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New Midtown Garden Tour launches with joy and a star

Daisy Mah and her husband, John Hickey, will open their home
garden for the tour Saturday. (Photo courtesy Garden the Grid)
Sacramento garden legend Daisy Mah opens her own backyard for Saturday event, hosted by Garden the Grid

Sacramento garden lovers are very familiar with Daisy Mah’s gardening skills. For a quarter century, she tended the WPA Rock Garden in Sacramento’s William Land Park, turning what had been a forgotten landscape into a horticultural gem.

That’s her public garden. Saturday, Mah will open her home garden to visitors as part of the inaugural Garden the Grid Midtown Garden Tour. Featuring seven private gardens within easy walking or biking distance, the tour is set from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 11.

It starts at New Era Community Garden, 204 26 th St., Sacramento. Tickets ($10) will be available at that first stop or online at . Proceeds benefit Alchemist CDC, a community development nonprofit.

“Most of the gardeners already knew each other,” Mah said of Garden the Grid. “Most are involved at New Era Community Garden and are food gardeners. I garden more ornamentally. I put pollinator plants in my raised beds. I have no tomatoes.”

According to its organizers, the tour showcases the joy of small space gardening. Mah’s own smile-making landscape overflows with a sense of personal satisfaction, a reflection of her own buoyant spirit.

Now retired from the city parks department, Mah has remained a very active volunteer in the Sacramento gardening community. She still works as a volunteer on the Land Park rock garden every week. She’s redoing a garden area next to the Shepard Garden and Arts Center in McKinley Park. She stays busy with the Sacramento Perennial Plant Club, she added. “I’m retired but I’ve got a lot going on.”

Mah and her husband, John Hickey, have lived in their high-water bungalow for 38 years. Located near 25th and E streets on the outer edge of the Boulevard Park historic district, their home sits on a 40-by-160-foot lot.
Mah at the WPA Rock Garden in Land Park.
(Photo courtesy Sacramento Perennial
Plant Club)

“We have a relatively large lot, but I’ve managed to fill it up with a little of everything,” Mah said. “I have shade to full sun, so I can attempt to grow just about anything.”

Although she considers her home garden primarily ornamental, she has packed plenty of food into relatively tight spaces. For example, grapes line the driveway fence.

“I originally planted old garden roses along the driveway – bad idea!” she said. “They got way too big for that narrow space. But grapes are the perfect thing. They’re blasted by west-facing sun and they love it.”

Mah grows champagne and muscat varieties she got at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center during Harvest Day years ago plus some zinfandel, grown from Napa cuttings.

“A friend suggested wine grapes,” she said. “Her parents grow two acres in St. Helena. Zinfandel grapes are actually pretty tasty to eat.”

In unexpected places, Mah squeezed in plenty of edible ornamentals. Kiwis drape over a massive rebar shade structure built by Hickey. An espaliered Thai lime tree borders the deck, a dwarf kumquat is tucked next to the garage. A Buddha’s hand serves as a conversation piece.

“That tree is totally ridiculous,” Mah said of the unusual citrus. “There’s no juice in that fruit; it’s for making citron or candied peel, which is delicious.”

Her favorite is her Clementine tangerine. “It must be some of the best tasting fruit on Earth,” she said. “It is out of this world.”

Brick walkways, created by Hickey, lead through the garden past over-flowing perennial beds, succulents and a private little woodland in the shade of Japanese maples and a neighbor’s massive valley oak. A collection of carnivorous plants makes itself at home in a small pond liner and a salvaged metal urn.

Hickey also installed thoughtful lighting throughout the garden, from lanterns to string lights in trees.

“It’s really beautiful,” Mah said. “It looks like a fairyland at night. It’s bright enough I can actually read – or transplant – in the dark.”
Mah and Hickey started their garden with massive raised beds. They were once full of vegetables, but Mah transitioned those sunny beds to herbs and pollinator plants.

“This summer, I have loads of sunflowers,” she said. “I get all kinds of bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies. Little goldfinches love to nibble on the sunflower leaves.

“It’s really fun to see,” Mah added. “I’m in my little paradise.”


When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11

Where: Start at New Era Community Garden, 204 26 th St., Sacramento

Tickets: $10



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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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