Real Estate

Garden Tips: Innovations for better gardens, happier people

10 ideas for more efficient, effective gardening

In our gardens and in gardens worldwide, a renaissance is getting started and yet also being held back.

Robotics is taking off and the Internet is expanding like a galaxy. Communication is greater and faster than it has ever been. At the same time, gardeners are still hand watering, cultivating with forks and hoes and picking snails by hand.

This month I will list some ideas and challenges to the thinking community on how we can work more effectively in our gardens and, by extension, in the world. We have the knowledge and technology to feed the world abundantly. How about taking our skills to another level, asking a lot of questions, meeting the challenges and making life better in the process? Here are the tips.

1. We have effective irrigation technology, and it still has further to go. Soil moisture, precipitation, temperature, light and humidity sensors need to be combined in a program that is manageable through a smart phone app. What this will do for 90 percent of property owners is engage them in what is going on at their property and, with a little additional education, improve landscape management by an enormous amount. Better gardens equal happier people.

2. Modern gardens use the nutrients in their soil and leave the depleted remnants to decide which plants survive. The species that don't make it (some quite rewarding) die literally of malnutrition. There are several ways to remedy this. Regular slow-release fertilizers help enormously but require application every three months. Nurseries fertilize through their irrigation systems. What is needed is a nutrient permaculture formula. Planting multiple complementary plants and fungi will sustain and produce new growth, flowering and fruit without additional fertilizing. This calls for more botanists studying plant relationships, combined with designers who can think out of the box and use these companion plantings in suburban design.

3. Wouldn't it be cool to have little robots that would wake up at night (having solar charged all day) and go pick snails, cultivate the ground with their little tractor scratcher wheels?

4. The use of motion detectors in gardens is quite valuable. They can trigger cameras, activate deer repellant mist, warn of gopher activity and register wind activity. Just think of the first time that pesky squirrel comes for your bird feeder and it finds a little squirrel candy bar that satisfies him or her for a week right in its path.

5. Light sensors can turn on outdoor lighting, start timers so that the lighting will turn off by a pre-programmed time, and start your watering system after dark to reduce evaporation. They can also activate security systems for deer proofing, gate locking and chicken-coop closing. Traditional timers have to be adjusted for daylight changes throughout the year.

6. How about a way for our gardens to self-prune? Robotic mowers, like home vacuum cleaners, are taking care of turf. Why not have hedge trimmers and dead-heading bots that keep shrubs and beds tidy? If weeds could be managed while we sleep, wouldn't that save hours of time on our knees?

7. For the traditionalists, skeptics and Luddite gardeners, there is still plenty for you, too. There is always more to learn. Crowd-sourcing can produce an encyclopedia of plants and cultural and cultivation techniques (including genetics) that will be a living, growing education accessible to all. This can and will change how plants are understood for millennia. I learned about several hundred plants in college 30 years ago. The etymology, cultivation and hybrid studies of these plants changed my life. Agricultural pest control gave me a tremendous respect and appreciation for the insect and disease world. To have access to this information on a smart phone is invaluable. At this time I have to look in several different places and often get mixed answers. I typically trust the University of California system primarily, but there is still so much to add to that.

8. A teacher of mine, when asked about the value of plastic or silk flowers, said, "They don't ever die." The fact that plants are alive can only be given little credibility in our digital age. Philosophy has a long way to go to give the importance of a flower its due.

9. Art is always learning from and representing nature. The abundant resources of subject matter from nature for artistic interpretation are one of the greatest gifts artists have.

10. Where would we be without love? In so many ways, it is the most important thing we have in this life. Every school deserves a course on love. What better way than to cultivate a flower garden? Students cultivating a bouquet to represent the type of love they are studying, like philia, agape and amore, would open a new awareness for coming generations. Why leave this important learning to videos and games?

Good Gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687 (cell) and Visit his website at

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