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Gimme’ Shelter By Cynthia Brian

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Gimme’ Shelter By Cynthia Brian


“Regardless of your lot in life,
build something beautiful on it.”~Zig Ziglar
flowers for Mom's funeral
I was working in my orchard when I heard the screams. Never in my life had I seen four grown men run so quickly. “Are you okay?” I yelled. “What’s the commotion?” The men had been dismantling an old hot tub in a deck when their saws had unsettled a family of skunks who had made the warm, dark environment their cozy home. If you’ve had your dog sprayed by a skunk, you’ll understand.

With winter on the horizon, the wild things are looking for shelter. Rats, skunks, mice, raccoons, possums, and other critters may decide that “su casa es me casa”.
Although we do want to attract birds and pollinators to our gardens by providing food, water, and habitats, but we don’t want to invite the vermin into our territory.

Rodents carry several diseases harmful to humans including salmonellosis, leptospirosis, haniavirus, and arenavirus.  They are not known to have rabies, but skunks can be carriers of rabies.

For prevention and control I consulted with vector control inspector, Joe Cleope, at the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District.  After a few hours of discussions and inspections, I came away with effective methods of management and control to share with you.

Here’s a short list of advice.

Eliminate the following plants that are considered “rat condos”:
⎫ Ivy
⎫ Bamboo
⎫ Blackberries
⎫ Juniper
⎫ Honeysuckle
⎫ Pampas grass
⎫ Yucca
⎫ Star Jasmine
sunflower seeds
Trim shrubbery and trees:
⎫ Keep palm tree fronds pruned or rats will nest in them.
⎫ Prune climbing vegetation on your house to discourage roof rats.
⎫ Store wood and lumber a foot away from structures and at least 18 inches above ground.
⎫ Install rodent barriers as a prevention to climbing.

Eliminate food and water sources that attract rodents:
⎫ Harvest your fruit and vegetables as they ripen.
⎫ Pick up any fruit or nuts that have fallen on the ground.
⎫ Fill pet bowls only with enough food that can be quickly consumed.
⎫ Rid your garden of “escargot “ aka snails, a favorite meal for vermin.
⎫ Keep birdseed and pet food in metal containers.
⎫ Repair leaky faucets.
⎫ Empty containers of standing water.
⎫ Secure garbage cans. Unfortunately rats will gnaw through bins and raccoons will open lids.
Skunk Trap
Rodent Proof your house:
⎫ Check for openings larger than ¼ inch in vents, screens, and foundation cracks. Patch the holes with 1/4inch galvanized hardware cloth.
⎫ Use sheet metal collars around pipe entrances on wooden walls and use cement patch around pipes in brick, stucco, or stone.
⎫ Seal all gaps around electrical conduit.

Where the Wild Things Are!
⎫ Varmint Control: The Merriam Webster Dictionary considers “varmint” to be any animal that is considered problematic-rats, mice, skunks, raccoons, prairie dogs, etc.
⎫ Skunks: Besides doing everything above to keep the varmint out of your home, if skunks are visiting your property you can buy skunk traps, which are specially made so that once a skunk has entered, it cannot spray. Docile skunks are great destroyers of yellow jacket nests and therefore helpful to your garden if not rabid. If rabid, Vector Control will come to euthanize the skunk. Once skunks have been to your property, they may return. Scatter mothballs in the area and add a radio playing music to deter them.

⎫ Rats and mice: Don’t use the old fashioned wooden snap traps. They are too dangerous to humans and small pets. Available at hardware stores, power spring traps or easy/quick set traps work best.  A great way to assure that only the rodents get trapped is to set the trap with a dab of peanut butter placed under a larger plastic container. Cut a small hole in the container. I use a recycled flower pot. Place the container over the trap. Add a brick or rock to the top to keep it from toppling. You will catch the vermin.

⎫ Raccoons: Follow all the instructions above. Add netting to ponds where raccoons will fish.

For unwanted animals, don’t use poisons as they will kill beneficial critters and harm the environment.
rat traps horizonatal
Cleaning the Mess:
The smells associated with skunks, mice, and rats are nauseating. Their feces and nests could be a danger to your health. When we see droppings our first impulse is to grab a broom or vacuum. DON’T!
Sweeping and vacuuming releases virus particles into the air.  Inhalation can result in infecting the person with the viruses.  Here’s how to clean the feces, nesting areas, and dead animals.
⎫ Wear gloves, a mask, and goggles.
⎫ Spray the area with Lysol or a disinfectant made with a strong solution of bleach.
⎫ After five or minutes, wipe up the area with paper towels or rags you will toss.
⎫ Pick up a dead rodent with a shovel.
⎫ Spray more of the bleach solution to sanitize the area.
⎫ Put all of the waste materials, rags, dead rodents, and paper towels in a plastic bag.
⎫ Seal the bag in another plastic bag and put in the outside garbage can.
⎫ Wash your gloved hands thoroughly.
⎫ Remove the gloves and mask, put in a plastic bag, seal, and put in the outside garbage can.
⎫ Wash your un-gloved hands and your goggles with soap and warm water.
⎫ NEVER vacuum, sweep, or blow out areas that harbor contaminates that could become airborne.

Getting Help:
If you have a problem with rodents or skunks, contact Vector Control at 925-771-6142. The service is free and you’ll be able to troubleshoot your issues.  They will also pick up skunks that have been trapped.

Also remember that encouraging owls and cats to scout your property will keep life in harmony.

There is nothing beautiful about pests finding shelter in our homes and gardens but this month does bring beauty to our doorsteps.
cotoneaster berries cu
Sheltering the Beautiful
⎫ With the rainfall our lawns and hillsides are green and growing.
⎫ Cyclamen abounds at nurseries and garden centers in an abundance of stunning colors-red, pink, white, burgundy. Plant these perennials to add glamour to the winter beds.
⎫ Sunflower seeds can be scattered for next summer’s glory.
⎫ A cover crop blend will choke out weeds, protect soil structure, and increase soil fertility. Sow seeds to over-winter for spring growth.
⎫ Cotoneaster, holly, and pyrancantha showcase red pomes or berries that are perfect for holiday décor.
⎫ Watch for the unexpected growing in your garden. Perhaps a prickly pear has taken root next to a pine tree!
⎫ A variety of mushrooms are sprouting throughout our landscapes. Unless you are an expert in mycotoxicology, enjoy these fairy houses, but don’t eat them!
⎫ The sounds and sights of fountains flowing are stress reducing and healing.

Wishing you a very healthy, happy, and beautiful December where the wild things aren’t!

Happy Gardening and Happy Growing!
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cyn-nightime fountain
Cynthia Brian
The Goddess Gardener
StarStyle® Productions, llc
Tune into Cynthia’s Radio show at www.StarStyleRadio.net
I am available as a speaker, designer, and consultant.

Blooming with Love By Cynthia Brian

Posted by Editor on
Blooming with Love By Cynthia Brian


By Cynthia Brian

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” Mother Teresa

Every artist has her or his muse, a person who inspires, motivates, and encourages creativity. Leonardo had Lisa , Quentin has Uma, Mother Teresa had God, and I credit my mother, Alice, with being my gardening artiste. From the time that I could toddle, I was following her around our expansive gardens planted for both the edibles and the pretties. When she and my dad first moved to their house built at the turn of the 20th century on the 365 acre ranch in the middle of nowhere, it was surrounded by brambles, blackberry bushes, and poison oak. Little by little she painstakingly transformed the prickly jungle into a playful park planted with a myriad of beautiful flowers, herbs, trees, grasses, fruits, and vegetables.
azaleas brick.jpg
I can still smell the sweet fragrance of the spring soil as we tilled the plots designated as the vegetable garden. Mom would plant starts of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, bush beans, string beans, eggplant, and whatever other vegetable caught her fancy for the year. The five kids would be given seeds of radishes, beets, corn, carrots, turnips, squash, and melons to plant as we wished. Onions, leeks, garlic, and Swiss Chard seemed to be in abundance year round as did a big patch of culinary herbs-basil, mustard, chives, dill, fennel, parsley, oregano, marjoram, mints, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme. We didn’t have automatic irrigation.  All of us were responsible for daily watering, pulling hoses for long distances as Mom always did. She showed us how to plant rows, squares, circles, how to soak each plant plentifully, what to weed, and what not to touch.
hanging begonias
We couldn’t wait until summer when the first tomato ripened. With a handful of basil, we’d bite into the juicy goodness right there in the garden. One August she grew a five-pound tomato, won a big prize, and carried it around to multiple events exhibiting its enormity to anyone interested until it rotted. Long before the trend of farm to table, my Mom cooked what was freshest and harvested that day. We only ate what was in season or, in the winter months, what we canned during the summer. To this day, I won’t eat tomatoes, grapes, or oranges out of season. Why bother? They taste like chalk. Only vine ripened fruit and vegetables have the flavor that transport me to the joys of childhood on the farm.  And what blissful days they were!
But it wasn’t only the vegetable and herb gardening techniques that she was imparting. Mom also instilled in us a wistful, playful attitude in the art of gardening. “Gardens are an extension of your personality,” she used to tell me. And her gardens were wild, fun, surprising, eccletic, and inviting. Tucked into ravines would be antique stoves with antiquated rusting teapots overflowing with succulents. When we outgrew our swing set, it was turned into a hanging pot canopy accessed by a wooden bridge over a dry creek flanked by palm trees. Gazing balls, clay piglets, and hummingbird feeders dotted the landscape.  Her favorite garden ornaments, a bargain purchase bought for her by my brother decades ago, have always been Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She decorates the garden for all of the holidays with Christmas being the grand finale-an extravaganza of sound and light rivaling Disneyland.
patios - 4
As an adult, our main conversations revolve around plants. We stroll together through our mutual playgrounds admiring and consulting. I am grateful for the horticultural acumen that she liberally passed along to us. Although there wasn’t a kindergarten where I grew up, I learned everything I needed to know about life in my Mother’s Garden.
nonie and cyn in garden - 1
What I learned from my Mother Muse:

⎫ Be an original: You can reference Pinterest, but when it comes to your own personal style, do what you love. Surprise yourself!
⎫ Don’t follow the rules: Because there are no rules in the garden except those you create yourself.
⎫ Love the birds: My Mom has hung bird feeders and birdhouses in every cranny for her feathered friends. She even has a Bird Tree. Birds eat the insects that prey on her flowers plus their melodic songs are music to her ears and their playful antics make bird watching an amusing pastime.
⎫ Encourage eccentricity: If you don’t feel happy in your backyard, no one else will either. Be playful.  Add unexpected treasures that may be another person’s trash. Capture the charm.
⎫ Share the bounty: One of my Mom’s most sacred rituals was sharing the harvest of everything we grew with everyone she knew-her doctor, dentist, priest, hairdresser, bank teller, repairman, even other famers. Be a cheerful giver.
⎫ Grow everything: It can be boring to stick to just a few specimens. Give a whirl to experimenting with the exotic as well as the mundane. Whether it’s a new breed of ever-blooming azalea, a delicate peach begonia, or a hardy lavender trumpet vine, brave the unknown.
⎫ Color Your World: Although you may start out with a strict color palette, be an artist. Volunteers revert to their original color according to Mother Nature’s whims. Enjoy the rainbow.
⎫ Provide places to relax: Gardeners work hard. Make sure to include comfortable sitting and lounging areas for you and your guests.
⎫ Believe in Magic: A garden is a lesson in miracles and magic. Embrace the whimsy and the mysterious. Have fun.
⎫ Pull hoses: You may have a drip or other irrigation system, but you’ll need the humble hose to get to every corner.
⎫ Make people happy: With her outgoing, enthusiastic personality always ready for the next dance, my Mother lights up a room, including the outdoor variety. When your table features fresh fruits and vegetables that you have personally grown, you can be certain that you are providing the highest nourishment for your family and friends, helping everyone be happier and healthier.
⎫ Leave a Living Legacy: A garden is to grow. Every garden is different reflecting the individuality of the gardener. Family is everything. Bloom with love.
snow white-dwarfs
Everyone who has ever experienced the gardening hospitality of my Mother, Alice, has left feeling better and happier. Let the wisdom of my generous garden guide Muse inspire you to be the best gardener possible. Thanks Mom!
Hummingbird Garden2 .jpg
Happy Gardening. Happy Growing.

Mark your Calendars:

SHOP and save at the 10/10 sale on September 17th at Vineyard Vines, 1301 N. Main St., Walnut Creek. Customers receive 10% off their purchases all day with 10% of the proceeds benefiting Be the Star You Are!®. A reception will be held from 5-8 pm with refreshments and goody bags. www.btsya.com/events_calendar.html

ATTEND the Pear and Wine Festival at Moraga Commons on Saturday, September 24 from 10-4pm. Pick up complimentary potpourri and a new children’s book from the Be the Star You Are!® booth sponsored by MB Jesse Painting, Starstyle® Productions, llc, Lamorinda Weekly, Children’s Success Unlimited, and Michael VerBrugge Construction. Click on events at www.BetheStarYouAre.org

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cyn-garden - 1
Cynthia Brian
The Goddess Gardener
Starstyle® Productions, llc
Tune into Cynthia’s Radio show at www.StarStyleRadio.net
I am available as a speaker, designer, and consultant.  

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