Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Summer Doldrums

I'm suffering from cabin fever.  It's been too hot to do much of anything outside for most of the past week.  I've gotten in an hour or so of gardening during the early morning and the early evening hours now and then but my activities have been largely limited to hand-watering container plants.  I started one project I hadn't planned to tackle until cooler temperatures return but I've made minimal progress.  Since temperatures soared into the mid-90sF and above I haven't even walked the neighborhood in several days.

With the exception of delivering emergency water rations on a periodic basis, I've spent too much time staring out the window thinking about what needs to be done in the garden.  Over a two-day period I was briefly diverted by spying on the garden activities of a homeowner in the neighborhood across the canyon from us.  This homeowner (who I've never met) has demonstrated an obsession with his lawn over the ten plus years we've lived here.  I've seen him change out his sod twice.  The second time, I thought he must be replacing it with artificial turf, only to witness a crew installing new sod.  When another crew showed up, I assumed he was doing that again but I was wrong.

I didn't see them remove the sod but, when they brought in a small mountain of gravel, I thought maybe they were creating a patio extension

The next day I saw a team unrolling what looked like a large rug.  They spent hours cutting it to fit the space and rolling it flat.

It's great that they're saving water by eliminating the lawn, although I couldn't help thinking they could have done better with natural groundcovers.  However, for all I know, the owner uses that flat surface to practice his golf putt.


On my brief forays outside, I've collected a variety of insect bites.  The spiders are out in force and, every morning when I clean up Pipig's catio, I carry a big stick, waving it in front of me to take down any webs I'd otherwise walk right into.  I didn't anticipate I'd have to contend with webs inside the house as well but an ambitious spider managed to hitchhike in with flowers I cut on Sunday.

For a relatively tiny spider, overnight it'd created a large web stretching from the top of my sunflower bouquet to the dining table below.  According to my cell phone's ID function, this is some kind of orb weaver.  (I enlarged the photo to show more detail.)


Staring out my office window, I've seen butterflies, including giant swallowtails and cloudless sulphurs, as well as hummingbirds, but I repeatedly failed to get photographs of them every time I've hustled outside with my camera.

The lazy pace of the bumble bees makes them easier to catch on camera

and the fiery skippers were more accommodating as well

While I missed out on hummingbird photos, I caught photos of finches at the feeders from inside the house.  The 2 birds with brown backs are spice finches, aka nutmeg mannikins or scaly-breasted munia (Lonchura punctulata).  These birds are native to Asia but are thought to have escaped into the wild as pets.  Sightings were first recorded in Southern California in 1997.  I first saw them in December 2022


On the bright side, the seed-sown sunflowers in my cutting garden are now bursting into bloom one after another.

The majority of the sunflowers in this bed are Helianthus annuus 'Joker'.  As a side note, filling the backyard bird feeders has not stopped the finches from pecking at the large sunflower leaves.


I also noticed that bulbs planted in the area next to our garage are starting to bloom for the first time.

I planted 5 bulbs of Hymenocallis festalis 'Zwanenburg' (aka Peruvian daffodil) in March 2022.  They produced foliage but not flowers last September.  I'm guessing that the recent tropical storm may have prompted the blooms.

Even though I created three floral arrangements earlier this week, I felt compelled to cut more flowers while watering my raised planters on Monday morning rather than risk losing them to the heatwave.

The mug contains Dahlias 'Lavender Ruffles' and 'Mikayla Miranda' as well as Zinnia elegans 'Benary's Giant Purple' and the foliage of Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Variegata'

Today, temperatures are expected to drop as much as ten degrees from yesterday's high of 97F, then fall again on Thursday, settling into the mid-70sF for the following week.  I'm hoping that forecast holds.

Pipig could care less



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

Monday, August 28, 2023

In a Vase on Monday: Too early to welcome fall?

My first floral arrangement this week makes me think of fall.  In the middle of another heatwave, the cooler temperatures associated with the change of seasons is appealing.  To be honest, my area hasn't had temperatures soar as high as they have in Southern California's inland valleys, much less other parts of the United States and elsewhere in the world.  However, even temperatures in the low 90sF (33C) get tiresome by late August, especially when you're getting itchy about plunging into the projects you've sidelined while waiting for the heat to abate.

While the colors used in the following arrangement conjure images of pumpkin spice, crackling fireplaces, and comfy sweaters, the flowers that make it up are all summer bloomers, at least here.

The seed-sown branching sunflowers are blooming at last so I built on their colors by adding several stems of Rudbeckia 'Cherokee Sunset' in varying hues

Back view:  I also added the burgundy foliage of Hibiscus 'Haight Ashbury'

Top view

Top row: Coleonema album, Hibiscus acetosella 'Haight Ashbury', and Leptospermum 'Copper Glow'
Middle: Helianthus annuus 'Brown-Eyed Girl', 'Greenburst', and 'Joker'
Bottom: Rudbeckia hirta 'Cherokee Sunset' in varied colors

I included a proper prop this week, featuring 2 mice working to hasten autumn by painting green leaves orange


Instead of hot cocoa, the second arrangement may make you think of tropical punch.

2 Dahlias are debuting this week: 'Belle of Barmera' and 'Labyrinth'

Back view, showing just how large one of the dinnerplate 'Belle of Barmera' blooms can get

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left: Agonis flexuosa 'Nana', Leucadendron 'Wilson's Wonder', noID Plectranthus scutellarioides (coleus), Dahlia 'Belle of Barmera', peach Zinnia elegans 'Candy Mix', Z.e. 'Queen Lime Orange', Z. e. 'Benary's Giant Salmon Rose', and Dahlia 'Labyrinth'


I had a handful of stems left when I finished stuffing my second vase.  I couldn't bring myself to toss them out so instead I cut a few more flowers and some foliage for a third arrangement.

This small vase features Dahlia 'Summer's End', which didn't make the cut when I put together vase #2

Back view with coordinating Zinnias

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left: Abelia 'Kaleidoscope', Alstroemeria 'Claire', Zinnia elegans 'Queen Lime Orange' (and Z. e. 'Salmon Rose', not shown in closeup), Z.e, 'Lemon Peach with yellow 'Candy Mix', and Dahlia 'Summer's End'


I can't claim that my dahlias are coming on like gangbusters but they've definitely stepped up production.  They're flopping all over one another in two of my raised planters because I did a very poor job of supporting them this year.  I hustled to get my plants in the ground in June once the raised planters were cleared of the cool season flowers but I thought there was plenty of time to put in place the tomato cages I use to support the taller varieties.  I dragged my feet too long and was forced to use less effective supports when it became clear that it was too late to insert the cages without breaking stems in the process.  Another lesson learned: the supports need to go in place when the plants do.

For more IAVOM creations, visit Cathy in Rambling in the Garden.

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

Friday, August 25, 2023

Foliage that can handle the heat

Trying to look beyond my garden's late-summer woes, I conducted a haphazard assessment of the foliage in my garden just before Tropical Storm Hilary arrived.  My focus was the foliage that holds up best to summer's heat.

Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' looks good year-round, at least on the surface.  It's twiggy undergrowth needs periodic cleanups and I generally rake out the leaf debris that builds up underneath it twice a year to ensure that I don't provide fuel for any fire that might come our way.  The Leucadendron 'Safari Sunset' next to it adds a little pizzazz.

Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' gained height and girth in response to this year's heavier-than-usual rain.  On the shady side of the garage it doesn't burn to a crisp.

Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue' no longer has to share the limelight in this area with Agave vilmoriniana, which we removed earlier this month after it bloomed out. Leucadendron salignum 'Chief' provides a nice backdrop.

One of 6 peppermint willows (Agonis flexuosa), the one in the background of this shot is framed by Leptospermum 'Copper Glow', a western redbud, and the manicured Xylosma congestum hedge

Another, less shaggy peppermint willow

One of 4 strawberry trees (Arbutus 'Marina'), this one in the back garden is underplanted with a variety of Aeoniums that appreciate the shade it provides

Another strawberry tree, this one in the front garden.  Even though all these trees were thinned last December, their foliage is thicker than ever due to all the rain they've had.  I'm hoping to have the tree trimmers out in October this year.

The roundish green ball is one of several bush violets (Barleria obtusa) in my garden.   It handles hot, dry conditions beautifully and has only a brief ugly period when I cut it back to the ground once it finishes blooming.  And it's covered in blue flowers from October into November!  I really should add it to more dry of my driest areas.

Golden breath of heaven (Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold') brightens up any space with its chartreuse foliage.  My only warning is to keep its growth in check by pruning it at least once a year when it reaches its mature size.  It can get a lot taller than some growers advertise.

I considered pulling out this dwarf Jacaranda 'Blue Bonsai' last year.  However, without anything in mind to replace it, I settled with cutting it back hard.  It responded by filling our nicely but it still didn't bloom this year.  I've supplemented its water with a bottle feeder this summer.  I'm giving it another year.

The 2 Leptospermum 'Copper Glow' have retained the reddish color they developed after I cut them back last winter

Since January, I've managed to keep the gardeners from taking electric pruners to this Leucadendron 'Wilson's Wonder' by pruning it before they get to it.  I haven't been quite as successful in keeping them away from the other 'Wilson't Wonder' but my plan is to be more vigilant about staying one step ahead of them.

Lomandra is my favorite grass substitute and I've used them in spots throughout my garden.  The plants on top are Lomandra longifolia 'Breeze'.  Those on the bottom left are Lomandra 'Platinum Beauty' and the one on the right is Lomandra hystrix 'Tropic Belle'.

I've accumulated a lot of Mangaves over the last several years.  Two of the most pristine are Mangave 'Aztec King' (left) and M. 'Lavender Lady' (right).

Melianthus major has gotten huge this year, stretching way up inside the canopy of that Arbutus 'Marina'

I'm happy with this combination on the north end of my front garden featuring Phormium 'Maori Queen', Coprosma repens 'Evening Glow', and Carex 'Feather Falls'. These Phormiums haven't outgrown their spots (as some others have); the Coprosma has retained its color and its foliage despite the summer heat; and the Carex have outgrown the bad haircuts given them by local rabbits.

Plectranthus scutellarioides 'Limewire' (aka coleus) can outshine any flower


We're thankful for the two inches of rain the tropical storm provided us in August (when we generally have none) and it gave us nothing much to complain about beyond a lot of leaf litter and dirty windows.  I lost one zinnia, which broke at the soil line, and a major limb of our tree-sized Leucadendron 'Pisa' was badly bent, although it didn't break or tear.

I took the photo on the left during the tropical storm.  The branch didn't straighten up even after it dried out so I took the opportunity to prune back some of its top-heavy growth.  Sadly, this tree-sized shrub has developed a spindly framework in recent years and I expect I'll eventually pull it out but I'm not ready to do that yet.


There are some notable warts I find hard to ignore.

Echiums respond to tip pruning but eventually get too woody for my taste.  I'd hoped to get another year out of this Echium webbii but it's bugging me.  I recently ordered a replacement plant but I'm certain the seller sent me the wrong species.  I've tried unsuccessfully to propagate it from cuttings before but I may give that another go unless the seller provides a replacement.  I've already replaced the woody Echium 'Star of Madiera' in my front garden with a new plant.

Grevillea 'Peaches & Cream' on the left dropped more than half of its leaves this year without replacing them at the same rate.  I'm not sure why, although gopher activity may have been a factor.  As you can see from the healthy Grevillea 'Superb' on the right, 'Peaches & Cream' should be a lot fuller.

That's it from me this week.  The storm last weekend brought temperatures down temporarily but they're back to pre-storm levels again, hovering in the mid-to-upper 80sF.  Another heatwave is in the forecast for next week.  Enjoy your weekend!

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Wild & Weedy Wednesday: Edible weeds

I'm joining Cathy of Words and Herbs for her 'Wild and Weedy Wednesday' meme again this week.  I've got three plants that are bona fide weeds in my garden, two of which are edible and one which definitely is not.

The first edible weed is mint (Mentha sp.), possibly spearmint.  It came with the garden.  I noticed it blanketing one of the raised planters in what's now my cutting garden during our pre-purchase home inspection.  As I recall, I asked the seller about it and he commented something to the effect that it'd done so well there, he'd planted more.  The first thing I did in the garden once we moved in twelve years ago was to go to work removing the mint, or trying to anyway.  I worked on it off and on for a good month.  Over the years, it popped up now and then in the bed but I haven't seen it show up there for two to three years; however, I think it must be embedded in the wood of the raised planter itself or directly underneath its base because it's continued to appear around the planter's base on one side.

The wood of the raised planter is almost completely hidden behind the mint growing up its side.  I pulled most of it up in June but it's made a comeback.  Although (if you ignore the unusual tropical storm we experienced last weekend) this is our dry season, the raised planters are well watered to support the dahlias and zinnias growing there, which of course keeps the mint growing.

The mint isn't growing just along the raised planter but also within the small succulent bed at its base and between the gravel.  Thankfully, to date it hasn't managed to crawl under the concrete brick pathway to the bed on the other side.


The second edible weed may be less widely known, although ornamental varieties are often found in garden centers.  It's botanical name is Portulaca oleracea, commonly known as purslane.  Other names for it are pigweed and little hogweed.  It's said to be a good source of minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids, which can protect people from cardiovascular disease and cancer, among other things.

Portulaca is an annual, popping up in the summer months.  After I pulled several Aeoniums scorched by intense sun and heat exposure, I noticed it in this spot earlier this month.  I'd already pulled out tiny plantlets spread throughout one of my raised planters but, with nothing I wanted to plant in the bare spot here at summer's height, I decided to leave it alone for the time being.

Here it is 3 weeks later

The closeup on the left suggests it's preparing to bloom.  The photo on the right shows that it's seeded itself in the gravel too.  Luckily, it's one of the easiest weeds to pull out.  I tasted it.  It has a slightly crunchy consistency.  Sources online suggest using it as you would use spinach or watercress.


The last plant is Helichrysum petiolare, commonly known as licorice plant because the foliage smells faintly of licorice.  It has soft felt-like grayish leaves and, like Portulaca, it's often sold in local garden centers, albeit most frequently in the form of one of its fancier cultivars.  It's classified as a weed in the San Francisco Bay area but it's not generally regarded as such by the State of California.  In my own garden, it shows up periodically in the driest areas, sometimes inconveniently wedged between succulents.  It's useful as a low, trailing groundcover in dry areas.  It shouldn't be confused with the plant used to make licorice candy.  It's considered toxic to humans and animals, although it's reportedly been used for medicinal purposes in some cultures.

The patch shown here is situated at the rear of my back border next to the dirt path used only by the gardeners, coyotes and me.  I occasionally use the foliage in flower arrangements


For more wild plants - and weeds - visit Cathy at Words and Herbs.

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