by Jack McKinnon
What is a garden anyway? Why do gardens make so much difference in our lives and why do we fall in love, raise our children and grow old together in them so much better than if we live our whole lives indoors?
Gardens provide us with several things. They give us work to do that is different than any other work. They give us discovery and wonder. And they give us unparalleled beauty. We feel different in gardens than anywhere else in our lives. We feel relaxed on a warm spring day. We feel stimulated by the chores we need to do. We feel pride in sharing with someone special a garden they have never seen before. And we feel empowered when we learn a new plant or discover something horticultural that we didn't know before.
I can't take you all out into a garden and show you these things nor would you want me to. They are there for you to experience and learn and share. What I can do is to point in directions that may be new or different in your garden or future gardens you may visit. I hope you visit many gardens.
Here are the tips:
1.Note new growth. Often buds open and leaves emerge and we see them only when they are mature. Notice flower buds forming and tendrils on vines, looking at how they face the sun or wrap around a nearby branch.
2. Look closely at the soil around the base of plants. See where it is in relation to the trunk of shrubs and trees and even groundcovers. I see so many plants die because this relationship is out of balance. Remember that the flare of the roots is where the soil should start, not up the trunk. Rake it back with your fingers or a trowel if it is too high.
3. Look at lawns (either yours or others) and see what is growing there. Often there are many more species of plants than grass.
4. Stroll a few new gardens each month. Visit community gardens, public gardens and parks with simply strolling and looking as the goal. This may seem odd in this day and age; that's why I am suggesting it.
5. Challenge yourself to learn a plant and its application that nobody you know can identify. There are thousands. Try Half Moon Bay Nursery on Highway 92 on the way to Half Moon Bay.
6. Grow a miniature garden alongside your big garden — sort of like your own secret garden. Escape to it to challenge yourself and your imagination. Maybe even write a fantasy story involving your secret garden.
7. Grow something edible that you don't usually buy in the market. Do some research on what that might be and how to use it. I just finished reading Michael Pollan's new book "Cooked" and am now braising as a new way to cook. I am also making sauerkraut and will take up baking again, this time with herbs I grow myself for a savory nuance.
8. Count petals, anthers and florets as a habit. One of the keys to plant identification is closely looking at flowers and noticing what is unique. Start looking at flowers in a different way.
9. Grow some water plants, or visit a water garden, pond or stream and observe the life that is created with aquatic plants. Hakone gardens in Saratoga has an amazing pond.
10. Try growing a few species of air plants. Tillandsia is in the Bromeliaceae family and lives on the surrounding air. Make an arrangement of some in the low branches of a tree or on a fence. Spritz with water once in a while and they will grow for years with little additional attention.