A bouquet of spring gardening ideas for Sonoma County

Flower-draped balconies, striking ornamentals you can eat and easy-on-the-eye gravel are simple ways to make your outdoor space sizzle.|

This bouquet of spring gardening ideas is a gift to mark the return of balmy weather to this beautiful piece of planet Earth. Have fun implementing any that catch your fancy. And let us know how they turned out!

Add incredible edible ornamentals

First, jazz up your flower gardens with edibles that are also ornamental.

Put all that good soil and variety of sun-shade locations in your garden to good use by planting something edible that can join the color festivities created by annuals and perennials.

The trouble with most perennials is that their bloom period is short, and for the rest of the season they’re just foliage. If you have a sunny spot with a cherished perennial, pair it with Chinese five-color chiles. This compact plant produces small peppers in green, cream, yellow, orange and red — all which hang on the plants all season.

Dazzling blue kale has striking powder-blue and green leaves and lavender-pink midribs. As cold weather returns in fall, the leaves turn smoky purple. Another cabbage family charmer is red tatsoi. These little plants make tasty flowerbed edging, with rose-red and green leaves with pale green veins.

Heirloom red okra sends up 3- to 4-foot reddish-green stalks punctuated by crimson spires of pods (best picked when they’re young and tender). This is perfect for mixing with low-growing, large-leaf perennials like Bergenia. Its very ornamental flowers are creamy white with a dark red splotch in the center.

You can order all these ornamental edibles from kitchengardenseeds.com.

These plants just scratch the surface of edibles you can work into a flower garden. If you’re renovating a strawberry bed, place some of the young plants here and there among your flowers so you can snack while you weed. And don’t forget the baby blue flowers of borage. Bees love borage and you may, too. It tastes like cucumber.

Is your balcony boring?

Look on Pinterest and you might notice one of the most popular topics in gardening this year is balcony gardens. Nothing dresses up the front of a house more than a second-story balcony overflowing with flowers.

Even if you have precious little yard space for a food or ornamental garden, you can always set up a lovely group of containers on a balcony or the edge of a deck.

Mainstays of a balcony garden are plants that spill over the edges of their containers and hang down to delight the people below. Cherry tomatoes will drip sweet, acidic little fruits right into your hand. Fuchsias become absolutely spectacular when arching over and down from a hanging basket or a container perched on the edge of a balcony.

For more suggestions for hanging baskets, visit bit.ly/3DgPE7e. Some local nurseries, like King’s Nursery in Santa Rosa, are masters at putting together pretty pots of all kinds.

Have kids build a scarecrow

Involve your kids in a fun garden project this year. Most kids have seen “The Wizard of Oz” and so are familiar with scarecrows. Why not have them build a scarecrow for your food garden? Give them some old clothes, old gloves, a bale of straw, waterproof marking pens, twine and sticks to make a frame and let them go to work. Have them give their scarecrow a name and a place of honor in the garden where it can keep the crows and squirrels at bay. And even if the birds belittle your scarecrow, it’s a whimsical addition to a food garden.

Make a gravel garden that is more than a moonscape

When we think of gravel gardens, we might picture a barren front yard covered entirely with rock and maybe a birdbath. But such yards are simply moonscapes masquerading as gardens.

Gravel gardens can be full of life. Moreover, they can be a lot less work than a garden with plantings surrounded by lawn grass.

Go ahead and design a garden planted to ornamental grasses, your favorite perennials, flowering or fruiting shrubs (blueberries, for instance, or a twisty Japanese black pine) and small flowering trees like clethra or hibiscus. These stars of the show might cover two-thirds of the garden space.

The remaining third can be gravel, but not garish crushed quartz. Instead, lay down weed barrier cloth on the soil and cover it with natural-colored gravel, like what we see at Sonoma coast beaches. Check out the offerings at local landscape supply stores like Wheeler-Zamaroni, Sequoia Landscape Materials and Sonomarin Landscape Materials, among many others.

Some home supply stores also sell natural beach gravel. You will have no or very little weeding to do, and you won’t have to water. It looks natural and sets off your ornamental plants beautifully. It’s especially nice with the striking succulents available today.

Upgrade your garden scents

Roses are an essential part of any great garden, and superior fragrance is one of their most admired and enjoyed qualities. Do you have enough gorgeous rose fragrance in your garden? Is there ever enough? Here are some surefire choices for adding more sweet scents this year:

‘Gruss an Coburg’ was a hybrid tea rose introduced in Europe in 1927. It has been an all-star ever since for beauty (its pleasing apricot color), repeating bloom (flushes of new roses through the season) and fragrance. It is rated highly by rose societies around the world for fragrance.

David Austin’s ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ shrub rose is a disease-resistant fragrance champion named for the great English landscape designer of the 19th century. This bright pink shrub rose is a repeat bloomer and has everything to love in a rose; it’s rated among the best David Austins for fragrance.

Other popular roses with outstanding fragrance include hybrid tea ‘Tiffany,’ a rugosa named ‘Hansa,’ ‘Mister Lincoln,’ ‘Chrysler Imperial,’ ‘French Perfume,’ ‘Anna Pavlova,’ ‘Fragrant Cloud,’ ‘Kazanlik’ (a damask used in Bulgaria to produce rose oil), ‘Konigin von Danemark’ and ‘Rose de Rescht,’ among many others.

Visit the Russian River Rose Co. nursery in Healdsburg to smell a great selection in bloom. Other area nurseries like Pricketts in Santa Rosa and Cottage Gardens of Petaluma offer lots of choices to see and smell in person.

Jeff Cox writes is a food and garden writer based in Kenwood. He can be reached at jeffcox@sonic.net.

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