Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Flowers for February and March

It is a great time of year for blooms and I have found a few great examples in my yard to share with you. The bulbs are really popping up and I will share a few of my favorites. If you didn't plant this year, take a look next fall in your local garden center and grab a handful of one of these varieties if you haven't planted already or buy one in bloom and it will be back next year at this time with a bloom or two or three..
Red and yellow freesia with peppermint geranium
Freesia: These bulbs are perfect for the Southern California climate and always flower this time of the year consistently. I had the kids at school learning what the flowers look like so that they can begin to really identify the plants as they are gearing up to flower. Freesias smell wonderful (some more than others), and are perfect for pots. I love planting yellow, purple, and the red ones really pop!

Chartreuse breath of heaven
Breath of Heaven is just going crazy this month. I love the chartreuse one because it stands out more in the garden than the darker green one...but this one plant is more about the dainty pink flowers this time of year.
Geum pops a flower

Another one that I really don't see very much is Geum...mine is still looking a bit shaggy, because it wants to be in a shadier location, but they still have these darling, delicate little blooms in orange or red. I've seen these cute flowers featured in murals in Italian restaurants for some reason. I distinctly remember seeing one in a mural within the walls of a great Italian restaurant in Montreal, Canada.

Pink and yellow and burgundy ixia
 Ixia This showstopper is from South Africa and they really add drama with their beautiful blooms this month. They're in all sorts of colors. I've also had bright yellow and black ones. They don't always seem to do many repeat performances like freesia do. It seems that after a year or two or three, they peter out and don't rebloom.

If you have a unique favorite, let me know. By the way, Easy to Grow bulbs is a great local company that you can buy bulbs from. I'll try to profile a few more on my next post.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The time of year for greens

The air is chilly. The nights seem frosty from time to time. Rain drops pop in every now and then. Yes, its the time for greens. But get them planted soon, because by May, it will be too late. If you love fresh lettuce in your sandwiches, or you like having lots of fresh greens around for salads, start growing them! They are so easy. Just throw the seeds on top a bag potting soil from the garden center or add a half a container of purchased mulch or old leaves to half a container of your garden soil, dust the top with a handful or two of the same soil, and within a few weeks, you'll have some seedlings peeking through. If it doesn't rain, remember to water about every other day. Greens will even grow in 3/4 sun, they don't need whole 8 hours of sun each day since about 6 will do.

Pony packs speed up the process

Or, to make it easier, just go grab couple of pony packs of lettuce from Home Depot or your local hardware or grocery store. Oftentimes, they use these packs as loss leaders to build traffic and very reasonable. There's a hardware store up the street that sells pony packs for about $2.00. You will quickly see how rapidly they grow and how tasty and delicious it is to have fresh greens handy. It will also cut down on your grocery bill. I started putting a small container in my sink...I put in coffee grounds, veggie scraps, banana and orange peels, etc. Then, say if I'm dumping out a glass of water that my child didn't drink, or a pot of water from the pasta, I just made, I'll dump it in the container. Then I have an easy way to get my lettuce or other pots watered without having to use virgin water from the hose.

Wanda goes after one of her favorite plants...the hollyhock.
What works and what doesn't for me

The only green that I can't seem to grow well here in San Diego is spinach. It just seems to take too much water for me to keep up with. After all, I'm not a bog gardener. However, I've had great luck with rocket (a fast-growing spicy dandelion-like green, swiss chard (both tender miniature ones and larger heads), asian greens including mizuna and daikon (but got mostly green parts...underground radish portions were pretty wimpy), collard and mustard greens, cabbage, kale, and all sorts of kinds of lettuce from butter lettuce to a green one with red freckles and even romaine (which takes a little longer).

One trick, though, is that rabbits also love them, so high raised beds will always be better or surround your greens with chicken wire, or try tall, wide pots. My kids at school and I have learned pretty quickly, that rabbits can take any green to the ground pretty fast. Rabbits do, however, leave the stub. As I have a rabbit, it surprised me when I learned that they don't eat the whole plant. After all, they want to come back for snacks later, so why take the whole thing down at the first try? My rabbit has continued to nibble at the low pot of greens that I grew at her level. She never eats it all. The past week, I bought a beautiful, huge purple cabbage from Home Depot and then the wind blew the container off the top of the planter...what a surprise when I found that the same day I purchase it, she had taken it down to a nipped purple'd hardly know it even existed. But somehow, it was still alive.

Kids love to sample greens...I'm amazed at all the different kind of greens the kids at school will try.

However, if you live in San Diego, get them planted now, because by May and June, it will heat up and the greens will bolt to seed rapidly. However, for now, we are still safe, and the greens will come fast and furious once they start popping up.  And if you miss it, there's always the fall to start again.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The beauty and familiarity of stone

I have always loved stone walls. I grew up in the foothills of Mt. Helix where people had beautiful hand-laid rock walls like they built in the '40s-'60s. When I grew up, my Dad had built our home and our sunken living room was faced with volcanic rock in a room a vaulted ceiling and a fireplace at the bottom where we would pop popcorn in an old black metal device that you shook. It seemed much more fun that making it in a pot, and microwaves were just coming out so no one made microwave popcorn. They were fun nights to be together with the family in that room. When I lived in England, I determined that I would have a rock wall some day in my garden. I loved how the roses would spill freely over the sturdy rock walls, which reminded me of scenes from a Beatrix Potter book. This link goes over some history behind rock walls. It was fascinating to see how England has nearly a different type of stone in each little sub-village as I traveled there. The local materials reign, which seems to root the people in their history.

My bluestone wall on the edge of the canyon.
When we remodeled our home, I think one of my favorite parts was going out to the rock companies and looking at rocks, studying their textures, the moods they delivered, and considering what would work best in my house. I can remember my daughter who was about 2 at the time, just sifting her dirty little hands through the bins that held smaller rocks in different colored buckets the whole time I was there. She was absolutely fascinated by how the texture felt in her hands. And she begged to go back to see the stones and take more home. When it came time to pick out the stones, I decided to choose a really hard-to-get stone. Only one rock company carried it and I had to go back again and again to ensure they had the stones with the right tones of grey with orange accents, not the ones that went more pinky or more contrasty. One day, my stone mason picked up some of the materials in a North County location, and he obviously didn't keep an eye out for the particular shades I was after and ended up with rocks a whole different palette. But we worked it out by putting the ones with more contrast on the wall facing the canyon, but it did show me how much the colors mattered and how they made a different emotional impact on me.

I love my rock wall now. I think my husband understood how important it was to me. It was not the cheapest wall in the world and he never complained about it. But it creates a little sanctuary where my bunny can hide in the underbrush from the coyotes in the canyon and where I can garden.

The kids at school love stones too. Another volunteer brought some extra flagstone from her remodeling project. Ever since we laid the first stone, the kids talk about the stones. They learn the first day they work with me that, "You must walk on the stones, so you don't crush all the plants that you work so hard to grow." This marks the beginning of their love affair with the walking path. And yes, they walk on them. It's amazing to me that they will even cram into the garden back to back just to be able to walk on the stones and feel closer to nature than staying on the swatch of concrete next to the garden. When we have our garden sessions, the stones beckon them, invite them to get involved. They dust them off with small brooms and tend them with love. In fact, when I get thank you notes from the kids, they enjoy talking about the stones and drawing pictures of them. It's as if when you are small, you are more aware of the ground.

So, add some stones to your garden...You'll find they anchor it and provide an avenue to adventure.

Here are some helpful links to articles about stone selection:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sneaking a little fun and whimsy into your garden

I have always liked the outdoors and I can seriously remember when I would lift up the stone under our outdoor faucet almost every day (at least for a time in my childhood) to find creepy crawlies and the like.

Who's watching?  Kids love surprises in the garden
I try to remember this fascination with the little things when I work with kids in the garden. Parents should remember that kids naturally love to dig in the dirt and explore things so they should give kids independence to spend time relaxing and observing it and even drawing it if they're interested.

My kids haven't always loved gardening along side me, but have found their own avenues to explore it. When my daughter was in 1st grade, I thought she might like to help me plant some succulents and I quickly realized that I needed to give her some control. So, I let her manage where everything went. She proceeded to take the purple flowers containers I had purchased and created a 3D picture out of the plants with the gray succulents lined up to create a visual stem shape and the seven purple flowered plants creating a flower shape. It was something I just wouldn't have thought of doing.

Then, instead of doing following the agenda I had come up with, she decided she wanted to decorate the garden. "OK. That's cool,"I thought. "This could be interesting."
A little castle peeks out from amidst
the greenery.

She then got out some of her old toys and I got out some epoxy and we started to glue her old toys to things and place them around the garden. By the end, we had all of these cute little things there to make me smile when I gardened. It was really nice. There was a plastic frog that was attached to a bamboo pole, a little rock with googly eyes peeking amidst the greenery. So fun. It all took about a half hour. Kids usually don't have patience for that long...usually about 15 minutes. But because she was in control, she kept at it.

So I ended up with a very enjoyable environment to work within...Some of these decorations are still in place and they still make me happy.

Anyway, if you have any questions about working with kids in your garden, please make a comment. Also, I'm happy to answer any questions you have about plants if I'm able. I have gained a lot of knowledge over the years just through reading and doing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kids and potatoes...they mix

Potatoes aplenty from my garden.
Face it. Kids love white food. The starchier the better. And potato recipes from au gratin to French fries to mashed are always a hit.

So, why not take on a project that kids are bound to adore? That is growing potatoes. Home-grown potatoes are really tasty and quite easy to grow. It's perfect for kids aged 6-12 in particular. You just need to use certified seed potatoes and avoid planting them in the same place two years in a row. Potatoes are prone to soil borne diseases, so by using certified seed potatoes you reduce the risk of pests and ensure they are disease free to start with.

I grow some each year. One year, we got the whole neighborhood involved in planting them. When it was time to pull them out (about 120 days later) we had a whopper of a crop. Every family that had pitched in to plant them got a bagful of the beauties.

Potatoes were discovered in Peru by the Inca Indians in 200 B.C. In 1537, the Spanish conquistadors discovered them in Peru and brought them back to Europe. The first potatoes arrived in North America in 1621. It's a perfect project to tie into 4th grade study of the history of California as they were planted in missions across California by the missionaries.
Digging them up is the best part.

How to Grow
Potatoes grow best in full sun, and prefer well drained soil. They like a slightly acid soil (ph of 5.8-6.5) so make sure you add some peat moss or some coffee grounds to the soil in addition to plenty of compost or manure. When you plant potatoes, soil should be evenly moist, but not soggy. Extremely heavy, wet soil can cause potatoes to rot. Winter is a great time to plant potatoes in San Diego. Since plants begin to grow when weather is over 45 degrees, we can grow potatoes both in fall and in winter. They also tolerate a light frost. A great time to plant them in Southern California is just after a light rain. They also do well in large oak barrels or even black plastic containers. Gardeners Direct offers potato grow bags which can be reused. However, you must clean the bag when you are done to get ready for the next season.

Get the kids to put potatoes on a kitchen window sill about a week before you plant them. They will begin to sprout and kids will enjoy watching the daily changes. You can cut then cut the certified seed potatoes into smaller chunks that are 1 1/2-2 inch cubes and make sure they each have one-two eyes on them and plant them about. You can grow potatoes in mounds with 6-8 chunks spread within a 2 foot by 2 foot mound or you can grow in rows about 15" apart. Once the potatoes are about 8 inches tall, have the kids mound the soils up around the stems. Then, a few weeks later, do another mounding about half-way up the stems. You will need to water 1 to 2 times a week or less if it rains.

Ensure that the potatoes themselves are covered with soil. Potatoes that are exposed to sunlight can turn green and may become toxic. Also, children should not eat the green potato leaves as they are toxic, so be sure you are doing this project with kids that understand what should and shouldn't go into their mouths.

Dig up the potatoes 2 weeks after the plants finish flowering. You can also have the kids just dig down an pull out a few potatoes without tearing out the whole plant and the potatoes will continue to grow.

A few great places for to buy certified seed potatoes are Wood PrairieBurpee Seed Co., and Territorial Seed Co.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why I love kids to draw in the garden

Drawing is fun. I know that I haven't had the chance to do enough of it in my life. It's something I always wish I have the chance to do more of. But drawing is extremely important for kids. It gives them a chance to really think about things in different ways and to stretch their brain into new areas if they care to.

I have been amazed at the uniqueness of children's drawings in the garden. They reflect their own special perceptions of plants and the world around them. I'm amazed that I can look back on the artwork of kids of various grades and see the patterns in how each child handles shapes and approaches their work a little bit differently.

Blimp on a sunny day and Wanda.

One of the signs kids painted in our garden and the rabbit.
Today, I gardened with four children. I had brought my lop bunny to school to share with the kids and after letting the kids pet her and watch her hop around a circle of excited children, she was definitely top of mind. So it was no surprise that my rabbit showed up in the pictures the kids were drawing. But, interestingly, she was not the primary focus. One little boy drew Wanda in her cage and then added a blue blimp up in the sky. I didn't even bring up the idea of flying objects, but having the time outside made him look around him and just brainstorm and relax and this kind of imagery came to his mind.

One little girl drew a sign that the kids had painted in the garden and with my rabbit Wanda in the corner. The kids love these signs. They also really enjoy the stones that they are required to walk on through in the garden. I can't believe what an impact these stones make on them. Yes, it is one of the rules: they must walk only on the stones, but they constantly mention the stones and the signs in letters about the garden to me. It shows they make an impact.

Smaller groups are better for art projects, if possible
It works better to have a small number of kids outside when you're drawing and to do it early in the day when they have a good attention span. Later in the day, they just want to get outside and dig or plant things. The tomato picture that a kindergardener drew a few years ago captures the reality of how this plant looked at the end of the season when the plant had pretty much dried to a wiry stem with the succulent tomato on the end. I'm hoping we picked that beautiful tomato once we finished our drawing.
Tomato plant at the end of the season.

Kids don't need much structure for drawing assignments, but they do tend to fall back into the patterns of line and materials that they are comfortable with using. If you can point out interesting things in the landscape and make they really take a new look at things, you will inspire them to really get creative and explore new shapes and even new drawing tools. They just need a few big pads and a big bin of pens and colored and standard gray pencils to choose from when they work. Also, once they say they're done, get it out of their hands. Kids do have a tendency to overwork things and to keep it fresh, let them move on to a new piece of art if they want, or their next activity.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why it's fun to garden with kids

I didn't mean to get so attached. I started gardening with kids at Dailard Elementary School in a planter that one other parent had set up irrigation for a few years back and moved on after his child finished that school year in the class next to the garden. With time, the kids and I have landscaped 3 planters (1 dry garden, one low water area that has benches to sit and one area that we irrigate during the school year about 1-2 times per week).

My oldest daughter, now 15, was 6 and my youngest spent most of her time on my back in a pack pulling my hair as I'd work with the kids. My youngest is now in 4th grade and the garden is going strong. But now the kids from the darling, fresh-faced kindergarteners to the lumbering fourth grade boys have won me over with their love of new things, their eagerness to interact with nature (dirt in particular) and a desire to use their senses to learn more about the garden.

My young charges are my master gardeners, and have taught me a lot. Though I'm not a teacher 9 to 5, but the co-owner of a video production company, I have learned a lot and taught them a lot in return. They always ask me how I learn so much about gardening and I tell them that I read books about gardening and that I learn by practicing in my own garden too.

With this blog, I want to share some of the tips I've learned with interested parents and children...So they can grow their own beautiful and tasty environments together.

Kids love drama and exaggeration in the garden. What child isn't fascinated by a huge sunflower or a sprawling bush that smells like peppermint? They also love the unexpected. Smelly sage is curious to them. They are eager to learn about the oils in the plants that repel other predators. Unexpected items in the garden like toys or sculptures intrique them and bring them joy. Even an old toy glued to a post can or sunken into grout can generate questions. "Who put that there?" "Can I touch it?" I can't tell you how many times kids have commented on the orange painted rocks one kid brought in about 5 years ago or the tumbled glass stones we glued to rocks that kids find every now and then and ask questions about. It's like they found buried treasure. And I just love this sense of wonder that kids bring to life.

I want to amuse, inspire and educate kids and parents with this blog. You never know which kids will really like gardening...I can never predict it myself. But when certain kids like it, they really like it and my aim is to get kids that want to learn more the tools to become lifelong garden lovers. No matter how strong the interest, the garden is a place where kids can learn and exercise and interact with nature in a positive way.