Flying Terrier Farms, SonomaIf your Grandmother had a garden, it was no doubt neatly laid out in precise rows. It probably bore crops all year round, crops that were rotated to maximize yields. I’m sure it was also lovingly mulched and manured and the produce from it was large, luscious and reliable. I’ve warned you: this is NOT your Grandmother’s garden. This is Flying Terrier Farms where a City Kid (with the aid of two terriers) is still trying to work her way through this gardening stuff. Therefore, my advice is for the uninformed, the inexperienced and the novice. Those of you who are accomplished gardeners can just sit back and snicker. Go ahead, tell me I’m doing it all wrong. For those of you in my camp, you may find my advice of some use.

1. Find an expert to guide you. I don’t mean in books. Books will probably be no help at all. I bought every gardening book I could. Then promptly sold them back to the used bookstore. Did you realize that 90% of all gardening books are written by English people or by gardeners in the Northeastern U.S.? Yeah, totally useless in Sonoma where Spring starts in February and rain stops promptly in April, not to restart until Thanksgiving.  As for crop rotation, can’t get my head around that. So my tactic is just to plunge in and see what happens. With, of course, the sage advice of my local gardening center, the inestimable Sonoma Mission Gardens. It’s so much easier to ask a real person — especially a group of experts who live in your climate zone.

2. Darwin was right. It’s survival of the fittest out there. Why should garden plants be exempt? I trucked in good earth. I’ve got irrigation. I can’t be bothered to sort out who likes to grow with whom or who’s next in line for the bed when a particular season ends. Listen, garden plants. You get more breaks than plants in the wild. So pull your panties up and start growing! If something won’t grow, plant something else. So far this Tough Love approach has been surprisingly effective. I managed to grow a huge crop of cauliflower which the gardening books (before I dumped them) told me was one of the hardest crops to grow. As for my failures (Broccoli, I’m talking to you), well, there’s always the Farmer’s Market. Or the sour grapes approach. I mean, did I really want to put any effort into growing BROCCOLI?

3. Potatoes have really pretty flowers. Who knew? Well, probably every REAL gardener out there knew. But for us amateurs, one of the joys of the “bumbling through” approach is to discover these things for yourself.

flowering potato plant

Potatoes give you an easy out. If the crop doesn't come in, you can always act all nonchalant and say, "Oh, I was only growing them for the flowers."

4. Wild nature can be your best friend. The fact that Flying Terrier Farms is surrounded by acres of untouched oak forest is probably the key to whatever success I’ve had. I’ve never sprayed for bugs or had to do anything to discourage birds. I can only guess that for an insect that likes European vegetables to get to my patch through Sonoma scrub forest is like a French mime trying to get through the Taliban-infested areas of Afghanistan unscathed. As for the birds, they are much more interested in their natural food — Manzanita berries, acorns and native seeds. They couldn’t care less about a vegetable patch.

5. Deploy an iPod as a rattlesnake deterrent. This advice is mostly for Western gardeners. I recommend country music. Willie Nelson, especially, seems to deter my scaly friends who are finding the warm stone walls and paths between my beds very inviting.

snake skin

You think I'm kidding about those rattlers? Look who's old clothes I found under my asparagus. Looks to be from a rattler of about 5 feet.

ipod music player

But so far Hank Williams, Willie, Waylon and Johnny have kept us from having any unfortunate encounters.

6. Two words: Rice Straw! Again, this advice is mostly for Western gardeners. But I’ve found that the best mulch in our neck of the woods is rice straw. It holds moisture, it deflects raindrops from churning up your soil, it’s easy to spread and — best of all — it carries no weeds and invasives. Think about it. Rice. Can’t grow in the semi-arid West. If I contribute nothing else to the science of gardening, let it be this.

7. Terriers are not much use in the garden. Other than enforcing that Darwinian rule. Hint: if you garden with terriers, plant hardy crops.

oscar in the corn bed

Here's Oscar smushing my corn. Just think of him as an agent of Darwin.

8. If all else fails, plant radishes. Seriously, they are the miracle crop. While I religiously followed the packet instructions on every other seed, with radishes I just threw the seeds on top of the ground Johnny Appleseed fashion. Miraculously, they all came up. FAST. Radishes are as close as you get to instant gratification in a garden. Toss out seeds and in 30 days, you are eating radishes. You don’t even need to cook them. I recommend serving them with sea salt and Lemonaise.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Happy gardening. I’ll let you know later if anything actually turns up.

But if this vegetable gig doesn’t pan out, there are always the grapes. They’re thriving.

Two Terrier Vineyards, Sonoma

Here are the Grenache and Mourvedre plantings in the vineyard. They're doing great, as is the native ground cover planted between the rows.

grapes in May

The berries are off to a great start. Now if our unseasonable rainy weather would just stop and give way to some hot weather and sunshine.