Monday, March 31, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: Lavender and White

Last summer and fall, I put together a variety of floral bouquets, testing my creativity to make do with what I had available in my garden; however, I haven't composed a bouquet in some months now.  Last week, I came across Cathy's meme at Rambling in the Garden, featuring bouquets "in a vase on Monday."  As spring came early to southern California and I currently have lots of flowers practically crying out for attention, I've decided to join in and get back in the swing of creating flower arrangements for the house.  Here's this week's featured bouquet, a composition of pinkish lavender and white:

The Alstroemeria (no ID on variety) looks pinker in the picture above than it does sitting in my home office.  It leans more markedly toward lavender than the other varieties in my garden.  I accented it with scented Ageratum corybosum (recently featured as one of my favorite plants), white snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus, Rocket form), and breath of heaven (Coleonema album).  The ageratum isn't holding up as well as I'd like in the vase - perhaps I should have crushed its somewhat woody stem to aid water uptake.  The glass vase is one of my favorites, acquired during my college years (i.e. long ago), if I remember correctly.

I cut some yellow flowers for this bouquet as well but, although there's a touch of yellow in both the Alstroemeria and the snapdragon, I felt the bright yellow color distracted from the subtle beauty of the other flowers.  So, I ended up with a second bouquet of bright yellow and pink blooms.

I had a hard time photographing this arrangement so I took it outside to the backyard patio.  The centerpiece is a 'Buttercream' rose, which is accented by a bright pink Alstroemeria (no ID), ivy geranium (Pelargonium peltatum 'Pink Blizzard'), Argyranthemum 'Comet White', Phlomis fruticosa, one bright pink Ranunculus, and the flowers of Nandina domestica.  I love the Nandina flowers, which I've used before as a filler in arrangements, but I admit that they're messy, dropping rice-like hulls as the small flowers open.

Close-up of Nandina flower stem

The Phlomis, which has flowers that look like they belong in a tale by Dr. Seuss, was difficult to incorporate into the arrangement.  The flowers are widely spaced along the woody stem but their unusual form makes an interesting addition.

Fuzzy close-up of Phlomis flower in the vase

These are my first contributions to Cathy's meme at Rambling in the Garden.  You can find her creation here, as well as links to the early spring constructions of other gardeners.  My thanks to Cathy for getting me back out in the garden with my scissors.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Welcome and Unwelcome Visitors

With the advent of spring, the number of feathered and furry visitors has increased.  Some visitors are welcome, others not so much.  Hummingbird activity at the feeder outside the kitchen window has intensified, as has the number of hummingbirds swooping about to feed among the flowers.  I've never caught the hummingbirds in flight - they move too quickly - but they take their time at the feeder.

Birds at the fountain pay leisurely visits - as long as I don't get too close with the camera.

I'm not good at bird IDs - my guess is that the 2 birds on the top tier are American Robins and the fellow on the lower tier is a Cedar Waxwing

There are a lot of birds at the feeders too, at least when the local squirrel isn't raiding the storehouse.  My husband built a cage around our largest feeder to keep the squirrels out.  It worked for a few years; however, one squirrel kept poking and prodding until he managed to bend the wires at the base and finally wiggled his way inside.

That seed is very tempting!

Perseverance pays off

Caught in the act with me standing a foot away, he froze as if hoping I wouldn't notice him sitting inside the feeder's cage

When he realized his frozen statue trick didn't work, he made a panicky exit, then paused to look at me as if to say "what's your problem, anyway?" before scooting back under the Ceanothus hedge

My husband fortified the wire enclosure at the base, which is once more keeping the squirrel at bay (while also making it harder for me to remove and refill the feeder).

Repaired feeder

Access denied

Contemplating Plan B

Executing Plan B

The raccoons have also been paying regular nightly visits, even though I've made my planting beds as inhospitable as possible with repellent and broken clay shards.  They've dug up some smaller plants but haven't shredded anything to pieces as they're usually inclined to do so my diversion program appears to be working (sort of).

The crows have also reappeared.   I previously described the activities of one pair that selected our California pepper trees (Schinus molle) to provide the soft inner layer of their nest.  According to a crow expert at Cornell, breeding pairs usually take about 2 weeks to complete their nest and those 2 did disappear within a period of about 2 weeks.  However, another crow, possibly part of a different breeding pair, has recently appeared.  This one was caught in the act of pulling twigs off the Mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin).

He spent about 10 minutes selecting the perfect twig and yanking it free (leaving less attractive twigs strewn about at the base of the tree)

Twigs and sticks make up the base of the crow's nest.  After the base is done, I suppose he and his lady friend will return to start stripping the pepper trees...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Xylosma congestum

In a mid-February favorite plant post, I predicted that my favorite choices were going to get more difficult as spring progressed.  That was indeed the problem this week as I flitted from plant to plant, each beckoning for well-deserved attention.  Given that situation, you may be surprised to find that I've chosen a shrub, commonly used as hedge material here, as this week's favorite.  I'm a bit surprised myself.  But every time I look out my home office window or pull into our driveway, I'm impressed by just how good our Xylosma congestum hedge looks right now.

Portion of Xylosma congestum hedge facing the street

Foliage close-up

Another close-up highlighting the brightly-colored new growth

The hedge was sheared a few weeks ago so it's currently sporting glossy new bronze foliage.  This hedge, which extends along 3 sides of our property, is what finally prompted me to hire a mow and blow landscape service a few months after we moved in.  Keeping the Xylosma under control requires shearing 3-4 times per year.  My Sunset Western Garden Book says that, when grown as a hedge, it'll get 8-10 feet (2.5-3 meters) tall and wide but other sources claim that, left unpruned, it can get much, much larger.  It can also be grown as a small tree or espalier, although I haven't seen it used that way in my own area.

This house came with multiple hedges, even hedges within hedges, but this one, if kept pruned, performs - and maintains its appearance - better than all the others.

At the front of the house, the Xylosma hedge runs along the street.  On the south side of the driveway a Ceanothus hedge sits atop an interior stacked wall, separated from the Xylosma by a 3-foot wide moss-covered pathway.

Xylosma is evergreen here and attractive year-round, even right after shearing.  It's said to be susceptible to chlorosis and white flies; however, I've seen no evidence of either.  According to the sources I consulted, it remains evergreen where winter temperatures don't dip below 25F (-4C) and it's root hardy to 10F (-12C).  It manages with low to moderate water.  One site claimed "medium" deer tolerance, although I can't speak to what that means.

Odd as it may be, despite the clamor of a variety of spring-blooming shrubs, bulbs and perennials, Xylosma congestum is my pick as favorite plant this week.  Please visit Loree, our host for the favorite plant meme, at danger garden to see her favorite this week and to find links to other gardeners' favorite plant selections.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Decisions, decisions, decisions

A very good friend and I were finally able to take an often-discussed and long-awaited trip north to nursery shop in Carpinteria and Calabasas this weekend.  I took my shopping list but I wasn't able to find either the Coreopsis 'Big Bang Redshift' or the Uncinia uncinata 'Rubra' I've been hunting for.  Despite my recent resolve to exercise some discipline and stick more closely to my planting plan, I'm afraid I went off the rails with impulse purchases.  Can you visit 4 plant sellers and buy nothing?  I've never had that kind of will-power.

The trouble with impulse purchases, at least in my own case, is that I often have only the vaguest of notion as to where I'm going to put them.  I placed Grevillea alpina x rosmarinifolia on my cart at Sperling Nursery in Calabasas and then considered where I could plant it.

Grevillea alpina x rosmarinifolia (variety not specified)

Based on the limited information provided on the grower's label, my initial plan was to put it in my dry garden as a foil for Phormium tenax 'Yellow Wave' and P. 'Tiny Tiger.'  This would work but I wasn't as happy with the placement as I expected to be.  I'd also have to clear out some plants to make room for it.

Grevillea trying on the dry garden

I considered the new bed that formerly held the snorkel spa.  A touch of yellow would shake up the collection of plants there.  The Grevillea also would get more sun there than it would next to the Phormium in the dry garden.  However, if/when the Driyms lanceolata (mountain pepper) in the middle of that bed reaches 10 feet tall and wide, the Grevillea, with an estimated height of 4-5 feet at maturity, would be hidden.  The Driyms appears to be a slow grower but the size differentials are a concern nonetheless.

Possible placement for the Grevillea in the red bed

I hadn't initially thought of putting it into my new extended backyard border but I do have a couple of holes in my plan I hadn't yet identified plants to fill.  The south end of the bed is among the sunniest in my garden.  I think the Grevillea nicely complements the new Leucadendron 'Rising Sun,' Justicia brandegeeana and Phormium 'Amazing Red' already in place there and the height differences don't pose a conflict in this location.   Kismet!

Grevillea trying out the south end of the new border 

A closer look

No, the Grevillea wasn't my only purchase.  Here are some of the others:

6 Anagallis, an orange-flowered variety in the Wildcat series, planted among the Digiplexis and Acorus

Lupinus chamissionis, probably slated for placement at the north end of the new backyard border (provided that it isn't immediately ravaged by raccoons like the one I bought at Seaside Nursery in Carpinteria last year)

A magenta Arctotis, also purchased at Seaside Nursery, now planted in front of the hedge along the street

And my friend gave me a special pot, planted with succulents, in remembrance.

So, are impulse purchases a valuable creative tool to shake up your garden plan, or do they more commonly interfere with your designs?  For me, I'd say it's 50/50.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Garden Therapy

At one time, when I was stressed or upset, I'd engage in retail therapy.  These days I can hardly stand to go shopping (unless it's for plants, of course).  Gardening is my preferred therapeutic outlet.  This week I spent most of my free time in the garden, tidying things up, watering, and planting.  My extended fountain border is 80 percent done.  Because I'm buying my plants in the smallest sizes available to give them the best possible chance of developing healthy root systems in the soil I've provided for them, the bed still looks pretty bare; however, my side yard filled in fairly quickly in 6 months and I'm hoping this new bed does as well.

Hazy morning view of the new bed from the backyard door

View of the new border from the north end

View of the same border from the south end

I was going to include a list of plants here but I realized it would be ridiculously long.  The total currently amounts to over 140 individual plants, falling into 40 different genera (and that doesn't include the seeds I've direct sown or the cuttings I'm in the process of rooting).  A few plants were featured in an earlier post.  The majority of the plants were purchased specifically for this bed but a few were moved from other areas of the garden.  Some of the edging materials came in small 6-packs, saving me a bit of money, which is a good thing as I still have empty spaces to fill.  I've been looking for Coreopsis 'Big Bang Redshift' and Uncina uncinata 'Rubra' but neither are currently available locally.  I know it's early in the year to be looking for the Coreopsis, which the local nurseries usually only offer in flower so I may have to resort to mail order.  I've found a variety of the Uncinia in 3-quart pots but the price is high and it lacks the vibrancy of the variety I used in my other backyard border so I'll wait until Annie's Annuals has more available for mail order.

The feature plants in the new bed are a Japanese maple, a Leucadendron, and a Phormium.

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa Yatsubusa,' which in time should grow to about 6 feet tall

Leucadendron 'Rising Sun,' which should also grow to 6 feet in height at maturity

Phormium 'Amazing Red,' a relatively short variety, growing just 2 feet in height

The Phormium pictured above is actually in the side yard but I bought another of the same variety for the new border to help connect the 2 areas.  Two Carex testacea were moved from the side border to the new border for the same purpose.  Two new pots, both planted with Euphorbia and the same mix of succulents, mark the transition from the flagstone path of the side yard to the grass pathway that runs between the new border and the pre-existing backyard border.

Pot containing Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid,' Graptoveria 'Fred Ives,' Portulacaria afra, Rhipsalis ewaldiana, and unknown Echeveria

Pot containing the same mix of plants on the other side of the pathway

In addition to the long border described above, I've planted the bed formerly occupied by our "snorkel spa," which was dismantled in January with plans to use the wood to make a table for the back patio.  The space went from this:

The snorkel spa before it was taken apart

To this:

The bed after the spa was removed and the gravel was cleared

To this:

The bed after planting

This bed, sitting alongside one of our Arbutus 'Marina' trees, has given me a place to put some red-toned plants that clash with plants elsewhere in my garden.  Four of the plants in this bed were moved from other areas: a Loropetalum chinense, the Driyms lanceolata, the largest of the 3 Argyranthemum, and a purple/red Ranunculus.  The Loropetalum, which had been in danger of being consumed by an overly exuberant gray Helichrysum in the side yard, is no more than twigs with a few leaves but I'm hopeful it will fare better here.  My favorite addition to this bed (other than the still tiny Paeonia cambesseddesii in the middle front) is Dianthus barbatus 'Heart Attack.'  A perennial Dianthus, this plant is new to me.  It was advertised as "almost black" in color but the flowers are actually burgundy.

Dianthus barbatus 'Heart Attack'

I feel I've made good progress with my backyard renovation projects, even though there's still a lot to do.  The garden is also a good place to regroup and refocus - and time spent there never results in buyer's remorse.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ming Moves On

My cat, Ming, featured in prior posts (here, here and here) during what became a regular routine of daily walks through the garden last December, passed away yesterday.  I like to think he's joined his litter-mate, Max, who we lost to congestive heart failure more than 5 years ago.  They were inseparable from kittenhood in 2001 until 2008.

Ming up front, Max behind on their screened porch at our old house

They frequently slept together and got into trouble together (my husband called them the Destruction Duo)

Although they looked so innocent

Just like bookends
My favorite picture - Ming reaching down toward Max from atop the cat tree my husband built for them

Ming didn't have the same kind of close relationship with Pipig even though she treated him as the alpha-cat, just like Max did.

Ming held onto life longer than I expected once it became clear that his decline was irreversible.   He remained his stubborn self, even as he grew frailer and frailer.  I credit the daily walks we took for that as much, if not more, than the medications, vitamin shots, and near-constant feedings he received.  If I was out in the garden, he wanted to be out there too and he would let me know it as only a Siamese cat can.

Ming loudly protesting his incarceration inside the house with Pipig standing meekly by

The fountain became his favorite water dish.

He stalked birds and squirrels in the backyard, even though he never came close to catching one.

He stalked lizards in the shrubbery.

He never caught one of those either - unless you count the hapless fellow foolish enough to venture into his screened porch.

He expected me to follow him, wherever he chose to go, but he'd usually wait up for me if I lagged behind.

And if I sat down, he'd usually jump into my lap.

I'm going to miss my garden companion.