- Author: Trina Tobey
Visions of beautiful lush gardens in my yard and delicious homegrown veggies on my table were my primary motivation for applying to be a UC Master Gardener. Yes, my motivation was primarily selfish. The application process was quite intense with an application, essay questions, and an interview. Putting effort into the application process caused me to feel even more elated when I received the letter welcoming me into the training group. I'd been selected despite my lack of experience in gardening!
Arriving at the first day of class, I was taken by the variety of ages, backgrounds, and genders represented in my cohort. I was nervous that I would not be taken seriously because of my lack of experience in gardening, but to the contrary, my classmates and trainers were all welcoming and friendly. Since the class is in Bishop, I knew a couple of my classmates already. Not all of the “Sprouts,” as they called us trainees, were from Bishop though. My class consisted of residents of Mammoth, Hamill Valley, Chalfant, Independence, Lone Pine, and even Fish Lake Valley. One of the benefits of becoming a Master Gardener was learning from my classmates' diverse life experiences.
You might think that the Master Gardener training course teaches you how and what to plant, how to fertilize and water your plants, and how to prevent pests and diseases in the safest way possible like I did; which it does, but it also goes much, much more in depth than these topics. My class was the first to complete our training in a hybrid manner which consisted of online videos, articles, and quizzes as well as in-person, hands-on classes a few times a month. The course covered everything from soil science to plant and insect classifications to algebra and was facilitated by our omniscient professor and Inyo-Mono counties Farm Advisor Dustin Blakey.
At the end of the class, we were asked to pass an exam and present on a poster board of our own creating on a gardening topic of our choice. Fifteen of the twenty-one who were accepted stuck through until the end and all passed. We received our certificates, aprons, and official “Master Gardener” name tags.
I'm sure my selfish reasons for taking the class helped me stick it through until the end. Now, however, it is time to give back…50 volunteer hours in the first 12 months. Since completing the class, I have realized how many questions about gardening I cannot answer without doing some research but it feels powerful to have the resources to answer friends', family members', and community members' gardening questions. And I continue to learn each time I research a question or attend a Master Gardener event.
If you are wondering if you should take the plunge and dive into the Master Gardener world, know this. The training is time consuming but you receive more than adequate support from the professor, your classmates, and the Master Gardener community. You will learn A LOT!!! And you will learn that you have A LOT MORE to learn. Despite whatever selfish reasons you have for joining, you will find that you feel satisfied passing your knowledge along to others and continuing to learn through your volunteer hours. So go ahead, take the plunge, and do it for selfish reasons.
- Author: Trina Tobey
Every parent has been there. You spend an hour chopping and stir frying veggies and cooking up that perfect sauce just to hear, “This is gross!” or “I'm not hungry!” as your children make disgusted faces and unenthusiastically poke at the food on their plates. You're goal: to feed your children healthy delicious meals. Their goal: to eat dessert or unhealthy snacks instead. We've all given the lecture, “You should be grateful you have healthy food to eat because a lot of children go hungry.” I've even sermonized to my three kids about all of the people and work it took to put that meal on their plates.
Nothing, however, is more powerful than doing. Getting my kids out in the garden involved in the growing of their food has been the most effective “trick” to getting them to eat vegetables. They eat everything from chives to tomatoes straight out of the garden, especially when I tell them to “Stop eating all of my vegetables!”
The most important component to successful gardening with children is, you guessed it, FUN! We bought our kids colorful kid-sized gardening tools and gloves. These were gleefully accepted with a shout of “toys!” Next, get rid of any ideas you have of how your kids are going to garden. After making the mistake of expecting my kids to garden in a neat and orderly way following my directions and ending up nagging them to death, I learned instead to designate a plot in the garden for each child, let them pick out their plants or seeds at the nursery, and then, after some light instruction, I let them go at it in their own way. Sometimes things grew, and sometimes they didn't. It's all part of the learning experience.
In addition to eating from the plants in the garden, gardening has been healthy for my kids in several ways. They are getting outside and moving their bodies instead of sitting in front of their electronic device of choice. They are building skills and abilities which make them feel confident, especially when they see something they planted grow and produce. They are learning experimentally about the soil, how plants grow, and the bugs and birds that rely on the plants. Most importantly, they are sharing the experience with you!
- Author: Harold McDonald
One of the first gardening books I ever purchased was Sunset magazine's book How to Grow Herbs, published in the early 1970's. Though it had great information on cultivation and harvesting, what really drew me in was the use of herbs in landscaping. In particular I remember one black and white photo (no color back then!) of so-called wall germander. Now I lived in rainy Santa Cruz at the time, and I doubt that I had ever seen germander, but there was something about that photo that always stayed with me. From the book I learned that Teucrium chamaedrys was a major component of “knot gardens”—those very formal geometric gardens that became popular during the Elizabethan Age in England—along with thyme, marjoram, rosemary, Santolina and other herbs of Mediterranean origin.
While there are hundreds of species of germander, it's not a plant that seems to get much attention or respect. The Wikipedia entry for Teucrium isn't much more than a list of some of the species, and while Teucrium chamaedrys shows up in many nurseries, I doubt if one nursery in fifty has any other representatives from the genus. That's a shame, because these workhorses can fill a number of roles in the garden and are especially well-suited for tough growing environments like we have in the Eastern Sierra.
So it's not surprising that it was more than thirty years later, when I moved to the wilds of West Chalfant, that I grew my first germander, a prostrate form of Teucrium chamaedrys that—unlike just about anything else—seemed to thrive in this strange new land! Its evergreen character and attractive pink flowers in early summer were a bonus—a real bee magnet! The downside is that creeping germander can do just that if it gets sufficient water, so accept that aspect and plant it where it will have room to fill in. It is a groundcover, after all!
A few years later I found upright Teucrium chamaedrys, the wall germander (see photo above) I had seen in photos so long ago, and planted a few of those. Again, these are not show stoppers, but they are attractive year-round, grow to a foot or so in height, and do not spread. I have come to consider wall germander one of my go-to plants. Santolina and 'Powis Castle' Artemisia are two other sub-shrubs I count on for their pleasing shape and foliage—plants that make the colors in front of them really pop. But unlike those plants, germander never gets leggy or unkempt looking, remaining neat and green throughout the year. The only upkeep required is to cut back the spent blooms in midsummer (and hope for another show in the fall). I would characterize wall germander as one of my garden's best supporting actors!
Teucrium fruticans (shrubby germander or tree germander grows 4-6 feet high and wide) is another member of the genus I tried in my yard, but it was, for me, a real heartbreaker! In my research for drought-tolerant shrubs before moving to Chalfant, this is one that really caught my eye with its fuzzy gray foliage and transcendent blue flowers. I found a beautiful specimen at a nursery somewhere on the west side of the mountains, but it died pretty quickly. Undeterred, I had a friend buy me another one when she was in Berkeley, but it met the same fate. Though I've seen it rated as hardy to 0-10 degrees, most sources list it as zone 8 (10-20 degrees). For me, that's worth a try—Salvia greggii is listed as zone 8, for example, and it is a staple in Eastern Sierra gardens. Of course, the flip side is that plenty of zone 8 plants die! Anyway, if you've got a protected area and are willing to risk the money, you might give this one a try, because it really is a beautiful shrub.
Similar in character is Teucrium aroanium, gray creeping germander. If you have a tough, dry area you want to dress up with a unique, beautiful groundcover, you should really give these two a try. Mountain Valley Growers and High Country Gardens are good online sources for germander. If you're in Southern California, look for a bricks and mortar garden store that carries plants from Native Son wholesale nursery (who kindly allowed me to use their photos).
Living where I do, I am always searching for plants like germander: hard-to-kill, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plants that look good year-round. Who isn't? I read somewhere that there are 260 species of Teucrium, and I know I'll be on the lookout for any I can find!
- Author: Susan Flaherty
I recently heard a comment that really surprised me! A home buyer did not want trees in the yard! They thought raking leaves was too much work and the potential of a fallen limb during a storm was dangerous.
If they asked for my opinion I would have told them about some of the benefits of trees.
Trees are produce a healthy environment. They purify the air we breathe by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. A tree's roots help to keep groundwater clean.
Properly planted and cared for shade trees can reduce home energy costs by up to 40%. Trees cool the air by releasing water vapor and cool the earth by giving shade which helps with climate control.
Also, healthy, mature trees can add an average of 10% to a property's value and give neighborhoods an established look.
Trees can be very beneficial.
- Author: Alison Collin
Got holes in your leaves? Don't reach for the insecticide that is guaranteed to kill a wide spectrum of different insects or the Bacillus thuringiensis (just kills caterpillars) until you know what the culprit is, or you may just destroy a beneficial insect instead!
If bees visit flowers for nectar and pollen why on earth are they chewing on leaves? Well this particular species of bee lays its eggs in holes in wood, often using old beetle holes or bug hotels, then fills each hole with pollen and resin to provide food for the larvae and finally seals the hole with a piece of leaf or flower petal.
Generally speaking leaf-cutters do little damage to the plants that they harvest from so no action needs to be taken to control them. However, this spring I installed a pollinator-friendly garden which included a very small 'Rising Sun' redbud tree. I don't know if it was the citrus-colored leaves that appealed, but beginning in July every new leaf was quite severely damaged and our bee house was very artistically decorated, implying that my pollinator garden was a great success for at least some species.
The pleasure that I get observing the many different species of bees in the garden far outweighs any damage that they do, so no sprays will be used, and if the damage becomes severe I can put a fine mesh net over my little tree until it becomes established.