Lay back on my couch and tell me all about it…

I have been thinking about doing this post for little while but was spurred into action by emails from two gardening friends who sent me basically the same message in response to my last post: “Your garden always looks beautiful. No matter how hard I work mine will never looks like yours or like the ones I see season after season in the gardening magazines.  I am so discouraged.” Clearly it is time for some green thumb psychotherapy!  First and foremost: No one’s garden ever really looks like the magazines.  Beds, borders and plant specimens are photographed at their peak and in perfect light. Undoubtedly a magazine minion (production assistant?) is hovering around spray cleaning foliage, picking weeds with a tweezer, sucking up the errant leaves and twigs and generally making the natural world look way more perfect than it is. Great gig if you can get it!  As for my personal garden world: I only let you see what I want you to see. Here are a few vignettes of what’s lurking just outside the scope of my iPhone’s little lens.

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We call this the ‘corner of death’.  We have had one in every garden in every house for over 30 years.  If we had a nickel for every plant that failed in this spot over the last 7 years we might have that beach house we’ve always wanted.  No amount of soil amendment, sprinkler adjustment, mulch or prayer seems to alter this bermuda triangle like location. Oh, and notice the dead grass…

Slugs at work and their buddy, the snail, at rest…

Long searched for Hydrangea anomala petiolaris ‘Miranda’ –a variegated leafed climbing hydrangea not often seen in California– looks like a victim of nuclear warfare.  More common but no less doomed are three ‘Mystery’ gardenias in the Secret Garden behind our dining pavilion in the back yard.

Mature sequoias and young hydrangeas alike just cannot cope with the combination of the super heated air and our current exterior watering limitations.

Dead grass, dead grass, and did I mention dead grass with our friend Spotted Spurge? These areas are slated to be cleared, amended and replanted with drought tolerant shrubs and ground cover but I am not sure I will live long enough to see it.

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This area has been in the process of being cleared to install a long north facing potting bench with shelves behind it.  Oh, yeah…started relocating plants in 2014.  What year is it now anyway?

Big weeds, small weeds, weeds I can name and weeds I call names you would not want to hear!

So this is another post to which I could go on adding photos through the night but I think you get the idea.  If there are no weeds, critters, diseases, impending death and multi-year projects where you hang your big floppy sunhat then you probably have a LANDSCAPE not a GARDEN.  Landscapes are something you get done for you and let someone else maintain.  Gardens are planned, cursed at, pruned,  replanned and encouraged by hands that love them.  Gardens are about hope and gardeners are the most hopeful people on earth. We garden because we just can’t wait to see what wonderful thing will spring out of the ground next year.  We plot, we purchase, we plant, we nurture, we pray for our garden of the future–the garden of next season.

We garden because there is always another perfect blue flower to add, a plant we have never even heard of to pop into the ground and a new year to which we look forward with open arms and hearts.

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Psst!  One of two huge Bird of Paradise (big orange beaky flower) plants snugged up against the front of my home and providing a less than desirable backdrop to my predominantly blue/purple/pink plantings seems to be failing.  David loves these plants and is bereft.  I MAY have accidentally dropped a bucket of Round-Up on this one as I was passing by…

Two of the queen’s BBFFs…

There will never be enough blue flowers in the world for me to say “I have enough blue in my garden.” Blue for me ranges from the very pale sky and lavender blues all the way to the darkest royal and navy blues.  The interplay of crisp whites and blues of all shades with the myriad colors of green foliage is what I see when I close my eyes and envision heaven!  The only thing better than a blue flower is a blue flower that you can not only love for its color but for its hardiness, ability to hold its color is very hot sun and fill the role of a garden multi-tasker to boot. Today I am sharing two of my Best Blue Flowers Forever in hopes you’ll be inspired to add them to your garden where they will bring a smile to your face each day and reward you many times more than the investment you make in them.

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Aster x frikarti ‘Monch’

The Sunset Western Garden Book tells us that there are more than 600 species of asters ranging from compact mounds to 6 foot tall loosely branched plants with blooms in shades of white, pink, blue and purple, mostly bearing a yellow center.  I have never lived in an area where they were used to their full glory in perennial plantings but have seen countless photos of wide swathes of flowing plants dominating borders in the American northeast and in the UK.  While I have only had a handful of species/varieties in my own gardens each has been a faithful performer.  The retail nursery trade by in large dictates what we put in our yards and often they feel the need to stick to the ‘tried and true’ that they believe are familiar to the average gardener and will sell.  This is where having an small independent plant passionate nursery in your area will benefit you so much in terms of garden diversity.  Fortunately, A. x frikarti ‘Monch’ does fall in the tried and true category and thus is pretty commonly available even in the big box stores.

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Blooming by early May–Lasting til frost!

This aster is commonly called a Michaelmas Daisy. In cooler summered European climates it is an autumn bloomer and would be gathered from gardens to decorate churches around the 29th of September, Michaelmas Day, when harvest festivals take place.  In my garden it blooms from late spring through frost or whenever I cut it back to rest during the short winter months.  This hybrid was produced around 1918 by Swiss nurseryman Carl Frikart and was named, along with another one called ‘Eiger’, for the mountain peaks which were visible from his nursery. It fares best in full sun to part shade (the one pictures is in a full sun southern exposure with just a bit of shade from a small crape myrtle tree) in well drained, alkaline, average soil.  Although many asters are plagued with powdery mildew this one is very resistant.  The lavender-blue flowers are borne on long, loosely-branched arms which will wave a bit when there is a slight breeze.  They are wonderful cut flowers–try adding their delicate daisy faces to mixed blossom bouquets. Its open habit does benefit from a bit of pinching back now and then.  I find that even if I let it go too long and need to nip more aggressively it responds well.  My full sun front beds tend to get a little tired as the long, hot summer wears on and the ‘Monch’ helps me out with its sprawling, loose habit in camouflaging some of its worse for wear neighbors. As I have them planted in beds on either side of my front walkway  where their root balls are snugged up against the bases of the trunks of a couple of young crape myrtles, I can always tie them up a bit if the need arises. Mostly I just let them do their thing and often by mid September when everything else is gasping for cooler air and a drink of water, the asters are just rambling and scrambling along with little care.  Other similar varieties you might run across to try would be Aster x frikarti ‘Jungfrau’ and ‘Wunder von Stafa’–both similar in color to the picture.

On to #2!  I know you might be tired of hearing about geraniums–hardy geraniums–from me but they are so unknown by many that I don’t think there can be enough written about this marvelous group of plants.  To recap, these are GERANIUMS, not the PELARGONIUMS that we commonly call geraniums. The European gardening community calls this group cranesbills and while you may now and then find a plant tag bearing that name in the US it has never caught on with us.  Hardy geraniums are mostly perennial and in my zone 9 garden they will die back to the crown during the coldest of winters.  They generally prefer soil more acidic than alkaline and need adequate water in hot summer areas.  They range from full sun to full shade depending of the species and cultivar you choose.

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Geranium ‘Rozanne’

This is geranium ‘Rozanne’, probably one of the most currently commercially available of the hardy geraniums.  The above photo is a single plant which covers about about a 3 foot circle.  ‘Rozanne’ was bred by Donald and Rozanne Waterer of the UK.  Now and then you will see her marked as G. ‘Jolly Bee’ although in the garden patent world the patent on ‘Rozanne’ replaced that of ‘Jolly Bee’. This mounding sprawler is equally at home in the ground, in large containers or in hanging baskets.  I have never been able to produce a photograph that does the blueness of the lavender justice.  The blooms are at their most blue as they open and then fade to a more lavender shade. Research I have done on this plant suggest that the flowers or more lavender pink in hotter weather and more lilac blue in cooler climates. Given that I will probably never see the full extent of the blue hue! As with most hardy geraniums give her a slightly acidic, moist soil for best performance and some light afternoon shade in very hot summer areas.  My ‘Rozanne’ is planted right in front of a fairly mature ‘Pink Elf’ hydrangea.  The hydrangea is in too much sun as the summer progresses and sort of becomes a crispy mess.  I let ‘Rozanne’ wander right over it providing some visual relief for me and a little sun screen for the plant. I tidy it up about halfway through the season by just gathering the plant up and whacking it off to about a foot and ‘Rozanne’ responds with fresh green foliage and a fresh profusion of flowers.

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Beautiful ‘Rozanne’

There you have it–two beautiful blues for you to become BFFs with.  Garden on!

A gardener in paradise…

No visit to Orange County in Southern California is complete for me without a visit the iconic Roger’s Gardens in Corona Del Mar.  Their marketing tagline is ‘Bringing Beauty into your Home and Garden’ and that truly says it all.  Roger’s history spans over 50 years and it is a destination for plant people all over the country.

In the late 1990s when my gardening partner in crime, Mary, took me to Roger’s I was captivated.  It is like a little island of beauty and creativity surrounded many equally lovely homes in some of the country’s most high priced real estate.  Over the 11 years I lived in Orange Country I visited Roger’s hundreds of times and always found a bit of this or a piece of that needing to be added to my own efforts at creating an island of beauty of my own.  As if being a veritable visual feast of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, roses and just about anything else with roots isn’t enough; Roger’s has several exquisite home and gift sections to moon over and is a ‘must see’ destination when its holiday spirit is on display from late fall til January. Today fellow gardening gal who always believes there’s hope for next year, Judi, and I are here to take it all in. And shop, of course.

So, come with us on a photographic tour of this OC destination:

A peek at the current events  welcomes you as you approach.  The entrance changes with the season and is always an inspiration–loved these metal containers used both as planters and great accents displaying vintage gardening tools.  The living wall is planted using Wooly Planters and a variety of plant material including ivies, heuchera, campanula, ferns and more!

The front area where you line up to check out is always beautifully done and it is hard not to find more to buy (or photograph) as you move toward the cash register clutching your precious cargo.  The largest of the home gift areas is visible to all who thought they were done and ready to check out.  The themes and palette of this area changes frequently and it is  a seasonal treat even if you are not REALLY shopping.

This island bed, anchored by mature conifers, beckons you into the open air of the nursery area and is planted seasonally.  It is also a cool oasis for those non-gardening companions to hang out while you shop.

Planted containers surrounded by featured plant material lure you forward to see more!

Wander through areas for sun and shade plants, all well marked, and with helpful staff at the ready to answer your questions.

Today there is a vegetable seminar in progress and close by are tables to pick up those new varieties you may have learned about from the speaker.  A full schedule of seminars and classes is available at http://www.rogersgardens.com

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Some of the best stuff is the farthest away from the entrance but wagons are easily maneuvered along the winding paths.  Every turn finds a new delight.

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Drought is on all our minds here in California.  Roger’s offers lots of printed material to educate gardeners in their quest to create a beautiful landscape while conserving this most precious resource.

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Although my personal haul today was restrained by my standards, I was tickled pink (or lavender?) to find one more the my sought after salvias from the Western Dancer series called Dancing Dolls.

Roger’s Gardens is a delight for the soul regardless of the level of your desire to get down on your hands and knees and dig in the dirt.  It is more a life experience than a retail one!

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We passed this poster as we made our way to the car with our finds.  Now who wouldn’t want to learn to make a hummingbird swing?  Is June 25 too soon for me to head south again?

Summer Magic…

Today we visit my gardening BFF, Judi, at her home in Southern Orange County, CA.  Judi and I have been garden touring and plant shopping companions for more than 25 years.  We can find a new place to explore or a new project on which to embark every time we get together.  Judi has a passion for fostering and nurturing wildlife in her garden.  Her plant and garden management choices are made with the bees, birds and butterflies in mind.  Her petite garden space has been named a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat and proudly displays this plaque near her back gate:


Certified Wildlife Habitat sites can be residential, community parks, schools, corporate buildings –just about any location where the landscape is managed, using sustainable gardening practices, to provide the four basic elements that all wildlife need: food, water, cover, and places to raise their young. For more information about creating a certified habitat go to the Federation’s website at http://www.nwf.org/habitat or call 1-800-822-9919.

One of Judi’s special interests is the Monarch butterfly.  She provides many Asclepias tuberosa (common milkweed) and Asclepias physocarpa (Hairy Balls plant, Swan plant, Oscar milkweed) as host plants.  The Monarch butterfly lays its eggs on the host plants.  The eggs develop into the striped catepillars which then feed on the foliage of the host plant, often stripping it down to the stems. As the cycle continues each catepillar will prepare for the chrysalid state by attaching itself to a solid surface such as a tree branch or the overhang of a block wall.  Given adequate host plants for food Judi may see up to 20 chrysalids at any given time.  There are undoubtedly many more that are never observed by the humans inhabiting the garden.  The Monarch chrysalid is easily recognized by its bright lime green color and  gold band around its circumference and looks like it is wearing a dainty string of black pearls.  Within 10 to 12 days the chrysalid will take on a brown hue and you know that emergence of the butterfly is imminent. When the time is right the butterfly emerges very quickly, staying near the chrysalid, and flutters it’s wings to dry.  A sunny spot aids in this drying process.  And then the butterfly is off! This cycle of life is magic repeating itself in every butterfly friendly refuge over and over–amazing to think  that we can offer a bit of assistance to these lovely creatures by our garden choices!

Gardening friends! Please bear with the formatting eccentricities on this first post composed on my new iPad. Everything is in a different place and some of the tools I can’t find at all!!