In My Garden – August 2019

In My Garden – August 2019

Can you believe it is August and fall is just around the corner? I certainly cannot. It has been beautiful here with highs mostly in the 60’s and an occasional foray into the low 70’s. We live in the banana belt of the Mendocino coast, it’s both slightly warmer and sunnier because of the shape of the coast. The city of Fort Bragg is only a couple of miles south of us, but it’s often foggy while we are clear.

Fog rolling in along the coast

So, what’s going on the garden? I’ve been concentrating on the edges of the borders and filling in some of the bare spots with low plants and succulents. My target goal is to not have any dirt showing, it’s a long range plan as many of the plants are still small.

I’m after a style called ‘intermingling’ with a high density of perennials. Annuals will self seed and find their spots in any bare areas. The following is from an English gardening blog I read, (Noel’s Garden):

Modern thinking on perennial planting density tends to favor around seven to nine plants per square meter, considerably more so than conventionally. Plantings quickly look full and potentially a good canopy can develop, but only if the plant forms used mesh together – which single cultivar blocks of upright growers often never do, which is a good reason for using an ‘intermingled’ approach to planting. Both German Mixed Planting systems and Piet Oudolf use plants at this density, with the former filling in quickly and the latter potentially so, depending on what is being used. Management, which conventionally has always been focussed on the integrity of individual plants tends to prevent meshing together. Spreading and seeding can fill, and perhaps should, fill the gaps.

Speaking of bare spots, nothing seems to grow in the very center of one of the back island beds. I couldn’t figure out why nothing was thriving until I discovered it’s the favorite spot for our elderly cat, Lucy, to doze and watch the birds. Thankfully she is too old and well fed to hunt them.

Last month I said I would list some of my favorite plant combinations, those that have done well in my zone 9b climate. The combinations all need similar water and light requirements. There is a delightful book, Plant Partners by Anna Pavord, that I was given a couple of decades ago when I was starting the Oakland garden. The pictures of the combinations are truly stunning and inspiring. However, the plants require different growing conditions…water, sun, soil, etc. In reality you can’t grow them together successfully. Additionally many of them were unsuitable for our dry summer climate. It was a big disappointment because, as a beginning gardener, I tried some of them with unfortunate results.

Anyway, here us a snapshot of my favorite combinations. They have been both beautiful and successful.

Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ with Geum coccineum ‘Totally Tangerine’, with Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margareta BOP’, with Scabiosa caucasica ‘Fama Blue’, with the yarrow Achillea millefolium ‘Salmon Beauty’. In spring and early summer there are also red annual poppies, orange California poppies and the native wild flower ‘Baby Blue Eyes’. The Deschampsia “Tufted Hair Grass” is there for textural interest.

August island beds – Geum and Yarrow

 

Geum Totally Tangerine

This Geum is one of the most successful plants in my garden, growing into clumps 18″ tall and wide with flower talks of tangerine orange blooms that wave in the breeze. The bees love the flowers and they last quite a long time when cut for the house. I have other Geums, both red and yellow varieties, and they are slowly growing into respectable plants. But this variety takes off from the get go.

Marmalade

Heuchera Marmalade

The contrast of the leaves is gorgeous, but an added delight is that the foliage mirrors the tangerine blooms of the Geum.

Another favorite (and a favorite of the hummingbirds as well) combination is the bright red Nicotiana alata ‘Crimson Bedder’, with Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’, with Cuphea ‘Kristin’s Delight’ and Agastache ‘Purple Haze’. All of them are perennials and come back larger each year.  The Cupheas are sometimes called cigar plants and are native to Mexico. The blooms have a wide range of colors but all are beloved by hummingbirds. In our growing zone they seem to be in constant flower.

On some of the following pictures you will also see snapdragons, Agastache (hummingbird mint), Scabiosa (pincushion flower), and purple toadflax as well as some annual poppies and other native wildflowers.

 

I’ve repeated these combinations several times throughout the back island beds.

You may be interested in what is happening in the pollinator garden. Well, since I have decided to withhold supplemental summer water, it is drying up.

August Pollinator Garden

I was considering mowing the plants under or pulling them out. But, as I walked past the meadow, a large flock of sparrows and finches flew into the air. The birds are enjoying the seeds. So, I think I will leave the dead plants until later in the fall. The seeds that survive will sprout in the spring once the winter rains start. It will be interesting to see the changes from one year to another. It does look rather sad right now though.

I’ve always loved Kate Wolf’s song about California being brown in the summertime. It’s really true.

Coastal meadows

I think that’s all from the north coast of California. Happy gardening.

 

 

 

In My Garden – July 2019

In My Garden – July 2019

In truth I am spending more time in my garden these days than in front of the computer. It has been too long since my last update. There is so much to do outside, I am busy watering and pruning and mulching and weeding. It’s certainly a full time job as the garden has expanded over the last year. However, I find it very satisfying and great exercise. The garden has responded to my love with a plethora of flowers.

In full bloom are the roses and dahlias.

There are so many flowers that I’m having trouble finding places for them in the house, and running out of vases. I do love seeing the flowers from the kitchen and in the bedroom, they make me happy.

We have been grilling summer squash from the vegetable garden. I try to pick the zucchini before they get too large and we are overwhelmed. They are wonderful sliced thickly, lightly brushed with olive oil and cooked on an open grill.

I’m still harvesting lots of lettuce, arugula, chard, and radishes. The carrots are almost ready to harvest but the beets have not done well. I worry that it is because the soil was depleted by the previous planting of lettuce and have added some blood meal for nitrogen. My worm compost bins only contain shredded newspaper and kitchen vegetable scraps (plus egg shells), maybe too much carbon? Anyway, I have planted another row of beets in the enhanced soil, fingers crossed. It’s not warm enough here for many of the regular summer vegetables as I don’t have a green house. I’m thinking next summer of putting a hoop house over one of the raised beds, I do miss summer tomatoes and cucumbers. Thank goodness for a good friend who is providing me with her extras.

I was worried about the lack of bees earlier in the season. They are now here in abundance, almost entirely our native varieties of bumblebees and not the European bees. There is a definite buzz to the air when I am in the garden and I find sleeping bees in flowers early in the morning.

As an experiment, I put out a praying mantis egg case a month ago and was startled to see hundreds of babies this yesterday when I went out to water the pole beans.

Praying Mantis - babies

Praying Mantis babies

I am lucky to be without too many pests so I hope they find enough to eat. I think in a pinch they will eat each other.

The pollinator meadow has changed, going from reds and pinks to pinks and blues. I pulled out the red poppies once the seed pods had dried out. They will return next spring after the winter rains. Now I see mostly Clarkia, bachelor buttons, larkspur, and a few lingering poppies of different colors. Here’s a quick snapshot of the progression.

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It’s starting to dry out, as is our ‘lawn’, without any summer water.

But there are plenty of flowers in the backyard island beds.

I plan to write a post about my favorite plant combinations, there are some that I have found especially pleasing.

Time to get back out there. Thank you so much for visiting and happy gardening to you all.

In My Garden – June 2019

In My Garden – June 2019

The watering season has begun. I spend most of my garden time from now until November watering and weeding. November is when the rain usually returns (sometimes in October), but until then the only natural moisture will be from our coastal fog. The redwood tress love it because they can absorb water through their needles as well as their roots. It’s why you usually don’t see redwoods in the inland areas of the West, no fog. They don’t do well with sustained hot dry weather, although that doesn’t stop gardeners from planting them. Oh oh…I feel a rant coming on and will stop there.

So, on to my own garden. Someone recently commented it looks like an English cottage garden but with native and drought resistant plants. I think that’s a pretty good description of the effect I am going after. There have been a few plantings this month, probably the last until autumn. I’m in love with Geums and they do well here, I put in three more Totally Tangerine plants to balance out the opposite side of the bed. Also planted was a native yellow lupine, so far it is struggling and I hope it survives.

These are views of the two planting beds at the back of the house.

In the vegetable garden I am still harvesting lots of lettuce. The summer squash and bush beans are growing well but no flowers yet.

Fort Bragg CA raised bed garden

Artichokes, raised bed garden (and Casey)

We harvested our first artichoke.

The runner beans are starting to take off, since these can be perennials in our climate, I put them in a half wine barrel. The flowers are supposed to be a big draw for the hummingbirds.

Red Runner Beans

Red Runner Beans

The 4 wine barrels on the left have new rose bushes, which are now in bud. I purchased them bare root a couple of months ago.

The meadow has really taken off. I did plant a large salvia and 2 plants of Monardas didyma ‘Jacob Cline’ (bee balm) last month. It’s always an experiment to see what will grow, they certainly didn’t thrive in my Oakland garden.

Wild Flower Meadow, Fort Bragg CA

Wild Flower and Pollinator Garden June 2019

I don’t intend to water it, at least at this point.

May brought unusually heavy rain followed by a heat spell in early June. My rhododendrons were just starting to bloom and unfortunately the temperature was too warm for them to reach their full potential. Many of the flowers dried even though I watered. They were toasted.

Wilted Rhododendrons

Wilted Rhododendron Flowers

The sun and warm weather have given a growth spurt to the dahlias. There were 5 new varieties planted this spring. No flower buds yet but I don’t think it will be long.

Dahlias June 2019

Dahlia Bed

I am traveling most of the last two weeks of this month and am dependent on the skill of my house/dog sitter and my part time gardener. Leaving this time of year (even with good instructions and skilled hands) is rough. I’m sure all you gardeners out there know what I am talking about.

Here’s a glimpse into last year at this time, June 2018…no raised beds. I was trying out tomatoes and cucumbers, which did nothing at all. The ravens pecked what few tomatoes developed before they could ripen and the cucumbers immediately came down with powdery mildew. I’ll be doing garden exchanges with folks in warmer microclimates. My lettuce for their tomatoes and cucumbers.

What’s on the program this month? Water, weed and harvest. Thankfully we don’t have any more big trips planned until September.

Have you heard about Wild Garden Seed? They are a certified organic seed farm in the Northwest. Their seeds are from plants meant to be used in organic settings, so their seeds have outstanding disease and pest resistance as well as flavor. I just heard about them and will be ordering some for my fall garden. Up to now I have primarily ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, another organic company with a wide range of unusual and  heirloom varieties, also excellent. It’s really fun as a gardener to peruse seed catalogs in print or on line.

I highly recommend both these companies (I do not get anything from my endorsement).

In My Garden – May 2019

In My Garden – May 2019

Tony Avent, the owner of Plant Delights Nursery, once said “you don’t know a plant until you have killed it three times”. Gardeners require patience and perseverance, we learn equally by our mistakes and our successes. The best gardens are deeply personal, bringing to life a unique vision and aesthetic which will be specific to the climate and soil.

The last 12 months have been an education for me in the Fort Bragg garden. The gardening environment is completely different than my previous garden in Oakland. How you ask? Well let me count the ways…

1 The soil is acidic due to the numerous conifers (pines and redwoods) surrounding the property (Oakland soil was alkaline to neutral),

2) The soil is sandier due to the coastal dunes not far away (the Oakland garden used to be a creek bed and was heavy clay…I once threatened to make a pot from it). The upside is that it drains well if the rain is not too heavy.

3) The soil is much leaner and needs tons of compost to enrich it (clay soil is full of nutrients but needs lots of lightening…both need compost),

4) The climate here is wetter in the winter; many of my fall planted ‘drought resistant plants’ succumbed to drowning.

5) The climate is much cooler in the summer, fog and cool evenings are common in mid-summer.

And lastly…

6) the planting beds have root competition due to the many Redwood trees surrounding my sunny meadow.

Redwoods have an extensive root system, the tiny roots can stretch as much as 100 feet from each tree but are only about 2 feet deep. Redwoods don’t have a tap root. That extensive root system, which connects with other trees surrounding them, is what holds them upright. And, those roots are invasive, searching out water and nutrients. I love the redwoods but have found I occasionally need to dig out their roots from my planting beds.

The plants and shrubs are starting to take off and the planting beds are a riot of color. I am particularly found of a Geum called totally tangerine. It grows into a green mound about 3 feet by 3 feet with branching flower stems of tangerine colored flowers on stalks that wave in any breeze. They seem to love the growing conditions here and are thriving. The orange color is particularly attractive combined with red and orange poppies and the wildflower baby blue eyes.

Geum Totally Tangerine

The pollinator wildflower garden is finally taking off. I hear lots of buzzing when I walk near it and the butterflies seem to have discovered it.

Pollinator Meadow May 2019

American Lady Butterfly

We finished adding the final two raised beds to the vegetable garden. This month I harvested the last of the kale (now blanched and in the freezer) and planted my first warm season veggies. They include bush beans, red runner pole beans, summer squash, basil, and summer lettuce. I warned my favorite builder that we may need to add a hoop house to one of the beds to give the zucchini more warmth.

Last year I planted tomatoes and cucumbers but our summer was too cool and foggy for them. The few that did grow were pecked by the ravens before they ripened. I’m not even going to try this year. I have more hope for the summer squash…fingers crossed, hence the hoop house.

My mini-farm of 5 raised beds

The runner beans are planted in a half wine barrel. In our temperate climate they sometimes act as perennials and will come back from the roots. They were a favorite of my grandfather and did come back for him each year in the U.K. They also tolerate cooler weather, which is a blessing.

Both the sweet pea flowers and the edible peas are doing well. I harvested the first peas this past weekend to make a pea and asparagus salad.

Pea, Asparagus and Cauliflower Salad with Mint and Almonds

The sweet pea flowers are very aromatic, so far only the pink ones are blooming. They are one of my favorite flowers and always remind me of my grandmother in England. She had a long row of them at the side of her garden.

Pink Sweet Peas

Now to end with a quick look at the two main garden beds off the back of the house.

The rhododendrons are starting to bloom, a little later this year than last.

And here is a look at the garden last year in May, 2018.

Garden chores for this month include side dressing with compost and weeding.

I’ve planted lettuce, arugula, cilantro, basil, summer squash, runner beans and bush beans from seed.

In My Garden – April 2019

In My Garden – April 2019

Spring is finally here and the rain continues, at least the weather has warmed somewhat with highs in the 50’s. But the skies are mostly grey and the garden seems to be a bit behind where it was last year. The daffodils have bloomed, and continue to bloom, in waves depending on the variety.

The lily of the valley bushes are putting out red and orange new growth.

Lily of the Valley Bush

These bushes make a lovely backdrop for the first rhododendron to bloom, a beautiful yellow one of shorter stature. This bush was on the south/west side of the house before we added the addition and didn’t look happy with the sun and heat. It is thriving in its new, shadier, home in the back of the yard.

Yellow Rhododendron

The azaleas are in full bloom.

And a lime colored fuchsia that was planted several years ago when we first purchased the house finally seems to be taking off. It’s especially lovely against the dark redwood of the deck.

Lime leaved fuchsia

Compared to last year, the bearded irises along the driveway have not shown the same growth. But it has been rainier and colder this year. I will fertilize them this month, as suggested on line, with a low nitrogen fertilizer.

Much to my surprise, the tulips (not supposed to be cold enough for them here) have come back this year and multiplied. They are planted in a half barrel with a butterfly bush.

The sweet flowering peas I planted last fall have definitely taken off with the warming weather, although there are no flower buds yet. It will still be a month or more before I can harvest armloads of the wonderful scented flowers.

The half barrel of bush snap peas has just started to flower. I’ve been harvesting shoots of these edible peas for salads as well.

You can see both of them at the back of the vegetable garden.

Here’s a quick photo of the meadow, you can clearly see the chaos…which was my intention. This will be a pollinator garden once it starts flowering.

Wildflower and pollinator garden

The vegetable garden in raised beds continues to flourish. I’m harvesting lots of greens for salads and struggling to keep up with the kale.

Vegetable raised beds

I have four new bare root roses, planted in half barrels for safety and protection from gophers. Although we keep up with them by trapping, overlooking one for several days would be disastrous to the rose bush. The newly planted roses are shades of pink, apricot and orange.

Bare Root Rose Bushes

I thought you might also like a quick look at the wild part of the garden, of which there are acres.

A friend requested that I add a few comments each month on what I have planted or chores performed. Keep in mind that I am gardening in zone 9b and your own planting times may be different.

Chores:

  • fertilize iris bed with low nitrogen fertilizer
  • cut back salvias and sages to encourage bushiness now that our last frost date has passed
  • fertilize citrus trees
  • add compost around plants
  • weed, weed, weed

April planting:

  • vegetables – from seed: lettuce, arugula, beets, radishes, carrots
  • 4 bare root roses for half wine barrel containers
  • 5 new dahlia bulbs
  • small annuals such as baby blue eyes and poppies
  • 2 orange rhododendrons
  • pink lily of the valley bush
  • 5 white rock roses

New plants coming later this month:

And lastly, a look at the garden this time last year April 2018 In the Garden. Just click on the title to see the older post. The deer fence was’t finished until mid-May of last year. The garden has changed a lot since then, as I haven’t had to worry about planting exclusively deer and rabbit resistant plants (there are very few deer proof plants).