Tony Avent, the owner of Plant Delights Nursery, once said “you don’t know a plant until you have killed it three times”. Gardeners require patience and perseverance, we learn equally by our mistakes and our successes. The best gardens are deeply personal, bringing to life a unique vision and aesthetic which will be specific to the climate and soil.
The last 12 months have been an education for me in the Fort Bragg garden. The gardening environment is completely different than my previous garden in Oakland. How you ask? Well let me count the ways…
1 The soil is acidic due to the numerous conifers (pines and redwoods) surrounding the property (Oakland soil was alkaline to neutral),
2) The soil is sandier due to the coastal dunes not far away (the Oakland garden used to be a creek bed and was heavy clay…I once threatened to make a pot from it). The upside is that it drains well if the rain is not too heavy.
3) The soil is much leaner and needs tons of compost to enrich it (clay soil is full of nutrients but needs lots of lightening…both need compost),
4) The climate here is wetter in the winter; many of my fall planted ‘drought resistant plants’ succumbed to drowning.
5) The climate is much cooler in the summer, fog and cool evenings are common in mid-summer.
6) the planting beds have root competition due to the many Redwood trees surrounding my sunny meadow.
Redwoods have an extensive root system, the tiny roots can stretch as much as 100 feet from each tree but are only about 2 feet deep. Redwoods don’t have a tap root. That extensive root system, which connects with other trees surrounding them, is what holds them upright. And, those roots are invasive, searching out water and nutrients. I love the redwoods but have found I occasionally need to dig out their roots from my planting beds.
The plants and shrubs are starting to take off and the planting beds are a riot of color. I am particularly found of a Geum called totally tangerine. It grows into a green mound about 3 feet by 3 feet with branching flower stems of tangerine colored flowers on stalks that wave in any breeze. They seem to love the growing conditions here and are thriving. The orange color is particularly attractive combined with red and orange poppies and the wildflower baby blue eyes.
The pollinator wildflower garden is finally taking off. I hear lots of buzzing when I walk near it and the butterflies seem to have discovered it.
We finished adding the final two raised beds to the vegetable garden. This month I harvested the last of the kale (now blanched and in the freezer) and planted my first warm season veggies. They include bush beans, red runner pole beans, summer squash, basil, and summer lettuce. I warned my favorite builder that we may need to add a hoop house to one of the beds to give the zucchini more warmth.
Last year I planted tomatoes and cucumbers but our summer was too cool and foggy for them. The few that did grow were pecked by the ravens before they ripened. I’m not even going to try this year. I have more hope for the summer squash…fingers crossed, hence the hoop house.
The runner beans are planted in a half wine barrel. In our temperate climate they sometimes act as perennials and will come back from the roots. They were a favorite of my grandfather and did come back for him each year in the U.K. They also tolerate cooler weather, which is a blessing.
Both the sweet pea flowers and the edible peas are doing well. I harvested the first peas this past weekend to make a pea and asparagus salad.
The sweet pea flowers are very aromatic, so far only the pink ones are blooming. They are one of my favorite flowers and always remind me of my grandmother in England. She had a long row of them at the side of her garden.
Now to end with a quick look at the two main garden beds off the back of the house.
The rhododendrons are starting to bloom, a little later this year than last.
And here is a look at the garden last year in May, 2018.
Garden chores for this month include side dressing with compost and weeding.
I’ve planted lettuce, arugula, cilantro, basil, summer squash, runner beans and bush beans from seed.