Getting down into the gutter…

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There are no finer blooms than those of the hellebores in late winter. The only even slightly negative thing I can say about these lovely nodding bells is that you almost have to lay on the ground on your back to photograph their blossoms! This is one of a half dozen or so I sited up the slight slope of a narrow long side yard on our corner lot. So indeed, I was literally in the gutter with my camera propped on the curb trying to get this picture.

This is Helleborus x hybridus ‘NW Cotton Candy’ (also sometimes labeled ‘NGN Cotton Candy’) in its first winter bloom. The lawn in this side bed was removed in 2017 and the area replanted between late 2017 and early 2018. This 1 gallon plant went in just about this time last year, at the tail end of when hellebores are in full bloom in the garden centers.

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It is one of three and is tucked under the shady canopy of a mature Bradford pear. I have to give it stellar marks for vigor as this area is extremely dry shade with ample root competition for what little summer water is available. The trio was a little peaked through the hottest summer months but nothing more than to be expected of perennials not yet having settled into their new homes. The recent rains have helped tremendously and there is a nice first year show of blooms on each plant.

The Cotton Candy strain is one of a series of Northwest Garden Nursery hellebores produced from hand pollinated plants in the Eugene, Oregon garden home of Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne. The O’Byrnes have dabbled (their words–I’d call it way more than dabbling) in hellebore breeding since the early 1990s. You may be familiar with other strains in their wildly popular Winter Jewel series. I recently bought their ‘Ruby Wine’ which is almost black with a purple sheen. Although they are primarily breeders and wholesalers they do have select retail days throughout the year. Hellebore Garden Open Days each February offer opportunities to tour their garden. The 2019 Open Days are right around the corner–February 16th and 23th. Please visit their website http://www.northwestgardennursery.com to read all about the O’Byrnes and get a glimpse of their garden. Don’t miss clicking on the Gallery tab to see individual photos of their single flowered and double flowered strains–a feast for any gardener’s eyes!

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I first came to adore these so called Lenten Roses when I lived in Georgia where they multiplied readily under the protection of tall pines. While I admire their variety and their propensity to ‘pollinate amongst themselves’ producing seedlings whose eventual blooms look nothing like anything you what actually purchased, I love none more than the ones I just call Mary’s hellebores which were seedlings from the garden of my dear friend Mary S. Transplanted from my Macon garden to my California garden–a very long over the garden fence trip–they did not reach blooming age until after we had left Georgia but now provide me with bountiful blooms and memories, growing vigorously and offering me countless seedlings to pass along to yet another gardening friend.

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The “new” Grevilleas…

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No, they aren’t really new at all but the wide variety of shapes, sizes and flower color in the genus Grevillea has certainly been more visible in American garden centers in the past decade as the prominence of Australian plants surges in gardens where climate and cultural conditions favor the so-called Mediterranean and sub-tropical plant families.

Grevillea is a diverse genus of over 300 species of evergreen flowering plants native to Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and other eastern Indonesian islands. The genus is named for Charles Francis Greville who sat in the British House of Commons from 1774 to 1790. He was a very close friend of Sir Joseph Banks, one of the organizers of the Society for Improvement of Horticulture, a precursor to the Royal Horticultural Society.

In my first iteration as a California gardener in the 1970s about the only Grevillea commonly used in Central Valley landscapes was Grevillea ‘Noellii’, a fast growing prickly shrub with fine foliage and with intricate dark pink flowers. For my minuscule first home lot its mature size of 3-6 feet tall and wide was just too overwhelming. I can’t say in the ensuing 40 years that I had thought much about Grevilleas until we returned to California in 2008 and I started seeing them popping up with great diversity in garden centers, especially in very temperate Southern California. Short or tall, upright, mounding or almost prostrate, there seems to be one for almost any garden situation as long as you have a sunny spot with good drainage. They are hardy mostly and 20 degrees C and drought tolerant. The only quirk of note is their intolerance to phosphorus–thus the need to be cautious with fertilizers.

In our seemingly never-ending lawn removal/bed replanting project I have added a few different species and cultivars of Grevillea. One of the first selections was Grevillea rosemarinifolia, pictured above, which I tucked under the loose canopy of a huge weeping juniper anchoring a spot of ground between our driveway and our side yard fencing. With rosemary like foliage, this species will mound up with layers of airy, nodding branches. As we periodically tidy up the juniper, more space for its eventual 4 foot height is made. Even with the dappled shade produced by the juniper’s branches, this area is in full on southwestern sun all day and gets precious little irrigation. Check out This eagle has finally landed… for some pics at the end of the post of this juniper in all its tree-like glory!

Planted in very late 2017 from a 4 inch pot this selection has proved to be a robust but well-behaved garden dweller, covered now with pinky red buds ready to burst into bloom.

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My back garden holding area still has a few “new” Grevillea waiting for their permanent homes to be ready and I am on the lookout for additional  ones to try. I am most excited about a little gal called ‘Pink Midget’ which will occupy a spot along the walk from my mailbox to my front door. I can’t wait to see the hummers fighting over a spot at their new nectar bar!

 

 

Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’…

Our so-far mild winter is allowing us to continue work on our final front yard lawn removal. We’ve had just the right amount of rain to loosen up the soil and make digging less onerous but not so much that we have lost too many work days to puddles, sogginess and sinkholes.

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We are marching steadfastly from west to east with my sweet Dave in the lead, having both the tools and muscle. You can barely see him in this photo sitting on the ground behind the red wheelbarrow. This being our fourth time to the party he has got a pretty good system. The lawn was chemically treated in early fall–lawn removal by sod cutting machinery is not such a sure thing with a common bermuda lawn. The roots can be very deep and any small viable bits left behind will roar back as soon as growing conditions are right. I swear there have been viable bermuda roots found in fossils from prehistoric times!

He has divided the area into smaller, more workable sections. First, he uses a hula hoe to scrape off any above ground dead grass up into piles. To not sacrifice so much of our topsoil he then sifts through these piles, separating grass remains from viable soil–that’s is what he is doing sitting on the ground in the photo. The good soil is then moved off to a tarp to be reincorporated later. Next he tills the area and again picks out any grass roots, rocks, etc. including copious wads of the green netting that was the original sod’s underlayment. Step three is to double dig the section–one shovel depth’s down worth of soil is dug and off loaded to the side and then the newly exposed surface is dug a second shovel depth’s down. The rock, roots and various leftover construction material removal continues throughout the process. All the previously off loaded soil is returned to the bed and dug together along with whatever amendments I have selected for the area. I am exhausted just outlining the process! The last step is to grade the section to flow smoothly into large untouched areas at the bases of our mature trees.

As Dave prepares the beds I follow behind adding the plants. As with the areas already finished I am concentrating on more waterwise plants–hoping to create a balance the water needs of the existing mature landscape and the new. Unlike last year, my back yard holding area is not so flush with “plants in waiting” so planting is going slowly. Lots of bearded iris and daylily divisions have gone in along with a number of my favorite salvias. I am trying a few more new selections such as Cistus ‘Anne Palmer’ and Ceanothus ‘Hearstiorum’, both plantings of which will be in the bed’s ground zero for all day  southern sun. Once these are established they should be very low water users which will allow me to eliminate several pesky, always broken, curbside sprinkler heads.

I am on always on the hunt for plants. Our recent Southern California overnight yielded two nursery stops and a few selections were checked off my acquisition list. Not to be found–and no surprise given the time of year–was another Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’ to echo the one planted to the west of the front walk last year.

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I probably should read my own blog archives so I can remember if ‘Dara’s Choice’ was purchased locally or, more likely, one of the salvias I bought at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s 2017 fall plant sale. The single gallon can specimen was quite small and unremarkable when planted but over the year it has grown to a beautifully shaped, slightly weepy mound with clear medium green quilted leaves. And in the last couple of weeks it has come into bloom. Not really a show stopper but not every plant has to be covered in big, blowsy flowers to have worth in my garden.

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Mid photo you can see there are a good number of gracefully stalks bearing the small pale blue whorled blooms. The layered foliage performed very well, even though in the ground only a few months, throughout our very hot and dry 2018 summer. Its graceful appearance on the slope is worth repeating in the area we are now working. A little research reveals ‘Dara’s Choice’ to be one of the black sages, botanically Salvia mellifera. Apis mellifera is the scientific name for honeybees to which this plant is highly attractive. The foliage is wonderfully fragrant and its relatively low, mounding profile and broad spread makes it a great salvia selection for well-drained, sunny slopes. I am hopeful I will find one soon and who knows what other interesting plants I will meet along the way! Give us a few more weeks on this project for a complete coverage of what we’ve added to the mix of shrubs and perennials.

The Mission Inn’s Festival of Lights…

Our ultimate Southern California destination which allowed us the small side trip to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont was an overnight stay at The Mission Inn to experience their Festival of Lights. Now in its 26th year, this privately produced public event started when Keepers of the Inn Duane and Kelly Roberts decorated the hotel with lights the first Christmas after its reopening to commemorate in Inn’s rebirth. This year’s festival includes over 5 million lights, more than 400 characters and beautiful decor inside and out. The 2017 25th anniversary switch-on ceremony drew 85,000 spectators. The display was voted “Best Public Lights Display” in 2014 and “Best Holiday Festival” in 2015 by the readers of USA Today.

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The historic Mission Inn occupies an entire block in the heart of downtown Riverside, California. The oldest part of the Inn dates to 1902 when Frank Miller built a four story U-shaped hotel enclosing a large center courtyard. Over the next thirty years additional wings were added and the Inn became a destination for the wealthy and famous, many of whom stayed for months at a time. I’ll tell you a bit more about the hotel’s history in a second post when you can follow along with us as we take the docent led Historic Hotel tour.

If this looks like an event you’d like to take in next year my advice would be to arrive at the hotel well before dark to get your bearings. My husband had been to the hotel several times many years ago for business lunches and felt sure he knew the lay of the land. However, during the Festival, the normal valet pull-in area and front entrance of the Inn is cordoned off for the very orderly lines of hundreds of people waiting to walk through the light display. And there are masses of people everywhere on the surrounding streets, making negotiating the foot and vehicle traffic nerve wracking. Valet and self-parking for hotel guests is on the back side of the hotel with a short walk to enter on the Orange Street side of the Inn.

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As we check in we are greeted by this beautiful Christmas tree. The lobby is sumptuously decorated and is full of groups, large and small, having a drink and a few appetizers, awaiting their dinner reservations and having their photos snapped in front of the tree by the tree’s personal elf. It is hard to say when I have seen so many folks dressed in red, green and sparkles recently. The Inn’s four restaurants and private room facilities are clearly favorites for holiday events.

Our home for the night was Room 101, a corner room in the oldest part of the hotel. The room was very large with three windows, 2 of which opened onto Mission Inn Avenue and the other overlooking Main Street which is a pedestrian paseo closed to vehicles. One story above the ground floor, we would be sleeping right on top of the Inn’s Museum. As I entered, the room felt a bit like being right on Bourbon Street in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. Even a grinch would have gotten into the Christmas spirit with the carols playing and the sounds of families and friends enjoying the festival just below. My own grinch’s fears about the room being too noisy to sleep were for naught–when we returned around 10 pm it was quiet and calm.

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Looking down from our Mission Inn Avenue window
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Those are our windows right behind the blue lights!

A perk of being a hotel guest is that you may wander as you please through the displays–no lines to wait in. We made a full circle (square?) around the Inn before we approached the main display at the front entrance. Please enjoy the lights while forgiving my abysmal night photography skills.

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Carriages for hire on Orange Street
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Orange Street entrance
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Displays on every floor over Las Campanas restaurant
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Main Street facade
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So many people lined up to see the Festival–happy faces for a cold night!
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Mission styled architecture on the Inn’s front facade
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One of two nutcrackers guarding the entrance to the courtyard

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Historic orange tree decked in white lights
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Pergola connecting the courtyard to the Main Street paseo–this structure once extended a full five blocks to the train station!
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Dining in the courtyard at the Mission Inn Restaurant 
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Courtyard’s fountain decorated for the season

Despite the crowds and our fashionably late European dinner reservation hour, the evening was a lovely experience and the Mission Inn is clearly a holiday destination for area residents. FYI–we booked a single package which included our lovely room, a small credit toward dinner in one of the Inn’s restaurants and the docent led Historic Hotel tour the morning of our check out. Although I was actually born at March Air Force Base just outside of Riverside, I had not been there for decades and wasn’t really aware of the many other places of interest in its historic downtown. We certainly could have stayed another day or two and found many engaging sites to see. A+ on this overnight adventure!

 

 

Not exactly Country Living…

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I have always been an inveterate consumer of gardening, home decorating and lifestyle magazines. If I had a nickel for every issue of Southern Living, Sunset, Country Living and Traditional Home that has graced my coffee tableand now a whole new genre of magazines which have the word cottage in their titles has captured my fancy: The Cottage Journal and Cottage Christmas (substitute Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn to cover the year!) to name few. Periodically, horrified at the amount of money I spend on this quasi-obsession,  I go cold turkey and let all my subscriptions lapse. I can stay on an even keel for most of the year but when those fall and holiday focused issues appear at Barnes and Noble and my local grocery store display I can feel that craving wash over me. I don’t really care about the perfect purse or another piece of jewelry but I am undone at the thought that there may be a life changing idea (vignette, recipe…) in one of my favs and I am going to miss it!

So, with your new understanding of my lifelong fascination with pouring over those picture perfect family friendly kitchens, blooming right-on-cue garden beds and exquisitely curated party plans, you won’t be surprised that I developed a few romantic notions of quintessential cabin life when in 2015 we bought our cedar sided cabin in Fish Camp just outside the southern gate of Yosemite National Park. Most have been dispelled by a basement full of squirrels and the stuff that comes with them, bats in the rafters, 40 year old windows and the realization that we neither have the funds nor the expected lifespan for cabin life to be magazine perfect, except possibly Handyman. Making it habitable and a fun place to host family friends was our ultimate goal in the first place and it didn’t take long for me to circle right back to that.

One lingering  and picturesque thought for me has been to host a wreath making day for my BFFs on the deck overlooking our snowy meadow. I would spend a morning clipping fresh boughs from the array of conifers on our property, arrange them beautifully in bins by variety (complete with identifying tags in hand done calligraphy) and set out all the necessary tools and supplies. My friends would arrive, all perfectly outfitted in the colorful and coordinated cold weather gear–looking like ladies who stepped right off the pages of Lands’ EndWe would enjoy a sumptuous lunch of hearty, homemade soup and crusty bread, sitting around a perfectly dressed rustic table arrangement and breathe in the fresh mountain air while we share our family holiday plans.

On our last cabin stay that thought resurfaced when my iPhone calendar reminders popped up with notations for ‘wreath making at Ellen’s’ on two days early in December. With absolutely no recollection of what these were I reached out to Ellen and we quickly determined that our quilting friendship group had decided LAST year that we would work in this activity in 2018, piggybacking on the class offered by our local River Center for which Ellen is a volunteer. The reality is that holiday wreath making in the Sierra mountains can come with all kinds of challenges: weather that can change on a dime, icy roads, gathering greenery in 3 feet of snow and packing in our lunch groceries in the same. I am not even mentioning the need for the large Lands’ End order to achieve ‘the look’ AND not freeze to death.

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Looking up from the meadow in December 2016

And so before we packed up to come home I cut a few bins worth of boughs and braved our rocky slope for some manzanita. A few days later we gathered in Ellen’s flatland garage with contributions from our Fresno yards and my mountain greens to fashion our holiday wreaths.

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Not exactly Country Living, but real life with friends sharing fellowship, food and a fun activity. We feasted on hearty, homemade soup at at Ellen’s beautifully arranged holiday table and although there was no crusty bread–there was dessert! I think we almost got the outfits right–what do you think?

P.S. Within a few days of coming down the mountain, Fish Camp got its first winter snowstorm.

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

 

Reminders of my life in the south…

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

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

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

 

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