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.

 

 

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.

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First two raised beds

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

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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.