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How lucky we are to garden in Sonoma County.

Microclimates abound on hill sides and in valleys — even around our own homes — allowing us to nurture tender plants along with countless hardy species.

In our mild climate, we grow vegetables every month of the year, and if we plan carefully, we can harvest fruit year-round, too.

In protected areas, citrus trees are setting fruit now after producing oranges, mandarins, lemons and limes over the past several months.

Strawberries are coming in. Raspberries and blackberries will be ready for harvest in the weeks ahead, followed by cherries, plums, peaches, pears, and apples. Apricots can be satisfying here and there, although aprium and pluot hybrids fare somewhat better.

Where there’s ample water for irrigating, shallow-rooted blueberries are prized in cool conditions, as are melons of all types where there’s sufficient summer heat. Surprising to some, avocados thrive wherever winter’s chill flows away from protected planting sites.

And of course there are grapes, a few table varieties grown on arbors and fences and wine grapes wherever there’s ample space.

Our gardens yield a cornucopia of delights.

Nurseries galore

Any day of the week we can drop by dozens of nurseries and find plants of every type, many sourced locally from valued wholesale growers.

Besides numerous neighborhood nurseries, we have a plethora of specialty vendors such as Wild Toad Nursery & Bamboo Gardens on Stony Point Road. A few miles south, Pond & Garden’s water plants are only slightly upstaged by a prize collection of dwarf conifers.

For natives, we rely on California Flora Nursery in Fulton, and for trees, Urban Tree Farm a short stretch down the road.

It’s hard to find more exquisite specialized species than at Peacock Horticultural Nursery, Sonoma Horticulture Nursery and California Carnivores, all just south of Sebastopol.

One of the best retailers is the unparalleled Emerisa on Irwin Lane in Santa Rosa, where its wholesale partner operates next door.

For one-stop shopping when we need irrigation and other supplies, we have Harmony Farm Supply in Graton. Even our big-box local Friedman’s garden centers are prized resources, with their new stock of drought-tolerant and Mediterranean-climate plants. And, somewhat surprisingly for a national chain, Lowe’s in Cotati is following suit.

More than a hobby

For many of us, gardening puts us in close touch with the earth and is more than a hobby; it’s a way of life. I like to define myself that way — gardening is what I do.

So after 17 years of writing this Homegrown column for The Press Democrat, I’m off to spend more time in my garden.

There are seeds to plant, perennials to evaluate, shrubs to trim, trees to sit under. Irrigation lines need attention, vines need training on fences, vistas need viewing, benches need sitting on.

Some time ago, I wrote “Tabletop Gardens” and several gardening books for Sunset, Time-Life and other publishers. Many of the plants I described then were more suitable for Eastern climates, but I’ve moved away from that influence and hopefully have convinced readers of my Homegrown column to do that, too.

Local gardening

Since I began writing for The Press Democrat, I’ve seen a proliferation of nurseries, growth of farmers markets, spread of community gardens, an increasing preference for seeking out more garden-worthy native plants and an enthusiastic response for reducing and eliminating home lawns.

Not only am I changing the way I garden, but I trust that you are too, by admiring water-hungry species from a distance rather than in your home gardens and landscapes. Your feedback, for which I am most grateful, has indicated as much.

At the very least, I hope I’ve raised an awareness of the richness of our Mediterranean climate along with limits brought to our coast by the unstoppable influence of the Pacific Ocean.

Let me conclude with two of my favorite quotations on gardening:

From garden designer, John Brooks, who says we must get beyond “the paradox of slapping a preconceived notion upon any unwilling site — the English cottage garden in Arizona, for example — and manipulating the site to accommodate the design.”

From George Waters, past editor of Pacific Horticulture: “A successful landscape design demonstrates a sense of place — a recognition of the context of the site — and emerges from a respect for the site’s constraints as much as its opportunities.”

Happy Gardening!

Rosemary McCreary is a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher and author of “Tabletop Gardens.” Contact her at rosemarymccreary@gmail.com.

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