The continued shaky economy plus an increasing interest in supporting the environment helped fuel a shift in their priorities. “People want to go back to the old days,” said Perez, who is encouraged by the trend toward home gardening and sustainable practices such as composting and collecting rainwater.
According to Perez, it’s not too late in the season to start your own edible garden. “We’re lucky living in East County,” she said, noting that late April and early May are good times for planting tomatoes, peppers, corn, carrots, herbs and fruit trees.
“Know your soil” is Perez’s top tip for beginner gardeners. Perez pointed out that while Oakley soil tends to be sandy, Discovery Bay soil is characterized by heavy clay. Her next top tip is to work closely with nursery professionals who know the area. Having served East County for so long, Perez Nursery professionals know the area’s soil types and can help you choose soil amendments.
Container gardens are popular for those with limited space, such as apartment dwellers or gardeners with poor soil. “You can plant in just about any container. Just make sure it has good drainage,” advised Perez. Many vegetables – even fruit trees – grow well in containers. You can even plant multiple plants in one container.
For absolute beginners, Perez suggests herb gardens. Herbs are especially suitable for container gardening, are useful in the kitchen, and many are drought tolerant, perfect for hot East County summers.
Edible plants can also be planted for their aesthetic virtues. Instead of planting ornamental strawberries for ground cover, use edible strawberry plants. “Strawberry plants have the same beautiful leaves as the ornamentals but with the added bonus of the big berries that they produce,” said Perez. Likewise, lavender and rosemary are seeing a resurgence of popularity as hedges. These aren’t merely beautiful and fragrant in the garden; when you prune them back, you can use them in the kitchen.
Perez suggests pairing a plant with a beneficial neighbor, such as a tomato plant in a container with marigolds. “The marigolds are beautiful and are a natural deterrent to bugs that can harm the tomatoes,” Perez said, adding that many plant pairings act as natural pest and fungal repellents, which helps cut down or even eliminate the use of chemical pesticides in your home garden. Perez is currently planning a gardening class to help home gardeners learn more about these beneficial pairings for later this season.
Perez Nursery, located at 2601 Walnut Blvd. in Brentwood, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information on Irma Perez’s gardening classes, call 925-516-1052 or visit www.pereznursery.com.