Monday, May 25, 2015

Drought Tolerant Tropicals

I write blog posts for the UCCE Master Gardeners which keeps me on my toes searching for new subjects and interesting things to write about that are topical to our region. It also gets me out of my focus on my immediate gardens and looking at gardening in general. I must admit that the tropical plant look is not one that I embrace entirely for an all over look in my gardens, but I do have a lot of tropical plants mixed in throughout simply because they get along so well in our climate and are so easy to grow in many cases. Oddly enough, many of them are drought tolerant and can get along with very little water once established. This is the time of year we should be planting them so I must admit I have some bare spots that I am going to consider some tropicals for simply because they add color and can get along without water. Of course California is often associated with bougainvillea and although I do kind of love it, I have very little of it grow in my gardens. It goes very well with our Mediterranean style house and adds the color I am always looking for almost year round. It doesn't have the constant issue with pests that roses have most of the time so I don't know why I don't use it more often. It can be hard to get established due to sensitive roots, but once you get it going it is carefree.

Some neighbors have a lovely peach colored flower canna with bright apple green leaves that I have fallen in love with, even though I thought I would never plant another canna after I put some in years ago, changed my mind and could never get rid of them. It is had to believe they are so drought tolerant because you would think they come from a tropical rain forest, but they are!

 I have a few hibiscus for some odd reason. They seem much too tropical for me and are not exactly considered a drought tolerant plant. But they do survive on the same amount of water as everything else and although they are not covered in blooms as you see them where they get ample amounts of water and lots of sunshine, did I mention mine are in the shade, mine do have a few pretty flowers and are pest free (as in no white flies).

Acanthus or bear's breeches are tropical plants that grow in the shade and are used primarily for their large, dramatic leaves. They use very little water once established and they do have those dramatic tall blooms (covered in spikes) if you like those kinds of things, this time of year. Years ago I sent away for a variegated one that was about eight inches across when it came. Five years later it is still about eight inches across, But I found a larger one at the nursery a couple weeks ago that I planted in a bit sunnier spot and we'll see how that one does. I do grow them because they tolerate the dry shade so well so planting in a sunny spot kind of defeats the purpose!

After following and learning from garden bloggers in Texas that have been dealing with their drought for so many years, my heart goes out to them with all the rain they are getting, resulting in floods. I hope their gardens that they have worked so hard to adapt to the dry conditions survive this onslaught of wet weather.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Eating The Garden

 May-Gray is a phrase used to describe the seasonal weather pattern we often have in Southern California that describes the overcast, low hanging clouds that cover the coast in the morning hours, usually clearing in the afternoon which often starts in the month of May after a beautiful spring. This typically develops into June-Gloom and sometimes extends into July which we have no cute rhyme for because by then we are all cranky and in need of waking up to some sunshine which is why we all live here in the first place. Last year there was very little if any overcast spring weather, we jumped right into a warm sunny summer, which delighted us all, but was probably not the best for a drought plagued region. The year before that, I think the sun didn't come out before 3:00 PM all summer.

 The May-Gray thing is caused by the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean which is still cool while the inland is heating up quickly, especially in the desert and pulling in the cool air from over the ocean. As the ocean water heats up it will stop this phenomena and the mornings will be sunny again. But it is hard to explain this to the fruits and vegetables that require a certain amount of sunshine and heat to grow and mature!

 Tomatoes especially need the heat and hate the cool weather we have been having. I typically don't get around to planting them, but this year I was inspired by a lecture I went to for the Master gardeners so I have high expectations. But honestly, these have been growing since the end of March. Pretty sad! I planted a beefsteak, a mid-sized and a cherry tomato plant, up high enough to at least somewhat discourage the dogs who usually eat them before we get to them. 

However if there is one fruit that is enjoying this weather it is probably my new blueberry bushes that I got for Mother's Day! I planted them in a planter so I could keep an eye on them and control the soil ph more closely. They are bred specially for growing in our climate and do not require the chill that most blueberries do, so I am hoping they do well. They were already loaded with berries that are very tasty when got them, so hopefully they will continue to be happy. Unfortunately my dog thinks they are very tasty too.

For some reason we don't have many apples this year. We had lots of buds, but just a few apples. I hope this isn't because of a lack of bees. We did have some rogues freezes here and there, so I am going to chalk it up to that this year, but I am very disappointed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Garden Tours and Durantas

So last weekend was the Master Gardener garden tour and I wish I had some great photos to share but I was too busy running around visiting with people to take pictures! It was a nice cool day for visiting gardens and we had lots of guests. It is always nice to have other gardeners that actually know what they are looking at visit the gardens. When someone gets excited over my tall oakleaf hydrangea or rice flower bush it is so rewarding that all the hours preparing seem worth it. One of the shrubs looking especially nice that day was this duranta in the garden by the front door. I had to tell my garden helper to stop pruning it (he prefers neat and tidy) because it is rather large and sprawls all over the place in a somewhat wild manner, but the beautiful arching branches of purple blooms against the bright green foliage make it worth the visual space it occupies.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Welcoming Garden Visitors

This weekend my SJC garden will be open to the Orange County Master Gardeners as a part of their annual tour. This is the third time over the past eight years I have participated and I am always happy to share my garden and experiences with my fellow Master Gardeners. Contrary to what most people may think, gardeners are much more forgiving as visitors to a garden, probably because they really understand just how difficult it is to create and keep up a beautiful space, especially when trying to practice ecologically responsible habits. I have to say though, while going back through pictures to find some that show the progression of the gardens over the years, it is obvious that the drought has taken its toll on the gardens. What were once lush beds and paths with overflowing edges and fillers are now bare dirt and sparse, even with watering from the automatic sprinklers. I had three yards of mulch delivered today to help with water retention and we are expecting some rain over the next couple of days but we need so much more. Luckily pretty blooms like this daylily are willing to bloom with just a little water weekly.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

High Praise for Bonica

These 'Bonica' roses in Laguna have not been fertilized in probably ten years but they continue to produce a ton of blooms every year. I must say they hardly miss me at all! I would highly recommend this rose for a low maintenance - high performance pink rose that performs all summer long! It would make a lovely shrub.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Butterfly Bush

There are butterflies everywhere and I have to give credit to the aptly named butterfly bush or buddleia. I have a few of them around the gardens but there is one that is always host to at least one butterfly whenever you look at it, this lovely purple one. Unfortunately it is situated in a bed that faces west and the plant shows its best side to the neighbors horse stalls and we get a look at the rangy back side of the plant, but I'll put up with that because the butterflies love it! It is fragrant and about five feet tall. I do cut the flowers and they are lovely, long lasting additions to bouquets. did I mention it is drought tolerant? I can't think of any reason not to grow this lovely bush that comes in so many different colors, although I have found that the purple ones do the best.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Adding Alstroemeria

 Every year I say I'm going to plant some more alstoemerias and I finally did! I always claim these are perennials that I grow mainly for their cut flowers that last for a couple weeks in a vase and fill in with other cut flowers beautifully, but I have to admit that they bloom for months and months and are never bothered by bugs or diseases. They are always a nice spot of color in the garden almost year round.

 Although I am guilty of taking them a bit for granted because they seem to thrive on neglect and any fertilizer that makes it to the garden is focused on the high demand plants like roses, but they don't seem to care much and bloom profusely year after year anyway.

Although it is considered a plant for full sun, I have one growing where the California pepper trees have shadowed it almost completely and it still blooms. Mine are all in flower beds that get regular, but not excessive water. The only unique thing that you need to remember about these pretty plants whose common name is Peruvian Lily is that to keep them blooming you need to yank the spent stems up from the ground to keep the blooming. If you just grab the flower stem and give it a sharp tug it will snap off at the ground which will stimulate the plant to send up more flower shoots.

Although these are all lovely, I still think there are some more colors I could use!

Sunday, April 26, 2015


 I have been crazy busy doing everything but getting ready for the big Master Gardener Tour I have coming up early next month in SJC. However things do go on without me and I was able to pull together some lovely bouquets from the gardens for a party we had for some friends visiting from Hawaii. Roses, alstroemeria, buddleia, clematis, heliotrope and scabiosa combined to make this shades of pink, rose and purple fragrant and pretty display.

We finally had some overcast skies that resulted in a little bit of rain, but not much. I had a sprinkler guy come and put on a new box in the Laguna garden a few weeks ago and he said he set it but I'm not sure for how often because when I went by there this week it was terribly dry. The roses were blooming like crazy, but the trees and everything else were showing signs of distress, so the clouds were a welcome relief. Watering on a hillside takes a certain finesse. A little water at a time and let it soak in, then a little more. I didn't have time to read the directions to re-adjust the settings, but I will get over there this week to figure it out. Drought or not, I can't just let everything die and turn into a fire hazard!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

An Old Friend Takes a Tumble

 Way down at the bottom of the Laguna garden is a grove of eucalyptus trees, two of which are silver dollar eucalyptus, one of my favorite trees. This is a picture taken eight years ago and you can see the one in the center of the photo has a definite "lean" to it. it has been this way since we moved in and it gives it a lot of character and makes for a good tree to climb and sit on. Hawks, peregrines, and many other birds frequent these branches. These trees have held up many hammocks over the years, still hold up odd little bird houses that were occupied again this spring, and ten years ago I had a stage build between them where a blues band played in the afternoon while the audience sat on the grassy knoll for my DH's birthday party.

It had been a few years since I had the tree trimmers over to do any maintenance on them and when I went down to check the trees out before I had them come to do the trimming, the large silver dollar eucalyptus had grown and reached way up, covering most of the hillside! I was shocked at how large it was. It rained that weekend and unfortunately by the time the tree trimmers came later that week the large tree had fallen over, pulling up some of the roots out of the ground. If only I had been a few weeks earlier getting my act together!

 It really broke my heart because I love this tree so much, so we decided to trim it back and just kind of leave it and see what happens. It really can't go anywhere and it isn't hurting anything, having landed on the open space on the hillside. So if it lives it will make an interesting tree sculpture and a good place for kids to climb next summer. If it doesn't make it, we'll have firewood for many winters to come, but I will really miss it.

And so will the birds I suspect.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Down in the Laguna Garden

 Most of the time I am overwhelmed and months behind (if not years) as far as projects go in my homes and gardens. I guess I have learned to live with the feeling that there is always more to do and to embrace the beauty of imperfection. The past few years I have focused on bringing the grounds of our house in SJC up to the vision I had for them when we moved in here eight years ago. With the drought getting worse and the water restrictions there is still more work to do.

 I admit that I do not spend any time in my Laguna garden these days after putting 20 years into it while we lived there full time. My garden helper is there on a weekly basis to keep it from turning into a wild jungle, but just barely. I am always so busy with trying to keep up with the house maintenance (old wood houses near the ocean are a lot to keep up!) there so that the garden takes a back seat and my expectations are very low whenever I wander through the garden. But a couple weeks ago we were over there and spent the afternoon down the hill in the garden enjoying an afternoon of sunshine, birdsong and beautiful spring blooms.

 I have to admit I was kind of blown away by the wild beauty that is still there, albeit, among the chaos of neglect. I do miss this garden and hope to get back there soon to spend time among the plants that I put in the ground years ago. I do appreciate her patience with me.