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Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - January 8, 2010

Garden tips for January

There's a lot to learn from your garden

by Jack McKinnon

I am amazed by what takes place in gardens when looked at closely. Getting to know the plants I am growing, where they originated, what their ideal environment is and how to complement that environment gives me years of continuing education.

This month's tips will be on how to learn from your garden in order to make it better and better.

1. Learn a plant a day by getting a plant encyclopedia and trying to identify a new plant each day. Learn its Latin name "Genus and Species" in order to have a sure identification and the ability to communicate with other gardeners better.

2. Study some plant structural characteristics to help identify and remember what you have seen. Here are some basic questions: Is it a tree, shrub, ground cover, flowering plant or a food plant? This narrows down the search considerably.

3. Look at the green part. Does it have leaves? Are they opposite each other on the stem or alternate? Do the edges have teeth on them or are they smooth? How thick are the leaves?

4. Find a healthy plant and look at the soil it is growing in. Try to notice if it is moist, dry, sandy or with a lot of organic matter? Is it hard or can you stick your fingers down into it pretty easily? These things tell you what the plant likes and flourishes in.

5. Learn where different plants come from. Cyclamen for example are found in a surprising number of countries. Here is a website with a lot of information on Cyclamen:

6. I have found people interested in gardening to be very creative, intelligent and even flamboyant. Get out and meet some gardeners; if nothing else, it will make you more interesting yourself.

7. Get yourself a good magnifying glass or jewelers loop. Look at leaves, bark, stems, flowers, insects, worms, slugs and snails, roots, seeds and a thousand other things.

8. Visit many gardens. My personal goal is to visit 100 world-class gardens. I still have about 70 to go.

9. Share your garden with others or if you don't have a garden, adopt one. There are community gardens to join or even parking strips to spruce up. I know one horticulturalist that cultivated a street median in San Francisco.

10. Teach a young person about gardening. They say the teacher learns more than the student. If you know something interesting about how to garden, share it. It will make the world a better place.

 Good Gardening.

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


Like this comment
Posted by Maye
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 13, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Why is gardening not a category?
I am also form an area not listed.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2010 at 10:07 am

This is an interesting idea for your garden:

National Wildlife Federation's Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program.

All you need to do is provide elements from each of the following areas:

Food Sources - For example: Native plants, seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, nectar
Water Sources - For example: Birdbath, pond, water garden, stream
Places for Cover - For example: Thicket, rockpile, birdhouse
Places to Raise Young - For example: Dense shrubs, vegetation, nesting box, pond
Sustainable Gardening - For example: Mulch, compost, rain garden, chemical-free fertilizer
Need help? Call 1-800-822-9919 or email

Web Link

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