Cambrian: Opinion

Gardeners plan for change, the unexpected in Cambria

Ava and Gwen Markham of Cambria have chosen their 'tiny' pumpkins from the Oliphant-Sather garden.
Ava and Gwen Markham of Cambria have chosen their 'tiny' pumpkins from the Oliphant-Sather garden. Special to The Cambrian

While enjoying the peace of our garden, we’re interrupted by the sound of splintering wood and the thundering crash of a giant Monterey pine as it falls. 

Everything stands still for a moment. Birds are silenced, chickens and dogs stand alert; the horizon has again been altered in the green space adjacent to our property. The oldest of the trees have given way to their offspring who welcome the sunlight. 

With a few good winters, the forest will be renewed. This is the way of nature; it’s always changing.

I’m both fascinated and alarmed at the physical changes occurring in the natural world around us. The warmer-than-normal waters offshore have brought subtropical fish that do not normally inhabit the waters this far north. Humpbacks, gray whales, orcas, sharks and dolphins have made themselves more obvious than in previous years. Birds swarm over coastal waters roiling with baitfish.

My garden is going through a kind of metamorphosis too. Plants that need the average amount of water are gone. Even a few drought-tolerant plants like the sweet pea shrubs have succumbed to the drought. While I enjoy a simplified garden, I miss the colorful chaos of the cottage garden. Remember those?

Apple trees and berries have disappointed us with very little fruit. But a few edible plants have produced beyond expectation due to a sunny, warm summer. Four tomato plants, planted in wine barrels and kept alive with a gallon of water twice a week, produced enough fresh tomatoes to satisfy our needs for two months. Basil grew over a two-month period without going to seed. Strawberries loved the sunshine, and Asian pears were sweet and delicious.

The pumpkin plants grew and spread quickly. They raced to cover any bare earth around them. The vines produced 12 beautiful pumpkins, many weighing between 10 to 15 pounds, and many “little ones” for “little people.” I’ve grown pumpkins every year between rose bushes. I use pumpkin in recipes this time of year: pie, bread and vegetable side dishes. The labradoodles love mashed pumpkin, and it’s good for the dogs’ digestion. I love to watch the grandchildren choosing their personal pumpkins to take home.

This year, I planted white (sometimes called ghost) pumpkins along with the regular orange type. White pumpkins are the same as orange pumpkins in all ways except for the outer skin that is thinner and easier to carve. They’re great for decorating, too. Martha Stewart loves them.

Whatever you decide to do this fall as you plan for inevitable changes in the weather, plan for the unexpected. We are living in a changing environment. Be prepared for rain by clearing drainage ditches and gutters. Protect your property and plants from wind and rain damage. Any planting you do, consider the long-term conditions, and then, hang on for the ride!

Tip of the month

Fall is a time for planting perennials. If you’re planning on replacing plants this year, consider the inevitable changes in the weather. While an El Niño year is anticipated, with plenty of rain, it is wise to plan for a dry summer by replacing thirsty plants with drought-tolerant ones.

  • Design your landscape and plant in blocks, thus shading the roots and reducing evaporation.
  • Control weeds. They compete with your “valued” plants.
  • Use containers to fill in bare spots reducing the soil area that needs irrigation.
  • Plant in “zones” of plants that need similar amounts of water.
  • Amend soil when you plant to help retain moisture. 
  • Use available mulch, covering as much bare soil as possible.
  • Mulch now. It will help keep the soil in place when rain comes and feed your plants through the winter.