- Author: Arwen Griffith
- Editor: Susan Kornfeld
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
Many of us in the UC Master Gardener program fell in love with gardening as children, introduced by an older friend or family member who was a passionate gardener. Our mission is to teach the public about gardening sustainably, and what better way than to educate the next generation? With so many children learning at home for the foreseeable future, finding good resources is even more important. Here are some books you can enjoy with the children in your life to share the magic of growing things! Many are available as e-books from your local public library; can be found through online reading platforms like Epic!, Tumblebooks, or Bookflix (which can either be accessed through the library or are offering free 30-day trials during the shutdown); or ordered through your local bookstore.
Plants Feed Me. Written and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell. Holiday House, 2014. Nonfiction, ages 3-6.
Rockwell's engaging illustrations are the heart of this book; they show a diverse group of children interacting with plants, learning about nutrition as well as biology. The book explicitly makes the connection between plants and foods that don't intuitively look like their origins by showing wheat seeds ground into flour. Detailed and beautiful illustrations include call-outs about the different parts of plants that humans eat.
From Seed to Plant. Written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons. Holiday House, 1991. Nonfiction, Ages 4-8.
Gail Gibbons' nonfiction books for children are classics. Her friendly, stylized watercolor illustrations pair with rhythmic informational text; she doesn't talk down to kids or shy away from scientific terminology. A project at the end makes this especially useful for parents at home!
City Green, by DyAnne Di Salvo-Ryan. Harper Collins, 1994. Fiction, ages 4-8.
Young Marcy thinks an ugly abandoned lot in her neighborhood looks like “a big smile with one tooth missing.” With the help of friends and neighbors, she transforms it into a thriving community garden. 25 years later, this heartwarming classic still resonates.
A Seed is Sleepy. By Diana Hutt Gibbons. Illustrated by Sylvia Long. Chronicle Books, 2007. Nonfiction, ages 5-8.
Two levels of text are aimed at a range of readers: on each page, a simple, almost poetic, line speaks to the youngest children, while a block of text with more scientific detail lets older kids dive into the subject more deeply. Long's gorgeous botanical watercolors are worth the read on their own. (Related titles like An Egg is Quiet are also worth a look.)
On Meadowview Street, by Henry Cole. Greenwillow Books, 2007. Fiction, ages 4-8.
This sweet story shows a boring suburban street morph into a true meadow, home to birds, butterflies, and bees, thanks to the out-of-box thinking of young Caroline. She starts by saving a single wildflower from her father's mower, and soon the entire neighborhood is transformed. A great reminder that kids can make a difference.
Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots. By Sharon Lovejoy. Workman Publishing, 1999. Nonfiction, ages 4-10.
With lists of “top 20 plants for kids,” instructions for harvesting seeds, craft ideas, and suggestions for a Pizza Garden, this treasury of tips, resources, and projects is indispensable for adults trying to get kids excited to dig in the dirt and start gardening.
Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate. By Sara Levine. Illustrated by Masha D'yans. Millbrook Press, 2019. Nonfiction, ages 7-11.
“You seem like a bright kid,” the narrator, a prickly cactus, confides, “so I'm going to let you in on the conversation.” Glorious, over-the-top, almost psychedelic watercolors match the quirky narrative voice.
- How Does My Garden Grow? By Gerda Miller. Floris Books, 2014.
- Plantology Series (Healing Plants: Medicine from Nature, Cooking with Sunshine: How Plants Make Food and Poison Petals: Don't Eat). By Ellen Lawrence. Bearport Publishing.
- Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World. By Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler. Lee & Low Books, 2010.
- Miss Rumphius. by Barbara Cooney. Puffin Books, 1985.
- The Curious Garden. by Peter Brown. Little, Brown, 2009.
- Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest. By Peter Wohlleben. Greystone Books, 2019.
- Botanicum. By Kathy Wills. Illustrated by Katie Scott. Big Picture Press, 2017.
Arwen Griffith is a UC Master Gardener and graduate student in library and information science who lives and weeds with her family in San Francisco. The article was edited by UC Master Gardeners, Susan Kornfeld and Cynthia Nations.
- Author: Cynthia Nations
- Author: Susan Kornfeld
I see garden escapees whenever I go for a walk: canna lilies at Quarry Park, Mexican Feather Grass infiltrating coastal bluffs, and Agapanthus above Montara beach. When such escapees are not native to the area but are able to survive and reproduce on their own, they are considered naturalized. Many of these plants do not cause significant problems. Many introduced plants, however, do cause harm, and these are generally referred to as invasives. Once naturalized, they can become threats to agriculture, human health, and the local ecology. One of our responsibilities as gardeners is to make sure we don't let invasives out of our garden. Safer still, don't have them in the first place.
Nearly forty percent of invasive plants in California were introduced accidentally as seeds, often via clothing, equipment, soil, animals, and packing materials. The majority, however, were intentionally introduced as ornamentals, animal forage, soil stabilizers, and various other human uses. It is still pretty easy to unknowingly buy invasive species from garden centers. A UC Master Gardeners research project several years ago found approximately 265 California nurseries offering invasive plants for sale, so unless gardeners have done a bit of research, they may not know some of the offered plants are threats to our coastal natural areas.
UC Master Gardeners who design and work in gardens along the coast advised against the following popular and widely available plants that are escaping and outcompeting our native species:
- Mexican feathergrass (Stipa/Nasselia tenuissima): An attractive grass seen in almost every neighborhood. Unfortunately, you can also find it in the wild. Its gracefully waving flower stalks produce thousands of tiny seeds that are easily dispersed by wind, animals, and water.
- Common Periwinkle (Vinca major): An evergreen vine recommended by garden centers not just because of its attractive dark or variegated foliage and pretty purple flowers, but because it is a rapid-growing, low maintenance ground cover. The problem is that it suppresses everything trying to survive beneath its sprawling growth. It often makes its way into the wild as garden waste.
- Licorice Plant (Helichrysum petiolare): A landscape ornamental sub-shrub popular in a variety of garden settings. Reproducing by seed and stem fragments, it will creep up anything that gives it support up to 30 feet tall, and will spread to 10 feet wide. Sadly, this useful plant has displaced native plants in many Bay Area locations.
- Bamboo (Phyllostachys spp.): Often used to create shady groves or privacy walls, these giant grasses spread by underground rhizomes. Hardy and fast growing, bamboo becomes problematic because it can vigorously spread into neighbors' yards or natural environments. It's considered a threat to biodiversity, and getting rid of it can take years and require herbicides. A non-invasive variety may be hard to find.
- Highway Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis): This iceplant is a colorful spreading succulent once used to stabilize soil along railroad tracks and coastal dunes. It has also been popular in coastal gardens as an ornamental. Each shoot segment can become a new plant and each plant can grow to at least 165 feet in diameter. They colonize grasslands as well as nearly all coastal environments, smothering anything in its path. Plant the lovely, non-invasive and smaller trailing iceplant (Delosperma cooperi) instead.
There are many other ornamentals to look out for. Do some quick checks before you add a new one to your garden. Is it on a California invasives list (such as Cal-IPC)? If so, there might be a better alternative (plantright.org). Read the nursery or grower's information on the plant container. If it says the plant "reseeds happily," or "establishes itself quickly," or "spreads easily," take a second look. Happy gardening!
Cynthia Nations, a UC Master Gardener, works daily on succulents and edibles in her El Granada garden and home-schools her grandchildren. Susan Kornfeld gardens professionally in San Mateo County. She is a UC Master Gardener and can be found at the Plant Clinic at the San Mateo Arboretum the first Sunday of most months.
- Author: Maggie Mah
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
- Editor: Susan Kornfeld
Do you green up with envy when your inland-dwelling friends brag about their summer gardens? If so, consider this: lots of sun and not much wind may make growing things a lot simpler, but summer conditions on the coast require higher levels of skill and creativity. As the saying goes, the greater the challenge, the better the reward! If you are up for the challenge, there's a lot you can do to make the most of your garden and even learn to love that fluffy gray cloud blanket.
Challenge: Not enough sun!
Getting enough sunlight hours for growing summer vegetables is the biggest problem for coastal gardeners. The Marine Layer blocks sunlight for half the day and shadows cast by structures and trees reduce valuable light at other times.
Opportunity: Location, location!
Determine the location that gets the most sun, especially in the afternoon hours when clouds are more likely to burn off. 8-10 hours is best but leafy vegetables can get by with only 4. Planting against a light colored wall or fence can help by reflecting the light and keeping temperatures a bit warmer.
Challenge: Suddenly summer!
The Marine Layer can vary dramatically. The whole area can be socked in one day and confined to the beaches the next with bright sun just a short distance inland. Then, as days grow shorter and inland valleys cool, coastal cloud layers lift and warm, sunny days come more frequently to the coast. What's a plant to do?
Opportunity: Cultivate a culture of resilience!
When the sun does shine, plants accustomed to being shrouded in fog may wilt but despite the clouds, there is seldom rain. Seems unfair but coastal gardeners need to be smart about water, too. So making sure that your plants can utilize water most effectively is key. How? Add plenty of good compost to your soil and mulch, mulch, mulch! Your plants will become more water efficient, stress tolerant and disease resistant.
One of the hallmarks of summer weather at or near the coast is the chilly, wind. Depending on location, it can be breezy and brisk or like standing in a wind tunnel. Along with getting enough sun, plants need protection from the wind.
Opportunity: Give ‘em shelter!
Locating plants near the leeward side of a fence where they can receive afternoon sunlight is one option. Be aware that a completely solid fence may not be ideal because air becomes turbulent as it passes over and can damage plants below. A few small openings to let some air pass through will prevent this.
Another way to keep plants cozy: surround them with small temporary enclosures that block the wind but allow sunlight in. It can be simple: 3-4 stakes placed around the plant with transparent plastic sheeting around the sides or something more elaborate such as a multi-plant row cover.
Cool temperatures for most of the summer means that tomatoes, eggplant, melons and peppers are likely to struggle in most coastal areas.
Opportunity: Keep your cool
Some fruits and vegetables actually prefer cooler temperatures. Strawberries and beans, for example, aren't happy when it's hot. Others that tolerate fog include pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers and ironically, sunflowers. Speaking of which, artichokes are a member of the sunflower family and the closer they get to the coast, the better they like it. Tomatoes, the poster children for summer gardening, can be finicky under the best of circumstances so increase your chances of success with varieties developed for cooler temperatures.
For more information, contact the Master Gardener's Helpline email: email@example.com or phone: 650-276-7430
Maggie Mah Johnson is a UC Master Gardener, food industry consultant and award winning freelance writer who lives in Woodside, California. This article edited by UC Master Gardeners Cynthia Nations and Susan Kornfeld.
- Author: Susan Kornfeld
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
There are few plants as fine as the nasturtium, particularly coastside, where it practically grows itself and is often perennial. The entire plant is edible – seeds, stems, leaves, and flowers. Pickling the seedpods makes "poor man's capers." Martha Stewart has a nasturtium pesto recipe, and the flowers can be tossed into a salad or chopped up into a butter or yogurt sauce. But that's not all: the climbing/trailing type of nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) can carpet large areas of weeds with beautiful jewel-tone flowers and bright-green parasol leaves.
In addition, nasturtiums are a veggie gardener's friend. They are related to the brassica family and you can use that to your advantage. Plant one as a sacrificial host for the white cabbage butterfly who is likely to lay her eggs underneath a nasturtium leaf rather than on your cabbage. Plant a few more nasturtiums to lure away another garden pest, the black bean aphid. You might have seen these aphids blackening whole sections of the plants. But better nasturtiums than the beans, corn, beets and other crops the black bean aphid attacks, for you can simply remove affected nasturtium flowers and leaves, while you would much rather leave the bean plant intact to complete its work.
Nasturtiums are often overlooked as pollinator plants. Because their nectar is exceptionally sweet (sucrose rather than fructose or glucose, and very concentrated), the flowers are large and in the yellow-red spectrum, nasturtiums are attractive to hummingbirds. Their long tongues and the nasturtiums' long nectar-rich spurs evolved together. While smaller pollinators like bees and insects don't have long enough tongues or proboscises for the entire spur, they are well rewarded when the spur is full.
Like snapdragon, mint, and pea flowers, nasturtium flowers are bilaterally symmetrical (zygomorphic): they can only be split into equal halves by a vertical line passing through the center from top to bottom. The resulting vertical orientation helps the flowers align with the plane of approaching bees. The lower lip of the flower evolved into a perfect platform for bees to land on to collect pollen and nectar. The beautiful stripes around the center of nasturtium flowers serve both as an advertisement of their delicious and nutritious offerings and as nectar guides to help bees and other pollinators quickly position themselves for the pollen-laden outwardly-projecting anthers – as well as for any nectar that they might be able to reach.
These cheery, charming, and versatile plants are super easy to grow. They do well in sun or partial sun. They thrive in poor soil, and are even fairly drought tolerant. Keep in mind, though, that although they like our sandy soil, it is fast-draining and your nasturtiums will appreciate occasional summer water.
Our common garden nasturtiums come in two types: the rambling, rambunctious climbing type (Tropaeolum majus) that can grow up to ten feet long or tall; and the more modest bush or dwarf type (Tropaeolum minus). Although compact, the latter offers the same big, beautiful, round green leaves and jewel-tone flowers as the larger trailing types. Let the climbing nasturtium sprawl over those weedy corners or fill out a fence vine or trellis, and put the bushy varieties in containers or planted throughout the garden to add paint-pots of color. Then, simply enjoy.
Susan Kornfeld gardens professionally in San Mateo County. She is a UC Master Gardener and can be found at the Plant Clinic at the San Mateo Arboretum the first Sunday of most months. The article was edited by Cynthia Nations, UC Master Gardener.
- Author: Arwen Griffith
- Editor: Susan Kornfeld
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
I grew up on the East Coast, so for me, spring means snowdrops followed by crocuses and then buttercups. When I moved to California, spring just wasn't the same. But as I grew more interested in gardening, I started noticing the little native gems that popped up in February as well as the fields turning riotously yellow or purple with wild mustard and radish.
Last spring, California had a "super bloom," where complex conditions cause long-dormant seeds to bloom all at once. Hillsides all over the state were blanketed in color. But while super blooms are primarily a desert phenomenon, wet springs can deliver spectacular flower shows anywhere.
There's no super bloom on the horizon this year, though, as this February had the lowest rainfall on record. But although spring is clearly shaping up to be warm and dry, it doesn't mean you won't be able to see the Bay Area's exquisite wildflowers. I'm already seeing the first California poppies, and by the time this article is out, they should be in full swing along with many other delightful wildflowers. Here are just a few other varieties to look for:
- Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) – it's not a grass at all, but a member of the iris family, its low purple flowers reward those with patience. The yellow throats lure in pollinators.
- Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) have bell-like flowers on a tall stalk. They can get lost in taller grasses but flash into sight with the wind.
- Cream cups (Platystemon californicus) look a little like buttercups; these pretty cream and yellow flowers are found in disturbed soil and open areas.
- Lupines (Lupinus bicolor and others) are hardy natives, usually purple or blue, that thrive in disturbed areas. Dense-flowered platycarpos (L.microcarpus) is a compact lupine with yellow or cream flowers. There are more than 70 varieties of native lupine in California!
- Goosefoot violet (Viola purpurea) has cheery yellow flowers and pops up even on the rocky cliff edge in Bernal. I may have been spotted crawling out to photograph it. A similar flower is Shelton's violet (viola sheltonii), which grows in wooded areas.
- Leopard lily (Lilium pardilinum) is my personal favorite, although I have only seen it growing wild on Mt. Tamalpais. It likes wet feet and has spectacular reddish orange flowers hanging in clusters along a stem that can reach 8 feet tall.
- Northwest crimson columbine (Aquilegia formosa) is a stunning find, typically in moist areas. It's sometimes called crowsfoot because of the shape of the leaves.
- Shooting star (Deodecatheon clevelandii) is a delicate native relative of the cyclamen. With tiny purple flowers, it's easy to miss, but worth seeking out.
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is often seen in either yellow or white varieties. It's a medicinal herb as well as being hardy and drought-tolerant.
- Serrated onion (Allium serra) has a pretty pale pink flower on a 12-16 inch stalk. It has a few hollow leaves at the base that smell like, well, onion. It can be mistaken for Thrift, which is usually on the coast, and has flowers clustered in fives rather than three or six like the allium.
- Wild radish (Raphanus sativus) is not native; it's naturalized from Europe, but covers fields and roadsides all over the state. It is always purple or pink; the almost identical flowers you see in white or yellow are jointed charlock (R. raphinistrum) or a hybrid of the two. While cultivated radish has an edible root, you'll want to try the seedpod of this one.
For learning more, I highly recommend Introduction to California Spring Wildflowers, by Philip Munz (2004, UC Press).
Arwen Griffith is a UC Master Gardener living in San Francisco who enjoys the wildflowers on our northern California coast. Contact your local Master Gardeners for free gardening advice at http://smsf-mastergardeners.ucanr.edu or on Facebook or Instagram @sfbaygardeners. The article was edited by Susan Kornfeld and Cynthia Nations, UC Master Gardeners.