Wow! A whole year without a message or post. That's a little clue as what kind of a year 2014 was. So, before I get to our message for the future let me fill you in on the highlights of the year just past:
First, the good news. Susie and I are in good health with only minor problems related mostly to just getting old. We are comitted to a healthy lifestyle of exercise and good food (and dogs). We have had the best two years ever for the nursery which is a minor miracle considering the state of the economy. Of course that's not inflation adjusted. We now have a brand new metal roof on the house, the largest project we have tackled since the first years of our move. And, finally, it is RAINING AGAIN! 16 inches since the beginning of the season (starts officially July 1). We had nine inches in one week. And lastly, we have a new family member, an 18 month old black female pug named Ollie (California Black Olive) that we rescued.
On the other side of the coin, we have just had the driest year EVER (2013-2014). One meteorologist thinks it was the driest for the last thousand years. The driest year also included the coldest spell in the last 15 years, 12F for several nights in a row. We suffered significant plant damage. We spent all our money on the roof. We lost most of our cuttings because I was spending all my time on the roof. A giant oak tree next to our house fell while we were watching, right out of the blue. So, instead of putting up the gutters and trim, I got to clean up load after load of limbs, leaves, and firewood.
The rainy season traditionally starts July 1, but it usually doesn't start to rain until November, other than a minor storm here and there of maybe an inch or two total.It didn't start raining last season until February 2014, and without those couple of good spring storms we would have been down the tubes. For the calendar year of 2013, we got less than six inches. It was bone dry all last fall and winter (2013-2014), maybe 3 inches total until February. We got so little rain that the grass did not germinate in the fall. No one has ever seen that. It was gray/brown all winter when it is ordinarily rich green in the hills and valleys, except for the deciduous trees of course. The water table kept falling all winter. By early summer, the level had fallen 4 feet lower than normal. We have a very shallow aquifer (10 to 30ft), so our water flow was cut in half. We had to throttle back our pumps to keep from pumping air. That meant there wasn't enough water to operate the sprinklers properly, so we had to hand water thousands of trees 4 hours a day, every day, all summer long.
Most of the time during this winter dry spell we had bright sunny days and mild weather, but for about the first 2 weeks of December the bottom fell out and we were in the teens almost every night, falling as low as 12F. It hadn't been that cold since we moved here in 1998. No good deed goes unpunished: Peter and I have been spending the last two years or so getting most of the larger containerized plants on benches and off the ground. It's wonderful for weeding, pruning and keeping things clean. It also lowers the temperature of the rootball two or three degress in hard freezes. It's counterintuitive, but ground contact keeps the rootballs a couple of degrees warmer. Having not lost anything to hard freezes in recent years, I didn't worry about it. But last spring the damage became clear. I had found the minimum low temperature for Cedar and Cork Oak roots. These had weathered 15F with no problems for many years, but raising them off the ground and subjecting them to sub 15F temperatures was just too much. The roots froze and turned to mush. the tops were undamaged, but with no roots of course they succumbed. Lost all the one gallon Cork Oaks and all but a few one gallon Cedars (except Cedrus deodara). Most of the less cold hardy plants in smaller pots were overwintered in the greenhouse and were undamaged, but the smaller Cork Oaks that had minor protection of being under shadecloth and on the ground died. Live and learn. Now I am back to turning on the overhead irrigation when the temperature is expected to fall below 20F, as it has for the past few nights. It makes a winter wonderland of ice castles, but it protects the plants.
This season the rains came right on time at the end of November. A seemingly endless stream of subtropical moisture getting caught up in a succession of cold fronts from the Eastern Pacific. It rained off and on (mostly on) for three solid weeks, almost flooding some areas, but mostly a nice soaking rain. The parched earth soaked it up like a sponge. It took about six inches to saturate the top layers of soil and even begin to run off. Sixteen inches so far, well above average for this time of the year. But it stopped about a week ago and got cold and only one storm is predicted for the next two weeks. So we have our fingers crossed. We need a lot more rain to recharge the ground water and create some snow in the Sierras where it has been too warm for snow except in the highest elevations. I am still waiting for that mythical 40 inch year that it is going to take to break this almost decade long drought.
We have been planning for this one a long time. We have been making a REAL house out of our old double wide mobile that was here when we moved here. We have completed most of the inside work, but the tired old roof wasn't going to make it another season. Good timing given the rains this year. We have been making endless repairs to the roofs of our house, the garage, and our rental for 16 years. So, we decided to do it right, and to do it for the last time. We bought enough metal roofing for all three structures, getting a better deal that way, and storing it until we could get to each project. Summer of 2013 we did the garage. It was a nightmare of course since nothing was level or square, part of the floor was still dirt and it was originally an open pole structure that had been added on to for years. We got it mostly straight and level but no where near perfect.
The house was next, and it was a quantum leap. It required a complete new frame to accomodate a surrounding overhang, and front porch, and a new back porch. We had to give it more pitch and put a pitched roof on the back porch when we rebuilt it. It was a monster job that our friend Peter and I started the first week in July and finished on Labor Day. By finished, I mean the rain won't come in. I still have the gutters and a lot of trim to install to cover the old funky siding at the top and bottom of the wall. But it is beautiful and will never have to be done again. We lucked out with the weather. The first too weeks were a heat wave, and we thought this is going to kill us for sure, but that was the last one and it was just typical hot for the rest of the summer. Peter is 67 and I am 68. Two old farts in the broiling sun going up and down a 14 foot ladder a couple dozen times is a day. A good recipe for heart attacks. But other than a few black and blue thumbs we came out unscatheed. We would work on the roof in the cool of the morning. In the hot afternoons, Peter would find spots in the shade to work and I would start the 4 hours of hose in hand watering required by the drought. Exhausted each day by PDT (puppy dinner time), I didn't pay nearly enough attention to the cuttings and losses were far too high. So we may be short a few thiings this year that we were hoping to have. But the roof is DONE. Just a few more projects to complete before we can retire to our rocking chairs.
Of course everything cost two and three times as much as we thought it would for the roof even after we had already purchased the metal. So we ran out of money by the end of summer and reluctantly had to send Peter home by Labor Day. I only had the gutters and trim to do, and thought I could easily get that done myself a little at a time. But oh, that fickle finger of fate! About a week later as my neighbor, Susie, and I were walking down the driveway to the nursery, we heard this big crack, and right before our eyes, about 50 feet away, a four foot thick oak crashed to the ground. It missed the new roof (we had it pruned previously so it wouldn't fall on the house), but it fell across the driveway, crushing the gate, and narrowly missed the wood shed, just bending a little metal at the corner of the roof. This is our main access to the nursery. To get to the nursery, we either had to go outside the compound and around to the main gate, or all the way through the garden to the lower gate. Now, I go out to the nursery about a dozen times a day, so this was major inconvenience. There was nothing to do, but crank up the chain saws and go at it. We took about a dozen loads of leaves and small branches to the compost pile, and then I started on the job of cutting it up for firewood a little at a time when I didn't have the hose in my hand watering, and I wasn't in the blazing sun. It took weeks to clean it all up by myself, but we got at least three cords of firewood out of it, most of which now has to be split. And we now have this nice sun garden on the north east corner of the house where the shade garden used to be. Then we had to begin fall cleanup and the rains came. Needless to say, the gutters and trim still aren't up.
I think that just about catches you up on the events at Evergreen Gardenworks. Where do we go from here? It's obvious that I haven't felt like writing much lately. Part of this is simply being overwhelmed. When I feel like this, I just shut down only getting done what immediately needs to be done and feeling guilty about the rest. Of course, that feeds on itself as the list of things that needs to be done just gets bigger and bigger. Now that I can see an end to the projects for the property and the nursery, I am starting to feel like I can get my head above water. Starting a new year is a good time to get a fresh start, so I hope this is it.
Another aspect is simply coming to terms with getting old. I am probably doing better than most in that I at least am keeping myself in good shape. But there is a lot more to getter older than just being physically capable to to do some of what I used to do. I have to come to terms with the fact that I just have to hire people to do the things I can't do anymore, or to free me to do the things that are more rewarding and productive. And there is the old saw that time goes faster as you get older. The reality of that one is really hitting home these days. The days, months, and years are just flying by now. Statistically, I probably have another ten years, but I also know that I could be gone tomorrow, or maybe live to 100. Who knows? The point is what to do with the time that's remaining so that it is meaningful in some way no matter when the end comes. I suppose you will be hearing more and more about this if I can find the headspace to keep up the blog. One thing that I know is that I want to work in the nursery as long as I am capable or can find the help that will keep me involved. Right now, I have a wonderful helper, Kristin, that gives me hope that my work will continue to be joyful and productive. As long as she can stay or I can find others as capable, the nursery will continue to be a reality.
I write these things because this thinking is what is guiding the future of the nursery. For example, I am thinking about the last batch of grafts that I may produce since they take a full two years to become salable. The ones I did this fall won't be ready until I am almost 70. Likewise, I am slimming down our catalog offerings, as I have stated in other yearly messages. The list is getting down a more comfortable level of species that I really like to grow, and that people will buy. It is had to believe that when I started out, almost 30 years ago, I used to propagate and grow almost a thousand species and cultivars. I still marvel when I peruse the old propagation ledgers.
More specifically, for 2015, we will continue to offer a good selection of mume since we have the big greenhouse to overwinter them. Still no plans for anything larger than one gallon size since overwintering larger plants just isn't practical. The red ones, the ones everyone wants of course, continue to be problematic. They are weak growing and the new cuttings seem to be more prone to fungal diseases, and are harder to root. I will have to work out these problems before we can offer these in significant numbers. Unless I can locate some plants from other growers, we won't have these until next year.
We are having similar problems with Chaenomeles 'Chojubai Red'. EVERYONE wants these, and once again we lost our cuttings. I think they stayed too wet because I have just been too busy to pay enough attention. I may be able to get some small ones from another grower, but I won't know until late April or May.
I did find some Japanese beech, Fagus crenata, but only in a larger size. These will in one gallon pots and probably will be ready about June. A number of people have requested these since we ran out two years ago. Seed and plants are very difficult to find.
The big greenhouse has been so beneficial to the survival of new grafts that I have decided to try some Cedars again. I bought 100 Cedrus deodara understock and they are sitting happily in the warm moist greenhouse right now. They will be big enough to graft next fall, and be ready for sale two years after that. I plan to start some C. libani 'Green Prince' and C. brevifolia (grafts should be faste than seedlings), and to introduce a new cultivar of C. atlantica that I haven't named yet. It is a chance seedling that is a bright green with no hint of blue with very short needles. It is a vigorous grower and may be a good candidate for a nice thick trunked shohin. The Japanese white pines, Pinus parviflora cultivars have never really sold well, and I continue to weed out the ones that don't sell. I may discontinue them altogether in the next year or so. They are so difficult to grow that their usage as bonsai is really quite limited, unlike Japanese black pine that grow like weeds, and are so stylistically adaptable. But even here, I will be offering fewer cultivars, the ones that are most popular.
Once again, the specimen plants have got the short end of the stick. I am hoping that I will find more time to work with them and get them in the catalog this year. I have so many wonderful plants, it is a shame that I can't seem to get them available to you. I know many of you are waiting for the new offerings. I promised some plants for this fall, but was still too busy. I still plan to do my best to get a few dozen trees up in the specimen catalog before spring, but as of this writing I haven't posted anything new.
I hope I can find the time to keep posting this year, but even if you don't see me here, be assured that I still answer all your email, and usually in a day or two. Come hell or high water, I continue to ship every Monday and most asap orders received by Saturday morning are shipped on Monday. Thank you for your continued and loyal patronage and may you and your families have a happy and prosperous New Year!