Sharing Secrets  

Sharing Secrets is a great way to tap into the incredible wealth of knowledge our members possess!  We publish Sharing Secrets responses in the monthly Let's Talk Plants newsletter and also pose the following month question for members. We invite our members to email suggestions for the monthly question as well as answers and suggestions for this month's question.

In this forum, we invite members to continue the discussion by adding new posts. 

If you are a non-member, you may read the posts but may not comment.

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  • Thu, October 01, 2009 6:41 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Chuck Ades brings stuff in as well as bringing something else out: “I always bring my oldest pair of shoes into the garden. I have wide feet, so I usually have a pair of shoes with the sides broken out to make room for my big feet.  When I water, the water usually comes in through the sides of the shoes that are broken out resulting in my socks getting wet..  I usually take knee pain into the garden.  Getting old isn't a pleasure.  Sometimes I bring a cane into the garden to help me get up after weeding. You didn't ask this, but I usually bring mud into the house when I'm finished in the yard.”


    Jane Coogan Beer plans ahead: “I always bring some sort of hand pruners and some container of clean water. Bouquet making is my passion, and if you think of cutting flowers as deadheading a few days early it is a constant chore. Clean and immediate water makes a big difference, especially for roses.”


    Jim Bishop has several things on his list to bring: “Though not as religious as I should be about always taking these items (I often have to come back to the house when I forget one):

    • Bandana – I’m a head sweater, so I tie a rolled up bandana around my head to keep the sweat out of my eyes. Even minor garden work or stair climbing and my head is soaked.
    • Florist shears – The ones with the short blades and loop handles. I prefer them over regular garden shears. They are good for getting in close to trim, seem to cut through everything but woody branches, are lightweight, fit easily in my pocket, and the prefect size for my hand.
    • Sunscreen – well actually I bring this on me. Having had 3 basil cell skin cancers removed, I’d rather not have anymore.

    Probably soon to be added to the list is reading glasses. I’m already gardening at arms length and since I don’t think my vision will improve or arms grow longer, I’m going to have to start taking reading glasses.


    Steve Brigham has a special take on this question: “I bring a happy mind, and when I go into my garden, my rule is to ‘enjoy it first, and worry about it second.’ Too many people get hung-up with the garden chores they know they have to do, and then they have trouble going out into their garden without thinking about all the work they have to do. Then they never get to really enjoy their garden anymore, and I will tell you that at times I have been one of those people. But no more – now I have realized once-and-for-all that I made my garden for happiness, and that's what I should get out of it, no matter what. That's what the plants want to do for you -- make you happy – so appreciate them first, don't look at the weeds, then go back in your house, get a cup of coffee, THEN go out and weed your garden.”


    Joyce Buckner likes to avoid accidents: “When in a cactus & succulent garden, it is important to wear shoes.”


    Sue Fouquette brings a “big straw lifeguard hat.”


    Carrie Goode takes precautions: “I always bring my gardening gloves, because it seems like I always have to give my roses some attention, and I have been stabbed and ripped by thorns more times than I care to think about! At least with my gloves on, my hands have a fighting chance.”


    Irina Gronborg takes a container: “I always bring a bucket with me. It’s full going out (pruners, kitchen scraps, bird seed), and it’s full coming back: an egg or two, a few oranges or tomatoes in season, roses, kale, or chard in every season, but...often without the pruner.”


    Vickie Hearne says, “One of the things I always bring with me to my garden is a linoleum knife. That's right - one of those little curved knives you find hanging with the flooring in Home Depot. Because the blade is so thin, it can easily slip between rocks and other hardscape to cut-out weeds cleanly and easily without disturbing the surrounding plants. I use it to weed between succulents in my rock garden, cut out weeds in the sidewalk cracks, even as a pruner for green branches. They're only about $3, and they last forever.


    Karen Hoffman brings several things: “I have one of those garden bags with lots of pockets and in my pockets I carry all the usual garden tools, including clippers. One does not go out into the garden without those clippers, ever. Also in my pockets I carry scissors, screwdrivers (for sprinkler heads), and eyeglasses (so I can see ties for tying up plants). I also carry several pair of gloves because they have a tendency to travel to strange places in the garden and I’m always missing either the right or the left hand; have no idea how that happens. I also carry cactus gloves, cactus tongs and cactus tweezers to pick out tiny pieces of stuff between the thorns. In the main area I carry John & Bobs, Round-Up and ant poison, for those brick areas that get ‘anty’ during the summer. In the spring I also carry granular fertilizer for my potted plants. If I had more room I would carry water, but that gets heavy. These are the basic items for everyday use. You should see what I carry in my buckets.


    Melody Huelsebusch likes a high-tech item: “I like to read and I like to garden. When the sun is shining as it most always does here I feel compelled to garden saving my reading for a cloudy day. Obviously, the reading part has been short changed until I started downloading books to my IPod. Now I always bring my IPod with me when I garden. Although I could listen to music, I find it more stimulating to listen to audio books while I garden. I am amazed at how much more I can accomplish while ‘reading’ and gardening at the same time.”

    Wayne Julien has a relaxed attitude: “I generally do not take anything with me when I go into my garden. The one exception is taking a water hose for watering on specific days. A walk through tells me what needs to be done such as weeding, edging, fertilizing or nothing at all. I then will take the appropriate action. Most often I pick up debris strewn by the wind or passers by and leaves from the various trees. Sometimes I do nothing but just marvel at all the plants and check out their beauty.”


    Wanda Mallen takes a trio into her garden: “I always bring my wastebasket with small clippers and long tweezers attached into the garden. There is always some plant that needs trimming or fallen leaves or a stray weed. If I don't have it, you can find me by following the trail of garden debris I have thrown into the path to be picked up later!”


    Carol McCollum says, “When I go out to the garden, I find it most helpful if I have my clippers or scissors with me... Either there will be flowers to pick, or stuff to dead-head.”


    Cindy McNatt takes several items: “I never venture out in the garden without three things: my Fiskars bypass pruners (new favorite over Felcos), a sharp hand trowel, and for hand watering the Ultimate Hose Nozzle by Bon-Aire. It's fashioned after a fire hose, and I just love it.


    Susan Morse brings a great attitude: “I go into the garden with HOPE. I hope that I don't find that recently purchased plants have perished in their containers for lack of getting them into the ground sooner. I hope that a new idea about placement of pots or plants will jump out and I wonder why I hadn't thought of the improvement sooner. I hope that I haven't missed a bloom on an epiphyllum and only see the waning bloom. I hope that there is ripe fruit on the vine and I can pop into my mouth directly from the garden. I hope that I find some things in bloom that I can cut and bring into the house to brighten the interior. I go into the garden with hope and am not disappointed. I look at one plant's demise as a winner for the compost bin, and that in turn will give a better start to life when the compost matures. I go to the garden with hope that the some part of the garden will nurture me and I am not disappointed.”


    Una Marie Pierce goes prepared for edibles: “I always take my Corona thinning shears, but also unless I have a specific job in mind, I take my basket for fruit and tomatoes - never ending.”


    Minna Riber tells us, “What I always bring when I go into my garden is curiosity. When we return home from a trip one of the first things that we do is to see what is happening in the garden.”


    Julie Rosaleer replied, “Wanting more time in the garden, what ‘needs’ to be done is not always what I want to be doing.”


    Cindy Sparks says, “When I head into the garden, I take three things. First two: my leather gloves and garden clogs. The older I get, the more I need to protect my skin. And I have learned that even when I head for the yard ‘just to pick some basil for dinner,’ I always do more that I started out to do. Therefore I always take my garden armor. The shoes do triple duty in that they protect my feet from harm, they keep me from tracking in dirt on my city shoe bottoms, and they keep me from ruining my good city shoes on a muddy errand. Second, I take my pruners. I have taken to using Susi's lasagna mulching idea, and if I do a bit of deadheading or prune an errant branch that has crossed my path one too many times, I try to chop it and drop it in place, right where it grew. Exception: if the deadhead will turn to seeds, as some aggressive plants are want to do, I escort it directly to the greens bin. And if the sun is shining, I put on my big, dusty sun visor. It keeps me from a quick nose burn, and it cuts enough sunlight that it doubles as dark glasses in bright sun. I have learned to keep a greens disposal bin permanently nearby, in both front and back yards, so I don't have to bring a trash container with me when I venture out. Ditto hand weeders. They are always nearby front and back.


    Lucy Warren brings something we ALL can have for FREE: “Every time I go into my garden I bring my enthusiasm and love of plants and nature. Each time the garden is the same and different and taking that step out of the door brings me closer to myself and to nature.”


    Pat Welsh has a special weeding tool: “The tool I can't do without is a pair of by-pass garden shears. Like many seasoned gardeners, I find a little dead-heading every day keeps the garden looking good year-round. Another must-have tool is a small, light weight, long-handled weeder, but I don't carry this with me. I keep one of these hanging on an arbor neatly hidden from sight next to the post but ready to grab whenever I see an errant weed. My favorite tool for this purpose is the smallest size of the Winged Weeder with an extra-long handle. Currently, however, I'm using a small, light-weight hoe designed by my friend Ted, who designs garden tools. For many years Ted has given me various garden tools for testing. This latest invention has a bamboo handle. ‘Keep it hanging outdoors,’ said Ted, ‘so that I can see how the bamboo holds up in every kind of weather.’ Surprisingly, the bamboo is not holding up quite as well as the Winged Weeder's longer and lighter-weight, wooden handle.”


    Linda Whitney had a fun reply: “When I read the question for the upcoming Sharing Secrets column, I couldn't identify any one item that I ‘always’ bring with me to the garden. This caused me to really think about my gardening practices and wonder about what exactly do I do out there. Sometimes I take a hat with me, sometimes I bring water, sometimes a camera, and sometimes I just bring a magazine. I realized that I have no rigid garden practice and instead work spontaneously. However, after a few minutes, it occurred to me that there is one thing that I really do have with me EVERY time I go out to my garden sanctuary and that is... a very big smile!”


    Melissa Worton brings the following: “Gloves, because I am fearless when I wear them. Clippers; they are essential and I can always find something that needs good clip. Six-foot bamboo pole, which provides me with a longer reach, dredges things out from my pond, pulls soft branches closer, and eliminates certain pests with a good swift jab.


    Jim Wright tells us, “I never walk into the garden without a pair of pruners in my back left pocket.”

  • Tue, September 01, 2009 6:40 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Kara Calderon uses compost: “My garden did pretty well with the water cutbacks due to the fact that most of the new plantings have been mulched with about 3" of compost. The major changes I have made are getting plants in the ground so they don't suffer through the summer in small pots, wilting and trying to bounce back again, and buying only natives to my area so I know they are content with the actual rainfall they will be receiving, with minimal watering once they are well established.”


    Julie Ann Callis’ garden did great: “Great is the word! We have no grass or ground cover and our yard has been in for two years. With the use of standard landscape plants and perennials which were all established, we haven't had a problem. Those more delicate or water hungry plants we planted in what we call the woodland garden.  Situated between the two houses, ours and the neighbors, the house shadows make for a lot of shade and the relatively narrow space, 10 to 15 feet wide, makes even sprinkler coverage easy. Occasional watering here is all that’s necessary. The house faces south, so the back yard has a lot of shaded areas for much of the year. Paying attention to the different exposures can make a real difference, and a small yard is an advantage.”

    Margaret Davis gets help from mulch and umbrellas: “My California native garden is in the front of my home in Fallbrook. I have spread mulch 3² deep over the area to conserve water. The neighbors say it looks good, too! Old beach umbrellas are a good source of extra shade for heat sensitive plants and they look funky-cute in the corners of my garden.”


    Mary Feyk says, “I live in Rancho Palos Verdes and so far we have not had water rationing, although we have been asked to reduce our water usage. My husband installed drip irrigation in the garden several years ago, and that has reduced our water usage, but if rationing is established we will have a low point to start from. We have a small lawn and use sprinklers twice a week for that. We change the length of time we run the sprinklers according to the season. Our hanging pots have automatic drip irrigation and it runs for four minutes three times a week. I have my plants grouped according to water usage, and I use native and drought tolerant plants more now and they are easier to find in nurseries. South Coast Botanic Garden has a very active Native Plant Society. Last year the rainfall total was 7 inches. I think that's a little higher than San Diego County, but still not very high. I hope El Nino brings us rain but not floods next year.”


    Irina Gronborg has an artist’s eye: “Visitors to our garden comment on how few flies and mosquitoes we have. Perhaps because the ground is dry this summer and because we no longer hose off the leaves, the flies and mosquitoes that have escaped our resident birds have ended up in the gauze yardage of our resident spiders’ webs that drape our succulents and cacti. (It’s a nice look – kind of like Old California – dusty, golden, and shimmery).”


    Al Horowitz has an intriguing story about chlorine: “I have in place all the known methods of conserving water before the current shortage, ie. drip irrigation, mulching, and stretching out the watering cycle. I recently put in a total water conditioning system for the landscape and the house after receiving a city generated water report that showed the chlorine content in the city water to be 89 mg. per liter for my area. The acceptable level is 14 mg. per liter. The surprising result was that my clematis started blooming again and three plants that have not grown to any noticeable extent for two years are now thriving. After about 3 weeks, the whole garden took on a new, healthy look. Vines that were hardly growing or flowering before were now doing just that! In the past, an area with baby tears would wilt under a direct spraying of water. Now, between longer intervals of direct watering, no wilting occurs. I mentioned this change to the supplier of this system and he said that when the weather gets hotter, the bacterial count in the water goes up, so apparently chlorine levels go up to bring the bacterial levels down. All my efforts to improve the soil, etc. pale in comparison to the effect that has occurred in my garden from just removing the chlorine in the water.”


    Janice Johnson is using indoor water for plants: “We have lived in Poway for 40 years and have over an acre of land on the Green Valley Creek. This last spring we removed 8 very large 50-year old eucalyptus trees as they were diseased, caused a huge mess, and cost us time and money, but we will miss the shade. When August and September are over we will see how well our garden survived. We are eliminating sprinkler heads to areas that seem unnecessary and evaluating which plants might go. I have eliminated some potted plants. I can water most of my potted plants with the water saved from washing vegetables in the kitchen sink and some from the shower. I calculate we recycle about 21 gallons a week from these two sources. Later I will move roses to one area instead of scattered all over. We both take short showers, as our plants are more important! We have giant redwood trees that must be saved! We are monitoring our water meter and water our back lawn carefully. Our front lawn has been gone for over 10 years and was replaced with mulch edged in shrubs and rocks. We heavily mulched everything with the eucalyptus tree mulch. My husband spoke at the Poway City Council session concerning our water rate hike penalizing those of us who have large lots, but to no avail.”


    Anne Murphy tells us, “I had already been incorporating natives, succulents and Mediterranean plants in my garden. What I have done in the last year is to look a lot more carefully at plants that I buy to see if they will to be able to survive on minimal watering after becoming established. I am also removing plants that take too much water and giving them away or moving them to a shadier location where they might survive under minimal watering. I am making sure that I am getting trees in my new garden early, as they bring down the temperature of the garden and help reduce watering needs. This whole process has been educational and fun. I realize that eventually I will have less work as less water means less weed growth. I have come a long way since I stared gardening in Vista, using roses, pansies, hollyhocks and foxgloves reflecting the gardens that I grew up with in England!”


    Katrin Utt says, “I have cut down my water usage by one third by watering every fourth day for longer periods instead of every second day for shorter periods. I water before sunrise and after. I also use soaker hoses for deep watering once a month. And I mulched everything to the max. We keep our patio umbrellas up all the time to lend some shade to the roses. Everything is doing just fine! But I sure hope we get that El Niño they promised!”


    Marilyn Wilson has a refreshingly light-hearted response: “The budget didn't allow for installing drip irrigation nor purchasing drought-tolerant plants. So, patches of lawn are losing their green color. Flowers are fewer. Hibiscus has become infested with giant white fly for the first time in many years. Squirrels ate all my peaches (they're thirsty too). I considered avoiding all bathing, but instead I installed a little push-button cutoff at the showerhead. I eat with my hands more often so there is less tableware to wash. And I have started drinking out of the can and out of the bottle. Soon I am enrolling in a class to learn how to rain dance.”

  • Sat, August 01, 2009 6:38 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Walter Andersen says, “We have been selling Worm Gold [at Walter Andersen Nursery] for many, many years now. After about two years of selling this product, George Hahn (owner of Worm Gold) came to the store and asked me how I keep the whitefly off of my plants. I told him the biggest problem was Hibiscus and Plumeria. I said, ‘I just hose them off with a strong stream of water.’ Then he said, ‘If you put Worm Gold under the plants you won't have any whitefly.’ Of course I think he is saying this to sell more Worm Gold, it seemed kind of strange that this could work. I pretty much just said, ‘OK.’ George came in again about a few months later, and said, ‘How are your plants and the whitefly?’ I said, ‘They are still there.’ He replied, ‘So you haven't used Worm Gold?’ I said, ‘No.’ He heads out to the front to find a cart, then puts two 20-quart bags on the cart and says, ‘I'm going to put these by your car, be sure to scatter it under the plants when you get home. I also am going to give you a credit for these bags, because I know you don't believe me.’ Well, I took them home and scattered a half bag under my Hibiscus and the rest under the Plumeria, still not believing this can do much as far as insects go. Pretty soon I noticed, no more white fly! I have been doing this once or twice a year since then. I also had a Tangerine tree with many whitefly; now I use a whole bag under this tree at least once a year and no whitefly. I'm a believer now. Worm castings have a small amount of organic plant food and are also supposed to be a good conditioner for the soil, but my biggest benefit I think, is no more whitefly. I have found if I use Worm Gold worm castings under susceptible plants, the whitefly is no longer a problem. I have been doing this for over six years now, and my Plumeria, Hibiscus and Citrus no longer have this troublesome pest. Sure beats hosing them off and spraying all of the time. You need to put it on kind of thick, perhaps a 1/2² layer under the plants for best results.”

    Louise Andersonfinds castings effective, “I've seen that worm castings get rid of white fly and prevent it, too. It's also a great fertilizer.”

    Vivian Blackstone likes them, too: ”I find them a wonder accessory to any healthy garden. First, if you have a diseased tree, you make a worm tea and spray it on the trunk and leaves. Second, when you are replanting a flower, fruit or seedling you mix some of that worm tea onto the plant. It's quite potent, so diluting is the best method of use for worm castings. A large amount of research has been done at the University of 

    Portland,  OR  .”

    Ellen Goble tells us, “My roses are in pots so I have added about a cup of castings in the potting mixture (which is now several years old) then I add about 1/2 inch layer on top of the mulch (which I replace each year after the first fertilizing). I add a little over the summer as needed. I have no more white flies on my roses.”


    Will Johnson says worm castings mean, “healthier plants, fewer pests.”


    Sherry Park says, “I really should use the worm castings more. The only time I've used them was as a 1² thick mulch around my Blue Dawn morning glory and a Rose of Sharon in order to get rid of the whiteflies that were so prevalent at that time. It certainly did the job pronto and they've never come back.”


    Marci Shirley wrote: “I remember my first garden club meeting- I called home very excited saying, ‘You will never guess what I won, a pound of worm castings.’ You would have thought I had actually won a pound of gold. It may as well be gold because worm castings are priceless for me. Not only do I mix them with my dirt, I also make castings tea and water my plants with it.”


    Cindy Sparks uses worm castings as part of a larger scheme: “It's hard to tell what worm castings have done, because I started using them at the same time I started other organic behavior in the garden. So I can't attribute the good results exclusively to worm castings. I have noticed a lot fewer grasshoppers, which used to chew both roses and citrus rather badly. I understand the worm castings are somehow bad for exoskeletons. I have lots of lady bugs, both adult and their juvenile form. I also widened the list of plants I wash periodically with New Dawn dishwashing solution. After seeing the Science Fair exhibit where the young man found New Dawn solution (simulating grey water from the sink) worked better than water in controlled experiments, I have been less hesitant to use it. I do rinse after washing. The worm castings just fit well into the overall care plan.”


    Cathy Tylka is a fan: “I just love to add this to anything I am transplanting, it just works. The plant must like the effects it provides, because they live and thrive. I am planning on putting some near the roots of my rose bushes, since I heard from a friend that the roses like it too, even if already planted. I just purchased some from Exotica Nursery on Vista Way. I think 25 pounds was about $25. I feel that's a bargain. My garden would be doing better if I got out to help it more often. I can't blame it on lack of rain, more like lack of gardener.”


    Tynan Wyatt says, “When using worm castings I've had germination of all my seed types (vegetable, fruit tree, and arid plants except cactus, which I haven't tried with worm castings only yet) equal to or better than I've gotten with Miracle Grow potting mix, which previously gave me the best results compared to other potting soils or regular soil. Damping off also hasn't once been a problem since I've used worm castings. So I can't say castings are better performance than the most expensive potting soil on the market, but I can say that it's free, organic, and easier on the environment than buying manufactured and shipped potting soil. The only downside is generating enough of it to pot up all my plants while I'm living in my apartment and only have enough space for a tiny worm bin.”

  • Wed, July 01, 2009 6:32 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Chuck Ades has animal helpers: “I have been delighted with the uninvited animals that have invaded my garden. The skunks, raccoons & ‘possums have eaten all my garden snails. When I first moved here my yard was full of these snails. I had to go out in the evening to step on them. Still they multiplied. Then I put in a pond. Then the animals came - then the snails disappeared. I'm delighted. The rats also ate the snails, but also ate my cockatoo eggs and young; I can do without them. The other animals make trails in the garden, but that doesn't bother me - I know they are doing their work. One bad part: the raccoons eat my goldfish, so I buy feeder goldfish each spring and re-stock the ponds. I guess it's ok since they were feeder fish intended to be fed to other larger aquarium fish.


    Mike Brewer enjoys a variety of critters: “Over the years we've seen almost all the native animals of San Diego county; coyotes, raccoons, possums, skunks, squirrels, foxes, road runners, and snakes of various types. The one animal that always startles me is the California Legless Lizard (Anniella pulchra), always found (by me anyway) underground when digging. Since they are lizards, the tail comes off without major harm being done to the animal. For years I thought these were some sort of small snake. My son's high school biology teacher identified one for me years ago. They eat insects, and I try not to harm them, but they always make me jump when I accidentally hit one with a shovel.”


    Linda Chisari says: “It was Mothers’ Day morning 1992 when my husband, Frank, excitedly whispered to me to come and look out our living room window. There, on our deck rail, sat a beautiful mother fox watching her three kits gambol on the deck below. We watched with awe for 20-30 minutes while the young foxes jumped over furniture and chased each other under the watchful eyes of their mother; then she gave them some kind of signal in fox language and they all disappeared under the deck. For three weeks, the scene was repeated at dawn and dusk each day. Then, one morning as I sat at my drawing table gazing out the window, the four foxes paraded out our front walk, across the street, and down into Crest Canyon. Our garden had done its job; it provided shelter for the still-vulnerable family of foxes.”


    Debbi Dodson has “a love/hate/love relationship with the squirrels in my backyard. Despite the fact that we have a canyon backyard, we lived here about 6 years before I saw the first squirrel. He was so cute, eating the seeds dropped from the bird feeder. My father-in-law had died that summer, so I named him Paul in his memory. The next year we had two squirrels and I was equally happy to see them. I named the second one Ruth after my mother-in-law. I threw peanuts out to supplement the leftover bird food they were scavenging. This year I noticed Paul and Ruth eating the petals off of my pineapple guava, which did not please me so much. Then I went out to water my bowl of baby lettuces and noticed there was nothing left but green stubs where once there were leafy plants. The next day all of my Italian parsley was gone. Now I was mad! I put mesh tents over all the herbs and lettuces and started to plot my revenge. Who cares if I named them after my in-laws, how could I rid myself of Paul and Ruth? But then, wouldn't you know it, four of the cutest baby squirrels appeared. Watching them play is just the most fun that I've forgiven them all.....for now.


    Chris Drayer has butterflies: “A little cloud of around 5 Monarch butterflies have been hanging out in my canyon garden for the last 2 months. As soon as the morning fog clears they appear, dancing over the Valerian (Centranthus ruber), Spirea and Lantana. Sometimes, between them and the hummingbirds, the skies even get a little crowded.”


    Connie Forest saw a weasel: “The animal that surprised and pleased me was a long tailed weasel. I had no idea what it was, though it looked something like pictures of a weasel I had seen, it had this long rat-like tail and it was pretty small. So, I looked up native animals of San Diego County and there it was. This weasel came running out of my garden shed where I have a rat problem and not long after I discovered a newly dead rat on my patio. I figure I disturbed the weasel and it dropped its prey. Though this animal is far from beautiful, I am glad to have a partner in rat hunting.


    Sue Fouquette has a great bird story: “Hummingbirds nest in forks of branches, right? Well, our ‘Mummer’ (short for Mama Hummer) made her nest in dinner forks. I first noticed her when I saw her outside our kitchen window with a little bit of white fluff in her beak. It may have been ‘silk’ from the pods of our Chorisia speciosa, Floss Silk Tree. She poked it into a nest she'd already started that was attached to the wind chime we have hanging a few feet from the window. The wind chime is a cat made of forks and fish made of the bowls of spoons. Her 2 inch nest was attached with spider webs. She was barely 3 inches, including her beak, smaller than other hummingbirds in our yard. Soon there were 2 white jellybean size eggs in the nest. It's been really fun and interesting to watch her sit, spin, take off for food, the nearest being succulent flowers and Anigozanthos (Kangaroo Paws). Her boyfriend (we assume) has come by. She sometimes takes a break perching on a certain little twig sticking out horizontally from the trunk of a big old Washingtonia robusta, Mexican Fan Palm. She's chased a bigger bird away from her nest. We've learned a lot referring to 2 books we have on hummingbirds, but are still not sure what species she is. The incubation period is about 15 to 22 days. We’ve been watching her for a couple of weeks. We leave for hiking in the Andes of Ecuador tomorrow and may miss the big event.


    John Gilruth has Baltimore Orioles: “I have a pair that come back every late spring and build there beautiful woven nest under a banana frond and raise their babies. It is a safe place, and protected from sun and drizzle. I am always amazed how they can construct such an intricate nest. I even bought an oriole feeder - and they love the sugar nectar and, of course, grape jelly.


    Irina Gronborg’s garden is a wildlife sanctuary: “We have so many flying, crawling guests that we registered our garden as a Backyard Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation and as an Urban Wildlife Sanctuary with the Humane Society, but here are the most memorable ones: One winter I found a little fruit bat hanging at eye level from our pencil plant, where he hibernated for many months. To provide him with more comfort and privacy, I encouraged Erik to build him the recommended bat house. But I never saw him again. A few years later I was happy to hear a Great Horned owl in our Washingtonia palm. To provide her a nest and an incentive to stay in our garden, I purchased an owl house and had it professionally installed in the palm. But, although a swarm of Africanized bees quickly occupied the box, terrorizing the neighbors who helped pay for the removal of the bees and the box, I never heard the owl again. Every spring I am delighted by a single pair of Bullock's orioles who weave their perfect nests under our banana leaves. I wish there was something I could do to provide them with a greater measure of safety and protection, but as it is, I see them every spring.”


    Myrna Hines also likes birds: “What gives me the most pleasure is watching the hummingbirds feast on the flowers outside my windows. Occasionally a foreign (not Annas) hummingbird will join the dinner party.


    Karen Hoffman also appreciates birds: “I love to see the roadrunners. When we first moved here to El Cajon, there were quite a few roadrunners, but as the neighborhood grew, they became few and far between. As I sit here and write about my roadrunners a Cooper Hawk is flying into my camellia bush outside this window, back and forth. I have a feeling he is up to no good, as sparrows often nest in that corner and he's looking for dinner.


    Candace Kohl has seen (and unseen) critters: “Last Wednesday I had help removing a rattlesnake. I had not seen one in my yard for 6 years or so since I removed some big old bushes. I was weeding and the cute little snake was 4 inches away from my fingers, I will certainly be more careful now sticking my hands under the plants. I have motion sensor lights on an area behind my kitchen that animals like to use as a pass through. When the light goes on I get up to see what is there. A few years ago it was a beautiful pair of foxes. An animal story regarding ones I didn't see is as follows: friends with small children were visiting over Easter. We hid the Easter eggs in the yard the night before and when the kids went to find them all that was left were bits of colored shell. The adults thought it was very funny but the next year the kids asked us to hide the eggs in the house.


    Joanne Lee also had a big kitty: “I was sitting at the breakfast table and noticed a great shaking of the bushes behind the pond where the electric fence connects. Thinking it was probably a coyote that got zapped, I watched as a large-dog-sized animal emerged from behind the bushes. I was very surprised and fascinated to see it was a bobcat with pointed ears. It walked casually through the front yard and up the driveway. No time for the camera!


    Elf Mitten had ‘possums: “For many years I had opossums visiting nightly for 
    their chicken dinner. They brought their babies to show them where food was 
    served (on a platform on the fence). I was laid up after surgeries and couldn't 
    continue so they left. (My garden was also a release point for junior 
    opossums). Hummingbirds now build nests and there have been three sets 
    of babies this spring. It is exciting to watch them learn to fly.


    Al Myrick has tons of wild animals: “We live on a large, closed canyon in SD city. No Norway or Roof Rats, but we have white-throated woodrats, opposums, gray foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, fence and alligator lizards, dozens of species of birds including a returning pair of red-shouldered hawks that nest and fledge at least two young per year for the last 8 years and tanagers, orioles, phoebes, kestrels, lesser goldfinches, towhees, mocking birds, scrub jays, mourning doves, house finches, bushtits, flickers, waxwings, but no pigeons! We have seen about a million and one species of butterflies, and gillions of other insects and spiders and things. The most surprising city wild animal (a dozen years ago) was a bobcat, who was attracted to our chickens, but couldn't get to them. It was as surprised to see me as I was to see it. It leaped off the top of our chicken coop-shed and cleared the back fence, 60 feet from the shed, in four bounds. Amazingly beautiful! We don't keep any chickens anymore and have never noticed the return of the bobcat. Too bad!


    Katie Pelisek tells us: “We haven't seen him in a while, but a bobcat used to pass annually through our yard (on the Lomas Santa Fe Golf Course). After a few years of photographing him through a window, one late afternoon I decided to sneak up and take his picture. When the camera clicked, he fixed his eyes on me and I suddenly realized the only thing between me and this wild animal was a palm tree. Maintaining eye contact, I walked backward to the house and have since vowed to leave nature photography to experts with telephoto lenses!


    Ellen & Gil Provost had unknown birds:” This spring we had two tiny little birds, not hummers, who nested in an upside down small strawberry pot. The pot was inverted into a larger pot, so the little birds hopped up and over into the larger pot then up into the open vent of the strawberry pot. They filled the interior of the pot with pine needles, and other small twigs, it was fascinating to watch. The birds seemed to be ground creepers and they loved our enclosed plant filled patio. I tried my best to identify them using my bird book, but I was stumped; I am uncertain what they were. Their nesting was successful, we watched the fledglings leave one by one, they successfully raised two little ones and possibly three it was hard to tell. We were delighted to have them near us for awhile.”

    Susi Torre-Bueno had quail this year: “In mid-April a pair of quail showed up on our back patio one morning, spending about ten minutes walking up and down very slowly, checking it out. A week or so later we found Mama Quail sitting on a nest of about 15 eggs which was totally hidden from sight on the ground underneath a large variegated pelargonium plant. When we got too close to the nest she got all upset, rushing up and squawking at us as she moved about 100 feet away and continued to scold us from our fence. We kept our distance after that, but about two weeks later Father Quail spent an entire day pacing around and around the top of the circular wall around our labyrinth. The next day we spotted Mama and about 13-15 tiny baby quail rushing around inside the labyrinth, pecking at insects and scurrying for shelter beneath the herbs planted there. They kept this up for a day or two and then – suddenly – all were gone. We like to think they moved on to a more secluded and safer location and didn’t end up as supper for the hawks that live next door.”


    Pat Venolia had a wild burro: “A number of years ago my husband called my attention to our backyard, where a bunny rabbit, a squirrel, and a weasel were cavorting at the same time in our flowerbed and lawn. I felt like we were watching a Disney film. More recently, I just looked out the window and there he was – a burro!. As it turns out this is Jasper, and he is 26 years old. He was from a BLM wild bunch, lived in Vista most of his life, and will be moving in a month to Valley Center to pal around with an Arabian. I went down on the lawn and got to know him – a real pet, but I thought he was pretty old. I was in the house when he decided that was enough grass, so he went down our neighbor’s driveway towards Warmlands Avenue. I hurried down after him to make sure he didn’t go in the street; when I got there, sure enough he was in the street. It’s amazing how a burro, a woman, and a little neighbor girl can gather attention by the side of the road. People stopped to look, chat, ask who’s burro, etc. Neighbors came out to see what was going on. Finally a young woman drove up and looked happy to see Jasper. He had run off when they were taking a walk up a ways on our street. Burro didn’t want to follow girl and dog, so he took off on his own, came down our driveway and munched. So after a cute two-year old got her picture taken sitting on the burro, and Jasper got on a lead to go to his present home on Green Hills Way, people said goodbye. We had never seen a burro in our neighborhood before. The whole episode made me smile!”

    Peter Walkowiak has rare bees and amorous lizards: “I have observed some unique bee pollinators on my cacti. The first one I noticed is a solitary cactus bee. What first drew my attention to it was the way it flew and behaved. It moved fast , no hovering or slow approach, it would just dash about and then dive into a flower. In appearance it looks like a honey bee except that the head is slanted back not blunt, the brown bands are darker, almost black and the abdomen is flattened, top to bottom, not cylindrical, both have the same body size.  The other is a small solitary green metallic bee that is much smaller, about 3/8 inch. I also have a growing population of alligator lizards, sightings are becoming more common, both adults and young. While watering this spring I have interrupted them in the throws of passion four times, twice last year and once the year before.”


    Lucy Warren says: “While it was once a surprise to open the door of the garage to go into the house at the same time Pepe Lepew (aka Mr. Skunk) was crossing the same expanse of patio, my greater surprise came one evening when I was indoors watching television. I'd left the back door cracked so the cat could go outside and heard her munching on her dry cat food. Then I realized that she was curled up right next to me. I slowly made my way to the kitchen turning on lights as I proceeded forward and caught sight of the black and white tail rounding the corner and scooting out the back door, luckily with no major incident.


    Marilyn Wilson had two memorable visitors: “A chipmunk visited my back door and quickly ran away. I spent half an hour on the internet just to ID the little bugger. Once I went out into the backyard because I heard a VERY unfamiliar bird call. When I finally located him, I was gazing at a quail on my roof! I live nowhere near open space.”


    Chris & Melissa Worton have all kinds of wildlife: “Our home is located near a rim of Tecolote Canyon, which is filled with a variety of animals native to San Diego. From this canyon, we have been visited by a fox who climbs over the fence to drink from our pond at night. There is a Nuttall's Woodpecker that works at gathering insects from the Washingtonia palm tree on the side of our front garden. Kestrel hawks will teach their young how to hunt doves at the birdbath we have provided. So far, the young have not been successful, at least not while we are at home. Anna's hummingbirds will park their babies on the dense bougainvillea limbs while they feed. As they return, they will call to their young to let them know they are near. We have had coyotes trotting down the street early in the morning, returning to the canyon before too many cars and people are out and about. Since our garden is not exactly on the rim, nor is it on a direct path to and from the canyon, each visit to our fenced-in backyard is a pleasant surprise for us.”


    Stephen Zolezzi appreciates the birds: “When you ask what animal the first thing that comes to mind are four- legged critters! But I am most pleased to see birds descend from the heavens devouring all type of bugs, worms and insects. Birds are truly one of nature’s best organic pesticides. For the price of some seed and water, along with plants that produce nectar, seeds and shelter, birds of all size and color are eager to help out in the garden. The bonus comes in a melody of song and jabber that our pet Cockatiel has managed to memorize for our nonstop entertainment. Does anyone know how to make a Parrot stop?

  • Mon, June 01, 2009 6:36 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Walter Andersen says: “Most of my containers have tomatoes in them, so not very old. I do have one pot that has Sansevieria growing in it. I think it is about 10 years old; requires almost no care. It is lucky to get some water once a month. Bullet proof plant.”


    Louise Andersonhas a 23 year-old old goldfish: “Nematanthus gregarius(AKA Lipstick plant or goldfish plant); bought the original piece in 1986 at the swap meet in Costa Mesa right after I moved here from Detroit. It's still going well.”


    Barbara Clark has a really old plant: “My oldest potted plant is about 42 years old. It is a Dracaena with graceful ribbon-like leaves striped with rose and white. As I have moved around to three different homes it has gone with me in its container. It is about 5 feet tall and down to one trunk (the other trunks have died over the years even though I have cut them back, no new sprouts have grown.) I have planted new Dracaenas at the base of the plant and placed a large paper sunflower stalk in the pot to fill in the bare spot between the new plants and the leaves of the elder Dracaena. The arrangement gets visitor's attention with many asking, ‘Is that sunflower real?’”


    Bonnie Cosgrove’s plant traveled across the

    U.S.  : “My oldest plant is a miniature jade that traveled with me by car from  New Jersey  in 1977. I think it will live forever – certainly longer than me! It is very happily ensconced in a clay pot, where it has been for at least 8 years. I give it an annual haircut, water whenever it looks thirsty, which isn't often, and fertilize 2-3 times a year (max). It's the ideal plant in many ways!”


    Cheryl Hedgpeth says, “My oldest potted plant, once in the living room, is a 20 foot Kentia/Howea now planted in the ground. My pride & joy! The oldest still in the pot is a 15 year old Coconut palm we brought back as a sprouted coconut from

    Hawaii. I t is still only 4 feet tall.”


    Pamela Homfelt has an old succulent: “Considering most of my container plants have become my landscape plants I would have to say my oldest potted plant is a Portulacaria afra 'Variegata'. Moving from apartment to apartment, growing up coastally yet adapting to an inland environment and extreme neglect has not phased this favorite that I have possessed for about 12 years now. So, so very slow growing; it is now hanging over the container quite beautifully and is one of my prize plants.”


    Marlene King’s old plant has done some traveling: “When my former husband and I bought our first home in 1979, there was an old five gallon galvanized bucket, with four slits cut for drainage, in the corner of the back yard. It turned out to be planted with a night blooming cereus that the former owners had left. I suspect the NBC could easily have been 10 - 20 years old at that point, as back then it was one ratty-looking bucket. We schlepped that plant from home to home, never giving it pride-of-place, and for the past twenty years it has been stashed behind a wall, in the ‘back forty’. I'd be surprised if it was given fertilization on more than a couple of occasions. It hasn't had a bit of new soil in thirty years. (I just went to check on it, and while about 75% of the leaves are all dried up and should be trimmed, that little old NBC is plugging away like the proverbial Timex watch.) This plant has a remarkable desire to live!


    Sharon May has an aged fuchsia: “About 25 years ago I came across a brand new introduction at Roger’s Gardens. It was described as a new, drought tolerant fuschia called ‘Gartenmeister’. Now quite common, I continue to enjoy its blooms, the satin leaves and the hummingbirds it attracts. Funny how the meaning of ‘drought tolerant’ has changed!


    Walt Meier loves his staghorn fern: “Bill and Helen Shortt of

    Baldwin Park  gave me a 4² Platycerium superbum ´ holtumii 32 years ago. I met them at the L.A. County Fair where they garnered dozens of awards for their ferns. For 14 years I grew the single stem plant on a board. Nurseryman Earnie Sanchez offered me a price for the fern I couldn't refuse. He hung it in his nursery for 7 years. I decided I wanted my fern back and offered a sum he couldn't refuse. My stag returned home, where it will stay.”


    Sherry Park tells us, “My oldest potted plant? Oh, my...I think I'm embarrassed to say. This certainly must count as plant abuse. I have a very large bromeliad that was given to me that's been in a 14" terra cotta pot for long over 15 years. That's how long I've had it and it had been in that pot for a long time before that. Now that I think of it, I have billbergia and other bromeliads that have been in the same pots for many years. These guys are very forgiving. Now I'll really have to think about dividing and repotting.”


    Robin Rivet says, “My oldest potted plant is probably a houseplant, and I doubt you care about those! At any rate, I have an incredibly durable, nearly ever-blooming African violet called a “

    San Diego  ” violet, at least that was what it said when it was purchased maybe 15 years ago. It’s not in a special pot, I use no unusual soil or fertilizer, but periodically I wash the whole thing with water, contrary to advice on never to wet the leaves. I figure it gets dusty and needs help breathing indoors, since in the jungle they must get wet sometimes. We have an agreement: I give it regular showers, and it gives me regular flowers. Once the pot broke and damaged the entire plant. All the leaves busted off. I had nothing but a few roots, but somehow it came back strong. It moved into a new pot, and eventually into a new home when I moved to  La Mesa  . It lives on my bathroom sink and must like the humidity. Sometimes it gets as many as 15 flowers at once. Outdoors, there’s lots of things in pots, but most are just waiting to get planted in the ground someday, although a few have spent years waiting... I guess my oldest potted plant was a Society Garlic clump that just recently found a garden spot after maybe 10 years or more. Currently the oldest garden pot is an Aloe vera. I’m not a succulent fan, but I keep it around to alleviate stupid kitchen or beach burns.


    MJ Ross loves her bargain oldie: “My oldest potted plant is an Alocasia sanderiana (AfricanMask or Kris Plant). I purchased him from the ‘needsTLC’ discount rack at the Morena Blvd. Nurseryland for $3. He was in a 4² pot, had three leaves, one of which was bent over, and he was covered with spider mites. I had never seen one before and that was about 20 years ago. He has been an indoor plant all of that time, and is now absolutely stunning. He needs to be transplanted, as he has outgrown the southwest decor pot in which he has lived about the last dozen or so years. (You know the pot, white with coral and turquoise accents.) He weeps all over my kitchen counter after he is watered, still gets spider mites a couple of times a year, but is so beautiful, I wouldn't trade him for anything.


    Cindy Sparks says, “My oldest potted plant is a Euphorbia, un-named species with triangular cross-section, thorns, and no visible flowers. It was popular as an Executive Office plant at the time. I bought it on a sailing trip to

    Catalina Island about 30 years ago. From a 4 inch pot, I repotted it several times and it is now in the living room. More light in that location caused it to sprout leaves, a real surprise after about 25 years of no leaves. It is now 6 feet tall and it continues to add girth. One summer when we were away, the pot fell over and my poor cleaning woman didn't know what to do. She propped it up and I got home much later to find a 5 foot tall plant with two ninety-degree bends in it. How did it do that, I wonder? Once upright, it managed to straighten out again. I have since learned to harvest the side branches to make new plants, and to keep its center of gravity low. It's like an old friend and I cannot imagine not having it nearby.”


    Pat Venolia’s plant was a gift – 37 years ago: “My oldest potted plant is a begonia that my 10-year old son gave me for my birthday in 1972. It’s an amazing plant.”


    Jacki Williams has a very old and very special plant: “My oldest plant (genetically speaking) is a fig tree I started from my grandmother's tree in

    Mississippi  some 40 years ago when I first left home. That tree and branches from it have traveled with me through some 47 moves (we counted!) relocating with the Navy and airlines. At each home, I planted a fig branch, and one in a ‘to go’ pot left with me. As a child, I earned 50 cents a gallon selling figs I picked during summers spent at my grandmother's home. Those figs (I think they are brown turkeys) taste very different from our  California  mission figs – smaller and sweeter. We have enjoyed their bounty, left others with a wonderful gift, and, each summer, have a taste of our heritage. We 

    have also given starts to all the cousins and next generation as they settle, 
    and even friends who request starts, so we all have a family connection that 
    is very alive and special honoring our grandmother. ”


    Nancy Woodard has an old “corn plant”: “I received my oldest potted plant from my Grandmother about 38 years ago - she died 36 years ago. It was a small offshoot of her plant which she called a 'corn plant'. It has long strappy variegated leaves with sharp edges. I never knew the correct name until I gave Tom Piergrossi a small plant. He identified it as a screw pine or Pandanus utilius. My plant is only 4 feet tall and wide after all these years; in their natural setting they are small trees. I have given small plants to friends and relatives and they have all died, including Tom's! Most of my indoor plants die after a few years, but, for me, this one is infallible! I have never seen another one in a nursery in the indoor plant section. They do very well in 

    Florida  and  Hawaii .”


    Peggie Wormington has a “Cymbidium orchid from 2001. Might have been older, but that's when we moved back California from VA.”

  • Fri, May 01, 2009 10:00 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Walter Andersen prunes 1000 roses a year with his shears: “I think the best shears out there are probably Felco. For the most part, they seem not to wear out, if cared for. They make many different ones for different hands, and some for lefties. They are super good quality and if you care for them properly they should last almost forever. Many of the parts are replaceable, like the blades, so putting in a new blade should make them almost as good as new. I'll probably get spanked for this, but what I mostly use is a Corona anvil type pruning shears. There are several reasons I like these. In most cases they take less pressure (strength) to cut a 5/8" branch or less. They are relatively inexpensive, around $20, so if you happen to misplace them or worse throw them in the trash with all of your prunings, you have not thrown away a small fortune, or an heirloom. They have bright red handles, which helps to see them if you lay them down amongst some clippings. A small file will keep the blade sharp. Sometimes you can find replacement blades, but it is a chore to change them. Corona also makes a ratchet pruner that is great for folks who just don't have the strength to use ordinary shears. For these to work, you squeeze the handles several times for a cut, and this leverage means you use much less strength than using other types of shears. It does take longer to make cuts, 3 or 4 squeezes per cut, but these are very good for older folks who just don't have the strength to prune with most other shears. I usually prune over 1000 roses each season as our bare root roses arrive, the anvil type Corona shear works well for me. Some claim the anvil type shears tends to crush the stem on one side. If you are pruning roses 1/4" above an eye I don't think it matters much if the stem is crushed some; they all seem to grow. I have not encountered any problems this way. If you are pruning softer stems this may be a concern, and then the bypass type shear would be best.”


    Vivian Blackstone likes Felcos: “I mostly use Felco pruners, but as a back-up when other people come around I use Corona, and have a spare pair of Fiskars. I have them sharpened by someone who comes around to Henry's Ace Hardware on different days. By cleaning/oiling them after each use the blades last longer. I also use Japanese pruners (no English name) sold at the Bonsai Club in Balboa Park or elsewhere.”


    Linda Bresler says, “I use Felco pruning shears, the ones for small hands. I find that my hands don't get as tired from repetitive pruning with the smaller size.”


    Kathy Gatlin likes a ratchet pruner: “I simply could not survive without my Florian hand pruners! Bought the first pair many years ago at the Del Mar Fair after watching the demo at the Florian booth. The ratchet action is the key that makes them so wonderful; repeated small compressions slice easily through a one inch branch even with the arthritis in my fingers. Before the Fair increased entrance security, it was possible to get through the gate with used pruners in hand and the Florian guys would sharpen and hold them for you. Now if the pruners get out of alignment or have any other issue, you can send the old pair to the company and they will exchange with a new pair for $11.  For me that's a bargain as they are an indispensable part of my gardening. Note: When I helped my neighbor prune her roses this year, she often struggled to cut through canes. I kept trading pruners with her and before we were done she was at the computer ordering her Florians!”


    Will Johnson prunes as part of his landscaping business: “I sharpen my blade regularly – at least once a week. I use my pruners for digging out weeds/roots, so the tip of the blade goes dull frequently. I’ve used diamond sharpeners for years; you can lay the pruner on its side on the tailgate of the truck, file it for a minute or two, and it’s good to go. Nothing like a razor-sharp blade! When the sharpening reduces the blade length too much, I replace the blade. After years of heavy pruning, I have a bit of arthritis in my pruning hand. Despite that, for my grip, I like Corona’s 1² aluminum  model #6250. It is lighter & a bit more comfortable though more expensive than Corona’s forged model #3180. It’s also easy to get repair parts (new blade/spring), and the company absolutely guarantees their products against everything you can throw at them, (including abuse).  I’ve used Bahco & Felco – but Corona is a better value for me. I recently tried the newer ergonomic Fiskars pruner, ‘approved by the Arthritis Association.’ ! I found the gears clog with dirt, the bypass (scissor-action) got sticky – back to the Coronas. “


    Roxanne Kim-Perez takes good care of her pruners: “I love my little pruners that I found in my mother-in-law’s house. Every time I use her pruners it reminds me about her. She probably bought this one because it was inexpensive at the time. It’s a Corona #8 with red grip handle. I love this one because it is small, light and easy to carry around. I carry it in my car’s glove compartment, and it’s small enough to fit in my purse. When I go to the nursery I will have little cuttings for my clients to show what the plants are like so they can see the flowers. After I finish using my pruners, I clean them with antibacterial hand wipes that I carry around in the car. It’s handy and you can clean it right away before you put away for next time use. But of course, you need to dry off the pruners with a paper or cloth towel after using the wipe. I carry these items with me all the time, because you just never know when you might find that beautiful flower.”


    Alice Lowe found her pruners: “When I bought my house 15 years ago, I found a pair of old, even then, pruning shears in a little storage room attached to the garage. I don't remember what I'd been using and had brought with me, but from the time I first gripped them, I've never used any others. They're all steel. blackened with age, with black rubber covers over the handles, and no name or identifying marks on them. They're quite small and very simple - straight blades, a coil spring and a latch. But they're mighty - they cut through everything and never lose their sharpness. Because they're so nondescript looking and could easily be overlooked, I've tied a bright orange ribbon on them so as to find them when I've left them in a pot or a patch of dirt, although more than once I've misplaced them for days at a time. I try to remember to put them in the shed at night but have often left them out, even in the rain. I occasionally clean them off with olive oil, but not as often as I should; and yet they continue to reward me with loyal service. I think fondly of Mrs. Hunt, the woman from whom I bought the house. She was infirm and moved in with family; I think her gardening days were long over and her pruning shears forgotten, so I'm glad to have given them a new lease on life and to enjoy them as I'm sure she once did.”


    Cathy Tylka says, “I inherited a pair of Friskars. They are stainless steel and are from Finland, and do not rust and continue to have an excellent cutting blade. I have misused them for about 3 years, and altho terribly dirty they are still wonderful. I think my friend, who originally purchased them, got them online. I don't have many tools that I would brag about, but these are it. I do have a back up pair; all they say on the blades is Japan and I think I purchased them at Home Depot; the best I can say is they work.”


    Melissa Worton got expert advice about her pruners: “Felco 10 Left-hand pruner is what I use. Years ago, when Roger Swain was the featured speaker at SDHS, he and I had the opportunity to have a conversation regarding left-handed garden tools. He measured my hand against his and recommended the Felco model 10. He was spot on with his recommendation. At the end of our chat, he gave me an important piece of advice, ‘Don't loan them out!’”


    Tynan Wyatt uses different pruners for different size jobs: “For any twigs or branches less than about a 1/2² I love using my Felco hand pruners, but anything over that and I have to say I'd rather use a sharp pruning saw. I find the loppers I've used so far have a tendency to tear rather than cut the back side of the bark of tree branches, making that part of the cut heal more slowly than the rest, which increases exposure to pests and diseases. Using a pruning saw to cut these medium size branches might take longer

  • Wed, April 01, 2009 9:58 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Lisa Bellora (Ornamental Gardens by Lisa) has some great places to research good plants for slopes: “If I am planting a steep slope, I begin by looking at the Sunset Western Garden Handbook (pre-2007), which has a list of plants for hillsides. In the list it indicates which plants actually control erosion, and I usually use these for my clients. I try and pick a few different plants with varying heights for interest. I also make sure that the plants are firewise; there is a listing of acceptable plants on the internet (updated June of 2006) for San Diego County. The firewise list has the botanical names of plants, their common names, and climate zones (coast, inland, mountains, desert). I also usually bring in compost to help the plants get established as well as reducing water needs.”

    Linda Bresler says, “I inherited a steep slope covered only in iceplant from the previous owner. Because iceplant doesn't hold soil on the slopes well, I planted different shrubs among the iceplant. These shrubs bloom at different times of the year, and now there is always some color on my slopes year ‘round. I used low-growing Rockrose, trailing Lantana,Bauhinia galpinii (Red Bauhinia), Caesalpinia gilliesii (Yellow Bird of Paradise), Caesalpinia mexicana (Mexican Bird of Paradise), andArctostaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry).”

    Borris H. Brinkman explains how to make use of a slope: “I side-step the slope with railroad ties anchored with 2¢ long iron pipes. On the level sections of each step I plant my tomatoes, or grapevines, or avocado trees. When watering by overhead sprinklers the water does not run downhill because all of the ground is level.

    Barbara P. Clark shares some great advice: “Since I live in a townhouse, except for containers on the porches my only garden area is on a steep slope in back of our house. Technically the area is ‘Linda Vista sediment’ composed of lots of medium size round rocks, little soil, and on a slope of 45 degrees. Adding to the difficulty was the presence of a family of raccoons, who loved to dig for grubs around anything that was growing. I tried everything to get rid of them. Everything I tried failed, but what started out as an experiment became a solution. I enlarge the holes in the bottom of various types and sizes of plastic and wood containers. Next, I stick a rebar through one of the container's holes, long enough to stick out about 6 to 8 inches from the bottom and to be even with the top of the container when it is pounded into the soil. I plant the container in my normal method with prepared soil and a plant selected for the sun and shade exposure. Taking a hammer along, I hoist the container, along with the rebar sticking out the bottom, up the bank to the planting area. I pound the rebar into the soil on the high side of the slope. This anchors the container to the bank. Many times I hit a rock and have to reposition the container slightly, but usually I can find a spot where the rebar will hold. If not, I pound two shorter rebars in front of the container. Then I put various plants in-between the containers or at the front edge inside the container. These grow up and over the edges and fronts of the containers, camouflaging them. Eventually, the plant's roots grow through the holes in the bottom, further anchoring them to the bank. This spring the area is almost fully covered with foliage and flowers, and the view from our upstairs window is beautiful. Because the planted pots are of different sizes and heights, I think the raccoons just find it too difficult to dig. No more raccoons!”

    Steve Jacobs (Nature Designs) tells us, “I like to plant sprawling plants such as Prostrate Rosemary or Bougainvillea and irrigate them with a drip system to provide deep watering with no runoff.”

    Will Johnson (SECO Landscapes), says: “To deal with a steep slope try three things: Shade the soil: Coarse mulch available from Miramar ($3.00/cubic yard) applied to the surface protects the top layer of dirt from the impact of rain and watering, helps end erosion. Proper irrigation: Keep the plantings alive by using Low-flow MP Rotator sprinklers, and Cycle/soak: apply water slowly enough to soak in and runoff is eliminated. Shrub it up: Creative, interesting, beautiful plantings transform an ugly eyesore into a beautiful panorama..”

    Sharon May sees possibilities in slopes: “Steep slopes are wonderful opportunities! They can be looked at in two ways, as a Canvas, with massed color and texture designed to be viewed from a distance, or as an Experience, using a pathway to draw a person and/or their eyes, up the slope. The pathway should cross the hillside with turns at the edges, much like a beginning skier’s path across a steep slope, to allow comfortable and safe access. Access is required for maintenance, if not for the experience of climbing to the top or the benches along the way. An important aspect of establishing growth on the hillside is mulching. Mulch will blunt the impact force of rain or irrigation, the primary culprit in breaking the soil particles in erosion. Mulch will then allow the water to trickle into the soil and reach the roots, making the best use of your irrigation water. Organic mulch will also feed the beneficial mychorrizae soil fungi which hold the soil in place, minimizing erosion in the future.”

    M. J. Ross advises, “To prevent slipping, wear a pair of cleats!”

    Cindy Sparks says, “For starters I had a man come to add small (3 foot high, requires no permit) retaining walls to terrace the slope into levels as the Italians do. I had old block walls on the other side of the lot using 4" block, so since they no longer make those he had to cut 8" blocks in two. But the new walls match the old, and look nice. Then I added some fill of perfect soil mix and I'm doing veggies in one of the areas, and natives in another, plus some stepping stone paths. And the bottom area which gets all the "trickle down" has existing roses (which love the water). Also, I put a gravel base in the corner up against the house on the bottom level. I previously had a chronic wet area there, but re-routing the downspout off the house took care of part of that while the plants on the terracing took care of another part, using some of that water for plant growth. Adding gravel means that even if it's wet it isn't muddy any more. I am pretty happy with the results. My advice is to keep trying designs in your head until you find a combination which does what you need. And don't be afraid to change the contour.”

    Patti Vickery uses a combination of plants and mulch: “I planted Pride of Madeira at the top of the hill behind my garden several years ago with other drought tolerant plants. They have spread their seeds down the hill and grown many new plants. The rest of the hill is covered with a thick layer of mulch from the Miramar Landfill, which is free to San Diego residents.”

  • Sun, March 01, 2009 9:54 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Walter Andersen explains why you shouldn't toss yellow containers: "To reduce insects in your yard go to the garage and get a used bright yellow plastic one-gallon jug of Prestone Ani-freeze and a used can/bottle of the motor oil additive STP (I say used STP because you can't get it all to drain out). Wipe out the STP that did not drain out (it is very thick and sticky) and smear the STP on the outside of the Prestone jug. With the cap off of the Prestone jug place the jug upside down on a stake (through the hole) in your vegetable garden. When insects fly by they can't resist and land on the yellow jug and can't get off! It is the same as using sticky yellow boards, which you can also make or buy. After I told a customer this, he said 'thanks,' end of conversation. About three weeks later this same cstomer comes in with a jug so completely covered with dead bugs, you could hardly see any yellow at all! He was thrilled and I was, too.)"

    Marsha Bode tells us, "Being a single woman of a certain age, I have many friends who are in the same position. What sets me apart is that I have a pick-up truck. This leads to the acquisition of many items when friends clean out their garages or gardens. I have used the staves from fallen-apart whiskey barrels as boards for staghorn ferns and tillandsias, for instance. For some reason a lot of people have bells of all kinds which end up in my truck: cow bells, musical bells, metal wind chimes and etc. These I have hung randomly in the branches of my lime grove, where they make sound from different spots according to the way the wind is blowing, they are not so close together that they compete with one another or drive me crazy with their constant noise. By far my favorite repurposing is the use of an old carving knife for an all-purpose weeding and digging tool. I have purchased many different tools over the years, but none of them are so handy in certain circumstances as a good long-bladed carving knife for getting the deep roots of tough grasses and for slicing through a whole area of weeds. An old paring knife is also better than clippers for cutting off the tired or snail-chewed leaves of agaves and aloes."

    Mary Borevitz re-uses containers: "I cut the bottoms out of large cottage cheese and yogurt containers making a sleeve which I put around garden starts like broccoli or lettuce to keep away rabbits."

    Lynn Brown-Reynolds wonders "if anyone has found a use for plastic fast food containers (like roasted chicken, cookie containers, pastry containers, etc.)? May be they can be used for waterproof storage ofseed packets, bulbs or as seed starting beds...poke a few holes for drainage?"

    Diane Burch wrote, "Do you have a small spot of yellow grass, or a hanging basket that just doesn't absorb water as you sprinkle? Empty your refrigeration icemaker on it; it works marvels and is so easy."

    Linda Chisari says, "I buy inexpensive packs of chopsticks and use the sticks in several ways: I draw a line in the soil at the proper depth for sowing seeds; I poke holes with the end of the stick to the proper depth for planting peas/sweet peas; I use them as plant labels by writing on the stakes with a Sharpie marker; I use them as temporary stakes when transplanting small plants. The last time I bought these I paid 89 cents for a pack of 24...not a bad deal!"

    Barbara Clark cleverly re-uses packing material: "I live in a townhouse and have many plants in containers. Instead of putting broken pottery or rocks in the bottom of the container to keep the drainage holes clear, I break up the white plastic packing that comes with new products such as televisions, computers, and glassware, and put a good layer of it in the bottom of the pot. This works very well for drainage and keeps the container light enough for easy relocation on my decks. Some roots will even go through a piece of packing and right out the other side."

    Karylee Feldman puts broken items to good use: "I take broken dishes, etc. and stick them into slope sides so that they appear to be intact (or not). I then plant little plants 'inside' them (a bowl section, mug portion, part of a vase) and no one is the wiser... looks like they're 'buried in' (discovered in?, excavated from?, resting against?) the slope... quite the colorful little bit of whimsy ensues."

    Marla Keith re-purposes "a common dinner fork that I buy at thrift stores is good for weeding, separating recent seedlings, and taking propagated cuttings from the pot of planting medium. I have one in various parts of the garden to use whenever I need one. Also, a seam ripper - I keep it close to bags I have to open. It is so easy to use and convenient."

    Miriam Kirk says, "Used mini-blinds are easily cut into plant labels and are long lasting. I also thought plastic knives were great plant labels.....until my little grandchildren came running in the house with their hands full of them, having discovered them out in the yard! Old stockings are great for cradling melons. Or cut them into strips to tie up tomato vines."

    Susan Morse is good at re-purposing: "The old saying, 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' holds true in my yard. The creative, artistic flair of Buena Creek Gardens has been an inspiration for years. I reuse old tea cups and saucers, tea pots, decorative mugs and chipped bowls, to mention a few items that have turned into small planters. From Susi Torre-Bueno, I have copied her idea of using empty cobalt blue water bottles as color highlights here and there. From Mo Price, I have copied her idea of putting old non prescription sunglasses on a cactus; this great array of staring eyes greet people as they enter our driveway. I use chop sticks as miniature plant stakes or when I am planting seeds, the chopstick makes a great hole to drop the seed into. After seeing the Fouquettes displaying their orchids staked up with hair clips, attaching the stem to the stake, I've retrieved these same type of butterfly shaped hair clips from my dressing table drawer. They are a great asset for vining plants to climb up a trellis. I admit without guilt, that I have picked up items from the side of the road that are being thrown out. These become plant holders or plant hangers. My husband brought home a decorative twin bed frame for my 'bed, flower bed.' He found that on the side of the road on a residential street in Encinitas. So, I have him on the look out, too. I love to reuse things and look forward to reading other comments from SDHS members, and start to flatter those folks with imitation."

    Mo Price tells us, "When it's time to buy new dishes, I find the old dishes are useful in the garden. Drill a hole in a cup or bowl and place it on a saucer or plate. They make nice containers for starter plants."

    Cindy Sparks uses "things from both the boat and the kitchen in my yard. I have a large staghorn fern mounted in a 3' wire basket. It's quite heavy, and the best way to hang it from an eave is with a little block and tackle which is really the rig for a dinghy sail. That lets me lower it when I need to work on it, or raise it when the gardener needs to service the sprinklers underneath it. You can get it at any marine store. While you're there, pick up some stainless cable in small sizes, say 1/16" diameter, along with the little crimp fittings used to attach it. I use that to hang permanent things in the garden: a rain gage, wind chime, or some of my hanging baskets. It far outlasts any fiber type of string or line, and it's stronger than mono filament fishing line. I plan to use different color mini-blinds cut into labels for my summer-dormant and winter-dormant succulents so I don't forget and water one at the wrong time."

    Katrin Utt says, "Please don't laugh - I use aspirin on my roses. One uncoated tablet pushed into the soil of an ailing plant seems to work wonders. It does not work all the time, but it's worth a try." [For an interesting series of articles and comments on aspirin on plants go to]

    Ramona Valencia wrote, "I save those expandable net bags that garlic and tomatoes come in and use them to cover my more unique fruits when they are young to protect them from greedy birds. I purchased a pink pearl apple tree quite some time ago and finally had a few small apples appear. Low and behold, the diligent birds got all but two. I put the tomato bags tied with rubber bands top and bottom around those precious apples... it worked!"

    Marilyn Wilson has several ideas: "Coffee filters over the drainage holes in a pot before you plant something in it. Chopsticks (tied to shoestrings) to help sweet peas make it to the bottom of the trellis. Kabob skewers with the handle-ends bent, to hold delicate blossoms up out of the mud. OJ plastic bottle carved up to make a soil scoop for potting bench. Pinching clothes pins to attach eye-level plant labels to the honeysuckle vine. One-foot PVC pipe buried vertically along with a lily or dahlia bulb; off-season it almost disappears, and when the lily gets tall, insert a stake inside the pipe to tie up the blooms - never blindly skewer another bulb again."

  • Sun, February 01, 2009 9:53 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Walter Andersen says: “The biggest mistake I made when I landscaped my new house 35+ years ago was that I planted things too close to each other. I also planted a Ficus benjamina in the front yard; it got too big real fast. For a few years I trimmed it almost annually, but it was still getting over the roof, the roof had lots of leaves on it and the gutter was always full. One day I took my pole saw out to trim it back just a few feet. After three or four limbs came down. I got the chain saw and trimmed it about 4" from the ground! But the large plants are still too close together in the front, it is quite shady and you can hardly see the house. It is private for sure, but probably not the best. Also, I am sorry that I did not plant more fruit trees back then. I have only four: two avocados, a lime and a tangerine. Last year I planted an apple, so it is small and will be 2 years before much fruit. But think of how big they would be now! I also wish I would have planted more (and different types) of palms. Once they get going they require very little special care, and I really like palms. If we ever get moved things will be a lot different and spaced more so there is more room for smaller things in between. Also more citrus and an apple (Fuji. I think).”

    Louise Anderson made a compost boo-boo: “I put cuttings from Mexican Feather Grass in my compost bin. I then spread the compost in the rose garden. Big Mistake. I'm still pulling out Mexican Feather Grass from the rose garden three years later. Obviously the compost bin didn't get hot enough to kill the seeds. Sure won't do that again.”

    Tom Biggart has tree troubles: “We moved onto our 2 acre home site in East County 20 years ago. We had a small avocado orchard and a huge Norfolk Island Pine and that's basically it. The biggest mistake we made was madly and wildly planting trees all over the property without any attention paid as to what the tree would do in 20 years. The worst was the planting of the grove of Brazilian Peppers, which are now sending up suckers all over the place. We got them as suckers from a neighbor's tree – duh?? The other was the planting of a California Pepper by the patio. The tree is gorgeous, but there is a continuous rain of flowers, leaves and twigs onto the patio! The cost of keeping it laced would pay for an entire forest of a more maintenance-free tree. I would suggest carefully studying about a tree you might want to plant before actually committing yourself and your life!”

    Vivian Blackstone’s mistake was “over-expansion. If I had it to do over again I would have planned a smaller garden so as I get older I could handle it all by myself. It a great garden with live fish, fruit trees, flowers and herbs, but nature expands and we humans contract.”

    Morris Brinkman says his biggest mistake was “using what fertilizer was readily available to me from my suppliers for my customers and my own garden when the actual desired NPK that I wanted to sell/use was not available. It has been my experience that for good root growth and flower/fruit production the best is a granular fertilizer made up of an NPK where the Phosphorous % was close to three times as strong as the Nitrogen % and it should be not less than 24% in total strength. Back when I first started up my nursery these parameters were not always available. Consequently, I sold, and used in my garden, other fertilizers which were not up to the strengths and ratios that my studies and experiences had dictated to me.”

    Sharon Corrigan didn’t always get plants off to a good start: “The biggest mistake I have made is not breaking up the roots when I buy a pony pack of veggies or flowers. It's amazing how well they grow when the roots are stimulated. Made a big difference in success.”

    Ric Dykzeul regrets a tree choice: “My biggest mistake was planting a Jacaranda tree which canopies over the patio and driveway. Too messy. Best enjoyed from a distance in someone else’s yard!”

    Sue Fouquette didn’t adequately protect her eyes while gardening: “The other day my left eye started burning while I was fixing dinner. I wondered if a non-hot pepper seed I had just cleaned had landed under my eyelid, but it did not feel like an object was in my eye. The burning got worse and my language got worse than ‘Ow!’ I washed my eye with water in my hand, then with an eyecup, then with eyewash. The burning was still extreme. I got back in the shower and blinked in the spray. After about an hour of pain I called Kaiser and listened to recorded music for ages before a nice nurse answered. She asked what I thought might have caused problem. I told her pepper seed idea, hand lotion I always apply after a shower, and pruning the Euphorbia ‘Sticks on Fire’ that afternoon. She gave me the phone number of Calif. Poison Control. That woman was not so pleasant, but instructed me to get back under the showerhead for 15 minutes using a timer, so I wouldn't skimp on the minutes. Charley was my timer and I kept asking, ‘Am I done?’ After, the pain lessened a little. About an hour later, the pain really subsided. I think the culprit was the Euphorbia even though the pain didn't start at the time. I had topped a couple of branches that were too close to the house; the milky sap from cuts had gone flying. I've gotten such sap on my hands and arms many times and it's never bothered my skin. I'm warning you to wear eye protection when pruning Euphorbias, and to be prepared to listen to recorded music longer than the shower was.”

    Vickie Hearne says, “I regret that we did not espalier more of our fruit trees when they were young. The espaliers look great, and are a better fit for our urban orchard.”

    Pamela Homfelt regrets some irrigation choices: “I made a big boo boo: I hydra-zoned my garden into ten different water use zones, eight low water, two high water use. I love the veggie/rose/fruit tree high water zone but really regret the high water use zone around the patio area. There was a beautiful Datura planted so I went with tropical plants when really I should have moved the Angel’s Trumpet and used the plants I really love (sages, succulents, proteas and grevilleas) around my outdoor living room. Oh well, maybe a new project is in the offing!!”

    Tim Jachlewski says, “My biggest mistake was installing turf in my back/side yard. It's too shady and does not do well. In the future, I hope to create an outdoor courtyard.”

    Will Johnson cites two mistakes: “Biggest mistake is failing to plan for the final size/composition of the garden; this required re-doing some irrigation, the drainage & some grading. Most common mistake I've seen while maintaining gardens: wrong plant in the wrong place.”

    Sue Kelly-Cochrane planted a thug: “The biggest mistake I made was planting horsetail. It looked so architecturally different in its native habitat around a pond but is so invasive that it is almost impossible to eradicate. I like it in a rectangular planter but it is horrible running unchecked in a garden!”

    Sharon May goofed with both soil and design: “Soil: When I planted my first garden in Southern California, I raked, removed rocks and carefully smoothed the bed of my DG soil. I planted my seeds and watched as nothing germinated! After a month of rapidly rising frustration, I put in 4" and 1-gallon plants rather than seeds and they barely grew. When a friend suggested that I mulch with compost I wondered if it would even be worth the effort. Within six months the plants were thriving and within a year the seeds I'd planted finally had enough nourishment to sprout! I learned to always amend my soil and to mulch if I want my plants to perform. On top of that, I weed and fertilize less! Design: Even as a beginning gardener, I couldn't resist trying new plants. If I hadn't grown it, I planted one. Studying my beloved garden, I was disappointed to see how ‘mushy’ it looked, with so little impact from so much effort. I then realized how important mass plantings are, not just the onesies stuck here and there. I moved plants that had similar colors together and created the effect of mass plantings to carry from a distance. I've since added a plant shopping rule: always buy at least three of a plant to create mass and repetition.”

    Lenore Morines planted some invasive plants: “After many years of gardening, my biggest mistake was planting two flowers that are very pretty but send up thousands of volunteers each year. They are Centranthus ruber (Jupiter's Beard) and Sweet Alyssum.”

    Susan Morse found one bargain was “too good to be true: In my naiveté, a few years back, I snapped up the chance to buy 6 bulbs for 50 cents at a local garden club meeting. They were the common red/orange chasmanthe. I swear there are 600 bulbs now. I can't get rid of them – they keep spreading.”

    Teresa Norris says, “Our biggest mistake was taking a gamble (and we knew we were) and buying a beautiful boxed ($300) flowering African Tulip Tree, Spathodea campanulata, and planting it in the front and center of our yard in Poway. We enjoyed its beautiful blossoms for two years until the freeze of 2006 killed it. Live and learn...”

    Katherine Nowak
     confesses to two mistakes: “The two biggest mistakes I have made in my garden are not watering new plants frequently enough to get them established and planting the same plant in the same area where one died previously when I hadn't figured out why the first one died. I always get the same result!”

    Bill & Tamma Nugent’s biggest mistake was, “without question, the planting of four Silk Oak (Grevillea robusta) trees in our backyard. What were we thinking? Not only are these trees large, ugly and messy, they offer the added benefits of self-pruning (due to rapidly growing softwood with weak branch structure), invasiveness (we are constantly removing seedlings throughout the front and backyards), and almost zero shade. Given a do-over we would probably opt for another, much better behaved Australian native tree – Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Silver Sheen.'”

    Una Marie Pierce says: “While my hardscape is beautiful and perfectly fitting to my house, I regret allowing contractor to put in so much concrete. In later lectures I have heard lessons on allowing for more gravel, flagstone, etc. walks which allow for more percolation of rain water. When I see water sitting after rain storms or have to sweep or scrub the "acres" of concrete I wish I had been made aware of the benefits of less!”

    Stephanie Shigematsu reports that “Over-planting is the biggest mistake I have made in gardening. We all want that instant garden, but before you know it that 15 gallon tree is 20 feet tall. Since reducing water and eliminating unnecessary maintenance should be some of our New Years resolutions, planting with the mature size and spacing in mind is both aesthetically pleasing and the right thing to do. It breaks my heart to see whole parkways over-planting at significant taxpayer expense. Additional maintenance and resources are needed to edit out these trees and shrubs, in excess of what many municipalities can afford. Make a list of what you’d like to use in your garden and look up those you don’t know well. I recommend shopping for plants by first finding mature specimens in your area, so you can see what will become of that cute little tree in the 15 gallon pot.”

    Cindy Sparks regrets planting an invasive plant: “Biggest mistake of 2008: not listening to the people who said that Jupiter's Beard, Centranthus ruber, red (or white) valerian, is invasive. I saw stars in my eyes and purchased a white cultivar for my gray/blue/pink/white drought tolerant garden. They were right; now I have 50 million tiny seedlings, and the mother plant is still blooming as I write this in January. It was pretty all summer, but I'll regret my decision each time I pull a seedling.”

    Cathy Tylka has irrigation issues: “My biggest mistake was setting up the watering system for a garden that didn't exist and I didn't even have a plan, but my dear Richard (aka my husband) wanted to get the sprinklers in, so…I have planted around the system, but if I get around to it this year will have him change the methods he has implemented to get water to spots that are desert now or less to areas that are being flooded by the wrong water delivery tool.”

    Ramona Valencia didn’t plan well: “My biggest mistake was not better space planning by planting too close.”

    Ron Vanderhoff had problems with his HOA: “In the opinion of my Homeowners Association I guess [my mistake] would be - not planting one of the fifty bland, blah, everybody-has-one trees that were on their ‘approved’ list. I moved to this home last year and quickly removed a nearly dead olive tree in my front garden. A short while later I planted a rather rare Erythrina coralloides 'Bicolor'. I don't think the plant police even knew what it was, but it definitely wasn't on their list of ‘good’ trees.”

    Patti Vickery regrets starting late: “The biggest mistake I made in my garden was not planting fruit trees 20 years ago when I bought my home. Last year I removed a few rose bushes and planted a peach tree and a blueberry bush. I enjoyed about 25 small peaches and hope to have blueberries in a few months.”

    Marilyn Wilson
     says she is a lazy gardener and “doesn't always put away all of her gardening supplies when through using them. About three years ago, after a few winter rains, labels ‘disappeared’ from some spray bottles. In the Spring when aphids appeared, I thoroughly sprayed the young shoots and buds of all the roses, lilies, etc. After a few days I noticed that new growth all over the garden was wilting and turning brown. Slowly realizing what must have happened, I pruned everything (in case herbicide was systemic), and of course, there were no flowers for months. No, I didn't learn to keep my gardening stuff under cover, but I did start using special white spray bottles with weatherproof writing on them using an eyebrow pencil: ‘Bugs’ or ‘Weeds.’ I won't be making that mistake again!”

    Barbara Patterson wrote: My garden is a wonderful place and I do love it but, if starting over, I'd definitely make two significant changes: 1. I'd have a much, much larger, south facing yard 2. I'd have more fruit trees - peaches, plums, apple, maybe even a 'fruit cocktail' tree - and a far, far larger veggie garden with a berry patch. Everything is so very much better fresh from the garden!
  • Thu, January 01, 2009 9:51 PM | San Diego Horticultural Society (Administrator)

    Linda Addison is going back to basics: “My goal is to use less water and build up my soil. I plan to cover my garden with a big thick layer of mulch. In addition I will replace plants (as needed) with drought tolerant ones.”

    Jim Bishop is taking steps towards fire safety: “The fires in 2007 made us much more concerned about all the potential fuel in the lower part of our canyon, so we planned on adding a succulent firebreak between our house/garden and the canyon below. Well...we were trying to add it in 2008, but didn't get there (yet); so we'll try again in 2009. We plan to use as many different aloes as possible, but will add in other succulent plants. We cleared the chaparral and Eucalypts in 2008 and ran the debris through a new shredder. We saved a few of the toyons and one lemonade berry and trimmed them up into small trees. However, we didn't get much done this summer and the chaparral and Eucalypts started growing back, so we cut them down again and tried roundup on the new sprouts. I started lots of aloes in pots 2007, so now they are getting quite large. We still have to wrap the slope in chicken wire to keep out the gophers and add permanent irrigation. Since it is such a big area, we are going to use overhead irrigation...this will be the only part of the garden that won't be on drip irrigation. So we can have access, there will still be some paths and maybe retaining wall work to do, but we might not get that done until 2010.”

    Lynne Blackman is concerned about water usage: “We are adding more efficient irrigation. (Having cut our water use 40% we wonder if we'll be punished for having cut before we are required to?) I will also be dreaming up more whimsy - I can't predict what. Ideas arrive and we follow our inspiration. Gardens are meant to change. Why not have fun?”

    Jo Lynn Campbell is trying 3 kinds of amaranth: “I read an article in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles by Debra Lee Baldwin titled ‘Amazing Amaranth-Enjoy Its Beauty, Then Harvest Its Nutritious Seeds.’ They grow into bushes with beautiful flowers and edible seeds and leaves. They are also drought tolerant, but more productive with adequate water. So I purchased Elephant Head seeds, which is an heirloom from Germany with a huge flower that takes on the appearance of a elephant’s trunk; Opopeo, an heirloom from Mexico with large red, upright flower spikes and bronze-green foliage; and Love-Lies-Bleeding, which grows 3-4 tall with very long rope-like flowers with deep red color. If growing them is as easy as the article describes, it should be a fun experiment. That is if I can keep the rabbits and ground squirrels out!”

    Pam Coffey is replacing lawn with crops: “I am adding a vegetable/herb garden to my back yard. I have removed all of the grass areas and am currently working on designing my raised beds at different focus points in the yard with sitting areas. With the cost of veggies at the store and the water prices going up this will allow me to enjoy the yard a minimal cost in watering and enjoy eating my favorite greens.”

    Jill Conger is adding trees: “I plan to add more fruit trees! Water rationing is most likely coming our way, so I want to use water to its best advantage. Home grown citrus and stone fruits are the tastiest and my family consumes more fruit if they are handy.”

    Nancy Donnell has big plans for her front yard: “I’m afraid my dilemma is I have absolutely no room to add anything to my backyard garden… hence in 09, I’m busting out to the front (shh, don't tell my husband). The first thing I plan to do is remove what was the biggest mistake of my life in terms of sticking something in the ground... About 20 years ago, I was killing a Savon drugstore Ficus benjamina as a houseplant, so out of desperation, I stuck it in the middle of my lawn...well, I shouldn’t have done that! In 2009 I hope to save my retaining walls, liberate my sewer lines and replace that menace with a benignly beautiful pomegranate tree, and that’s just the start.”

    Annie Forseth-Smith plans to add “SUCCULENTS! My husband and I spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Scottsdale, Arizona. While there, we visited the Desert Botanical Gardens. Amazing. Not only the variety of Cacti, Succulents, and drought tolerant plants, but the current display of Chihuly Glass, interacting with the plants. Staggering creativity. Just plain dumb luck that we happened to visit the garden, plus this amazing dance between succulents and glass. I'm ready to tear my garden apart and start over with a new, beautiful, lower water direction. The Chihuly Glass is at the Gardens until May 2009; just a 6 hour drive from San Diego. Take a friend and spend the day. You'll be thinking of a garden remodel, too.”

    Richard Frost has a special native plant to add: “The water-wise native San Diego Honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata var. denudata) is loved by birds, butterflies, and is an excellent companion plant to many other natives – and it has edible berries! San Diego Honeysuckle prefers mid-day shade. In the wild it is often found at the drip-line of native oaks, spreading non-aggressively into the shade. A few studies have concluded that it is beneficial to California evergreen oaks when not overwatered.”

    John Gilruth is going after pests: “I plan to add a more aggressive attitude towards ridding my property of gophers next year. They have been a pain, killed some prize rose bushes, attacked the vegetable garden, and I am always just a little behind in their control.”

    Carrie Goode will add at least one fruit tree: “I plan to add a fig tree, and possibly a persimmon tree to my garden. Being from the Midwest, I had never eaten a fresh fig or persimmon in my life, and never planned to either (neither one seemed appetizing). This year, I was treated to tastes of fresh figs and fresh persimmons, and I cannot believe how absolutely scrumptious they are! Now I know I don’t want to live without them.”

    Irina Gronborg has an intriguing idea: “I plan to add more time to our garden. More time than is required for the usual life or death issues. More time to clip, to sweep, to observe, to be like a Zen monk.”

    Lori Hamelehle is planting a special ground cover: “I plan to plant Cotoneaster salicifolius ‘Gnom’ on some of my bare banks at my nursery in Guatay. The mountain areas have additional challenges that this Cotoneaster grows great under: low water, freezing temperatures, blasting Santa Ana winds and fire. The Gnom Cotoneaster is a ground hugging ground cover that has rich green foliage, white flowers and red berries and takes temperatures down to 0 degrees. A great plant to try in all areas of San Diego.”

    Joan Herskowitz says: “I plan to expand the use of Salvias and other native plants in 2009. I already have a mixture of succulents and Salvias on one side of my house and get tremendous enjoyment observing hummingbirds feeding on the nectar provided by the flowers. There are a great variety of native Salvias and cultivars available at plant nurseries, with so many different colors and shapes. The added benefit of gardening with these plants for me is the knowledge that I am extending wildlife habitat from preserves and parkland into the suburban environment to support native insects and birds.”

    Christiane Holmquist wants to add “benches or better yet a swing for adults! I tend to forget to take a break once in a while and enjoy what I have created. A beautiful swing will hopefully remedy this.”

    Janice Johnson
     tells us she is “planning to plant native plants which I purchased a couple of weeks ago and was just waiting for the soil to cool down. The area where I want to plant them has no water except a hose and is in full sun along the Green Valley Creek. I want to screen out a neighbor.”

    Will Johnson says, “First, finally replacing the entire front lawn with a park-like garden of natives, Mediterranean & South African plants, accented with fruit & veggies, irrigated with subsurface drip & microsprays. Reasons? Water savings, added value, social responsibility, aesthetics, plus I don’t want to be the “shoemaker with barefoot kids” [Will owns SECO Landscapes]. Others: Add a bench & tiny water feature to give the many neighborhood pedestrians a quiet place to rest & reflect, also, divert shower/bath greywater to quench a thirsty Salix matsudana (corkscrew willow) and a bed of roses.”

    Marilyn Guidroz is doing veggies and fruit: “This is a great time for everyone to add a raised vegetable garden and some dwarf fruit trees. With the current economic situation and the predicted shortage of food due to the water crisis cutbacks in agriculture this is the time for us to get back to basics.”

    Hilda King gardens with her grandkids: “I plan to add another 8  4 garden box so I can grow more vegetables with my granddaughters. We planted tomatoes on the edges of the one we had this summer and the other plants didn’t do well because they were shaded by the huge tomato plants. Next year we’ll plant the tomatoes in one box and the other veggies in another box.”

    Ted Kniffing (of Kniffing’s Discount Nurseries) has tips for success if you will be planting bareroot roses and fruit trees. “Dip the roots into a plant success mycorrhizae gel for fast root growth, then plant with an organic rose planting mix 50% and mix with 50% of the soil you take out of the hole. Make a basin with the excess mix and topdress with 2to 3 of organic compost. Give it a good deep watering.”

    Cheryl Leedom will add a place for airplanes: “This may be a bit unconventional, but next year I will be incorporating a landing strip into the landscape for my husband's radio-controlled model airplanes, much to the delight of our one-year old grandson, Kyle.”

    Lee Lichter is also thinking water-wise plants: “I plan to replace my ‘thirsty’ plants with drought tolerants and/or California natives.”

    Sue Marchetti is adding “more drought tolerant and native plants and especially grasses and low ground covers because I am ridding our back garden of most of the Bermuda lawn (not an easy task) to conserve more water, reduce use of nitrogen, and pollutants from gas mower.”

    Cathy McCaw is adding art! “I will soon be adding some mosaic art sculptures to my garden. I found the pieces on display at Quail Botanical Gardens to be so beautiful that it inspired me to take the mosaic class offered at MiraCosta College. Although my project is on a much smaller scale, it's going to be a nice addition to the garden.”

    Carol McCollum is going for water efficiency: “Some type of irrigation system to keep my plants happy & alive would be great! Maybe 2009 is the year I'll get to it! It would be such a big time saver... So I'd have more time to enjoy my garden!”

    Janet Milliken has some construction planned: “I plan to add a large raised planter to break up a long space of 6 foot white fence in my front yard. It needs to be raised as there is a large spruce tree, and the roots don’t allow for good planting in the ground.”

    Lenore Morines says: “I plan to add many succulents to a long narrow area next to our driveway instead of the lawn that is there. The succulent area will be adapted from many of the ideas in the book Designing with Succulents, by Debra Lee Baldwin. I hope to combine various textures, heights and colors to make it at least a tenth as attractive as the cover of her book.”

    John Rader
     is saving water and will add: “more Arctotis: low water use, unusual colors and colorful, great foliage, easy care, snail proof, unique. I have cut back irrigation significantly and these can take it. Next will be killing my lawn and planting a meadow. I also have started and will plant more Ptilotis for the same reasons as the Arctotis. Gardening with less water is a new adventure.”

    Karen Utt says, “The one thing I am going to add to my garden in 2009 is tons of worm castings. I have been using it on a limited basis so far and noticed that it really keeps the bugs under control where it has been applied generously. I have over 100 roses mingling with sages, perennials and annuals. I can sure use the help because I do not use insecticides or sprays.”

    Steve Zolezzi wants to go low-water in 2009: “Trying not to repeat past mistakes, in 2009 I will be focusing in on replacing/adding plants that are drought tolerant! Seems like this drought is here to stay, for a while at least. So it will not only be important to how my garden looks – using more native plants, succulents and the like will reduce the amount of water I will need, which will benefit us all.”

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 Our Mission  To inspire and educate the people of San Diego County to grow and enjoy plants, and to create beautiful, environmentally responsible gardens and landscapes.

Our Vision  To champion regionally appropriate horticulture in San Diego County.


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