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.

 

 

In My Garden – May 2018

In My Garden – May 2018

Things are blooming, oh my are they blooming! It has been so exciting to see the tiny plants that were put in the ground in March take off and literally take over. I find it difficult to imagine that a tiny plant in a 4 inch pot will, within a few months, turn into a sprawling 2 foot wide plant.

Baby Blue Eyes and California Poppies

You can see why they call this native wildflower baby blue eyes. They will reseed themselves for next year.

Baby Blue Eyes

The California poppies (or state flower) were grown from seed and obviously like it here.

California Poppies

In fact they have almost taken over one of the island beds.

Island Bed with California Poppies

Remember the stock I transplanted from our open house? It not only has repeat bloomed, but has a third bloom.

Deep Purple Stock

And there are lots of other poppies, some planted from seed. With a mixed packet of poppy seeds it is a surprise what comes up. In addition to the California poppies, there are larger ones in shades of red, orange and pink. The bees are loving them; we found a native bumblebee either asleep or completely blissed out in the middle of an orange poppy. You can see how much pollen there is in a single flower.

I plan to collect seed for next year as most of them are annuals and will die back once they finish blooming. The California poppies are considered a short lived perennial. Once they set seed I can cut them back almost to the ground. They will return with a second bloom in the summer but not so vigorously.

The irises that I brought from the Oakland house are blooming although they look a little shell shocked. It might take a year or so for them to adapt. It seems I could have brought a little fungus with them as well so they are not looking as happy as I would like. When I cut them back this fall I will treat with horticultural oil and hope to get it in control for next year. Please comment and let me know if you have successfully countered this problem.

The native Douglas Irises are blooming in the woods as well. We removed three old and overgrown and diseased pine trees. With the new sunlight I notice more of them coming into flower.

And the rhododendrons are finally in bloom.

These very large shrubs were probably planted in the 70’s when the house was originally built. It takes many years for them to reach their current size. I’ve planted 4 new ones since we purchased the house, they are only about 3 feet high and didn’t bloom this year at all. I see new growth though and have high hopes for 2019.

Spring is the most beautiful season in California. Come summer most things go dormant. My garden plan is taking this into account with summer and fall blooming perennials. Most of them are lagging behind and waiting till the weather warms, then it will be their turn to shine.

Remember the Lily of the Valley shrub? It has now put out wonderfully scented flowers. The bees love them, I can see them flying around outside my window as I type this post.

Lily of the Valley Bush

So the garden is buzzing with bees and hummingbirds as well as other pollinators.

I heard the first chirps of baby birds somewhere in the woods this afternoon. Spring is definitely here although our weather has been cool so far.

Thought it would be fun to close with a before and after picture. I’ll try and do this as the year proceeds so you can see the changes with the seasons. Same island bed. You can tell I like a bit of a messy cottage look with a mix of annuals and perennials.

How is your garden doing this spring?

 

 

 

 

 

In My Garden – April 2018

In My Garden – April 2018

 

Spring is definitely in the air, and my first crazy wave of planting is over. Now I just have to wait and see what likes the (very compost enriched) soil and the Fort Bragg weather. We are expecting a major rain system later this week, very late in the season. Fort Bragg usually gets about 40 inches of rain during the winter, we are about 60% of that so far this season. We are going to be spending a good chunk of the spring and summer clearing the underbrush and lower branches from the trees in preparation for fire season.

The daffodils have been blooming in waves, continuously since late January.

Amazingly the hellebores, also called the Christmas Rose because they bloom in mid-winter, are still going strong.

Hellebores

I was gifted some tulip bulbs several years ago at Christmas. At the time we were only spending occasional weekends at the cabin so I planted them in a half wine barrel with a butterfly bush. Even though the container was close to the house, the deer still managed to get to them before they bloomed. This year has been different, the barking of the dogs has kept the deer at a distance even without a fence and they are lovely.

Tulips

This unusual variety came with the daffodil bulbs I ordered in the fall.

Tulips

The Dutch Bearded Iris bulbs I transplanted along the driveway from the Oakland garden have take off, several are showing flower stalks. I expect there will be a long bloom period for them since there are multiple varieties and sizes.

Bearded Siberian Irises

 

It is almost time to trim the grass in the front meadow. We had to re-seed much of it because of work on the septic leach field.

The Lily of the Valley bush continues to flower but now has the most brilliant colored new growth. There are four on the property, two in the front as foundation plantings and two in the back near the tool shed. The ones in the front have bright red new growth, i understand that this is the Mountain Fire variety.

Mountain Fire Lily of the Valley Bush – Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’

The two near the tool shed could be the ‘Compacta’ variety, they are definitely smaller and the new growth is yellow to orange.

Lily of the Valley Bush

I have been encouraging more birds into the yard with multiple feeders. We live in the middle of a redwood forest, which is generally a quiet place with few birds. Along with the birds came a midnight visitor to raid the sunflower seeds, he bend the feeder to the ground. The second night he came back we caught him on camera.

The midnight marauder

i’ve decided to leave the sunflower seeds off the feeder, he doesn’t seem to bother with the thistle seeds. We are hopeful our new fence will encourage him or her to seek easier food sources.

Meanwhile, the dogs like to be in the garden with me enjoying the spring sunshine. In lieu of the fence we settle for a long leach. They are entirely too interested in mountain lions, bears and deer.

Casey and Quinn enjoying the sunshine

Their favorite form of gardening is digging for gophers.