Something Fruity, Something Green!

Last week, my Mum arrived from Ireland for a three week visit. She has been my gardening inspiration all my life. We grew up on organic vegetables in the days when the word “organic” was usually matched with “chemistry” and struck fear into the hearts of science students! Her visit coincided nicely with the ground breaking ceremony for the new education center at Edgewood Natural Preserve. Mum weeded there on previous visits, so as volunteers, we were both invited to this very special event.

Whilst, we were that far up the peninsula, we decided to first visit the Yerba Buena Native Plant Nursery, to see if I could find plants suitable for one of the problem areas in my garden.

The east side of our house has a narrow border that gets very little sun. There is a Crape Myrtle tree, Lagerstroemia indica, in this section that produces a beautiful show of pink blossom right outside the kitchen window during the summer.

Native to East Asia and Australia, not California, they are considered non-invasive by the California Invasive Plant Council. Invasive or not, I’ve been warned by people that they are impossible to get rid of, so I plan on keeping it. It is supposed to get “medium” water. Whatever that means? How is a girl from Ireland supposed to judge what “medium” water is in California! Last year I didn’t water it at all, and it still looked gorgeous. I wanted to plant other things there that won’t need watered.

The Crape Myrtle does tend to plunge the rest of that, 36 feet by 2.5 feet, strip into shade, especially with summer foliage. My challenge was to find native plants for this border which required no extra watering and that liked the shade. I did some research and decided on a few species.

The road to the Yerba Buena Nursery was a surprise. Twisty windy roads led us deep into the Santa Cruz Mountains, a hair-raising journey after so much rain, leaving the road slick with mud, but oh boy, when we got there, it was so worth it. Matt, the member of staff who dealt with us, was great. He patiently listened to our description of our garden and our concerns, directing us to plants which would suit best. He looked at my list and agreed with my first three choices:

Yerba Buena, Satureja douglasii, is a herb a little like mint – but not as stinky!

Island Coral Bells, Heuchera maxima, grow tall enough to peek over the fence at my lovely neighbors, Karla and Al. They have pretty white blossoms –the Coral Bells that is, not Karla and Al!

California Dutchmans Pipe, Aristolochia californica, is a curious little vine that will climb up my Crape Myrtle, allegedly without hurting it. Its strange wee flowers are supposed to look like fat little pipes.

I had liked the look of the native grass Fescue, Festuca ‘Siskiyou Blue’, but Matt reckoned that it would look better in an area that might get some more sun. I decided to save it for another, more suitable place in the front lawn project, and he recommended the Woodland Strawberry, Fragaria californica (vesca), for ground cover. Matt said that it would need some water, and I clarified how much that was – watering twice a month in the summer. So, if we get rain from November to April, then I have to only water 12 times a year. That, I could live with! I love strawberries and was excited at the prospect of growing them. Tiny as these native berries are, they pack a punch in flavor. Now that we had changed from ‘dry’ plants to ‘moist’ plants, it expanded my options; the Crape Myrtle will love it too, as will the other new additions to my shade garden family.

Suddenly, from the corner of my eye I spotted Mum bending down, picking a berry from a tiny bush I didn’t recognize and popping it in her mouth!

“What are you doing? You can’t just go around eating berries!” I scolded her. Oh, how our roles have changes these days! I’m threatening to put reins on her, the way she did to me, when I was two.

“It says here that you can eat them,” she said. I looked at the label, still expecting her to froth at the mouth and keel over, and sure enough, it was an edible berry. Matt told us its common name is Salal, botanic name – Gaultheria shallon. He reckoned that it would do well in our shady, now “moist” garden.

He also showed me a Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, described on the nursery’s website as being “one of our tastiest native plants”. So now, I’ve got six different species, four you can eat, a curiosity that climbs and the Island corral bells for a little glamour. In order to get all that, in sufficient quantities, I have to double my budget.

As I ‘hmmm and haw’ over what to jettison, Mum steps up to the plate and says she’ll contribute the difference as part of my birthday present! Good old Mum saved the day. My birthday isn’t for another month, but as she pointed out, she won’t be here then, and she knows this is something I really want. I hug her and fill up the cart!

As we walk back through the nursery, I spot various plants that I recognize from hiking. There is a delightful little Manzanita in full bloom, its pink blossom set off nicely against its bright red bark and dark green leaves. I love this shrub and I’m picturing it in the front lawn conversion.

I was so excited with this project that the next morning I got up, put on my gardening grubbies (that is, old clothes I will ruin in about five seconds flat!) and ignoring the niggly soreness on one side of the back of my throat, I headed out to garden. There was a slight drizzle. Nothing much, and I was too enthusiastic to care about getting a tad damp.

Over here they measure the rainfall in 100ths of inches. We are huge fans of Roberta Gonzales – weather woman for CBS5 and watch her every night. In fact, the entire News team is great, especially Ken and Dana. When we first moved to California, it didn’t rain for months. Then, with great excitement Roberta told us she expected rain at the end of the week. I was mildly curious. I really hadn’t missed the rain, as I had no garden at that stage, but it was all everyone was talking about. In the supermarket, the cashier warned me about the “storm” that was coming.

Next day, it grew cloudy and a little less warm. Roberta was ecstatic that night on the News, telling us that we got three one hundredths of an inch of rain! 3/100th of an inch – sure, you’d get wetter from a duck passing wind!

By mid afternoon, I had the new plants all settled in their new bed, the rain stopped and I looked at, not just my new shade garden, but my new, native fruit plant, shade garden. I was pleased, but my throat hurt badly. I was exhausted and needed to lie down. That evening my muscles ached, and it was not just from the digging that day. Eating dinner was like swallowing razorblades. I don’t know about me having green fingers, but that night I had green tonsils. I wonder where that puts me on the scale between novice and Master Gardener!

Oh well! Should have paid attention to Roberta… Plenty of R&R on the cards, and next week I’ll be blogging about our adventures in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

Byddi Lee

1 reply to Something Fruity, Something Green!

  1. Hey Byddi,

    a cool and interesting update on your recent travels. Looks like you all had a blast. Your mum looks great. Good job on your blog. Where do you get the time. See you and Alan next sunday.

Comments are closed.