Saturday, June 30, 2012

About Me


I know I always like reading a little bit about the blogger behind the blog, so I figured I should put some information out there too. Also, I'm frequently accused of doing nothing but work, so this should answer that question too. (Of course, none of those people will read this, but whatever...) So with that, here are the things I usually spend my time on:

1) Work. Ok, fine, I work a lot. And I actually enjoy it! But it won't show up on this blog at all, other than that I'm trained as an engineer, so I like things like lists and plans and to-scale-drawings of my house and gardens. On graph paper...

2) Running. I usually run 4 to 5 times a week, and I'm training for a half marathon. Running through my neighborhood gives me an excellent excuse to look at other people's front yards, and interesting plants and ideas. I'm going to start taking my camera with me to take "breaks" during long runs, I mean pictures...

Daffodils, Tulips and Ice Plant in the Spring. It will be
interesting to see if the daffodils comes back next year
3) Gardening. Obviously! I bought my home about 3 years ago, and the second thing the neighbors mentioned was "when are you fixing the front yard?" (The first was "welcome to the neighborhood". I have friendly neighbors!). Now I've just finished part 1 of the back garden's overhaul and plantings also, so both of those will be showing up on the blog. And even before I had my house I had plants (indoor and out), so a lot of my indoor container plants will be showing up too. I tend to "rescue" both indoor and outdoor plants also, so both collections are constantly expanding.

4) Sewing. This is what I do when its too cold/hot/dark/wet to go outside for long. It probably won't show up on the blog too much, unless I do that patio project I've been thinking of....

5) Reading. Besides the Sunset Western Garden Book (my gardening bible in many ways), I also like to read as much as possible. I don't have a tv, so books are the way I relax and unwind.

6) Cooking. Preferably with things from the garden, although I suck at growing edible things. But with the back garden now functional, I'm hopeful for more success in the future.

7) Travel. Between work and leisure, I love going to different places and seeing interesting things (like the inside of an office building, and plants that I've never seen) I'm often inspired to try new things at home once I'm back from a trip, and a trip to Hawaii finally got me to buy a camera!

Aloes in Bloom, in early March at the Huntington Gardens
I realize this all makes me sound horribly "domestic" and it is true that I'm more of a homebody than anything else. But I also like going out and seeing everything my area has to offer. From here, I can drive to the snow in the mountains and the beach in the same day, and I have access to everything in the greater So. Cal area to learn about and explore.

So see, I do more than just work!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Weekly Front Garden 06/16/2012

Now we're in the middle of June:

See that white flower on the left? It's one of the lily blooms - blooming for the first time ever! And this one is not deformed like the last blossom was... It is plain white though, but the fragance is very strong! The roses still need to be deadheaded (on the list for this weekend!)

Also blooming for the first time since they've been planted are the blue plants in the center (near the clematis trellis). I think they're Gladiolus. Last year, they just made leaves and some flowers that were shriveled up before they even bloomed. This year, at least 1 is blooming, but when I tried to take a picture of it later in the day, something had knocked it over! Probably the curtain getting blown around by the wind. But another one is developing a bloom spike, so I'll try to take a picture of that one!

Staying away for a week and watering the grass more doesn't seem to be doing anything to make it look better. I think one spot is due to a neighborhood dog, but I'm not sure why that one spot in the center is turning brown. Grass is so much work!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Weekly Front Garden 06/08/2012

The wind continues....
The front garden on 06/08/2012

I'm not sure why the Mexican Feather grass clump in the middle of the bed decided to grow back in that strange shape. I think it will get dug up and divided in the fall.

I took this picture a little bit later in the day, which put a lot of the bed in the shade already. The mexican evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) is still going strong. The little vertical plant next to it is a sun flower (I think!) It grew up between the daffodils, which kept a lot of the bugs from eating it! I'm not sure how big its going to get yet, and its certainly no where near as big as the sunflowers in the back garden pipes, but i am excited that it popped up! The seedpods in the center of the picture is from the one blue fescue I didn't pull the seed stalks from. I like how it kind of echos the shape of the feather grass, but I don't like how the tan color detracts from the blue grasses. I do intend to dig that one and one right next to it up this fall and divide them. I should figure out where the divisions will go!

The lawn grass is starting to go yellow-ish already! I water it for 5 minutes daily, but I'll try an experiment and increase that to 5 minutes twice a day for a week, and see what it looks like next week.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Back Garden - Post 2

Part 1 here: Part 1 - Starting Point

Part 2: Design

One of the most fun parts of the backyard garden re-do was figuring out a planting scheme and doing the landscape design. I did the basic design myself, with some additional touches suggested by the various landscapers that bid the project. I want to document some of the plans I came up with...

I started by measuring the whole yard, so I could make a to-scale drawing of the thing. I also wanted to be able to estimate things like fencing length, planting areas, etc, to help with estimating the costs. I used an ultra-sonic measure device, which was way easier to use than a long measuring tape, especially around all the weeds/hill/walls. Once I had all the basic measurements, including for the (existing) patio, I drew it up on graph paper, and made several copies.

The first plan I came up with looked like this:
First Backyard Plan
It involved a lot of squares. I knew I wanted to extend the dry river bed that's in the front yard to tie it to the back yard. I also knew I wanted to limit any turf in the backyard - i.e. minimize grass. And I knew I wanted raised beds or planters of some sort. I'd been keeping track of sun patterns for a while to see which areas got the most sun. The back of the house faces west, so pretty much all of the backyard is either full sun or half sun. This is one of the few plans that show a labyrinth - I've always thought they were cool and wanted one, but it really didn't fit that well.

The next version of the plan reflects that I realized most things in nature don't grow in straight lines:
Second plan - extending the dry river bed
This plan also extends the dry creek bed to take over the entire south side of the yard. The different colored circles represent different grasses, which would match the grasses that are in the front yard. I really liked this element, and it started repeating in all the plans. I also started extending the beds on the north side of the house, to reduce the amount of grass or permeable material. For the back slope, I knew I wanted some trees up there - the hope is that they'll grow up and serve as shade trees. I started looking at fruit trees (other than cherry, which is in the front) that do well here.

The third plan reduced the "lawn" even further:
Third Plan - small lawn
After this version, I realized I didn't really want any lawn in the backyard. There is a (~800 sq ft) lawn in the front, and it requires a lot of upkeep (and water) in the desert. My neighbors don't have any grass in the back yard, and so after talking to some people about real estate issues, I decided to remove the idea of lawn altogether. That version of the plan (basically the green area above shaded grey) was what I took to several landscapers to get bids on. I had decided early one that I was going to do the same process as the front yard - pay someone to do the (massive) cleanup and haul away, redo the sprinklers, hardscape and plant major things like(to be) large trees, while I would do things like plant and finalize drip irrigation etc.

After talking with the landscapers, I added a few things to the plan:
Final Plan - no colors
Minor details like a way to get up the slope, and access to the top of the slope. The landscaper suggested railroad ties to build a curved set of steps, and small trails on the slope. It also helps create a flat path on the bottom of the slope. Also, the shape of the curved beds near the patio was adjusted for easier access. The big empty area in the middle is filled with round planters (separate post to follow, because they're cool!), and another landscaper suggested a large bowl on the right side. All the "paving" areas are actually decomposed granite, in a color that matches the decomposed granite path in the front of the house. The dry creek bed is also decomposed granite (a different color), which also matches the front yard. The beds are edged in terra cotta colored tinted concrete, which breaks up the expanses of DG. Here is the final plan with some colors in an electronic version:
Final Plan - Electronic
and the colors are fairly representative (except for the teal-ish patio, its really more sky blue). I drew up a bunch more plans of different ideas than what I've included here, but most of them were just variations on a theme. The whole exercise was very helpful - thinking about what would look good, what would work for the environment and what did I want. The bed shapes and sizes were drawn around a couple of different plants, which I'll discuss in the next post...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Weekly Front Garden 06/02/2012

The first week of June!

Week of 06/02/2012

It was very windy this week. Getting a picture of the Mexican Feathergrass (Stipa tenuissima) standing semi-upright was not easy. All the ice plant flowers are gone now, although some rebloom is starting on the purple ones. The roses are still going, as is the society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) and mexican evening primrose (Oenothhera speciosa). The false red yucca clump has made three bloom spikes this year - one of them pops against the blue of the house. But mostly, the front garden is blues and greens right now - the blue fescue (Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue') peeks out from the rock border. I wonder if I should consider adding some summer blooms in the main bed? I kind of like the quietness though, especially with the pops of yellow (Sedum x rubrotinctum flowers) and purple.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Weekly Front Garden - 05/25/2012

This week, the weather turned a little strange for Zone 11 at this time of year...

It was windy! See the S. tenuissima? Oh wait, crazy wind is normal for here, no matter what time of year... The strange part of the weather is better shown here:

Which also shows the cherry tree at full height for a change. Poor tree always gets cut off in the picture. But see those strange dark things in the sky? We don't normally get those in the near-desert, in the last weekend in May. Even though it did get a little cold, the clouds only teased though, because we didn't get any rain. Just wind. Which is too bad, because we could use the rain (as always...)

All the red ice plant is done flowering now (well, mostly). So now I have a lot of deadheading to do, and maybe they'll bloom again later in the year. As this bed calms down some, the bed next to it is starting to bloom. The right side is just visible in the weekly picture - it has two butterfly bushes in it (Buddleja davidii 'Black Knight') and they are starting to smell so good...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

(First!) Foliage Follow Up - June 2012

Following my first ever Bloom Day, it's my first ever Foliage Follow up!

To see more amazing foliage, go see Pam at Digging and all the other amazing gardens in the comments.

Just like with bloom day, I have no theme, I just want to show off some of the interesting foliage in my baby-garden:

In the front garden:
Three different types of foliage growing together:
Ice plant, sedum x rubrotinctum and blue fescue
The sedum loves growing all over the base of the rocks in front garden - I think that's why it has survived for these past 3 years, even though it's not supposed to do well here.
Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) that's grown back from its hair cut this winter:

There are two clumps of this in the front garden, and I love how they dance in the wind.
Closer to the house, there's more different leaf textures:

Agave schidigra, blue fescue, A. desmettiana
 And on the other side of the driveway, there's the Muhlenbergia capillaris, with last year's blooms still on it. I love this grass, especially in late summer when it's pink!
These also wave in the wind, but less than the feather grass.
 Behind the stone pillar, the hosta is hiding in the shade. I never thought I could grow these here in the desert, but so far they're doing ok.
They haven't turned into a big clump yet though...
 Moving to the back garden, there's the other Agaves, including A. parryi:
This one was just planted this year.
 All the plants in the back garden are still very spaced out, since the garden is still growing up. Another agave that I added was A. ovatifolia (Whale's Tongue agave):
Its still very small
 I can only hope that it grows up to be as wonderful-looking as some of the other ones I've seen, or like Pam at Digging's "Moby".
These next couple of plants were too small when I bought them (at the Huntington Plant sale! sqee!) to put in the ground yet. So they're in container and pipes, and will get moved in a year or two. In this pipe there is: A. tequilana 'Sunrise', A. angustifolia (variegated) and Aloe dorotheae:
The Aloe is the red one... I love the color on it.
 The next pipe is also a work in progress / opportunity for plants to grow, and see if they'll survive the winter. These are an Echeveria subrigida and a Kalanchoe luciae. It may be a bit of denial that I live in the desert to believe that the Kalanchoe can make it through the winter...
But if it does, it might get the pipe all to itself....
 This container on the patio holds three more "I wish these would make it through the winter":
Aloe camperi 'Cornuta', another Echeveria subrigida, and Echeveria hybrid 'Blue Wave':
From the Huntington Garden plant sale.
 I don't know what that stalk is in the middle - maybe a bloom stalk? But it seems to late for that. I guess I'll find out later... The sunflowers are getting ready to bloom also, and are creating wonderful leaves for now:
Sun flower bud - I'm not sure anymore which cultivar this is..
 The plants are rather huge... Here are the three I planted from seed this year:
I think one of these is a red sunflower?
I love the look of the large leaves and plants - I think next year I'd like to grow Castor Beans in the garden, to amp that look up even more!
There's also some edibles that I'm growing more for looks - although if the rhubarb makes it through the summer, I'd like to eat the stalks in a few years:

This is it's first year - waiting to see if it will survive the summer heat
I've learned that rhubarb is grown as an annual here - but I want to see if I can get a big clump in a few years, so I'm not going to harvest anything this year. We'll see what happens! This first year in the back garden is a lot of experimenting with what does and doesn't work.
Like I found out lettuce grows here, as well as what happens when you don't pay attention to your lettuce for a few months:
Pipe full of lettuce!
Maybe next time I'll try harder to take care of them so they can be eaten... but who knew lettuce plants could look so cool?

There still so much more growing in the back garden, but I'll include those in a future post! I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of the summer brings... and already making plans for next year!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Garden Bloom Day - June 2012

For my first bloom day ever, I just want to show almost everything that's blooming right now... for future ones, I might try to focus on a theme?

To see more gardens in bloom go here: May Dream Gardens - June 2012

In the front garden:
The false red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) is putting out three bloom spikes!
One of the bloom spikes in the front garden
The Mexican Evening Primrose (oenothera speciosa) is blooming everywhere:
White-ish pink flowers that the bird hide in!
The Sedum x. rubrotinctum is also showing off its bright yellow flowers:
These are so bright, its hard to take a picture of them!
And the Buddleja davidii 'Black Knight' bloom spikes smell amazing:
The scent welcomes you to the front garden
The roses are still going, although they need to be deadheaded so they'll make more blooms
One of this weekend's chores is to clean the roses!
And the society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is adding some purple to that side of the garden
These will bloom all summer....
There's also this lily (I think?) which is blooming for the first time in two years. But the bloom is all deformed... there's some other buds too, so we'll see what happens to those...

I'm not sure what's wrong with this flower. The other buds look fine.

Moving to the back garden:
There is more false red yucca:
This time with seed pods already!

And some leftover red blooms on the Callistemon viminalis 'Little John'
I'm surprised these bloomed this year. The leaves are so soft.
I just planted the Yarrow 'Moonshine' (Achillea millefollium 'Moonshine') this spring, and it came with this bloom spike:
The red ones are getting ready to bloom too!
and there's a few more blooms on the Optunia macrocentra 'Santa Rita':
And there are so many more buds!
There's also this pipe full of sweet allisum (Lobularia maritima) I'm hoping they'll reseed themselves in some other parts of the garden.
The purple ones are already done blooming
And I was also surprised to see the Germander (Teucrium fruticans) starting to bloom in purple/blue:
the various shades of purple look nice together
It looks so interesting with the small purple fountain grass (that I hope gets bigger soon!)
And I love this sunflower! It's huge, and it seeded itself (I'm assuming from one of the sunflowers in the front yard from last year) in one of the pipes. I'm so glad I recognized the seedling and left it!
It looks like it has at least 10 buds on this plant!
It's got a whole bunch of flower buds - I wonder if they'll all open?

The color scheme for the back garden is supposed to be red & yellow with accents of blue, so based on these pictures, the starting point is there! I'm very excited that these flowers are blooming - especially when I remember what this area looked like just a few months ago:
The very sad before...
There are still more blooms I didn't include yet! I can't wait to see what the rest of the summer brings... But I'll try to make the next bloom day post a little shorter!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weekly Front Garden - 5/19/2012

And we're back on the regular schedule! On 5/19/2012, the front garden looked like this:

The grasses have grown - a lot. The Stipa tenuissima is starting to make its seed heads. Its not a horrible re-seeder here, although one did show up that I let stay. Its peeking around the stone column. The roses are nearly tipping over with their blooms. Who planted climbers without something to climb on? The pinkish-white flowers that have shown up by the roses are Oenothera speciosa, Mexican Evening Primrose. It is borderline annoyingly invasive back there - it spreads by rhizomes, and gets in the lawn. It usually dies out in the summer heat though, and it is very dought tolerant, and the large non-watered area around the cherry tree keeps it contained.

The society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) doesn't show up too much in this picture, but they're the light purple flower stalks in front of the roses. They are actually also orginial to the garden, although not in that spot. They were going under the roses (without flowers though), and so survive the massive overhaul. I moved them without knowing what they were, because plants are expensive (and extensive landscaping even more so) and I figured I could always get rid of them later. Now, they  add some interesting color from late spring through fall, don't need a lot of water, and are multiplying to the point where some will probably get moved to the back garden in the fall. I love surprise success stories!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Weekly Front Garden - 05/16/2012

Continuing the catch up...

This picture is a little bit later in the week than normal - I was on vacation on 5/11, and just got back. So lets see how the garden faired in my absence:

The roses are doing really well - and with the red ice plant (Lampranthus spectabilis) taking over the blooms from the purple ones, there's a lot of red in the garden. The mexican evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) is also starting to bloom.

The ornamental grasses are almost back to their normal height. Looking at this picture, there is an obvious "blank" in my mind - by the corner of the house, right by the window. There used to be a large clump of pink Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) there. It's still there, but I had to cut it back significantly this spring. The backyard garden plan called for some pink Muhly, so the clump was dug up and divided. Sadly, the landscaper separated half the rootball from the remaining plant! It's slowly recovering now, but I can't wait until its back to its full glory again...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

When Life hands you cherries...

The cherry tree in my front garden doesn't live the easiest life for a cherry tree. It's on the north side of the house, and during winter/early spring, its in the shade for most of the day. It also doesn't get water from the sprinklers, so I have to remember to water it from the hose (which I forget more often than the tree likes, I'm sure). And then it has to deal with the wind... No wonder that in early March, when all the rest of the cherry trees (and other flowering trees) were blooming, it looked like this:
Detail of Cherry Tree - 3/9/2012
A few weeks later, it was blooming! Of course I don't have any pictures of that... But here is it about 2 months later:
Cherry tree 5/9/2012
You can see them hiding in the leaves...

At this point, they weren't fully ripe yet, but by Memorial Day weekend, they were, which is a little early. This is a Sweet Cherry tree, 'Stella', which ripens late May / early June. Interestingly enough, Sunset says cherries don't work in the desert (don't tell my tree!). 'Stella' is a self-pollinated variety, that can also be used as a pollinator for other sweet cherries. It needs 700 hrs or more of chilling time, which is low for a sweet cherry, and that's what makes it work in Zone 11. The tree wasn't staked when it was planted about 2 years ago, as part of the front garden overhaul. It is partially sheltered from the wind by the wall, but it is definitely leaning, like a lot of trees out here. I might need to give it some support, especially as it gets taller. Other than watering, I did give it some fertilizer (a spike) in early spring, but I haven't sprayed it for anything. Last year, something ended up eating the leaves later in the summer. I'll have to watch for that this year.

The birds were already starting to catch on the feast, and the tree isn't that big yet, so I decided to pick all the ripe ones all at once. Next year I'm going to try to leave them on even longer, probably with bird netting over the tree. But still, I got almost 3 pounds of cherries:
All the cherries of 2012 (plus about a handful that are still on the tree....
And I used them to make sweet cherry pie! I used this recipe for the filling and this one for the pie crust, and it worked out great! To share with the neighbors, I made mini-pies:
Mini Cherry Pies with home-grown cherries!
They were good (I had to try one before handing them out). I used a regular-sized muffin tin, and baked them at 375 deg for about 25 minutes, until they were bubbly and golden. Definitely a good use of lots of cherries. It makes me wish I had more fruit to use up. Hopefully next year, the peach and nectarine in the backyard garden will start producing?

Weekly Front Garden - 05/05/2012

A look at the garden this week:

I took this picture later in the day, and you can see how the shade now covers the whole planting bed. The front garden gets full morning sun, but even before noon, the area near the stone column is in the shade. More of the red ice plant is showing up while the purple fades away.

This week, the roses also decided to bloom! They are Rosa 'Blaze', from the Star Roses series. They're climbers, even though they have nothing to climb on. There are three bushes along that (north) side of the house. I've added a trellis to two of them. Some day, I'd like to add a trellis they can all climb, or replace them with bush roses. But they certainly look very pretty with very little work from me. They are one of the few remaining elements that were in the front garden when I bought the house.

My Back Garden - Part 1

One of my goals for this blog is to write down what I did/do to my gardens, so I can remember. One major project that just finished part 1 this year, and will continue to take a lot of time and effort is the garden in the back of the house. I'm going to break this story up into multiple posts, so I can record some of the details without this being super-long.

Part 1 - The Starting Point

When I bought my home about 3 years ago, it was bank-owned, as many available houses at that time were (and frankly, still are in this area). The bank had redone the inside, but the outside and garage were left in the "foreclosed on" state, meaning no water and no care/weeding/mowing. I don't even have pictures of what everything looked like back then.

The front garden was priority one to fix, since it was the second thing both neighbors mentioned, and it was absolutely the worst on the block. It wasn't too bad before the weeds started growing. So over the course of two weeks, I came up with an initial plan, got bids, and got the major work finished.  But that's another post.

Meanwhile, for over two years, the back yard languished. It looked like this most of the time, minus the 2 months in spring when all the brown stuff was green and growing:
Back yard, 11 Feb 2011, with the patio to the right.
And that's after my (new) neighbor replaced the fence with another ugly one. I tried mowing the grassy weeds one year, but mowed brown grassy weeds don't really look any better than long brown grassy weeds. The sprinkler system didn't work (turning the valves on manually made a pretty neat fountain in the middle of yard), and the weeds by the kitchen window were so tall they scratched on the glass, and scared me at night:
Weeds near the window!
And during the day too! There was a was strange sand pit (visible in the picture above), which based on google maps, used to be the foundation for an above ground pool. Now, the neighborhood cats were using it as a litter box.

There were three "trees". One is visible in the first picture, and two more here:
The other side of the house.
The trees were Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila), which Sunset characterizes as "not a desirable tree". No kidding! The back two were really more overgrown bushes, and none of them really cast much shade, even in the summer. All the wood fencing along the side in picture 3, and the back had to be replaced, and the trees were in the way for that too. Other than those trees, there was nothing in the back yard at all - no bushes (other than overgrown weeds), no hard scape and no support (sprinkler system, shade, etc). And it sat like that for two years, while I planned and saved. I'll talk a little bit about that process next time!