The Coastal Gardener: Merry Christmas to the flowers, trees and birds

Chances are, as you read this, your living room is strewn with wrapping paper and holiday greeting cards. Gadgets are being plugged in, instruction sheets are being deciphered and calories are being consumed. The daily paper is soon to be dissected, a preamble to tomorrow's post-holiday sales and savings.

Christmas Day celebrations have a lot to do with relationships, sharing, gratitude and peace. Families come together, friends call each other, children are at their happiest and collectively, we all show our appreciation and love for each other. I'll be doing the same, spending time with my family and a few close friends, slowing down for a day.

Christmas is traditionally an indoor day, probably the most "indoor" of all the days of the year. After the morning unwrapping, there's time for lounging around, some television watching and maybe a football or basketball game. Then there's the cooking and baking and table setting, all culminating in a big feast, followed by more lounging.

At our house I'll do some unwrapping, lounging, watching and feasting as well. But between these Christmas Day traditions I'll also spend just a little while outdoors, and I encourage each of you to consider the same. Maybe I'll spend a few minutes by myself just enjoying the plants and the flowers and their companions. If I'm lucky I'll be able to coax my family outdoors as well, where we'll all share in whatever of nature's marvels we might stumble upon.

For me, on this special day, I'll at spend at least a few moments basking in the glory of nature: the plants, the birds, the animals, the flowers, the insects and maybe even the mountains, the oceans and the green fields.

In my sometimes detached world, the mosaic of sycamore bark is more amazing than any wrapping paper. The value of a discovered silk tassel tree in full bloom on a canyon slope is as awesome as the most beautiful sweater or shirt. A long stop in a garden to pause and witness the season's first, gentle unwrapping of golden poppy petals rivals any treasure hidden under any Christmas tree.

I love nature. Nature wasn't made in China and doesn't come with gift receipts. It isn't neatly addressed with the "to's" and "from's" of my family members and friends. Today, as we consider our family traditions and recall what is important to each of us, I will be spending at least a little while in the sunshine or the rain drops, whichever is offered; and I will rejoice in either, needing little more. Gifts with bows are fine, and I certainly will contribute and consume my share in this year's celebration. But the gift of fresh air, rich fragrant earthy soil and the dormant seeds of tomorrow's plant life are, for me, supreme.

Cell phones cost $200, iPads $500, flatscreens about $1,500 and plastic gift cards are limitless. But a monarch butterfly visiting my garden on a Christmas Day, a mariposa lily emerging its leaves from its long summer dormancy or the brilliant colors of a glowing golden tree have no price — they are free.

On this special day, with my dear family and friends nearby, I am thankful for all that I have received and for all that we are able to share with each other. But it is outside, in nature and in wildness, away from wrapping paper and instruction booklets, that I am humbled by what I have been given. Nature is free and it is mine, and today my family and I will step outside and bask in its sharing, for at least a few minutes.

Henry David Thoreau proclaimed 150 years ago, "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."

Yes, it is.

Merry Christmas to all of you, your families … and the flowers.

RON VANDERHOFF is the Nursery Manager at Roger's Gardens, Corona del Mar.

Ask Ron


I have a citrus with iron deficiency. Give it some iron — right? I've added iron before with little effect. Should I use a liquid iron, powdered iron, granulated iron or what?

Christine, Costa Mesa


Iron deficiency in citrus is a rather common sight. There are a couple of things you should know about applying iron. First, iron will not be absorbed well by the roots of the plant when the soil is cool. This is especially true in a sub-tropical plant like a citrus, which is essentially dormant during the winter months. In addition, iron is absorbed poorly by plants when the soil is somewhat alkaline (high pH).

My suggestion is to use an iron that has been chelated; either liquid or granular is fine. Chelating of the iron helps it to be absorbed more easily by the plant and it also helps the iron persist in the soil a bit longer. However, wait until about March to begin applying the iron and simultaneously add a thick organic and acidic mulch over the soil at the base of the plant, but not in contact with the trunk.

ASK RON your toughest gardening questions, and the expert nursery staff at Roger's Gardens will come up with an answer. Please include your name, phone number and city, and limit queries to 30 words or fewer. E-mail, or write to Plant Talk at Roger's Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar, CA 92625.

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