Imperfect Gardener

by Adina Sara

My gardener's stars have been out of alignment these past few months. I was either out of town, hosting a cold, or intending to weed, but that was the weekend of the big storm. Looking out my window, all I see are fallen branches, wet messes of leaves and dead flower heads. I used to wax poetic about oxalis—those pretty yellow flowers when nothing else blooms—justifying their presence as a quaint winter ground cover. But this year oxalis has invaded in thick, ungainly battalions, covering all spaces that are not already covered in fallen bamboo fronds. Besides being overwhelmed by the mess of garden work, I'm afraid to go out there, having boarded my friend's two dogs while she was on vacation. No telling what I might step in.

Where winters are harsh and snow covers the ground, there's no choice but to take a break from gardening work. But here in evergreen Oakland, the to-do lists have no seasons, and the expectation of keeping the garden beautiful persists year-round, like it or not.'

When I start thinking that a white pebble lawn dotted with ceramic animals might be appealing, I know it's time to pick up the gardening catalogues: Nichols Garden Nursery, White Flower Farm, Gardener's Supply, Michigan Bulb Company, and my favorite, Seeds of Change. The offerings are intoxicating. Starry Night Sweet Peas. Ladies in Lavender Clematis. Coreopsis Crème Brulee. Who can choose? I flip to the vegetable seeds. I've never had much luck with corn but how can I pass on Bodacious? Every year I plant the tried-and-true lemon cucumber, but this year I'm tempted by Sweet Success and Cucumber Diva. The louder the rain outside, the longer my list grows. Already I have selected more varieties than space allows, but what else is there to do?

' In the end I decide on three lettuces, a flashy butter oak, a mesclun mix, and something called Outredgeous. Who comes up with these names? The old standards, Oregon Blue Lake pole bean, Peter Pan bush scallop squash, and the never-failing red and green chards are joined by Ambrosia Cantaloupe and Razzle Dazzle Spinach. They may or may not make it to the table, but for $2.45 a packet, they're certainly worth a shot.'

Just reading the names causes my winter garden blues to dissipate. I put on my jacket, grab the clippers, and start snipping at the climbing rose that has drooped over the porch steps. It's a start but it will do for now.'


Wondering where to get tangerine trees that thrive in this area? Try Four Winds Nursery,, a local grower that produces most of the dwarf citrus trees for California. Having problems with gophers? Try mixing red pepper flakes into the upper inch or two of soil. Looking for fast-growing hedges instead of a fence? Try Lavatera assurgentifolora (tree mallow); Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman' (wild lilac) or Myrica californica (Pacific wax myrtle). And if you want an alternative to concrete, check out It is much better for invasive tree roots and made of re-cycled materials.'

Ask your own garden questions and get creative and informative answers by joining the Metro Garden Club,'