- Author: Kimberly S Perreira
As every season ends, I find myself looking forward to the next, waiting impatiently for what it has to offer. Although I love the rain of winter, the blooming flowers of spring and long summer nights, fall seems to be my favorite. I look forward to pumpkin harvesting, the beautiful changing of the leaves, and the crisp morning air. As our spring crops produce its final harvest, I will miss my tomato plants most. Their amazing flavor that no store bought tomato could ever come close to.
I find so much joy getting my nieces and nephews out in the garden to harvest. Teaching them where their food comes from and how to appreciate the outside world. This season I think they enjoyed harvesting the carrots most. This season, my nephew harvested a carrot and yelled with excitement, “The carrot is warm,” and my nieces eagerly pulled and felt them in astonishment, next came the many curious questions of why and how.
- Author: Kathy Low
I have to confess I'm an impulse buyer when it comes to plants. Back in the spring I saw a dragon fruit plant (Hylocereus spp.) also known as a pitaya (pitahaya) in the nursery department of a big box home improvement store in Fairfield. It was the first time I had seen the plant for sale locally. The idea of growing my own dragon fruit was too tempting to pass up, so I had to buy it.
If you're unfamiliar with dragon fruit, there are a number of varieties with a variety of outer skin colors ranging from yellow and red, to various shades of pink, with pulp colors of white, pink or red. But the most commonly sold dragon fruit in the Bay Area ethnic markets have a pink skin. That outer skin is inedible. The pulp is generally white with tiny black edible seeds. Its taste is often described as a mix of kiwi, watermelon, and pear. It's generally sweet. But somewhat tart varieties also exist.
Not knowing anything about the plant I started to do some research on it. It turns out there's a reason the plant is not commonly sold in this area. It's hardy in USDA zones 10a – 11. Since we are in USDA zone 9b, it will be interesting to see how well the plant grows here and if it will ever bear fruit.
Native to Mexico, Central America and South America, the subtropical plant is a vining cactus that can grow twenty feet or more tall. It requires a trellis or other support system. In its native habitats it often grows up along trees for support. (If you're curious what a mature plant looks like, and some support systems, you can find photos in a PDF document located at http://ucanr.edu/sites/sdsmallfarms/files/172464.pdf. Dragon fruit is currently grown commercially in Southern California.
The plant begins to flower in the spring. The blossoms are very large and very fragrant. But the blossoms only bloom at night for a single evening. The blossoms do require pollination, which is mostly done by bees, but can be pollinated by hand as well. Some varieties require cross pollination while others do not.
It should be planted in full sun for best fruiting. It grows in most types of soil providing there is adequate drainage. It does best in soil with lots of organic matter.
My plant had no blossoms when I purchased it, so I don't know if it's too young to begin bearing fruit, or if it's a symptom of not growing in the right climate zone. When I purchased the plant it had only two long vines, but as you can see it has since sprouted many new vines.
Since I have no idea where I want to plant such a potentially large cactus in my yard, and am uncertain if it will even survive the winter, like many of my impulse plant purchases, it will remain in a pot until next year. This will also allow me to move it under shelter during any freeze warnings this winter.
- Author: Lanie Keystone
Now is the time to take a long, lingering look at your beautiful blooming Hydrangeas. Not one of those fond farewell glances--rather, one of those, “I get to enjoy you all year-long” glimpses of joy. Because, soon…very soon, it will be time to pick and preserve them for years—(yes years)-- to come!
The big trick to successfully drying Hydrangeas is patience. The most important thing is to let the flowers dry naturally on the plants. Timing is everything…and this usually happens between August and October. When the petals take on a kind of “vintage look”, or when they mature to the color of parchment paper with hints of pink or green…they're ready to be picked.
- Here are a few more tips for successful drying. The rest is a matter of preference.
- Don't cut blooms at their peak or during a rainy spell—(fat chance here in California this year!) Why? The stems hold too much water and the flowers won't dry fast enough to stay pretty.
- Don't wait too long, either—or the flowers will pass their time of beauty. Timing is everything.
- Snip the flowers on a cool morning cutting the stems at an angle.
- Vary the stem lengths from about 12” -18”.
- Strip off the leaves and put the stems in a jar of water that covers the stems about halfway.
- Make sure not to crowd the blossoms.
- Put the jar in a cool spot out of direct or bright light and check periodically.
- They should be ready in about two weeks. If not, add a little more water and give them a bit more tincture of time. (No need to hide them away during this process—get them out there to enjoy—plus, you won't forget about them.)
If you really want to overthink this you can always:
Hang them upside down to dry---keeping them in a cool, dry spot out of direct sun; use glycerin—a whole big deal and not worth the trouble; or, to speed the process, dry them in silica or white sand…covering them completely and removing them after two to four days and gently shaking them clean.
There is nothing more beautiful than a fall bouquet in a vase or a winter wreath made up of your glorious Hydrangeas that you've cherished all summer in your yard. So go out and capture the beauty of spring and summer and enjoy on the longest day of the year.
- Author: Diana Bryggman
I recently transplanted a shrub that had been a mystery to me for the four years I have been gardening on an old property in Solano County. I have been trying to introduce more natives into my garden and was pleased to find Calycanthus occidentalis, known commonly as Spice Bush or Western Sweetshrub, at the UC Davis Arboretum Plant Sale last spring. Sunset claims this plant grows in Sunset Zones 4-9 and 14-24, in sun or shade. Other resources indicate it is often found near streams in the Coast Range and Sierra foothills. I planted my Arboretum purchase on the east side of the house, where it resides with some other natives, Carpenteria californica and Mahonia pinnata. While my Calycanthus has not bloomed this year, it has grown and seems healthy. I continue to wait for the small, dark red flowers that will supposedly produce an interesting fragrance akin to that of an old wine barrel.
As it happens, while I was weeding another area of the yard, I realized that my mystery shrub must also be Calycanthus. Of course that specimen was right where I did not want it, so I decided to transplant it to the west side of the house, in hopes that more sun would yield those reddish flowers that all my botanical resources assure me look like miniature red water lilies. I am happy to report that my transplant subject had a very healthy root system, and while it did go through a bit of a shock period, in which it shed all of its leaves, it is has now accepted its fate and is putting on new leaves. Native Americans apparently used this plant as a cold remedy, for basketry, bows, whistles, toys and arrows. I am told it makes an excellent stabilizing plant for banks, and the roots I discovered upon digging it out certainly indicate that should be the case.
While investigating the range of this native plant, I learned much more about Willis Linn Jepson, really California's first known and most acclaimed botanist. Turns out he was born in Vacaville, and collected many of his specimens here in Solano County. I was familiar with The Jepson Manual, a revision of Dr. Jepson's 1925 work, Manual of the Flowering Plants of California, but somehow never knew that our foremost expert on natives was himself a native! I find myself further inspired to incorporate more natives as I expand my garden, and hopefully identify some other mystery plants on my property that may date back 100 years or more.
- Author: Launa Herrmann
Whatever our hobby or area of expertise, eventually we can expect to encounter a word we don't know. But nothing quite prepared me for that first hour of the first day of the 2012 Master Gardener Training Class. Pomology. Olericulture. Biromial. The rapid fire unfamiliar nomenclature was mind-boggling — and humbling.
Here I was, a gardener all my adult life. During my 30-years as a court reporter, I'd heard plenty of words, even written several thousand myself as a book author and freelance writer, and had taught writing workshops on weekends. Surely my work and life experiences count for something.
Nope. The unfamiliar words kept coming. One Friday morning during the training class, fasciation was mentioned. I'm so glad I was paying attention because that word was not only the answer to the “Internet Question for Final 2012” but also explains a couple anomalies I've observed in my own garden since then. Perhaps you've seen a similar distortion in a blossom, stem or leaf in your vegetable or flower bed.
To illustrate what I mean, take a look at the photos below. When you compare the first two photos of a normal geranium leaf with the three photos of an abnormal geranium leaf, the anomaly is unmistakable. The cells malfunctioned. The leaf is distorted.
But the good news here is my geranium plants are just fine. Fasciation is not a big deal. While some fasciations may be the result of a viral or bacterial infection, others are genetic. In the majority of cases, however, the cause is unknown.
However you choose to describe this leaf distortion, whether odd or beautiful, you have to admit the shape is both captivating and unique for a geranium. Simply stated, fasciation is fascinating.