Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Let's visit the back slope!

In the spirit of the "Coronavirus Tourism" posters created by Jennifer Baer, I'm providing another virtual tour of my garden, this time focused on my often-neglected and very steep back slope.  (You can view my prior tour of my lath house here.)

Despite its size, my back slope, situated on the eastern side of our half-acre lot, is easy to ignore.  When in our back garden, your eye stops at the Xylosma congestum hedge that runs the entire length of the back border.  On the other side, the property drops down dramatically and nothing planted there shows above the top of the hedge.  In fact, until the day of our final inspection prior to closing our purchase of the property, I didn't even realize it was there.

So let's pay a visit, shall we?  We access the back slope through the dry garden on the north side of the house.

From this angle, the gravel path I added after we moved in appears to end at the fence marking the property line between us and our neighbor on the north side

But, if you proceed as far as the grape arbor support my husband built, you can see signs that the path continues to the right

Rounding that corner, marked by a decaying tree trunk and a friendly Green Man, you see the first of the concrete blocks my husband installed as a stairway a year or so after we moved in

There was a slippery dirt path here when we moved in and, after I'd repeatedly fallen on my back side traversing it,  my husband laboriously dug these 50lb concrete blocks into the slope, working around numerous large rocks that studded the area.  I should mention that our entire neighborhood was the site of a large rock quarry in the 1940s.

Once we pass the hedge's northernmost edge, the back slope opens up to full view.

This area is bordered by the Xylosma hedge on the upper level (right) and a bay laurel on the lower level (left).  Our neighbor has a vegetable garden on the other side of that bay hedge, bordered on her side by a chain link fence.  When clouds aren't in the way you can see the harbor beyond those tall pine trees.

Those concrete blocks my husband installed are more widely spaced than they look and, without handrails, the trip to the bottom is usually made relatively quickly watching your feet as you go, without much attention to the plants on either side.

The stairway turns and ends with 4 more narrowly spaced concrete blocks

Once you turn the corner shown in the last photo, you reach a relatively flat area.  Here's what you might notice first:

A humongous crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), with a mammoth trunk, sits against the neighbor's chain link fence on our side of the property line.  My understanding is that the neighbor planted the vine decades ago when the property line was less well-defined.  The vine is trained along her fence but spills over in all directions, including the ivy-covered area belonging to our neighbor on the south side..  The vine is pretty but almost unmanageable in our climate, as I learned in my former garden.  I'd take it out except that this would impact my neighbors on both sides.

This is a view of our south property line looking in the other direction.  The wine barrels you see belong to the neighbors on our south side.  There was a huge Yucca elephantipes here when we moved in, which my husband lobbied to remove because it was also completely out of control.  We installed 3 Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Silver Magic' here to provide some of the privacy lost when the Yucca was removed.  There's a Ceanothus arboreum here too, which will eventually become a small tree.

I transplanted a few Centranthus ruber seedlings here years ago and they've gone crazy.  I tried sowing wildflower seeds here too but rampant alyssum (Lobularia maritima) choked most of those out.

Of course, we can't ignore the lemon tree planted here as it's the areas's dominant feature.  It's been so much happier since the Yucca came out.  It produces lemons year-round except when a severe heatwave hits and knocks it out of commission for several months.

On closer examination, you might notice a few other things.

Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) appear every spring following our winter rainy season.  They disappear when summer's heat hits.  After last week's early heatwave, most of those you see in this photo are now gone.

A purple Osteospermum (left) has planted itself down here.  I foolishly planted the Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri, right), which grows too big for the area.  I'd planned to take it out this past winter and somehow never got around to it.  I'll take it out after it finishes blooming this season.

A week ago, too late to take constructive action to stem its impact, I discovered that the peach tree planted at the edge of the slope had been severely impacted by peach curl disease.  It looks hideous at the moment.

I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do about the peach tree.  It was planted by a prior owner and, while it often sets a little fruit, that fruit never has never survived long enough to ripen.  It may not help that it's irrigated by a gray-water system fed by our washing machine waste.  I could thin it's twiggy growth and spray it thoroughly in the fall in an effort to stop the fungal disease that causes the foliage to blister and curl but cleaning up the area below the tree, which is covered in a thicket of ivy, would be harder to accomplish, much less maintain.  I may end up taking it out entirely but I'll probably give spraying a try to see if it makes any significant difference first.

But let's forget about the ugly peach tree and focus on the more attractive features of the back slope.

The back slope is at its most colorful in spring

Moving to the other side of the lemon tree at the base of the lower tier of concrete steps, here's what we see:

I planted the foxtail agaves (Agave attentuata) here several years ago from pups taken from another plant in my front garden.  I added various Aeoniums at intervals since.  I moved the bearded Iris down here from other areas and, to my complete surprise, they've done better here than anywhere else in my garden.

This unknown dwarf Iris may be 'Darth Vader'.  It's wonderfully fragrant.

If you look up from this spot, above the Xylosma hedge you can see the mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin, left), just beginning to leaf out now.  Shifting your eyes to the right, you can see 2 Arbutus 'Marina' in the upper level of the garden.

But let's take a look at the plants on either side of the concrete block stairway as we proceed more slowly back up the way we came.

Going up these stairs carrying anything heavy isn't fun and I almost always take the trip up slowly

The steep upper area on your left is covered with a dense layer of ivy and honeysuckle, punctuated by weeds.  I pull out what I can but, as you can see in the photo on the lower left, there's a patch of grass weeds I haven't managed to tackle along the southern property line.  Geranium incanum (lower right) is also a weed here.

But looking to right of the concrete stairway, we see a lovely Echium webbii I planted a couple of years ago.  In bloom now, it's a magnet for bees and butterflies.

I planted Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid' (left) and Pelargonium 'White Lady' (right) down here years ago and both move themselves around the area willy-nilly

The pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) planted itself here after I cleared the area of the weeds that formerly covered this part of the slope

I planted seedlings of Centranthus ruber here too and it continues to spread on its own

Lampranthus 'Pink Kaboom' (left) is fading while gray Santolina chamaecyparissus (right) is just getting ready to bloom

Artichokes have done exceptionally well on this dry slope.  There are 2 varieties growing here but I can't name either.

The prior owner we bought the house from put a fig tree in here.  It wasn't pruned well at the outset and my attempts to manage it since haven't improved things much.  The small amount of fruit it produces each year is snatched by critters before it ever ripens.

A dozen more steps beyond the fig and artichokes, we arrive back at the main level of the back garden.

Eventually I hope the centerpiece of this area will be the Callistemon viridiflorus you see in the middle of this shot.  I looked for this plant locally for years without success.  In October 2018, Tamara of Chickadee Gardens in Oregon sent me a one-gallon plant.  It's still small but it's just produced its first bloom and I'm thrilled.

Thank you Tamara!!!

So that's the back slope.  It offers opportunities that I find simultaneously tantalizing and daunting.  Terracing the upper level of the slope has been a dream of mine but access to the back area with heavy equipment is virtually impossible.  I've tried clearing small sections of the ivy and honeysuckle myself, working from the concrete block path but, given how steep it is, all I've managed to do is to crawl up on hands and knees 4-5 feet from its edge.  And the ivy and honeysuckle comes back quickly so the results of my efforts in one area are mostly erased by the time I clear the next small section.  Working down there during the hot summer months can be unpleasant too.  And then there are the fire ants, which I've run into on three occasions now...Thus far, I've decided to focus on the upper, more visible areas of my garden.

I hope you enjoyed today's tour.  Best wishes navigating the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in your own backyard!  Take care.

All material © 2012-2020 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, April 27, 2020

In a Vase on Monday: Something a little different

Last week, we fast-forwarded into summer without any kind of transition.  On Friday, our temperature peaked at 95F (35C).  All the tender new foliage and recent spring blooms struggled, and some collapsed.  Saturday and Sunday were a little better as temperatures here dropped back into the mid-to-upper 80s.  Fog in the area may have provided natural air conditioning of a sort as it periodically does during our hot summer months.  Although it was clear at our elevation, fog hugged the harbor throughout the weekend.

This is what I saw when I looked at the harbor from our back door on Saturday morning

The fog below us never entirely cleared.  By late afternoon, you could see the shipping cranes again but fog lingered around their footings and the cruise ships (which I can assure you are still sitting out the pandemic there in the bay) remained invisible. 

For my vases this week, I focused on plants I'm afraid may throw in the towel early in response to the heat.  The backbone of my first vase, stems of Leucadendron 'Pisa', is a tough plant but the other two ingredients may be more sensitive to temperature extremes.

Alstroemeria 'Claire' took a starring role, backed up by the luminescent Leucadendron with its silver cones

Back view: I filled in with Nigella 'Transformer', which just began blooming late last week

Top view

Clockwise from the top: Alstroemeria 'Claire', Leucadendron 'Pisa', and Nigella orientalis 'Transformer'

I set myself a challenge with my second vase when I cut several stems of Salvia lanceolata, a South African native.  The colors in the Salvia's flowers is what presented the challenge.

The flowers combine colors I can only describe as a mix of yellowish-green and peachy-mauve

Like the Leucadendron, the Salvia can handle heat but foxgloves and Centranthus are less tolerant.

The peach foxgloves were already singed blown in spots

Back view: The Centranthus looks fine at the moment but I'm concerned about the effects of an extended heatwave

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left: Aeonium haworthii 'Kiwi Verde', noID Alstroemeria, white and pink Centranthus ruber. Pelargonium 'White Lady', Leptospermum 'Copper Glow', Digitalis 'Dalmatian Peach' and, in the center, Salvia lanceolata

The ingredients in the third arrangement cried out for rescue from the heat.   I kicked this arrangement off with the larkspur (Consolida ajacis), which only just began blooming as the heatwave hit.  I planted the larkspur from seed in November and was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to bloom.

The grayish-purple larkspur was a bit disappointing.  It's outshone here by the purple foxgloves. Like the peach foxgloves, the sweet peas were singed.

As it turned out, I liked this side of the arrangement better

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left: Digitalis purpurea, Consolida ajacis 'Earl Grey', Orlaya grandiflora, a mix of Lathyrus odoratus, Pelargonium 'Lady Plymouth, and Oxalis triangularis

So that's this week's collection.  This morning, the fog's enveloped the entire house so it may be cooler today; however, we're expecting another temperature spike mid-week.  My Anemones and Dutch Iris have already bit the dust but I hope the sweet peas, foxgloves, and Nigella can tough it out awhile.  We shall see.  For other IAVOM creations, visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

All material © 2012-2020 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Friday, April 24, 2020

Project Updates: What's done and what isn't

On April 1st, I published a post on the garden-related projects my husband and I were focused on during the current stay-at-home order.  Within a week, I relocated the Yucca 'Bright Star' I'd identified as my top priority and helped my spouse move the rock we've had stowed behind our garage since our home remodel.  My other projects have proceeded more slowly but my husband completed two of his.  We now have a new path for use in hauling out our garbage bins for pick-up each week and I finally have a new compost bin system to replace the tumbler that literally disintegrated last year.

View of both the new path and, in the background next to my potting bench, my new compost bins

This photo from November 2018 was the best "before" shot I could find.  As you can see, the path we used to haul out our garbage bins was filled with gravel and my composter was a metal and plastic tumbler left behind by a prior owner. 

The new garbage bin path took the most time and was completed first.  When we moved in, the path was grass.  We tried to find someone to extend the stone pad that adjoins the street but we were unable to find anyone to take a job that small so my husband laid railway ties to support the wheels on the garbage bins and filled in between them with gravel.  It worked well enough but, when paving stones were removed from our back patio to allow for the extension of our kitchen during last year's remodel, he envisioned using them to replace the gravel.  Once again, we couldn't find anyone willing to bid on the job so he did it himself.

This photo was taken April 7th after the gravel had been removed.  An extended period of rain delayed work for a couple of weeks.

Rather than just cramming the stones in to fill the space, he lined them up to mirror the layout of the existing paved walkways, which meant cutting a LOT of the concrete pieces to fit

The completed path

I relocated all the gravel we removed.  Most went into my cutting garden.  You can see some color differences in the photo on the right but I imagine those will fade once the gravel is kicked around a bit.

So we recycled a lot of what we had on hand!  My husband also recycled materials to construct my new compost bin system.

The slats that make up the compost bins were created using the bender board used by prior owners to line the large lawn areas that came with the house.  We removed all the lawn, section by section, after we moved in.

The clear tops of the compost bins originally protected a couple of art prints.  We'd replaced them with a product that limits sun damage so these were available for recycling too.

Rather than fill in the narrow space between the bins and the paved path with gravel, my husband cut more of the concrete pieces to fill the gap

I christened the compost bin with the first garden debris yesterday!

Before and after photos of the back of our garage.  Less crap!

For my part, in addition to the Yucca, I moved the concrete paving stones some prior owner had distributed through the front beds adjacent to the house on the north side but I haven't gotten much further in rehabbing those beds.

Before & after (1st area): Even I was surprised at exactly how many of those hexagonal concrete paving stones studded the 2 areas.  There was no plan or logic associated with their placement that I could see.

Before & after (2nd area): As our new air conditioning unit sits just to the left of the areas shown in these photos, I moved 5 paving stones to create a short path here for use when the AC unit requires maintenance.  I've already run out of planting mix to improve the soil in both areas so I'm going to have to arrange another curbside pickup at my local garden center before I can jump into replanting.

I moved the remaining dozen plus paving stones to the back slope, where I dug them into place.  During our rainy season, this area between the planting bed and the hedge bordering my neighbor's chain-link fence can get muddy so the steps, while widely spaced, may help.  I cleared our most of the rampant Centranthus seedlings in the process of laying the stones.

I've also finally finished planting the Dahlia tubers I received in late March.  I ordered 17 new tubers back in late December.  Three tubers have not yet arrived but I've been reassured that these will be shipped in the coming week.  Where I'll put them is another matter altogether, as I've already got 4 sitting in temporary plastic pots until space opens up in the raised planters.  A cold winter and a cooler-than-usual spring delayed most of my cool season blooms, many of which are only now getting started, so there's less room than I need for the Dahlias, not to speak of the Zinnia seeds I want to sow.

Pulling rust-ridden snapdragons and the Ranunculus that didn't do well this year made room for some of the tubers but, when those in the plastic pots shown in this photo begin to grow, I'm going to need to move them somewhere that provides more room for their roots to spread out.  And I haven't even looked at the tubers I saved from last year's crop yet.

For the record, I've made nearly zero progress in removing the Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissuma) seedlings running rampant on my garden's south side and, as we're in the midst of our first heat wave of the year (in April!), it may be awhile before I get to that, much less any of the new projects I've recently uncovered that need handling.

Best wishes for a pleasant weekend, whatever weather you're facing.

All material © 2012-2020 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party