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Humboldt Gardeners in Their Own Words, Part 1 

This is the first in a series of Q&As with Humboldt County gardeners. Eureka's Gisela Rohde of Eureka kicks it off. She's lived in Humboldt County for 27 years and has been at her current garden for five and a half years. When I asked her how she'd like to characterize her occupation or avocation, she replied, "Topophile (as in Sense of Place)."

What's the best thing about gardening in Humboldt County?

The long growing season.

What's the worst thing?

The cool, wet winters that tend to rot the roots of some of my favorite drought-tolerant plants. (Fortunately, there's a solution: raised beds created with well-draining soil.)

Why do you garden?

Let me count the ways. Number one, because it's a way to connect with nature. Even though a cultivated garden is not a natural place, it can still be a haven for native flora and fauna. Each season has its own unique qualities and one way to discover and remember them is through gardening.

The second reason is because principles I practice in the garden can be applied to other parts of my life. For example, I activate patience, hope and faith every time I plant a seed or bulb. Whenever I share plants with others, I'm reminded that plant starts are like love: The more you give, the more you receive. While I don't consider myself an artistic person, I'm able to tap into my creativity, imagination and intuition when I work on a garden plan.

Number three is because gardening expands my circle of friends. In this time of polarization, it's wonderful to find common ground with a diverse group of people. We may not agree about politics or religion, but we are able to bridge these differences through our passion for plants.

The fourth reason is for the joy of discovery and serendipity. I'll be saddened because a special plant has died, and then I discover its offspring flourishing nearby. My carefully designed border is invaded by rose campion and purple toadflax, and then I realize those shades of pinks, purples and grays provide the perfect accent.

Number five is because the garden lets me practice acceptance. It's hard for me to let go of preconceived ideas about perfection, but this is a necessary gardening skill. Plants don't always bloom where they're planted. Regardless of what I do, my hostas are going to experience some slug damage and my roses will get black spot. It's liberating when I can accept what is and realize that for a perfectionist, nothing is ever perfect.

The last, but certainly not least, reason I garden is because it's fun!

Are you organic? Not organic? On the fence?

I currently use a combination of chemical and organic fertilizers, plus I rely heavily on organic mulches and compost. I learned the principles of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) when I became a Master Gardener and I use that approach in my garden. When I discover a pest problem in my garden, I try to use a treatment that is least injurious to the environment. Fortunately there are many effective, "earth-friendly" pesticide options now available. Sluggo and Neem are two of my favorites.

Most dreaded gardening chore?

Total renovation of a garden bed. I love growing perennials, but unfortunately they need to be divided periodically. I have to remove my soaker hoses, dig up the perennials, amend the soil and replant the freshly divided plants. Then I get to replace the soaker hoses and mulch around the plants. It's a lot of work, but I'm rewarded with two or three years of low-maintenance flowers.

Favorite gardening activity?

I find it very relaxing to wander around my garden. As I enjoy the flowers and try to identify the various birds and insects I see, I also tidy the garden and spot potential problems. One plant might need dead-heading, another has chewed and slimed leaves (time for more Sluggo), the evil oxalis has reappeared and needs to be pulled out.

Worst pest, weed, or disease?

My two nemeses are creeping buttercup ( Ranunculus repens ) and Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pescaprae). I've gotten them under control by smothering them with a layer of cardboard topped with rice straw. However, I need to be constantly vigilant or these two pests will take over the garden.

All-time favorite gardening plant -- the one you couldn't live without?

Japanese maples are beautiful year round and grow well in our climate. If I could have only one tree, it would be a Japanese maple.

Most overused plant in Humboldt County?

While there are situations when it makes sense to use turf grass as a ground cover, people often have lawns just because they haven't thought about alternatives. As water prices go up and the cost of lawn fertilizers and pesticides become more expensive, people might rethink the wisdom of having a lawn. I've convinced several people to plant low-maintenance gardens instead of a grass monocrop and they have been thrilled with the results. None of them misses mowing a lawn every 10 days and dealing with all the other maintenance a green lawn requires.

Favorite gardening book?

Sunset Western Gardening Book is a favorite of many gardeners, including me. I also like Timber Press books. The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust is a must have for any perennial gardener.

Favorite tool, gadget, or toy?

My good Felco pruners.

Worst piece of gardening advice you ever heard?

Using garlic as a gopher deterrent. I quickly found out that gophers love garlic.

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Amy Stewart

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