Monday, December 11, 2017

In a Vase on Monday: Faux frost & a bit of bling

I've been struggling to get into the holiday spirit.  Since last Tuesday morning when I woke to news of wildfires, the situation in Southern California has been hellish.  If you've seen any news coverage of the devastation, you probably won't consider that an exaggeration.  For days, every morning brought news of yet another major fire.  In total, there were 6 major fires, stretching from Ventura County to San Diego County with 3 in Los Angeles County.  Only one has been fully contained thus far.  The worst, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, was only 10% contained Sunday night and it's now headed for Santa Barbara County.  At their height, 200,000 people were evacuated in response to the fires.  Over 250,000 acres have burned thus far.  More than 800 homes and structures have been destroyed.  Miraculously, only one human life has been lost but scores of horses have been killed.  Yet, my family and friends have been lucky.  Even though my own area is considered to have a higher-than-average fire risk, there have been no outbreaks here.  Only our air quality was affected, although we're still on edge as red flag (fire danger) warnings remain in effect until Monday night.  We're used to Santa Ana winds and wildfires but I can't recall a sustained wind event like this one, nor as many fires burning across such a widespread area.  And I've lived in Southern California all my life.

I thought I'd be posting photos of a Christmas wreath today.  With humidity levels in the single digits, I've put off purchasing a wreath, garlands and a tree but, trying to work up some enthusiasm for the holidays, on Sunday I picked flowers that mimicked the frosty images I saw posted by bloggers in Texas and the Eastern US who found their gardens dusted with snow late last week.

I used icy blue and white flowers, variegated foliage, and threw in my last (?) 2 purplish-blue Lisianthus blooms

Back view: My blue, brown and cream mug picked up nicely on the floral and foliage colors

Top view: I don't think I've had Lisianthus blooming in December before but then summer's blooms burned out earlier than usual this year so perhaps the plants are making up for lost time

Clockwise from the upper left, the vase contains: Eustoma grandiflorum (aka Lisianthus), Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus', Osteospermum '4D Silver', and Westringia fruticosa 'Morning Light'

While doing some Christmas shopping, I picked up a small inexpensive vase for myself to provide the house with some holiday bling.  I'd originally planned to use the mirrored glass vase with the blue and white flowers but decided it complemented my pink Camellias better.

The trick in photographing this arrangement was avoiding taking an inadvertent selfie

Back view: You may recall that I combined Camellia and Leptospermum stems in a vase on November 20th.  I didn't like the effect on that occasion but I think the shorter scale of this arrangement improved the pairing.  The addition of Alternanthera foliage that echoes the burgundy centers of the Leptospermum helps tie the elements together too.

Top view: The Camellias have suffered in the low humidity of the past week so I had no hesitancy about cutting them

Clockwise from the left, the vase contains: noID Camellia sasanqua, Alternanthera 'Little Ruby', and Leptospermum scoparium 'Pink Pearl'

I've started pulling out small (non-perishable) decorations here and there.  When the winds die down and humidity levels start to rise, I expect I'll jump into holiday preparations.  For now, I'm making do with my faux frost and a bit of silver bling.

For more "In a Vase on Monday" posts, visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

All material © 2012-2017 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Friday, December 8, 2017

What's new in the neighborhood?

I haven't taken a spin through my neighborhood since March so I took a stroll a little before lunch yesterday to see what's new as we head toward the end of the year.  The short answer is "not much."  My timing wasn't optimal.  While temperatures here remain on the cool side despite the Santa Ana winds fanning fires throughout Southern California, the sun's intensity wasn't optimal for photographs and it was so dry I felt as though my skin was being stretched across the bones of my face.  Our household weather station read 3% humidity at mid-day.

As a whole, I was struck by how parched most of the front gardens in my neighborhood looked.  Of course, back in March, we were coming off the heaviest winter rainy season we'd had in years.  In contrast, we've had only a trivial amount of rain since the new rain year tally began October 1st, less than a fifth of an inch in total.  Worse yet, the current extended forecast doesn't show any rain until mid-January.  Under these conditions, I probably shouldn't have expected to find much color but I did find some.  Here are the highlights:

Succulent bed with flowering Aloe arborescens beneath a canopy of red Bougainvillea

More succulents, along with Phormium, Strelitzia reginae (Bird of Paradise), Tagetes lemmonii, and ornamental grasses

A noID  Cordyline, highlighted by the sun.  This neighbor recently replanted her front slope, adding pops of this red Cordyline, yellow Euryops, and Pelargoniums to her prior collections of red Bougainvillea and blue Agapanthus

Hibiscus in bloom across the street

Blooms on this Bougainvillea weren't surprising but blooms on Agapanthus aren't the norm this time of year

I don't know what this plant is.  Do you?  I discovered several of these huge shrubs covered with pink buds lining both sides of the street near the entrance to our neighborhood.  This area isn't irrigated so the profusion of buds - and the fact that I've no recollection whatsoever of these plants in bloom in prior years - was a surprise.

More Aloe arborescens, this clump sited below a Heteromeles arbuitfolia (toyon) covered in red berries

My favorite neighborhood garden (next to my own), sporting more blooming aloes

I knew the former owner of this property and I'm sure she identified this Salvia for me but I can't remember what it is.  It's covered in small blue flowers, although they're somewhat difficult to make out in my photo

The massive Leucospermum in the same garden has loads of buds but no blooms yet.  I didn't even notice that the Leucospermum had virtually swallowed the orange tree in front of it until I viewed this photo.

So as not to hold you in suspense, here's the photo of the same Leucospermum I took in March

There are quite a few Schinus molle (California pepper trees) in the neighborhood and most are producing berries

There were a LOT of dead plants too, despite last year's heavy rain and the subsequent loosening of water restrictions.

The dead tree on the left sits just outside one neighbor's wall, probably easy to ignore, but the one on the upper right sits  at the street entrance to that property.  I can't even identify the shrub in the middle right.  At first I thought it was the remains of a tree someone had cut down but the base was anchored in the ground.  It looked as though some of the plant's roots had tried to escape by pulling themselves out of the ground.  The Aeoniums on the bottom right are beyond sad - they've always looked as though they were just hanging on but now I think they've given up.

A few houses have changed hands but their gardens largely have not.

The house renovation that took 2+ years was completed some time ago but there's no landscaping yet other than 2 lonely cycads 

The huge empty lot is still empty

But one can only see so much from the street.  My own garden doesn't look that different from the street either, with one notable exception.

The dead oleanders that lined our neighbors' driveway on the south side have been replaced with Pittosporum 'Silver Sheen' and my lath (shade) house is coming together just inside our laurel hedge

As the holidays approach, I hope you have time to take in and enjoy your surroundings.  I'll be spending my weekend writing to Santa requesting more fire fighters - and rain.

All material © 2012-2017 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wednesday Vignette: Light, sound and space

My Wednesday Vignette this week pulls together events that have nothing whatsoever to do with one another, other than that all grabbed my attention for different reasons on Monday.

On Monday the news was full of stories and photos of the "supermoon," which looks especially large and bright due to its close proximity to the earth.  I'd taken several photos of it from our backyard Sunday night but moisture in the night air blurred the image.  I got my best shot on Monday night soon after the moon rose.

The light of the supermoon was bright but it might have been more impressive still without competition from the harbor and city lights

Monday was also marked by ear-shattering noise that started in the morning and continued ALL day.  Noise is common in my semi-rural community.  Houses always seem to be in the process of being built or renovated.  Tree trimming occurs on a nearly continuous basis.  Sirens routinely set legions of neighborhood dogs howling.  But this noise was worse than all those combined and it just didn't stop.  It didn't take long to pinpoint the source with my camera.

Fortunately for you, I didn't record the sound associated with this photo of sandblasting in process on this house's exterior

The next photo provides an update on the status of my lath (shade) house, currently under construction by my husband.  He and the neighbor across the street put up the walls on Monday.  They expect to raise the roof today.

Soon I'll have space for all sorts of shade plants!  (Photo taken from the main level of the front garden looking down into the area bordering the street)

Unfortunately, Tuesday morning brought news of wildfires in Southern California, brought on by a combination of exceptionally low humidity and high winds.  As the day closed, there were 4 significant fires, the worst of which was the Thomas Fire burning in Ventura County about 2 hours to our north - it's burned 65,000 acres, destroyed more than 150 structures, and is still 0% contained.  This morning, I woke just after 4am and smelled smoke.  At the time, I thought the wind must be blowing smoke from the Creek Fire in Sylmar our way but this morning brought news of yet another fire, this one near the Getty Center.  If the TV news coverage is accurate, this one has already destroyed homes as well.  The fires have also prompted widespread evacuations and multiple freeway closures.  It's a mess here and utterly heartbreaking for those directly affected.

For more Wednesday Vignettes, visit Anna at Flutter & Hum.

All material © 2012-2017 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, December 4, 2017

In a Vase on Monday: Springfire!

Once summer finally loosens its grip on us (which it was slow to do this year), the cooler temperatures deliver a spring-like rebirth to Southern California gardens.  As I was making my rounds of the garden on Saturday, I caught sight of an unexpected flash of coral color and literally gasped when I realized that the Metrosideros 'Springfire' I'd planted in February had blooms.

Although planted from a 3-gallon pot, the shrub is still only 2 feet tall.  At maturity, it should reach 12 feet (or even taller) and offer many more blooms!

There are lots of unopened buds on the Metrosideros so I went ahead and cut 2 stems with flowers as the starting points for this week's first vase.  There was no problem finding companions for those flowers, although I admit I went more than a little matchy-matchy.

I had in mind to add white or pink flowers with a coral bent to the arrangement but gave up those ideas when I realized I couldn't stuff anything more into the vase

Back view: There are actually 2 Grevillea cultivars in this arrangement but my photos don't emphasize their tonal differences

Top view

Top row: Metrosideros collina 'Springfire' flower and leaf.  Most leaves are a medium green but a few show beautiful variegation.
Middle row: Agonis flexuosa 'Nana', Corokia x virgata 'Sunsplash' (reused from last week), and Grevillea 'Ned Kelly'
Bottom row: Grevillea 'Superb' and Nandina domestica foliage and berries

I didn't give much thought to my second vase at all, other than thinking it would be nice to use some of the lavender colored blooms in my garden.  After clipping a little of this and a little of that and dropping it all into the water-filled jar I carried with me, I was so disillusioned about my ability to turn the contents into something that I seriously considered dropping everything in the compost bin and starting all over with Camellias.  But, as I still feel contrite about every flower I remove from the garden, I couldn't bring myself to do that.

In the end, I was glad I persevered as the arrangement turned out better than I'd expected

Back view, highlighting Hypoestes aristata (aka ribbon bush), Polygala myrtifolia (aka sweet pea bush), and the Pyrethropsis hosmariense (aka Moroccan daisy)

The Osteospermum, added to my jar at the last minute after I noticed it was also enjoying our second spring, pulled this arrangement together.  Planted years ago, I wasn't sure whether or not this was 'Berry White' as the petals aren't white so I surfed Google Images and found one photo that looked like a match, only to realize when I pulled up the detail that it was my very own photo from a 2016 post.

Clockwise from the upper left, the vase contains: Alternanthera 'Little Ruby', Gomphrena decumbens 'Itsy Bitsy', Lobularia maritima (Alyssum), Pyrethropsis hosmariense, Polygala myrtifolia 'Mariposa', Hypoestes aristata, and, in the middle, Osteospermum 'Berry White'

The vases found their places in the usual spots.

I retained one of last week's vases, albeit with some edits.

Last week's vase with Tagetes lemmonii had to come inside after the wind knocked it over on the patio table (thankfully not breaking the vase).  I kept it in my office most of the week but the strong scent of the yellow daisies in close proximity with the windows closed even got to me.  I eventually tossed the daisies and moved the vase to the bedroom.

Visit Cathy, our "In a Vase on Monday" host at Rambling in the Garden, to find more vases.

All material © 2012-2017 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Friday, December 1, 2017

A lot of work but not much to show from it

During the long Thanksgiving holiday, after the worst of our freak heatwave had diminished, I tackled 2 projects I'd been dreading: leveling out a dip in the backyard pathway and tidying up the back slope.  Neither of these projects can be considered fun, although once done they did offer a sense of accomplishment.

It'd have been difficult to show you the dip in the backyard path even if I'd thought to take photographs before I got started.  The ground had sunk in one area of perhaps 10 feet in length and 3 feet in width.  Because water tended to pool in that area, the creeping thyme that surrounded the stepping stones grew exceptionally thick, creating a dense green mat.  Lovely but not particularly easy to traverse.  Unfortunately, raising the soil underneath the flagstone meant first removing all the thyme, which was a tedious task.

With most of the surrounding thyme removed, maybe you can see the dip between the uncovered stones and those beyond them

We originally thought we could get away with moving 8 stones but we ended up moving 10

Fortunately, we had plenty of topsoil left from the batch we'd hauled in when I renovated the succulent bed in front of our garage.  There was still a pile left in our driveway, which my husband was more than happy to see gone so he helped out and did the heavy lifting removing the stones, adding soil, and then leveling and repositioning the stones.

I picked things back up there, filling in with more soil and planting 2 flats of  thyme (Thymus serphyllum 'Elfin') around the repositioned stones and the area beyond the pathway dip where the thyme had died back.

The plugs look small now but I hope they'll fill in quickly.  Rain would help but we've seen little of that thus far this season.

The pathway area in the foreground looks a little spare by comparison to the area in the distance but at least it's once again walkable

One project generally leads to another and this one was no exception.  While pulling some of the dried out thyme, I got carried away and began cutting some of what was encroaching on the succulents planted along the east side of the patio.

After chipping away at the mass of thyme that lined the patio's edge, I eventually gave in to my inner neat-freak and cleared it all away.  My initial plan was to plant new plugs of thyme there but I finally decided that the edges would look better planted in more succulents.  If all the local garden centers hadn't been transformed into Christmas tree lots, I'd probably already have this done but it may have to wait awhile now.

Part of the problem with the succulent bed area is that it's riddled with the bulbous roots of asparagus fern plants from the mass planted under the nearby mimosa tree, which I inherited with the garden.  This is just a tiny sample of what I pulled out.  Getting rid of the asparagus fern and its roots would be nearly impossible so I settled for cutting back both the plant and its roots.

My first pass at cleaning up the back slope took about 3 hours.  There's still more to do there - cutting back ivy encroaching on paths and pruning the Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) among other things - but I cut back the scraggly and sprawling plants and lightly pruned the shrubs and perennials on the lower level of the slope.

I focused on the area to the left of the cement stairway but didn't touch the upper section of the slope, which is too too steep for me to work on safely.  It remains a messy mass of ivy, honeysuckle and weeds.

Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid' dies out in sections each year but spreads to create new plants.  Cleaning it up and cutting it back was the most time-consuming chore in this area.

I also picked a lot of the lemons on this tree, giving many away.  This is the "after" photo so you can see it still bears plenty of fruit.  This tree was badly affected by the horrific heatwave of 2015 at the height of our drought, when it lost all its fruit.  It took more than a year to recover.

I also added amended topsoil to the lower planting bed and planted artichoke plugs.  Against all odds, the artichoke I planted there 3 or 4 years ago has come back each year.  Last year's crop of artichokes was especially good, perhaps due to our heavier-than-usual winter rains.  Dare I hope for the same this year?

The artichoke in the middle foreground is the one I planted years ago, sticking a plug there because I had one left over and didn't have another place for it.  I really hadn't expected it to survive, much less thrive.  I've added 5 more plugs this year and will be happy if even half perform as well as the first one has.

While I haven't done anything at all with the upper portion of the slope (mainly because working in that area is too treacherous for me with one bad knee), at least the overall area looks a bit neater.  I'm still thinking of bringing in help next year to clean out the ivy and honeysuckle on the upper slope.  Terracing the area to support ornamental grasses or more succulents remains a dream.

View looking up the slope from next to the lemon tree

The back slope usually peaks in late spring when the Centranthus, Ribes and Oenothera bloom.  However, the calla lilies there usually bloom in late winter and, even with our extended heat spells, they're already making an appearance.

The calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) die down completely and disappear during the summer but healthy foliage is now popping up all around the lemon tree.

Meanwhile, work on my long awaited lath (shade) house continues.  It's now spilling out of my husband's workshop and the garage into the driveway.  I'm so excited!

The structural supports occupy the driveway.  In the recesses of the garage you can just make out the lath pieces.  

Have a great weekend, whether you're spending it in the garden or otherwise!

All material © 2012-2017 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party