- Author: Teresa Lavell
Below you will see my beautiful blooming Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii Variegata’! Beautiful blooms this year anyway. For the last few years it was merely an interesting shrub with lovely variegated foliage. Now don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with lovely variegated foliage. But one does not simply plant a Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii Variegata’ for lovely foliage. One wants blooms and preferably lots of them!
Well, let this be a lesson for you on the proper timing for pruning. Many things can benefit from pruning in the dormant season but that doesn’t mean everything needs to be pruned at that time. I live with a pruner, an industrious pruner, in fact I would go so far as to say a pruner of Olympian status. She believes there is no plant problem that a good pruning won’t solve. In the case of the before mentioned hydrangea, however, timing was way off. In addition to pruning out frost-damaged portions of the plant, my happy pruner was cutting out the dormant buds for the upcoming blooms.
This type of hydrangea blooms on ‘old wood,’ in other words stems from the previous year’s growth. If that is all pruned out you are left with lovely variegated foliage but no blooms. This past year I was able to distract attention from the hydrangea with some unruly roses and now – blooms! If pruning is needed to maintain shape or size, the proper time is right after the bloom so that the plant can continue to grow through the summer and early fall producing flower buds for the next spring.
- Author: Susan Croissant
In September 2012, I wrote about our Passion Flower vine (Passiflora caerulea 'Blue Crown'). I referenced the Agraulis vanillae (Gulf fritillary) butterfly, which has no native host in California and is entirely dependent on the genus Passiflora. Last year we had 4 butterflies. This year we already have 8, and more are on the way. It is awesomely- exciting to discover multiple pupa/cocoons and caterpillars. Here are several photos as well as the fritillary mating on Borage (Borago officinalis).
As I wrote in September, Art Shapiro (butterfly expert and professor of ecology and evolution at UC Davis), says the Gulf frit was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908 and became "established" here in the 1950s. http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/node/448
- Author: Marian I Chmieleski
Have you ever been out on a sunny day, walking barefoot happily through the clover when suddenly you yelp and begin to jump around trying to ease the sudden stinging pain in your foot? Yes, so have I. Well, the culprit is most likely the gentle little honeybee, one of nature's hardest working and least aggressive little beings. However, if a giant were going to step on me I'd use all my weapons to protect myself, too! Thus, the sad, negative reputation of the honeybee (Apis mellifera).
However, the honeybee is not only our friend, but also a very important part of our symbiotic natural family. According to National Geographic's most recent article (May 10, 2013), "About a third of our foods (some 100 key crops) rely on these insects, including apples, nuts, all the favorite summer fruits (like blueberries and strawberries), alfalfa (which cows eat), and guar bean (used in all kinds of products). In total, bees contribute more than $15 billion to U.S. crop production, hardly small potatoes." That's what makes the staggering disappearance of so many bees in the last few years such a troubling problem.
As you may have heard, during the winter of 2007 many beekeepers across the USA reported unusually large honeybee losses. The puzzling thing was that there were no piles of dead bees near the hives as happens if the bees are directly exposed to pesticides. It seems that the worker bees just began disappearing, leaving the queen and the young bees alone in the colony. However, the colony needs the worker bees to bring home the food and without them the hive and all the bees therein eventually dies. This is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Over the years since that time studies have failed to conclusively identify the cause, but the result is that about 47% of the honeybees across the USA have been lost. (Figures from winter 2012-2013.) The EPA reports that several contributing factors are suspected:
- increased losses due to the invasive varroa mite (a pest of honeybees);
- new or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema;
- pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops bee management stress;
- foraging habitat modification
- inadequate forage/poor nutrition and
- potential immune-suppressing stress on bees caused by one or a combination of factors identified above.
What can we as gardeners do to help? We can, of course, avoid using pesticides in our gardens--especially neonicotinoids (approved for use in the US, but recently banned in the European Union). We can also provide a healthy and attractive habitat for honeybees. Enter the Yellow Dot Project (yellowdotproject.org). They not only publish a very extensive list of plants that are good food for honeybees, but also have connected with several nurseries in our area to identify for us exactly which plants on their shelves are best for the bees. Fantastic! All we have to do is look for the yellow dot on the plant i.d. marker. What could be easier?
I learned of the Yellow Dot Project on my visit to Annie's Annuals in Richmond last Saturday. Check out the website to see which plants in your garden are already at work helping the honeybees or just to find a "Yellow Dot" nursery to visit.
- Author: JoEllen P Myslik
Succulents, ahhh succulents … the subject of my final presentation for my Master Gardener certification. It seemed like such a simple straight-forward topic. But once my ‘presentation partner’ and I started delving into details, it became quite clear that it is a very HUGE and broad topic! So then our task became, “how do we narrow this down to focus on something informative and interesting?”
So after much research, including nearly every book about the broad subject of succulents (or at least it felt that way!), we decided to provide an overview of the 3 types and then show examples of each type – focusing on one in particular, the seemingly ‘most popular’ or certainly prevalent in this area, the stonecrop family.
I will begin by quoting from a document provided by the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek:
Succulents. Almost everyone is familiar with the term. Yet questions such as “is that Aloe a member of the succulent family?” reveal basic misconceptions on the part of many people as to just what a succulent is. The core of the problem here is that the term “succulent” is merely a descriptive term and not a scientific classification. Thus any plant that has evolved swollen water-storing tissues as a protection against desiccation is succulent by definition, regardless of what family it belongs to. A few families, such as the Crassulaceae (the stonecrop family, which includes plants such as the Hen-and-Chicks and jade trees) are composed entirely of succulents. But in many other cases, succulence occurs only in certain groups of a family of largely non-succulent plants.
The three types of succulents are leaf, stem and root, and as you might surmise from above (or perhaps already know), the plants store water in each of these areas, and in some cases two areas. An example of this is the jade tree, which is both a leaf succulent and a root succulent. And as you can see in the picture above, succulents come in all shapes and colors, which can add a lot of beauty to your garden or landscape.
I think one of the biggest lessons that we learned in researching this topic is that succulents are extremely forgiving and are therefore a great choice for any gardener … beginning gardeners will love the ease of planting them (break off a piece from your neighbor’s beautiful plant — with their permission of course! — and just put that right into the ground), and seasoned gardeners will appreciate their beauty and variety. Plus in these times of water-wise landscaping everyone will appreciate the fact they don’t require a lot of water very often. So, whether around your property or in pots, my research shows that succulents are nearly a perfect planting option!
Oh, but a word of caution, don’t be fooled by these beauties below as I almost was …. the invasive Ice Plant of the Aizoaceae Family. This plant offers a variety of beautiful flowers, tolerates blazing sun and spreads quickly, but the latter is exactly why you should avoid it! It will take over your entire yard, so buyers beware!
- Author: Betty Homer
During my teenage years, the head lifeguard at the pool that I volunteered at, used to bring a group of us teenagers to picnic and swim at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek each summer. As such, I have always associated Heather Farm with those memories, not realizing that Heather Farm also included a beautiful 6-acre garden, which I had the pleasure of visiting recently.
Like The Ruth Bancroft Garden that I blogged about recently (also in Walnut Creek, just minutes from The Gardens at Heather Farm), Heather Farm Park and The Gardens at Heather Farm were named after the original ranch located on the very site, and fancifully, the ranch owners' prized race horse, King Heather. There are 20+ gardens of varying sizes and themes in all, managed completely without the use of pesticides. To give you an idea as to what you should expect to see and experience, the following is a list of gardens/plots on site: The Ruth Howard Entrance Garden, Native Plant Garden, Diablo Ascent Garden, Tree Grove, Ash Tree Alley, Stroll Garden, Meadow Garden, Heritage Garden, Mother’s Garden, Black Pine Garden, Ward Garden, Cowden Rose Garden, Waterfall Garden, Rockery, Butterfly Garden, Mural Garden, Children’s Garden, Riparian Garden, Water Conservation Garden, Sensory Garden, and the Blue Star Memorial Garden.
Some highlights of The Gardens include the very beautiful and showy Cowden Rose Garden that takes center stage the moment you enter The Gardens (Tip: now is a great time when everything is in bloom!). Equally beautiful, but more understated, is the shade garden. There is a section for California native plants, a tree grove, and a small patch which integrates edible plants with ornamentals—always one of my perennial favorites.
With how beautiful and well-maintained The Gardens is, it is hard to believe that the grounds are managed by a volunteer-based nonprofit employing a small part-time staff. It would seem that an army would be necessary to maintain the site as well as they do.
Now is a wonderful time to visit as most everything appears to be in bloom. So on one of those warm afternoons where you are at a loss for ideas of what to do, where to go, consider packing a picnic lunch and visiting The Gardens at Heather located at 1540 Marchbanks Drive, Walnut Creek, California. For more information, see http://gardenshf.org/.