Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

Striking a Balance

A gloriously clear day after the first big rain of the season, and the garden calls. Where to start? I need to strike a balance between our enjoyment of beauty and the garden’s needs. The lavender still gives off its evocative scent, and its color is still purple, a gray-purple, like twilight clouds. But if I leave it much longer the stems will die off. Besides, more rain is due in a couple of days, so soon the soil will be too wet to walk on. The task has to be done today.

Even now, where to cut is a challenge. Snip too high, and each rounded bush will resemble a pincushion. Too low, below where a small gray-green pair of leaves has sprouted, and the stem will die anyway. I don’t have time to manicure each individual stem. I take a breath, grab a handful of stems, and cut.

A flotilla of coyote bush seeds sails by on the wind. Negotiating the balance between garden plantings and native vegetation on this stretch of the Mendocino Coast requires the patience and skill of a diplomat. Coyote bush was here first, and provides excellent forage for the small, seed-eating birds that flock here in the fall. Douglas fir grows here too, and Douglas iris, and blue-eyed grass. Again, a balance. The Douglas fir seedlings have to go if they are close to the house. Iris and blue-eyed grass get to stay. Coyote bush, the most prolific, I allow on the outskirts of the garden. But here where it would crowd out the lavender, no. I reach down and yank out babies from between the lavender bushes.

Vegetable Garden, Take 2

My March gardening enthusiasm was a flop. Of all the seeds I planted, only lettuce, peas, fava beans and a few chard came up. Creepy-crawlies quickly demolished the chard. The weather stayed cold and wet. Weeds flourished. I turned my back. Then May arrived with its soft days, and I was tempted once again. This time I hied me to my favorite local nursery, North Star, where I found lovingly grown organic vegetable starts. I brought home chard, red cabbage, kale, basil,  parsley, and two tomato plants, Oregon Spring and Sweet 100.  The peas are coming in to harvest. The garlic looks happy. For now, optimism triumphs.

Natives and Exotics

My friend Diana, who lives in New Zealand, has a wonderful piece in her journal today about the “exotic” species in her garden. It set me thinking about where I live. The English sparrows and starlings that forage in town don’t have much chance here at the edge of the forest, where the native birds are so dominant. Our resident Red-Shouldered Hawk argues noisily with the ravens, an American Robin sings his heart out from the top of the tallest fir. A dozen quail putter through the garden, and the returning Violet-Green Swallows inspect their nest site in the porch.

Of plants my garden is a mixture: some natives, but more Mediterranean and Australian dry-summer species. My little apple tree is in glorious blossom. But the tree I treasure is a young and flourishing Pohutukawa, a New Zealand native that reminds me of the beaches of my childhood.

Spring Garden

A soft spring day here on the Mendocino Coast, a perfect day for planting my vegetable garden. Every year this exercise is a triumph of hope against the reality of cutworms, earwigs, slugs,  snails, and the voles that have figured out how to scramble up the sides of my raised beds and lay waste to the crops.

As I hoe and rake weeds and sticks from the rough compost I spread several weeks ago, pictures come into my mind. My mother raking off hoed weeks with the same light touch I am using now. My father filling a deep trench with lawn clippings to make a hot bed for his asparagus. My grandmother bending to pick a harvest of chard. It pleases me to see myself in a line of people who grow their own vegetables.

The snow peas I planted earlier in the season are taking off, but there are gaps in the row where a bird–a robin, I suspect–nipped off the suculent new shoots. I pull out the seed packet and push more seeds into the spaces.

In another bed, garlic is about six inches tall. Nearby is a potato sprouted from one missed last year. I might as well add a few more from the pantry to keep it company: organic Russian Fingerlings, already nicely sprouted. I expect my grandchildren will have fun digging through the earth for the harvest this summer.

Another favorite harvest for kids is carrots. I like to grow a half-long variety. Next to them a row of shallots, since I read somewhere that carrots and onions like to grow together. Kale: I’m trying a mild elephant kale this year. A lettuce mix, of course, and chard, a colorful variety called Neon Lights that does well in this climate. A few fava beans left over from last year.  Against the wall of the potting shed, some pole beans, a French variety. It’s a more sheltered spot than where I tried them before, unsuccessfully. But I’m willing to gamble: if mildew doesn’t get them, the voles probably will. And if neither of these things happen, we’ll have elegant beans.

I’ve left a fallow corner in one of the beds. Maybe I’ll buy a tomato start and plant it there. Maybe not. Tomatoes are problematic here; the summers are too cool and foggy. I’ll decide another day. Meanwhile, a hot shower and that pleasant tiredness of a day well spent.


I planted garlic this afternoon. I’m running a little late. My friend who lives at Comptche, inland from here, and grows beautiful garlic, likes to plant at Winter Solstice and harvest at Summer Solstice. But I figure January 2 is close enough. Anyway, the solstice was rainy, and today was sunny and mild, an excellent day for being outdoors. After spading in compost from a well-matured pile, I selected a good-sized head from last year’s crop, broke it apart, and dropped each fine fat clove into its hole.

The rest of last year’s crop hangs in a decorative sheaf by my kitchen window, where it’s convenient to clip off a head when I need to replenish my Wild River Pottery garlic jar.  I haven’t yet figured out how to make garlic braids like my friend in Comptche. Maybe this year …