$18.9564 Practical Essays by Master Gardeners

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By Barbara J. Euser
November 2005
ISBN 1-932361-30-8 248 pages

Bay Area Gardening

Get the Real Dirt on Gardening

Local Master Gardeners lend their expertise on everything from propagating plants to dealing with snails, slugs, and slime to having a successful rose garden in a coastal climate.Bay Area Gardening provides comprehensive answers in sixty-four diverse essays on landscaping, garden design, pests, chemicals, and a multitude of topics endemic to the trials and tribulations of San Francisco Bay Area home gardeners.

“Bay Area gardens require a special green thumb to cope with the variety of climates, soils, and diversity of plants. These Bay Area gardeners have the savvy to guide you to a successful garden experience.”
—Helen Heitkamp, Better Homes & Gardens Magazine

“A labor of love from an illustrious group of experienced gardeners, this book will inspire the seasoned plant-lover while providing a strong foundation for the beginner.”
—Judith Larner Lowry, author of Gardening with a Wild Heart and proprietor of Larner Seeds

“These local authors, all Master Gardeners, have written a gem of a book that is both inspiring and informative.”
—Elizabeth Murray, author of Cultivating Sacred Space–Gardening for the Soul


by Pavel Svihra
University of California Cooperative Extension
Horticulture Advisor

In 1999, the Marin County Master Gardeners, sponsored by the University of California Cooperative Extension (U.C.C.E.), began writing a weekly column on a variety of gardening problems for the Marin Independent Journal. Very soon their column gained popularity and a devoted readership. People regularly called the U.C.C.E. to gather more information about the issues discussed in the column. It was a very good sign. As readers’ interest has grown and developed, so too have the enthusiastic contributions of Master Gardeners, culminating in the publication of Bay Area Gardening: 64 Practical Essays by Master Gardeners.

Who are these U.C.C.E. Master Gardeners? The Master Gardener program was begun by the University of California in 1980 and since then more than 7,000 Master Gardeners have been certified. The training program, conducted by University of California specialists, farm advisors and other experts, may last 15 or more weeks. In return, trained Master Gardeners volunteer their time and expertise to support community gardens, present educational programs and conduct other gardening-related activities.

The Marin County U.C.C.E. Master Gardener program took root in 1986 and since then has grown to be one of the most effective volunteer horticultural organizations in the Bay Area. It reminds me of a garden built from scratch. Every year our U.C.C.E. Master Gardeners put forth more effort, more work and more volunteer hours. Their assistance to the community increases in size and effectiveness, much like a well-established and beautiful plant.

Bay Area residents are very concerned about maintaining a healthy environment, privacy and gardens as an extension of living spaces. The U.C.C.E. service is overwhelmed with telephone calls and samples to explain and find environmentally friendly solutions for gardening problems. In response to these demands, U.C.C.E. Master Gardeners in Marin County contribute more than 10,000 hours of volunteer service each year. Master Gardeners in other Bay Area counties are similarly active.

Columns written by Marin County U.C.C.E. Master Gardeners are an important part of the overall educational effort of the Master Gardener program. They convey a philosophy of gardening that considers the nature of plants as living things that may blossom and thrive or fall ill in the garden. Readers learn that plants will grow and remain in good health if they are properly cared for, and before attempting to prevent or control a problem, it is essential to identify the nature of the cause. Each essay in this collection clarifies a topic with common sense, practicality, and its applicability for the Bay Area’s Mediterranean climate.

Bay Area Gardening will help gardeners choose proper remedial action or, in some cases, inaction, in caring for their plants. It offers sound advice on choosing the least toxic method of control of pests and plant diseases. Various plants and types of gardens are explored. What a gold mine of sound advice for gardeners in the Bay Area this is, collected in one handy volume.

by Barbara J. Euser

When I took the Master Gardener course, I was asked on which of the many committees I wished to work. As a writer, I was naturally drawn to the committee that writes weekly educational columns for our local newspaper, the Marin Independent Journal. Writing these columns, I began to appreciate the research, care, time and effort Master Gardener writers put into each and every one of them. It seemed a shame that readers had a one-time-only opportunity to read each piece.

A number of people told me they routinely clip the Master Gardener columns and keep them in little stacks. As a person who keeps many such little stacks, I know how difficult it is to find a particular article at the moment I need to refer to it. Publishing a book of Master Gardener articles seemed a good way to alleviate the problem of scattered stacks of clippings accumulating in houses around the county, as well as to expand the availability of these articles to other gardeners in the Bay Area.

Master Gardeners espouse a certain gardening philosophy of reliance on native plants and other climate-appropriate species coupled with integrated pest management using least toxic methods of control that I believe emerges quite clearly from this collection of essays.

As volunteers, Master Gardeners each contribute his or her own set of skills to the organization. The writers represented in this book have each contributed their own personal expertise in writing their articles. The book itself has been very much a team effort. Members of the IJ Commitee volunteered additional time to work on this book. Maggie Agro contributed her artistic talents in creating the illustrations, as well as writing articles and working on the book team. Kathy Reiffenstein, Diane Lynch, Virginia Havel and Lee Oliphant were actively engaged from the initial conceptualization of this book through the final phases of indexing and proofreading. Patricia Bulkley, Maxwell Drever and Michael Weinberger deserve special thanks for their support of this project. The Master Gardeners Board of Directors enthusiastically embraced this venture, as did the staff at the County Extension office, Ellie Rilla, Director, University of California Cooperative Extension, and Effy Cook.

As Director of the Writers Center of Marin, I was able to offer its assistance to first publish Bay Area Gardening: 64 Practical Essays by Master Gardeners. I am pleased that Solas House is taking our project forward.


Chapter 1: Garden Design and Landscaping
Perfect Harmony in Your Garden by Julie Carter, Jan Specht,
Kathy Reiffenstein
Principles of Design by M.C. Dwyer
Think Fire Safe Landscaping by Diane Lynch
Feng Shui in the Garden by Terumi Leinow
Rock Garden Chic by Stacy Nelson
Greenhouses by Maggie Agro

Chapter 2: Climate and Your Garden
Mediterranean Climates and What They Mean to Us by Diane Lynch
How Many Climates in Your Garden? by Maggie Agro
Made for the Shade by Maggie Agro
Drought Tolerant Ferns by Barbara J. Euser

Chapter 3: Soil, Its Composition and Health
The “Dirt” on Soil by Diane Lynch
Why Should I Mulch? by Julie Carter, Jan Specht, Kathy Reiffenstein
Creating Compost—Garden Magic by Diane Lynch
HMO for Healthy Soil by Jan Specht
Diagnosing Common Disorders by Kathy Reiffenstein

Chapter 4: Seasonal Gardening
Plant Some Spring Happiness! by Stacy Nelson
Summer Pruning Slows Overgrown Fruit Trees by Diane Lynch
November is Time to Plant by Maggie Agro
Plant California Native Bulbs This Fall by Barbara J. Euser
Preparing the Garden for Winter by Elizabeth Finley
Putting Your Garden to Bed by Diane Lynch
Winter: To Prune or Not to Prune by Diane Lynch

Chapter 5: Specialized Gardening
Tea Gardens by I’Lee Hooker
Container Gardening by Kathy Reiffenstein
Herbs in Your Own Backyard by I’Lee Hooker

Chapter 6: Habitat Gardening
Habitat Gardening by Maggie Agro
Butterfly Gardens by Nancy Bauer
Where Have All the Songbirds Gone? by Diane Lynch
Berries for the Birds by Diane Lynch

Chapter 7: Flowering Plants
Scented Geraniums, Actually Pelargoniums by Diane Lynch
The New Heucheras by I’Lee Hooker
Hydrangea Hyperbole by Kathy Reiffenstein
Achilleas: Legends and Lore by Barbara J. Euser
Not-So-Finicky Fuchsias by I’Lee Hooker
Orchids for the Home by Virginia Havel
Consider the Lily by Virginia Havel

Chapter 8: Other Plants of Special Interest
Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses by Virginia Havel
Lawns: Beauty and Beast by Jan Specht
Ground Covers by Jan Specht
Plants for Clay Soil by Barbara J. Euser
Cacti and Succulents by Virginia Havel
Landscaping with Ferns by Virginia Havel

Chapter 9: Trees and Underplantings
Caring for Our Majestic Oaks by Diane Lynch
Planting Under Oaks by Barbara J. Euser
Sudden Oak Death Update compiled by Diane Lynch from material by Pavel Svihra, Kim Keirnan, Nicole Palkovsky, Bruce Hagen, Garey Slaughter, Andrew Storer, Maggi Kelly
The Joy of Japanese Maples by Maggie Agro
Native Plants Under Redwoods by Virginia Havel

Chapter 10: Propagation
Divide and Conquer Those Perennials by Diane Lynch
Save Seeds for the Tastiest Harvest by Maggie Agro
Go Forth and Propagate by Lee Oliphant and Diane Lynch

Chapter 11: Weeds and Invasives
Exotic Invasives and Misplaced Plants by Diane Lynch
A Place for Invasives? by Barbara J. Euser

Chapter 12: Insects, Pests and Their Control
Little Miss Muffett and Friends by Jan Specht
Scale Insects in the Garden by Jan Specht
Spider Mites by Jan Specht
Snails, Slugs, and Slime by Jan Specht
Ant Control Without Chemicals by Jan Specht
Fungus Control for Roses by Jan Specht
Less Toxic Products and Reading Pesticide Labels by Jan Specht

Chapter 13: Interactions in the Garden
Insectary Plants Feed Good Bugs by Kathy Reiffenstein
Good Bugs for Rose Pests by Jan Specht
Diversity in the Garden by Nancy Bauer
Plants as Pollution Cleansers by Diane Lynch

Bay Area Gardens to Visit by Maggie Agro

Author Biographies


Habitat Gardening

by Maggie Agro

It’s been an especially hectic week and, driving home, you wish for a refuge where you can sit quietly and listen to a pond gurgling or birds singing. A quiet place where you can watch the butterflies and hear the calming sounds of nature, a private nest to envelop you.

What you need is your own personal habitat. “A place where people, plants and wildlife live harmoniously and naturally,” as authors Nancy Bauer and Lyn Howe describe it in Habitat Gardening— Putting the Pieces Back Together. You can create such a place in your own garden.

If this idea seems like it might be a big project or it may take too much work, think again. You probably already have the beginnings of a habitat garden. First of all, observe what birds and insects your plantings currently attract. Then take another small step.

Try a little benign neglect by allowing a small part of your garden to “go wild”. Put off cutting summer plants back. Late flowering plants, if left alone, will go to seed and provide food for seed-eating birds such as the finch, titmouse and grosbeak. Don’t remove all of your leaf litter. Leave a little brush pile that can serve as a shelter for beneficial insects or insectivores, such as ladybugs, ground beetles and soldier beetles, or provide cover and nesting materials for birds.

Do you have a clean water source for birds? It can be as simple as a plant saucer filled daily with fresh water and placed off the ground, near trees or shrubs to provide cover from neighborhood cats. If cats are a problem, attach a bell to your cat’s collar and ask your neighbors to do the same with their cats.

If you wish to take it a step further, in the fall you can add one or two plants specifically for birds. The blooms of flowering perennials and annuals attract insects for insectivores and provide food for nectar eaters.

If you love roses, try planting wild roses, Rosa californica, with their fragrant deep pink flowers. Not only do the rose hips provide nutrients for birds, but the shrub thickets also provide sites for ground nesters and quail. Native roses are more resistant to disease and fungus, as well as being more fragrant than cultivars.

California fuchsia, (Epilobium, formerly Zauschneria californica), a native perennial groundcover that grows in partial to full sun and dry soil, produces scarlet trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom in fall and attract hummingbirds.

Evening primrose, (Oenothera hookeri), a native biennial, perfect for the back of a sunny dry border, provides stunning, sunny yellow saucer-shaped flowers, whose seed pods open slowly, offering one seed a day. It attracts goldfinches, juncos and California finches. Bees and other pollinators drink its nectar.

Try sunflowers that love full sun, work in any soil, need little water and have a long bloom period. They provide pollen for butterflies and seed for juncos and sparrows.

The list of native plants that would be ideal habitat plants is extensive. Most provide beauty for your garden, are easy to maintain and attract birds, butterflies and “good bugs” precisely because they grow naturally in our area. They are adapted to our climate and do not need special care or fertilizers. The ideal time to plant natives is in the fall after the rains begin.

If you don’t have room for trees and shrubs, add vines like trumpet, honeysuckle and wild grape for birds and pollinators.

Fennel, parsley, carrots, Queen Anne’s lace and dill (all members of the Family called Umbelliferae) will attract the “good bugs” that will eat the aphids and other “bad bugs” in your garden. If you let them go to seed, umbellifers will also attract birds.

Try a small compost pile to attract worms as well as provide nutrients for your soil.

By taking these small steps, in your own private way you are creating something unique—an ecosystem of which you are both benefactor and grateful recipient. You are building your own personal habitat.

Barbara J. Euser is a Master Gardener who savors mornings in her hillside garden. She balances gardening and writing with a deep interest in international matters. She is a former political officer with the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State. As a director of the International Community Development Foundation, she has worked on projects in Bosnia, Somaliland, Zimbabwe, India and Nepal. Her articles and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies. She is the author of Children of Dolpo, Somaliland, Take ‘Em Along: Sharing the Wilderness with Your Children, and co-author of A Climber’s Climber: On the Trail with Carl Blaurock and Heading and Distance Charts for the Colorado Fourteeners. She lives near San Francisco with her husband. They have two grown daughters.