Flurry of Flowers in May

Now, halfway through spring, we have blooms blossoming in many places. We might first notice new colors in our own gardens, which both rewards our horticultural achievements and urges us to add plants.

We can respond to such urges by scrolling through a local garden center and leafing through a nursery’s mail-order catalog. We also acquire new plants at local plant sales that support local garden groups.

The Annual Mother’s Day Plant Sale offered by Cabrillo College’s Horticulture Department is among the most expansive and inspiring events of its kind. This year’s sale begins on Friday, May 11th, 3:00 to 7:00 p.m., with admission reserved for Friends of the Garden. Surprise: you can join the Friends on the spot for $25. That pre-sale occasion includes a silent auction and refreshments. The event continues on Saturday, May 12th, and Sunday, May 13th from 10:00 to 2:00. For directions and more information about the sale, visit the Cabrillo Hort website.

If you are seeking inspiration and plant selection ideas, your opportunities arise at plant shows and garden tours. These events can be enjoyable in their own right, and also preparation for purchases. The Monterey Bay area has excellent shows and tours.

Annual Rose Garden Tea

The Community Church of the Monterey Peninsula will hold this event on Saturday, May 12th from 2-4 pm. The occasion will display a collection of 112 beautiful roses planted since 1970. Come to enjoy the rose superbloom. Stroll the rose garden and enjoy refreshments, fellowship and live music by flutist Julie Roseman and guitarist. Bring your camera and wear a hat! Location: 4590 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel. Free admission. Information: 624-8595 or caroleccmp@yahoo.com

Sixteenth Annual Garden Tour and English Tea Luncheon

St. Philip the Apostle Episcopal Church sponsors this occasion on Saturday, May 12th from 10:00 to 4:00 p.m. Visit selected gardens in northern Santa Cruz County, and enjoy a full high tea luncheon with homemade English favorites such as scones with jam and cream, a delicious and light soup, sausage rolls and finger sandwiches, and sweet treats such as English toffee and shortbread cookies! A rare delight! Admission: Early Bird $35; At the Door $40. Information and ticket orders: visit the St. Philip website and click on “Events.“

Secret Gardens of the Valley

The Felton Library Friends invites you to visit their selection of seven gorgeous and unique gardens. These include a wildlife habitat with a huge koi pond; garden art, succulents on rock walls, a profusion of pathway plants, a tropical plant conservatory, and bonsai and “insect hotel” demos. The occasion includes a raffle, live music by Patti Maxine & Friends, gift seeds, and succulent sales. Saturday, May 19th, 10:00 to 4:00 p.m. Admission: $20 in advance; $25 at the tour. Information: visit FeltonLibraryFriends.org or call (831) 335-1135.

Open Days in Santa Cruz

We’ll have more information about this tour next week but mark your calendar now for this first-ever tour in the Monterey Bay area sponsored by The Garden Conservancy, a national non-profit group. Three local gardens will be on the tour, which supports the Conservatory’s national program to preserve exceptional gardens. Hint: the gardens include one that has been featured often in this column. The tour will be on Saturday, May 19th from 10:00 to 4:00. Admission: $7/garden. At 4:00, there will be a Digging Deeper program, with a separate registration required. For information, visit the Conservatory’s Open Days website.

Gorgeous Irises on Show

A photo of a new iris caught my eye. I learned it is the recent accomplishment of a local iris hybridizer, Jim Cummins, who is a stalwart of the Monterey Bay Iris Society and long-time friend.

Cummins’ Iris Seedling

The iris is so new it doesn’t even have a name; it’s referred to only as “Seedling 14-21-C, TB”, indicating that it is a Tall Bearded Iris. The numbers suggest that this is one of a large number of seedlings.

Hybridizing irises involves a process that is essentially the same in hybridizing other plants. First, the hybridizer selects two plants that have desirable characteristics that would be good to combine in one plant. Characteristics might relate to flower form, height, plant vigor, color, beards, ruffles, or ability to re-bloom, i.e., produce a second flush of bloom.

The hybridizer then transfers pollen from the three anthers of one plant, the pollen parent, to the three stigmas of the other plant, the pod parent. These can be called the ”father” and “mother” plants if preferred. Some hybridizers will transfer pollen with a cotton swab, paintbrush, pencil or knife; others will use tweezers to actually remove the anther and bring it to the stigma. This simple process can be seen on YouTube demonstrations.

Detailed record keeping is important so that the parents of an exceptional new plant will be known.

Then, assuming fertilization is successful, the pod parent produces a seedpod. When it matures, the hybridizer harvests and plants the seeds, and waits to see what results.

Even a little familiarity with genetics suggests that this process is chancy. The progeny might be exactly what the hybridizer intended, or any of a wide range of other outcomes that are more or less successful. The hybridizer might propagate the best results, register a name with the American Iris Society, and introduce the plant into the commercial market.

The Cummins seedling 14-21-C, TB has noteworthy parents, ’Luxuriant Lothario’ and ‘That’s All Folks’.

Barry Blyth registered ‘Luxuriant Lothario’ in 2008. His description includes these comments: “Bright and showy for sure. Standards are buff apricot with a slight violet flush at midrib. Falls are bright lilac with a well-defined 3/8″ edge of tan to tan violet. Beards are muted burnt tangerine. Ruffled and waved petals.”

In 2005, William Maryott registered ‘That’s All Folks’, his last introduction before retiring. This plant has been described as follows: “Midseason bloom. Standards brilliant gold; falls white with gold blending to a wide muted gold band; beards gold. Honorable Mention 2007; Award of Merit 2009; Wister Medal 2011; American Dykes Medal 2013.” Local hybridizer Joe Ghio reportedly bred this plant and registered a sibling named ‘Pure and Simple’ in 2005.

‘That’s All Folks’ is a favorite of mine; I am developing a swath of its brilliantly colored blossoms, and planning a companion planting of an appropriate blossom color.

A large group of gardeners is hybridizing irises, and gorgeous cultivars by the thousands are available. A fine time to see some of the newest and best is at the annual Iris Show presented by the Monterey Bay Iris Society. This year’s Show will be at the Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center Street, Santa Cruz, on April 28th and 29th. The public is invited to attend the show from 1:00 –6:00 p.m. on Saturday, and from 10:00 – 5:00 on Sunday.

The Show offers an ideal occasion to see some of the finest flowers grown by local gardeners, and to make notes on plants to add to your own garden. Opportunities to purchase your favored plants will be at the Society’s annual sale of iris rhizomes on August 4th at August 4 at Deer Park Shopping Center in Aptos and on August 11 at the Cabrillo Farmers Market.

Choose your favorite irises now, shop in August, and plant in September.

In Bloom in April

Gardening at this time of the year includes at least two absorbing experiences: plants in bloom and plants on sale.

Several early bloomers are already decorating the garden. I’m enjoying a Chinese Ground Orchid (Bletilla striata), also called the Hyacinth Orchid. It has been cultivated in China for 1,500 years for its medicinal properties, but it’s also garden-worthy for its blossoms.

Chinese Ground Orchid

This terrestrial orchid is very easy to maintain, especially after striving with limited success to grow other members of the enormous orchid family. It had been growing under other plants and seemed to be struggling despite its reported need for filtered shade. It was propagating, however, by producing many small bulbs. I moved the bulbs, which were already sprouting, into containers in sunny locations, and they are doing fine

 

 

 

Australian Bluebell Creeper

Another plant that brightens the garden now is the Australian Bluebell Creeper (Sollya heterophylla). The generic name refers to British botanist Richard Solly; the specific epithet means “different leaves” because the plant produces a few different leaf shapes. This is a three-foot shrub with small, bright blue flowers that are bell-shaped with some varieties; mine are more star-shaped.

 

 

 

 

Mediterranean Spurge

A third performer is the Mediterranean Spurge (Euphorbia characias wulfenii), which grows five feet high, with showy heads of chartreuse flowers and whorled blue-green leaves. This plant freely generates seedlings that are easy to pull or share.

Recent and upcoming plant sales are being listed elsewhere, so this column focuses on roaming through such sales to discover and acquire new and different specimens for the garden. I’ve been accumulating interesting additions and seeking time to install them.

 

 

Here are some of my recent additions, and their intended destinations.

At the Arboretum’s recent sale, I found a large Cape Arid Climber (Kennedia beckxiana ‘Flamboyant’), a native of Cape Arid which is in Western Australia. This vigorous, woody plant that climbs with tendrils is one of the Arboretum’s Koala Blooms selections. It produces two-inch long orange-red flowers with a showy large lime-green central spot on a reflexed petal. This plant might grow more robustly that I would prefer, but I’ve learned that it can be heavily cut back after flowering to prevent invasive growth.

This plant will replace a Canna Lily (Canna ‘Cleopatra’) that had overgrown its pocket bed, so I moved it into containers in a sunnier location. Interestingly, the canna has been described as “flamboyant,” which is also the name of this Kennedia cultivar.

I also came upon Aloe ‘Crosby’s Prolific’, which is a cross between A. nobilis and A. humilis, both of which are small aloes that succulent specialist Deborah Lee Baldwin recently highlighted as “growing tight and staying low.” I picked up three of these small plants to fill space in my South African succulent bed.

A third recent acquisition is Spanish Sage (Salvia lavandufolia). After the annual cutting back of a large collection of salvias, the need emerged for smaller plants along the bed’s border. These smaller species (one-foot high ad wide) are not widely available, so I was glad to pick up three specimens as fillers.

As stated on earlier occasions, plant hunting should be done with a specific and appropriate spots in the garden. Impulse purchases, inspired by a blossom portrait in a mail-order catalog or a real, fertilizer-dosed plant in a garden center leads to hodge-podge landscaping.

Appreciating Bonsai

This weekend, the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai presents the 2018 Bonsai Show, the 30th annual exhibit by this local group. This show offers an excellent introduction to the art of bonsai and the beginning of the appreciation of this ancient form of gardening art.

Bonsai began in China in 2000 or more years ago and spread to Vietnam and Japan, where it grew in popularity. The most basic concept of bonsai is to grow a tree in a container while keeping it small. From that core idea, the practice bursts into an extraordinarily complex art form. Japanese bonsai master Masahiko Kimura, speaking of bonsai and Japanese garden design generally, observed, “In western gardens, it’s all about how it looks. The Japanese have stripped this away and reduced it to your imagination.” This suggests bringing your creativity to the bonsai viewing experience.

Here’s a quick overview of the art of bonsai:
Plant Selection—A wide range of trees can be used, but temperate climate trees are preferred because they grow best outdoors, where projects are developed traditionally. Selections are based on attractive appearance and adaptability to bonsai treatment. Three of the most popular varieties are Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum), Bodhi tree (Ficus Religiosa), and Rock Cotoneaster (C. horizontalis).

Container Selection—Glazed or unglazed ceramic containers are most widely used. The size and shape are based on the intended size and style of the full-grown bonsai tree; straight sides are an important criterion, often, to facilitate lifting the plant for root pruning.
Style—The style of a bonsai tree typically describes the orientation of the tree’s trunk. A dozen or more basic styles have been described, and are sometimes combined in a single work. Popular styles include formal upright (chokkan); informal upright (moyogi); slant-style (shakan); cascade-style (kengai); and root-over-rock (sekijoju).

Size Objective—The most often seen bonsai trees are medium-sized, i.e., 12-to-36 inches high, including the container. Some specimens are large (up to 80 inches high) or miniature (as small as 1-to-3 inches high).

Control Techniques—Practices to control the size and shape of the tree include trimming the leaves or needles; pruning the trunk, branches, and roots; wiring or clamping branches and trunks; grafting new material to the trunk; defoliation for short-term dwarfing, and deadwood techniques to simulate age in a bonsai.
Cultivation—The basic methods for maintaining the health of a bonsai tree will be familiar to gardeners: soil composition, fertilization, watering, and re-potting. When bonsai master Kimura was asked if you need instructions to care for a bonsai, he replied, “Do you need instructions to look after a baby?”

The Bonsai Show will be presented on Saturday and Sunday, April 13th and 15th, at The Museum of Art and History, 705 Front Street, Santa Cruz, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day. Show Chairman Edward Lambing advises that in addition to the display of fascinating plants, the event includes bonsai demonstrations and sales, raffles, door prizes, and the drummers of Watsonville Taiko. Admission for both the Museum and the Bonsai Show has been reduced for this weekend to $5.

This Bonsai Show is a fine opportunity to broaden your gardening perspectives and enjoy the creations of local bonsai artists.

UCSC Garden Events for April

The Monterey Bay community benefits from the local presence of a productive and respected university. The US News & World Report’s ranking program places the University of California, Santa Cruz within the top 50 of the world’s 1,250 universities. This impressive ranking is based on multiple indicators, but because this column is on gardening, we focus on this noteworthy institution’s upcoming garden-related events. (Links for detailed information are listed below.)

April 7th — Opening of “Forest (for a thousand years…)” — This event is a “beguiling and uncanny audio installation” staged in the redwood grove of UCSC’s Arboretum. This immersive 22-channel audio piece will continue through June 30th, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller will discuss their work on Friday, April 6th, 7–9 p.m. at UCSC’s Digital Arts Research Center.

April 7thFirst Saturday Tour of the Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Meet at Norrie’s Gift & Garden Shop at 11 a.m. A guided tour is free with admission to the Arboretum.

April 14thSpring Plant Sale. Members pre-sale 10 a.m. – noon; Open to the public noon – 4 p.m. In partnership with the California Native Plant Society, the Arboretum’s Spring Plant Sale will offer quality, regionally friendly plants from both groups at great prices. Watch for more information in these pages prior to the event.

April 15thArboretum Phenology Walk. Sunday, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Do you enjoy watching plants change through the seasons? Would you like to be a part of a national effort to monitor the effects of climate change? Advanced registration is recommended.

April 25th — “Amah Mutsun Relearning Program,” with Rick Flores. Flores will discuss the collaborative work by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the Arboretum to assist the Tribe’s efforts of cultural revitalization, recuperation and relearning of dormant cultural knowledge, and environmental justice. This 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. session is part of the Volunteer Enrichment Series. Each session is open to the public and free, with priority registration given for prospective and currently active volunteers. Contact Katie Cordes, Volunteer Coordinator, with questions (831.502.2300, cscordes@ucsc.edu).

April 26th & 27th — Seedbed — A Soil Symposium. This free interdisciplinary symposium on the state of soil will feature performances, interactive activities, and visual artwork installed throughout campus. Panel presentations will take place in the Cowell Ranch Hay Barn exploring a diverse range of topics from microbes to waste management, labor and farming; the magic of composting and soil science. The symposium will explore how climate change and human industry have endangered our topsoil – rendering it deadly– as well as the amazing life-sustaining potential of what we call “dirt.”

April 28th & 29th — Farm & Garden Spring Plant Sale. All plants are organically grown and include a wide selection of annual vegetables and flowers, along with wonderful perennials for the landscape. Plants are selected for their proven performance in the Monterey Bay region. Corner of Bay Street and High Street at the base of campus, Saturday 10 a.m.– 3 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.–2 p.m.

April 28th — Free Tour of the UCSC Farm, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Take a free, docent-led tour of the beautiful 30-acre UCSC Farm. Learn about the education, research, and outreach work that is taking place through the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems. No reservations necessary. Meet at the Hay Barn on campus for the short walk to the Farm. Free parking available at the Hay Barn.

April weekdays — Visit the instructional greenhouses operated jointly by UCSC’s Divisions of Physical and Biological Sciences and Social Sciences, and located on the roof of Thimann Labs. This facility has a botanical collection as well as a lab, library, outdoor seating areas and staff representation to facilitate its appreciation. Open weekdays for free visits from 9 a.m. –3 p.m.

April all days — Self-guided walks through the Arboretum 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day except occasional holidays. Admission is $5 (18+) $2 (6 –17); free (<6).

This month’s diverse activities offer opportunities to broaden your gardening perspectives and gain familiarity with UCSC’s several garden-related programs.

For more information:

Removing Elements to Improve Your Landscape

The annual landscape review, which was our recent focus, amounts to keeping, improving or removing elements of the landscape. We suggested an approach to review categories of the landscape elements: hardscape, larger plants, smaller plants, and special facilities. Review that column here.

Today’s column addresses the removal of larger plants. The reasons for a removal of a tree or large shrub include not healthy, badly located, or poorly maintained. A large tree growing close to the home could present a fire hazard, or its roots could be lifting nearby pavement.

Taking out an established tree or large shrub could require substantial effort and cost, sometimes including commercial services. On the other hand, removal of a significant plant could yield a great aesthetic change in the landscape’s appearance and an opportunity to introduce one or more new plants in pursuit of landscape objectives.

In other words, replace a loss with an opportunity.

Removing a large plant could include resistance to change in addition to avoidance of related energy and expense. It can be a big decision. Once the homeowner has prioritized a removal, dwelling on the landscape benefits can be helpful to “getting to the root of the matter.”

Speaking of roots, the task of removing a plant should always include removing the roots. Leaving a stump in place might reduce the cost or effort of the project, but leave new problems. The obvious downside is that the stump continues to occupy space in the landscape, precluding a direct replacement. I often see an old stump that is an eyesore in a home’s parking strip.

Also, the stump of a healthy tree or shrub could sprout, even after months of apparent inactivity. Plants strive to survive!

Smaller stumps can be dug out with a shovel, an ax or a Sawzall, and perhaps a pickaxe. The objective is to remove the crown of the plant, plus major nearby roots. It’s not necessary or practical to chase the outreaching roots unless they are lifting pavement. This is likely to be time consuming and dirty work that might inspire hiring assistance. One helpful hint: when cutting down the plant, leave a long stump to provide leverage for loosening the roots.

When the stump is out of the ground, it’s time for a pat on the back and planning for good use of the reclaimed space.

Larger stumps require professional services. Commercial trees services often will include stump removal or provide references to local specialized services. In either case, ask if equipment of the appropriate size will be provided. An overly large stump grinder can disrupt areas adjacent to the target. A smaller unit (some are even hand-held) can provide a precise removal, which could be important when working close to pavement or desirable plants.

Stumps also could be moved with chemicals (potassium nitrate). This process accelerates rotting of the wood in a few weeks, after which it could be chopped out or burned out. For more information on this approach, visit www.familyhandyman.com and search for “stump removal.”

The final thought on this subject is that some trees or stumps should be removed, and the landscape can be much better as a result.

Annual Review of Your Landscape

An annual review of your home’s landscape helps in the long term to raise your level of satisfaction with your surroundings. You will either gain appreciation for that landscape’s good qualities, or establish goals for improvement. In many cases, the likely outcome would be a combination of these results.

You could conduct such a review at any time, but early spring (right now) presents a good opportunity because the seasonal arrival of warm weather stimulates both the plants’ budding and the gardener’s enthusiasm.

This column suggests an approach to landscape review, in search of an orderly and productive process. The approach outlined here is one of several possible ways to go about such a review. Feel free to modify it to accommodate your local situation and preferences.

Begin with an inventory of features of your landscape that you like. For example, these might include hardscape elements, e.g., a wall, patio, pool, stairway, pavement, or garden structure.

Another category for this inventory of Liked Features includes larger trees and shrubs that are healthy, well grown, maintained, and located.

Then, consider planting beds and lawn areas, with emphasis on good size, good placement, and interesting shapes. Are smaller plants, e.g., herbaceous perennials and grasses, in good condition?

Finally, list specialized features, e.g., play areas for children or adults, cooking facilities, and furnishings for dining or relaxing. Relevant criteria: are these features still needed and still used?

Next, using the same categories, identify the features that you don’t like. List the hardscape elements that need repair, maintenance, or, for those that are no longer needed or used, removal.

Identify trees and shrubs (and stumps) that do not meet the criteria listed above, i.e., not healthy, badly located, poorly maintained, etc.

Moving on: are planting beds and lawn areas too small or too large? Are they poorly shaped? Are smaller plants, including lawns, in poor condition?

Then, identify specialized features that are in poor condition, no longer needed, or not used.

Document your inventories of liked and not liked features. The record can be simple and informal, such as a handwritten list on a single piece of paper, and still provide a useful reference for planning purposes.

Develop an action plan. In most cases, the first priority should be the Not Liked Features. Using the inventory, flag each of them for Improvement or Removal.

Barriers to Removal actions might include an excess of nostalgia, a lack of time or energy, or significant expense. Lacking a magic wand, you must deal with such barriers in your own creative way. The removal of large hardscape items or trees could require professional help and related costs but could provide major steps toward landscape improvement.

Improvement actions might require time and energy, or even professional assistance. A good strategy is to prioritize these actions, working first on those that can be accomplished with the least time, energy and expense. The benefits gained from these improvements could motivate proceeding to the more challenging tasks.

The next priority is Replacement of Not Liked Features that have been removed. Every removal might not require direct replacement but might produce a gap that needs filling. This “one step at a time” approach should avoid any confusion that might result from concurrent efforts to improve, remove and replace.

A future column will deal with Additions to the landscape, after completion of the tasks outlined above.

A review of your landscape can be an interesting and creative exercise for you and your significant other, and perhaps an independent observer whose brings relevant skills and diplomatic honesty to the task. Enjoy!

Arboretum Curator Talks Coming Up

If you are interested in the plant collections at the Arboretum and Botanic Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz, you could learn about them from a new series of talks by the Arboretum’s curators. These professional horticulturists have been long-time developers of the respective gardens for which they have been dedicated for quite long times. They know their plants!

These talks are included in the Arboretum’s new Volunteer Enrichment Series, scheduled on Wednesdays during the coming winter and spring seasons.

As you might already know, the Arboretum’s plant collection reflects the world’s summer-dry or Mediterranean climate zones, which include California. If your garden has basically favorable conditions of sun exposure, drainage, and soil quality, any Arboretum plant you might see and find particularly attractive and suitable for your landscape would grow well in your garden.

That welcome compatibility means that these talks could help you to identify desirable additions to your garden, as well as providing a brief botanical education in a friendly environment.

The first talk, scheduled for March 21st, will be “Exploring Amazing Australian Plants,” presented by Curator of the Australian Collection Melinda Kralj.

The Arboretum has the largest collection of Australian plants outside of Australia! The Arboretum has a great variety of these plants, with one of the features being the Australian Rock Garden, which has been planted with many beautiful smaller plants that would be fine additions to the typical residential garden. ((Selected plants are available for purchase at Norrie’s Gift Shop at the Arboretum.)

Melinda Kralj is a UC Santa Cruz graduate (1978) with degrees in Biology and Art. She joined the Arboretum staff in 1989. Her many activities include guiding the Aussie Weeders, a group of exceptionally cheerful volunteers who work on the Australian Collection on Thursday mornings.

People attending Melinda’s talk should come to the Horticulture 2 building at the Arboretum at 10:00 a.m. The talk continues to 2:00 p.m., including a walk through the Australian Collection.

Upcoming talks in this series are as follows:

April 25th —Amah Mutsun Relearning Program, by Rick Flores, Curator of the California Natives Collection

May 9th —Nursery & Propagation, by Nursery Manager Helen Englesberg

May 23rd — New Zealand, by Tom Sauceda Curator of the New Zealand Collection

June 13th — Succulents, Cacti, Aroma & South Africa, by Executive Director Martin Quigley and Linda McNally

All of these talks are open to the public and free of charge. There will be opportunities for people to become a volunteer at the Arboretum but there’s no commitment to do so.

The Arboretum’s Volunteer Enrichment Series adds another of the many benefits provided by UCSC to the local community.

Gopher Cats

The most devastating tragedy in gardening when a favored plant topples, suddenly dies, or even worse for a smallish specimen, disappears as it’s pulled underground.

The creator of such tragedies is the gardener’s nemesis, the pocket gopher. There are several genera and species of these creatures. In California, we most commonly have Botta’s Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae), named after Paul-Émile Botta, a naturalist and archaeologist who collected mammals in California in the 1820s and 1830s. Perhaps he appreciated this particular mammal’s qualities and did not see it as just a pest in the garden.

Gardeners have access to multiple strategies, tools and commercial services for battling with gophers over territory. Some do-it-yourself tools, e.g., stainless steel gopher baskets, will cost almost as much as a plant at the garden center. Still, the basket costs less than replacing the plant. The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program has provided a useful overview of the problem of gopher in the garden. 

For several years, my garden has not had gopher visits. As I heard the frustrations and complaints from other gardeners, I felt that I had been lucky, or that my garden was somehow unattractive to gophers. I concluded that two feral cats that I saw in my garden were controlling the local population of gophers. My role was limited to tolerating and not feeding the cats: a well-fed cat would not be an effective hunter.

Eventually, I no longer saw the cats in my garden. I’d like to think another gardener has recruited them, or that they had wandered off for better hunting opportunities. Most likely, they retired.

Without the cats, I soon saw signs of gophers in my garden. After tinkering with traps without immediate success, I decided that a predator would be the ideal solution to the gopher problem. Gophers have many natural enemies, including owls, hawks, coyotes, foxes, skunks, badgers, bobcats, weasels, and snakes. These predators might visit my urban garden occasionally, but a more practical plan would be to have a well-oriented cat in residence, always watching for prey either for a meal or for amusement.

I have recently seen an unfamiliar cat roaming around my garden. Feral cats are, by definition, not accustomed to contact with humans, and tend to keep their distance. The challenge is to persuade such a cat to spend a lot of time in my garden, stay outdoors, and hunt for gophers.

Public and private agencies seeking to control feline populations will vaccinate and spay or neuter feral cats, so it would be best for a gardener to adopt a gopher hunter that had received such treatment. The attending specialists also could advise on training the cat for its role as a resident predator of gophers. My role might be limited to providing water and a place to sleep. As the cat becomes accustomed to my presence, I might show approval for a gopher catch, and disapproval of a bird catch.

I will add this gopher cat project to my resolutions for the early weeks of 2018, along with spraying my apple trees and pruning my roses.

Speaking of roses, last week’s column stated incorrectly that modern garden roses began in 1967. The correct date is 1867, with the introduction of the first hybrid tea rose, ‘La France’.

Best wishes for your new year in the garden!

Naturalistic Landscaping

Several months ago, wrote about a remarkable book by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West: Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes (Timber Press, 2015).

In that book, Rainer and West present interesting, insightful and inspiring ideas for landscape design. Central concepts include interlocking layers of plants that grow compatibly in nature, while creating landscapes that are naturalistic but “more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious, with less maintenance.”

Some of their concepts, in plainer language, are the following:

“Plants are social creatures” —This thought advocates close planting of natural companions, rather than isolating plants from each other, separated by areas of organic or inorganic mulch.

“Plants are the mulch” — This catchphrase points to the practical value of close planting as a strategy for blocking weed growth and thereby reducing time and effort.

The Rainer/West vision, while complex, is predominantly optimistic. Their book is certainly worth reading. My review, titled “Designing Naturalistic Landscapes,” is archived here.

A reader of this column who had previously read this Rainer and West book observed that the style they described emphasizes landscape uses of herbaceous perennials and annuals in a climate with year-round rainfall. By contrast, while California has “lots of shrubs and sub-shrubs with some annuals” and a summer-dry (Mediterranean) climate. The reader asked how to go about adapting the style presented in this book to our California climate, and where in California has such a garden been created.

These are worthwhile questions. The authors recommended drawing on locally relevant resources, e.g., the California Native Plant Society. Also, my column referenced a book by Glen Keator and Alrie Middlebrook: Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens (University of California Press, 2007).

There are more relevant resources available online, notably Thomas Rainer’s Grounded Design website.

Gardeners also have access to many books on Mediterranean climate plants and especially California native plants, but such books typically describe individual plants in alphabetical order rather than in the “interlocking layers” envisioned by Rainer and West. We encounter the same organizational model in mail order plant nursery catalogs and in local garden centers, so many garden designs amount to scatters of single specimens.

The Rainer & West style was published fairly recently, so there are few California landscapes that are based on this style. The Keator & Middlebrook book cited above approaches that concept by grouping native plants within particular regions of California (e.g., coastal scrub, grasslands, deserts, oak woodlands), but leaves it to the garden planner to adopt fully the Rainer & West style.

One might seek exemplary designs in gardens included in annual garden tours that feature California native plants:

  • Bringing Back the Natives —Gardens in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, early May (http://bringingbackthenatives.net)
  • Going Native Garden Tour—Gardens in Santa Clara Valley & Peninsula, San Francisco Bay Area, early April (http://gngt.org/GNGT/HomeRO.php)

Although the Rainer & West style could take many different forms in California gardens, avid gardeners should keep watch for examples of this emerging approach to landscape design.