Friday, April 30, 2010

Watching Growth

This is a shot of the SJC backyard about a year ago, six months after planting the bed on the left and a year after planting the bed on the right.
This is what it looks like today. I love to plant trees because they add so much structure to a space and this California pepper tree on the right is no exception. There are three of them nestled together in this bed, all growing at different rates. This one is the largest and is starting to shade out the plants below, which will mean a bit of an adjustment in what is growing there. That is fine with me. The way the tree is growing allows us to walk under, or sometimes through, the weeping foliage adding another sensory experience to the garden. I love it!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bee Compulsion

Every time I am in the garden there is this one particular bee that is combing through the cerinthe plant. Of course I am not sure that it is the exact same bee, but it is the only place I ever see it and it is the only bee that looks like this that I ever see, so my guess it is the same one. He obviously loves this plant with a passion that is only seen in nature. I am not sure what kind of bee this is, we have lots of different kinds in the garden, but I always know where to find him!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Roses Aren't Perfect

'Brass Band'

My roses are truly beautiful, but if you look closely you will see that they aren't perfect.

'Honey Perfume'

They may have a few spots of mildew.

'Easter Basket'

Rose slugs are present on some of them.
Aphids may be munching on a few buds.

'Moon Over Miami'

There are even a few spots of rust and black spot. But the important thing is that the bushes themselves are strong and vibrant and will not succumb to a little bit of insect or pathogen damage. I take good care of my roses by providing them with the correct amount of sunlight, air circulation, mulch and most important, a really healthy diet of organic nutrients that give them the vitality to grow through the inevitable attacks that they will endure as part of a vigorous, healthy ecosystem. And they reward me every day with these beautiful blooms. A perfect trade off in my opinion!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If Your Iris Won't Bloom

'Blue Crusader'

Iris are such staples in my garden that I forget that there was a time that I struggled to get them to bloom.


A recent guest to my gardens commented on how frustrated she was with them and had given up on this easy, drought tolerant plant that can be so stunning.

'Victoria Falls'

I remember the quest I went on many years ago to find out the key to success with this perennial and discovered the secret to getting blooms.

'Mary Francis'

Of course they need full sunlight. That would be at least six hours of direct sun a day. But the unique requirement that most people overlook in our area is that they need to have their tubers planted at the surface of the soil. Planting too deep will mean no flowers. I always tell people what I learned about iris - plant them like a duck sits in the water. Half the tuber (with the attached roots) should be underground and the top should be above ground. They can tolerate poor soil, but do better with a bit of organic fertilizer a few times year that is not too high in nitrogen. They need to be divided every three or four years when they start to loose vigor. Meet those few simple requirements and your payoff will be rewarded! Caution! They can be addicting!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hose Hive

I have a large yard and there are many garden hoses (thank goodness) at various spots throughout the property. Bright green coils of hoses drive me crazy because the vivid color draws the eye away from the subtle shades of the landscape, especially in photographs, and they seem to stand out like sore thumbs. I added a number of cooper hose pots last year to the SJC garden, but it seems like there were still hoses everywhere. Then I found this sweet hose keeper from Wisteria and order a couple. I am so charmed with them that I can't help but smile when I walk by them. The bee wings are actually a pliable material. A nice solution to my nagging problem.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thanks For Noticing

One of the nice things about having actual gardeners over to visit the garden is that they are far more likely to notice sweet little vignettes like this one amongst the palms and ferns in a shady corner by the backside of the front walk. I love it for the color echos of the hellebore and the heuchera as well as the demure brunnera 'Jack Frost' and variegated dianella. Most people would look right past this at the showy clematis and roses on the opposite side of the walk, but a few took notice during the tour on Friday and to those people I say - thanks for noticing!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Garden Tourist

One of my visitors enjoying a peaceful moment.

Yesterday the Laguna Beach Garden Club came and toured my SJC garden. There were about twenty visitors, and for some it was their second visit to the garden, the first being about a year and a half ago. I had a wonderful time sharing my stories and knowledge with them. Of course it was a test on how well I could remember the names of all the plants, why do they always want to know about the one plant whose name I can never remember? There were many questions on how to keep the roses looking so healthy, which always takes me by surprise because it is something I kind of take for granted, although I can remember a few difficult years when I first started gardening that I thought they were the worse plants in the world to grow. I was surprised how little some of the newer gardeners knew about organic methods, but I guess it is understandable when they are bombarded by advertising from the big companies that specialize in chemical solutions to everything. It was a lovely day and I am looking forward to the next tour coming in about three weeks!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Perfect Spring Weather

The weather pattern this spring has been perfect for the garden. One day of wet, rainy weather and six days of glorious sunshine. The plants love it and are showing their gratitude with an amazing display, just in time for the Laguna Beach Garden Club tour of our SJC garden this morning! It has been a year and a half since they have been here and I am excited for them to see the progress the gardens have made since their last visit.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Room With a View

I try to be conscience of what my gardens look like from the inside out. My dining room especially has a huge view of the back yard and previously it was just grass and one lonely queen palm tree planted smack dab in the middle of the lawn in front of the window. As the palm grew taller than the glass pane, it had all the charm of a telephone pole as far as the view from the dining room. Over the past three years I have removed the palm and added a number of more interesting trees that will provide character and shade for the backyard, as well as structure in the way of shrubs and perennials, interest in the way of seasonal flowering plants and art. This time of year it is especially lovely, but I am focused on year round interest because there is always something going on in this room and the view adds to the ambiance.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Plan? What Plan?

Like a hungry shopper going to a grocery store, this time of year I always make a list when I go to the nursery to keep me focused on what I need. This week I needed a grapefruit tree to go into a recently cleared planter. It was on my list with a few other necessities to fill in some gaps in the garden. This beautiful 'Goldflame' honeysuckle was not on the list, but who could resist this beautiful color and heavenly scent? I decided it would look lovely growing up a giant bird of paradise that was lacking some charm. Okay, so I deviated from the list a bit. Then...
... I saw this beautiful new introduction, a 'Knockout Rose' named 'Rainbow' and the color was a perfect compliment to the honeysuckle, so three of the roses ended up in my cart. Not too bad, but...
...when I got home I walked by my 'Moon Over Miami' roses which had just opened and decided the 'Rainbow' roses were just what I needed to go around these two shrubs to add a low growing compliment to the bed. So... I guess I need to go back to the nursery to get a few more of the 'Rainbow' roses to go with the honeysuckle! And the grapefruit tree looks great too!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Forgive Me My Grassy Paths

Although I've worked diligently to remove as much as the "evil grass*" as my family will let me from our yard in SJC, I still have grassy paths in the back garden. At one time the whole yard was grass, from one edge of the hardscape to the other, and I have systematically carved out beds and added trees, shrubs and perennials that require less water, fertilizer and maintenance than grass, but I still haven't taken the next logical step which would be to replace the grass with gravel or DG. This garden is filled with color and I kind of still like the cool calmness that the thick carpet of grass adds to the ambiance. In my defense I must say that it is more of a mowed meadow with all kinds of plants that grow in it as opposed to a monoculture lawn (in other words it's full of weeds) and it only gets a bit of chicken poop fertilizer once a year if that helps. But the dogs and cat like to roll in it and they tend to have the last say here.

*Grass lawns are very un-PC in our area due to the amount of water needed to keep them looking healthy. Many people are extremely vigilante in their passion for banning them from our lives and replacing them with extreme drought tolerant native plants, and making people like me feel very guilty for splurging in the self-indulgent luxury of a lawn.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Beware of Mint

How mint has not taken over the world I do not know. Everyone knows not to plant it in the ground unless you are ready to surrender the entire yard to this rambunctious herb, but even contained, it is still a bully. A friend brought me a small pot of it for some cooking we were doing and I stuck it in the ground in a planter on the side of the kitchen. Not much else was growing there and I pretty much forgot about it. The other day I was marveling at this beautiful Spanish lavender with the white carpet roses and noticed something mixed in the combination. Sure enough that mint had marched right down the side planter and is threatening to take over this whole area too! Time to get out the hoe!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Snowballs in April

I have waited patiently for my Chinese snowball viburnum (viburnum macrocephalum) shrub to bloom. I planted it three years ago, moved it once and have never had enough of a bloom on it to do what I have been waiting for - use the flowers in arrangements. The blooms start out this lovely shade of chartreuse that looks very fresh and pretty when mixed with just about any other color. Eventually they turn a pretty white. They are quite pricey at the florist so the best thing is to plant them yourself and wait until they gain some size. It is deciduous and should eventually get quite large, but because it will not get as much water as it prefers in our climate, it will never get as big as it would in the optimum setting, which can be 20 feet high (the biggest one I have ever seen in our area is about six feet high). I will get about eight cut blooms this year but I am hoping the little shrub will finally take off!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Moonlight in Spring

Although my SJC gardens are filling in nicely with time and I don't need to add too many annuals to take up room while the perennials and shrubs grow, the Moonlight Garden is one spot where I may always add some just for a bit more splash. The snapdragons and white violas are at their peak and I just added white cosmos and alyssum to take over where they will leave off in a couple months. The azaleas and camellias are almost done, the roses, iris and geraniums are starting to bloom and the agapanthus will start their show next month.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tuber Time

The dahlia tubers I ordered from Swan Island Dahlias have arrived and I have already got them in the ground! I jumped right on this task this year because I ordered some last year that sat out in the rain and rotted before they ever were planted. You have to love dahlias for their unbridled enthusiasm in the summer when other flowers are showing signs of stress. Some of them have flowers the size of dinner plates and they all make wonderful cut flowers. They are planted about 4 inches deep with a shot of bone meal (I didn't have any on hand so mine went naked), on their sides, in a sunny location with regular water, then just wait. They put on quite a show and in our area will return every year for a long time without having to be dug up and stored over the winter. The only problem is remembering where I planted them!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I have grown a white rice flower plant (ozothamnus diosmifolius) for many years in my Laguna Garden, although it has always been a rangy, rather unattractive shrub that needs constant pinching and pruning to look good. It is definitely a plant that is grown for its unusual flowers that do add interest to the mixed garden. When I found it in this soft pink color that went well with a bed I was planning in SJC I couldn't resist getting it (it also makes a nice cut flower) but to avoid the mistakes I made with it in Laguna, I planted it right next to abutilon plant in a similar shade of pink and the two grown intertwined gracefully. The awkward rangy look of the rice flower plant with its tiny leaves is disguised nicely by the complimentary abutilon with its lovely foliage and similar cultural needs and now everyone is happy!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Charms of Lady's Mantle

One of the most frustrating things I found when I first started to plant my garden was that so many of the gardening books and magazines I relied on for inspiration were based on the east coast and many of the plants that were used are not available in our area. One of those plants was Lady's Mantle (alchemilla mollis) and how I longed to find it because of its tall, lime green flowers that seemed to form a haze that set off other plants perfectly. I finally did find it at Dana Point Nursery and planted it in my Laguna garden where it lived for a few years. It does best in light shade and does require regular water so it needs to be placed where its cultural needs are met. But the thing that I think is most charming about this perennial is that the leaves hold little drops of water for hours and hours, making it a little watering hole for bugs and butterflies. I found it again this year at the Dana Point Nursery and put in a few in my garden by the front door in SJC where it gets a bit of pampering.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pacific Coast Iris

Although most of my many iris are the tall bearded variety, I also have some of the variety called Pacific Coast Iris (iris douglasii). These are sometimes referred to a "grass iris" because of their clumping, grass-like foliage
Their requirements are similar to most other iris, although I have read they can take some shade. As is the case with many native plants, they can be a little tricky to get established in the garden and I have not been wildly successful growing them over the years. If they do not do well in the garden bed where I have them outside the front door, I think I will move them to the street side garden which is better suited for native plants.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Swaying Scabiosa

There are a few perennials that I use a lot of because they are just great performers and scabiosa is one of those plants. It is just starting to bloom and it will stay in bloom throughout the summer. It has no problems with bugs or disease and the thing I really love about it is that it holds its flowers on tall slim stems that sway gracefully in the slightest breeze. Almost all of mine are lavender although I do have a white one. There is a beautiful deep purple variety that I have put in on a couple occasions but it does not seem to come back the following year so I am just happy with the easy going, prolific lavender ones!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Looking Back

This is a corner in our SJC backyard. This photo was taken when we first moved in, a little over three years ago. I thought it was too spiky for my tastes and wanted to soften it up a bit.

This is what that spot looks like today. It is a place where my DH and I sit on many evenings with a glass of wine to see the back garden from a different perspective than where we usually sit, on the patio. In a few weeks the lilies will be blooming and it will be a riot of color. Much softer, no?

Friday, April 9, 2010

White Out

I found this variegated ligularia in a small independent nursery in our area called Ito Nursery. There was no name on it but it fits in fine in the Moonlight Garden in the shady areas where the soil stays cool and damp between waterings.
It is growing larger and this spring it appears that the new growth is coming out almost pure white! I'm assuming this is because of a lack of light, although you can see by the photos it does get some dappled sunlight. Whatever the cause, it is interesting and works for me!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Angel Trumpet Tree?

I know it is hard to see in this photo, but if you look at the very top (click on the photo to enlarge) you can see the flowers of an Angel Trumpet (brugmansia) shrub, or shall we say tree? This one of the first ones I ever planted in my Laguna garden many years ago and I was walking through the garden a few weeks ago and wondering where it went. Well, over the years it went up! I imagine it was looking for some sunlight as the surrounding trees grew and the only way to get it was head for the sky! I know these plants are a luxury for many people in northern climates, but they seem to do quite well here with little assistance. When I first grew them I read that they needed lots of water, to be fertilized weekly and special pruning. I fussed over the few I had for years until the rest of my chores in the garden made it impossible for me to devote so much time to them. They survive now with little attention and bloom like crazy! Thank goodness because I love their heady scent and charming flowers!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Happiness Is....

... getting help in the garden from your sweet, sweet granddaughter!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

No Lack of Bees Here

I hear people talk about the disappearing bees all the time, but you wouldn't know there was a problem here!
The Indian Hawthorne (Rhaphiolepis indica) is a bee mecca around here and is buzzing all day!

Monday, April 5, 2010

My Sustainable Gardening Story

Jan over at Thanks for Today gardening blog has asked me to submit a post on sustainable gardening in honor of Earth Day. Here is my entry for you Jan!

I went to a lecture on Sustainable Gardening the other day. It was amazing to me, not what I learned, but that this was news. Do people really use insecticides anymore? I guess so. Do people plant with little regard to their climate anymore? I guess the do. Isn't it common knowledge that a good garden starts with the soil and welcomes all wildlife? I guess not.

I must admit that when I had my first real garden many years ago I didn't know the importance of using organic methods, building up the soil and water conservation. I was introduced to "sustainable gardening" by a lovely woman named Jan who had hundreds of rose bushes she grew organically in our area. For $25 a year you could subscribe to her monthly newsletter that explained the importance of respecting the earth and all of its creatures and the impact a gardener has on the balance of it all. It was a big eye-opener for me and I went totally organic from then on.

The first three years were the worse and I used to tell visitors you could tell I had an organic garden because it looked like crap. And it did - at least for a while. Then slowly things started to change. There were still lots of bugs in my garden, they just were a balance of good bugs and bad bugs and the damage from the ones that thrived on plant material started to disappear. There were also all kinds of birds in the garden, eating, singing, nesting and raising their young. The plants that I thought would never thrive without the heavy doses of chemical fertilizers became robust and stronger without them. They resisted diseases that I thought could only be controlled by toxic sprays. I learned that if a plant that typically grow well in our area was suffering from a bug infestation or disease it was most likely because that it was planted in the wrong spot and needed to be moved. I let go of my need to grow plants that did not do well in our climate. My garden became a source of pleasure and joy instead of a constant drain of time and energy trying to do battle with Mother Nature.

I sympathize with new gardeners because there is so much to learn, either from others or from trial and error. But if you start by respecting the earth, your payback will be enormous and your gardening experiences will be one of the highlights in your life!

The View

I try to plan garden beds near windows to give an optimum view from inside. This is the view from the entry window in SJC and in the spring it works well! This is a young wisteria standard that is finally coming into its own and looking good, at least for a few weeks in March and April. Even when it is done flowering it will look like a bright young tree against the solid background of hedge, surrounded by flowering shrubs and perennials. Of course it goes dormant in the winter, but by then there is enough going on in the house to distract from the view.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

New Shrubs for the Gravel Garden

Progress on the gravel garden has taken a backseat to other projects in the gardens, but last week I was at a nursery where they were just unloading a shipment of white hydrangeas. Just what I have been looking for in the gravel garden. This is the lowest spot on the property and it stays quite damp due to the drainage and shade. I am hoping they will do well here without much trouble because they add a lot of subtle character to this green wall. The cool colors and shade will hopefully make this a retreat in the heat of summer!

Friday, April 2, 2010


A few years ago my husband turned 50 and I threw a big party for him with friends and family from all over the country. On the invitation I asked that instead of a present, guest bring a rock with a message for him that we could place in the garden (the theme was 'Rock On'). We got a lot of rocks! Five years later some of the messages have faded, others have disappeared all together, a few were chiseled into the stone and will last forever. It is a joy to walk through the garden with all the messages of love tucked into the landscape!