Cool Plant of the Week!

I had heard of Corydalis flexulosa ‘Blue Panda’ and always imagined it as a delicate little creature that would be almost impossible to grow.  Isn’t it always that way with plants that come in such otherworldly colors?

That may be the case in some climates but it definitely loved the cool Northern California coast where it reseeded with abandon and actually seemed a bit weedy.


Building My Garden Part 2

Yesterday was round two of garden building at my new place.

Gabe used the Dingo to level the new front path a bit.

But it really is the kind of precision work that needs to be done by hand.  Victor uses a level to make sure the grade is correct.  This way it will look level but will shed water away from the house.  Or something. I’m the plant guy.  Hardscaping kind of bores me.  I wish I could just wave a magic wand and all the hardscaping would be done.

All that hard work paid off though because the base came out nice and level.

In the meantime Gabe used to Dingo to move the soil from my driveway to berms in the yard.  Much quicker than doing it with a wheelbarrow and shovel!

Since I don’t have a hardscape creating magic wand I got involved in the labor as well.  Between my front door and the driveway is a tiny little eighteen inch wide path that I decided I wanted to widen a bit with twelve-inch square cement pavers. Since I am the sort that just loves to have plants spilling out onto the walkway this should give me more room to maneuver. I started by digging up the dead lawn that bordered the path.

Then I removed soil to a depth of four inches.  The pavers are two inches deep and the base of decomposed granite and sand will be two inches.

Once I had filed my new path with decomposed granite I used a tamper to tamp it down so it would be nice and even and ready for my pavers.  I carefully laid each paver down and made sure it was as level as possible.  I’m not going to lie. I hated every minute of this task and wished I could go back to standing around and looking pretty like I did last week.  Getting the level just right was a pain in the ass.  A few of the pavers just wouldn’t cooperate and I had to keep removing them and adding more granite and then they would be too high and I would have to remove them again and take some of it away.

But eventually I got it done!  I think I did a reasonably good job on my first properly made path.  It isn’t perfectly level.  But it is close enough for me.  Next step is to fill in the joints with gravel. I’ll take a picture when it is all done.

While Victor was off picking up the large pavers from Gabe’s storage yard Gabe took a lunch break and found the perfect seat for a gardener.

At the end of the day Gabe used the Dingo to dig out a Loquat in my vegetable garden.  My landlady’s husband grew it from seed but he planted it too close to the house so she wanted it removed.

Don’t worry.  Gabe will find a good home for it!

Another small path leads from the front walk to my back gate.  These pavers will also be embedded in gravel.

And the big path is done as well.  Actually we need one more paver for the front.  We have some more at the storage yard so Gabe will bring it over this week.  I didn’t get any more pictures of the work being done sadly as I was too involved in my project but it came out pretty nice, huh?  We spaced the pavers pretty far so I can plant between them.  Imagine all sorts of plants filling in the spaces between the stones. I always wanted a path like this!

And the work is more or less finished.  I spent the morning raking out the berms.  I could use a few more cubic yards of soil for the far end of the yard but this part right in front of the house is ready for planting.  Hopefully I have enough money left over for plants, mulch, and irrigation!

Visit to Montana de Oro

I went to Montana de Oro again the other day to see if any wildflowers were blooming yet and to enjoy the ocean and bay views.  I am a bit clueless when it comes to California coast wildflowers. I usually know the general genus but even after pouring over the Calflora website I am stumped on specific species.   So feel free to let me know what some of these are.

These huge silver lupine shrubs are very common here.  But which species is it?  What color will the flowers be?

Lots of Arctostaphylos covered in buzzing bees.  Not sure exactly which species.

These architectural beauties are very common but I am afraid I don’t even know the genus.  Very fine Artemisia like foliage and fuzzy little seed heads.  There are usually lots of bare braches showing like this specimen. What is it? It must be something that every native Californian learns as a child but I’m an east coast expat.

I know what this one is.  Sadly it is not native but an invasive from South Africa.  Conicosia pugioniformis or false iceplant.  Even though they are listed as an invasive they don’t seem quite as insidious as Carpobrotus but maybe I just haven’t seen them in the right place yet.  There are quite a few of these about though.  At least they are prettier than Carpobrotus.

I am pretty certain this is a Dudleya.  But which one?  D. casepitosa perhaps?

Just like the Arctostaphylos these Ceanothus are covered in happy buzzing bees.  Don’t know the exact species on this one either.

Yay! An easy one.  This is Abronia latifolia or yellow sand verbena.

There is also a purplish pink variety.  Abronia umbellata or purple sand verbena.

Horses are pretty common on the dunes and on the beach.

This yellow flowered plant was driving me crazy. I feel like I should know what it is but I can’t even figure ou the genus.  The flowers are small and kind of delicate and papery looking.

Finally an easy one.  I believe this is Mimulus aurantiacus.

I need to get a book on coastal wildflowers.

Design Update: Completed!

I went back to see my Morro Bay design the other day and the work is pretty much completed.

OK the mulch is a bit much.  The homeowner went with shredded Eucalyptus because it is much cheaper.  Once it gets a bit weather worn the color won’t be as intense.  And of course once you take the plants out of their big pots and put them in the ground they seem tiny.  But most of these are shrubs that will get between three and ten feet tall.  Morro Bay has a very long growing season so many of them will grow and fill in quickly.  I look forward to taking some pictures in six to eight months and seeing how the garden is progressing.

I would have preferred a gravel mulch for the succulent beds in front of the house but that can be quite expensive.  Once the plants will in and the mulch has faded this will look much more natural.

I think in time this border will blend in nicely with the neighbors garden.  Going back and looking at photos can highlight problem areas in your design.  I see a Kniphofia that needs to be repositioned.

Leucadendron salignum ‘Winter Red’

Leucadendron ‘Jester’.  Usually I am not a fan of this type of variegation but I think this plant mixes well with other boldly colored plants.

Calopsis paniculata  Rhodocoma capensis

My original design specced four Chondropetalum ‘El Campo’ (a beautiful dwarf Native Sons selection) and a large Chondropetalum elephantinum.  But then I saw some Thamnochortus insignus in a garden and decided I liked it better than C. elephantinum. Then five gallon C. ‘El Campo’ were not available.  Only show quality specimens in fifteen gallon containers.  That would be stunning but it would also have destroyed our plant budget.  So we went with just one ‘El Campo’ and added the above Calopsis paniculata Rodocoma capensis and two Thamnochortus insignis instead.  I think the variation will be nicer.  When you design a garden you need to be ready to make substitutions and modify your design at the last minute.

ETA: just a correction on the Restio pictured above.  It is actually Rhodocoma capensis.  We considered Calopsis paniculata but thought it would get too big for the spot so went with the Rhodocoma instead.

Furcrea foetida ‘Mediopicta’

When I design a garden on paper I always try to match colors to neighbors or even distant visible spots in the garden.  It is hard to tell from the photos since the plants are so small now but I am pretty satisfied with the way my color scheme worked out in this garden.  The variegated yellow of the Furcrea above is matched in yellow and green Leucadeondron ‘Ceres’ to its left.  The orange flowers of the pincushion on the left edge of the photo is picked up in other pincushions strategically placed around the garden and the red leaved Leucadendron barely visible in the center and winter blooming Aloes (and I am hoping some Kniphofias will overlap as well since they have a very long bloom season here on the coast).

Aloe rubroviolacea

I had originally specced Aloe wickensii for this spot but Gabe showed me these beautiful specimens of Aloe rubroviolacea from Yemen that he had in his backyard nursery and I made another design swap.  I think their shape is more similar to the A. speciosa and A. ferox from my inspiration photo and they were also just really nice big plants.

Grevillea rhyolitica (deau flame).  I still have a lot to learn when it comes to Grevilleas but right now this one is my favorite.  Gabe gave me one for my new garden!

This has been a fun process so I look forward to sharing more pictures as this garden fills in.  Hopefully over the next year everything will grow in and come together nicely and my design choices will be successful.

Building My Garden Part 1

So I finally am living in a house with a yard again and of course want to get planting right away. But it was important that I start with a strong foundation before anything goes in the ground.  Remove the old shrubs, prepare the soil properly, and do some light hardscaping first.  It may seem crazy to do all this work on a rental but I hope to be here for a while and I am able get discounted prices on most of the materials.  It is also important to me that I am able to grow the plants that I am designing with and see how they work in this climate so in the scheme of things it seems well worth it.  Plus I NEED a garden again.  I’ve been too long without one.

You may remember from last month some of the “before” shots I took of my new Los Osos home.  There is also a large side yard to the left of the shot out of frame but for now I am focusing on the front of the house which I will be able to see from the kitchen and living room windows.

It is a nice sized yard.  Seventy feet wide by forty feet deep.  I got to work immediately killing the lawn. I did use Roundup which I know won’t be popular with some people but the lawn was Pennisetum clandestinum (kikuyu grass) which is pretty nasty stuff and hard to get rid of.  Once the garden gets going I am pretty low tech when it comes to the use of chemicals so I feel like this one time use to replace a lawn with less water thirsty plants is justified.

Once the lawn was mostly dead I set about tilling it to break it up a bit. I’m not the strongest person. In fact I am as weak as a baby bird so just getting to this point and I already felt like someone had picked me up and shook me.  But I was determined to get it done.

I just finished before night fell but I was a mess afterward.  If I see that tiller again I will back away while making the sign of the cross and hissing.

I was still pretty shaken up the next day but luckily I had helpers.  My friend Gabe of Gardens by Gabriel came to offer me his expertise and I hired his employee Victor for the day as well.  The first task was to prepare the pop up lawn sprinklers for conversion to drip irrigation.  The lawn has four zones and thirty(!) sprinklers.  We chose one from each zone to act as the converter and the rest were capped.  I saved us time before hand by mapping out the entire yard and figuring out which sprinklers belonged to which zone.  I also have a fair idea of how I want to divide up the different garden areas which helped us in choosing which ones to cap and which ones to save to create the most efficient irrigation zones.

A lot of the heavy lifting was made easier with the Dingo tractor!  I cut back this Euryops growing through an Abelia but it still had a huge root mass and was very heavy.  The Dingo popped it out in a few seconds.  Gabe owns the Dingo but if you are doing a lot of heavy garden work you may want to look into renting equipment like this.  The amount of time saved may be worth the money spent.  Some old shrubs (like this one) were removed and disposed of but a few others were replanted in other parts of my yard or my landladies yard.

The Dingo has several different fittings for different jobs.  Aside from the fork used to dig out the plants it has this bucket for digging and lifting.  The path from my front door abruptly and weirdly ends about half way to the street so I am continuing the path with large (very heavy) 2 x 2 cement pavers.  If we didn’t have the Dingo we would have had to dig out the path by hand.  The clumps of dead grass and soil that were removed will be used as a base to create berms to add interest to the flower beds.

There are some drainage pipes at the edge of the driveway that lead away from the house but as you can see they are clogged and I had a bit of flooding in last weeks storms.  I wouldn’t want this to get any worse as our winter rain can be very heavy at times (not this year so far but last year was crazy).

So the drainage pipes were dug up and the mud and sediment flushed out of them.  We’ll fill in this area with gravel to provide some more drainage so the water doesn’t pool on the surface.

The pipes were old and cracked and full of debris so after they were flushed leaks were found and repaired.

Here is a clearer shot of the new path dug out with the drainage and irrigation pipes running across it.  This is the sort of job I could have never done without the expertise of Gabe and Victor.  Remember I’m just the plant guy.  I have a lot to learn when it comes to this sort of stuff.  It isn’t as much fun but it is important to get it right for a successful trouble-free garden.

A base of landscape cloth is laid out to keep the sandy soil from rising up and shifting the pavers.

All laid out and pinned down and ready for some top dressing.

The pavers will rest on a base of decomposed granite and sand.

The Dingo comes in handy again for quickly spreading the decomposed granite and Gabe rakes it out.  Aside from taking pictures I also wandered around in a daze looking pretty.

A smaller path from my front door to the back yard gets the same treatment.  That bed used to be filled with Hydrangeas and Aucuba.  Gross!  The Hydrangeas were moved to the backyard.  The Aucuba went to the compost. I do not fancy them.

A layer of DG put down. Those are the control valves for zones 3 and 4.  One will be for moisture loving shade plants.  The other for dry, sunny, natives and annuals.

OK I didn’t just wander around taking pictures and looking pretty. I moved some climbing roses from my backyards chain link fence to this white wooden fence.  I think they are going to look so pretty rambling along it.  Anyone who is gardening with rocky clay soil is going to hate me.  My soil is so sandy and easy to work with I was able to pop the roses right out and dig a huge hole for this one in less than a minute.  It will need plenty of compost to amend it but it is such a dream to work with.  My first garden I pretty much had to dig out a fifty pound boulder every time I wanted to plant a 4″ annual so this is a welcome change.

We spent ten hours working in the garden.  The irrigation and fixing the drainage was so time consuming we didn’t finish.  This is what it looked like the next day.  The paths are ready for their pavers, the irrigation is converted, the drainage will hopefully keep my driveway flood free, and a lot of old shrubs were removed.  Clumps of grass and old soil were piled up to create berms and some compost has been piled up on top of them.  This Saturday we’ll lay out the pavers and add some other finishing touches like spreading out the rest of the compost into berms and rake it out nicely in preparation for the plants.  It doesn’t look like much now so you will have to use your imagination.

And speaking of plants I thought it was important I had some on hand so I would be ready to plant as soon as we are done with the prep work.  So I took a trip down to wholesaler Native Sons in Arroyo Grande.  Even though they are not open for retail customers their website is worth checking out if you are a gardener in California.  Many nurseries from north, central, and southern California carry their plants.  If you see something you are lusting after maybe your local nursery can place an order for you.  They have a great selection of native and other mediterranean climate plants for California gardens.

I came home with three and a half flats of plants! The big Cantua buxifolia on the right is from Farm Supply Company in San Luis Obispo. Another great local resource for me to shop in.

So the rest of the work should be finished on Saturday and then I’ll get planting right away. So look for updates on the rest of the garden building next week and hopefully pictures of a beautiful blooming garden aren’t too far in the future.

Seedling Army

Back in my post on Monilaria moniliformis I mentioned that I was going to start some seeds of Monilaria pisiformis and that I thought the seedlings were going to be “super cute”.  Well what do you think?

Monilaria pisiformis 1 month old

Pretty cute right?  Pretty good germination too.  What am I going to do with all these Monilaria if they all survive?  I’ll have a tiny green army.

I’ve been very busy this month sowing seeds for the new garden.  Aside from my little succulent I also have seed going from Chiltern Seeds from England, some herbaceous plants from Silverhill Seeds from South Africa, I sowed seed from Plant World Seeds from England, a few batches of old seed I had stored in my freezer including some Clarkia seed from 2002, and Horizon Herbs from Oregon.  Right now I am also checking out Thompson & Morgan and Baker Creek Heirloom for vegetable seeds for my veggie garden.

I have a heating mat on my potting bench in the garage and once they germinate they come inside to the mud room.  Not the spiffiest of arrangements but it will do for now.  Once they get their first true leaves I’ll pot them up.  The weather has been warm enough here to bring them outside too.  At least during the day.

These Calceolaria fothergillii seedlings are so tiny I can barely see them.  Getting any seedling to blooming size is rewarding but something this tiny it will be doubly so.