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PostHeaderIcon Gardening

PostHeaderIcon Benefits of Gardening Are Many for Kids

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The California Master Gardener’s Annual Conference was held in Santa Rosa this year.  One of our fellow Master Gardeners gave an extremely informational and interesting presentation documenting the benefits children and adults receive by just being in a garden setting.  Did you know that students who participated in school gardens scored higher on math and science achievement tests than students who did not garden?  Other benefits of gardening include improved concentration, enhanced cognitive functioning, reduced stress and anxiety, increased feelings of calm and relaxation, improved mood,  personal satisfaction and sense of pride.

Interest in backyard, community, and school gardens have heightened in the past five years as people have become more aware of sustainability and the importance of eating organic pesticide- free fruits and vegetables.  The Smithsonian has recreated a Victory Garden based on a 1940 pamphlet on vegetable gardening and the White House has created the “Let’s Move” theme incorporating education for eating healthy.   

It’s time for all us to consider the importance of teaching our children about our food chain and how they can participate in a home, school or community garden.  It is important for young children to know that food does not originate in the grocery store.  It’s amazing to note that after World War II, victory gardens accounted for 40 percent of total US produce while larger farms provided produce to the troops. 

Gardening is also fun!  The first thing my grandson, Tyler, (above) does when he comes to my house is run out to the strawberry patch.  He derives a great deal of pleasure from picking and eating the berries right from the vine.  He was a little upset, however when he ran out in December and to his surprise, there were no berries.  This turned into a learning experience and I was able to teach him about growing seasons, frost, etc.  He is also intrigued with my project of growing potatoes in a garbage can.  He is looking forward to the harvest when we will dump the entire can onto a tarp and harvest organic Russet potatoes that can be stored an eaten during the winter months.

Tyler, who will be five in September, enjoys investigating everything in the yard.  In addition to the vegetable garden, he likes to water the herb garden (it’s more his size).   We were watering the herb garden last week when he squealed with delight as he discovered a blue damselfly near the fountain.  

By the time I set my camera up, the damselfly had hidden himself underneath the oregano, his little head was peeking out, looking like some type of alien.  His blue color was beautiful and vibrant.  This was an opportunity for me to talk to Tyler about beneficial insects and how they help our echo system.

Tyler also loves to help me in the flower cutting garden. He always asks me to tell him the name of each and every flower. He enjoys searching for little critters in this area too.  In addition to our blue damselfly, we discovered a beautiful dragonfly perched on a stake supporting dinner plate dahlias.  

The dragonfly stayed perched on the stake for quite some time. Tyler was glued to the cutting garden watching the dragonfly until I was able to coax him over to the birdhouse box where a family of wrens had made a nest and the baby birds were preparing to fledge.  Mom and Dad were busy feeding their babies, so there was much activity and yet another opportunity to talk to Tyler about birds and how they nest, find food, bathe and fit into our echo system.

If you would enjoy more information on gardening with children, a free booklet is available to help you get started.  Visit this website and click on “Gardens for Learning”.  www.csgn.org

The National Gardening Association collects data to track the benefits of school gardens and this website may be of interest as well www.kidsgardening.org. There is also a junior Master Gardener Program website at www.jmkids.us
As always, UC Davis website has an abundance of information on Home Gardening.  www.ipm.ucdavis.edu  Click on Home Gardening.--JM

Jody McPheeters is a retired executive who lives in San Ramon. She is a published author, freelance writer, and Certified Master Gardener. To learn more about her landscapes and garden designs, please visit her website at www.yourgardeningcoach.com.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 02 August 2011 20:48)


PostHeaderIcon Behind the Scenes of a Garden Tour

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Clayton Historical Society had their annual Garden Tour earlier this month and I was privileged to represent the Contra Costa County Master Gardeners as a volunteer.  I was assigned to the residence of Neal and Cathy Richmond in Concord. Neal and Cathy’s garden is truly amazing.  The artistic use of color, texture and creativity, coupled with the gorgeous view of the Suisun Bay, was breathtaking.  It was apparent that Neal was somehow connected to the landscaping trade, and as I later learned, he is the owner of Richmond Landscaping Management.

As people arrived, each volunteer and guest was exuberantly greeted by Mattie, the family’s yellow lab. Mattie had a great time meandering through the pathways and secret gardens searching out lizards and other critters.

It was difficult to greet the guests touring the garden because immediately after you said “welcome,” they were in awe over the spectacular view and kaleidoscope of color blanketing the one-acre of landscape. Most guests said “hi”, and just kept walking down the path in a daze muttering to themselves, "Oh my!  Look at this view and the beautiful garden.”

Since this was my first volunteer position since graduating from the Master Gardener Program in February, I attempted to follow the lead of the guru master gardener, Diane Martinelli, who was kind and patient with me.  I was familiar with most of the common plants, but there were so many unusual plants, I depended on her to answer all of the questions.  It was a great learning experience.  

I guess this picture, looking north towards Mt. Vaca and Suisun Bay, with Pride of Madiera in the foreground, says it all.   If you are curious, the large purple plant on the left  in the picture below is Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans). 

Guests appeared to be captivated with the artistic design of the planting beds, one of which is incorporated into the lawn area in the backyard.  In the following picture, you get a glimpse of the circular bed that includes a picturesque orange wallflower with a variety of grasses and other plants. 

 The beds along the pathway include a multitude of daylillies, lavender, African daisies, yarrow and rosemary (to name a few).  My favorite is the large plant with spectacular vibrant pink flowers (in the pathway behind the orange wallflower).  This plant is Calandrinia grandiflora, and is a suculent.

I would be amiss if I were to finish this article without mentioning the charming array of garden art displayed throughout the garden pathways and sitting areas, as well as the abundance of wildlife who visit each day. Pictured below are orange wallflower with grasses.

I was so enthralled with the garden; I was inspired to get to work in my own garden when I arrived home. Happy Gardening!--JM


Jody McPheeters is a retired executive who lives in San Ramon. She is a published author, freelance writer, and Certified Master Gardener. To learn more about her landscapes and garden designs, please visit her website at www.yourgardeningcoach.com.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 25 May 2011 16:31)


PostHeaderIcon Bring the Outdoors Inside for Holidays

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I love bringing the outdoors inside during the holiday season.  One way to accomplish this is to bring your potted herbs inside and decorate the containers.  Sometimes it’s as simple as adding a beautiful ribbon tied in a bow.  As you can see from the picture, you can also add decorations purchased from your local craft store such as artificial cranberries, miniature pine cones, glitter and glitz.  The choices are vast and you only need your imagination.  If you don’t have live herbs, you can choose artificial plants from your craft store. Potted cyclamen is another choice for your holiday decorating.  It is available in your local nursery and home improvement stores such as Home Depot and Lowes.  You can decorate the pot and place the plant indoors with filtered light.

There are two topiaries in my dining room I decorate with twinkle lights during the holiday season.  I add small gifts tied to the leaves and the grandchildren love searching for the gifts bearing their name.  They are allowed to touch everything on the topiaries, and although the topiaries are approximately five feet tall, they think of them as their own personal Christmas tree.

Speaking of children, it’s important to know about the plants that are poisonous to small children and animals.  Following is a list of poisonous plants that should be purchased with caution.

Poinsettias are poisonous to small children and pets. The flower itself is not poisonous, however; the sap that comes out of the leaves can cause severe skin and mouth irritation, as well as vomiting.

Mistletoe – The berries on mistletoe are extremely poisonous.  If you have mistletoe in your house, remove the berries for safety.

Holly – As with mistletoe, the berries are poisonous.  If you have Holly in your home for the holiday season, be certain to place it in an area that is not accessible to pets and young children.  You must also check for any berries that may have dropped from the plant.

Pine Trees – This may be a surprise to some.  If you have a live Christmas tree, you must ensure your pet or young child does not ingest the needles that drop from the tree.  If your small pet ingests the needles, their internal organs may be pierced.

Paperwhites (Narcissus), (left) mingling with the scents of pine and cinnamon, is a wonderful addition to your holiday floral decorating.  You can “force” these bulbs to bloom inside your home during the holiday season by following these simple directions:

Choose a container approximately 3-4” deep without drainage holes.  Add approximately 1-2 inches of stone (available in your local craft store or nursery).

Place the bulbs point side up – squeeze into the container.  The overall size of the container will determine the number of bulbs.  Add another layer of stones.  Cover to the shoulders of the bulb.  The pointed tips should still be showing.
Add water to reach the base of the bulbs.  The bulbs will not need a lot of light right now, but they like to be on the cool side (approximately 65 degrees).  Check daily for water.

When you see the roots developing, move to a sunny window.  When they flower, move out of the sunlight and transfer to a cool spot with indirect or diffused light.
Sometimes your paperwhites will grow so fast that the foliage tends to flop over.  To avoid this phenomenon, please visit Cornell University’s site entitled “Pickling Your Paperwhites”, at www.hort.cornell.edu
Happy Holidays , and a prosperous New Year to all!

Jody McPheeters is a retired executive who lives in San Ramon. She is a published author, freelance writer and gardening coach with a passion for sustainabiltiy and a love for nature and animals. She has been accepted into the Master Gardener Program through the University of California and expects to receive her certification in February 2011. Please visit her website atwww.yourgardeningcoach.com for more ideas and a sampling of her landscapes and garden designs.


Last Updated (Saturday, 27 November 2010 00:24)


PostHeaderIcon Cooking with Garden Veggies

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The greatest tribute a gardener can receive is to turn their harvest into meals that can be preserved for future consumption. I derive a tremendous amount of pleasure and nostalgia from harvesting and cooking from my garden.

If you don’t have your own garden, the ingredients for the recipes that follow can be purchased from your local farmer’s market, or a market that features organic fruits and vegetables.

I have two recipes to share. One is a quick meal my mother made from our garden in Columbus, Ohio.  It was a weekly meal which she called “Johnny Marzetti”. At the time, I had no idea what or who Johnny Marzetti was, but it tasted good.  As a teenager I was taxed with cooking the family meal each day, so I learned to cook Johnny Marzetti.

A few weeks ago I harvested an abundance of tomatoes and bell peppers from my garden.  I glanced over and noticed my boyfriend was snoring on the sofa, so going out for dinner did not appear to be an option.  I scoured my refrigerator and freezer for ideas on what to cook for the evening meal.  The only ingredients I had on hand were fresh tomatoes, a pound of organic ground beef, garlic, onions and fresh herbs from my garden. 

Johnny Marzetti popped into my mind.  

I don’t know how I came up with the idea of making Johnny Marzetti,  as I had not prepared this meal since 1964.  I must admit, I improvised a bit from the original recipe, but you can improvise too.  If you have young children, it’s probably best to omit the cumin and red pepper flakes (this was not incorporated in our Ohio recipe).

Curious about the origination of this Midwest recipe, I researched it on the Internet.  As is turns out, Johnny Marzetti was the owner of an Italian restaurant in downtown Columbus.  He served this dish in his restaurant in the late 1940’s and it became a favorite.  Today there are at least 100 variations of the original recipe.  Here is mine.  It got the boyfriend off of the sofa.  --JM


1 lb of organic ground beef    2 Tablespoons (or more if needed)
2 green bell peppers chopped    Virgin Olive Oil
1 onion chopped     6-7 small tomatoes or 1 large can
2 cloves of garlic chopped    ½ package (or more) of pasta
Salt and Pepper to taste    I use the short curly egg noodles
½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of cumin

Brown the meat in a large skillet along with the olive oil, bell pepper, onion and garlic.  Cook until the meat is well browned and the vegetables are soft.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the red pepper flakes, cumin and tomatoes cut into quarters.  Simmer approximately 20-30 minutes, or until tomatoes have cooked down.  

In the meantime, bring water to boil and cook the pasta until almost done.  Drain well and add to the ground beef mixture.  Simmer for a few minutes.  Top with parmesan cheese and serve with warm, crusty artisan bread.


1 Quart of water

½ Cup of dried white beans

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 Cup of chopped onion

½ Cup Chopped leeks

1 Cup coarsely chopped carrots

1 Cup coarsely chopped celery

½ Cup coarsely chopped zucchini

1 ½ Cups Swiss chard

1 pound of green beans (trimmed and cut into 1” segments)

1 Cup of shredded cabbage

2 Cloves of garlic (minced)

1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon of dried

1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried

1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon of dried

1 teaspoon of freshly coarse ground pepper
Salt to taste

2 Cups of tomatoes (preferably Roma) chopped or 1 ½ cups canned Italian tomatoes chopped and undrained

2 sprigs of parsley

1 bay leaf

1 cup of whole wheat shells or elbows, cooked (I cook my pasta separate and add it in smaller quantities to each portion of the soup I freeze.

In a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan, bring 1 quart of water to a boil.  Add beans and boil briskly for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and let beans soak for 1 hour.  Return pan to burner.  Over low heat, simmer the beans uncovered for 2 hours until barely tender.  Drain thoroughly, and reserve liquid.

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil.  Sauté onions and leeks until soft and golden.  Add carrots and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Next, add celery, zucchini, swiss card and green beans.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add cabbage and cook for approximately 5 minutes.  Add garlic, thyme, rosemary, basil and pepper.  Sauté approximately one minute.

Stir in tomatoes, parsley and bay leaf tied together, and add stock from beans (add water if needed to make 6 cups).  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes.

Remove and discard parsley sprigs and bay leaf.  Add beans and cook until hot throughout.

To reheat, place containers in warm water for approximately 10 minutes.  Reheat over low heat and add water if necessary.  Add cooked pasta and heat through.  Adjust seasonings if necessary.

Jody McPheeters is a retired executive who lives in San Ramon. She is a published author, freelance writer and gardening coach with a passion for sustainabiltiy and a love for nature and animals. She has been accepted into the Master Gardener Program through the University of California and expects to receive her certification in February 2011. Please visit her website at www.yourgardeningcoach.com for more ideas and a sampling of her landscapes and garden designs. 

Last Updated (Monday, 08 November 2010 20:01)


PostHeaderIcon How to Attract Birds to Your Garden

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Birds in the garden are gardeners’ entertainment and allies. They are among nature’s top insect predators, aiding the gardener’s desire to control insects without the use of pesticides.   Their eloquent songs, group bathing, flittering between trees, and ground foraging, are a part of their daily activities. 

Each day, as I walk into my own backyard garden, I am amazed by the tranquility and beauty of Mother Nature. In the morning, I enjoy my cup of coffee while listening to the incessant chatter of the Oak Titmouse, the wing whistle of Anna’s Hummingbirds, and marvel over the vibrant yellow color of the Lesser Goldfinches, who visit daily.

Anna’s Hummingbird is one of three species in California who are permanent residents.  The male has a metallic green back, dark red-rose crown, and a gray breast. The female has a green back and a white breast and throat.  Anna’s Hummingbird will gather insects from spider webs and hawk insects on the wing, (meaning they observe their prey from an exposed perch, fly outward and upward to grasp an insect and return to a different perch). 

They feed insects to their young as a rich protein source.  The Lesser Goldfinch eats seeds and thistle and loves bathing in groups.  The Oak Titmouse has a unique song and enjoys eating seeds and acorns.  California Quail are ground feeders enjoying thistle, seeds, leaves, berries and insects.   All of these backyard birds have become comfortable with their habitat in my garden and allow me to mingle with them as I go about working. 

The hummingbirds fly in and out of the spray as I water my cutting garden.  The Goldfinch bathes in groups mid-morning and late afternoon.  California quail shared their new clutch of twelve with me this year as though I am an integral part of their existence.

Unless your yard is completely baron, backyard birds will visit without special store-bought bird seed and nectar. But in order to attract a variety of birds, it’s important to provide the four basic requirements:  food, water, nesting material, and a safe haven to raise a family.
Here are some tips:

*Be careful not to fill your bird bath too full.  Birds prefer shallow bathing and the water should be no more than 1 to 1 ½ inches.  Moving water is best.  Provide a bath or fountain in a safe environment with cover nearby.  Birds are vulnerable while bathing.

*Planting native California plants in your landscape is the most effective way to provide an adequate food source for backyard birds.   Include both deciduous and evergreen plants.  Hummingbirds have their own favorites; they prefer tube and bell-shaped flowers such as Salvia and California Fuchsia.

*Provide nesting material and a safe haven.  Plant trees, shrubs and vines that give birds a structure to build nests.  Other nesting materials include twigs, leaves, grass, pine needles, dog hair, thread and string.  Hummingbirds use spider silk in their nests. In my flower garden, (where my fountain is located) I include thin bamboo sticks throughout the garden not only to stake flowers such as Dahlias and Giant Zinnias, but to provide a place for birds to perch while waiting for their turn to bathe.  Nearby trees and shrubs are in close proximity to provide a quick refuge after bathing. 

For more information, visit the website for California Native Plant Society, www.cnps.org. --JM

Jody McPheeters is a retired executive who lives in San Ramon. She is a published author, freelance writer and gardening coach with a passion for sustainabiltiy and a love for nature and animals. She has applied, and is awaiting acceptance into UC Davis to complete her Master Gardener Program. Please visit her website at www.yourgardeningcoach.com for more ideas and a sampling of her landscapes and garden designs. 




Last Updated (Wednesday, 10 November 2010 22:53)

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