“How to Grow the Wildflowers,” by Eric Johnson and Scott Millard (Ironwood Press) should be on the bookshelf of anyone in Southern California who enjoys growing plants. From achillea to coreopsis to verbena, most of the species described here need little water to grow. Fall is the ideal time to plant them.
This book emphasizes planting from seed – a lost art in our age of instant gratification. We run to the nursery to buy expensive “ready-made” annual flowers and perennials when, with a little planning and patience, we could have grown them ourselves from seed for pennies.
Garden plants started from seed tend to be more robust and floriferous than those purchased already grown from the nursery. When you put down seeds, the plants that develop will acclimate themselves from day one to your particular soil and climatic conditions.
Plants purchased in a nursery are grown in a “designer” soil mix that bears no resemblance to the soil in your backyard. These plants are frequently brought to the retail nursery from coastal growing grounds where the mild climate may contrast sharply with your own – in Valencia, say, or Woodland
Hlls. Nursery plants have often been fed a steady diet of quick-acting fertilizer, which promotes succulent growth but attracts insect pests and diseases.
Beyond problems associated with nursery-grown plants, perhaps the best reason to grow plants from seed is the simple joy of watching the seedlings germinate, develop and bloom.
It is “a reward unlike any other gardening activity,” the authors write.
The last 10 pages of the book contain illustrated instructions for starting wildflowers from seed – sowing seed on the soil surface or no deeper than 1/16 inch. Mail-order seed sources are listed on page 111.
“The Rock and Water Garden Expert” (PBI Publications) is one in a series of 11 remarkable books by D.G. Hessayon. An enormous amount of information is colorfully presented on each page. Hessayon’s enthusiasm is infectious as he guides you through the steps in rock- and water-garden construction, and includes money-saving suggestions at every turn.
“It is the pond, fountain or waterfall that acts like a magnet when you visit a garden for the first time,” he writes. From ancient Persia to Moorish Spain to the Versailles Palace, truly magnificent gardens have always been noted for their water features.
Water ponds are inexpensive to maintain. George Knopf, Los Angeles’ leading authority on the subject, has more than a dozen ponds in his sun-baked back yard in Sylmar, yet the amount of water used to keep them full is no more than a lawn of comparable size would demand.
Some of his ponds are more than 20 years old, but none has ever been emptied, there is no oxygen bubbling in, and yet the water remains clear. Knopf’s formula for a successful, ecologically balanced and never murky pond is simple: water lilies and goldfish.
J. Howard Garrett’s “Organic Manual” (Summit Group) is a guide for homeowners and gardeners who want to avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
“It’s a big misconception that organic methods are simply safer ways to kill pests,” Garrett notes at the outset. “The basis of organics is an overall philosophy of life more than a simple decision about which kinds of garden products to use.”
Successful organic gardeners don’t have to worry about which pesticides to use – they have no pests.
Fortifying and immunizing your plants starts with soil preparation. For flowers or vegetable planting, Garrett recommends putting down a 6-inch layer of finished compost, then working it into the top 8 to 10 inches of soil.
(Compost can be a homemade mixture of decomposed glass clippings and leaves or a commercial product such as Nitrohumus.) To keep roots cool, a prerequisite for avoiding plant stress, maintain a 3-inch layer of mulch – made of hay, wood chips or shredded bark – on the soil surface.
If insect pests continue to appear, Garrett suggests as a last resort liquifying two bulbs of garlic and two hot peppers in a blender one-third full of water. Strain this solution and dissolve one-quarter cup of it in a gallon of water. Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil and spray.
For both fertilization and pest control, apply a foliar spray consisting of one tablespoon of seaweed and four tablespoons of fish emulsion per gallon of water.