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!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Time To Shine

I must admit that the street side garden in SJC was planned as a drought tolerant, low maintenance garden and it is. Because we pull into the driveway before passing this part of the yard I hardly ever see it unless I make a point to go outside the gate and take a look at it.

During the spring garden tours it takes a back seat to the flashier parts of the gardens inside the walls where the roses and wisteria flourish. During the summer months people seem to congregate in the shadier parts of the yard and the Moonlight Garden where the abundance of cool greens and whites are peaceful and soothing.

But this is the time of year that this little strip seems to come into its own. The orange lantana and the burgundy flax are common colors for the season. Ornamental grasses pick up the breezes and their seed heads seem to indicate harvest time in the fall. The structure of the large plants add an element of drama. Of course it is still an easy going garden, but it just seems to shine this time of year!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Three Years

Last week my son sent me some photos he took of the gardens in SJC in February of 2008 when we had just started on the conversion of the lawn to garden project. This was when we affectionately named this little island in the mass of lawn "Flying Rabbit Island".

This is a picture taken from the same angle three years later. It's funny because sometimes I still think the pepper trees are so small and yet they have clearly grown a lot over the years. I often encourage people that consult me about new projects they are planning in the garden to start a blog. It is a wonderful way to document your progress and look back on all you have accomplished even if you are the only one that ever looks at it!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sprinkler Height

I realize this is a somewhat uninspiring picture of a sprinkler head, but it illustrates an important point about switching over from lawn to garden. When the backyard was all lawn, the automatic sprinklers were all the pop-up variety (BTW, everyone in Southern California has underground automatic sprinklers in their yard. They are as common as indoor plumbing). When we first converted the lawn to garden beds we had to move a few, cap a few that were too close to the low water plants, and add a few. That was fine for a while, but as plants grew it became apparent by the dying spots that water was not being distributed to the entire beds and grassy paths. After a few seasons of spotted hand watering, we finally got around to raising a few of the sprinkler heads that were on the perimeter to allow them to send water over some of the taller plants to reach the outer dry areas. In other places we have added the preferred drip irrigation, but it is just not practical in all areas. Many times people complain about losing one or two plants in a section where everything else is thriving and it is often the result of too much or not enough water from an automatic sprinkler system. Things change in a garden and it is important to recognize that their requirements change too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Grasses Are To Fall...

...what flowers are to spring.

When everything else is looking tired and ready for a rest, ornamental grasses are blooming proudly.

There is something about the light in fall that compliments their airy texture. Any subtle breeze causes them to sway and add an element of grace to an otherwise still space. They are certainly an object of desire in my fall gardens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The White Daylily

In my quest for a nice white daylily to include in the Moonlight Garden, I have come across one that is showing potential. Most of the ones I've tried have a peachy tint, but other than the center, this one is looking like a clear white. Only problem is I can't remember which one it is. One day when I am feeling a bit more ambition than today I will put some effort into identifying it so I can order some more!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Little Fig

I planted this little fig tree about a year and a half ago. It was quite small and has grown considerably, although it is still quite small. I have forgotten the variety, but I know it is a green fig that is recommended for our area. It actually has a small crop this year that I am watching closely for signs of ripeness. Figs need to ripen on the tree from what I understand and will not continue to ripen if picked. That makes it a race between myself and the wildlife, although I know some figs have tough skins that the birds and rodents don't like. On an interesting side note, I did attend a lecture this year on controlling unwanted wildlife in your yard (i.e. rats) and the vector control person said that fruit is the least attractive food to these critters and they would rather enjoy dry dog food or bird seed which is higher in protein. I am careful to not leave dog food out and I have quit (rather unhappily I might add) feeding the birds to try to control the nocturnal craziness in the yard, but maybe if I provide a bit of tasty "Natural Balance" for a few weeks they will spare me my first crop of figs! More likely I will just attract more rodents that will become extremely healthy on my offerings and reproduce even more! I guess I had better take my chances!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Last of the Summer Flowers

I actually still have a few dahlias blooming while the warm days continue. We had a freakish rain storm yesterday that produced hail a few blocks away, but we were spared. Hail is tough on many of the large agaves that get scarred for life (well, at least the life of the succulent leaves that live for years) from the injuries endured by the pelting ice so I am glad we missed the onslaught. Today, while watching football, I am browsing the bulb catalogs for some fall purchases that I have been promising myself to take care of for a while now. So many choices.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Big Cutback

May 2011

September 2011

When you grow roses in a mild climate you typically end up cutting them back twice a year. Once in the winter, usually in January along with removing all the foliage to force them into dormancy that they would naturally experience in colder climates where they originate. The second time is at the end of summer, usually August when they just look tired and sparse. I good cut back and fertilizing this time of year will result in a nice display during the fall months. Not as exuberant as spring, mind you, but a pleasing enough show when most other plants are winding down for the season. What to do until they bounce back? Enjoy photos of the spring!

Friday, September 9, 2011

We've Got Grapefruit!

I have a cousin that lives in Arizona and I have long coveted his amazing grapefruit that come from his tree. I have a neighbor in Laguna that annually brings me a bag of grapefruit from a tree that grows in his Palm Springs home that are delicious. I do know that the best citrus come from hot, dry climates and that is not our environment, but I had to give it a try. We do have older, established orange trees in SJC that provide us a crop of amazing fruit so maybe the same could be true of a grapefruit tree. I did go to the Plant Depot Nursery to buy the tree. They have a good selection of citrus that do well in our climate so I have high hopes. I planted it in a planter near the house where the heat is held in and there are fewer critters to beat me to the prizes, so we'll see. I will most likely pick one soon to see how they taste, but I even am enjoying just seeing them on the tree!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Almost Fall

After a busy summer it is evident that fall is just around the corner. What are the signs? The days are getting shorter and the weather is crazy hot, at least for our area. It is typical that we get our warmest weather late in summer and on into early fall when the Santa Ana winds pick up. This is also fire season and we are hoping to be spared any scares this year. As far as the garden goes, it is showing signs of the stress of a dry summer with few blooms and those plants that are flowering have smaller blossoms than usual. The few water lovers in the garden as well as some of the established foundation plants will all get a long deep soak from the hose this week to keep them robust until the rains start. Hosing off the leaves that are covered with dust will cut back on insect problems that sometimes take advantage of the stressed plants this time of year. It is just the beginning of one of the busiest times of year in Southern California gardens due to October being the best time of year to plant or move most plants. I do plan on making some changes in the SJC gardens as I see plant combinations that are not working for me, or plants that are just poorly situated now that they have grown into their own. But not today. Today I plan on just enjoying one of the last few days of summer!