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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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Jul 21

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens

Posted on July 21, 2017 at 10:59 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

raindrops on roses
 Photo courtesy of Rick Tegeler
Do you remember the song “My Favorite Things” from the movie The Sound of Music? When life wasn’t going well, Julie Andrews’s character cheered up everyone by listing some of her favorite things. 

I was reminded of that song this week as I walked through my garden. Foxtails are growing menacingly despite my attempts to pull them up and weed-eat them down. Some creeping vine is moving through the flower beds, behaving much like kudzu. And this morning I found one of the broccoli plants wilted as it lay prostrate on the ground. Upon my touch, the whole plant fell into my hand, severed at the base by the tiniest of bugs feeding on the root stem. 

Don't get me wrong: These are not some of my favorite things! I don't yet know the name of the vine as it came up wild. Nor do I know what hatch of bugs attacked the broccoli, though I’m suspecting they may be a hatch of earwigs. However, one of my favorite things is investigating these mysteries in the garden. They challenge me to find answers. It is what I love about landscaping: There’s always more to learn, and you never can know it all. 

Among the gardening mysteries we often need to solve is how to best control insect pests, diseases and weeds. There are always new and varied methods of treatment to explore. At the same time, old methods are good to hold onto. An example of these diverse methods crossed my path this week. A friend called to ask me how to control black spot on roses. For her to access a store to buy fungicide would have required an hour of driving to and fro. Fortunately, somewhere in the far recesses of my memory I recalled using baking soda mixed with horticultural oil as an organic means to stop the fungus from spreading. 

Plants are another example of an endless avenue of unknowns. Even when we think we know a plant, we may be surprised by a new variety. Hybrids of our favorite plants continue to flood the nurseries, sometimes altering what made certain plants so special to us. The old-fashioned freesias that grew wild in my mom's garden would assault the senses with their sweet perfume every spring when they bloomed. Little did I know the new hybrid freesia sports much larger flowers, but the fragrance has been sacrificed for a peppery smell. The challenge now is to find those old-fashioned bulbs without unearthing Mom's garden!

Plants are not the only avenue for challenging the mind and staying current. Irrigation practices and equipment are advancing at warp speed, continually becoming more effective and efficient. It used to be that plants on a drip system could wilt if roots worked their way into emitters and plugged the source of water. Today emitters can be purchased with a root inhibitor to prevent this problem. Other innovations help prevent water waste: One of my pet peeves is seeing sprinklers running during rainstorms, yet today a simple, inexpensive rain shut-off device will interrupt the controller to end the runtime when effective rain has fallen. (Effective rainfall means rain is held by the soil and not immediately evaporated.) Smart controllers will also detect the rain and shut down the system until the plants need water again. 

Landscaping: It is one of my favorite things. There is so much to know, so much to challenge the mind, and so many mysteries to solve. Finding answers is one of the rewards of gardening, right along with finding beauty such as raindrops on roses.


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