Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Monarchs Have Arrived

 For the past six years I have been planting native milkweed to attract Monarch butterflies. We are in the migration path for their annual trek from Mexico to California and because of the over population of our area their natural food source, the milkweed plant, is disappearing at alarming rates, having a negative impact on these lovely and amazing creatures.

 For many years I never saw any sign of them and so I moved the milkweed around the yard and even planted them in different spots. It did take a few years to see any signs of butterflies at all after the yard had pretty much been cultivated with pesticides and chemicals for years by the previous owners, but finally life started to return.

 Last year I wasn't in the garden much due to a knee injury, but one day when I was out walking around I noticed some strange, bare sticks protruding out of the ground. It took me a while to realize it was what was left of the milkweed plants that I had planted the previous fall! I was excited that there was hope that the Monarchs had found the food source I had left out for them and devoured it, although any sign of them was long gone.

Last weekend I was out digging up iris tubers (I know, I'm way off sync) and a pretty orange and black butterfly flitted by me. I always assume any orange and black butterfly I see is a Gulf Fritillar because we have lots of them and they love the passion flower vines which I grow. But I watched it head over to the patch of milkweed as if it was directing my attention there and then it was off. I climbed through the flower bed over to the milkweed and there they were, about a dozen Monarch caterpillars of all sizes, munching away on the plants! We have been watching them all week, growing in size, then disappearing, crawling off (I hope) to form a chrysalis on a nearby leaf or twig. Today when I went out the five plants were all but stripped of all foliage and there were still tiny caterpillars just emerged still looking for food. There should be another "crop of butterflies in a couple months so maybe I should get some more milkweed in the ground before then! There are actually three short-lived (two to six weeks) generations of butterflies that hatch in one area before a "super" generation that make the migration hatch. That generation lives six to eight months to make the migration to warmer climates in the fall. Well, I'm glad they finally found my little patch of food I planted for them and I figure if they can migrate thousands of miles to find the exact same mating place through generations, they'll be able to find my little milkweed patch every year too!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Fruit Trees

We're adding a new fruit tree (actually two) to the SJC gardens this year. When we moved into the Laguna beach house there was a pomegranate tree, or more like a pomegranate bush, growing way down in the back forty. Planted by birds I'm guessing. Anyway, I found it rather charming and a lovely addition to have on hand, both for the tasty fruit that is so good for us, as well as the decorative component. There are few things as lovely and sensual as a large bowl of pomegranates during the holidays. Especially when you cut a few open to show the beautiful seeds and gorgeous colors inside. Because they grow so easily here and seem like a natural addition to any Mediterranean garden, I have been meaning to add one or more to our SJC yard. At the nursery a couple weekends ago they had some bareroot ones that my DH and I picked up and now we have one in the rose garden and I am looking for a sunny spot to put the other one. I like to buy two of new additions to the gardens and spread them around so if one doesn't do well in a location, maybe the other will take to it's new home a little better! Bareroot fruit trees are so easy to plant is is almost crazy! (I know the label looks like it is a peach, but it is not!) Pomegranate trees grow kind of like a scrappy, large shrub, so finding the right spot may take a little work, but I am looking forward to the fruits of our labor this fall!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentines Day

It's been a number of years since I've indulged in planting bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) in the shade garden. I guess once again the rain has been encouraging me to take a chance on something that I know is just a short-lived charmer. Even though they are supposed to be perennials, I have never seen them come back to bloom the second year around here, but they are just so sweet, I am willing to go to the trouble and expense just to have them in the garden for a few months in the late winter and early spring. Besides, is there a more perfect flower for Valentines Day? Anyone can have roses, but a bleeding heart? Come on!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Taking a Chance With The Iris

I don't know if I'm early or late, but I do know that this isn't the ideal time of year to be digging and dividing bearded iris, but our mild climate is very forgiving and I didn't get any flowers last year, so I figure the worse that can happen is I don't get any blooms until next year anyway. But chances are I will get a few flowers if I am lucky, so I have been taking advantage of this lovely weather and out digging the rhizomes up and separating the mothers from the babies. It has been five or six years that most of these plants have been in the ground, way too long to go without dividing. In addition to that, many of them are now growing in the shade from trees that were just shrubs when they were planted. Years of adding mulch to the beds have also covered many of them so that they are buried too deep and the tops of their rhizomes are not getting any sun, another reason they will not bloom. I have lost track of what is planted where, so they are all just being dug up, separated and thrown in a basket and will be planted with a handful of the organic fertilizer I am getting for the camellias and azaleas since they prefer acidic conditions and we have such alkaline water. They are all going in one of the sunny beds that have good drainage and we will see what comes up! I may throw a few in pots to share after I see them bloom so I know what I am giving away because I have quite a few it seems. There are a few areas like the Moonlight Garden that I know only have white reblooming Frequent Flyers and the side garden that are all Frequent Violet, but other than that it looks like I am in for some surprises when it comes time for them to bloom this spring!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Beacon of Light

If I remember correctly we were traveling last year this time and I missed seeing my pretty little pyrus calleryana or Ornamental Pear tree bloom.  One of the first plants to show color, it is looking especially robust this year as are all of the shrubs and plants in the Moonlight Garden, I suspect due to the rainfall we have had this winter. It is a beacon of sunshine in the middle of winter as the California natives are starting to bloom and some of the early spring flowers are waking up. The weather is lovely this week and just perfect for getting out in the garden and taking care of some of the chores (like cutting back the roses) that I have been falling behind with due to other obligations! After a year of injuries for me and years of drought for the garden it is nice to be able to get back out there and make up for lost time!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Few New Shrimp Plants

 It isn't very often I can say that I've bought a plant I've never had before, but last month I finally broke down and bought a justicia brandegeana or as it is commonly called, a Shrimp Plant. Although the salmon-colored ones are very common in our area, I have never been seduced by their cute little shrimp-like flowers or their easy cultivation. But I have a love of chartreuse flowers and I have been looking for shade-loving perennials for my "Palm Alley" that are easy to grow and will hopefully last more than a few months as many of the others have only been willing to stick around. I was combing the shade aisle of the nursery and there was this bright shining little green shrimp plant that caught my eye. I brought it home and planted it and the more I looked at it the more I liked it, so I went back and got a few more. I like the way it adds color, but in a subtle way. It is just a bright glow as opposed to an actual color.

 This area can be very tricky. Some plants thrive and others don't do well. The shrimp plant is supposed to be very easy and can grow to be about three feet high and wide, although I don't think I've every seen one in a garden that big, but maybe I've just never noticed. We'll just have to watch and see how they do, meanwhile I 'm very excited about them!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mid-Winter Updates

Thanksgiving and Christmas are big holidays at our house, but Super Bowl Sunday takes the prize for sheer volume of people at the house and I work all month trying to refresh the mid-winter gardens so that they at least look presentable since this is the only time of year many of our friends come to the house and most of them associate me with being a gardener and have high expectations. The camellias and azaleas are lovely, but I have been taking advantage of the lovely weather and abundant rain we've been having to add some pretty seasonal color that I have skipped the past few years. After the poinsettias were retired from their showy pots around the entrances, there were empty pots for many weeks until I got busy at the last minute to drop in some winter bloomers. I even updated this wooden planter with tiny succulent cuttings that will look good for months to come. Amazing how inspirational a little rain and sunshine in the middle of winter can be to a gardener!

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.