Putting Down New Roots

May 17, 2010

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Stockton, CA | Influenced by his father’s gardening passion, Dale Smith became interested in horticulture between the ages of seven and eight when he entered a landscape project (through a club similar to 4-H) in the local fair. To participate, Dale had to plant and maintain a small bed in his parents’ yard, and then display photos and documentation. Since then, wherever Dale has lived, his hands are in the soil growing perennials, cut flowers, and vegetables.

Eight years ago, Dale and his wife, Leigh, moved from Ontario, Canada, to California for a job transfer. Dale was pleased with the area’s year-round gardening abilities, a bonus for the former seed breeder and current manager of Heinz global seed business.

Once the couple settled into their Stockton residence, Dale started to build flowerbeds over the large Hackberry (Celtis) tree roots in the front yard. Frustrated, Dale hired a crew to remove the roots and existing lawn. Also installed was an automatic sprinkler system and rich organic soil for mounted perennial beds that circled new sod. (Circling rather than following along the lot’s traditional square lines softened the landscape.)

 “I read a lot of gardening books for California to figure out what would grow here,” Dale confessed. “The daylilies and irises I brought with me from Ontario.”

Choosing a blue theme with complimentary hues such as pinks and oranges, Dale filled the beds with a focus on texture, as well. “The great thing about owning your own place,” Dale said, “is if you don’t like it, you can dig it out and move it.” Some of Dale’s plantings include daylilies (his favorite), irises, heathers, cosmos, coneflowers, Western red bud, native or wild hollyhocks, native salvias and columbines, foxgloves, and cannas.


Once a year, Dale adds compost to the beds. Instead of blowing the leaves out of the flowerbeds, Dale blows them into the beds to rot and turn into organic matter. Occasionally Dale will use an all-purpose fertilizer. The only pesticide used is to control the snail and slug family.

On the east side of the house, Dale grows vegetables in raised beds. On the southwest end of the house, there are roses and gladioluses for bouquets that Dale cuts and arranges in vases throughout the house. To learn how to display flowers and keep them fresh, Dale took a flower arranging class offered at the local college. Here are Dale’s flower-cutting tips:

  • Cut flowers when it’s cool, first thing in the morning.
  • Carry a bucket of water with you. Immediately put the cut flower into it.
  • Indoors, cut half-inch off each stem.
  • Strip off leaves that will sit in water.
  • In vase, mix Floral Life preservative in water.
  • Change water every couple of days.

Although Dale’s job takes him all over Europe, Eastern Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia in search of seeds, Dale would rather be home gardening. “I find gardening relaxing,” Dale explains. “I don’t think about work or anything else. I’m thinking about what I’m doing in the garden, what it looks like, and the next plant I can buy.”  Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre


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