Friday, November 21, 2014

Refreshing a Winter Focal Point

October 2014
 Somehow it has worked out that most of our entertaining at the SJC house takes place in the winter months. Dozens of relatives come from all over the country to visit and dare I say hundreds of friends stop by some time between Halloween and Valentines Day. Needless to say, they are certainly missing the prime time in the gardens which I would have to say is spring, followed by summer and then fall.
November 2014
By the time winter rolls around most of the prettiest scenes are tired and taking a rest. Roses are either spindly or cut back, most iris are sleeping and of course the clematis, wisteria, flowering shrubs and vines are either bare or devoid of blooms at best. Even the willowy grasses are often cut back to bristly stubs. I am thankful for the azaleas and camellias, of which I have planted many, and there are always the plants that look good consistently year round which add the foundation to the gardens. I do try to add some seasonal color in the way of cool season annuals that I probably would skip if not for the onslaught of guests. As you can see by the top picture, the Moonlight Garden was showing signs of a long hot summer a couple weeks ago, so a carload of bright white perennials and annuals in addition to some organic fertilizer has brightened up this focal point and will go a long way to keep this garden looking good until the spring plants start to wake up. If you look closely, my 'Golf Ball' (more like Basketball) pittosporum look terrible, having been covered with blight all year. They are supposed to stay small and round, hence the name, but these became so large and gangly they were trimmed back at the wrong time and have become a mess. I'm debating whether to remove them all together or just cut them back and
give them another chance. But enough about problems! I've been out every weekend with a watering can and some seaweed fertilizer to make sure this area is robust for the upcoming months and all our guests because next weekend there will be soccer balls, baseballs and maybe even a few Frisbees landing among the newly planted daisies and phlox and they need to be as robust as possible!

Just for fun here's a look at years past. If you are on Pinterest and 2010 looks familiar to you, it has probably been pinned a few thousand times!




Thursday, November 20, 2014

Getting Busy

I have been very busy recently and happily I can say that some of that activity has been in the garden! After almost a year of a bum knee and a really sore shoulder I am feeling better and getting out and getting my hands dirty this past month. Of course the up coming holidays are the main focus and sprucing everything up for the big Thanksgiving family reunion is a priority followed by the Christmas holiday events, but there are still just a lot of fall chores that I am happy to be able to undertake this year. I've planted some bulbs, cut back some shrubs, and added some fall annuals. We have even made sure to add a new rock to the garden for our new little granddaughter, Rosetta. I'm sure her big brothers will check to be sure there is one for her when they arrive next week!

I have also been busy doing a new task for the UCCE Master Gardeners. It is one that I am really enjoying and that is writing posts for their blog! They are short posts focused on what is happening in the Southern California garden based on topics that are currently trending on their hotline where local gardeners turn for help as well as other current topics in the backyard garden. You can read and subscribe to their blog here --> UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County.

Its good to be back in the garden!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Persistence Pays Off

I do love an arch in the garden and I have lots of them. I add them all over to create height and add a vertical element as well as acting as a way to separate spaces. Most of them are wire ones that I purchase from catalogs or a nursery.  This also allows me to utilize a whole new group of plants that would otherwise be left to an occasional fence or wall - vines. This arch in the Moonlight Garden has had at least four different kinds of vines growing on it that I can think of off the top of my head. When I put it in about seven years ago I planted the very prolific and popular at the time 'Avalanche' clematis. Of course the more I thought about it the more I regretted the chance to put one of my favorite fragrant vines in,  Madagascar jasmine, so I added that too. Neither vine flourished the way I hoped they would. So I decided to just go for it and add a white passion flower vine and at least have butterflies all over. I probably added a star jasmine too. One thing about vines that should always be a warning is that they can be very aggressive. By nature they are meant to grow from the floor of the forest, and scale up tall trees to get the sunlight at the very top. All of the vines I planted on this arch had no intention of scaling much of anything and most barely made it over the arch but the most frustrating thing was they just weren't interested in blooming. Here and there would be a bloom but nothing like I was used to in my other gardens. It may have been too shady. I have a hard time realizing that this area doesn't get as much sun as it seems due to the tall queen palms. The hard ground isn't very fertile either because of years of chemicals used on the lawn that was here previously. Then finally I broke down a bought a white Mandevilla vine. I am not crazy about Mandevillas for some reason. A little too showy and tropical for me, so I have no idea why I bought two and put one on each side of the arch last spring, just desperate I guess. But just to keep me humble I suspect, those Mandevillas are just as happy as can be and are blooming for months now! Go figure!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Plastic Grass or a Tree?

 The other night it was so refreshing to wake up and hear the sound of rain! Walking through the gardens after a rainfall is something I can barely remember since it has been at least seven months since we have had a drop. We didn't get much but it was enough to wash the dust off everything and you could almost hear the plants giving a sigh or relief, however so slight. But now the weather report is showing another heat wave coming this week with temperatures reaching the eighties again. So much for getting out the sweaters!

 Last week I was someplace and I overheard a conversation between two young couples discussing how they were coping with their yards and their concerns over their landscaping and the drought. One was talking about how they were looking at synthetic lawns and the other mentioned that they had just let their yard "go" and would wait and see what happened. I can only imagine how hard it is for the average homeowner to know what is the right thing to do, both from an ecological point as well as an economic point but just as important from an aesthetic point of view. A landscape is a large part of what adds value to a home as well as value to the way a home is enjoyed by a family.

If I had to suggest to someone what to do to add value to their landscape in this day and age when trying to reduce the lawn and water use is to plant trees. I must admit I love to plant trees and in my lifetime I have probably cut down more trees that I have planted than most people have ever planted, but that's okay. Just plant trees is my motto! The more the merrier. You can always cut them down later! Once established the right tree will live just fine without you and as long as you don't live where you block people's view, they can grow without needing much pruning (although I have put many of my tree trimmers children through college, but that's okay). They never need fertilizing and they give back much more than they take. 

I see people struggling with trying to remove lawns and put in something that will be attractive when I think, just look for a tree (or two or three or five) that will do the job, put them in and be patient. Trees do take some patience, waiting for them to grow, unless you have access to the space and enough money to put in a full grown specimen, but I like to plant babies and watch them mature myself. The right tree requires no pesticides, provides food and homes for the wildlife, adds all kinds of good stuff to the environment to offset your carbon footprint and cools the air and soil around it. Just do some research and pick out a yard partner for the next 25 or 30 years.

These pictures show what our back yard looked like in 2006 when we moved in and what it looks like now. I planted three California pepper trees from 25 gallon pots, a liquidambar, and an arbutus tree. The boxwood hedges and perennials are reminiscent from the gardens that I put in for interest while the trees grew to size, but at this point I could remove everything else in this yard, put down a lovely, crunchy pea gravel and never water again.  If not gravel than at least a red fescue that would take some water to become established, but then only occasionally during the summer require watering and let it go un-mown giving it a lovely meadow feeling. Add a few hammocks and we would probably be out there all summer long under the shade trees. I still haven't made up my mind yet.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fall Has Finally Arrived

 I have to admit that when I left for a trip two weeks ago during yet another heat wave here in Southern California I was wondering if I would ever find the passion for working in my gardens that I have always had, again. Talking to other gardeners confirmed I wasn't the only one.

'Evelyn' Rose
A walk through the gardens at that time showed that what the heat hadn't ravaged, the insects had damaged. The heat loving natives pretty much just shut down in the summer and wait for cooler weather. The succulents, although alive, look a bit boring in the hot sun without any complimenting plants. Drought conditions make watering a guilt-ridden activity and so everything just gets enough to survive but not enough to thrive. Nothing new had been added in a while and as plants died off as they do, bare spots were left bare. Summer annuals never went in because it was just too hot and they used too much water so nooks and crannies that usually were filled with charm and sweet smelling annuals were naked all summer. Pots were left empty that usually housed annuals.
'Yuletide' Carmelia
 Most of the summer was spent in the house with the air conditioner on and the doors and windows shut, something I can't ever remember doing. Our Laguna House without any air conditioning sat empty waiting for a cool-down before we would even consider spending a night there.

Japanese Anemones
 But as is always the case, eventually fall arrives and with the shorter days come the cooler temperatures and upon arriving back home after two weeks away I was so happy to walk through the garden this morning and see signs of what the cooler months ahead had in store.  The azaleas are already starting to bloom and the 'Yuletide' camellias that I planted in the Gravel Garden last year (and immediately regretted, why would I ever plant a red flower?) even looked cheerful and made me happy.

Camellia Sasanqua
 Roses and iris that struggled all summer perked up and looked nice and healthy. Chrysanthemums were flopping over with heavy blooms, a fine problem to have! Graceful Japanese anemones had obviously been blooming for a while and had grown immensely since last year.

'Frequent Violet' Iris
The sunlight is so lovely the way it comes across the sky and through the trees and lights the garden in October. The temperatures are just perfect for working in the garden and taking care of all those issues that cropped up over the long hot summer that it is hard to believe that there was ever any doubt in my mind that there would be any place else I would rather be than in my garden this time of year. It's good to be back!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Success Story

Although there are some pretty pathetic looking scenarios this fall in the garden, there are also some happy ones. This is my little lemon tree that I wrote about last spring. It was suffering from a long list of bugs and diseases and looked very sad. I think I only got one lemon from this tree since last April. But after cutting back the damaged foliage, I fertilized it with an organic fertilizer, gave it long, deep soaks all summer and hosed it down every once in a while and now it is rewarding me with tons of sweet, sweet blooms that fill the air with their lovely fragrance, on top of an already abundant young crop of lemons with not a bug or yellow leaf in sight. No pesticides or insecticides were necessary, just some nutrients, a lot of sunshine, some thoughtful watering and maybe a little love!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Weather Woes

 Our weather continues to be unusually hot and humid. Days where the temperatures hit the 90's are not unusual for October for us, but they are usually accompanied by dry Santa Ana winds, not high clouds and humidity and they don't go on for weeks at a time. We are becoming addicted to air conditioning  and rarely head out to the yards because there are no enticing breezes at all to lure us to visit.


I must admit I've been feeling terrible about how the fall months are slipping by, usually the best months to get things done in the gardens, without much being accomplished, until I talk to other gardeners and they share the same sentiment. I'm not the only one with bare ground where there once were lush beds. Other than the professionally kept up affluent grounds that are planted only in heat and drought loving plants, almost everyone is feeling the pain of the drought and high temperatures.  The ocean fishing has been exceptionally good this year, which usually means there will be a wet winter. Let's hope that holds true. I am at least thankful for the shade trees in the back yard. It at least looks cool. The Mexican sage that I planted last year doesn't seem too bothered by the weather, but it is a stand alone oasis of color in an otherwise sad looking garden bed. I must admit I have been seriously considering tearing all the flower beds out and replacing everything with a tall fescue that would not need mowing. Kind of just make the back yard a wild field of abandon. But.. maybe I should wait and see how I feel next spring.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Moving Towards Fall

This week and last we had the trees trimmed in SJC. We try to put it off for as long as possible, but the palm trees start to open their seed pods and drop the pollen and eventually the seeds and it is a terrible mess. It takes four whole days of about five men to do the job.

The end-of-summer gardens are really a mess. I am frustrated  because it is just a disappointment to walk around and see so many ailing plants due to a long dry summer. Not only that, the temperatures have been so hot that just keeping everything alive is a chore. Most of my attention has been on a number of house problems that have required me to hire and track servicemen and contractors which is challenging and time consuming and drives me somewhat crazy. I have also been suffering from a shoulder issue for a while now and it is time I just concentrate on resting and healing that, which means numerous weekly trips to acupuncture and massage. This is also a busy time for many of the organizations we support, so because of a number of reasons getting to this garden is going to take a while. Of course I have help that keeps it from going totally off the charts, but it clearly is missing a loving touch, and I am clearly missing spending time out there with my plants!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Asian Pears

I love surprises in the garden and this was a pleasant one! This pear tree was here when we moved in and there were many years I could have sworn it was dead. Few leaves, even fewer blooms led me to believe it was very unhappy as were many of the other fruit trees that were planted here by the previous owners. I fed it and watered it along with the others and it continued to sulk, but not quite give up entirely. Occasionally it would produce a couple of these rather round Asian pears, usually going unnoticed until they fell to the ground before I had a chance to taste them. But this year I was pleasantly surprised to see it bearing a good sized crop! I'm not quite sure whether they should be picked while they are still green or wait until they turn yellow so I think I will pick one every few days and see what is the best time so I don't miss the peak time, as I often do with my tree fruit. What a nice way to start the fall garden experience!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wrapping Up Summer

 If you read my blog for inspiring pictures, you had better stop now and wait for another post! After a busy summer with grandkids and a few weeks on vacation I've returned ready to take inventory and start thinking about what needs to be done in the SJC garden this fall. The list is long as usual. You can see by this picture that the cheap obelisks I had picked up at a big box store years ago have been falling apart for some time now and my garden helper has patiently been trying to save them for the clematis to cling to as best he can. I have already ordered metal ones and they should arrive any day now. It looks like this one may have collapsed and uprooted this poor plant that is still trying to bloom in spite on being treated so poorly.

 The established oleanders that created the privacy screen around the house continue to succumb to oleander leaf scorch. We didn't remove any this year but it looks like there are going to be some spots that will have to be addressed. One area is really going to be a problem because it is an area where the neighbor's house is close to the fence and we are going to become very visible to each other quickly as they die out. Luckily they have been trying to manage the dying screen on their side too so hopefully we can work out a quick solution. I have seen plumbago suggested as a fast growing alternative and I think I might try it next as a colorful option.

 The new privacy screen we planted last year is thriving nicely and continues to fill in. You can kind of see the foliage behind the fence that is in a part of our other neighbor's yard that relies on rain for irrigation is dying out after years of drought. There used to be layers and layers of trees and lots of birds and wildlife back there. The demise is sad.

 The backyard beds are kind of a mess, and kind of okay. (By-the-way, I took these pictures this morning after the sprinklers had been on which explains why everything looks so wet) I had planted a bunch of drought tolerant, tall perennials that would look good in the summer, last year, but they are still kind of sad. I blame it on the thin soil in this area. I had removed the old lawn that had been treated with synthetic chemicals and pesticides leaving the soil thin and dead. I had underestimated the amount of time it would take to bring the soil back to health by top dressing only and that was a mistake. I really wish I had done the old fashioned double digging in this area (okay, let me be honest - I wish I had instructed someone else to double dig, I don't do much double digging myself anymore!). However the plants like the pepper trees that thrive on poor soil have grown like crazy.

 Even the succulents look like they are tired of this hot, dry summer. Many people don't realize that although cactus are succulents and can go long periods without water, all succulents are not cactus and do need regular water. These plants will get a good, long, deep soak this weekend that they probably haven't been getting since I have been gone.

 My other citrus trees are not producing much of a crop this year, but my grapefruit tree is going crazy with a huge crop. I am sure it is because I personally baby it by turning the hose on it when I walk by to go out to the pool on the weekends and leave it on a slow drizzle for hours. It gets the same amount of fertilizer as all the other trees but I think it gets a lot more water.

 The fall colors are starting to show on the grape vine tunnel and the Boston ivy. In our area even though the nights may be cooling down in September and October, some of our warmest temperatures of the year may still be ahead so summer isn't really over yet.

 The Moonlight Garden has some highlight and some low-lights. After planting about four different kinds of vines on the arbor going to the pool, the white mandevilla vine has finally proved to be successful. Also, my Duranta 'alba' is finally blooming. I think it had been a victim of wrong season pruning. On the other hand I have no idea what is going on around the big urn. Almost everything is either gone altogether or munched to the ground by rabbits. It could have been a broken sprinkler that in this heat can cause an area to die quickly. I need to go back and look at pictures from last spring to see what was there that we lost.

 And then by the looks of the lawn, the dogs didn't get their tomato juice every day. And it is looking very healthy and good which means the gardener turned up the frequency of the sprinklers while I was out of town so that it would green up in spite of the draught (it was driving him crazy). The mushrooms are a dead give-away.

While we were vacationing in Maui, it was encouraging to see the island that has also been plagued by drought in the past few year turning a lovely shade of green again when we flew in to land. Since they are often influenced by some of the same Pacific weather currents we are hopefully this means we will be getting some rain this year too. 

But back to my garden now and all the challenges that keep it interesting!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gardening is Hard

The other day I ran into an acquaintance who asked me if I was still gardening. I was rather caught off guard by her question. I have never thought that I would someday not garden. I'm not saying that it is like eating or breathing, I'm sure that I would still exist if I did not garden, but if given the choice to do it or not, I would always choose to do it, at least in some form or another. My friend had said that she had quit gardening because it was just too hard and time consuming and she had moved to a condo where she didn't have to worry about the yard. Before that she had a beautiful garden that was in fact - perfect. It had actually won awards. The first time I saw it she was standing in the front yard with a bottle of spray pesticide in each hand, issuing orders in crisp Spanish to her gardeners. Every bloom was blemish free, every leaf perfect, every blade of grass the exact same shade of green and the exact same height. I understand why she gave up the battle, because that's what it was for her, a battle, unfortunately.

This time of year the gardens start to look a little tired. Hot days of summer, too many distractions, not enough rain, there are lots of things working against me. But it is my passion and I know that I will get back to it in a while, when the grandkids are back in school and our vacation is over and the weather changes and our visitors all go home, it will still be waiting for me.

When I talk to someone that is just starting out with gardening for the first time and they are just learning the basics, I always take a big sigh because I know they are going to learn that gardening is hard, and frustrating, and they are going to learn a lot of lessons in the years ahead. I just hope they are doing it for the right reasons because it is also one of the most rewarding life-long loves they will ever encounter!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer Fennel Flowers

This morning I found lots of things wrong in the gardens to take pictures of that will make good subjects for future posts, but today I'm just going to focus on one thing that is doing really well. My bronze fennel is lovely! I don't like the taste of fennel and don't ever harvest it. I don't really know why I planted it years ago back here when I put a vegetable garden in before I gave up and turned this area back over to the rabbits that rule the domain. Obviously the varmints feel the same way I do about fennel and so it lives on untouched, year after year. It is now about six feet tall and blooms profusely all summer with flowers that attract songbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects. The bronze foliage has reverted back to mostly green this time of year but it is light and feathery and pretty. I guess I really do like fennel after all - just not in my salad!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Always Another Aeonium

There seems to be a distinctive trend around this place that whenever nothing else works, throw in an aeonium. I'm sure I was the one that started this trend by showing my garden helper how easy it was to propagate them by simply breaking off the rosettes and sticking them in the ground. I first tried them planted as a groundcover in the front where the rabbits ate everything I tried and sure enough they left them alone. As they filled in they started to look good and so they became the go-to filler for lots of other spots that nothing else seemed to work. Although they prefer sunny spots and regular water with good drainage, they will survive just about anywhere. They do have a tendency to look leggy and curl up if they don't get enough sun or water. Every few years they need to be refreshed and replanted if necessary. When they bloom they die down, but they don't seem to bloom very often. There is a big difference between surviving and thriving. I now find myself pulling them out of places where they are growing but look terrible. There are some places that should just be covered with rocks!