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.

 

 

 

 

In My Garden – March 2018

In My Garden – March 2018

It’s time to chronicle the progress of the garden in Fort Bragg (CA), this a monthly update on progress with the new garden. At the end of the year I will post a summary so you can see the changes throughout the season as the garden matures and I learn my way around.

A new garden is exciting and definitely a learning experience; often by trial and (many times) error as well. It’s a challenge to learn the soil, climate (not to mention mini climate zones throughout the garden), as well as how the sunlight changes through the year. All those influence what will flourish. The soil of the Fort Bragg garden is very different from that in Oakland. Fort Bragg has sandy soil which is very low in nutrients (Oakland was clay), but Fort Bragg drains nicely which was a problem in Oakland. It is also quite acid due to all the conifers surrounding it, Oakland was more alkaline. Both gardens are cursed with browsing deer; but add rabbits and gophers in Fort Bragg (plus the occasional mountain lion and bear).  In Fort Bragg I am about 1/2 mile inland from the coast, so thankfully I don’t have to worry about the salt spray.

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Garden Plan

The garden came with mature plantings of rhododendrons, Lily of the Valley bush, bottle brush bush, ferns, and a few azaleas. The rhododendrons bloom in late March into April and May. They are gorgeous. In planting additional garden beds my preference is to have flowers throughout the seasons, emphasizing plants for pollinators and birds. I was shocked to hear almost no birds for the first year we owned the garden, that was 5 years ago. Since retiring we have spent most of our time at the house and the birds have found us…much to my joy (after spending many dollars on bird seed and feeders). We now have flocks of junkos, chickadees, song sparrows, goldfinches, robins, hummingbirds, and an occasional thrush (seen for the first time last week). The property sings.

As you saw in last month’s garden post, hellebores do well here. They have been blooming continuously since late January. They were among my very first plantings when we bought the property because nothing eats them. They have not only thrived in a long bed beside the garage, but self seeded themselves as well. They are happy with very occasional summer water and a side dressing of compost in early winter. You can see pictures in my post from last month. This year I planted 5 new ones of various colors, some in a new island bed with a transplanted rhododendron and a couple of azaleas.

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Lots of buds on the rhododendrons 

Dahlias do very well here, the Mendocino botanical garden is famous for their dahlia show. In Summer that area is completely booked for weddings and other events. Before putting the house on the market, I dug up most of the tubers from the garden in Oakland. Here is the beginning of a new dahlia bed. It needs to have a lot more compost added to enrich the soil. I am reluctant to put them in with the rest of the plants because their water and nutrient needs are so different. But I originally put them in pots, where they did not thrive. So, hopefully they will sprout once the weather warms and I can move them to a new home which meets their needs.

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Future Dahlia Bed

The Daffodils are blooming (both in the garden and pots) like crazy, new ones coming out almost daily. IMG_7227

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There were several mature plants that the landscaping stager used in the Oakland garden. The ones in the ground I left for the new owners. But the ones in pots I brought to Fort Bragg. This lilac vine will grace the railing near the front door, blooming in winter. I understand it is a native of Australia and only needs a deep watering once a week or so, which will suit the other plants nearby nicely.

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The bearded iris tubers I transplanted from Oakland seem to like their new location in full sun along the driveway.

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Along the side of the back patio I planted a row of candy corn (Manettia Luteo) along with lime colored creeping thyme and some red sedum. The candy corn plants are supposed to reach a shrubby 4 feet at maturity, be drought tolerant, and a magnet for hummingbirds. We shall see if they live up to their hype.

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They look a little sad at this point but I see new growth.

I am a sucker for hummingbirds, this mature  bottle brush tree has been a favorite for the local Allen’s hummingbirds. It is just starting to bloom, and I have seen a couple of males at the feeder in the last few weeks. The Allen’s migrate and are just now returning. I have read that the males will stake out a territory before the females arrive. Last spring there were several nests in the tree as well as a nearby rhododendron; I was buzzed when I passed close by them in the garden.

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The flowering current beside the garage is starting to bloom. The new growth is a lovely shade of green which sets off the bright pink flowers.

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And lastly there are a couple of rather messy island beds, recently dug and planted.

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I found digging garden beds very therapeutic and calming. They keep expanding in size and may eventually have a nice even shape, or maybe not.

I planted sweet peas in a half wine barrel. They are one of my favorite flowers, my English grandmother always had a trellis of them in her garden outside London. They are just getting started but should take off as the weather warms. The wire baskets are there to protect them, or at least give them a bit of a head start.

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Most of the plants in the garden are listed as deer resistant, but nothing is really safe if the deer are hungry. We are starting to look at fencing which will keep the deer outside and our dogs safe inside.

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You talking about us?

 

February 2018 – Garden in Fort Bragg

February 2018 – Garden in Fort Bragg

I am going to start a monthly regular post recording the changes in the garden in Fort Bragg. We have now owned the house for almost 5 years, but with the remodel and addition, there hasn’t been much time to spend in the garden. As well, without a fence, the garden is prime dinner material for the gophers, deer, and rabbits…not to mention the 6″ banana slugs. So, the garden currently consists of deer and gopher resistant plants. I don’t think anything is completely deer and gopher proof, they like to sample things especially when young. But these plants have survived without our constant presence and without a fence.

It’s a new challenge. A brand new garden, in a brand new mini-climate. The soil is different, the weather is different, the sun and shade patterns are different. The garden is also surrounded by redwood tress with their invasive root systems. In the winter when the sun is low, the meadow surrounding the house is shady. In summer when the sun is high, it can be quite warm and sunny.

What does it look like now in the beginning of February? Well, we are in another drought and the weather has been up to 60 degrees. The plants think it is spring. The daffodils are coming up, some are blooming. The hellebores are gorgeous, I planted several from the Oakland garden when we first purchased the house and they are thriving, even self seeding themselves.

The snowdrops are up, these were planted only a few weeks ago and I was surprised at how quickly they bloomed. They were one of the first winter blooming plants to appear in my Oakland garden. I planted several different varieties up here. Although I understand they are not deer and rabbit proof, so far they have left them alone.

The daffodils are up and some are blooming.

The first grape hyacinth are up as well, some in pots and some in the ground with the hellebores. The larger hyacinth bulbs were planted in a pot last spring to escape the hungry critters, they are blooming as well. IMG_7150IMG_7148

Two of the azaleas, the pink ones are starting to bloom.

In a freshly dug bed, amended by lots of compost, are native California poppies, regular red poppies, and other bulbs. IMG_7146

And what is going on in the cage on top of the wine barrel? Well, one of my favorite flowers is sweet peas. It’s my effort to keep off the deer until they can get a start. IMG_7132

The rhododendrons have large buds but no bloom yet. It is a little early.

The grafted plum tree has a lot of buds. The graft has taken. Yippee, it was my first. I plan to cut some scions from the wild plum trees bordering my Oakland garden and graft them on the baby tree. Hopefully we will plant it in the garden this spring. Once we build the fence.IMG_7156

The belladonna lilies have put up their green leaves, so far they have not bloomed for me but I understand it can take a few years and these were transplanted which they don’t like.  IMG_7153.jpg

And finally this wonderful shrub is blooming, the early native bumble bees are crazy for it. It was a sad little thing when we first moved in, this year it is thriving. I don’t know what it is, let me know if you do. IMG_7154

The potted Meyer lemon has lots of blooms, and my potted lime tree has both blooms and limes. The lemon looks like it would like an inch of compost.

It’s a busy time. It has been so warm and dry that I think the plants think spring as sprung. The garden is alive with the sound of chirping chickadees and junkos, plus the occasional pine siskin. I am looking forward to the return of the hummingbirds.

 

July – In the Garden

July – In the Garden

Did you know this blog was intended to be about gardening as well as food? That is the spades part of the title. I realize that I haven’t written about plants in some time. The cover picture in this post is the Oakland garden in spring, a few years ago. You can see the tall bearded irises coming into bloom in the back. I am preparing to leave that garden, but it is difficult to disconnect emotionally and let it go. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like that lovely picture anymore. Last year it was a victim of the California drought, water restrictions, my day job, and time spent on the remodel of the Fort Bragg cabin. This year’s excuse is the time required for new construction at the very same house, plus getting the Oakland house ready to sell by the end of this year.

I shifting my garden focus from Oakland to our retirement cabin (now becoming a house) in Fort Bragg, California, starting a new garden almost from scratch. Fort Bragg is a small town of about 8,000 full time residents, 3 1/2 hours north of San Francisco, on the Pacific coast. You have probably heard more about Mendocino, their sister city, only a few minutes south on highway 1. The Northern California coast is absolutely gorgeous, full of empty beaches, redwoods, hiking trails, and deep forests. I have always loved the area and am excited at the prospect of spending more of my time there. I predict that much of it will be spent in the garden.

Our property is just over 1/2 mile from the coast, far enough inland to escape most of the salt air and summer fog which plagues homes directly on the coast. I’m using this post to document the “before”, the blank canvas before I get my hands in the dirt. Most of the 7 acres are filled with second growth redwood and pine trees. The pines have been devastated by drought and an onslaught of the Western pine beetle.  They were originally planted a couple of decades ago as a scheme to become a Christmas tree farm, a misguided attempt to take an agricultural tax cut. They are too close together, and dying. We have had to remove the ones closest to the house as a precaution against fire. At first, I thought to remove the dead and downed trees in other parts of the property, but I am starting to change my mind. The trees and undergrowth have a unique ecology and are homes to many small animals, birds and insects. I might just let things rot.

The house itself sits in the middle of a large meadow, an acre or more in size. There will be plenty to occupy my time and energy and it will be several years before things begin to take shape. Those efforts will need to start with the soil as it hasn’t been amended in many years (if ever). A lot of organic matter will be needed to enrich this sandy loam (read that as mostly sand). We are only a short distance from the dunes of MacKerricher State Park. It is quite different from Oakland where I was gardening in clay; a now underground creek ran right through the garden. I could have sold that clay to a potter; it was that dark and heavy. In our dry summer it was like concrete.

I will transfer as many plants as possible from the Oakland garden, to the one in Fort Bragg, starting with summer dormant bulbs. The timing of July/August is perfect for digging and dividing Dutch iris bulbs. They did not bloom well this year, having become overcrowded. Dividing should refresh them. So far I have several hundred bulbs with a few more clumps to dig.

What do you think about a long bed of irises along the left side of the driveway approaching the house? I think the bulbs will appreciate the fast draining soil.

Left Side of Driveway – Before

Iris Border Along Driveway – This is my ultimate goal

Bearded Iris Bulbs

I have ordered a few more “exotic” colors to mix in with the rest. Mine are mostly deep purple, pink, light blue, and lavender.

I am also planning a draught friendly berm of both native and Mediterranean plants on the right side of the driveway. Before I start though, there are two very large and overgrown trees to remove. They both lost branches in last year’s heavy winter storms. Many of the branches are dead and they block the sun in that area. Plants on the berm will have to be ones that resist deer, gophers, and rabbits since there isn’t a fence yet. The wish list includes plants that are attractive to bees and other pollinators, I am partial to lavenders, sages and grasses for their movement.

Site of Berm on Right Side of Driveway

The back of the house will have the vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, herbs, and several flower/herb beds. It doesn’t look like much right now with the construction still in progress. But it is full of possibilities. Stay tuned.

Once the new bedroom/bath is finished, I will post some pictures of the house.

Back Meadow

Rhododendrons do incredibly well here, I’d like to plant a few more colors at the edge of the redwoods. There are currently 11 mature plants on the property, they require minimal water and attention from me except deadheading the spent flowers.

Fort Bragg Rododendrons

I had to move a mature dwarf yellow rhododendron and two pink azaleas from the back of the house (where the addition was to be located) to another bed at the back of the meadow because of the construction. I was worried they wouldn’t survive being transplanted during the rainy season, but they seem to be doing well and are putting out new growth. The soil is very fast draining, which helped. I think they would have drowned in the heavy soggy soil of the Oakland garden. It’s difficult to see in the picture, one of the azaleas has lovely chocolate brown leaves.

Transplanted mature rhododendron and azaleas

I would love to hear suggestions from any gardeners. We don’t currently have a deer fence but that will come in the near future.