Happy Nowruz!

The Persian New Year is here and so is spring!  I’m a bad Persian.  I don’t even have a Haft-Seen table set up.  Earlier tonight on the east coast my family gathered at my aunt’s house for dinner (not me. I was tricked into visiting last year at this time with the promise of good weather and got caught in two blizzards) and this weekend my father will have a huge party and invite all his friends.  Woe unto he who doesn’t show up to pay homage, as I believe my father is now considered the elder of his group of friends, and Persians have a long memory for those who don’t pay their respects.

I celebrated by driving down to Native Sons and picking up some plants.  I needed a few little odds and ends to tuck into empty spots and I also wanted to get a few more plants that I am unfamiliar with but see on wholesaler lists all the time. I would like to use them in designs but feel like I need to get to know them a little better first.  This includes four types of Ozothamnus; Ozothamnus ledifolius, O. coralloides, O. ‘Sussex Silver’, and O. ‘County Park Silver’.  Is anyone growing any of these or any other types of Ozothamnus?  Feel free to tell me your experiences and share pictures if you are.  Information online is woefully low for this plant family and pictures are often close up thumbnails that don’t give me a very good idea of what they will look like when full grown.

On my visit to San Marcos Growers last month I did see this one:

Ozothamnus diosmifolius ‘Pink’

It is sort of like a really big beefy umbelifer but it is actually in the family Asteraceae. I am KICKING MYSELF for not buying it because it was quite nice.   If all the different species and cultivars had a similar look that would be swell but from what I can tell that is not the case.  They all seem quite different and pretty much at this point all I know about them is they hail from Australia and New Zealand.

I also picked up this adorable little gem with the palest lemon flowers.

Erodium chrysanthum

While researching this little Erodium I stumbled on this interesting write up.  In Search of the Golden Fleece.

Enjoy and have a happy Nowruz and a great spring!

Too Much? Building My Garden Part 4 – Path Garden

I went to Native Sons yesterday to pick up two flats of plants for my path garden.  I came home with four flats plus the one I already had from Farm Supply Company.

It may seem like overkill but I felt like it was worth it for A. immediate results and B. wanting to test as many different types of plants as possible and C. I always wanted a path garden like this and I want this garden to be totally insane!

There is a mix of different types of plants.  Some are bushy to plant along the path and to gracefully fall into it, some are low and flat and can be walked on, some are succulent, some are herbaceous, some will have beautiful blooms, and some have nice foliage.

Here are a few of them up close.

Thymus juniperifolius

Sedum dasyphyllum var. major

Echeveria ‘Violet Queen’

Saxifraga ‘Pixie’

Armeria maritima

Thymus X citriodorus ‘Lime’ (OMG I love this plant!)

And here is the path as a blank slate ready for planting.

The dimensions of the pathway are twenty seven feet long by five feet to six feet wide.

And now the planted path.

I’m pretty thrilled with how it came out.  Of course I could have done it with half the plants but I’m really eager to see how these grow.  Some may try to take over, some may fizzle out and do nothing or get overtaken by their neighbors, some may not be as attractive as I hoped and some may be even more amazing.

And another view this time from the house toward the street.

And finally a ground level view.  What do you think?  I love it so far.  I can’t wait for everything to fill in.  Over time I will do some editing and replace the plants I’m not crazy about with the ones I love.  Or perhaps I will want to trial some new ones.

I’m already thinking that at my next house I want a pathway like this that is at least twice as long!

Road Trip to Santa Barbara!

This morning I took a road trip to Santa Barbara to shop at the wholesale nursery San Marcos Growers.  But first a few weird and wonderful plants!

I’ve set aside a few of the oddities I bought at Annie’s last week.  They were sort of impulse purchases because they are so neat. I don’t have anywhere to put them at the moment.

On the left is Deppea splendens a rare plant from the cloud forests of southern Mexico that is extinct in the wild and isn’t terribly common in cultivation. I’ve seen online auctions for it go for several hundred dollars but luckily mine wasn’t quite that expensive.  Annie has a cool blog post about it here: Return of the Golden Fuchsia.  Frost might kill it and it has been going into the 30’s here at night this week so I bring it in every night.  I may pot it up and baby it a while before I plant it out in the garden.

To the right of that is Agapetes serpens an epiphyte from Nepal.  A few things about this plant I like.  One I just like saying Agapetes.  Uh-GA-pet-eeze or Ag-uh-PET-eez however you want to say it it’s fun!  Second it is from the family Ericacea which includes Ericas, blueberries, and Rhododendrons among other cool plants.  And third it reminds me of the Upland Tropical Rainforest house in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden.  There are all sorts of lovely and weird Ericaceous plants there.  Many of them have flowers and fruit that look like colorful pieces of plastic or candy.  I may put this plant in some sort of hanging basket and hang it near my front door.  I think it should be fairly happy in foggy Los Osos.  At least I hope so.  Please feel free to give me any tips if you have grown it.

The spiky little plant in front is Maihuenia poeppigii, a cactus from southern Chile.   All you have to do is look the plant up on Annie’s website and you will see why I needed it.  Cool stuff.

The weird plants in the background are Boweia volubilis on the left and Dioscorea elephantipes on the right.  The Boweia I bought at Logee’s in Connecticut on a road trip with my sister back on July 24, 2000.  My sister bought one too and much to my shame even though I am the plant person and she is the animals person (she’ll graduate from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania next year – so proud) hers had always done better.  But after nearly killing mine about three years ago it is finally bouncing back and looking really good.  The Dioscorea I have had for around three years.  I’m surprised at how quickly it grows and I am always surprised that it is still alive when it comes out of its summer dormancy.

Before I left on my road trip this morning my order from Annie’s Arrived!  I know! I know! I was just there last week.  Well of course right when I got back I got that evil and enticing spring slide show e-mail and saw a few things I NEEDED.  Particularly Lupinus regalis ‘Thomas Church’ which is mail order only.  So dreamy. I couldn’t stop myself.  Ordered it and then added a few other plants to fill the box. Look at what a great job they do packing the plants. No chance of anything being smushed, huh?  This Lupin and another one I bought from Annie’s already has a bud. What do you think should I pinch it out so the plant puts more energy into growing or should I just let it flower.  I am so bad at that. I don’t want to wait!

I wish I had some photos of the journey to Santa Barbara.  It was such a beautiful day and the hills were covered in bright yellow wild mustard and tiny blue and white lupins were blooming along the highway.  But I got a bit of a late start and didn’t have time to stop.  San Marcos Growers is a big place and I just had a few hours to fill my car!

I fell in love with Thamnochortus insignis the first time I saw this beautiful container specimen last fall.

Restios are not the easiest plants to photograph.

I believe this is a 15 gallon container of Grevillea ‘Long John’. I bought a 5 gallon plant.  Such a wonderful plant. As I’ve mentioned before I am currently having a bit of a love affair with Grevilleas.

Grevillea ‘Long John’ has large flowers by Grevillea standards. You can’t really tell from the angle I took this photo but they are sort of two tone.  Sort of pink and golden orange.

This Thunbergia alata is eating a small building.  Don’t stand still next to it for too long or you may be next.

They have this huge display border along a stream or drainage ditch that divides the nursery in half. I loved this little grouping.  That is Arctotis acaulis ‘Big Magenta’ in the front, I believe the center plant is Grevillea lavandulacea ‘Penola’, which is surrounded by silvery Maireana sedifolia.

The other day I mentioned how impressed I was with the specimens of Euphorbia lambii at Vince and Janet’s house but boy this one really takes the cake!  At least ten feet tall and wide.  I must admit I left the nursery with a five gallon pot of it.

You can just make out the little white sliver of the moon in the sky.

The beautiful Santa Ynez (and maybe San Rafael I’m not sure) Mountains are the backdrop for the nursery and this big grouping of Phlomis lanata.

Grevillea lavandulacea ‘Penola’

As soon as I took the picture this plant lept into my cart.  Sneaky plants.  You can’t turn your back on them.

The unusual rust colored blooms of Aloe castanea. This I didn’t buy. But only because I already have some seeds at home.  I feel like growing Aloes from seed might be fun because I’m guessing the seedlings will be adorable.  I really need to sow them this weekend.

And to end our tour I give you this insanely impressive specimen of variegated Echium candicans (possibly the cultivar ‘Star of Madeira’).  Apparently no one told it that it is only supposed to be three to six feet tall because this beast screening a work area is easily twelve feet. I’ve seen very big stands of Echiums before but I don’t think I have ever seen one quite this big before and certainly not a variegated one!

At the end of the day I bought forty six more plants.  Not as many as the two hundred that followed me home from Annie’s but these are all in one, two, three and five gallon pots so I have my work cut out for me.  I ended up falling in love with so many shrubs and large plants that I decided on the spot to create a shrub border in the six foot by twenty three foot bed that I wasn’t sure what to do with. It should cover up an ugly chain link fence and also give me a bit of privacy in my side yard once they fill in.

So now my garden will be full of plants from Native Sons, Annie’s Annuals, and San Marcos Growers plus a few mail order sources that should be arriving soon and of course some seed grown plants. I just wish someone else was going to plant them all for me!

Building My Garden – Flower Garden Teaser

Just a little teaser update as I have been too busy planting to do much posting this week.  The plants actually look more impressive while still in their pots.  I got the plants laid out early Tuesday morning but planting them is another story.  If I could just pop them in the ground it wouldn’t take that long.  After all most of the soil is nice fresh compost that is easy to dig in and most of the pots are  4″.  Making the protective gopher cages for the roots probably quadruples the amount of time it takes to plant a garden.  In the interest of my sanity most of the California native annuals did not get protective cages.  Hopefully I won’t regret this later.  But I had about 4 flats of baby blue eyes, tidy tips, cream cups, and meadow foam.  Cages for all of them would have just taken way too long and added expense for what are temporary plants.  Annuals on the other side of the driveway along the fence where I know gophers are very active will be protected however.

About three quarters of these plants (from Annie’s Annuals and Native Sons) are now planted but I am still doing some finishing touches and moving around a few things.  I may wait on posting a big update until after the mulch has gone down and it looks a bit nicer.  The weather has been so beautiful this week that I sometimes forget that it is still February and that most of these plants have months to grow before blooming time.  Some things about California I’m not sure if I will ever get used to.

Building My Garden Part 3 – Mediterranean Bed

I got tired of being sick and lounging about so yesterday I jumped into action and started planting one of my new gardens beds.  It is a large island bed that is home to a purple leaf plum.  I was going to get rid of the plum but it was one of the few plants that my landlady has an emotional attachment to. I considered moving it but she was too worried it wouldn’t survive so I had to modify my plans.  Not a huge set back in the scheme of things.  I’ve wanted a mediterranean garden (lowercase m for describing the garden style. upperclass M for describing the region of the world) for a while now.  It didn’t really matter where on the property it was.

OK I know it doesn’t look like much.  You have to remember that even though I live in California it is still February!

Just try and imagine what the plants will look like three months from now at the start of spring after months of cool weather and winter rains.

Come on!  I know you can do it!  Stop laughing.  Picture the plants all big and in bloom and imagine that I have put down some nice mulch.

Gardens always look a bit sad in photos when they are first installed and for a few moments I always despair a bit.  But I have a mind that imagines gardens and I just walk around the bed picturing what each plant will look like once it is full sized and bursting with flowers.

This isn’t just a garden for fun. Mediterranean style gardens are perfect for California so are a big share of the type of gardens I design.  It was important to me to be able to grow and experiment with some of the plants that I use in designs.  You can be an OK designer reading about a plants growing habits and dimensions and looking at pictures but I to be really good I think you need to grow the plants you work with.  Most of the plants in this bed are from Native Sons, a wholesaler that specializes in plants for our mediterranean climate here in California.  By growing their plants at home I can get a better idea of how these plants will look in future designs and play around with some nice combinations.

Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’ is a plant I have coveted since it first came on the scene about ten years ago.

Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’ has beautiful variegated foliage that will really set off the metallic blue flowers once they color up.

Dorycnium hirsutum is a small fuzzy leaved shrub with pale pinkish white pea flowers.  At the bottom of the plant you can see a bit of the chicken wire sticking out that I used to cage the root balls of my plants.  It was kind of a pain but worth the extra planting time protecting my plants from gophers rather than crying months from now when an established plant is devoured from under ground.  The only plants I won’t cage and am confident won’t be eaten are Euphorbias.  I also didn’t cage a rosemary, Salvia, and Nepeta as an experiment to see if the things that make them unpalatable to rabbits and deer will work against gophers.

Plecostachys serpyfolia forms beautiful silver mounds about a foot tall and four feet across.

Have you ever seen a plant in a book or magazine and coveted it for years before you could grow it? Maybe it isn’t something that will grow where you live.  Maybe it is something that is so rare in the trade it took you forever to track one down. I still remember the first time I saw Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’. It was back when I was in school almost ten years ago and I was on a bus from NYC headed to my dads house for the weekend. I was reading an article about a Colorado rock garden in a magazine that had just arrived and this plant caught my eye.  I memorized the name and lamented the fact that I lived on the east coast where Helianthemums don’t do particularly well.  Well when going over the list of plants available at Native Sons last week this name jumped out at me and I knew I had to have it for my garden!  Just imagine in a few months it will be covered in tons of little reddish-orange flowers.

I am really looking forward to seeing how this garden turns out.  Aside from the plants pictured above the garden will feature Rosmarinus ‘Tuscan Blue’, Salvia ‘Aromas’, Nepeta X faassenii, Eschscholzia ‘Moonglow’ and ‘Buttermilk’, Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, Epilobium ‘Marin Pink’, Stipa gigantea ‘Pixie’, and Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’.  There are still a few spots left for Lavenders (I’m still trying to decide which species and cultivars I want to grow) and some other choice plants.

Remember I complained about birds attacking my mesembs and seedlings the other day?  This is what a Conophytum that has been attacked by a birds beak looks like.

And a Lithops.  I might have thought they had burst from too much water if it wasn’t for the fact that other small plants were completely torn out of their pots and my nearby seedlings were also nibbled on and torn up.

Now my precious little year old Mitrophyllum dissitum seedlings are protected with bird netting.  I’m so relieved the bird didn’t find these plants.

In fact all my seedlings are protected with bird netting now.  Hopefully by next year I’ll have a greenhouse.

Cool Plant of the Week!

Globularia cordifolia

I’m very proud of myself.  This weeks cool plant of the week was available at at Native Sons but I didn’t buy it because I don’t really have a place to grow it properly right now.  Normally when I see cool plants I buy them without thinking and then they end up dying in my plant ghetto while I try to think of somewhere to plant them.  I’m trying to be a grown up.

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.