In My Garden – September 2019

In My Garden – September 2019

There are definitely changes in the garden, the flowers are starting to set their seeds as they finish blooming. I’m noticing less of our native bumblebees (the furry kind) and more European honey bees. I’m not sure of the reason for the shift but it is rather dramatic.

Cuphea, the bees were swarming over this bushy perennial. It’s a favorite of the hummingbirds as well.

That’s the Cuphea in the back, Nicotiana (an unusual pink one) in front. The European bees were swarming over the Cuphea a few days ago. They haven’t been the predominant bee until now.

The vegetable garden is still producing lettuce, green beans and zucchini. My artichoke plants, which I thought had died, are sending up new shoots. I’ll be pulling out the beans and zucchini this coming weekend as we will be away for the next 2 weeks. Our house/dog sitter is not a cook, it will be enough for her to keep up with the watering (and the dogs) while we are gone.

Vegetable Harvest

We mowed down the pollinator garden last week. I am interested in what comes back with the winter rains. It was a bit too thickly seeded last year, next year everything will find their place. Also the birds have been very interested in the seeds, thinning the plants naturally.

I cut back the tall bearded iris bed, the Spanish lavender planted there is till blooming along the side of the driveway..

Iris Bed along the driveway

The Geum Totally Tangerine has been a non-stop bloomer.

Geum Totally Tangerine

And I am totally in love with this Scabiosa, Pincushion Flower, Fama Blue. The flowers are on sturdy long stems (some are 3 feet), they last a long time in a vase and are the most beautiful blue/purple. The bees love them and it’s a great color with orange or peach.

Scabiosa, Pincushion Flower, Fama Blue

My dahlias are almost finished although I am still getting some blooms. This spring I think I will separate them a bit as they are planted too close together leading to some powdery mildew. My husband has been encouraging me to add another bed and I have already ordered some additional dahlia tubers. But I think I like them mixed in with other flowers rather than in a bed of their own.

Dahlia

This dahlia came from my Oakland garden where it did not like the heavy clay. I am not even certain it ever bloomed. Isn’t it beautiful? And the bee seems to agree. When we moved up here I dug up as many plants as I could manage and replanted them in the Fort Bragg garden. Much of my garden there was in my neighbors side yard and I knew he would not grant the new owners the same gardening rights (in fact he completely mowed all the remaining plants down and replanted with completely inappropriate plants). Sad.

I wish you all happy gardening as the seasons change. There is something very satisfying in putting a garden to bed, cutting things back and preparing for the new season. When we get back from Scotland that will be my goal.

For those of you on the Southern Hemisphere, your gardening season is just beginning. I look forward to reading about your gardens.

In My Garden – August 2019

In My Garden – August 2019

Can you believe it is August and fall is just around the corner? I certainly cannot. It has been beautiful here with highs mostly in the 60’s and an occasional foray into the low 70’s. We live in the banana belt of the Mendocino coast, it’s both slightly warmer and sunnier because of the shape of the coast. The city of Fort Bragg is only a couple of miles south of us, but it’s often foggy while we are clear.

Fog rolling in along the coast

So, what’s going on the garden? I’ve been concentrating on the edges of the borders and filling in some of the bare spots with low plants and succulents. My target goal is to not have any dirt showing, it’s a long range plan as many of the plants are still small.

I’m after a style called ‘intermingling’ with a high density of perennials. Annuals will self seed and find their spots in any bare areas. The following is from an English gardening blog I read, (Noel’s Garden):

Modern thinking on perennial planting density tends to favor around seven to nine plants per square meter, considerably more so than conventionally. Plantings quickly look full and potentially a good canopy can develop, but only if the plant forms used mesh together – which single cultivar blocks of upright growers often never do, which is a good reason for using an ‘intermingled’ approach to planting. Both German Mixed Planting systems and Piet Oudolf use plants at this density, with the former filling in quickly and the latter potentially so, depending on what is being used. Management, which conventionally has always been focussed on the integrity of individual plants tends to prevent meshing together. Spreading and seeding can fill, and perhaps should, fill the gaps.

Speaking of bare spots, nothing seems to grow in the very center of one of the back island beds. I couldn’t figure out why nothing was thriving until I discovered it’s the favorite spot for our elderly cat, Lucy, to doze and watch the birds. Thankfully she is too old and well fed to hunt them.

Last month I said I would list some of my favorite plant combinations, those that have done well in my zone 9b climate. The combinations all need similar water and light requirements. There is a delightful book, Plant Partners by Anna Pavord, that I was given a couple of decades ago when I was starting the Oakland garden. The pictures of the combinations are truly stunning and inspiring. However, the plants require different growing conditions…water, sun, soil, etc. In reality you can’t grow them together successfully. Additionally many of them were unsuitable for our dry summer climate. It was a big disappointment because, as a beginning gardener, I tried some of them with unfortunate results.

Anyway, here us a snapshot of my favorite combinations. They have been both beautiful and successful.

Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ with Geum coccineum ‘Totally Tangerine’, with Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margareta BOP’, with Scabiosa caucasica ‘Fama Blue’, with the yarrow Achillea millefolium ‘Salmon Beauty’. In spring and early summer there are also red annual poppies, orange California poppies and the native wild flower ‘Baby Blue Eyes’. The Deschampsia “Tufted Hair Grass” is there for textural interest.

August island beds – Geum and Yarrow

 

Geum Totally Tangerine

This Geum is one of the most successful plants in my garden, growing into clumps 18″ tall and wide with flower talks of tangerine orange blooms that wave in the breeze. The bees love the flowers and they last quite a long time when cut for the house. I have other Geums, both red and yellow varieties, and they are slowly growing into respectable plants. But this variety takes off from the get go.

Marmalade

Heuchera Marmalade

The contrast of the leaves is gorgeous, but an added delight is that the foliage mirrors the tangerine blooms of the Geum.

Another favorite (and a favorite of the hummingbirds as well) combination is the bright red Nicotiana alata ‘Crimson Bedder’, with Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’, with Cuphea ‘Kristin’s Delight’ and Agastache ‘Purple Haze’. All of them are perennials and come back larger each year.  The Cupheas are sometimes called cigar plants and are native to Mexico. The blooms have a wide range of colors but all are beloved by hummingbirds. In our growing zone they seem to be in constant flower.

On some of the following pictures you will also see snapdragons, Agastache (hummingbird mint), Scabiosa (pincushion flower), and purple toadflax as well as some annual poppies and other native wildflowers.

 

I’ve repeated these combinations several times throughout the back island beds.

You may be interested in what is happening in the pollinator garden. Well, since I have decided to withhold supplemental summer water, it is drying up.

August Pollinator Garden

I was considering mowing the plants under or pulling them out. But, as I walked past the meadow, a large flock of sparrows and finches flew into the air. The birds are enjoying the seeds. So, I think I will leave the dead plants until later in the fall. The seeds that survive will sprout in the spring once the winter rains start. It will be interesting to see the changes from one year to another. It does look rather sad right now though.

I’ve always loved Kate Wolf’s song about California being brown in the summertime. It’s really true.

Coastal meadows

I think that’s all from the north coast of California. Happy gardening.

 

 

 

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 – 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.