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THE GARDEN FANATIC:Tending to nature revives the spirit

“Find something beautiful every day... like the way the morning light catches a leaf as it falls gently to the ground."  -- Catherine Cooper

“All the leaves are brown … " -- The Mamas & the Papas

Kkreeck, kkreeck. The nearly soothing sound of the rake had lured me back to the garden. The fact that the recent strong winds had covered our patio with leaves was irrelevant.

It was the act of getting back to the garden — to loiter, unwind and defrost from the demands of the holidays that was important.


I focused on my form — rotating my torso, as not to overly strain my arms and shoulders. I began with the lawn, gently fluffing the blades upward, which had been covered by brown, bamboo leaves.

Then I carefully drew the rake tines into the gravel, forming an undulating pattern I imagined being water. The possibilities seemed unlimited.

Q. Deer ate my new hibiscus in Top of the World. What can I plant?

A. If deer are hungry, they’ll eat almost any plant. The following plants are similar to hibiscus in form, and are not normally browsed upon: Arbutus “Oktoberfest’ (strawberry tree) Hakea suaveolens (sweet hakea), Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon), Prunus caroliniana (Carolina cherry), and Nerium oleander (oleander).


Q. What is the most important garden job this month?

A. January is the month for pruning. Prune carefully to encourage the type of plant growth you desire. Early-flowering shrubs and trees may be pruned after they have flowered.

Q. My tuberous begonias are going down now. What do I do with them in Laguna Canyon?

A. When the stems have fallen off, remove the tuber and shake off the soil. Dry them for a few days, place tubers in a paper bag, and store in a cool, dry place. You can set the begonias out again in early spring.

Q. My azalea plant was in blossom when I bought it about two weeks ago, but most of the flowers have turned brown and many leaves are dropping. What can I do?

A. Azaleas have a difficult time growing indoors — rapid leaf drop is an indication of too much heat (perhaps it’s next to a heater), lack of water or possibly the plant is sitting in saucer water. Plant it outdoors soon.

Q. My roses have been so beautiful this past year. But now, they are losing leaves. Is it too early to prune for the winter?

A. Rain, insects, and cold winds have stripped many rose leaves. If you have the time, it would be okay to prune your roses now.


Q. Do hydrangeas bloom on old or new wood?

A. The common hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) flowers on canes formed the preceding year, and should be pruned after flowering or not at all.

Q. Can I grow chives from seeds?

A. Yes. They can be sown now, but I think buying a plant is much easier.

Gardening produces happiness for many of us, because it allows for personal expression and shelter from the vagaries of life. Rather than waiting to garden this coming year, I resolve to enjoy my garden more often, and selfishly create space for myself the entire year. See you next time.


  • Steve Kawaratani is happily married to Catharine Cooper. He can be reached at (949) 497.2438, or e-mail