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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Nov 09

A Blanket of Time

Posted on November 9, 2018 at 12:01 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

I woke this morning and looked out the window to another clear sunny day. Oddly, the song “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” simultaneously popped into my mind. Although the song had an entirely different meaning for songwriter/musician John Fogerty, the title sometimes feels as if it could be our theme song here in the Golden State. 

The opening lines of the song—Someone told me long ago, there's a calm before the storm—reminded me of our winter storms that have yet to arrive. This in turn got me thinking about the tasks required to keep our gardens healthy and protected through the winter months. As the song continued to ramble through my head, I gazed out to the 100 cubic yards of wood chips waiting to blanket the planting beds for winter protection. (Yes, I really ordered 100 cubic yards … oh my!)

Organic mulch, as you know, is one of the most important elements you can add to the garden, supporting the health of your plants in many ways. It is the blanket that keeps the roots warm during the cold weather and cool in the summer months. As it breaks down, it feeds the microorganisms in the soil that feed the plants. Additionally, it holds the moisture in the ground for extended periods of time, helping us to save water in times of drought and beyond. And that’s not even to mention the benefit of suppressing weed germination. 

There are other garden chores to do before the storms come flooding in. Garden tools require cleaning, oiling and sharpening before pruning season begins. It is also time to review pruning practices for different types of fruit trees. Remember that some fruits or flowers are only borne on new wood, while others are borne on last year’s wood or old wood. Can you tell the difference? There are some good images you can find on websites to help with identification.

Diseased fallen leaves need to be removed from around plants to avoid further infection. And speaking of infections, dormant sprays should be on hand for curbing larvae and unwanted insects. Timing on some of these sprays is important, so stay tuned to learn more as the time draws near.

Meanwhile, get jobs done in the garden while we have these clear sunny days. Plant cover crops to enrich vegetable gardens. When the rains begin, remember to place wide planks down onto the soil to walk upon to prevent soil compaction.

The up-and-coming winter can be a fun time to work in the garden. Make plans for improving areas, creating newly designed living areas and reconfiguring planting areas—instead of thinking it is time to put the garden to bed for a long winter’s nap!
Nov 02


Posted on November 2, 2018 at 11:24 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

leaf and polenta
Top: Beauty of a leaf at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Bottom: Polenta and pots (photo by Randy Yochum).

Although we use our five senses daily—touch, sight, smell, taste and sound—we generally don’t think too much about them. 

You might be thinking this is an odd topic to discuss in a water conservation blog. But is it? Our gardens require us to use all of our senses when we are walking about or working within them. It is difficult to resist reaching out to touch the soft fibrous hairs of Stachys byzantina, or lamb’s ear, as you walk by this wonderful water-conserving plant. It can also be a painful touch if a cactus brushes against your body, not to mention the prick of thorns while pruning our favorite rose bush.

The beauty of a leaf structure or the overall effect of a well-designed garden will please the sense of sight. Perhaps our eyes may pause at the intensity of color in a flower. That same flower may stimulate our sense of smell as we catch a whiff of fragrance. Sometimes the source of those fragrances can be hidden beneath the leaves or tucked under other plants.

The sense of taste is a particular challenge for this gardener, who cannot manage to pick the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes growing in the vegetable garden without devouring at least half the harvest. (Okay, to be honest, I don’t think any made it into the house this year.)

Our sense of hearing takes on a different twist. We can’t hear our gardens grow, but we can hear the squawking birds attempting to peck into the apples growing on our trees, or hear small pinecone pieces hit the ground as neighboring squirrels use them to ward off dogs from their bounties of stolen nuts. 

Our senses are used in all the above scenarios, plus many more too numerous to describe. Yet beyond experiencing our senses in the moment, there is something about the senses as they relate to our memories. A scent or taste or vision can transport us back in time. Past sensory experiences embed themselves, and later we find ourselves, in a nanosecond, carried back to our childhood or a special place long since gone.

This happened a few times while we were exploring the countryside in Europe. It was the fig tree heavily laden with fruit that began falling to the ground where we stayed at Lake Como. The smell of figs mentally brought me to my Noni and Nono’s garden in San Rafael so many years ago. It was the sweetness of smell and taste of the fruit that I had not experienced in such a long a time. 

And sitting at my cousin’s dining room table in Italy, I again experienced that déjà vu. That sense memory was triggered by tasting the kind of polenta my grandparents used to cook served with gorgonzola cheese and stew. As we dined, I savored the taste as well as the memory. It was if I had turned the clock back in time. The smell of the herbs permeated the air, just like the herbs always freshly picked from my grandparents’ garden. The copper pot containing the golden maize duplicated the utensils found on my grandmother’s stove. I could recall the cheese cloth spread out on a cutting board with a sprinkling of cornmeal atop prior to the polenta pot being turned upside down to form its own kind of cake. I viewed it all as though I were five years old once again.

We can all experience that kind of transportation in time if we stop and smell the roses during those special moments. It can come to us in the form of freshly cut lawns, first rainfalls, the earth as we dig into the richly prepared soils. Perhaps it can come to us in a song playing or in catching a glimpse of some past remembrance. 

As gardeners, we use our senses in so many ways. We are blessed with our passion for living the outdoor experience, which provides us with a treasure trove of memories stored for future, allowing us to have roses in December. 

Oh, and speaking of time—Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend. When adjusting your clocks, remember to dial back your irrigation timer, too.
Oct 26

The Neglectful Gardener

Posted on October 26, 2018 at 10:56 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Much has been written about the gardener, but I would venture to guess not much has been written about the negligent gardener. Perhaps there are articles out there regarding such subjects, but this gardener chooses to read the positive rather than admit to failings.

Green countryside of Bavaria
 Green countryside of Bavaria
Nonetheless, confessions are needed. Upon return from my three-week sabbatical from the garden, I was faced with several sorely neglected areas. The neglect went beyond a short absence while exploring gorgeous gardens abroad. Or did the memories of those pristine gardens serve to heighten the contrast with the picture that greeted me at home? Either way, work lay in wait.

The discomforting knowledge of neglect coupled with the usual autumn “things to do” and winter protection preparations left this gardener wondering where to start. To further complicate my tasks in the garden, during my absence orders of garlic, tulips, winter seed vegetables and spring bulbs arrived, and hard winter freezing temperatures occurred that melted half of my vegetable garden and annuals. Ah, life in the Lassen mountains! 

First things first: The garlic needed to get into the ground immediately. Ideally, the Moroccan Creole variety I had purchased would have been in the ground by September. While working in that area, I decided some tulips coming up between the garlic cloves might add for some interesting color in the spring. And while I was at it, why not add the 90 anemones—whose bulbs sit a mere one inch below the soil surface—for a burst of added attention? Mission accomplished within a very short period of time.

The next-in-line task involved saving garden hoses from winter exposure. Years of cold will cause good hoses to crack—even in Marin. I disconnected the majority of the unneeded hoses, allowed them to dry out and brought the looped hoses into the protective cover of the garden shed. 

Perennials and annuals also called out for attention. Summer foliage and spent roses demanded pulling or pruning. Perennials in need of dividing took a back seat as my focus went to dealing with the melted tomato plants, picking green tomatoes and covering the fruit with newspaper to continue ripening in the house. To my surprise, a tomato hornworm worked on what little foliage remained below the walls-of-water tomato protectors. That big, green, sausage-like worm continued dining as the plants hit the compost pile.

Did I fail to mention I let the automatic irrigation run while I was gone? The water plus warm days did wonders to germinate every weed seed known to mankind. Grasses grew where no grass is meant to grow and put the green rolling hills of Bavaria to shame. Even the thick layers of mulch failed me. Someone suggested I turn the horses and donkeys out to help with this task. If I could only teach them to graze selectively!

Meanwhile, it is autumn—a beautiful time to enjoy the fall colors emerging. Fall’s crisp, cool nights and warm afternoons are perfect for gardeners—even us frazzled ones.