Sunday, January 31, 2010

Plants to share

I went out to count types of flowers blooming as February begins and what I noticed is how many plants I have to share.  If anyone local is reading this blog and wants new plants for the garden, I have some now, and seemingly always do.  What I noticed just now:
ixia (I think,  I get ixia and sparaxis mixed up)
Japanese anenome 'Honorine Jobert'
a tall lavender aster that spreads
crocosmia, an orange one and 'lucifer'
poppies, maybe-they are taprooted and have to be moved at a pretty small stage
dahlia 'Bishop's Children', a deep orangey red with black foliage- I hope, the tubers have heaved out of the ground and hopefully did not freeze. 
ground covers gallium and ajuga
geranium 'biokovo'
oxalis, pink blooms, dies away in summer completely
I am sure there are more, hmmm...always alysum, forget me nots, stuff like that..... a red annual coreopsis

Plus, I have a viburnum I want to take out.  Not sure the variety, it is not what was labeled on the body bag from WalMart, but it might be Mariesii.  Two years old in my garden from bare root twig, has not yet bloomed. 

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Luxury gardening

Some days in the garden are priceless.  Today Jerry finished pruning the fruit trees and moved the grapevine so it will grow up the dead cherry tree.  I watched, mostly from inside where I was making a lemon curd tart.  Nice  : ) 

I did cut some orchids for the kitchen counter, and spread some more manure, and whacked back 'little tree', as we call the purple potato vine standard Jerry gave me one year for my birthday.   

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I got some amazing manure at Lowes the other day.  I intended to get chicken manure, checked the price at OSH and went on to Lowes.  Lowes only had steer, and at 97 cents a bag, steer manure is a real deal, so I went with that.  Well, what a great surprise.  This is so well composted it is finer than oatmeal and has no odor at all.  I used a bag for the asparagus, and another for the new roses, mixing it with the soil for a conditioner.  I think I will go get enough to do put down in all the beds. 
For several years I have been making a compost mix of leaves, alfalfa, manure and my own compost but I find I am getting new varieties of weeds.  I suspect the alfalfa.  I think this year I will use the leaves for brown stuff in the compost bin, and use straight manure for dressing the beds.  This stuff is too good to pass up. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Two new bare root roses came last evening.  Today I put them to soak and will plant them tomorrow.  I got more David Austin roses.  I like the Austins for their relaxed attitude, their scent and their color.  I now have six of them, Crown Princess Margaretta, Jude the Obscure, and Evelyn, which are all apricot tones, Pat Austin, which is a sunrise orange, and the two new ones, Richard Marlowe which should be orangey with red and salmon tones, and Lady Emma Hamilton which should be yellows, oranges and reds.  I hope.  At least these have a fruity fragrance and not the nasty myrrh scent, which to me smells like old lady hand lotion and was enough to cause me to give away Tamora and Ambridge Rose.  For a long time it was my dream to have enough Austins to make a huge bouquet such as the David Austin catalog shows.  So finally I got enough and spent a good hour cutting and fighting and being mangled by rose bushes and trying to jam all those those prickly dozens into a vase.  It was not worth it  : (   But the roses are lovely none the less and I enjoy them in ones and twos and threes. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

OUR asparagus bed : )

The new asparagus bed is in.  I put one in a few years ago in front of the orange tree and it did not do well, maybe due to the sandy soil there, plus we did not like the way it looked, blocking the orange tree as it did.  So we decided to move it in front of the fence.  Whew!  What a job!  I could not dig out the old roots, which threatened to break my garden fork.  With much jumping on the shovel and related effort Jerry finally got them out and we decided that is another job we will never do again.  I dug part of the new ditch and Jerry finished up for me.  My doctor swears gardening is not good enough exercise but goodness, maybe he should come help sometime!  So that was yesterday, and today I put down manure and planted both the old roots and some new ones I bought, covering them at the bottom of the trench.  As they grow I will fill in the rest of the dirt, so they have the best opportunity to develop roots.  I think the $9 investment will give us several hundred dollars worth of asparagus over the next 10-12 years.  Of course there will be none this year, because the little roots need to get established, but we can look forward to the future.  Yum!  My dad used to make fun of me for saying I could see the stalks growing, but they really do grow inches in a day.  Here is a photo of the old asparagus, it is the gray green cloud to the left. 


Behold, our source of water!

The Sierra snowpack and rivers, with their associated dams and ditches, and consequent ground water, supply our water needs here.  What a blessing to live where we have locally available water, in spite of the limited amount of rainfall. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Winter Annuals and Rain

Rain in the Night by Amelia Josephine Burr

Raining, raining, all night long;
Sometimes loud, sometimes soft, just like a song.

There'll be rivers in the gutters and lakes along the street.
It will make our lazy kitty wash his little dirty feet.

The roses will wear diamonds like kings and queens at court;
but the pansies all get muddy because they are so short.

I'll sail my boat tomorrow in wonderful new places,
But first I'll take my watering pot and wash the pansies faces.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pros and Cons of winter annuals

Because we can grow four seasons, but have the extreme of heat and freeze, we have annuals, both flowers and veggies, for winter and for summer, or for cool and warm seasons.  It is hard to know quite how to handle that space wise.  Cool season plants go in during September, and the timing is tricky.  Get those snaps in too soon and that inevitable hot week mid September will fry them.  On the other hand, get them in too late and they do not get up and going enough before fog so sit and sulk until mid February.  Then in April when we get that first warm week of mid 80 weather and everyone starts walking around saying it's hot, all the cool season annuals turn brown and are done, all at once just like that, leaving big gaps to fill. 

On the other hand, warm season annuals can go in as early as mid February and go until a hard freeze, sometimes as late as Christmas, but more typically later November.  So there is a big overlap of time that both can be growing, or one has to come out mid stride to make room for the other.

My solution is first the self sowing winter annuals that start coming up anytime after it turns cold and grow green all season and bloom Feb-April, more or less.  At our house those include California poppies, which of course are not poppies at all, poppies, especially the Flander's Fields poppies, larkspur, and nigella, or love-in-a-mist.  There are also forget-me-nots, johnny-jump-ups and some others not as important.  Alysum of course grows year round.  Once the spring flowers go brown, the cosmos is already up and going and fills in nicely.  Jerry especially likes having another orange to replace the California poppies.  Zinnias are another summer annual that is happy to be planted early summer and easily pulled at any time.  Zinnias are awfully stuffy flowers though.  I got back and forth on those, red flowers to bring in the house, vs ugly.  : ) 

As for bedding out plants, I am pretty much into either pots or just a few here and there.  Jerry likes what we call Taco Bell flowers, the little white gold and orange single zinnias, so I tuck a few of those at the front of the borders.  Those are summer flowers, and I think the only kind I get other than my impatiens, which I have discussed before.   In the winter I vary between pansies, and Iceland poppies and snapdragons.  Just a few for pots or a corner of a border. 

Here is my all time favorite photo of my spring annuals 

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Since Sunday we have had nearly 2 inches of rain. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January flowers

My goal is flowers all year round, or as a new book title says, a flower for every day.  So what blooms in January?  

Helleborus orientalis just beginning to bloom.  These will last into hot weather, and the plant is evergreen, a foundation plant for my shade garden.

Violets begin blooming around Thanksgiving and continue into February or March.  The plants are evergreen, and so lovely in winter, but they are aggressive spreaders.

This new penstemon sulked all summer but decided to get happy and bloom once we got into freezy weather.  Again, the evergreen foliage is a plus. 

Wintersweet is a large shrub with an amazing scent.  The flowers begin opening in November, while the leaves are still on the shrub and bloom through the fog season.  The leaves turn yellow, and just came down in this week's storm.  The shrub sweetly scents the yard when it is foggy.  I am not always crazy about it, but every winter we end up deciding it earns its keep.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Counting the hours

To do well plants such as stone fruit, lilacs and peonies need certain amounts of hours under 40 degrees.  chill calculator  shows how many cold hours we have had so far.   So far, it is just barely almost but not quite enough.  With much needed rain predicted for the next two weeks, it probably is not going to get cold.  The warmer weather is nice, and the rain sorely needed, but the cold is also necessary.  I love the play between needs, but the farmers who raise 90% of the world's crops of some fruits and nuts need both to survive. 

Another link of interest:  drought monitor

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Everyone is all agog over the thought of rain.  I saw a dad buying his daughter rain boots in expectation yesterday!  Evidently we are expecting either a huge storm, or a series, maybe as many as six, storms one after another.  At any rate, the prediction is rain for the next six days and then more coming.  Hurray for rain!  Thank you God for your mercies!  The paper this week showed totals for the last few years, 2004-05 12 inches, 05-06 15.4 inches, 06-07 3.67 inches, 07-08 6.52 inches, 08-09 6.7 inches.  Our average is what, about 11ish I think.  Paper says 15 was 140% of normal, and 6.5 59% of normal.  What I know is 8ish is about typical with those occasional years of a lot more to up the average.  22 is the most I remember and what a dismal year that was for gardening.  Our ground does not hold that kind of water and plants rot from sitting in the water.  Those 12-15 inch years are awesome, but things sure get floody.  So far this year, measuring July-June, we have 3.75 inches and two of that from that freaky storm back in early October.  So let's all snuggle down and enjoy!   It is splashing down even as I type...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Master Gardener Fair

Today at the fair, which was a dozen or more tables set up to demonstrate some particular aspect of gardening here, I learned I can grow my grape vine up a post and just keep pruning it to stay post sized.  I had no idea, since my whole exposure is the vineyards we see as we drive up and down the highway.  They always have wires strung from post to post and the vines growing the length.  The master gardener with whom I spoke thought my idea of growing mine up the dead cherry tree was brilliant, but I wonder how all those vines come down next winter! 

I also visited at a table on gardening for schools.  They had some really cute books there!  I think it was a fairly random collection and the gal in charge said there is a lot on the internet.  It all made me think again that maybe I could teach gardening.  Hmmmm....will have to think more about that. 

Oh, and I found out where the hummingbirds go!  Mexico!  Or Alaska!  I asked why they are gone such a short time and the answer is various ones come and go at various times.  I did hear that some just move in and make themselves at home. 

I checked out square foot gardening for veggies and don't think I really learned anything.  I need to get that figured out though.  I am pretty sure it is dependent on soil quality.  Likewise did not learn anything new about pruning roses.  Theirs looked like mine, and mine grow roses so it must be OK to do what I do.

Potting bare roots and moving through the month

Yesterday I potted up my new bare root purchases. Rhubarb is evidently pretty iffy here, although at the Master Gardener Fair I went to today someone was giving away a large box of rhubarb roots so they must grow for someone!  The new hydrangea paniculata ended up being pretty twiggy, but I have grown bare root hydrangea before and they just need a chance to grow.  Hopefully Lowes sells reputable stuff and this will end up being what the label said.  I read these generic pee gees look the same as the fancy named ones like 'Limelight' that I was trying to get and I hope that is true for the sake of the $$ saved.  I also bought and potted a new white astilbe.  Astilbe do not live long here, but the foliage is lovely and worthwhile.  I have found most bare roots do well in pots for a year so they get some size on them and I can baby them through any rough weather. The asparagus bed will be a bigger project, requiring some manure, etc., so it will take more time. 

Today I cleaned up some more and worked on pruning the nectarine tree.  It was another pre storm day, sunny and fine and I enjoyed the afternoon.  Jerry is our pruner, and he is good enough to make a living at it, but I think it is fun to get out and get some of it started. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Go hummer!

Oh yay!  My hummingbirds are still here and so happy to have new sugar water!  


After a glorious day yesterday, with sunshine, a light breeze and blowing clouds, following a half inch of rain overnight, today is back to is it raining or is it just fog?   Yesterday I had to take advantage of the unseasonal warmth and sun and went for a bike ride.  All I did in the garden was to gather up the wetted grapevines and wind them into a chunky wreath.  Today it is really too wet to do anything, but I noticed the hummingbird feeder was empty so I filled it.  We enjoy the hummers in the garden and try to plant flowers they will enjoy, as well as keeping the feeder filled.  This time of year with fewer flowers the feeder becomes more critical and I regret letting it get empty.  Our birds may have moved along to someone more obliging.  I am not sure what the migratory pattern is of the local hummingbird population, but they disappear for a couple months every year, leaving late January or sometime in February and reappearing in April.  I assume they must nest somewhere else, but where? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bare root!

I went to Lowes yesterday and got a bit wound up looking at bare root stock!  Imagine getting shaky over bits of sticks!  What is it about bare root that affects me like that?  I think it must have something to do with the treasure aspect.  A bit of root hiding in brown wood shavings in a dark plastic baggy contains so much potential for future tasty treats or gorgeous flowers.  How fun! 

So what can one buy bare root?  

Food crops such as
Fruit trees
Berry and grape vines

Perennials such as

Flowering shrubs such as

And why would one buy bare root in the first place?   For one because it is exciting, but also because plants can get in earlier and get a good root system going before summer, there are often bare roots of hard to find plants, and they are much cheaper.  I am debating the bare root peegee hydrangea I saw that by summer will be a nice gallon plant over the four inch pot named variety I know I can get for three times the cost. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cleaning up debris

There was a gorgeous sunset last night and sunrise this morning, the snowy Sierras splendid in the sunlight.  Rain is coming!  Since we had several relatively dry days to dry things out a bit, I was out again early this morning finally getting the fruit tree leaves raked out. Some plants including roses and fruit trees need debris cleared out to avoid harboring or spreading disease. So, I am late getting this done, but at least now the leaves are gone and the coming rain cannot make more of a mess.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Seeking solace

There is nothing like a good half hour in the garden, late afternoon as the sun is setting, to work off the frustrations of the day.  A new scone recipe that wasted ingredients and produced scones that made me unpleasantly aware of calories not worth ingesting, and a rather devastating round of necessary errands put a damper on this day that not even a good hot cup of tea put right.  But some good aerobic exercise, cleaning up the debris from the roses, made an encouraging end to the day. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Cyclamen bloom in winter, making them valuable to my garden.  My enjoyment of them though has come primarily through learning to propagate them.  Here is a newly gifted white cyclamen.

While cyclamen purchased in garden centers have been forced and begin blooming in November, garden grown plants bloom later and continue into hot weather.  At that point I move them close to the house in full shade and let them over summer,watering as needed.  The cool thing is I discovered they set seed and the seed readily sprouts where it falls.

I move these babies into pots and allow them to grow for  couple of years

Then I put them in larger pots and set them out where we can enjoy the winter bloom.  This one is just now putting out buds. 

All my garden grown cyclamen are red, my favorite color.  It is just the greatest most enjoyable form of bargain finding to know I can share plants that grew for free but would cost $$$ if purchased at the garden center.  I love it! 

Friday, January 8, 2010


For years people said blueberries will not grow here and now it is all the thing to grow blueberries.  I am so there!  After several tries with little stick bareroots, one of which is still growing, I stumbled across a sale of one gallon potted blueberries, half price at Lowes.  I now have a row of five, four different varieties.  So we will see what happens. 

Blueberries need cool acidic soil.  My soil tests nearly neutral so I added some peat moss, some iron, and some redwood compost to the planting holes, probably a third additives to two thirds original soil.  Before warm weather comes I will add several inches of mulch, probably the cedar needles from the next door neighbor's tree.  I planted the bushes against a south wall, which might be iffy, but I am hoping that the way the sun moves, they should get a fair amount of shade in summer, and for sure during the afternoon, due to aforementioned Cedrus Deodora that sits directly west.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


One finds hope in a garden, and that is perhaps the most compelling reason to have one.  This rose tells many a life application story, yours is as good as mine  : )

The daffodils are coming!   Every year for Valentine's Day spring begins in my garden with the daffodils blooming.  

And take a look at this orchid getting ready to bloom in the coldest nastiest weather. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A misty moisty morning

I woke up in the night and looked at the temperature that displays on our ceiling and saw it was 40 degrees out.  Thinking about the temps being the same twenty-four hours a day in the fog made me decide might as well get out first thing and get some work done.  And it worked!   I love being out in chilly invigorating weather first thing in the morning.  Now how silly is that, that in the morning the fog is not the big deal it is at two in the afternoon?  I thought might as well get some gardening in before work, then come in and warm up.   I spent an enjoyable half hour pruning roses. Here is a little out of season geum to brighten up the day...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January chores

In January there are several critical chores in the garden.  The first is weeding.  It is said that one year not getting weeds before they set seed results in seven years of weeds.  I believe it!   The worst winter weeds are the annual grasses.  Another necessary chore is bareroot planting.  Bareroot plants are available during a very narrow window of time so it has to be done.  This year I hope to put in a new asparagus bed.  It either happens now, or waits a year, as it already has done.  Finally, pruning of fruit trees and other deciduous plants needs done during dormancy.  Along with pruning comes dormant oil spraying, which needs to be done before the buds swell.  So lots of work.  However, 40 degree fog is not conducive to any of it.  I would much rather read my new garden book and plan what I might do, if the conditions and mood were right. 

Monday, January 4, 2010


So my new goal is to grow more veggies.  I just wish I knew the secret.  I planted chard in September and it sits in the pot, a couple inches tall, one leaf for each plant and does nothing.  At the farmer market I bought a lovely purple leaved chard and asked when they started their plants.  November!  I am doing something wrong. 

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I never knew celery would grow here.  I always heard it took lots of work with a need to blanch the stalks by wrapping them up to inhibit chloropyll production, etc.  So I was delighted when I found seeds for a herb called Amsterdam Seasoning Celery.  Sprinkled in a pot, the seeds readily sprouted and are growing well in the cool weather.  We all know how hard it is to keep good celery at hand, yet I love the flavor in soups and salads.  So this seems a good answer, fresh picked celery flavor. 
Then at the farmer's market yesterday I saw huge bunches of locally grown celery.  Not blanched, but stalked and pretty much looking like celery one might see at the grocery store, except with a huge bushy head of leaves.  I bought a bunch and brought it home but it was far too large for the drawer in the fridge.  So I snipped off the stalks with my new kitchen shears and made cream of celery soup with the leafy part, includng those stems within the leaves.  Well, the soup must have been healthy.  That is the best that can be said.  It tasted something like parsley.  Maybe people who juice greens would recognize the taste, pure chlorophyll!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Freeze and fog and plant zones

Most maps show our area to be USDA Zone 9 and Sunset Zone 8.  I have often questioned the zone 9 thing since so many zone 9 plants can't take the cold.  This week while searching for a plant I saw that Monrovia nursery, which has a large commercial nursery nearby, calls this zone 8.  I plant for zone 8, whatever it is called.  I do not like plants that freeze and turn to goop in the fog.  I don't like slimey black masses of what used to be attractive plantings.  One of my pet peeves is the local nurseries selling so many tropical plants that need protection and babying through the winter.  I make exception for one plant, the common bedding impatiens.  So many people consider these to be too mundane to bother, but I like them.  They bed out in March and bloom continuously until Thanksgiving or even Christmas.  They need absolutely no care.  Of course they do not like direct sun, but for a shady area they just can't be beat for ambiance and color.  The negative of turning to slime with the first frost is I think outweighed by 9 months of charm.  And I do have one plant I baby, my fuschia Thalia. Actually I think it is a Gartenmeister Bonstedt, but Thalia is so much easier to spell, right? And they look the same.  I first saw these coral fuschias at Disneyland and loved them.  When I had a chance to pick one up for cheap at Orchard Supply I did, and have proudly kept it alive for a half dozen years.  When frosty weather comes I move it up against the house and put an open umbrella over it.  It works.  This year I did not realize the cold front meant mid 20s and did not put out the umbrella.  In spite of some withered branches it is still bravely flowering.

Soggy foggy

Once the rains start everything just stays wet.  When it is foggy even the air is soggy.  I moved a few plants and the ground is a soggy mess, especially where there is a cover of leaves.  Ew, two or three inches of gooshy partially decayed leaves!  Anyway, the way the ground holds water in winter, and never has a chance to dry out, means plants that come tagged 'need good drainage' probably are not a good bet here.  I am trying some of them in pots, hoping they might get better drainage.  I currently have a chocolate cosmos snugged up against the house to keep it from getting too cold.  It did just fine over the hot summer, in a bit of shade, but I have lost several in winter.  Hopefully the pot is the answer.  Next I think I will try bleeding heart.  The sun is shining through the fog this morning; it looks like a good day for farmer's market and working in the garden. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

lack of logical thought can be painful!

Being the farmland that it is, here in the valley we often get bird planted seedlings in the garden.  Pecan trees are one of the more annoying as they are difficult to dig out.  But sometimes the plantings are helpful, such as the nandina I found growing and transplanted where I could see the berries during the winter. 

For several years I thought how cool it would be to find some grapevines to make a wreath.  Of course I could have just bought a grapevine wreath at Michael's, but I wanted free grapevines.  So when I saw another bird planted grapevine in my garden, this one in a good sunny location, I let it grow.  In the fall I cut off the long canes, and wrapped them into a wreath.  The leaves were so pretty in their fall color I thought it might be worth propagating and moving to a better location.  However, it proved to be a big stubborn root and I left it for another year.  And the grapevine grew and grew, snaking up the drain spout, around a window and into the eaves, and enveloping a large rose bush.  So this week I spent an afternoon cutting the grapevine out of the rose bush.  It was not fun!   If one stops to think, it only makes sense that a vine with tendrils and a rose bush with thorns should not be friends!