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…

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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‘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!

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.

 

Amaryllis aftercare…

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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.

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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.

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Amaryllis ‘Rozetta’
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Amaryllis ‘Blushing Bride’

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.

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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!

 

 

A little cleanup and a few new friends…

Some very pleasant fall days and moderate improvement to the various spring and summer injuries which have largely kept me out of my own garden for the last six months have provided the opportunity to do some much needed cleanup and and dig in some plants that have rested in my holding area for far too long. I am still only able to work in blocks of a couple of hours at a time so I focus on small areas and tasks with the hopes of actually being able to get the job done and tidy up whatever mess I’ve made in the doing of it before I give out!

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In my October 2nd post Autumn musings… I showed you this curved bed near our back patio, ruefully pointing out that I had totally lost control of this climbing floribunda rose, ‘Morning Magic’. The confusion is rounded out with a huge clump of bearded iris needing division and a stand of Penstemon ‘Raven’ (lower right) which totally obscures the stepping stones and is laying on top of any number of other small perennials along the bed’s edge.

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The climber got a pretty drastic haircut for November. Warm days have encouraged lots of new growth in the couple of weeks since this photo was taken. Gardeners here often deadhead and  strip the leaves off roses in November to encourage them into dormancy, following up with the annual major prune in January. I resisted this practice the first few years we were here because I just hated to chop on roses that still looked fabulous but have come to accept that the practice does force them into a needed rest and offers a chance to dispose of diseased or damaged foliage before rains knock those leaves including whatever is attached to them to the soil below. Woo hoo! Check out those great stepping stones. The penstemon probably needs to be relocated to an area which would better accommodate its 4′ X 4′ late summer size. It is cut down to about 12″. The bearded iris have been divided with 5 nice fat rhizomes in place for next season. I potted up another half dozen for relocation to other beds.

Dave and I continue to work on the long side yard bed–site of the great Labor Day rock relocation. Digging and amending is VERY slow as minimizing tree damage is a high priority. In September, this entire stretch was treated (along with the rest of the yard) with John & Bob’s granular blend which is a combo of their products Optimize, Maximize and Nourish Biosoil. It also got a good drenching of their Penetrate Liquid Biotiller.  John & Bob’s Smart Soil Solutions was a Garden Bloggers Fling sponsor this year and John toured gardens with us as well as giving a great presentation of their product line. Check them out at http://www.johnandbobs.com for more information.

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This bed gets a lot of sun at various times throughout the day and so needs plant material that can take the heat and also survive the root competition for water. The huge Juniperus scopulorum ‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’ is clearly the focal point and we are just nibbling a little around the edges with some additional foliage interest and a bit of color. Transplanted from the backyard, a ‘Double Knock Out’ rose occupies a void amidst the graceful weeping branching of the juniper. A couple of dark purple Salvia greggii had shown up as ringers in the large grouping of Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ we planted in the driveway circle bed last fall so I moved them across the driveway to snuggle up against the boulder. I have had 2 replacement 4″ ‘Mesa Azure’ waiting in the wings for a good long while, ready to pop in once the darker purple ones found a new home. A single carpet rose ‘Pink Splash’ will eventually fill the driveway/street corner area–another repeat from selections used in the driveway circle. For street side consistency the ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ pittosporum were also repeated but I expect they will end up being  only a green blur beneath the weeping blue branches overhead. A six pack of snapdragons, purple trailing lantana, and bearded iris from my copious supplies of potted up divisions will fill in quickly to give cover while the other plants fill out.

Turning the corner I have worked my way down this long narrow bed about 25 feet–so far concentrating on an open area that is in full sun until 2 pm or so in the summer months. The shorter days have certainly brought the dappled shade sooner. In years to come the youngest of the three Bradford pears may may totally shade this area out except for the eastern rising sun but now this area still requires plants that will withstand strong sun at least part of the day.

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I decided to use this stretch as sort of an experimental area to test out some plants I have not grown before. With the trend toward water conservation we are seeing many interesting and reputedly tough plants become much more available. The challenge for me has been to be able to integrate some of these in beds which all ready have mature shrubs or perennials that take average water. I am doing quite a few ‘one of’ large scale shrubs/ woody perennials–trying to determine what will fill my extensive real estate and prosper with minimal attention. Many drought tolerant shrubs will accept more water than they require as long as they have excellent drainage and to that end we are paying special attention to each planting spot selected.

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This trio of Lonicera nitida ‘Lemon Beauty’ is a wild card. Sunset lists mature size as 4′-6′ feet and wide while the plant tag (well known grower but I can’t remember which one) lists 18″ X 18″. I think I have actually purchased this plant once before and gave it to a gardening friend when the Sunset Western Garden Book  scared me off.  The lemon and lime green edged leaves brighten up this small opening at the base of the tall juniper and I stand ready to dig them out if I wake up one day and they are 3 feet tall! Notice how my fresh humus top dressing is a porta-potty beacon to every cat within 5 miles…

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I introduced you to Grevillea ‘Pink Pearl’ (far left) in a previous post–since it was planted in September it is looking great and has put on buds at its stem ends.

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To its right are three good sized seedlings of Aristea ecklonii dug from near their mother plant by the pool. In this spot these prolific reseeders can just have their way with the open ground. The cheerful, blue flowers and spiky stems are almost indestructible. Below you see the blooms from their mother plant.

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Teucrium betonicum, still in its pot in the wide shot above, has now been planted. This is one of my San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden purchases. Its leaves are hairy and aromatic and should sport purple flowers in spring and summer. This plant matures at about 3 feet high and wide and withstands poor soil and dry conditions. Given irrigation it must have excellent drainage.

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I am trying out a Texas ranger in this bed called Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Everblooming’. Purported to be a dense grower which flowers profusely, it sure doesn’t look like much now.

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Below–another SLO Botanical Garden find is Dorycnium hirsutum, the hairy canary flower.

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This perennial shrub is low growing at about 2′ high but with a spread to 6′ and useful as a dry slope ground cover. I’ll be looking for its tiny, white flowers with pink touches next fall and the red winter fruit will contrast nicely with the silver grey leaves. Another selection which I hope will not suffer totally from the afternoon dappled shade.

Two more test subjects are Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Sungold’ and Cotoneaster horizontalis ‘Variegatus’.

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I have also add a white flowered plumbago and several groupings of bearded iris divisions. I have moved down to the far end now and will work toward the middle for as long as the weather holds. The very center of this long strip is the most compacted with tree roots AND has the sharpest slope to the curb AND is is full shade except for first thing in the morning. I’ll take any suggestions for this area!

A shout out to another 2017 Garden Bloggers Spring Fling sponsor–everything in this latest round of planting has gone into its hole sitting right on top of a FUHGEDDABOUTIT! Root Zone Feeder Packet from Organic Mechanics. These packets provide a measured dose of fertilizer, mycorrhizae, biochar and micronized oyster shell flour (4-2-2) and are intended to be used along with a regular fertilization program. All Fling participants got a bag of a dozen to try in their gardens–I am always open to try a new product to give my new friends a solid start!

I am working diligently to add more variety in foliage color and texture to the garden. This side strip is a good place to see how plants perform and evaluate whether I want to expand their use to other more visible parts of my garden. I specifically bought 1 gallon specimens to be able to try more selections and even though many of these will grow to fairly substantial sizes, they look like little specks in a broad sea of mulch right now!

I have been gradually cleaning up the front walkway bed to make a place for my new prize find Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’. Iris were dug and divided in October and several perennial salvia cultivars nipped back to encourage some fresh growth and reevaluate available space. I once read a blog post in which the gardener described her planting style as ‘layer cake planting’–layering up plants by growth season and height so that when one perennial declines, another is coming into its peak to take the place. Pretty impressive. While I aspire to that, I think my planting style is more accurately described as ‘dump cake planting’–year after year I add things in, not recalling what I put there last year. Everything just climbs and falls all over everything else. Closely planted would be an understatement!

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The bare ground is actually full of Santa Barbara daisy sprigs which will fill back in within weeks, if not days. A quarterly hard cut back of this perennial ground cover goes a long way toward keeping my snail population down.

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‘Ruby Falls’ is just starting to drop its large heart shaped leaves. I saw this newer redbud cultivar advertised in a gardening magazine and was really taken by its unusual weeping habit and small stature at maturity. Really so excited to see this little tree next spring!

This has been a wonderful autumn to work in the garden. The weather is inviting and my recent travels have allowed me to purchase interesting plants not as readily available in my community–the only improvement would be 15 hours of daylight and a second set of hands.