I have lived in the foothills for about three years now. I would love to report that my gardens are growing beautifully, but, alas, no.
The garden magazines make everything look so easy, don't they? All you do is prepare the garden bed, plant the seeds or transplant growing plants, and voila! The garden is beautiful.
The magazine pictures never show things like millions of aphids on pumpkin plants. I would love to be the first to say that ladybugs came to my rescue and ate all the aphids, but no. By the time the one ladybug arrived, the plants were already dead.
I was prepared for lots of mosquitoes. I wasn't prepared for millions of grasshoppers. They ate almost everything I had transplanted from Merced.
Having lived near a dairy in Merced, I was prepared for flies from the cattle ranch down the hill. I was not prepared for millions of grass flies and mayflies every spring. I knew about ants. Even down in Los Angeles, where I was raised, they have ants. They don't have ants that stink when they get squished. It has taken three years to find an ant-control system that works here.
The magazines all talk about plant zones for cold and heat. They left out the fact that there is little transition between cold and heat in these hills. We have two temperatures very cold and very hot. The magazine information missed the part about it averaging 99 degrees from June 1 through October.
"Plant in the fall," the garden magazines advise.
Really? What part of the autumn is better? The part when it's still 99 degrees and the ground is completely parched?
Spring is no better. Everyone knows that plants grow in the spring. But what about the wind? It blows throughout April, May and June, right when my plants are trying to grow! That wind sucks the moisture out of young plants.
Those lovely garden magazines said nothing about wind that can kill young trees and lovely gardenia plants. It has been a scramble to find the right places for the roses and geraniums.
So it is time to start over. It was a nice try, poor avocado tree, wasn't it? You survived a freeze in Mariposa and puppies chewing your pot down in Merced, but you succumbed to the wind here in the foothills.
I need to rethink my garden desires. I need a walled area to protect my fruit and vegetables against the wind and 4-footed critter; I need movable shade covers to help protect them from the incredible heat and sun. I need to be even more choosy about my plants and focus on California native shrubs and desert low-growing, drought-tolerant plants for landscaping. I need to realize I have terrible limestone soil and add 5 tons of amendment for the plants to have at least half a chance to grow.
And I need to throw away all the garden magazines that made it look so easy to grow a garden.
Holt is a landscape horticulture graduate of Merced College. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.