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Life is Beautiful Blog

Why You Should Remove Fall Leaves From Your Yard

Blaire Benson

Fall is at our fingertips and there’s no way to escape the leaves. So, do you really need to spend your Saturday removing those beautiful leaves from your lawn and garden? The answer is most likely yes!

If your lawn has 10-20% leaf coverage, it might be okay, but excessive leaves on your lawn going into winter is bad for several reasons. First, the leaves will smother the grass, and if not removed, can inhibit growth in the spring, or even worse, cause sections of the lawn to die off. Second, damage from critters (voles, mice, etc.) can be more extensive in the spring if leaves are left untended. Finally, leaves carry fungal spores and bacteria from plant diseases like blight and peach leaf curl. The best way to minimize these diseases from reoccurring year after year, is to remove the fallen leaves from infected plants.

There are three main ways to remove the leaves:

  1. Rake (or blow) the leaves into a pile, let your kids or neighbors jump in the pile a few times and then compost! (Diseased leaves should not go in your compost pile; put them in your green waste bin.)
  2. Use the bagging attachment of your mower if you have one.
  3. Mulch the leaves with a mower (i.e. chop them into small pieces so they fall into the canopy); this may require more frequent mowing or several passes with the mower to sufficiently mulch the leaves. This option allows nutrients and organic matter from the leaves to benefit the lawn and soil.

So although this may not be your favorite weekend activity, it’s worth it to get those leaves cleaned up, and make the most of the crisp air and beautiful fall colors while you’re at it!

Farmer's Market Soup: Leek, Zucchini and Peas

Blaire Benson

October is such a beautiful month of transition—you can still enjoy your local farmer's market run without much more than a light jacket, but the cooler nights warrant a warm bowl of soup! This recipe combines fresh vegetables for a delicious, nutritious and simple meal!

Servings: 4-6

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 1 hour


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 leek, white and light green part only, diced

3 medium sized zucchini, diced

1 cup of peas (fresh or frozen)

3 or 4 small new potatoes, peeled and cut into fourths

4 cups vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh herbs for garnish (such as mint, basil and/or thyme)

Lemon juice to taste


Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Sauté garlic and leeks in the olive oil until soft, but not brown. Add zucchini and continue to stir for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vegetable broth and bring to a gentle boil. Turn down heat to simmer and add potatoes. Simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Add peas and cook for an additional few minutes.

Puree soup in a blender to your liking. Some people prefer to leave in some chunks of vegetables.

Taste and season. Before serving, add juice of half a lemon and garnish with fresh basil, mint or other herbs.

This recipe is from the website of Kaiser Permanente: Food for Health, Recipes for Life.

Spring-Blooming Bulbs to Buy and Plant Now

Blaire Benson

Photo credit: Netherland Bulb Company

Photo credit: Netherland Bulb Company

Now that we've had a good rain and the soil temperatures are cooling down, it's a great time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. There are so many beautiful choices to plant this fall, something for every garden. Are deer and gophers a problem in your garden? Try narcissus (daffodils), allium or fritillaria. Lots of shade? Plant ipheon, eranthis, scilla or galanthus (snowdrops). Early blooming narcissus work great under deciduous trees because they bloom before many trees leaf out in the spring. Looking for fragrance? Freesia and hyacinth smell amazing! Are you adding to your cutting garden? Tulips are beautiful cut flowers, and we have over 50 varieties to choose from. (Tulip tip: Our tulips are pre-chilled, so you only need to refrigerate them if you want them to have longer, stronger stems for cut flowers. Parrot tulips and other late season blooming tulips make the best cut flowers.) Don't forget ranunculus and Dutch iris when planting for cut flowers!

Plant flower bulbs this fall, and then plant pansies right over the bulbs. (Tulips and daffodils work nicely with pansies.) The bulbs will bloom as usual in spring and the pansies will give you color this fall. This is a great way to get more color in your garden and you won't have to plant again until it's time to plant summer annuals. This is an easy way to get gardening done for two seasons at once!

Caring for Perennials This Fall

Blaire Benson

Perennials are some of our most rewarding plants, giving masses of colorful blooms and beautiful foliage. Perennials are typically non-woody plants that last in the garden for more than two years, and usually for many years. Most perennials are herbaceous, dying to the ground in winter, but growing back fresh and beautiful in spring. A few are evergreen or have a modest woody structure.

Some of our favorite perennials:

  • Evergreen
  • Acanthus
  • Day Lilies (some)
  • Euphorbia (many)
  • Ferns (many)
  • Germander
  • Penstemon
  • Shasta Daisy
  • Herbaceous
  • Agastache
  • Erigeron
  • Gaillardia
  • Hardy Geranium
  • Lamium
  • Nepeta
  • Rudbeckia
  • Salvia (many)
  • Semi-Woody
  • Autumn Sage
  • Lavender
  • Leonotus

Evergreen perennials don’t need to be cut to the ground, but to keep them tidy, remove shabby old growth and cut the remainder back to 6-12 inches.

Semi-woody perennials can be pruned hard, usually removing 1/3 to 2/3 of the old growth to keep them compact and fresh. The exception is lavenders, which are best pruned after their first flush of bloom in spring or summer.

 Essentials for fall care of perennials:

  • Keep watering. Because the days are shorter and we receive some morning dew, plus an occasional rain, cut back on your watering schedule a little, but continue watering your perennials until the rains come. Even drought tolerant plants need some water to keep them alive. It is important to water deeply and less often to encourage roots to go down where moisture stays longer. Newly planted perennials need special attention to make sure they don’t dry out completely.
  • Give your perennial a fall feeding. Use Black Forest compost mulch (3-4 inches on top of the soil), which feeds the perennial and keeps the weeds down, or use a fertilizer marked 0-10-10. We recommend Master Nursery Master Bloom or EB Stone Ultra Bloom Plant Food. Fall feeding increases the amount and size of summer flowers and helps grow strong roots.
  • Cut herbaceous perennials back in the late fall as they are going into dormancy and losing their leaves. Compost cuttings or put in the green waste to help keep insect pests from overwintering in the garden.
  • Divide perennials. Many perennials, including Shasta Daisies, Day Lilies and Achilleas appreciate being divided every 3-4 years. You can tell they need to be divided if the flowers are smaller than they were a year or two ago, if they have outgrown their location or if they have a bald spot with nothing growing in the middle of the clump. To divide perennials, dig them up, cut the clump in half or smaller and replant (using starter fertilizer) giving them space to grow, or share some with a friend.

The Veggies You Should Plant Now, Part 4

Blaire Benson


The word cabbage is a derivation of the French word "caboche," a colloquial term for "head." Cabbage itself comes in many forms. The shapes can be flat, conical or round. The head compact or loose, and the leaves curly or plain.

When growing, cabbage likes full sun and ample water. Fertilize before heads begin to form.

One year at the Alaska State Fair, the winning cabbages weighed 85 lbs., 81.4 lbs., and 77 lbs.

Harvesting from the Winter Garden

Harvest when the head is firm and has reached adequate size depending on variety and growing conditions. Leaves should be crisp looking and firmly packed. Cabbage may be refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for a week at most.

Cabbage sliced or cooked, can be one of two things: deliciously crisp with a mild, pleasant flavor or overcooked and unpleasant. Cabbage and other brassicas contain the chemical hydrogen sulphide, which is activated during cooking when the vegetable starts to soften. It eventually disappears, but during the in-between time, cabbage acquires its characteristic rank smell and flavor. So either cook cabbage briefly, or cook it long and slow, preferably with other ingredients so the flavors can mingle.

There are several types of cabbage. Varieties include savoy, spring greens, green, red, and white. Knowing how to cook them correctly is important. For green or white cabbages, place the shredded leaves in a pan with a pat of butter and a couple tablespoons of water to prevent burning. Cover and cook over medium heat until leaves are tender, occasionally shaking the pan or stirring. Red cabbage is cooked quite differently and is commonly sautéed in oil or butter and then braised in the oven for up to 1.5 hours with apples, currants, onions, vinegar, sugar and spices.

Recipe: Bakesale Betty's Coleslaw

Servings: 6


1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 small red onion (sliced very thin)

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 green cabbage (core and outer leaves removed; sliced very thin)

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 jalapeño chiles (cut in half lengthwise; sliced crosswise)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt


For the vinaigrette: Mix the Dijon, red wine vinegar and salt in a small bowl.  Whisk in the olive oil.

For the coleslaw: In a small bowl, cover sliced onions with red wine vinegar, allowing to macerate for 5 minutes. Drain off vinegar, discard and add onions to a medium mixing bowl along with cabbage, parsley, jalapeños, cilantro, salt and enough vinaigrette to moisten. Combine all ingredients and adjust seasoning.

This recipe is from the website of Kaiser Permanente: Food for Health, Recipes for Life.

Pumpkins and Plants, The Perfect Pair

Blaire Benson

Fall brings so many great items together: scarfs and boots, family and friends, and now— pumpkins and plants! While traditional pumpkin decorations are great, using pumpkins as vases are a fun and beautiful way to showcase your plants and flowers.

For large pumpkins, create a Pumpkin Succulent Bowl!

Cut off the top of your pumpkin; then remove the seeds/guts so you have a clean, hollow pumpkin. Line the inside of your pumpkin with a sheet of plastic and then pour in succulent soil and begin planting your succulents. Add a little water and enjoy!

For medium/small pumpkins, use the pumpkin as a vase for freshly cut flowers!

Turn your pumpkin into a vase by cutting off the top (and saving it to add back on if you’d like), carving out the inside, inserting a small glass or metal vase or cup (to protect the pumpkin from too much moisture which can cause mold), filling the vase/cup with water and placing in your flowers!

Note: Once pumpkins are cut they are more susceptible to mold. Keep them cool, clean and out of the sun to help them last, or, if you prefer, use fake pumpkins and achieve a similar look that you can replicate year after year.

The Veggies You Should Plant Now: Part 3

Blaire Benson


The name comes from the Italian word for 'cabbage sprout' and indeed broccoli is a relative of cabbage, Brussels sprout, and cauliflower.

One planting may produce for as long as three months in the late fall or winter because of production from axillary shoots that produce small heads after the main one is removed.

It is best not to plant brassica family crops (cole crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips, collards, and mustard greens) in the same spot year after year. The diseases and insects may build up, so be sure to rotate the crops in your garden.

Plants grow well in any fertile, well drained soil with deep watering and 1-2 feedings before heads begin to form.

If the temperatures get too high, broccoli will bolt into premature flower stalks that will bloom and go to seed. 

Harvesting from the Winter Garden

Harvest when the buds are about the size of a match head. Remove with a sharp knife; leave between 4" and 6" of stem. Eat as soon as possible because it will not keep for long. The broccoli should have tight, compact bud clusters that are deep green or green tinges with purple, and fresh looking leaves. Yellow buds are a sign of age.

For cooking, break into even size pieces, dividing the stem and floret lengthwise if they are thick. Cook in a little boiling water for 4 - 5 minutes until just tender and then drain. Do not over steam, as sometimes the broccoli can turn a grayish green.

Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin A and C, as well as riboflavin, calcium, and iron.


Recipe: Broccoli with Garlic, Crushed Chilies, and Pecorino



One head broccoli

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 to 1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes

1/2 cup pecorino cheese, grated

Salt to taste

2 Tbsp chicken broth

1 Tbsp olive oil


Remove the broccoli's florets. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer layers of the stalk. (I didn't peel off quite enough the first time I tried this and got fibers stuck in my teeth.) Cut the stalk into 1/2" pieces. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and cook the garlic briefly. Add 1 Tbsp chicken stock, pieces of stalk and the crushed chilis. Cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes until the broccoli is a bit tender. Add a little more stock if it evaporates. Add the florets and an additional 1 Tbsp of chicken stock. Cover and steam until the broccoli is tender. In a warmed serving dish, toss the broccoli gently with the pecorino cheese. I tried this with reggiano parmesan and it was also excellent. Add a little salt if needed.

This recipe is from the website of Kaiser Permanente: Food for Health, Recipes for Life.

The Veggies You Should Plant Now: Part 2

Blaire Benson

Brussels Sprouts

Said to have been cultivated in 16th century Belgium, Brussels sprouts are a member of the cabbage family and indeed resemble tiny cabbage heads. Many rows of sprouts grow on a single long stalk. They range from 1" to 1.5" in diameter. The smaller sprouts are more tender.

Plant in a sunny spot with ample water and fertilize once or twice before sprouts develop.

Harvesting from the Winter Garden

Harvest firm sprouts with crisp green leaves from the bottom first. They can be harvested by twisting off or cutting the sprouts from the stem. Store unwashed sprouts in an airtight plastic bag in the refrigerator up to three days. If you wait longer than that and the sprouts will develop a strong flavor.

The sprouts should all be the same size so they will cook evenly. Yellow leaves and tiny holes can be signs of bugs or worms. If you are worried, choose bright green, compact heads, with clean white stem ends. If your concerned that bugs may have taken up residence, soak the sprouts in a bowl of cold water for about twenty minutes to force them out.

As with cabbage, either cook Brussels sprouts very briefly or braise slowly in the oven. Cook in small amounts of fast boiling water for about three minutes until just tender. To stir fry Brussels sprouts, slice into three or four pieces and then fry in a little oil or butter; they taste great with onions and ginger. Another great way to eat Brussels sprouts is to roll them in olive oil and bake them for about 45 minutes. They should start get crispy on the outside and soft in the center. Sprinkle a little bit of salt and Parmesan cheese on top and they will be delicious.

Brussels sprouts are high in vitamins A and C and are a fair source of iron. 

Recipe: Glazed and Crispy Brussels Sprouts


1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts – trimmed and halved

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 small red onion, sliced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup apple juice or cider

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Bring a large pot of water to a boil.   Add the Brussels sprouts and simmer for 7 minutes.  Drain them.  About fifteen minutes before dinner,  heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat until shimmering.  Add the garlic, red onion, and saute briefly.  Add the Brussels sprouts and apple juice.

Cook, strirring occasionally, over high heat until the apple juice has evaporated and the Brussels sprouts are tender, browned and somewhat crispy.  Serve hot.  Eat more of these than the other creamy, fattening dishes and feel better after.

This recipe is from the website of Kaiser Permanente: Food for Health, Recipes for Life.


The Veggies You Should Plant Now: Part 1

Blaire Benson


In Mark Twain's words "Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." The name of this elegant member of the cabbage family comes from the Latin "cualis" (stalk) and "floris" (flower). Some varieties may be grown as both fall and spring crops and can produce good heads within 2 months after planting a transplant starling.

Avoid any conditions that may suppress plant growth. Adequate moisture is essential. Good vegetable growth is important for subsequent growth of the cauliflower head. Interference with rapid uniform growth may cause premature development of the head. Such heads are smaller than usual. Cauliflower is the cole crop most sensitive to temperature. Stresses such as cold air or temperatures in the spring, lack of fertility, water stress, insect damage, diseases, and using transplants with poor root growth or root bound before transplanting can result in buttoning (producing heads on very small plants). As the heads enlarge, the may become exposed to the sun and discolor. Avoid this by folding the leaves over the heads or by taping the leaves together to protect the developing head from the sun. 

Cauliflower is high in vitamin C and a fair source of iron.


Harvesting from the Winter Garden

Harvest when the heads are of good size, usually 5 to 6 inches in diameter and still compact. As the heads become over mature, they tend to segment and spread apart and the surface becomes fuzzy. Refrigerate raw cauliflower, tightly wrapped, for 3-5 days,  and cooked cauliflower for 1-3 days. When you are ready to use it, separate the cauliflower head into florets and wash.

Cauliflowers are excellent steamed, either whole or in florets. Place in a steamer or colander over a pan of boiling water, cover and steam until just tender; immediately remove from the heat. The florets can be fried in olive oil or butter for a few minutes to give a lightly browned finish.

When cooking a cauliflower whole, start testing it after ten minutes, it should feel tender but still have plenty of "bite" left in it. Cauliflower is a popular vegetable accompaniment, either served with just a little butter, olive oil, or tomato or cheese sauce. It is also good fried with onions and garlic, accompanied by a few tomatoes and capers.

Cauliflower is an excellent addition to salads or used for crudités. Either use it raw or blanch it in boiling water for 1 - 2 minutes, then refresh under cold running water. Small cauliflowers and broccoli romanescoes are intended to be coked whole, and can be steamed or boiled, covered with a lid, for 4 - 5 minutes until just tender.


Recipe: Cauliflower Herb Soup


1 lb. cauliflower, washed, trimmed, and cut into florets

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 large onion, chopped

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 cups low-fat (2%) milk

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce

1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (see Chef's Note)

2 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped or, if dried, crushed

2 tsp. thyme, dried or fresh

1/2 cup diced smoked cooked ham, optional*

salt and pepper, to taste, optional*

1 1/2 cups toasted croutons, optional*

1 1/2 Tbsp. salted butter, garnish

1 Tbsp. chopped chives, garnish


Place cauliflower in a large deep saucepan, cover with water, and bring to full boil over MEDIUM heat. Reduce heat and cook, covered, until barely tender. Drain immediately. Add potatoes, onion, chicken broth, milk, ground pepper, and hot pepper sauce and return mixture to simmer. Cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, until all vegetables are fully cooked.

Remove from heat and cool briefly.  Using a blender, carefully place 1 ½ cups hot soup mixture into container and blend on LOW at first and then HIGH speed until all is smooth. Pour in another container. Proceed with remaining soup in same manner.

Reheat soup, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, rosemary, thyme and ham, if desired. Bring to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste with additional vinegar and optional salt and pepper.

To serve, place ¼ cup (optional) croutons in bottom of soup bowl or large mug. Ladle in hot soup and garnish with 1 teaspoon butter and chopped chives.

*Chef's Note: When seasoning savory foods, it is important to achieve a correct salt-acid basis. Salt is usually perceived at the front of the mouth, acids usually in the back. When a food needs something extra in flavor, usually the first seasoning used should be an acid like lemon or lime juice, vinegars, or other fruit juices. Only then, add small amounts of salt. Stir well after each ingredient is added and then taste. And remember, do not forget the pepper and hot pepper sauces; they add wonderful components of flavor.

Employee Spotlight: Jan Bush

Blaire Benson

Hi! My name is Jan Bush and I am the Manager/Buyer for Orchard Nursery & Florist's Outdoor Living Department. 

How long have you been working at Orchard Nursery & Florist?

 I have worked at Orchard Nursery & Florist for about seventeen years now. I started in 1981 and worked here until 1991; then I took eighteen years off to raise my baby. When she went off to college I decided it was time to come back. That was in the fall of 2009 and I’ve been here since.

What is your favorite part about working here?

The best thing about working at Orchard is the small town family feeling that this place and my co-workers exude. Our whole crew is extremely supportive and close-knit.  I’ve looked for this feeling at other jobs and businesses, but it seems to be a rare commodity. Being able to work outside, surrounded by beautiful plants, and having tons of opportunities to be creative are also on my 'favorite things about working at Orchard' list.

What are some of your favorite memories in your time working here? 

I have two memories that stand out from the blur of memories from over the years. The first one is a Christmas memory. Tom, our boss, arranged for the whole crew and our spouses to sing carols on trolleys as they moved through the streets of San Francisco. It was extremely heart warming and fun to be with all of my friends and their families sharing the magic of the holiday season. My second memory is a laugh-out-loud crazy fun memory. We had all stayed after work one evening to throw a farewell party for our dry goods manager, Bart. Someone brought a huge sheet cake and instead of consuming it, we decorated each other and the garden shop with it. Some say alcohol was involved, but all I can remember was yellow frosting and how much fun it was.

What are some upcoming projects you are excited about? 

With the holidays coming, there are always new projects that need to get done. We start with Halloween and move right on through to New Years.  There are several of us that are involved with merchandising, but I am lucky enough to have been chosen to spearhead the outside Halloween display. Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday. For me, Halloween starts in January and for the past couple of years I have been going to the Halloween & Party Expo in New Orleans. It is a great trip and I don’t think there is a better place than NOLA to have a Halloween show. It is extremely inspiring.

As I am shopping, I let the best products I find be the inspiration for our theme. This year I ran across some big and darkly beautiful butterflies/moths and as luck would have it, they were on sale. The next thing that made me jump for joy were some fabulous animated witches. With those two products in mind I came up with our “Witch’s Enchanted Forest” theme, and then with some help from my friends and Google, we put together a plan to make the theme come to life.

 We covered our outdoor garden shop with hundreds of cardboard shingles (that almost everyone helped cut out in their spare time).  We added giant lollipops and garlands of oversized candies. The shop now looks like the Witch’s Gingerbread House in Hansel and Gretel.  We (my great crew of Laura, Christina, Carolyn and Cassie) also constructed five life sized forest trees out of cardboard cement tubes and craft paper, giving our witches a forest to call home.   Our display turned out beautifully and I’m a little worried that it will be difficult to top it next year.

What is your favorite season and why? 

My favorite season of course is the fall season, or Indian summer as we like to call it around here.  Primarily because it begins with Halloween, but there are other things about fall that make me happy. I love the rich tones of the colors that we use to decorate for fall: oranges, golds, browns and mossy greens. I love pumpkins of all colors and shapes, from the traditional orange to the bumpy green ones. I love that the air is crisp and while there is a chill in the morning, it is still warm enough to spend your days outside.

What is your favorite flower or plant to work with and why?

On Arbor Day one of my co-workers asked me what my favorite tree is and I think that it is also my favorite plant/flower. It is Eucalyptus ficifolia or ‘Orange Splendor.’ Mother Nature surely wanted to put on a show when she planted the seed for this tree. The flower color is electric; the foliage is a beautiful deep green and the flower pods and seed pods look cool on the tree, as well as in a flower arrangement.  But, like children, most plants are special in one way or another and I really shouldn’t pick a favorite.

What is something that people might not know about you?

Only the folks that have asked me where I met my husband might know this funny fact about me, but most people don’t: I know how to drive, use and fix almost any kind of farm tractor. During my stint at Cal Poly, all Agriculture majors had to take a tractors class. That’s where I met my adorable spouse,  dug some pretty deep holes and learned to turn mole hills into mountains.