Sunday, July 1, 2012

Digging Silicon Valley - Resources for Gardeners

There are certain benefits to growing up in a 1950's agricultural wonderland, like exploring a backyard oasis filled with bugs, birds, and critters, as well as an odd collection of home grown fruits and vegetables. In my youth this was capped off with the annual crop of alien-sized, monster Zucchini, which rivaled anything found in Roswell

Please raise your hand if you are over fifty and ate part of at least one overgrown, stuffed zucchini for weekly dinners during the summer months? Yep, I knew it. The parents always made it seem as if we were getting a delicacy. Right. Raise your hand if your family tried to give away old zucchini from their gardens hidden under tender, sweeter, and smaller squash? Yep, you are one of us.

There were beautiful butterflies and large, furry moths in this valley, along with amazing caterpillars, grasshoppers, huge bees, and assorted beetles. Much of the "old" West Valley flora and fauna can be seen at McClellan Ranch Preserve, which is worth a quiet afternoon of exploration.
When my fifth grade teacher told us to place an ammonia-dipped cotton ball in a sealed jar and catch and kill bugs for a homework assignment, my dear mother sent that teacher a note the next day stating, "We don't kill living things that aren't bothering us at our house." Right on, Mom.

This love of living things, and a few years of watching gardening shows on KQED, led to a kind of rescue mentality in my life. Dying house plant, small tree, bush, or veggie plant for sale? They all came home with me. I had a Mammillaria Lanata "nipple" cactus which I bought for $.49 at the local market because it was completely dehydrated and about to roll out of its miserable pot. I had that cactus for 36 years until my house-sitting friend left it outside during a freeze, when I was out of town. By that time it weighed about 15 lbs and had rings of bright pink flowers every summer. Rest in peace, my friend.

I have included photos of some of my "rescue" plants here. A saved Hydrangea from the large, local home improvement center, was planted last summer. A salvaged Pink Supreme Rose was purchased from an unnamed nursery, where it was left with no water and in sad shape. My biggest victory, however, is a rescued Early Elberta peach, which had lost all of its leaves and was literally gasping (at least in my mind), when I saw it the local home improvement store last fall. It came home with me and was planted, fertilized, and loved. Here is my wonderful peach tree today:

I have also inherited an old nectarine tree which looks like it's dying every winter. If you've seen Snow White and the Huntsman, you might remember the barren, gnarled trees in the evil forest. Well, my old nectarine tree looks like a distant relation to Snow's worst arboreal nightmare. So, I thought, I'm going to give that old tree some love (and some fruit spikes.) Here is my old friend in all of her fruit-laden, summer glory today:

And the fruit is large, beautiful, and healthy, so much so that I had to thin out the young buds this spring, yet still have such a large crop that I lost some branches due to the sheer weight of all of the fruit.

For fruit trees which produce abundant fruit, call Village Harvest, a nonprofit volunteer organization which organizes teams to pick fruit and distribute it to the hungry, through several county organizations and food banks.

My newest garden residents are a Bearss Seedless Lime and an Improved Meyer Lemon, both rescued from a local hardware/nursery store and ready for some TLC. I will post pictures as they recover.

If you are interested in learning more about heirloom fruit, vines, roses, and any type of gardening, try some of these local and regional resources:

There are lots of great books on gardening at your library, which can be found using WorldCat, which collects every library book, audio recording, thesis, map, etc., all in one large database online. Here are just a few suggestions from that database. Try your own search to find more books, articles, and e-books on WorldCat.
  • Books for kids
  • Books on heirloom roses
  • Books on growing vegetables and fruits
  • Audio Books on gardening, including some biographies
Happy Gardening! (And happy reading!)

(Update: Sadly, all of my fruit trees all had to come out, due to vector control issues in my area. Evidently I was too successful and I was getting too many critters. I miss my trees. At least they were well loved while I had them.)

---Catherine Alexander Bright,