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.