Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - February 19, 2010

Garden tips for February

Composer inspires ideas for gardening

by Jack McKinnon

I watch a lot of movies. I get them through the mail, watch them and mail them back. I love it. Mostly, I watch documentaries, history, nature and biographies.

Most recently I watched "Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts" about Philip Glass the composer. Several things Glass says in the biography touched me in their similarity to gardening. This month's tips will visit some of these ideas.

1. Allen Ginsberg told Philip Glass "first idea, best idea." The theory goes that if you have an idea (usually in the time it takes to blink, see Malcom Gladwell's book "Blink"), it is good to go with it. How does this apply to gardening? In the garden there are a thousand decisions to make. What do I plant? Do I prune now? Which do I cut first? What do I fertilize with? And on and on. Try using the first idea that comes to mind. It will save time and it may very well be the best choice.

2. When he was composing and playing in lofts in SoHo New York, Glass often had 25 to 30 percent of his audiences walk out. Did he stop composing? No, he kept on with the work he was doing and suggested they find their own favorite music. Do this in your garden too. Your garden is your living art and what others think is none of your business. The important thing is to keep gardening.

3. Be a little "nudge." Glass's sister Abramowitz called Philip (when he was a young boy) "a little nudge." A nudge is a bother, a bit of a pain. If you are a bit of a bother in your garden, it will show better results. Be picky, don't put up with just any design or planting scheme.

4. Do something completely different. Glass said "if you don't need a new technique (to do a piece of art) then what you're saying probably isn't new." In gardening the techniques we use are those of design, planting, cultivating, pruning, watering, fertilizing and harvesting. Think about how you can do these differently to get different results. Ask yourself if you can change one thing to make a big difference.

5. Gardening is art and art is different than farming or golf-course maintenance. Art uses the part of your brain that knows what it likes without thinking about it. Art speaks from and to the heart. You can hear this in music composed by great composers such as Philip Glass. Try to look at your garden with heart. Think of what plant in all the world would make you happy to see every day. Then find a way to get and grow that plant.

6. Here is a practical tip. Now is a great time to plant blueberries. I was talking to Brad at Half Moon Bay Nursery (650-726-5392), and looking over his stock of blueberries. I think I am going to get three varieties of highbush blueberries. The plants are long-lived, hearty and with cross pollination will produce heavily. Call Brad for the recommendations for your area.

7. Finish up your pruning even if your deciduous plants have started sprouting. It is better if you do winter pruning when it is dead cold but if you are late, do it any way. If the plants drip from their fresh cuts don't worry. They will stop in a few days. Don't cut conifers or you will have to clean up the sap though.

8. Clean up brown or finished camellia blossoms. The brown is caused by petal blight, a fungus. I haven't found a truly good control for this but it is always good practice to remove infected blossoms. If you know a method for controlling petal blight in camellias I would appreciate being able to pass it along.

9. As for garden contractors, the most recent advice I got was to ask: Do you want it done right, well, fast or cheap? Pick two. Look into the directory of Aesthetic Pruners of Ornamental Trees and Shrubs (www.aestheticpruning.org). This is a list of highly trained and or experienced gardeners that can possibly even get three of the above list accomplished.

10. There is so much gardening to do, so much music to compose and so much life to be lived. I think the only way to truly get it all done is to multi-task. Grab your iPod, put on some Philip Glass, bring out some snacks, a notebook, paints and an easel, have some clay handy and a friend or two to share the experience with and go for it. I am sure the flowers will bloom all the more.

Good Gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-879-3261 or 650-455-0687 (cell), by e-mail at jack@jackthegardencoach.com. Visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com.

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