Know Maintanance

I have a new favorite gardening blog, Grounded Design by landscape architect Thomas Rainer. I especially enjoyed his provocative post, Why I Don’t Believe in Low Maintenance Landscapes:

The low maintenance dogma reveals something about our culture: we don’t know how to BE in our landscapes. When someone asks me for “low maintenance,” what I hear is: “I don’t want to deal with this landscape.” Maintenance is nothing more than gardening, a personal investment into the landscape. I’ve long said that gardening is a relationship with a piece of ground. That relationship is the single most rewarding aspect of gardening. If the act of gardening is a relationship, then low maintenance gardening is code for “let’s just be friends.” Or “I’m just not that into you.” Low maintenance is permission to disengage, pull away, and let go. When we do that, our landscapes suffer. And so do we.

Rainer on Gardening in Small Spaces
I found out about Rainer via Garden Rant, who interviewed Rainer on the topic of small garden ideas. As we struggle with some design mistakes we made last fall, Rainer’s advice really rang true:

Don’t bring a plant into that garden unless it has a striking form (spiky, billowing, vertical spire), strong foliage color (blues/golds/purples, etc), or a long season of blooms (2 month minimum).

We had to redo our yard after last year’s lead soil reports (more on that in another post), and the design of our own space is a frequent source of marital disagreements. After reading Rainer’s advice together we vowed, “plant drama, not couple drama.” Looking forward to reading more from this gifted designer and writer.

A Question About Gophers

Pocket gopher, courtesy of Wikipedia

We’re putting together a short vegetable gardening pamphlet and could use some advice, specifically about gophers. Thankfully, we don’t have any experience dealing with them. Something about our neighborhood, either the lead in the soil or the police helicopters, seems to have made gophers extinct here.

Standard advice when planting a tree or installing a raised bed in gopher infested areas is to use galvanized hardware cloth or gopher wire as an underground barrier. We even mentioned this in our first book. The main problem I have with this advice is that the galvanized metal used for hardware cloth and gopher wire leaches significant amounts of zinc as it breaks down. Zinc, in high quantities, is toxic to plants. And, when using cages for trees, I’d worry that the cages would not break down soon enough, causing the roots to circle.

Plastic, I’m fairly certain, would not work as the gophers would chew through it. And stainless steel is really expensive. Yes, you can trap gophers, and I’ll include info on that. But does anyone know of an alternative material for use as an underground gopher barrier? Extra points for pointing to a peer reviewed study.

Note: We just learned a new fact: “gopher” is a generic term that encompasses a few different critters. In other words, your gopher may not be my gopher. There are pocket gophers and a variety of ground squirrels who get called gophers. All are pesky. But the pocket gopher is sometimes called the “true gopher.”

Tomato Report: Indigo Rose

Another tomato I got to taste on my trip up California’s central coast was the striking, nearly black “Indigo Rose”. The Indigo Rose tomato was bred conventionally by Oregon State University specifically to have high levels of antioxidants. Those antioxidants are in the tomato thanks to a class of flavonoids called anthocyanin, substances which also give the fruit its dark color.

According to Oregon State,

Indigo Rose’s genesis began in the 1960s, when two breeders – one from Bulgaria and the other from the United States – first crossed-cultivated tomatoes with wild species from Chile and the Galapagos Islands . . . Some wild tomato species have anthocyanins in their fruit, and until now, tomatoes grown in home gardens have had the beneficial pigment only in their leaves and stems, which are inedible.

The size is somewhat bigger than a cherry tomato. The inside of the tomato is a dark red. The taste? Good, even though the one I tried had not matured yet. I’m going to consider growing these next year.

You can find out more about the Indigo Rose on the Oregon State Extension Service website.

Indigo Rose seeds can be purchased through Johnny’s Select Seeds.

Tomato Report: Blush

I think I’ve tasted my new favorite tomato variety: Blush. I got to tuck into a box of these delicious tomatoes at the farm of Shu and Debbie Takikawa near Los Olivos. Yellow with red streaks, Blush tomatoes have the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.

The blush tomato was developed by geneticist and tomato geek Fred Hempel and are available via Seeds of Change.

Due to a series of gardening blunders that I’ll blog about at some point, we’re not going to have many tomatoes this summer from our yard. Thankfully I can visit Shu and Debbie’s stand at the Altadena Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays.

If you’ve grown Blush tomatoes please leave a comment and let us know how they did.

Front Yard Vegetable Garden Update

One advantage of living in a slightly rough-around-the-edges Los Angeles neighborhood is that nobody gets bent out of shape about front yard vegetable gardens. Indeed, they are  a tradition in immigrant neighborhoods.

The picture above is an update of one of the front yard gardens Kelly blogged about back in May.

It looked like this when she first blogged about it. Not sure exactly what’s growing here. It looks like beans from a distance, but up close they’re not any bean variety that I’ve ever seen. There are also bitter melons and hot peppers growing on the front fence.

Looking nice, and food will be on the table soon.