Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Perennials guru closes down his benefit plant sales

Just like his beloved perennials, Bob Hamm keeps coming back for more. But the challenges of maintaining his benefit plant sales through this summer appear overwhelming to the longtime volunteer.

This week, Hamm is shutting down his backyard nursery operation with an everything-must-go kind of clearance sale of unusual and rare perennials. As always, proceeds support the Sunburst Projects for families and children living with HIV and AIDS.

“Our last day will be Wednesday,” said Hamm, himself an AIDS survivor. “After that, who knows? I have no idea about the future. Right now, we’re just shutting down and focusing on saving our own plants. We need a break.”

With fellow volunteer Kyle House, Hamm has dealt with myriad obstacles. In the past decade, he’s been forced to move his plant sales at least four times. His health problems left him broke. Still, Hamm kept finding a way to grow more perennials and help more kids.

“It’s been amazing, the support (from the community),” Hamm said. “For our Christmas project, we raised enough money not only for all the kids (in Sunburst), but lots of referrals, too. That’s the biggest down side of this (shutting down); it hurts the kids.”

Coping with water restrictions like every Sacramento gardener, Hamm also felt the drought affect sales.

“It’s been an odd year (for sales),” he said. “The drought has turned off a lot of people (from gardening); they just haven’t planted.”

Last month, a neighbor complained to city code enforcement officers about Hamm’s plant sales, which this spring have been at a home in South Natomas. Instead of fighting back, he’s clearing the garden. The sale will be at 1689 Vallarta Circle, Sacramento, just off Truxel Road, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Wednesday; cash or check only.

“We have a little bit of everything,” Hamm said. “We have a good 2,000 plants still and almost all of them are reduced to $2.50 (for 4-inch pots) to half (their original) price (for larger containers). We have several salvias, geraniums, yarrows, succulents; good plants at great prices.”

After Wednesday, Hamm will concentrate on protecting his favorite plants in his private perennial collection, making sure they have enough water to survive. He plans to continue to produce his popular monthly newsletter, devoted to perennials. To get on his mailing list, send an email to If his benefit plant sales make another comeback, his newsletter readers will be the first to know.

“We’ll continue the newsletter,” Hamm said. “After Wednesday, we’ll rest up and see where we go from there.”

Bee friendly

Drought takes its toll on bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects, too. That’s something to keep in mind while deciding what to water. Help the bees and keep something growing – and blooming.

This is National Pollinator Week, a reminder to “bee friendly” when we garden. California native plants provide a food source for native bees and other pollinators; that’s why so many experts recommend going native. Among other top choices for pollinators: lavender, sunflowers, goldenrod, honeysuckle and herbs such as chives, oregano and thyme.

Make it easy for pollinators to find those flowers. Plant perennials, herbs and annuals in clusters; that way, they’re more likely to get noticed by bees, who then share the location with their colonies.

What flowers do bees like best? According to experts, bees prefer blue, yellow or bright white flowers that have a large landing surface and shallow shape. Butterflies tend to like red and purple. To help the most, plant a range of flowers with different colors and fragrances.

Also, choose varieties that extend the bloom throughout the summer into late fall. Bees need water, too; have a shallow dish of water available near the flowers, so they can get a drink along with their pollen and nectar meal.

Drought update

This spring, Sacramento got the message: We saved a lot of water. According to the Regional Water Authority, Sacramento-area residents reduced by more than 18 percent of their water use compared to the last two years.

From February through May, water use went down nearly 7 billion gallons as compared to 2012 and 2013, reports the RWA, which represents water providers in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties.

But the drought is far from over and the toughest days are still ahead. “It will be critical for everyone to continue conserving water, especially as temperatures peak this summer,” said Amy Talbot, the RWA’s water efficiency program manager. “With hot, dry weather ahead, the temptation to ramp up outdoor watering will be intense.”

Before you turn on the sprinklers, Talbot suggests to make the most of your water budget. Check to see if your landscape really needs water.

Do the “screwdriver test.” Stick an 8-inch screwdriver (or other long thin tool) into the ground. If you can push it more than 3 inches below the surface in typical clay soils, your landscape does not need to be watered, Talbot said.

To be sure, use a trowel and see what the soil looks like yourself. If it’s dusty dirt, irrigate; if it’s moist, wait a little longer.

Irrigate in early morning or evening when there’s less evaporation. Most of all, be in tune to your plants. They’ll tell you when they’re suffering by wilting and drooping. For more advice, click on