It has been rough keeping up with blogging as I have a lot on my plate right now. I’ve been very busy with work, I have been developing my garden and have some big plans for it in the future and I have a few planted aquariums now that are a lot of work.

Leucospermum reflexum

One of my new plants in my garden redesign is this Leucospermum reflexum. Usually I don’t like to post pictures of plants that already had buds when I bought them as I think it is cheating if I didn’t get it to bloom myself. But my track record so far with Leucospermums is pretty bad so there is no guarantee it will be alive to bloom next year! They are tricky. Lots of changes in my home garden coming up so I look forward to sharing more when it is further along.

Finches on Salvia mellifera

I found the above photo while I was looking for inspiration for a garden I just designed. The focus was to be a native wildlife garden and there is nowhere better to look for ideas than my own garden when it comes to attracting wildlife.  Last July the finches were going crazy for the Salvia mellifera which was going to seed. It is not the most ornamental of sages but it gets an A+ for wildlife. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies while in bloom and all sorts of finches and California quail once it goes to seed. Plus it is a local native so very little water is needed to keep it going.

I have kept fish since I was quite young and of course my life for plants found its way into my aquariums as well. It is definitely a bit more tricky keeping aquatic plants and dealing with issues like algae and pressurized CO2 injection. I have run into all sorts of obstacles and problems but I am pretty happy with my results so far.

Hydrocotyle leucocephala

I am pretty impressed with myself that I got Hydrocotyle leucocephala to bloom in a little aquarium in my office.

Panda Lyretail Mollie and Blyxa japonica pearling

And I was fooling around with my new camera and I snapped this picture of Blyxa japonica pearling with a female panda lyretail mollie looking on.

Really happy with my aquarium of SE Asian and Australian fish. The aquascaping still needs some work. I am still at the point where I want to grow every different plant I read about so it is stuffed with plants rather than a cohesive design. But I finally got a problem I was having with green water cleared up so the tank is looking nice and these beautiful rainbowfish and rasboras are really fun.



I had a little visitor today in my home office. Not something I expected to see so I pretty much jumped out of my skin. Either he got in while I had the door open for a few hours yesterday (and spent the night in my living room!) or he snuck under the front door (he is pretty tiny – about 14 inches long).

When I first moved here 3 years ago there was really no wildlife. Now that I transformed the entire yard into a garden it is full of birds, butterflies, bees, lizards, and now this little snake. Apparently he is a harmless gopher snake but I still did not want to risk getting bit so I used a box top and ruler to take him out of the house and back into the garden. I hope he gets nice and big and eats lots of gophers.


Wildlife in the Garden

You don’t have to do too much to attract wildlife to your garden. Basically if you build it they will come. Certain plant families are have a lot to offer different types of wildlife though. Salvias and any Asteraceae are sure things to attract a wide range of little beasties. Hummingbirds and bees love Salvia nectar and finches enjoy the seeds. Butterflies and bees love plants in the Aster family and once again finches and other birds love the seeds.

Of course bird feeders are helpful too. Bird feeders and seed are pretty expensive though. A nyjer/thistle feeder is probably the most affordable route to go as the seed generally lasts a long time and usually only small finches are attracted to it and can fit on the feeders. Shelled sunflower seeds are an excellent way to attract birds too. I prefer getting the shelled or hulled seeds because the shells make a huge mess in the garden that can prohibit plant growth. Again this makes it more expensive so now I use a cheaper “no mess” mix. I prefer the ones that include things like millet rather than large seeds and nuts.

This male lesser goldfinch is enjoying my Salvia confertiflora. Large flocks come to the feeders but they enjoy my Salvias, Verbena, and Tithonia too.

Female lesser goldfinch hanging out on Verbena bonariensis (could be an American goldfinch. But I think most of my goldfinches are the lesser variety. Hard to tell when they don’t have their breeding plumage).

And another goldfinch rooting around in a Verbena bonariensis looking for seeds. Or perhaps they like the nectar too. I’m not really sure.

I was about to head outside into the garden when I got a bit of a shock. Hawks usually pick a higher vantage point like the top of a tree or telephone pole to survey my yard but this young Cooper’s hawk sat himself down on my fence right near my feeder.

Maybe he was hoping that if he stood perfectly still some yummy little finch would land right next to him. Alas a crow soon did see him waiting here and chased him off. The number one way I notice hawks in my yard is I hear crows and other birds complaining about them. Smaller birds mob large predatory birds when they get too close to their nests. It is a pretty funny thing to watch.

This male Anna’s hummingbird owns my yard. He sits on this Yucca (the tallest thing in my yard) watching for rivals to chase away from his plants. In the next yard another hummingbird watches from a Myoporum and across the street one sits on a tall Cedar. They all sit singing their little hummingbird songs as if daring each other to overstep their bounds.

I finally have monarch caterpillars on my Asclepias curassavica (and some little bright orange Asclepias aphids if you look closely). I purposely planted this food source to entice monarchs into laying their eggs in my yard but I think it was the Tithonia rotundifolia that really lured them in.

Monarch caterpillars go through 5 different molts (called instars) before they form a chrysalis. I think the little one on the left is a 2nd or 3rd instar and the big guy is a 4th or 5th instar. I’ll be keeping an eye on them the next few weeks.

I was thrilled that a big flock of bushtits was hanging out in my garden this afternoon (warning – do not Google bushtit with safe search off). They are the sweetest little birds. I was even happier when I managed to get this picture of one of them on a Fuchsia stem next to some Cuphea ‘Minnie Mouse’. They don’t stay still for very long.

A juvenile white crowned sparrow hanging out on some dried up Tithonia rotundifolia. The Tithonia looks pretty ugly when it starts to die but it is important to leave annuals in the garden as long as you can. The longer you can put up with it looking like crap the more birds you will attract and the more seedlings you will have next season.

In my next garden I’m definitely going to try to grow my fruit bearing shrubs and trees to attract a broader range of birds. A water source, particularly moving water is great for attracting birds too so I will probably get some sort of bubbling fountain. But considering how little life there was in my yard before I started this garden and now it is home to dozens of birds I think I am off to a good start.

Varian Ranch Finale!

A few weeks I posted an update as work progressed on a garden I designed last summer: Varian Ranch.  Well today was the last day of work on the garden so I stopped by to see how it turned out.

Here is that mediterranean border all planted and mulched.

Look how nice the new decomposed granite path looks!  Hmm…maybe I want one of these in my yard.

As we move down the path toward the front entrance the plants change from mediterranean style to natives.

Now that the mulch is down those sycamores stand out even more!

I thought this was Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ but Gabe says it is ‘Concha’.  It was originally supposed to be C. ‘Joyce Coulter’.  One of the problems with installing a garden eight months after you design it is some of the plants you specced are no longer available so you have to adapt.  Which is fine but when the project is finished I am always confused as to what we ended up finally using.  C. ‘Dark Star’ has darker flowers and foliage.

A group of four Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’ flank the front door.  They were just bare twigs a week and a half ago when they were planted but they suddenly burst into bloom.

I wanted running water in the garden to attract more birds so we got this little fountain.

Over the winter a large oak died in the backyard and really opened up the view and the space.  The back garden around the lawn needed some sprucing up so I drew up a quick plan.  Some plants were removed, some were divided, some were spread out, and of course we added a bunch of new ones to compliment the original design.  I’ve added lavender to replace some old ones, Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Grey Tuft’, Verbena bonariensis and V. lilacina, Geum ‘Mango Lassi’, Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons’, Cistus, and Halimium to name a few.

Four raised beds for vegetables were also added as well as some fruit trees.

One last view of those Sycamores and my work here is complete!  I look forward to visiting in six months or a year to see how the garden has filled in.


Varian Ranch

So on Thursday I went to place plants for a design I did.  This was definitely a cool one and quite important to me.  Even though the plants are only going in now, in March, I actually designed the garden last July. It was the very first design I did for Gardens by Gabriel that was given the go ahead by the clients to be installed.  It got pushed back so far due to Gabe’s busy workload, some changes I made to the original design, and some other work the clients needed to have done.

The home is in the Edna Valley wine region that borders San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande in a beautiful gated cattle ranch.

There are just cows wandering around all over the place.  It is kind of crazy for a city boy like me.

This little guy was hanging out right next to the house as I was placing plants.  Probably contemplating walking in and eating some of them.  A very real threat to this garden!

You may remember I posted this picture last month.  This was how part of the yard looked last July.  That is a very overgrown and poorly pruned Correa.  The house had been professionally landscaped over twenty years earlier but the more interesting plants had died out and been over taken by Correa and rosemary which had then been pruned into billowing cloud shapes!

Last month most of the plants were removed leaving behind some beautiful live oaks.  The planting had to be wait for the mason to put in new paths near the front entrance and then dry rot was discovered on the large front porch so the planting was delayed while that was all ripped out and replaced.

I finally got the call that we were ready to plant on Thursday!  This part of the garden between the driveway and the front entrance I decided to carry on the mediterranean theme that the other side of the driveway and the backyard already had.  So between these two oaks are lots of lavenders, Artemisias, Salvias, and yarrows.  The large specimens in these beds are a Caesaplinia mexicana, Berberis nevinii, and Olea europaea ‘Montrose’.

One of the tricky things about designing this garden was that I was still living in West Hollywood and never got to meet the clients.  So I didn’t have a very clear picture of what type of garden they might want. I knew that it certainly wasn’t this.  I picked up on queues from exploring their property.  They had multiple birdfeeders, several dogs in the backyard, and an outdoor tortoise pen!  I pressed my nose up against the glass on the front door to peek inside and saw some Audubon prints hanging on the walls.  Designing a garden is much easier if you have some sort of theme so for the front yard I decided on creating a native plant garden featuring wildlife attracting plants.  The design was well received but I did have to make some changes to some of the large plants (Pacific wax myrtle and toyon) .  Even though they would have been great for attracting birds they were deemed too tall and would eventually block the beautiful views.

Part of the design was this path between the driveway and front yard.  As you can see it was mostly obscured!

The hedges were removed and the oak was gracefully limbed up a bit to reveal the path.  The Correa here was replaced with Salvia spathacea and Ribes speciosum with some Muhlenbergia and Sesleria to round out the design.

One of the reasons I didn’t just continue the mediterranean theme was that the entrance way was dominated by two large western sycamores. I felt that switching to natives would make more sense with the sycamores and oaks.

Native plants certainly make more sense here than the crazy hedges of rosemary all over the place.

The sycamores also received some artful pruning, the lawn beneath them was removed, and a new path was created as well as a small sitting area to enjoy the view of the beautiful hills and wandering cattle.

The new sitting area complete and waiting for plants.

I love the way they worked the huge boulders right into the path.

Did I mention the bluebirds?  Finally I got pictures!  They found our cars to be the perfect height to scan the fields.

They seemed to love perching on the windows and gazing at their reflections.  They enjoyed it quite a bit as you can tell by all the poop on Gabe’s truck!

I saw my very first western titmouse and a pair of magpies too!  On my way home I stopped at the farm supply store and finally picked up a bird feeder.

A new “lawn” was created in place of the old water thirsty one.  Three different species of Muhlenbergia wind through the space like a ribbon.  At the base of each boulder are Seselarias, Aquilegias, Eriogonums, and Salvias.  Around the edges of the property are several different cultivars of manzanita and some Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ (hopefully none of which will be pruned into cloud shapes!).  Even though it is not native we also included some Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Blush’ for the contrast in foliage color. Flanking the front entrance are two pairs of Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’.

Hopefully once they fill in the new plants will accentuate the beautiful sycamores and not dominate the scene like the huge rosemary hedges did.  You can see the brand new front porch in the back still waiting for a handrail.

Western sycamore – Platanus racemosa

The clients also lost a large oak in the backyard recently created a large new sunny space. So a few more projects are being worked on including expanding the existing perennial garden, adding a mini orchard, adding four raised beds for a vegetable garden and a play set for their grandchildren.

I went back to inventory the existing perennials to see what could be salvaged and what should be added and when I sat down four very affectionate dogs jumped all over me!  This is Maya and Hudson.

And this tortoise had been let out of his pen for a bit of exercise on the lawn.

And this is one of the many scenic view of the hills around the property.

As my first successful design this is definitely another very meaningful garden to me.  Hopefully I’ll be able to go back and have a look when everything has grown in to see if my vision for the garden works the way I imagined it would.


Sick Sick Sick!

That is my excuse for not updating for a while.  Of course I don’t get just normal sick. I get all melodrama, end of the world, hypochondriac sick.  So my sore throat feels like I’ve swallowed a handful of single edge razors and my coughing is so violent I am convinced I am doing internal damage with every loud hack.  When I lived in a house full of people I would go up to the living room when I was sick, collapse on the floor, throw my hand up to my forehead and sigh really loudly so everyone could hear me.  Now that I live alone I just cough huddled up on the couch watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and feeling sorry for myself.

But I am on the mend and I have managed to keep myself a little bit busy the last week or so despite feeling feverish and delirious.

Back in July Gabe introduced me to an overgrown front yard in a place called Varian Ranch that needed some designing.

Just look at this nonsense.  The original landscape was about twenty years old and all the nice stuff had died and been overtaken by the really hardy overzealous stuff.  See that sold wall of green hedge?  That is Correa (aka Australian Fuchsia) and I’m not having it.  Aside from the fact that I don’t think it is particularly exciting I am the sort of plant snob that doesn’t want things in my yard that can survive an apocalypse without losing a single leaf. Give me some precious little dainty that drops all its leaves when you give it a mean look and I’ll give you a knockout garden.

Continue down that path and after about seventy feet of Correa hedge you come to an equally ridiculous rosemary hedge.

Now this was back when I was still living down in West Hollywood so unfortunately Gabe wasn’t able to arrange a meeting with me and the homeowners so I had to do a little investigative research to determine what sort of garden they might like for this space. They had dogs in the backyard, a tortoise(!) pen in the backyard, and lots of bird feeders. I pressed my nose up against the glass of the front door and saw Audubon prints hanging in the living room so I figured that they were probably animal lovers.  Perfect! I had been wanting to design a wildlife and bird attracting garden for a while.  And amazingly they were happy with the design. Though upon some reflection they wanted to preserve the beautiful hill views that surround them so my choice of toyon and California waxberry were deemed too tall and concealing.  So this week I went back and made a few modifications. Toyon became much smaller Ribes speciosum, Eriogonum grande var. rubescens, and Muhlenbergia emersleyi. California waxberry became several cultivars of low growing Manzanita.

Right now all those silly hedges have been removed and the hardscaping is being finished up.  The new plants go in next week.

In other news some villainous winged creature decided to munch on some of my seedlings and when those didn’t prove to be filling enough it moved on to my Conophytum collection.  My Conophytums look like they have been stabbed with a tiny knife.  The whole thing looked like some sort of weird alien crime scene.  I’m actually more sad about the seedlings.  Echium pininana and Chionochloa conspicua seedling were destroyed but at the same time relieved that the mesembs I grew from seed and recently potted up were unharmed.  They were on the shelf right below the Conophytums and are looking very juicy and tasty right now so it easily could have been them.  I bought some netting and rigged up a protective screen around the remaining flats of seedlings and some of my choicer little succulents. Normally I am a huge bird lover and in fact I would be feeding the birds if it wasn’t for the fact that bird seed is criminally expensive.  But if I catch the bird that did this to my plants (I suspect it is a scrub jay) I will bite its little head off. I really need a greenhouse but that is an expense that is rather far away at the moment.  Aside from my new garden expenses I also just spent about $650 getting my car in order so it would pass its smog certification.

So hopefully no relapse in the near future and perhaps a trip to Annie’s this week or next so that I can start planting my own garden.  And maybe some updated pictures of the above garden when it is installed next week.


My Favorite Show Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show

I loved all the display gardens I saw today but the one that really stood out for me was the RBC New Wild Garden. It is based on William Robinsons ideas and concepts and features recycled materials, a green roof shipping container office, wildlife habitat, and is the first full scale rain garden at Chelsea.

I loved the simple plantings designed by Dr. Nigel Dunnett (most of which seem to have been selected to attract bees and butterflies and other wildlife).  They were separated into four distinct zones; a woodland, wet meadow, perennial and dry meadow. But what I really loved were the other structures incorporated into this garden which is unusual for me because I am pretty much all about plants.

There was a shipping container office provided by Green Roof Shelters and designed by John Little and Dan Monck. It includes a green roof and built in bird houses , bat housing and invertebrate habitats. I love the idea of recycled shipping containers and have been looking into them as a possible building material for my future “dream home” so it was great seeing them in this setting incorporating so many ways to attract wildlife.  The invertebrate habitat artistically arranged in different sized circular frames on the outside wall of the building was particularly impressive.

click all images to enlarge

The recycled shipping container with green roof and the circular frames holding habitat for invertebrates.

Continue reading