Thursday, April 28, 2011


Like a special package that you wait and wait for, the iris blooms have arrived.

Although some of them have been blooming all year, the really fabulous blooms only come for a few weeks in the spring.

They are a natural draw to walk through the gardens a few times a day to see what is new.
The bloom time is short compared to many other perennials, but in my opinion, worth the wait!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Well, Finally!

After about two or three years of waiting for the roses to come into their own in my SJC garden, I am finally starting to get some big, full beauties! These are just a few of the lovely 'Graham Thomas' roses that are opening right now. Although the blooms are great, the stems are still too weak to hold them upright very well.
I attribute this long wait to my impatience about getting the garden planted and not doing diligence with the soil. The soil in my Laguna garden was so hard packed clay that it had to be double dug and amendments worked in just to be able to dig a hole to plant anything. The soil in SJC was not hard and so I just went ahead with the popular "do not disturb the soil" method and added top dressings in the way of organic fertilizers, compost and mulch. Unfortunately, the soil was workable, but dead. Where there are flower beds now, were once lawns treated with all kinds of chemicals and there was not a worm in sight when the holes to plant something where dug. I wish I had done the hard work of double digging nutrients into the soil to give the plants a better foundation for growing, but now I know. In my next garden...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Battling Perennials

It is usually the helichrysum petiolare (Lemon Licorice Plant) that is the thug in the garden taking over everything in sight if left unattended. But it may have met it's match with this very aggressive geranium sanguineum (cranesbill geranium). I had grown the geranium before in my Laguna garden and it took over everything there, but when I tired of the fuchsia color in my pastel beds I found it easy to get rid of with diligent hand pulling, so I was not too worried about adding it to a large bed that I wanted to fill in quickly in SJC. I kind of like the bright contrasts of these two together, but there will be some reeling in done soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Summer Perennials

Although the spring flowers are in full bloom, there are signs of life in the summer perennials like these Shasta Daisies that are opening in the Moonlight Garden. They desperately need dividing, but I never seem to get around to the chore.

I never had luck with them in my Laguna garden but they seem quite happy here and they make such a bold statement! The classic daisy!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

The most useful my garden is all year is for the annual Easter Egg Hunt. This afternoon the yard will be filled with some of my favorite kids searching for the elusive eggs carefully hidden by the kids that did this same event years ago and have outgrown it. These are the days that make childhood memories and I am thrilled to be a part of them. Have a wonderful holiday!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rabbit Proof

The only thing in the garden the rabbits don't eat seem to be the nasturtiums and the strawberries! (Note the empty vegetable beds behind the strawberries!)

Friday, April 22, 2011

My Edgy Problem

I have help in my gardens and one of those people is my lawn maintenance guy. I hired him years ago when we moved into our SJC home because he was willing to listen to everything I wanted (only organic methods, no weed spraying, etc). When we removed large sections of lawn in the back yard to put in flower beds I ended up leaving grass paths, mainly for my dogs that have a hard time on gravel, my second option. I was always looking for some kind of edging to keep the grass out of the beds, but never found one that I liked enough to incorporate. My maintenance guy edged the beds monthly with a weed-wacker and a few months ago I noticed that the beds were getting bigger and the grassy paths were getting narrower. He was taking out a little bit of grass every time and it was starting to show.

So it finally forced me to deal with my edgy problem and I am now adding my favorite edging, boxwoods. We then added fresh compost and grass seed to the bare dirt edges and hopefully they will grow back to the edges of the boxwood and the paths will be the ideal size again - wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side through the garden!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


If you told me five years ago I would be gushing over an osteospermum I would never have believed you. Freeway daisies? Really? But at the Dana Point Nursery the other day they had flats and flats of this new series of "Sunny" African Daisies. There are actually three different kinds in this picture of those that came home with me. 'Sheila', 'Alexis', and 'Penelope'. There were at least five or six more varieties of complimenting colors. There is just a subtle difference in the shade of each flower making them an easy way to add interest and depth to a flower bed with an very easy to grow plant. The only problem is, my experience has shown them to be a short lived perennial, one or two years at the most, unlike the older varieties of osteospermum that seemed to live forever! The colors are a perfect filler for my flower bed with shades of pink, orange and maroon (I know, I know, it sounds dreadful but it works). I will share pictures of the bed once they grow in a bit.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hail Damage

A new spotty sport of Agave Attenuate? No, that is hail damage from a freak hail storm we had a couple weeks ago. We were out of town but there was plenty of evidence of the weird weather throughout the gardens!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sweet New Rose

I was at the nursery the other day, not really looking for roses, when I spotted this sweet little rose. I assumed it was 'Ballerina' but when I looked at the tag (as it was being lifted onto my cart) I saw it was 'Silicon Valley Diamond'! This is a new rose that was introduced this year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Yamagami Nursery in Northern California. It is only about one foot high and wide so it would be perfect for containers, but I am using it in the front of a border bed. It was so sweet I had to get two!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Natives

Last week I gave a tour at the Hortense Miller Garden and was pleasantly surprised to see the grand show being put on by the Douglas Iris! An entire hillside in the native garden was covered in blooms, the most I have ever seen in my ten years of giving tours there! I came home and looked at my Douglas Irises and sure enough they are blooming away too!

These are California natives, also called Pacific Coast Iris, and although very drought tolerant, they seem to be reacting to all the rain we've had this winter and spring with exuberant blooms! How nice!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fly Trapping

Living in "horse country" has only one real drawback. Sometimes there are an abundance of flies. Because our doors are always open they do come in the house. Not hundreds, but a few that can become annoying. My solution is to bring in carnivorous plants. We have had them around for years, always amused by their wicked ways! They really do attract and kill flying insects so I was surprised that the flies were paying them no attention to this sarracenia that I had picked up at the nursery. Finally it dawned on me. They attract flies to their 'pitchers' with a sweet nectar that bugs find irresistible, and then the bug crawls in the plant and slide down into the pitcher where they get stuck and eventually digested by the plant for nutrients.
The only thing I had forgotten is that while they are in bloom (see that unusual green flower?) they do not attract bugs to their pitchers because they need to use the bugs as pollinators! They wait until they are done blooming and no longer need pollinators to start attracting and eating them! How genius is that? Oh well, back to the fly swatter for a couple weeks because I don't have the heart to cut off that beautiful bloom!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

White Alliums

The white alliums are blooming in the Moonlight Garden. They have ratty foliage but put up a simple and pretty bloom. I wish I had planted them all in a group for a more dynamic presentation instead of scattering them around the garden. Next time!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Dilemma

See this picture of my darling grandson in the vegetable garden? This is my problem area (well, one of them anyway) in SJC. A couple years ago, inspired by photos, books, movies (when "It's Complicated" came out I got all kinds of calls and emails about the beautiful vegetable garden) and visits to other people's gardens I was inspired to put in a formal vegetable garden. Before that I tucked them into ornamental beds here and there. Tomatoes and artichokes intermingled with roses and iris. Small borders of parsley and lettuce, etc.. I removed all the ornamentals in a section of the yard that got full sun all day and put in raised beds, gravel paths, towering obelisks and a birdbath. I filled the beds with vegetable seeds and seedlings and companion flowers to attract beneficial insects. It was beautiful, I was delighted - for about a week. Then almost everything disappeared from foraging wildlife. Who was I to complain? I loved to graze there too! Anyway we have been talking about putting in fencing above and below ground to keep out the rascals (that includes my dogs), but it is such a job and it is an awkward shape. Then my DH asked me why I didn't just make it a rose garden. I must confess that I am much more crazy about an armful of amazing roses brought in from the garden than a basket of zucchini. Great tasting organic vegetables can be found at the local farmers markets, but it is hard to find garden roses for sale! Well, anyway, that is my dilemma. What to do about the veggie garden?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Morning in the Moonlight Garden

You can tell it is early morning in this picture of the Moonlight Garden in SJC by the long shadows created on a warm (rare so far) spring day. I must admit that the tall vertical elements of the queen palms, that I was not crazy about when we moved in, create a balance to the expansive lawn. This is the morning romp for the dogs that go crazy when we go out there, running, chasing and just general horseplay, or I guess it would be dog-play!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Green Flowers

There are some flowers that have been hybridized to be green, or somewhat green anyway. There are green dahlias, green daylilies and green roses. I do not grow any of those and I probably never will. They kind of freak me out. Like blue roses. I must admit though that there are some green flowers that I do like and grow such as some lime green chrysanthemums that perk up my fall garden of blues and purples quite nicely.Then there are some flowers that turn green as they fade like hellebore and hydrangeas. I do grow those. A lot. Another green flower that I grow is not really green, it just goes through a green stage before it turns white is the snowball viburnum (viburnum macrocephalem). I fell in love with this bloom in a flower arrangement many years ago and went out to find it and put it in my garden. Mine is still small but I get excited when I see the tight hydrangea-like blooms open in their bright green state in the spring. I will use a few for arrangements and let the rest go on to turn white in the Moonlight Garden. It is a carefree, deciduous shrub that make a good background plant and is one of my favorites!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

White Snaps

I put in flat of white snapdragons in the Moonlight Garden early last fall so I would have some blooms during the holidays. They immediately went somewhat dormant and I thought they were a lost cause this year until this week when I went out and they were blooming profusely. I really like them because they add a sparkly vertical (albeit short vertical) element to the beds and the rabbits that are abundant here, don't seem to like the taste of them. The question is now should I add some more to enhance the ones that are already blooming for the upcoming garden tours next month or should I look for white annuals that will be happier in the warmer days of summer? Such decisions!

Monday, April 11, 2011

While It Lasts

I went through a period of a few years when I was enthralled with Japanese Maples. Who wouldn't be? They are beautiful and graceful and perfect to collect because of all the different varieties. Only one problem. They aren't really very happy here. They do look lovely, like this 'Waterfall' that is one of the few that I have left, but only for a few weeks in the spring when they first bud out. As summer starts and the gardens in Southern California become dependent on sprinklers to quench their thirst, the alkaline water turns the tips of these delicate leaves brown. Not pretty. I guess if you took the time to neutralize the water every time you watered they would do well, but that is just not going to happen in my garden. I've learned to just say no to temperamental plants like this no matter how lovely they are. I will enjoy this pretty little thing for a few more weeks and then just look the other way!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

New Habits

Instead of always focusing on breaking bad habits, I try to focus on developing good habits. This year I am trying to remember to cut flowers from my gardens to enjoy inside. I am pretty good about making bouquets for friends, but you will rarely see bouquets in the house, which is a shame because there are many days that we don't make it out to the garden to enjoy what is blooming. So I decided on Tuesdays to be the day of the week that I will pick and arrange flowers first thing in the morning. The first arrangement goes on my nightstand (so far that is the only one that gets done every week) and is on the small side. It literally takes me all of five minutes as I arrange the flowers in my hand as I pick them and then grab a vase from a shelf on the way to the kitchen so you can see I really have no excuse for not doing this. I hope to get at least a couple done for the rest of the house next week. No excuses!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Blooming Ajuga

Check out the exuberant blooms on this 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga! It is a favorite little groundcover that I like to use for the dark burgundy (almost black) foliage that sets off nearby plants. Sometimes I even forget that it actually blooms.
But right now it is a show stealer along the flagstone path near the front door in SJC. Mounds and mounds of bright purple spires about six inches tall are intermingling with the other blue and pink spring blooms. At first I forgot what it was until I looked closer because you can barely see the foliage anymore! The combination of cool weather and lots of rain seems to be just what makes this plant happy. Or else it thought it was going to drown and sent up lots of blooms to make seeds in a survival mode. Either way, it works for me!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If I Had To Choose

I grow almost every kind of lavender available somewhere in my gardens. I love them all, but if I had to choose only one to grow it would most likely be Spanish Lavender. It blooms early in spring and puts on a colorful show for a good month or two. After a cut back it will bloom again, although not as intense, in the summer. The color is heavenly and the bees adore it. I just hope I never have to choose!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Shrubbery Solutions

This was once a problem area in my Laguna garden that I never could get quit right. I was always using the formula that had served me well in other beds in the garden with a couple foundation plants and the rest perennials, bulbs and tuber plants, groundcovers and succulents. For years this large slope along the north fence never looked good with struggling perennials and it was always consumed with weeds. Wildlife burrowed in from the untamed wild area on the other side of the fence and ate or dug up almost everything. About seven years ago I attended a gardening lecture regarding using azaleas in the garden and it changed the way I thought about this space and I proceeded to fill it with larger scale plants. Shrubs, flax, ornamental grasses along with, of course, some azaleas and camellias eventually transformed what was once a problem into one of the most attractive and easy maintenance spots in the garden.. Greens, burgundy and splashes of reds and pinks in the spring make it a lovely, calm area. Not all groundcovers need to hug the ground!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Early Roses

Not all roses get cut back and stripped every year in my gardens, and those that aren't show their appreciation by blooming early in the season. This Scotch Rose (rosa spinosissima) which is a climber starts it's once a year bloom in March before any of the other roses are open. It is an early sign of things to come that is much appreciated!

Friday, April 1, 2011

What Grows Under Eucalyptus

Well, in our garden, almost anything grows down in the eucalyptus grove. I have been told that nothing grows under these trees due to their pungent oils that supposedly infiltrate the soil when the leaves fall and decompose, but I think that is just a myth. If it is difficult to get things to grow there it is more likely the same issues that all big trees have, meaning that the deep shade and extensive roots that suck up all the water and nutrients are more likely to blame. We have a number of beautiful eucalyptus that we inherited in Laguna and when I ran out of space to grow things in the rest of the yard I started putting things in around them too. We used to spend a lot of time in hammocks during the summer down there and I looked forward to some ornament plants to spruce the place up. When I divided some clivias I put in a couple down there and they have been quite happy as you can see. I started sprinkling tall red fescue grass seed around once a year until it filled in and now it gets "mowed" with the weed whacker a few times a year and left to do it's own thing the rest of the time. The rains have been a welcome relief to this area and it shows with the deep colors in the shade. It is also the home to the whimsical Douglas Fey Gargler Birdhouses that we and the birds adore!