Northern California Gardening

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Her book, Northern California Gardening, A Month-by-Month Guide, started out to be a collection of the ten years of San Francisco Chronicle garden columns she has written. It became much more.

“It became a love guide to the garden,” said Endicott. “Sunset’s Western Garden Book is the bible of cultural and how-to information for the garden. I hope to offer a familiarity with plants at a different level.”

The book organizes gardening tasks and cultural guidelines month-by-month. Each month includes an alphabetical listing of topics chosen from Endicott’s wealth of information. In February, for example, we learn about the trees which give off the most pollen under “Allergies”, phalaenopsis orchid growing is simplified in “House Plants”, and tips for dealing with the heavy rain experienced.

Just getting out and doing it is the important thing. Don’t worry about mistakes.

Katherine Grace Endicott

this time of year is offered in “Rain Damage”. February’s alphabet soup listing includes 25 such topics and a similar listing appears for each of the other 11 months. The information is offered in the friendly voice of an experienced neighbor giving advice over the garden gate.

The book also offers stories. The story of angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia versicolor), the deadly enchantress whose intoxicating fragrance lures the insects of the night. The story of David Douglas, the ill-tempered plant explorer who named the Douglas fir, the well-known fragrant Christmas tree. The true story of Johnny Appleseed, who grew apple seedlings in a chain of nurseries, rather than scattering seeds across America. These stories add depth to a gardener’s relationship with their plants by providing history and color.

Endicott’s advice on beginning to garden is simple: just do it.

Endicott ties up a vine to an overhead arbor in her East Bay Garden.

“Just getting out and doing it is the important thing. Don’t worry about mistakes. Gardeners are constantly changing what it is we set out to do. An herb garden might change to a vegetable garden or a rose garden, or the new interest might be espaliered fruit trees. With some sadness we will give away or toss out the plant that isn’t working, or that we no longer have room for,” said Endicott.

It is not necessary to make a study out of learning to garden. The simple act of putting plants in the ground is an excellent beginning, she said.

“The rules for good horticultural practice change so quickly, it becomes a bit absurd to try to keep up with them,” she said.

Endicott’s father loved to grow fruit trees. He taught that the ground should be firmly stomped on after planting, to settle in the roots. Her father’s fruit trees flourished. Now stomping on the ground at any time is considered destructive.

To Endicott, gardening is not about following the rules to get plants to grow, it is about developing a relationship with nature. “I believe gardening really isn’t about beautifying the house. In getting to know the plant kingdom we also develop a very close and rewarding relationship with the animal kingdom. It’s in the garden that we get to know animals we ordinarily don’t have an opportunity to observe,” she said.

The rules for good horticultural practice change so quickly, it becomes a bit absurd to try to keep up with them.

Katherine Grace Endicott

One of the lessons the animal kingdom teaches in the garden is to live and let live. Endicott uses no longer uses pesticides or fungicides in her garden. The animal kingdom has taught her the consequences of spraying. We know about the thousands of many small insects that die from a casual spraying of a garden. But the effect can be much more dramatic — and personal: “If you go after wasps with a pesticide they will remember you, and they will get you the next time you go out,” said Endicott.

On the other hand, Hummingbirds will learn to recognize and trust a gentle gardener, and will “chum around with you when you’re out in the garden,” she said.

Gardening is also therapeutic. Following a hard day, there are few better outlets for frustration that dividing an agapanthus clump. “One time I remember I went outside furious, but I came in at peace with the world,” she said.

Endicott’s grounding in the world of gardening began early. She grew up following her mother around the grounds of a Victorian house in southern California. Her mother was an avid gardener interested in flowering perennials. The former owner of the house had been an ardent nurseryman. Young Katherine wandered a fish pond, greenhouse, winding brick paths and beds of perennials. “I never thought for a second I’d have anything to do with gardening professionally,” she said.

She wrote her first book 10 years ago, Seasonal Expectations, a month-by-month guide to natural phenomenon and outdoor activities, including gardening, in northern California. The book, now out of print, was published by Chronicle Books. She was encouraged to interview for the Chronicle newspaper, and has written their garden column ever since. “I love it. Every time I write the column I find out something new. After 10 years I find I’m having to repeat a few topics, but doing new research and gathering the opinions of experts always turns up new information,” she said.

Endicott lavishes attention on her own east bay garden. A narrow, winding footpath leads uphill, from terrace to terrace. The garden’s good bones and lush plantings shine even in the cold rain of January. The spring promises to be a Technicolor delight.

“My house is more colorful inside than most, but I still get the impression of entering a black and white film when I come in from a day in the garden.”

A new book on the philosophical side of gardening is taking shape in her mind, she said. And she will continue to be found in her hillside garden, even picking old leaves off her roses in January, in the rain, under an umbrella. “I wasn’t miserable. I doubt if I could ever be miserable out in the garden,” Endicott said.