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Don't like dirt? Don't be a gardener

Pink dahlias
These dahlias are a small part of an intensely planted community garden plot. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Oh, yeah, then there's weeding ... and bugs

At the community garden where I've worked a plot for 15 years, the gardener two plots down from mine has a beautiful and intensely planted flower and vegetable garden. The gardener -- I'll call her Elena to protect her privacy -- has managed to fit grapes, blueberries, tomatoes, cane berries, dahlias, coneflowers, yarrow and dozens of other things into a 20-by-20-foot piece of ground, all the while keeping the weeds at bay. A retiree, she's there most mornings, tending something.

And when visitors to the garden round the corner and see Elena's plot, they stop and gawk. I don't blame them. But they don't see how hard she's worked to get it that way.

Those of us with plots often are asked by these same visitors how they can join the garden.

"There's a waiting list," we answer. "Call the parks district office and ask to be put on it."

The "Pink Lemonade" blueberries in Elena's plot always
evoke exclamations of "wow" from passers-by.
They might or might not join the list. If they do, I wish they'd spend their waiting time learning how to garden. Too often the newbies walk in and expect to have an Elena-like garden immediately. They easily become discouraged, and their plots suffer -- making it harder for the next new gardener who takes that spot.

All of you on waiting lists all over the Sacramento region , do yourselves a favor. Consider all these things you don't have to worry about if you don't become a gardener:

-- You don't have to become intimately acquainted with dirt. Dirt's the stuff on your shoes, in your hair, on your shirt and under your fingernails. Soil is what the plants grow in.

-- You also don't have to worry about sweating through your gardening clothes. A couple times a day.

-- You can sleep in on days that are predicted to have temperatures in the 100s. You don't have to jump out of bed as soon as it's light to wet down everything before the scorcher hits.

-- You can keep a manicure gorgeous for weeks; no weeds to pull!

-- You avoid the heartbreak of your lovingly tended seedlings succumbing to slugs.

-- You never have to worry that there aren't enough bees in the garden.

-- No fretting about the squirrels getting to that first ripe peach or tomato before you do.

-- You don't have to expend energy fighting spider mites and stink bugs.

-- You avoid conversations that start "Which tomatoes are you growing this year?"

-- Also, no fear of boring relatives with explanations of citrus rootstock. (Sorry about that, Kevin.)

-- You needn't worry that you're having meaningful, though one-sided, conversations with the worms in your compost pile.

-- You don't have to find homes for all the excess zucchini.

-- Phrases such as "organic mulch," "damping-off," "nitrogen deficiency" and "fusarium wilt" never become part of your vocabulary.

-- You don't wake up in the middle of the night wondering whether you should have planted something else.

See,  life is so much easier if you don't start down that gardening path. But if you want to become an Elena, she shared the secret: "You have to put in the time."


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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