Thursday, December 22, 2011

This is Winter

For some reason the hibiscus, which are tropical plants , always seem to be blooming in December regardless of the chilly temperatures. Like a bright beam of sunlight on an overcast day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hello Narcissus

Looking a bit ragged from the rain, the narcissus are the first bulbs in the SJC garden to wake up and greet us just in time for the winter solstice. A welcome sight in the quite garden this time of year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Grace of Camellias

The other day I was racing around trying to get a dozen things done when I opened the gate to the Laguna house and was taken aback by the beautiful white camellias blooming just inside the gate. I was stopped in my tracks by the beautiful symmetry and perfection of each petal. I did not have my camera with me so you will have to just appreciate this picture from one in my SJC garden which is a bit different. They are such beautiful shrubs that show their charm in the bleak middle of winter. It is easy to see why Coco Chanel was inspired to use the white camellia as her trademark.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

That Time of Year

Once again I have fallen behind in my blogging duties, but as I tell others when encouraging them to create a blog, it is a form of self expression and you should not feel any pressure to adhere to any schedules other than what you feel like doing. I would rather be thinking about the garden most of the time, but this time of year I am more than happy to concentrate on family obligations. As time goes on our family and traditions get bigger and bigger and command more of my time around the holidays, but like a garden during the busy time of year, it is a happy hindrance. It was nice to get out and walk around the gardens this morning, a few days before the first day of winter, to shoot some pictures and take note of dozens of things needing my attention, but the garden is patient and I have presents to wrap and shopping to do so it will just have to wait.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Growing Pains

I do love licorice plant (helichrysum). I love the soft shades of green of the various hybrids. I love the sweet little leaves that are soft and fuzzy. I love its easy nature and drought tolerance ways, its resistance to bugs and disease. About the only thing that bothers me about this charming perennial is that it has a tendency to take over and grow huge when left alone. A couple years ago this helichrysum was a sweet little ground hugging shrubby perennial that mixed and mingled around the feet of my little ram. It was planted in with a group of pink blooming shrubs and perennials and the color was a lovely combination. But as it will, it grew and grew and pruning eventually turned it into a huge ball that has completely enveloped my sweet pink Knock Out rose that grows next to the thug. My poor ram looks like it is hiding from some unknown culprit. What will I do? Cutting this plant back will leave an unsightly tangle of deadwood that will only end up filling back in and I will soon be in the same boat. I think the best thing to do it just start over with a smaller version, watch it carefully to keep it in check, and move this big guy back to a spot that needs a quick filler - away from any unassuming neighboring plants. Excuse me while I add that to my list of things to do!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Garden Activities

Over the Thanksgiving weekend we plan fun activities, many of which take place outside, weather permitting. This year we had a self-defense class taught on the front lawn in the Moonlight Garden. It's nice to see the lawn put to good use softening the landings of kids throwing each other to the ground!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Big Fall Cutback

May is a particularly pretty time of year for this garden bed in my perennial garden in SJC. It is lush and full with a variety of colors and textures.

During summer this bed (shot from a different angle) goes into more a more monotone color palate, but is still brimming with color and interest.

Everything needs a rest and fall is the time for this bed to be cut back and mulched with compost for winter. Allowing air to reach the center of the bed helps eliminate fungal disease during the wet season and gives munching bugs less of a place to hang out for the winter. Good thing we have the holiday decorations to keep our minds off the bleakness of the garden beds this time of year!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Temptation

It does take a lot of discipline to keep a garden theme on track. The first garden bed in my Laguna garden that went in many years ago was a blue and white garden (with green of course) and I loved it just like I love the color combination in my home. I was pretty adamant about keeping it true to theme for many years, until the rest of the garden just got so demanding that adjusting the ph in the soil to keep the hydrangeas blue finally went by the wayside and it became the blue and white and pinkish purple garden. As self seeders crept in it has definitely lost the blue and white predominance. As far as the Moonlight Garden in SJC goes, with all the white flowers only, I have been much more disciplined, although color creep (as I call it) does take place when white versions of plants revert to their parent color and the weather turns white blooms to shades of pink, or self seeders relocate from nearby garden beds of color I am diligent about yanking out the color culprits. But this week I was contemplating the holiday decorations and thought about how jolly it would be to add some red to this white display. Hmmm....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Have a Happy Thanksgiving

Time to start cooking, still some shopping to do, airport pickups start at noon and go into the late evening. We are getting ready for our favorite time of year with lots to be thankful for! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In Unexpected Places

Fall colors don't always come from trees. I was happy to see the pretty hues on this Snowball Viburnum (viburnum macrocephalem) as I was walking through the Moonlight Garden. As if the wonderful green blossoms that turn to white, and the pretty foliage in the spring aren't enough of an advantage, we also get a spot of red foliage in the fall! Lovely!

Monday, November 21, 2011

My New Agave

I had to share a little something I picked up a few weeks ago at the nursery. Although I was not looking for succulents at that time I just couldn't resist this pretty variegated agave. Where did it end up? The green and white Moonlight Garden, of course!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cutting Gardens in the Fall

I started my first gardens so I would have cut flowers for the house. In Laguna I cleared a section of wilderness about 15' by 15' many many years ago and sowed a bucket of wildflower seeds. Everything just took off from there. About three weeks ago someone, not sure who, picked a bouquet of flowers from the gardens and put them in a vase of water outside near the front door in SJC. I was touched by this simple act of beauty because I have been so busy lately I haven't had much time to do enjoy the gardens myself. Everyday as I dart out to the car I smile at the bright colors reflecting the season. Now it has been almost three weeks and those flowers are just as pretty as the day they were picked! When we think of cut flowers for the garden we usually think of spring and summer flowers, but chrysanthemums must take the prize for longevity as a cut flower!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Procrastination Pays Off

Because I am a gardener and not a landscape designer I do things like purchasing plants that are not the easiest and most reliable. I bring them home based on emotion only with no regard to what really works. This was the case with this Queen's Wreath (petrea volubilis) vine that I ran across a few years ago. It had been trained as a standard, something that probably qualifies as a crime against nature (I know Billy, I know!), but I was so excited to see this old fashioned plant at a nursery that I just had to have it. You see there is a lovely, very old one at the Hortense Miller Garden where I am a docent and I am so happy when it is blooming because I love the purple, hanging blooms like charming little presents in the spring. So anyway, I found it, bought it, and brought it home and planted it in my SJC garden. In full disclosure I had bought one many years ago and planted it in my Laguna garden and haven't noticed it in years. Not sure if it is even there anymore. So for years I watched it flounder and look terrible and more than once made a mental note to get rid of it after years of one or two blooms and black tipped leaves. Then suddenly last week I was walking by and lo and behold, there it was blooming profusely in the middle of November! I know it may not look like much, but I am easily impressed! Maybe I'll add a trellis and give it a second chance - if I get around to it!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Holidays are Coming

Yesterday I was sitting next to someone at a luncheon that stated that she couldn't believe that Thanksgiving was next week. I corrected her and said that it was two weeks away and she just gave me a look of pity when I realized she was right! Thanksgiving is a big deal around here with all the kids plus significant others, grandchildren and a few other family members coming home for a few days of activities. I really need to get busy, but thankfully the fall decorations in the garden that I did about a month ago are still looking good and will not need much care. Unfortunately they will all have to be replaced with Christmas decor in two weeks, but I'll deal with that when the time comes!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Home Grown Delight

I ate my first home grown grapefruit from our SJC garden the other day and it was wonderful! Juicy, sweet and tart, just like a pink grapefruit should be! Looking forward to many more!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I've Been Busy

In addition to my role around here as Head Gardener, I am also Chief Facilities Director, a title I would be happy to relinquish, but I doubt that will happen any time soon. The past couple months I have been busy checking off projects on a long list of things that need to be done around the houses, many of them waiting years while I focused on the new gardens in SJC.

Most of the projects were rather mundane and have no significant outcome as far as a visual difference, with the exceptions being painting most of the inside of the house a different color entirely, and redoing the swimming pool.

Although it may not look so bad in the top "before" photo, the plaster was really old and the grout and tile were in desperate need of refurbishing.

Although it was messy, the job was executed expertly and timely by the amazing team from Alan Smith Pools. We are very happy with the results. Now if only it would warm up enough for us to try it out!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Summer Leftovers

Still blooming and adding its wispy charm to the fall gardens is one of my favorite summer perennials, gaura. It is a wonderful filler plant that has no idea that its season should be over, but I'm thinking that these cold nights will give it a gentle nudge into dormancy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sweet Strawberry Tree

A couple years ago I was on a walk in the neighborhood when I saw one of the most charming little trees. It had lovely berries and beautiful peeling bark. I had to have one and after some research found it to be an arbutus or commonly called a strawberry tree and I planted one.

It was quite small when I planted it and now that it is growing I am worried about its placement. Although the experts say they can get to be up to 30 feet tall, they are mostly 10 to 15 feet in height around here. They seem to thrive on neglect, are drought tolerant and look at those charming little flowers! Mine isn't large enough to show the peeling bark, but I am looking forward to that day. I need to make a decision about moving it soon, but I am just enjoying it where it is for now.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Adding Dazzle

Before things get too hectic with preparations for the whole family coming for the holidays, I am busy looking for bare spots to add a bit of "dazzle" to the gardens. There are some family members that only come once a year and it is not exactly the prime time for the gardens, so I try to make sure that they are as lovely as possible for late fall, early winter. In the Moonlight Garden there are a few spots that I add details in the way of annuals every season. The rabbits are always grazing in this area and they eventually eliminate any delicate, low growing flowers, so adding snapdragons, verbena and violas along with some white mums is almost mandatory to fill in the empty spots. The white flowers can be seen across the yard which, depending on the weather, is how they will most likely be viewed by most guests. They add a bit of sparkle even on rainy or foggy days and I like my family to know that I've been busy making our home as special as possible for their arrival!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spring in October

The holidays are coming soon and that means the gardens take a back seat to the many other activities that require my attention.

Although the roses this month are showing up here and there after a severe cutback to clean them up and refresh them following a long summer, they are deeply appreciated. There are a few iris blooms from the repeat bloomers making a showing occasionally. I've missed them all terribly and am looking forward to next spring already!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Season For Mums

Every year I add to the collection of chrysanthemums in my gardens by planting the ones I purchase to decorate inside the house during the fall season. I doubt I would ever go to the nursery and make the decision to buy this perennial for the garden, but I am glad it works out this way.

Most of the garden is quieting down this time of year and these guys are just waking up in a big way. Sometimes they get a little ahead of themselves and bloom in the summer, but this year most of them are right on time.

I must admit they add a nice pop of fall color for us since there is not a lot a changes that naturally occur in the cooler climates in the fall.
They also provide a source of cut flowers for the house. Depending on their color, they are strewn throughout the property add a much needed boost to the otherwise resting gardens. Nice!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Part of the Charm

Some of the things that add charm to our SJC home are the local sounds that drift in from not too far away.

There is an old train station about a mile from here and you can hear the whistle blow at all times of the day and night. It took a while to get used to, hearing the 3:45 A.M train go through, but we eventually got used to it. The San Juan Capistrano Mission, which is considered the most beautiful of all the California missions, is about a mile and a half away and you can hear the old mission bells ring on Sundays.

At the other end of town is the Dana Point Harbor, about two and a half miles away and on days like this, you can hear the fog horn sounding a warning to approaching vessels. A blanket of fog over the gardens adds a certain charm of its own, diffusing the bright light and adding a sparkling layer moisture to everything. It is quietly serene.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Red Salvia in the Fall

One of the plants that always attracts a lot of attention in my perennial garden in SJC is the red salvia. I don't grow a lot of red flowers, but this bed is predominately fall colors since it is right outside the dining room window where I wanted a lovely autumn display and the red fit in nicely with the oranges and burgundy blooms.
It has grown huge both here and it the bed across from it where I used it as an echo. The foliage is a nice, bright green and like most salvias it is drought tolerant and problem free. It blooms year round, but I usually cut it back to keep it dense and from taking over the whole bed in late spring while there are lots of other things in bloom. As you might guess, it is a wonderful hummingbird magnent with those pretty red tubular flowers which only adds to the beauty of this corner of the garden.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Virtures of Lantana

I must admit that I have a tendency to overlook the virtues of lantana in our climate. It is one of those perennials (sometimes called a shrub) that is easy to take for granted because it requires so little care. It is in the verbena family and I often get the lavender ones mixed up. This picture is proof that it is not attractive to grazing critters because the rabbits decimate everything in this bed that they find the least bit tasty. I grow a few different colors, lavender, yellow, and this orange. I have not had much luck with the white variety, but it may be the garden it is planted in doesn't get enough sun. It is a really great filler plant that will almost take over, but I like it next to big sculptural plants like these green agaves or drought tolerant ornamental grasses where it has the same cultural requirements and fills in the empty spots to hug it's neighbor quite nicely. It is drought tolerant once established with little need for fertilizer or mulch and it will smother any weeds trying to invade its space. If there is a difficult spot in the sun, I always try lantana to see if it will work. An easy pop of color!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Been Busy

I have fallen a little behind on my blogging due to a number of home improvements at both houses going on simultaneously. I like to designate the fall as a time to tackle major projects at home. It kind of takes my mind off the fact that summer is over and gets me ready for the upcoming holidays. The gardens go on without much attention from me with the support of my trusty helpers while I concentrate on other projects. As busy as I've been I still notice the beautiful blooms of 'Frequent Iris' that was quiet all summer but is putting on quite a show near the front door in SJC. I should really get to the nursery some time next week!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Colors, Textures and Shapes

There aren't a lot of flowers in my gardens this time of year, although the mums are starting to bloom and will provide color for another month or so, but there is still a lot of interest. This is one little section from the street side garden in SJC and I could look at it all day and still see something new! Aeoniums, senecio, scented geraniums, purple sage, flax and ivy all make up a pleasing scene that requires little water or maintenance. Nice!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Do Over

Whenever people ask me how to get started on redoing their yards, I always tell them to start with the first thing they see when they get home. Pulling in the driveway or opening the gate to a beautiful garden that makes your heart skip a beat will give you the inspiration to keep going during the challenging times. That is why I'm going to focus on redoing this little space that faces the front gates in SJC this fall. The 'Joseph's Coat' roses that are wrapped around the columns have never been happy. They are one of my husband's favorites and I put them in to please him and because they are one of the few climbing roses that don't look terrible against that bold gold color of the stucco. I only get a few blooms every year and like most roses grown against a building, they are prone to being attacked by rose slugs. Not happy. I have put in a number of groundcovers that have never taken off and even the iris and daylilies rarely bloom. I'm assuming that because it is a northeast facing wall, things just aren't getting as much light as they would like. That and maybe the meager water is not their optimum cultures. Although the lavender does do well, it is a few years old and ready to be replaced.
Here is a picture I took a few years ago (at twilight to show the lighting I'm assuming). This was as good as it ever got for this little vignette. You can see that the sago palms that were there when we moved in have grown a lot. the only problem is one is a male and one is a female so they have grown very differently and have lost their symmetrical aspects. I would love to pull out the female (on the right in the photos) because the sharp fronds scratch those walking by, but it is clearly the most robust. Hmmm....... decisions, decisions. Anyway, this just does not delight me and it is time for a change!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Waiting for Placement

This is the propagation area of the outdoor workspace in SJC. Lots of things that are waiting for me to find them a spot in the garden. October is typically the best time of year to transplant and put in new additions to the garden, but September has been so mild that I am starting a bit earlier than usual. I have already moved some shrubs that were in the wrong spaces so there are areas opening up.

Friday, September 23, 2011


One of the best things about succulents is the ease with which most of them propagate. Many will grow more plants easily by simply breaking off a piece, letting the wound heal for a few days and then sticking it in the ground.

Many succulents send up "pups" like this flapjack plant (kalancho luciae)

When this container was planted in the street-side garden a couple years ago the container was filled tightly and a few were added to the ground for a bit of whimsy. As you can now see there are a bunch of new pups filling in under the mature plants. As is the case with many succulent containers, this one will need to be refreshed by dividing the plants and pups before the whole thing looks cramped and the older plants start looking straggly. The good news is I have lots of spots to fill in with the extras!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Agaves Grow

While discussing the street side garden in SJC, I must include an update on the beautiful blue agaves that were planted three years ago. They are in a far corner, away from guests navigating getting in and out of their cars as well as children at play due to their ferocious spikes and thorny edges. They are so beautiful and producing lots of pups. There are additional succulents nearby as well as some lantana planted to intertwine with their blue spikes.

Three years ago this is what they looked like. All good things come to those who wait!