Rock Gardening

Garden renovation projects might include mounds to add visual interest in an otherwise flat terrain, and also to provide drainage and other benefits of raised beds. A particular form of the garden mound is the rock garden, based on a natural or simulated outcrop of rocks.

An outcrop could occur in a flat area, but are most common—and look most realistic when created—on a slope, where erosion over time would have exposed the underling rock formation. If your property includes an area that has a slope of ten degrees or more, and full exposure to the sun, you have a good site for a rock garden. Never mind if it lacks rocks: they can be trucked in from a stone yard.

Lacking a sloped area, the gardener could develop a rock garden on a mound, and should not be reluctant to do so, but should avoid the look of “a dog’s grave,” which results when an isolated bump is placed in a lawn. A mounded rock garden will have a naturalistic appearance when is has substantial size appropriate to the setting, and a backdrop of shrubs, trees, wall or hills.

Another contributor to a natural look is a scree boundary. The base of a natural rock outcrop often will have a loose accumulation of smaller stones and rock chips, called “scree.” So, where sufficient space is available, include a scree bed about two feet wide between the rock garden and the adjacent lawn or pathway. The scree bed should have a foundation of about eight inches of scree compost (1 part topsoil, 1 part compost, 3 parts gravel). An edging would help to contain the stones.

Acquiring and placing rocks will be the most expensive, strenuous and aesthetically challenging part of the project. Here are recommended guidelines:

  • Use one kind of stone, preferably one that occurs naturally in the area. Traditionally, rock gardens use limestone or sandstone, but in the Monterey Bay area Sonoma fieldstone, an igneous rock (basalt or rhyolite), is widely available and popular.
  • Commit to the project. Include boulders (stones too large for one person to move) even though they can be difficult to place in desired positions.
  • Contract with the stone yard deliver materials to as close as possible to their eventual location.
  • Position stones for a natural appearance: larger stones will be uphill of smaller stones; some stones might be close to other stones.
  • Bury stones one-third to one-half of their vertical dimension. Stones rarely are found atop the soil.

A rock garden is just one use of stones in garden design. Stones are also used for walls, borders of beds, walkways or patios. All such uses can be attractive in the garden, partly because of the contrast between the surfaces of stones and plants. Recognize, however, the differences between naturalistic rock gardens and these other uses, in which stones are used as building materials.

More

20 Fabulous Rock Garden Design Ideas —from Decoist.com. These images show fine designs that demonstrate a variety of uses of rocks in the landscape. Not all designs could be called naturalistic.

 

Rock Garden Ideas — 112 images of rock gardens, ranging from naturalistic designs to “whimsical” ideas. Test yourself on whether these designs follow or violate the five design guidelines listed in this article.

Alpine Garden Society – This society is based in the British Isles, where rock gardens first became popular. Gardeners in the United States have developed many rock gardens, but not with the enthusiastic commitment evident in England.

The Rock Garden – Very good how-to article by Alan Grainger, with sufficient information to guide a novice project.  Visit the website, The Alpine Garden for many related garden and plant photos, book reviews and other resources.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens A large and varied place, designed for visits (not so much for web browsing). This could be the most highly developed public rock garden in the United States.

How to Build Rock Gardens From About.com – This website illustrates a “rockery,” a garden design that is based on rocks, but which does not pretend to a natural look. This might also be called a “dog’s grave.”

Poisoning the Pollinators

It’s about time for National Pollinator Week, June 16–23. Check it out at Polllintaor Partnership.

Big agriculture uses many synthetic chemicals. Consumers are concerned by neonicotinoids (“neonics”), which are sprayed on nearly all cornfields, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects this year will cover an area equal nearly the size of California.  Neonics also are sprayed on many garden center plants, and are used on seeds used to grow soy, wheat, cotton, sorghum, peanuts and other crops.

These chemicals persist in soils, travel through plants and poison nectar and pollen. USDA scientists found an average of nine pesticides and fungicides in a sample of plants. The contaminated pollen is eaten by hive bees, which pollinate many of the plants we eat, and many wild bees, which pollinate 90% of all flowering plants.

Neonics do not to kill bees, but seem to reduce the bees’ ability to resist infection by a parasitic fungus and could make bees more susceptible to the parasitic Varroa mite. Researchers at Harvard University also suspect that neonics impair honeybee’s memory, cognition or behavior, and damage their ability to navigate back to their hive.

Increasingly, research indicates that neonics contribute to “Colony Collapse Disorder,” which refers to the sudden decline of entire beehives. During the past five years, some 30% of bees in the United States have simply disappeared. This is about 50% greater than the expected rate.

The Environmental Protection Agency now requires that neonic product labels include a bee hazard icon and directions to minimize use where bees and other pollinators could forage, or where sprays could drift to hives or “pollinator attractive habitats.” Sadly, the EPA’s labels do not address neonic-treated seeds, which also affect bees.

In July of 2013, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (H.R 2692) was introduced. This bill would suspend the use of neonics until proven safe, and harmless to pollinators. Observers give the bill a zero chance to become law.

Meanwhile, the principal producers of neonics, Bayer and Syngenta, insist that CCD is not caused by their pesticides, but by parasites, pathogens, loss of habitat and other factors. Monsanto, which treats its seeds with neonics, joins in these arguments.

As private and public interests clash, home gardeners can help to protect our pollinators:

  • Buy only certified-organic seeds and plant starts.
  • Eliminate synthetic chemical pesticides from your garden.
  • Plant wildflowers to attract and feed bees.
  • Leave part of your landscape natural for solitary-living native bees.
  • Ask your congressman to support the Saving America’s Pollinators Act.

A world without bees means a world without flowers!

Mote

Several organizations have posted formation about problems for honeybees.. Interested readers can conduct their own search for “Colony Collapse Disorder” or related search terms.  Here are some websites that I have found to be informative.

For more information for residential gardeners, see the brochure, “Bee Safe Gardening Tips,” by Bee Action and Friends of the Earth.

For a n analysis of the position taken by producers of neonics, see Michele Simon’s well-research report, “Follow the Honey: 7 was pesticide companies are spinning the bee crisis tg protect profits.” This report also is distributed by Bee Action and Friends of the Earth.

Another interesting and useful paper from Friends of the Earth, for home gardeners, is
Gardeners Beware: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in “Bee-Friendly” Plants Sold at Garden Centers Nationwide. It should not be surprising that garden centers, especially the big box stores, want to eliminate insects on the plants they sell, and use insecticides for that purpose, but it might be surprising to learn that about half the time those insecticides are toxic to honeybees.

Other websites to check out include the following:

Beyond Pesticides This site is about all pollinators, not just honeybees. In particular, see th recent article “Not Longer a BIG Mystery,” which concludes that there is no longer any ambiguity about the impact of synthetic chemicals on bees and other pollinators.

Melissa Garden A great source of information about Plants for Pollinators and information about bees.  (“Melissa” is a Greek word meaning honeybee.)

The Xerces Society An authoritative —and interesting—site for invertebrate conservation, with a focus on bees and butterflies and other threatened invertebrates,

 

What GE food labeling means for consumers, growers

Bill goes to state Senate next week as part of slow approval process that could end with decision in hands of governor

Almost two months ago, I traced the progress of California legislation that would require labels on grocery items that contain genetically engineered (GE) food ingredients. Today’s column provides an update of the status of that legislation, and asks what it means to gardeners and grocery shoppers.

First, the Health, Agriculture and Judiciary Committees each have approved Senate Bill 1381, so the full Senate will consider it next week. If the Senate approves the bill, the Assembly will consider it. Then, assuming both houses pass the bill, it will go to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature, which would make GE labeling California law.

This methodical sequence exemplifies the democratic process: thorough but not always fast.

The process of course includes lots of lobbying by both consumer groups who insist that the public has a right to know what is in their food, and corporate groups who prefer a cloak of darkness. Have I revealed my bias? I hope so.

What does this legislation mean for gardeners and grocery shoppers?

First, it would become effective January 1, 2016, so the legal impact wouldn’t be immediate. The practical impact, however, would be felt soon. Food providers would quickly re-design their labeling (a common occurrence, actually, not an unusual expense).

Another short-term impact would be that twenty other states (at last count) would advance similar legislation. According to the California Department of Food & Agriculture, the state’s agriculture industry revenues totaled $44.7 billion in 2012, making it one of the nation’s largest food producers. California’s action would establish the national standard for GE food labeling.

Another outcome: grocery shoppers would see the new labels, and very possibly would increase their purchases of non-GE foods, i.e., organic foods, which by federal regulation cannot include GE ingredients. This would substantially boost in the market for organically grown produce, and a statistically small but meaningful loss of demand for products with GE ingredients.

In the longer view, because GE technology typically makes crops immune to weed killers and has encouraged vast increases in uses of synthetic chemical pesticides, GE food labeling would reduce those uses and the accumulation of those chemicals in our environment.

Another longer-term impact, based on weeds’ natural adaptation to synthetic chemical pesticides, would be to slow the growth of pesticide-resistant “super weeds.” Scientists have for years predicted the emergence of such weeds, which are beginning to appear. The corporate perspective on super weeds does not foresee the loss of business for GE seeds and the related synthetic pesticides, but rather the introduction of even more toxic synthetic pesticides, such as the defoliant Agent Orange.

Home gardeners surely would benefit from a more natural environment with less contamination from synthetic chemicals. Fortunately, the evolutionary development of super weeds, which seriously impacts commercial farmers, won’t bother the home gardener because they can pull even super weeds by their roots.

Gardening helps us to avoid the usual daily stresses but politics still intrude.

More

This issue will stay in the state and national news for the foreseeable future, whether or not the California Senate approves the current legislation. Those who want to follow the issue have ample information sources on-line, and on both sides of the issue.

A good place to start would be to read California’s Senate Bill 1381, which is only nine pages long. Search the Internet for “California SB 1381.”

The arguments of opponents to label genetically engineered (GE) foods are represented well by The Atlantic magazine. The most recent article, by Molly Ball, appeared on May 14, 2014, with the title “Want to Know If Your Food Is Genetically Modified?” At last count, it had 2,103 comments by readers.

An August 20, 2013 article in Scientific American,  “Labels for GMO Foods are a Bad Idea,” also has inspired hundreds of comments (a recent response was gated May 19, 2014).

For the full picture, read these articles and at least a sample of the readers’ comments.

The advocates of labeling are well represented on consumer-oriented websites, particularly the following:

Organic Consumers Association

Center for Food Safety

Beyond Pesticides

 

Gardening on Slopes

Last week, we explored ways to accomplish elevation changes to add visual interest to a flat garden. When we begin with a very different topography, one with significant ups and downs, a surplus of visual interest could challenge the gardener.

A gentle slope could present minimal problems. It could in fact enhance drainage and sight lines, so that the viewer could see more of the landscape at once. A property that slopes away from the residence would be preferred, however, to one that slopes toward the residence and could directs rainwater to places where is unwanted.

A significantly sloping garden site could raise problems in two areas: navigation and water erosion. Both problems could be addressed with a single strategy, in some cases, but we will first consider them separately.

Water erosion in a garden will lead eventually to the loss of plants, topsoil and desirable organic material, so it must be controlled. There are two strategies for controlling erosion in landscaping: slowing the flow of water to promote percolation and growing plants to hold the soil in place (and also to help slow the flow of water).

The primary method for slowing the flow of water is to install baffles. For a gentle slope, baffles could be landscape timbers or stones. Steeper slopes could require a series of terraces. Terraces could be created by digging steps into the slope, and reinforcing the risers with wood, stone, bricks or concrete. The materials could be more or less natural in appearance: for example, a wooden reinforcement could be logs or milled lumber, a concrete wall could be poured in place or made with concrete blocks.

Terraces, like steps, have treads and risers, but these elements can differ greatly in their dimensions. For steps, treads should be no less than eleven inches, and risers should be no greater than six inches. For terraces, however, treads should be much deeper, enough for both a planting bed and an access path for maintenance. Terrace risers can be of any height needed to control erosion. Note that a permit could be required for a riser high enough that the local building code defines as a wall (four feet, often).

Terraces could slow the flow of water without vegetation, but they would be more effective when the addition of plants. For a moderately steep slope, a combination of terraces and steps could be a substantial challenge for both engineering and garden design. This example shows the combination of terraces and steps. Notice, also, that a grassed pathway provides access to the upper planting bed. 37b26aa74349cf431f12649af9a74864 Some slopes are simply too steep for terracing. In such situations, the slope should be planted to hold the soil in place. When starting with bare soil, as with new construction, temporary installation of landscape netting, coir logs or biodegradable wattles could help the plants to establish their roots.

The next image illustrates the temporary use of biodegradable wattles to minimize water erosion while new plants establish their roots. It is not clear from this distant view if seeds or seedlings have yet been installed, but that action generally would follow the placement of wattles.

Management of large, steep slopes like this one should include soil testing and engineering study to ensure that the planned actions will be effective and the slope will have been stabilized.

theHill

Gardening on a slope involves some challenges, but the end result can be elevating!

Renovating the Garden — Ups and Downs

Our mini-series on garden renovation continues with working with both even and uneven topography.

Most gardeners in urban areas have a flat garden area, in which the elevation does not vary significantly. The advantages of a flat garden are primarily matters of ease of use: climbing is not needed and rolling equipment moves without extraordinary effort.

The disadvantages of a flat garden, on the other hand, are both aesthetic and horticultural. Changes of level invite creative landscaping concepts, with opportunities to lead the viewer’s eye to focal points, to conceal and reveal garden vignettes, or to shape a walking path through the garden.

Changes of level also invite different plant varieties. A small rise in elevation can improve drainage dramatically and warm the soil faster, thereby support healthy growth of many plants.

The quickest way to achieve a small elevation change in a flat garden is to build a raised bed, which is usually a rectangular area for a vegetable garden, but could be formed as circles or spirals. Such raised beds provide horticultural benefits, but lack the natural look that most prefer for an ornamental garden. (The idea of mixing ornamentals and edibles, which dates back to the kitchen gardens of colonial days, is a topic for another day.)

The preferred approach to create elevation changes in a flat garden is to install a Mediterranean mound, which provides a growing environment well suited for California natives and other plants from Mediterranean climates. This is simply a mound of soil about eighteen inches high and as wide and long as would fit in your landscape plan. Here’s an example from the website, www.the-organic-gardener.com/.

flower-mounds-meadows

Establishing a Mediterranean mound in your garden provides opportunities for size and placement, with the overall design in mind. The usual goal is to simulate a natural setting.

The garden renovator could create a Mediterranean mound by moving soil from high spots, or by creating a low spot (which could be fine site for a bog garden). Other situations will require trucking in topsoil from a landscape supply center. Such a bold approach could yield long-term rewards.

For information on creating and planting Mediterranean Mounds visit the website of Sierra Azul Nursery www.sierraazul.com/mounds.html. You also can see several mounds in the nursery’s demonstration garden in Watsonville.

More extensive approaches to creating elevation changes for a flat garden could require earth-moving equipment, a city permit (especially if your property is in an archeologically sensitive zone) and civil engineering to ensure drainage.

Here is an example of ambitious “land-sculpting” on an estate in England.

Landform_Ueda_(3)_720_tcm4-666168

Consider both benefits and costs.

Next: uneven topography.

Renovating the Garden —Good and Bad Views

Renovating the Garden – Good and Bad Views

Tom Karwin

In recent columns on garden renovation, we have focused on planning, removing unwanted plants and hardscape, and analyzing the garden’s soil. This column takes a closer look at objectives for the landscape.

Earlier, we wrote, “Envision how you will use the landscape: outdoors living, with parties, barbeques, etc.; recreation for children or adults; growing fruits and vegetables; or simply enjoying horticultural displays. Write it down.”

The intended uses are basic in landscape planning, but more specific objectives might be relevant to a given property. Here are two examples.

Block an Undesired View

Many homes are close to other homes, public buildings or commercial establishments, and garden renovators might wish to block the view of adjacent structures or activities. Blocking a view has creating privacy as its corollary.

This objective can be accomplished by installing one or more shrubs or trees to interrupt a sightline between a favored spot on the landscape and the undesired view, or between a spot where privacy is wanted and a place where an off-site viewer might be.

This strategic act will succeed most quickly if the renovator installs large plants, but that can be very expensive. The garden renovator should be patient enough to install plants of affordable size, and savvy enough to select shrubs or trees that are fast-growing but otherwise garden-worthy.

Resist any inclination to install a shrubbery wall to block the view to and from the public sidewalk and street. This landscaping device announces, “A recluse lives here.” Adjustable window coverings are better alternatives.

Frame a Desired View

The viewshed of some homes might include a field or forest or mountain or ocean or some other scene that pleases the eye. It might be the natural environment or a built structure. In such happy situations, the first landscaping objective should be retain or reveal the view. This might require removing poorly placed trees or shrubs, and not installing plants that would grow to obscure the view.

The second objective should be to develop landscaping that draws attention to the viewshed and to its best features. This might involve framing the view from a selected observation area, which might be inside the residence or on a deck or patio. Just as a picture frame separates a picture from it surroundings, carefully positioned trees can highlight a desired viewshed.

In time, an undesired view could become unobjectionable, and new construction could block a desired view. Whatever happens, your view shed rights stop at the property line, so manage your landscaping accordingly.

More

Trees that are fast-growing but otherwise garden-worthy.

Proving once again that the Internet provides access to a vast store of information, Clink this link to the website Fast-growing Trees. There are three pages of trees that are fast-growing and suitable for USDA Hardiness Zone 9, which includes the Monterey Bay area.

When selecting a fast-growing tree to install in your particular garden, consider (in addition to the hardiness zone) the mature height and width of the tree, appearance, and any other factors that are important to you. Some of the trees listed on the Fast-Growing Trees website are too large for a smaller property, and some are too small to be useful as a screen of an undesired view.

Here is a link to This Old House on Fast-Growing Shade Trees.

In my own garden, several years ago I planted three seedlings of Pittosporum tenuifolium fairly close together, to screen a nearby property. The seedlings, which had sprouted in another part of the property, grew rapidly to over 30 feet, which is taller than I expected, based on the available information. This shrub (also called P. nigricans, because of its dark branches) is evergreen and trouble-free, so it has been a very successful screen.

Here are those three large shrubs in my garden. doing a good job of concealing the house beyond (click to enlarge).

 IMG_0302

Finally, here is a link to SF Gate for more information about this large shrub.

 

Renovating the Garden – More Planning

Gardening and landscaping involves planning before getting your hands in the soil.

Last week’s column, which was about renovating a garden, recommended four preparatory actions:

  1. Draw a Diagram of the Property
  2. Decide on Basic Design Concepts
  3. Establish Objectives for the Finished Landscape
  4. Set Priorities for Development

Once the gardener has completed those actions, he or she still has to additional tasks to complete. Those tasks are the focus of this week’s column.

Remove Unwanted Plants

A neglected garden probably motivated the landscape renovation project. Neglect often includes trees and woody shrubs that have outgrown their space, lack a role in the new design, or are unhealthy. In some cases, this task will require contracting with an arborist or laborers. Check local ordinances before removing trees.

All herbaceous plants that are unwanted are defined as weeds. These include garden plants and grasses as well as common weeds. Pull or dig larger plants, then remove grasses and weeds efficiently with chemical-free solarization. This method covers the target area with clear plastic so that the sun raises the temperature of the soil, killing weeds, pathogens, nematodes, and insects. For details, see the University of California’s free online publication “Soil Solarization for Gardens & Landscapes.”

Removing weed plants with a do-it-yourself approach could be time-consuming and frustrating. Consider contracted services to get the job done quickly and thoroughly.

Remove Unwanted Hardscape

If your garden includes paving, e.g., sidewalk, patio, walls or outbuildings that are not included in the new design, remove them to free your progress. Again, consider contracted services to speed the work. This would be a good time to invite a disinterested friend to comment on your garden accessory collection, and to remove items that are no longer assets.

Analyze Soil Structure

The gardener should know the structure of the garden’s soil. An ideal soil would have 45% minerals (sand, clay, silt), 5% organic material (plant and animal), 25% air and 25% water.

Click to Enlarge

Soil Textural Triangle

The Soil Texture Triangle illustrates various combinations of sand, clay and silt that might be found in a garden. The mineral content of ideal garden soil, called loam, should be about 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. A simple method to analyze your garden’s soil texture, involves placing a sample of your soil in a jar with water, shaking  and then letting it settle into density layers. Here are Organic Gardening’s brief instructions for a soil texture test.  Also, check out this helpful article by the Marin Master Gardeners.

Notice that these preparations do not include buying plants! For many gardeners, the primary strategy for improving the landscape is to buy plants. That approach, without an overall plan, weakens the landscape design and wastes time and money.

Enjoy your preparation! The fun stuff (selecting and installing plants) comes next.

Preparing to Landscape

Gardeners might look at their gardens with a mix of disappointment, desire for a delightful display and despair.

The gardener might have recently acquired the garden from someone who neglected it, or neglected it his/her self. (Life can dissuade even the most ambitious gardener.)

Renovating a garden can be a formidable challenge, leaving the gardener baffled and frustrated.

Such situations call for a plan. Here are suggestions for the early stages of a process to take control, build confidence and produce evidence of progress. These initial steps create a foundation for actual landscaping; hands-on work happens a little later.

Draw a Diagram of the Property

A scale drawing of the entire property supports the design and installation phases of the renovation. Show the improvements: house, garage, driveway, walkway, pond, walls, outbuildings, etc. Show large trees and other significant plants that definitely will remain in place, but omit all candidates for removal.

Indicate which direction is north, to aid in planning for sun exposure.

Indicate major changes in elevation with contour lines that trace equal elevations, or with a separate drawing of a side view of a slice through the property. Visit ongardening.com for an example of a garden elevation change diagram.

This diagram (or “base map”) might be drawn on graph paper to ease measurements, and should be rendered in black ink to enable clear photocopies. Make several photocopies for sketching design ideas.

Decide on Basic Design Concepts

Write down your intentions to, for example, commit to organic gardening, establish a drought-tolerant landscape, adopt one or more thematic approaches to plant selection, or establish a wildlife-friendly environment. This exercise helps to provide direction to planning the renovation, but it can be revised during the project.

Establish Objectives for the Finished Landscape

Envision how you will use the landscape: outdoors living, with parties, barbeques, etc.; recreation for children or adults; growing fruits and vegetables; or simply enjoying horticultural displays. Write it down.

Set Priorities for Development

Break the renovation project into steps that are manageable in terms of time and money. Begin by visualizing the overall design of the landscape, emphasizing the hardscape elements: pathways; planting bed borders; stairways or walls (if there are important elevation changes); outbuildings, etc.

Subsequent priorities could focus on either specific zones within the landscape, or desired features.

These early actions will contribute greatly to the larger goals to take control, build confidence and demonstrate progress. Selecting and installing plants happens after investing in these preparations.

More

Here is  good example of a base map for a residential landscaping project. This image comes from Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has a web page on Landscape Design for WIldlife. That’s an interesting topic, too, but the base map has value an an example for a wide range of landscaping projects, including renovations.

 Base Map

Behind Schedule in the Garden

The garden does not wait for the gardener, but goes about growing, reproducing, aging and eventually dying whether or not the gardener meets the schedule of seasonal tasks.

My garden has proceeded this year on its natural cycle. As the weather has warmed, even the plants for which I should have cut back last year’s growth are producing abundant new growth

Salvias exemplify this failing. Best practice with salvias is to cut them to the ground in the late winter or very early spring, when new growth first appears. This practice rejuvenates the plant, and gives it a youthful look. When the pruning is done too late, it is very difficult to avoid cutting off the new growth and setting back the seasonal growth.

I cut back a few of the salvias in my garden, but left many more with their tired branches from last year.

Fortunately, perennial plants really do not depend on punctual gardeners. Salvias perform better when treated well, of course, but they will survive nicely even when neglected.

I was able to prune my roses at the right time. It is possible to let rose shrubs grow without annual pruning during the dormant season, but they will have a more compact form and produce more blossoms when cut back about one-third each year.

Fruit trees are another matter. Happily, I pruned my apple trees in a timely way: I cut back last year’s growth just before blossoms appeared on the trees. There are just four dwarf apple trees in my garden, but skipping this annual task would allow sprawling growth and reduce the yield.

I did not, however, spray my trees as recommended to discourage codling moths. I did read about the life cycle of those pests, and made life a little harder for the over-wintering larvae by raking the mulch away from the base of the trees.

Weeds also are responding well to our limited rain and the warming weather. They are growing very nicely! I haven’t identified all the several weeds that make my garden their home, but I can always spot the bright yellow flowers of sourgrass, which expands its territory in my garden each year.

Wikipedia (always helpful) has this comment about sourgrass: “Indigenous to South Africa, Oxalis pes-caprae, the ‘Bermuda buttercup,’ is an invasive species and noxious weed in many other parts of the world, including the United States (particularly coastal California)…”

Ideally, gardeners should pull this weed when it first appears, before it produces countless tiny bulbs. Sadly, I am behind schedule again this year.

This experience yields clear lessons for gardeners:

  • Strive to keep pace with Nature’s rhythm
  • Appreciate the ability of plants to thrive despite neglect, and
  • Take satisfaction in the seasonal tasks you do complete.

Enjoy your garden!

More

Several books on year-round gardening are available through your public library, your bookstore or online. For example, a search of the Amazon.co website for “gardening year-round” yields 45 pages of books to consider. Many of the books listed focus on edible gardening; several also include ornamental gardening.

Before investing your time or money in a gardening book, make sure that it has information for your gardening environment. The most useful gardening information for gardeners in the Monterey Bay area will be specific to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9. Information in books oriented to “northern California” or “Pacific Northwest” will need interpretation for gardeners in Zone 9. Books intended for other parts of the United States or the world could still be helpful, but should be treated like exotic materials.

Still, given that awareness, some classic books on year-round gardening written by English authors can be very much worth reading. Examples, include books by Vita Sackville-West, Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd.

Whether written by American or English gardening experts, the date of publication is not important: Nature’s seasonal patterns have not changed significantly.

Here are suggestions:

The Four-Season Landscape: Easy-Care Plants and Plans for Year-Round Color (A Rodale Garden Book) (1994), by Susan A. Roth (Author)

Golden Gate Gardening, 3rd Edition: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California (2010), by Pamela Peirce (Author)

Gardener to Gardener: Almanac & Pest-Control Primer (2000), by Vicki Mattern and Fern Marshal Bradley (Eds)

A Yardscapes Year: Ideas and Plants for Bay Area Gardeners (1999), by Mia Amato

The Western Gardener’s Journal: A Three-Year Almanac (1998), by Margaret Moulton

A New Food Labeling Faceoff

The California Senate Health Committee recently approved Senate Bill 1381, which would require the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. This action is triggering new flows of facts and opinions by interest groups.

This bill renews the long-running debate between consumer groups and pesticide corporations and large-scale food producers. Californians for GE Food Labeling, representing many consumer groups, claims that grocery shoppers need to know what they are buying. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, representing the food industry, claims that labeling GE foods would be expensive and misleading.

This debate dates from 1992, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that GE foods were “substantially equivalent” to conventionally grown foods and therefore do not require labeling.

Ten years later, Congress created the National Organic Program (NOP) under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The NOP ruled that GE foods do not meet NOP standards and could not be labeled as “organic.”

According to SB 1381, more than 90% of members of the public want labeling of GE foods. Maine and Connecticut have passed limited laws requiring GE food labeling, and 20 other states are considering similar laws. Voters in California and Washington have considered GE food labeling measures, but the food industry waged massive campaigns opposing the measures and both failed by very small margins.

Sixty-four countries already have laws mandating labeling of GE foods.

Two other Senate committees—Agriculture and Judiciary—will debate SB 1381before the full Senate votes on it. While the bill moves through the California Senate, the California Assembly could consider a similar bill. Both bodies would have to agree on some version of this legislation before it could become law in California. This process could be lengthy, with vigorous arguments for and against.

At the federal level, a year ago, Senator Barbara Boxer and many co-signers introduced The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, but it hasn’t advanced at all.

The FDA has proposed regulatory guidelines for voluntary labeling of GE foods. Consumer groups have dismissed this approach as not helpful.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association recently recommended federal legislation that would allow voluntary labeling of GE foods, allow describing them as “natural,” and preempt state laws that have different requirements.

Meanwhile, grocery shoppers could either buy only certified organic foods, or simply ignore the issue. Home gardeners could buy seeds from “Safe Seed Pledge” companies (listed by The Council for Responsible Genetics) and grow their own non-GE foods.

Food policies have become complicated!

More to come.