Saturday, August 31, 2013

Water-Less Garden, Mulch Madness in Southern California

Photo of a mulch pile.

I love that this blog exists.  Three and a half years after Mom's death, there is this collection of photos and writing existing purely to honor her.  It may be around forever, I don't know. One day at a time.

A little over a month ago I looked at my lawn, dying because the sprinkler system had broken, and I thought yet again about how little I want to have a lawn to water in the backyard.  It just seems like such a waste in San Diego to water lawns. (I have a small one in the front, surrounded by drought-tolerant plants.)

My friend Berta came over and we started pulling yard furniture into a circle on the dead grass.  We grabbed every potted plant we could find to put along a path that we outlined by laying down a curving hose to get the shape.  When we were done we had...old lawn furniture on a dying lawn.

My friend Berta said that she had asked a tree-trimming company for their trimmings and had used them to mulch her yard and cover the dead and the ugly.  The next morning I heard a tree-trimming crew and went out to the street to talk to the foreman.  Sure, he would give me a little bit of mulch later that afternoon.  He was sorry that he didn't have much to give me.  It was okay, I was grateful for any.

No tree trimmings appeared that afternoon.  In the morning I heard the truck emptying onto the driveway.  Pleased, I went out to greet the worker.  A mountain of mulch now filled my entire driveway, standing at least three-feet high.  He apologized for the amount, smiling.  It was okay, I said, I had a 19-year-old son. After all, it was free and seemed like a gift from above. Thanking him, I wondered what I was getting into.

Over a month later I have moved most of the mulch one wheelbarrow load at a time to cover all the area between the drought-tolerant plants in the front, and the entire dead lawn area in the back.  My theme song has been "High Hopes" -
"Once there was a little black ant,
thought he'd move a rubber tree plant,
everyone knows an ant can't,
move a rubber tree plant.
But he's got....High Hopes,
He's got...High Hopes.
He's got...High apple pie in the sky hopes."

And it goes  on.

I also covered all the weeds in my planter beds.  And I still have more mulch, which is lucky because weeds have already figured out how to grow through the thick mulch layer.  It turns out that rather than too much, I have just the right amount of mulch.

My goal after all the mulch is out of the driveway is to fill the path and seating area with decomposed granite, find cushions for the furniture and repaint it, and plant nicer plants than my beat up old succulents in the pots along the path.  I want to plant Buffalo Grass in a tiny patch next to it. It looks very much in transition. But in my mind I see the future, and through my crystal ball I envision a peaceful, drought-resistant backyard that feels a bit like a mountain glen in the back country.

I think my mom would have appreciated what I'm trying to do.  She certainly understood drought-tolerant landscaping and encouraged it with students and friends.  So I think if she were to see the mulch madness, she'd probably smile and nod.  But she wasn't one to give unwanted advice about the yard or anything, so I think she'd just watch the process unfold.

I miss her, but after three years it's less painful and feels more like she really is just always here. Especially when I'm working in the garden.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Adventures in Rose Hacking

Recently the idea of rose pruning has come up again and again. Could it be that it's Spring?

My sister and I met at the ancestral homestead (Mom and Dad's house) and she pruned the roses with Dad while I did more mundane things to the house. Holly seems to know when it's time to prune roses. She did a great job. (Those are some of Mom's old roses in the photo above.)

The following week, following an inner voice that said "the roses, the roses!", I turned to my own scraggly, miscreant bushes. I cut them down, basically looking for anything that looked too long and trimming it. Here's where Mom comes in. If it weren't for Mom's constantly talking about plants as I grew up, I might not have known where to prune. I cut so that the inside wouldn't grow in on itself. Using sharp pruning shears, I cut at an angel about 1/2" above a good joint in the rose stem. I chose places where the stem bud was pointing towards the outside of the rose. I trimmed off dead wood. It was fun and I remembered why I didn't like roses as a kid: a damned thorn poked me under my fingernail, brought a tear to my eye, and hurt for days.

I guess that's why Mom wore gloves. Live and learn.

Now I know there's another step involving fertilizer and water. I have Mom's class notes out on the table, but mostly I think I'll just aim for using Miracle Grow. I have a drip hose already out there, so that part is easy.

Mom took the picture above, she had a way of making a nice composition in her garden photos.

How about you? Are you gardening? Here in Southern California it is definitely Spring, although we'll probably get some cold spells again.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mom's photo of sweetpeas in the window light

It's been months and months
since I wrote in this blog. But mother's spirit seems to be stirring with the new growth in the garden. And as I struggle to learn what the heck to do to the shoots of Brazilian Pepper tree taking over my garden and when to plant the iris rhizomes and what to do with the stump of camelia that the dog chewed down to the ground but still lives, well, this struggle of mine deserves company.

So I think I'll share the journey.

Many people have been gardening seriously forever. I didn't have to. My mom was the gardener. All I had to do was put something in a pot now and then and ignore the rest of the yard. Sometimes beautiful miracles took place. But now I have a shelf full of garden books, iris rhizomes needing to be bedded, and epiphyliums to puzzle over. It's time!

Between my sister and I, we also have every article Mom ever wrote for the San Diego Union about gardening. And we have her book about gardening in Southern California.

So, if you'll bear with me, I'll post some of my trials and tribulations and an occasional hint from Mom from her writings. Maybe it can be as if she's guiding me on this path! My dirty fingernails, her gentle whispers and laughter.

It will be almost like having her here.

Much love,

Monday, April 26, 2010

Eulogy for Mom

Eulogy for Betty Hale Newton, written and read by her daughter Holly.

One of Betty's daughters read this yesterday, April 25th, 2010, at the memorial at Summer's Past Farms.
"Mother, the Gardener at Large

Did you know my Mother was a super hero? Yep, she went by the super hero name of The Gardener at Large.

Her powers were:
· To teach about climate zones and slow release fertilizer
· To identify plant disease at a simple glance
· To write a fact filled plant article in time to prepare a four course dinner
· To leave a little jewel of knowledge with every individual she came in contact with
· To make Southern California aware of drought resistant landscaping and drip irrigation

The Gardener at Large would start her day armed with her daily list, put on her lipstick and purse and her trademark wide brimmed hat and take off down the hill from her intelligence center (designed to look like a domestic family dwelling) and whisk away to spread the word on plants.

Armed with her tattered Sunset Western Garden book, no aphid or dandelion was ever safe when The Gardener at Large was at hand. Often speaking in Latin or Greek, she quickly switched to the common man’s tongue to communicate with the uneducated plant enthusiasts.

Always handling every challenge with grace, enthusiasm and determination, my super hero, The Gardener at Large, satisfied many a person’s gardening dilemma.

At the end of the day, this super hero rolled up her driveway, washed the dirt off her hands, traded her dirt stained pants for something clean and an apron, touched up her lipstick, and prepared cold lemonade and a hot dinner for her family.

A garden whirlwind by day, a mild mannered, supportive wife and mother by night, there was so much more to Mother than her green thumb and desire to share her knowledge.

I have two questions for all of you. How many of you were students of Betty’s? How may of you have or had a plant that mother gave you?

Well then, The Gardener at Large, my Mother, Betty Newton, lives on."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Betty Hale Newton—Mom, Grandmother, Gardener, Teacher, Writer

Betty Hale Newton was born in 1934 and died in San Diego on March 5, 2010. This blog is to honor her.

Memorial Information:
The memorial will be outdoors at Summers Past Farms in Flinn Springs.
It begins at 2:00 p.m. Park in the back.
15602 Olde Hwy 80
Flinn Springs, CA 92021
(619) 390-1523

Her San Diego Union obit article:
Betty Newton: Gardening expert and author loved nature, was ‘a natural-born teacher’
MONDAY, MARCH 29, 2010 AT 12:05 A.M.

Betty Newton, a teacher, writer and gardener, did not limit her instruction to the classroom at Grossmont Foothills Adult School.

“She was a natural-born teacher,” said her daughter Holly. “Whether it was her seamstress, trying to teach her English ... she was always trying to help people.”

She also loved nature.

“Her last words were, ‘Enjoy the sun coming up on the mountains,’ ” daughter Laura said. Mrs. Newton died March 5 due to complications from scoliosis. She was 76.

Though her career path did not line up with her degree in political science, she read the newspaper every morning, discussed politics at most dinners with her husband, Gil, and was an active participant in the League of Women Voters.

She taught gardening and landscaping, and she was not bashful about sharing her knowledge.

“She was a teacher always, so if she wanted to tell you there was too much ginger in your fruitcake, she would,” Laura said. Occasionally, Mrs. Newton’s passions overlapped.

“If there was a tree in front of a government building, and it was the wrong kind of tree for the area, she would call somebody or write them,” Laura said.

She taught her daughters with encouragement rather than instruction.

“She was always more about teaching us and letting us explore than being dictatorial,” Laura said. “She let me dig up part of the lawn to make a canal system. ... She didn’t mind.

“She was an incredible mom.”

Mrs. Newton wrote about gardening in San Diego for years, contributing a monthly column called Gardener at Large to The San Diego Union and writing “Gardening Beautifully in Southern California,” a handbook.

“As I’ve become more involved with the gardening community, almost everyone around here has taken a class by her or read something by her,” said Mary James, who was Mrs. Newton’s editor at the Union. “She helped me understand things that can come only from years of experience.”

Mrs. Newton was born Betty Louise Hale on Feb. 26, 1934, in San Diego.

She met her future husband in elementary school, and the pair graduated from Grossmont High in 1951. Soon after, she began her college career at San Diego State and Pomona College, but her education was put on hold in 1955, when she married Gil.

“She was a very attractive blonde,” he said. “She always had a beautiful smile because she liked people.”

After a honeymoon to Tucson, the couple drove up the Alcan Highway to Alaska, where Gil was serving in the Army Ordnance Corps.

It wasn’t long before the Newtons returned to Southern California and finished their degrees at the University of California Los Angeles in 1958, again graduating in the same class. They nearly attended law school together after both passed the entrance exam, but Mrs. Newton opted to focus on starting a family.

In 1962, the family bought a home in El Cajon, which always had brown carpet so the dirt from the garden wouldn’t show. Mrs. Newton lived there the rest of her life.

Mrs. Newton is survived by her husband, Gil, daughters Laura and Holly and four grandchildren.

A memorial will be held at 2 p.m. April 25 at Summers Past Farms.

The family requests donations be made to the Red Cross for Haitian Earthquake Relief.

Please feel free to leave a comment below!