golden rod, fuschia, flax

golden rod, fuschia, flax

Though our father had been a subsistence farmer in Lithuania, he worked in a factory here in Springfield. Since he seemed pretty much finished with growing his own food by the time my five sisters and I came along, we never got to plant much growing up. So, how could I imagine that my next-younger sister, Cindy, a senior construction engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers in Sacramento, Calif., would become a self-taught master gardener?

Read on to learn about the fabulous gardening talent Cindy “transplanted” from Springfield to her own patch of bare earth not far from the banks of the Sacramento River.

lorapetulam, giant sequoia in background

lorapetulam, giant sequoia in background

From Cindy Baksys: I first got interested in gardening when we all got to choose a flower to grow in our backyard growing up, and I chose bachelors buttons. Also, the one time that we got to grow pumpkins was terrific. However, I did not do much growing until about 25 years ago, after my husband Jay and I built our new log house in a cornfield that was bare, so it was out of necessity that I started to plant. First, like most novices, it was just about flowers: plants that were evergreen and had the most blooms.

ruellia, lantana, petunia, crepe myrtle

ruellia, lantana, petunia, crepe myrtle

As my interest grew, I started to plant things more suited to our semi-arid Mediterranean climate, which is the climate of the coastal and central valleys of California. Plants such as lavenders, sages, nandina, California fuschia, barberry, butterfly bush, teucrium–even camellias need little water. I often would notice and “recruit” plants from our travels. For example, I probably have 12 or more types of sage from Europe, California, Mexico, and Colorado.

hibiscus, blue plumbago

hibiscus, blue plumbago

By now my interests go way beyond flowers or drought-tolerants. I like everything. I have a friend who is a botanist for the state of California, and he gives me oddball or native plants that are not common in the store like Mexican sage, Fred’s Red (a sage that he sort of discovered), some thorny shrub from Brazil, kat (the stuff they chew in the Middle East–died from frost, unfortunately), and romneya- a sensitive California native that I killed and want to try again. I have become a collector.

I no longer care if plants are evergreen. I like it all. I have especially come to love the native eastern hibiscus that I first saw in Springfield. Some of my other favorites are ruellia, California fuschia, and rosemary, though it’s hard to choose favorites because it depends on the season.

I also have a vegetable garden and I am still getting tomatoes this year. My Atlantic Giant pumpkin plant has two good pumpkins on it.

Cindy's 2013 Atlantic Giant pumpkins

Cindy’s 2013 Atlantic Giant pumpkins

Like any long-time gardener who collects and experiments, I have killed a lot of things over the years, and have actually had a hard time with squash and pumpkins due to squash bugs every year.

I especially love working on my plants in the winter. The ground does not freeze here, and I have plans every year to move things that didn’t work out the year before. In California, winter is a very forgiving season and you don’t have to worry about killing anything.

One area of gardening that is drudgery is weeding. We get a very long growing season that starts in February, so lots of weeding. I also do not like pruning because I have too much of it to do.

Gardening is the one area of my life where I am a total optimist. Every year I have hope for a better garden!

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