Every year at this time, I think of Albert Wilson, the remarkable Peninsula gardener and garden designer who died a few year ago, well into his 90s.
He spent his life figuring out exactly how to make the best possible garden in this area. Along the way he created a one-year, week by week gardening calendar that became the chapters of his book, "How Does Your Garden Grow?," first published in 1949. (Buy your own copy at local used-book and garage sales or at Bell's Book Store in Palo Alto, which specializes in out-of-print gardening books.)
For me, Wilson's most valuable tips explain how to spend a few hours planting seeds, cuttings and bulbs in September and October. Gorgeous pots of geraniums, sweet peas, nasturtiums, daffodils, tulips and anemones - all can be yours next spring if you gather your materials over the next month or two.
Although Wilson lived in Palo Alto, for some reason he belonged to the Garden Club of Los Altos, and for years was the only male member. The club's early members still fondly recall his very definite opinions on everything from compost to flower arranging.
I never saw Wilson in person, but I once talked to him on the telephone, trying to interview him for my very first newspaper story. I considered him my guru. He bawled me out for asking obvious questions and told me to look up any information I needed in books.
As homage to Albert Wilson and his continuing influence on Los Altos gardens, here are just a few of his tips for taking full advantage of September and October, our gardening "springtime":
Double or triple the number of your geraniums or pelargoniums (or grow them for gifts) by taking cuttings now.
Slice healthy stems below a joint, let the stem callous off for an hour or two by leaving it out in the air, then dip in a root-growing compound and plant tightly in sand. Or just put the stems in a glass of water by your kitchen sink until tiny root hairs develop. Be sure to remove leaves that might be under water, so the stem doesn't rot. Plant rooted stems in planting mix in pots or the ground. Protect from winter frosts.
In September plant sweet pea and nasturtium seeds and perennial seeds, too. I simply pour bagged potting soil into pots, using very large pots for sweet peas. As seedlings grow, I add tepees made of bamboo poles, for the plants to climb. I place pots on a roofed patio so that they get winter sun but are protected from frost.
Choose a lovely selection of daffodil, tulip, anemone and other favorite bulbs in the coming weeks. Put them in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for a few weeks. Then plant, shoulder to shoulder, in good potting soil in pots. When you buy bulbs at the nursery, you will usually receive directions for planting depth. I put my bulb pots under the eaves on the east side of the house and water them about once per week. By late December or early January, when green leaves are developed, bring them out to a sunny location near your front door or on the patio. Within weeks, you will have beautiful flowers.
Barnes writes the "Your Home" special section each month for the Town Crier. She is a long time Los Altos resident and gardener.