Dusk is my favorite time to walk around the garden. I love the way the colors of flowers pop  as the sun starts to set. We have been having some beautiful sunsets the past week and the garden gets bathed in a bright hazy light.

Didiscus caeruleus, Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’, and Mentzelia lindleyi at dusk.

Nicotiana mutabilis and Moluccella laevis at dusk.



Garden Critters!

One of the best things about creating a garden is all the critters you attract.

I’ve already talked quite a bit about the California quail and their babies visiting the garden.

The other day I found this cool spider hanging out among the bells of Ireland.  Does anyone know what type it is?

This morning I was watering and noticed something big scurrying away out of the corner of my eye.  It appears I had soaked a poor praying mantis.  It climbed up on some Convolvulus to dry off and catch something tasty.

For a while I was lamenting the fact that no hummingbirds were visiting my garden. I’m happy to say they finally found me.  This little guy is often perched on the Cantua buxifolia where he can quickly defend the nearby Nicotiana mutabilis from bees and rival hummingbirds.  Kind of funny that I went out of my way to plant lots of orange and red flowering plants to attract the hummingbirds and their favorite is the pink and white Nicotiana.

So what are your favorite garden critters?  Anything exciting visiting your garden this summer?





Cayucos Courtyard Update

Back in November I posted about my first installation with Gardens by Gabriel.  This beach house courtyard garden in Cayucos. The design featured mostly plants from Annie’s Annuals.

This morning Gabe and I stopped by to check things out.  It is looking pretty good.

The first bed has a purple, pink, and blue theme going on.

The second bed adds some chartreuse to the mix with Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’.

And the third bed is orange at the moment.  Very, very orange.

Eschscholzia ‘Apricot Chiffon’ is doing really well.

As I’ve mentioned before California poppies are seed grown so there is always going to be some variation.  The one below is kind of neat even if it is more yellow than orange.

We moved the Musschia wollastonii to a new location in January but it looks like it didn’t miss a beat.

I’m not even sure these pictures can convey how blue Anagallis monellii is.  It is very, very, intense, deep purply-blue.

I like this violent combination of Anagallis and Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Fire’

Nicotiana mutabilis is just getting started. I wanted something that would be tall but not overwhelming for the space.  It is sort of a see-through plant so I thought it would work well.

Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ and Geranium ‘Bill Wallis’ have been blooming since November.

I’m very impressed with how big these November planted Trachelium ‘Hamer Pandora’ are.  Mine were only planted in February and are quite boinky and little in comparison. Nice combination with Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’.

Altogether I am very happy with the way the garden turned out.

January Garden Design Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicotiana mutabilis

Nicotina mutabilis. The flowers open up white and fade to dark pink.

I haven’t made an official list of my top ten favorite plants but when I do Nicotiana mutabilis from Brazil will be on it. Nicotiana is the flowering tobacco family and mutabilis means variable or changeable because the flowers open white and fade to pink. They are massive plants and are always covered with hundreds of blooms in varying shades.
I believe that one reason that flowers change color is so that pollinators will know that a plant has already been pollinated and won’t waste their time on old flowers but I am not sure if this is always the case.

This particular plant was grown from seed sown last July and is about 7 feet tall now. It survived being accidentally flipped over and crushed when I was repotting it into a much larger container and a trip in my hatchback to my new apartment last December.

All packed up and ready to go to its new home.

The plant was only officially described in 2002 but I believe it had already found its way into the trade at specialty nurseries before that. I first learned of it at a lecture by Derry Watkins from Special Plants Nursery in 2002 and then encountered it myself in 2003 at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden and Annie’s Annuals.
I’m a fan of most Nicotianas but this one is so ridiculously oversized and covered in so many blooms that it will always be a favorite and I’ll always try to include it in my garden. Even if that garden is just a balcony.

Making the Best of a Bad Situation.

For the past eleven years or so I have spent most of the time living in apartments. When I was going to school in the Bronx I lived in an apartment in midtown Manhattan that barely has enough light for houseplants.  But at school I was surrounded by plants and on the weekends I would garden at my fathers house in New Jersey so I survived.

But California has been mostly apartment living and I have to say I am getting a little tired of it.  My dream of course is to live out in the country on several (flat!) acres with lots of sun and room to make any type of garden my heart desires.

Until that happens I have to just make the best of it. My first experience gardening in Southern California was on my balcony in Santa Monica where I lived for two years. It was only about forty five square feet but it was a southern exposure six blocks from the ocean.

The views were great.  The ocean to the west took up most of my view and was what sold me on the apartment.

My beautiful ocean view. Catalina Island was visible on clear days.

When I moved into the apartment I discovered that when you were out on the balcony you also had a view of the San Gabriel Mountains.

San Gabriel Mountains covered in snow in winter.

Now all my life my only views had been of walls and other apartment buildings so as you can imagine I was pretty excited.  But I was even more excited to start a balcony garden.  At this point I hadn’t been able to do any gardening for about two years I was starved for plants.  Any plants.  I pretty much just ran to every nearby nursery and bought every brightly colored thing I could find.  In the past I had been quite the plant snob but now I didn’t care. I just grabbed everything in sight.

I just wanted color and lots of it. So I set about creating a cottage garden on the fourth floor.

I decided my garden needed a purpose so I decided to make it a hummingbird garden. I bought lots of Salvias and Pelargoniums and anything else I could think of that would attract hummingbirds.

I am happy to say it was quite successful. I had a contant buzz of hummingbirds visiting my fourth floor garden.

The view from my living room was pretty great.

I was pretty happy the first year and had some really nice specimens.

Viola Etaine

Salvia patens

The hummingbirds loved the garden and as plants went out of bloom I would toss them to make room for new ones and I even started growing plants from seed.  The balcony was always over planted and I usually didn’t have much room to walk around out there.

Annas Hummingbird

Cuphea viscosissima grown from seed.

I rigged up some shelves to make the most of every square foot.

Now the weather in Santa Monica this close to the ocean is mostly really cool and quite nice.  winter, spring, and summer it is sunny but we often have a thick layer of fog rolling in off the ocean.  It reminded me a bit of northern California weather.  But the fall can be brutal.  Temperatures would jump to a hundred degrees and the sun felt like it was cooking you from the inside.  You feel as if one day you are in San Francisco and the next you are in Pasadena.

Salvias do OK in large pots but with that kind of weather and in that exposure I needed to water them every day.  So I started phasing them out and began collecting succulents.

I started collecting succulents at the end of the first year and slowly began replacing my water thirsty plants.

Senicio rowleyanus inflorescence.

Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca

Crassula Campfire To get it this red in winter I neglected the plant all summer long leaving it in full baking sun with little water. After the fall and winter rains it starts to green up again.

After two years of living in Santa Monica I got a bit bored and decided I wanted something new.  Yes I had an amazing view but my balcony was so small and the apartment itself was rather drab.

I found a place in West Hollywood with beautiful hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, glass tiles in the bathroom, a washer and dryer INSIDE the apartment, and best of all a balcony with a southern exposure that was more than twice as big as my old one.

I was so excited about the rest of the apartment that I didn’t really examine the balcony closely enough.  I moved in December and it rained for ten days straight.  I remember thinking “Wow all that rain and not a drop of water on the balcony. I’m not as exposed anymore.  That roof really covers the balcony well.”  A short time later it occurred to me that the only reason that this balcony had any sun at all was because it was the middle of winter.  Sure enough the closer we got to spring the higher the sun got in the sky. My sunlight began shrinking bit by bit and now I have a bright shade balcony with absolutely no full sun. The roof overhang protects me a bit too much.

Lots of room but not a lot of sun. All the succulents have been moved to the ledge and shelving in the brightest spot. If there is an earthquake they will go crashing to the driveway below.

So my poor succulents will have to hang in there.  I’m hoping that the bright light will be enough for them to get by until I move again.  The Nicotiana mutabilis that I started from seed last July is doing OK but had to be staked.  I am making the best of it though.  I started up some mixed containers of shade loving plants like Fuchsias, ferns, and Abutilons.  I ordered a bunch of large flowered begonias which will hopefully be really happy.  In the meantime I keep dreaming of that house in the country that will be mine one day.

At least the Ledebouria socialis and Haworthias should do OK.