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Garden tips June 2014

Garden Tips June 2014

Who’s calling you now?

Do you ever get calls asking if you have updated your credit rating? Or are your windows needing replacement? How about ‘this is your friendly web site provider ready to help you get more hits and skyrocket your business to success? Wouldn’t you rather get voicemails saying ‘Hi sweet heart, I am so happy to be here for you, wishing you a wonderful day. ‘ or ‘Hello beautiful, your doing a great job, keep up the good work.’

Well, these are exactly what your garden is saying every time you walk outside. Those flowers are saying ‘come over here you wonderful person you’, ‘ please look at me, I am here just for you, would you come over here and rub against me a little?’ Smell me, smell me I am all yours, come on, just one whiff and you will be transformed. Here touch my anthers and taste this nectar. May be you would hear ‘You are doing such a great job out here, thank you so much my darling.’ Look around, don’t you wonder how you can leave every day for work? All this beauty and appreciation is there for you each and every time you go by. All you have to do is notice it. It is really happening right now, in your yard. Isn’t that great? We so seldom notice the beauty in our yards, the desire and actual need for your participation. If plants think, this is what they are thinking.

Now for the tips. How to thank your garden for all this beauty and loving (if plants can love) that your garden gives you for simply having it. How to care for your garden so it not only calls you to look and appreciate it but every one that sees it. Here are the tips.

1. Plants are always competing for light, space, soil and nutrients. Give A little attention each day to trimming back extra branches allowing in some amount more light, and freeing the roots of competition by weeds.

2. Pay attention to your flowering plants. See which ones are blooming now. Ask, is this more or less than last year, what have I done to help them bloom if anything. What can I do to help them bloom more this year, and or next year.

3. Would some birds in the garden make it more lively? A dish of water is quite helpful to birds, especially if placed high enough to be safe from cats.

4. Fertilizing is quite simple and makes a big difference in health and vigor of plants. Try something organic from “Common Ground” on College Avenue. It might be helpful to study up a bit on the internet. Try a simple recipe, see what happens and record the results. Then try modifying it. This store (unlike any others I know in the area) sells organic fertilizers by the pound.

5. Most plants have names, usually two or more. Learn the names of your plants. This simple tool will expose you to so much information about them that your relationship will inevitably flourish. This whole thing is about relationships you know.

6. Speaking of relationships, give a friend a plant. Make it personal. It can be a flowering plant like a Begonia or a Geranium or a foliar plant like feather grass or a fern. This can lead to years of joy and appreciation. And who knows, they may give you one back.

7. Use all your senses in appreciating your garden. Get several different fragrant plants like Daphne, Osmanthus, Gardenia and Jasmine.

8. If you have gophers, deer, raccoons obnoxious squirrels or birds there are many plants they have little or no interest in. Evolve your garden to cultivate these resistant plants and the critters will naturally go elsewhere, and you can also grow trees, for this you can talk to a Milton tree trimming company to help with maintenance. The challenge once they are gone is to use the same Genus of plants but find interesting species to compliment your design. There are many varieties of Ceanothus (California lilac) for example that are resistant to everything and once established quite drought tolerant too.

9. All plants have their own way of attracting pollinators. Birds, moths, bees, flies, people and wasps are just a few of the different kinds of pollinators. To find what pollinates your flowering plants and to learn their relationships search the web for your specific plant (the Latin name really helps here) and study its flowering cycle. This is a world that people get Graduate degrees in, all the time.

10. As your relationships grow with your garden, share with others what you are learning. A valuable way to do this is by having a theme party like a Rose smelling get together where everybody brings one rose from their garden that has an exceptional fragrance. This is a great way to meet people and for them and you to introduce your best friends ever, your plants.

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

Garden Tips May 2014

Garden Tips May 2014

The Representative Garden

What do I represent? Who am I? Who do I want to be? What do I want to aspire to? What do I want others to think of me? These are beginner questions one can ask when designing a representative garden. If I represent environmental change, how do I make a garden that intelligently represents second or third generation recycling combined with aggressive open source hybridization that will serve the communities intellectual stimulus? To say it more plainly, what can I do that is new and different that helps the environment?

What means can a garden convey that will demonstrate that grand parenting is really fun and relaxing while still productive for gourmet lunch gatherings? Where have I been the most inspired, learned life changing lessons, had the most memorable encounters with others and how can I represent that in a drought tolerant low maintenance way?

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new representative garden ideas. Of course, banks and corporate office complexes may want to represent the solid, secure, stable engineered environment they represent. This too can be revisited to inspire conservative, tried and true sensibility for a business image that reads ‘trust the process and keep up the good work’.

Of course when those employees go to lunch the café or restaurant patio may have fourth wave feminist furniture and seasonal flower displays that tickle and delight the appetite for life and love of everyone while being straight forward, honest, empowering and in your face.

This month’s tips will seek to inspire finding your next garden design, putting ideas together and living the life you want to show the world.

1. Aristotle said that “Contemplation is the highest form of activity”. Try looking at what you want to say with your garden. Rather than how you want to say it, look at who you are and what message you want to deliver. Each one of us have a message we project into the world. Contemplate what yours is. This is not simple and hugely rewarding.

2. Revisit your forming, where you were first inspired, what made you who you are and how you are now. Think about how this would look in a hard scape ( stone work, patios, sculpture) and what colors, textures and foliage would demonstrate that.

3. Re name “therapy” to “continuing education” for a lift in perspective. Look at talking to a psychologist as creative revisiting of who I am. I’m not saying to stop taking your meds. If you need them, take them. You can still think, go ahead and try. This and horticulture can create some interesting gardens.

4. Get “Luminosity” and “Whack Pack” apps on your smart phone. These will stimulate your brain and help you with ideation for your garden design.

5. Design together. Start a design group, read this column and other articles on innovative landscape design at the beginning of each meeting or walk or lunch. This will activate the old adage “Two heads are better than one”.

6. Convert an engineer or programmer or nerd to gardening.

7. Be a nut case for a day, a week a lifetime. We need more nut cases.

8. Re-marry your husband / wife, partner, best friend. Design your garden for the ceremony and the new relationship. After all it is spring.

9. If you don’t know what type you are, great! This opens doors for you to be whoever you want and to create anew until you settle into what is comfortable. Start by picking some flowers to grow. If you don’t like them after a while, try cactus. After all Morticia Addams of the “Addams Family” grew roses to cut the flowers off and arrange the thorny stems.

10. And being spring it is time to have a picnic. This is where true inspiration comes from. To take an afternoon, lie out on a blanket, eat fruit and cheese, drink wine and share the outdoors with family and friends, this is what recharges our imagination. If a picnic is new behavior, good. Do it several times in order to practice and perfect your picnic technique. Look at French impressionist paintings for examples of how you might dress. It’s all fun.

Good Gardening

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

Garden Tips April 2014

Garden Tips April 2014

I give my clients homework. Why? Because of Johannes Vermeer. Ever since I saw “The Lacemaker” painting at the Louvre in Paris I felt I had a lifetime of homework to do. Vermeer knew how to see what most artists of his time were not able to yet. As appreciation of his work became more focused and evaluated by experts, more and more was revealed about his techniques of painting his subjects (mostly women). Not only was he learning new ways to paint he was teaching the world how to look and see. This is what I am trying to do in the garden. I am learning to see what gardeners are doing differently and in more effective ways and passing that information on to my clients and to you, readers of this column. What we all get to do is to pay close attention and do our homework.

Coco Chanel was like this too. Coco (originally Gabrelle) wanted to make hats differently than the ones women were wearing in France. The flamboyance and wide brims seemed too much for her. As she tried new creations and designs the style caught on. She later became famous for her simple but very stylish haute couture. In landscape design the possibilities are infinite. Rules are just rules until you know them and then you can try to design your garden any way you want. The patterns of most gardens are going to change in time, why not instigate change and take a risk. Put water needing plants in your drought tolerant garden? Or put a succulent in your lawn, or some free mulch from North Star Tree Service? How would that look? How about having to look over a hedge in order to see a colorful ground cover like Polygonum. This month’s tips will hopefully get your started on creatively modifying your living canvas, changing its wardrobe and maybe even shocking a culture into the next big trend.

1. Change one thing in your garden or planting configuration each week. Pull something out and move it, or plant something new and see who notices it first.

2. Check out a new way to be in the garden. Summer is coming, try making a place to lounge using a material you have never seen in a garden before. Recycled materials work great for this because if it doesn’t work or your housemates want to evict you, it can be recycled.

3. Try a color pattern change. Go to a nursery and buy six packs of annual flowers of contrasting or complimenting colors and see what kind of vibration they set up in your yard. Don’t plant them at first, just move them around on the ground and see what it looks like. When you intuitively like a particular pattern plant them there.

4. Try watering with a shot glass. Try watering with the hose open full blast. See what the difference is in how the plants respond.

Buy wholesale commercial planters here! They are made from excellent high quality materials and you can even customize them!

5. Juan and Mercedes have had the Ladera Garden Center for 33 years and do a great job. I missed them when I was honoring family owned nurseries and went by on Valentines Day to get to know them better. Mercedes talked with me while wrapping flowers for eager lovers. That is personal attention. Visit small family owned nurseries. There is panache there and the true spirit of garden art.

6. Discover a plant that nobody has. A good place to look is at an arboretum sale, or the Annies Annuals tables at Half Moon Bay Nursery. Become an expert at growing that particular species. Do homework on line, there is plenty of information on just about every different type of plant.

7. If you have a wet shady garden, create a sun spot. Hint: you can use mirrors. If you have a desert garden, add a fountain with flowing water.

8. Put a male canary in your garden during the day just for the song of it. Make sure it has food and water in its cage. If you don’t want a live song bird, wire up some outdoor speakers, hide them in the bushes and play song bird recordings when you are out there.

9. Throw a party. A party of friends or family always generates garden cleanup and detailing ideas.

10. Visit estates, parks, Grand Hotels with gardens, roof top gardens in San Francisco and classic shopping centers like Stanford Shopping Center for ideas to steal. Remember Picasso said “good artists borrow, great artists steal”.

Good Gardening

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

Garden Tips March 2014

Garden Tips March 2014

What is a garden anyway? Why do gardens make so much difference in our lives and why do we fall in love, raise our children and grow old together in them so much better than if we live our whole lives indoors?

Gardens provide us with several things. They give us work to do that is different than any other work. They give us discovery and wonder. And they give us un-paralleled beauty. We feel different in gardens, than anywhere else in our lives. We feel relaxed on a warm spring day. We feel stimulated by the chores we need to do. We feel pride in sharing with someone special a garden they have never seen before. And we feel empowered when we learn a new plant or discover something horticultural that we didn’t know before.

I can’t take you all out into a garden and show you these things or would you want me to. They are there for you to experience and learn and share. What I can do is to point in directions that may be new or different in your garden or future gardens you may visit. I hope you visit many gardens. Here are the tips.

1. Note new growth. Often buds open and leaves emerge and we see them only when they are mature. Notice flower buds forming and tendrils on vines, looking at how they face the sun or wrap around a nearby branch.

2. Look closely at the soil around the base of plants. See where it is in relation to the trunk of shrubs and trees and even ground covers. I see so many plants die because this relationship is out of balance. Remember that the flare of the roots is where the soil should start, not up the trunk. Rake it back with your fingers or a trowel if it is too high.

3. Look at lawns (either yours or others) and see what is growing there. Often there are many more species of plants than grass.

4. Stroll a few new gardens each month. Visit community gardens, public gardens and parks with simply strolling and looking as the goal. This may seem odd in this day and age, that’s why I am suggesting it.

5. Challenge yourself to learn a plant and its application that nobody you know can identify. There are thousands. Try Half Moon Bay Nursery on Highway 92 on the way to Half Moon Bay.

6. Grow a miniature garden alongside your big garden. Sort of like your own secret garden. Escape to it to challenge yourself and your imagination. Maybe even write a fantasy story involving your secret garden.

7. Grow something edible that you don’t usually buy in the market. Do some research on what that might be and how to use it. I just finished reading Michael Pollans new book “Cooked” and am now braising as a new way to cook. I am also making sauerkraut and will take up baking again, this time with herbs I grow myself for a savory nuance.

8. Count petals, anthers and florets as a habit. One of the keys to plant identification is closely looking at flowers and noticing what is unique. Start looking at flowers in a different way.

9. Grow some water plants, or visit a water garden, pond or stream and observe the life that is created with aquatic plants. Hakone gardens in Saratoga have an amazing pond.

10. Try growing a few species of air plants. Tillandsia is in the Bromeliacea family and lives on the surrounding air. Make an arrangement of some in the low branches of a tree or on a fence. Sprits with water once in a while and they will grow for years with little additional attention.

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 February 2014

Garden Tips February 2014

I write this column three or four weeks before it is published. As I write it is still quite dry and we are in a record drought. The Governor has recommended cutting back on water use by 20%. Even if it is raining when this column goes to press we will still need to pay attention to our changing climate when it comes to our gardens. Here is what I think can be done to reduce water use, move forward and still have stunning gardens. The first and most important thing is to look at the opportunities rather than the tragedy of it all. Be pro-active, not a victim. It is much more attractive anyway. Here are the tips.

1. Create a water feature without water. Now is the time to have a dry stream bed run right through your yard. Go for it. I have seen them go from the garden into the house or from the house out to the garden. When the rains come, it will fill up and run for a while and then when it dries up again, you have this really cool stone and gravel design. Put a copper heron in it for effect.

2. If you let your lawn die, go ahead and dig it out. I see way too many lawns that people stop watering. They die and look terrible. So why keep it? Dig it out and cover the area with mulch. What is mulch? Mulch is anything that covers an area to make it look better. Not dead lawn. Try wood chips, gravel, tree company grindings, leaves and branches or old tennis balls. I don’t care. Then you can plant drought tolerant plants like succulents and cactus amidst the mulch. It will immediately look like you know what you are doing, sort of. At least you’re trying.

3. Plant an olive tree. They grow out of the rocks in Greece and do fine on very little water. When the olives get ripe you can make olive oil.

4. When you water, do a little digging to test your soil and see how deep it is going. Know that the surface area of a plant above the soil has an equal surface below. Water to meet this areas needs but not anymore. I see quite a bit of over watering going on all over the bay area. It would not be hard to meet the 20% reduction with just this tip. Note that most tree roots are within the first 18 inches of the surface, and that lawns roots seldom go deeper than six inches.

5. Take control of your automatic irrigation system. This may require doing some testing to see what areas are getting watered and when. What is important is having control. If this is too daunting, take heart. You can learn it. Learn one thing at a time starting with the clock. If the manual is gone missing or cannot be understood ask for help. I do, all the time. It can be quite confusing.

6. Put cups out to measure different areas of your property when the sprinklers come on. Your controller clock may be set for 5 minutes but that doesn’t tell you how much water is actually going in that 5 minutes. I like to get a package of plastic party cups, place them around a specific watering area (about 4 feet apart is good) and turn that station on for one minute. Measure the water in each cup and now you know. This combined with soil moisture testing (by digging or probing with a soil moisture meter) and you will have a good idea how to set your stations.

7. Here is a novel idea. Water by hand. It will give you the ultimate awareness of your garden and how much water each plant needs.

8. Containers require more frequent watering than plants in the ground. Hand watering is the best way to water containers. A pair of pots by each door with flowers in them makes up for a lot of landscaping that is getting less water. Another good way to conserve water with containers is to have a saucer under each pot.

9. Take more care of the landscaping closest to the home. This goes for cultivation, replacing unhealthy plants, watering and fertilization. The further you get away from the house, the less is usually done. The exception is where vegetables and table flowers are grown. Usually these are also high care areas. In drought times it is important to have flowers on the table. It keeps the spirits up and gives us all hope.

10. The less plants in the garden, the more room there is for sculpture. Go ahead and get that art piece you always wanted. Become a collector. A couple of guidelines are appropriate here. Make sure it is mounted securely. There is nothing worse than a wobbly Statue of Liberty or Michelangelo’s David. Try a cardboard model for a few days to make sure the location works before pouring a concrete base. Make sure it is plumb (that is, straight up and down) according to the artists guidelines. And try to keep in the spirit of the surrounding garden and neighborhood. Although Andy Goldsworthy’s work looks pretty good anywhere from my perspective.

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 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 November 2013

Garden Tips November 2013

On a walk in the woods with friends, I was able to point out a huckleberry bush and it just happened to have quite a few great tasting huckleberries on it. They had hiked in these hills for years and had never known which plants were edible and which plants were poisonous. I don’t claim to know all of them. I may never know more than a couple of dozen, but knowing some of the local plants has been a real joy and teaching others plant identification and maintenance has been a joy for decades. This month the garden tips will be about how to learn plant identification. I think it is the single most important skill any gardener can have.

1. Get a good plant encyclopedia. Each one has strengths and weaknesses. What is important is a good description of each plant, its sun and shade tolerance and a good photograph or an accurate drawing.

2. Divide and conquer your learning. Know first the differences between trees, shrubs, ground covers, annuals and perennials. With this information you narrow down your identification search significantly.

3. Try to learn at least two new plants a week, ideally five. This gives you a goal and will increase your plant knowledge by hundreds of plants a year. Don’t worry about learning all of them, there are tens of thousands.

4. When you find a plant new to you, take its picture. Take at least three photos of each plant. One of the whole plant, one of a leaf close up and one of the fruit. This will help you remember the plant better when you file it.

5. Start your own plant identification file. In this file be sure to have the latin name of the plant (Genus and species), a common name or two, some identifying characteristics, sun and water requirements and your photos.

6. Exercise what you have learned. Take some one for a garden walk and see how many plants you can identify. If there are some you don’t know then these can be added to your next list. I advise doing these walks in an arboretum or garden where the plants have accurate name tags.

7. Start with the plants at hand. Learn the names of plants in your yard or on your block first. If you have a community garden you can learn what is being grown in all of the plots. If you are there when one of the gardeners is there they are usually happy to identify all of their plants and their neighbors as well.

8. When you learn a new plant, learn something memorable or unique about it. This kind of focus will help you remember each plant better. I have forgotten more plants than most people ever learn but the ones I remember have memorable characteristics.

9. With colder weather here and more time indoors it is really nice to have a library of gardening books. I usually get mine used and have more than I will ever finish reading. Of course the best books are new with hard covers and a good jacket. These can be passed on from generation to generation.

10. Lastly, there is no better way to learn and know plants than to grow them ones self. Buy healthy plants at your local nursery, plant them according to directions in your encyclopedia or other books on that genus and care for it on into maturity. The rewards are priceless and quite memorable.

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 October 2013

Garden Tips October 2013

What is it about a long time privately owned nursery that stays in your memory? Is it the friendly personable way the staff treated you, the quality of the plants that were on display, the rare or old specimen plants available or maybe the grounds so carefully tended?

I remember writing a check at Rodger Reynolds Nursery (1919 to 2013) and reaching for my wallet to show my drivers license as proof of who I was and the gentleman behind the counter saying “you don’t have to show me that, gardeners don’t write bad checks”.

I will never forget that endorsement of the humanness we gardeners have, not only for our gardens but of each other. I am encouraging master gardeners, designers, architects and even some grandmothers to become “Garden Coaches”. There are plenty of gardens for everybody.

As small family and privately owned nurseries are going out of business we are witnessing the closing of an era. I would like to encourage prospective nursery owners to consider starting up new ones. It is not going to be easy though. I have looked into what the start up costs would be myself and gave up hope. What we can do is support those nurseries that remain and thank them for all the good they do. Here are some that are still in business on the peninsula.

1. Central Garden Center 408 9th Ave. San Mateo 650-340-8850

2. Golden Nursery 1122 2nd. Avenue San Mateo 650-348-5525

3. Yerba Buena Nursery 12511 San Mateo Rd. (Hwy. 92) Half Moon Bay 650-851-1668

4. Half Moon Bay Nursery 11691 San Mateo Rd. (Hwy. 92) Half Moon Bay 650-726-5392

5. Bongards Treescape Nursery 12460 San Mateo Rd. (Hwy. 92) Half Moon Bay 650-726-4568

6. Wegmans Nursery 492 Woodside Rd. Redwood City 650-368-5908

7. Redwood City Nursery 2760 El Camino Real Redwood City 650-368-0357

8. Carlmont Nursery 2029 Ralston Ave. Belmont 650-591-6845

9. Common Ground 559 College Ave Palo Alto 650-493-6072

10. Yamagami’s Nursery • 1361 S. De Anza Blvd. • Cupertino, CA 95014 • Telephone 408-252-3347

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 September 2013

Garden Tips September 2013

According to what I read on, September is lawn renovation month. It is still hot and the grass is growing at full speed. If you have a postage stamp garden or an acre of putting green (bent grass), aeration and thatching are the best thing you can do for your turf. Of course you need to continue watering and a regular fertilizing program.

Here are the tips.

1. Mow down, de-thatch and aerate your lawns. Rent a thatching machine and aerator or have a contractor do the work for you. Spike aerators just compress the soil around the holes. It is better to use a real aerator which removes plugs from your turf. You can leave the plugs on the lawn or rake them up.

2. Keep watering, check your systems and replace clogged emitters on drip systems. Rhododendrons like their foliage wet. I recommend putting in risers on a PVC system (versus a drip system) to accomplish this.

3. Do a walk through your garden with your gardener. This will help both of you know how the other is feeling about the work being done. All too often, after the contract is signed, the owner and the contractor seldom see each other let alone talk. If the contract needs amending this is a good time to do it.

4. Study something architectural that is of interest to you. One time I had an interest in cold laid rock walls. I got a really good book on it, went to Scotland (where the art is being lost) and looked at miles of walls. I even attempted a couple of small, short walls myself. What I learned was that there was no way I was going to lift and move that much rock. No wonder it is becoming a lost art, you have to be crazy to take on that much work. The good news is, I learned a lot about walls.

5. Have a summer family gathering in a garden. If yours is not in shape for it, ask a friend who has a nice garden if she or he would host your get together. If that doesn’t work, have a family visit to Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco, it is wonderful this time of year.

6. Plan your spring bulb planting now. When the catalogs arrive and the bulbs show up in the nurseries, you will be ready. I was looking at a 1948 edition of the Sunset Visual Garden Manual I got at a book sale. It has a great picture description of how to plant bulbs. ‘Mix good compost into the bulb bed but do not let your bulbs touch the composted soil or they may rot. Use a little sand in each hole to provide drainage. Also, make sure there are no air pockets around the bulbs’. I think some of these techniques are wonderful.

7. Divide plants like agapanthus, day lilies, fort night lily, and flax when the bloom is finished.

8. Fertilize citrus with a high nitrogen fertilizer. Spread it around and outside the drip line of the tree and scratch it in, water thoroughly. Do this three times a year or as per the instructions on your fertilizer package.

9. After they are finished blooming, prune hebe, bottle brush, oleander, buddlea and other blooming shrubs. You will know where to prune by noting the lateral branches and cutting just above one that points in the direction you want the branch to grow. Easier said than done but this is another one of those lost arts so practice, you will learn if you are patient.

10. When the weather cools, visit the local nurseries and shop for fall bedding plants and vegetables. It is never too late to put in greens for the table, flowers for a vase and herbs for the kitchen.

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