I’m a little bit in love with…

Ballota pseudodictamnus. How could I not be? Look at it. Just look at it!

Ballota pseudodictamnus

This is one of the few survivors of my original mediterranean garden. It is on the edge of the garden so survived the backhoe that dug a 12 foot deep hole in my garden to install a sewer lateral. I decided to keep this plant here when I changed the garden over from mixed mediterranean to California natives (even though it is native to Greece). And I will keep it here even though I will shortly be transforming this garden yet again from California natives to South African Restios, succulents, and Proteas. More on my future garden plans soon!

But in the meantime enjoy a fuzzy closeup.

Ballota pseudodictamnus

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Improv Medit Garden

As a result of the sewer lateral I had to create a little improv garden for many of the plants in my mediterranean garden.  They were just going to die if I left them out of the ground while I waited for the work to finish. I potted up what I could but some of them were too large for one gallon pots and too small for five gallon pots. Luckily last year I created a garden bed in my back yard that failed. I had to do a lot of traveling last summer during the hottest, driest part of the year and what was mean to be a garden full of Salvia and other hummingbird attracting plants died.  The only survivors were a Kniphofia Flamenco, a Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ and a Grevillea ‘Penola’. There was a lot of empty space.  So I threw together a quick design and planted what I could. It isn’t perfect but I just had to get the plants in the ground quickly.

The picture above is what it looked like back in mid March.

And this is what it looks like now. Not bad considering the horrible dry and hot weather we have had since they were planted. I’ve actually dispensed with my usual hand watering and used a sprinkler to get this garden established.

Altogether about a quarter of the plants in my mediterranean garden got to stay where they were, a quarter were moved to this new bed, a quarter died or were, and a quarter went into pots where they await a future garden.

I used to hate the chain link fence around this part of the yard but now I am relieved it is there. My new neighbor has a dog that always escapes her confinement while he is at work and runs amuck through the garden. This is the one part of my yard that I know is safe from her.  Eccremocarpus and Cobaea are hard at work covering the fence so I can live with it.

Glaucium grandiflorum is a Mediterranean poppy and was the plant I was most worried about losing but it started blooming this week and you would never know that it had been moved.

Kniphofia Flamenco is a seed strain of South African red hot poker. It can be quite variable so it is best to only buy it when the flowers are in bloom so you are sure you like what you are getting. This soft orange and yellow is just what I wanted. Most Kniphofia grow near streams and moist areas and some are from summer rainfall areas of eastern South Africa so they do usually need some summer water to perform at their best but they do really well in California. Surprisingly this is one of the few plants that had survived in this spot from my former attempt at making a garden here.

Astericus maritimus from the Canary Islands and Mediterranean is a great plant if you want quick results.

I actually prefer these Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ in this spot than I did in their old home. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that they had to be moved.

This Lavandula pinnata var. buchii was enormous and in full bloom when it had to be moved and it wad dug up by some random construction guy who “helped” me. It had very little roots left and I thought it was toast. I got it back into the ground as quickly as I could but the entire thing just wilted and flopped over.  I pruned it back almost all the way to the ground and in less than two months it has bounced back really nicely and started blooming again.  Behind it is Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’, which was also a survivor of the originally planned hummingbird garden in this spot, is already getting ready to bloom.

Salvia ‘Aromas’ sulked for a while but has perked up now and started to bloom. I considered moving it back to the front garden but decided not to push my luck. There are only so many times you can move plants this time of year before they give up.

Phlomis purpurea is another sulker that didn’t like being moved. Interestingly I read recently that one of the adaptations of some species of Phlomis, in the hot, dry summers of the Mediterranean areas they come from, is seasonal dimorphism of their leaves. Their winter leaves are thicker and better adapted to photosynthesize and the summer leaves are thinner, smaller, and even hairier and better adapted to retain moisture. I noticed with the shock of the move and the onset of hotter drier weather that these plants lost their leaves and regrew smaller leaves and have now stopped wilting.

Curious about how the newly planted old bed is doing?

The above picture is how it looked in early March. The center strip is mostly California natives. Salvia melifera, Arctostaphylos ‘Sentinel’, three types of Eriogonum, Erigeron ‘Wayne Roderick’, and purple and white California poppies. They looked so tiny back then it was definitely a bit depressing starting from scratch just when the garden had been ready to take off.

Two months later I have to admit I am kind of shocked at how quickly they have grown. I think by next year this garden will be fully filled out and looking great. Despite the fact that they are now in pure sand and it has bee so hot and dry they are thriving on just weekly watering. In fact they are showing no signs of stress at all so I may start moving them to a twelve day watering cycle and see how they do.

Of course I wish the construction had never happened but I think the garden is coming along nicely.

I’m Back!

I had a really lovely time visiting family in NYC (and an overnight trip to Toronto) for Persian New Year.  But as any serious gardener knows leaving your garden for over a week is a bit nerve-wracking. Who knows what you are going to find when you come home? I’ve gone on trips shorter than 11 days and come home to disaster.  And while I was gone I kept checking the weather and it didn’t rain in Los Osos at all. We have had such a dry winter.

Happily everything was fine!

(do please click on the images to get a larger view!)

Two new thymes along the path got a bit wilty but nothing serious.  The rest looks great. Even the newly planted mediterranean garden looks fine (gotta love California natives). Yesterday I gave everything a good soak and there is a good chance we will get some rain tomorrow.

The view from my kitchen window is even more enjoyable now that my Geranium maderense is in full bloom!

More to come in the near future but I just wanted to check in.

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.

Well at least that is over with…sort of.

I woke to the sound of knocking at my front door at 8:00 am this morning and leapt out of bed. I knew it could only be bad news.  Sure enough when I opened the front door there were two guys digging plants out of the mediterranean garden and the foreman was there to let me know the lateral was going in earlier than expected.  I ran and got a shovel to help them remove plants. In 15 minutes all the plants in the center of the garden were out and the excavator was in place.  I tried to take out my more beloved specimens myself because of course the construction guys were not as careful about getting all the roots out as I was.  We’ll see what makes it and what doesn’t.  I’m guessing it may be something like 50/50 or worse.

This is just not the sort of thing one wants to see in their garden.

Here are my plants all piled up on top of each other.  That Lavandula pinnata var. buchii has been in full glorious bloom since last summer and all through winter but sadly one of the guys got to it before I could and not it has no roots. It may survive if I hack it way back.

It doesn’t help that today and tomorrow are going to be the hottest days in the past two months. It got up to about 73 today.  Everything was looking very droopy.

I was hoping I would have the weekend to carefully remove each plant myself.

Salvia africana-lutea stayed in place and was just out of the danger zone.  It was a risk and it did get a ton of stray sand dumped on it as the excavator bucket went back and forth but I think it will be OK.

I’m just so fried at this point.  Remember my pictures just a week or two ago on how far the garden had come in a year?  Back to square one.

In goes the lateral pipe. That white pipe across the top of the hole was the original irrigation. It is a damned good thing I never got around to installing drip in this garden.  One less hassle to worry about.

They were really careful not to hit the gas line (the gas pipe was just beyond the guy laying the lateral).  Big relief as I didn’t really need another headache to worry about.

Once the pipe was laid they filled the hole back up. Sort of. A lot of the soil is still on the street.  And of course my good compost is gone and now I have a mess of Los Osos sand. Blargh. Well at least this is a garden of drought tolerant plants that want good drainage.

And the final view. Compare that to last weeks pictures.  It looks like my garden was attacked by an army of plant hating fiends. And Gabe’s Bobcat is in the repair shop. I was hoping he would be able to come over and contour a little soil for me. I guess I’ll be doing it by hand.

This has been a terrible week but at least it is over. And while the sewer construction continues on my street for at least another two months at least they finished my side street (I hope).

One bright spot was that my free seed allotment from the Mediterranean Garden Society arrived in the mail today.  So maybe there will be a bit of new life on the way to make up for all the plants that won’t make it.

More Mediterranean

I’ve finished this round of planting in the medit garden.

Remember that ugly lawn? I’m so glad it is gone. Of course I still have to weed out sneaky clumps of Kikuyu grass but the worst of it seems to be over.

The new panorama feature on my iPhone is great for getting a full view of the garden. Try not to notice any ugly bits.

Chamelaucium uncinatum ‘Purple Pride’, from western Australia, has replaced the purple-leaved plum.

I’m hoping that Phylica plumosa, from South Africa, will make a nice mounding specimen in the center of the bed.

Dudleya pulverulenta has doubled in size since last spring.

I’m really fond of the South African heaths like this Erica Baueri. I love any Ericaceous plants that have waxy or plastic-like flowers.

I’m really proud of this Erica diaphana that I grew from seed.  It is about six inches tall now and looks like a miniature Christmas tree. The seed was like dust and I left them in a plastic bag under grow lights for ages until I felt like they were large enough to be potted up and safely brought outdoors. They were less than an inch tall when I pricked them out and I never thought they would survive the process. Even though I have grown tons of plant from seed this is the first woody shrub I have ever attempted. Next step is getting it to bloom!

Now obviously the plan for this garden is to grow plants from all the mediterranean climates of the world. Much of California, central Chile, western South Africa, southwestern and southern Australia and of course the Mediterranean region itself are all considered to be mediterranean climates with dry summers and mild rainy winters. Other dry regions of the world with drought tolerant plants are acceptable as well such as parts of the southern US and Mexico and the Canary Islands.  Whatever it takes to make beautiful garden with plants that will need very little water in the summer.

Of course sometimes I will make mistakes.

When I saw a six-pack of Craspedia globosa (actually Pcynosorus globosa) last summer I couldn’t resist.  It is normally a really ugly container plant and I couldn’t bring myself to pay even wholesale prices for a one gallon plant.  But a six-pack of tiny plants was cheap and seemed worthwhile. It is an Australian plant and I kept finding references that mention that it is drought tolerant. The common name is Billy Buttons and the flowers are little yellow spheres that make great cut flowers.  Sadly it is native to eastern Australia and my experience has been that it really wants very regular water. If I let it go dry it wilts dramatically.  It seems to be happiest in moist heavy clay which won’t do at all. I am willing to spot water thirsty plants when they are getting established but in the long run I really want plants to be able to fend for themselves for long stretches in the summer. I don’t plan on adding drip irrigation to this garden. So at some point they are all going to be removed. I may try to relocate them but I am not sure I want a plant that needs a lot of water to be happy.

I may replace them with Nepeta tuberosa. This is an unusual Nepeta with upright spires of blooms rather like a Stachys. It is from Spain and Portugal and should be much happier in dry conditions. In fact I am not sure why it didn’t get planted in the medit garden in the first place.  Luckily the three clumps I planted last year in the other border had about a dozen little seedlings all around them so I potted those up today. Once they are large enough I may use them to replace the Billy Buttons. The picture below is from June and I think this plant will add just the right amount of architectural drama that I want.

What a difference a year makes!

Do you remember last year when I asked you not to laugh at the puny plants in my brand new mediterranean garden? Check out the gardens progress in just one year!

Everything looks so tiny and sad in a newly planted garden.  There is still work to do (look at all those new black pots in the second photo) but the garden is filling in nicely.

Some added good news is after I took the second photo my new landlady gave me permission to remove the little purple-leaved plum. It was throwing off my whole design. A Chamalaucium will go in its place. She has also expressed an interest in removing that horrible chain link fence which will certainly make my garden more photogenic. I’ll be doing some work in the back area behind the fence in the coming months as well.

And some added GREAT news is that I have confirmation finally that they will not be digging up the garden to place sewer pipes! The pipes will go through the street instead!  What a relief. As I suspected one of the things that helped our case is that with the original placing not only would the construction go through both of my driveways and my garden but it would have cut right through my neighbors entire driveway.  I’m sure the construction will still be a nightmare but at least it looks like we minimized the property damage.  Once we have to connect the house to the sewers part of the yard will have to be torn up but since that is done by the homeowner you have a lot more control over the how and the when so you can prepare accordingly.

As you can see from the new black pots I have quite a bit of work ahead of me so look for more updates soon.  And do check out the “Mediterranean Garden Inventory” link up at the top of the page. You should find a link leading to a Google spreadsheet with an updated inventory of the plants in this part of the garden.