Monday, January 19, 2015


I think next to getting people to really understand the importance of the role the soil plays in gardening, pruning is the most difficult skill for a gardener to master. There really is no pruning 101 in my opinion, because each case is a little bit different depending on the plant, the position of the plant, the climate, and even the taste of the gardener. Of course different types of plants have different pruning requirements. If you prune a shrub that blooms in the spring heavily in the late winter, you will remove all the dormant buds and you won't get any flowers that year. On the other hand, if you don't prune some plants at all, you may not stimulate them to bloom much at all the following year. A good gardener knows which plants respond best to a severe cut back right before they start to grow in the new year to maintain their shape, while others are best handled with a little bit taken off here and a little bit taken off there to encourage a pleasing profile. Unfortunately, there are too many gardening maintenance people in the business that have not learned the art of pruning and it shows in sad looking landscapes throughout our neighborhoods. I often cringe at what my garden helper has done in the name of "cleaning up" the garden by severe cut backs when a gentle removal of a few branches would have been fine. Most of the time, less is more in my opinion. But these days I am just too busy too do all the maintenance by myself and so I really need to spend more time with him showing him what my expectations are for my garden since I have now figured out that he is not going to spend hours pouring over gardening books and magazines in his spare time like I do learning techniques and how to handle every kind of plant to make sure it is carefully pruned and managed to optimize its beauty in the garden. That is going to be a goal this year.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Finding Inspiration

After Christmas my DH and I got away for a few days at a spa in the hills in the San Diego area. Although it was colder than usual (ahem) we did spend a lot of time outdoors and the grounds were just lovely with an exceptionally beautiful landscape of mostly California natives with some Mediterranean plants covering acres and acres of the grounds. I was so impressed with it that I was inspired to come home and look for ways to incorporate more natives in my own landscaping plan, although I do already have a lot now, I can always add more. I do think it is not as easy as it sounds to gracefully add them into the average yard and it pays to either seek help from a landscaper who specializes in native plants or spend time exploring and taking notes and pictures of native landscapes that look good year round. There is a yard in our neighborhood that has removed their lawn and replaced it with drought tolerant plants and unfortunately it is somewhat of a visual disaster. It almost looks like it was laid out on a grid and succulents that will most likely stay very small were planted resulting in a very sad display. Like I say, it is harder than it looks to come up with a visually pleasing display that is also environmentally sound. I have had my fair share of mistakes! But we should always keep trying!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Getting Back to the Garden

 It has been a while since I have been able to spend any time in the garden, let alone write about the garden, but today was a beautiful day with the temperature of about 80 degrees and I finished my "must do" list and headed over to the nursery to see what was going on there. I had just written a post for the UCCE Master Gardener blog about fertilizing citrus this month along the coast and I decided that I had better follow up on the dose I gave last summer that resulted in a bumper crop of grapefruit and lemons. I have a feeling my garden helper is a bit frugal with the organic fertilizer I buy (it is pricey) and spreads it a bit thin, resulting in weak trees with not much fruit. Citrus trees are heavy feeders and need to be fertilized at least three if not four times a year.  You might as well save your money if you are going to skimp on the dose.

Of course just to prove that we really don't know more than mother nature, my key lime tree in the front yard that was here when we moved in, never gets fertilized and produces a ton of fruit every year! I always look at the poor scrawny thing growing in a rather shady spot and think it certainly can't hang in there another year thriving on neglect, but it continues to prove me wrong! I suspect that because it is tucked away behind the grape tunnel it gets lots of natural fertilizer from all the grape leaves and fruit that fall and go unnoticed.

 The camellias are blooming all over the yard. I am going to make sure to feed them soon because I am afraid I am asking them to keep going without much care and they do seem to be giving me fewer and fewer blooms each year. I did go to buy some fertilizer today, but came home with five new camellia bushes instead, they were just too beautiful for my weak constitution to resist on this beautiful day! Now is the time to plant camellias and azaleas because they are dormant while they are in bloom. Once they stop blooming they go into a growth cycle and will need the nutrients the fertilizer will provide, so I am going back for fertilizer tomorrow! I have already cut a few but I need to get out my shallow bowls that I use to float the blooms in all over the house!

 Of course the azaleas are blooming too! I'm not a big azalea fan, but there were tons of them here when we moved in and after moving them around a bit I've grown to appreciate the sparkle of color they add to the winter garden and the low maintenance requirements. I'm sure they are in need of some food and they will use the same acidic kind as the camellias, so I will see that they get some this month too.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Refreshing a Winter Focal Point

October 2014
 Somehow it has worked out that most of our entertaining at the SJC house takes place in the winter months. Dozens of relatives come from all over the country to visit and dare I say hundreds of friends stop by some time between Halloween and Valentines Day. Needless to say, they are certainly missing the prime time in the gardens which I would have to say is spring, followed by summer and then fall.
November 2014
By the time winter rolls around most of the prettiest scenes are tired and taking a rest. Roses are either spindly or cut back, most iris are sleeping and of course the clematis, wisteria, flowering shrubs and vines are either bare or devoid of blooms at best. Even the willowy grasses are often cut back to bristly stubs. I am thankful for the azaleas and camellias, of which I have planted many, and there are always the plants that look good consistently year round which add the foundation to the gardens. I do try to add some seasonal color in the way of cool season annuals that I probably would skip if not for the onslaught of guests. As you can see by the top picture, the Moonlight Garden was showing signs of a long hot summer a couple weeks ago, so a carload of bright white perennials and annuals in addition to some organic fertilizer has brightened up this focal point and will go a long way to keep this garden looking good until the spring plants start to wake up. If you look closely, my 'Golf Ball' (more like Basketball) pittosporum look terrible, having been covered with blight all year. They are supposed to stay small and round, hence the name, but these became so large and gangly they were trimmed back at the wrong time and have become a mess. I'm debating whether to remove them all together or just cut them back and
give them another chance. But enough about problems! I've been out every weekend with a watering can and some seaweed fertilizer to make sure this area is robust for the upcoming months and all our guests because next weekend there will be soccer balls, baseballs and maybe even a few Frisbees landing among the newly planted daisies and phlox and they need to be as robust as possible!

Just for fun here's a look at years past. If you are on Pinterest and 2010 looks familiar to you, it has probably been pinned a few thousand times!




Thursday, November 20, 2014

Getting Busy

I have been very busy recently and happily I can say that some of that activity has been in the garden! After almost a year of a bum knee and a really sore shoulder I am feeling better and getting out and getting my hands dirty this past month. Of course the up coming holidays are the main focus and sprucing everything up for the big Thanksgiving family reunion is a priority followed by the Christmas holiday events, but there are still just a lot of fall chores that I am happy to be able to undertake this year. I've planted some bulbs, cut back some shrubs, and added some fall annuals. We have even made sure to add a new rock to the garden for our new little granddaughter, Rosetta. I'm sure her big brothers will check to be sure there is one for her when they arrive next week!

I have also been busy doing a new task for the UCCE Master Gardeners. It is one that I am really enjoying and that is writing posts for their blog! They are short posts focused on what is happening in the Southern California garden based on topics that are currently trending on their hotline where local gardeners turn for help as well as other current topics in the backyard garden. You can read and subscribe to their blog here --> UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County.

Its good to be back in the garden!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Persistence Pays Off

I do love an arch in the garden and I have lots of them. I add them all over to create height and add a vertical element as well as acting as a way to separate spaces. Most of them are wire ones that I purchase from catalogs or a nursery.  This also allows me to utilize a whole new group of plants that would otherwise be left to an occasional fence or wall - vines. This arch in the Moonlight Garden has had at least four different kinds of vines growing on it that I can think of off the top of my head. When I put it in about seven years ago I planted the very prolific and popular at the time 'Avalanche' clematis. Of course the more I thought about it the more I regretted the chance to put one of my favorite fragrant vines in,  Madagascar jasmine, so I added that too. Neither vine flourished the way I hoped they would. So I decided to just go for it and add a white passion flower vine and at least have butterflies all over. I probably added a star jasmine too. One thing about vines that should always be a warning is that they can be very aggressive. By nature they are meant to grow from the floor of the forest, and scale up tall trees to get the sunlight at the very top. All of the vines I planted on this arch had no intention of scaling much of anything and most barely made it over the arch but the most frustrating thing was they just weren't interested in blooming. Here and there would be a bloom but nothing like I was used to in my other gardens. It may have been too shady. I have a hard time realizing that this area doesn't get as much sun as it seems due to the tall queen palms. The hard ground isn't very fertile either because of years of chemicals used on the lawn that was here previously. Then finally I broke down a bought a white Mandevilla vine. I am not crazy about Mandevillas for some reason. A little too showy and tropical for me, so I have no idea why I bought two and put one on each side of the arch last spring, just desperate I guess. But just to keep me humble I suspect, those Mandevillas are just as happy as can be and are blooming for months now! Go figure!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Plastic Grass or a Tree?

 The other night it was so refreshing to wake up and hear the sound of rain! Walking through the gardens after a rainfall is something I can barely remember since it has been at least seven months since we have had a drop. We didn't get much but it was enough to wash the dust off everything and you could almost hear the plants giving a sigh or relief, however so slight. But now the weather report is showing another heat wave coming this week with temperatures reaching the eighties again. So much for getting out the sweaters!

 Last week I was someplace and I overheard a conversation between two young couples discussing how they were coping with their yards and their concerns over their landscaping and the drought. One was talking about how they were looking at synthetic lawns and the other mentioned that they had just let their yard "go" and would wait and see what happened. I can only imagine how hard it is for the average homeowner to know what is the right thing to do, both from an ecological point as well as an economic point but just as important from an aesthetic point of view. A landscape is a large part of what adds value to a home as well as value to the way a home is enjoyed by a family.

If I had to suggest to someone what to do to add value to their landscape in this day and age when trying to reduce the lawn and water use is to plant trees. I must admit I love to plant trees and in my lifetime I have probably cut down more trees that I have planted than most people have ever planted, but that's okay. Just plant trees is my motto! The more the merrier. You can always cut them down later! Once established the right tree will live just fine without you and as long as you don't live where you block people's view, they can grow without needing much pruning (although I have put many of my tree trimmers children through college, but that's okay). They never need fertilizing and they give back much more than they take. 

I see people struggling with trying to remove lawns and put in something that will be attractive when I think, just look for a tree (or two or three or five) that will do the job, put them in and be patient. Trees do take some patience, waiting for them to grow, unless you have access to the space and enough money to put in a full grown specimen, but I like to plant babies and watch them mature myself. The right tree requires no pesticides, provides food and homes for the wildlife, adds all kinds of good stuff to the environment to offset your carbon footprint and cools the air and soil around it. Just do some research and pick out a yard partner for the next 25 or 30 years.

These pictures show what our back yard looked like in 2006 when we moved in and what it looks like now. I planted three California pepper trees from 25 gallon pots, a liquidambar, and an arbutus tree. The boxwood hedges and perennials are reminiscent from the gardens that I put in for interest while the trees grew to size, but at this point I could remove everything else in this yard, put down a lovely, crunchy pea gravel and never water again.  If not gravel than at least a red fescue that would take some water to become established, but then only occasionally during the summer require watering and let it go un-mown giving it a lovely meadow feeling. Add a few hammocks and we would probably be out there all summer long under the shade trees. I still haven't made up my mind yet.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fall Has Finally Arrived

 I have to admit that when I left for a trip two weeks ago during yet another heat wave here in Southern California I was wondering if I would ever find the passion for working in my gardens that I have always had, again. Talking to other gardeners confirmed I wasn't the only one.

'Evelyn' Rose
A walk through the gardens at that time showed that what the heat hadn't ravaged, the insects had damaged. The heat loving natives pretty much just shut down in the summer and wait for cooler weather. The succulents, although alive, look a bit boring in the hot sun without any complimenting plants. Drought conditions make watering a guilt-ridden activity and so everything just gets enough to survive but not enough to thrive. Nothing new had been added in a while and as plants died off as they do, bare spots were left bare. Summer annuals never went in because it was just too hot and they used too much water so nooks and crannies that usually were filled with charm and sweet smelling annuals were naked all summer. Pots were left empty that usually housed annuals.
'Yuletide' Carmelia
 Most of the summer was spent in the house with the air conditioner on and the doors and windows shut, something I can't ever remember doing. Our Laguna House without any air conditioning sat empty waiting for a cool-down before we would even consider spending a night there.

Japanese Anemones
 But as is always the case, eventually fall arrives and with the shorter days come the cooler temperatures and upon arriving back home after two weeks away I was so happy to walk through the garden this morning and see signs of what the cooler months ahead had in store.  The azaleas are already starting to bloom and the 'Yuletide' camellias that I planted in the Gravel Garden last year (and immediately regretted, why would I ever plant a red flower?) even looked cheerful and made me happy.

Camellia Sasanqua
 Roses and iris that struggled all summer perked up and looked nice and healthy. Chrysanthemums were flopping over with heavy blooms, a fine problem to have! Graceful Japanese anemones had obviously been blooming for a while and had grown immensely since last year.

'Frequent Violet' Iris
The sunlight is so lovely the way it comes across the sky and through the trees and lights the garden in October. The temperatures are just perfect for working in the garden and taking care of all those issues that cropped up over the long hot summer that it is hard to believe that there was ever any doubt in my mind that there would be any place else I would rather be than in my garden this time of year. It's good to be back!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Success Story

Although there are some pretty pathetic looking scenarios this fall in the garden, there are also some happy ones. This is my little lemon tree that I wrote about last spring. It was suffering from a long list of bugs and diseases and looked very sad. I think I only got one lemon from this tree since last April. But after cutting back the damaged foliage, I fertilized it with an organic fertilizer, gave it long, deep soaks all summer and hosed it down every once in a while and now it is rewarding me with tons of sweet, sweet blooms that fill the air with their lovely fragrance, on top of an already abundant young crop of lemons with not a bug or yellow leaf in sight. No pesticides or insecticides were necessary, just some nutrients, a lot of sunshine, some thoughtful watering and maybe a little love!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Weather Woes

 Our weather continues to be unusually hot and humid. Days where the temperatures hit the 90's are not unusual for October for us, but they are usually accompanied by dry Santa Ana winds, not high clouds and humidity and they don't go on for weeks at a time. We are becoming addicted to air conditioning  and rarely head out to the yards because there are no enticing breezes at all to lure us to visit.


I must admit I've been feeling terrible about how the fall months are slipping by, usually the best months to get things done in the gardens, without much being accomplished, until I talk to other gardeners and they share the same sentiment. I'm not the only one with bare ground where there once were lush beds. Other than the professionally kept up affluent grounds that are planted only in heat and drought loving plants, almost everyone is feeling the pain of the drought and high temperatures.  The ocean fishing has been exceptionally good this year, which usually means there will be a wet winter. Let's hope that holds true. I am at least thankful for the shade trees in the back yard. It at least looks cool. The Mexican sage that I planted last year doesn't seem too bothered by the weather, but it is a stand alone oasis of color in an otherwise sad looking garden bed. I must admit I have been seriously considering tearing all the flower beds out and replacing everything with a tall fescue that would not need mowing. Kind of just make the back yard a wild field of abandon. But.. maybe I should wait and see how I feel next spring.