Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Controlling the Sprawl

A walk around the garden after the rain makes it easy to see the woody perennials and shrubs in need of sprawl control. This artemisia is a good example of plants that are showing new basal growth at their base that are ready to have a serious cutback to just above that growth. The results will be a bit sparse for a few weeks, but the warmer days and shorter nights will soon signal the plant that it is time to start growing vigorously and soon that drastic pruning job will be a distant memory. The nearby plants will thank you for it!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

White Azaleas

When we moved into the SJC property there were palm trees, grass and azaleas. Lots of azaleas (lots of grass and palms trees too, but those are other posts). Unfortunately there where large beds of these white ones right by the front door, and although they are lovely when in bloom, they are not self cleaning and when the flowers faded it looked like limp, dank, brown hankies were draped all over the plants.  There were hundreds of blooms and it was not easy to clean them up. I ended up moving them to a shady part of the yard where they are lovely when in bloom, but not in your face during their blooming demise, blending in the shadows more than their previous location. It has taken a few years for them to come back to blooming in abundance, and they probably still aren't there yet, but they are a sea of lovely green and white during the winter months in the Moonlight Garden when little else is capturing the limelight. Now we're all happy!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Trouble With Boxwood Borders

I do love the structure that my boxwood hedges add to my free-flowing, floppy, over-planted garden beds. I added a small border of the boxwoods to the back yard in SJC last year and I felt it enhanced the overall look of the area immensely. That being said, there is one thing you have to give up when you add borders, as small as they may be, and that is low-growing plants. I was thrilled this year when these perennial English primroses started blooming again a few weeks ago, but it was quite a surprise because they were hidden behind the short little hedge. I planted them last winter and they added a nice border to the front bed of Flying Rabbit Island that could be seen from the living room and dining room. Now you have to walk up to them and look down to see them as you can see in the second photograph (that is Bandit nosing through the helichrysum looking for anything interesting in the shrubs). I will most likely move them and replace them with something with a little more height, unfortunately because them seem to like it there!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Couple of Natives

Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman'

Douglas iris
Late winter and early spring are times I really appreciate the native plants in my gardens. Many years ago I planted some ceanothus in a couple difficult spots in my Laguna garden. One did not make it (too close to a sprinkler), but the other one thrived for years and grew into an enormous shrub covered with gorgeous blue flowers for months every spring. I can't think of many other plants that brought me so much pleasure without any care from me. One day it was entirely dead, overnight, the victim of underground voles that ate the root system causing an immediate and untimely death for my beloved ceanothus. I have planted many more, but none have grown the the proportions of that one, although there is always hope because I have a number of them in different locations, waiting for one to take off. This picture is one that is blooming beautifully outside my front door in SJC. It has potential. Right next to it is a couple clumps of Douglas iris, another native plant. They both are doing well. Finding a good spot for native plants in our gardens is often tricky because they can have very specific cultural needs due to California's varied topography. A plant that will grow naturally on one hillside will perish on the next hill for a variety of reasons. Soil, sun exposure, and moisture levels can vary greatly throughout our region, making growing natives a little tricky. My best advise? Try them out in different parts of the garden and don't be discouraged if they don't respond immediately. Successfully growing California natives may take some patience and determination, but they are worth it!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hellebore Joy

In a quiet little corner in my garden in SJC by the front door is one of my favorite winter bloomers, this beautiful hellebore. I have a few white ones in the Moonlight Garden but they don't bloom like this pretty magenta one, of which I have long since forgot the name. I love their dainty little nodding blooms, their umbrella like foliage and the fact that when there is little else to thrill me in the garden during the winter months, they are happy to do so. Another favorite attribute - they last for weeks when cut and put in a small vase.  This one thrives in dappled shade with regular water and will bloom for a couple months. I doubt I have ever recommended to someone to plant it when giving a garden consult, being a rather unassuming plant, but I wouldn't have a garden without it!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Easy Elegance

If I had to make a list of "bang for the buck" plants in my gardens, surely Calla Lilies would be on that list. So dramatic and so easy, especially for shady areas that need a bit of drama. These ones are five foot tall and thrive on little attention other than regular water. The blooms are so pretty and make lovely cut flowers that last a long time, but do not overlook the foliage. I often use Calla Lily leaves in arrangements that don't even have any of the flowers in them. A tall vase of foliage alone will work indoors and last forever. So lovely and elegant, so easy, what more could you ask?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Perfume for the Garden

I strive for my gardens to be multidimensional. They are not just for looking at, but rather for experiencing with all the senses. I try to pay particular attention to the scents that layer the garden as I walk through it, picking up different aromas as they perfume the air, either alone or mingled together. One of my favorites is that of heliotrope, sometimes called the Cherry Pie Plant because of the sweet scent, that may be too intensely sweet for some people. I first fell in love with the 'Dark Knight' cultivar, with dark purple flowers and deep burgundy foliage, and you will see it throughout my gardens. But I have to give credit to the much over-looked white variety that goes mainly unnoticed in the Moonlight Garden, except for when you pick up a whiff of that heady scent. I planted a couple of them years ago and they thrive in partial shade and regular water among a number of other shrubs and perennials. It is truly carefree and keeps the garden visitor aware of the beauty of a sensual garden experience by perfuming the air year round, quietly and simply.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Me 'n Coco

Like Coco Chanel, I too have a thing about white camellias. I love them so much and add one or two more to my gardens every year. I linger, hem and haw over the pink ones, consider the splashed ones, but always go back and pick up the white ones. This is 'Nuccio's Gem', a very perfect bloom on a lovely shrub. Camellias are unique in the way that they are actually dormant while in bloom and they wake up in the spring when they have finished their bloom cycle. That is the best time to fertilize and prune them. I've said it before, they are my hold-over until rose season is upon us.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blooming Fruit Trees

Peach Tree

Apple Tree
Another sure sign of spring - the apple trees and peach trees are blooming! The peach tree was a gift from some friends about a year ago and is doing well. I have another one that was here when we moved in that is stunted due to being planted in the pot in the ground, a trick I use for some plants with sensitive root systems, but not a tree. I dug it up and replanted it last year, but it is still dormant. It may be another kind of peach that blooms later, or it may be really sulking. The apple trees are Anna apples and are happy here every year, not needing as cold a climate as some other apples. I don't get a lot of fruit yet, but I would grow them just for the spring blooms! They aren't as fragrant as citrus blooms, but much prettier. Some day they will be big enough for me to cut branches and force them to bloom inside, but until then it is nice to see them add a little sparkle to the garden in the middle of February!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Good-bye Winter

It would not be Spring (yes, I'm skipping the rest of winter and moving straight into Spring) without lots of snowdrops, narcissus and daffodils in my gardens. I have yet to plant my beloved snowdrops in SJC and although they were in their glory in Laguna, along with hundreds of daffodils, I didn't have my camera with me while I was there yesterday. I can't think of any flower that sends a clearer message to winter that it is time to move on than these easy, eager bulbs that naturalize so readily for us here in Southern California. I can't imagine my garden without them!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Scents of Spring

I must admit that I have been busy lately and the gardens get a bit neglected this time of year. Yesterday I was out very early (taking out the trash) and I was struck by the alluring and familiar scent of sweet, pink jasmine.  I'm not sure there is any aroma I love more than jasmine and the unexpected whiff caught me off guard. I wasn't expecting Spring to be so close at hand, but the rambling blooms of jasminum polyanthum indicate otherwise. Today I will make time to get out in the garden and see what else is waking up!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Unplanned Arch

When I planted a small peachy colored honeysuckle bush on either side of this small walk through, I had no idea (because I didn't read the label) that they would quickly grow into towering ten foot shrubs. They have actually blended together at the top and created a cool little arch! Unfortunately the pretty flowers are all at sky height, much to the delight of the hummingbirds. I do love vertical elements in the garden so I will keep natures design this time!