Is is fall yet?

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A late summer Lilium speciosum album in the front garden

Fall can be sort of a moving target in California’s Central Valley. Some years we pull out our hoodies in mid-October and others find us Christmas tree shopping in shorts. We are not without seasons–just not sure when to expect them to change throughout the year!

Whenever it gets here, fall is my favorite season in the garden. It is certainly not the most attractive as many plants, even those not naturally winding down their seasons due to shorter days and longer nights, look pretty peaked from the ravages of the hot and dry summer. Fall is the season symbolizing another year of work well done in the garden with a little time for reflection, planning and rest on the horizon. Our short, relatively mild winters make attention to the garden in fall even more critical.

This year our spring was cooler, longer and wetter than average and the summer days in the triple digits were fewer than many years–all in all a summer worthy of rejoicing. That being said, as I write this post temps for the next few days range from 89° to 98° with a definite cooling trend into the 70s at week’s end. The last couple of weeks we have had cooler early mornings well suited to getting going on fall garden tasks and some light winds which seem to have made the mosquitoes less active–always a plus.

Last year every available gardening minute from September through the end of the year was devoted to the last phase of the front garden’s lawn removal/bed replanting effort. The back garden was left to fend for itself–roses were never pruned, perennials not cut back, winter annual weed pre-emergent never scattered, and humsy mulch never refreshed. I think you get the picture…

Like the 5 year old who feels neglected amidst the excitement of a new baby in the house, my back garden has both pouted and gone wild. It’s time to get back to a more normal rhythm for both gardens and see what can be refreshed (or just plain salvaged) in hopes that after a little winter’s nap it will reward me with another year of fresh foliage or bright blooms.

First on my hit list are the vigorous clumps of Viola ‘Royal Robe’ which have all but taken over the shade bed adjacent the back patio. Below you see some of the smaller clumps nestled up against Helleborus x hybridus ‘Double Queen’ and Geranium ‘Brookside’

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The hellebores can hold their own against this thug but many of the bed’s less substantial ground covers like the lime green foliaged Campanula ‘Dickson’s Gold’ are all but lost. Don’t get me wrong–I love the violets. I generally thin them drastically in the early fall as they are ready to reseed with the goal of keeping enough in the bed to enjoy the flowers without them turning into the playground bully. Without last year’s thinning, they reseeded prolifically and just about every open space in the long bed looked just like the above photo.

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It took me about 9 hours spread over several days to dig out every clump, large and small, figuring there was enough seed already dropped to have gracious plenty come back next year. Each one of the seed pods forming at the base of the plant contains dozens of seeds and I swear every single one germinates in this bed which stays relatively cool and moist. The clumps, even with the dirt shaken off the roots, filled almost four trash cans.

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Shade bed cleaned of violets!

I also trimmed back the sun scorched maidenhair ferns, cleaned up the iris foliage, trimmed off any hellebore foliage with snail damage and pulled off all but the freshest foliage from all the hardy geraniums. All that turned up soil resulting from the violet digging begged for a layer of enriching humus to be dug in. A light dusting of granular pre-emergent seemed warranted to minimize germination of any seeds churned up to the surface.

Dave did the heavy digging and lifting to remove two huge clumps of Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’ from behind the rocks of the pool waterfall. They had originally been planted flanking the rock work in 2011 but quickly proved to be incompatible with that full southern sun location. Absent any other place to put them I dug them in behind the waterfall where they got a little shade from the boulders. When I later added some climbing roses to the fence they provided a nice foliage contrast at the base of the climbers–even though I was really the only one who even knew they were there! Fast forward to 2019 and the clumps are so large I have lost all ability to even stand at the base of the roses (wedged up against the back of the waterfall!) to do routine maintenance…and the dianellas, commonly called flax lilies, are still in too much sun to have pretty foliage. The plan was to dig them out, divide and replant in shadier locations.

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No easy feat to lift this clump out over the rocks and other mature plants

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Dave moved the first one into the shade of the pavilion for me and I set to pulling it apart! This one yield over 60 divisions–plenty for me to replant in my yard and pass along to gardening friends. Much of the literature about dianella indicates that they can be invasive as they spread by underground runners. My guess is that they probably need to be in good rich and moist soil to become a pest. Although my clumps grew quite large over many years each was very compact. The striped foliage of this species makes a nice contrast in areas of predominantly green foliage. Flax lilies bear small clusters of starlike blue flowers, followed by bluish purple berries, on narrow stems held above the foliage–not terribly showy. In a shady area of the replanted front garden I have added a grouping of Dianella ‘BluTopia’ which is a hybrid of Dianella prunina ‘Utopia’ and Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’–it will be interesting to see how this cousin of ‘Variegata’ will perform in a moister, shadier area.

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Dianella ‘BluTopia’

Each of the back gardens beds in turn will get a little love over the next few weeks. Working early in the morning and in easily managed chunks of tasks I hope to get through everything needing attention by mid-October.

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This small poolside bed anchored by a ‘Purple Pony’ ornamental plum needs only a light deadheading of the pink Sunblaze® miniature roses and ground hugging purple Salvia ‘Gleneden’ PPAF. Several large clumps of Aristea ecklonii on the far side were groomed soon after their early summer blooms faded. They are aggressive reseeders and I have learned to remove the spent flower stems religiously after a few seasons of digging scores of volunteers on my hands and knees. Almost done here–I’ll be on to the next bed soon!

I hope you are all enjoying your almost fall gardens–whether you are blessed with actual autumn weather or are just in a fall state of mind.

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A nodding agapanthus bloom bids summer adieu

 

 

Doing the West Coast whack…

One of the most satisfying things about participating in the Garden Bloggers Fling the last several years has been the opportunity to meet gardeners from all over the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. We are all proud of what we grow but there is no denying that we all lament over what we just can’t get to perform well (or even stay alive til season’s end) given our region’s cultural conditions.

When I lived in the deep south our hydrangeas were big, blue and fabulous and spring days were awash in color from the winter’s remaining camellias, azaleas of all colors and blooming ornamental cherry trees. I could not, however, grow a decent rose that wasn’t covered in blackspot by the time it formed buds. At the Capitol Region Fling in 2017, gardeners with massed blooming perennials and annuals mourned their lack of gardenias as evergreen shrubs rather than annuals lost to cold each year. Clematis and peonies are always wept over by those of us whose fate they are not while I’m pretty sure they grow unattended in fields in the Midwest. A fellow blogger mooned over a single agapanthus in a Denver garden as if it was the second coming; in Southern California we grew those by the freeways. Don’t get me wrong–all of us have gotten a round peg in a square hole with enough effort but more and more gardeners are concentrating on growing well what grows best in their garden’s natural culture.

There is also a lot of time to cuss and discuss various the cultural practices we use to get the most from what we’ve got. In front of an amsonia standing very tall in a Denver garden I commented that I had planted one in my Georgia garden but could never get it not to flop. UK blogger Michelle Chapman asked, “Do you Chelsea chop?” I was momentarily without words. She went on to explain that cutting the amsonia, along with many other herbaceous perennials, back at a certain point to encourage branching would produce a sturdier plant less likely to flop. Michelle gardens in Chippenham, England and blogs at Veg Plotting. For her area that optimal spring cutback takes place around the time of the famed Chelsea Flower Show–hence it is called the Chelsea chop. As I enjoy a longer growing season, my perennials generally have been blooming for 2+ months by May when CFS takes place. My early spring cutback to encourage branching is more like early to mid-February but I have no equally descriptive name for it. My Central Valley’s commonly 8 month growing season does benefit from a mid-summer cutback of most herbaceous and woody perennials. After they take a brief rest, I am rewarded with another full bloom cycle which carries my garden through fall. I’ve decided I’m going to call my early July cutback the West Coast whack! There is always more than binds gardeners together than that separates them–we are pretty good world ambassadors, I think.

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Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ is ubiquitous in my garden and so is rarely the center of any photo!

As we are spending next week in the cool of the Sierra Mountains and my plants are ready even if I am not, this is my week to whack. In years past, I have spent more time laboriously making the perfect cut on each stem but life has gotten too short for that and many of the twiggier plant groups like the Salvia greggii, of which I have many selections, seem to respond just as well with a less precision prune. Roses are getting another mass dead heading also–not much escapes this mid-summer madness.

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The iris is finished and the salvias whacked!

It will take me the rest of the week, working in the cooler early morning hours, to cut back the salvias, agastache, penstemon and shrub roses. Other perennials can be dead headed and tidied up as time permits. We’ll take a rest from the garden next week as the garden starts its summer afternoon nap.

 

Bigger than a See’s candy but smaller than a coffee table…at least so far

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I guess some plants just know when you’ve picked the right spot for them and they reward you in kind. Such has been the life of Salvia ‘Bon Bon’ since I dug it in near the base of our mailbox on March 20th of last year as part of the replanting of an area previously predominantly turf.

I’d like to say the ‘plan’ for this area was laboriously developed, plant by plant, using age-old principles of good landscape design. Alas, it came to be as most other parts of my garden have–with the statement of a broad goal (reduce irrigation) and whatever plant materials I find in my garden travels supplemented by stock from big box stores and the very few independent garden centers in my city. Sometimes the pickings are good, other times not so much. There is no benefit in developing a design for an area with a pre-planned plant list if those plants cannot be sourced fairly locally.

Having bought several selections new to me at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s fall plant sale in October 2017 I was still in salvia mode when I ran across a single sad 1 gallon ‘Bon Bon’ at a local nursery, Willow Gardens. It looked as though it had been hanging around awhile and while not especially appealing it was one I didn’t have and fit my broad parameter of being at least moderately xeric. I stand guilty of buy now and research later on this one.

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March 21, 2018

At planting it was not even worth a close-up pic but you can see it just to the left of the stone mailbox. Monterey Bay Nursery’s website described it as “a perky, cute little native hybrid of S. clevelandii ‘Aromas’ and S. leucophylla ‘Point Sal'” and as “a very tough, low diminutive dry garden ground cover for full to half sun.” While I can attest to its toughness–this spot has NO source of summer water and it is full on south facing–I am assuming the diminutive appellation is relative to other closely related salvias. Its size is described as about 30″ tall when in flower by about 36″ wide.

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Settling in nicely on May 24, 2018
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At summer’s end–September 23rd, 2018–no rain since April, out of range of the irrigation system and no hand watering–I am looking way more worse for the wear after summer than ‘Bon Bon’
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Coming into bloom in late February 2018

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From only a slightly different angle this bed has filled out beyond my wildest dreams in the last year! Salvia ‘Bon Bon’ is a standout snuggled up against the mailbox’s stone column and awash in blooms and bees. I am still unsure if this is its normal bloom cycle. I recently added another to the opposite side of the front walk and it is also starting to bloom. This second spot is slightly less dry and I’m interested to see if the additional water results in a less robust plant. At just a year in the ground it is already at Monterey Bay Nursery’s mature size estimate. I am planning to tidy it up when these blooms are done and that effort will be the first I’ve made on its behalf since it was planted–my kind of minimal maintenance requirements for sure. I’ll let you know when it gets to be bigger than a coffee table! I’m giving ‘Bon Bon’ an A++ for its fledgling year.

 

 

A walk in my woods…

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With the first snows of the winter in the forecast for the last week in November and our turkey dinner well settled,  my husband and I headed to the Sierras to do the last tasks to fortify our small cabin outside the south entrance to Yosemite National Park as much as possible for the winter. Unlike many of the cabins in Fish Camp we have central heat and  are able to spend a good bit of time there in the winter months but we must still prepare our deck for the snow slide off the roof, lay in a good supply of wood close in and, when at all possible, get up as much of the autumn leaf fall disposed of before it is covered by snow. The last is mostly to get a jump on clearing the ‘defensible 100 feet’ required by the fire folks once the warm, dry summer sets in. Note to Donald T: in case you are following my blog you can rest easy that we ARE raking our forest floor.

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Our area is prone to fall rainstorms which can produce flash flooding and our cabin happens to sit much lower than the road. Water rushing down the road is directed into a culvert and then into a big metal drainpipe which runs under our driveway and out into what is euphemistically called a ‘seasonal creek’ by real estate agents. The steep slope of our property away from the road then carries it down to an actual creek just below  the property. Last year obstructions in the pipe caused the water to back up in the culvert, jump the bank and virtually wash out our steep, curved, at that time dirt driveway. Fortunately a slight raise in the grade in front of our basement stopped the flow before we became an ark! And our seasonal creek seemed to be mysteriously creeping closer to the cabin…to that end we worked diligently this summer to clear both the culvert and the sub-driveway pipe. A neighbor with a backhoe pushed several years worth of downhill debris up to give us new and well defined culvert on the downhill side of the pipe so we could create a good path for the run-off. A fall afternoon’s worth of collecting rock from around the property and stacking it up resulted in what we have now dubbed El Pequeno Rio Armadillo–the Little Armadillo River, a nod to my husband’s childhood nickname. Having just had the first heavy rains of the fall I was anxious to see how our handiwork had fared and was pleased to see the banks held and the downhill flow of the rushing water was well within bounds of what we’d hoped for!

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Of course, we have a huge tree right in the middle of the flow–earth and stones hopefully stop the water from jumping the bank toward the house
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Looking down from the drain pipe
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Looking back ‘upstream’ from quite far below–the power of moving water from just one large storm has carved this perfect path

With snow on the ground since this visit, the threat of flood has diminished. However, with the spring snowmelt from the high Sierra we will again need to keep a close watch on where the Little Armadillo River wanders.

In the few years we have owned this vacation cabin, my husband’s work/travel schedule has been the determining factor of how much time we are able to spend in the mountains and with so much work to be done to make the 50 year old home habitable we really haven’t spent much mountain time actually having any fun. His 2018 mid-summer retirement has given us more freedom to enjoy the quiet and the beautiful vistas without feeling we need to be ‘getting something done’ every time we are there. With that in mind and Dave doing a little light raking (8 barrels worth) I thought it a perfect time to take a stroll and survey our small piece of the forest.

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I have purposefully left the exposure of these photos unedited. Our land is only about an acre and slopes sharply down from street level with a smallish flat area midway for parking in front of the cabin. Our views up toward the street are always in dappled shade from trees, both conifers and deciduous hardwoods. I will be forever in awe of the huge granite outcroppings and boulders.

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Just below street level 
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This monster is perched on our neighbor’s property high over the creek bed below our property
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Beautiful life decorates the boulders
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Looking uphill from the lowest point of our land
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Our only sunny spot is the meadow (or gully depending on my mood) visible from the back deck–happily inhabited by a great diversity of trees

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Our local utility company is actively trimming or clearing trees too close to power lines. We have several marked to be limbed up but but none marked for removal as this one on the property next to us.

Even in late November there is a lot of plant life to be seen. I am clueless on about 90% of  what is growing here but it is my goal to be able to identify most of what we have in the next few years. The top left photo is one of the manzanita varieties, I think–at least it is growing among a huge thicket of manzanita! In the spring they have small pinkish white flowers so I am not sure about the red blossom. I’ll take gladly take any guesses on the other three!

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I am cautiously proposing white fir on this very young tree. I am amazed at all seedlings we have, especially given the continuing Central California drought conditions–just another example of Mother Nature’s drive to keep her offspring going.

Tree felling required for the installation of larger water tanks just up the road from us resulted in great quantities of wood available for the water company’s customers. We have hauled logs down for various purposes and a neighbor cut up a half dozen nice ones for us to use as seating. Earlier in the year we arrived at the cabin one weekend to find a tree stump about 2 feet high and 48″ across neatly in place beside our wood pile. My husband had mentioned to a neighbor Gene G. that he need a stump on which to split logs and voila! one arrived via our go to heavy equipment neighbor Barry G. It is a fact that mountain people all look out for each other.

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A small ginkgo on the roadside shows its colors

Just across the road from us this wee waterfall has been running for weeks.

The seed pods are from the lily type plant below which I photographed in bloom in July.

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What tales this (cedar?) tree trunk has to tell…

Fish Camp lies a scant 50 miles north of Fresno just outside the southern gate to Yosemite National Park. At about 5200 feet in elevation and an hour’s drive away it is light years away from the hustle and bustle of the hot dry San Joaquin Valley. Although the population sign indicates 500 residents, I am doubtful of the number. We have one large hotel/resort complex, the Tenaya Lodge, but no gas station or restaurants. A small general store offers some staples and a pretty mean sandwich and potato salad when there’s enough traffic into the park to keep it open everyday. If you are ever passing through on Highway 41 to Yosemite at least give us a wave as you go by!

“THE MOUNTAINS ARE CALLING AND I MUST GO”            John Muir

 

Moraea and the 3 M’s…

Dietes 1

The Moraea iris is as ubiquitous to California gardens as fish tacos are to our trendy coastal restaurants. Before gardeners had ready access to a wide variety of ornamental grasses, phormiums and dianellas this evergreen perennial was one of the very few plants which fulfilled the need for a bold, contemporary and architectural element in the  residential landscape. They are a landscaper’s staple here and if you drive down any residential street in my city you’d be hard pressed to find very many front yards without them. Only in the last few years has their popularity declined slightly as they do require moderate water to look their best and we now have many other choices that are less thirsty.

Dietes iridioides (D. vegeta, Moraea iridioides), commonly called the Moraea iris or fortnight lily, is an iris like perennial with fans of stiff, swordlike, dull green leaves. They are rhizomes which are almost always sold as container plants rather than barefoot and will form thick clumps of foliage over which bright white blooms seems to dance, butterfly like, throughout the year. In mild climates they may bloom year round. The flowers typically last a single day but in peak bloom periods there may be dozens on a large clump. The bloom stalks are segmented and a given stalk will produce multiple blooms throughout the season.

With all the good qualities having been mentioned–Moraea iris are among the most misunderstood, misused and as the result of these first two–misshapened–plants in California gardens today. They can grow to very large clumps and are commonly planted in areas too small to accommodate their mature size. Unless you break off the flower heads they will reseed prolifically, adding to the colony’s density and girth, seemingly  exponentially. Their clumping nature really calls for them to be divided by spading them up and breaking apart the fans every 5 or 6 years during the winter. I know many gardeners but I don’t know one who has ever divided a Moraea iris–myself included. We let them grow and grow and then they look like this.

Dietes 4

Then–when we just can’t stand it anymore and are upset by the diminishing bloom quantity–we whack them back or completely to the ground, producing these not so pleasing forms.

I am here to tell you not a single leaf that gets chopped off will ever grow again. New growth in the clump will be stimulated, making it ever so much denser and larger (which I am guessing was not the goal.) I have even seen the radical approach of mowing down the clumps like below.

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New fans will emerge but nothing good will ever come of all that dead root and foliage left in the ground.

It’s a telling statement that in looking for photos for this post I could not find a single example of this plant in good shape in the square mile surrounding my home. Eveybody’s got them and they all look like crap!

And so, with all I know (and have done poorly in the past) of this perennial you will not be surprised to know that one of the first garden reno projects we tackled after purchasing our home in 2008 was to remove all the Moraea iris–14 clumps in total–from our landscape. Even today we pull up bird gifted seedlings that have wandered over from neighboring yards.

My recently retired husband (who may start looking for a job to get some rest) is all in on his dead lawn removal project which will clear the last turf from our front yard. And each of us doing what we do best, I am gathering new plant material in my holding area in anticipation of replanting the area.

I surprised myself–and him–when I purchased a gallon specimen of the Moraea’s cousin which was marked as Dietes iridioides ‘Variegata’. I am not confident of the plant ID and think that it is actually Dietes grandiflora ‘Variegata’ or ‘Sunstripe’.

Dietes 2

The medium green foliage with bright yellow stripes is a wonderful twist on the duller green and will light up the dappled afternoon shade location I have reserved for it. The bloom on this plant is the one you see at the top of the post and it lasted for several days, which is the hallmark of the grandiflora species.

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Foliage closeup!

So here is my commitment to this ‘everything old is new again’ perennial: I will revel in your beauty and DIVIDE you as is necessary to keep you happy and attractive. I will never chop your lovely stripy leaves to the ground and I will harvest your seedlings to gift to my gardening friends!

 

 

 

 

 

Deadheading daze…

The months of April and May are peak times in my garden–rapid growth and lots of perennials and roses in bloom. This year travel took me out of my garden from mid-April until 10 days or so ago when I returned from the Austin Garden Bloggers Fling. A few days home here and there did not afford me many opportunities to keep up with the daily maintenance my spring flowering plant heavy garden demands to looks its best. Adding to that was our very mild winter which brought many things into bloom earlier and thus looking a little longer in the tooth by mid-May than I prefer.

So even with my 1000+ Fling photos still needing attention and at least a dozen posts to write covering all the glorious garden I saw in Austin, I knew time must be devoted to deadheading at least the roses. This routine task becomes much more taxing as the heat of summer comes and I like to have them all cut back by late May so I can look forward to a nice repeat flush of bloom mid-summer.

In direct opposition to my sort of blowsy, frowsy, scrambling, climbing plant aesthetic my husband feels more comfortable when the garden is under a little more, even if still tenuous, control. He is sure that the minute he gives it an inch, the garden will take a mile and rampaging plants will have damaged stucco walls, weakened wood fences or tumbled out of beds and borders and onto sidewalks and patios. He is not much for that garden principle of blurring the lines or softening the edges by letting plants wander as they choose. To that end, the purple Lantana montevidensis planted on either side of the rock waterfall behind the pool is always on his radar and I swear he adjusts his travel schedule so that he will be home while I am gone for several days so that he can have his way with the purple interloper.

Daze 1

In this older photo taken from just off the patio you can see the lantana has scrambled over the boulders–just the way I like it!

Daze 3

Several weeks ago when this photo was taken the lantana was just coming back into bloom after a brief late winter rest. Neither the climbing roses ‘Raspberry Cream Twirl’ on the fence behind the waterfall nor the cascading tree roses ‘Renae’ planted on either side had really come well into bloom yet.

Daze 2

Here’s what I returned home to–both climbing and tree roses had bloomed steadily during my absence and my purple trailing lantana had gotten a haircut worthy of a pair of army boot camp recruits! The twiggy little mounds remaining can barely be seen at the bases of the ‘Renae’ roses. OK–I really wasn’t surprised and am practicing being grateful because it is one less cutting back task for me in an all ready busy spring. To his credit I do tend to let them go too long between trimmings. This particular plant responds well to his unmerciful cutting style and will reward me with lots of new growth and flowers in a couple of weeks. Speaking of drastic pruning, you may notice we now have a view of our over the back fence neighbors. Until last fall their very overgrown plantings of Xylosmacongestum and Nerium oleander towered over our garden, allowing only a peek at their roof. We lost 100% of our privacy when all those trees were topped with their stumps right below the top of the fence. You can see that they are making a small comeback with some new growth above the fence edge but it will be forever, or possibly never, until the full view of their second story is obscured. See below what we lost!

Daze 11

I got busy today and deadheaded the ‘Raspberry Cream Twirl’ climbing roses (just barely planted in the above photo which is about 3 years old) on the fence. This dark pink striped climber has very long canes and it a great repeat bloomer.

Lavender Twirl

Daze 5The west side is done…now on to the east.

Daze 15

With both climbers and the ‘Renae’ tree roses on either side cleaned up I gave the waterfall rocks a scrub down and let it run for awhile.

Daze 16

‘Renae’ is pretty much a self cleaner and this is the first time I’ve have made an effort to deadhead midseason. I have 2 in the front garden and these two in the back which were planted a year later. Neither of the two has ever been as vigorous as the two in the front. I think it will be interesting to see if this deadheading will encourage renewed growth on the two that lag behind. The rose on the east side (right) has struggled since planting and only this year seems to be gaining some speed.

The front garden did not even seem to notice my absence. In our lawn removal/bed renovation projects the last couple of years I have eliminated almost all of the older roses, leaving only the modern carpet/ground cover types which require very little deadheading. I have put the last plants for this season in the newest of the formerly lawn areas and soon I’ll give you a tour. I used many 4″ containers and recent photographs reveal mostly the humus top dressing with a little blob of green here and there–let’s give these little guys some time to get going. Every year I look forward to the luminous white blooms displayed on this colony of trumpet lilies which rise behind a ‘Pink Supreme’ ground cover rose and a couple of salvias–Salvia fruticosa and Salvia chamaedryoides ‘Marine Blue’–not yet flowering. Soon these venerable three will be duking it out for dominance of the space and, if I am very lucky, spill right out onto the front sidewalk in search of the upper hand. Just the way I like it!

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!