17th annual Spring Garden Market will kick off the season
By Rebecca Jepsen
Are you itching to get that summer garden in the ground? Would you like to learn about growing edible flowers, herbs and leafy greens? Want to know which plants are the best to grow to help re-establish our dwindling populations of pollinating bees, beneficial insects and native birds?
On April 2, about 200 Santa Clara County Master Gardeners will be on hand at our 17th annual Spring Garden Market in San Jose to answer questions, present seminars, diagnose ailing plants -- and, as always, sell seedlings to thousands of Bay Area gardeners. We will be joined by dozens of community organizations, horticultural groups and vendors, including arborists, beekeepers, floral enthusiasts, native plant experts, student farmers and succulent specialists. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at History San Jose, 1650 Senter Road. Admission is free. Check the website for parking options, www.mastergardeners.org/spring-garden-market.
Here's your guide to the highlights:
Educational talks, demos:
Topics include "Growing Great Tomatoes," "Gardening with California Native Plants," "Colorful Gardens All Year Round," "Raised-Bed Gardening," "Salsa Gardens," "Culinary Herbs," "Good Insects," "Edible Flowers," "Succulents," "Favorite Tools," "Composting," "Pest Control" and many more.
With about 80 fabulous cultivars to choose from, how does one decide? Every year I grow a dozen varieties, and I have to admit, I've never met a tomato I don't like. There are options and sizes to satisfy virtually every palette and almost all space limitations. According to Mary Collins, our tomato seed queen, great options include:
Early producers (50-60 days): Stupice, Lime Green Salad, Elfin, Sugary and Black Cherry.
Great color: Orange Strawberry, Mary Robinson's German Bi-color, Marvel Striped and Isis Candy.
Sauces and pastes: Speckled Roman, Amish Gold and Jersey Devil.
Prolific producers: Black from Tula, Carbon, Dr. Neal, Ernie's Round, Black Cherry, Chadwick and Principe Borghese.
Latest fruiting (90-110 days): Gold Medal, Marvel Striped, Russian 117 and Big Rainbow.
Great in containers: Lime Green Salad, Kootenai, Orange Blossom and Koralik.
New this year will be the opportunity for home gardeners to purchase and test the tomato plant developed in honor of the late Mercury News garden writer Holly Hayes. It's the second season of trials for this plant that produces one pound-plus red tomatoes with balanced sweet/acid flavors; 100 seedlings will be available. Gardeners will be asked to monitor the progress of the plant and report their findings to the Master Gardener group.
There will be an amazing 106 varieties available this year! Flavors range from knock-your-socks-off hot to enjoy-straight-off-the-vine sweet. Bruce Gravens, our lead pepper grower, offers some of his favorites:
Lots of heat: all of the habaneros, Chiltepin, Zimbabwe and Squash Red, a heavy producer with five different shapes of fruit all on the same plant.
Nice and sweet: Romanian Gogosari, Valencia and Corno di Toro Giallo.
Fabulous fryers: Pimiento de Padrón, Shishito, Jimmy Nardello and Lombardo.
Great for grilling: Lapid, Holy Mole and Mariachi. (All the thick-skinned varieties do well.)
Salsa stars: Sparky, Santa Fe Grande and Aji Chinchi-Amarillo.
Best for container gardening: Peruvian Purple, Hinkelhatz and NuMex Twilight, which produces prolific fruit that ranges in color from deep purple to yellow to orange to red -- absolutely gorgeous!
Herbs, edible flowers:
We will be showing off 50 culinary herbs and edible flowers. There will be many perennials that can be planted once and enjoyed for years to come. Several varieties make great habitat plants, attracting beneficial insects, birds and bees. Most herbs do best in sunny locations, although the commonly asked question of Joan Cloutier, one of our herb specialists, is, "Why can't I grow great basil?" As Cloutier points out, basil does best when it gets afternoon shade.
New this year: variety packs of basil, parsley and nasturtiums.
Best for shade or semi-shade: parsley, lovage, basil and chervil.
Perennial powerhouses: chives, chamomile, lavender, lemon verbena, oregano, rosemary and French tarragon.
Edible flowers: nasturtiums, lavender and borage.
Container favorites: basil, lemon grass, sage, nasturtiums and especially mint, since it can become invasive when planted in the ground.
Habitat attracters: Bee balm, dill, lemon verbena, rosemary, lavender and sage.
In order to help you round out your garden, Master Gardener Ann Northrup has been busy seeding up six varieties of eggplant, four types of beans, more than half a dozen cultivars of squash and a variety of melons, strawberries and lettuce.
New this year: Ichiban, Calliope and Casper eggplant and Cocozella Di Napoli summer squash.
Unique picks: Courier melon (a hybrid cross between honeydew and cantaloupe); Casper (a white heirloom eggplant); Baby Blue Hubbard winter squash (a compact plant); and Chinese Green Noodle beans (a heavy producer of 20-inch-long beans).
Tried-and-true strawberries: Albion and Chandler.
Grow-your-own flower arrangements: Not only will some of the 30 options of ornamental flowers and grasses look great in your landscape, they also will make excellent choices for flower arrangements to spruce up your home. Milli Wright and Nella Henninger, two of our lead ornamental seeders, have planted up 18 varieties of sunflowers (who knew there could be so many choices?), six distinctly different zinnias and dozens of others options that include cosmos, celosias, amaranth, and native grasses.
New this year: Rubenza cosmos, Moroccan Sun Mix Rudbeckia, Candy Cane zinnia, and sunflower varieties called the Joker, Valentine and Vanilla Ice.
Habitat attracters: Double Click cosmos, Fireworks Gomphrena, Giant Fantasy zinnia and Music Box sunflowers.
Long bloomers: Fireworks Gomphrena, Moroccan Sun Mix Rudbeckia and the sunflower varieties Goldy Honey Bear, Music Box, Valentine and Vanilla Ice.
We will be bringing our Hotline Live! and Plant Clinic to the market, so bring any plants or bugs specimens that you would like to have examined. (If your specimen is alive, please bring it in an enclosed container.)
The Santa Clara County Master Gardener Program is a University of California Cooperative Extension volunteer organization dedicated to providing research-based gardening information to home gardeners. Have a question for Rebecca Jepsen or the other Master Gardeners? Call the hot line, 408-282-3105, from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. weekdays. Details: www.mastergardeners.org.