Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2009
Regional Report

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I share my humiliation so that other gardeners may benefit from my mistakes.

Failure and Success

Well, Henry's garden in San Mateo is looking heavenly, but my personal garden here in Brisbane is looking very sorry and neglected. Perhaps it's because stairs are involved in the maintenance process and my new knee is still a bit gimpy. The asparagus splendens is doing its best to escape up the banister, possibly to gather the hose and hoe from my office. Whatever the reason, the neglect is inexcusable! I shall endeavor to do a major clean up before we leave on vacation.

Smaller vs. Bigger
I'm glad I don't have a gigantic garden like Henry's. The side yards haven't even been considered as a place to landscape. Lord knows the soil below the west deck would probably be the best on the entire property. I have tossed more than a few failed projects down there, and many of our television guests did the same. It became a running gag on the show and my photographer/editor Art Takeshita wanted to do a montage of all the various plants flying over the balcony rail.

Work, Work, Work
My projects for this month include cleanup, light fertilizing, never-ending hand watering and cool-season planting. Fall is the ideal time to plant because the soil is still warm so that the roots can develop without the strong rays of the sun putting the foliage under stress while the plants try to get established. Strong roots mean healthy plants with good foundations.

Some of the things I'm planting in Henry's garden for fall are ornamental kale in the flower beds, stock, cabbage, peas, pansies, sweet peas (planted very deep so they have a good running start for spring), some snapdragons (although I never have good luck with them in winter), nemesia, and some root crops in the vegetable garden, including beets and carrots.

Humiliation and Delight
The tomatoes at Henry's were a dismal failure this summer. I'm going to plant fava beans in that bed to try to improve the soil over the fall and winter. There was a surprise bumper crop of red potatoes growing beside the spindly tomato plants. Perhaps the potatoes stole the nutrients from the tomatoes, but I think it was probably the combination of the existence of a fusarium fungus in the soil plus the surprise root crop. Fusarium fungus is a problem with members of the solanaceae family which includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant. It has made a huge comeback with the popularity of heirloom tomatoes that have not been hybridized with fusarium-resistant genes. Mind you, I love a good heirloom tomato as much as the next guy, but I think I am going to have to select plants that are F-1 or V-1 resistant next year, if I decide to plant tomatoes in that bed at all. It's probably best to give the soil a rest for a year or two. Pulling out those plants is going to be a pleasure. They are semi-living proof of my failure as a gardener.

My friends Joyce and Gary allowed their tomato bed to rest for the past two years, planting fava beans there instead. This year, Gary has named his 'Arkansas Traveler' tomato Audrey, after the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors. It is the most glorious tomato plant you have ever seen! It is well over 6 feet tall and still growing. I can't wait to taste the tomatoes from that plant. Heirloom vigor and flavor, yummy!

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