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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
This morning I enjoyed a fellow garden blogger’s new post entitled Snow Day from gardeninacity (a Chicago area writer) and my eyes were once again opened to the vast differences in gardening cycles across our country. Check it out and be sure to like, comment and or follow to let him know you’ve found his site.
On opposite side of the weather spectrum, most of us here in California are not buried under snow and would probably pay to have Chicago’s fluffy, white stuff trucked in to dump in our yards.
I always refer to my garden as being in a mild winter or temperate winter zone–not a dramatic winter with ice storms or snowfall but a winter where historical lows have been in the 40-50 degrees daytime, colder night and some early morning frost or fog. This “winter” is really our only hope of annual rainfall with almost all of the year’s precipitation occurring in December through February.
This year our winter has been more like a Southern California winter and So Cal’s winter has often approached conditions that many other areas never see in their warmest winters. In January, my Orange County gardening bff posted pics on Facebook more than once showing her thermometer in the mid nineties. Late to the Garden Partyis a great Southern California garden blog to check out if you want to see what’s going on down that way. Here in the Central Valley I have been shirt sleeved gardening since Christmas with temperatures pretty consistently in the mid 60s and 70s. Our mountain cabin at 5000 feet elevation has had no appreciable snow and has also seen much warmer than average temperatures.
All these extra degrees have not been accompanied by much measurable rain with the exception of the massive overnight storm which caused the devastating mudslides down the fire ravaged hillsides of Montecito near Santa Barbara. Our rainfall season in Fresno County runs from October 1-September 30 each year. Rainfall to date is 1.64″. Our normal or historical average is 6.74″ at this point and 11.5″ for the full season. Last year was a banner year for us in which we reached our normal full season number by mid-February.
There are both positive and negative consequences of all this lovely spring like but dry weather in months when we should be inside eating soup and binge watching Netflix. On the plus side, I have gotten an enormous amount of maintenance work done and will approach actual spring with a much shorter punch list. We also have been able to actively work on yet another lawn removal effort–with a wet winter we would have been looking at bare dirt until fall 2018.
Since these photos were taken we have started tilling and amending–more on this project soon.
Not so exciting is the prospect of a summer with even tighter outdoor watering restrictions (we are at a single day per week NOW with watering only before 9 am and after 6 pm) and a garden full of trees, shrubs and perennials which will enter the most heat stressed part of their year all ready somewhat starved for deep ground moisture. Many plants which normally gain the new season’s strength from their winter rest have never gone dormant and many others have all ready flushed out new growth which may be in danger of damage from an unexpected late frost.
Here’s a smattering of what’s blooming now in my garden:
Clockwise–Pulmonaria ‘Tivoli Fountain’; Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’; Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’; unknown cultivar of pansy; Anisodontea x hypomandarum ‘Slightly Strawberry’
Clockwise–Geranium sanguineum striatum; Penstemon ‘Midnight’; Salvia chiapensis
I noticed this bloom stalk on one of my bearded iris just peeking out of the foliage on February 1st and photographed it on February 8th. I often have several remondant bearded iris bloom off and on all winter but this is by far the earliest I have seen a single bloom cycle iris with a bloom almost open.
So while I am sure gardeners in snow covered areas are longing for spring, I am a little envious of those of you still tucked in for your garden’s long winter’s nap–at least it is a season you can count on!
I have been accumulating a few miniature conifers to use in a shallow dish garden and recently made a quick pit stop at my local specialty garden center to pick up a small container of scotch moss to add to the plant mix. While ringing up my purchase the owner lamented about the fact that I had gotten the last one and how he had kept meaning to put a container aside to experiment with. I’ll admit I was not really focused on the exchange and when I got into my car I wondered what all the fuss was about–scotch moss is a dime a dozen in most nurseries!
It was not until I got home that I realized I had NOT purchased the needed scotch moss but a look-alike called Scleranthus biflorus. The plant tag announced its common name as Australian Astroturf and I was immediately captivated, although still without the scotch moss!
The almost instantaneous miracle of the internet supplied lots of information on this Australian ground cover, native to the country’s natural alpine and coastal areas. Who knew that Australia–home to every living critter that can kill you instantly–even HAD natural alpine areas? This perky mat forming, almost spongey perennial is part of the dianthus (think carnation) family and is known as lava lime to the down under gardening community. Most sources also mention that it will bear tiny white flowers.
Cultural requirements include a location with full sun to bright shade, USDA zones 9-11. The United States websites indicated the plant to be very drought tolerant while the Australian gardening web cited the need for some moisture. I guess the driest of our climate zones doesn’t even come close to what the Aussies deal with! The key seems to be excellent drainage.
Pulling the specimen out of its quart container I found its roots to be a very fine but dense mass, perfect for division by slicing in half–giving me the opportunity to try it out in more than one location.
I put one half in a little full sun spot which gets some irrigation runoff from under the weeping juniper but is basically out of the direct line of fire of any one sprinkler. This little plug is only about 2″ by 4″ but its chartreuse color makes a great contrast to the blue green conifer. At a mature size of about 3″ tall with a 3 foot spread it should fill the open area without getting buried under the overhanging limbs.
I sliced the remaining half in two and put the pie shaped pieces back in the original pot, alternating them with fresh potting soil. My bright but shaded holding area will allow me to keep an eye on the pot’s progress–it will be interesting to see how quickly the mass fills in!
A ‘new-to-me’ plant to play with gives me as much pleasure as a new pair of shoes, a great new dress or a special piece of jewelry might give someone else–the goes without saying exceptions being made only for for woodworking tools and diamonds! And now…back into the car to get that scotch moss.
I recently wrapped up the seemingly interminable lawn removal/replanting of the long side yard bed between our side fence and the street. Living on a corner lot comes with blessings and curses. The biggest advantage is a little more privacy as we have no neighbor on one side. The curse (challenge?) is having a lot of area to landscape and maintain which is pretty well disconnected from the rest of our front garden and is not visible from any where inside our home.
As I have chronicled in several other posts, in June 2016 we initially chemically killed the ragged Heinz 57 variety grass planted the length of this approximately 140 foot bed along with grass in 3 other areas, including the large driveway circle bed tucked between our two driveways. We finished the replanting of the other areas very early in 2017 and they all had successful summers. Our stamina flagged and the heat came and so we did not get back to it until fall 2017. Check out posts Now THIS is a Labor Day…to see the great rock relocation project; Autumn musings…for the plantings closest the driveway and A little cleanup and a few new friends…to see the second wave of new plants added to the bed.
We left number of the original elements in the bed, including 3 Bradford pear trees, which are all planted smack up against the fence. The trees are critical to us for privacy plus shade AND as 2 of the 3 are original (18 yrs old) to the landscape I deemed removal of some of the shrubbery whose roots are amongst and surrounded by tree roots to be a risk without benefit. The Rhaphiolepis indica and nandinas of unknown cultivar were trimmed up, along with several mature podacarpus, variety also unknown.
The pear trees drop an unbelievable number of leaves over a couple of weeks in late winter, usually early to mid January depending on the weather. The last areas of new plants and final mulching down had to wait until leaf fall was completed and cleaned up. Their bare limb stage is very brief and they are all ready showing buds.
It is almost impossible to photograph this bed without crossing the street and standing on my neighbor’s porch! Even though many of my plant selections look very small–I opted for 1 gallon on almost everything–quite a few will be large scale shrubbery at maturity. A number of my SLO Botanical Garden purchases went in this bed. My goal is moderate to low water usage. The trees need regular water so I had to find a balance of materials that would tolerate summer water. As each section was hand dug around major tree roots and planting points determined, every hole was filled with water to sit overnight to test drainage. Luckily I had to change only one intended planting spot–far fewer than I had anticipated!
Looking from the furthest point back toward the driveway. This pitiful tree is a crape myrtle that we moved about 5 years ago. It also was right up against the fence and we moved it midway between the fence and street. Last summer the tree actually bloomed for the first time ever since we purchased the house in 2008. It is a gorgeous, clear purple–possibly a ‘Catawba’. At the base of the tree is a 2 year old colony of Convolvulus mauritanica ‘Moroccan Blue’. There are also quite a few bearded iris in blues, whites, and purples that have been moved to this sunny end over the years as I have had divisions with no other place to go. Two lavender lantana will fill the area closest the curb–readily available and easy to get going. I am using them throughout these renovations as filler plants while more permanent shrubs mature.
The area fully in the shade canopy of the pear trees needed an evergreen backdrop and I chose Pieris japonica ‘Tiki’ to fill the bill. The common name of this plant, lily of the valley shrub, is evocative of the pink to white pearl like clusters of drooping blossoms. ‘Tiki’ is on the smaller side of the pieris selections, topping at about 3-4′ tall. My group of 5 should make a nice show once all the buds open!
Also in the shade canopy area but getting a good bit of the rising sun I added a hardy geranium with chocolate hued foliage. This unmarked find came from Branches & Barrels in Encinitas, a great little garden and event center in north San Diego county. It has lots of new foliage, a brighter green than the more mature leaves, and I anticipate that when I have blooms I may be able to identify it from my resource library. It is hard for me to leave a hardy geranium not already in my collection behind for someone else to snap up!
No shady area in my garden is ever complete without a few hellebores. I added 2 groups of three plants each, hoping for a pretty full look in a reasonable period of time. The top photo is Helleborus orientalis ‘NW Cotton Candy’. Its ruffled double light pink flower has darker pink veins–the first one opened yesterday and you can see it up close at the beginning of the post. The single pink flower just above is Helleborus orientalis ‘Pink Frost’. As this bed slopes nicely from the fence to the street it affords a better view of the flowers than if it were totally flat. I hope to have placed them forward enough to catch the morning sun but back enough not be trampled by people getting out of parked cars.
Another Branches & Barrels find is Leptospermum scoparium ‘Star Carpet’, or prostrate white tea tree. The foreground of the center pear tree is ground zero in its need for a cast iron plant selection. It is sloped more sharply than the surrounding areas and to find planting crevices amongst the mature, close to the surface roots is challenging. The reference material for this lesser known variety of the upright New Zealand tea tree characterizes it as a good bank cover tolerating dry conditions. The leaves are tiny but plentiful on delicate weeping branches which should spread 6-8 feet. The wild card on this one will be sun–hopefully the morning sun will be adequate for production of its small star shaped white flowers. I think dry shade is perhaps the hardest condition for which to find plants. Three of these went in the ground about 2 weeks ago and I do have new growth. Everyone, keep your fingers crossed!
The canopy opens up near the newest of the pear trees, requiring plants with more sun tolerance. Even though this bed faces east and gets only morning sun; that sun can be quite strong at the peak of summer. Complicating the issue is that, over time, the area will be ever more shaded. At some point there will be more shade than sun except in the very early hours of the day. Breath of Heaven is an evergreen shrub native to South Africa and much used in my valley as foundation plantings. Their delicate character is appealing and their leaves are aromatic when bruised. The Coleonema pulchellum ‘Sunset Gold’ is lower than the species and bears tiny pink flowers on yellow gold stems. It has actually been kind of fun trying a little bit of this and a little bit of that in this new bed!
The plants below were described in the previous posts about this bed renovation but here’s a look at them one more time.
The larger part of the bed has filled in very well–most plants were added in October. We did have the treelike weeping juniper professionally trimmed in late summer and I think it looks better than it ever has.
No doubt I will add a few more bits and pieces over time–a plant collector’s wheelbarrow is never truly full–but I feel as though the time is right to let this initial go around of plants settle in and see how they fare through the summer.
Here is what’s left of this holiday season’s amaryllis crop. I started the cycle with 15 bulbs held over from the last couple of years and 36 fresh bulbs from my favorite grower, Van Engelen, Inc.
A veritable forest of blooming beauties–this shot taken December 6, 2017. These are the two new varieties I tried in 2017: ‘Rozetta’, a ruffled double, and ‘Blushing Bride’, a paler pink single.
I give away many potted bulbs throughout December, including dropping off small groups at local retirement centers and at businesses I patronize throughout the year. The majestic blooms towering over a few green sword like leaves never fail to elicit a smile from the recipient! For many years I attached a card printed with directions to answer the perennial question “What do I do with it when it is finished blooming?” but lately I have had to field that question less often–probably Alexa and Siri are doing my work for me.
In the first photo you can see I still have several pots with stalks in bud or bloom. For many of these pots you are seeing the 2nd or possibly 3rd bloom stalk. I have had amaryllis continuously in flower since the week after Thanksgiving and expect to enjoy them several more weeks.
Three options exist for your post-holiday amaryllis: thank it for its service and show it the compost bin; plant it in the ground; hold it over to force it again next year. I am going to assume you are not hell bent on the first one or you would have skipped this post!
For either of the remaining paths, start by keeping the potted bulb inside until overnight temperatures reliably exceed 60 degrees F. Give the pot a sunny spot so the plant will continue to produce chlorophyll and healthy green leaves. Many amaryllis will continue to bloom off and on throughout spring and summer if you do not force them into a dormant period. Remember–growing in the ground these plants are naturally spring blooming perennials, waking up due to soil temperature and day length after a long winter’s nap. As each bloom fades you can cut it off but try to leave the stalk intact to die back naturally as it helps to feed the bulb.
If you live in USDA Horticulture Zone 9 or warmer, the bulbs can be planted in the ground. Remember to shelter them inside until your nights have reached the 60 degree mark and then harden them off gradually, introducing them to sun gradually over several days. They need well-drained soil, bright filtered sunlight, a neutral pH soil and will be most reliable if planted in an area getting no supplemental rainfall from mid-summer through fall. One of my Georgia neighbors (shoutout to Shelly T.) has an entire bed filled with amaryllis from Christmases past and it was spectacular in the spring. My success with these bulbs planted in the ground has been miserable. It is challenging for me to find a spot where water can be limited July-October because everything else in my garden must have irrigation to survive those months AND the snails send out their house party invitations as soon as they hear the whisper of the ‘A’ word.
I have had pretty good success keeping the potted bulbs through spring and summer with the goal of forcing them for another season. It never hurts to try! When your area has reached appropriate night time temps and you have brought your pots out into the sunlight gradually (hardening them off), find a resting spot for them with about 6 hours of sunlight. Warning—Fresno gardeners need to make that filtered sunlight! I keep my pots corralled in the plastic bins (I have a set in which drainage holes have been drilled) you saw in my post Winter’s royalty…making them easier to move as a group if I need to adjust for sun or water. Give them a little shot of diluted houseplant fertilizer every month. The foliage will be floppy and unattractive but do not trim it back. Water regularly until mid-July when it is the time to convince your bulbs it is winter and nudge them into dormancy. Store the pots in a dry, dark location and withhold water. The lack of water and darkness will cause the bulb to go dormant with the foliage dying back as nutrients are reabsorbed by the bulb. If the stars are correctly aligned you will be rewarded by a nicely fattened up bulb when the big reveal is made in late October. A little soil refreshment may be done at that point but keep the same sized pot–amaryllis like to be cozy in their pots.
It took me many years to realize that the neatening up I do on my tablescape plants–cutting off each spent flower stalk close to the base–is detrimental to my success in forcing the bulbs for a second year. In achieving an attractive display I was removing much of my bulb’s future nourishment. It is a hard line to walk for me but at least now when I whack that stalk I am making an informed choice and accept that I may diminish the return of my bulb.
Still to look forward to–my large pot of 10 Royal Dutch Amaryllis ‘Hercules’. This class of amaryllis takes about 4-6 weeks longer to bloom than the Christmas Flowering group. I should have a mass of blooms by Valentine’s Day.
I simply could not have Christmas without amaryllis and poinsettias. It is part of human history to associate particular flowers with special seasons or events in our lives and we hold these associations as dear to our hearts as the memories of the blooms our parents or grandparents nurtured. It is also uniquely human to revel in our ability to control the bloom periods of our favorite bulbs, enjoying them in seasons when they would not naturally bloom. There are many other bulbs that can be easily forced for indoor beauty in winter–narcissus, crocus, hyacinths and lily of the valley to name a few. I have only tried a couple of these but am going to revisit my bulb catalogs in the fall and make some selections for 2018!
Happy New Year to all my gardening friends! A very warm December and early January has lured me away from my computer and into my garden more than usual for what is supposed to be winter. Before I catch you up on what’s going on in the Queen’s little 1/2 acre I want to close the loop on the Watsonville trip I wrote a bit about in my December 6, 2017 post Gardening with Goat Hill Fair….
One of the facets of chronicling my garden travels for this blog that has proved an unexpected pleasure for me is learning a little about the history of the communities, events and gardens I visit. Even as a native Californian there are so many places in my own state that I have never visited!
Watsonville is the second largest community in Santa Cruz County. The city of Santa Cruz has always been a popular beach destination for Central Valley residents and those of us who stayed in town for college thought that our friends who went of to UC Santa Cruz had died and gone to heaven…to party forever! I am pretty sure Watsonville–just a few miles away–was never on our radar. Watsonville was settled in 1852 and named after Judge John H. Watson who arrived in the Pajaro Valley and set up a claim on a portion of the Bolsa Del Pajaro, a land grant belonging to a prominent Mexican-American settler. Watsonville’s history is based in agriculture, growing products such as strawberries, apples (it is the home of Martinelli Cider), berries, lettuce, mushrooms and cut flowers. The rich, fertile land and favorable agricultural climate of the Pajaro Valley remains the basis of the area’s agricultural success today.
I have been buying plants grown by Sierra Azul Nursery from my local garden centers for many years and so I was excited at the prospect of visiting the nursery and meeting its owner, Jeff Rosendale. Jeff’s wholesale operation, retail nursery and demonstration garden are located on E. Lake Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Santa Cruz Fairgrounds and enjoy a spectacular view of the distant mountain peaks. The nursery’s name is taken from the mountain range of the same name. The southern half of the Santa Cruz Mountain Range is divided in two by California State Highway 17 into what the colonizing Spanish called the Sierra Moreno, “brown mountains”, to the north and Sierra Azul, “blue mountains”, to the south.
Sierra Azul Nursery & Gardens specializes in plants from the 5 Mediterranean climate zones–remember the great mosaic art piece at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden (see November 6, 2017 post SLO down for this Central Coast botanical garden) describing these 5 zones? Most of what the retail part sells is grown on the property.
Owner Jeff Rosendale’s 2 acre demonstration garden adjacent to the retail nursery offers insight into what many of the plants he grows will look at mature size during various times of year. While it is not a manicured garden, it is a very realistic representation of how a wide variety of native and non-native trees and shrubs can work together in large scale borders.
The rocket ship like conifer in the background is Sequoia sempervirens ‘Mt. Loma Prieta Spike’, unfortunately no longer being grown for retail purchase. I loved it!!
In 2006, Sierra Azul’s demo garden became the backdrop for a project of the Pajaro Valley Arts Council dubbed Sculpture IS in the Garden, an extensive installation of art pieces from California artists. The open air exhibition now runs from June 1-October 31 yearly. Even though the event was technically over when I visited Sierra Azul many of the art pieces were still in the garden, along with pieces Jeff has acquired for his permanent garden collection. The 2017 event showcased over 90 pieces of original art. Included each year are works (many for sale) in a variety of styles and media, including steel, wood, ceramic, bronze, glass and concrete. Many are large scale. Some are static, some bend in the breeze. The winding open spaces of the garden drew me through the beds and borders, finding something new to admire at each turn. Over 1,000 pieces of sculpture have been featured in the garden in the past 11 years. Here’s a small sampling of what I saw.
This huge bronze and steel sculpture entitled Woven Ring by Paul Cheney was my favorite piece–it can be yours for $7000.
Recognizing that I was lucky to even see a few of the pieces displayed this year I am putting a 2018 road trip to Sierra Azul on my calendar DURING the exhibit dates so I can get the full experience, including taking in the plantings during their best season.
I spent a very enjoyable hour strolling the retail nursery and selecting a few interesting additions for my garden. The retail area is compact and gardener friendly. Like plant families are grouped together with lots of variety in each area. I am assuming that having your growing operation just steps away allows Jeff to keep just a few of each plant on display with the possibility of providing a larger quantity of a single species upon demand.
Garden centers in Southern California, the greater Bay Area and Central Coast are finding that plants of Australian and South African origin fit the bill for drought tolerant plantings in their warm winter climates. I see more and more varieties of Leucadendron and Banksia–genera with both interesting foliage and flowers. We see few of these in my somewhat colder winter valley. Sierra Azul has a nice selection in both these plant groups. They are fascinating to me but I am not sure about long term winter survival in my garden.
This huge Banksia integrifolia dwarfs the little redwood check out cottage!
I had to keep my hands in my pockets while passing this Correa ‘Wyn’s Wonder’. I love the dainty bell shaped flowers BUT the three Correa, although a different variety, I planted in the driveway circle last year were the only plants I lost–dead, dead, dead!
Some of my purchases have all ready found places in my garden, others are resting in my holding area awaiting the right spot. Take a look!
So many of the specimens I purchased are new to my gardening experience. It will be fun to see how they perform and share their success or failure with you. Sierra Azul Nursery & Gardens has a permanent place on my ‘make time to stop’ list if I am anywhere at all close. Check out their website at www.sierraazul.com for more information and contact information–also a series of pictures of lawn free landscapes Jeff has designed. A++ for a great selection of plant material, helpful gardening advice and a welcoming garden for a picnic lunch when I have done my shopping!