CBG Spring Into Your Garden Festival…

It always seems to rain on the date slated for Clovis Botanical Garden’s annual fundraising event, the Spring Into Your Garden Festival. It has been a couple of years since I last attended the festival, a volunteer driven day which includes walking tours of the garden, children’s activities, speakers and a very nice plant sale focused on water-wise selections. I was really pleased to see the clouds clearing as I drove across town and even more excited to see all that the CBG has added since my last visit.

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The Clovis Botanical Garden is a 3 acre water-wise demonstration garden composed of plants that thrive in the hot summers and cool winters of California’s Central Valley. Their mission statement reads: “To promote water conservation in the California Central Valley landscape through excellent gardens, exhibits and programs that educate and inspire the public.” The land is owned by the City of Clovis. The garden is sustained by the community through memberships, grants and donations and is maintained entirely by volunteers.

The plant sale is always popular and this year was no exception. Plants are provided by several local nurseries and the selections focus on natives and plants that have proven themselves to adapt and grow well in our low water, hot summer environment. Amazingly, I came home empty handed but I enjoyed seeing what my garden girls Rosemary and Donna were interested in as we browsed. The festival offers a plant sitting service to hold your selections while you enjoy the rest of the garden, enabling you to pick them up and pay on your way out!

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Fresno County Master Gardeners and CBG volunteers were on hand to help with plant sale selections as well as answer festival goer’s plant and pest questions.

Today’s speakers greeted their guests in a recently built 1,500 square foot pavilion–a far cry from the folding chairs we sat in as we clutched our umbrellas just a couple of years ago. The garden’s newest addition is the Home Landscape Demonstration Garden. This area has four very small gardens vignettes: a low allergy garden, a condo garden with edible plants, a millennial garden relying on more rocks than plants and what the CBG has designated a traditional Valley landscape. This last one is more an example of what we should be doing, not necessarily what we traditionally have been doing! The vignette features plants requiring only moderate irrigation, a low flow irrigation system, no lawn in the front yard and synthetic lawn in the back yard. One feature in this area I especially appreciated was the signage pictured below, outlining the seven principles of Central Valley friendly landscape:

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Conserve Water and Ensure Water Quality

Conserve Energy and Protect Air Quality

Nurture the Soil

Reduce Garden Waste

Practice Integrated Pest Management

Select Appropriate Plants

Create and Protect Wildlife Habitat

 

The plantings of the CBG are divided into a number of smaller areas, each with a narrow focus, and include a California native plant garden, a cactus and succulent garden, a Mediterranean garden and a garden featuring plants from South Africa and Chile.

One of the design aspects of this botanical garden that is so pleasing is the use of large numbers of specimens of the same plant grouped together, forming broad masses of consistent color and foliage form. We all know the landscape design principle of planting in groups of 3, 5 or 7 to provide calming repetition but I have never seen it used better than in this garden.

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This broad bed is a veritable sea of Lavandula dentata. The backdrop for all this French lavender is a large grouping of rockrose which has just started to put on a few of its signature paper like fuchsia blooms.

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Before we leave the Mediterranean area take a peek at small portion of the display of Cynara cardunculus, or artichoke thistle. These giant architectural plants stand at least 5 feet tall and are the focal point of a large bermed area planted in mostly silver grey plant selections. In the foreground you see Convolvulus cneorum, commonly called bush morning glory. This fast growing evergreen shrub forms a neat 2-3 ft mound and sports bright white simple funnel shaped flowers.

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There are several large Torrey pines in the garden and the new growth just coming on was striking!

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In the California native garden this wonderful Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ was in full bloom.

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Although it was a little past its prime bloom, I was drawn like a magnet to this stunning Silver Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons.

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Both these native selections are negligible water users and prefer poor, rocky soil with excellent drainage. In these lean water years, residential gardeners may find more success in growing Ceanothus spp., the California lilac. Many of us have killed them with kindness in the form of water and fertilizer when trying to integrate them into traditional moderate water landscapes full of turf, roses and annuals!

It was pretty exciting to this Australian native, Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’ in bloom. There are many species of this plant whose common name is the Emu bush and we are starting to seem them in the retail trade in areas of California trending toward low water landscapes. They are typically winter to early spring bloomers with flowers ranging from pink to red. This tough, mounding evergreen shrub will reach about 5′ X 5′ and is a good choice to pair with others that thrive with virtually no summer water after they are established.

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A coalition of local groups including the City of Fresno Water Conservation Program, the University of California Cooperative Extension and the Central Valley Friendly Landscape Committee were on hand with volunteers to answer questions and a great group of brochures to pick up for reference later–the Plant Choices & Water Conservation Tips is a great resource you can slip into your bag as you head out to look at water-wise choices at your favorite garden center.

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This small but mighty garden is a welcome educational resource for gardeners looking for ideas specific to our region’s climate.  You won’t see any hothouses full of exotic tropicals or collections of plants from cool alpine climes here! You will leave with practical, do-able and maintainable ideas you can adapt to your patch of paradise in the Central Valley.

NEXT UP: In a few days I am on the road to the Theodore Payne Foundation Native Plant Garden Tour in northern Los Angeles County. This is a two day event with 32 gardens, both public and private landscapes. If you’d like to learn more about the Foundation or the gardens on this year’s tour check it out on the web at http://www.theodorepayne.org

 

Update on lawn removal projects…

Early last summer I shared that we were embarking on several lawn removal projects. Because our mixed grass lawn (a euphemism for a jumble of lawns planted and repaired over the 17 year life of this home) leans heavily to common bermuda we had the lawn in areas we planned to renovate professionally chemically treated. Bermuda needs heat to break out of dormancy and the grass needs to be actively growing for the chemical treatment to be effective. We were well into July before any of the areas could be worked. In my August 15, 2016 post I shared photos of the two very small areas we had completed. I am pleased to say the little crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’, which looked like it had been involved in nuclear accident, has survived and, although this white flowering hybrid is still smaller than some of my husband’s walking sticks, it has just started to put on its new leaves. We underplanted it with a couple of six packs of one of my favorites, Convolvulus mauritanicus ‘Moroccan Blue’ and they are really coming on. I showed you this clear blue ground morning glory used as ground cover elsewhere in my garden in my April 12, 2016 post on ground covers. Here’s how it looks today:

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This winter’s rain was plentiful enough that we have not used our irrigation system since November. As the year heats up I will evaluate the need for extra water to these new plantings and hopefully will be able to eliminate 2 of the 3 sprinkler heads.

The second small area was basically a upside down U shaped extension of a lawn area that was always an issue to mow and continually dry as it sloped down and away from the rest of the lawn. The August picture showed the 3 Double Knock Out roses we used to fill the area–you could not even see the one itty bitty lavender Lantana montevidensis in the center! It has steadily filled the area since then and now forms a bright carpet which will provide a nice contrast to the dark pink blooms in a month or so. I had also added in some tall bearded iris divisions gleaned from other beds and their foliage is strong and proud! This newish bed, even though south facing, may be challenged with too much shade from mature trees in its vicinity but it is getting a good start. The three evergreen shrubs you see in the background are Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Spire’ planted about 5 years ago. This cultivar is one of the smaller euonymus varieties and will grow to a relatively narrow six foot high columnar form, forming a nice green backdrop that is pleasing on both sides from our property line.

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You can see my spring efforts toward top dressing all my beds with new, rich and dark humus has not reached this side of the garden yet.

And now for the big reveal of what has seemed to the project with no end–what we call the driveway circle bed. Not really a circle, this bed is about 400 square feet and sits on the corner of our two driveways. I had to go way back into my digital photo files to find a pic of this bed about 6 months after we moved in.

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The 3 foot tall boxwood hedges were a design element throughout the original landscape. Every one of the original beds had its own hedge separating it from the lawn areas. The interiors of most of the beds only occupants were China Doll roses. Many, many China Doll roses. The driveway bed was originally planted with three crape myrtles but only a stump of the west facing one remained in 2008. Over the last 8 years we have removed all but one of the hedges and now keep that one loosely trimmed (you can see it in the first picture of this post), rather than sheared. Over the years the roses became so shaded out that we had few, if any, blooms. I added perennials and annuals along the edges of the beds, including hundreds of bearded iris, but most simply failed to thrive after a while–lots of tree root competition, either total dry shade or screaming hot sun, and then they were the snails! The lawn thinned and suffered from all of the above and it became a logical, confined area from which the lawn could be removed. The optimum area to actively garden in this bed was the lawn area–leaving as much of the interior undisturbed for the trees. It all seemed so simple when I said it but turned out to be so much easier said than done!

The roots from the two mature and very large trees were everywhere and demanded very careful pick and shovel work to even remove what remained of the underground leftovers of the turf. My prime directive to my intrepid and pretty long suffering gardener’s strong man husband was that we save the crape myrtles at all costs! Even though they don’t bloom spectacularly well (I prefer not to severely prune them to stimulate new blooming wood) they provide us with screening from the street that could not be replaced in our lifetimes. We completed double digging and amending the narrow street curve side of the bed in late October, the southwestern facing section in January and finally the remaining northwestern areas a couple of weeks ago. As we went, we realigned the irrigation, hoping to end up eliminating an entire sprinkler line. I am sure the whole project was a true source of amusement to most of our neighbors, at least one of whom put in an entire new drought tolerant front landscape while we were still shoveling and wheelbarrowing.

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The crape myrtle leaves are just peeking out and the entire bed has a fresh layer of humus.  All looks very fresh in the early morning light!

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On the narrow east facing street side  I kept the planting to a minimum adding only a curve of Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ and small starts of the trailing lavender lantana that is so successful here seemingly regardless of heat or drought. This strip is ground zero for tree roots and the pittosporum is tolerant of competition. ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ was bred at the Wheeler Nursery in Macon, GA which was only a few miles from my home there. It has gained great favor as an evergreen shrub tolerant of many growing conditions with little care once established. They will form 2-3-ft. high ground hugging mounds not more than 4-5 ft. wide, perfectly filling this difficult area with year round green. the lantana will add a little color and substance while the pittosporum are small and repeats a color and form element used elsewhere in the front.

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In previous seasons I had added daylily divisions and some ground cover starts of Vinca minor ‘Bowle’s Variety’. We left these, along with three Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Berlin’ intact. The vinca colonies are small but mighty hugging the bases of the trees and I tucked a few more in the bed’s shady interior. This evergreen spring blooming creeper is a cheerful lilac and sports a white rimmed eye.

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The west facing section is in full sun virtually all day. I placed 5 Double Knock Out roses at the southwestern most corner, repeating the color vignette from the far side of the yard by underplanting them with the lavender lantana. Modern shrub roses are remarkably drought tolerant once they are established and the Knock Out series of roses has proven to be as tough as nails in my garden. Three Salvia greggii ‘Alba’ will provide a little white bloom relief from the bed’s predominantly lavender, purple and dark pink scheme. Several handfuls of daffodil bulbs got moved around in the digging–I like where this group landed! The foliage in the foreground are newly leafed out ground cover roses, Pink Splash Flower Carpet. I love striped roses and all the better if they are pink and white. As the bed curves to the northwest I planted another large grouping of salvia, my go-to Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’. There are five plants, placed on 3 foot centers.  Planted from 4″ pots found last fall in a local nursery’s $1 pitiful plants section, they are so small they would not even show up in photos.

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The shape and nature of the bed has opportunities for plantings all the way from full shade to full sun. The north curve gave me a chance to try something new. In my hunt for a 2-3 foot evergreen spreading shrub tolerant of shade but still having a bit of color I found Correa ‘Carmine Bells’. Commonly called Australian fuchsia, this delicate looking shrub needs good drainage and does well in poor or rocky soil. The winter blooming flowers are purported to be dainty little dark red bells which hang below the branches.

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The center of the bed was a dilemma. It is quite a large area and its plantings would serve as the backdrop for everything planted around the perimeter. My first choice was Plumbago auriculata ‘Royal Cape’, the cape plumbago variety with the strongest blue flowers. This cultivar is a Monrovia grown selection and they tend to only offer them in a 5 gallon size. It would be very difficult to get a 5 gallon root ball in the center of the bed amongst the largest of the tree roots without damaging them. So without a plan B, I grabbed up several 4″ pots of Duranta erecta ‘Lime’ from the aforementioned $1 bargain bin. I have had one of these in a pot for years and its bright yellow green leaves practically glow when planted in concert with other darker green foliage. Duranta bear clusters of pale blue-violet flowers which are very attractive to butterflies. They can be a bit cold tender in my area but for a total $5 investment I just went for it. Not 3 weeks after I dug them in we had a really cold snap and all 5 little plant totally defoliated! You can see the one above has started to leaf out again. Four of the five look like they will survive–I used crape myrtle prunings to make little tripod protective structures for them so we wouldn’t step on the dead looking twigs through the winter.

I’ll give my initial plant choices a few more months to settle in before looking to add in additional plant material. I’ll mark my calendar for June to take a few more pictures so you can see how it is progressing!

Spring renewal…

Gardening friends…this post was actually written on the day before my March Filoli visit and so I held it for the weekend.

A valuable garden strategy I have adopted is to have at least a few areas where minimal care is needed to keep them looking good so that I have the time and energy to garden more intensively in other areas. As a general statement, beds filled with evergreen or deciduous blooming shrubs and ground cover require less time on your knees than those filled with roses, perennials and annuals! As I have matured as a gardener I have much more appreciation for flowering shrubs than I did when I had to have every new perennial that caught my eye. There is a quiet grace about a grouping of viburnum, gardenias or rhaphiolepis which just reward you every year with their leaves and  blooms and demand little from you in return.

One such autopilot garden area for me runs for about 40 feet along the western fence of my back yard. At the far north end sits our pool equipment which is surround by a screening hedge of glossy privet–almost my least favorite plant but fulfilling its purpose with only one or two clippings a year. A relatively young coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) snuggles up to the privet giving some vertical interest to the fence line. Also original to the landscape are four Podocarpus macrophyllus flanked by pink flowering Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica.) When we purchase the home in 2008 the south end was anchored by a Photinia x fraseri tree, commonly called a redtip, which succumbed to the fungal disease Entomosporium maculatum shortly after. Rather than digging out the quite large dead tree we pruned back the smaller branches and its trunk now acts as support for a climbing ‘Fourth of July’ rose which I featured in a post last spring. As the years have gone by we have been blessed with a lovely borrowed landscape backdrop provided by our neighbor’s 2 pineapple guava trees (Feijoa)–these barely peeked over the fence in 2008. Other than the climbing rose, our only two additions to this bed have been three Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ in front of the podocarpus and a few Cuphea hyssiopifolia ‘Lavendar Lace’. Every year all of this gets a little nip or tuck here and there to neaten things up–only the cuphea have gotten a consistent yearly hard cutting back.

So here we are 8 years later and the removal of a couple of low hanging sequoia branches has shed light on how out of shape things have gotten. This area is the antithesis of the squeaky wheel and thus is always last on my to do list. Most of the Indian hawthorns are in total shade under the sequoia and have not bloomed in years. All of the podocarpus are locked in a death battle with the over the fence trees and although the abelia look fine on the outside, close inspection reveals their interiors to be masses of leafless twigs and I reflect that I haven’t seen these bloom in recent years either.

Abelia x grandiflora is a semi-evergreen to evergreen serviceable shrub which does well in both sun and shade with minimal care. Its white to pale pink tubular flowers open on new growth starting in the late spring. The heaviest bloom is May through early fall but in temperate winter areas like mine some flowers can persist all year. Plants are evergreen in milder winter areas and half hardy in colder climates. The species can grow quite large, often to 6 ft. tall and wide. Many relatively new cultivars have been bred for both more compact size and for variation in leaf coloration. I chose the the cultivar ‘Kaleidoscope’  for its leaves with yellow gold margins and green centers which turn rose pink in cooler weather. Of note is that the coloration is somewhat dependent on sun. In the photo below you can see that the leaves on the lower part of one of the plants which was hidden underneath its neighbor are bright, clear green rather than the yellow for which this variety is known. Its 3 ft. height and similar spread make it well suited to smaller gardens.

The preferred pruning strategy for these plants to keep their open, arching shape is to prune selected branches to the ground yearly, encouraging new growth which will flower. Shearing is not recommended. That window has long closed for my plants as I can’t even get my hand through the bramble of central twigs to trace any single branch to the ground! Fortunately abelia are receptive to what gardeners call renewal pruning or renovation pruning. This is a well orchestrated take no prisoners and leave very few men standing pruning technique of the gardening world. In the picture below I have made an initial pass at about half of the first plant of the three.

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The little cupheas in the foreground get a haircut at the same time! The twiggyness of the interiors of the abelia was amazing. A bonus was finally locating the source for some pesky bermuda grass which had been growing up through the abelia for a few years.

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After several hours of clipper work the three abelias are reduced to about 8-10″ tall. Clearing all the old top growth reveals that the one on the far right is now practically under a mature Indian hawthorne which has tripled in size from 2008.

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If these had been selectively pruned yearly at least a little over the last 5 years or so, I should have seen a good amount of new season’s growth from the base of each plant. In fact, I saw only 4 new shoots–3 on the middle plant and one on the far right plant. You can see in the photo below the new growth is dark green brown in contrast to the tan of the old branches and this intrepid shoot was struggling its way to the sun!

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There is perhaps a bit more work to do on these. I think even more of the smaller twigs could be cut to the ground but as renewal pruning is pretty drastic in itself I think I’ll leave it at this for now. Once I see new growth emerging from the base and whether the existing branches start to put on new leaf buds, I’ll make the call on more cuts. I’ll let you know how they do down the road!

P.S. Well, after my Filoli pruning afternoon I know that I was doing a lot of things right: My shrub was identified and I knew its natural growth and flowering habit including its recommended pruning technique and I knew my purpose was to encourage new growth which would produce more flowers. I believe now I did not go far enough in eliminating much of the existing twiggy growth (30-50%) from the crown. I will go back and take out more and see how the plant responds. Stay tuned and I’ll share a follow up picture in 2-3 weeks.

A Year in the Garden…Filoli in March

It would prove to be a gorgeous spring day at both my home and at Filoli–some 170 miles away. The day still started very early for me but the drive was uneventful and I even arrived early enough to wander and take a few pictures before class started at 10:30 am.

Part II of Botany for Horticulturists was today’s morning session. Last month in Part I we got familiar with botanical nomenclature and explored plant structure including roots, stems and leaves. Now we would delve further inside the plant, learning the intricate parts of the flower which facilitate reproduction and about the functions that drive plant development: photosynthesis, respiration and transpiration. While none of this was new to me, I am definitely not a botanist, even self-taught, and I appreciated both instructor Mimi Clarke’s lecture and the great reference sheets she included in our class notebooks. After a bit of book work she gave each of us a hand lens and we worked our way through dissecting one of Filoli’s famous daffodils–it was amazing to see the developing seeds deep down inside the ovary wall!

After a fast bite to eat at the garden staff’s outdoor lunch area we gathered again for our afternoon garden walk which was to focus on general pruning principles. The first and really only principle started with making the decision to prune. If your plant doesn’t require pruning to improve plant health, develop branching structures, enhance flower or fruit production, control growth, alter the natural growth to train it into an artificial form or reinvigorate it after years of improper pruning–put your tool away. There is no pruning just for pruning’s sake. There is no pruning everything in winter just because it looks like it is dormant and it is easier to get it all done at once.

Mimi’s standard outfit this time of year includes her bypass pruning shears in the sheath on her belt and her folding curved pruning saw tucked into her back pocket. She uses the pruning saw in circumstances that I would have chosen loppers. She explained that loppers are fine for rougher cuts but as they tend to cause the branch to split, she chooses the small saw for finish cuts. Point taken–I am going to find my folding saw (I may actually have 2) as soon as I get home!

We spent the next couple of hours moving from place to place in the garden as Mimi walked us through what we need to know BEFORE we prune. I have taken many pruning workshops but this was the first time an instructor taught the skill as an exercise in deductive reasoning rather than specific rules for specific plants. I loved it!! There are no pruning free rides–as gardeners we must do the homework first before we get the tools out.

As Mimi wrote in her handout “5 Things to Know Before you Lay Steel to Wood:”

Know what plant you are dealing with–you’d think this is a no-brainer but maybe not!

Know the plant’s flowering habit–does it bloom on the current season’s growth or on the previous season’s growth (new wood or old wood?) Spring flowering shrubs generally bloom on last year’s growth and are pruned soon after they have finished blooming. Pruning them in late summer or winter will remove the developing flower buds (still unseen) and drastically reduce spring flowering. Most summer flowering shrubs bloom on new wood and can be pruned in late winter or early spring to encourage the new growth which will produce the flowers. These guidelines are not without exception so we must do our research first.

Know the natural growth habit–what is this plant supposed to look like? Is it tall and skinny or short and mounding? Are the branches arching and fountain like or stiff and vase shaped? Where is the most vigorous growth found–shoots arising from the crown or at the branch tips? Is the plant you are trying to evaluate for pruning the right plant for the space and conditions in which it is planted?

Know the plant’s ability to resprout from old wood–not every plant can recover from serious pruning down into old wood. Mimi cited the example of old and woody rosemary as a plant which usually will need to be replaced once it gets badly out of shape.

Know what you would like your end result to look like–is your desired result appropriate for the plant and for the site? I have seen more ligustrum trimmed into 2 ft. high cubes than I ever care to admit. This question goes hand in hand with knowing what your plant’s NATURAL growth habit.

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Our first example was a very long row of quince which are being trained into a hedge. We worked the steps: the plant was properly identified; we determined it was a spring bloomer and blooms on old wood; we learned its natural growth habit is to push vigorous new shoots up from the base of the plant in addition to adding growth at the tips and that its normal habit is open and airy with long arching branches. As the plants are being trained into a hedge and are in bloom now the pruning prescription included waiting until after the bulk of the bloom is gone, removing about 30-50% of the branches from the crown to encourage new shoots from the crown, making heading cuts about a foot or so lower than the desired hedge height which will promote lateral growth from the side buds to fill in the hedge and thinning out some existing lateral growth that is crossing or too crowded. Toward the end of the hedge row a lone quince which may have lost its neighbor connecting it to the hedge gave us a peek at how an individual specimen would look.

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We moved on to the Gentleman’s Orchard where fruit trees of all kinds can be found. Several people in our group have home orchards and Mimi spent some time talking about training young trees and the importance, again, of doing your research to know your tree’s  natural habits and optimum fruiting conditions. This topic could have been a whole day’s class on its own. On the border of the orchard there is a fabulous row of very old espaliered fruit trees.

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Although hard to tell by the photos these trees are very old and probably close to 16 ft. tall! I was interested to see that the trees were not all the same fruit. I saw both Apple ‘Gravenstein’ and Pear ‘Louise Bonne d’avranches’ and I only looked at a few tags. This stop gave Mimi a chance to talk about how the specialized art of pruning to espalier is a valuable tool to have fruit production in small spaces in addition to an aesthetically pleasing garden focal feature.

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As we passed out of the orchard and into the more formal parts of the garden it was wonderful to see that I had not totally missed the spectacular show of naturalized daffodils for which Filoli is renowned!

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We stopped in to check on this grouping of Hydrangea macrophylla that had been as yet untouched on last month’s walk. Their pruning had been completed and again we walked through “our things to know before pruning” in an effort to apply them to the work that had been done.

The afternoon was growing short so as we walked back to our potting shed classroom we went over again the 4 basic pruning methods, all of which had been observed at one point or another on our walk:

Pinching–pinching back with your fingers the terminal (end) growth to produce dense, twiggy growth and induce flowering

Thinning–best used with shrubs that sprout from the base as well as the branch tips and opens up structure by removing unproductive, vegetative growth or growth that detracts form

Heading Back–removing growth back to existing structure (previous cuts) thus producing additional dense top growth, used in concert with thinning

Shearing–removing all new growth without regard to whether you are cutting branches or leaves, use only on hedges and even then know that eventually you will have a bare twiggy inside with green only on the outside where you have cut

As long as this post has been I cannot leave you without sharing some of what was blooming at Filoli. There are still many potted daffodils and the potted tulips and their friends are clamoring for attention also. And so much more…take a break now if you are tired of reading but make sure you come back for the photos below!

Amazing displays of potted bulbs near the Visitors Center…

 The house in its spring glory…

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And all around the grounds…

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Forget-me-nots, Myosotis, have naturalized everywhere and have made especially large colonies in the shade of mature oaks.

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I have seen many Trillium but never one with this coloration. I will check with Mimi at our April class to see if she knows the species or cultivar.

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There are still lots of camellias in bloom–this very large shrub had both of these flowers on it. I could not see a graft anywhere to indicate that one cultivar had been grafted onto another so this may be a sport (naturally occurring genetic variation.)

Ipheion uniflorum naturalizes readily under deciduous trees or shrubs if left undisturbed.

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Filoli’s signature tulips beds are underplanted with Nemophila menziesii, commonly called baby blue eyes. Everything in the beds (this is just a small section above) is propagated for the season in Filoli’s greenhouses.

The potted tulips are coming out for us all to enjoy. There are hundreds more waiting their turn in the cold frames right outside our classroom door. On Thursday, March 16, the garden will stay open until 8 pm and there will be a lecture event entitled The Culture of Tulips. Go to http://www.filoli.org for more information or to register to attend.

Deciduous shrubs are less in favor in California than in other parts of the country so I was really pleased to see several Viburnum x burkwoodii in bloom and just starting to put on their new leaves. As you can see, the shrub itself, lower right, doesn’t look like much! The flowers are very fragrant and lovely in all stages of bloom.

I will stop now before you lose your patience! Good-bye Filoli–see you in April.

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In praise of spring blooming trees…

I readily admit that in my early gardening years I paid little attention to trees. In the suburban environments I have lived most lots were not large enough to accommodate more than a couple of mature trees and you just lived with whatever the city or your neighborhood developer planted.  Many trees were planted too close to the house or each other in an attempt to have a landscape look ‘mature’ way before its time. Over time these trees became hazards to foundations or plumbing or to each other and had to be removed. To this day I can call pitifully few common deciduous or evergreen trees immediately by name unless I have had personal experience with the tree species in question.

When we relocated in 1997 to Macon, GA I arrived in early April, a few weeks after my husband, and in the peak season of Georgia’s impressive array of spring blooming trees. Macon is home to the International Cherry Blossom Festival (not associated with the National Festival in Washington, DC) and boasts more than 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees. Other spring ornamental trees bursting into blossom included white and pink dogwoods (Cornus) of several species, purple leaf ornamental plums (Prunus), and lots of cultivars from the saucer and star magnolia families (Magnolia soulangeana and M. stellata.) All of these bloomed in Macon among a riotous backdrop of azaleas and late blooming camellias and surrounded by 100 foot tall pines and oaks. Pretty heady for a girl from “it never rains in Southern California” who gardened on a 5,000 square foot lot! My years in Macon living on a casually landscaped/quasi-wooded acre taught me a great deal about trees in general and gave me a special love for those trees whose explosion of blooms signal the coming of spring.

As with a few other posts recently I thought about this topic just a bit too long and found it challenging to find nice specimen trees in peak bloom to photograph. When you add to that the inherent pitfalls of taking pictures of trees on other gardeners’ properties without trespassing, getting a good shot without cars or overhead wires in the way, etc., etc. the venture became quite an adventure. Think of the movie Twister only I am trying to figure out where the bottom of the top of the tree I see in the distance is rather than chasing the tornado! And all that without a wing man…it is clear that iPhone photography is not my calling. Bear with the pictures and take a look at what I found blooming in Fresno in the last couple of days.

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Some our earliest flowering trees are the Kawakamii pears, Pyrus kawakamii. These trees are very widely used as a residential tree in the Central Valley and are easily recognized by the bright granny apple green leaves and masses of white flowers as seen below. In contrast to other ornamental pears, the Kawakamii has a broad canopy with weeping branchlets. They mature to no more than about 25′ high and wide and as such can be used in groups on moderate sized lots.

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The Bradford pears, Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’, follow the Kawakamii pears closely in the parade of blossoms. The three you see below are planted on the small landscaped side strip of our corner lot.

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The smaller tree on the left was planted in 2008 as a 15 gallon just before we purchased the home and replaced one of the original three on this fence line. The two mature trees are about 17 years old. Blossoms on younger trees tend to be more a bright white and on mature trees, more cream colored. This tree puts its blooms on first, with the leaves breaking after the flowers are finished. The Bradford pear was the first variety of P. calleryana to be introduced and is probably one of the most overused and unreliable landscape trees planted. The species is pyramidical in nature with no central leaders and strongly vertical limbs. As the trees age the branching pattern spreads out, putting excessive strain on the crotch of the tree. This results in many Bradfords splitting in half or into thirds right at the crotch, leaving you with a mature but badly disfigured tree structure. As with most ornamental pears it is susceptible to the bacterial disease called fireblight which will cause varying amounts of summer dieback and cannot be controlled chemically. In a perfect world I would never plant Bradford pears but for us they are an invaluable source of backyard summer shade and hopefully no one will be parked under any of them when they decide come unglued (so to speak!)

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Beautiful spring show on a somewhat iffy tree!

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I pass these 6 striking trees at least once or twice on my daily travels. They are planted in the parking strip of a side yard which sits right on a busy thoroughfare. I have always loved the burgundy foliage found on all the flowering plums in the Prunus genus. There are many species from which to choose and, following my own advice that it never hurts to ask,  I knocked on the door of this house hoping the resident would know the species or cultivar when I decided to add one to my back garden as a focal point. Alas, no information was to be had on what I still perceive to be the perfect purple leafed plum, just right in size, habit and flower mass. I ended up choosing a Prunus cerasifera ‘Purple Pony’ (below)–mine has a LONG way to go to inspire the smile the pink explosion down the street gives me!

Even though the redbud blossoms are on the verge of breaking out, the trees still look pretty twiggy from a distance. There are a number of Cercis species grown in central California. Most are fairly small trees and they are often grown in rows or groups. They profit from a bit of light shade until acclimated to our hot summers. I have a young Cercis canadensis texensis ‘Oklahoma’ in my back garden but it has nary a bud on it yet. I am always amazed by the redbud-it seems one day to be almost invisible and the very next day turns into a riot of purplish pink flowers massed on every branch, twig and even the trunk. The redbud pictured below is one of a number grown along a major crosstown road. I’ll check back on this tree in another week or so when it is in full bloom.

Cultivars of both Magnolia x soulangeana and Magnolia stellata provide an abundance of late winter/early spring color in my community. Although you see a number of the evergreen magnolia such as the classic Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, in my part of California they traditionally suffered from the affects of our dry heat and lack of rain. These magnolias are just too large for the average residential lot and often end up overpruned and unloved after a few years of cleaning up the leaf litter and fighting the surface roots. The deciduous type magnolias, both those with saucer shaped flowers and those with star shaped flowers, are well loved here. There are many named cultivars of both M. x soulangeana and M. stellata and I feel confident that unless you are speaking about the one you planted (with a tag on it) most gardeners cannot tell one cultivar from another. I know I can’t!

The saucer magnolias, M. x soulangeana, are often erroneously called tulip trees because they bear masses of exceptionally large tulip shaped flowers. These flowers, most often shades of pink and pinky purple, gradually open to resemble large saucers. The bloom precedes the new leaves and in years of late frost can be lost or damaged by the cold. In their youth they can be shrubby and downright uninteresting looking when they are not blooming. This shrubbiness often misleads homeowners into planting the scrawny 5 gallon plant smack up against the house–a decision they will regret when the tree reaches its mature height of about 25-30 feet.

Here are two fairly young saucer magnolia trees. Notice the one on the left is about planted about 2 feet from the home’s foundation. img_5360

This one is quite mature. Below you can see a close up view of this trees blooms.

The star magnolias, M. stellata, are generally smaller in mature height and are often seen locally as multi-trunked large shrubs. While there are cultivars with pink flowers, the white flowered selections seem to be found here in greater numbers. As a species they are quite slow growers and, as with the saucer magnolias, not head turners unless in bloom. I found this lovely and quite large M. stellata used as a street tree on very wide residential street popular with bikers and walkers–a lovely vision up close.

All of these spring blooming beauties so far have been ornamentals. The San Joaquin Valley has thousands of acres of stone fruit and nut trees which produce an always changing sea of blooms for a couple of months each spring. Next year I’ll take you for ride along our Blossom Trail to see blooming trees for as far as the eye can see! I will close with my only offering of an actual fruiting tree. This charming dwarf nectarine greeted me as I  drove into my friend Ellen’s country driveway. I have been to her home dozens of times without taking notice of it. With its blooms just starting to pop out I had to jump out of the car to snap a photo. As with the redbuds, I’ll update you on its bloom power in a week or two!

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I am heading to Filoli for my second A Year in the Garden class on Wednesday. It will be exciting to see if the daffodil bloom has reached its peak and to have a bit more time to stroll the gardens after class without an umbrella!

Winter whites…

Like a full moon on a dark night, these late winter whites light up my drowsy garden just as it starts to emerge from its winter nap…

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My Camellia japonica ‘Swan Lake’ has fewer blooms than previous years, possibly due to limited water, but this one is perfect!

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Chrysanthemum hosmariense, locally called Moroccan daisy, blooms over a long period with its most profuse flowering January through March.  Even though the warm weather slows the show down its fine, gray-green foliage makes a nice mound year round. Consistently pinching back the spent blossoms will give you a tidier look and keep the new flowers coming. I have mounds of this perennial in several locations with varying sun and moisture conditions and it has proven very adaptable.

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Hard to believe this is a winter bloomer for me! I have several mature colonies of common calla lilies, Zantedeschia aethiopica, but only a single clump that reliably blooms for me in winter. The others all look pretty bad by late fall and take a long winter’s rest before returning in the mid spring. I think the cultivar is ‘Hercules’ and, if so, it lives up to its name–the bright golden central spike is almost 4 inches in length. The tiny true flowers of the calla lily cover the spike, whose botanical name is the spadix. The creamy white which we think of as the flower is actually a spathe, a curved leaf modification.

I could not showcase winter whites without my favorite hellebores. As these were pass along plants many years ago from a gardening friend I can only say that I think they are H. orientalis. I grow  more than a dozen large clumps of these, all seedlings of the original plant, and I take care to keep them quite separate from my other hellebores to have the best chance of new seedlings retaining the clear white of the parent. The blooms hold up well as cut flowers and the glossy, dark green and leathery foliage is a great addition to a mixed bed or a mixed bouquet in the summer months.

Getting to the bottom of it…

Many woody perennials winter over more successfully if the previous year’s growth and bloom stalks are left intact through the cold weather.  Generally falling into this category are many of the salvias, echinacea, monarda, achillea, lantana, and buddleia. All of these can be pretty rangy or twiggy by their season’s end and it is hard for me to resist cleaning them up in the late fall just to make the garden’s overall appearance tidier. If trimmed back so late in the season that no new growth has long enough to harden off the plant is left with a plethora of twiggy hollow stems exposed to water by the cuts. Water will fill the hollow stems and can cause rotting down to the base of the plant. We don’t lose many of these plants in my mild winter garden to frost or bitter cold but many could be lost to overzealous fall cleanup! The natural die back of the current year’s growth acts as protective armor for the next year’s new growth.

So, when do you know the time is right to cut back? There is no one size fits all or date to mark on your calendar. As with all plant maintenance the first step is to know how the plant grows. Several of the plants listed above push their new leaves out at the soil level forming a clump of new growth at the base as the soil starts to warm up at winter’s end. Soil temperature is a better indicator of impending spring growth than air temperature. As you walk through your garden finishing up your rose and summer blooming shrub pruning be mindful of what’s going on at the base of your perennials. Today as I raced the rain to get the last of my four ‘Eden’ climbing roses pruned I surveyed a nearby bed and found these specimens giving me the heads up that it is time to tidy them up for the impending spring.

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Okay, so I had all ready trimmed a good many of last year’s stems from this Monarda didyma ‘Raspberry Wine’ (Bee Balm) before it occurred to me that this was a good topic for a post! You can clearly see the flurry of new rosettes of growth. The old growth was so ready to be gone that most of it just fell off at my touch.

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I decided to wait a few more days to trim back the old stems on this Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Bloom’ as the very first of the new growth has just appeared.

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It’s cousin and neighbor, Salvia leucantha ‘Velour Pink’ was well on its way so I trimmed back all its spent stems.

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This Gaura lindheimeri is a relatively new bicolor called ‘Rosyjane’. It is a little more compact than the species but still looks better throughout the season with regular tidying up. This is the first winter for this cultivar in my garden and you can see the remains of the original top growth is about 1/3 the size of the new growth clump. I will carefully trim all of the old stems to just below the new growth or just wait another week or so and be able to gently pull them off.

There is no rocket science here–the first principle of readying woody perennials for spring is to walk your garden regularly and see what your plants are doing! Understand their growth habits and each will tell you in their own time when to clean them up in anticipation of a great new gardening year.