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).

 

 

In My Garden – March 2019

In My Garden – March 2019

What happened to February?! It simply disappeared in a flood of rain and grey skies (plus we were traveling the first week). In any case, it simply flew by without me getting in front of my computer to write about it. With the cold and wet weather, there hasn’t been much change in the garden. We are having an unusual amount of rain, or at least it is unusual compared to the last few years. Normal for the Northern California coast, Fort Bragg area, is about 40 inches. That is compared to the SF bay area where it is about 28 inches. The mossy low spots in the yard feel like a wet sponge, they squish when you walk on them. My sandy, fast draining sol is saturated. One small blessing is the absence of mud.

Along with the rain we’ve had hail, and even snow once.

Hail on the back deck

The result is some sad looking plants.

Unhappy Baby Blue Eyes

Prevailing garden lore claims that the best time to plant in Northern California is the fall, but I think I will reconsider the recommendation in light of the damage (and death in some cases) of those plants I set in the ground last autumn. Everything planted last spring seems to be surviving well.

This will be a quick update since the cooler weather has slowed down any new growth, with the exception of the bulbs.

The pollinator meadow, which was seeded last fall, will need thinning soon.

Pollinator Meadow

And the raised bed garden is producing lots of wonderful salads. It’s just warm enough during the day for the cool season veggies to be happy.

Raised Beds – cut and come again lettuce and radishes

The peas  are also happy in this weather.

There is a dry gully at the edge of our driveway, no longer dry. Under that protective basket is/was a small veronica bush planted last fall. It liked a moist spot but probably has been drowned under current conditions.

Dry Gully?

Casey and Quinn are overjoyed with their own personal pond for cooling off after a game of catch.

Casey and Quinn in their own personal pond

In My Garden – January 2018

In My Garden – January 2018

January is a quiet time in the garden but also a time of promise. The promise of spring is there with the emergence of the first bulbs, and the sprouting of self seeded wildflowers. Snowdrops and hellebores are beginning to bloom.

The flowering current, Ribes sanguineum, against the garage is also starting to bloom. I think the hummingbirds will enjoy it. This is considered a red flowering current even though the blooms are pink. The flowers emerge before the foliage.

Flowering Current

Most of the same plants that were blooming in December are still in bloom but not as eagerly.

The biggest change is in the vegetable garden. My raised beds are now in place, all 5 of them have plantings that are doing well. Lettuce, kale, chard, radishes, cilantro, parsley, artichokes and arugula all do well in our mild winter climate with the winter rains. Chances are that I won’t need to worry about watering until sometime in April or even later.

The mulch, warmed by the sun, is the perfect place for a nap.

Casey in the sun

And we are finding some amazing mushrooms due to the wet weather. These were more than a foot across.

Mushrooms – That’s my foot for comparison

They have pores and I was told they are members of the porcini family, but I wouldn’t dare eat them. Some creature clearly doesn’t feel the same way though. Before the fence we had mushroom hunters crossing our property in mushroom season, maybe that is why we are seeing these now. I am told it can be a very profitable business.

Lastly an update on the meadow, the winter rains have been kind and things are greening like crazy. The bare spots are places where I have sown bunch grass and other drought tolerant grasses that need at least 55 degrees F to germinate. It has been too cold but they will hit a growth spurt when the weather warms a bit.

Meadow January 2019

Lastly, a couple of photos of the coast less than a mile from the house.

 

Storm on the coast

Sunset with storm clouds

The sunsets, with storm clouds on the horizon, are always stunning.

 

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.