April 21, 2018

How Does Your Garden Grow?—"Is it Spring yet?"


This is a new column for Topanga’s gardeners or those who think they might like to garden in Topanga. The information is based on Sarah Priest’s extensive knowledge, expertise and love of creating gardens and landscapes.

In typical Topanga fashion, not everything is blooming on the same timetable. The Coffeeberries, aka Buckthorns, have been blooming since early February, icing the local mountains like cupcakes with thousands of sweet-smelling native shrubs. As the Buckthorns go to seed, the Ceanothus (also known as Wild Lilacs) will be the next to explode with clouds of fragrant blue, purple and white blooms.

Although we have had a dry year so far, it is still not too late to plant wildflowers and shrubs. The wildflowers—look for California poppies in seed or in small sprouted “six-packs” in local nurseries—will need water only this spring, while newly planted native plants and shrubs will need watering for the first year. After that, they usually don’t need and don’t want supplemental water, making them a smart landscaping choice as water costs soar.

Ornamental gardeners should be done pruning roses and planting bare root roses. Cool weather gives us a last chance for this through the middle of March or so. Don’t buy bare root roses that are dried out or have lots of sprouts on them. It’s still okay to prune fruit trees that have started to bloom out. The cut blooming branches look spectacular in a vase in the house.

Deciduous Magnolias and New Zealand Tea Trees are blooming now and a good selection is available in local nurseries. As with most plants, the nurseries have the best selection when any particular plant is in bloom. Brighten things up with primroses and pansies which should give you flowers right into summer. Be aware that primroses like the shade; pansies need sun.

We are right in the middle of azalea and camellia season and they will flower into June or so. Depending on the variety, most can take some shade and prefer an acidic soil. Add soil amendments if you have clay-like soil. Azaleas need regular, but not too much water, while camellias can become pretty tough and tree-like over time, and may need little water.


Through the years, so many Topanga clients have asked me to create a wonderful vegetable garden for them. Many of us (including me) are in love with the idea of harvesting organic fresh veggies and bringing them right in to prepare healthy foods. The thought of saving big market bills by having “free” foods we grow is equally appealing.

This can be tremendously challenging in Topanga because in most areas of the Santa Monica Mountains everything that digs, crawls, flies, jumps or has a mouth is eventually going to plot to munch all of the food in our green and luscious gardens that we lovingly and arduously planned, built and grew, especially so as local hillsides dry out.

Some hints for making it work would be to have the whole “floor” of the garden completely covered with hardware mesh (chicken wire won’t do) for raised beds, or dug into the ground underneath, so our friends that live under the soil won’t pop up to munch or drag our vegetables under to consume in privacy. Once that is accomplished, pull the wire up the sides to about six feet or so to prevent deer from jumping in for a quick meal. Oh, and the top has to be covered, too, or the birds will come in for their share.

There’s not too much to do about munching insects unless the whole structure also has insect screening. Crazy as it sounds, many Topanga gardeners do go ahead with all of this, so strong is their desire for fresh foods. Check out the gardens at the Topanga Community House for a good example.

Once we add in the costs of sometimes daily watering, seeds and bedding plants, plus the many, albeit highly satisfying hours of soil preparation, building raised beds, planting, weeding and other necessary maintenance that all “farmers” must perform, the disappointing news is that dollar for dollar it may be a lot less costly just to patronize the Topanga Farmers Market or the organic bins at grocery and health food stores.

Fruit trees have plenty of wild fans, so keep a sharp eye out for the day everything ripens and get out there immediately or even preemptively to get the best of your harvest. Citrus does really well in our sunny climate and are less likely to be “harvested” without permission. Good drainage, some fertilizing, and protection from frost is about all you need for abundant harvests of these sunny fruits.

Please remember to respect our local wildlife. Everyone knows that without birds and bees, our gardens and the world won’t survive, so killing and poisons are not smart options for “control.”

And yes, it is the beginning of spring in Topanga. Enjoy the wildflowers, plant some natives, take a walk in the State Park and watch for the next column for more hints on late Spring gardens.

Sarah Priest melds her love of interior design, home staging and landscaping through her business Sarah Priest Estate Staging. She is available to assist Topanga homeowners add value and beauty to the inside or outside of their home whether they are selling or staying. Contact her at (310) 455-3547; Sarah@SarahPriest.com; or through www.SarahPriest.com.