Saturday, December 19, 2009


Marguerite daisies are a very common shrub that often are taken for granted, at least by me. But there are few shrub-like perennials that add as much light and sparkle to the garden bed and are as easy to grow in our climate. They are even fairly drought tolerant. Whenever a garden bed looks lackluster and is missing something I grab a few one gallon pots of these, which are a staple at most garden centers and big box stores, and just drop them in spots throughout the bed and they will most likely add a lightness and what I call 'sparkle' to the bed regardless of what other colors are already growing there. I cut them all the way back to the basal growth once a year and other times just keep them deadheaded to keep them blooming.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's Almost That Time of Year

While walking through the garden I was surprised by this daffodil foliage already coming up strong. They are established bulbs that have naturalized and they must be early bloomers, or else planted too shallow, but either way I was thrilled to see them. Just a sign that soon all the holiday hustle and bustle will be over (not that I am complaining) and spring will be on its way.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is It a Weed?

Do you ever notice something growing in the garden and wonder what it is? Did I plant it or did it just come up on its own? This large, looming plant is growing in the backyard garden bed in SJC and it sure looks like a weed, but it also looks perfectly spaced like it was intentionally planted. It has been growing for months and I have been patiently waiting until it blooms to confirm that it is something I chose rather than a volunteer. I have a sneaking suspicion it is Queen Anne's Lace, which I know is a weed in some parts of the country, but doesn't grow wild here. I have planted it a number of times to use in floral arrangements, but it never seems to make it to bloom. Another week or so should tell the tale!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Little Bay

I use a lot of bay leaves in my cooking. I make a couple soups and stews every week and they always have four or five bay leaves in each pot. Last year I planted this little bay laurel tree in the back yard in SJC. Upon further consideration I will probably have to move it because they can get quite large, but I am so happy to have it available. I haven't started using the leaves yet, having had a large stash of dried ones already, but I will most likely utilize it in the spring. I am already looking forward to making bay wreaths for friends!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Raindrops On Roses...

... and whiskers on kittens. Corny, I know, but we don't get them too often here and it is... one of my favorite things!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Way In The Back

If you look closely you can see a white flag in the back of this deep bed of mainly green. It is a really tall calla lily that is marking the beginning of their season in the cool weather. It stands out like a beacon of hope that the winter flowers are beginning to bloom and hold us over until spring.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sorry Little Buddies

Between the shopping, cooking, planning for house guests, holiday parties, a sick husband and the inclement weather I must admit that the bird feeders have been neglected for some time now. When I went out to take pictures for the blog I realized I had left my waterproof garden shoes out in the rain so they were no use in wading through the muddy paths and beds, at least for a while. I will have to add the bird feeders to my to-do list or they will never get filled this season!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rainy Days

It has been a wet week here, thank goodness! Wet and cold, not a common occurrence in our neck of the woods so it has been kind of fun to bundle up and complain about the weather a bit. After a long dry summer the heavy rain gives everything a good cleaning and the trees a nice long drink they have desperately needed. There are still two more storms coming this weekend so it looks like we will get enough rain to squelch any concerns about fires for a while, at least until next year. Now hopefully it will clear up for the holidays when the relatives arrive looking forward to nice weather!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Early Winter Blooms

Although we still have a couple weeks of autumn left in the year, it is feeling like winter here. The temperature is barely breaking the 60's and the skies are overcast, preceding what is expected to be a cold winter storm coming down from Alaska. Our native California plants that rely on the winter rain to wake them up have already started to bloom, like this blue ceanothus, due to a bit of rain last month.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Shine Through

Here's a hint if you are planting bougainvillea, plant it so it will grow high and the sunlight will back light the translucent bracts. It makes a lovely sight against the beautiful blue skies in the fall!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Maybe Next Year

I did not have much luck with attracting Monarch butterflies to the garden with the native milkweeds I planted last year. However they are adding a pretty autumn combination of colors to the flower beds that they are blooming in this month.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Anemones At Last

I finally got some white anemones (thank you VW for the correction!) for the Moonlight Garden. Every year this time I am always remiss because I forget to plant enough fall blooming perennials. I was at the nursery looking for something entirely different for an interior centerpiece I was doing when I spotted these and grabbed about four of them. They don't look like much this year, but hopefully they will fill in nicely next year!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Consuming the Rabbit

This tagetes lemmonii is coming close to enveloping our Flying Rabbit statue in the back yard in SJC. My DH keeps asking me why I don't cut it back. (BTW, the statue is straight, my photo is crooked!)

This is what it looks like on the other side. Too beautiful to cut back right now!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Working It

Although there are fall changes in our native landscape, they are typically subtle with the exception of our native sycamore trees. If you want to see changes in the landscape in the fall you have to work it. Birch trees are a luxury here because they are not drought tolerant. I have one near the front door in SJC in a little garden that gets a bit more water than the rest of the landscape. It is my little indulgence so I can enjoy a bit of fall color and texture.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

White Rebloomers

I was complaining earlier this year about my white iris not blooming in the spring, but I take all that back. They are putting on quite a show in the Moonlight Garden this month, a year after being divided. This one looks like 'Frequent Flyer' although there were some 'Immortality' in this bed too. I am delighted!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Growing Grapes

I grow grapes in both of my gardens. Maybe I should correct that statement and say I grow grape vines in both my gardens as I can't remember ever eating a grape I have grown. There are just too many birds to compete with and I have never cared enough to go to the trouble of draping the vines with bird netting. In fact it would be almost impossible because the vines scramble up everything they can find. I cut them back in Laguna every year to try to contain their exuberance and the ones in SJC are still young. Why do I grow them if not for the fruit? The foliage is just so lovely I can't get enough of it. There is a beautiful mission in SJC (remember the swallows?) and I love to visit it just to walk under the arbor of grape leaves in the summer. They are so classic and romantic, who needs grapes?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Adding Interest

Most of our entertaining of friends and family from the east coast takes place during the fall and winter months, not the prime time for garden blooms. I took it upon myself to add some much needed interest to the white garden by adding some white violas, stock and kale. They sparkle in the early morning light that is so beautiful this time of year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Late Season Roses

'Royal Sunset'

'Betty White'

I will admit I am starting to get a bit overwhelmed with the holiday season. We have a large family and a large extended family and this is the time of year when we all get together at our home. I have been busy planning and making arrangements and helping with travel plans for everyone and I rarely get out into the garden these days. When I do, the flowers that are in bloom bring me such pleasure that all the work that goes into the gardens the rest of the year is worth it, even if I am the only one soothed by their abundant beauty these busy days.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Agapanthus Seeds

There are a few agapanthus flower heads that have been overlooked in the Laguna garden and they have gone to seed. I have never heard of anyone growing them from seed since they are so easily divided for propagation, but I'm sure it can be done.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Big Fat Problem

This is the sight of what was a big problem for us in a plant in SJC. The trunk of this ponytail palm had grown over the sprinkler valves and finally broke the pipe, creating a constant leak into this raised planter. Because the planter was filled with vegetation we did not notice the leak until it had eroded the bottom of the planter and was seeping out into the ground below it and the whole area became sopping wet. It took a while to figure out where the leak was coming from because there are sprinklers and other pipes that run through this planter. What a headache it was, but as you can see by the new sprinkler valves in the photo above, it is all under control now. Thank goodness!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The First Camellias

The first camellias of the season are opening. So lovely!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Even when periwinkle (vinca minor) is out of bloom I love it on this slope in the Laguna garden. It is under a tree and I have a hard time growing anything there except this prolific groundcover that is really a vine. The Rose of Sharon and Japanese Maple have already gone dormant on this cool north facing hill, but the vinca fills in the area quite nicely up to the yellow clivia which will bloom in the late spring. One time a helper of mine mistook my instructions and removed all of the vinca from this area and it looked dreadful for a couple years as I tried other plants to fill in. Finally I went back to my old favorite and it has not disappointed me. I know some people find it aggressive and I probably would too if it weren't in a setting where I needed something to cover a large area in the shade under a tree. Here, it works for me.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Trumpets in Bloom

I have a number of brugmansias on both of my properties, but this is my favorite one. It is a pink one in a corner of the Laguna garden. It is about ten feet tall (this photo is looking down on it from the upper deck) and as you can see is in bloom right now somewhat. When it blooms in the spring there are literally hundreds of blooms on it and the fragrance drifts up to the house and is quite intoxicating. It is showing some signs of iron deficiency of the edges of the leaves which means ready for some fertilizer after a season of vigorous growth and blooming.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Different Kind of Fall Color

In warm climates "fall color" take on a different meaning, especially when it comes to bougainvillea. This tropical vine is in full color in our area this time of year and the bright brackets (the actual flowers are tiny white blooms in the center of the three colorful brackets) are vivid against the clear blue skies that make this such a lovely time of year, even in warmer climates.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nature's Filters

In Laguna we have two ponds. One is in the front of the house, above ground with four or five waterfalls spilling out of the rocks that surround it. I used to have koi in it but it became too big of a battle to keep the varmints that wanted to eat them for dinner at bay so now it is just for looks. There is a huge pump, two filters and UV light that work the whole system and a guy that comes every couple weeks to make sure everything is operating as it should. Then there is this little pond that is basically a hole we dug in the ground and covered with a liner and filled with water about 12 years ago. It has no mechanics and uses the plants for a filter system and the goldfish keep it clean. It is hard to see in this picture, but the water is sparkling clear. We dredge it out every four or five years and that's it. Varmints are welcome!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Simple Steps

Although my two gardens were created by the same person (me) they are as different as day and night. The Laguna garden is on a steep slope and was created out of a natural field with only a few eucalyptus and avocado trees as a foundation. All the hardscape was put in by me and has a very natural feel to it, as does the entire garden. San Juan Capistrano hardscape was all completed when we moved in and has a very formal, Mediterranean feel to it. I have to admit that because most of our time is spent at the SJC home, that is where most of the work in the gardens gets done. Few people see my Laguna garden anymore other than us and it is starting to show some neglect that comes from not having its "owner" there doing the fine details even though there are my workers there on a regular basis keeping things in check. Next week I have tree trimmers coming to Laguna to do some much needed clean up and I will take note of projects to complete over the next six months to spruce the place up a bit. Nevertheless, it waits patiently for me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Lovely Surprise

Look what I found in a quiet corner of the Laguna garden. An out-of-season clematis, don't remember the name, just blooming away for no apparent reason. It looks a little chewed, but that is okay with me. I was delight to have found it!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Look Closely

I nearly missed this bloom on a new calla lily that I planted from a bulb I purchased at a garden show last spring. I love the green variegation on what is typically a white bloom. It blends in with the foliage on the plant that has a similar shape. Very unique!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pinch Me

I'm pretty negligent about pinching back the chrysanthemums in the gardens. Most of them do okay without too much pruning during the year and don't get too leggy and floppy. Not these ones! They definitely need some pinching to make them presentable at all. Next year, next year!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Raven

This summer we added a new piece of art to our gardens in SJC. It is a raven by artist Gerard Basil. It is entitled 'fortis miles' and is bronze and French limestone.
It was made especially for this spot in Palm Alley and the medallion around his neck was designed to signify our family crest by myself and the artist. I like the raven because there are so many crows and ravens and hawks in our area that they are as much a part of the landscape as anything else and add a lot of drama to the skies in our area. Ravens are very smart, social birds. We rescued one many years ago and turned him over to the local bird sanctuary where he was nursed to health and released. He used to come every Saturday morning while I sat on the deck with my coffee and greet me with a raven-speak thank you! This one is right on target for the season!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sad Salvia

Here is another example of an unhappy plant placed in the wrong spot. This is salvia 'Black and Blue' and it grows quite contently in other parts of the yard with little damage from insects or disease. For some odd reason (most likely the color looked right here when it was small) I put it in a narrow planter next to the house along the driveway in SJC. It doesn't get enough direct light and not enough air circulation as well as the roots are probably cramped. When a plant is under stress it sends off signals that insects pick up on and they head in for the kill. With not enough vigor to defend itself, the poor plant starts looking like this. I will come to its rescue and transplant it out in the open garden beds and fill in this area with some smaller plants that can handle the shade and we'll see what happens. There are some daylilies and impatiens that are growing quite happily in this bed also, so I know it is just this poor salvia.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Can't Remember

I am very fond of this charming perennial that is blooming right now in my garden, but for-the-life-of-me, I can't remember it's name! It is about four feet tall and herbaceous. Luckily I can enjoy it without addressing it formally!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Another Update on the Gravel Garden

All of the hard work is done in the gravel garden. The gravel is in and it is just lovely. It has a delightful ambiance and a pleasant crunch underfoot. I think it works well because of the dappled shade and green walls that keeps it from feeling too hot and bare.
The row of boxwood that seems random off the center of the space was a solution to what I though would be a problem slope area. I was afraid that people would slip on the grade created from the tree roots. It turns out that it is not slippery at all and all my concerns were for nothing. I am leaving the boxwood in because I kind of like the character they add. I can always move them later if they don't work with the furniture which is my next project. When people come over we always drag them down there and I'm sure that they think we are crazy, after all, it is just a bunch of gravel where there once was grass, but we love it!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ground Hugging

I know I've mentioned it before, but verbena is a wonderful low growing shrub in our area that doubles as a colorful groundcover that is drought tolerant, attracts butterflies and is not bothered by bugs. This stand of it is on the backside of Flying Rabbit Island in the backyard in SJC and gets no attention at all. It always impresses me when I walk around the back and see it, hugging the ground and keeping the weeds at bay. It's not so aggressive that the daylilies are smothered and thrive easily in the midst of a sea of lavender.

Friday, October 23, 2009


A few more goodies from the nursery that will bridge the holidays. Three real pumpkins and one 'faux'. After Halloween the black one will be retired to storage and the remaining will be Thanksgiving ornamentation!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No Self Control

When I should be focused on what my needs are for the big picture landscape, I am seduced by novelties at the nursery this time of year. I always buy "black" pansies to set the haunting mood for Halloween. Of course I am most likely the only one that ever notices or appreciates them, they get lost in the landscape fairly easily, and even in containers most people miss their subtle charm, but that's okay. They delight me every time I walk up the front walk and that's worth it to me!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting Picky

This is Joseph's Coat climbing rose that is on my list to relocate this winter. I put it in about three years ago to cover the pillars in front of the house in SJC and it has been a big disappointment. It rarely ever blooms and is plagued with bugs all summer, a sure sign it is in the wrong spot. I have seen it looking amazing in other people's gardens. Most likely not enough sun in the spot it is in (actually there are two of them, one on each column). I will be on the lookout for something with charm and requirements that are more consistent with this space and Joseph's Coat will move to the sunny back yard. No use fighting Mother Nature!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Late Season Iris

There is something wonderful about iris that bloom in the fall. They are considered re-bloomers, however not all of them labeled as such deliver with consistency. This one is "Frequent Violet" and I divided it in June, thinking that it had stopped blooming. Now I have a number of little trimmed off plants with blooms. I am delighted!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Colors of Autumn

I have never intentionally gone out and bought chrysanthemums to plant in the garden. They are most likely to end up there as an afterthought when I purchase them for holiday decorations and stick them in an empty spot after the blooms have faded. I typically forget about them until I notice them about to bloom in the fall and them I am so pleased when they put on their fall show so unexpectedly when other plants are winding down.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ms. Sago Palm

Our female sago palm is sporting a brand new set of fronds (they aren't really fronds as the sago is not really a palm, but a cycad) above the seed pods that she produced last year. I have read that it takes about six to nine months to germinate sago seeds and I get enough pups from her base to keep me supplied with all the sago palms I need, so I am not even attempting to crow them from seed. She is looking quite full and lush this time of year!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Big Leaves

We can't grow hostas here (other than as annuals) because it doesn't get cold enough to give them the chill they need to return every year and our humidity is low so even as annuals they typically are disappointing. The one large-leaf plant that does well in the shade for us is ligularia. It grows in dryish shade and as long as you keep the slugs and snails at bay, has few problems. It also adds some leave variety to all green beds. They do get tall yellow flowers, but I grow it for the foliage.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not

This is our compost pile in SJC. It is bulging from the end-of-summer clean up and will be ready for spreading in the beds in the spring.

This is the compost pile in our Laguna garden. It will also be ready to be spread throughout the garden in the spring. Nothing goes in our green waste bins for curbside pickup except for diseased cuttings from roses to keep from spreading fungus problems like black spot and rust. I don't worry much about the internal temperatures of the piles or the ratio of green to brown waste. We just let nature do its thing and soon or later we get black gold!