Oh, to be first on her list…

In contrast to my relaxed, cottagey, only the strong survive gardening style my record keeping style is copious, tedious, highly organized and never ending.  I tend to keep detailed records of everything, not just what I have planted or what has bloomed when but of items purchased, warranties starting and ending, bills paid, gifts given, clothes worn where, etc., etc., etc.  All these records, of course, are kept in subject specific and color coded notebooks in my studio. I have Daytimer calendars back to the late 1970’s so just in case I need to know where I was on December 2, 1991 or September 18, 2002 I can access that information at a moment’s notice.  You know how the prosecutor on TV crime dramas always asks the witness where he was on .a certain date and time? I am amazed they can answer because without my calendar I can’t tell you where I was yesterday.   I think you get the picture.  Those of you reading my posts who actually know me absolutely get the picture.

One of my record keeping efforts that actually brings me some joy and reflection every spring is the list I keep of the first blooms to appear among a variety of groups of plants.  I note the dates and the general growing conditions and take a few photos.  Here are a few of my firsts for 2016.  I will note we did have a wetter than normal winter and have had some earlier than is typical warm weather.  Both of these have contributed to things blooming a bit earlier and a bit more robustly than I have recorded in the last few years.


Rose Singing the BluesCamellia jaqponica

Floribunda Rose ‘Singing the Blues’ is consistently an early bloomer in my garden.  I have 3 bushes and two of them sit in a narrow strip of ground bordered by house on one side and driveway on the other, receiving lots of reflected heat.  It is a bit more lavender and a bit less pink in natural light than it is in the photo.  This rose is fabulously fragrant and produces many large clusters of flowers continuously until early winter.  This rose is very disease resistant and has stunning dark green sturdy foliage.  It is an A+ in my book!

Dianthus ‘Firewitch’ sports masses of face up neonDianthus 'Firewitch' pink blooms over a neat mound of blue grey foliage.  This a a new take on the very old fashioned group of flowers called Cheddar Pinks—a staple of every cottage garden.  ‘Fire- witch’ is a perfect edging plant, remaining neatly in its boundaries.  Like all perennial dianthus, a light shearing  of the faded blooms will produce a new flush of flowers.  It blooms off and on all summer for me and is the plant to which I credit my obsession with all things dianthus.

Clematis 'Vyvyan Pennell'

I so hate to show you a clematis whose variety I cannot definitively name—it was marked as ‘Vyvyan Pennell’ but that cultivar has double flowers so it could not be correct.  Its fully 7″ across flowers are gorgeous by any name!  It has been in this pot for about 6 years and will fully cover the 36″ supports by early summer.  Even though clematis are full sun plants I give this one a bit of patio protection in our hottest months to reduce the chance of it drying out if we are away for several days.

The bearded iris first bloomers were a trifecta this year!  I have over 60 iris varieties and they range from very early bloomers to very late bloomers.  Left to right the 2016 firsts are:

                         ‘Laura Buelow’                    ‘Night Ruler’                 ‘Over Alaska’

A special “first” award goes to the hosta pictured below.  My love affair with hostas has spanned many years and two gardens where my attempts to grow them have been thwarted by one critter or another.  I grow several varieties now but they are most successful for me protected in pots.



I am calling this one the ‘FIRST HOSTA (NOT IN A POT) TO HAVE THIS MANY LEAVES BEFORE IT IS EATEN TO THE GROUND BY SNAILS’…how’s that for a unique cultivar?

A tiny monster any girl can love…

I have long had a love affair with geraniums–true or hardy geraniums to distinguish the group from their cousins, pelargoniums (often called zonal geraniums.)  I am usually in the throes of a love affair with one plant or another and spend my garden center time searching out every different one to add to the garden.  In future posts you’ll no doubt hear about my current obsession with all the wonderful new perennial dianthus, or my first glimpses at the diversity in the large plant family called campanula which sent me up and down the highways hunting down every one in the Central Valley, or the lavender years, or, or, or…I first drank the kool-aid with Geranium incanum in the eighties when we had a difficult front slope in southern CA to fill with things that were easy care and would take up a fair amount of space.  At that time there were not many varieties of these hard working gems in most local nurseries or garden stores even though there are over 300 species and many, many cultivars and hybrids in the world.

Most true geraniums, often called cranesbill, are easy care; not too fussy about soil and rarely bothered by insects or disease.  Although they are often tagged as full sun, in my hot, dry climate most benefit from some afternoon shade.  Let’s face it—most everything here, including me, could benefit from some afternoon shade!  I have about a dozen different kinds between my front and back beds but few are in bloom yet.  I do shear back the foliage for our cold winter and the new foliage is just now popping out.  Later in the spring I’ll  dedicate a post to them as they come into their prime.

On the other hand, G. ‘Tiny Monster’ has been up and running since mid January and will bloom continuously until I cut it back in self defense in late November or early December. It is a garden workhorse for me.  The  source of all the ‘Tiny Monster’ clumps in my garden (and in several fellow gardeners’ yards) was a 4″ plant found almost two years ago at the fabulous Plant Depot in San Juan Capistrano, CA.  I always stop in when I am visiting my SoCal girlfriends and never leave the OC without back of the Volvo wagon full of great finds.  Lots and lots of 4″ pots so you can try a lot of new things without breaking the bank.

I popped my little discovery in the ground under one of a pair of ‘Renae’ cascading tree roses hoping to give it a little protection from the southern exposure.  It quickly grew to a clump about 18″ high and 4 feet across.  Like many of the true geraniums it will attach to the soil at points away from the original crown.  These babies can then be detached from the runner, dug up and transplanted.  ‘Tiny Monster’ has proven itself as a reliable mounding ground cover in the hottest, driest conditions imaginable.  You can see the original clump in the photo below—this is a south facing bed with brutal summer sun.  I have transplanted clumps to a dry little sloping area behind the pool which is also south facing AND gets the western sun to boot.  Never wilts, never dries out, always blooms.  If I let it, it will scramble over its neighbors but is easily controlled with 5 minutes and a pair of hand clippers.  The magenta flowers are cheerful and the charming lacy, cut leaves look airy and cool.  For me, this tiny monster can hang out in my garden any time!

Hello, dainty little bells

We returned home from a few days at our mountain cabin to find many new wonders coming alive in the garden.  Soon my central valley will be in the throes of its hot, dry summer when I swear I can see the heat move in waves before my eyes and it’s everyone into the pool on a daily basis. I appreciate every little minute of springlike weather when things start to wake up from their winter’s sleep and stretch their arms out for another year.

A couple of years ago I added a shade bed adjacent to my north facing back patio.  The area had formerly been lawn and the shade from the house had made it a spectacularly unsuccessful lawn.  Shade tolerant grass varieties were not the answer–as soon as you passed the line of demarcation shaded by the house you were in hot, dry country.  The result was a lovely curvy bed about 25 feet long but only about 4 feet at its widest.

IMG_2540In this photo you can actually see the “line in the sand” drawn by the sun and the shade.  As the sun moves to its summer position it does encroach somewhat more into the bed (enough to have a couple of miniature roses at the eastern end) but for most of the year the meandering little bed remains a haven for shade and moisture loving perennials including hosta, Maidenhair ferns, hellebores, pulmonarias, tiarellas, calla lilies, true geraniums and bellflowers.  The bed is anchored by two standard gardenias, a couple of Pieris japonica ‘Prelude ‘ and several small hydrangeas Pink Elf®.  It is also home to every snail and slug within a five mile radius—sometimes it seems as though you just can’t win!!

One of my favorite inhabitants in this shady little village is a colony of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘variegata’)  That’s a pretty big name for this dainty perennial whose 14″-18″ arching stems sport dangling creamy white bells in early spring.  Solomon’s seal is a relative of the Lily-of-the Valley and actually a member of the same family as asparagus.  Its delicate leaves are edged in white and large colonies result from the spread of its creeping rootstock.  It is easy to pull up if it wanders too far but really, who would want to? If you live in cooler areas the leaves will develop a lovely yellow color before dying back for the winter.  In my very hot summer climate it can look pretty ragged by fall but always comes back just as hopeful the next spring.  There are several interesting explanations for the plant’s name.  One is that its roots bear depressions that resemble royal seals–another that pieces of the root when cut  look like Hebrew symbols. Below you’ll see the Soloman’s seal and a few of its shady neighbors!

Soloman’s friends bottom row left to right: Hellebore ‘Queen’s Double’, Brunnera macrophylla and Pulmonary ‘Tivoli Fountain’



Reminders of my life in the south…

Although the quintessential Queen of Blooms, Camellia japonica, is grown all over the world, it will always speak to me of the South.  Having lived for many years in an historic neighborhood in Macon, Georgia, which was covered in camellias, azaleas, dogwoods and hydrangeas, I will always associate the camellia with the laid back elegance and style of the deep South.  Leaving that garden paradise in 2008 to return to the hot, dry Central Valley of California required a major adjustment in expectations to successfully grow many of the acid and moisture loving plants I had come to rely on not only for a graceful landscape but also for a ready source of cut flowers.  In my zone 9 garden camellias fare best with morning sun and afternoon shade.  The scorching afternoon summer sun punishes the foliage so badly that by the time it cools off and the plants start to come into bloom in late fall and early winter they still show the effects of the summer stress.  We have fairly alkaline soil and are in an area with a lot of petal blight, a fungal disease which causes buds and flowers to prematurely brown and drop.  Many camellia lovers have persevered here in spite of the challenges and there are some lovely large plants around town which have flourished with just the right exposure, protection and care.

My garden has very few spots offering the coveted morning sun/afternoon shade combination so we just had to make do.  I have a number of large camellias in pots on my north facing covered patio—-a location made in heaven for them.  Too many more and I won’t be able to get out the door.  Over our first few years here I planted a variety of camellias against the fence on the west side of our house.  This is the “service” side of our property but it is a joy to see the blooms from the windows in our bedrooms and bath rooms.  Just about the middle April  we suspend panels of shade cloth from the fascia to the top of the fence behind the plants to give them relief from the summer sun.  The shade cloth panels usually come down around Halloween.  Although intended for the plants, the panels provide the extra service to us of protecting those rooms from the western sun and make it possible to actually have the shutters open on summer afternoons!

As they will be done blooming soon I took a few shots of some of my favorite varieties of this magnificent flower to share with you—Enjoy!


Clockwise starting from upper left: ‘Grand Prix’ (6″ across!!), ‘Sue Kendall’, ‘Jordan’s Pride’, ‘Nuccio’s Bella Rossa’, ‘Nuccio’s Gem’

Just now digging in…

Hello, Gardening Friends!

I am embarking on this adventure to replace the Friday Plant of the Week emails going out to many of my gardening friends.  Having shared the gardening world with wonderful people from California to Georgia and back again it is rewarding to pass on your successes, failures, new finds and old favorites–not only with the gardeners in whose dirt I have been  knee deep but with some new friends I might meet along the way.

I am still figuring out how this world of cyber sharing works so be patient with me regarding the look of the blog and whatever technical errors I will surely make along the way!!

I am a life long lover of all things GARDEN.  High on my plant list are iris, hellebores, roses and just about all perennials.  I am less enamored of managing grass which is a good thing given the drought stricken status of my home state of California.  No longer a veggie girl as my husband’s family keeps us in more fruit and veg than we can consume.  I definitely have a garden–with all its ups and downs– not a landscape.  I look forward to sharing it with you!