Sunday, October 5, 2014

Plant It Now

I just gave a talk on planting - where I live, in the SF Bay Area, this is prime planting time.  And on planting responsibly, because we are having a drought.  

People say we're in the middle of a drought, but how would they know?  I'm hoping we're at the end of the drought, and for a while the weather prognosticators were predicting a very wet winter, but we haven't heard much from them since they said "Um, maybe not..." a few months ago.  I realize it's a tough job, but seriously?  if you can't do it, don't sign up.  And if you're not sure, say so.  Although a career based on "Really, we're just guessing," or "This is what the dartboard/ouija board said" is perhaps a career with a tenuous future.  Or not...what does the dartboard say?

But back to the garden:
Plant things that need less water, please.  Get them established now, while the soil is warm (better root growth!) and the days are shorter (not so drying! less watering needed!)  And really, you know that even things that are drought tolerant need water to get established, right?   Daily water if it's hot, more often if it's stinkin' hot, less if it's cool.  The best watering guide is your finger: stick it in the soil up to the first knuckle.  If it's dry, water.  If it's wet, don't.  And if this grosses you out, you should get another hobby.  Or obsession.  Maybe needlepoint, because if this grosses you out, you are so not a gardener.

Another recommendation: don't plant a bunch of water-sucking annuals.  Of course if you believe in Murphy's Law, and you find your drought-tolerant cyclamen rotting in a puddle of water in January, you can be upset with me, and rue the unplanted pansies.  Or you can consider the cyclamen an offering to the rain Gods and be thankful the drought is over - for now.  

My friend whose roof will be off all winter says she's fine either way - either it doesn't rain until the new roof is on, and things stay snug and dry, or it does rain, and she is willing to sacrifice her hardwood floors and plaster walls for her garden.  For all of our gardens.  

So back to planting annuals: think about where you'll actually see them  - like just outside your kitchen window.  Or right next to the door you come in when you come home.  (Note: this would be a problem for me - I would have to plant flowers on the refrigerator in the garage.)  And don't plant annuals along the driveway if you don't walk down the driveway, or you can't see it from inside the house.  Just sweeping past with the headlights  once a day does not justify all that water.  

Remember that the color you can see at night - the only color - is white.  But yellow is so cheery on a gloomy winter day I always put some yellow pansies or primrose outside the kitchen window.  And for those of you who are snarking that white is not really a color, off to the needlepoint store with you.

Plant a pot or two of annuals by the front door - if you use the front door.  Or of you're planning a party.  You can ignore the water rules in a few pots.  Plant the annuals with something perennial and spiky, and something that will spill out of the pot.  Because you know when you're planting a pot, you're thinking "Thriller, Filler, Spiller", right?  After contemplation, if this does not make sense to you, see the note above about taking up needlepoint.

This is also the best time to plant perennials that are fragrant directly into the (well amended) soil in the garden.  Sweet Box (sarcococca ruscifolia or s. humilis) in the shade next to a door, or under a bedroom window, will waft soft clouds of honeysuckle fragrance all winter, and it is brilliant in a flower arrangement.  It lasts forever and smells heavenly, and no one expects that divine fragrance to be coming from such a mild-mannered plant.  I try to have a few sprigs in a vase by my bed.  I love waking up to the smell of the garden.

Daphnes are great - the variegated forms are my favorites, because they light up the shadiest corner.   Try Sweet Olive (osmanthus fragrans) in a sunnier spot - it smells like the most divine freesia, starting now and blooming off and on thru the year.  I have one osmanthus by the pool that blooms mostly in summer, and one by the gate that blooms mostly in fall and winter.  No idea why.  But never thump a free melon.

And if, like me, you've let some of the thirstier plants die this summer, now is the time to replace them with less thirsty cousins.  My hydrangeas had a really tough time, they spent most of the summer with leaves drooping limply.  I'm giving them to a friend who has springs on her property, and I'm putting in sweet box, and camellias (surprisingly tough) and some topiary boxwood just for fun. 

Sloat Garden Center in Danville is a great resource for less thirsty plants.  So is Orchard Nursery in Lafayette.  Passionate knowledgeable staff, beautiful displays - where are my keys?  I'm off to look for inspiration.  

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