Monday, May 4, 2009


It happened last night and it’s happening this morning. Due to a special combination of low clouds, high waves, and just the right amount of a light breeze and I can hear the slight rumble of the surf as I walked from my car to my house last night. Sometimes, like this morning, it's like gentle hypnotic sound of a gentle sound of the surf on the beach. Both are a very soothing and magical sound. Nobody believes me until they hear this remarkable, soothing sound. It lets me know I'm close to the edge of the continent.

For years I gave garden water features a bad rap as we live in a dry summer area. I didn’t think is was acceptable to waste water to evaporation. But I finally gave in and I’m glad I did. The sound of the water falling one foot into the small (three feet by four feet) pool makes a delightful sound. I can sit in my writer’s office and hear the soothing trickle of the water and watch the dragonflies flutter about. The waterfall makes a mellow, soothing background sound during barbecues and offers the psychological effect of making the garden seem a bit cooler during heat waves.

There are actually two waterfalls. One is one massive convex stone as the primary water fall into the pool. The other is much smaller and barely visible beneath a huckleberry shrub. In the late summer when fresh water is scarce, the birds and deer begin to arrive. It took a handful of years before they found such a tiny water spot among all the trees. Some of the birds are brave enough to sit in the open by the water’s edge to drink and bath—our Stella blue jays are an example. The Stella blue jays nestle along the edges of the pond drinking and washing. The wrens will stand on the lily pads and wallow in the water and fly up to a metal roost I placed near the pool to shake off the water as a dog does after a good swim. Other birds, like the __ and the__ are very shy and only bath and drink water from the first, secluded waterfall. They are harder to spot and I must remain very still for quite awhile before they show up. All the bustling of the birds as they bath there bellies in the cool flowing water has provided countless hours of amusement and satisfaction.

Other critters use the pond. After about five years, an orange-colored salamander found the pool as a nice home. I can’t imagine how it knew the water was there and how it arrived. My pool is too small for the herons to find it and has vertical sides they wouldn’t be able to stand in it—in larger ponds they often bring the eggs, water plants and seeds of one pond to another in their feet.

Come late August or mid-September water is scarce enough that the deer slowly, with much trepidation, come for a drink. One day while napping, I heard an enormous splash. I looked out from my second-story window to see a fawn thrashing away. It had walked into the “pond” not knowing what water pools were like. Before I could race down the stairs for a rescue, she had managed to clamber out of the water in spite of her terror. The other fawn watched this and approached the water with much caution, but did manage to take a drink.

Other critters are not so pleasing. I’ve had catfish, croppy and mosquito fish in my pond over the years. All have been eaten by the raccoons. I made the sides vertical with no ledges as a way to thwart these premier scavengers—to no avail. I think they must scare the fish by thrashing the water until they can scoop them up with their nimble paws. I’m amazed they could catch the tiny mosquito fish, but I haven’t seen them (nor mosquitoes), for several years.

In the end how does the elusive, distant sound of the pounding surf and the pale sound of the foghorn transform my garden? With a new level of peace and tranquilly. An occasional smoothing sound that preceded the building of my little pond continues to provide a respite from a busy day during the evening and night when my little water fall isn’t on. Far more subtle, but just as cherished as the water fall.

Please post a comment - I want to know what you think.

Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert

Deer-Resistant Plants

I find it to be absurd that books written for a national market has any practical guidlines for local gardens - at least my garden. Even local recommendations have many suggestions that didn't work in my garden. The summary of the total plants eaten by deer and those not listed in other lists that did/do work in my garden is located at the very bottom gf this list.

Plants Deer Seem to Avoid ,
according to the University of California Cooperative Extension

Yes = not eaten.
No Yes = means eaten in my garden.

Acanthus mollis, Bear’s Breech– Yes
Agave, Century Plant - Yes
Allium (some), Onion/Garlic – The deer always eat the blossoms and sometimes the foliage (not garlic).

Amaryllis belladonna, Naked Lady - Yes
Artemisia, Wormwood – Exception was
A. ‘Powis Castle” until 2006, then eaten.
Asarum caudatum, Wild Ginger – Eaten each fall

Baccharis pilularis, Dwarf Coyote Bush – Yes

Brodiaea, Brodiaea -Yes
Carex, Sedge - Yes
Ceanothus gloriousus, Summer Lilac, Tick Brush –Most ceanothus eaten. Shrub varieties torn apart when used to rub the velvet off their horns.

Cerastium tomentosum, Snow-in-the-Summer

Corylus cornuta californica, Filbert - Yes
Cotoneaster buxifolius, Cotoneaster
Cyclamen, Cyclamen
Dicentra formosa, Bleeding Heart
D. spectabilis
Digitalis, Foxglove - Yes
Echium fastuosum, Pride of Madeira - Yes
Eriogonum, Wild Buckwheat, all species.
Euphorbia – Yes, all species.
Euryops pectinatus, Euryops - Not the foilage, but many of the flowers are eaten.

Ferns, except Pellaea - Yes
Festuca ovina glauca, Common Blue Fescue – Yes

Fragaria chiloensis, Sand Strawberry
Grevillea, Grevillea - Yes
Helichrysum italicum, Curry Plant
Hypericum, St. Johnswort
Ilex, Holly, except thornless - Yes
Iris, Iris - Yes
Jasminum, Jasmine
Juniperus, Juniper - Yes
Kniphofia uvaria, Red-hot Poker – After 20 years.

Lamium, Dead Nettle
Lavandula, Lavender - Yes
Leonotis leonurus, Lion’s Tail - Yes
Leptospermum, Tea Tree - Yes
Liriope, Lily Turf
Lychnis coronaria, Mullein Pink No, most years flowers are eaten.

Mentha, Mint - Yes
Myosotis, Forget-Me-Not - Yes
Narcissus, Daffodil - Yes
Nerium oleander, Oleander - Yes
Nepeta, Catnip - Yes
Papaver rhoeas, Flander’s Fild Poppy
Phlomis fruticosa, Jerusalem Sage - Yes
Phormium tenbaxi, Flax Yes
Rhododendron, Rhododendron - Yes
Ribes, Current - Yes
Romneya coulteri, Matilija Poppy
Rosmarinus officinalis, Rosemary - Yes
Salvia, Sage Some
Santolina chamaecyparissus, Lavender Cotton, S. virens, Yes, not S. angustifolia
Senecio, Dusty Miller
Teucrium fruticans, Germander - Yes
Trillium, Wake robin - Yes
Zauschneria, California Fushia
Zinnia, Zinnia

Reasonably Safe Bets,
According to the Cooperative Extension.
Achillea, Yarrow
Armeria maritima, Sea Pink
Calendula officinalis, Calendula
Ceanothus griseus horizontalis, Summer
Ceanothus ‘Blue Jean’, Summer Lilac
Chaenomeles japonica, Flowering Quince
Cheiranthus cheiri, Wallflower
Cistus, Rockrose – No (after 15 years)
Citrus Citrus
Clarkia, Godetia - Yes
Coreopsis, except C. gigantea
C. grandiflora, Coreopsis
Dietes vegeta, Fortnight Lilly a – Yes
Erigeron karvinskianus, Fleabane - Yes
Eschschoizia californica. California Poppy
Gazania, Gazania
Geranium, Geranium
Hedera helix, Ivy - Yes
Helianthemum nummyiarium, Sunrose
Helianthus, Sunflower
Lupinus, Lupine
Mimulus, Monkey Flower
Myrica californica,
Pacific Wax Myrtle – Yes

Oxalis, Wood Sorrel – Yes

Scaevola ‘Mauve Clusters’, Scaevola ‘Mauve Clusters’ After 15 years.
Tropaeolum, Nasturtium
Tulipa, Tulip – Yes (But gophers will eat the bulbs if they’re not protected.)

Vaccinium ovatum, Huckelberry - Yes
Viola odorata, Violet
Wisteria, Wisteria

Plants that have worked for me that are not on the list.

Echium pininana – Viper’s Buglos
Echium wildpretii - Tower of Jewels
Brugmansia x insinis - Angel’s Trumpet
Icortaderia selloana - ‘Sun Strip’ pampas grass. NOT the invasive species,
makes no fertile seed.
Ozothamnus rosemarinifolius, Ozothamnus
Rhue, Rhue
Salvia apianna - Silver Sage
Salvia clevanddii - California Blue Sage
Stipa gigantia - Giant Feather Grass
Symphytum officinale - Comfery (Spreads easily from roots and very difficult to eradicate or control.)
Thymus – Thyme, every species I’ve tried.

The summary?

I’ve tried 83 of the 244 plants listed on the University of California Coperative Extension deer resistance list. I found that 40 of the plants I’ve tried were not eaten and 43 were eaten in my small garden and my low budget. This list shows 11 plants which worked for me that are not on the list.

Please post a comment - I want to know what you think.

Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Power of Surface Soils

I think this is the most revealing illustration in the Roots Demystified book as it shows how influential the shallow zones of soil are to the feeding roots of a young tree. The seedlings in the pot on the left are growing in soil gathered from the top two inches of forest soil in a specific growing area. The middle pot contains soil gathered from a zone two to four inches deep in the same patch of ground. The seedlings on the right are growing in subsoil gathered from beneath the topsoil. The pot on the left outperformed all other seedlings by more than 50%.

Please post a comment - I want to know what you think.

Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert

Fire - Visible and Invisible

Fire. Essential and dreaded. Fire has historical tendrils back to primeval times when people first discovered how to make fire when needed. Fire also includes the combustion and flames of a gas stove and oven, campfires, propane-fueled lanterns, and barbecue briquettes. All welcomed, desired.

Every garden is always on “fire”—without flames. Combustion is the oxidation of carbon-based materials which usually produces a flame. Garden “fires” are usually invisible, slow, and important. A single teaspoon of soil contains over one million of the soil’s beneficial bacteria alone This does not include: nitrogen-fixing soil algae, microbes, beneficial fungi and many other useful life. Each consumes various life-forms or inert elements and releases very minute amounts of heat into the soil. Like an aerobic workout, soil heats up—only in extremely tiny amounts.

Combustion in the compost bin also is at a lower temperature than a visible fire. Microorganisms feed on the carbohydrates; the carbon. The warmth of a well-made compost pile is tangible garden low-grade combustion. When the first nips of frost arrive, a compost made of fallen leaves, green lawn clippings, manure and kitchen scraps (I send all my kitchen compostables to an earthworm bin.) sends its wisps of warm fog to rise above its mass.

Only the fanatic composter runs the risk of spontaneous combustion. The pile has to be very large. And it rarely bursts into flames, but usually smolders like a coal mine "fire." Tim Dundon aka Zeke the Sheik (the compost king), of Los Angeles County, accumulated a compost pile over 17 years which reached the gargantuan size of 40 feet tall and up to 200 feet long. Twice in one month the pile spontaneously burst into flames and smoke, and the fire department arrived to douse the flames. While Zeke defends composting as "the key of energy that will eventually set mankind free from misery and gravity," I'd say his pile shows what happens when a zealous intellect elevates a natural process to unnatural proportions. He turned a beneficial process into a hazard.

Please post a comment - I want to know what you think.

Visit Robert Kourik's web site to learn about my other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert