Thursday, March 31, 2011

Riot of Avocado Blooms

Looking down from the deck in Laguna shows what looks like a million avocado blooms on our big tree! If you could hear this picture it would be a definite buzzing sound from all the bees hard at work gathering pollen. Avocados are self pollinating, meaning they have both male and female parts required to make seeds on the same plant. The interesting thing is that the male flowers are open for business in the morning and then close up and the female parts open in the afternoon! Isn't nature amazing!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Silver Lining

Yesterday I wrote about the changes in the Laguna garden after the myoporum tree died and had to be removed. There was one upside - about a cord of firewood!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Moving the Clivias

Years ago I bought a number of yellow clivia plants on sale and used them to line what was once this shady flight of steps that lead into the Laguna garden. They multiplied and grew and formed a lovely sight every spring. Unfortunately they lived under the big myoporum tree that succumbed to thrips last year and had to be removed, leaving the shade loving perennials exposed to the sun all day. Although they don't look too bad in this photo, the leaves and flowers are burnt and brown in spots from direct sun (granted, we haven't had that much this year so far) and will have to be dug up, separated and replanted in another shady spot. The good news is that there will be plenty to bring over to the SJC garden. I do love the brilliant orange clivia, but I find the soft yellow ones easier to blend into the existing garden color schemes. They grow very easily in our climate that gets no frost and are rarely bothered by any pests other than maybe snails and slugs. Lovely foliage year round, dependable blooms that last about a month and a tolerance for dry conditions make them a staple throughout my shady gardens.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another Great Groundcover for Dry Areas

This is a funny spot in my Laguna garden that is a dry slope in dappled shade. I don't know how many groundcovers I have planted here over the years trying to get something to settle in and live happily without much care or concern. What finally worked? Snow-In-The-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)! I do love the thick, blue-green blanket it creates around the daylilies and struggling birch trees (not enough water for the birch trees to be very happy). I must confess that the pretty white flowers that most people grow this perennial for are not very abundant in the summer, probably not enough light, but I don't mind. I like it just the way it is, soft, pretty and easy.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Could It Be True?

The ten day weather report shows no rain in the forecast! A few days of partial cloudy, a day of mostly sunny and the rest of the week is sunshine! Much needed sunshine because I don't think my garden can take much more rain without becoming a full-on swamp! Hooray!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

More Wisteria

For many years I grew one of my favorite vines, Morning Glories (I know, I know!) over the arbor in the middle of my Laguna garden. I love the beautiful blue flowers and the easy nature of this plant, but eventually it developed a thick thatch that was more unattractive than lovely, as well as taking over everything in sight and had to go.

I took it all out and put in wisteria since this is a very sturdy structure. After two years it is just starting to grow up to the top of the arbor and I expect it to start rambling this year after it is finished blooming.

I am looking forward to next year when the blooms should be hanging through the long arbor over the seating area. I do use a lot of blues and purples in this garden and the addition of this vertical planting will be a nice touch.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

White Wisteria

Whenever I think of wisteria I always think of the purple kind, as I would think, most people do. When I first started growing it many years ago in my Laguna garden I chose white wisteria for some reason. I was somewhat intimidated by the beautiful house next door that had very old and very gorgeous purple wisteria growing up to the second balcony that put on an amazing show every spring. It eventually pulled down the balcony and was removed for good, much to my dismay. I started with white over this gate and arbor to the side of the house and kept it pruned judiciously to keep it from taking over everything. I also planted a white wisteria tree down in the garden. Unfortunately it was in front of the 'Bridal Wreath' spirea which is also white and blended in so much that most visitors to the garden never noticed it. This year it appears to be dead. When established things die for no reason in this garden there is only one explanation. Voles. I guess this give me the opportunity to replace it with a purple one, after I replace the voles!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Abundant Avocados

I just had to take a photo of this luscious bunch of avocados from our neighbor's tree that are hanging over our fence. Aren't they gorgeous? The problem is that they are all looks and no substance.

Our properties were once a large avocado orchard before they were subdivided back in the 1930's. Almost everyone on the street still has at least one tree on their slope. We have three, two that still produce wonderful, tasty fruit in abundance almost every other year (avocados produce bumper crops every two or three years and hardly any fruit other years). The trees on our property are fuerte avocados, I've been told, but very tasty and creamy, unlike many of the Florida fuerte avocados that can be bland. I don't know what kind this is on my neighbor's tree, but they do not ripen well (they seem to go straight from hard to rotten) and have a lot of fibers.

Those leaves that are half brown? All avocado trees in this area look like that around this time of year because of the build up of salts in the soil due to a lack of rain the past few years. When the tree is done blooming in about a month, most of these old leaves will fall off creating a thick mulch under the tree. If there is any plant that is happy with all the rain we have been having, it would be the avocado that requires a good soaking to disperse the salts that gather near the surface of the soil where their roots grow.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I honestly don't even know what kind of fern this is growing in the crack of a retaining wall in my Laguna garden, other than a very determined one! I have planted so many ferns over the past 15 years here that it could be almost any kind, but doesn't look familiar. I do like it though! A nice surprise.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More Rain and Cold

Is it ever going to warm up? Would someone please let Mother Nature know that today is the first day of Spring and we are waiting for the warm sunny weather that typically accompanies this season! According to the weather report the temperature is barely going to get out of 50's for the next ten days and that includes five days of rain! Okay, I'm done whining.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fountains of White

I can't think of a more beautiful shrub in my gardens this time of year than the Bridal Wreath spirea in my Laguna garden. It is just covered with romantic white sweetheart-like blooms covering arches of fountain-like branches. Large, dramatic and wonderful!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Scents of Spring

If only you could catch a whiff of the amazing scent these brugmansias give off in the early evening in our Laguna garden. This is a shrub about 10 feet tall and wide and although this week there are only a few random flowers, at times is covered with hundreds of blooms. It is at the back of a garden bed so the mess it potentially makes is not noticeable. Full and lush with little care, I wish I could remember the name of the hybrid so I could recommend it to you! I need to root cuttings which is so easy with these beauties, to share and add to other parts of the gardens. Just a note, they are very poisonous so they need to be kept away from pets or kids that are likely to ingest them.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Tall Calla Lilies

The stand of really tall calla lilies in a shady corner in the back yard is in full bloom right now. They are easily four to five feet tall and a nice accent plant in the back of the garden. My plans are to pick some of the blooms for a dramatic arrangement for the house. I am not sure why these ones are so big. Must be the cultivar because all my other ones are under three feet tall.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Arborvitae Blooms?

I am a big fan of arborvitae. This may seem a bit odd because I think most people take them for granted as unassuming landscape plants that are rather pedestrian, but I love them. I love their vivid color and structure and the soft fans of foliage that are always perfect. The fact that they are so easy and carefree makes me love them all the more. This week I noticed on a couple of 'Emerald Green' that I use near the entrance to my Palm Alley path what seem to be blooms. They are hard little star shaped 'thingies' adorning the foliage. How nice. I love them even more!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Would Mrs. Greenthumbs Say?

If I saw this color combination in any other garden but mine I would think it was unattractive to say the least. I do pay a lot of attention to colors in my gardens and plan fastidiously to avoid scenes like this. The school-bus yellow of the tagetes lemmonii bush was nowhere near the magenta colored lantana when the garden bed was originally designed, separated nicely by some purple catmint which went with both of them. As time progressed the lantana inched over to the other side of the bed and is now happy to coexist with the tagetes. Magenta is a difficult color to use in the garden as I learned from reading the books of my dear mentor, Cassandra Danz, also known as Mrs. Greenthumbs. When I first had a full scale garden to plan I poured over her sage advice presented with her great sense of humor. Every time I look at a magenta colored flower I think of her. I miss you Mrs. Greenthumbs!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Speaking of Annuals

I love the color of this tall ageratum that is typically known as an annual but has been blooming in my front garden since last summer. It has been a cold, wet winter, not typically weather that you think of when you think of growing ageratum, but this is a somewhat protected area that may have been the saving grace for this heat loving plant. I am so impressed with it I am going to put in some more since I am so enamored with the shade of purple and the performance. The bees will be so happy!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

China Doll Gone Wild

See that two story plant growing in the corner of the little planter that runs under the window? That is what is known as a 'China Doll' plant (Radermachera sinica) that is most well known as a small house plant. It was here when we bought the house and I have it cut down to about the height of the door once or twice a year. I do not fertilize it and it gets what little water there is from the automatic sprinkler in the planter. It just grows like crazy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Awesome Annuals

Years ago I was asked to write an article for the L.A. Times Newspaper on pansies, and how to grow them successfully. There was a local vendor at the time that sold soil specifically for growing pansies and I was requested to investigate what was so magical about this special concoction. The proprietor (long since gone from this area) was more than happy to share his secret formula. It was just a very rich soil amended with compost and an abundance of the typical organic nutrients used to grow any flowering plants. He explained to me that these annuals (as with most annuals) require steady moisture, good drainage and lots of nutrients to keep them blooming throughout their short but productive life cycle. It was no real secret, it was just that most gardeners don't go through the trouble to provide the optimum conditions for the best performance. Unfortunately, sometimes neither do I - and I know the secret!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pops of Color

This shady path is home to lots of green plants that enhance the cool, calm ambiance. Queen palms, tree ferns, sword ferns and Australian violets make up the majority of greenery, but there are also some deep red azaleas and peachy primroses to add pops of color that drawn the eye along the path at this time of year.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Apple Blossoms Galore

My two small apple trees in SJC are covered with beautiful blossoms. Their form leaves something to be desired I will admit, a few long branches emanating from the center stems, but every inch of every branch is covered with blooms. The bees are busy doing their job so maybe this year we will get more than three or four apples per tree!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


As some of the spring bloomers are starting to wake up and produce their bright flowers, I can't help but appreciate the beautiful blue-green foliage at this time of year. Helichrysum, lavender and gazania all blend together with their soft hues.

Add the structural grace of an artichoke plant and the entire bed is soft and soothing before the colors of the hot pink, magenta and purple flowers take over center stage in the next month.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I'd Do It Again

I've bought pretty cinerarias before of course, who can resist their cheery brightness in the middle of winter, but I've never put them in the ground. I always buy them and slip them into decorative pots on the porch or deck where they bloom for months and then get abandoned into the compost pile when their days of glory are over. This year I actually put one in the ground at the front of a flower bed that is the home of mostly roses and iris that are pretty bare during the cool months. It was planted in the beginning of January and it is still amazing today and I expect it to hold on to that bloom for a few more weeks. It is an eye catcher in an otherwise green vista this time of year. I kind of doubt it will over-summer and handle the dry season, but I have no problem replacing it if needed next winter. It is a shade plant but seems to flourish in our mild winter sun but probably would stand a better chance in a shadier spot in the garden.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Peachy Gift

Last month we had a big party for many friends, neighbors and coworkers. As usual many guests brought us hostess gifts as a thank you for being included. Most of them brought wine, which is always thoughtful and appreciated. Others bring flowers, either cut or flowering potted plants, also always appreciated. But one couple went way out of their way to find something special and brought us a peach tree! It was in a 5 gallon pot and no easy feat to lug it down the block I'm sure. What a special and thoughtful gift! It is already in the ground and acclimating to the garden along side our other fruit trees. I'm touched!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Remind me to plant more daffodils in my SJC garden next fall!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Leftovers

My sweet granddaughter is always eager to wander the gardens with me, even if it is freezing and she needs a heavy coat. Her favorite thing to do there is to harvest whatever is ready in the vegetable garden, but this time the pickings were slim due to the hungry rabbits that have been visiting. The only things they don't touch are the lemons (naturally, too high), the onions, and...

...evidently they aren't fond of bok choy! Project for this spring? Install some attractive and effective fencing!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Big Lawn

The front lawn is often called the "play" lawn at our house. It is used almost daily for wearing out our young energetic dogs. The grandkids play all kinds of ball games here when they visit as well as navigating the DG tricycle track that surrounds the lawn . Here is my brother-in-law to-be a couple weeks ago playing a fierce game of croquet. Another favorite is bocce ball. It is probably the most peaceful garden on the SJC property as it is the home of the Moonlight Garden with only white flowers and all kinds of shades of green foliage. It has shady spots and sunny areas that evolve as the sun moves overhead. There are a number of different seating areas that allow the observer to see the gardens from different angles. Although it is a large lawn it is drought tolerant (as lawns go) and entirely organic and a very important part of our home, as any lawns should be these days.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sweet Fairy Primroses

I have a hard time deciding which primroses are my favorites, but Fairy Primroses (primula malcoides) seem to be edging out the more showy ones for my affection, at least this year. They are often referred to as perennials, but they perform like annuals in my garden, rarely living through the summers. They do like it cool and damp with dappled sunshine which works just fine for these white ones that are occupying the faux bois birdbath in the Moonlight Garden. They put on a nice show for most of the cooler months as long as they are planted in rich soil. They are small and can get lost in a large bed, but they are perfect for containers or as sweet little accents grouped together among some ferns along a shady path. So sweet.