Sunday, December 18, 2011


A week before Christmas.  I walked out in the garden to cut some roses and to get a photo of this amazing nativity I bought last week.  I love this piece because it is made of simple natural materials.  I also love the story of the woman who made it, who spends her holidays roaming the beaches of California's central coast looking for small pebbles that remind her of the Coming of the Christ Child.  Even so, may we all seek Him this season.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Garden cover- tree shade

Nearly 15 years ago I started my vision for the side yard shady garden.  In 1997 we planted two Chinese tallow trees.  I had researched small shade trees for several years and these seemed to be the going choice.  Little did we know the drawbacks...
However, my idea for the garden was two larger trees that would create something of a ceiling over the side yard, giving us shade in which to garden.  Apparently it is working.  After a week of 28 degree nights my nasturtiums are still alive!  My pot of impatiens has frosted back, but otherwise there seems to be very little frost damage.  How that may affect plants that prefer a cold winter, I am not sure, and won't be until summer.  But it is interesting to see the results of an idea I had so many years ago.  Of course I would probably do it differently now, but in spite of all their weak points I still like the tallow trees. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Reading the weather

We awoke this morning to lowering skies and temps 10 degrees higher than the past week.  My weather report said rain, Jerry's did not.  But one thing we know, if the mountains stand clear, with clouds above, those are rain clouds.  When the mountains are obscured as they were today, there is no rain. 
I love how we learn to read the weather; whether by experience or teaching we seem to learn to understand our environment.  I recall an early favorite memory of running across a field into the brisk fall breeze.  Did I know at age five that the crispness meant fall?  Was I learning from that experience or just enjoying it?  This past fall in Ohio, Nathan noticed the rising breeze with apprehension.  He has learned the wind means tornado, through frightful experience.  My attempts to persuade him the wind is wonderful, and let's pretend to be kites, or birds, or planes, were met with incredulity.  Crazy meema, wind is tornado weather. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Clear means cold

All week we have woken to 28 degrees.  We get that cold when it is clear in the valley.  So with the cold comes gorgeous views of the Sierra Nevada.  Also with the cold comes much work for citrus farmers who must be up all night running their smokers and wind machines trying to keep their trees warm.  Here at home Jerry hangs a work light in the middle of the orange tree and turns on a dribble of water underneath.  The moving water makes the air just a tad warmer. 
The benefit of the cold is that many other plants, especially the stone fruit and nuts, along with the garden plants peony and lilac, just to name a few, need cold hours in order to bloom and fruit the following season.  It is interesting to follow the cold at the Pomology Weather Service  .  There is information on various plants saying how many cold hours under a certain temperature each needs for optimal performance.  800 is sort of a minimal general number. 
I love living where so many different things grow, with such varying needs, yet all succeed. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hydrangeas for fall color

 Since we love the fall color of the oakleaf hydrangea above, it was fun to see the new paniculata , below, colors up as well.  The macrophylla is still green, so not sure what it is going to do.   

Saturday, December 3, 2011

California Christmas tree

I was thinking the other day that if the folk who live in cold dark places had not been the ones who brought our Christmas traditions, especially the needled evergreen tree, we might instead have these for our Christmas celebration.  As seen from our garden room windows, we certainly enjoy ours each winter. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fall tidy up/spring prep

There is quite a bit of ongoing discussion as to whether it is better to clean up deciduous plants in the fall or spring.  I prefer fall, primarily because the fog is not kind to dying plant material.  I would rather clean up and have less mold.  Also, our spring comes so early, and enough plants grow all year, I think it helps both the looks of the garden, and the chance for self sown plants as well as perennials to get a good start come February. 
One fall task that seems to be universally accepted is preparing the soil for spring growth.  I do not dig beds, as there is enough evidence supporting just covering the ground with supplements rather than digging them in to appeal to my lazy side.  Supposedly not digging also cuts down on weed seeds sprouting, which I can also totally support.  However, the dirt needs feeding.  The idea is that mulch put down in fall breaks down and the nutrients washed into the soil throughout the winter, regardless of climate.  The cheapest mulch for this purpose is cow manure.  So I am in the midst of spreading manure on all the beds.  Then there are a few more plants to cut, including these asparagus, and the garden will be set for winter. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

The waning year

Although the solstice is still a month off, I am so enjoying the waning daylight hours and the angle of the sun.  I find myself noticing the shadows and the unusual light everywhere I go.  The sharp low angle of the sun really highlights things I might not otherwise notice.  And of course the solstice is herald to the new garden year ahead.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

From my garden home to yours,  Thanksgiving blessings! 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Finally, fall color

We are loving the fall color in the front yard, and the way the design works with it.  Just what we hoped for.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Always a lesson

I went out and transplanted a number of small plants, both the ones which were carefully raised in the wheelbarrow, and others that had self sown.
While I was working I decided to pull up the 3 foot tall bird sown fig tree.  I pulled and pulled, perhaps unwisely, and up it came with a single 4 foot long root which was growing along the soaker hose.  I think there is a lesson there.  Gardening really is a growing experience. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lemon tree

My little Meyer lemon tree was transplanted into a larger pot this year.  As a consequence, I really hope anyway, there are only three lemons.  My neighbor says she is going to sneak across the street and steal them when I am not looking.  At this point having a lemon tree is not an effective source for lemons.  I had read that Meyer lemons will bloom and fruit all year.  I wish that were true. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dried hydrangea blossoms

I garden with an eye to gathering what I can for use in the off seasons.  I like to collect interesting seed pods, red twigs, cedar cones and so forth.  This fall I cut oakleaf hydrangea blossoms that dried on the shrub and used them for the front porch decor. 

Friday, November 11, 2011


I got this mini pomegranate which stays a shrubby three feet size solely for the cute little fruit.  For several years I had it in a pot and it was fine there, but much happier in the ground as it is now.  It bloomed nearly all season and made a good half dozen or so pomegranates this year.  Unfortunately,  most split this year before they were red.  These are purely decorative, and I want them for decor.  I need to pick these now they are red and try once more to dry them.  I think the secret is to leave them sitting out in the air for a year.  The one time I thought they looked dry and put them into a decorative jar, they molded.  Maybe this will be the year I end up with cute useable dried fruits.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Red branches

We were so pleased when we found these manzanitas last spring and even more so when they lived through their first summer.  We read up that they like mulch and overhead water, just like they have in their natural habitat.  Their red branches are just lovely and a welcome addition not only to the general color scheme but to the fall coloring as well.

The branches on the red twig dogwood color up even before the leaves.  It is so interesting that they gradually turn green as the weather warms then back to red as it cools down again.  These branches are so useable as the best way to keep the shrub is to cut the branches back to the ground.  I have learned to do that selectively so there are always fresh bright red branches each winter. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Burning bush

My burning bush, euonymus alatus compactus, has berries this year!   This shrub is planted in the front yard center bed and will eventually grow to six or eight feet, providing us with a bit of privacy from the street.  Not only do the leaves turn the bright red shown here, but the berries cover the branches and remain after the leaves fall. We saw a beautiful specimen in the garden at Biltmore House when we visited there and the bare branches covered in berries sold me.  Since then I have seen them in full red regalia in Ohio.  They may be common place there, but still strikingly good looking.   I am so pleased I found this one a couple of years ago bare root at Lowes and that it seems to be growing happily.  Don't the little berries look like pomegranate fruits? 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fog and Chrysthanthemums

Just week ago temps were still 60ish at night.  Then we got a cold storm from the north over the weekend and today woke up to 36 degrees and fog.  Just when we began to hope it was fall, suddenly it looks as if winter arrived a few weeks early.  Hopefully not.  

It finally cooled down enough to feel like fall so I was ready for my Thanksgiving mums, the red flowers there.  I waited so long they were only $1.50  : )  although the selection was limited and there were only the small ones left.  No matter, these will bloom for a few weeks then I will plant them out back to enjoy again next year. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Paver project complete

After a race with dropping temps and expected rains, and two days nasty labor when he didn't make it, Jerry finally finished the paving.  Or at least mostly finished.  The porch still needs pavers put down with thin set.  That will probably wait for warm weather on the other side of winter.  There is also a sprinkler pipe that got cut in the process and needs replacing.  But overall it is done, and amazing in both concept and execution.  We are pleased.  This will lighten weekly labor, make it easier to get the waste bins out, and give us a place to sit out with wider vistas.  It also ups the curb appeal in case we have to sell.  And it completes the vision and project we started about a year and a half ago.  Good job, Jerry! 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Corydalis ochroleuca

This evergreen ferny little plant blooms on and off most of the year.  It has happily reseeded so I have spread them throughout the shady garden.  Yes, corydalis prefers shade.  I also have corydalis 'Blackberry Wine', that dies back in the heat, but spreads a good six feet, producing its purple blooms for several months in spring.  Most corydalis have blue or yellow blossoms.  I prefer this white with green and yellow markings, but corydalis is a species I plan to pursue. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Propagating perennials

A year ago I sowed seed for these (click) verbascum 'Violette', along with seed for several other perennials. Over the winter a few sprouted and in the spring I transplanted them to the wheelbarrow, as shown here, to get some size to them.  So a year to get sixpack size, but at the cost of a packet of seed.  Notice the price on the link is $7.95 for one plant, this size.  One can do well growing perennials from seed if one has the time and space to wait for them.  I am sure a primary reason there are so few perennials available in the local markets is just this time.  Propagators must make money and when it takes a year or two to get plants big enough to sell, and of course buyers want to see the flowers which may take even longer, there apparently aren't many who want to invest.  I imagine most gardeners are happy enough with the easy to grow stalwarts of the garden anyway.  However, I love trying new plants and often prefer zone 8 plants which usually grow quite happily here, while our local nurserymen typically prefer more tropical leaning toward zone 10 plants that must be babied through our winters.  So growing from seed is a good option, given I enjoy the experiment and challenge.  I just hope these verbascum, and the others, stay happy in the ground.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November's promise

November offers the promise of good things coming.  The orange tree is laden with fruit that will become orange by Christmas and sweeter than sweet as we move into spring.  November means fall color, finally, and cool days, at last.  November turns our hearts to a focus on thanks and the hope of love come down.  November 1 to me is the beginning of the warm lovely holiday season which for me ends somewhere around Valentine's Day, not for that day per se, but for the daffodils that herald another season and a different hope.  May your winter days be cheery and your oranges sweet! 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Paver project update

Another week and lots more progress to show.  The edging is going in, getting ready for little neighbors Monday night. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fall fungi

I never thought of mushrooms/toadstools as being seasonal until I read that poem about fall I posted a couple of weeks ago.
Save Mushrooms, and the Fungus race,That grow till All-Hallow-Tide takes place
Then I saw these and it just makes me wonder.   Are fungi seasonal?   It will be a bit interesting if they are gone by next week, don't you think? 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Asparagus in fall!  We cut asparagus for a few short weeks in spring, but then must let the foliage grow for the summer to replenish and grow a larger root system for next year.  In fall they die back and must be cut to the ground.  In the process we get this charming look.  The berries sometimes grow new babies, some of which I recently moved into the row with the big guys.  A couple of weeks ago I bought some rather spindly, rather tough asparagus at Farmer Market.  I wondered and wondered how they got a crop in the fall.  Then when I was replanting the babies I noticed new stalks coming up under the browning foliage.  Mine were already too big to use, but it might payoff to know about this next year.  The key to the asparagus not being tough is to make sure the heads are still tight.  So next fall maybe we will have a meal of asparagus. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cardinal climber

Cardinal climber as seen from the hammock

This year, since the arbor fell down last summer, I planted the cardinal climber to grow into the dead cherry tree alongside the grapevine.  We are very pleased with how it looks.  Cardinal climber takes its time growing.  I plant a few seeds (which makes the packet last several years at least) when the weather is warm in May and it does not get big enough to really notice until August.  But then it blooms into frost, making me and the hummingbirds so happy throughout the fall months.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pumpkin sadness

Robby told me to cut off all the extraneous branches of the pumpkin vine to give the little white pumpkin shown below the best chance to get big.  So I went out and very very carefully cut off the branch growing the pumpkin!  I am so sad.  Some days little things are the last straw. 

White pumpkin

A little white pumpkin from the plant Candace started and shared.  Let's see how big it grows in the next week.  Maybe this is a Thanksgiving pumpkin.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paver project update

End of week two, the walk to the porch is complete.  

 Precision in the details = hours of careful work.  This project may not be done before the New Year at this rate! 

Off to a good start on another Saturday.  This is the center patio section.  

This day went well.  Weed cloth went down easily, sand followed and although the leveling was a tough job, since the area was so wide, all in all the work moved faster.  Rosalee came by with In & Out at lunch time, providing a happy break, and then in the later afternoon Robby and Candace dropped by to check on the progress.  Of course Robby got caught up helping carry the pavers for Jerry to place.  That is significant since each paver weighs 3.5 pounds.  So the middle section is ready for edging and the precision work.  Nice!  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Peas, finally

After three failed attempts to plant peas, as well as the other fall veggies, I sowed seed in leftover six packs.  As you can see, I've now got peas!   There are also some spindly beets and chard there, as well as the tiny foxglove next to the peas.  The peas will go out sometime this week to replace the tomatoes I pulled out a few days ago.  I do not grow many peas as a few meals of fresh peas is plenty.  : )

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Impatiens and the changing season

Forced to make the summer annual/winter annual choice, I decided to replce the potted impatiens with pansies.  This year I plucked the impatiens from their pots and plopped them into empty places in the shady garden.  They have cheerfully continued growing and the pansies are off to the good start they need.  I think this was a good solution and hope to remember next year. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Salvias, both annuals and perennials, really earn their keep in the garden.  While not my favorite plants, their consistent color makes them worth growing.  These annuals, 'Lady in Red', and 'Victoria Blue' are some of the smaller salvias, which can grow as large as 6x6 feet.  While salvias tend to be tender plants, 'Victoria Blue' will overwinter as a perennial if the season doesn't get too cold.   Salvias are less picky about water retentive soil than penstemon which does not appreciate our long soggy winters.   Perhaps because they both have spikes of tubular flowers, the two are often compared.  Hummingbirds love the flowers, especially of 'Lady in Red'.

For a long time I had the perennial salvia 'East Friesland'.  It was a lovely deep purple and bloomed most of the year but tended to be floppy.  When it died, I found this 'May Night' for a good price at the Farmer's Market.  This is its first year, so hard to say as it has not bloomed much, but it is supposedly the better plant as it should not flop.  Hopefully that proves to be true. 

Other than the fact that they do not like frost so must be cut back, salvias need little care other than deadheading and seem to be happy in most sunny locations. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Garden lore and garden books

Asters from 2006, also called Michaelmas daisies

I read a piece of garden lore today in Autumn Gardens by Ethne Clarke.  I have read numerous times in British fiction that one ought not pick blackberries after Michaelmas, or St. Michael's Day, September 29th.  Now I know why!  Apparently when St. Michael the archangel tossed Satan from Heaven he landed in some blackberries and, stamping on them in retaliation, cursed them.  Michaelmas was traditionally the end of harvest, fall equinox celebration, so it actually was a convenient time to stop picking the tail end of the berries. 

Clarke includes this poem...

The Michaelmas daisies, among dede weeds,
Blooms for St. Michael's valourous deeds;
And seems the last of the flowers that stode,
Till the feste of St. Simon and St. Jude-
Save Mushrooms, and the Fungus race,
That grow till All-Hallow-Tide takes place.
Soon the evergreen Laurel alone is greene,
When Catherine crownes all learned menne,
The Ivie and Holly Berries are seen,
And Yule Long and Wassaile come round again.  

A few years ago I realized I could get garden books for less than the cost of magazines.  I have a shelf full and as I get better ones I discard others.   I like real books and the orderliness of photos matched with sequential thought.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Paver project update

Saturday.  Discouragement.  Exhaustion. A full week of work and still at it. The rocks were down, but then there was the edging, the weedcloth to minimize the amount of sand needed, and figuring how to level the sand... 

And finally a taste of success...

Back to real work today.  That computer chair is going to feel great!  A week clearly was not enough time for this major project.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I might need to replant lettuce for the 4th time, but look at how well my potatoes are growing!   I start these by sitting sprouting red potatoes (or potato starts when they are available and cheap)  on an inch of potting soil and then barely covering them.  As the grow I add more soil to almost cover the foliage.  They grow so rapidly they need more soil every day or two.  Then in 10-12 weeks, if I am blessed, there will be a pot of potatoes.  Since I almost always use potatoes that would otherwise go to compost, it isn't traumatic if the crop fails.  It works really well though, just do not overwater. 

And look at this!  Last spring I bought a bag of potato starts and, not knowing what else to do with the extras, I stuck them in the ground.  They didn't grow, so oh well.  But now here they are growing away.  I hope they make some potatoes! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paver project update

The paving project is off to a slow but sure start.  Sure because that is the way hardworking perfectionists do things.  Slow because that is the consequence of being a hardworking perfectionist.  So the prep work took four days, even with Robby helping as he had time.  

 The hard working perfectionist. 

 The inevitable glitch, discovering the pillars are not sitting on their foundations, a construction mis-measure we are guessing, so part of the porch had to be left in place which meant all new leveling. 

 Piles of materials, and the van stuck inside for the duration.

Just imagine how gorgeous it will be.