Monday, May 27, 2013

In Search of the American Potager

Much of my garden plant placement has been an exercise in trial and error. I place plants in one bed one year and opt to plant the same type in another location the next year. Some years I focus on flowers, other years I focus more on vegetables. My herb garden alone has made a move from one location to another and I am still contemplating yet another move to location number 3! I am always reevaluating the best ways to use my space, and with a mostly annual plant type garden, this is fairly easy to accomplish as annual plant life spans allow a gardener to start over in a new location on a seasonal basis. Perennial plant moves are harder and many times one has to start over from scratch. (The herbs didn't transplant well, later died, and needed to be repurchased and replanted in their new home.) Ever practical by nature, I have been searching for a design that would optimize my garden space to fit the maximum vegetables without creating overcrowding and that would give some sort of structure to my formless garden bed meanderings. 

Enter the not-so-new idea of the Potager/ Kitchen garden of early Europe. Through ancient to early modern Europe, peasants, clergy, and lords maintained their household gardens typically close to the kitchen. These kitchens fed families and were the mainstay of main a fine and simple table. These potagers became more formal through the late medieval period as monks and other clergy members developed these agricultural gardens for their specific needs. For more information about the history of the Potager garden, please read Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An America Potager Handbook by Jennifer R. Bartley. This book has been instrumental in helping me start my potager. It includes gorgeous pictures of old world and new world potagers as well as designs. In designing a potager, here are the most important elements to keep in mind:

Review your space: determine how much sun the area receives and place plants according to their sunlight needs.
  1. Consider your kitchen's culinary needs: Place your potager close to your kitchen for easy access and choose plants based on what you like to cook and eat.
  2. Layout: Potagers look neat and formal from a bird's eye view and repeat sequencing of plants. The key is to create a sense of unity in texture and color.
  3. Enclose the garden: Traditional potagers are enclosed by a natural or man made wall to give a sense of charm and exclusivity within a garden space. I struggled with this concept due to practical purposes: how will I water the plants with an enclosure in the way. I opted not to completely enclose the area, but rather used annual flowers to create a border effect.
  4. Create an edge to raised beds: Edging makes the space look neat and formal but in my garden, practical needs have outweighed aesthetic ones at this time. 
  5. Counterpoint - This is the idea of using colors at opposite sides of the color wheel. I am not good at this because I tend to plant what I want, when I want and damn the consequences. Perhaps this is proof I need more structure?
  6. Verticality: A tomato gardener doesn't need to be told twice. Utilize trellises and support for vining plants to increase the visual appeal.
  7. Winter uses: I need to contemplate my seasonal plantings. I like to let my beds go fallow for a couple of months during winter so I can recharge my batteries.  My potager only has annual plants at this time so I need to reconsider the winter. (Bartley 97-118)
Here are the step to our first Potager (we started process in March so we could plant in early April):

Amending the soil: we used 3 bags of compost and 3 bags of chicken manure for  ~150 sq  ft
Roto-tilling the soil, crunching up weeds and mixing in amendments
Ready for placement of stones in new pattern
Stones placed, all pieces reused from previous bed configuration.
Round 1 of the planting included beets, kale, sunflowers, green beans and arugula from seed, San Marzano tomato, pepper, and annual flower seedlings. Round 2 will include more tomato and pepper seedlings. Round 3 will include tomato and pepper seedlings and more beets from seed.

Overview of warm season potager
Annual flower edging: marigolds and zinnias
San Marzano tomatoes and basil in bloom
I am enjoying the potager design since it allows me to stagger planting, maximize square footage, experiment with new crops, and rotate crops between the cool and warm seasons. I plan to potagerize the three beds on the east side of my garden and use one side for early spring vegetables (cool season) and the other for late spring/ summer vegetables (warm season). I plan to create a greater sense of enclosure by planting roses on the north side of the bed, but I do not want to start that project until the property fence height has been increased (for more privacy). Lastly, my herb garden is going to need some editing and revision to get it up to potager standards. I keep gaining more form and function in the garden thanks to potager ideals; I look forward to seeing the plants filling in the spaces and producing copious amounts of vegetables for a bountiful summer table.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gopher Tales

I planted a late winter/ early spring vegetable garden of Brassica and lettuce leaf vegetables in early February. I was just beginning to reap the rewards, harvesting Swiss chard and kale for my vegetable soups. But then I noticed that the four of each plant began to reduce one by one by one each day. I had four lovely kale plants, and then  . . .

It didn't take that long to figure out that I had a gopher. The Swiss cheese like holes and the magically disappearing veggies confirmed it. I even watched it happen! It was surreal - like a silly cartoon. This can't be happening, I thought, my cabbage just got sucked down a hole! Hubby was ready to declare war on the pesky creature after it started munching on his precious collards. Unfortunately, setting up shop on the roof sniper-style is not acceptable in San Diego. So, we tried and old wives' tale trick: Bounce dryer sheets. Supposedly the little buggers hate the scent. But my plants kept disappearing. So, we tried gopher repellent made mostly from castor oil. We would never introduce actual poison into our garden ecosystem because we do not want predators up the food chain to suffer and / or die. Too many times, rodent predators such as owls, hawks, and neighborhood cats have died terribly due to eating a poisoned gopher or rodent. Please, please resist the urge to got to this extreme. These predatory animals are a gardener's best friend in the war against vermin. Please do not put them at risk!  

Earl on gopher patrol among the cabbages.
Frustrated, I spoke to my neighbor about the vegetable thievery. He recommend that I use his cat, Earl, as pest abatement, citing the fact that he had already killed all the gophers on his family's property, as well as a property belonging to a neighbor. I hired the worthy assassin, promising payment of one handful of kibble now and one later. I don't know if Earl got the gopher or if the repellent did its duty, but the gratuitous vegetable murders have abated in the last couple of weeks. The early spring, cool season vegetables have run their course and have since been removed in favor of the warm weather offerings: tomatoes, peppers, and summer squash. Either the gophers aren't interested in them or they have moved on to other pastures. I have a theory that they don't like plants from the nightshade family, specifically tomatoes, peppers, and basil. There was not a nibble on those plants during the same period of the Brassica assaults. I continue to stay vigilant, looking for tell-tale gopher holes and chewed plant stems and I continue my overtures of friendship to the neighborhood cats.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why you should mulch your landscape beds

Mulch can provide a range of benefits for plants in landscape beds.

1. Mulch reduces evaporation from the soil surface and helps to ensure that water reaches plant roots instead of going back into the atmosphere.
2. Mulch reduces the soil temperature helping to protect the plant roots from being damaged.
3. As mulch decomposes it adds organic matter to the soil. This aids in the soil’s ability to retain plant nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron.
4. Mulch can help to control weeds, reducing the need for herbicides or hand-weeding.
5. Mulch can provide a buffer between mowers and string trimmers reducing the chance of damage to trees and other ornamental plants.
6. Mulch can improve the contrast between landscape beds and lawn providing a cleaner-looking edge.
Mulch can help landscapes look better as well as protecting plants
from wilting and overheating and having to compete against weeds.   

Vertical plants make good use of tight spaces

Growing plants vertically makes good use of space in smaller gardens. Vining ornamental plants, like mandevilla and ipomoea, and vegetables, like cucumbers, pole beans and melons, can be grown using trellises, cages, fences and pergolas.
The vining habit of Sun Parasol
Star & Stripes mandevilla make it
perfectly suited for growing vertically.  


No space for a garden--try yardless gardening

Living in an upstairs apartment or a condominium with a small back patio? These are perfect spots for yardless gardens that can accommodate container gardens. Before choosing your plants and containers, make sure the plants you want to grow will have enough room to grow and develop roots.

Also make sure that the containers have drainage holes so the growing medium doesn't get waterlogged. Use a well-draining potting mix with organic matter like sphagnum peat moss and composted bark and vermiculite or perlite to improve drainage.
Container gardens allow everyone to garden
 regardless of whether they have a yard or not.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Don't think you can grow roses--try Sunrosa

If you have tried growing roses in your landscape in the past and been unsuccessful, consider giving the Sunrosa rose series a try. Part of the Suntory Collection, these roses are available in Red, Soft Pink and Yellow.

The plants have a compact, bushy growth habit. Best of all they are highly disease resistant, require less pruning and have a long flowering period. Due to the plants' compact habit, these roses are great for yards with small to medium landscape spaces and also can be used in patio containers.

Sunrosa Red 
Sunrosa Soft Pink
Sunrosa Yellow

Don't have room for bougainvillea--try layering

If you'd like to give your garden a tropical feel and think bougainvillea plants are too large, then consider the Sunvillea series. Better Homes and Gardens said some of the best gardens use layering in which layers of plants that grow at different heights are combined. The semi-dwarf Sunvillea bougainvillea (Rose, Pink and Cream) fit well in this type of garden. Even if you don't live in a warm-climate area, Better Homes and Gardens suggests you can still take advantage of tropicals such as bougainvillea. Treat them as annuals or grow them in containers and bring them indoors for the winter.
Using layering, in which layers of plants that
grow at different heights are combined, enables
you to use tropical plants like bougainvillea. 

Avoid over-fertilizing perennial plants

Perennial flowers, ground covers and grasses generally don’t need a lot of fertilizer and, in fact, some will react negatively if too much is applied. Heavy fertilization of perennial plants can cause excessive growth than can lead to flopping over half-way through the gardening season. Over-fertilization can also affect bloom performance, producing ample foliage at the expense of the number of flowers produced.

Plants in a healthy garden soil with organic material may require no fertilization. Soil composed primarily of sand with little organic natter, may benefit from routine, light fertilization. Application of a slow-release fertilizer can meet the season-long nutrient requirements, but a balanced fertilizer such as 20-5-10 can also be used.
Slow-release fertilizers are formulated to be effective
for either three to four months or five to six months.

Spring rains promote unwanted pest--mosquitoes

Warm temperatures and ample rainfall have allowed mosquitoes to become fully active in many parts of the country. Summer mosquitoes produce generation after generation of mosquitoes as long as there is standing water available. These mosquitoes have benefitted from the wet spring in some parts of the country.

Reducing mosquito bites revolves around the use of repellents, loose-fitting clothing, tight-fitting window screens and yard sprays with malathion, permethrin or cyfluthin, and simply staying indoors during peak mosquito times (around sunrise and sunset). Propane-fired foggers or ULV (ultra-low volume) sprayers can also be used to kill the adult mosquitoes in yards.
Summer mosquitoes produce generation after generation
of mosquitoes as long as there is standing water available.


Hibiscus adds tropical flair to container gardens

If you think hibsicus can only be used in landscapes or as a specimen plant, take a look at this container garden from Better Homes and Gardens. The container includes hibiscus along with Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra' (Japanese bloodgrass), Salvia splendens and New Guinea impatiens 'Celebration Deep Red'. The bold, bright colors really give this combination a tropical feel.
A. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, 1 plant
B. Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra' (Japanese bloodgrass ), 3 plants
C. Salvia splendens, 3 plants
D. New Guinea impatiens Celebration Deep Red', 3 plants

Friday, May 17, 2013

Protect your home from wildfires

Every spring, homeowners should inspect their property to eliminate hazards that can burn their homes and damage their property from spreading wildfires. Dried grass, brush, and dead leaves provide fuel to a wildfire.

Green vegetation rarely burns or greatly slows down the progression of a fire. Creating a barrier 3- to 5-foot wide barrier with stone mulches also helps reduce the threat posed by ground-based wildfires.

Cleaning out gutters and eaves of dried leaves and needles as well as removing debris off of the roof can prevent aairbornee embers from igniting the roof of a home. Dried leaves and grass that pile up under outdoor decks and porches should also be cleaned out regularly to reduce the risk of embers being blown underneath a deck or porch and starting a fire.

Consider removing all but scattered trees within a 30- to 60-foot fuel break around a home. Any trees left within this fuel break should be pruned of all branches up to a height of 6-10 feet from the ground. This helps prevent fast-moving ground fires from “laddering” up into the tree crowns.
Now is a good time for homeowners to inspect their
property to eliminate hazards that can burn their
 homes and damage their property from wildfires.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Simplify with a low-maintenance garden

National Garden Bureau collected tips from its Facebook fans about creating a low-maintenance garden. Here are some of tips they provided.

1. Selected the right plants for your location. The more you try to test the boundaries of garden zones and climates, the more difficult it will be for plants to thrive.

2. Choose perennials that are slower growing so there is less of a need for dividing or thinning them.

3. Choose annuals varieties that don't require a lot of dead-heading to stay tidy and clean.

4. Consider native plants, which are more likely to hardy in your area and have already adapted to your climatic conditions.

5. Make good choices for companion plantings. Consider plants that can overgrow early flowering species, such as spring bulb crops, that die back reducing the need to trim or remove yellowing or dying foliage.
Gardening can be made simpler by designing and installing
a low-maintenance garden.