Monday, February 25, 2013

Remaking a Planting Bed

The Eucalyptus tree that dominated the southeast side of our property is now history.  I wrote about my angst over the removal of the tree here and the process itself here.

What I was left with is an irregularly-shaped bed close to 20 feet long.  It's approximately 9 feet across at its widest point, narrowing to 3 feet at the far end.  It slopes slightly on one side, where it is bounded by a stacked manufactured stone wall.  A dirt pathway, now covered with Eucalyptus sawdust, runs along its side, leading to another planting area facing the street.  The bed gets full sun part of the day but, even with the large tree's removal, it's shaded for portions of the day by other trees nearby.

The only plant left alive in the bed after the Eucalyptus was removed was a scraggly Osteospermum (variety unknown).  I pulled out much of the Eucalyptus sawdust left behind by the tree service crew and worked in bags and bags of compost, as well as a basic fertilizer.  I considered leaving the bed alone for awhile but, with our living room overlooking the space, I couldn't face that much bare earth day after day.

I didn't want to put another tree in as there are already 2 California Pepper trees (Schinus molle), 2 Strawberry trees (Abutus 'Marina'), a tree-size Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), and a variety of tall hedges in the immediate area.  I considered several shrubs and was semi-settled on using Pittosporum tenufolium 'Marjorie Channon' as my centerpiece plant; however, even after checking the plant out at a local nursery, I was having a hard time getting excited about the choice.  I nonetheless took my working plant list along when 2 friends and I took a trip to Rogers Garden, an Orange County nursery, last week.

Rogers had a large selection of Pittosporum tenufolium varieties but I fell in love with another shrub across the aisle: Dryms lanceolata, commonly known as the Mountain Pepper.  This variety was a new selection, part of Monrovia's "Dan Hinkley Collection."  I liked the dark green leaves and red stems.  The shrub is supposed to produce aromatic greenish flowers in spring, followed by black berries in fall.   It grows 10-15 feet tall and 10 feet wide, although I can't find any reference to its speed of growth.  It's reported to like partial sun.  The only downside is that it requires regular water.
Dryms lanceolata

Of course, changing my featured shrub required changes to the rest of my plant list as well.  I decided to try a purple-leaved Loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum 'Hine's Plum Leaf').  I was lucky to find 3 of these in good condition in 3 quart pots at Lowes so I saved some money there.  These plants can grow 6-8 feet tall by 8 feet wide but I've been told their size can be managed with regular pruning.
Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum 'Hine's Plum Leaf'

I picked up a few accent plants while at Rogers (it was an expensive visit), including 3 Heuchera maxima and 3 Coprosma 'Plum Hussy'.
Heuchera maxima

Coprosma 'Plum Hussey'

I was also tempted by a few annuals I wanted to trial.  Rogers offered selections produced by by favorite mail-order nursery, Annie's Annuals & Perennials, without the shipping charge.
Anagellis monellii 'Blue Pimpernel'

Nigella hispanica 'African Bride" with Argyrantemum 'Elsa White' and Alyssum

I also spruced up the adjoining bed with a selection of succulents and more annuals.
Crassula radicans, Graptosedum 'California Sunset', and Sedum 'Salsa Verde'
Nemophila menziesii 'Baby Blue Eyes'

Despite these efforts, the bed still looks very bare!
After initial planting

Another view after planting

I need to add edging plants and, as the Mountain Pepper and Chinese Fringe Flowers will take time to fill out, I'll probably fill in with some additional annuals and/or short-lived perennials.  Here's what I'm considering:

  • Plectranthus - cuttings from existing plant, noID, possibly Plectranthus fruticosus
  • Nicotiana langsdorfffii (green flowered tobacco)
  • Heuchera - purple leaved variety
  • Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant' (Bugle weed)
  • Teucrium chamaedrys (Germander)
  • Seslaria caerulea (Blue Moor Grass)
  • Dichondra argentea 'Silver Falls'
  • Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ears)
  • Athyrium niponicum pictum 'Silver Falls' (Japanese Painted Fern)
  • Clematis terniflora (Sweet Autumn Clematis) - to climb arbor

Price and availability will factor into final selections but that's my current working list.  What else would you add?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Garden Ornaments

I don't consider myself a knick-knack collector.  While I certainly have some non-functional decorative items here and there throughout the house, I lean toward a more minimalist look.  I dislike clutter of most kinds and I regularly toss out "stuff."  In fact, whenever we're unable to find something, my husband will ask "Was it PPed?"  PP is his term for "Peterson Purge."

However, when it comes to the garden, I seem to have accumulated a lot of "stuff."  Although I disposed of clothes, kitchen items, old work materials, and even books in large quantities before we moved 2 years ago, I didn't get rid of much when it came to garden ornaments and furniture.  Maybe because I had to give up the garden itself, I held on to virtually all the old garden's furnishings and decorations.

It's an eclectic collection.

There are animals.

There are fairies and other mythical creatures.

(I swear this is the only gnome - at least the only one that stays out all year)

There are items to support bird life.

There are items kept for purely emotional reasons.  The child reading a book, given to me by my mother because she said it reminded her of me, which I use as a door/gate stop.  The sun-shaped votive holders given to me by a close friend shortly before she passed away of cancer, which I'm thinking I may use to hold small pots of trailing succulents.

There are items that don't fit any of these categories.

And then there's all the garden furniture.  I brought one bench, some rickety wicker chairs, and a small cafe table with wrought iron chairs with me when we moved.  I inherited two more benches left by the prior owner, as well as a chiminea, a large fountain, and the snorkel spa I wrote about earlier.  (The spa will eventually be removed or re-made to serve another purpose yet to be determined.)

I thought that, because our new garden is so much bigger than our old one, it could absorb a lot decorative material without looking cluttered.  However, the old garden was densely planted and, as a result, the ornaments in it were nearly invisible.  In contrast, the new garden is more sparsely planted (so far) so many of the ornaments stand out - perhaps too much.

I'd like to say the collecting has stopped but it hasn't.  Just last week, a friend of my husband's asked if I could use a wrought iron screen he planned to give away.  I took it, having no idea what it looked like or what I'd do with it.  I like it but I still haven't found the right place for it.  I put it on the back porch and have moved it around a bit but haven't yet found a satisfactory placement.

Screen, option 1

Screen, option 2

Screen, option 3

What do you do when collecting gets out of hand?  I'm beginning to think I'm going to have to rent a storage locker - or maybe re-purpose the spa as an outdoor closet.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trouble Spot: The Slope

Every garden has its trouble spots.  Maybe yours is a dry shade bed, an area of hard-packed clay soil, an area that receives no sun, an area buffeted by winds, or something else altogether.  One of my trouble spots is our slope, located at the very back of our property.  It was the focus of my second blog post.

The slope presents several challenges:
  • Limited access
  • Poor soil 
  • Fluctuating light conditions 
  • No automated irrigation system 
  • Weeds galore 

I hadn't intended to tackle the slope until the later stages of my garden renovation project but little things chipped away at my resolve.  A neighbor complained that the bedraggled banana tree on our side of the boundary line was blocking her view so my husband took it out, creating an empty space in front of her homely chain-link fence.  The rains caused an explosion of weeds last winter so I started pulling a few at a time, gradually finding myself working my way from my dry garden down the slope.  When I fell on my backside on the narrow dirt path that bisects the slope a few too many times, I complained to my husband about the need for safer access.  When my husband dug into the slope to create a rudimentary stairway of concrete blocks for me, I began hauling out the small rocks and pebbles riddling the soil there.  It seemed reasonable to add compost as I went.  And then there was the lemon tree.  The large Meyer lemon at the bottom of the slope, laden with ripe fruit all year round, was a big draw and regular trips down the slope to pick the fruit virtually compelled me to do something with the slope.

Established Meyer Lemon

If we had pots of money, I would have loved to bring in a contractor to properly terrace the slope but we're pinching pennies so the work on the area has been done on a shoestring budget.  My husband used concrete blocks to create a stairway.  The picture below shows the top of the stairway at the back of my dry garden, with Thymus serphyllum 'Pink Chintz' planted between the blocks and drought tolerant plants along the sides.

While I left the existing honeysuckle and ivy covering the upper side of the slope alone, I cleared weeds from the lower area.  The prior owner had left a large number of wood tree rings behind and I re-purposed these to divide and level this area, then filled the beds with homemade and purchased compost.  When the wood segments begin to rot, I'll have to replace them with a more durable edging material but my hope is that the plants will have stabilized the soil by that point.

I purchased dozens of small plants, none larger than 1-gallon size, to fill the new beds but I also transplanted divisions from plants elsewhere in the garden.  Some of these, most notably Centranthus ruber and Oenothera speciosa (Pink Evening Primrose), are so aggressive they could be considered weeds here.  Hopefully I won't regret the decision to use them to create my budget garden.

Centranthus ruber, Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid' & Oenathera speciosa (not yet in bloom)

I used a few plants repeatedly in the new beds, including Ribes viburnifolium (Catalina Perfume Currant), Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid', Pelargonium hybrid 'White Lady', Liriope muscari 'PeeDee Gold Ingot' and Arthropodium cirratum 'Renga Lily'.  Miscellaneous sedum and other small succulents have been placed between and around the stair steps in the lower section of the slope.

Ribes viburnifolium, Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid', Oenathera speciosa, & Pelargonium 'Edward Michael' (not in bloom)

I added single selections of a few other plants to see how they'd do, including Carpenteria californica 'Elizabeth', Monardella villosa 'Coyote Mint', as well as a purple-flowering groundcover Abelia.  All are reputed to be drought tolerant once established.  All made it through their first summer in good shape.

View from bottom of slope looking up the stairway at about 9 months after planting

Here's a close-up of one of the Renga Lilies, which should bloom mid-spring.

Arthropodium cirratum 'Renga Lily' surrounded by Thymus pulegiodes

I recently added some grasses, Seslaria 'Greenlee', and Stachys byzantina (divisions from plants elsewhere in the garden) in the flat area in front of the lemon tree.

Nothing much is flowering yet this year except for the Argyranthemum frutescens I stuffed in a pot with bromeliad offsets (which unfortunately didn't hide much of the neighbor's chain-link fence).

Sawdust from the Eucalyptus recently removed from the upper yard has been distributed as mulch around the base of the lemon tree and along the pathway running below the base of the lower beds.  I still need to see what I can do to revitalize the giant Yucca growing at the boundary of our yard.  It's 12-15 feet tall, stands at the edge of a sharp drop-off into our neighbor's yard, and it's full of ivy (and, reportedly, tree rats), which makes it a bit intimidating.

Yucca - No ID

There's plenty more to do but I feel I've at least made a good start on tackling this trouble spot, even though the work began without any real plan.  If you have any suggestions for drought-tolerant plants that can handle partial shade in a zone 10 climate, please pass them along.  I still have empty spots that need filling!