Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lady Bug Larvae


There is quite a party going on here on the top stems of this Royal Queen Purple Violet Tubeflower (iochroma) that is not in bloom yet. Although it looks a little daunting at first, upon closer inspection, I'm pretty sure these rather unattractive little guests are actually ladybug larvae and quite welcome in my garden. I've made the mistake of over reacting before and getting rid of them before I took the time to realize that they are actually something that I want in my garden because they are one of the good bugs that do not eat plants, but do eat other bugs that do eat plants, mainly aphids. So now am thrilled to see all this craziness happening just as it should in a well balanced, natural, organic garden!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Foggy Mornings

 We've had such a lovely spring as far as the weather has been concerned (although we all agree some more rain would have been welcomed), that the cool and foggy mornings that have started to be a bit regular in the past week is making us a little bit worried that the typical late spring weather phenomenon known around here as May-Gray and June-Gloom may be starting already.


 Although I am a big fan of waking up to bright sunshine, I have to admit that walking around through the gardens this morning with my camera was rather nice. 

 The cool, calm foggy mist made for a soft backdrop and kind of added a softness to everything that just took the edge off.


 The colors even seemed a little bit more subdued and the bird songs a tad quieter than usual.


I'm not sure I'm ready for months of overcast mornings lasting into late afternoon, but this morning it suited me fine.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Charm of Columbine

Every garden, not matter how well planned and thought out, should always have a bit of whimsey and surprise, especially for the gardener that tends that garden. Nothing is more charming than self-seeding plants like columbine, also know as  aquilegia. A drought resistant perennial that shows up in the spring and comes in a number of different colors like this purple one or pink, white, yellow or red, they have sweet, clover-like foliage and are actually considered a staple of rock gardens. Deadheading will keep them blooming until it starts getting too warm, then be sure to leave some of the flower heads on to go to seed so they will multiply and return in abundance next year after they disappear all summer and winter. Just when you have forgotten all about them they will pop up and soon you will be charmed by their nodding little flower heads all over again.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bee Hive Hose Covers

For those of you that have asked me about the beehive hose covers (the gray mound at the base of the column in the picture) that are tucked in throughout my SJC gardens and were disappointed to learn that my source no longer carried them, good news! I just noticed that they are once again available at the Wisteria Catalog! Just a coincidence that the only picture I could find with the hose cover in my garden is covered with wisteria!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Focusing on Foliage

 Although this time of year is all about showy flowers, I have to give some space to the month-in, month-out performers that look good all year round with little or no care. In this case it is ligularia. An old fashioned perennial that is grown more for its foliage than the tall yellow flowers that I actually cut off as soon as they appear. I grow three varieties including the white variegated one in the top picture that was just divided and spread throughout the Moonlight Garden where it does very well. It thrives with early morning sun and stays about 12 to 18 inches high and is very sweet. It rarely flowers and needs the least amount of water of all of the ones I grow.


 The middle picture is the one that most people are familiar with, often called the leopard plant. The yellow splotches on the leaves are a part of the natural variegation pattern and will vary depending on how much light it gets. This one is planted on the side of the house, but in the middle of summer it gets direct sunlight the last part of the day and will actually wilt on hot days until the sun goes down and then it perks up again.


This is the largest of all the ligularia and I have seen it referred to as big-leaf ligularia. The leaves are about 18 to 24 inches across and quite dramatic. These I grow in deep shade and rarely ever bloom. They all get a little compost occasionally, but that is about it as far as an special care goes.

There are other types of ligularia other there, like a ruffly variety that I have seen in our area. If you don't find them at any of the big nurseries try some of the smaller, independent nurseries around.  I find they carry some interesting old fashioned plants that you don't always see in the nurseries that all get their stock from the same growers. Ito Nursery in San Juan Capistrano is one that carries some different varieties that you might not find elsewhere. 

Ligularia require regular water and are not considered drought tolerant plants. You can tell by their big, glossy leaves. They are easy to grow in the shade and good for spots that don't dry out and stay cool and damp, like the north side of a building. They are surprisingly durable and the only issues they have are with slugs and snails that also like cool damp conditions and big tasty leaves.  I don't have any problems with snails in my gardens, but they are easily controlled with iron phosphate. 

It is hard to have an interesting garden without some good foliage plants that give the eye a place to rest in the chaos of color this time of year. Consider ligularia like a palette cleanser for the eye!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Gravel Garden Update

 I was recently asked for an update on the Gravel Garden by a reader, so here it is. As is the case with any low maintenance area, not much changes back here, at least not quickly. 

 You can see though, that the screening shrubs between our property and the neighbors are continuing to thin. This is in part due to the demise of the oleanders in the area due to oleander scorch disease and just the normal growth of the overhead plants shading out the under plantings. We planted Carolina cherries (Prunus caroliniana) to replace the dying oleander and continue to plant vines and shrubs along the fences to encourage a dense thicket, but the right combination takes time to grow in and fill in the gaps in this shady space. The dry weather has not be helpful. The automatic sprinkler system can only provide so much water to these large specimen plants and even the drought tolerant ones are a bit stressed these days and not as full as they could be under optimum conditions. There is a large old Brazilian Pepper Tree to the right in these pictures that covers most of this area with shade that is looking very stressed and I am planning on giving it and the orange tree in the back a good long soak with a hose-end sprinkle this weekend to give them a little relief.


I've added layers of hedges and although I was overly romantic and optimistic when I first put this garden in a few years ago with planting a row of white hydrangeas and a drip system, but it has not quite unfolded as I had envisioned. Since then I have tried to wean myself off of reading so many blogs from the rainy part of the country where 'Limelight' hydrangeas grow like wildfires do here. I planted some 'Yuletide' camellias last year in this shady area and I am still contemplating some more shrubs to fill in that can tolerate the shade. Because both neighbors' yards that border this area are far removed from their homes, they don't pay much attention to what goes on here on their sides of the fence, so it is pretty much my issue. One neighbor's yard is actually a horse stable and riding area with lots of chickens, which kind of adds an interesting atmosphere to the backdrop of this garden.

Overall, with the challenges we are facing with the drought this year, the Gravel Garden with its low maintenance and low water needs along with lots of cool shade make it one of the easiest parts of the property to manage. It handles as much or as little time and energy as I want to put into it quite gracefully and provides a lovely space to hang out on top of it all!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Few Observations

 Every year my husband and I go away for a couple weeks to a health resort to allow my dear significant other to focus on his well-being. We typically go in the winter and I usually look forward to the warm weather and change of scenery, but this year as we left on the first full day of spring I was kind of disappointed to be leaving behind the gardens when all the excitement was just starting. We returned to spring in full bloom and lots of things going on so I thought I would just share some of the random happenings in SJC, starting with this beautiful amaryllis bulb that was kind of just stuck in the ground a couple years ago. You know that one corner of the garden where you put all kinds of odds and ends and just see if they make it? Well, this one did and is blooming proudly. It is precariously close to where the dogs cut through the path so I am tempted to cut it and bring it in, but I kind of like seeing it in the garden bed.


 The Anna apples are all ready growing like crazy. I should thin them, but my granddaughters love to pick the fruit every time they come over and they will get thinned by them soon. They were very disappointed this winter when there wasn't much on the fruit trees so I am glad there is at least something for them this time!


 I almost missed the first show of roses and I am feeling really guilty because even though I made many trips to the nurseries in the last few months, rose fertilizer never made it home with me so they are not as lush as they could be. I need to make it up to them this week!


 The California natives are all still blooming away and will probably be for another month or so. It has taken a few years for these rock rose (cistus) in the Moonlight Garden to get to a good size and covered with blooms, but they are lovely now and actually showing off during this dry weather, which is how they actually like it! I should probably put in some more out in the front street side garden where keeping plants looking good is a challange.


 I found the first clematis of the season starting to open.


 There were a number of orchids in bloom that had been sunk in the ground in their pots in a planter off to the side yard. Many types grow so easily for us in our mild climate that we take them for granted.


 There was actually a large group of dutch iris that was still blooming much to my surprise and delight. I always forget about them, but they just do their own thing. An impulse buy from Costco I believe.


 The aloe in the urn by the front door is joining in the show and sending out a bloom for the first time.


The snapdragons that were planted last fall are almost waist high and look more like a field of wild flowers than winter annuals. They must have loved the organic fertilizer that was used when they were planted and the bunnies must not be in the mood for snapdragons for dinner!

I think the overlap of the natives blooming, the winter blooming shrubs, vines and annuals, the spring blooms and the start of the summer annuals make this such a wonderful time in the garden for us here in Southern California. It is almost too much to take in all at once!

Monday, April 7, 2014

When The Jasmine Fades


I just wanted to say a word about one of my favorite vines, pink jasmine (jasminum polanthum). It is such a sweet thing that is so easy to grow, nothing bothers it at all and it will ramble all over the place with little or no care. It blooms in the middle of winter when everything else is sadly dormant and is so very, very fragrant that it gives even the most discouraged gardener hope of an early spring in our mild climate. It does have one unpleasant characteristic though. It is not self cleaning and it is not easy to deadhead. Once the pretty little pink blooms turn to brown they hang on the vine way past their welcome and look very untidy while everything else is starting to look quite nice. Because the vine is so woven throughout the other plants it can become quite an eyesore.  The solution? My suggestion is to plant it at the base of shrubs and trees where it will grow up high looking for light. That way you will be able to enjoy the strong fragrance drifting down and even the cascading flowers in the winter while little else is blooming, but once the show is over and there are more interesting things to attract the eye closer to ground level, you won't even notice the brown swags that will hang on for a month or so until the new growth takes over and grows past the old blooms. Problem solved!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Over Looked and Under Rated

If I had a category in my blog for most underrated, overlooked, neglected, yet best performing plants, alstroemeria, or Peruvian lilies would certainly be in that list. I have them growing here and there throughout my gardens in shades of pinks and reds, white, yellows and oranges. I will step right over them to take a picture of another plant, look over them and lament about nothing being in bloom, and walk right by them with the bucket of fertilizer heading for a more deserving perennial.  They start blooming in late winter and continue on until the end of summer. I have them growing some places in full sun and little water, almost full shade (although they do prefer at least six hours of sun) and they bloom either way. When you cut them for a mixed bouquet from the garden, they will last until every other kind of flower has withered and continue all by themselves for another week in the vase. The trick to keeping them in bloom is to pull the blooming stem up when you deadhead or pick the stem from the base with a snap. Do not cut them. This will signal the plant to send up a new stalk of flowers with a number of blossoms. Occasionally they get a bit chewed, but I have never seen any bugs or disease on them so I can only guess it is by some passing bug, so no major maintenance is needed. As I mentioned, I rarely feed them with much other than the topping of compost everything else in the garden gets annually. I know people that are always looking for pretty, long blooming, low maintenance perennials and this should be on their list! I really should add some more of these easy going perennials to my gardens and appreciate them more!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sometimes Less is Best

I've been meaning to write a few words of advice about bugs and disease and this lemon tree reminded me of what I wanted to say. It sits in a pot right in front of where I park my car. It is very prolific. It was also looking very sad a few months ago as was my grapefruit tree. Every time I would walk by either of them I would cringe at the variety of diseases and pests that were plaguing either of them. Blackish sooty mold, leaf curl, yellowing leaves, dropping leaves, you name it, they both looked terrible. But I just let them be. I knew they had been through a long summer and were going through the cold winter. But soon it would be spring and sure enough they just grew right through all those problems and now they are blooming on healthy new growth without any signs of disease at all. We feed them an organic fertilizer for citrus two or three times a year and that is all other than watering. We hose them down once in a while to knock off the dust and dirt but other than that we let them build up their defenses on their own and they seem to be able to fend for themselves just fine. Oh, and they reward us with wonderful tasty and juicy fruit year round!