Kitchen Window View

I always design the garden so that it will look really nice from my kitchen window so doing dishes isn’t quite so tedious. The new gardens filled in really nicely.

I especially love the juxtaposition of my abundant yard and the bleak yard across the street.

I am particularly happy with the contrast of the purple Verbena bonariensis and Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ against the bright orange Tithonia rotundifolia. As an added bonus monarch butterflies love to sip nectar from all of these plants (especially the Tithonia) and gold finches love to eat their seeds.

Zooming in the path garden is looking really full and lush now. I love the repetition of the bright yellow Gaillardia ‘Mesa Yellow’ and the native wildflower Mentzelia lindleyi.

From the street you can see how the overhead watering used to establish these new beds has caused a second explosion of wild flower blooms. The Mentzelia on the right and Layia platyglossa on the left. I did a much better job thinning them this time around but they are still threatening to engulf my new shrubs and succulents so every few days I yank out a few more so they don’t smother anything.

Mentzelia lindleyi really is a must have plant for the garden. When I move I will be taking seed with me.

And what were those plants on the kitchen windowsill?


Haworthia truncata started from seed on January 1, 2012 shortly after I first moved into this house.







There are some vorpal winds blowing on the California coast today.  Vorpal is a word that Lewis Carroll made up to describe a sword that was so sharp it could cut off a head in one fell swoop.  So, yes, it is so windy today here in Los Osos that it might blow your damned head off!

My Geranium maderense looks like it might snap in half and blow down the street like a tumbleweed. Here it is a few days ago when the weather was calmer.

I’ll be sure to take another picture if it snaps in half during the night and I am left with nothing but a stump. Hopefully that won’t happen.

Another plant I am a bit concerned about is Echium ‘Mr. Happy’.  But right now he is only about four feet tall and is standing strong against the wind.  He has been growing wider with lots of side branches. His main branch however has become fasciated.

Fasciation is one of those things that I think is cool when it happens to other people’s plants but I am not that keen on when I see it in my own garden.  It is generally caused by some sort of damage in the growing point and causes flattened abnormal growth. Maybe it will look really cool.  Time will tell.

I already shared a picture of the garden from my kitchen window but the other day I was admiring the garden from my living room and thought I would share that view as well.

Again this is from a few days ago.  My street has become a dirt road from all the sewer construction so this wind is blowing sand up like it is the Sahara or something.  This window is now covered in a film of grit.  Nice view though, right?  I think it is really important for the house and garden to relate to each other and be connected.  When I look for my own home to buy I will be looking for one where the lot is visible from as many of the windows as possible and preferably something on one level where it is easy to create an accessible indoor/outdoor feel.

I talked about Craspedia globosa right before the construction started.  I was thinking of getting rid of them because even though they are Australian they are not from the mediterranean climate region of Australia and require more water than I am giving my medit garden. The construction did most of my dirty work for me and four plants were lost during the excavation.  I decided to leave these last two little ones and it was worth it for their cute drumstick blooms.  I’m not going to give them any special treatment this summer. If they make it great. If not that is OK too. But at least I get to enjoy their blooms this spring.

This clump of Mentzelia lindleyi has been blooming for a while now and seems pretty sturdy in the wind. A few solo plants snapped this morning but this group seem OK so far. My neighbor said they look like weeds! I think people brought up with “lawn culture” are accustomed to thinking of anything with coarse foliage and bright yellow flowers as dandelions and that = bad to them.

I am pretty happy with this little vignette. Clockwise from the top: Layia platyglossa, Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’, Aloe variegata, Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’, and newly planted Dianthus ‘Fire Star’. A few of the Layia have been damaged by the winds but I have so much of it that I’m sure it will be fine.

I love Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’.  Back in New Jersey two of my favorite hardy Euphorbias were E. polychroma and E. palustris.  But here in California there are so many more to choose from.

So that is a little taste of what is going on now. I’m hoping the winds die down soon and I will have a garden left in the morning.

Spring Blooms (Lots of them!)

Tomorrow morning I am heading to NYC to spend Persian New Year with my family (Happy Nowruz everyone!). So I thought I would do a quick post on what has been blooming in my garden.  Despite the loss of most of the mediterranean garden there is still quite a bit going on. Tons of volunteer seedlings have been blooming (spring weather really started in Los Osos about a month ago), and some of the perennials I planted last year are starting to really hit their stride.

This will be a picture heavy thread so feel free to scroll through and stop if you see anything that interests you.

Zaluzianskya capensis has been blooming all winter.  All my little seed grown plants have become little shrublets (I mistakingly thought they were true annuals).  They open in the afternoon and you may remember last year I made fun of the fragrance as being too strong. Well I’ve grown to love them. You can just be walking by and suddenly get hit by the sweet scent.  They have been reseeding quite a bit as well.

The California native, Mentzelia lindleyi, mostly reseeded right along the road so most of them got tromped on by the construction guys.  Luckily this big clump was in a safer spot a few feet into the bed. I’ve put up some temporary fencing with bamboo poles and twine to remind construction guys to stay on the street and not take short cuts through my garden.

A few Nemophila menziesii seedlings came up and are blooming now.  I think I pulled them too early last year so they didn’t reseed as well as some other plants.

The adorable little South African strawflower, Helipterum roseum ‘Pierrot’, reseeded like crazy.  Mostly right around where they had been planted last year.

In the evening the flowers close up and look like cute little paper bowls.

Linaria reticulata ‘Flamenco’ is not for the faint of heart. I planted 24 little plants last year and this year I have about 24,000 growing in a huge 10′ x 10′ patch.  I can not even beging to explain how happy they make me. Especially all covered in condensation and brightening up a foggy day.

This is the view from my kitchen window when I wash my dishes. Almost makes me not mind the fact that I don’t have a dish washer. Almost.

Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Fire’ is another South African annual that reseeded like crazy. From a distance they look a bit like California poppies but up close they are quite distinct. This clump just escaped destruction.  See the patch of bare dirt right behind them? That was solid plants before one of the water tankers backed out of my driveway and right through the garden. After that I started parking my car in the driveway so the construction guys couldn’t park in it any longer.

Not bad for a one year old garden, right?

I’m not sure the beauty of the Layia platyglossa (tidy tips) foliage in the foreground is apparent in my photos. The leaf edges have this quality that sort of reflects light and looks all silvery. They must be covered in little hairs or something but I haven’t had a chance to really examine them up close.  This huge clump is all volunteers. I collected a huge envelope of seed but ended up not needing to use any of it so I sent it out to friends and the Mediterranean Garden Societies seed share.  If I have time to collect some more this year maybe I’ll mail some out to blog readers if anyone is interested.

The flowers are just starting to open. They should go into full bloom while I am out of town. Hopefully we get a bit of rain and they are still nice when I get back. They should be fairly drought tolerant but I didn’t think them as much as I should have so they do get a bit droopy when it gets warm.

I love the way the sticky little hairs on Geranium madersense flowering stems look when they are back lit.

The flowers aren’t too shabby either.  These should reseed like mad and make a nice big colony in front of the house.

Euphorbia lambii is another big shrubby plant that reseeds like mad.  This is the first bud on mine. It should be looking really nice when I get back into town. These can get 8-10 feet tall if they are happy though they don’t seem to grow particularly fast on the coast.

Lobelia tupa is another slow grower. This is one of those great big perennials that probably takes about 3 or 4 years to reach its maximum potential.  This one fat stem should bloom nicely at some point this year but in a few years it will be 4 feet wide and 8 feet tall and covered in blooming spikes.

Abutilon X suntense should have lovely purple blooms when I get back home. I’ve seen it in a lot of English gardens but I don’t know how happy it will be here long term. I’ve heard it is not at its best in California.  If it doesn’t succeed I will probably grow Abutilon vitifolium which is one of its parets that I know will do well.

Echium pininana (not Echium pinnata, a common mistake) is starting to expand quite a bit lately. It should grow about 15 feet tall this spring. I grew about a dozen from seed last year and only kept this one.  The others went into some of our clients gardens as a fun Dr. Seussian treat for them. Native Coreopsis gigantea is looking rather nice in full bloom now. Hard to believe that was just a tiny little 4″ pot last March.

Phlomis purpurea had to be moved to the backyard garden during the construction and has not been happy.  Apparently Phlomis have different shaped leaves in winter and then drop them in favor of more drought resistant ones during the dry summer. I’ll have to see if I notice a change in their leaves this summer.  They have really been sulking and needed quite a  few deep waterings in their new home.

Some of the former inhabitants of the mediterranean garden have found a new home in my back yard garden. I had started this bed last summer but then had to go out of town suddenly for about a month and lost most of the plants new plantings here.  This worked out in my favor because these plants needed a home quickly. The chain link fence is not cute, and my landlady was thinking of removing it, but I want to keep it now so I have a more sheltered area of the yard. A lot of my neighbors have big dogs and this is where my plant nursery is. Once the bigger plants and climbers fill in it won’t be as bad.

And speaking of the mediterranean garden this is how it looks now that it has been replanted.  I bet there isn’t a single garden designer out there that isn’t secretly delighted when misfortune gives them the opportunity to try something new. Since all my nice compost is now buried about 12 feet under ground with the new sewer lateral I was left with Los Osos sand. While I would rather work with sand than tough clay it does have some logistical issues.  It either drains too quickly or sheds water as if it was completely water-proof and it is probably pretty low in nutrients. While there are many medit plants that would be perfectly happy in poor, sandy, soil I thought it would be safest to use plants that I know for a fact are happy in Los Osos sand so I went very heavily with California natives.

Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery is about an hour east of me in Santa Margarita and their website is an absolute treasure for California gardeners. It was a huge help in deciding what I would plant in this newly imagined garden. They have detailed descriptions and pictures of many plants and even some videos talking about their experiences growing specific plants and what conditions they love or hate. I still haven’t visited their nursery in person but I will have to take a trip out there when I return in April to see their display gardens. A few great native cultivars like Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’ and Penstemon ‘Margarita BOP’ are their introductions.

The garden isn’t looking quite as nice as it was a before the sewer work but I think it will fill in quite nicely.  The outer edges remain the original medit garden and the center strip is mostly natives now. There is a manzanita, three types of California buckwheat, native Salvias, Verbena lilacina and of course lots of California poppies. I went with white and lavender ones for this part of the garden.

The Dudleya pulverulenta are starting to bloom and perk up a bit after being stomped on quite a bit.

Salvia africana-lutea, Lavandula pinnata var. buchii, and Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons’ are all looking really nice despite the fact they had quite a bit of sand dumped on them.

The path garden got a bit of a refresh since I talked about it last week.  The succulents and other plants that weren’t working have been moved elsewhere, a few new plants have been tucked into empty spots, and the left side of the path has been replanted with plants similar to the right side.

And just when I thought I was safe I woke up to this monstrosity this morning. No worries. They didn’t harm the garden. They were just putting in the correct manhole cover at the end of the street. But I am glad I will be out of town and away from the construction noise for a bit.

I hope you all will forgive me for posting so many pictures but that I wanted to tide you all over until I return in April. I hope everyone has exciting things going on in their gardens this spring.

Annual Garden Transitions

The spring annual garden is more or less over.  The California natives actually performed really well despite all my fretting that they didn’t get enough winter rain this year.

The Layia platyglossa was the last remaining California native annual last weekend.  I collected a huge envelope of seed (Not so easy to do on a windy day! As you can see in the photo above the achenes of Layia are very much like dandelion fluff).  I collected some seed from Lupinus succulentus as well.  I may do some sort of seed exchange later in the year.  Check back this fall or winter and maybe if I have collected enough seed from interesting plants I’ll set something up or have a contest or something.

I could have left a few of the Layia but decided to make a botanical garden inspired clean sweep of things.  Of the early spring bloomers only a few Ursinia and perennials remain in the front beds.  The rest was removed, weeded, and cleaned up.

Helipterum roseum ‘Pierrot’ planted in the back of the annual bed is still looking pretty good. I’ll probably grow this from seed again next year.

Clarkia amoena ‘Aurora’ is a late spring bloomer.   It is in full bloom now.

The problem with using true annuals or doing any kind of seasonal bedding is you are always going to have some down time.

Luckily there are enough perennials and a few remaining annuals so it doesn’t look too bad.  The front of the mixed border is now planted with a mix of Convolvulus, different types of annual Rudbeckia, and Ageratum.  If all goes well in a month or two all that bare soil will be filled in and we’ll be back in full bloom.

The main annual bed has newly planted Convolvulus, a few Rudbeckia, California native Mentzelia lindleyi, Ageratum, Consolida regalis, and a few Calibrachoa that aren’t really doing that well. I’m not sure if they prefer warmer weather or what the story is with them but they look sad.  There are also some Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’ and Didiscus caeruleus (aka Trachymene caeruela) that I started from seed in January and planted out in April. They both just take a really long time to bloom.

The first Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’ flower is finally starting to open. These should have really amazing ornamental seed heads.  Easy to grow from seed but a bit slow.

Convolvulus tricolor ‘Royal Ensign’ were just recently planted but some are already blooming.  I’m curious to see how these do.  I’ve used them in containers before and they are wonderful spilling out and hanging over the sides.  Now I have them planted in the ground in the fronts of the beds to sprawl about.  Hopefully I’ll like the look.

This is probably more work than a lot of people want to deal with in their gardens.  This may actually be more work than I want to deal with in the long run.  Next year I may end up sticking some low maintenance shrubs in these beds.  But for now the novelty and excitement of having a garden after 10 years of apartment living is motivating me to try as many things as I can. So a few weeks of ugly should have a nice pay off in July or August. Look for updates then!

Cool (Native) Plant(s) of the Week!

For this weeks Cool Plant of the Week post I bring you my two favorite California native annuals this year.  One of the reasons I wanted to plant a lot of true annuals in my garden was for instant gratification.  New perennials can take a year or more to really fill in and bloom spectacularly so having plants that grow to full size and bloom in just a few short months can help fill in the gaps.  Despite the weather not being particularly good early on the annual garden worked out beautifully.  I loved all my California native annuals but two in particular stood out.

This first star is Lupinus succulentus.  It’s flowers are not as big and dramatic as typical lupine hybrids but it was a wonderful plant all the same.  Its little two toned purple spikes of bloom just keep going and going.

I liked this plant so much I wish I had bought more.  Just one was a nice show but next year I think I’ll try three in the same spot.  I’m leaving the seed pods on in the hope that it will self sow. Hopefully closer to the path so I can reach it easily to squeeze its juicy succulent foliage.

The second cool plant of the week is Layia platyglossa (aka tidy tips).

They are found in almost every county in California.  The first time I saw them was in huge fields north of Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.

They were by far the largest and showiest of the native annuals I tried this year. They started blooming a bit later so while the others are winding down (I have already started pulling out the baby blue eyes and cream cups) these are still going strong.

Annual Garden

I’ve renamed my three garden beds in front of the house that I talked about in this recent post.  Basically the names were dumb.  The red, orange, purple garden will now be known as the hummingbird garden and I will try to mostly fill it with plants that attract hummingbirds.  The big border was making my friend Maggie giggle.  She said that every time I said it she kept hearing “big boner”.  So for now I’ll just call that the mixed border. And the chaos border will be chaotic no longer!  From now on the focus of that garden will be true annuals.

The garden is approximately a sixteen by sixteen foot square and it will have a few perennial plants just to give it a little structure during down times when no annuals are in bloom.

True annuals are a bit misunderstood in gardening because many gardeners live in places with freezing winters where some tender perennials can’t survive year round.  These are also common starter plants for new gardeners.  Plants like Impatiens, Pelargoniums, Begonias, Antirrhinums (snap dragons), and Petunias are all actually perennial plants from tropical or warm mediterranean climates.  They generally can’t survive long periods of freezing conditions (though many of them can withstand light frosts and I commonly had snap dragons over winter in my old zone 6 garden).

A true annual is one that has a short life cycle.  They grow, flower, form fruit and set seed, and then die. They are very common in mediterranean climates because of the prolonged drought period of summer.  Plants set seed and die before the heat of summer and those seed wait to germinate and grow when the rains begin again in fall.

Nemophila menziesii (baby blue eyes) germinates and grows with the first rains of autumn or winter and then blooms and sets seed in the spring.

So when you are talking about plants like common bedding Impatiens it is more accurate to say “tender perennials” or perennial that is “treated as an annual”.  The term to describe plants that die after flowering and setting fruit is monocarpic though this also describes biennial plants or plants that may live many years before flowering.  True annuals live for as little as a few days, for some desert ephemerals, to a few months.  You may be able to prolong the life and bloom period a bit by dead-heading and not allowing them to set seed but this isn’t always easy when a plant has hundreds of blooms at a time.

Other examples of true annuals that gardeners commonly grow are sunflowers (Helianthus), sweet peas (Lathyrus), Zinnias, and marigolds (Tagetes) though there are perennial species available of all four of those genera as well.

Platystemon californicus – cream cups

Right now most of my annuals in bloom are California natives but I have seedlings of plants from other locales newly planted in the beds to take over when these are finished. Before our last rain storm I planted out some of the plants I had started from seed this winter.  Helipterum roseum ‘Pierrot’ is a South African annual, Didiscus caeruleus (syn Trachymene caerulea) is an Australian annual, and Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’ is a Mediterranean annual.

The front half of the mixed border has some annuals too.  The yellow and white daisies in the photo above are Layia platyglossa (tidy tips) which are native to much of California and the orange Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Fire’ which is native to South Africa.

To be honest I am not really sure what I am going to do with this bed.  You can see there are a few blank spots.  For some reason there was this little area of death where I lost several plants (all different species and all from different nurseries). I’m not sure what is going on there because it is high spot in the berm with fresh compost and it should be pretty well drained.  Maybe I let that area dry out too much during one of the long periods of drought.

There are other parts of the border that are working fairly well design wise but right now I am at a bit of a loss as to which direction I want to go with the front of this border when the annuals are done.  The shady bit near the house needs some help too. Hopefully some amazing plants will start coming up on wholesalers lists and I’ll be inspired.   The reason I like to name my garden beds is I feel like it helps when you have some sort of theme.  Otherwise there are so many plant options it can be a bit overwhelming.  So right now “mixed border” is a bit vague and in need of some fine tuning.