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Editor’s Note: Welcome, garden enthusiasts, to another edition of The Latest Dirt! As we enjoy vibrant summer days, our gardens become places of beauty and spaces requiring careful stewardship. To mitigate wildfire risks, we must remain vigilant in firescaping our landscapes as the temperature rises. I feel compelled to remind everyone that creating fire-resistant zones with strategic plant selections and maintaining adequate clearance around structures are crucial to safeguarding our homes and communities.

I hope you’re also experiencing an influx of butterflies and birds in your gardens. I’ve been enjoying the dance of monarchs and swallowtails and the special purr of hummingbirds. I’m so happy with the biodiversity. However, we also urge everyone to exercise caution during garden activities, especially in the scorching heat of midday. Hydration, appropriate attire, and scheduling tasks during cooler mornings or evenings are essential to ensure our safety and our beloved plants’ health.

This month’s issue begins with an interview with Dawn Kooyumjian, our Contra Costa County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator, and David George. She highlights her incredible journey as a musician and a gardener. We also introduce our first- and second-Year Executive Leadership Team members.

Marilyn Saarni discusses ways to protect your home during fire season with different firescaping practices. Greg Letts photographs the new murals at Our Garden by Becky Griffith. Liz Rottger gives us a detailed update on the Water Conservation Garden. Don’t forget the Open House at the WCG this Saturday, July 13, 11 am–3 pm.

Laura Brainin-Rodriguez’s article invites readers to garden at any age and includes a follow-up article on warming up before gardening. Susan Heckly submits a perplexing Help Desk question about mysterious black dots on camellia leaves. The Richmond Dry Garden receives a well-deserved honor from EBMUD and the City of Richmond. A beautiful caterpillar finds its way into the Water Conservation Garden. And we conclude with reminders and links for Lori Palmquist’s webinar on Mulch on July 16, 6 pm—7:30 pm, and the Open House for the Water Conservation Garden on July 13, 11 am—3 pm.

Simone Adair, Editor

The Latest Dirt - July 2024
  • Dawn Kooyumjian Welcomes Us to Her Garden
    Dawn Kooyumjian Welcomes Us to Her Garden

    by David George

    Contra Costa County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator Dawn Kooyumjian has been responsible for the business side of the program since June 2016. But do you really know Dawn? She and I had a chance to chat last week during a break in her many official duties. Where did she acquire that near-encyclopedic knowledge of plant names? What is her garden like? Did she really build a complete harpsichord all by herself? Read on for answers to these questions and more!

  • Welcome to New & Returning ELT Members: Planting the Seeds of Success
    Welcome to New & Returning ELT Members: Planting the Seeds of Success

    Welcome to New & Returning ELT Members: Planting the Seeds of Success

  • Living in Wildfire Country: Summer Tasks
    Living in Wildfire Country: Summer Tasks

    Article & Photos by Marilyn Saarni

    Our wildfire season is officially here—it’s early this year, with our rainy winter producing plenty of vegetation. The summer heat is drying out many plants, while water consumption is increasing. For those in wildfire country, it’s time to begin the intensive maintenance for the fire season. Here are some of those summer firewise tasks.

  • New Our Garden Murals On Display
    New Our Garden Murals On Display

    Becky Griffin, wife of UC Master Gardener Steve Griffin, painted these two whimsical and welcoming murals on the side of the Our Garden shed fence. Photos by Greg Letts.

  • News From Our Garden
    News From Our Garden

    Article by Janet Miller
    Photo by Greg Letts

    Oh, the glory of a beautiful summer garden – and this year, if I dare say it, Our Garden looks better than ever! I always feel that a successful garden comes from a healthy mix of tried-and-true best cultural practices, a science-based approach to fertilizing and treating insects and diseases, weather, weather, weather, and then a little bit of magic. I think we’ve been given a little extra dose of magic this year – the garden is lush, green and thriving even through the brutal 100+ degree days. We are grateful for the magic, but here’s a quick look at the other elements added to this season’s efforts.

  • Worms, Bees, Rainwater: An Update from the Water Conservation Garden
    Worms, Bees, Rainwater: An Update from the Water Conservation Garden

    Article & photos by Liz Rottger

    I want to update you on the progress we’ve been making at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cerrito. We have regularly scheduled work parties on the second Saturday of the month, but I know many of you can’t make our work parties. But I think all of you are interested in the Water Conservation Garden’s progress.

  • Gardening for all Ages
    Gardening for all Ages

    By Laura Brainin-Rodriguez

    As we age, we may develop injuries due to overuse or mishaps. This can affect our balance, coordination, and/or eyesight, as well as our joints. We will discuss the body mechanics, tools, and equipment we can use to continue making gardening a vital part of our lives.

  • Warmup to Prepare for Gardening
    Warmup to Prepare for Gardening

    By Laura Brainin-Rodriguez

    Like any physical activity, preparing our bodies for gardening is a good idea. It is recommended that we do 5 minutes of a warmup, such as walking around the garden, followed by some gentle stretches.

    It would help if you did these movements slowly and mindfully, honoring your body and limitations on a given day.

  • Black Dot Mystery Perplexes Help Desk Team
    Black Dot Mystery Perplexes Help Desk Team

    By Susan Heckly

    Client’s conundrum
    In May, a client from Trilogy in Brentwood called and described some sort of pest all over a neighbor’s walls, windows, and plants. She described it as small black dots of stuck-on material. She had been to several nurseries and talked to “master gardeners” at those nurseries who had no idea what it was, even looking at it under magnification. She said it stuck to walls so securely that it damaged the wall underneath when they tried to remove it.

  • Richmond Dry Garden Receives Well-Earned Honor
    Richmond Dry Garden Receives Well-Earned Honor

    On June 25, the Richmond Dry Garden and UC Master Gardeners received a proclamation from the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) recognizing the successful collaboration between the City of Richmond Parks and Landscaping Division and the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County that restored and maintains the garden at the Richmond Civic Center Plaza.

  • The Mysterious Sphinx Moth Caterpillar
    The Mysterious Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

    This beautiful caterpillar was recently found in the Water Conservation Garden. It is easily recognizable by its robust body, vivid coloration, and distinctive horns at the rear end, which give it the nickname "hornworm." These caterpillars can be found munching on a variety of plants, including tomatoes, peppers, and even ornamental flowers. But don't judge too quickly.