Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Winter Bulbs

Although I planted tons of bulbs this fall, they are all late spring bloomers. I wish I had planted more winter bulbs like these narcissus that are blooming now and snowdrops that are blooming in the Laguna garden. I really could use the cheer in the garden at this time of year! I think I will order them early in the year so I don't forget and then they will just show up in the fall, like my bulbs did this year.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Winter Garden in Southern California

 I intentionally fill my gardens with some foliage plants that will go dormant in the winter. I like to see changes in the seasons.

 It is entirely possible to have a garden that looks the same year round in Southern California, and many of them do, but not mine. 

 The grapes and stone fruit trees loose their leaves, as do the wisteria, hydrangeas and fig trees. Boston ivy turns lovely shades of fall before going bare. Sweet gum trees and the birches loose all their foliage for a few months. Roses are cut back and stripped of foliage, forcing dormancy.

Of course there are still plants that maintain their year-round color so there is still lots of green to keep it looking fresh, especially after all the rain we have had so far this year. But on a day like today, waiting for a cold rainy storm to ascend upon us, walking around the garden is nice, but being indoors with a warm fire is nicer. The garden and I are in winter mode.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Sorry for the lack of postings! It's been weeks since I've done anything more than hurry past the gardens, trying not to look at everything that is waiting my attention. The family holidays take up all my time for a while, but as they wind down I am looking forward to getting back into the garden for some much needed therapy - for me and the plants! The days have started getting longer and we are having a good rainy season so far. The spring bulbs are starting to push through the soil and it is time to cut back and strip all the roses for their annual nap. Hope you all had a lovely holiday season and a Happy New Year!

Monday, November 12, 2012

November Roses

The warm weather we've been having over the past few weeks seems to have agreed with the roses. I am too busy these days to do much other than hurry past them on the way to somewhere else, but I am noticing lots of pretty (small but pretty) blooms. My DH and I had lunch at a local restaurant the other day and I was impressed with the bouquets of home-grown roses on all the tables. What a lovely gift in late fall!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The New Screen

I've been talking about the problems we have been having with the old oleanders dying around the perimeter of the back yard in SJC, and it was finally time to tackle the problem last week. Although the weather was still warm during the day, the evenings were cooling off and it had to be done before my attention turned to the holidays. Even though the oleanders had been drastically cut back and they looked like the were coming back with gusto, the tips were showing signs of the dreaded oleander scorch so it was time to bite the bullet and just remove them, roots and all. We only did about a 20 foot strip where the foliage was the thinnest, but it was a huge job, taking several days for my two workers to cut them back and dig them out. My job was to go the the nursery and buy their replacements. I went with what is already working well on some of the other borders of the yard, Carolina cherry, privet and podocarpus. My philosophy is to mix it up just in case one of the species comes under attack by a disease, that way you don't lose the whole screen. This is what happened a few years ago in Laguna with the myoporum and now the oleanders in SJC. I had been trying to mix some of the new plant material in with the oleanders over the last few years, hoping they would take off and fill in, but they never seemed to get enough sun or nutrients to really start growing. Meanwhile we are seeing much more of our neighbors these days!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Perfect Spot

I have a confession to make. I go through a lot of maidenhair ferns every year. I buy them all the time to keep inside the house, knowing that they will only last a few months, if I'm lucky. But to me they are so lacy and airy and pretty that I consider them a necessary expense. Just like a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers that brings me joy for a week or so. I am capable of keeping them thriving in the house for quite a while. They do need light, but the most important thing they need is constant moisture. If they dry out they die, simple as that. Because I get busy and travel, I do lose them regularly, or they just start looking shabby and I stick them out in the garden and let nature take its course. But look at this one that has found the perfect spot in the Moonlight Garden. It has been there for years and is just as happy as could be. It is simply a matter of a temperamental plant in the perfect spot.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Moment In Time

 I am a big fan of Pinterest. I am constantly in the need of inspiration, whether it be for my garden, my home, my wardrobe or cooking, and I used to keep boxes and albums of pictures ripped out of magazines that I would browse whenever I needed an idea. Now I do it all on Pinterest electronically. I know some bloggers get really annoyed when people pin photos from their blogs onto Pinterest and they get shared and pinned numerous times, but I am actually flattered when one of my photos shows up unexpectedly. I follow dozens of people that pin lovely pictures of gardens and  I find it a compliment when they include one of mine.  The picture above is one that shows up all the time and I must admit it is a pretty picture that was one point in time that I would love to recreate.  It is in the Moonlight Garden and it was a a peak time when everything was looking good in April of 2010.

 But as every gardener knows, gardens change, or at least they should, in my opinion. I know there are people that have yards that look exactly the same day after day, year after year, but that would not be my garden. I like change and evolution, and my gardens reflect that. Sometimes it means things look a little scraggly, but I'll take that in exchange for moments of brilliance.

 This is what the same spot looks like today.  The urn originally had very large white agapanthus in it with white geraniums and bocopa. Unfortunately the agapanthus rarely ever bloomed and when it did it had reverted to blue anyway. I replaced it this year with a big blue agave for drama. The rabbits have decimated whatever annuals were left at the front base of the urn, but there are some white reblooming iris blooming along with white mums and Japanese anemones.

But this should add some more drama to the site! Lots of white plants to put in the ground (over the daffodil bulbs). I am getting ready for the holidays and because this is the time of year when we have lots of guests, I like the garden to look pretty for them, but it is also the time when I can get a bit stressed out and the beauty of the gardens is a soothing antidote to the hectic schedules and tons of chores that pile up on my to-do list.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

600 Daffodils

It is time to plant spring bulbs and I am finally getting around to it! I had ordered 600 daffodil bulbs from Van Engelen Inc. last spring, when I was thinking about it, and they arrived a couple weeks ago, just in time for planting. I got 400 all white ones for the Moonlight Garden and 200 pink ones to compliment the classic yellow ones in the perennial garden. I went to the nursery yesterday and bought large bags of cotton seed meal, bonemeal and blood meal to mix together to add to the holes when planting the bulbs. I have bought a variety of bulb planting tools over the years, but I find that the easiest way is to use a D handle spade and dig a hole about eight inches deep (the rule of thumb is to plant bulbs three times their height, deep), and six inches wide, sprinkle in a generous amount of fertilizer and then place three bulbs in the hole and cover. I typically plant winter annuals over the top to cover the dirt while waiting for the bulbs to emerge. Daffodils do not need chilling and naturalize easily, multiplying each year in our climate. I have hundreds, maybe thousands in the Laguna garden that were planted many years ago and they never disappoint each spring. This gives me lots to look forward to next year!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Little Niceness

Summer is over (although it is supposed to be 80 degrees tomorrow) and it is time to get to work on the garden. It is looking particularly shabby due to a number of different reasons. First, there was a lot of growth this year as trees and shrubs finally became established and took off, creating shade where the plants were primarily sun-lovers. Not enough sun means few or no blooms, gangly growth and even disease in some cases as plants try to live in environments that are not ideal for them. Second, a chronic disease with no controls has wiped out a number of foundation plants leaving huge gaps where there was once lush growth. The third reason is my own fault. I have been rather neglectful while nursing a healing shoulder as well as being busy with guests and travel. 

The picture above is about the only really nice scene in the gardens at this time. It is right outside the front door in SJC and for once the chartreuse mums are blooming in the fall (instead of summer), a reblooming iris is adding contrast and everything else is filling in nicely without taking over. I have a ton of problem pictures to post later this week while getting ready for a refurbishment, but let's just enjoy this picture for now!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

First Rain

After a long, dry summer of unusual heat, we are having our first rain of the season this morning, along with some rare thunderstorms. Perfect timing because hundreds of spring bulbs that I ordered last summer were delivered this week, waiting for planting. Unfortunately I am on my way out of town for a week, but they will wait for my return. Lots to do upon my return!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Too Hot To Handle

It is still hot - hot - -hot here. Temperatures in the 90's mean it is just best to hang out in the shade and wait for cooler weather before trying to tackle any fall chores in the garden. My spring bulbs that I ordered many months ago should be arriving any day now, but they can wait to be planted until digging holes doesn't feel like a punishment.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Green Fig

A couple years ago I planted a kadota fig tree in SJC. Although there are lots of wild fig trees around here, I wanted one that I know has good figs and this green fig is what I chose. It was less than a foot high when I planted it, and every year it had two or three figs that always seem to disappear before I picked them. This year the tree is about six feet tall and there were a number of figs on it that were not ripe yet (figs need to ripen on the tree) when we left for vacation last month. I forgot all about them until I noticed a smashed fruit with lots of seed in the driveway. It was most likely that a bird dropped it and a car ran over it. Upon closer inspection it dawned on me that it was a fig. I hurried out in back to check my tree and there was only one ripe fig left on it. I am happy with one ripe, delicious fig if that is all I have this year. Unfortunately after I took this picture something came up and I put it down on an outdoor table while I went off to take care of whatever the distraction was, and when I remembered it, two days later, it was mushy and bad. Oh well, I will have to wait until next year for my figs, cheese and honey. I think I will plant a brown fig tree this year too. If it ever cools down.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Flying Rabbit Island Evolves

First Year

Third Year
Fifth Year

Fifth Year

Fifth Year
The weather is still in the high 80's around here. Although September and October typically have some very hot days, overall it tends to start cooling down. I am waiting patiently, still pretending it is summer, although the days are getting considerably shorter and the calender says it's fall. After a year of little change or additions, there is one big thing (other than the privacy screens) that needs to be addressed. When I put in this large island in the middle of the backyard lawn a few years ago, there were two things I wanted to accomplish. First I wanted some shade. The yard seemed very hot and unappealing in the summer. Second, I wanted something interesting to look at from the windows and the chairs on the patio outside the living room doors. When we moved from Laguna Beach, we gave up a lovely view that we really missed. I decided to create my own views and Flying Rabbit Island was one of the first (named after a lovely sculpture we installed the first summer). When I planted the island of dirt that we dug out of the middle of the lawn, I planted three California Pepper trees. I know they aren't everyone's favorite, but I like their fern-like foliage, the way they sway gracefully in the slightest breeze and their multiple trunks. I know they are messy, but in a large bed, away from any pathways or patios, the debris doesn't bother me. When they were planted they were rather small. Fifteen gallon pots were all we could easily get through the gates. I planted a whole bed of flowers all around them that was quite stunning for the first few years. At first the trees suffered from too much water as I tried to get the perennials established, but then we cut back the water and everything was happy. Until this year. It turns out the trees have grown into a lovely respite of shade, making the sun loving roses, iris and daylilies quite unhappy. Although one side of the "island" still gets enough sun for those plants to thrive, my other lovelies are without blooms this year. It is time to make a change to a more shade loving group of plants that don't need a lot of water. As soon as it cools off a bit!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The First Anemone!! Not Aster!!

The first anemone (I had previously posted this as an aster, another fall flower) of the season is opening in the Moonlight Garden. I am thrilled because everything else is looking a bit ragged and tired in this heat. How nice to have a fresh new autumn flower to greet me!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

First Fall Project

 When we bought the property in SJC one of the things we liked about it was the feeling of total privacy. The one plus acre was completely surrounded with a thick wall of foliage that you couldn't even see through. We literally had lived there for months before we even realized that the back of the property was enclosed with a chain link fence. We had assumed it was a wooden stake fence or a cinder block wall like the front of the property. The entire back yard perimeter was planted with oleanders which had filled in and were at least twelve feet tall and very thick. Not my plant of choice, but it worked fine. Then a few years ago oleander leaf scorch disease came to Southern California and everyone was losing their oleanders. Two of our neighbors that also had them surrounding their properties lost all of them a few years ago and now their beautiful homes are surrounded with bare chain link. Knowing that disease attacks stressed plants first, I tried to keep our oleander as healthy as possible. They are very drought tolerant but I gave them a bit extra water in the summer to keep them robust and prune off any sick looking branches. Every so often one out of the blue would die and we would replace it with another type of shrub.

Unfortunately it looks like I am starting to lose the battle in some areas and now it is time to take more aggressive measures. The properties on either side where the gaps have become obvious are remote areas of the neighbor's yards (there are horses and chickens on one side), but it is still nice to have the privacy. Next month we are removing most of the oleander and replacing it with a variety of screening plants. I'm taking a trip out to Tree of Life Nursery to discuss with them some of my native plant options. I'm also considering adding some bougainvillea for some color.

This is what I am aiming for. This is the foliage screen on one side of the property that works well. The podocarpus, ficus and Carolina cherry all provide a thick, lush wall that is about 20 feet high. I have learned one important lesson though - choose a variety of plants to create a permanent screen if privacy is important to you. That way if a disease comes along (and they often do) that takes out an entire species, there will still be plenty of vegetation to fill in the gaps!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Palm Tree Blooms

This is the time of year that most of the hundred plus palm trees we have bloom. This is also the time of year I call my tree trimmers. I am not an overly tidy person, at least not in the garden, but there are a few palms that are situated where the falling flower debris makes a constant mess for weeks. There are some paths, chairs and patios that are covered daily in yellow "stuff" from the blooms that are way too high for my gardener to safely reach. It is still a bit too early to trim some of the other trees that have sap running. I've learned the hard way not to trim the Monterey Pine over the wood steps in Laguna except when it is truly dormant during the cold months. Sap dripped all over the stairs gets tracked into the house and it is a mess! It would be nice to get all the trees trimmed at once, but they just seem to need it at staggered times of year. Luckily I have a nice tree trimmer and I don't mind having him around more than once a year!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Getting Ready for Fall

We're back from a vacation full of rest and relaxation and I am eager to get started with the fall gardening. My shoulder is feeling better and I am ready to resume what I had little enthusiasm for all year, thank goodness! Unfortunately the weather is prohibiting much activity other than watering, due to the heat. Upon returning I have noticed that many plants are showing signs of stress. Of course the ferns and tree ferns are taking it the hardest and I have had to do some spot watering to give them a break. Other plants like this duranta thrive on the hot days and are loving this summer weather. I had purchased a number of pretty one-gallon summer perennials that I slipped into various pots around the house, but they were all expired when we returned. I had hoped to enjoy the blooms for a few weeks and then plant them in the garden for reblooming next year, but I guess I am the only one that bothers to water some of my pretties.  My gardening chores this week will focus on watering, planning and list making and enjoying the rest of summer!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cool Summer Shades

This is the garden right outside my front door in SJC. It is a bit of a hodgepodge, but the color scheme is pretty consistent. Purple with lots of shades of green and a bit of gold thrown in for good measure. It has not been looking great this summer, but as the temperatures climb it is starting to bloom beautifully and the cool tones are a much appreciated view on these hot days. I have been considering removing the purple fountain grasses because they only look good part of the year, but they are such a lovely touch now with lots of movement, I am reconsidering. The reblooming iris, Frequent Violet, are all blooming in unison after a long rest and they are lovely. Not the fanciest iris out there, but their tendency to bloom at times when most iris are only a memory earn them lots of real estate throughout the gardens. I need to think long and hard about how to enhance this area in the fall, but for now I'm just enjoying the show!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bouncing Back Lochroma

I thought I had lost this lochroma (Royal Purple Queen) earlier this year. It always had weak, sickly leaves after the winter and I asked my garden helper to finish cutting it back after I started and didn't finish. He must has though I said "cut it to the ground with no chance of it ever surviving" because that is what he did. There was a small woody stump where this six foot shrub had been. Much to my amazement it came back with a vengeance and is bigger and more beautiful than ever. It is a member of the brugmansia family which is evident when you look at the leaves. Come to think of it, my brugmansias could use a good cutting back too!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Crazy Stuff

Obsessed gardeners have crazy things growing in their gardens. Summer bulbs that defy logic tucked in here and there to add an element of surprise to a walk around the garden. For the life of me I can't remember the names of these bulbs (kind readers have taken the time to identify them for me as pineapple lily and hymenocallis) or where they came from. Most likely a freebee with another purchase of bulbs at a garden show. They always make me smile because they grow so easy and proud every summer, as if they are the stars of the show, instead of random give-aways!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Few Dahlias This Year

The dahlias are blooming, at least those that are still around. I have not had much luck with them in SJC. The first time I ordered a box of dahlia tubers they all rotted before I got around to planting them. My bad. The second box got in the ground in a timely manner, but failed to be very impressive the first year. Because we don't have wet weather we don't have to lift the tubers out of the ground every year. The second year a few of them were lovely and I had high hopes, but this year there is only one plant that I have seen. I will try again. The soil was so very dead and depleted when we moved in here and instead of spending the time and energy needed to recondition it, I just started planting. Maybe now after five years of compost and organic fertilizing, the soil with be ready to nurture some lovely dahlias, because I think they are great to have in the garden all summer!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Big, Fat and Scrumptious

I die for white roses. Hundreds of petals of purity on blooms so big they nod towards the ground. This one is 'Bolero'.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Breezy Summer Perennials

If spring is defined in my gardens by beautiful single blooms of wisteria, roses and iris, summer is ruled by the abundance of lacy, flowing flowers such as lavenders and gaura. There are some agapanthus bobbing around in the background too. These carefree summer perennials give the garden an easy-going feeling as they don't need constant deadheading to look good, just a major shear at the end of their season.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Just Some Pictures

I've been very busy lately on everything but the garden. I took a walk around the SJC yard the other morning and just took some random shots from angles I don't usually show. It was one of those cool, overcast mornings that evolve into such lovely days after the clouds burn off and it was a pleasant way to start the day.  Of course looking at these pictures I can see a dozen things that need to be done, but for now they will just have to go on a list for fall because I'm busy enjoying the summer!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Little Hosta

There are many wonderful things that we can grow in our mild climate that other parts of the country can't grow, but the reverse is also true. When I had my first home I had visions of lush green gardens filled with all kinds of hostas like the ones in all the gardening magazines. I found out the hard way that hostas just don't do well here. I sent to many mail order companies for all different kinds that ranged from huge to small, lime green to bluish green, and they all disappeared after a year or maybe two if I was lucky. Then a few years ago some "special" hostas were introduced to our area that were supposed to thrive in our climate, dry and mild. I planted this little one (that I paid a small fortune for) about three years ago and it is still here. It is a small little thing, not the lush monsters of the east coast, but nice never-the-less. I don't think I will invest in any more of these, having decided to stay within my zone for an easier and less frustrating gardening experience, and I would never suggest anyone else plant a hosta in our area when there are so many lovely things we can grow easily. Sometimes the gardener has to adjust their expectations instead of asking a plant to adjust their nature.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Fruits

The garden is soon to be a strolling feast. Apples, figs, and peaches are growing in addition to lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit. Is there anything more wonderful to eat than a piece of fruit fresh from the tree?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Near White

I have a lot of daylilies in my gardens. They are so easy and carefree it is hard not to add them here and there. Their strappy foliage looks good even when they are not in bloom, a good characteristic in my book, and they have few pests or diseases. They are a drought tolerant perennial. I order mine from Oakes Daylilies, who are good about advising me if my choices will do well in our climate (some daylilies need a chill to go dormant and will not thrive here) and have a huge variety to choose from. There are no white daylilies. Even in the catalog the category for the whitest blooms are referred to as "near white". That doesn't keep me from trying out the "whitest" in my Moonlight Garden. This was the one I added this year called "Lady Elizabeth". As you can see from the picture, it has a definite yellow tint to it. I will leave it for a few seasons (or I should say them, I planted about a dozen in a group) or until I find them too offensively yellow and they have to be moved. Either way, it is a very pretty flower on a carefree plant.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Baby Grapefruits

I was a bit worried that I hadn't noticed any blooms on my grapefruit tree, but upon closer inspection I found a number of small fruit. I guess I have been so busy I haven't been paying attention to what is going on right under my nose!

Friday, July 6, 2012

White Petunias

This is not the time of year to start planting annuals - at least that is what I would tell anyone seeking my advice. But here I am once again, enticed by that which I cannot resist, and did not get to a couple months ago - planting white petunias. I am not crazy about petunias because they attract those hungry little worms that quickly chew away the leaves and buds, and I am not going to bother spraying, organic or not. That being said, I seem to succumb to buying flats of these trailing pretties every summer to fill in empty pots that were once filled with cool season annuals. White petunias, they push my buttons - but in a good way!