By T. Eric Nightingale, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
It was roughly a year ago that I suggested writing a column on New Year's resolutions for the gardener. At the time, I felt energized by the excitement and hope I held for the coming year. I had plans for our garden, big plans relative to its modest size.
As the months passed, however, those plans moved farther to the back of my mind. Now, looking out my back window, I see a garden that has flourished almost in spite of my mismanagement and neglect.
I feel guilty, but only partially. The past year was filled with floods, fires, political upheaval, violence and civil unrest. I have been understandably distracted from many personal endeavors.
The year has left me and, I'm sure, many others with a sense of fatigue. It has been easy to let some things fall by the wayside. And why not? How important is one little garden compared to the events, both local and global, that have been occurring around me?
Yet, as I peer deeper into the chaos behind my home, I spy a glimmer of pink. Vividly cast against the dark brown of the fence, it catches my attention. Under a lime tree, uninvited, grows a Salvia coccinea. This variety, called "coral nymph" for its delicate pink flowers, is one of the many species of sage that I have brought home over the years. It is, however, the first to multiply unaided.
Upon inspection, I find two other Salvia coccinea in other parts of the garden. These plants know nothing of my sleepless nights and fevered dreams. They know only survival.
Their determination shames me. It also reminds me that a garden is not merely decorative landscaping. It is not just a hobby or a chore. A garden is a refuge. It is a place where mortals are gifted with the seemingly magical ability to create and sustain life. It is a place of beauty, of comfort and tranquility, to those who enter it. Owning a garden is both a gift and a responsibility.
I intend to do many things differently in the coming year. High on the list is proper pruning. Pruning back a plant often has an immediate aesthetic or functional result (keeping the plant out of a pathway, for example), but there are secondary benefits as well. The hormone imbalance created by removing stems or branches results in a burst of green growth.
Done at the wrong time of year, this change can be stressful for the plant. Cutting a stem also often creates a fork in the growth pattern, resulting in a fuller-looking plant. It can also cause a plant to become lopsided. Cutting into a plant puts it at risk for infection, so it is always best to prune with clean, sharp tools.
Additionally, I plan to put more thought into my plant purchases. Finding an attractive or unique plant is a thrilling experience for a phytomaniac such as myself, and the excitement often clouds my reason. I will have to remember that when it comes to responsible gardening, sometimes less is more. Crowding plants, or putting them in less than ideal conditions, is risking an unhealthy garden. Planning ahead and exhibiting restraint will help me grow a healthier, more attractive and more enjoyable garden.
This year I will also be keeping a garden journal. Looking back, I have often wondered, "When did I fertilize that tree, and how much did I give it? How did it respond?" This kind of information would have helped me, but when I needed it, the details eluded me. My hope is that keeping a journal will save me time and money, as well as allow me to become a better caretaker.
These are all things I plan to do, but they are not my New Year's resolutions. My personal resolution, and my suggestion to my fellow gardeners, is for something different.
I propose we resolve not to give up. More than that, I say we determine to grow bigger, spread farther and nurture more deeply. To make something grow is to both literally and symbolically resist the pull of entropy.
In your garden, every plant is important. Tend them well. Plant them in conditions where they can thrive. Learn how they like to be watered, fertilized and pruned. Give them room to grow and protect them when possible.
Let us bring as much beauty into this world as we are able. Also remember that you, the gardener, are important. Never hesitate to share your passion with those around you, for you never know where a seed may unexpectedly germinate. With care, and a little luck, our gardens will flourish this year and for years to come
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Growing Berries” on Saturday, January 20, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Imagine stepping out into the garden and returning with bowls of berries, freshly harvested and ready to eat. Now imagine that you have so many that you have to give them to friends or freeze them for later. This could easily be your garden. Learn about plant selection, soil preparation, planting, care and maintenance, and pests and disorders--everything you need to know to turn your dream into a reality. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment),
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.