“The first one's the toughest," Robby Frank said while showing me around the other day.
“Caddyshack” has nothing on this determined gardener, and from the look of his landscaping, he's definitely winning the battle.
This mild-mannered vegetarian started planting trees 20 years ago when he moved to the property, but he says he became serious about gardening only five years ago. He has created lush-looking, low-water landscaping in his extremely sandy soil, watering some areas only once per summer. And oh, did I mention, he shares his garden with deer, too?
Many of us battle some of these same issues. How does he win the war while watching his garden grow?
He used to have gophers, too, but after using cinch and Macabee traps for the past couple of years, there are not too many left on the property.
The moles are a different story. They have the ability to learn, testing our mental prowess in the process.
Frank has found that one of the best ways to keep moles from destroying his garden is to install perimeter fencing around the beds. Gardening by exclusion, he calls it. Cinch traps are successful, too, and he's killed 16 so far this year.
It's not that the moles eat the plants, but their burrowing dislodges roots, and the plants will die the next time it gets hot.
He digs down 24 inches and sinks a gopher wire barrier one area at a time. Paths are left bare so he can see if they are encroaching. Moles can tunnel 17 hours a day and ruin an area in just a couple of hours, so he has become ever-vigilant.
Deer control comes from plant selection and a product he gets on the Internet called Bitrex that contains a bittering agent found in antifreeze, anti-nail-biting and cleaning products, among other household goods. After trying other taste and smell repellents containing rotten eggs, garlic, blood meal, citrus, ammonia, hot pepper and coyote urine, he swears by this product.
His garden contains many plants he considers “bullet proof,” such as lamb’s ear, lion’s tail, Hot Lips salvia, breath of heaven, tagetes, armeria, asteriscus, carnations, dietes, Little John callistemon, mimulus, westringea and society garlic, to name just a few. He plants, he says, “what works.”
What hasn't worked with Frank’s deer population is the vinca that used to grow under the oaks. Wandering Jew has successfully taken over, and he's OK with that. “Why fight it?” is his mantra.
Plants he protects with Bitrex are daylily flowers, star jasmine, correa, penstemon, some sedums and the flowers on the aloe. With 4 acres to cover, he grows lots of different aloes, yucca and agaves, rescuing many from garbage piles and propagating others. There's also a huge angel’s trumpet under the oaks that he started from a cutting four years ago.
In one garden, a huge breath of heaven has grown 9 feet tall. Nearby is a handsome small tree from South Africa, or long-leafed yellow-wood (Podocarpus henkelii). Eventually, it will grow to 25 feet, but it is only half that size now. The foliage is distinctive and dense, with heavy, shiny, dark green drooping leaves that give it a weeping look. It is truly a specimen tree. His euphorbia collection includes a variety that looks like an azalea with chartreuse flowers. A very large stand of crocosmia was started from a 4-inch pot. Fortunately, it's planted in the right spot.
So much to see, so little time. Everywhere I looked was another beautiful vignette, accenting a dry river bed in one area, a fire pit with log seating in another. I learned so much from this gentle, determined gardener.
Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional at Plant Works in Ben Lomond, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.