Smitten by all accounts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winter that wasn’t…

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 Party is 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.

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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–Fernleafed lavender (Lavandula multifidia); Cherry Sunblaze rose; calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)

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.

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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!

 

This eagle has finally landed…

 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

Left: Teucrium betonicum Right: Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Everblooming’

Left: Grevillea ‘Pink Pearl’ Right: Cotoneaster horizontalis variegatus

Left: Plumbago auriculata ‘Alba’ Right: Lonicera nitida ‘Lemon Beauty’

Left: Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Sungold’ Right: Dorycnium hirsutum

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.

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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.