Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Monarchs Have Arrived

 For the past six years I have been planting native milkweed to attract Monarch butterflies. We are in the migration path for their annual trek from Mexico to California and because of the over population of our area their natural food source, the milkweed plant, is disappearing at alarming rates, having a negative impact on these lovely and amazing creatures.

 For many years I never saw any sign of them and so I moved the milkweed around the yard and even planted them in different spots. It did take a few years to see any signs of butterflies at all after the yard had pretty much been cultivated with pesticides and chemicals for years by the previous owners, but finally life started to return.

 Last year I wasn't in the garden much due to a knee injury, but one day when I was out walking around I noticed some strange, bare sticks protruding out of the ground. It took me a while to realize it was what was left of the milkweed plants that I had planted the previous fall! I was excited that there was hope that the Monarchs had found the food source I had left out for them and devoured it, although any sign of them was long gone.

Last weekend I was out digging up iris tubers (I know, I'm way off sync) and a pretty orange and black butterfly flitted by me. I always assume any orange and black butterfly I see is a Gulf Fritillar because we have lots of them and they love the passion flower vines which I grow. But I watched it head over to the patch of milkweed as if it was directing my attention there and then it was off. I climbed through the flower bed over to the milkweed and there they were, about a dozen Monarch caterpillars of all sizes, munching away on the plants! We have been watching them all week, growing in size, then disappearing, crawling off (I hope) to form a chrysalis on a nearby leaf or twig. Today when I went out the five plants were all but stripped of all foliage and there were still tiny caterpillars just emerged still looking for food. There should be another "crop of butterflies in a couple months so maybe I should get some more milkweed in the ground before then! There are actually three short-lived (two to six weeks) generations of butterflies that hatch in one area before a "super" generation that make the migration hatch. That generation lives six to eight months to make the migration to warmer climates in the fall. Well, I'm glad they finally found my little patch of food I planted for them and I figure if they can migrate thousands of miles to find the exact same mating place through generations, they'll be able to find my little milkweed patch every year too!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Fruit Trees

We're adding a new fruit tree (actually two) to the SJC gardens this year. When we moved into the Laguna beach house there was a pomegranate tree, or more like a pomegranate bush, growing way down in the back forty. Planted by birds I'm guessing. Anyway, I found it rather charming and a lovely addition to have on hand, both for the tasty fruit that is so good for us, as well as the decorative component. There are few things as lovely and sensual as a large bowl of pomegranates during the holidays. Especially when you cut a few open to show the beautiful seeds and gorgeous colors inside. Because they grow so easily here and seem like a natural addition to any Mediterranean garden, I have been meaning to add one or more to our SJC yard. At the nursery a couple weekends ago they had some bareroot ones that my DH and I picked up and now we have one in the rose garden and I am looking for a sunny spot to put the other one. I like to buy two of new additions to the gardens and spread them around so if one doesn't do well in a location, maybe the other will take to it's new home a little better! Bareroot fruit trees are so easy to plant is is almost crazy! (I know the label looks like it is a peach, but it is not!) Pomegranate trees grow kind of like a scrappy, large shrub, so finding the right spot may take a little work, but I am looking forward to the fruits of our labor this fall!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentines Day

It's been a number of years since I've indulged in planting bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) in the shade garden. I guess once again the rain has been encouraging me to take a chance on something that I know is just a short-lived charmer. Even though they are supposed to be perennials, I have never seen them come back to bloom the second year around here, but they are just so sweet, I am willing to go to the trouble and expense just to have them in the garden for a few months in the late winter and early spring. Besides, is there a more perfect flower for Valentines Day? Anyone can have roses, but a bleeding heart? Come on!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Taking a Chance With The Iris

I don't know if I'm early or late, but I do know that this isn't the ideal time of year to be digging and dividing bearded iris, but our mild climate is very forgiving and I didn't get any flowers last year, so I figure the worse that can happen is I don't get any blooms until next year anyway. But chances are I will get a few flowers if I am lucky, so I have been taking advantage of this lovely weather and out digging the rhizomes up and separating the mothers from the babies. It has been five or six years that most of these plants have been in the ground, way too long to go without dividing. In addition to that, many of them are now growing in the shade from trees that were just shrubs when they were planted. Years of adding mulch to the beds have also covered many of them so that they are buried too deep and the tops of their rhizomes are not getting any sun, another reason they will not bloom. I have lost track of what is planted where, so they are all just being dug up, separated and thrown in a basket and will be planted with a handful of the organic fertilizer I am getting for the camellias and azaleas since they prefer acidic conditions and we have such alkaline water. They are all going in one of the sunny beds that have good drainage and we will see what comes up! I may throw a few in pots to share after I see them bloom so I know what I am giving away because I have quite a few it seems. There are a few areas like the Moonlight Garden that I know only have white reblooming Frequent Flyers and the side garden that are all Frequent Violet, but other than that it looks like I am in for some surprises when it comes time for them to bloom this spring!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Beacon of Light

If I remember correctly we were traveling last year this time and I missed seeing my pretty little pyrus calleryana or Ornamental Pear tree bloom.  One of the first plants to show color, it is looking especially robust this year as are all of the shrubs and plants in the Moonlight Garden, I suspect due to the rainfall we have had this winter. It is a beacon of sunshine in the middle of winter as the California natives are starting to bloom and some of the early spring flowers are waking up. The weather is lovely this week and just perfect for getting out in the garden and taking care of some of the chores (like cutting back the roses) that I have been falling behind with due to other obligations! After a year of injuries for me and years of drought for the garden it is nice to be able to get back out there and make up for lost time!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Few New Shrimp Plants

 It isn't very often I can say that I've bought a plant I've never had before, but last month I finally broke down and bought a justicia brandegeana or as it is commonly called, a Shrimp Plant. Although the salmon-colored ones are very common in our area, I have never been seduced by their cute little shrimp-like flowers or their easy cultivation. But I have a love of chartreuse flowers and I have been looking for shade-loving perennials for my "Palm Alley" that are easy to grow and will hopefully last more than a few months as many of the others have only been willing to stick around. I was combing the shade aisle of the nursery and there was this bright shining little green shrimp plant that caught my eye. I brought it home and planted it and the more I looked at it the more I liked it, so I went back and got a few more. I like the way it adds color, but in a subtle way. It is just a bright glow as opposed to an actual color.

 This area can be very tricky. Some plants thrive and others don't do well. The shrimp plant is supposed to be very easy and can grow to be about three feet high and wide, although I don't think I've every seen one in a garden that big, but maybe I've just never noticed. We'll just have to watch and see how they do, meanwhile I 'm very excited about them!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mid-Winter Updates

Thanksgiving and Christmas are big holidays at our house, but Super Bowl Sunday takes the prize for sheer volume of people at the house and I work all month trying to refresh the mid-winter gardens so that they at least look presentable since this is the only time of year many of our friends come to the house and most of them associate me with being a gardener and have high expectations. The camellias and azaleas are lovely, but I have been taking advantage of the lovely weather and abundant rain we've been having to add some pretty seasonal color that I have skipped the past few years. After the poinsettias were retired from their showy pots around the entrances, there were empty pots for many weeks until I got busy at the last minute to drop in some winter bloomers. I even updated this wooden planter with tiny succulent cuttings that will look good for months to come. Amazing how inspirational a little rain and sunshine in the middle of winter can be to a gardener!