Did you know this blog was intended to be about gardening as well as food? That is the spades part of the title. I realize that I haven’t written about plants in some time. The cover picture in this post is the Oakland garden in spring, a few years ago. You can see the tall bearded irises coming into bloom in the back. I am preparing to leave that garden, but it is difficult to disconnect emotionally and let it go. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like that lovely picture anymore. Last year it was a victim of the California drought, water restrictions, my day job, and time spent on the remodel of the Fort Bragg cabin. This year’s excuse is the time required for new construction at the very same house, plus getting the Oakland house ready to sell by the end of this year.
I shifting my garden focus from Oakland to our retirement cabin (now becoming a house) in Fort Bragg, California, starting a new garden almost from scratch. Fort Bragg is a small town of about 8,000 full time residents, 3 1/2 hours north of San Francisco, on the Pacific coast. You have probably heard more about Mendocino, their sister city, only a few minutes south on highway 1. The Northern California coast is absolutely gorgeous, full of empty beaches, redwoods, hiking trails, and deep forests. I have always loved the area and am excited at the prospect of spending more of my time there. I predict that much of it will be spent in the garden.
Our property is just over 1/2 mile from the coast, far enough inland to escape most of the salt air and summer fog which plagues homes directly on the coast. I’m using this post to document the “before”, the blank canvas before I get my hands in the dirt. Most of the 7 acres are filled with second growth redwood and pine trees. The pines have been devastated by drought and an onslaught of the Western pine beetle. They were originally planted a couple of decades ago as a scheme to become a Christmas tree farm, a misguided attempt to take an agricultural tax cut. They are too close together, and dying. We have had to remove the ones closest to the house as a precaution against fire. At first, I thought to remove the dead and downed trees in other parts of the property, but I am starting to change my mind. The trees and undergrowth have a unique ecology and are homes to many small animals, birds and insects. I might just let things rot.
The house itself sits in the middle of a large meadow, an acre or more in size. There will be plenty to occupy my time and energy and it will be several years before things begin to take shape. Those efforts will need to start with the soil as it hasn’t been amended in many years (if ever). A lot of organic matter will be needed to enrich this sandy loam (read that as mostly sand). We are only a short distance from the dunes of MacKerricher State Park. It is quite different from Oakland where I was gardening in clay; a now underground creek ran right through the garden. I could have sold that clay to a potter; it was that dark and heavy. In our dry summer it was like concrete.
I will transfer as many plants as possible from the Oakland garden, to the one in Fort Bragg, starting with summer dormant bulbs. The timing of July/August is perfect for digging and dividing Dutch iris bulbs. They did not bloom well this year, having become overcrowded. Dividing should refresh them. So far I have several hundred bulbs with a few more clumps to dig.
What do you think about a long bed of irises along the left side of the driveway approaching the house? I think the bulbs will appreciate the fast draining soil.
I have ordered a few more “exotic” colors to mix in with the rest. Mine are mostly deep purple, pink, light blue, and lavender.
I am also planning a draught friendly berm of both native and Mediterranean plants on the right side of the driveway. Before I start though, there are two very large and overgrown trees to remove. They both lost branches in last year’s heavy winter storms. Many of the branches are dead and they block the sun in that area. Plants on the berm will have to be ones that resist deer, gophers, and rabbits since there isn’t a fence yet. The wish list includes plants that are attractive to bees and other pollinators, I am partial to lavenders, sages and grasses for their movement.
The back of the house will have the vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, herbs, and several flower/herb beds. It doesn’t look like much right now with the construction still in progress. But it is full of possibilities. Stay tuned.
Once the new bedroom/bath is finished, I will post some pictures of the house.
Rhododendrons do incredibly well here, I’d like to plant a few more colors at the edge of the redwoods. There are currently 11 mature plants on the property, they require minimal water and attention from me except deadheading the spent flowers.
I had to move a mature dwarf yellow rhododendron and two pink azaleas from the back of the house (where the addition was to be located) to another bed at the back of the meadow because of the construction. I was worried they wouldn’t survive being transplanted during the rainy season, but they seem to be doing well and are putting out new growth. The soil is very fast draining, which helped. I think they would have drowned in the heavy soggy soil of the Oakland garden. It’s difficult to see in the picture, one of the azaleas has lovely chocolate brown leaves.
I would love to hear suggestions from any gardeners. We don’t currently have a deer fence but that will come in the near future.
The irises look gorgeous – they come in such pretty colors. I found you can never go wrong with native plants and kept adding more and more into my gardens.
Wonderful to see your garden post. I too have a section on my blog for gardening and also travel. I’m liking your plan, irises are gorgeous, in no time you’ll have your new place looking like home. Isn’t gardening so therapeutic? I could spend hours outdoors. We had an acre of land before, but since we’ve downsized we now just have flower beds, but I still find time to tend to them everyday with extra TLC. Good luck with everything, can’t wait to see the “after” pictures.
Thank you Loretta, your own garden is lovely and lush. I have a case hosta envy, they don’t do well here with our dry summers but I think they are beautiful. There is such a variety of foliage.
That Iris border is stunning – I would be worried about how it would look out of bloom, though. I have several of the old fashioned Iris (flags, my grandmother called them) which I love but I also love any of the Siberian type and have them prominently through my garden beds. Even in my hosta bed 🙂 They look so good all summer and I love the way the look in the winter, too. And azaleas don’t do well in MN – even the cold hardy ones they’ve developed, at least they don’t do well in my yard but I love them. I’d have them everywhere in my wooded area if I could! 🙂 Banks and banks of them like I’ve seen in the south! I’m jealous! You have a lot of fun work ahead of you!
I know, I have thought about how they might look when out of bloom. I will have to have some interesting things blooming on the other side when the irises are dying back. Maybe keep the iris bed covered in a good mulch when they are finished. Gardens tend to look amazing in California during the spring and early summer, then not so much because of our dry summers and fall. Fort Bragg gets more rain (almost twice as much winter rain) than our house in Oakland though. It is interesting the difference only a few hundred miles can make, I cannot grow rhododendrons or azaleas in Oakland either, maybe because of the heavy clay soil. But they thrive in Fort Bragg. In fact the botanical garden here has hundreds of different kinds.
🙂 Wow to all those azaleas! Can you grow magnolias there? I actually have a neighbor who has a magnolia tree, of all things, in MN but that’s a little unusual.
Yes, all types of magnolias although I don’t see as many of them. I have a pink tulip magnolia in my garden in Oakland and would love to plant one in Fort Bragg, we will have to see. Come visit! You would love the botanical gardens.
Oh I’m a little jealous, lol! And it would be so great to visit! 🙂
But we can’t grow tulips 🙁
There is that – we have bulbs here that some people bring in over the winter, like dahlias, and I have heard of die hard tulip lovers in warm areas digging up their tulips and refrigerating them…we have a fridge in the garage but it’s devoted to more important things. Like beer. And watermelons. And some of my wild scientist food experiments, lol!
The irises and rhodenderons look beautiful. I’m waiting to see your garden bloom. Please keep us updated 🙂