Saturday, February 16, 2008

Descanso Gardens and deja vu

Day trip to LA to see the tax guy and the Hertz folks set me up with a convertible. OK it was a Toyota but still, tooling down the Hollywood Freeway from Bob Hope to Hollywood with the top down was a blast. The only thing missing was Randy Newman singing 'I Love LA'.

Anyway, I left the afternoon open to see something before flying back to Sacramento and decided on Descanso Gardens. In all my 30 years in LA, I only made it to Descanso once before. Yesterday was the perfect day. Camellias blooming everywhere, sunshine, what more could you want.

They have a corner devoted to California natives. None were blooming but just looking at the plants brought back memories of my bulldozed front yard at my old house. I had a huge ceanothus 'Concha' which was a spectacular blue background for the small brick patio which our son built for us. Next to it was a fremontadendron which was also a spectacular display in spring. I had lehua plants, good sized specimens of jade plant (crasula), some low growing aloes and a red banana screening the patio and french doors to my wife's office from the street. This was perhaps my best gardening effort at the old house. It wasn't really planned. I added things I liked from my frequent trips to the nursery and it gradually came together. Unfortunately when it was beginning to look its best, I had to take an out of town job which eventually led to our move.

Where I live now, there are plant police who continually look for forbidden plants in my landscaping. (Doesn't seem very American, does it?) Every thing the landscaper planted was approved but who knows about the things I pick. Nevertheless, I do add plants and think about how to make my new yard better despite the constraints. It's probably time for a post on the dredded homeowners association but not today. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Roses Present

Year 1

We moved into our house in July but did not get the rear yard landscaped until December so my first year to contribute to the garden was 2005. I mentioned earlier that I had asked the landscape designer for some roses. He allotted three spaces on the side of the yard behind the retaining wall that steps up from my level yard to that of my neighbor's. There were three holes hacked in the rocks with gallon pots as filler.

I had decided to be more adventurous with my new roses and ordered three Mutabilis to fill the holes. I was still trying to take the measure of the plantings and understanding what they might look like when mature so I was cautious about further ground planting. I wanted another rose, however, and decided to grow one in a pot. After considerable pondering, I selected an Austin rose, Symphony which was described as a yellow .

Mutabilis was an inspired choice. (I later found that it is one of the 10 best plants for the area selected by the UC Davis Botanical Gardens.) Two of the plants took off right away while the one in the center languished and eventually died. (Water from apparently natural sources bubbles up randomly in my new yard causing some drainage problems which I will document later but the central rose was planted right on top of one of them.) The survivors are always in bloom (except when I force dormancy) and are now about 6’ x 6’.

Symphony was disappointing; not very vigorous and bleached out to white in our scorching summer weather. It lasted two years then petered out.

Year 2

By this time it was clear to me that the beds around the level area of my back yard could stand some more plants and so why not some more roses. I added two roses, Mme. Cecile Brunner (the regular one – not the climber) and Midnight Blue. They are both small and I hoped would be complementary. I am still waiting for them to grow up.

I wanted climbing roses in my front courtyard where there is what we like to call the bell tower over the gate from the front yard. I planted Mermaid to grow up the north wall and out of the top of the bell tower into the front of the house and Ginger Syllabub to grow up the one freestanding pillar of the tower. Mermaid is incredibly vigorous but so far has not given a big show of blooms. GS is slower growing, not a vigorous bloomer and the promised yellow-apricot flowers wash out to white. She needs to step up this year or I will be looking for a replacement.

Finally, I ordered two Hot Cocoa’s late in the season and planted them in front of the Mutabilis. (I had really wanted Hot Cocoa and so I rationalized that the colors would go together. They don’t go well but I like them anyway). They have yet to really look good, partly because my maple trees have begun to actually provide some shade. When I planted them, the trees were only nine feet tall and the idea that there would ever be shade in the yard never crossed my mind. I am hoping that this year will see them vigorous and blooming up a storm in spite of the maple.

Year 3

I planted Graham Thomas. It is supposed to be tall and gorgeous. By this year it is tall and spindly. The few flowers I saw last year actually stayed yellow but beyond that, it hasn’t won my heart..

Year 4

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Great Idea

The Garden Wise Guy shows a clever idea about how to select plant companions.

This is Brilliant

You would think that a Missouri farmboy like me would have thought of this but thankfully Pam did. This is just what I need for my water lily. Now that I live in the sticks, I should have no trouble finding just the one.

I can relate.

Another transplanted gardener copes and prevails.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


I was prepared for differences when I moved to my new house. The yard is smaller. It has a steep slope for most of the backyard. The front yard belongs to the Homeowners Association. These were all issues that I recognized from the first. I may not have appreciated their full impact but they were not surprises.

What I failed to anticipate was that my entire yard is a rock pile. I do not mean that there are rocks embedded in the soil in my yard. There is no soil. I mean a rock pile. The first clue was the jackhammer the landscaper used when he installed my plantings.

Even recognizing the reality, it didn’t hit home until I decided to embellish the bones of my landscaping with some seasonal interest. In this case some narcissus. My slope was just begging for some splashes of spring color and I ordered an assortment of bulbs intended to provide a long season of color. In my enthusiasm, I must have ordered 100 bulbs, imagining that planting them would be easy.

In fact, it was a pain. First I had to pry out all the rocks where I wanted bulbs. (I don’t really mean all, just those in the first eight inches.) These rocks I stacked on the side of the bed for later disposal. When this was done, I had a hole for the bulbs but no soil to fill it. For this I used a compost mix from the nursery which I blended with the small amounts of clay holding the rocks together. Then I planted the bulbs. Needless to say it took a long time to get all 100 bulbs in the ground. I have to admit that part of the problem was that I did not have the wits to purchase some decent digging tools. I bought a shovel before I understood how useless it would be in my yard. I had a small garden trowel to pry up the rocks and I added a screwdriver to my tools early on but they were inadequate. Only this year did I purchase a pick which makes the task much easier.

The bulbs have done well, returning every year but last year I lost the will to add more, first because of the digging and second because I can’t remember where they are after the foliage dies. I feel inspired with my new pick to go back to the catalogues next fall to add some more.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Sun today although it is still coldish and I finally got into some maintenance. First, the roses. I sprayed them all with a dormant spray. I need to spray again and then prune. I always seem to get into a competition with the gardener. He usually gets to them first. He did cut the Mutabilis' back which is what I would do anyway but I may shape a bit after the spraying.

Then I cut off a few lower branches from my three young maples. As they grow, I cut the lower branches each year. This is the third year and I may be finished.

My first narcissus are just about finished and it looks like it will be a while before the next group comes on. They are just breaking ground. I do have some crocuses popping. Spring is on the way.