Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Second Blogiversary Retrospective

Yesterday was the second anniversary of my first blog post.  In 2013, blogging was mostly a distraction from turbulence in my personal life.  In 2014, it became more pointedly about the garden itself: what I liked and didn't like about it, what I planned to change, how those changes were implemented, and the challenges we faced along the way.  All through the process, I appreciated the comments, suggestions, commiseration, and support I received from those of you who do me the honor of reading my posts.  When I started blogging I never anticipated the sense of community the process creates.  That has become the most important impetus for continuing.

As I looked back on this year's posts, I realized just how much has happened in the garden this year, some of which was planned but much of which was not.  In some cases what started as small decisions, made without much deliberation, led unintentionally but perhaps inevitably to much bigger projects.  Pruning the unsightly Pittosporum hedge along the street is a case in point.  That hedge bugged me from the time we moved in 4 years ago.  However, for the first 2 years, I left the pruning to the garden service that took care of the lawn.  In 2013, I cut back a few of the hedge's shrubs.  The new growth looked better so, in January 2014, I took things a lot further.  Too far, as it turns out.  Portions of the hedge haven't recovered.  But, on the plus side, cutting back the hedge led to the creation of a street-side succulent bed, allowing me to significantly expand my already burgeoning succulent collection.

From left to right: Hedge before pruning; hedge after pruning; wide view of succulent bed; and a close-up

While I was busy mutilating the hedge, my husband decided that the wood-fired "snorkel spa" we inherited with the house wasn't worth the effort required to maintain it.  He dismantled it, we cleared out the gravel beneath it to open up yet another planting area, and my husband made a patio table out of the spa's wood shell, giving us a new seating area in the backyard.

From left to right: Original spa; dismantlement in process; cleared bed; area after planting (September); and completed patio table

Taking out the grass on the south side of the house in 2013 had created a choppy flow from that area into the backyard.  To address that we decided to extend the small bed surrounding the fountain in the backyard to form a connection to the south side yard.  That work began in February.  The new area was planted in March and April.

Counterclockwise from top left: Area prior to project; work begins; additional soil is delivered; bed ready for planting; initial planting (March); and the new bed at the end of May

With the creation of the extended fountain bed and the bed formerly occupied by the spa, the remaining grass area in the backyard became more of a pathway than a lawn.  We removed another semi-circle of lawn next to the north end of the patio in September to improve the flow of that pathway (and give me still more space for ornamental plants).

From left to right: Area before lawn removal; after lawn removal; and after planting (October)

As the summer progressed, we accepted the difficulty of maintaining our front lawn in the face of California's severe drought.  Rather than try to restore the half-dead lawn, we elected to take it out.  The grass was removed in September but my husband and I spent much of our free time in October and November digging out grass roots, sod netting, and rocks; adding soil amendments; and laying flagstone paths.  Planting began in December and is ongoing.

Counterclockwise from top left: Early stage of soil preparation; what one neighbor referred to as a burial mound; one of 2 topsoil deliveries; laying the flagstone paths; the area to the left of the front walkway after planting; and, on the top right, the partially planted area to the right of the front walkway

Along the way:

I lost my beloved garden companion, Ming, in March after a long struggle with a disease we couldn't defeat

I faced regular visits by raccoons (aka Satan's minions) who tore out virtually every plant I put in, often more than once (Note: As shown on the far right, I finally captured a photo of one of the cheeky culprits on Sunday night outside the dining room window)

We lost the privacy provided by the huge Yucca elephantipes that sat on the boundary between us and a neighbor: the first 2 photos on the left were taken before the Yucca was cut down and the last were taken afterwards (Further work on the 4 foot tall stump is planned for mid-January)

So what will 2015 Bring?  I'm not sure but I suspect our garden will continue to change, along with our expectations of it.  Whatever those changes may be, I hope you'll continue to join me on the ride.

Upper left: Sunset photographed from the front yard; Small photos: Views snapped from the backyard over the course of 2014

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, December 29, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: The Berries Share the Stage

When I pulled up my photos to prepare my post for "In a Vase on Monday," the weekly meme hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, I was surprised to find pictures of the morning sunrise.  My husband, who gets up earlier than I do most days (i.e. before dawn!), used my camera to capture a particularly pretty sunrise.

View of sunrise over the Port of Los Angeles from our backyard

I included the sunrise photo because it picks up some of the bright colors in this week's vase, if only by coincidence.

My vase selections started with 2 stems of the 'Joseph's Coat' rose that climbs up our bedroom chimney.

However, I was hard-pressed to find materials that complemented the coral/salmon color of the roses, so I ended up including more of the same Nandina domestica berries that dominated last week's vase.  In addition to these elements, I included the foliage of Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' and a stem of an almost florescent salmon-colored Pelargonium peltatum (aka ivy geranium).

The vase replaced last week's creation on the dining room table.

As usual, I had some leftover blooms blooms, which I crammed into one of my tiny vases.  Weeks ago, Julie of Gardening Jules counseled me that my reference to these creations as "reject vases" was too harsh so I'll refer to it, as she suggested, as this week's experimental creation.

The tiny case includes the white Eustoma grandifora I included in last week's "experimental" vase, now finally open, as well as the yellow daisies of Euryops 'Sonnenschein,' a stem or Narcissus, more Acacia foliage, and Persicaria capitata

I recognized the pink flowers as knotweed, which I don't believe I planted.  I know the plant as Polygonum capitatum, which is often sold here as a groundcover but decried by many people as a rampant weed.  When I couldn't find it under that name in my western garden guide, I discovered that it's currently classified as part of the genus Persicaria, which makes sense when you look at the leaves.

Visit Cathy to see what she's put together this week and find links to the creations of other stalwart participants.

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Friday, December 26, 2014

My favorite plant of the week: Pyrus calleryana

We don't get much in the way of winter color.  While that's due in part to the selection of plants on the property, the comparatively warm winter-time temperatures here are the main culprit.  This year it stayed warmer longer and even the persimmon trees didn't show much of the yellow and orange tones they've worn in prior years.  However, the colder night-time temperatures we've recently experienced appear to have colored up our ornamental pear tree, Pyrus calleryana, making it my favorite plant this week.

The tree occupies space in a small patch of lawn (or weeds masquerading as lawn) between the garage and the street

Of course, the pace at which the tree is losing leaves has picked up so the color may not last long.

Most of these leaves get tossed into the nearby composting bin

Native to China, this is a very common tree in Southern California.  It's primary attractions are its fall color and its very early spring blooms.   It began blooming in late January this year and was in full bloom when the photo below was taken on February 4th.  The flowers have a characteristic scent, which is seldom mentioned in polite company but you can read about here.

The tree produces fruit but even the hungry critters in the garden seem to ignore these.  However, at least one of our squirrels thinks its the perfect place to hang out and eat fruit stolen from the citrus trees in the vegetable garden.

Last week, my husband commented that he thought the oranges were ripe.  I disagreed but perhaps he was right.

This may be one of the smaller Mandarin oranges rather than one of the navel oranges, as I think the latter are too big for this fellow to carry

Pyrus calleryana is my contribution to Loree's favorite plants meme at danger garden this week.  Earlier this month, I featured another favorite, Agave gentryi 'Jaws,' as part of my foliage follow-up post.  You can see it here and you can view Loree's favorite plants wrap-up for December here.

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Christmas Eve Late Edition

View from our backyard looking northeast - the closest we'll ever get to a white Christmas is the view of those white-capped mountains in the distance

Happy holidays from our house to yours

May your holiday be as bright as the night view of Los Angeles

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, December 22, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: The Berries Steal the Show

I have to confess that my vases this week were created Saturday night as decoration for a small family gathering on Sunday.  I wandered about in the half-dark collecting flowers to fill two vases, barely able to see what I was cutting.  Still, I'm pleased with how they turned out.

This one landed on the dining room table.

This photo, taken in Sunday's early morning light, turned out better than those taken the evening before under artificial lights
Back side of bouquet, photographed in my night-darkened kitchen

It contains:

  • Agonis flexuosa
  • Alternanthera tenella 
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Mesa Peach'
  • Gomphrena  haageana
  • Nandina domestica (berries)

I used 2 forms of Agonis flexuosa - the thin-leaved stems came from one of our peppermint trees and the lower stems with wider leaves came from the dwarf variety 'Nana'

I used the chartreuse Alternanthera to pick up the similarly-colored centers of the Gaillardia

The Gomphrena are on their last legs - the lower petals (actually bracts) have dried and flaked away like rice husks

The second, smaller vase served as decoration in the guest bathroom.

Photographed without the benefit of any natural light

It contains:

  • Aster x frikartii 'Monch' (reused from last week's vase)
  • Eustoma grandiflorum 'Echo White'
  • Hebe speciosa 'Variegata'
  • Solanum xantii (also reused from last week's vase)

The Eustoma bud hasn't yet opened

As the sun went down, the flowers of this Hebe seemed to gleam in the twilight but its photos didn't contain the same magic

These vases are my contributions to Cathy's "In a Vase on Monday" meme at Rambling in the Garden.   You can see her vase and find links to other gardeners' creations here.  Most participants are dealing with far colder temperatures than I am.  Our temperatures hovered in the mid-60s Fahrenheit (around 18C) last week but, in response to high winds, they're expected to climb up to 80F (26C) tomorrow before settling back to normal levels before Christmas.  Hopefully, the warmer temperatures following last week's rain will bring more flowers (rather than more weeds).

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Fun Continues

Work on the front garden continues between rainstorms.  I thought I'd provide an update, although I'm far from done with planting (and don't expect I'll be done until spring, if then).

The biggest change since my first report is that flagstones and the first plants have been installed in the area to the left of the walkway to the front door.  My husband is once again responsible for setting the stone in place.  For a change, rather than letting my collector tendencies run wild, I selected plants to create continuity with the area on the other side of walkway.

All the plants are drought tolerant to some degree.  Here's what's in place thus far:

  • Coprosma (1 'Evening Glow,' 1 'Inferno' and 1 'Scarlett O'Hara')
  • 1/2 6-pack Erigeron karvinsianus (aka Santa Barbara daisy)
  • 1 6-pack Gazania 'Kiss Frosty White Flame'
  • 3 Lavandula stoechas 'Silver Anouk'
  • 1 Leptospermum 'Copper Glow'
  • 3 Lomandra longifolia 'Lime Tuff'
  • 1 flat Thymus serphyllum (aka creeping thyme)

Top: Coprosma 'Scarlett O'Hara' (left) and 'Inferno' (right); Bottom: Coprosma 'Evening Glow'

Gazania 'Kiss Frosty White Flame'

Lomandra longifolia 'Lime Tuff' (which looks very similar to the L. 'Breeze' I used on the other side of the walkway)

I plan to use more thyme, Gazanias and other perennials, possibly Euphorbia, to fill in some of the empty space.

The biggest change on the right side of the walkway was the addition of 2 cubic yards of bark mulch around the Magnolia tree.  I also added a few more plants in the area beyond the tree.

View of the area to the right of the walkway

View of the back section (more stones were needed to give me space to move without tromping through planting areas)

Key additions included:

  • 1 Abelia grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope'
  • 1 Agave gentryi 'Jaws' (featured in my December foliage follow-up post)
  • 2 6-packs of Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'
  • 1 Asplenium 'Austral Gem' (fern)
  • 3 Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Warrior' (grown from cuttings)
  • 3 Zephyranthes candida (aka rain lilies)

Abelia 'Kaleidoscope' (there are 2 others in an existing bed along the house)

Another look at the handsome Agave 'Jaws'

The ferns, Plectranthus and Ajuga in the foreground will be part of an expanded  shade bed including the existing Arthropodium cirratum (Renga lilies), Pelargonium tomentosum (peppermint geranium), and Geranium 'Biokovo' among other plants

But it still looks bare.

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Wreath

On a recent shopping trip with friends to Roger's Gardens in Orange County, I checked out the wreaths on display.

Wreath with Banksia - I thought the flowers were fake at first

Most years I buy an inexpensive Christmas wreath from the local garden center or tree lot.  Although they may have a few pine cones and a mix of greens, they're pretty plain.

This year's purchase, hung over the flagpole holder that came with the house

But I always add my own touches, usually a bow and Christmas ornament odds and ends.  This year, Sunset magazine featured wreaths with proteas and I thought maybe I'd use natural materials to embellish my wreath too (even if I didn't make the base from scratch).  Loree of danger garden added Leucadendron to her tree and I thought that was a good idea, especially as I have several of these shrubs in my garden.  I tucked in some Aeonium, Pennisetum setaceum and Heteromeles arbutifolia berries too.

My embellished wreath

In addition to a bow I've reused for years, I added succulents, berries and grass plumes cut from my garden as shown in close-up here

This close-up of the wreath's lower portion shows 2 varieties of Aeonium, stems of silvery Leucadendron 'Pisa' and cuttings of L. 'Wilson's Wonder' (I also used a few stems of L. 'Chief')

Leucadendron 'Wilson's Wonder' isn't as red as it was in summer or as yellow as it'll be later this winter but I was still pleased with the effect.  And, despite our recent rain (another inch from the storms yesterday and last night!), the wreath has held up well in a largely unsheltered area.  Do you use garden material to decorate for the holidays?

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party