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Taming the Wildearth

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Donna Wildearth.
  • Donna Wildearth.

In this ongoing series of Humboldt County gardeners telling it like it is, Eureka gardener and landscape designer Donna Wildearth (right) has stepped up to bat. She owns Garden Visions Landscape Design and she teaches at College of the Redwoods. "Between my business and my teaching," she says, "I feel happily immersed in the world of plants." Here's what else she had to say:

What's the best thing about gardening in Humboldt County?

The relatively mild climate, which enables us to grow a wide range of plants and to have something in bloom year round. I think there's also a very high level of interest in gardening - witness the many local nurseries, garden clubs, and plant societies. Also I think we are fortunate to be surrounded by so many areas where we can observe a wide range of native plants.

What's the worst thing?

The only drawback I feel is, again, our relatively mild climate, which means we can't grow some plants that need more heat or winter chill.

Why do you garden?

I think I used to assume that I gardened so that I could have a beautiful garden. However, more and more it seems to me that I garden so that I can play with plants! I garden for the pleasure of nurturing plants and watching them develop. For the thrill of learning more about plants. For the satisfaction I feel after giving the garden a good tidy-up. For the immediate sense of being connected to the earth and to the cycles of life. Here's my garden motto (a paraphrase of a comment by Annette Funicello): "My garden is rarely perfect, but often wonderful."

Who taught you how to garden?

My mother was the first gardener I knew. She loved flowers, and tended many flowers and shrubs around our house. I don't remember actually working in the garden very often, but I think I probably absorbed a lot by osmosis. I've also taken Ornamental Horticulture classes at College of the Redwoods and read many, many gardening books.

How much time do you spend in the garden?

It varies widely over the year - maybe an average of two to three hours a week. Sometimes it's just right; sometimes it seems overwhelming.

Are you organic? Not organic? On the fence?

I've been gardening organically for 25 years. I'm committed to it and firmly convinced that it offers many benefits, personally and on the larger scale.

Most dreaded gardening chore?

I wouldn't say I dread it, but dividing plants intimidates me somewhat, though most of my attempts have been successful.

Favorite gardening activity?

I really enjoy pruning shrubs to enhance their shape and keep them healthy. I find it very satisfying to take an overgrown shrub and open it up, revealing an interesting branch structure.

Worst pest, weed or disease?

In my own garden, sheep sorrel is the weed I have the most trouble with. I just keep after it and try to dig up as much of the underground runners as possible. Thrips have been a problem on a few plants. I've used a product called Organicide, which seems to help. I also try to make sure

that the plants are getting the right amount of water, nutrients, etc.

All-time favorite plant?

It would be impossible to narrow it down to just one! A few of my favorites would be: rugosa roses, pink jasmine, winter daphne, lavender, artemisia `Powis Castle', hyssop and western azalea. (Can you tell that I love fragrant plants?)

Least favorite plant?

I'm not too fond of bear's breech (Acanthus), though like any plant it has its uses.

Most overused plant in Humboldt County?

A toss-up between junipers, rhododendrons and agapanthus - or how about lawns?

Favorite gardening book?

One thing I like about gardening is that gardeners are a very literate bunch. I've enjoyed and benefited from a great many gardening books. A short list would include The Ann Lovejoy Handbook of Northwest Gardening (Ann Lovejoy), Artists and Their Gardens (Valerie Easton & David Laskin), Gardening with Nature (James van Sweden), Gardens for the Soul (Pamela Woods), Noah's Garden and Planting Noah's Garden (Sara Stein) and Penelope Hobhouse's Garden Designs (Penelope Hobhouse)

Favorite tool, gadget, or toy?

Felco pruner #8 - fits my hand and does the job.

What would you most like to change about your own garden?

Well, part of me would like it to be "finished" right now - all grown up and filled in, as I envision it. But I realize that then I would miss the pleasure of watching it evolve, season by season. (And I also know that a garden is never really "finished".)

Best gardening advice you can pass on to other Humboldt gardeners?

Focus on developing and maintaining healthy soil - "delicious dirt," as Ann Lovejoy puts it.

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