Monday, May 25, 2020

Saving Seeds is an Essential Activity


In this time of the pandemic and sheltering-in-place, I'm abundantly grateful that I have a seed saving habit. As the pandemic began to make inroads in Silicon Valley, I had the sudden urgent desire to plant as many edibles as I could, and to reclaim some of the nooks and cranies of our yard that host ornamental plants instead of edible ones. 

I wasn't alone.

The rush to order seeds seemed to be a global reflex that caused seed companies to be quickly overwhelmed with orders: so much that it caused several of the large seed suppliers to temporarily close their online stores in order to keep up with the demand. If you are a gardener you know that the season marches forward and some crops need to be started in a certain window of time.

Therefore, I rushed to my seed collection and got growing without delay. I had most of the varieties I wanted to grow, and I was able to share extra seeds with others.

I'm even more committed now to saving seeds- it's essential, and even when we appear to be in times of stability, changes can occur at a frightening speed.

Save seeds. Sow them. Grow them. Repeat.

Small amounts of seed in coin envelopes for sharing


Pole beans can easily be grown in a sunny small space, even in the front yard!
Photos: Patricia Larenas

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Victory Garden for Today - Growing Edibles Under Lockdown


We' re all in this together: the global pandemic that is COVID19 has arrived. But there's something we can do to help ourselves, our families, and our neighbors:
Grow edibles- it's a perfect time to kick start your growing project, if you haven't already. Containers work great if you don't have space or access to a garden. And make sure you plant enough to share with those who can't have a garden, if possible. 


Young children naturally love digging and planting seeds

Healthy for Body and Mind
I'm starting my veggie garden with renewed enthusiasm not only as a bit of extra insurance in case our food supply chains are interrupted, but for my mental and emotional health as well. Kids will especially need activities to engage them during this time. Even very young ones can keep entertained by filling containers to start seeds, planting seedlings, and helping to harvest the bounty. Watering is another task very much prized by kids, in fact it's my grandson's favorite!

When my grandson was only two and a half years old, he was very good at shelling dried peas from the dried vines- and to my amazement he worked at this quietly for quite some time. I like to think I'm grooming him to be a good steward to the planet, and fostering his connection to the living world around him.

By gardening you can feel good about doing something positive for the planet- the more plants we cultivate the better, although there's a right and a wrong way. Organic, regenerative gardens without pesticides and herbicides benefit everyone (and every being). My garden has native plants as well as edibles. I'm aiming for a healthy ecosystem as much as possible, because this means I don't need to use harmful chemicals. To this end I include habitat for wildlife as a priority. Think tall hedges for nesting birds and flowering shrubs for pollinators. See my post "Creating a Health Garden Ecosystem".

Shelling peas at two and half years old

Resources for Getting Started
You Tube has lots of content about growing vegetable gardens, and for lots of short helpful videos check out Peaceful Valley's Grow Organic website. They're a great source for supplies for organic gardening (based in California).

On this blog, have a look at my Gardening Index and Recipe Index, also check out the links I've listed on the right sidebar. 

And if you have a particular question you need help with, let me know in the comments.

Let's get our hands in some soil and get back to our roots!
Here's hoping you are healthy and happy in these challenging times.

                                                                      Photo credits: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke





Friday, September 21, 2018

Climate Appropriate Gardening and Design


Instead of "drought tolerant" I've adopted "climate appropriate" into my gardening vocabulary. Designing gardens that meet our needs in urban California involves a lot more than just saving on water use. When I'm designing a garden I always aim to create a visually richer, as well as more earth-friendly environment than what I started with. 

The word appropriate aligns especially well to our changing climate and growing conditions: this is the challenge we all face today and for the foreseeable future. And to me it implies that my climate appropriate approach to designing a garden, will adapt to meet the current needs. It's a good reminder to be flexible in my thinking, and to keep informed.

Replacing a lawn is an opportunity to add beauty and diversity
Among many inspirations, landscape architect Thomas Rainer stands out. He champions the cause for bringing more "wildness" into our urban spaces, urgently needed due to the rapid loss of wild spaces. See Rainer in this short video interview here (courtesy of the Pacific Horticulture Society).  

We have the perfect opportunity to add ecological value whenever we are replacing lawns or simply replacing and/or adding plants to our gardens. For example, plant flowering shrubs for your eyes and to feed pollinators- the gorgeous sage (salvia) below is 'Friendship Sage', also known by its original name 'Saliva Amistad'.

Sages (salvias) have lovely flowers in many colors
Hummingbirds love sages, as do bumblebees. This group of plants are generally happy with low to moderate water, even in warm climate zones such as our San Francisco Bay Area. 

In the photo below we designed a long berm with a mix of sages and other flowering plants to create a pollinator garden that would be pleasant to look at from the outdoor patio and from inside the house.  We included an herb garden for fragrance and its value in providing herbs for cooking year-round. 

This low-water garden replaced an unused pool
When replacing pools, lawns, or areas that were previously paved over, I love creating a space that enhances quality of life by being a place to relax and connect with nature. And it's a welcome bonus that adding more plants around homes results in not only beautiful, calming, environments but they mitigate the amount of heat produced by our over-paved urban spaces. Plants transpire water vapor into the local environment, especially trees. So not only do trees provide shade, they actively contribute to cooling. 

In California where the loss of trees due to drought and fires is staggering, we can do our part by planting trees with low and moderate water needs around our homes, as many as possible. 

A quiet seating area with flowering sages replaced bare soil
Below, wildflowers in a front yard meadow garden provide a spectacular seasonal display.


I'm also a big fan of growing seasonal edibles at home, and when we save water by replacing lawns or pools with a low water garden, we can feel good about using some water on our special heirloom vegetables. Growing our own food not only connects us to the seasons but can also remind us of our heritage and culture. Heirloom vegetable seeds are readily available from many sources. It's meaningful and satisfying to learn their stories and enjoy them with our families and friends by growing them.

Many fruit trees are perfect for low to moderate water gardens: avocado, plum, pluot, apple, persimmon, pomegranate and pineapple guava. Check my gardening index for more on edible landscaping.

'Four Corners Gold' bean in my front yard last summer
For more information and resources about climate appropriate landscaping go here.

Photo credit: Patricia Larenas