Saturday, March 31, 2012

Plant-sale plants

This morning--just before the rainstorm arrived, and stayed all day, heavily--there was a plant sale at the Shepard Garden and Arts center, part of McKinley Park in Sacramento, organized by the Sacramento Perennial Plant Club.

In a part of Sacramento where all the streets are lined with trees and cute cottages, it's just where you'd expect to find lots of people in their gardens and sharing plants and cuttings and seeds.

A house on the corner, close to where I parked, had a beautiful mature dogwood in full-white bloom. I found an Eastern Flowering Dogwood seedling at the sale, and brought it home. Maybe in fifty years time, it will look like the one on Park Street.

Also brought home:
The herbs were all from  Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville, where they apparently have a huge selection of medicinal herbs and perennials available. Road trip anyone?

Now it just needs to stop raining and dry up a little so that they can be planted.

Friday, March 30, 2012


This is my greenhouse process... seed trays inside inflated plastic bags that in this picture have been flattened by last night's rain--luckily they still contain seeds, not seedlings. But look what just arrived!

A greenhouse! Yes! And it was hand-made from wood and plastic, all painted, it's greehouse-shaped and not a flimy wire frame. The windows are heavy-duty sheet plastic, which is fine for now. I would love a real Kew Gardens type greenhouse one day, but a) I don't have the money for that and b) this is Norther California not the East Midlands.

So today I have a big grin on my face. And lots of things to do this weekend that involve pots, potting compost/potting soil, seeds, cuttings and seedlings.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wind in the willows; tales of the riverbank

Usually, the creek that winds around the garden is a trickle at the bottom of a steep, sandy mini-ravine, about six feet below the surrounding land. But when it's in flood, like this week, after a sudden downpour, it fills the ravine with raging brown water. And as torrents do, it washes away some of the bank each time.

Obviously this has been going on for a long time--as the sandy soil in the lower part of the garden and in the "green belt" bear witness. But to help the lower part of (what will eventually all be) the vegetable garden, and to provide twigs for fencing and other crafty stuff, I've started some cuttings.

These are cuttings taken from two bunches of willow branches, green and yellow, that I found at Carmichael's farmers' market a couple of weeks ago. After standing in a bucket of water, they produced their first rootlets. Now they have been cut down and potted-up, with the pots standing in saucers of water. The remainder of the branches are still immersed in the big orange bucket; maybe they'll root again.

I also have to pot up the pussy willow too. We'll have a nice variety of willows one day!

Monty Don--Gardening at Longmeadow

My copy of Monty Don's latest book, "Gardening at Longmeadow", arrived a couple of days ago. Another beautiful inspiration... reading about gardening is what you do when it's too dark/rainy/cold to go outside.

America: you can find his books on or

Monty talking about the book:

 (I wish they had sent him with it, but Amazon doesn't give that option!)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

California oaks, end of March

There is something so majestic about California oak trees, regardless of the time of year, and whether they stand lonely in a summer-dry field, or, like these, in a community of trees. I am learning that "live oaks"--the evergreens--while always bearing leaves, are always losing them too: autumn clean-up twelve months a year, and their leaves are hard and sharp, almost like English holly.

Right now, the live oaks are flowering; mild green, almost-catkin flowers. And the deciduous oaks are just starting to find their new leaves: this acid-green haze has only appeared, it seems, today... contrasted against the stormy-grey sky, they are shouting, awake! Spring is here!

Amazing trees. Just amazing.

A lot of water under the bridge

It feels like it's been raining forever, but it's only a matter of a few very soggy days. "We need it", or the reservoirs and the ski resorts do, and spring will be (back) on track shortly... but it's frustrating looking-out at soggy earth, not able to go dig and plant and rake and start things growing.

If nothing else, gardening teaches us patience, and acceptance of some things that we just cannot change.

Put on my wellies and did a quick, muddy tour:

- cat or raccoon or coyote has so far only dug up two baby lettuce seedlings
- Dutch iris are starting to bloom
- dahlia cuttings have perked up--they wilted badly at first
- a couple of gladioli have sprouted in the middle of the vegetable bed--I guess I missed a few bulb-lets when lifting them last year
- and a couple of random lilies in the same place? Where did they come from? Don't remember planting them!
- the cosmos and/or other annual seeds are just starting to sprout in the new flower bed and the turkeys haven't found them... yet
- still no sign of the missing sweet peas or garden peas. They are probably inside a turkey, which itself is probably inside a coyote by now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rhododendrons planted

On the north-east side of the property, where the creek curls around after it passes next-door's wide lawn and pampas grass, below the trees on the steep bank, I planted two rhododendrons in the deep leaf-mulch-rich soil; one pure white, whose name I have forgotten already, and one "English Roseum" (couldn't resist that one!). It says it will be pink, but the bud is more purple.

They are tiny and dwarfed by the trees.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Vegetable garden revealed!

Today was the day... I removed the mesh that had been protecting the sheet-mulched area of the back yard from turkeys and wind and random destruction. I think I'd been putting off the moment of plunging the fork into the ground, worried that there would be a mess of perennial weeds underneath all white and zombie-like and ready-to-grow-the-moment-light-appeared... but no! The mulch has done its job.

It was remarkably easy to dig. Remember this is Sacramento hard-pan clay.

The earthworms may have had a lot to do with it--there were hundreds, below the mulch in the earth, doing what earthworms do and making the soil soft and ready for the garden. Pulling in the compost.

Cold-season seeds planted, onions and shallots too. And a couple of six-packs from Home Depot--I don't have a greenhouse (yet) and wanted to get an early start.

Now how long will our "cold season" last? Will it rain until end-of-May like last year, or will we have 100 F days by mid-April?  Time will tell. More to the point: will the netting keep the turkeys off?

Friday, March 23, 2012

White daffodils

I think the white ones are my favourites. Both those, like this one, with full trumpets and the stature of the largest yellows, and the delicate white narcissi with several flowers on one stalk. They are today lightly freckled with mud, from this week's rain.

Wild flowers in March: volunteers

Wild garlic is in flower in the green belt around the creek; creeping up under the trees, and venturing into the flower bed that slopes down behind the pool. The scent is a gentle, mild, garlicky breeze, more a memory than a pungent dish. The flowers are the California version of our English bluebells.

I have yet to discover the name of these flowers. They start as mounds of clover-like green leaves, very early in the year--and then sprout these beautiful, acidic-green, fivepetaled flowers on tall, delicate stalks.

They are all perfect... cherry blossom

The cherry tree is in flower, on a beautifully-sunny California day. It has been grey and damp or rainy all week, and more rain forecast for the weekend. But today, all the blossoms are just... perfect.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Coyote at the back door

Bella was standing at the gate near the garage, hackles up, barking. Being so tall her head is above the gate, but she cannot jump over (or at least, she has never tried). Standing under the oak tree was a large, proud grey coyote. Almost close enough to touch noses, but not quite brave or stupid-enough. When I yelled and clapped my hands, he slunk off towards the creek.

They are becoming far too bold around the houses, but we can't do anything about them other than make a lot of noise. Or kill them. And that I am very reluctant to do. (If I find my cat inside one of them, I may change my mind.)

New/old camera, rainy weekend

On Saturday, dodging rainstorms, I went to my favourite thrift store on Auburn Boulevard, and found a Pentax K1000 manual film camera with a 63 mm zoom lens. I couldn't resist it... Took it to be cleaned at the camera shop on Cirby in Roseville; they checked it all, including the light meter, and I stocked up on film. Took one black-and-white film, forgetting that I now need to take it to a specialty photographic processor as it was Ilford non-C41. Then took a roll of Agfa 400 ASA colour, by which time I'd just-about remembered how to adjust all the dials for aperture, speed, etc. Then had the film developed at Walgreens, including a CD.

This is my favourite: below the oak tree which is behind the garage, looking towards the creek.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rain and dislodged lodges

The creek, which was a mere trickle at the bottom of it's deep sandy bed, is today a rushing, brown river. I'm glad the old stick-dams were removed before the winter; the water can run on by without backing up and flooding.

My neighbour told me that they were indeed old beaver lodges and dams. But where are the beavers now? Probably the same place as many turkeys, a few cats, the rooster and the peahen... inside a coyote.

Propagating willow

Pussy willow in house, looking pretty in vase and producing roots. It will go into garden and hopefully grow.

Outside, a bunch of yellow and green convoluted willow branches in a bucket of water, tempting them to root and sprout too.


There are daffodils and narcissus all around the garden now. Some white, some yellow, and some with both. A few "double" blooms. I plated them mostly at the tree line at the edge of the property, but I really must map them.

Hopefully they will multiply and naturalize. Like at the ranch I saw near Elk Grove which is currently a yellow blaze of daffs.