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Season’s Greetings By Cynthia Brian

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Season’s Greetings By Cynthia Brian

“Winter is in my head, but eternal spring is in my heart!” Victor Hugo
Season's Greenings

The festivities of holidays are almost over, winter has arrived, and our hills are once again the lush emerald that we, and the cattle adore.  Congratulate yourself on a year well-spent growing your own food and tending to your plants. Now it is time to put your gardens to bed and give yourself a bit of respite. With the colder weather, we are fortunate that lemons, grapefruit, and tangelos are ripe to help us stay healthy.
There is still time to plant bulbs through the end of January for a late spring show. All bulbs need well-drained soil, full sun, or partial shade. Avoid planting in soggy soils where the bulbs will rot. Instead of lining bulbs up in a row, scatter them in clusters for a more natural look. Since deer, squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits enjoy eating many bulb flowers, experiment with planting narcissus cultivars, snowflakes, and snow drops (galanthus) as these repel the critters with their toxicity.
rubber plant with kalanchoe blooming
Speaking of critters, our readers enjoyed the article on keeping unwanted guests from taking refuge in homes. From the response, it is apparent that this season of green has indeed brought the rodents to our doorsteps in increasing numbers. Excellent advice came to me from Jenny Papka of Native Bird Connections. With her permission, I am printing her edited suggestions here:
“What you term as “vermin” actually misleads people, since rodents, skunks, wasps and even mosquitoes are necessary in Nature. Yes they are annoying in many cases, but it is important to be respectful of why they can actually be good. Rodents are like chocolate for almost all young wild animals, and often are a life-long food source for many. The advice given about getting rid of ivy, etc is helpful, yet other animals will also be impacted. For example, Barn owls nest in palm trees, especially the dead frond areas just under the green crown. Barn owls are the BEST rodent controllers around and other than applauding their presence we do not have to do anything. Obviously we don’t want rodents inside our houses or out buildings, yet annihilation is not ideal for anyone. The advice listed is excellent particularly about what we are responsible for doing around our houses.
wild fushcia
In Contra Costa County, skunks are officially considered rabies vectors. This is NOT true in other counties. Obviously caution should always be utilized but seeing a skunk, even in the daytime, does not automatically indicate that it is sick. Skunks are omnivores and will eat many of the bothersome creatures we dislike, snails, slugs, rodents, fruit, and yellow jacket larvae. Skunks look for mates in early spring (Feb usually) otherwise they are solitary and crepuscular. So most of the year they are not obvious. This year is a “rebound year” as well, especially for rodents since last year was so dry. The rain this year promises more grass/food so rodents are producing large families. Information and education really increases tolerance and better, more humane choices. Thank you for a good article.”
Garden gnomes

Jenny also mentioned that it is illegal (and inhumane) to trap and relocate any wildlife. She also does not suggest acquiring cats as rodent control because cats are responsible for the deaths of millions of birds daily, another contentious subject.
Other ways to eliminate the rodents is to install barn owl boxes to encourage owls to your yard. Areas with heavy Great horned owl presence usually will not support barn owl populations (Great horned eat barn owls) but any owl is good for rodent control. Native Bird Connections has boxes available at Wild Birds Unlimited in Pleasant Hill for a $100 donation. Also of importance is to not use the sticky traps as they can entangle other animals creating suffering and a lingering death. Ninety percent of wildlife in the San Francisco Bay Area has rodenticides in their tissues including coyotes, bobcats, and foxes according to WildCare in Marin. This means that the use of poisons for all applications move through the food chain and should be avoided. My advice is to contact Vector Control at 925-771-6142 or visit www.ContraCostaMosquito.com when you have questions or concerns.

meyer lemons in rain
Enjoy the cold nights, the rainy days, and the season’s greening. Thanks for allowing me to be your gardening guide on the side. Get ready for great new year of horticultural joys.
Cynthia Brian’s January New Year Gardening Tips:

⎫ BRING health inside with power plants of ferns, palms, spider plants, and other air-cleansing specimens. Tropical houseplants absorb indoor toxins and add humidity to the air saving you dollars on heating.
⎫ BUY a copy of “Great Garden Quotes”, a coloring book with wit, wisdom, and heart from the editors of GreenPrints, the Weeders Digest. Pat Stone, the editor, was a co-author with me on Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul. You’ll love this new coloring book with inspiring garden axioms. www.GreenPrints.com
⎫ ALLOW the organic matter of chopped leaves and lawn clippings to decompose on the soil during the dormant season.
⎫ ADD a cover crop to keep soil healthy, avoid erosion, and help with fertility.
⎫ PICK Meyer lemons and use for juicing, cooking, and baking. This rich citrus will help fend off colds.
⎫ PROTECT tender plants from frost by covering with burlap or cloth. Do not use plastic as it will maximize the freeze.
⎫ PRUNING for dormant fruit trees and shrubs begins this month.
⎫ TIDY your yard by cutting back your chrysanthemums to six inches above the ground, and removing dead foliage from plants.
⎫ SPRAY your peach trees with a concoction of fixed copper or lime sulfur after all the leaves have fallen from the tree to control peach leaf curl. Repeat this process in late January and February for best results.
⎫ PLANT bareroot stock such as grapes, berries, artichokes, roses, and several fruit trees.
⎫ PRUNE roses, vines, and berry bushes to encourage new growth.
⎫ CUT bouquets of geranium flowers for indoors and snip pieces to plant in other areas.
⎫ DONATE $100 to Native Bird Connections and receive an owl box for your garden.
⎫ REMOVE all ornaments, lights, and tinsel from your Christmas trees before placing on the curb for composting pick-up.
⎫ EXPRESS gratitude for all the green that nature is bestowing on us!
moss on brick

botanical gardens-st. lucia
Happy Gardening and Happy Growing! Happy, Healthy, Auspicious New Year!
See the photos and READ more
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.  

Digging Deep-Gardening with Cynthia Brian

Posted by Editor on
Digging Deep-Gardening with Cynthia Brian

Winter Wonders

”The best Christmas trees come very close to exceeding nature. “ ~Andy Rooney

 A couple of days after Halloween, my niece who is a paramedic posted photos of her Christmas decorations on Facebook. Every inch of her home and garden were already festooned in holiday finery. Her tree was hung with sparkling ornaments, the mantel dressed with swags and candles, the bushes and flowerbeds glittering with lights and accents. She definitely inherited the celebratory spirit from our farm family. Every year since I was born, my parents made sure that at least two acres of our ranch was illuminated like a runway to enable Santa Claus to find his way to our remote locale. Not an inch of the gardens surrounding the house was left without adornment and twinkle lights. This was an outward display of pure inner love and I can’t even imagine what this oasis looked like from the night sky. Even now, with seven great grandchildren to amuse, my gardener mother maintains this enchanted tradition. Magic happens to those who believe.

Every day those who tend gardens work hand in hand with Mother Nature. As the Grand Dame, she is always in charge. Gardeners are her faithful stewards, nurturing the land that feed our bodies while clothing our spirits with beauty, fragrance, and spiritual wellness. As the earth settles down for its winter nap, we also slow our pace in our outdoor spaces to begin preparations for the holiday celebrations and a new year.

In order to sleep peacefully and dream of our gardens, we have to think about safety first. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission over ten thousand people visit emergency rooms during the holidays due to decorating injuries from falls, burns, cuts, and chocks. More than two hundred fires are started each year because of dried out trees. 

Every tree is the perfect tree at Christmas, especially if you have children who choose. To put the magic in your winter wonderland while keeping your family secure and protected, here are a few suggestions.

Find the freshest tree to light up your yuletide.  Whether you cut it yourself, or buy it from your favorite lot, look for a tree with green needles that are difficult to pull from the branch.  The tree’s bottom needs to be sticky with resin and needles should not fall off when the tree is shaken.

Keep all trees, branches, and flammable decorations away from fireplaces, radiators, and high traffic areas.

Hang stockings on chimneys only when there is no fire burning.

Buy new lights that have been tested by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Make sure that lights for your garden are labeled as outdoor capable. All lights need good wiring, devoid of any broken or cracked sockets, frayed wires, or loose connections.  Only use extension cords that are designed for the outdoors and beware of the number of light sets that may be attached.

Never add electric lights to metallic ornamentations as you could be exposing yourself to electrocution.

When climbing ladders, use the buddy system.

Besides the conifers that beckon Santa’s visit, fruit bearing trees provide wondrous gifts of nature during December. Persimmons, quince, chestnuts, and pomegranates offer exotic flavors for holiday gastronomy.  The delicious and juicy Hachiya persimmon is the perfect fruit to flavor many holiday dishes, including Christmas puddings and fruitcakes. These beautiful pointed persimmons resemble bright orange ornaments hanging on the bare branches. If they are firm when picked, allow them to sit on a plate on the counter until soft. They can then be enjoyed raw or cooked, but only when they are mushy. On the other hand, the Fuyu persimmon is flat, hard, and delicious eaten like an apple or sliced into salads. Once it gets soft, it can also be used in dishes that suggest Hachiya.  When planting persimmons, keep in mind that it may take up to ten years for a bountiful yield.

Another tree that is offering holiday bounty is the quince. This hard fruit resembling an ugly apple was a sign of love and commitment in ancient Rome.  In Greek mythology, quince was the gift from Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It has been speculated that the forbidden fruit that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden was actually the quince, although quince is inedible raw. When cooked, the aroma smells like rose petals, and the color of the flesh turns amber. The taste is a combination of pear and apple.  Mixed with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, quince is heavenly. The fruit is popular in Middle Eastern meat stews as well as British tarts and preserves.

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose” are the popular lyrics from the Christmas song that conjures up images and happy memories of bygone holiday seasons. On the branch, the chestnut is encompassed inside a prickly shell that looks like a small yellow tennis ball with spikes. When the shell opens, out falls a shiny brown nut. For those who grow chestnuts, now is the time to gather the fallen fruit. Slit the skin with a serrated knife (use caution as the shell is tough), blanche, roast, wrap in a cloth for five minutes before eating. BEWARE, the nuts from horse chestnuts and buckeyes are poisonous. They look like chestnuts but are not edible to humans or animals.

Pomegranates have symbolized hope, prosperity, fertility, and eternal life for over 4000 years. Today they are heralded as a superfood, low in calories, high in antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. When planted in a sunny location, the small six to twelve foot tree is easy to grow with green glossy foliage and pretty orange flowers in summer and fall. When the fruit is red it is ripe and ready to be eaten raw. Cut the crown to remove the yellow pith while scoring the skin in quarters. Immerse the scored fruit in a large bowl of cold water. Holding the fruit under the water, break it into sections. The seeds will fall to the bottom of the bowl. Drain, dry, and enjoy. 

Be prepared for sticker shock when you purchase any of these Christmas treats. Persimmons and pomegranates cost $2-4 each in the produce aisle. Perhaps it’s time to write a letter to Ole’ St. Nick to put in a request for these special trees or other garden gadgets. What do you want or need for your garden? A gazing ball,  purple rhododendron, pair of shears, birdbath, a money tree?  He’s making a list and checking it twice. December is the month for dreams to come true. Tie your Christmas to the outdoors.  Let there be light!

Peace on earth. Good will to all. Be a child again on Christmas morning. May your stockings be filled with the seeds of winter wonders, hope, and love.

Read at: https://www.lamorindaweekly.com/archive/issue0720/Digging-Deep-with-Cynthia-Brian-Winter-Wonders.html

Get up, get out, and get growing while you celebrate the holly jolly. Give the greatest gift of all-the light of love. Believe in the magic and get glowing!

Happy Gardening to You!

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