Creating calendars is more than picking pretty pictures.
Fundraisers as well as educational tools, annual gardening calendars have become important parts of local UC Cooperative Extension master gardener programs. But putting these colorful guides together can get complicated. Among the challenges: predicting long-term weather patterns more than a year in advance.
For example, the Placer County master gardeners chose as their 2015 calendar theme: “California Dreaming … Beautiful Gardens with Less Water.”
“That’s kind of the obvious thing now,” observed co-chairman Pauline Sakai of Roseville. “When we went into our calendar kickoff meeting in February, that’s quite a ways from when this calendar actually would be in use. There was a lot of discussion. By 2015, people may be sick and tired about hearing about drought.”
Last February, the depth of this ongoing drought, the worst in California history, was just hitting home.
“Actually, it’s really timely,” she added of the theme. “We’re still in a drought. … It’s our reality and people need to know how to deal with it.”
Even if the drought were over, the calendar’s theme and advice still apply.
“(The calendar) is filled with informative articles about ways in which gardeners can have gorgeous landscapes without using an excessive amount of water,” Sakai said. “Rather than fighting against the fact that we live in a dry environment, local gardeners can embrace our climate and enjoy many drought-tolerant plants that do well in the Sierra foothills.”
Meanwhile, the Sacramento County master gardeners took a different approach to their 13-month gardening guide for 2015: “Our All Stars for All Seasons.” Offered at $10 plus postage (a reduced price from 2014), this calendar includes “our favorite garden plants, trips, tips and tools,” as recommended by Sacramento’s gardening experts. Order the Sacramento calendar, which starts with December 2014 as a bonus month, at http://ucanr.edu/sites/sacmg/Gardening_Guide/.
In addition to supporting the master gardeners’ education programs, the biggest benefit from either calendar is location. The advice is purely local.
“The gardening guide is written specifically for our Sacramento Valley area, not ‘Northern California’ or the Bay Area,” said the Sacramento County calendar editors. “The gardening guide gives you month-by-month garden maintenance and planting ideas, pest and disease management, and garden watering realities based on University of California-approved information.”
“Sacramento did a different format this year than us,” Sakai noted. “It’s interesting; both (formats) are good.”
A master gardener since 2001, Sakai has been part of the award-winning Placer County calendar effort for 14 years. She’s served as chairman or co-chairman since 2003, but 2015 is her finale, she said. She and co-chairman Pauline Kuklis are handing off the months of work to a new team for 2016, Carol Feldman and Kathy Rose.
“They look at me as the face of the calendar,” Sakai said with a laugh. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”
For 2015, the Placer calendar team took a hard look at each of its recommendations from such mundane reminders as “Prune roses” in January to “Protect frost-tender plants” in December. In some cases, they reworded and updated standard advice or dropped it altogether.
“We updated tips to fit where we live,” Sakai said. “Some tips were just not right. For example, we suggested ‘prune your roses’ in January when upper elevations of Placer County may still be under snow.”
That tip now advices gardeners in colder areas to hold off pruning until after the last frost to prevent damage to rose bushes.
“We wanted to make our advice more appropriate for Placer County,” she said. “We also wanted to include more organic methods and less use of chemicals.”
The January-to-January calendar also serves as a gardening guide, with each month focused on a different aspect of water-wise gardening. Choosing those pretty pictures added its own wrinkle to the project. Featuring a bright bed of California poppies and golden yarrow, the Placer County cover photo contains in the background one example that master gardeners prefer people didn’t plant: Mexican feather grass.
With its graceful plumes, this grass has become a staple of low-water gardens, but it’s also highly invasive.
“These plants are ‘seed machines’ that produce thousands of seeds that are viable for several years,” Sakai said.
The feather grass dilemma was pointed out relatively late in the process. Instead of finding a new cover photo at the last moment, the team decided to use the issue to educate gardeners. Avoiding the spread of invasive plants, especially the Mexican feather grass, is the featured topic for December 2015.
With the Placer calendars for sale (at $10 apiece), Sakai and her team will be on hand at the upcoming Mountain Mandarin Festival, Friday through Nov. 23 at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn. The calendars also are available online at http://pcmg.ucanr.org/2015_Calendar, with $3 added for shipping and handling.
For shoppers as well as gardeners, the 2015 calendar features tips on “what’s in season at the market” as well as other time-sensitive advice. Suggested planting dates have been tweaked to reflect recent frost dates and drier weather patterns. Both novices and seasoned gardeners will find plenty of useful updated information.
And the flower-filled photos are pretty, too.