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Garden Tips May 2015

Garden Tips May 2015

Sometimes life seems so complicated that it is hard to move forward.  So much to do, so much we have done, so much to learn that we can be overwhelmed with the options.  We have to plan for a vacation, or camp or summer school or the next event or party.  Work is always there and reading and then there is the family the friends the kids to take care of.  What can we do?  This is the time to go out and pull some weeds.  Weeds aren’t going anywhere soon and are always there for us.  Steady, reliable, ever present and needing to be pulled.  Think of the opportunity awaiting  just outside your door.  This is the chance to slow down for a few minutes, to get a grip, to contemplate the present moment and no more.  Every thing else can wait while you are still doing something you know needs to be done.  This month I will make yet another list of tasks or techniques so you can call yourself a genuine gardener.  Here are the tips.

  1. I am reading a book by a surgeon named Atul Gawande  called “The checklist Manifesto”.  I highly recommend it.  I have talked to several doctors recently who have said that Gawandes suggestions are brought up in seminars in hospitals all the time.  Making checklists saves lives in medicine.  It can really help in the garden as well.
  2. Think out of the box.  How can i support my tomato plants with something right here in my home?  What can I use from the recycle to mulch that will stimulate growth, save water, look amazing and inspire poetry?  How can a visit from a friend help me with my next flower arrangement?  What story can I tell to my Uncle in the assisted care facility that will lift his spirits and inspire his desire to do his physical therapy?
  3. Often when I have a problem with my computer or tablet or smart phone I have to do a work around in order to get where I need to be.  I have to put a file on a flash drive and bring it to the printer because my printer is on the blink or I loaned it to the kid next door for a thesis she was writing.  We can do work arounds in our gardens too.  If there is not enough time during our day to garden, we can put solar path lights out and go out between dinner and our bed time.  If we need to communicate with the gardener about how we want the hedges pruned we can cut out photos from magazines, paste them on a board and write “Just like this!” on it with a bold felt pen.  If this doesn’t help, there is always another work around to try.
  4. Don’t think black and white.  Life is really colorful, use the whole palate to grow your dreams. When we get caught up in Past / Future thinking or “it has to be my way or the highway” thinking we are in a rut.  And a rut is like a grave, just not quite as deep. Try planting species of plants you are not familiar with.  Research them if you want or just take a chance. If you find them in a nursery the likely hood they will last for a few months is pretty good.  Who knows, you may fall in love.
  5. I was forwarded a link by another Garden Coach in Berkeley recently and it is great.  Check it out   Annie grows and hybridizes wonderful plants.  She is smart, concerned about the water situation and really wants gardens to be exciting.  This blog gave me new hope for ornamental horticulture everywhere.
  6. Recycle everything.  I finally spent some time thinking how to recycle everything.  It wasn’t hard.  I just had to think a little bit.
  7. Community gardens really do mean community.  So often I see plots that aren’t flourishing right next to plots that are.  This tells me that people aren’t talking.  Talk to your neighbors.  If they don’t want to talk to you, give them a copy of this column and tell them I said they should talk to you.
  8. Grow more than you need.  Flowers can go to cheer up assisted care facilities, hospital rooms, senior centers and day cares.  Fruit, veggies, herbs and grains (especially unique species and new hybrids you grow) can be shared.  If every body that is growing their own garden shares with everyone else there will still be plenty of business for the markets, farmers markets and the Costco’s of the world.  It will just be higher quality.
  9. Make a gourmet picnic.  I am reading a recipe / art book on “Impressionist picnics” and am inspired to pack my own lunches.  A real picnic with table cloth, flowers, salad, bread, wine, cheese and all the accoutrement is not only fun, but memorable.
  10. Take a bio break.  For mental and emotional health there are few things more rewarding than a casual walk in a park or garden.  Walk slower than usual, stop and look at a shrub or view that is particularly appealing.  Be quiet and listen (leave the ear buds home) and notice sounds .  Even a few minutes a day can make a big difference.  The kids, your friends, family, everybody will notice something new and refreshing about you.

Good Gardening

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687 (cell), by email at  Visit his website at

Garden Tips January 2014

Garden Tips January 2014

So, why does Mother Nature allow young plants to die for good gardeners? What is the reason for us being here anyway? How did we manage to get this far already without being wiped out by a meteor, a volcanic shift or a cosmic convergence? And why do weeds grow better than flowers?

It is time for some pruning and if you are sitting around as I am asking all these simple minded easily answered questions, then, you are a lazy bones and need to get back to work. But first, to get the questions out of the way. If nature wasn’t random in its service to gardeners, it would not be nature. We struggle to make good gardens. The struggle is as important as the results. Luck is how we got this far so far, nothing more, nothing less. And weeds grow better than cultivated plants because the ones that survive are ideal for where they are. We try to choose or create an ideal environment for the plants we select. Weeds thrive or die by ideal environment or natural selection. Our choice is by control or desire, theirs is survival. Actually we have a much higher success rate. Their advantage is in numbers. A little cultivation shifts that advantage to us in our gardens. Here are this month’s tips.

1. Time for winter pruning. Remove everything dead, dying and diseased. Leave no stubs.

2. Plant trees, shrubs and vines.

3. Control vines by tying to a trellis.

4. Cut back ground covers especially ivy.

5. Clean up debris, leaf matter and dead plants.

6. Compost or recycle all waste.

7. Shop for seeds, plants and bare root roses and fruit trees when they become available.

8. Dress with compost and cultivate beds.

9. Divide clumping grasses and plants.

10. Redesign a vista either by large scale including hard scape, water features and sculptural elements or with color accenting and or highlighting. Remember that subtle can be quite profound.

Good gardening

Jack McKinnon worked in the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years and is now a Garden Coach. He can be reached at 650-879-3261, or by email at visit his website at

Garden Tips December 2013

Garden Tips December 2013

Remember being told “there is no such thing as a stupid question”? I think that is a pretty stupid statement, of course there are stupid questions and we need to be asking more of them. Think if there were only intelligent questions asked and answered and somebody like me comes along who takes twice as long as the average person to figure something out and I am too intimidated by all the know it alls out there to ask my stupid question. How stupid is that? And what if somebody comes along with the same problem as I have and sees that I am acting like everything is ok but it isn’t really, and he/she doesn’t ask either? You can see how all of this not asking stupid questions business gets out of hand.

And what does all this have to do with gardening and improving the urban and suburban landscape for all to appreciate? Let’s ask some “Stupid Questions”.

1. Why are there not cut flowers on everyone’s dinning room table? We are in a cut flower drought, I think caused by the California Native plant binge and boring design trends that have been going on for the last thirty years. Plant flowers, lots of flowers, all year round. Get in the habit of cutting fresh flowers every few days and putting them on the table.

2. What if I don’t have time to go to the nursery and buy plants? There is a plant service that will deliver plants on a regular schedule. Check out the web site . A long time grower and supplier to nurseries, this company will deliver garden plants directly to your door on a regular schedule.

3. I have a black thumb and cannot seem to grow anything, how can I justify spending more money when my plants all die? Here I have to admit that I am really not very good with plumbing. It takes me twice as long as just about anybody else even with all the years of experience, college irrigation classes, workshops, seminars and plenty of practice. Any more, I delegate plumbing to those who know how and can do it well. The same goes for growing a garden. If you really cannot grow plants, there are plenty of people who can.

4. Water is so expensive, how can I grow a lush garden and not go broke? There is plenty of water. There is not plenty of water to waste. If we are thinking in cups and gallons rather than hours on a timer we will use just what is needed and not more. Thousands of gallons are lost a year by not being conscious of how much is being wasted. Try hand watering once a month, digging down to see how deep the water went and noting how long it took to satisfy that need. Collect all the water from your roof. Learn about water reclamation by searching the web.

5. How much time does it take to garden? I don’t have much time. There is an old lesson about meditation. If you don’t have enough time to meditate for five minutes a day, then you need to meditate for ten minutes a day. This is the same for gardening. You will find that gardening regularly, like meditation, exercise, reading, and sleep will energize you and stimulate many un-related areas of your life.

6. I don’t like gardens why would I want to grow one? This is quite reasonable and a very good stupid question. Many of the gardens most of us see are quite uninteresting. We have not really grown culturally enough yet to be really good garden designers and growers. I think we are getting closer to realizing the importance of our surroundings but we haven’t gotten there yet. Look at some of the classical gardens around like Filoli in Woodside, the San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park, Hakone Japanese Garden in Saratoga and you will see some of what we need to learn. There are hints all over that we are getting there for example visit some of the community gardens on the peninsula and you will see a few plots that are well thought out and managed . The traffic divider down the middle of Guerrero Street south in San Francisco has been planted intelligently with drought tolerant succulents that look amazing. Few are California natives by the way.

7. Why is the San Francisco flower and Garden Show emphasizing growing food rather than gardens lately? Granted there is a trend toward home grown produce and Alice Waters made eating fresh and local famous. But there are great farmers markets all over now and the farmers are providing amazing variety, quality and prices that home owners or home gardeners cannot reproduce. I think with the limited will for ornamental design in the private sector and the lack of inspiring designs we are all getting more interested in eating than growing. The passion is turning toward the kitchen rather than the garden. Again, growing flowers for the table will help this enormously.

8. Why don’t boys bring flowers anymore? I have to say, this isn’t really a stupid question. It is a tragic one. I don’t know except that it would not hurt guys, to try it, and see what happens.

9. I loved eating out doors in France, why don’t we do this in California? Sunset Magazine and books have been writing about outdoor living for over a century. It has gone in and out of style and I would like to see it be more a custom here. One client of mine has made their back patio a real living space complete with electronics, phones, heat and dining area. I loved sitting out there with them talking about their fruit trees. The multi-million dollar home seemed like a cave in comparison.

10. I don’t know how to start, isn’t it hard? Sometimes to start moving toward a goal is the hardest part of reaching it. The beginning of the momentum need not be great. A six pack of Johnny Jump Ups gave me the incentive to write this column. I hope this helps inspire new and colorful gardens.

Good gardening

Jack McKinnon worked in the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years and is now a Garden Coach. He can be reached at 650-879-3261, or by email at visit his website at

Garden Tips April 2013

Garden Tips April 2013

According to the Friday March 8th Wall Street Journal  “ U.S. companies are showering investors with a record windfall in dividends and share buy backs helping to propel the stock market rally”. What this means is that it is time to get back into the garden. Now that all of you are getting back into prosperity, the garden work you have been avoiding while worrying about the economy has been neglected. Grab a trowel and a cultivator, this month’s tips will be about the chores to do when you are flush.

  1. Get the weeds under control now, before they go to flower and then seed. It will save a lot of work later in the spring.
  2. If you don’t like the sound of blowers, get your rake out and start raking.  The less leaves gardeners have to blow the less noise they make.  Do a neighbors yard as well as yours.  Novel idea isn’t it?
  3. Prune for shape, flowers and fruit. Thinning out the dead, dying and diseased look for ways to improve the show and production of your garden.
  4. Fertilize; I don’t care if you use organic or synthetic, read the instructions and get on with it.  Your plants will be so much happier.
  5. Check watering systems, it is getting warmer and you don’t want to waste water or money.
  6. Do not sit around thinking about how much money you have or how to save every penny.  If you don’t spend it, you can bet somebody else will when you are gone. Go buy some seeds and plant them.  It is healthier to watch them grow.
  7. Give your gardener a bonus, they really don’t charge that much and they will really appreciate it.  Who knows maybe they will use their blower less.
  8. Visit several public gardens this spring.  Do an internet search, they are all listed.
  9. Put a new flower arrangement on your table every week. Women love flowers, and everybody knows that if women are happy then everybody is happy.
  10. Rake up old mulch and put it on the compost pile or in your green waste container.  Replace it with fresh mulch and the spring and summer will be off to a good start.

Good gardening

Jack McKinnon is a Personal Garden Coach and worked for Sunset Magazine in their gardens for 12 years.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687 or visit his website

This column is for kids

Garden Tips March 2013

This column is for kids.  If you are an adult go ahead and check it for safety and credibility and then give it to a kid.  Have you ever thought about growing your own food, flowers and beautiful gardens.  You can and this column will show you how.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, how smart you are or what you look like.  You can grow just about anything you want.  All you need is time which you have because you are young, and the willingness to learn.  Here are tips to get you started and keep you going for a lifetime of gardening.

  1. Check your food for seeds.  Try checking tomatoes, apples, oranges, pears, avocados, and just about anything you eat that was once on a plant.
  2. The more seeds you gather, the more places you can plant them. Try sprouting them between damp paper towels. Once they sprout, plant them in the ground. Ask your mom where.
  3. If none of your seeds grow then ask your parents to buy you a six pack of baby plants (I like lettuce to start) and plant them in your garden.
  4. Water your new plants whenever they seem dry to you.  Stick your finger in the soil and feel if it is dry.
  5. Look at your plants every day.  Write about them in a notebook.  Draw pictures of them. Write when you planted them, how you planted them and how much you water them.
  6. If you have plants in small containers and the top gets as big as the container, move it to a bigger container so it can grow bigger.  If it is already in a big container, put it in the ground somewhere.  Ask your parents where you can plant it.
  7. If you are growing lettuce, you can pick off a leaf once in a while and eat it.  If you are growing a lot of lettuce you can make a salad.  If you are growing a whole lot of lettuce you can make salads for your friends.
  8. If you are growing flowers, pick some and make a bouquet for your mom.
  9. Read books and check websites about the plants you are growing.
  10. If you grow more than you can use, share the extra with others.

Good gardening

Jack McKinnon is a Personal Garden Coach and worked for Sunset Magazine in their gardens for 12 years.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687 or visit his website

There is a rat in my garden

Garden Tips February 2013

There’s a rat in my garden at night and it is devastating some of my favorite plants.  It completely defoliated three of my dwarf potted citrus.  I do practice what I preach somewhat.  I identified the rat (a “Dusky Footed Wood Rat” Neotoma fuscipes) and made a trap to catch it without hurting it.  I used peanut butter as bait.  It worked perfectly.  And after catching the little girl (about 6 inches long) I gave her some peanuts for the trip down the road for relocation.  I took her about two miles and let her go in the woods.

The one that is defoliating my rare camellia now may actually be that same rat but I don’t know.

In doing this whole process I learned a lot about this species of rat.  It actually lines its nests with bay leaves which have a chemical toxic to flea larvae.  Pretty smart huh?  Now I have to get the trap out again and repeat the whole process all over again.  This time I will take it ten miles and put a red dot of fingernail polish on its tail (to identify it if it comes back again).

The example I am trying to show here is about learning gardening through trial, error and continuing education.  I have certainly made my share of errors.  This month I will list ten ways we all can learn from our time in the garden.  Here are the tips.

  1. Try to identify what is causing a particular plant to decline.  Don’t give up until you have a pretty good idea.  Look for symptoms like too much water or too little water, check for spots that could indicate fungus or yellowing that could mean a need for fertilizer.
  2. Make sure of the identification of the plant (Latin name) and look it up on line.  See if the symptoms you have identified are listed in the characteristics of that plant, and if there are recommendations for correcting it.
  3. Note what you find in your journal (for women) or log (for men). Then go on to the next problem you can identify.  In this way you will learn your plants, their vulnerabilities and the solutions for those vulnerabilities.  Don’t just dig out a plant and throw it on the compost without learning something from it.
  4. Catch a pest that is affecting the health of your garden.  Before doing anything with it get a positive identification.  If it is Billy Jones from next door give him back to his parents. If it is an insect or caterpillar, put it in a jar with some of what it was eating. BBER | Bed Bug Exterminator Raleigh provides best pest control and treatment.
  5. Get a big magnifying glass or some of those watch maker loop type lenses you put on your head and look at it long and closely.  See if you can tell its gender.  This may be difficult, some insects cannot tell themselves. And then look it up, learning it’s life cycle.
  6. Learn what natural predators you have in your neighborhood and what they eat. This can be much more complex than it seems at first glance.  Some insect predators eat only one target pest.  Others are omnivores.
  7. Learn what vertebrates and birds in your neighborhood eat.  Identify them first and look up their diet.  Except for mice, rats, raccoons and jays they usually stick to a limited diet. Of course a dog will eat just about anything.
  8. Identify the pollinators.  Again this is deceptively complex.  There are wasps that are almost microscopic that do a huge amount of pollination as well as pest control. See how many species you can document.
  9. How many species of plants do you have in your garden?  How many are a compliment to others?  Look up pairings of plants as attractants for pollination, distractions for pests and compliments in color, texture and fragrance for esthetics.
  10. If this doesn’t give you enough to do this spring, you can start identifying your weeds again using the Latin name.  This can keep you busy through the summer.

Good gardening

Jack McKinnon is a Personal Garden Coach and worked for Sunset Magazine in their gardens for 12 years.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687 or visit his website

Time for Bulbs

Garden Tips November 2012

What does it mean when a bouquet of Tuberose, Gardenia and Coleonema (breath of heaven) don’t do it for you anymore?  When a perfectly manicured lawn leading to a potager of wonderful French vegetables ripening on the vine makes me wonder if the chef can do it justice, or will it go to waste?  What about when a fountain, perfectly placed in a Roman villa brings only a wandering glance and a wish for something new.  Is this a gardeners mid life crisis? I wonder if there is hope out there for me.  And then, in the local nursery I see that the bulbs have arrived.  Ah ha!  I realize there is still hope. The growers didn’t go out of business and the nurseries didn’t give up on their clients.  Yes there will be a spring again and the potential for the spectacular show and surprise that will come from it is right here in these small embryonic  time capsules.  All we have to do is plant them and they will do the rest.  But which ones to buy?  And how deep do we plant them and some of them I have never heard of before. I will try to give you at least a starter course this month in the glories of buying and planting these botanic wonders so your spring and maybe even many springs to come will have a show to be remembered for decades. Here are the tips.

  1. When buying bulbs, get them early and get them big.  The larger the specimen the better chance the flowers that will come out of it will be spectacular.  It is best to hand pick your bulbs from bins rather than buying packages.  Unless you can see them through a window in the bag or the bag is made of net material you don’t really know the quality of the bulb.
  2. There are five types of bulbs.  Some are actually not bulbs at all.  First there are true bulbs including allium (onion), tulip, daffodil and lily.  Second are Corms which include gladiolus, colchicum and crocus.  Third are the rhizomes such as zantedeschia (calla) and iris.  Fourth are the Tubers like tuberous begonia and cyclamen and potato.  Fifth are the tuberous roots the best known being the dahlias.
  3. Check for spots, rot, soft places or broken parts and reject these in your search.  If one variety is showing sickly looking product look for something else.  You may find the type of bulb you are looking for in another nursery that is supplied by a different distributer and is in better shape.  Usually every distributer has some better varieties than others.  Sometimes other gardeners have picked through the bins and you missed out.  Don’t worry, try another nursery or two or five until you find what you want.
  4. Bulbs like being clumped together, it is their nature to grow in groups and come up as a cluster so buy several of each kind.  I even think it is better to have three varieties and a quantity of each rather than having ten varieties and only a few of each.  This way one can design a bed or pot or window box to really give a stunning show.
  5. Often there are instruction sheets for each different type of bulb available on the bin that you choose your bulbs from.  If not, ask the staff .  If you buy packaged bulbs read the package before you buy it.  There will be timing, depth, light and care instructions on the package.  If not then think twice about those ones.  The bulb industry has learned over the years that growing bulbs is becoming a lost art and really works at educating its clients for successful results.
  6. If you cannot find any instructions at all in the nursery then take out your smart phone and do a search on the type of bulb you are looking at.  You may not need to put in the exact name (King Alfred Daffodil) but the type of bulb (Daffodil) will get you help.  Look for planting depths and care instructions first and then more detailed information.
  7. Bulbs planted now will be buried and out of sight until spring.  This means planting them requires planting something over them to cover the ground. This will  give a flower or foliar show and will look great when the bulbs come up to do their spring thing.  Some of the plantings we used at Sunset over bulbs were primroses, cyclamen, violets, pansies and lobelia.
  8. Plant pots with bulbs (tulips, daffodils and narcissus) planted at the proper dept.  Cover them with saw dust until they have broken the surface, then brush or blow off the sawdust.  This can be done out of the main show area because it will be months before they come up.  When the flowers start to show bring the pots out and place them on the patio or front porch for a stunning spring show. If you are wanting to give your patio a new look try putting up some new awnings. For naturalizing (growing year after year without much care) especially in this area, daffodils and narcissus are the most predictable. They are also the only bulb I know that gophers don’t eat. Planting wildflowers over them makes for a spectacular show.  Plant the bulbs first and sow wildflower seeds after the first real rains come.
  9. For smaller bulbs like crocus (early bloomers), anemone, freesia and ranunculus (later bloomers) I like to have them in the fore ground.  This way they are noticed as the delicate and subtle gems they are.  Freesia are especially nice smelling so have them where you can savor their fragrance. And know that there is hope in the garden, we just have to work at it a bit.

Good gardening

Jack McKinnon is a Personal Garden Coach and worked for Sunset Magazine in their gardens for 12 years.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687 or visit his website

Ever feel like you can’t do this any more?

Garden Tips October 2012

Do you ever get to that place in life where you feel like “I can’t do this anymore”?  Just about everybody does at some time or another.  This is what brings about change, learning and growth.  Every student who has had to study something they were not a ‘natural’ at has had to face this difficulty and go through it to pass.  Life for adults is really no different.  We all reach our limits and somehow struggle through or around or away from these transitions.  This month’s tips will be about how gardening can help us to get a new perspective on our lives.  How we can get away, stretch, work through and  continue with life and all it gives us.  Know that there is always hope and we can always do something to make our lives better even if it is just a different way of interacting with it. Gardening has been used as a way of relating to life for centuries. Here are the tips.

  1. Talk with somebody.  This is important especially if you are at your wits end.  If you are feeling suicidal call 911 and say this is an emergency (it is) and they will get you help. Talking to another gardener or just someone who has great looking geraniums can help get you into a different and better place.  Professionals like nursery staff, master gardeners or a personal garden coach can get you started on to the next achievable project .  It may be as simple as buying an orchid at Trader Joes or as complex as applying for a plot in a community garden. The key here is to talk about what is going on and getting help changing your life a little.
  2. Lower the bar.  A high jumper that cannot get over the bar has to lower it a little and keep working at that height until it is easy before raising the bar.  If you have gardened before and not done so well you may need to lower the bar.  Grow some easy plants in order to get your spirits up before moving on to more difficult species. Try Geraniums, Bacopa, ornamental grasses and succulents.  If these are already doing well for you then grow some annuals from six packs.  Do a variety and mix them up.  Some may be more successful than others but that is where you learn where your bar is and you can work at that level for a while.
  3. Do a little less in your life.  Life is not about how many breaths you take but how many moments take your breath away.  Make your moments count and you will feel better when you are nearing completion.  For a moment that will take your breath away watch the Youtube video “Jonathon and Charlotte” the one with 74 million hits.  Gardening is about slowing down (unless you are a professional and then it is about quality and detail) let it slow you down so you can appreciate life.
  4. Know that this is an art and being an art there is always more to do and to learn.  A key to doing any art is practice and consistency.  Good teachers help enormously as does study, observation and an openness to change.  Practice gardening every day even if it is just a five minute walk to look at your plants.
  5. Have a routine for your practice.  If it means getting up a little earlier then go to bed a little earlier.  Note that I am suggesting little changes here.  Clean up dead leaves and branches. This simple practice is quite valuable in the long run.  It improves your powers of observation (and by default your appreciation) and it shows you how your garden is doing and it keeps you on the lookout for problems before they become big problems.
  6. Know the names of your plants.  I don’t mean “Bill or George or anything but Sue”.  I mean the real names.  Most of the plants we come across have two names and sometimes more.  The Latin name helps Horticulturists, Botanists and Gardeners positively identify a plant by Genus and Species.  The common name is what is given by loving admirers and sometimes sticks while other times another loving admirer may give the same plant another name. What I mean by the “real name” is the Latin name.  If you get your plant at a nursery there is a good chance it will come with a name tag that is correct.  Look it up when you get home to be sure.
  7. Subscribe to a garden publication.  There are so many of so many different specializations  you may need to do some extensive research before filling out the card you find in the magazine you like at the book stand.  Pick one that is at your level of gardening or a little above.” Pacific Horticulture” is good but may be a bit nerdy for the beginner while” Fine Gardening” is a good start in general.  I also like “Horticulture”, “The Gardener” (a Royal Horticultural Society publication) and of course “Sunset”.
  8. If you don’t have a hot tub, I highly recommend it.  I got mine free (there are a lot out there) and use it almost every night especially in the winter. “Water Course Way” 650-462-2000 has tubs by the hour for rent if you don’t want to pay the power bill for owning your own.  For aches, pains, tension and general malaise there is nothing like a soak in warm or hot water.  The Romans did it and look how long they lasted.
  9. Be gentle with yourself.  Yes I know you high functioning guys out there who need to defend your manly acumen.  Give it a break and lighten up once in a while.  The quality of the work and relationships in your life will reflect how you balance the achievement orientation you got growing up in this culture with your attention to detail.  Gardening or just growing some ornamental plants in pots can make this balance happen.
  10. Play classical music to your plants (and yourself) once in a while.  I try to play Bach “Prelude from the first Cello Suite” on my mandolin every morning.  I don’t always make it but when I do it seems to make a difference in my day.  I know the plants out on my deck can pick it up.  Half Moon Bay Nursery plays opera to its plants all day long and it is amazing to walk through there and see the flower show.  Just think, even if it doesn’t help your plants, you will be a little less stressed and thus a happier person and a better gardener.

Good gardening

Jack McKinnon is a Personal Garden Coach and worked for Sunset Magazine in their gardens for 12 year.  He can be reached at 650-455-0687 or visit his website

How to help kids learn pruning

Safety first and you will be helping your kids for years to come.  Keep the tools sharp and respect that sharpness is the best advice I can give.  Then to learn proper technique.  Never reach farther than is safe, always know what will happen to the branch that you cut (so it doesn’t land on you) and be careful where your non too hand is so you don’t cut it.  Do you have any additional tips?

Will be going to the De Young for Sculpture exhibit soon

My girl friend and I will be visiting the sculpture at the De Young museum in Golden Gate park soon.  In many ways pruning is sculpture too.  I like to think is that way including the fact that it is living and will soon be sprouting out and in some cases get pretty big.  Pollarding is pretty radical but causes quite a show in ornamentals like Mulberry and Sycamore.  I just learned about stooling of smoke bush last year.  Forty years pruning and who would a thunk.  It makes for nice foliage but no flowers.  Actually pretty nice.