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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

May in the Garden
Abundant flowers and open gardens

by Carolyn Singer
May 7, 2011

This week when I turned a sprinkler on a newly planted rock garden, a young toad leaped into nearby violets. He must have been hiding in the rocks during April rainstorms. Perhaps he was now celebrating a shower in the abundant sunshine that has recently arrived in the foothills, as delighted as I am with the change in the weather.

However, I have lived here long enough to know that winter's chill withdraws gradually. A frost is still possible at most local elevations. My latest frost one year was June 13th! Tender vegetable crops will spend the next three weeks in the cold frame. I consider May 20th fairly safe for planting tomatoes and other tender vegetables at my 2600-foot elevation.

Roots need warmer soil to release nutrients and stimulate growth. The foothill clay soil warms gradually in spring weather. In a few areas where I am eager to plant, I have spread poultry manure and a row cover (Agribon, AG-50) to hasten the process. Soil building cover crops are cut down and covered with aged manure. No tilling disturbs my vegetable beds. Most crops may be planted directly into the layered sheet compost. Even direct seeding of fine seed is possible with the top layer of aged compost.

Viburnum davidiiIn local gardens, flowering trees and ornamental shrubs steal the show in early May. Two of my favorite deer-resistant evergreen shrubs are David's viburnum (Viburnum davidii, photo, left) and leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum, photos, right).Viburnum rhytidophyllumViburnum rhytidophyllumLarge clusters of tiny white flowers on the leatherleaf viburnum glow in the evening light long after I have put away my tools for the day. This large shrub, mature at eight to ten-foot height and spread, receives no irrigation water during the dry summer months. It's a marvelous screening shrub. The more dwarf (three to four -foot height and spread) David's viburnum benefits from a little summer water. Its flowers are not as striking, but the blue berries that follow definitely are! Both viburnums do well in partial shade.

It's time to enjoy others' gardening efforts in the foothills. In May, camera in hand, I love to walk through Nevada City and Grass Valley back streets (see photo on Empire Street in Grass Valley, bottom left), marveling at the abundance of flower and foliage. Even cracks between the sidewalk and garden walls or fences reveal spring treasures. And with an "open garden" tour in the foothills almost every weekend beginning tomorrow, there's no incentive for me to stay home and weed.

Mother's Day (May 8th) is the traditional day for the Placer County Master Gardeners' garden tour in the Auburn, Loomis, and Newcastle areas. At these lower elevations, gardens are well ahead of most Nevada County landscapes. Tickets are available at Eisley Nursery in Auburn.

A local private garden open for a special event, "Art for Life" -- a spring garden party and art auction, offers a rare journey through an exciting native garden that should be abundant with spring beauty on May 14th. Brad Carter and Fred Hodgson are sharing their garden off Rattlesnake Road to raise funds for H.A.L.O. (HIV/AIDS Local Outreach). For more details or tickets, call Pat Rose at 274-1423.

This year the Soroptimists' Garden Tour is May 21st and 22nd. Private gardens will be open in the Peardale area off Hwy. 174, Grass Valley, Nevada City and Alta Sierra areas. A supplement in The Union will be published just before the tour weekend, giving detailed descriptions of each garden. Advance ticket sales in local nurseries for this two-day event will save you a few dollars. Rain or shine, local gardens are fun and interesting to visit. A celebration of this upcoming tour takes place with "Art of the Garden" from now through May 28th at Artists' Studio in the foothills on Idaho Maryland Road.

Empire Street in Grass Valley CA May has been an amazing month this year. For weeks the veil of winter seemed to obscure a clear view of spring, yet the warm sun prevails and the vibrancy of spring blossoms and foliage now cannot be hidden from our delight. Even a May snow storm, still possible, adds to our amazement. Remember the local garden tour last year the fourth weekend in May? Snow, hail, rain, thunderstorms, and even a bit of sunshine! This is spring in the foothills.

©2011 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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