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What's the first thing you're planting this spring?

The Garden Blog

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spring flowersSweet peas, roses, lavender... If nothing else, spring SMELLS amazing. It doesn't look bad, either, especially when put all the bounties of the garden (and, okay, add in the ridiculously cheap daffodils from Trader Joe's) into a bouquet like this one. I have had so many sweet peas and roses from my garden that I was able to make three bouquets to put around the house together with the daffodils (and, more recently, lavender from a neighbor in the community garden) and won't be surprised if I get three more in the coming weeks. They bring a smile to my face every time I look at (or get a whiff of) them.

Tomatomania 2012The rest of the garden work this month has involved prepping the soil and putting in the first spring seedlings. My trip to Tomatomania on March 23 was quite the success. I picked up 12 varieties of heirloom tomato seedlings (only three for me, really) plus seedlings for baby spinach, basil, a Tabasco pepper and corn. Yes, corn. If you've read my accounts of the marauding squirrel eating each and very ear of corn I've ever grown, I'm a glutton for punishment and already trying to figure out what might work to keep her/him away this year. If you have any thoughts, PLEASE feel free to share.

We had a couple March storms go through (this year it came in like a lamb and went out like a lion) so I waited to put my tomato seedlings in until yesterday as we are expected to have three or four really nice sunny days in a row to help get them started. The three heirlooms I have planted in my garden are the Rose, the Paul Robeson and New Zealand Pink Pear. The others, which were passed out to various friends and family members, include Sasha's Altai, Czech's Bush, Sophie's Choice and, in the cherry variety, Chika, Aiko and Camp Joy. Spring. Sweet.

Ann garden March 3 12It's March 4 and it's closing in on 90 degrees here in Santa Monica so, although we're getting ready for spring in the community garden, it feels more like summer. It's an especially abrupt shift in the weather because I've just returned from Germany where, although it wasn't as cold as it's been this winter, it was in the 20-40F degree range and required a coat and hat if you were going to be out for very long.

We've had a warm winter in general here in Southern California, which has made for an early season for the sweet peas (above, next to the still-blooming poinsettia). And today, when I stopped by to water and pick some celery, arugula, lettuce and the purple osaka mustard (which was easily the star of the winter garden), one of the other community gardeners even said she was thinking of starting her first tomato plant.

Personally, I think I will wait until the Tomatomania folks come through later this month with their seedling sale. In the meantime I might also start a few by seed as I just received some free seeds from the good folks at the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. Baker Creek is donating the seeds as part of the campaign, which is looking to get an initiative onto the ballot in California that requires food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if its contains genetically engineered ingredients. A win-win, if you ask me.

Ann garden January 1 12When people ask what I'm growing in my community garden this time of year it sometimes takes me awhile to respond. It's not that there isn't a lot going on -- living in Southern California, just as much growing as there is in the summer -- it's that it's all so subtle. Except, of course, for the poinsettia and the roses, which are pictured here and continue to be just spectacular.

Otherwise, I've got greens: red and green lettuces, arugula (which is going nuts) and some very cool Osaka Purple Mustard I grew from seeds ordered from the D. Landreth Seed Company that I'm using both for salads and on sandwiches. Also continuing to do well is my celery plant, where I can take a stalk or two a week for my chicken salad and let it continue to grow, the jalapenos (although they're almost done) and -- and this is the most fun -- the strawberries. Gotta love the ability to pick a perfectly ripe strawberry and pop it in your mouth in January.

Looking forward, I've sent away for some new seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They include kale and a Japanese cucumber variety (Sagami Hanjiro) that Baker Creek identified as one of their favorites for 2012. So far, it's a very promising year in the garden.

Rose in garden Dec just as gorgeous. There really is something about the beauty of a rose that always astounds. This year has been a particularly good year -- mine have not stopped blooming for 12 months straight. This beauty came out of the blue, which they often seem to do. I'd come home from a trip to New Mexico last Saturday and went straight from the airport to my community garden, not only because it had been almost a week and I needed to water but because there had been a wicked wind storm while I was out of town and I wanted to make sure everything was in place. Surprisingly, it was -- I think the cement wall my garden backs up to was a big part of that.

So, with everything fine, nothing out of the ordinary, I watered and went home. Four days later I went by and, again seemingly out of the blue, I had five new blooms -- with this one the star. Gorgeous, right? Also starting to bloom is my poinsettia plant (just to the left of the rose in this photo). This will be the third year since I planted a Christmas leftover in the garden and, just in years past, the red leaves come out right on time at the holidays. I'll be sure to post more photos as we get closer. In the meantime, in this time of holiday craziness, let this be a reminder that it's never a bad idea to slow down to smell the roses.

Ann Garden November 2011Earlier this week I went to water my garden. It had been five days since I'd been there (combination of damp conditions that meant no watering needed and my travel schedule) so imagine my surprise when I discovered that at some point in those five days someone had given the hanging vine I've had on the cement wall since I got my garden more than three years ago (and have constantly been cutting back to keep it from attacking my garden) a radical hair cut. As you can see from the photo, it was a total crew cut. Nothing but cement wall for as far as the eye can see.

Now, I'm not against someone (not sure if it was the city of Santa Monica or the owners of the parking lot on the other side, which is where the vine begins) cutting it off, but it would've been nice if I'd been given a heads-up that it was happening. It also would've been nice if whoever did the shearing had cleaned up after themselves. There were leaves and branches everywhere and a lot of my stuff (including the Frantoio olive tree that is, for the first time in seven years, actually growing olives) moved and not returned to the proper place. To say I was distressed would be an understatement. But, I cleaned out the leaves -- which meant taking out most of my alyssum (which used to be between the two olive trees and, as you can see, is now gone but should come back on its own) -- and also took out the mass of mums (see previous blog post) while I was at it, filling a good three big trash bags in the process.

Ann Garden Nov 2011The other new surprise in the garden is a very interesting looking little volunteer (aka weed) that's been growing next to my celery plant. It's so odd looking I've let it keep growing but at some point will have to figure out what it is and then will decide what to do with it. It's in the photo to the right so if you have any ideas on what it is (and suggestions as to what I should do with it), please send me an e-mail at and let me know. Thanks!

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