Rain Puts Smiles on Gardeners’ Faces

rain in the garden

rain in the garden

For the nongardening resident of Los Angeles, rain is nothing but a burden. Rain lengthens the daily commute. If you forgot to rake the leaves off your roof, your rain gutters will overflow and create all kinds of puddles just where you don’t want them. And, if your back yard sits at the bottom of a slope, you may get buried in a mudslide or, if you live in Topanga Canyon, witness a river running through your living room.
But if you have a garden, you will not stop smiling when it rains. No more worries about when or how much to water! You will feel especially rewarded if you have recently completed a planting project, whether nursery stock from containers or packets of seeds were involved. You will pat yourself on the back for your impeccable sense of timing.
And there’s something else.
Even an average gardener looks like a genius after a rain. After it rains, each plant appears to have been perfectly positioned in the garden and lavishly nurtured.
Plants have a wonderfully polished look when their leaves have been washed clean by the rain. For months, it seems, everything in the garden was looking dry and drab. Now, all of a sudden, each plant is suddenly a glistening specimen of freshness and botanical vigor.
Speaking of freshness and vigor, you must avail yourself of what has become the most vital and exciting nursery in Los Angeles.
Usually you don’t use words like “exciting” to describe a nursery, and I know we live in a city that over hypes everything, but this place is, as they say, the real deal. I am talking about the Theodore Payne Foundation nursery in Sun Valley.
I visited there a week before it started raining and, even then, all the plants were glowing. In many neighborhood nurseries, it seems that a large proportion of the plants have been neglected, especially when the economy is slow and plants may languish in their containers for months on end. I find myself making excuses for the nursery staff as to why they are compelled to display such unappealing fare. Not so at Theodore Payne. Each plant is obviously cared for with love, and none of the plants are just stagnating in their pots.
The biggest problem at the Theodore Payne nursery is leaving with money in your pocket. There are so many exotic and gorgeous plants that you want to take home with you that it is hard to pull yourself away before you have spent your last dollar. I went for the purpose of buying several hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea), noted for its magenta flowers and shade tolerance, and ended up with a number of additional plants, including a perennial silver lupine (Lupinus paynei) that grows to a height and girth of 6 feet and displays gigantic wands of white, pink or purple flowers in the spring.
Every time you visit the Theodore Payne Foundation nursery, you will see and learn something new.
I was fascinated by the gold and green variegated Carmel creeper (Ceanothus griseus horizontalis ‘Diamond Heights’), a ground cover that requires some sun protection in our hot Valley climate. Among the ground covers most prominently displayed are several types of ornamental strawberry with rich emerald foliage. The word “lush” comes to mind, which is not often thought of in connection with California natives, yet this word could be used to describe the overall look of the Theodore Payne nursery, where the only plants grown are California natives.
Q. My husband and I are members of the California Rare Fruit Growers and have over 42 fruit trees in our yard.
At the moment, our Cherimoya is providing us with fruit, and the squirrels haven’t found it, or maybe they don’t like it. The squirrels cleared our Fuyu persimmon, ate every one of our nectarines and destroy most of the apples. They even like to chew the Oroblanco grapefruit off the tree and just leave it on the ground. Of course, citrus won’t ripen that way.
How can we get rid of the many squirrels?
– Shelley O. Smith, Granada Hills
A. If you had large trees, I would tell you to encircle their trunks with 2-foot- wide metal collars at a height of 6 feet, since that is the extent of a squirrel’s vertical leaping ability.
The squirrels simply cannot gain traction on the metal and are unable to climb up the tree. However, I realize that many fruit trees, especially exotic tropical ones, barely reach a height of 6feet and another control measure is needed. You might want to consider utilizing a motion sprinkler or two, which are effective at deterring not only squirrels, but deer as well. A motion sprinkler operates on the same principle as a motion light, where movement triggers the desired response, in this case a pulse of water that deters the squirrel from poaching your fruit. You can find both Havahart and Scarecrow brand motion sprinklers.
They sell for $60 to $70 and are available through Internet vendors, at nurseries and at home improvement centers.
Q. I have been cleaning leaves out of a corner of the yard behind the pool equipment and uncovered a pile of diatomaceous earth (probably dumped there by the previous owner’s pool man). The pile is close to an area of clay soil where I’d like to sow wildflowers. If I incorporate the diatomaceous into the clay, do you think it would have a positive or negative effect on the wildflower seeds?
– Vivian Wood, Woodland Hills
A. Diatomaceous earth, which is the skeletal remains of prehistoric, coarse shelled, golden algae, is a dust-like, highly water-retentive material. It is sometimes used in bonsai soil mixes to extend watering intervals. I would not mix it with clay since this would probably increase soil compaction and impede soil drainage. Most California wildflowers require well-drained soil to grow.

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