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You know the stand-by sitcom joke that when dating someone new, you should let the crazy out only a little bit at a time?  Well, I’ve been writing this blog a while, so here’s a little piece of my crazy made just for you!

Sometimes I get something stuck in my head like a bad craving and MUST have it.  You know what I mean, yes?  Ever want chocolate really Really REALLY badly?  So much so that it felt like a biological need?  Yeah, like that, but for colors, color palettes, plants, and so forth.

150424 North Country Daylilies 1Today, my mail brought me a daylily I’ve been coveting for years and could never obtain (darn you, Martha Stewart Magazine!).  But, thankfully I now have Hemerocallis ‘Milk Chocolate’.  I’ve planted it in the garden and hope to grow it up big and fat.  I bought it from the generous folks at North Country Daylilies in Buskirk, NY.  Hemerocallis ‘Milk Chocolate’ is the little guy all the way on the left in the photo above.

See, the growers here in California who grow daylilies don’t seem to grow this particular cultivar (or at least not list it online).  Some growers list it but didn’t actually have any or wouldn’t return my calls and emails – after looking for this thing  for years, I was thrilled when North Country said they had one.  ONE.  Not only that, they were willing to ship it to California – another stumbling block I’ve run into before.  BUT, they sent me a 3 fan plant, more than most mail order companies would send.

I bought ‘Milk Chocolate’, ‘Third Witch’ and ‘Vatican City’ to make the most of the shipping.  I stole the images below from the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) webpage:

Milk Chocolate:

Milk_ChocolateThird Witch:

Third_WitchVatican City:

VATICAN CITYNorth Country sent me the biggest danged plants, I am completely delighted.  In NY where they are, the snow has just melted away and the dormant daylilies are beginning to stick their heads up.  Out here in Northern California, it is warm and spring is old news.

One of the ways I hone my professional knowledge is to order plants from mail order companies and see what happens – I look at accuracy, plant quality, packaging, and customer service (bonus: an excuse to buy plants).  I’ve had some wonderful surprises as in this daylily order.  I’ve also had some really unfortunate and problematic orders (I won’t be ordering from Wayside or Easy to Grow Bulbs again) that surprised me the wrong way.

I’ve found that generally the growers who love their plants and specialize in certain kinds of plants have the best stock.  The big business companies send the smallest, least healthy plants, the most poorly packaged, and have the most errors in order accuracy.  I once got a box of dead plants from Wayside and they never did return my inquiries.  So, when something goes right like this, I like to crow about it.

Do you see these roots on H. ‘Vatican City’ and the extra fans on ‘Third Witch’?!  Mail order plant droolworthiness:

150424 vatican city huge roots150424 third witch several fansI have a few other daylilies that I will tell you about another time – that will be fun – there’s more crazy to share there.

Thanks for reading!

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You’ve heard that you should water trees deeply and infrequently, right?  I take that approach a bit further and use it for everything – trees, perennials, roses, everything.  I’m careful with my water anyway having grown up in Los Angeles during the 70’s drought when we let our yellows mellow, removed or reduced lawns, and collected shower water.

See, we’re in for some serious growing pains while we struggle to understand and adjust to mandatory water restrictions now in 2015 – I don’t need to repeat the advice, you already know it (ditch the lawn, add compost and mulch, etc).  But what we need to be doing is more than just using less water, we need to use water more wisely – to help our plants fend for themselves better.  I see water as a training tool and my plants as smart, but slow.  They can’t fetch and training them to do much of anything takes years.

As of my last water bill, I’m down to 36 GPD (gallons per day) including landscaping.  Before you bow in awe to this amazing feat, you should know that I irrigate my garden a little differently than most and I’m not watering anything I don’t want to keep.  Let the rest die, they’re out of here anyway.  april 2014 Magnolia installedHere’s where I water differently:  I bought a 15 gal. Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’ (that baby green tree in the background left-side).  It is rated as having “moderate” water needs in Oakland by WUCOLS.  Moderate isn’t exactly water-wise, but I’ve got a theory…..  and so far, so good.  I planted the tree a year ago this month.  At the same exact time, my client in Mill Valley had three planted (guess whose idea that was).  Their landscape contractor did exactly what they usually do – they amended, fertilized, and watered the hell out of those trees.  My client’s trees bloomed and grew and leafed out beautifully, gained stature nicely.  Mine didn’t.  Luckily for them, theirs are next to a lawn that I’m sure they’ll keep as long as they can, where I have no lawn.  Below is a better shot of mine last May (1 month after planting).

may 2014 MagnoliaI planted mine with a bit of compost, watered it in well that first day, and walked away.  It looked fine for a while, then it got all stressed out and started dropping leaves.  I watered it again, a nice soaking, and it threw out some new leaves.  We did this all summer:  I kept an eye on it, watering only when I found signs of stress in the leaves, but then not again until I saw more stress.  It was nerve-wracking.  The tree did not visibly thrive, and it sure as heck didn’t get much bigger.  I’m pretty sure it would slap me if it could…. but it survived.  While it was dormant over winter and I held my breath to see how it would do come spring.  This spring when it started blooming, I was delighted with how many (albeit smallish) flowers there were on my young tree, and now it is leafed-out for the season.   I’ll be doing the same this summer, soaking the presumably larger root-zone, but as seldom as possible.  I’ll also be adding more compost on top (not working it in, that’s the worms’ job) and maintaining a good layer of mulch over that.

I believe that what I am doing will be better for my tree’s long-term durability.  I believe that I gave it reason to throw energy into its root system in search of water, and that I rewarded deep root growth instead of fast, exciting foliage and gains in stature.  Over the winter, its root system likely continued to dive and while I watered, soaking further and further down but less and less often, we’re working together to train this “moderate” water needs tree to survive more like a drought tolerant tree.   Here it is today, not much bigger, but doing just fine:

150413 magnolia tree 015I don’t water fast enough that it trickles off, doing by hand what irrigation designers call “cycle and soak”, making sure that the water goes into the soil and nowhere else.  I’m also taking advantage of the few light rains we had to water further than the rain itself went = deep watering every time.

I can’t tell others to do this, the tree looked like hell that first year of establishment and I think most people wouldn’t watch closely enough nor would they enjoy the experience (even I was a bit nervous).  We’ll see how things go this summer, but I can tell you that I don’t water much, maybe once a month?  I avoid watering if it is overcast or cool outside.  I look closely at my plants in the most stressful times – when it is blazing hot, sunny, and/or dry and windy.  If I see stress, I’ll water.  If not, forget it.  I’ll keep you posted on how things go this summer.

150413 roses and MagnoliaThe most impressive thing, though, is what I noticed in putting together this post – look how much my roses LOVE this treatment – they get watered only when the tree gets watered and I have yet to see them look even a little stressed.  You can see the change best between the second photo and the one above.  They’re the hybrid tea ‘Stainless Steel’ (my favorite).  Here’s the original one (now on the right in the photo above) blooming in my old garden in Alameda in 2010 and again in 2012:rose 'stainless steel' jun 2010Rose 'Stainless Steel' full on 2012

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If I can make it…

1 Lemon tree after harvestMy Meyer lemon tree produced a harvest this year that was truly more than I could deal with.  I have given away five (5!!) grocery store bags full of lemons, and it still has more fruit on it than I am prepared to use!  The photo above was taken after I harvested those 5 bags I gave away.  I am sorry I didn’t think to take a photo before, I was so overwhelmed with the insanity of it all. One of the friends I gave lemons to has a serious talent for cooking and making preserves, so I was glad to unload a bunch with her.  She’s made marmalade, curd, and preserved lemons (which I’d never heard of).  When I saw the preserved lemons last week, all gorgeous and perky in sexy tall jars, I was so envious!  Why haven’t I seen this before?  I learned this morning…. I was at Berkeley Bowl West for spices and I saw a jar, about 8 oz of preserved Meyer lemons for $13.  GAWD, that’s insane. 3 lemon harvestI asked her for her advice on making my own, and today I did it.  Here’s why that is noteworthy:  I dislike cooking.  I mean it, I honestly don’t enjoy it.  I’d rather eat a head of lettuce than make a salad.  It’s the same thing, but with less effort and fewer dishes.  I’ve joked for a long time that I eat ingredients or I nuke food, but I don’t make it.  However, stuffing lemons in a jar is something I can do, and it was nice to make something so pretty that I hope will help me fake having cooked real food someday.

4 clean perfect lemonsSo, following is what I did based on her advice and also review of other recipes online:

I washed the lemons with a little dish soap and the scrubby side of a sponge.  I started out using a veggie scrubber based on one blog’s advice, but it released so much lemon smell into the air, I figured I was releasing too many oils and damaging the peel so I switched to the gentler sponge.  Next, I separated out the beauties (above, aren’t they gorgeous!?) from the fuglies.  I preserved the beauts in the juice of the not-so-pretty ones.  They were beautiful on the inside, and that’s all that matters!

6 making preserved lemonsNext, I made a huge mess.  I took pint and a half size Ball jars, sterilized them with the lids (not the rings you screw on, just the lids with that sealant around the edge) in the oven on a cookie sheet at 220 degrees for 10 minutes.  I sliced the stems off the tops of the perfect lemons, flipped them over and quartered them but not cutting all the way through.

5 sliced lemons for preservingI put 1 tbsp kosher salt in each, and smashed them into jars as densely as I could with some lemon wedges to fill in extra space.  As I filled each jar, I added black peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves in various amounts and combinations.  I juiced the ugly lemons and poured the juice over the top, taking care to add enough juice to cover all the fruit….. which started to float and made me mad, because I was told to cover the fruit with the juice, and they were bobbing up out of it …. then I added a skim of olive oil over the top, slapped on a lid and the screw-top ring thingy, and took pictures.

7 preserved lemonsMy friends’ preserved lemons didn’t have salt sitting on the bottom like I do, I don’t know how she managed that…. but whatever.

9 Preserved lemons and orangesOn the right there, you’ll see some preserved oranges.  That is an experiment and I’ll let you know how it goes.  I’ve been told I can crack one of these open in a month and dice the fruit into ice cream, over fish, roast it with chicken, into a salad (hahaha!!), pretty much anything I want.  A word of caution I will repeat from another site is not to add salt if you’re using salt preserved lemons in your cooking as they’ll bring enough with them.

Stay tuned to see if the danged things are edible in about a month!

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The front of my new place is awash with purple Lantana (Lantana montevidensis).  It is lovely stuff if you are both color blind (unless you’re into this sort of purple, nothing wrong with that!) and an admirer of wildlife.  There are butterflies, bees, spiders, and lizards all over it.  It is absolutely marvelous for year-round blooming and needs no supplemental water once established (at least not here, I turned the irrigation off last fall).

lantana HQ 043

The flowers are the pepto bismol of purples – not my favorite, though maybe someday I will find a companion plant with a color that mitigates the pepto purple hue.  Meh, maybe not.  A dear friend of mine said that the overwhelming amount of purple Lantana in my garden made my place look like a retirement home.

lantana HQ 044

As much as I’d like to be able to retire (I’d still spend my time designing gardens – I love it that much), I am not ready to live in a dadgum retirement home!  Talk about death by association; I can’t look at it anymore without thinking about retirement homes.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, my lovely boyfriend thinks the foliage smells like poo (the flowers smell nice at night).  Charming: a poo scented retirement home.

lantana HQ 039Here’s my vexation:  as much as I intend to remove the Lantana and put in other stuff, it is happy, healthy, requires no water, and supports oodles of critters.  So for now it stays…. providing food and shelter for all those bugs and lizards, but lookout, Lantana!  You’re living on borrowed time.  Wanna know what I think might fill the space above?  I’m considering a collection of spineless Opuntia that my friend Melinda sent me from Texas along with a few I’ve collected on my own here.  The ones from Texas are rooting in the shed right now – cross your fingers that they all take!

IMG_3647So there’s my dilemma – removing the Lantana removes habitat, but goodness gracious, there’s so danged much of it, I don’t really like it, and the new design/plants aren’t ready yet.  Patience….

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I started a blog post mumble-mumble months (years) ago about the humming birds that were nesting in my apartment patio (I think they’re Anna’s Hummingbirds)

Hummingbird eggs in podocarpusI was going to say all sorts of lovely things about the environment and gardening without chemicals, stuff like that.  But then I stopped blogging, and I focused on pretty much everything else…. and then I moved.  Now I have a place only 30 minutes from the old apartment, and hummingbirds abound.  I think I have Rufous, Anna’s, and Allens, but I’m not sure so don’t go betting any money on it.

hummingbird babies in redwood at 2028 2012What I am obsessed with now is the incredible diversity of tiny critters that inhabit my suburban garden.  I must apologize in advance for not having the sense to take photos of all of the species that have come forth so far (northern rubber boa, aroboreal salamander, slender salamander, the neighbor’s cats, and countless birds).  I have only photos of this very patient little dude… here’s our story:

I was cutting (digging/swearing/chopping) out one of the dreaded Lantana in the front yard.  While I was whacking and wheezing and pulling at the stubborn Lantana stump, a teensy tiny baby lizard jumped on my hand.  I screamed like a little girl right there in my front yard where everyone on the block would be able to tell who the big baby was.  I ASSUMED that the intrepid little lizard had bounced off and gone about its business, since it quickly vacated my hand.

I know you’re anticipating its return already, clearly it did NOT leave me and go about its business!  That dad gum lizard showed up FOUR HOURS later… on the front of my t-shirt, after I had come inside, grabbed a snack, changed some of my clothes (ha ha, little lizard, very clever!) and… get this…. climbed into bed to read a novel.  There I am, plate of cheese and crackers, no shoes, hands and face washed, beverage with ice, feet under the covers, and ta-da!  the same  teensy lizard bounces smack on the front of my t-shirt between my murder mystery and my face.

little lizzie 019little lizzie 024I am very proud to inform you that I managed not to scream like a bitch this time.  In a very grown-up and mature way, I put down the book, slid off the bed, opened the curtains and the sliding glass door, and bent over ever so gracefully so my little friend could relocate to the railing just outside.

little lizzie 022

It is still out there, hanging in the back yard and waiting for me to come out.  I see it from the kitchen window almost daily, and pretty much every time I go out to water, there it is.  I can’t be sure that I’m not looking at a ton of look-a-likes, but who cares when they’re this cute!?

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Hello there!  I’ve been away from this blog far too long.  Things have been quite busy with a whole mess of life and work changes.

The big news is that I moved into a new place.  I’m in the very beginning stages of designing the garden here, and wanted to share with you some of the challenges I am facing and what I’m doing to make this place as useful and responsive to my needs as possible.  This could take me a while, but I’m game if you are:

For starters, the previous occupants planted thorny Bougainvillea next to the gate to one of the side yards.  You have to squeeze by it and hope there aren’t any bad guys lurking behind it to get into the rear yard.  Don’t catch your sleeve on the sickly, not even fragrant, and incredibly thorny patio tree rose on the left as you go:

1 hiding places

If you look behind the Bougainvillea, you’ll see a very typical fence which blocks visibility into the back yard (hello again, bad guys!).  A friend commented to me that it seemed wrong to block views into what will hopefully become a beautiful side yard.  I have to agree!  Visibility issues aside, what you can’t see is that this opaque fence is nailed to the once charming original fence:

2 hidden fence

Way cuter, right?!  yep, I thought so too.  and next is that side yard that will eventually become beautiful.  Here, what you can’t see are all the weed seeds that germinated the moment I moved in keeping me busy indefinitely:

3 bare side yard

 

If you follow the side yard, you come to the back where there’s some lovely painted concrete in reggae colors with teensy tiny meaningless lawns and very old, well established Photinia (one of my least favorite shrubs EVER!).  How snazzy is that bit of solid fencing there?  I love how it gracefully blocks the view of the neighbor’s solid wall.  Equally enjoyable is the brick cap on the concrete retaining walls.  No lack of design consideration here:

5 tiny lawns 4 bad concrete

Which brings me to the shed.  I love love love the shed.  It has holes in the roof and sides from what appear to be buckshot so that rain drips directly on the shelf and is rotting the framing.  I have no idea what that railing is for, nor why there’s a flagpole footing in front of the little railing surrounded platform.  I call it the pulpit.  The pulpit’s days are numbered; same goes for the flagpole footing and little concrete pad in front of it.

7 shed

In the front is an unreasonable amount of purple Lantana and this thing, probably Yucca elephantipes.  It will get way too big for that little retaining wall and will break it and start all kinds of trouble in the next couple of years if I don’t remove it.  Sorry, Yucca, you gotta go.

6 the thang

The good thing is that when I go to the shed and look out past the festive reggae concrete, Photinias, and strange tiny lawns, I can enjoy sunsets every night.

8 view

Here’s to resolving the design issues and playing in the yard!

 

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