently than if it is all on one plane.  The same goes for how plantings are placed, even in a small bed near a window. Windows are to be looked out more than in.  They also provide a frame for the view.
  3. Color contrasts and compliments create movement even when everything is still. To study color theory even just a little, we learn that placing secondary colors like orange, green and purple next to primary colors Red, Yellow and Blue causes a vibration. It reads as more alive.
  4. Pink Camellia sasanqua are one of few fragrant Camellias.  Because of that, for me, the fragrance is all the more special.
  5. It is important to have comfortable furniture in your garden.
  6. Over watering creates the same symptoms as under watering.  Knowing how much to give your plants demonstrates how much you care.
  7. Shopping for plants is different than buying plants. Try leaving the check book in the car. Loving without wanting is heaven, wanting without loving is hell.
  8. Walking in a garden with someone else shows us a different garden.  Depending on the person we are walking with, we can have a life changing experience.
  9. Everything can be explained mathematically.  Not necessarily by me.
  10. My parents said, at least a thousand times “look it up”.  Now I find myself saying it all the time.  Look it up. Develop the skill of asking questions, then find the answers.

Good Gardening

Jack McKinnon worked in the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years and is now a Garden Coach.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687, or by email at jack.mckinnon.hmb@gmail.com visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com

Garden Tips October 2014

Garden Tips October 2014

What is better than to sit in your garden eating sun dried tomatoes (that you dried), marinated artichokes, good bread, some nice cheese, fruit and an Italian soda or fine wine while enjoying the company of friends and family? Here is what is better.  Doing all of the above after your fall garden work is finally complete.  Yes, I know, it is a lot of work and you need to rest from working all week long, but think how good it will be when finished.  And you don’t have to do it all at once.  A little bit each day with one bigger project on the weekends and before you know it, your there, singing “O Sole Mio“. Here are the tips.

1. Clean up debris around your property.  If you are not using it, let it go.  Either recycle it, use it or ditch it.  Looking at old wood, rock, brick, pipe and unused pots and planters saps ones gardening creativity. Let it go and get on with new projects.

2.  Pull out plants that are finished for the season.  If you have plants that are dead or dying, unless they are particularly valuable specimen plants, dig them out and toss them. The nurseries have plenty of selection to replace them with.

3.  Clean up leaves, needles, spent flowers and fruit and replace them all with a fresh layer of mulch.  If you are replanting, dig in fresh compost to freshen up your soil.  Remember, compost gets dug into the soil and mulch goes on top.

4.  Plant for winter and think about spring while you are doing it.  After you renovate your beds and refresh your pots with new soil, plant bulbs and then over plant them with primula, cineraria, pansy’s and viola’s.  When this is done, mulch them and start a regular watering program.

5.  Watering is a year round project.  Even if it is raining it is important to monitor your garden soil to make sure your plants are getting enough water.  A one hour rain might only soak in a few inches depending on your soil type.  If your plants roots are a foot or more down this is not enough.

6.  Renovate lawns this month using an aerator and a thatching machine.  The aerator takes plugs from your lawns soil and allows air, water and fertilizer down to the root zone.  The thatching machine lifts the old thatch out of your lawn allowing the grass plants room to grow while removing fungus habitat.

7.  Decorate for the fall by bundling corn stalks for your front porch. Bundles of grain work nicely in dried flower arrangements.  Put dried corn, gourds mini pumpkins and straw in decorative baskets for a harvest look.

8.  Make a haunted yard for Halloween by hanging plastic bats or mini pumpkins from a tree. Some friends have a witch, plastic spiders, webbing, eerie  lighting and a spooky soundtrack piping weird voices to unwary trick or treaters.

9.  .  Plant winter vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onions and peas.  Keep your lettuce supply going by reseeding new plants when the old ones go to flower.  There is little reason for not having table greens all year round.

10.  It is time for harvest parties. In between showers the garden is really the best place to sit and entertain.  Now that you have everything cleaned up and replanted why not share your yard with friends and family.

Good Gardening

Jack McKinnon worked in the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years and is now a Garden Coach.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687, or by email at jack.mckinnon.hmb@gmail.com visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com

A simple bed

Garden Tips September 2014

Garden Tips September 2014

When Robin Williams committed suicide last month millions of us were heart broken.  It was awful, I was shocked, sad, angry, really sad, borderline depressed and then just confused.  We will never know what was going on in his mind.  There is a lot of speculation.  I don’t know if that helps us cope.  The important question each of us can ask is, what now?  How do we go on? And why am I reading about this in a garden tips column?  This months tips will be about gardening as a help in times of grief.  What a garden can do for us who are still here when we loose one we love.

The garden is a place of life and death.  There is no getting around it.  If the weeds aren’t pulled and put on the compost we won’t have flowers or compost. Everybody looses except the weeds.  Gophers need to be controlled as do aphids, yellow jackets, deer, pest birds and neighbors with dogs. Some are killed (not neighbors or their dogs) and some are deterred or repelled.

Where grieving is helped and eased is in the serenity of the landscape when the work is done and we can rest.  For some of us, gardening is relaxing and calming.  In some gardens plantings bring memories that help us cope. We can even plant a special tree or shrub to remember the loved one by.  Here are the tips.

  1. Have a place to sit comfortably. To quiet and stop in our daily life, even for a few minutes helps enormously.  A good chair or bench in the garden creates a destination for a visitor to stay a while and absorb the peace of being out of doors and  slowing down, for a while.
  2. Flowers have a special ability to give hope and peace.  It is not difficult to have something blooming all year round.  Visit a nursery regularly and when new flowering plants come in write down their name and look them up.  Decide if there is a place in your garden with the right light for them. Then buy one or two and see how they do.  Before long, your garden will be full of flowering plants all year round.
  3. Birds give a sense of peace in the garden.  If you provide water and seed, you will have birds.  They will find your feeder and dish in a day or so and you will have new life in your garden.  They also help control insects.
  4. Design a stroll path in your garden.  The Japanese design gardens for Moon viewing, conversation and meditation.  We can design gardens for rest and relaxation.  Our culture is driven and affluent because of high I.Q. creative people, these people need winding down once in a while.  We need more stroll paths.
  5. Have a Mission based garden.  Choose a Mission and build a garden around it.  Some ideas might be Grief Recovery, Mental Health, Idea Propagation, Reconciliation, Herbal Medicine, Innovation for Design, World Peace, Suicide Prevention.
  6. Plant a tree to remember someone special.  You don’t have to wait until they are dead.  Plant a long lived tree like an Oak when a baby is born. Or plant a Redwood to remember a special mentor or teacher.
  7. Grow special foods for a birthday celebration of a past loved one.  My Grandmother on my Fathers side loved huge salads with at least fifteen ingredients.  They were so good (and memorable) that I still make them now thirty years after her passing.  They include four kinds of lettuce, scallions, basil, mint, celery, cucumber, tomato, toasted sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, avocado, citrus (usually mandarin orange), apple and flowers like nasturtium, Johnny jump ups, tulip, roses and garlic.
  8. Put a monument up to remember a loved one.  It doesn’t have to have an inscription of the person or even look like a monument.  It can be a big rock in a special place.  You will know the significance of it being there.
  9. In San Mateo’s Central Park there is a bronze dog that was cast to remember a loved pet at the Kohl Mansion.  I have had several memorable pets.  Often the loss of a pet is greater even than the loss of a person. Having a sculpture made of a loved pet is quite special.

10. Remember when grieving to hold the legacy of the loved one.  Not how they died or suffered.  What they did that we can learn and emulate is what is really important.  I will miss Robin Williams tremendously but will watch his movies and television shows for the wonderful person and actor that he was. And I will put a bench in my garden to honor him.

Good Gardening

Jack McKinnon worked in the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years and is now a Garden Coach.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687, or by email at jack.mckinnon.hmb@gmail.com visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com

Garden Tips August 2014

Garden Tips August 2014

When I started writing this column I wondered if I was going to give away all the garden secrets there are and put myself out of business.  Then I realized that I could write for ten lifetimes and never run out of tips to give.  There is so much to learn and each new awareness leads to two new things to learn. For example, take the drought. The opportunities in gardening that the drought provides are enormous.  New plants to learn, new techniques for conserving water, new techniques for cultivating existing plants and on and on. If we look at our gardens as decorator show cases and have to deal with a change in environment the challenges and solutions multiply exponentially.  Each new situation in gardening is a gift, and when we receive it as one we revel in the successful outcome. This month I will give you some of the new thoughts I am having about solving the “drought problem”.  Here are the tips.

  1. A desert is very seldom completely void of life.  What it is though is very well adapted life. We are incredibly adaptable, let’s think of ways to adapt to the change in climate we are having now.  If it changes again later, we can adapt to that.
  2. Turf is always trying to revert to meadow.  We do all kinds of things to keep it from reverting. We mow it, water, fertilize, aerate, de thatch, weed and reseed whenever needed.  If the lawn (turf) is only used occasionally for sports or sun bathing or showing off our acumen for turf management why not let it revert to meadow?  Or better yet, create a meadow. To learn what a natural meadow is, go to Yosemite Valley and look at the Valley floor.  You can have a meadow just like that.  Only without the 3000 foot waterfall.
  3. How about a mini or micro lawn?  When I used to complain about having to mow the lawn as a boy my parents would say in their worldly wise way “just think if you were in Japan, you would have to mow the lawn with a pair of scissors”. By the way, I highly respect Japanese gardeners to this day.
  4. We don’t have to stick to California Natives.  Yes, they are quite interesting and they do tend to be more drought tolerant than tropical flowering plants but there are thousands of species of plants that are drought tolerant, non invasive and fantastic for our climate zone. If we cultivate non native gardens we can always mix natives in if we like them.
  5. Watching our plants closely can tell us a lot about what they need.  Remember, water does not equal love. By watching closely as we reduce our water use we can notice plants starting to react to the decrease and give them a bit more than their neighbors.  Modern irrigation systems are highly manageable.  The sprinkler heads, and drip system emitters can be adjusted for just the right amount of water.  Whole sections can be turned off at the clock and individual needy plants watered by hand.  This practice alone can save hundreds of gallons of water per house per year.
  6. Grow an appreciation for hardscape.  Landscape Architects often have less interest in plantings than they do in walk ways, benches, patios, walls, sculptural features, view planes, and esthetics.  Good for them, all of these are important and especially in large public spaces.  They can also be very useful for framing a specimen plant in a private patio or complimenting a border planting on an entry way to a suburban home. Contemplative gardens often emphasize “less is more”. We can reduce the plantings and also reduce water and maintenance needs.
  7. Rather than complain about the drought (or anything else for that matter), embrace the opportunity. The news media makes a living on bad news, we don’t have to.  It is proven that if we exercise our creativity, we get more creative. Go for it.
  8. Challenge your neighborhood to a design competition.  All in fun, have a goal and give awards for the best new design, the most innovative, the least costly, the most efficient, the most fun and the lowest maintenance.  This can generate a garden tour and a block party.  Everybody loves a party.
  9. Think of the children.  Not just yours but all children.  Make your garden fun. Have some edible plants they can recognize as they go by. I will never forget my Grandmothers grape arbor. Even at five years old I looked up at those grapes hanging there in the shade of that arbor and wondered at how they got there.

10. Always, always, try to enjoy the process.  Gardening should be fun.  Take it a little at a time. Detail someplace special. Take the challenge and grow.

Good Gardening

Jack McKinnon worked in the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years and is now a Garden Coach.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687, or by email at jack.mckinnon.hmb@gmail.com visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com

Garden Tips July 2014

Garden Tips July  2014

As I sit at my desk here in my garden cottage the tomatoes are ripening on the trellis outside.  I am planning the fall borders.  It’s July and the summer is in full glory. Water in the bird bath is important now. The creek a mile away is a long flight especially for the finches and chickadees.  It’s a pleasure to hear them come through the forest chirping as they go.  I put out seed every morning on the plate I glued to a piece of pipe.  Pigeons come too, usually right away, but when the small birds come, the whole garden seems to perk up.

I can hardly wait for my Daphne to bloom.  It is a rescue plant and completely died back soon after I brought it home.  Now with fertilizer and regular water it will have a good show and the fragrance may very well inspire a poem.

With the floor swept and the book shelves dusted I can go out and harvest the salad greens for tonight’s dinner.  Possibly even with some fresh ripe berries.  Here are the tips.

  1. Do the hardest thing first.  If you make a list of chores and projects for your garden, choose the most difficult to do.  When that one is done, every other one will be easier.
  2. Spend time with a good book and iced tea.  Decide what will make this time special.  Choose a book that is worthy of special contemplative garden time. Make iced tea with mint, citrus and possibly a rose petal.
  3. Start thinking about harvest time.  If it looks like you will have enough squash, cut some blossoms now and make an omelet.  Sometimes thinning back now will make fruit bigger as the season progresses. Cull apples, pears and plums if there are still any on the trees.
  4. Mulch to save water and keep the weeds down.  Of course do this after weeding.
  5. Prune dead, dying and diseased branches through out the summer.  This saves quite a bit of work in winter and is easier to see when there are leaves on the branches.
  6. Correspond internationally about your garden.  Find a pen pal by joining a garden club or plant society.  Ask friends if they know someone who would like to write about their garden.  This makes for interesting and memorable documenting what is going on in your garden as well as your friends.
  7. Photograph and journal what is new and different in your garden.  If there is an interesting variety you want to remember make note of it and print out a photo.  I found a variegated Nasturtium a couple of years ago that has yellow blossoms.  It makes me so happy to show it off, even by email.
  8. Keep an eye out for squirrels, gophers and fruit stealing birds.  There are a lot of crows these days and I saw a squirrel crossing the street yesterday with a pumpkin blossom almost as big as it was in its mouth.
  9. Cut the whips off of your Wisteria.  If you don’t like the seed pods popping in the night cut them all off as well.

10. Pick berries for the table, jam and the freezer.  It makes a nice outing with the family to go to a U- Pick farm on the coast side and come back with a few pounds of ripe Olallieberries and lots of stained fingers.  Of course you have to taste them a bit too. Be sure to put a little extra change in the sin can when you weigh your pickings.

Good Gardening

Jack McKinnon worked in the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years and is now a Garden Coach.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687, or by email at jack@jackthegardencoach.com visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com