Design Update

Back in November I stopped by to take some pictures of my favorite garden that I designed in Morro Bay. It was installed in January of 2012 by Gardens by Gabriel so is almost 2 years old. I’m really impressed by how big everything has grown in such a short time.

If you have been following my blog since then you may remember how it looked when it was first installed. This is a screen grab from Google Earth back when the garden was just a month old. You can see the homes proximity to the bay and the ocean (both visible to the left) and Morro Rock is peaking out behind the chimney. The plants were so tiny. The mulch was so bright. I always worry that clients won’t have the imagination to picture what my intentions for the design were.

It just takes a bit of patience.

Some of the shrubs still have some more growing to do and we did have a few problems with some of the plants but overall my vision for the garden is being realized and each time I visit it looks better and better.

I am actually less happy with the area to the left of the bocce court (in the foreground). Perhaps we will go back and make some changes there in the future.

But the upper garden looks great. This Agave gypsophila is gorgeous as are the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ and Agave celsii ‘Nova’ in the background.  Agave gypsophila is one of the more tender Agave species. It is not especially happy when temperatures dip below 32 degrees. I have one in a container that had finally started to look better after a cold snap last year disfigured it. Now with this recent dip below freezing it is looking a bit rough again. Luckily Morro Bay is usually a few degrees warmer than Los Osos so this garden should be fine.

Agave celsii ‘Nova’ was a later addition. I believe that a design is never finished. In this case once other plants started to grow in I felt like this spot needed something extra. I wanted to use Agave ovatifolia but that wasn’t available. Garden design also requires quick thinking and coming up with appropriate substitutions when needed.

Agave macroacantha ‘Pablo’s Choice’ is pretty sexy with its black (painful) spines and beautiful leaf markings. This usually forms a little colony but so far the gardens owner has been rooting out the pups and keeping the plant solitary.

The stems on Euphorbia caput-medusae will eventually elongate and sort of flop around on the soil like snakes. Right now it looks like Medusa has had a crew cut.

Right now Kalanchoe beharensis reminds me a bit of a piece of modern art. Felt blocks that have been haphazardly stacked in a pile.

Do you see the sneaky little Oxalis growing underneath Agave geminiflora? One issue with growing succulents is that removing weeds can be a painful and difficult experience. Sometimes best to just let the plant smother them out.

I think I have mentioned before that this was sold to us as Echeveria X imbricata but I am a little unsure if that is correct. It is bigger and the leaves are thicker than the E. X imbricata I am used to and the leaves really color up more than I have ever seen before. Perhaps it is just environmental but it is pretty common for plants to be mislabeled.

I love how Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’ matches the yellow plastic guards the phone company put on the metal telephone poll support lines. They added those after the fact. Not the greatest thing to have in your garden but at least the color sort of blends in.

One mistake I will admit to is I used two pairs of plant cultivars that are so similar I have a hard time telling the difference. This is possibly Leucadendron salignum ‘Blush’.

And this is Leucadendron salignum ‘Winter Red’. Or maybe I have that backward? Looking them up with Google Images or on Flickr doesn’t help as they are just as mixed up there and Leucadendrons are so changeable from month to month.

This is Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’. I think.

And this is Grevillea lanigera ‘Mt. Tamborintha’. Or maybe strike that and reverse it.

Now when I design a garden I try not to include species or cultivars that are very similar. If only it was so easy as looking at the design plans and seeing which plant was supposed to go where. Unfortunately plants from wholesalers almost never have labels. So it is entirely possible that we even mixed up where each group were supposed to be planted. This can really be a problem if one plant is very different in size or form when it matures but luckily in this case all of these plants are quite similar in their adult size and structure.

Actually hold on a second. I think the Leucadendron salignum ‘Blush’ I posted earlier is actually ‘Winter Red’ and the above picture is the true ‘Blush’.  Aaargh! See how confusing this is?

Fortunately Leucadendron ‘Jester’ is very distinct. No mistaking its tri-color variegation for any other Leucadendron in this garden.

We had some problems with some of the Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’ we planted in this garden but the one above has performed perfectly.  Unfortunately even with our ideal growing conditions most Proteaceae can be persnickety.

This Grevillea rhyolitica has performed really well here but the one in my garden planted at the same time is long dead.

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ has grown massive in just two years. Already at least 6 feet across.

And Arbutus ‘Marina’ is another fast grower. Already towering above me. This is quite a messy plant so be careful not to plant it near walkways or over cars. Fortunately the two in this garden are off to the side where they shouldn’t cause any problems.

Mexican and South American Macros

Not all of the plants in my garden are from mediterranean climates. There are a lot of cool Salvias and Cupheas from Mexico and South America that grow really well on the California Coast.

Salvia semiatrata is from the mountains of southern Mexico in Oaxaca. The overall plant seems rather brittle and delicate to me. I don’t think I would plant it in a very windy place. The dark violet corollas are pretty small but the calyces and stems are bright magenta and really stand out. It looks pretty nice in front of Anemanthele lessoniana. Both are in my plant ghetto but I’ll have to keep in mine how nice they look together when I finally plant them (in my next garden).

Salva mexicana ‘Limelight’, from central Mexico, has been blooming since spring. It was starting to die back and look a bit sad so I cut much of it back but some of its lower branches started blooming again so I left that part alone for now. It is a favorite of my resident Anna’s hummingbird and he often perches on the highest branches and chirps at me while I am working in garden. I posted a picture of this plant on a Facebook group and someone suggested that a pineapple sage with red flowers and yellow foliage was a nicer plant. That person was crazy.

There is something almost sinister and furtive about Peruvian Salvia discolor. The corolla is such a dark shade of purple it reads as black and the light green calyx is covered in little white hairs. The perfect plant for a black and white garden.

The stems of Salvia discolor are so sticky that they become an insect graveyard. Little gnats and flies land on them and can’t escape. Defense mechanism for the plant or do they derive some sort of nutrients from all the little insect corpses? I read a study recently that suggests that the carrion attracts predatory insects that may help control other insect pests on the plants. Cool!

Salvia coahuilensis is from Coahuila in northern Mexico. Its flowers are similar in shape to those of S. greggii and S. microphylla but they are intense blue-violet in color. My photo doesn’t do it justice at all. You really have to see it in person to appreciate it.

The individual flowers of Brazilian Salvia confertiflora are tiny and bright red-orange but entire foot long inflorescence is a deep velvety red. The plants grow quickly and can grow over five feet tall and wide. It looks wonderful paired with deep blue Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ but mine is next to pink and white Nicotiana mutabilis. Perhaps not the best color combination but the hummingbirds are very happy with the arrangement.

The above picture is from my last post on wildlife in the garden so you can see this combo in all its glory. Sometimes things don’t quite work out how you plan but you learn to live with them.

Moving on from Salvias we have some Cupheas which are in the loosestrife family. The above plant is Cuphea ‘Strybing Sunset’. I’m not sure of the exact parentage of this Cuphea. I assume it is a hybrid and possibly has C. ignea as a parent which is from Mexico. The flowers are teeny tiny but the plant is covered top to bottom in hundreds of them and of course the hummingbirds love them. It sulks a bit in winter but seems to be in bloom all year.

Cuphea ‘Minnie Mouse’ from Annie’s is a much more robust plant. Perfect to light up a shady spot in the garden. Always in bloom so you take it for granted but the hummingbirds appreciate it.

Now speaking of macros as you can see I have mixed success on that front. Some of the above pics are pretty good. Some are so-so. Many more were rubbish and had to be deleted. My SLR camera is a Panasonic Lumix that I have had for almost 10 years. It takes pretty nice photos but to get the best flower shots I really feel like manual focus is the way to go and this camera is awful in that regard. The LCD display is rather small and hard to read in even the lowest light and for some reason when you use manual focus the view gets even smaller. A little box in the middle of the screen. It is difficult to be certain that your subject is in focus.

So eventually I will have to think about getting a new camera. Any suggestions? I’d like something with changeable lenses too so I can switch from wide-angle, zoom, and macro.

Fall Blooms

Fall was always my least favorite season when I lived back in the north-east. I dreaded the short days and the bitter cold and the thought that winter snow storms were just around the corner.  Luckily the change of seasons isn’t quite so bad here in California.

Late summer and fall are perhaps not the best times for a mediterranean climate garden but I have put in a few new gardens with plants that have a longer bloom season and I’ve paid more attention to watering this year so the garden is looking pretty spectacular at the moment.

Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’ started out pretty wimpy in my garden. But then I realized I wasn’t watering it enough. Even some drought tolerant plants need a little extra care when they are first getting established. A more consistent watering schedule had this plant covered in bloom spikes for months.

Calliandra californica is a native of southern California and Baja. Mine was trod upon during the sewer construction and looked pretty bleak. I potted it up and nursed it in my plant ghetto and it is slowly bouncing back. It rewarded me this fall with a single bloom that looks like an explosion of red fireworks.

Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’ is a short-lived perennial and Tithonia rotundifolia (Mexican sunflower) is a true annual. I could prolong the blooms on both if I carefully deadhead spent flowers but the birds love the seeds. Flocks of false gold finches and pine siskins are always fluttering between the bird feeders and the plants and the first of the winter visiting white crowned sparrows have started to arrive. The Tithonia has also been the number one favorite of monarch butterflies.

All the extra water to establish the new gardens gave me a second crop of annuals. These Layia platyglossa look just as nice as the ones last spring.

A few Convolvulus tricolor have popped up too.

I think this bee likes my Mentzelia lindleyi as much as I do.

I have read a few accounts that Mentzelia is  tricky to grow. In that case I am thankful that it seems happy in my sandy soil. The house across the street was refreshed with a new bed of gravel in place of the lawn (I am not sure it is much of an improvement).

A perfect Layia platyglossa bloom.

And a few fasciated ones as well.

My driveway Nicotiana mutabilis.

Rudbeckia ‘Marmalade’ and Salvia ‘Rhea’.

Seedlings of my Geranium maderense are abundant. Perhaps a bit too abundant.

Even my Yucca gigantea is blooming this year.

Glaucium grandiflorum is looking a worn out after six months of blooms.

It still had a few flowers left…

But I decided to cut it back and give it a rest.

Self sown Nicotiana mutabilis and Moluccella laevis join new plantings of Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and Salvia‘ Victoria Blue’.

The old flowers of my Eriogonum parvifolium turn from white to rusty-brown.

Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ got huge when I wasn’t looking. It has white and red and white bicolor blooms. Over its shoulder you can also make out the bright red blooms of Salvia darcyi.

My deranged looking Echium ‘Mr. Happy’ continues to bloom into fall.

Up close the little flowers are beautiful but you can also see that this plant is covered in sharp hairs. They are almost as bad as cactus spines and they are the reason I will not be collecting any seeds from this plant even though it is covered in them at the moment.

Gaillardia ‘Mesa Yellow’ would benefit from deadheading the old spherical spent blooms but at some point I just get overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. When the plant starts to get tired I can just cut the whole thing back to a few inches and it should come back nicely.

Gaillardia ‘Gallo Peach’ being visited by a bee. Gaillardia is a great plant for California gardens but you have to be careful with water. Too much and they are prone to fungal infections or may rot but too little and the plants will whither away.

So now I’ve brought us up to date with three seasons of blooms. Hopefully now I will make more of an attempt to keep up with the blog.

Spring Blooms

I know what you are thinking. Spring Blooms? It is fall! What the hell is wrong with this guy? Well I  have been pretty busy this year but basically there is no excuse. I’m just a lazy blogger. I promise I’ll try to be better in the future and to start I figured I would give you all a little update on how the garden worked out this year. I’ll start with Spring and Summer and eventually (unless I get lazy again) I’ll post some current fall stuff.

Back in April Echium gentianoides ‘Tajinaste’ was looking pretty impressive.

Sadly the entire plant pretty much collapsed after blooming. It looked so wretched that I pulled it out. I did see some seedlings during the summer but now the entire area is so overrun with other seedlings that I am not sure if any of them made it. I’ll have to start thinning out seedlings a bit more. The garden is getting a bit wild and unruly.

Speaking of self-sown plants this Moluccella laevis is a seedling from the plants I grew last year. There is nothing better than free plants. Especially free plants that look like this.

Lavandula stoechas ‘Blue Star’

Dorycnium hirsutum needs very little water. If you put it on drip and water it weekly it will probably get all leggy and split apart. Hand water once every few weeks at most and you will have happy compact plants. This will self sow a bit too.

Clianthus puniceus

Thymus X citriodorus ‘Green Lemon’

Thymus juniperifolius and Thymus serpyllum ‘Coccineus’ with Dianthus ‘Shooting Star’ and Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’.

Dianthus ‘Shooting Star’ is day glo pank. No not pink. This color is called pank.

Lavatera trimestris, Helipterum roseum, and Consolida regalis are all self-sown seedlings from last years plants.

You can’t really tell from this picture but I think these Consolida regalis wanted a bit more water than I was giving them. The foliage was pretty ratty. But once they started blooming they were stunning. They were kind of difficult to get in focus for a good photo but you get the idea.

Sweet peas blooming on my ugly chain link fence. I should probably be starting seeds for sweet peas now. In mild climates like mine they are best started in fall for late winter and early spring blooms.

I really grow Helichrysum thianschanicum for the bright white foliage but the sulfur yellow blooms are pretty too.

Natives like this Eriogonum latifolium were an excellent choice for the sandy soil that got turned up when my old garden got demolished by the sewer construction. I’m not going to lie though. They look pretty awful in late summer and fall. California natives require the right type of garden or smart placement. The garden will look beautiful again next winter and spring. The great thing was they all survived in my pure sand and didn’t need much water to get established.

This Halimium lasianthum ‘Farrall’ is sort of an odd plant. It sort of halfheartedly blooms on and off all year but finally got this nice flush of blooms all at once in June.

Tanacetum niveum

I posted this backyard garden earlier in the year but figured it was worth showing off some more. That Glaucium grandiflorum got 8 feet across, started blooming in May, and is still throwing out some blooms now in October (although it isn’t looking nearly this nice now).

Schizanthus grahamii is an annual from Chile that I bought from Annie’s. Sorry for the poor quality of this photo. It was another one that was tricky to get into focus. I’m hoping that I’ll get a lot of seedlings from this plant in the spring.

Clarkia rubicunda ssp. blasdalei is another one that came up by the hundreds from just three plants last year.

Last year I had about a dozen Santolina. This year I lost most of them to a big excavator during sewer construction. Luckily this one beautiful Santolina pinata was out of its path of destruction.

So that is a nice little recap of my garden in spring. I promise I’ll post a summer update shortly so we can get all caught up and I can start posting more regularly.

Design Update

It has been a year and a half since I moved to the central coast. A lot has happened since then, some good, some bad. But I just returned from a trip home to see my family in NYC and as I drove back home from the San Luis Obispo airport into foggy Los Osos I kept thinking about how much I love it here.

One of my first designs in Morro Bay, that was installed shortly after I moved here, is also one of my favorites. I paid it a visit in May and it was nice to see how much it has grown in almost a year and a half. The succulents in particular are getting huge already.

You can click on each image to enlarge.

Kniphofia ‘Shining Sceptre’ is a favorite of mine now. The clumps grow huge and each one probably has at least 30 flowers on it at a time. The Thamnochortus insignis in the background will really look nice when it is full grown. You can just make out the top of Morro Rock peeking over the house in the background.

Grevillea rhyolitica and Arbutus ‘Marina’

Aloe rubroviolacea from Yemen are really nice specimen plants. The Otatea accuminata ssp. aztecorum on the left has recovered from its transplant shock and is starting to fill out. It was originally planted right up against the foundation of the house and is one of the plants we decided was worth saving. We moved it where it would screen the telephone pole at the corner of the yard. Hopefully it fills out a bit more over the next few years and starts doing a better job of that.

The purple flowered Alyogone hugelii has been a bit of a disappointment. It is infested with thrips so we may remove it in the future.

I am really impressed with the size of the Euphorbia rigida. This is just one plant that started out in a little one gallon container.

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ in the foreground and Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’ in the back.

This is either Leucadendron ‘Blush’ or L. ‘Winter Red’. We used several of both and I am hopeless at telling them apart.

Aloe vanbalenii have become nice specimens in a relatively short period of time.

There are so many amazing Echeveria species for California gardeners to choose from but I am a little bit in love with E. gigantea and E. ‘Zoro’. Each of these plants is over 2 feet across. Once the Agave ‘Blue Glow’ reaches its full size I think the contrast between all these plants will be really spectacular.

Big blue Echeveria gigantea with spiny Agave geminiflora in the background. Are these things amazing or what? They are not terribly common either which makes them even cooler.

Echeveria ‘Zoro’ is gorgeous but these are doing exceptionally well.

I’m in love!

Echeveria ‘Pulv-oliver’ isn’t too shabby either. It is a cross between E. pulvinata and E. harmsii.

These were sold to us as Echeveria X imbricata but it it is much larger and the leaves are much thicker than the E. X imbricata I had seen in the past. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Is this something else?

Euphorbia caput-medusae has filled in nicely. It is compact now but eventually each stem should elongate and flop across the ground like a bunch of snake heads.

Agave gypsophila

And finally a view of the entire succulent portion of the design.

Who says California doesn’t have seasons?

One of the characteristics of a mediterranean climate is a cool wet winter and a hot dry summer. On the central coast of California the rainy and dry seasons of California each take up about half of the year. The rains come to an end in April or May and usually resume again in October or November. The landscape changes dramatically during this time and it happens very quickly. Shortly after the rains begin in fall seasonal grasses (many of which are invasive exotics from Europe) burst into life and dormant plants leaf out. The hills turn such a bright green they almost seems fluorescent against the bright blue sky.

And then a short time after the last drops of rain have fallen in late winter or early spring the annual grasses die off and many plants start to go dormant and the hills turn from lush green to golds and browns.

I’ve been told that California is called “the golden state” not because of the gold rush in the 1800’s but because of the color of the hills in the summer. Some people hate how parched and dry California is during the dry season but I love it.  To me it is no different from the leaves changing and falling from the trees back east in fall and winter.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – April 2013

I’m usually not organized enough to participate in Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day with May Dreams Gardens but this month I have a bunch of blooms and I’m ready!

Most of my true annual volunteers are still looking pretty good.

All the plants in the foreground of the above shot are volunteers. Oh how I love free plants!

Zaluzianskya capensis bloomed all winter but the warmer it gets the more abundantly it blooms and the more fragrant it is. I’ve seen others criticize it for not being very exciting but I think the shrubby little plants are quite attractive and when the blooms open in the afternoon it is gorgeous.

Linaria reticulata ‘Flamenco’ is still blooming like crazy. A few at the front (where they receive less water) are starting to peter out.  I’m wondering if I will get any new seedlings and bloom for the season or if I am going to have to fill this big area of the garden with a few summer bloomers.

Ursinia anthemoides were a huge success this year and many are still in full bloom.

Geranium maderense has survived the wind storms and has been putting on a show for the past month.

Clianthus puniceus from New Zealand deserves better placement in the garden than I gave it.  It has long stems that get weighted down by the large flowers so they end up hanging down pretty close to the ground.  Closer to the front of a raised bed or large container is my suggestion for anyone growing this neat plant.

Sutherlandia frutescens from South Africa is a similar pea flowered plant but a little more delicate. This one bloomed in just one year from seed despite some rough handling. First it got swamped by some Lotus growing nearby, then it got tromped on and snapped in half by construction workers, I dug it up just in time before they could do more damage and it surprised me with new growth and new blooms in the gallon pot it calls home now.

Echium gentianoides ‘Tajinaste’ is basically a smaller and more airy and delicate Echium candicans.

Most of my succulents are living in containers in the backyard. Awaiting some future garden. My Aloe dorotheae surprised me with a beautiful organe and green inflorescence.

I’m very glad I kept two Craspedia globosa in my mediterranean garden.

Hymenolepis parviflora has become a nice little shrub. It bounced back quickly after an attack by caterpillars last month.

I have tons of ladybugs which is a good thing because I also have tons of aphids.

A few Coreopsis gigantea flowers remain.

I snapped this photo of a Dudleya pulverulenta inflorescence just in time. A few days later my neighbors large dog escaped confinement and went on a rampage through my garden.  She snapped stems and small plants left and right. My future garden will have a fence to keep out neighbors dogs as well as marauding deer.

Euphorbia mauritanica in bloom looks pretty sticky and a bit sinister up close.

I am sure that there are some people who would consider Chrysanthemum paludosum a potentially noxious weed. A six pack of plants last year became thousands this year. But they are very easy to edit out and much more charming and longer blooming than perennial Chrysanthemum hosmariense that I also grow. They have become one of my “must have” plants.

I’ve posted about Thymus juniperifolius a few times.  In full bloom you can’t even see the foliage that gives it its Latin name.

Convolvulus sabatius is a tough and reliable plant for California gardens.

I had no luck with Penstemons last year. I planted many and they all withered and died. I’m trying again this year with various P. heterophyllus cultivars.  This is ‘Margarita BOP’.

Lavandula stoechas ‘Boysenberry Ruffles’ is pretty spectacular despite the fufu name.

Up close the bicolor blooms are pretty intense.

I like the overall form of this Lavandula stoechas ‘Blue Star’ (even though it is a bit floppy).

But up close the flowers are a bit stunted compared to other L. stoechas cultivars. The jury is still out on this one for me.

I’ll have to check my notes but it seems like this Mentzelia lindleyi has been blooming for about two months. Very rewarding since it is a California native and it was also a free volunteer. This winds have battered it a bit but it is still going strong.

I posted this little vignette last week but this week the Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’ is in full bloom.

The first blooms of Berlandiera lyrata are opening up. It is well worth getting down on the ground to get a whiff of the amazing hot cocoa smell of these flowers.

Last year I was quite disappointed with Eccremocarpus scaber ‘Cherry Red’. It just sort of sat there looking sad all summer.  Since everything in California seems to grow like crazy I forgot that some perennials need a year or two to get established.  Now it is doing just what I wanted it to do. Covering the ugly chain link fence.  And the hummingbirds go crazy for it.

I think that is enough for now! Do go check out the links at May Dreams Gardens to see what is blooming in other garden bloggers parts of the world.