- Author: Melissa Sandoval
Right now, the fragrance I smell when walking through my garden is that of violets. After doing some research in Sunset Western Garden Book my first guess is that these violets are Viola adunca, California Sweet Violet or Western Dog Violet. I am saying my first guess as they came into my garden on a clump about 5 inches wide from my grandmother's garden. From that small clump they have spread to many shady areas of my yard, even under the orange tree and into the lawn. They spread by runners and seeds. My grandmother's garden was in Sunset Zone 7, where V. adunca is native. But a bit more research of actual flower photos makes me think they are actually V. odorata instead, as they lack the bright orange stigmas of the V. adunca.
They make wonderful groundcover in any area with shade mixed with bright light or even some morning sun. Here they are under a Camellia japonica.
They bloom better when they have been thinned out and given a very light fertilizer in late fall or winter. Violets are also great filler beside a walkway or in crazy paving as shown in the next picture.
Their smell, though light, is a delight to wander into during these late winter months. They also represent, for me, a link to the gardens and gardeners in my history.
- Author: Launa Herrmann
Whoever in the world said that roses don't bloom in December?
It's almost the middle of the month, and this morning I spied from the kitchen window several pops of crimson red. Delighted, I traipsed through the dewy fog to the flowerbed, clippers in hand and plucked a rose. Two blooms and five buds to be exact. As I placed the stems in a vase, I savored the heady old rose fragrance emanating from the velvety clusters. Ah, what a beautiful crimson gift on a dreary overcast day!
William Shakespeare 2000® is more than just an ordinary rose. The bush growing in my garden was also planted in numerous groupings at Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born. New Zealand named it “Most Fragrant Rose 2011" in the Hamilton trials. I purchased mine online several years ago, sight unseen. No regrets.
Here's all you need to know about this easy-to-grow rose bush:
It's a disease-resistant, medium size hardy shrub. Blooms several times throughout the year. Flowers are double with multiple tightly compacted petals that open in a velvety crimson color that changes to a rich purple.
For a link to this particular English rose on the David Austin Roses website, click
To learn how to care for English roses, visit: http://www.davidaustinroses.com/american/Advanced.asp?Pageld=2006
- Author: Toni Greer
During the last sale at the UCD Arboretum plant sale I purchased three Arbutus ‘Marina' trees which have been planted up north on our property. Our goal over the past several years has been to create everything from orchards to a memorial redwood grove to lots and lots of trees. I purchased the trees without knowing a great deal about them.
This hybrid variety is highly desired because of its moderate size which is about 30' tall and wide. It's an evergreen with a rounded natural growth habit. They like full sun and their pink blooms appear during the fall and winter months.
The Arbutus ‘Marina' (Strawberry Tree) has a beautiful bark and attracts bees, birds and butterflies. They also are drought resistant as well as being considered dependable in many climates and conditions. Arbutus varieties have been seen all over Europe and North Africa but most often around the Mediterranean Sea and it dry regions.
Once established, they will only require occasional water. They are a moderate to slow growing tree which allows time for shaping throughout the years for us to achieve the right shape for our needs.
These trees, as well as others, are lining a wide pathway from our meandering road to my garden shed. If you aren't familiar with them, as I wasn't, Arbutus ‘Marina' have large dark green leaves which are red when they are new and are Rhododendron-like. It is said that their pretty urn-shaped pink flower clusters, which appear in the fall and winter, resemble “elaborate dangling earrings” at the same time as the strawberry-like yellow to red fruit. This is an unusual alternative to what is normally expected, which is only a beautiful fall leaf show.
The Arbutus has a peeling red bark, like that of the Acer griseum, which I love! With its mahogany colored peeling bark, glossy leaves and berries, it truly standouts in the garden, or our case in the field pathway. The bark peels in late summer and gives you a glimpse of what it to come for next year, which is a cinnamon-colored bark
Arbutus ‘Marina' was first introduced in the mid-80's and is considered to be trouble-free. They are great specimen trees or work well in a group. The fruit, which stays on the tree from the past year, produces the current season's flowers. The fruit is edible and is said to taste like a mix of strawberry and kiwi. If you purchase your tree with the standard truck rather than the multi-trunk, you may want to stake it for a couple of years. The crown may be heavy with leaves and exposed to wind (which ours are). They are known to tolerate wind, which is good for us.
Arbutus ‘Marina' can be planted in the sun or part shade. However it is a must that they have good drainage. They will die or suffer root rot if they sit in very wet soil.
I look forward to our Arbutus ‘Marina' trees growing, thriving and providing habitats for many of natures families.
- Author: Sharon Prell
What are some of the things we think about when we see bats (Chiroptera)? Bats can get tangled in your hair. Vampire bats fly around at night looking for human prey. Of course, most of us know these are myths, the origins of which are lost in the mists of time. But did you know that it's not only birds and bees and butterflies and various insects that are pollinators? Bats also help out in the pollination arena when they take over the pollination night shift from those listed above.
Bat pollination is known as chiropterophily. Most of the bat species that pollinate flowers are found in tropical climates, although bat pollination has a geographically wide range. They are of more importance in desert areas but they are also valuable to us here in California, not only in areas with a desert-like climate but also because there is a wide range of plants grown here with nocturnal blossoms that are pollinated by bats.
Nectivorous bats (Megabats which eat nectar, fruit or pollen) have both good eyesight and a keen sense of smell which help them locate the flowers. Evolution has seen them adapt to the flowers with long muzzles, fewer teeth, long bristly tongues and the ability to hover…all of which help them get to the nectar.
Since they are only out and about between sunset and sunrise, bats prefer flowers that have white or pale nocturnal flora. These are often large and bell-shaped and have copious amounts of nectar that emit a strong fruity or musky odor that attracts the flying mammals. So…how do bats get around in the dark to find their evening meals? Most bats have a highly sophisticated sense of hearing. They emit sounds that bounce off of objects in their path, sending echoes back to the bats. This is called echolocation. The bats can establish the size of objects, how far away they are, how fast they are moving and their texture, all in a split second. So of course they know where you are and that you're much bigger than they are so they're not going to fly into your hair.
A bat can visit up to 30 flowers over the course of a night, feeding on pollen (and whatever insects may be sleeping peacefully unaware in the blossoms) and also transferring what sticks to its body from flower to flower. Combined with the large number of bats in a colony, the number of flowers visited in one night and the far distances they travel to get to certain florescences, they are expert pollinators and cross pollinators.
Since California is a big agricultural state, bat pollinators are found in many areas here. Do you have a serious taste for fruit? So do the Megabats. You will find bananas, mangos, dates, avocados, peaches, almost any kind of fruit on the Megabat menu. Do you have an orchard at your home? Try enticing the furry flyers to stay with a bat box in your yard. There are many websites that provide instructions for building your box. You can also find websites that sell pre-made bat boxes.
Microbats are the insect eaters. These bats are economically important because they consume insect pests, reducing the need for pesticides. Just last week I was at the Yolo Wildlife Viewing Area where I learned about a large colony that congregates under the Yolo Causeway at certain times of the year. I was told it was an amazing sight when the entire group takes off at sunset to find the insects that provide their dinner during the night.
Have you ever been terrorized by mosquitoes, moths and other night flying insects? Again, you might want to buy or build a bat box to entice the critters to your home or neighborhood. They use their echolocation ability to find flying or crawling insects and their superb flying skills to catch them. This involves gathering prey in their wing or tail membranes and transferring it to their mouths mid-flight. Insect-eating bats are extremely good at what they do. A little brown bat can catch and eat 600 mosquitoes per hour.
And last but not least. Margaritas anyone? There are many different agaves (Agave spp.) but the main ingredient of the luscious Margarita is tequila made from the blue agave (Agave tequilana). While grown primarily in Mexico, the blue can be grown in semi-arid soils in California if desired. After being pollinated by multiple bat species, agaves grow a stalk up to 15 feet high, with candelabra-shaped flower clusters at the top. The flowers give off a smell that is very attractive to bats, a sure sign that the nectar bar is open. Agave nectar can be up to 22 percent sugar and the pollen is 50 percent protein, providing an excellent fuel source for flying. By the way, a dried agave stalk makes a very nice non-traditional Christmas tree.
- Author: Kathy Low
For a look at the many forms of urban farming across the nation, check out the film Growing Cities which can be borrowed through your local Solano County library branch. The fascinating film introduces viewers to urban farms and farming activities in over a dozen cities from coast to coast. The film also looks at the many benefits of urban farming both to the individuals involved, and the greater community.
Several farms along the Pacific Coast are visited. Some of the many farms visited include the Free Farm in San Francisco's Mission District where everything on the farm is grown by volunteers. All the food grown is given away to the community for free at their farm stand. You'll meet the Backwards Beekeepers in Los Angeles who relocate unwanted bees from homes and buildings to gardens and other places where they are needed. And you'll meet the guys behind the Urban Mushroom Farm in Oakland who package mushroom growing kits using discarded coffee grounds collected from area coffee shops. Plus you'll be introduced to two women in Portland who run Victory Garden Farms. The women install, plant, maintain and even harvest food gardens in front, side and back yards of homes in the city. The women describe themselves as personal farmers to their clients.
In Chicago you'll hear from Ken Dunn of City Farm which operates urban farms on vacant city lots waiting to be developed. They make agreements with the property owners to improve and protect the property at no cost. The farms are designed to be mobile and can be packed up and moved in a single day if needed.
On the East Coast, in Washington D.C. there's the Compost Cab which provides buckets to families to put their food waste in. The cab collects the buckets once a week. The waste is composted and provided to urban farms. And in New York City you'll learn about Window Farms that provides hydroponic food garden systems for windows in New York City high rise buildings.
The film makers visit several dozen urban farms in all parts of the country. But the most inspiring aspect of the film stems from the stories of how the urban farms are impacting the lives of those who work them and the community in which they are located. For example you'll learn about how Growing Home farms in Chicago provides jobs and job training to homeless, former incarcerated felons and others who need the training to enter the mainstream job market. You'll hear how the farm has changed not only the lives, but the outlook of those people it helps. In Detroit you'll hear how the Black Community Food Network seeks to promote food justice through its urban farms. In the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans you'll learn how Our School at Blair Grocery, a part after school and part GED program for at risk kids provides jobs, education and life skills through the use of hands on urban farming. And after learning about and hearing the stories of the people involved in or affected by the urban farms highlighted in the film, you'll be inspired and motivated to get out your gardening supplies and participate in the urban farming movement.