Cool Plant of the Week!

Instead of a cool plant this week you get a cool hummingbird shot.  Hummingbirds are so fast it is all about the luck when taking pictures of them.  At least for me it is.  I was at Montana de Oro the other day and took this shot at just the right moment to capture a dive bomb attack.  Hummingbirds are territorial little beasts!  Too bad about the stupid telephone wires in the background.  Who puts telephone poles at the beach?  Who does that?


Giant Rock Moving Truck!

That is the common name for it. I don’t know the scientific name for the Giant Rock Moving Truck. I sent Gabe a text to ask him and as soon as he responds I’ll let you know.  Or if someone reading this is smarter than I am about giant trucks feel free to comment.

(ETA: Gabe just texted me back and called it a reach lift. I think Giant Rock Moving Truck is more fun so that is what we’ll continue to call it.)

I thought it would be cool to show you this part of the garden building process that we started the other day.

Here is the Giant Rock Moving Truck waiting while the rock is prepped.  We don’t own this bad boy.  It has to be rented and the pouring rain the other day was a bit of a setback because it wasn’t available the next day.

First the guys secure the rock with chains.

Victor operates the vehicle while Gabe and David guide the rock into position.  You can’t just plop rocks down any old place. To look more natural they need to be dug into the soil a bit.  Then you have to find the rocks best side and set it just so.  Not so easy when you are dealing with boulders that are hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Smaller rocks can either be rolled or moved with the Dingo (the little red tractor over on the left).  It is also useful for moving large quantities of soil around fairly quickly. But for the big rocks the Giant Rock Moving Truck is a necessity. I’m not really sure what the cutoff size or weight is. As I’ve mentioned I am the plant guy and I find rock moving to be a little bit scary.  Everything went very smoothly though and Gabe and the Gardens by Gabriel crew did a great job creating the planting berms and placing the rocks.  So I was able to get involved with the much more exciting task of placing the plants.

Remember the telephone pole I talked about in the last update (January Garden Design Update)? We were very lucky to have a large specimen of Otatea acuminata ssp. aztecorum (Mexican bamboo) on the property.  It was very poorly placed right up against the foundation of the house but rather than just dispose of it we carefully dug it up and moved to its new position (and when I say “we” I mean the GBG crew. My giant plant digging days are over).  Huge utility poles on your property are never fun and they are impossible to completely hide but in time this bamboo will reach up to twenty feet tall and its graceful arching stems will help mask this eyesore. The network of telephone lines and wires you just have to try to tune out.

This is the view from the house that we were trying to beautify a bit.  If you imagine the Otatea twice as tall as it is now (and you can see one new big shoot reaching upward) and then gracefully spreading out you can start to imagine it as a screen.  We were very lucky to have this very large specimen on hand to give us a bit of instant gratification.  A plant that size would probably retail for well over a thousand dollars.

One of the exciting things about my move up to the Central Coast is now I can make myself available to help place the plants for my designs.  Nothing ever works out exactly how you plan it on paper.  There might be existing irrigation that wasn’t taken into consideration or a specimen plant that wasn’t available that could change the entire layout.  In this case there were some changes to the shape of the berms and the placement of the large rocks.  Since I was around I was able to make some modifications and keep the design true to my original vision. Plants never look exactly the same in real life as they do on paper.  You always have to keep an open mind and move things around a bit before you plant them.

Now for a few more plant highlights from the design.  This is Banksia blechnifolia.  It is native to the coast of Western Australia and a member of the Protea family. It has upright fern-like foliage and its cone like inflorescence occurs right at ground level.

Leucospermum cordifolium (pincushion) from South Africa will form a nice winter blooming mound. They are very popular along the California coast.

Banksia ‘Birthday Candles’ is a dwarf cultivar of Banskia spinulosa var. spinulosa from Eastern Australia. They look a bit like little mugo pines covered in yellow flowers.

Alyogyne huegelii is a Hibiscus relative from Western Australia.  It will grow eight to ten feet tall and will form part of a backdrop of purple and pink flowered shrubs along the central spine of the largest berm. I think the cool pinks and purples will make a nice contrast to the hot flowers of Banksias, Leucadendrons, Aloes, and Kniphofias that surround them.

I hope you have enjoyed this part of the garden design process. I’ll share more pictures of this garden once the plants are all in the ground and mulched.  I’m really pleased with the way this garden is progressing so far.  All the color and texture combinations I planned on paper are actually working really well. I think it will be a knockout garden.

Now for some other news…

My compost was delivered today for my garden!  I have a lot of work cut out for me this weekend spreading it around but luckily I have some helpers coming over on Saturday to give me a hand. I’m really looking forward to getting my own garden planted and sharing that with you.

Cool Plant of the Week!

There was no rock moving today!  Torrential downpours all last night and this morning so it was a bit too soggy to be moving several tons of rocks.  Hopefully it will be dry enough tomorrow.  In the meantime I have been going through and tagging about ten years worth of garden photos.  Some of them are of some pretty neat plants.  So I’ll try to post a new one each week.  No promises that I will keep up with it though.  I get easily distracted when I see something shiny.

Pulsatilla halleri

January Garden Design Update

You may remember my post back in November titled Inspiration. Well I am excited to say that the construction for that design began this week. The crew over at Gardens by Gabriel are hard at work preparing the landscape for the planting that is to come in this Morro Bay garden.  Normally “before and after” pictures would be in order but I am too excited to wait for the after so you will get the “before and during” pictures today and the after pictures will have to come when we are finished. The “during” being the hard work behind the scenes that make the garden possible.

This is the lower lawn of the property. The entire home is on a pretty steep hill.  The balcony in the upper right corner of the photo has a beautiful view of the bay which is just a block away.

Dan drives the Bobcat while Victor checks the level.  This area is being prepared for a Bocce Court!  It will be surrounded by the homeowners existing fruit orchard and new, mostly succulent, plantings.

This is the before shot of the front entrance and the upper lawn. All of the palms on the upper lawn were removed to make way for the new design.  One way for homeowners to save money on the construction is to do some of the preparation work themselves.  He killed and tilled the lawn and removed the palms before we began our work.  He will also build the bocce court himself.

The palms are all gone and some of the foundation plantings were moved to other areas.  Garden mascot Cody watches over some of the plants that have been delivered.

The upper lawn.  I believe there were six palms that were removed. As you can see the property has a pretty severe slope.  We will remedy this by creating berms.  Unfortunately there is also an unsightly telephone pole in a pretty prominent spot on the property.  There isn’t a lot you can do with utility poles or lines.  In this case we are going to do our best to disguise its view from the house with large plants.  There is an existing Otatea acuminata aztecorum right up against the foundation of the house.  Since it was poorly placed to begin with we will move it to a better spot and use it to try to soften the utility pole a bit.

As you can see some of the foundation plantings are gone.  Some Cyperus have been moved near the driveway and some small palms removed.  More Woodardia ferns will be added to the remaining foundation plants.  Irrigation is being prepared and soil that is coming out of the lower lawn to level the bocce court area will be brought up to create the berms.  Another ten yards of soil will be purchased and delivered tomorrow. The lime tree on the left hand side of the lawn will be moved down to the lower lawn.

Garden design books always talk about using “borrowed views” to enhance your garden. I’m pretty sure all of those books were written about huge English estates with vast lawns and beautiful vistas to frame.  It is a bit frustrating when your own view consists of a large telephone pole.  The view to the north isn’t so bad though.  Sadly Morro Rock is hidden behind some trees (you can just make it out peeking out behind the trees in the upper left) and we have a pretty solid view of the infamous Morro Bay smoke stacks.  But we also have a nicely landscaped neighbors yard.  One thing that caught my eye right away was the two beautiful Arbutus ‘Marina’.  So I capitalized on this and included two of our own to mirror the neighbors along the fence.  The street planting consists of a Melaleuca and some Helichtotrichon. I feel that our planting of Knifofias, Thamnochortus, and Grevillea will compliment the neighbors bed perfectly.

Our order from San Marcos Growers down in Santa Barbara arrived already and I am pretty excited about the quality of the plants. The weird plant above is Berzelia lanuginosa a South African plant that I think will look great with the Protea themed garden.

Aloe ‘Hercules’ is a tree Aloe that can grow thirty feet or more.

I originally wanted to use Chondropetalum elephantinum but when I saw Thamnochortus insignis I liked it better so we made a last minute switch.  Here it is along with some of our succulents and our two Arbutus.

The large berms will be held in place by two and a half tons of rock so Gabe and I went down to the quarry so he could handpick them and have them delivered next week.

He marks off the ones he wants with tape.  Hopefully I will be able to get up to the garden to watch as they are installed and get some photos of the machinery required to set them in place.  I find the whole thing a bit intimidating so it will be fun to see it all unfolding. I’m just the plant guy so some of this stuff is very new to me.

Now for a bit of a change of pace we’ll go check in on another one of my garden designs.  You’ll remember my post on My First Installation back in November and my courtyard garden designed with mostly Annie’s Annuals plants. It was super thrilling but also a bit nerve-wracking as well.  Would the clients like it?  Would the plants get enough or too much sun?

Well altogether the garden is looking great.  There was an unfortunate (and rare) heat wave right after they went in so we did lose a few plants and a some of them got a little crispy but now two months later and Annie’s plants are filling in just as beautifully as I knew they would and we are on our way to a very exciting spring.

The garden is beautifully mulched and we already have blooms in January.

Bed one was originally full of canna lilies and a giant tree fern.

Bed two was an overgrown mess full of weeds and Coleonema. While we were here Gabe and I did a bit of weeding and we pinched a few things back.  We decided to swap the Musschia and Cantua to give the Musschia more shade and the Cantua more sun.  I don’t think it will change the overall design too much even though they are very different plants. Sometimes what works on paper just doesn’t work in real life.

These Geranium ‘Bill Wallis’ and Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ are already charming now in January.  Just imagine them in a few months when they are in full bloom!

I was surprised by how big Trachelium caeruleum ‘Hamer Pandora’ had grown in just two months.  This is one of the key plants that is included in all of the beds to help tie the design together.  *Mental note to buy some of these for my own garden in a few weeks!

And just a reminder of the view from the backyard of this beautiful house.

Our last stop was a nearby garden that Gabe had recently designed himself.

He designed the plantings in front of this guest house around the homeowners hardscaping design.  This is another home with beautiful ocean views.  This time from the upstairs balcony of the main house.

I am a little bit in love with this little vignette of Phylica pubescens with a beautiful piece of driftwood.  Hmm…I think I want some driftwood for my garden now!

I hope you enjoyed this design update.  I’ll be posting more updates as the work continues on the Morro Bay property so be sure to check back next week.

Elfin Forest and One Hundred Page View Celebration!

As promised I have pictures of the El Moro Elfin Forest that I visited the other day.  But first I wanted to give a big thank you to everyone who visited yesterday.  For the first time ever I got over a hundred page views in a single day(one hundred and three to be exact).  That may not seem like a lot but my blog sort of stalled last year when I got sick after my England trip and didn’t post any updates for a while.

But now that I have moved and will be more directly involved in my garden designs and am finally able to keep a garden of my own this blog will be seeing  a lot more activity.  So if you are a garden blogger and are reading this spread the word to your viewers and any tips you have to improve my numbers or improve the look of the blog would be appreciated.  And non bloggers please spread the word to your garden loving friends!  Next goal one thousand views a day!

Also feel free to leave comments, questions or corrections on my posts and thanks to everyone who stuck around even when I went through a bit of a posting slump last year.

And now back to the pictures.  So the other day I walked over to the El Moro Elfin Forest Natural Area which is on the north east edge of town bordering the Morro Bay Estuary.  It is only a mile and a half away from my new place and I had been hearing about it for years so I thought I should finally check it out.

Well worth the visit.  The Quercus agrifolia that grow here are stunted due to the environment and instead of fifty feet they range from four to twenty feet tall.  The area is protected now and a boardwalk and trails meander through with amazing views of the bay and surrounding hills and lots of local flora and fauna.

The elfin forest is located southeast of the estuary and the bay.  You can see Morro Rock in the center of the photo.  This whole area is a bird watchers paradise. I need to get some binoculars.

Pale whitish-blue flowered Ceanothus cuneatus is in full bloom now and was swarming with buzzing honey bees.

Between the Ceanothus, sages, and Artemisia the air is wonderfully fragrant.

I have to admit that I only just learned there was such a thing as Paeonia californica last week.  So I was pretty excited to see them growing here.

A few along the trail were even in bud.  I have to remember to go back and try to get pictures of them blooming.

I’m not really a pro at identifying native Salvias but I think this is Salvia mellifera.

I had no problem identifying the Ribes speciosum blooming all over.  Fuchsia flowered gooseberries are a hummingbird favorite and they were buzzing all around the forest fighting over each patch of flowers.

This male Anna’s hummingbird stopped and perched to survey his territory.  No, really. I swear there is a hummingbird there.  Click the photo to enlarge it and press your nose right up against your screen.  I should have brought my better camera.

This is the sort of place that demands panoramic photos.  From certain vantage points you are just surrounded by beautiful sights. This is another picture worth clicking to see the original giant photo.  You can make out several of the “Nine Sisters” ancient volcanic peaks between Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo.  Morro Rock is on the left in the center of the bay, the small black hill bordering the forest is the appropriately named Black Hill, the large hilly area in the center is Cerro Cabrillo, and the really jagged rock formation off toward the right is Hollister Peak. Cool thing about Hollister Peak is that the owners of the land keep it all closed off as private property to preserve it.  While I am sure there are people who would love to climb all over it I kind of love that it is off-limits and hope it stays that way.

In a few spots the old gnarled trunks of the pygmy oaks are exposed along the path.  This lichen covered grove made a nice ghostly display.  If you visit the elfin forest be sure to stay on the marked trails and boardwalk. Aside from the Salvia, bracken ferns, and California blackberry under that grove I am pretty sure I can make out some poison oak.

The oaks are blooming now.  OK, maybe not as impressive as the Ribes, Ceanothus, and Arctostaphylos but still pretty neat.

Even the dead oaks are pretty.  On the right you can see Hollister Peak again.  One of the mos distinct hills in the area and definitely my favorite.  I’ll have to get some better pictures of it some day to share here.

In the center of the forest is the Rose Bowker Grove.  A boardwalk leads you right under the canopy of these pygmy oaks to a seating area where you can admire their twisted trunks.

Almost forgot to mention I saw a bunch of California quail running around in the brush near the entrance.  Well “saw” is a bit generous. I mostly just caught glimpses of them as they scurried about.  But I definitely heard their very distinctive quail noises.  Really just about the cutest birds ever.  Their babies in summer look like little walnuts with feet.  I’m hoping I can figure out a way to attract them to my yard.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour and if you are ever visiting the Central Coast consider a visit to the El Moro Elfin Forest.

Exploring Los Osos

I’ve taken a few walks around various areas of Los Osos this past week exploring my new home so this is just going to be a bunch of pictures with brief explanations. The first was a trip to Montaña de Oro State Park where I checked out wild flowers and watched the sunset. The sand spit and dunes are just a five minute drive from my house. Feel free to correct me on any plant names.  Can anyone recommend a really good book on California wildflowers?

Erysimum ammophilum or E. menziesii?

Lessingia filaginifolia var. californica?

Eriogonum fasciculatum

Erigeron glaucus


Driftwood art on the beach at sunset.

Horses on the beach at sunset.  How cool is that?

Sunset at Montaña de Oro.

Next was a visit to the neighborhood to my west.  First stop was the Morro Coast Audubon Society Sweet Springs Nature Preserve.

There is a bit of controversy right now with this Eucalyptus grove.  The Audobon Society plans to chop them all down and they seem to have quite a bit of support but some people really love them and are trying to save them.  I’m rather fond of them myself.  I don’t really share the hatred a lot of native plant lovers have towards Eucalyptus in California.  I mean I wouldn’t want one in my front yard but I think they are beautiful trees and this grove is often full of fluttering monarch butterflies. However with the trees gone I think the preserve will still be beautiful and it will really open up the view of the bay and perhaps eventually allow more native plant communities to thrive.

OK doesn’t this one totally look like one of those cyclops aliens from the Simpsons?

One of the things I wanted to do was see what was growing in peoples yards to get some ideas for my own garden.  Leucadendron and Coleonema were both very popular choices.

Almost all of the houses facing the bay have huge windows.  One day I am going to live in a house with huge floor to ceiling windows.  Something really modern.

This garden bench has a lovely view of the inlet on the south side of Morro Bay.

I loved this rustic little house and their garden art.  If you are going to do garden art you may as well go all out and do something that makes your neighbors roll their eyes and sigh.

I loved the lawn substitute on the hill in front of this house.  Some sort of Carex perhaps?  Very cool look.

Cassia is another popular plant choice around town.

This house has a lovely view of Morro Rock and the bay from their front garden.

Next was a trip to the north side of town to see the El Moro Elfin Forest.  But first I checked out some of the houses along the way.  This is a cute little garden right on my street but I fear those variegated Agave americana will take over.  It isn’t a plant I would use in any of its forms.  It spreads too aggressively, is sharp as hell so would be a bitch to weed around or pull out, gets as big as a house in some cases, and dies so spectacularly when its enormous twenty five foot tall inflorescence fades that you are left with a giant Agave corpse to dispose of.

I don’t even have the words…the amount of work and dedication to create a topiary that big. I am a both repulsed and a little bit in love with it at the same time.

Leucadeondrons really do quite well here but I have seen some huge dead ones in front yards as well so even though it is the perfect climate for them it seems they are still prone to sudden death if you don’t give them the proper care.

Yucca elephantipes is another popular plant around here.  In fact I already have one in my front yard though it is not as big as this specimen. The leaves look rather deadly but they are softer than your typical Yucca.  Still I bet you could put an eye out on one if you walk into it.  Mine is right near my vegetable beds so I will have to be careful.

That is the end of todays tour. I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll post a few pictures of the Elfin Forest soon but I don’t want anyone getting picture fatigue.

Gopher Sign!

Kind of like “worm sign” from Dune but not as cool.

The good news about California is we don’t have groundhogs.  The bad news is we have pocket gophers and they are even worse!  At least with plant enemies like groundhogs, rabbits, and deer they generally just eat the leaves and the plant will usually grow back.  Not the case with gophers.  They sneak up to the plant underground Bugs Bunny style and either gnaw away at the roots or just pull the whole damned plant into the ground.  They really do. I have heard first hand accounts of people who watched as a plant was just yanked beneath the earth. Gopher damage on small plants is almost always fatal and this Phormium certainly isn’t looking too happy.

Gabe told me I would have to just get a roll of chicken wire and fashion a little protective basket for everything I plant.  I wonder if that will be enough.  Should I also get those evil little macabee traps?  How do I feel about having to remove ugly (they really are hideous) little gopher corpses when they get snared?  There are also various compounds you can put into their tunnels that expand when you add water and either suffocate them or drive them up out of the ground where you can smack them in the head with a shovel.  I definitely won’t use poison but I am wondering if I can just live with them or if I am better off fighting them.

I’m new to this gopher stuff.  My only experience with them was in Mendocino where they would drive my friend Lily to fits of rage or tears when they devoured plants.

What do you think?  Should I get ready for war?