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Archive for December, 2010


The Gift

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I recently had a most delightful phone call.  A young man found my website and called to ask about community garden plots as a holiday gift for his mother.  He was in from out-of-town and wondered if I could help him.

His mother, it seems, had suffered some financial setbacks  and no longer had access to the fresh fruits and vegetables she’d once had.  He and his sister had discussed it and decided that for Christmas, they’d like to get her a community garden plot.  They’d also thought about giving her a subscription to community supported agriculture (CSA), but a community garden would get her out and socializing as well.

The question was, he said, she’s in her mid 60s and most of the community gardens he’d found so far looked to be tended by 20 and 30-somethings. Did I know of a garden that would offer her more contact with her peer group?

The young man and I talked for a while.  Did she know how to garden?  Yes.  She’d once had space for a vegetable garden but doesn’t now.

Had he asked whether she’d prefer a CSA membership or a community garden plot?  No, they were thinking it would be a surprise.  They had no idea whether she would rather garden or  prefer to pick up produce ready to go, or both.

Community garden plots are usually inexpensive,  I told him, and CSA membership costs more overall, but costs less than buying that same produce at the supermarket.

On the issue of community gardens, its important to know his mother’s priorities.  While the young man and his sister may think that a place with people her age may be most important, she may be more concerned about location.   A community garden nearby could trump a garden plot 20 or 30 minutes away, even if the gardeners were her age.  In fact, she may enjoy being in a mixed generation garden.

Hmmm… they hadn’t though of that.

By the end of our discussion, it was clear that the siblings’ first step was to talk with their mother.    I suggested they find a nice card or design a coupon that listed her gift options.  If they use that as a starting point for a discussion, they may discover she has criteria they aren’t even aware of.

What most touched me, though,  was the way they approached their gift giving.   In an era where we often feel pressured to buy a gift – any gift –  here were two adult children thinking about what their mother could use the most: fresh food, physical activity, social interaction.  Even if none of it comes to pass, it is  a lovely, lovely thought.

And one I may suggest one day when my almost adult-children ask me what I’d like as a gift.


Natives, naturally

Monday, December 13th, 2010

If you live in a mild winter areas, especially along the west coast, this is the perfect season to plant natives; the air has cooled, the soil is still warm, and the rains are about to start.

Some people have the mistaken idea that native plants are not “real” garden plants.  It’s a foolish idea of course as every plant is native somewhere.

Every garden should include at least some native plants.  Natives provide food and shelter to native animals.   Natives are low, or even no, maintenance  – after all, there are no gardeners in native habitats.

Native plants create a sense of place.  If your garden is filled with plants from China or Hawaii, then your garden will look like China or Hawaii.  But if you live in San Jose, your garden should look like San Jose.

And sometimes, growing native plants is the way to save them from extinction.  Recently, I had dinner with Gary Lyons, curator of the famous desert garden at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, not far from Los Angeles.  We were discussing the fabulous specimens in Lyon’s garden, many of which were collected from the wilds of Baja California, just over the border in Mexico. “You can’t go out and collect those plants today,” Lyons told me, “they don’t allow it anymore.”  The plants were overcollected to the point that few still exist in their native habitats.  Today, they are protected.

At the same time, Lyons said, gardeners play a role in conserving threatened plants.  By including nursery grown descendants of the wild collected plants, we can help prevent them from going extinct.  This concept applies to native plants as much as to exotics.  (read more….)

California lilac (Ceanothus) is not a true lilac but rather a native that blooms blue in the spring

California lilac (Ceanothus) is not a true lilac but rather a native that blooms blue in the spring

The lovely indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri)

The lovely indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri)

A simple urn is the perfect complement for this majestic native oak

A simple urn is the perfect complement for this majestic native oak

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) blooms in spring

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) blooms in spring