- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
Fall is a well-named season. Downed leaves are filling rain gutters, carpeting lawns and blowing into the nooks and crannies of yards all over Solano County.
I’ve noticed something that accompanies all those leaves hitting the ground, and it’s just as annoying: leaf blowers.
(I promise this will not be a screed on blowers. They have their place in modern yard maintenance. But do we really have to fire up those blowers at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday? And, honestly, does anyone rake anymore?)
All of this begs the question: Do we really need to clean up and haul off all those fallen leaves, only to turn around and buy bags of mulch for our yards? What’s the research-based word on using our leaves as “free” mulch? The University of California Cooperative Extension Central Coast & South Region Center for Landscape and Urban Horticulture has created a list of the pros and cons of mulch that’s very helpful. Bottom line: It does indeed pay to use your own leaves as mulch. It helps to control weeds, conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature, enhance water absorption, prevent erosion, and enrich the soil.
The key is to use only healthy leaves. Don’t toss in the mildewed grape leaves or the rust-infested rose leaves. Do consider using those pecan or walnut shells as mulch.
Another suggestion I’ve seen in the quest for successful mulching is a leaf shredder. Or, if you don’t want to go out and pay for a shredder, use your lawn mower to chop up the leaves, gather them up and spread a 2- to 4-inch layer around your plants. Remember, mulch should be used as a top dressing only. Do not mix raw mulch in with your garden soil, as it will deplete the nitrogen level in your soil as it decomposes.
My husband rakes up the leaves on our property and tosses them into compost piles. We eventually get lovely shovelfuls of leaf mold, compost that uses only leaves. Here’s a link to another UCCE article on making leaf mold, which you can use as a soil amendment or mulch.
- Author: Libbey McKendry
Lately I have been enjoying learning about edible flowers. It started about six weeks ago when two different customers (I am the seed buyer at “Orchard Nursery and Florist” in Lafayette) asked me about seeds for edible flowers. I knew a few of them such as nasturtiums, pansies and chives, but I needed to know more. Fortunately one of the other nurserymen was scheduled to give a class to our customers on the subject which added more to my list. Then there was a great article in the Contra Costa Times on Saturday March 9th, http://www.mercurynews.com/home-garden/ci_22739632/more-homes-flowers-are-moving-from-table-centerpiece and then on April 4th an article was published in the weekly Orchard Nursery Newsletter. Suddenly my “plate” was overflowing with edible flowers!
I looked around my garden and found a number of the listed flowers, so I started using them in salads and as decorations to our dinner plates. First I picked some calendulas and added them to salads. They don’t have much of a taste but they add great color. Then I put a pansy on each plate when I was entertaining friends. The little pansy-faces brightened up the rice dish and added to our conversation. The ones I served had a slight sweet taste, but some are very mild and benefit from salad dressing. Next I used nasturtiums that had over-wintered. They were great in the salad and added a different texture and a peppery taste. I realized I have already been using the flowers of rosemary with a pine-like flavor and thyme which has a lemony flavor, as I combine the two herbs for a meat rub, and sometimes the flowers get mixed in with the leaves.
I’ve heard about using zucchini blossoms and I mistakenly thought if I cut off the blossoms I would be sacrificing the number of zucchini. Not so because the plant produces more male flowers than it needs and it is not hard to identify them with their long stalk winding throughout the plant. The female blossoms, on the other hand, usually grow close to the center and have a stubby stalk that, when fertilized, swells into a mini squash. Some recipes call for using the small squash while the flower is still attached.
As I plant my edible garden this year with tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and squash I will be adding some edible flowers not just for the garden but for our dinner plates. Some easy ones are: Chives with an onion flavor, basil with a lemony minty flavor and borage with a sweet cucumber flavor. I’ll only pick flowers from plants that I know have been grown with no sprays, harmful chemicals, or where dogs or cats run free. Picking flowers for dinner in public areas is not advisable as you have no idea how they were grown and what is on them.
Growing flowers is one thing and knowing how to use them in recipes is another. There are a number of books out, but I find it easier to use the web. A good site with great pictures is http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/edible-flowers-anise-hyssop
Do you have a favorite edible flower and recipe?
- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
I was just given some really wise advice from a dear friend: Find the silver linings. Applying that to the state of my garden in the depths of a dry, windy winter makes for a colorful crazy quilt of good things. Here goes:
- Seeing red: Right now, the eye-catching spots in my yard are red. Tucked among the greens are Nandina domestica 'Firepower', which live up to their name when the sun hits them. The other reds are the berries hanging from the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia), firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia) and asparagus ferns (Asparagus densiflorus 'Sprengeri'). The birds love the berries, too.
- Lack of leaves: The winds of December took most of the leaves, and now I have an unhindered view of a big blue sky. It’s a great contrast to the bare branches and occasional evergreen.
- Orchids: OMG, have you seen the orchids? They are everywhere, in full, beautiful bloom. A local warehouse store is selling a wide variety of Phalaenopsis orchids, beautifully potted, for $15. I succumbed to two, and they will provide us fresh blooms for the next month or two. Even the tough, big orchids I keep outside are ready to bloom. So exciting!
- Citrus: My potted ‘Moro’ blood orange is heavy with fruit, as is our tiny ‘Improved Meyer’ tree, which is in the ground. The bright yellow and orange draw my attention every time I head out back.
- Fight on: Our tree mallow (Lavatera maritime) is the little engine that could. Last spring, this billowy shrub was showing signs of a nasty rust invasion. We cut it to just 6 inches from the ground and crossed our fingers. It now stands 6 feet tall again, and is covered in lovely lilac-colored hibiscus-like blooms. Gotta love a fighter.
- Vernal hors d’oeuvres: Our warm, dry winter has caused many plants to start putting on new growth much sooner than normal. For instance, I have a crabapple in blossom now, and many of our Narcissus bulbs are nearly done blooming. We should expect many more nights with freezing temperatures, which will stunt this new growth. We also should be prepared for a long, wet spring, much like last year. So, I have to admit, I’m looking at our odd weather pattern as a vernal hors d’oeuvre, a nibble of spring. As long as we get some rain soon, it indeed will be a silver lining.
- Author: Jennifer Baumbach
With the annual Master Gardener Wreath Workshop only about a week away, I start to think about plants in the landscape that can be used in wreaths. Every year the MGs and I test new plants to see if they will hold up in a wreath. Sometimes the plants are sturdy and retain their color and don’t fall apart-while others shatter and make a mess.
Just last year, we discovered from our MGs Mike and Kathy, that Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ was a winner. This plant is considered a succulent, and who would have thought of trying it, but they did! After the flowers have bloomed and you’ve had time to enjoy them, you simply cut a good length of stem and hang the stems upside-down to dry. Once dried, we spray painted them various colors: purple, silver or gold. They can then be added to a wreath for a touch of color or sparkle.
Other plants that are proven winners for a wreath have been:
- Pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana): Pineapple guava has wonderful oval-shaped leaves that are green on one side and felty, silver-grey on the other. When arranged in a wreath with the silvery side up, it the leaves become the focus of the wreath.
- Dwarf Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides): Dwarf plumbago has a distinct shape to it’s stem. The stem is zig-zaggy and wiry in character. It also has round, pokey seed heads. In the cooler weather, the leaves turn a bronzy to reddish color, again, adding depth to the boring green wreaths. I used dwarf plumbago with pacific wax myrtle and rose hips in a wreath I made for my aunt one year and it came out spectacularly!
- Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica): A tried-and-true plant for our wreath workshop. The heavenly bamboo has fabulous fall colors of red, gold and green. It’s delicate, feathery structure is a knock-out against the verdant background material used for the wreaths.
There are so many other great plants out there that I could list, but I just don’t have the time to list them all. We even use plants or plant parts or other materials. We dry fruit, flowers (such as hydrangeas), use interesting twigs (crab apple or curly willow), and rose hips. Of course pine cones, seed pods, feathers, and sea shells can always be hot glued or wired into a wreath.
I will be looking forward to seeing what unique wreaths will be made at our wreath workshop on December 3. This year we are booked up, but mark your calendars for next year. We hold the workshop the first Saturday of every December. I will make sure to post for you pictures of the wreaths that were made from this workshop.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!