Thursday, December 29, 2022

Tenth Blogiversary

I find it hard to believe I've been blogging for ten years.  I wasn't sure if I was going to acknowledge this anniversary, or how I should do so if I did.  But one of the benefits of blogging for that long is that I've accumulated a personal photographic history of sorts so I decided to dig into mine.

I'd thought about creating my own blog for some time before I did it but the final decision was made on a whim on the evening of December 29, 2012.  My husband had gone to visit a friend and was late getting home so I plunged ahead without any kind of plan.  I didn't even have a blog name in mind when I started.  I considered 'Angel's Gate Garden' to reflect my garden's location overlooking the Los Angeles harbor but that didn't feel like a good fit.  Then 'Late to the Garden Party' popped into my head and I was off and running.

My first post was about some of the changes I'd made during our first two years here.  My photographic record was spotty at that time but the blog immediately had me taking more photos in the interest of documenting the garden's development.  The photos I've included here represent some major changes but not all by any means.  I trimmed them down but (warning!) there's still a lot of them.

2013 was a difficult year on a personal level.  We lost both my mother and my mother-in-law within a period of roughly ten weeks between March and May.  The garden was a source of solace and diversion for me.

Removal of the humongous Eucalyptus tree shown here in February 2013 was the biggest change we'd made to that date.  The decision to take it out was driven by a neighbor who complained that it blocked her view of the harbor.  I learned of the community's "view conservation ordinance" from her and bowed to her wishes, partly because the tree was planted uncomfortably close to the house.

In 2013, I joined in on a variety of monthly memes.  This shot of the back garden in November 2013 was part of a now defunct meme promoting wide shots of the garden.  I also participated in monthly Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-up posts.

Another wide shot taken in November shows the paths we laid and the plants I installed following the removal of the Eucalyptus

Over a few months, I posted photos of garden walks with my cat, Ming.  He was very ill with an inoperable condition but these supervised walks were regular occurrences to enhance his remaining quality of life.

2014 presented challenges too but, with our respective family issues largely behind us, my husband and I plunged into project after project, many of which involved removing the remaining lawn we'd inherited with the property.

Sadly, we lost Ming in March 2018.  He was 12 years old.  He survived 4 years longer than his sibling, Max, who died of congestive heart failure.  They were rescues and had life-long health problems.

I was creating and posting photos of floral arrangements made from materials selected from my garden from my early blogging days but, in March 2014, I joined Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for In a Vase on Monday.  I've been a weekly contributor ever since but this was my very first entry.

One of our 2014 projects involved carving out 2 new beds on the north end of the back garden.  The area in the foreground on the left had been occupied by a firewood-heated "snorkel spa" which we removed.  My husband made a dining table from the spa's lid, which can be seen in the distance on the patio.

Toward the end of 2014, we removed the large expanse of lawn between the driveway and the house.  I covered the area under the Magnolia with bark mulch as nothing grows well there.  I replanted the rest.  Some of those plants remain to this day, including the Phormiums, Lomandra and Grevillea 'Peaches & Cream'.

The labor intensive projects continued into 2015 and 2016.

There was a mass of Yucca elephantipes along the property line at the bottom of our back slope that my husband felt was out of control.  Removing it turned out to be a miserable 2-stage process that began in December 2014 and continued into January 2015.  Heavy equipment had to be moved in through a neighbor's property to grind down the Yucca's stumps.  Removing the Yucca brought more light into this relatively shady east-facing area.

In March 2015 we removed one of the 2 peppermint willows (Agonis flexuosa) in the back garden, again at the instigation of the same neighbor who'd campaigned for removal of the Eucalyptus.  We'd hoped that would be the end of her "requests" but it wasn't.  I continued to have our trees pruned regularly but I refused her later demands for tree removals.  She moved out in 2016.

Drought was a major concern in 2015 and California declared restrictions on water usage (which were haphazardly enforced as far as I could see).  These photos taken in November 2015 reflected our progress removing more lawn in our backyard garden.

After removing our last remaining lawn in December 2015, I replanted this front garden area between the driveway and the hedge facing the street in January 2016.  The area in the foreground was planted in succulents.  As these grew slowly, I added more soil, rocks and larger succulents to this area in subsequent years.  I'm still not happy with it.

In September 2016, we brought in additional stone to extend the stacked stone wall on the lower level of front garden on its southwest side.  I also added rocks, soil and plants to beef up this moderate slope.

After a horrible heatwave in June, we experienced another almost as intense in late September 2016.  I used everything I could find, including broken umbrellas, to give plants a little protection.

In November 2016, we removed 3 dying Ceanothus shrubs from this area and replanted, adding still more rock in the process.  The Ceanothus had formed a hedge just a few feet from the Xylosma hedge that faces the street.  It was claustrophobic.

In 2017, while work continued in the garden, I explored gardens that weren't my own to a greater extent.

I allowed Pipig periodic supervised playtime in the garden even though she'd scrambled off on her own a few times to my distress if not hers

In March 2017, I joined 2 friends on a day trip to check out the "superbloom" that followed heavy rain earlier that year.  This photo of the California poppies was taken in the Lake Elsinore area.

In June, I attended the Garden Bloggers' Fling in the DC area.  Barbara Katz's garden (shown here) was among my favorites.

In late December 2017, my husband unveiled the lath (shade) house he'd built as a Christmas present

In 2018, I trained as a docent for my local botanic garden and attended another Garden Bloggers' Fling in Austin, Texas.

We toured Jenny Stocker's garden on the first day of the Fling tour, which began with a downpour of rain that followed us much of the day

We toured Donna Fowler's garden in Hutto, Texas (a suburb of Austin) on a sunnier day.  Hippos are the community's mascot.

Tanglewild Gardens, which specialized in breeding daylilies, was another stop

In 2019 everything revolved around our home renovation.

We lived in the house throughout the remodel.  To make that possible, my husband built a temporary kitchen attached to our bedroom.

The work by the contractor's crew started in June at the back of the house where a section of the patio had to be removed to support an extension of our kitchen.  My garden was seriously disrupted by the renovation.  Construction materials were everywhere and there was a storage pod and porta-potty in our driveway for the duration.

This was the old kitchen following demo in early July

The work wasn't completed until just before Christmas 2019.  This is the new kitchen.

The fireplace wall was reduced by half when an indoor barbecue was removed.  Among other things, we got new wood flooring, a new roof, and a new HVAC system.  The house was also repainted inside and out.

Thankfully, the home renovations were completed before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, turning everyone's life upside down.  Weekly lunches with friends came to a stop.  Volunteer activities at the botanic garden came to an abrupt halt.  Even grocery shopping became a challenge.  The garden became both a sanctuary and my principal focus.

Cruise ships were sidelined and most crews weren't allowed to disembark.  The ships appeared in the harbor periodically to collect supplies. 

I had plenty of time to admire my own garden

Playing off an artist's "Coronavirus Tourism" posters, I published a few posts offering tongue-in-cheek virtual garden tours.  This photo is from a tour of my back slope in late April.  This area generally only looks good in spring after a decent rainy season.

I did get some unmasked visitors.  Peacocks and a couple of peahens paid me several visits in mid-May.

A coyote strolled right past the back door in June just as Pipig and I were exiting the house.  That occurrence put an end to Pipig's outdoor strolls.

In August, it became apparent that our native Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) had died as that red color isn't normal.  The plant is susceptible to the same pathogen that causes sudden oak death.  The Toyon and the dying mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) I'd previously tried to save were removed later in the year.

Wildfire smoke filled the sky in December, although there were no fires in our immediate area


2021 started out very similarly to 2020, with an overlay of increasingly hideous political issues.  The arrival of COVID vaccinations brightened the outlook somewhat once we jumped through all the hoops necessary to get the shots.  However, it was one of the driest years on record, and reinforced the shift in my plant palette to place additional emphasis on succulents.

I cleaned up and replanted this moderate south facing slope adjacent to my lath house between November 2020 and January 2021, adding rock left over when the indoor barbecue's rock wall was dismantled in 2019

I spruced up the street-side succulent bed in late February 2021

After achieving full COVID vaccination status in April 2021, 3 friends and I met in Corona del Mar for our first outing since the pandemic started.  We toured Sherman Gardens (shown above) and had lunch at the outdoor Farmhouse restaurant at nearby Roger's Gardens.

In May, the Ginkgo biloba tree I ordered to replace the mimosa tree we'd had removed was finally planted

I spiffed up the dry garden on the northeast side of the house in August

I don't know about you but COVID continued to be a gray cloud on the horizon in 2022 even as I moved about more freely, boosted against the variants that continue to emerge.  I saw friends more frequently, usually in outdoor settings, but things haven't returned to the pre-pandemic version of "normal" as my thwarted Christmas celebration recently demonstrated.

I worked on a cleanup of the back slope in late January/early February.  Among other things, I used concrete bricks left over from our 2019 home remodel to edge the lower area of the sloping bed on the left and added paving stones moved from other areas of the garden.  I planted a few succulents, mostly pups from elsewhere and we took out a sad fig tree.

The local botanic garden eliminated the docent role in favor of "guides" to assist with special events.  I wasn't interested.  I'd have considered returning as a volunteer with the propagation team but they eliminated the propagation unit as well.  While I no longer volunteer with the garden I do visit several times a year as a member.  I visited the butterfly exhibit in May.  This photo is of a Rothschild moth.

I spotted a large group of goats clearing foliage along the main road through my area in August and stopped to get photos

We discovered a significant leak in our main water line from the street in June and had it fixed, only to discover evidence of another leak (our third within a year) in September

We elected to replace the entire pipeline between the street and the house, which was done in late September, causing major disruptions within a large part of the garden

After relaying the stone path, I replanted the bromeliad/succulent bed along the northwest property line in October after the pipe project was completed

Over the years I've held many neighborhood giveways, featuring fruit, flowers, and plants (usually succulents).  This was my most recent, held in October, which included 2 kinds of persimmons, Euphorbia 'Sticks on Fire' and Agave 'Stained Glass' bulbils.

This blog hasn't only documented my relationship with the garden, it's also allowed me to look at it with a more critical eye.  I've hashed out ideas for changes and received valuable feedback from those of you kind enough to read my posts and offer comments.  I've made friends along the way, some of whom I've met in person and many who I know only through the written exchanges that I value greatly.  I can't say with any certainty how long I'll continue blogging but I've no near-term plan to quit.  I post regularly on Instagram as @krispeterson591 but I haven't embraced that media as a substitute for blogging.

Best wishes for a wonderful start to the new year.  May you enjoy good health, happiness, and colorful days exploring the beauty of nature.

All material © 2012-2023 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Wildlife sightings

I see hawks flying over the harbor on a daily basis.  On occasion since I refilled our bird feeders, I've also seen them swoop overhead, although I've never seen one actually snatch a bird  - or a squirrel.  I don't often get a photo of them but just before Christmas I noticed one sitting in the neighbors' recently-pruned pine tree.  Even though I expected he'd be gone before I could affix a telephoto lens to my camera, I grabbed it anyway.  To my surprise, he sat there virtually immobile for more than an hour.

Based on the photos I took, it appears he didn't alter his position at all but he did swivel his head around a bit

His gaze seemed focused on activity around the bird feeders in my garden in this shot. I think this was a red-tailed hawk.

The small birds beat a hasty retreat into the surrounding trees and shrubs when a hawk swings into view; however, they've remained active almost constantly at the feeders and in the fountain.

I recently shared a photo of a bird I identified by default as a immature house finch even though its color wasn't quite right.  It was subsequently identified by a commentator as a nutmeg mannikin aka spice finch or scaly-breasted munia (Lonchura punctulata).

The nutmeg mannikin is native to tropical areas of Asia; however, the Audubon Society has included it on the list of birds present in California.  Experts don't believe it migrated to California but rather that caged pets escaped into the wild.  It's reportedly been sighted in Los Angeles and Orange Counties since 1997.

Yesterday, I saw two other birds at the fountain I couldn't place either.  I spent a ridiculous amount of time down the bird-ID rabbit hole.  The closest I could come to a match was the Indian silverbill (Eurodice malabarica).  Like the nutmeg mannikin, the Indian silverbill has been spotted in the wild in California, where it has apparently established itself as a population of escapees.

If I've correctly identified these birds (and that's still very much in question), it joins a long list of birds that have escaped from captivity and formed wild flocks.  I've been aware of the parakeets and parrots in that category for decades as they proclaim their presence loudly wherever they go but I haven't noticed the diversity within the smaller bird flocks until recently.

The last wildlife sighting I have to share isn't my own.  On Christmas Eve, a friend made a trip to the Ellwood Monarch Butterfly Grove in Goleta, California near our undergraduate alma mater.  She gave me permission to share the following photos of the monarchs in this preserve.

She indicated that the butterflies were just warming up to greet the day when she took this shot

This is a closer shot showing many with open wings

Meanwhile, another unusual visitor showed up here yesterday: rain.  It started around 2pm and remained light into the evening hours.  Hopefully, it'll deliver more overnight.

All material © 2012-2022 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party