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.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Admiring Clivia

There are few flowers more showy in the shade gardens this time of year than the clivia.I know I am always singing their praises every year, but they truly do deserve to be considered for their ability to thrive where almost no other plants will in deep shade with little water. To prove it, here is a picture of some that are planted at the base of a eucalyptus tree way down at the bottom of our Laguna garden. They are lived like this for years. 

 The only thing that these troopers do not like is direct sun. Their beautiful green strappy leaves that look good all year long will turn yellow and burn in the sun. The flowers last for weeks and if orange isn't your color, (it isn't mine either, but I make an exception for these bold beauties once a year) try the yellow ones. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring Bulbs

 There is all kinds of color in the gardens these days. Some wonderful and carefully planned. Others random and serendipitous. Like this beautiful red amaryllis bulb that was just kind of stuck in the ground and is now showing off year after year. However this year it is surrounded by a bed of yellow kalanchoe that my garden helper added in to cover the bare ground. Red and Yellow? Not my first choice in garden colors combinations, but it is healthy and happy and a bit out of the way so who am I to critique? 

 And then going from the biggest boldest bulbs to the tiniest, little blue muscari are coming up where I planted them a few months ago, rather naively, because they are lost in the landscape. I forgot just how tiny they are and one dog paw can crush them instantly. They are hard to work into the big garden beds, but the few I put in the raised planter with a rock garden theme seemed better suited.

 I always forget about the beautiful dutch iris that just multiply and bloom every year without much care. They do seem to be aligned with the Easter colors, but I think they will be spent by next weekend. Nevertheless, they are a delightful sight every year!

Although technically they are a tuber and not really a bulb, I must mention the wonderful alstroemeria that are also blooming this time of year. What an easy, forgiving plant that puts out tons of lovely flowers that last forever when cut. I really do need to add more to my gardens!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Buddha in the Garden

 Sitting quietly, way on the back of the gravel garden, is Buddha. Most of the winter he is surrounded by white azaleas. The rest of the year, by various cool shades of green succulents and tropical plants.
It is hard to see in this picture, but there is a perfect umbrella of duranta over his head. Duranta, if you are not familiar is a flowering shrub that has arching sprays of blue flowers (at least this one does). I always seem to miss it in bloom back here. Buddha's hands form a perfect cup to hold enough water from the sprinklers to keep blooms fresh for a few days and I try to keep them filled with long lasting flowers when I pass through this garden.

But Tilly seems to think that Buddha is there solely to offer her a little refreshment, for her own personal benefit, just like the rest of the gardens, and everyone else in the household for that matter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Climbing Wild Roses

The first of my climbing wild roses are blooming on the front arbor. They are the earliest of the spring roses to bloom and are finished by the time everything else wakes up. You can see they are all tangled up with the wisteria which is just starting to bloom. Unfortunately the best view is from the bedroom balcony looking down on them. This is the curse of an overzealous garden helper that keeps everything trimmed neat and tidy. Somehow I haven't been able to convey the beauty of the juxtaposition of control and free form to him and as soon as he sees me trim one thing he takes over and trims everything within an inch of its life. Oh well, someday he will understand...

Monday, March 9, 2015

Crazy-Busy Season

 I met someone who told me they didn't plant spring bulbs because they didn't like the messy foliage they had to put up with after the flowers faded. I must admit, there are a couple weeks when this is what it looks like in a few flower beds that the daffodils live in and I know that there are some fastidious gardeners that are very tidy and braid or bundle the dying foliage up while it is gathering the all important nutrients for next year's blooms, but I never get around to that. Besides, there is so much else going on in the garden to look at this time of year you can hardly notice a little chaos here and there!

 The orange trees that were all but withering away due to a lack of water when a broken sprinkler was not detected for a long time at the back of the property in SJC have once again come back to their previous glory (well almost) and with a heaping help of fertilizer and lots of rain and consistent watering in between the rain are blooming and filling the air with the lovely scent of ummmm... orange blossoms! How wonderful!

 The sweet little 'Anna' apple trees are blooming like crazy as usual.

The camellias and azaleas are winding down their seasons, but still have a few lovely blooms to share the stage with the spring flowers that are just starting to flower. 

The honeysuckle vines are in full bloom, climbing up the giant bird of paradise, so very fragrant and pretty, attracting the hummingbirds like crazy! Now really, who can worry about some fading bulb foliage when there is so much else going on in the garden?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Winter Blooming Succulents

 I don't know where the time goes, but it looks like spring is upon us based on the roses starting to bud and the wisteria that is showing color. I have been wrapped up in various house projects that have kept me busy but I need to take a minute to reflect on some late winter blooming succulents that are unique to our climate. The long goose neck blooms like the one above are showing up all over the place in the winter in Southern California and to visitors they do look like quite a curiosity. They are the blooms of the Agave attenuata, a very common plant in our landscapes. It takes about five or more years for the plant to bloom like this and then it will die, but by then there are usually many pups formed at the base ready to take over. This one is in my street-side garden and is putting on quite the show. Originally from Mexico, you can see where they get their common name, Fox Tail Agave!

 Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is a plant that I usually buy in pots for the colorful blooms in the fall and I use for indoor decorating, but my garden helper loves to propagate them because they are so easy. As a result I have tons of them all over the gardens (often to my dismay)! They are not much to look when not in bloom, but this time of year they put on a big show of color. I just found out their common name is Flaming Katy! I kind of like them a little better now!

Also in the Kalanchoe family is this plant, whose name I'm not sure of, some big lanky cousin of the Kalanchoe blossfeldiana that is tucked back in a corner of the Moonlight Garden. Very charming little flowers I think!

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!