We live in California, meaning we do not have seasons like other parts of the country. We have trends and fads and myths, but we don't have below-zero temperatures very often, if at all. I have been going to farmers markets lately, mostly to look at what is being grown and harvested in local farms. I also talk to the farmers and their staff who sell the produce. What I am seeing is many of the same crops all year round. Much of what is grown is for the particular palate of the customers and seasonally (like potatoes, carrots, beets, corn and fruit) because that is when it is ready. What is grown and sold year round is greens, flowers, herbs and cuttings for floral arrangements. These are all things we can grow in place of lawns. If flowers for the table and home are being cultivated commercially, we can grow them at the same cost or less. The added benefit of growing our own is that our property is made beautiful in the process.
Seasonally, even in California what we plant is to be taken into consideration. How to cycle crops so we always have new growth coming, even as the mature is harvested, can be learned. With modern irrigation practice and good maintenance, the water we do use is practical and refreshing. Here in California, letting gardens dry out as many homes are doing makes fire hazards abound; creates depressive, design-poor situations; and questions our ability to adapt. Let's make our gardens all they are capable of being. If we lift up the art of gardening, everyone will benefit. Children will learn that even in a drought, we can adjust how we grow our gardens and flourish. This months tips are as much about replanting as they are about getting ready for harvest.
1. As we clean up and prune out the dead, dying and diseased plants from our gardens, notice areas to be cultivated. Let no bare patch of soil pass without considering what might be planted there.
2. Compost or use green waste containers so others can compost. We have an enormous urban forest and a world-class recycling system. Take advantage of both. As the forest is trimmed, both upper story and ground plane, everything can be used. By composting at home (fairly labor intensive and complex) or commercially (very efficient) we free up our land for cultivation and replanting, which results in beauty and production (flowers and food).
3. We don't have to be farmers to enjoy growing. A little fresh rosemary on the grill makes a big difference to the taste of veggies or chicken. Fresh-picked mint sprigs in iced tea add a personal touch at the finest dining establishments. There is no better salad course than a gathering of greens cut minutes before being served. All of this and much more can be grown easily in a small suburban area with partial sun.
4. If you still have turf and want to keep it healthy, this is the time to dethatch and aerate. It's a fairly complex and labor-intensive process but the correct way to maintain turf. If you have reduced the size of your lawn, good. This will make the renovation job all the easier.
5. Clean up and set aside mulch while defining new and old areas to be cultivated. If replacing the mulch completely is in the plan, recycle the old and order new mulch.
6. Once raked up, the areas cleared can be measured for compost. I like to have enough for a 4-inch layer on the surface to be cultivated at least 12 inches into the soil. If a bed or new area to be planted has not had this cultivation for several years, you might want to add even more compost. Remember, compost goes into the soil and mulch goes on top. Both help retain moisture, but compost is broken down and does not deplete the soil. I like Lyngso Garden Materials, 19 Seaport Blvd., Redwood City, for its selection and service. They deliver as well; call 650-364-1730.
7. Learn how to make a bouquet. Like letter writing, flower arranging is becoming a lost art. Many flowers can be dried by tying bundles with string and hanging them upside down. At Sunset, our flower arranger, Kim, would go through the gardens early in the morning with a big basket. Talking with everybody she saw, Kim would cut ferns, ornamental grasses, bamboo, flowers of all kinds and even select branches with hanging fruit for her arrangements. The lobby always had a big floral arrangement, as did the offices and entertainment areas.
8. I am reading "Distant Neighbors," a collection of letters between Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. Both are notable conservationists, philosophers and writers. For me the spirit of working the land, living, teaching and writing is important to keep fresh. The letters of these two are profound while differing on some but agreeing on many topics. Of course, reading Snyder's poetry and Berry's essays goes much deeper.
9. September is still a hot month. If you have reduced water use by cutting back the sprinkler system, do more hand watering. Go out after work or school and take your hose for a walk. By looking at each plant you are watering, you will learn what its needs are. If you have turned your irrigation system off, turn it back on. Check for leaks, broken heads and other possible problems, and then adjust it to your plants needs. Know that loosing plants because of neglect on your part will cost you in replacement or pleasure.
10. I often like to invite my readers to have guests over for garden parties. There are several reasons this is good for us. The most important is that we are (for the most part) social beings. If you're not, try it; you might find it refreshing with the right guests. Secondly, enjoying our outdoors is important to a healthy life. Fresh air, flowers to smell, some soft music and good food what better way to enter into fall.