Inspiration Farms

Well I went with more friends to the second lesson on biodynamic orchard practices and pruning. This day started at The Apple Farm http://www.philoapplefarm.com/ with Tim Bates telling us about the most beautiful compost and how the innoculents work. Luke Frey http://www.freywine.com/ demonstrating the method of integrating them on a specific grid all around and on top of the compost pile. Then on to compost tea and the machine and technique to make this. He no longer uses any other spray on his trees. I saw the trees last summer and the orchard glowed with life. Biodynamic practices are everything I believe a garden should be. Live water, live soil, healthy compost as fertilizers. Plants and fruit that impart their live-ness to the ones that eat them. Wholeness practiced.

The Apple farm has made a success of itself by direct marketing it’s apples as cider and juice. Also by teaching cooking classes, from vegetables grown by Tim and Susan Bates’ daughter Sophia. Plus some small cabins to lodge cooking class participants. This is farm is so beautiful and such a great environment.

Then we went to Filigreen Farm and my mouth dropped and never has gone back into shape yet. Chris and Stephanie Tebbutt have built orchards and gardens with such intelligence and sophistication. Yet also with the mindset to exemplify how to make orcharding practices be a viable business.They have espallied their fruit trees on a 7 footx 13 foot pattern. Rows and rows with neatly mowed grass or cover crop between. All grown biodynamically as well. High production yields in smaller acreage. Diverse products spanning a long harvest season starting with Blueberries and ending with apples.Olives producing the most delectible oil

They also built in respect for the land in every form and detail. From removing their large grandfathered in, creek pumping, easement. Thereby protecting waters downstream.At a great expense to themselves they built a huge reservoir that now provides their carefully balanced and efficiently used irrigation water. Flow forms were integrated into the landscape to energize the water and the environment. A beautiful shape in the middle of their garden was not planted but represented the mother, heart, earth energy.

All of us were profoundly moved by this garden. I can’t thank the Tebbutt’s enough for creating this marvel in the world. Plus allowing us to come and be inspired by it.

Becoming a real Farmer

I have this confusion about what the difference is between a gardener and a farmer? I’m not sure that people in Europe would say a gardener is not a farmer. I’ve maintained 4,000 fruit trees as a “gardener” not a farmer. Now that I’m choosing to primarily grow vegetables the job title has changed . Why is this ? I can still grow flowers and be called a farmer, it doesn’t even have to be more than half vegetable production, but you are no longer a gardener.Farmers market right ? I remind people that Alan Chadwick was trained and worked many years in the UK as a “fine gardener”. I’d like to add my vote towards getting more respect added to the word gardener. The new gardening/farming movement.Bring the victory “garden”(not farm), sustainability back to everyone’s yard.

We paced out and marked corners for the additional garden space yesterday.Our gardens here seem to be in constant battle with all types of animals. Rabbits such as the like of Peter and his cousin Benjamin. Deer, fox, raccoon, skunk, plus a variety of birds that are very happy here because of the organic chicken scratch on the ground. We fence these garden areas but still it’s constant defense. So our new area needs some hefty protection and the plan is to continue with more fencing around a large portion of the property, when we can afford to do this.

This new garden space, hopefully soon it will have a better name, will connect our two large vegetable gardens together in a ell shape. We’ll need to move about 18 fruit trees to make a tractor accessible garden space. We’ll move the trees to the outer edges of the fence line where we’ll have a deep 20′ border of flowers and perennials and fruit trees. My roses can go there, the ramblers and the shrub roses with vegetable beds in the middle. It’s harder here in California to have a tractor garden , none of the garden beds are dug up at the same time. It’s a constantly rotating cycle without hard frosts or snow to periodically kill it all down. The season here never really ends. So no rototilling a large swath that get’s planted from April till October. It’s year round for us here, baby.

It seems in every garden I’ve planted that I’ve put in plants, shrubs, and trees, that often later get moved. I never regret this, on the contrary later when I expand my gardens I usually have some larger plants that help make the new areas look like they’ve been established for a longer time. I get shrubs and trees I like and sometimes they don’t work where I’ve put them. But at least they’ve been growing in the meantime. It’s easier than you think to move these although you are talking to a woman with a backhoe . The fruit trees we need to move are about four years old now and still transplantable, especially with equipment.I like to do this in the winter months when they are dormant or late summer when they are going into dormancy.Evergreen shrubs I usually move after the rains start.

We will end up with about two acres of gardens in this one location with more around the house. I’ve been planting many shrubs and trees for the floral industry. I’ve found that the greenery and foliage is just as important as the flowers.Curly willow, Abelia, Weigelia, spirea, viburnums, osmanthus, English laurel, luma apiculata, proteas, hydrangeas, lilac, roses,Crabapples. Not to mention herbs, rosemary spilling down hillsides, oregano, sages.So many possibilities.Often I take cuttings of these plants to make it affordable, or small divisions. Other times I find a good deal on a small plant at a nursery. Or it’s a plant I purchased for a landscape job that just doesn’t fit or work. Sometimes friends are getting rid of a shrub or a tree, maybe it seeded in their yard. Recently during a wonderful Thanksgiving moment my Father in law, an old (sorry Pop’s) prune farmer, showed me how to bud fruit trees. This makes even more things possible, rogue seedlings, or old root stock can turn into a special tree. I’ve tried learning this from books, but so much better to get a real in-person lesson. Isn’t this why we need more jobs apprenticing ? Hands on learning.

So I think that will be about as much vegetable production as we will be doing for a while.This should be enough to do a moderately sized CSA operation with flower production as well as, eggs and bread.Small perennial plants might also supplement our income although probably not veggie starts till we get a greenhouse going. I’ve been really happy to sell veggies to local restaurants . We will be selling bread in this year to come, although to legally sell it we have to make it in a commercial kitchen. There is one in our community center we can rent space in. So my new year plan is to grow and sell lot’s of good food. We will be making more CSA announcements on this site as to how you can buy a share of veggies. Locals if you want to discuss trades or labor for veggies contact us.Classes are also on the calendar for next year, to be announced.

Plant Propagation


One of my favorite things about plants is the unbelievable abundance in nature. If you know, or if you look closely you see babies everywhere. Seedling maples, sarcocca, digitalis, perennials that can be divided. Flowers that have reseeded in the garden. Pumpkins in your compost and other volunteers. Overgrown iris, huechera’s, sage’s, dianthus, daylilies, agapanthus that just need dividing. Then there’s the whole range of plants that can be easily propagated. Hydrangea, old roses(I don’t recommend cuttings from grafted roses, so much mosaic disease), viburnums, buddleia, willow, lavatera . Other plants can be readily propagated as hard or soft wood cuttings. The best time is October and November here in Northern California, by now in December you can still transplant and divide plants. But cuttings will just languish in cold soils and not start to root until it starts to become warmer and the days longer, that happens here about Valentines day.

What I also love about that is later you remember where and when you took those cuttings. The coral bells from my grandmother’s garden, I’ve had in all my gardens. The roses growing all over the place started from cuttings. I have the rose Le Marque growing right now propagated from Mark Lappe’s yard about fifteen year’s ago. It is a huge rambler growing about 20 feet up his deck. My friend Sherry and I started it for our wholesale rose business, later I planted one in the garden I built at Odiyan. Now I’ve taken a cutting from that rose last year and it’s growing here in my yard. I always remember the rose it came from in Mark’s yard. Next I can offer it to his children for their yards.It’s the memories that makes gardens so special. Also now at a gift giving time a very inexpensive gift.

One of the best books I’ve ever found on propagation is by the Royal Horticultural Society. I have an older version of this but have referred to it for twenty years. Very worthy book for your gardening library.

Greg Lowry at Vintage Gardens, the worlds best rose nursery, recommended taking cuttings from blooming wood. That otherwise the subsequent plants would have less blooming vigor. I usually take a 12″-16″ piece cut from bud to bud. Newer wood seems to more readily root. The idea is to keep these plants alive until they root. They might loose leaves, especially if they are deciduous. I usually try to root soft wood cuttings outside in good garden soil. Right now I have an area in my vegetable beds. Lately I haven’t used rooting hormone, preferring not to use chemicals. My success rate is not as good, but I’m just rooting for myself now, I can always plant more.

One time I visited my neighbor who was a well know plant woman in our area. Building a large ornamental garden at a time when people were still traveling up here in boats. She was 92 at the time and asked me for cutting of a dwarf hydrangea I had. These are very slow growing. I loved that enthusiasm and optimistic approach. I later worked in this garden after her death and the hydrangea is there. Growing slowly.

Gardens growing up, the ten year old garden

In our part of rural California , gardening can be quite a recent endeavor .Many people here are living out their dreams and have built their own house and planted a few fruit trees. Then they might get more passionate about the garden and start buying random plants at many nurseries. Or maybe they’ve hired a landscape architect or designer and installed their garden using professionals. As the garden develops these plants really look good the first few years, but then ? Even the architects routinely over plant to make the garden look good the first 2-7 years. It’s quite easy to move these plants that no longer fit when they are young. In California November,December is the time for doing this.

I was thinking as I weeded , pruned , tore out, moved plants yesterday, that the garden is like a person. Developing into different stages of growth. Baby, toddler, adolescent , young adult , grown up, and old age. It seems to me in each of these developmental stages there is a key point of distinct change. These points in the gardens growth are very significant times they are times to reassess what is happening in the garden.

I find in the many gardens I’ve built that initially , to make it look good you over plant. Plus you probably plant many perennials to fill in spaces until the shrubs grow to the young adult size.In about seven to ten years you’ll see the shrubs and trees becoming grown ups. The perennials become a superfluous plant that no longer quite works in some situations they also might have lived out their life span. Or maybe it’s grown in and established itself to be pleasing to the eye. The other thing that becomes issue now is what I’ve decided to call shrub protocol. What shape are you going to try to keep that shrub ? What shape does it want to be? Is it the right plant for the location you’ve chosen? Do you know how to prune it ? If you’re not happy with it make sure you’ve answered the question about pruning it. Most shrubs and trees need some care and shaping each year especially as they get older . Taking out dead wood is important and cutting it in a way you get the results you desire ,so it will stay a size you’ll be happy with.Once you establish the protocol it will be easier to keep the shrub or tree to that first cut in the future. Not every plant needs to grow into it’s full size. Lot’s of plants can be shaped to fit where and how you desire.

You might decide it’s too much work to keep pruning something , especially trees .Trying to keep them smaller and creating a difficult situation to get up and prune them later. But most shrubs can be easily restrained with knowledge of how to cut and shape them.

It’s very nice to see each plant distinctly and not have it merge into the other plants around it. Especially if it’s nearer to a house or building. As you get further away in the landscape shrubs can blend into natural settings . These outskirt areas can be good places to move shrubs that have overgrown their spaces.

I really like this next phase of the garden when it becomes a young adult and you start to see the gardens potential. Have fun playing and moving plants when it’s cooler and wet.I don’t recommend moving them over and over . But don’t be intimidated about moving plants in this age range either. Keep as much soil around the roots as you can. Move it quickly. Water it in. Care about it and give it good attention through the next year to make sure it establishes itself well.

In this photo we’ve moved five large shrubs out of this bed. Plants and trees here still need pruning but the balance is better without the extra shrubs.

California Gardening 2


Today, hoeing and pruning in the garden. Cutting back roses, fuschias, wisteria and I started in on the apples although they are still leafed out.I prune now so I can dormant spray a few times and also because the spring growth starts so early here. In all gardens there is a time to cut plants back clean them up for future growth . Everything you do in the garden now will be what you see in early spring. Planting bulbs is still possible as well as garlic and onions( sets or seedlings).But for me mostly it’s about clean up, weeding and pruning. When you prune roses and other shrubs really think about the height you want to see the plant grow to next season . Look at it’s typical length of growth from the last year then cut accordingly. Do know, about what your pruning. If you don’t know it’s name(in Latin ) and it’s growth habit and what kind of wood , old or new it blooms on, don’t prune it ! Shrub roses do get pruned differently than regular hybrid tea roses.My shrub roses, here Sally Holmes a well loved hybrid musk I grew from a cutting, wants to be 5’x5′.So do I let it or not? My choice.

Fertilizing is important now before the temperature really drops and the micro organisms move slower making it difficult for nutrients to be made available to the plants. I know if I don’t get lawn fertilizer on right now the lawns will yellow up this winter and be difficult to re-green come spring. I like to use cottonseed meal or green sand. Keeping plants healthy and happy is always easier than dealing with problems later. Just like in people, prevention is always the best. Load a healthy dose of aged manure or compost on plants , shrubs and planting beds. Fertilize shrubs with a all purpose organic fertilizer. I use Calif. Organics 7-5-7.

While gardening is very therapeutic and gives you time to process thoughts and to watch your mind. Like cooking you should never garden with anger or impatience. The energy you give the plants will either help or hinder them. Most plants need lot’s of care and nourishing and will later show their appreciation.

When I used to work in the greenhouse at the monastery the head lama used to tell me to “Nurse” the plants. You know like in a nursery or like a mother.

Is this not the best wheelbarrow ever?