Thursday, January 30, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Camellia hybrid 'Taylor's Perfection'

Two plants vied for recognition as my favorite plant this week, one reflecting the blue of the sky and the other the pink of the evening sunset.  Influenced by a particularly pretty sunset when I made my selection, the pink choice won out this time.

Sunset reflected in the clouds over the harbor (facing approximately southeast)

Sunset reflected in the clouds on the other side of the house (facing approximately northwest)

Camellia hybrid 'Taylor's Perfection' is my contribution to the weekly meme sponsored by Loree of danger garden.  Hopefully, Loree will forgive the fact that the Camellia is pink and not in any way dangerous.

Camellia hybrid 'Taylor's Perfection'

I planted this Camellia in February 2011, just 2 months after we moved into our current home.  I think I was probably feeling nostalgic about my old, shady garden at that point - I'd planted quite a few Camellias there, all of which were too large to dig up and bring with me.  Other than an area directly behind the house, already planted with Camellia sasanqua, my new garden had few spots suitable for Camellias except the area alongside the garage I chose for 'Taylor's Perfection,' where it enjoys cool morning sun.

According to my records, 'Taylor's Perfection' was labeled as a C. japonica; however, in researching the plant for this post, I found that it's actually classified as C. williamsii, which is a cross between C. japonica and C. saluenensis.

Mine is currently somewhere between 3 and 4 feet tall but it can grow to 6-12 feet (1.8-3.7 meters) tall and 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 meters) wide.  Several sources held that it's hardy in USDA zones 7-10.  Like most Camellias, it needs average water and acidic soil.

It's classified as a mid-season bloomer, which in California generally means it should bloom between January and March.  This season, my first blooms appeared before Christmas.  The flowers are light pink, semi-double and reportedly fragrant, although my nose was unable to detect much of a scent.  The flower petals usually fan backward but the petals of those currently open have curled inward slightly at the edges, perhaps in response to the recent dry Santa Ana winds, or the drier than normal soil due to our lack of winter rain.

December bloom, characteristic of the appearance shown by the blooms in 2011 and 2012

Most of the current blooms have inward facing petals with a darker pink edge

The flowers have a reputation for nodding downward slightly, as you can see in the picture below.

Nodding flowers and curled petals notwithstanding, it's still a very pretty plant.  Please visit Loree at danger garden to view her favorite of the week and find links to other gardeners' selections.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bits & Pieces Bouquet

Do you ever spend the day working in the garden only to find yourself at the day's end wondering what you accomplished?  Sunday was one of those days for me.  I cut back the dead undergrowth below a portion of the Ceanothus hedge, planted a few annuals, spread fertilizer and animal repellent, and generally tidied things up.  As the sun began to go down, I didn't feel as though I had a whole lot to show for my day's work.  So, before heading into the house, I cut flowers to make up a small bouquet, just to have something tangible to reflect the effort I'd expended.  I started with stems of a lemon yellow snapdragon which were starting to fade, then rummaged about for something to complement them.  Here's what I came up with:

It's composed of:

  • Antirrhinum majus, rocket variety
  • Cerinthe retorta
  • Erysimum linifolium 'Variegatum'
  • Gomphrena decumbens 'Itsy Bitsy' (better known as 'Little Grapes')

There's a very small touch of the lemon color in the flower of the Cerinthe that picks up the color of the snapdragon, which is also echoed in the cream-colored variegation of the Erysimum.  The flowers of the Gomphrena circle above like tiny satellites, emphasizing the purple edge of the Cerinthe's flowers.

I still haven't made up my mind as to whether or not I really like the Cerinthe retorta.  The foliage is interesting but the flowers don't impress me as much as those of Cerinthe major.

However, I love the Gomphrena, which has been blooming non-stop since I planted it in June.

Best wishes for a productive week in your garden!

Friday, January 24, 2014

January Projects

As we're lucky enough to be unaffected by the infamous "polar vortex" plaguing much of the US and blessed with unseasonably warm weather (if not, sadly, with rain), we've launched some new garden projects.  Okay, most of the "launching" was done by me but my husband has kindly cooperated.

I began tackling the misshapen hedge that runs along the street on the south side of our property a few weeks ago.  Oddly, half the hedge to the right side of our driveway is constructed of Xylosma congestum while the other half is comprised of what I think is Pittosporum eugeniodes.  It's the latter portion of the hedge that's in poor condition.  Clearly, for many years, gardeners have shorn both sections of hedge on the top and sides.  While that seems to do a fine job maintaining the appearance of the Xylosma, it has left the Pittosporum a twiggy mess with most of the new growth at the top.  I tried cutting a couple of the 9 Pittosporum back hard last year and the regrowth looked much better to my eye so, this year, I cut back all 9 shrubs.

Hedge before pruning, photographed from the back side

Hedge after pruning, photographed from the lawn above

Hedge after pruning, photographed from the street side

Hopefully, I haven't just made matters worse.  It looks very naked now and the area beyond the hedge is all too visible from the street but, if last year's experience is a guide, it should fill in within a few months.  In the meantime, I'm looking for plants to place in front of the hedge.  Behind it, along the top of the interior stack stone wall below the Ceanothus, I've already planted Liriope spicata, Liriope muscari 'Variegata' and Aeonium.

Newly planted Liriope, along with some self-seeded Santa Barbara daisy

New cuttings of Aeonium (A. arboreum, I think)

The Aeonium arboreum rosettes shown in the picture above were cut from existing plants and simply stuck into the ground.  I've produced many large, branched clumps of these Aeoniums from a few cuttings given to me by a good friend shortly after we moved into the house 3 years ago.

Clump of Aeonium arboreum grown from earlier cuttings

The second project of the year kicked off when my husband finally got around to dismantling the "snorkel spa" in the backyard (previously discussed here).

Photo of "snorkel spa" taken last January

Space after the main portion of the spa was removed last week

The stone gravel left behind after the spa's removal

You can't tell it from the picture above but the base of gravel underneath the spa we had to remove was about 6 inches (15 centimeters) deep.  I used some of it to fill shallow spots in the vegetable garden, previously lined using only gravel I'd dug up out of garden beds throughout the property.  (As our site was once part of a rock quarry, I uncover rocks whenever and wherever I dig.)

Gravel-filled pathways between the raised vegetable beds

My husband, with some help from me, used the rest of the gravel to cover the pathway behind the garage.

No more mud behind the garage!

As there's now a good-sized empty space in the backyard, my husband assumed that I'd immediately get started on planting; however, I need to get a load of topsoil in first and, before we do that, I announced that it would be prudent to take out the section of lawn I'd already identified for removal in the backyard.  I drew the lines of the new border earlier this week and my husband installed new bender board to delineate it.

I intend to treat the 8 foot wide grass area between the border on the right and the new border on the left as a pathway

The bender board around the fountain will be removed once the sod between it and the new bender board has been dug out

My husband wants to handle digging up the sod himself rather than call in reinforcements.  We're using some of the sod he removes to fill in holes in the remaining lawn.

The grass removed from alongside the backyard patio was used to fill in the space formerly occupied by stepping stones to the spa

It'll be awhile before the new areas can be planted but that gives me time to figure out how I'll knit these areas together with the existing borders.  In the meantime, there's always the empty space in front of the hedge to plant.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My favorite plant of the week: Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola'

I'm joining Loree of danger garden with my pick of the plant putting on the biggest show in my garden this week, Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola.'  I have 3 of these in my dry garden, all of which I planted in 2011.  Their attractive gray foliage is reason enough to grow them but the mass of small rosy-red flowers they produce beginning in late fall puts them over the top.  The blooms continue into spring.

My feeble attempt at a close-up shot of the flowers

In checking internet sources regarding the plant this morning, I discovered that it's commonly known as Lavender Grevillea, which I assume is intended to describe the foliage, although it reminds me more of rosemary than lavender.  I also read that the plant is fragrant but the scent eluded my nostrils.

This is a mid-sized Grevillea, growing 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5m) tall and more than 8 feet (2.4m) wide.   The largest of mine is over 5 feet tall but not quite as wide.

The other 2, including one I have placed along the pathway leading to our back slope, have been kept smaller with regular pruning.

Once established, these plants need only occasional water.  On average, in the absence or rain, I probably irrigate the area they're in once a month.  They're said to be hardy in USDA zones 9-11 (Sunset zones 15-24).  According to San Marcos Growers, this plant can tolerate temperatures in the range of 20-25 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.7C).  A Desert Northwest review of Grevilleas reported that 'Penola' handled a 12F cold spell but died during a more extended freeze.

The flowers attract hummingbirds.  The plant is said to be susceptible to scale and spider mites but I've had no problems with either.  It needs well-drained soil and placement in full to part sun.

All in all, Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola' has been a good, low maintenance plant for me.  For Loree's favorite of the week, please visit her site.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

National Squirrel Appreciation Day

I kid you not.  I didn't make it up either.  I was flipping through the pages of the latest edition of National Wildlife Federation magazine and came across a notice that January 21, 2014 is the day to celebrate squirrels.

I don't generally celebrate the presence of squirrels in my garden.  They empty the bird feeders faster than the birds do.  They leave half-eaten fruits all over the yard.  They pilfer my blueberries and dig small holes here and there to hide their stolen goods - and then can't remember where they are.

Squirrel in my backyard cleaning up after those messy birds dropped seed all over the ground

Apparently, January 21st was chosen because someone determined that is the day when their food sources are in lowest supply.  You couldn't tell that in my yard where the local squirrels are enjoying the ripe guavas but, nationally, that's probably a good bet, especially in the year of the "polar vortex."  You can read more about National Squirrel Appreciation Day here and here.  The first picture in the 2nd link is particularly sweet.

He turned his back on me so he can pretend I'm not just a few feet away

I thought about my own reasons for appreciating squirrels.  Here's the best I could come up with:

  1. They're more attractive than possums.
  2. They don't stink up the place like skunks.
  3. They don't eat the neighbor's pets like coyotes.
  4. They don't destroy my plants when they dig in the garden as the raccoons do.
  5. I already had some photos of them on hand.

Can you find any reasons to celebrate squirrels?

Monday, January 20, 2014

The trees got a trim

Or some of them did anyway.  I counted the trees last night - assuming I didn't miss any, we have 30 trees on our half-acre lot.  Eight of them got trimmed today.  While we've lightly trimmed some ourselves, this is the first time in our 3 years here that we've had professionals in.  I was up before dawn to clear pots, garden furniture and the like out of the way before the tree trimmers arrived.  For once, I was out and about early enough to get a half-decent photo of the sunrise over the harbor.

The messy Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) in the backyard was the primary instigation for calling a tree service.  It occupies a prominent position in the backyard but its placement at the edge of our property line on the top of a steep slope led me to steer clear of any effort to handle trimming on our own.  It was a twiggy mess and had been very badly pruned by prior owners.  As I've mentioned many times before it also drops a mass of litter annually and produces an endless supply of seedlings.

Before trimming
Trimming in process


Three strawberry trees (Arbutus 'Marina') also got trimmed.  I hope the hummingbirds who flit about feeding from the blooms will forgive me.

Before trimming

My hope is that trimming this one will not only improve the air circulation within the tree (and thereby prevent the development of any sooty mold or insect problems) but also allow more sunlight to reach the plants in the dry garden below.

The same tree after trimming, photographed from the same angle

View of the same tree from a different angle

Two California pepper trees (Schinus molle) peppermint trees (Agonis flexuosa) along the backyard border got haircuts.  The lacy foliage that helped to frame the view of the LA harbor on the horizon (as shown in the sunrise photo above) was cut back quite a bit, leaving the area looking a little bare in my view but, like hair, I expect it'll soon grow back.  Here are the before and after photos of one of the pepper peppermint trees:



In the front yard, the crew thinned the ornamental pear (Pyrus calleryana).

Before trimming

After trimming

The Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia x blakeana) also got a very light trim to clear out the twigs and move it off the roof.

Before its trim


In addition, I spent a portion of the weekend finishing up my severe pruning of one of the front hedges, which had lost all shape due to years of being hacked from the top and the sides.  I'll post some photos of that effort in the future.  The worst part of that task was cleaning up the debris.  In using a tree service for today's job, not only was it done faster and without risk to life and limbs but someone else took care of all that debris.

Two projects done.  On to the next!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ming and I discover an intruder

My cat, Ming, and I have continued our daily walks, which I've written about here and here.  Although he's frail, weighing just 45% of his former healthy weight, he clearly enjoys these jaunts, vocally expressing himself when I'm out in the garden and he's locked up in his screened porch.  Sometimes he takes the lead and sometimes I do but our walks generally take us all around the property, with the exception of the back slope, which allows me to keep a check on what's going on in the garden.

Ming's first stop is generally the backyard fountain.  He seems to believe that it's the most suitable place to take liquid refreshment.  Meanwhile Pipig reproachfully watches us from inside the house.

Then Ming either heads in the direction of the vegetable garden, waiting patiently for me to open the gate, or he heads back around to the side yard.  On Thursday morning, he took the latter route, leading me to discover this:

The hole beneath the Argyranthemum wasn't there the night before

And this:
An intruder had torn up a large space between the Gomphrena and the Dryms lanceolata

The local raccoon had evidently paid us another visit.  We discovered signs of the intrusion but not the intruder himself; however, his criminal behavior has a clear signature.  Although I've continued to make liberal use of a non-toxic animal repellent, even the package says it's effective for no more than 2 months.  I generally spread it around newly planted areas rather than established plants.  On the good news side, on this occasion, the raccoon failed to destroy any plants in his persistent search for grubs.  Last month, he tore an Agastache into 3 pieces.  I planted each of the "divisions" he left me (twice, as he dug them back up when I failed to spread repellent after the first transplant).

The side yard wasn't the only area he visited.  He also stopped by the dry garden, digging alongside a recently planted Penstemon 'Margarita BOP,' where the soil had been loosened.  Luckily, no Penstemon or other plants were injured in the process.

And we discovered that he'd make a pilot hole in one of the raised planters in the vegetable garden, currently planted with snapdragons and sweet peas.

Ming carefully inspected the foliage in the front yard.

He actually may have been after a lizard

We headed back in the direction of the side yard.

Ming was tired and had to rest as we walked the path inside the hedge alongside the street.

He's stopped at this exact spot to rest several times now - I assume that the cool moss is the attraction, rather than the drain pipes left by the prior owner

And then he stopped to sharpen his claws, presumably to be prepared in case he met up face-to-face with the raccoon.

He checked the rest of the side yard.

Rested again.

Then, before I could tuck him back into the screened porch so I could go about my daily activities, he hid under the Ceanothus hedge in the front yard.

While he hid out, I tidied up after the raccoon and applied more repellent.  Ming eventually strolled back to the porch, looking for his post-breakfast snack.