Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Are You a Gardener?

Gardening is a mindset that doesn’t require soil or seeds to develop. Anyone who enjoys the exquisite taste of an heirloom tomato fresh from the garden has the innate ability to be a gardener. If you like to smell roses, or lilacs, or honeysuckle, you have the makings of a gardener. If you like vegetables of any kind, gardening may be in your blood. Even if you don’t like vegetables at all you are ripe for becoming a gardener. Essentially, gardening is for everyone.

Gardening is one of the few things in life where you have complete control over why you do it, when you do it, where you do it, and how you do it. And after you’ve done it you have something to show for your labors. Successful or not, you have accomplished something unique.

giant pumpkin

A giant pumpkin in the Galileo garden

At this point, many people counter with their lack of a green thumb or even the possession of a black one. My counterpoint is that I have killed more plants than many gardeners will ever grow. I gardened for decades before becoming a master gardener. At that point I learned of the many things I had done wrong for so long. But that hasn’t stopped the devastation.

With increased confidence I planted, and killed, many more plants. I continue to make mistakes in gardening. It’s part of the process.
Sure, I would prefer to always be successful and never cause a plant pain or death, but gardening is not just about success. It is about partaking in an activity that has been proven to enhance the enjoyment of life and even prolong it. Gardening is good for you.

Too many people think that to be a gardener they must have a plot of land dedicated to a time-consuming activity. Nothing can be further from the truth. A single pot on your patio with a live plant in it makes you a gardener. If that single plant is a tomato or pepper, you are a vegetable gardener. If it is a marigold or daisy, you are a flower gardener. If it is basil or thyme, you are an herb gardener. If you have a plum tree in your yard and harvest the fruit, you have a mini orchard and are a fruit gardener.

Plums on my plum tree

Plums on my plum tree

Once you’ve acknowledged that you’re probably a gardener at heart, by thought or through demonstration of what you grow, you can begin to expand your gardening knowledge and think about adding more plants to your repertoire. If you already have that plot and are growing a vegetable, herb, or flower garden, think about what you can do to grow and experience more.

Winter is a great time to think about your gardening plans for the year. Consider adding another pot on your patio, or taking out some lawn and adding a vegetable bed, or venturing into the addition of fruit trees. Spend indoor time during the cold months researching and learning. Talk to the people you know who you consider to be gardeners and ask them for advice on how to begin.

When done with the foundation of a little knowledge, gardening takes less time than most of your everyday activities but can be far more rewarding. Extra time and effort can lead to ample enjoyment and satisfaction. And at the end of the day you can call yourself a gardener.

For the last two years I have been gardening on a full-time basis for a phenomenal school garden project. As a result, my blog postings have suffered. I plan to rectify that by sharing of our adventures in gardens that are planted by and for children. I call myself a gardener and am sharing that mindset with a new generation. I look forward to the days when these students call themselves gardeners.


More Gifts for Gardeners

Gardeners are a giving group. As the growing season progresses, we’re more than willing to share our flowers, produce, seeds, and advice to anyone willing to partake. We give our time, labor, and effort to build gardens and grow plants of every type. After giving so much during the growing season, it’s nice to receive thoughtful gifts during the holiday season.

In my previous article I discussed some of the simple items and tools that many gardeners might like to receive. There are many other potential gifts for the gardener in your life and today I propose a few more.

Two gift ideas top the list and are quite obvious, as I was reminded when the last article was published. Plants and seeds are the basic ingredients that make what we do possible. They’re the foundation of the garden and few gardeners would refuse them. The hardest part is trying to figure out what to give.

The easiest way to do give green is with a gift card or gift certificate from a local nursery. Many gardeners go over budget at planting time because there’s always another plant they’d like to try. Being able to make those purchases without budgetary concerns is a great gift.

While I’m not a fan of gift cards normally, I recommend this method because gardeners can be picky about their plants. A plant given with the best intention may not be appropriate for our specific gardens. While orchids are beautiful, I don’t have the facilities to grow them properly and while the gift of a live plant would be appreciated, the plant would begin a lingering death as soon

as I touched it. Many other plants that can be purchased from catalogs won’t survive my dry, hot summers or harsh winters. For gardeners like me a gift certificate makes more sense.

Seeds are a better option than live plants at Christmas because there are many more to choose from and they won’t die before it’s time to sow. I recommend Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( and Territorial Seed Company ( as good online sources. Take the time to determine if the plant that comes from the seed will survive in your region before buying. For the best success, select seeds that you know your gardener already grows.


Seeds can be a good gift

Another basic, yet great, gift is a book about gardening. I have a pretty substantial gardening library, but there are always new books coming out with new ideas and techniques and I’m always willing to learn more. If your gardener has expressed interest in a particular type of gardening, find a book on that subject. Lasagna gardening, square-foot gardening, hydroponic gardening, roof gardening, container gardening, and bio-dynamic gardening are just a few of the topics that would be new to even experienced gardeners.

There are many great reference books that should be part of every gardener’s library. Here are a few: “A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants” from the American Horticultural Society; “National Garden Book” from Sunset Magazine; “The Practical Gardener’s Encyclopedia” from Fog City Press; Reader’s Digest “Illustrated Guide to Gardening”. These are just a few of the books that I reference regularly.

For a flower gardener interested in beginning to grow vegetables, buy a book on vegetable gardening. For a vegetable gardener buy a book about flowers. For all gardeners, buy a thorough book on composting. I’d suggest you take a look at the books they already read and enjoy for an idea of appropriate subjects, and so you don’t duplicate any.

Magazine subscriptions are another nice option for readers. I subscribe to eight different magazines and go to the library to regularly read the ones I don’t get. I prefer sitting in my own chair, in my own house, when I settle in to read and look at the great garden photos so a subscription is better for me. One of my favorites is “Garden Gate”; it’s well written and always has information appropriate to my gardens. Another good mag is “Horticulture”; the photos are amazing, though most of the articles are written for gardeners who don’t live in the mountains. For Western gardeners, “Sunset” focuses their gardening articles to regional specifics, though gardening is just one part of the magazine that also includes sections on travel and cooking.

“Gardening How-To” magazine is a nice resource for gardeners, particularly new gardeners. It is written for the entire U.S. with some region-specific information. It’s produced by the National Home Gardening Club, of which I am a lifetime member. Membership in the club includes the magazine and access to their very informative website. The gift of membership might be a good idea. Check them out at

While I proposed garden art in the last article I neglected to mention the most basic decorative garden component. Pots and planters are readily available year-round and easily used by gardeners. A pot that is brightly-colored, uniquely-crafted, or over-sized can look great as a garden focal point. Pots can be moved around by the gardener until they find the proper home and there are always enough plants to fill them. Even if your gift ends up in a hidden garden corner you can expect that it will be used.

The pot makes this garden art more unique

The pot makes this garden art more unique

If your gardener is a social animal or you would prefer they leave the house occasionally, consider giving the gift of club membership. Many cities have gardening clubs and they usually have a membership fee. Sign your gardener up. Locally we have an Iris Society, a Rose Society, and a Horticultural Arts Society. There are neighborhood garden groups. There are volunteer gardening groups for schools and churches. Do a little research and see if there’s a group, club, or society that matches your gardeners strengths.

While I could spend a great deal of time listing the great power tools that I’d love to own or the large structures I’d love to build, every gardener is different and my desires may not be ideal when it comes to your gift purchases. Take a look at your gardener for the best gift ideas. If he’s always complaining about his torn jeans, buy him a new pair. If she keeps harping about the weeds or an area that needs to be cleared to make a garden bed, give the gift of your time in the garden.

The best gardening gifts are the ones that come from the heart. Taking a little time to ensure your gift matches what your gardener needs will make your efforts memorable and welcomed. While the tools are nice, the books are good, and the seeds will grow, it truly is the thought that counts.

San Diego Botanic Garden

The mission of the San Diego Botanic Garden “is to inspire people of all ages to connect with plants and Nature.” After strolling through its incredible 35 acres, I am inspired. I’ve visited many gardens, both small and large, and I always try to imagine what the gardener was thinking during plant selection and placement. The horticulturists responsible for the San Diego Botanic Garden were apparently channeling heaven as they constructed the park.

Real flowers, not plastic

It’s amazing! I felt like I was experiencing natural nature and the actual habitats represented in the many earth zones throughout the garden. While enjoying the shade of monstrous bamboo, I was transported to Asia. Then suddenly I forgot I was walking through a botanic garden and felt like I was discovering a passionate gardener’s home garden as a pond and vibrant flowers appeared.

Enjoying the bamboo garden

Bananas, pomegranates, grapefruits, avocados, and other mysterious, exotic fruits dangled enticingly in the subtropical fruit garden. Around the corner I stumbled upon an expansive herb garden with “living” sculptures that made me want to sit, relax, and sip a little Sangria.

Bringing a Mariachi band to life

Many large cities have botanic gardens that represent their region and highlight local plants. With the construction of greenhouses and pavilions they can grow and display non-native plants. San Diego is blessed with a temperate climate that mimics disparate locations of our planet. Without a single greenhouse they can showcase Mexico, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Asia, and Central and South America. All of their gardens are in the open air.

The San Diego Botanic Garden began as “Quail Gardens” in 1971, and the address and local signs reflect that start. In 1993 they lost financial support from Dan Diego County and the non-profit Quail Botanical Gardens Foundation, Inc. was formed to operate the gardens. The current name was instituted in 2009.

Stewards of the environment, new parking lots have permeable surfaces to reduce runoff, solar panels produce electricity, green roofs cool buildings while reducing water runoff, and of course all plastic, paper, and metal is recycled.

They’ve constructed the botanic garden using water wise gardening methods. Through the use of recycled water, weather sensitive controllers, and low-water sprinklers, they use and display remarkable ways to save valuable resources. Prunings and leaves are shredded and composted and reused naturally in the gardens as mulch.

A water controller proudly displayed

The entire Garden is very user friendly and educational. There is an obvious attempt to encourage local gardeners to replicate the plantings. So many civic gardens operate with an attitude of, “look what we’ve grown and you can only look at.” San Diego Botanic Garden operates with an attitude of, “look what we’ve grown and you can too.”

A tutorial on using rocks in the garden

I find that approach very appealing. I don’t live anywhere near San Diego and am inspired to try some of their designs and plantings in my gardens. I recognized plants that grow well for me already, but in new displays and settings. The creative gardener in me is already planning new beds and new designs for next year.

I can construct a similar succulent bed

A separate children’s garden makes gardens fun with a tree house and outdoor activities for the little ones. I’ve always believed that capturing the positive spirit of gardening for children benefits them and us.

So often in professional gardens one wanders through, admiring the beauty, while stupefied by the plants. Everything mingles together with no identification of the individual components. That experience is non-existent in San Diego. Everything is exquisitely labeled with an abundance of interesting plant information. On the few occasions I saw a planting with no identifying sign, a quick search revealed information hidden under a branch or limb of a neighboring plant. They’re unobtrusive and blend in well.

An informative plant label

The design of the self-guided tour allows visitors to experience the gardens at their own pace and allows lingering. A walk on a boardwalk overlooking natural, native zones ends at an overlook of the garden, the town, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean. A spectacular waterfall and meandering creek lies hidden in a back corner of the gardens. Imposing and interesting sculptures from professional artists are mingled with the plants and are available for purchase.

A waterfall hidden in a jungle

The San Diego Botanic Garden doesn’t reside in San Diego itself, but rather in Encinitas, California, about 30 minutes north of the city proper. There are few signs announcing it’s location so I recommend getting directions ahead of time or relying on a GPS.

At this writing the admission price for adults is $12, with a $2 parking fee. I found a 50% off coupon in the magazine “101 Things To Do In San Diego”, which can be found in most local tourist centers and visitor bureaus. The $14 total price my wife and I paid was the best expenditure of our vacation.

I don’t know when we’ll get back to San Diego; our last trip was two years ago. Even with that uncertainty I’m sorely tempted to become a member of the San Diego Botanic Garden. Even though I won’t be able to use the benefits, I can help an organization that is doing everything right for the world of plants and gardening.

If you’re a gardener, and planning to visit San Diego, check out the San Diego Botanic Garden. If you live in or near San Diego county, consider becoming a member. You be a richer gardener for either choice.

Link to San Diego Botanic Garden

A Gardener’s Earth Day

Yesterday was Earth Day. Begun officially in 1970, Earth Day is an annual event designed to increase awareness and appreciation of our natural environment and is designated as April 22 every year. Many communities and volunteer groups use the day as an opportunity to improve and clean up their local landscapes. It often receives a marginal amount of publicity and press as it approaches and then, regretfully, is ceremoniously forgotten until the next April.

While millions of people need to be reminded to stop and smell the roses, literally and figuratively, gardeners are able to celebrate Earth Day on any day of the calendar. We live the environmental awareness and appreciation that Senator Gaylord Nelson envisioned when he proposed the concept in the late 1960s. For gardeners, nature and all it has to offer is in our blood and sweat.


My garden on Earth Day

This year I didn’t do anything special for Earth Day, other than being a gardener. As I went about my day participating in typical gardening activities I was aware periodically that it was Earth Day, but there were no banners or balloons and no thought that my activities would only take place on this one day. I worked to improve my environment and prepared to increase awareness of it to others, but I do that almost every day. However, this year Earth Day did provide some personal milestones.

I mowed the lawn for the first time this year. Recent wet snow and warm temperatures seemed to increase the growth of the grass dramatically and it was long and shaggy in sections. Even with a mulching mower the grass clippings were too long to leave on the grass, a practice I highly recommend to return nutrients to the soil. So I bagged the clippings and added them to my compost piles to help kickstart them into action.

Fresh-mowed grass

Green grass is a great nitrogen source for compost piles and my piles were a little dry and brown after sitting through the winter. Leaving the grass clippings on top of the pile can lead to matting and isn’t an efficient way to add them. I thoroughly turned the piles for the first time this season to incorporate the grass. My compost piles spent Earth Day waking up.

I brought out plastic sheets and built hoophouses in my garden, but not because it was Earth Day. I’m about a month away from my last frost date but I want to get some tomatoes in the ground. The hoophouses will help warm the soil and in a week I’ll bring out the season extenders, my Wall-o-Waters. Last year I had good success planting tomatoes a few weeks early and I’ll do it again.

Future home of tomatoes

I finished the chicken run yesterday by attaching the last outside door latch and by building the ramp the chickens will take from their coop. There are a few clean-up items to accomplish but the chickens are in the coop and will soon be exploring their outdoor environment. In a few months we’ll be collecting fresh eggs. This small effort at improving the sustainability of our plot of land has nothing to do with yesterday being Earth Day; it’s just something we want to do.

The chicken ramp

I continued preparing some trees for planting. The Arbor Day Foundation send me 10 small trees after a recent donation; something I do regularly, not just on Earth Day. I’ve been hardening them off by putting them outside during the day so they aren’t overly stressed when I plant. Yesterday was the last day of hardening off. I don’t think all of the trees will survive my winter, but I’ve chosen good spots to give them the best chance. Even the success of one tree will improve the environment.

Yesterday was the first time I spotted new asparagus spears. I planted 20 crowns last year and they did well until the snows came. I’ve been a little worried that they didn’t survive the winter, but they did and I can relax about their fate. They didn’t know it was Earth Day; they emerged when they were ready.

New asparagus spears

Don’t misconstrue my Earth Day attitude. Earth Day is a wonderful celebration. It brings environmental awareness to mind for many people who foolishly overlook it on a daily basis. It invigorates many groups, particularly youth, to make major improvements to city parks or blighted areas. In a few participants those activities might be a spark that ignites a desire to live a life dedicated to beneficial environmental knowledge and sustainability.

I call that mindset being a gardener. I think it would be great if everyone were a gardener, every day. That won’t happen, but I can do my part by spreading the word and encouraging more people to become gardeners. Earth Day highlights the concept and shows what is possible when people devote time and attention to the idea.

To me the best way to celebrate Earth Day is to make it a continuous event. Treat every day you’re in the garden as if it were special, one worthy of media attention. Strive to make others aware of your environmental activities and hope to ignite the gardening spark in just one other person; and then repeat that over and over.

Whether you mow your lawn, turn your compost pile, raise chickens, grow trees, worry about your plants’ progress, or not, get involved in your environment. Get outside and live April 22 every time you get the opportunity.

Today I’ll continue my work to gopher proof my garden; deer proofing comes next. Trees will be planted. Plants will be watered. Weeds will be dealt with. The list of gardening chores will get longer. And I’ll finish this blog article.

A Sure Sign of Spring — Snakes in the Garden

I spied a Robin last week and again this morning. The plump, red-red bird bob-bobbing for worms along my garden path is often among the first indicators that spring has arrived, or at least uncommonly warm days that mimic spring. For me the best sign of spring’s arrival is a sighting of my resident garter snakes. I saw one yesterday.

The first snake sighting of the year

I’m really not an “ophiophilist”, a snake lover or someone with a special fondness for snakes. They always give me a start when I detect a slithering shadow at my feet. Jumping sideways or a few feet into the air is a common response. The idea of trying to pick one up doesn’t enter my mind because I’m certain it will never happen. But I like having garter snakes in my garden.

There are two snakes that enjoy my planting spaces. One is substantially bigger than the other and is usually the one I spot first. He tends to hang out at a big rock I placed at the base of our deck stairs just for his benefit. It was the smaller one I saw yesterday.

The big snake under his rock

As a gardener, seeing snakes tells me that the ground is warming up and soil organisms are becoming active. Snakes are reptiles, cold-blooded creatures that slow their metabolism dramatically in winter and cold periods. Commonly thought of as hibernation, for them it is actually called “brumation”.

To avoid freezing their slender bodies in our frigid winter conditions they find a deep spot below the frost line underground and wait for warm weather to return. My snakes live somewhere under my backyard sidewalk. I’ve seen both of them enter and exit at a spot close to the garage steps. I assume they found a route to the base of the house foundation possibly benefiting from some residual heat our home emits in winter. I’ve seen them curled up together near their rock so I also assume they brumate together, sharing their body warmth.

Slithering back under the sidewalk

For months they don’t eat. They enter brumation with an empty stomach so that any food in there won’t spoil and rot when their metabolism slows down. At some point they detect warming conditions and venture out to eat. If the ground were still frozen, the worms and frogs that make up part of their diet would be absent so they only arrive when the food is present.

That’s why I like knowing they’re active again. The earthworms are moving through the soil. The presence of the snakes and the robins confirm this. When the soil is warm enough for the worms it’s usually warm enough for plant roots. That means I can consider planting and sowing soon.

Of course there are other considerations for planting. Last frost date, soil temperatures for germination, length of daylight, snow possibility, and many other factors come into play before I put anything in the ground. One snake’s appearance is not enough to override good gardening decision-making, but it is ample evidence for good things to come.

Spring is really here! It has been unseasonably warm, but I’ve been fooled by our finicky weather before. This time it looks like it’s here to stay. Long-term weather forecasts confirm it (for now) and at least one snake is venturing out of his safe winter home to test the hypothesis.

There are still many chores and tasks to finish to fully prepare my garden for the season. Occasional cold days and nights are still ahead for the next five or six weeks. It’s not clear sailing yet, but a little snake is enough to lighten my spirits and brighten my day.

A Gardener’s Equinox and Equilux

Forget March 20th, today is my spring, or vernal, equinox. More accurately it’s my vernal “equilux”. On the equilux, day equals night, sunrise and sunset are exactly 12 hours apart. Technically the equinox is the point in time when the sun is directly above the equator. It’s commonly associated with the solstice and we recognize the day as the beginning of spring; on the calendar that will be March 20. Specific equiluxes around the world vary from that day depending on latitude.

Daffodils and tulips will be here soon

While many gardeners look forward to the equinox or solstice or beginning of spring as a transition day, to me the equilux is more exciting.  This is the day I’ve been looking for as I note the sunrise and sunset times in the local paper. I don’t have to wait four more days to celebrate the season. Starting tomorrow the sun stays up longer each day. The soil will warm, the buds will break, green will pop forth throughout the landscape. Spring is definitely in the air.

Life has begun and will continue to explode around me. It’s a tad ironic that the day began with a woodpecker tap-tapping on the outside wall above our headboard.

The thought that for the next six months I’ll have more time to enjoy the sun is warming. I love gardening throughout the year, but I tend to like it more when I don’t have to put a coat on. A hot sun and warm soil work well together. Symbolically, today is when it begins to happen for me.

There will be more time for gardening each day. More time to get my fingers dirty. More time to sow, plant, water, weed, prune, and harvest. More time to do what I love to do.

Mentally a threshold has been crossed. The chains of winter have been broken. My equilux is today and my growing season begins. Warm and productive days await. It helps that we’re expected to set a record high temperature this afternoon.

I’m headed outside to do some of the garden clean up that seemed like a chore when the skies were grey and the wind was chilled. Now the same task seems more like easy preparation for the seeds and transplants that will follow soon.

I’m enthusiastic. There is so much to do and already there doesn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done. But I’m more than willing to make it all happen and enjoy myself in the process. What a difference a day makes.

Winter is Fading

December 22nd is one of my favorite gardening days. Sure it’s the first full day of winter, but that means that spring is next on the calendar. From today onward every day gets a little more sun until we peak in summer. We’re halfway through the long tunnel and I can see light ahead.

My vegetable garden this week

There’s just over a week left until the “Brrrr” months are over. With a shiver, my wife refers to this time of year as the “Brrrr” months: “Octobrrrr”, “Novembrrrr”, “Decembrrrr”. The cold days and colder nights get old very quickly.

I know that January temperatures are actually colder, but January brings a new year, it’s not a “Brrrr” month, and the increasing daylight becomes noticeable. February is a short month that comes and goes quickly, and then it’s suddenly March with warming days and melting snow.

It all begins on December 22nd.

For many gardeners the presents under the Christmas tree hold tools, and books, and gardening supplies to be used in next year’s garden. Just a few days away from tearing apart the wrapping paper, visions of Japanese plums dance in our heads. Whether we are giving or receiving garden gifts, these days of Christmas present bring thoughts of gardening future.

Winter is here, officially. As I write, large white flakes are falling outside. The pines are flocked with snow. Drifts are nearly two feet deep in places. There is no sign of life beneath the blanket of white. But I know it’s there.

The Crocus and Tulip bulbs are still packed with energy, waiting to burst forth their brilliant blooms in a few months. Many seeds are soaking up the cold temperatures, a necessary step in their germination, and each time the snow melts it reveals Daisy leaves that are still viable. The excitement of the holidays has a green tinge.

I have no doubt the excitement of winter’s first day will fade in the dark, cold days straight ahead, but brief introspection will reveal new examples of gardening hope. Soon a glance at the clock will elicit, it was dark at this time just last week and the sun is still out. Before long a Robin red breast will be hopping across greening grass looking for a meal. A day of sun and warm will suddenly appear like a beacon amid the cold and dark, and many more beacons will follow.

I’m a gardener and gardeners can always fill their heads with thoughts of green and color and growth and life. Having a blank, white canvas on my landscape helps make it easy for me to draw and paint the mental images of gardens to come.

Two days ago it was fall and winter still stood in the way of spring. Now that impediment is gone. Winter is here and spring is next. A few days can make a big difference psychologically. It’s December 22nd and I’m looking forward to the gardening days ahead.