Plantspotting in Pasadena…

With barely a day home from AQS QuiltWeek (see We quilt this city…) I’ve changed out my suitcase to accommodate Southern California’s warm weather and am off for a few days in the LA area while my sweetie attends a conference. The garden gods have graciously arranged this international neurology meeting to coincide with the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days event in Pasadena.

Open Days is the Garden Conservancy’s education program which offers special invitations into private gardens all over the United States. The tours are self-guided and usually within reasonable driving distance of each other to allow you to see every one within the designated open hours. Visit for information on gardens by location and date for the rest of 2018 and for information about the Garden Conservancy and its mission to save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public.

Pasadena is one of my favorite garden cities. It has it all–beautiful public spaces, tons of historic architecture, interesting neighborhoods with lots of diversity in home sizes and styles and residents who all seem to have a green thumb. I would venture a guess that it is something in the water but these days no California city seems to have plentiful water! Pasadena gardeners, along with those in several cities in the Bay Area, have risen to the occasion with some of the most well done waterwise and drought tolerant landscapes I have seen in my travels. A strong statement given their moniker ‘City of Roses’! You can see additional Pasadena gardens in my post The Ellen 5 get Rich in Pasadena….

Six private gardens plus La Casita Del Arroyo Garden (a City of Pasadena property maintained primarily by the Pasadena Garden Club) were included and I will post on four of the private gardens. As the day warmed up and my time grew short I left La Casita Del Arroyo for another visit. First up–the Penner Garden.


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In this era of every HGTV show touting the value of curb appeal it is immediately obvious that this home is more about privacy and family than making a splash in what is all ready a very WOW neighborhood. A 7 passenger golf cart ferried garden viewers up and down this very steep tree canopied driveway–a few of us made the climb on foot and regardless of how you got there the payoff was at the top.

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The mid-century single story home on the bluff overlooking the Arroyo River was designed by Smith & Williams in 1963. The post and beam residence is surrounded by mature oaks, olive trees and palm and the renovation of the outdoor spaces was designed to maximize their existing role in the landscape.

As we approach the wide entrance adjacent to the carport these agaves (terrible with succulents-let me know if I’m wrong) foreshadow the emphasis on groups of plants with strong structural qualities, an aesthetic which I think fits the home’s architecture well. Mature podacarpus of unknown variety have been limbed up to soften the stucco wall and provide some textural contrast.

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I imagine these are spectacular lit at night.

As the back garden vista opens up it is clear why this home is at the top of the hill rather than street side.

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The view of the river bed and distant mountains is spectacular!

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From every vantage point you are held captive by the vista.

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Mid photo on the left is the historic Arroyo Bridge.

So now that you have recovered from the big picture–there’s a lot going on in this very family friendly garden which was renovated by landscape architect Nord Erickson to maximize outdoor entertaining space as well as create a more natural transition to the  hillside vegetation lying beyond.

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There are multiple seating and entertaining areas. Above you can see this great grouping of egg like woven chairs which surround a fire pit. What looks like a red sculpture tucked under the roofline’s overhang is actually a giant chair with multiple places to sit–the homeowner says his kids love to do their homework perched comfortably on this big red thing!

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This fully outfitted outdoor kitchen, complete with a pizza oven, is tucked up next to the home and has raised beds to accommodate veggies and herbs.

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Stone steps tucked at the end of a small area between the infinity pool and the downslope of the bank of the riverbed give you access to another intimate seating area–this is definitely the after dinner wine sipping venue.

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I loved the steps taking you up the other side which incorporate these large boulders and offer a planting pocket sporting a mass of succulents. The landscape architect’s plant palette is restrained in both color and number of plant choices. His selections are repeated throughout the garden and used in masses. Rosemary and cape plumbago peek over the short retaining wall.

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As you ascend those steps the emphasis on massed plants with architectural qualities is evident. In the foreground, the strap like narrow leaves of a mass of dianella (not sure which one but lower than most) are in start contrast to the geometric planting of a very spiny barrel cactus and its smaller blue gray succulent companion. Rosemary under the palm provides yet another leaf form and texture.

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Here is the view from that area back into the rest of the garden. The garden has a beautiful sense of enclosure given that the view from one side is just about forever– private, yet expansive!

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Three bushy olive trees planted in square metal forms sunk in the ground soften the stark white stucco wall of this wing of the home. Yet another table and chairs, this time funky red ones, offer a shaded place to dine or play games. You can be in the vicinity of whatever is going on in the pool without being right in the middle of it.

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Looking back at the home from the far side of the pool you can see that this home has the extensive walls of glass so evocative of the mid-century modern style and which provide a seamless transition to the outdoors and vistas beyond. A comfy sofa and chairs provide another shady spot for hanging out.

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Just one more look before we go! It seems as though lately we have been focused on  creating ‘garden rooms’ in our landscapes–looking to provide a little mystery as we move from one part of the garden to another. This garden could not be more different. From the vantage point of the last of those sculptural agaves in the first photo the entire space is in a single visual plane. This garden is beautifully designed to take best advantage of its location and is in total harmony with the home it enhances.

I often find ‘bonus’ homes and gardens as I move from one tour garden to the next and include them in my posts. Fun stuff along the way is always a great addition to any adventure.


This peacock flew (?) up to this driveway gate only a few feet from where we were waiting for the Penner garden to open. Apparently in nearby Arcadia (which is relatively close to the Los Angeles Arboretum) there are literally bands of roving semi-wild peacocks inhabiting residential neighborhoods. Who knew? My guess is that they are cute just about as long as deer are cute in a residential neighborhood–just until they poop on your car or eat all your perennials to the ground.


We quilt this city…

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Everything you ever wanted to know about Paducah, Kentucky is summed up in this short phrase I saw on a t-shirt as my BFF Barb D. and I browsed the town’s historic riverfront district. Just to reassure you that the Queen of the Dirt has a little life outside the garden, come along with us as we take in American Quilter’s Society (AQS) 2018 Quilt Week in Quilt City USA.

Quilters, novice to professional all know the import of the phrase ‘going to Paducah’–the oldest of the major international juried and judged quilt shows held in the United States. This year’s show featured 405 quilts which were selected from entries received from 45 US states and 13 other countries. My entry, entitled A Lot to Crow About, is the first work I have had the honor to have accepted–requiring a cross country trip to see MY quilt hang in this prestigious show!

After flying into Nashville, making the scenic 2 hour drive north to Paducah and getting a good night’s rest; we stroll the riverfront and downtown in advance of most show goers.  The actual show runs from April 18-21 this year and is kicked off by the awards presentation tonight, giving us almost a full day to wander around town. Turning back  the clock a day or so our trouble free travel day from California had ended with a very persistent but failed upsell effort by the young man at the airport car rental counter. Our resistance to his belief that we needed ‘more amenities’ may well have resulted in the 4 word set of directions that should have led us to our non-upgraded vehicle but instead left us walking in circles in 30 degree weather. We were saved by a golf cart driver who took pity on us AND took us on a 6 or 7 minute Mr. Toad’s wild ride until we found our assigned vehicle in the netherlands of the parking structure. Everything that has gone even slightly awry since has led us to conclude that we should have gotten the upgrade! The single key lay loose on the floor without even a key ring for it–should have gotten the upgrade. Had to manually unlock the trunk–should have gotten the upgrade. USB port would not work unless the headlights were on–should have gotten the upgrade. Had a fellow quilter momentarily trapped in the back seat with the childproof locks–should have gotten the upgrade. An the worst indignity so far has been this…

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The only car in the entire public parking lot by the river that had been pooped on by what appears to have been a 400 pound seagull!

Getting back to our historic district tour…we are welcomed exuberantly.

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It’s possible that this banner is not meant specifically for us but for all of the approximately 30,000 visitors to the city for the show and other QuiltWeek events and activities–more than doubling the population of this small town for a few days!

Paducah, Kentucky lies at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers and played an important historical role in the transport of cargo and passengers. It also has a significant flood history and is now protected by a lengthy flood wall which has become the site of the Paducah “Wall to Wall” Murals. More than 50 life-sized murals and interpretive panels highlight Paducah’s creativity and heritage as depicted by the Dafford Murals team.

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For the week, many of the historic riverfront buildings and warehouses are turned into impromptu quilt shop spaces to house vendors and local business windows participate in a quilt themed decorating contest.


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There are also many nicely restored historic structures in a very easily walkable area with abundant free public parking.

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The Market House is home to the Market House Theatre, the William Clark Market House Museum and the Yeiser Art Center

For all you garden blog followers it is probably time for a spoiler alert–really no gardens to speak of here in this late spring! Paducah had snow flurries only a few hours before we arrived last night and this week’s predicted temps are all over the map. I diligently searched for garden snippets and vignettes throughout the day and managed only the pitiful few below.


Most of small public parking lots had median strips planted with this tulip combination.

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Jefferson Avenue had a lovely row of ornamental cherries in glorious bloom. I heard rumors of the dogwoods having just burst into flower but so far have not seen one, in bloom or not. No one would blame all you gardening guys and girls from clicking on close now because that’s just about that’s here for you.

Over our three days in Paducah we will attend not only the quilt show but quilt related events around the city. On to the show…

Because AQS QuiltWeek’s very specific photography rules prohibit attendees from posting entrant’s quilts to any website where the images might be copied for commercial use without the maker’s permission I took a few broad shots to give you the flavor of being surrounded by fabric works of art which represent hundreds of thousands of hours of creative labor.

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And here is my contribution to AQS 2018 QuiltWeek…entitled A Lot to Crow About.

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Where there are quilters, there must be shopping. Over 700 vendors, most within the convention center where the show is hung, come from all over the US with fabric, patterns, books, thread and all manner of equipment and supplies. This show has an additional huge tented dome like pavilion to house vendors and special exhibits.


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This display of wool thread is a piece of art in its own right!

AQS QuiltWeek has taken the standard fare of convention center concession food up a notch with a bevy of local offerings from service groups and churches plus a number of local food trucks. One of our lunches was devoted to classic southern pulled pork with all the fixins’ from none other than…

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We also sampled an iconic dessert called Sawdust pie made by Patti’s 1880’s Settlement in Grand Rivers. KY. This delightful pie is chock full of pecans and coconut and topped with whipped cream plus a banana slice. The restaurant, which is part of a restored log cabin village, was recently destroyed in a fire but that did not stop Patti’s people from packing up their offerings and setting up shop at the show.

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Can’t see much except the whipped cream here but it was yummy!

Each year the show has several special exhibits in addition to the quilts entered in the competition. Included this year was a traveling collection of 55 art quilts from the US and Brazil and a group of quilts from which authors had developed books–the authors offered short talks on design and technique relating to the published quilts.

Quilter Ricky Tims, recently named as one the “Thirty Most Distinguished Quilters in the World” and one of three judges for this year’s competition, was featured with a small sampling of the quilts he has created in his 27 year career. The exhibit included his very first quilt–which looked very much like mine and many other quilters’–a simple sampler with sashing and a border.

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The artwork seen at the top of the exhibit signage is of one of his contemporary quilts included in the exhibit–a far cry from that simple sampler. Ricky is also pianist, composer and performing artist. Unfortunately, his live performance at QuiltWeek was scheduled for the day after we were leaving. If you would like to know more about Ricky Tims check out his website or just google him for multiple hits on both his quilts and his music.

The 2018 Van Gogh Cherrywood Challenge was also on display. This third quilt challenge by Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics produced an amazing array of 20″ X 20″ quilts which have been divided into two traveling exhibits: The French Gallery and The Dutch Gallery.

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The French Gallery at AQS QuiltWeek

Participants used 4 colors (3 blues + black) of Cherrywood fabric for the major portions of their pieces which had to be of original design. Additional Cherrywood colors could added if desired. Previous challenge themes included The Lion King and Wicked. I can’t wait to see what the 2019 Challenge produces–the theme is Prince and the fabrics are 3 gorgeous purple shades plus black.

The Rotary Club of Paducah has been presenting its Rotary Quilt Show almost as long as the AQS show and is one of the AQS sanctioned events held in conjunction with QuiltWeek. This year’s theme was Southern Splendor, a showcase of antique quilts curated by Mary Kerr. Two quilts were standouts for me:

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Coxcomb and Currants c. 1860 Made by Mrs. M. E. Payner of Paducah   from the collection of  Bill Volkening
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Crown of Thorns  (small section) c. 1870 made by Sarah Redmond   from the collection of Bill Volkening

Most modern quilters are in awe of what our sewing sisters produced from precious pieces of fabric with rudimentary tools in very poor light–I am no exception. We all need to be wearing a button that says NO WHINING when we sit down to sew on our high tech machines in our well stocked sewing rooms!

The Rotary show also featured a Small Gallery Exhibit which was for me one of the highlights of the entire trip.

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A collection of original art quilts which depict the widely varying landscapes, flora and fauna of the 59 National Parks has been published in a book entitled Inspired by the National Parks: Their Landscape and Wildlife in Fabric Perspectives by Donna Marcinkowski DeSoto. Here are a few of my favorites from the traveling exhibit–of course, I gravitated toward the flowers!


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I am interested to know how these quilts were collected–was it a challenge publicized to quilt guild or state quilt organization to create the themed quilts or did the author assemble a group of existing quilts? The book was sold out but it’s on my Amazon list as soon as I get home.

One of our last stops was to the National Quilt Museum. The goal of this 27,000 square foot structure located in downtown Paducah is to present the art of quilting to new audiences worldwide. There are three state of the art galleries built to highlight the museum’s 500 piece contemporary collection of award-winning quilts and constantly changing themed exhibitions that celebrate the talent and diversity of the global quilting community. Among the collection are most of the AQS QuiltWeek Best of Show winners from previous years. At present there is also a fabulous exhibit of pieces made by contemporary Japanese quilters and the quilts from this year’s New Quilts from an Old Favorite: Bowtie Challenge. Sorry, there is absolutely no photography in the museum–you must go to see the quilts yourself. If you want to know more about the museum’s collection or programs go to

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I hope you have a gotten a little flavor of AQS Quilt Week. Check out for more information about the American Quilter’s Society and its shows, events and publications.

The residents of Paducah really roll out the red carpet for the quilting community–offering true Southern hospitality at every turn. Thank you!

P.S. We finally did see some dogwoods! Spring comes to Paducah just in time!

Smitten by all accounts…

2018 has been an unbelievably busy year both in out of the garden! Our January and February weather was mild enough to accomplish all of the “heavy lifting” work needed in the newest of our lawn free landscape areas. March gave us enough precipitation to keep the ground from crusting over but not so much that I could not get out and dig in plants purchased for the bed in the fall and overwintered in my back yard holding area. I also divided and moved in some plants which had proven southern exposure successful in the driveway circle bed last year. Still having some very large open spaces and a need for some white to temper the purples, lavenders, blues and pinks I took a road trip last week to one of my favorite garden centers–The Greenery in Turlock, CA. Not exactly around the corner for me but worth a trip every few months. I got so caught up in browsing I forgot to take more photos!

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Annuals and an addictive gift shop
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Perennials galore–stock is always fresh!
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My go to nursery for lots of plants in 4″ pots
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Shady gems and tons of good quality pottery
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Lots of varieties of barberry, abelia and other shrubs
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One of many fairy gardens throughout!

I may have been a wee bit too early for all of the newest waterwise stock to be in place. There were many salvia selections–mostly from the Salvia greggii/microphylla complex–but none of what was on my list. So even though I did not bring home anything to add to my bed in progress I did snag a couple of other very precious dark red specimens for my shadier areas.

In recent years I have been dabbling in adding a smidge of red to my garden. In deference to my existing palette the red MUST be a blue/red NOT an orange/red and these cooler reds are not nearly as plentiful and one would think. Salvia ‘Killer Cranberry’ is my touchstone for a workable red–if it looks ok in the same visual plane as the Killer it will work anywhere. A deep rich red is a beautiful foil for the many deep purples and lavenders in my garden as well as the clear pinks.

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I have to say I almost ran toward this camellia in the shade section at The Greenery! A perfect marbling of red, pink and white distinguishes Camellia japonica ‘Tudor Baby Variegated’. Fortunately, I have room for yet another camellia in an area we actually shade cloth over during the summer months so I can grow camellias for cut flowers in the cooler months. Listed as a formal double and late spring bloomer, it was a must have for me.

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I never met a lenten rose I did not like and this one leaped into my cart with very little assistance. A little more purple than dark red or burgundy, it is a stunner called ‘Cherry Blossom’ from the Helleborus hybridus collection called Winter Jewels. The spent blooms, one of which you can see lower left, take on that typical lime green hue but still bear the dark edging. This was the only remaining flower in its prime throughout the half dozen or so gallon plants available to buy and it sold me!

So no white, nothing sun loving (or even tolerant) and certainly no new waterwise plants are calling my garden home after this trip but all together a fun day of seeing what’s as new and fresh as spring feels today.



Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.


 …and bloom, too! Have a blessed Easter Sunday enjoying God’s beautiful gift of nature and his only Son.



Slapped upside the head by winter on the first day of spring…

The last 10 days or so has brought California’s Central Valley a little much needed rain. Even more important has been a small improvement in the mountain snow pack from which our summer water availability is determined. With all due deference to those gardeners on the east coast huddled in their homes as another nor’easter bears down and even our SoCal compatriots for whom even a small downpour may mean mudslides on ground denuded by last year’s wild fires–we still get a little excited by a little rain, even this one which, despite the cold nights, seems almost tropical.

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A good drink for the new Ila side bed–even a small rain tends to back up the storm drains!

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This morning’s downpour affirmed that our grading of this newly lawn free area in the front garden has allowed the water to soak in without too much run off. The brick serve as a temporary visual reminder of a casual path from the near the front door to a future Little Free Library.

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This is the second underground drainage pipe we have found in this yard which was brought to the street and terminated in an upward facing drain without coring the curb to let the water flow out! We had the one on the Ila side cored only a few weeks ago and just made yet another call to our concrete drilling friend for this one. Seems as though bad things comes in threes and so I fully expect one more to appear before all is said and done.

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Only a few new things have found a place in this bed so far–several of which have been in my ‘holding area’ since my fall 2017 nursery rounds. Much of what we left from the original border which wrapped the lawn is well established enough to withstand some drought. I am focusing on unthirsty plantings for the new additions. While the area has automatic sprinklers the hope is that we will be able to both reduce the number of heads and the amount of run time significantly. Top left is Ozothamnus diosmifolius ‘Dark Pink’–common name dark pink rice flower–selected specifically as a contrast in form to the bank of indian hawthorn in the background. To its right is Phlomis purpurea–purple Jerusalem sage. The bottom photo is Salvia mellifera ‘Wild Bill’ which is purported to develop a gold variegation along the edges of mature leaves when it is grown in full sun. This is one of the newest of the black sages introduced by Monterey Bay Nursery  and is a sport of Salvia mellifera ‘Calamity Jane’.  All three of these will require minimal watering once established but can tolerate varying levels of irrigation with good drainage. Fingers crossed, full steam ahead on this bed once it dries out a little!

Bits and pieces, buds and blooms…

The garden in early spring is more individual threads than the marvelous tapestry it will become in the coming weeks. Little bits and pieces of awakening life give me just a glimpse of this year’s promise.

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The pointy, burgundy starts of this year’s Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ push confidently out of the moist shade bed. Even in my shadiest area this woodland perennial dies back well before I get the benefit of its signature yellow autumn color. Notice that the slugs have all ready had their way with these babies.

The very first of the blooms on a Spirea cantoniensis ‘Flore-Pleno’, commonly called double bridal wreath spirea, added to the secret garden area last fall.

Redbuds have burst into bloom all over the city and mine is no exception!

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Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ is always one of the earliest blues in the shade area and like its neighbor, Solomon’s seal, I lavish it with early spring attention even though I know its fate is to be a pretty crispy specimen by mid summer.

Fruit trees, both ornamental and edible, are at their most splendid in early spring.

New to my growing collection of vines is Clematis x cartmanii ‘Blaaval’, also know as the avalanche evergreen clematis. I purchased two of these in 2 gallon cans on a nursery shopping trip last fall. They overwintered in their proposed home but are still unplanted, awaiting their 6 foot tuteur climbing structures. This one simply could not wait until its change of address cards were mailed out and burst into bloom yesterday after a few weeks of these massed creamy bell shaped buds–its partner is not far behind.

The tilling and turning is finally completed on the new front bed. Next up is to establish a casual path (stone?) through it to allow me to access the large area from multiple vantage points for planting and maintenance. Find your gardening gloves and sharpen up your tools–your garden is calling!

Bloom alert…

A few days ago (February 16) I shared with you a bearded iris on the cusp of blooming–very early even in my mild winter weather garden. Throughout the daylight hours of Saturday, February 24th, this bloom slowly unfurled to its full 6″ beauty.

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Tall bearded iris ‘Blueberry Bliss’, although beautiful, would probably not be a standout in a garden planted with many other bearded varieties blooming in shades of blue, lavender, purple and white but in my garden which currently has lots of healthy iris foliage coming on but no other flowers it draws your eye like a beacon in the night!

This one is new to my garden, part of a large Schreiners Iris Gardens order I planted last fall. The color is more purple than the advertised navy blue but the fans are robust and the stems are tall with 3+ branches each bearing many buds. Two other new varieties are planted on either side, one a midseason bloomer and the other a late bloomer, none of those fans are showing even a peek of what is to come. People who garden are the world’s most persistent optimists–there is always something to look forward to!