Tuesday, January 29, 2013

With Cold, Everything's Relative

The local weather reports have been full of hyperbole about how cold its been in the greater Los Angeles area.  Were you to ignore the actual temperature readings, you might think that Southern California was in the midst of a serious deep freeze.  In reality, the night-time temperatures, although dipping below freezing on a few occasions in the local valleys, have been in the 40s.  Daytime temperatures, at their lowest points, have dipped into the 50s.  But, hey, that IS cold for us!  We're just not used to it.  I remember a movie in which Steve Martin played a LA weatherman who, day after day after day, reported that it would be sunny with a temperature of 72 degrees - with the exception of summer, that's not too far from reality.

However, because our temperatures are generally so moderate, most of us don't take the kinds of precautions with our tender plants that those in harsher climates do.  I've never dug up a plant and brought it inside for the winter, for example.  I've never even covered a plant to protect it.  Nonetheless, for the most part, my plants have survived our winters relatively unscathed.  The only sudden deaths I recall involved the loss of impatiens, which turn to mush in response to a freak dusting of frost.

All this is not to say that some plants don't suffer.  The Clerodendrum ugandense I put in our first year at this house lost all its leaves and, when it failed to recover, I yanked it out.  In 2012, I bought another one and placed it in sunnier spot, where I thought it might also be less troubled by the strong winds that blow through at intervals.  I'm sorry to say it's not looking at all good.
Clerodendron ugandense (under stress)

This plant, which produces blue and violet butterfly-shaped flowers, is native to tropical Africa and, although it's supposed to be adapted to Sunset Zones 23/24, my experience so far doesn't support that.  I'm going to hang onto it for now, hoping that it'll recover.  I grew it successfully at a rental apartment in Santa Monica many years ago but that plant was more protected from wind and close to the house, which probably kept it warmer.

I think the cold accounts for the color changes affecting my Duranta erecta 'Gold Mound' too.  In a replay of last year, the foliage is again turning purplish.  This is more pronounced in some plants than others.
Duranta erecta 'Gold Mound' (close to house)
Duranta erecta 'Gold Mound' (away from house but partially protected)
Duranta erecta 'Gold Mound' (in exposed area)

Although all these plants were presented as 'Gold Mound' and had the gold foliage characteristic of that variety, the labels referred only to a generic Duranta so it's possible that the differences are, at least in part, attributable to different genealogy.  Placement, soil composition, and size may also be factors.  The most purple of the 3 plants shown above is the smallest and was moved twice last year, perhaps contributing to the stress on it when the colder temperatures hit.  I'm hoping that, in spring when the temperatures rise, the gold color will gradually return as it did last year.

My Pseuderanthemum 'Texas Tri-Star' is also showing signs of cold-weather stress.   This plant isn't listed in my Sunset Western Garden Book or any other reference text I have on hand and I've found very little useful information on-line.  It's supposed to be cold hardy to 32 degrees but the lower temperatures have both deepened its pink/reddish tones and caused significant leaf drop in some cases.
Psuederanthemum 'Texas Tri-Star' (in November)
Pseuderanthemum 'Texas Tri-Star' (in exposed location in late January)
Still, although some of my plants may be languishing a bit, a few are clearly enjoying the colder temperatures.  Some succulents are producing blooms.

 And tubers and corms are beginning to bloom.

Meanwhile, in the house, Pipig the cat, as well as my husband and me, appreciate some extra warmth.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What's Grabbing My Attention Now

Years ago, while on business travel to Seattle, I heard a weather forecaster predict "sunbursts" in the afternoon.  I'd never heard this expression used in the context of a weather forecast and it took me a moment to realize what it meant.  While Los Angelenos may take note of "cloudbursts" - these being fairly unusual for us - people in the Seattle area similarly took note of breaks in their cloudy skies when the sun broke through.  Well, it's rained off and on from Wednesday night through this morning and, during that period, we've had a few sunbursts of our own.  During these sunny breaks, I ventured out a few times to check on my garden.

I was glad to find that the raccoons, for once, hadn't dug up any of my recent plantings.  Apparently, they like soil on the drier side.  The squirrels also seem less active in the rain.   Even though I filled my bird feeders shortly before the rain started, they weren't out performing their usual gymnastics trying to open my purportedly squirrel-proof bird feeders.  However, I did catch one fellow cleaning up the seed the birds had dropped below the feeders with my camera before he skittered away.

What really caught my attention were 3 plants, none of which I featured in my Bloom Day or Foliage Follow-up posts.   The first was a pot of Amaryllis bulbs I'd planted near the front door in mid-November, finally in full bloom.

Cybister Amaryllis 'La Paz'

I'm still waiting for Cybister Amaryllis 'Emerald' to bloom.  Those bulbs, from the same source as 'La Paz', planted at the same time, in the same kind of pot, and also placed near the front door maybe 5 feet from the other pot, are only half as tall and nowhere near showing signs of pending bloom.

The second plant I took note of is one utterly new to me: Moussonia elegans 'Taylor's Selection', grown by Annie's Annuals & Perennials in NoCal but purchased through Rogers Garden in Orange County.  It's a deeper, more velvety green than reflected in these pictures but what's really noticeable is the color of the stems and developing buds.

Moussonia elegans 'Taylor's Selection'

I bought 2 of these plants on impulse (again) in mid-November and put them in a partial sun location in the front yard.  If the plant gets 3-4 x 3 feet as Annie's website predicts, it should be spectacular in bloom at maturity.

The last plant is one I purchased in 2011 at the South Bay Botanic Garden's Fall Plant Sale.  This dwarf Echium has nearly doubled in size since I got it and the repeat bloom it provided last year impressed me so much that I purchased another one at the 2012 plant sale.  They should eventually get 4 x 4 feet.

Echium handiense 'Pride of Fuerteventura'

So, what's attracting your attention in your garden right now?


Friday, January 25, 2013

Is plant acquisitiveness a disease?

Since moving into this house 2 years ago, hardly a week has gone by that I haven't set foot in one plant nursery or another.  I'd like to claim that I just cruise through out of curiosity to see what's new but, to be truthful, I rarely walk out empty handed.  Is plant acquisitiveness a disease?  Should it be added to the next encyclopedia of mental disorders?

My husband recently tallied our 2012 purchases.  It appears that plants and garden supplies were at the top of my list of personal expenditures.  And it would appear that I'm getting off with a bang again in 2013.   During the first week of the year, I put in the following:
Grevillea lanigera 'Mount Tamboritha'

Loropetalum chinense 'Shang-hi'
I needed the drought-tolerant Grevillea to fill an empty space in my dry garden below a Guava tree and near a Correa pulchella 'Pink Eyre", Leptospermum scoparium 'Pink Pearl' and Phormium tenax 'Apricot Queen" I put in last year.  This Grevillea is reputed to bloom almost continuously so it's a bargain, right?

I needed the Loropetalum to fill in a spot formerly occupied by annuals in my backyard border.  Its foliage is darker than that of any of the other Loropetalums I've seen on the market so it was perfect to provide color contrast against the pink-flowered Argyranthemum frutescens and Cuphea 'Kristen's Delight' planted nearby.  The purchase was clearly appropriate.

Last Saturday, a friend and I went to Rogers Garden, a nursery in Orange County, ostensibly to listen to a talk on using shrubs to provide structure in the garden, although the Rogers gift cards burning holes in our pockets may have factored into the trip just a little.  However, I feel I exercised some self-discipline in restricting most of my purchases to plants already in use elsewhere in my garden, thereby treating one of the principal side effects of my plant acquisitiveness disorder:  hodge-podge garden design.  I bought 2 more Correa pulchella 'Pink Eyre" for the dry garden and 2 more Hebe for the backyard border (albeit different varieties - 'Patty's Purple' and 'Wiri Blush).  However, I admit that I veered a little off course with 2 other purchases:
Leucadendron salignum 'Chief'

Chorizema 'Bush Flame'
I do have 2 other Leucadendron.  I acknowledge that those are in the front yard while 'Chief' went into an empty spot in the dry garden that I thought would benefit from a tall specimen.  But this genus has done so well at our new house, how could I pass up adding another when I have space available for it?

In honesty, the Chorizema was a complete impulse purchase, although I think it will complement the 3 Abelia 'Kaleidoscope' I have in the back border.  I broke another of my personal rules on this purchase and got it in a large container instead of the small containers I try to stick with but it was the only size Rogers had so what could I do?  I saw this plant years ago on a garden tour in Santa Monica and I still remember the impact of its magenta and orange flowers.  Passing up the plant the first time I've found it in a local nursery would have been a crime, wouldn't it?

I've noticed that a number of garden bloggers have recorded their first plant purchases of the year so at least I'm not alone in suffering from plant acquisitiveness disorder.  (Check out danger garden and Parallel 49 Palms & Exotics for accounts of their new year's purchases.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Eucalyptus Gets a Reprieve

The Eucalyptus in our side yard was scheduled to be taken down today.  As described in an earlier post, a neighbor contacted us in December about removing the tree.  She complained that it blocked her view.  She referred me to a local ordinance governing "view conservation," which outlines adjudication of such issues.  After consultation with an arborist and a lot of angst, we agreed to go ahead and take the tree down. Since the decision was made, I've ignored that section of the yard.  I don't know exactly how the tree's removal will affect the sun exposure of the surrounding beds or what kind of collateral damage to expect.  But mostly, I just feel horribly guilty about taking out the tree before its time - even if the arborist did tell me that the fungal growth he saw at the base represents a "death sentence" in the long run and the tree sits ominously close to the house.

I was up early this morning to take pictures of the tree.  As it is raining, my pictures didn't come out well but the photo below gives you an idea of the tree's size.

However, as this morning's rain is expected to continue, possibly for a couple of days, the tree service notified me that the crew can't work today.  Removal is currently rescheduled for February 6th - assuming it doesn't rain again.   So, when the rain stops, the sun will shine on the tree for couple more weeks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Not Ready for Prime Time

Two friends and I visited Ventura yesterday.  We poked around the shops on Main Street, had lunch, then headed up to Grant Park in the foothills above the City Hall.  In 2011, a group of local residents formed a non-profit corporation and signed a lease option with the city to develop the area as the Ventura Botanical Gardens.  We thought it would be fun to check what's been done since they completed their visioning exercise.  We were somewhat disappointed to find there hasn't been much visible progress yet.

There is a small parking lot with rock-bordered planting bed containing a smattering of agaves and barrel cactus.

Most of the agaves are still very small and spaced to allow future growth.

Some areas have been cleared and appear to be awaiting planting.  The plan is to create 5 separate gardens representing the different Mediterranean climates of the world but there are no signs of any of those yet.

There was a natural "forest" of opuntia, which should provide ample plant material for one of the planned gardens.

It'll be interesting to come back in a year or 2 to see what's been done.  Rumor is that the plan is to start with a Chilean-inspired garden.  In the meantime, the principal attraction of the park was the view, which is magnificent, especially on a day when temperatures reached 80 degrees, warm even for SoCal in winter.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What would you do with this?

Perhaps your first question is: what the heck is it?  It's called a snorkel spa.  It's a hot tub heated by a wood fire.  We inherited this one when we bought the house.  We've used it 3 - maybe 4 - times since we moved in 2 years ago.  Using it is a long, drawn out process.  If it's filled with water, it generally has to be drained, cleaned, and refilled.  Wood has to be collected and a fire has to be set.  The water takes more than 2 hours to heat and the fire must be carefully tended in the meantime.  When it's finally ready for use, you get a lovely 20-30 minute soak overlooking city lights and the harbor.  That's it until you muster the energy to stoke it up again 6 months later.

You can't come home and spontaneously decide "I'd like to take a soak to ease my sore muscles."  Using this spa requires advance planning.  To complicate things further, the South Coast Air Quality Management District now has winter-time restrictions on burning wood in fireplaces indoors or outdoors on certain days due to the negative impact on our already compromised air quality.  The snorkel spa doesn't seem to be worth the space it takes up.  So what should we do with it?

Here are the options I've considered so far:
  1. Sell it on Craiglist - This would provide more money for plants!  However, given the new air quality restrictions, I'm not sure what, if any, market there is locally for a spa like this.  Just hauling it away could be a costly proposition for a prospective buyer.
  2. Use it as an impromptu shed - I need a place in the backyard to store tools and outdoor furniture cushions.  The wood top is relatively easy to open and we could add shelves and compartments inside. 
  3. Use it as a koi pond - It's water-tight but would require a filtering system, which I understand involves its own set of headaches.  And then there are the raccoons - I wouldn't want to encourage more of their visits.
  4. Plant a tree in it - Its size would allow a small to mid-sized tree room to develop a good root system. However, there's a good-sized Arbutus Marina right next to it so planting another tree in that location would look goofy.
  5. Use it as a raised planter for vegetables, herbs or flowers - This option allows us to use one of the sunniest spots in the backyard and eliminates the need to haul the spa away.  We could take out the smoke stack and drill holes in the bottom for drainage.
I'm leaning toward the last possibility, although I have yet to sell my husband on it.  Do you have any other ideas?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Garden Party

These guys brought the garden party with them.  Apparently, they don't like to bathe alone.  As soon as one or two landed to take a dunk in the fountain, the rest of the flock followed.

I had to take my pictures from inside the house in this case and, even then, they flew away as soon as I got too close to the window.  But, as soon as I moved away, back they came.

My mother-in-law identified them for me: they're Cedar Waxwings.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Foliage Follow-up

This is my first Foliage Follow-up post.  For my non-garden obsessed friends, Foliage Follow-up is a monthly event hosted on the 16th of each month by Pam of Digging garden blog fame.  It provides an opportunity to highlight the foliage that adds so much to gardens but usually takes a back-seat to showier flowering plants.

Since moving to our current 1/2 acre lot, I've gained a much greater appreciation for foliage.  After initial plantings of flash-in-the-pan flowers, I'm now concentrating more on plants with a sustained presence in the garden.  As I like to buy my plants in the smallest sizes available to conserve on expenses and to allow roots to establish a firm footing, many of my new additions are still quite puny.  I'm not the most patient person so giving these plants the time they need to fill out naturally without crowding them with other plants is hard for me but I'm trying...

Without further preamble, here are the foliage plants I'd like to highlight:

Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt"
I fell in love with this Acacia the first time I touched it but I was only able to find it in large pots at $40 a pop.  Then I tripped over it (almost literally) in a 1-gallon container for $12 at Sperlings Nursery in Calabasas, which I visit occasionally after trips to see my elderly mother.  I bought 2 and wish I'd purchased at least 1 more.  In addition to its beautiful foliage, it's drought tolerant and takes partial shade!  It's also supposed to produce pale yellow flowers but I'll be happy with it even if it never flowers.

Acanthus spinosus

This Acanthus, along with 2 others, was sold to me as mollis but it and 1 other are almost certainly spinosus.  It appears to have a less upright posture than mollis and it bloomed much later, in summer rather than spring, than mollis did in my old garden.  I thought about pulling it out to replace it with mollis but I've decided  that I rather like the more serrated leaves.

Coprosma repens 'Plum Hussey'
Okay, I bought 'Plum Hussey' in part because of its name but also because of its wonderful leave variation.  As temperatures dropped the foliage has become a deeper plum with less variation but I suspect the leaf variation will return with new growth when the temperatures warm up a bit.

Duranta erecta 'Gold Mound'
I bought a number of these lower-growing Duranta to complement the Agapanthus in place all over this property.  As usual, most of the plants I purchased were small - 6-inch pots when I could find them.  As the weather cooled, the first season they were in the ground, the foliage unexpectedly turned from gold to a dark, purplish green.  I checked on-line sources and local nursery experts on this but no one commented on a weather-related change in this plant.  In any case, as the weather warmed, the gold color returned.  'Gold Mound' produces small blue flowers in summer but it's the foliage that makes the statement.

Erysium linifolium 'Variegatum'
I put these Erysium in my back border to echo the foliage color of the Hebe speciosa 'Variegata' I planted soon after moving in.  It's a good, no fuss plant (and, as shown in the picture above, it's already beginning to bud).

Eupatorium corymbosa
None of the pictures I take do service to the beauty of this plant, which I purchased by mail order from Annie's Annuals.  In bloom, it immediately attracts everyone's attention in my yard but I think its purple-tinged foliage is also wonderful.

Pseuderanthemum 'Texas Tri-Star'
I bought 'Texas Tri-Star' for its leaf variation.  In warmer weather, there's much more green and cream color to the leaves than shown above.  I have a dozen of these plants (all still small!) in 3 different areas of the garden.  This one, set with 2 others close to the house, was the last to take on the reddish tones it shows above.

My final foliage all-stars for this first Foliage Follow-up post are pictured without commentary below.  See Pam's Digging blog to find links to foliage selections in other gardens.

Hibiscus acetosella 'Haight Ashbury'

Leucadendron discolor

Loropetalum chinense 'Shang-hi'

Pelargonium tomentusum
Trachelospermum jasminoides

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bloom Day!

I started this blog at the end of December so today marks my very first Bloom Day contribution.  For my friends who don't read garden blogs (i.e. 99.8% of you), Bloom Day is a monthly event hosted by blogger Carol of May Dream Gardens on the 15th of each month.  Participating bloggers from all over the U.S., as well as other countries, post pictures of what's in bloom in their gardens.

So, without further ado (or any commentary to speak of), here's some of what's currently blooming in my zone 10b garden:

Arbutus 'Marina"

Argyranthemum frutescens 'Bright Carmine'

Camellia japonica 'Taylor's Perfection'

Camellia sasanqua (variety unknown)

Cuphea ignea 'Kristen's Delight'

Cuphea aff. Aequipetela

Grevillea lavandulcea 'Penola'

Hebe speciosa 'Variegata'

Leptospermum scoparium 'Pink Pearl'

Nemesia 'Sunsatia Lemon'

Bauhinia x blakeana (aka Orchid Tree)

Osteospermum ecklonis '3D Silver'

Osteospermum 'Zion Red Copper'

Tibouchina urvilleana

Viola (no record of variety)

These are samples of what's in bloom.  I have a more varieties of Argyrantemum, Grevillea, Hebe and Osteospermum than I've shown here, all in bloom or coming into bloom.  My fondness for Violas is founded in childhood and I'm afraid I've got gobs of varieties of those but I've pictured just the little blue form shown above because I'm so taken by its sweetness.  For more views of what's blooming go to May Dreams Gardens for links to other gardening blogs.