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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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May 25

Indicator of a Healthy Garden

Posted on May 25, 2018 at 8:30 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

garden toadWere my eyes playing tricks on me? What appeared to be a brown mottled rock stood in the path of the weed eater. Yet there was something different about this particular rock that caused me to stare. And then there was movement. The rock was lumbering away from me—not a rock at all but a huge toad. 

I’d been serenaded by his musical ribbits in the spring evenings, but he failed to share where he hung out in the garden until this week when he appeared twice. Or were there two toads?

Either way, this is one happy gardener. Toads are the ultimate beneficial anyone could desire to find residing in their garden. They can eat well over 10,000 insects, slugs and snails in a season. 

Their dining choices may not be selective and probably include some beneficial insects. However, the ratio of bad to good is worth it as their diet also includes snapping up houseflies, moths, larvae and wireworms that destroy potatoes, onions, beets and carrots. 

Upon researching more about this gardener’s friend, I learned they are among the most intelligent amphibian species. Did you know you can train them to come when you call and will eat insects or worms that you caught? However, those captured feasts must be moving to capture the toad’s interest. 

Other facts that surprised me are: 
  1. They can live up to 30 years in captivity.
  2. They are found in all 50 states.
  3. They are territorial and often return to the same hunting area each night.
Toads like to dwell in cool, damp places. A bonus for them is having a small, shallow pond close by. You might consider combining the slurry of mud the butterflies and mason bees need for hydration, and slopping it into a place where the toad can take a dip on occasion. What an oasis that would be … provided the toad does its hunting at night and the insects visit their mud slurry in the daylight hours!

Meanwhile, while you ponder the advantages and disadvantages of mixing two waterholes, this gardener will attempt chorusing with this beneficial to lure him out of his hiding place for a photo op.

Have a great weekend and a blessed Memorial Day. 
May 18

Herbs

Posted on May 18, 2018 at 10:38 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

lemon balm
 Lemon balm
Herbs are hidden treasures in the garden. Their beauty and versatility as garden plants are often forgotten. In fact, mention herbs and I would venture to say most of us consider only their culinary benefits: The use of parsley to enhance a spaghetti sauce or embellish the presentation of a dinner dish. The cilantro we associate with salsas and Hispanic savory dishes. The perennial lemon balm leaves floating in a pitcher of ice tea. And then there is basil. How can anyone not have basil growing in the garden for that impromptu pesto to add to pasta or spread on bread instead of mayo? Or a rosemary branch to use as a barbeque brush for applying marinades?

There is nothing like using fresh herbs in cooking—the results cannot be mirrored with dried herbs. But that’s not all that herbs offer. As I walk around the garden, I note that the herbs planted therein are typically not damaged by browsing deer, rabbits or squirrels. They produce small but beautiful flowers. They come in all sizes and varieties. Would you be surprised to learn that most herbs are also low-water-using plants? How could these plants with so many benefits be overlooked?

Sage (Salvia) is one of my favorite herbs. The plants in this genus have been developed into many ornamental uses, while still containing that same aromatic scent that thwarts the most aggressive garden invaders from dining on the brilliantly colored flowers. Sage attracts beneficial insects into the garden as well.

creeping thyme
 Creeping thyme
Thyme scores right up at the top of my list of groundcovers to plant. This low-grower creeps between stepping stones. Different varieties have different leaf colors that also can add interest to the garden. For example, lemon thyme leaves have a variegated yellow leaf. Wooly thyme is just that—the leaves cast the image of gray fuzzy wool. Additionally, these plants are covered in beautiful blossoms during the late spring/early summer, adorning the ground with a rich carpet of brilliant pink. When in bloom, this groundcover serves to attract bees. (As a result, I would not recommend planting it around a swimming pool.)

Many herbs are used for medicinal purposes. Mint is great for relieving a tummy ache; simply steam a few leaves in hot water to make a tea. A word of caution regarding mint: It is invasive. Plant it in a container and place the container on concrete where the root system cannot work its way into the soil. Savory is another plant known to aid in digestion. 

Herbs can also add interest in a formal garden. Traditional English gardens commonly featured “knot gardens” where plants formed intricate mini hedge patterns to mimic a fancy knot. I can only imagine that the maintenance for this type of garden would be intense, but it creates a beautiful effect for those so inclined. 

The number of herbs is too numerous to mention. They are worth investigating. Grow them in containers by the kitchen door, grow them in the vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects, grow them in the kitchen window. Most important? Grow them!
May 14

A Rose is a Rose

Posted on May 14, 2018 at 9:09 AM by Ann Vallee

We will be celebrating Mother’s Day this Sunday. For some reason, this day of the year reminds me of roses. Is it because roses are known as the love flower? Or their fragrance covers a range from sweet to spicy – much like we experienced in the kitchen as we grew up? Or is it the beauty found in a vase adorning a table with the perfect hue of Mom’s favorite color?

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