Saturday, February 13, 2016

Book Giveaway Winner: Grow For Flavor


Thanks to all of you who entered to win a free copy of this fabulous, vegetable gardening book - Grow For Flavor.

The randomly-picked winner is, Brandi - congratulations!

For those who didn't win, I will have two more book giveaways coming up.  In the meantime, you can order your own copy of Grow For Flavor here

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Drought Tolerant and Beautiful: Hopbush, the Alternative to Oleanders

No matter where you live, you often see five types shrubs being used over and over in landscape after landscape.  While the shrubs themselves may be attractive, their overuse throughout neighborhoods can create a somewhat 'boring landscape'.



In California, Nevada and Arizona oleanders have held a prominent spot in the landscape due to their lush evergreen foliage, ability to withstand drought and pretty flowers.

However, they have been overused in many areas which makes their beauty less impactful and frankly, almost forgettable.

At a recent conference that I attended, the head of horticulture for Disneyland said,
""When things are expected (in the landscape), they become less powerful and impactful".


Another issue with oleanders is that they are susceptible to a fatal disease called, oleander leaf scorch that is slowly spreading from California.  I have seen several cases affecting large, mature oleanders in the greater Phoenix area. 

From an objective point of view, I'd like to make it clear that there is a lot to like about oleanders; they do extremely well in hot, dry climates with minimal fuss, they have attractive dark green foliage and add color to the landscape when in flower.  

My main issue is with the overuse of them in the landscape when there less common plants that do equally as well in the landscape while also adding beauty.


When I am asked for another option for the large, tall forms of oleanders, hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) always comes to mind first.

This native desert shrub has attractive, evergreen foliage and a similar growth habit to oleander.


They can be used in the same ways that oleanders can in providing an attractive green hedge and/or screening.

Hop bush flower

They don't have colorful flowers; their bright green foliage is their strong point.


Hop bush can be allowed to grow into their natural shape or pruned into a formal hedge.

Want to learn more about this oleander alternative?  In my latest Houzz article, I share what types of plants look nice next to hop bush, how to care for them and show a purple-leafed form.

I hope that you find a spot for this lovely shrub in your landscape.

**There are still a couple of days to enter the giveaway for the book Grow For Flavor.  Enter now for your chance to win!**


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Garden Travels: Native Plants Delight at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Native plants have become increasingly popular choices for the landscape due to the fact that they not only survive, but thrive with little fuss.


On a visit to California last month, our family decided to spend a morning exploring the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.

The city of Santa Barbara has always held a special place in my heart.  When I was a child, my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents lived in Santa Barbara.  We only an hour away, so we made many trips there throughout the year for family gatherings, including Christmas.


Aside from being a special place where I spent many happy times as a child, I also fell in love with Santa Barbara.  I attended a small Christian college called Westmont, which is located in the hills above Santa Barbara, where I met my husband.  So, it's not surprising that we often find our way to this picturesque city whenever we can.

We were visiting our daughter, who is stationed with the Navy a short distance away and we had come out to spend a long weekend with her.  Her service with the Navy is due to end soon so we wanted to take advantage of spending time in Santa Barbara.  The decision to go to the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden was an easy one.  Surprisingly, I had never been there before and wanted to experience its beauty.


Anyone who has visited gardens with me knows that I am always lagging behind as I observe the beauty of plants close up and pause to take a lot of photos.  I just tell them to walk on ahead as I do my best to keep within visual range of them.


The first part of this garden consisted of open meadows planted with native wildflowers.  Being that it was January, most weren't flowering yet, but it was easy to imagine how beautiful they would look in just a month or two.


Looking off in the distance, you could see the ocean and the Channel Islands.

One of the things that are unique about this garden is that they only grow California native plants.


'Arroyo Cascade' Manzanita

Santa Barbara has been hit very hard by drought several times in recent years and as a result, residents are looking for drought-tolerant alternatives.


Erigeron divergens

Botanical gardens who feature native plants serve as inspiration for homeowners, landscape architects and designers to help them create landscapes with plants that thrive in the local climate with no little to no fuss.

My family waiting patiently for me to catch up.

In addition to wanting to learn more about California native plants, I was also looking forward to exploring the California landscape that I grew up in with its graceful oak trees and stately redwood trees.


The garden trails are winding and go up and down hillsides.  It often felt like we were on a camping trip while hiking through the mountains.

At first, the trail is level, but then you are faced with steep steps, called the Indian Steps.  This steep trail is thought to be the trail taken by the Indians who built the dam that is located farther in the garden. 


We had brought a stroller for my one-year-old grandson but soon learned that it wouldn't make it down the steps with him in it, so I carried him down the steps with his mom following with the stroller.


At the base of the steps, we were greeted by the sight of tall coast redwoods, shading the pathway.


As much as I love oak trees, as a California native, visiting redwood forests scattered throughout the state has always been a special treat.

The sheer size, age, and beauty of redwood trees are truly majestic, especially when you realize how small you are when you stand next to one.


As we journeyed on, I was excited to see the old dam, which was built by the Indians to funnel water down the mountain toward the historic Santa Barbara Mission.


The redwood trees weren't the only large things in the garden - the boulders were very big too.


The Mission Dam and Aqueduct were built in 1807 to help direct water toward the mission.



This old aqueduct had to be cleaned out frequently to keep debris out so that the water could flow freely.


As we continued our journey through the garden, I must tell you that it was a beautiful, sunny day in the upper 60's.


I took a moment to take a photo of my daughter and grandson in front of a fallen tree.  As you can see, my grandson is having a great time!


So were my husband and I.


Eventually, our path took us to a 'fork' in the road where we had a decision to make - walk further on and take the bridge back to the entrance or walk across the marked creek crossing.


When you are with a 13 year-old boy, there is no question about which way you will choose.


I was especially excited to see the Home Demonstration Garden section, which showcased ways to use California natives in a residential landscape.

The house was built onsite in 1926 from a Sears Roebuck kit.  It now houses the offices of the garden.


There were nicely designed garden beds filled with California natives, clearly marked.

It was easy to envision seeing oneself landscaping their house in natives that are equally as beautiful as the more flashy non-natives. 

Newly planted landscape beds.

After seeing a wonderful example of a residential garden planted solely with natives, it got me to thinking again why so many people in the desert southwest coddle gardenias, hibiscus, and even queen palms in order to get them to do well in our hot, dry climate where they struggle.


As I walked around to the back of the house, I found my husband.


I did tell you that I always lag behind whenever I visit gardens, didn't I?

My husband is always so patient and doesn't complain.  I always keep this in mind when he gets excited about looking at cars and motorcycles.


At the end of our tour through the garden, the fun was just beginning for me because they have a nursery filled with California natives grown on site.



My camera and I went on an expedition, exploring the different natives.



Like many desert natives, these California natives aren't very exciting in their containers, which can sometimes cause shoppers to skip them in favor for high-maintenance, flashy non-natives.

Erigeron cultivar 'Wayne Roderick'

But, once planted and given a little time to grow, they put on a show.


I was drawn to the different colored California poppy seedlings, ready for planting in the spring wildflower garden.  I would have bought a white and pink variety, but have some already planted in my garden.


There were a number of California native plants that are also native to Arizona including desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) and globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).

If you ever find yourself in Santa Barbara, I strongly recommend that you take an hour or two to explore the garden.  It is a wonderful walk through the California countryside filled with the beauty of native plants.


I came away with three California native plants that I am unfamiliar with.  Since many aspects of our climate are similar, I am wanting to see how they perform in my garden.  The biggest test will be how they handle the summer heat.  My hope is that they will be fuss free and beautiful.  



I'll be sure to let you know how they do. 

**If you love to grow and cook fresh vegetables there is still time to enter the free giveaway for the fabulous book, Growing For Flavor.**

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Giveaway and Review: Grow For Flavor

One of the perks of being a garden blogger is that I am often given the opportunity to review newly published gardening books.



After having reviewed many wonderful books written on a variety of gardening subjects, Grow For Flavor immediately grabbed my attention by the unique way that it promised to "turn the tables on conventional gardening advice" by dispelling common garden myths such as "home-grown always tastes better" and "heirloom vegetables always taste better than hybrids". 


The publisher promises that "this book contains tips, how-to’s and recipes on how to increase the amount of flavor in home-grown food. For example, the author describes how you can make salad greens either sweet or fiery by choosing where and how you grow them, or how to use acidic soil to give strawberries better flavor. With recipes such as “Purple Sun” Carrot Cheesecake and Spiced Pumpkin, Tarragon & Marshmallow Soup, Grow for Flavor is the perfect book for a foodie-gardener."

I must admit to being intrigued at its premise and couldn't wait to discover more for myself.

Written by self-described obsessive botanist, James Wong, has based the book on over 2,000 scientific studies as well as his own taste tests has made the goal of this book to help home gardeners grow crops with maximum flavor and minimum labor.

The emphasis is growing plants for flavor rather than focusing on quantity, which can often decrease the flavor of homegrown vegetables.




One of my favorite parts is the author's description of cilantro, calling it the "The Herb of Evil".  Studies have shown that "loving or hating cilantro is genetically determined."  Either you enjoy cilantro's bright, citrusy flavor OR fail to understand why some people love a herb that tastes like soap.  It turns out that it is all in a person's genes.  One-fifth of the world's population has a gene that makes cilantro taste awful.  As one of the one-fifth, it is nice to have an explanation as to why I hate a herb that so many people love.

The predominant emphasis of Grow for Flavor is to grow fruits and vegetables for maximum flavor using simple tips.  It turns out that a plant's genes are the biggest factor in how they taste, but growing plants in full sun and taking care to NOT overwater can also help to maximize flavor.


Recommended varieties are included for many types of vegetables including my favorites - sweet corn and tomatoes including those that are best for salad and those that are ideal for cooking are also included.


Colorful photos make the book a visual treat coupled with many delicious recipes featuring fresh grown produce, wild food delicacies such as certain weeds, flower waters, vinegar, jam and syrups are also featured.

After spending a very enjoyable time reading through the book, I found the publisher's description described Grow for Flavor perfectly and I highly recommend it and it now occupies a prominent spot on my plant book shelves.

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So, now for the giveaway...

You can enter to win a free copy of Grow for Flavor.

1. To enter, simply leave me a comment about what fruits and/or vegetables that you like to grow and eat.
(Be sure to leave your email address if it's not on your profile, or I won't have any way to contact you.)

2. For a bonus entry, like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter - (be sure to let me know in your comment).

Let your friends know about this great giveaway and I will pick a random winner on Saturday, February 13th.

You can also order your own copy of Grow for Flavor by clicking here.

**Stay tuned for future garden book giveaways!**

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