In the Garden – December 2018

In the Garden – December 2018

You might think that here in the Northern hemisphere not much is happening in December. Not so, it’s a very happening place. Our northern California Mediterranean climate means many plants and shrubs are still blooming, and spring blooming plants are busy putting down roots with the winter rains. FINALLY! The garden beds at the back of the house have welcomed the addition of a lot of new plants (plus compost). The new annuals and perennials won’t flower until the spring, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. The lovely annual baby blue eyes, and short-lived perennial California poppies have already tripled in size. They will self seed (in fact there are a lot of seedlings from last year popping up) for this and next spring. It will be a lush planting come mid-spring.

This is what the back garden bed looked like the beginning of this month:

View to the back of the house

It doesn’t look that different a month later. There are a few more small plants, that’s all.

My wildflower meadow has progressed, you can see the new seedlings coming up from recent rain showers.

 

I worry that I seeded the area too densely; this was my first experiment with a wildflower meadow and pollinator garden. There are some transplanted perennials, a salvia, a few lavender plants, and a montilija poppy (also called a fried egg poppy), plus some plants that didn’t do as well in the back garden bed. This will be the third attempt with the montilija, they are very hardy as long as they like where they are situated. But if it isn’t to their satisfaction, forget it. This is a new site with really excellent drainage, we will see.The rest is from mixed wildflower seeds, over 50 different types which are specifically designed for the Pacific NW. I have also added some bunch grass seeds for the birds.

My goal of attracting and keeping hummingbirds in the garden during the winter has been a success. They are aggressively protecting their territory, visiting the feeders and, even more importantly, the plants. Feeders do not provide all the nutrients they need through the winter. None of the following plants (considered hummingbird plants) were planted in the garden until about March of this year.

Hummingbird at a feeder

The hummingbird plants currently blooming in the garden are of many varieties…salvias, sages, abutilon, nasturtiums, and cuphea. All of them have tubular flower shapes that attract hummingbirds. Most of the plants are still fairly small, but the variety is large. They will get much bigger and fill in the bed.

That’s the quick update for December. Oh…I almost forgot. I have 3 additional raised beds added to the existing 2. I planted 3 artichoke plants in the new beds; as well as seeded more lettuce, radishes and kale. According to Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Pierce (a gardening bible for bay area gardeners), it is iffy that the radishes and kale will grow this month. But the weather is weird and, who knows, it has been a lot milder in recent years.

We are well on our way to being more self sufficient. We have had our first salads, a mixture of different mesclun seed mixes, arugula, and baby mustard leaves. The greens were picked only an  hour before we ate them. They almost doesn’t need any dressing.

 

The lettuce mix is so wonderful compared to the grocery stores, much more tender and delicious.

The baskets are to keep off the birds while the plants are small. So far I haven’t noticed a problem but I experienced a lot of plant loss in Oakland due to birds and squirrels. There are too many predators in Fort Bragg, they keep the squirrel population very low.

 

 

In My Garden – November 2018

In My Garden – November 2018

We have been very busy in the garden in October, not so much in the kitchen. My kitchen has been abandoned as a consequence of me being tired and filthy at the end of the day. All I want is a hot shower, a glass of wine, and a “dump dinner” out of the freezer or fridge or pantry. My husband loves  these inventive “kitchen sink” (everything but the kitchen sink) dinners but laments they can never be exactly repeated. And, sorry kind readers, I am usually too exhausted to take pictures or write it down. I promise to do a post soon on the recommendations for a great dump salad or soup. There are definite categories of flavors and texture that need to be included. Besides that, it is up to the ingredients on hand and your imagination.

So what’s going on in the garden?

I have been moving big piles of dirt around and digging new garden beds; while my dear husband builds beautiful borders and gravel paths between them. I have been planting dozens of new plants with plans for many more. Look out spring! Thank goodness that Annie’s Annuals and Perennials were having a big sale. They deliver and the plants have really been in excellent shape, not a single one was root bound and they all look like they survived the shipping and transplanting.

Here is a quick review of our labors.

We expanded the herb and flower beds at the back of the house, added edging and gravel paths:

Eventually the path will lead to a square where the fire pit will have its permanent home. It be much safer to sit out at night with a fire and star gaze, which is amazing up here without any light contamination. Hopefully we will be finished by spring.

In addition to the back meadow, I have also been prepping the large open space to the right of our driveway for planting.  This is what it looked like prior to the start of the project.

Original space, a field of weeds and grass of dubious origin.

The soil has been improved by the addition of new soil and compost

Another view

There will be a 4 foot strip of grass around the edge and the rest will be planted with a mix of native flower seeds and perennials. It’s intended to be a sustainable pollinator garden for insects and birds. The plantings will be primarily various grasses, annuals and perennials that self sow. I have been inspired by two books as well as a class I took at a Master Gardener conference a couple of years ago. The landscaping idea is call “intermingling”, you can read more about it on this post from 2017.

We also purchased 2 raised beds, 2 more are on order. The first two have been planted with several seed mixes of lettuce, arugula, chard, kale, radishes, parsley, cilantro, and escarole.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_8df8

First two raised beds

And the sweet peas have been planted in a half-wine barrel.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_8def

Sweet peas

The weather has been cool but clear so they are getting a good head start.

If any of my readers have planted a wildflower meadow, I would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

In My Garden – October 2018

In My Garden – October 2018

Oh dear, I think I have missed a couple of months. The garden has managed to limp along without me for September while we were traveling, a very competent gardener house-sat for us. But, since she gardens for a living, I didn’t want her to do much more than water my plants. She had quite enough to do taking care of the two dogs. So here we are, in fall. Time clean up, prune, cut things back and put the garden to bed for next spring. It’s a bit of a sad chore because many things are still blooming. But they will be all the happier for it next year. I expect the delivery of half a truckload of compost tomorrow afternoon and 10 yards of organic soil the next, everything will get a few inches of nutrition to carry them through the winter months. The organic soil is for filling my new raised beds and to amend the newly dug beds.

October is all about putting things down for the winter, getting prepared for spring, and weeding. There is always endless weeding, although I don’t mind it too much.

I am starting to dig an expansion of the garden bed in the back of the house. That bed is all about flowers and herbs. My intention is to have flowers blooming 12 months of the year. Cut flowers to make me happy in the house, and to keep the pollinators happy outside (including the hummingbirds).

Beginnings of new expanded island bed

By the end of this week I hope to have dug over to the bed on the right, with a 4 foot path between them. Since we had a little rain this past week, the ground isn’t as difficult to dig.

Updated and now finished, it took a few days. Originally I had planned a more off-center path, but the dogs like to run straight out the sliding glass door and across the meadow. So, in respect to dog paths, we have placed it more to the center. I am afraid that otherwise they will run over the middle of the plants. I once read that, if you have dogs and are planning a garden, you should first see where the ‘dog paths’ are, then plant accordingly. They were wise words if all creatures are to live happily in a garden.

Garden Islands with the Path laid out

I’ve had my exercise digging and Casey has been a help as well. She is sure there must be reason I am doing all that digging…something down there…maybe a gopher if she digs deep enough!

Both Anna’s

Annas Hummingbird Photo from UC Davis

and Allen’s

Allen’s Hummingbird female, at UC Santa Cruz Arboretum. May 2008. Photo from UC Davis

hummingbirds are commonly found in this area. But only the Anna hummingbirds are known to stick around during the winter. Unfortunately all of the hummers I’ve seen in my garden are the Allen’s, which migrate. The Allen’s start to disappear about this time of year (it is a sad day when I notice they are gone) and come back in late February or early March. At least that is when I first noticed them earlier this year. Last winter there were no hummers in my garden for months, I was worried they would never come back. I would like to attract more of the Annas so we have those delightful little birds all year round. We were so busy with getting prepared for the sale of the Oakland house at end of last year that I wasn’t paying much attention to winter food sources. This year is different. I am hopeful with a year-round food source there will be more birds.

Salvia Amistad

Among the plants that they like, the salvias and sages are still blooming; also nicotiana, abutilon, and cuphea (although the hummingbirds don’t seem to have discovered the cuphea yet). The salvias should bloom through the winter. I planted 6 large ones and they bloom almost all year, 3 more plants are ordered for the expanded bed. I won’t cut any of them back until spring. The new plantings this month include 2 pineapple sages in large containers. The hummingbirds have already discovered the red tubular flowers, although the plants are still small.

I had swarms of native bumblebees in the garden this spring and summer but their numbers have now dramatically decreased, the weather has been cooler and they may have retreated to their dens. I am seeing a predominance of European bees.

The idea is that by keeping a wide variety of plants I will attract more pollinators to the garden, that’s my goal. So much of our agriculture is based on a mono-culture, not good overall for nature. In my own garden I am less concerned about a color or “pulled together” scheme, and more focused on a large variety of plants.

The dahlias are beautiful although they seem to acquired a dusting of powdery mildew in my absence. It has been a very foggy summer (thankfully because of all the fires) but that has taken a toll on the plants and I wasn’t here to spray with anything to help them. I think it is too late now, I will be cutting them back as soon as the foliage dies. I was able to cut a large bouquet for the kitchen counter from the ones that are still blooming.

Dahlias

The yarrow is prolific, the white one was part of a package mixed wildflower seeds and seems to really like it in the garden.

Yarrow

That is Lucy, our cat, enjoying the sun in the middle of the bed.

There is still quite a bit of color…dahlias, yarrow, black-eyed Susan’s (from that same wildflower mix), white and purple toadflax, snapdragons are on their second flowering (with our mild winters they are considered short-lived perennials), and rudbeckia.

Mixed Island Plantings

I am in love with the Verbena bonariensis, it floats above the other plantings. The sparrows love its seeds and perch on the long stalks as they wave in any breeze. It is so open and airy that it doesn’t block other plants.

Verbena bonariensis

The tomatoes are mostly finished, they haven’t done very well with our foggy summer. Maybe next year I will have a small greenhouse.

Tomato plants in a half wine barrel

Sad looking aren’t they?

Anyway, that’s my quick catch up. The compost and soil have been delivered so next month I will include an update on plantings and the raised beds. Seeds have been ordered for a winter vegetable garden.

Mom, I’ll just keep the dirt from blowing away. Casey on the job.

 

 

In the Garden – July 2018

In the Garden – July 2018

I hope you enjoyed the Fourth of July holiday if you are reading this in the U.S. On the coast the town of Mendocino hosts an old time parade which is quite a community event. Labor Day is the time Fort Bragg has its own parade. An example of the cooperation between the two cities, only a few miles apart.

 

We appreciate our volunteer firefighters and Cal Fire personnel in Mendocino County and they lead the parade. The summer fire season has been devastating to so many communities and is a constant worry. I must admit to tearing a little as these brave men and women from communities up and down the Northern California coast drove very noisily by sirens blasting.

But, now on to events in the garden.

Summer is here and I find It is at that “in between” stage. In between the lush new growth of spring (which is now sprawling, overgrown and starting to go to seed) and the not-quite-yet growth of summer flowers.

New this month are the tomatoes and zucchini planted in half wine barrels. Although the tomatoes are still green and I don’t expect ripe ones until the end of August, the zucchini are already productive.

Green tomatoes

Zucchini

First harvest of zucchini

With the warm weather we have been able to set up a couple of outside seating and eating areas, plus chairs around an outdoor fire-pit for star watching and the making of s’mores. Are you familiar with them? They are a traditional summer camping dessert. to make them you melt and brown a marshmallow on a stick over an open fire and sandwich it with a chocolate square between two graham crackers. The hot marshmallow melts the chocolate and makes a very messy but delicious treat.

It’s lovely to set and watch the birds, especially the darting hummingbirds. I find myself resenting any time that I need to stay inside.

Here are a few shots of the flower gardens.

I’ve started to cut back the California poppies; they will put out a second bloom later this summer although not as profusely or as tall. They were starting to sprawl everywhere and cut off the sun of other plantings in addition to setting seed.

The sweet peas are blooming in the half wine barrel, one of my favorite flowers. I wasn’t sure they would do well in a container but it has worked very well.

Sweet peas

 

I’ve saved some of the seeds of the poppies and am hoping they will reseed themselves for next year. It’s been exciting to find out what will succeed in this coastal climate with sandy soil compared to the had clay I had in Oakland.

There are new plants going in…more snapdragons, coral colored yarrow, pink nicotina, blue penstemons, sunflowers, hummingbird mint, and a burgundy leaved tea tree. Look for more about these next month.

New plants

Next week we depart on an Alaska cruise with friends so I am not sure how much gardening I will be able to do in the coming weeks. Fingers crossed that my house sitter will keep things alive while we are gone. The dogs are already disturbed by the open suitcases as we pack for the trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Garden – June 2018

In the Garden – June 2018

I don’t even know where to start this month, so much happened during the month of May. Biggest, our fence was finished! The dogs love being able to safely roam around the property. I think dogs are happiest when they know their territory. We found that our normally well behaved (as much as an Aussie can be anyway) dogs heard the “call of the wild” when up at the Fort Bragg house. We had to keep them on leash when outside to prevent them from chasing the ducks in our neighbors pond, chasing the deer that wandered across the meadow, chasing the wild turkeys that raided the bird feeders, chasing the one lonely squirrel who lives in the pine grove…you get the message. They were completely out of control and sometimes disappeared long enough for us to worry. But now they are calm and know their place. The fence is 7 feet and will keep out the deer and neighboring dogs, I’m not sure about the wild turkeys and other critters. It probably won’t keep out a mountain lion or a bear, but maybe it will convince them to go somewhere slightly easier to get into.

IMG_7525

New Front Gate – Fort Bragg

There are dangers in letting them roam though. A game of chase ran through one of my island beds, trampling the plants. I have had to cut some of the poppies back, but it will bring in the sun to some of the later blooming summer flowers. The dogs will learn where they aren’t supposed to run (unless there is a squirrel in the yard…then all bets are off).

 

The other big news is the beginning of my new vegetable garden. I was waiting until the fence was complete before putting in the first plants. I would have been very sad to come out one morning and to find that a herd of deer had destroyed all the plants. So far the plants are in half wine barrels (available in abundance here in the Mendocino wine country) and large pots. But it is the start. Eventually I will put in raised beds. Meanwhile I don’t have to worry about gophers.

My friend, who knows the area and plants that will flourish in this climate, gifted me 3 tomato plants and 1 squash. I found 2 more squash plants at the nursery. These are the varieties I planted.

 Bloody Butcher

A sensational and very popular, very early producing tomato variety. A good choice for a tomato as you wait for later varieties to harvest. Our organic tomato seeds produce indeterminate, vigorous, potato-leaf plants that yield copious amounts of 2″, 4 oz, fruits that are deep-red color, inside and out. Five to nine fruits per cluster with a rich heirloom tomato flavor. Plant produces well until frost. A good tomato variety for cooler growing regions since fruits ripen quickly. A good canning tomato.

Days: 54

Size: Indeterminate

Season: Early Season

Nyagous

A rare Russian heirloom “cluster tomato”.  Regular leaf plant producing beautiful, smooth, 6oz, round “black” tomatoes that are dark mahogany with dark grey-green shoulders.  Nyagous is a wonderfully firm and blemish-free tomato with lots of sweet, complex fruit flavors and a clean acidic finish.  Up to 6 fruits per cluster.  A good market variety that has become a favorite of the Russian varieties.  Resistant to cracking.

Days:  76

Size: Indeterminate

Color: Purple-black

Season: Mid-Season

Yellow Bosnian

Old heirloom tomato from Yugoslavia. Seeds were sent from her friend Aleksandra Wiz in Zagreb Crotia. A shorter, regular leaf, indeterminate that produces a very heavy yield of 10 oz., slightly-flattened, yellow, oblate beefsteak tomatoes with deliciously rich, well-balanced. slightly sweet flavors. RARE

Days: 73

Size: Inderminate

Color: Yellow

Season: Mid-Season

Astia Zucchini

Zucchini Astia

Astia is a well-bred French bush zucchini variety, developed especially for container growing and planting in small space gardens. These non rambling, compact squash vines are also highly ornamental with big silvery-green, deeply indented leaves. Early bearing and productive, Astia bears abundant zucchini near the base of the plant where they are easy to harvest. These uniformly smooth, lustrous, glossy-green zucchini have excellent flavor and are delicious whether roasted, sautéed, steamed or baked.

Plus I added two additional summer squash varieties, Black Beauty bush type and a Costata Romanesco, one of my favorites from Oakland. I don’t know if the Costata will flourish in a large container much less the cooler climate here.

Small summer squash, picked right off the plant and grilled, are a BBQ treat.

Vegetables in the Garden

This section of the garden gets quite a bit of sun, certainly more than my tiny side yard did in Oakland. There is good potential.

Finally, the bottlebrush bush is blooming! Why is this important? Because the hummingbirds have returned with the blooms. I see and hear them buzzing around the flowers as the nectar is a favorite. The rest of the garden has been planted with lots of other flowers which are supposed to attract them, but so far only the Salvias are blooming. It hasn’t been enough to keep them around.

Bottlebrush shrub

I understand that in the “old days” the flowers were actually used as a bottle brush. The seeds are also quite rough and I can imagine would give things a good scouring.

That’s all the big news from up here on the California Coast. I hope you are all enjoying your gardens, be they big or small.