Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gardening is Hard

The other day I ran into an acquaintance who asked me if I was still gardening. I was rather caught off guard by her question. I have never thought that I would someday not garden. I'm not saying that it is like eating or breathing, I'm sure that I would still exist if I did not garden, but if given the choice to do it or not, I would always choose to do it, at least in some form or another. My friend had said that she had quit gardening because it was just too hard and time consuming and she had moved to a condo where she didn't have to worry about the yard. Before that she had a beautiful garden that was in fact - perfect. It had actually won awards. The first time I saw it she was standing in the front yard with a bottle of spray pesticide in each hand, issuing orders in crisp Spanish to her gardeners. Every bloom was blemish free, every leaf perfect, every blade of grass the exact same shade of green and the exact same height. I understand why she gave up the battle, because that's what it was for her, a battle, unfortunately.

This time of year the gardens start to look a little tired. Hot days of summer, too many distractions, not enough rain, there are lots of things working against me. But it is my passion and I know that I will get back to it in a while, when the grandkids are back in school and our vacation is over and the weather changes and our visitors all go home, it will still be waiting for me.

When I talk to someone that is just starting out with gardening for the first time and they are just learning the basics, I always take a big sigh because I know they are going to learn that gardening is hard, and frustrating, and they are going to learn a lot of lessons in the years ahead. I just hope they are doing it for the right reasons because it is also one of the most rewarding life-long loves they will ever encounter!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer Fennel Flowers

This morning I found lots of things wrong in the gardens to take pictures of that will make good subjects for future posts, but today I'm just going to focus on one thing that is doing really well. My bronze fennel is lovely! I don't like the taste of fennel and don't ever harvest it. I don't really know why I planted it years ago back here when I put a vegetable garden in before I gave up and turned this area back over to the rabbits that rule the domain. Obviously the varmints feel the same way I do about fennel and so it lives on untouched, year after year. It is now about six feet tall and blooms profusely all summer with flowers that attract songbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects. The bronze foliage has reverted back to mostly green this time of year but it is light and feathery and pretty. I guess I really do like fennel after all - just not in my salad!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Always Another Aeonium

There seems to be a distinctive trend around this place that whenever nothing else works, throw in an aeonium. I'm sure I was the one that started this trend by showing my garden helper how easy it was to propagate them by simply breaking off the rosettes and sticking them in the ground. I first tried them planted as a groundcover in the front where the rabbits ate everything I tried and sure enough they left them alone. As they filled in they started to look good and so they became the go-to filler for lots of other spots that nothing else seemed to work. Although they prefer sunny spots and regular water with good drainage, they will survive just about anywhere. They do have a tendency to look leggy and curl up if they don't get enough sun or water. Every few years they need to be refreshed and replanted if necessary. When they bloom they die down, but they don't seem to bloom very often. There is a big difference between surviving and thriving. I now find myself pulling them out of places where they are growing but look terrible. There are some places that should just be covered with rocks!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Front Lawn

Because of our drought I do feel a bit of anguish over the front lawn most of the year and it is looking very shabby this summer due to reduced watering, but there are some things that you just need a grassy area for, and playing barefoot baseball with your cousins is one of them. We have our older grandkids stay with us during the summer and whenever they get rambunctious in the house the standing order is "out in the front yard with that!" They spend hours hitting the ball, running bases, planning schemes, collecting treasures, searching for eatables, watching butterflies, making up games, running through the sprinklers, learning to whistle, sharing secrets and a whole lot of others things that make up the memories of childhood summers. A grassy play area on a summer afternoon at your grandparents house is a wonderful rite of childhood, at least it will be for our grandchildren.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summer Show Offs

Last February I was complaining about these narrow little planters and how bare they looked in the winter along side of the weeping cedar. I think I vowed to plant something other than the 'Black and Blue ' salvia that has been there for the past few years and only looks good during the summer months. But as I look at it now, it really does look quite lovely, and since I never did get around to replacing it, I guess it will stay for another year! I do love the combination of the bright green foliage against the dark purple flowers and it is hard to get a color combination that doesn't clash with the house color when it is that close. I must remember my own advice that not everything looks great all the time and just let the tree take center stage in the winter months!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Hollyhock

I'm assuming everyone has a nostalgic flower that reminds them of their childhood and hollyhocks are mine. I've probably mentioned before (writing a blog on one subject for seven years it is hard not to repeat yourself) that when I was in kindergarten we lived at a lake in Michigan and hollyhocks grew wild there. We used to pull them apart and make hollyhock dolls out of them. Today when I see them growing all over SJC in the Mission and Old Town, I want to plant some because they grow so easily from seed, but I usually forget until it is too late. This year I actually bought a couple flats of three inch pots that I spotted in a nursery in the spring when I was there for something else. I brought them home and had my helper plant them. I put a flat of white ones in the Moonlight Garden and a flat of violet ones in the perennial garden. The ones in the Moonlight Garden have disappeared. I'm sure they are very tasty to hungry rabbits now that I think about it. A few of the ones in the perennial garden have survived and are blooming, but they are white! I probably should have been more specific about making sure they were planted along a fence or wall out of the way of dogs wandering through the beds sniffing down, well, whatever. And those that have survived are, of course, besieged with rust and mildew, the nemesis of the hollyhock. Some hollyhocks are annuals, some are biannuals and some are listed as perennials, and as we all know, that means little in Southern California where plants just do whatever they want as far as coming and going ( I still have pansies blooming from last fall) so I will try again. This time from seeds, in an out-of-the-way bed along a wall, away from where the bunnies roam. Doesn't it drive you crazy when you see plants growing in ditches that you can't get to grow in your own back yard?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Editing the Garden

So, in spite of my good intentions, I didn't get much gardening done this week (or any). But I did make some important decisions that are long overdue. There are a lot of plants that just need to go, or at least go somewhere else. My SJC garden is in need of big time editing. Plants that were put in years ago when I originally designed the gardens and have never done well like this Angel Trumpet (brugmansia). I have three of them here and they all look terrible. I thought it was San Juan Capistrano they didn't like, but I was at the Mission the other night and couldn't take my eyes off their huge brugmansia tree dripping with hundreds of trumpets, so it is just my yard they don't like, although they grow for me with no problem in Laguna. Oh well, no need to over analyze, just get this awkward thing out of here. Cut them back, dig them out, put them in a pot and stick them in the "nursery" on the side of the house to deal with later. I went through the whole yard and tied red ribbons to things that need to go while that was my focus. A good editing is needing every once in a while! At least I got that done!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Time To Make Time

 Yesterday was the first day of summer. I love summer. Next to spring and fall it is my favorite season. It has long been my rule that I officially declare a truce on anything but maintenance in the gardens and just enjoying what is already there, but this year I may make an exception. (What happened to those 150 lily bulbs I planted six years ago? Really? Only six or seven left?)

 Next to the fall and winter holidays, June, July and August are really busy months for us. When you have a large family and network of friends there are so many weddings, graduations, birthday parties, visiting vacationers, pool parties, overnight grandkid parties, camps, concerts, art festivals and just plain fun stuff going on that there is little time to worry about anything but stocking up on food, drinks and sunscreen! 

 I do most of my work on the gardens in the spring and in the fall, which is actually the right time to work in the garden. But I often find that the selection of plant materials in the way of perennials somewhat lacking in inspiration, if not dismal. 

 The other day I was getting ready for a party at the house and I needed to refresh some potted plants on the deck that still had some spring annuals in them that were past their prime. I stopped in the nursery and made a cruise through the aisles and I was blown away by all the beautiful perennials, some new introductions, some old favorites that I just hadn't seen in a while and had forgotten about. (Did my dozens of fancy iris bloom when I was not paying attention or just not bloom at all?)

 Unfortunately I had a to-do list a mile long for that day and had no time to do anything but fill up my car with the summer plants for the deck that I had come for (although I did pick up some abutilons that I had been searching for forever) and I had to leave disappointed, but motivated to come back.

 I have a confession to make. Although all the pictures that I post are current (unless otherwise stated) of my gardens, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. I have lots of help to keep them up, but the design choices are all mine and there are so many plants that have just disappeared over the years, popped up where they shouldn't be, or are just tired and need to be cut back, removed or transplanted at my direction that they are in dire need of my attention. There are lots of days that a walk through my gardens leave me cringing at what I see.

 Although summer is not the ideal time to garden and certainly the middle of a drought does not help either, I intend to carve some time out of this busy month to focus on my SJC garden and take advantage of some of those lovely perennials that seem to show up at the nurseries when I am not paying attention.

 I actually have some time this week and if I cancel an appointment or two I can make some more. It is just a matter of priorities. (When the agapanthus are the best looking thing in the garden it is time to refocus!)

 There are lots of sad spots in the garden due to the cut back in watering. I took pictures, but I'm not sure I want to dwell on the bare cracks in the flagstone paths where there used to be baby tears and the brown spots in the lawns, I just need to find new solutions for those spots that don't require so much water. Even the succulents are looking a bit stressed because even though they may be more drought tolerant than some annuals, they still do require regular water.

 Don't even get me started on the fact that the containers I bought last winter for my container vegetable garden are still empty! If one more person asks me how my tomatoes are doing and I have to explain that I haven't quite got around to planting any yet - well don't get me started!

Meanwhile I need to remember that overall most things look pretty good.  That is because of the basic structure and reliance on trees, shrubs, grasses, natives and hardscaping that I put in when I designed the garden a few years ago. And I need to divide the iris, which is actually a summer job anyway!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Old Pepper Tree

 A few years ago when we converted a back grassy yard to the gravel garden, we removed most of the sprinklers and changed over the remaining ones to a drip system specifically for the few plants that were left in the area. 

 The main tree that shaded the area was this mature old pepper tree (schinus molle) that is very drought tolerant and was pretty much left to survive on rainfall. Since then it is starting to show signs of stress from the drought. There are lots of dead branches and foliage hanging down that will need to be removed when the tree trimmers come in the fall this year. For the first time I will need to put a sprinkler down there to give it a deep drink of water at least every month to get it through the summer and keep it healthy until the rainy season. This was not something I had anticipated due to the advanced age and type of tree which seems to be able to withstand any abuse in a native setting.

The rest of the gravel garden with the drip system is doing fine and hanging in there nicely.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hello Dahlia

The first dahlias of the year are opening and it isn't even the first day of summer yet. Not sure how many will be left this year. I don't dig them up and I don't add knew ones every year so it is just a surprise as to what shows up.