Helping people become better gardeners since 1999!

Garden Tips August 2014

Garden Tips August 2014

When I started writing this column I wondered if I was going to give away all the garden secrets there are and put myself out of business.  Then I realized that I could write for ten lifetimes and never run out of tips to give.  There is so much to learn and each new awareness leads to two new things to learn. For example, take the drought. The opportunities in gardening that the drought provides are enormous.  New plants to learn, new techniques for conserving water, new techniques for cultivating existing plants and on and on. If we look at our gardens as decorator show cases and have to deal with a change in environment the challenges and solutions multiply exponentially.  Each new situation in gardening is a gift, and when we receive it as one we revel in the successful outcome. This month I will give you some of the new thoughts I am having about solving the “drought problem”.  Here are the tips.

  1. A desert is very seldom completely void of life.  What it is though is very well adapted life. We are incredibly adaptable, let’s think of ways to adapt to the change in climate we are having now.  If it changes again later, we can adapt to that.
  2. Turf is always trying to revert to meadow.  We do all kinds of things to keep it from reverting. We mow it, water, fertilize, aerate, de thatch, weed and reseed whenever needed.  If the lawn (turf) is only used occasionally for sports or sun bathing or showing off our acumen for turf management why not let it revert to meadow?  Or better yet, create a meadow. To learn what a natural meadow is, go to Yosemite Valley and look at the Valley floor.  You can have a meadow just like that.  Only without the 3000 foot waterfall.
  3. How about a mini or micro lawn?  When I used to complain about having to mow the lawn as a boy my parents would say in their worldly wise way “just think if you were in Japan, you would have to mow the lawn with a pair of scissors”. By the way, I highly respect Japanese gardeners to this day.
  4. We don’t have to stick to California Natives.  Yes, they are quite interesting and they do tend to be more drought tolerant than tropical flowering plants but there are thousands of species of plants that are drought tolerant, non invasive and fantastic for our climate zone. If we cultivate non native gardens we can always mix natives in if we like them.
  5. Watching our plants closely can tell us a lot about what they need.  Remember, water does not equal love. By watching closely as we reduce our water use we can notice plants starting to react to the decrease and give them a bit more than their neighbors.  Modern irrigation systems are highly manageable.  The sprinkler heads, and drip system emitters can be adjusted for just the right amount of water.  Whole sections can be turned off at the clock and individual needy plants watered by hand.  This practice alone can save hundreds of gallons of water per house per year.
  6. Grow an appreciation for hardscape.  Landscape Architects often have less interest in plantings than they do in walk ways, benches, patios, walls, sculptural features, view planes, and esthetics.  Good for them, all of these are important and especially in large public spaces.  They can also be very useful for framing a specimen plant in a private patio or complimenting a border planting on an entry way to a suburban home. Contemplative gardens often emphasize “less is more”. We can reduce the plantings and also reduce water and maintenance needs.
  7. Rather than complain about the drought (or anything else for that matter), embrace the opportunity. The news media makes a living on bad news, we don’t have to.  It is proven that if we exercise our creativity, we get more creative. Go for it.
  8. Challenge your neighborhood to a design competition.  All in fun, have a goal and give awards for the best new design, the most innovative, the least costly, the most efficient, the most fun and the lowest maintenance.  This can generate a garden tour and a block party.  Everybody loves a party.
  9. Think of the children.  Not just yours but all children.  Make your garden fun. Have some edible plants they can recognize as they go by. I will never forget my Grandmothers grape arbor. Even at five years old I looked up at those grapes hanging there in the shade of that arbor and wondered at how they got there.

10. Always, always, try to enjoy the process.  Gardening should be fun.  Take it a little at a time. Detail someplace special. Take the challenge and grow.

Good Gardening

Jack McKinnon worked in the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years and is now a Garden Coach.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687, or by email at visit his website at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>