Friday, May 28, 2010

Guest Garden #3 - The art of gardening.

This garden is to gardeners what art galleries are to art lovers.  Rossella and Jon hosted this months garden club under the beautiful Modesto Ash that provides a graceful centrepiece for their native/drought tolerant  garden.

The sunken fire pit surrounded by manzinita and wholly pines provided an excellent spot for us all to chill out.

Throughout the garden, it is apparent that Rossella (and possibly Jon too) has an artistic flare.  I even felt compelled to ask her if she had studied art in any shape or form.  She would only admit to a love of visiting art galleries.  Her garden reflects this. She has blended features with plants to tweak interest so that every where you turn there is something to catch the eye.  For example, the native garden has a beautiful dry creek bed complete with an adorable bridge.
A happy purple and yellow color scheme fills this pot.

Here a ceramic cat guards her succulent garden.

The succulent garden behind the cat...
These beautiful terracotta pots beautifully frame these succulents.

I particularly loved the “string of pearls”

This piece of bamboo is so cute planted into a hanging garden.

To complete the “fairy glen” feel there is even a lovely fern garden in the shade.

Rossella wasn’t sure what this plant, that had “volunteered” to grow here, was.  My guess was coffeeberry but my identification is sketchy, so if you know please drop us a comment.

The front of the house has a stunning roses and lavender display.

Three different types of lavender attract a multitude of bees and the air hums with their presence.

The white roses are so densely packed with petals they look cream and peach in some places.

The window boxes have that little touch of Tuscany.

The potato vine climbs up an interesting support of interlocking cane rings.

The bougainvillea is beautiful too – I just love the colour.

From the front of the house this enticing path leads you to the back garden.

The back garden has a vegetable section.  Here are the celery, though Rossella is not impressed with their taste and other members of the club consol her by saying that celery is very hard to grow. Notice the "Mediterranean style" out door dining in the background where we had brunch.

Behind the vegetable patch is a "spa" type  set up. 

Growing up the trellis are two climbers which blossom at different times of the year.  This clever idea ensures that when these have enveloped the structure there will be blossom almost year round.  The mirror is a clever way to disguse the wall that Rossella felt was bare and uguly.

A truly gorgeous garden and a real treat to hang out here!

Byddi Lee

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Picture This Photo Contest May 2010

I found it tough to make a decision as to which photo to submit for the May Picture This Photo Contest.  Not that I hold much hope of winning, though I did get an Honorable Mention in the last one - more for the fun aspect than any great photography skill!  So, I'm entering again for the fun of it and to support the competition!  This month there is no official judge and there does seem to be a lot less entries than in previous months - what a shame - but maybe it will give me more of a chance of winning!  I'm not proud!

I picked this picture from my post "The birds and the bees" - well, what else could one submit for the topic "Spring Fling"?
Byddi Lee

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cold Season, Warm Season Game

In a panic to get my Roma tomatoes finally planted in soil, I hastily plopped them in amongst the struggling remnants of the winter veggies, such as the broccoli – which I’m still harvesting – though only enough for about one dinner a week.  I think I’ll let those blossom with a view to seed saving.  I was trying to keep a succession and I couldn’t see why winter veggies, grown in summer, don’t work here.  In Ireland it seems the better the weather, the bigger the veggies.  I reckoned that if I gave my winter veggies enough water they should just grow bigger with all that sunshine.  I wonder if that is how the first Irish settlers ("settlers" not the big red/brown dog - those are Irish setters!) felt about the New World climate when they tried to grow their crops.

I am surprised that the peas I planted in February aren’t happy.  They certainly haven’t thrived like the ones I planted in October that grew to about three feet high and fed us from December to April.   This picture was taken in February (with the old camera!). 
This picture taken today shows how much smaller the peas are.
You can also see zucchini and pak choi planted here, and by the fence, a scrawny one of the two of my last remaining sunflowers!

As a biologist, I know there are other factors at play here.  The heat and sunlight closes stomata, the pores in the leaf, thus interfering with transpiration rates and gaseous exchange, slowing down photosynthesis.  Photo periods come into play too.  My winter veggies have proven to me that there really is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”!  Still, I hold high hopes for my spuds to be going year round…They look like eggs in a nest when you are digging them up - a sight that gladdens the heart of any Irishwoman!

Because I haven’t been pulling out the winter veggies, my seven plots are really filling up.  I’d set out with great intentions to plan my garden.  I have a selection of drawings for the plots, mapping out where the water melon is going to go, where the best place for my pumpkins would be and how I’d set up my salsa garden (Mostly tomatoes, bell peppers and onions, as opposed to a place for Latin-American dancing!).  I know that it does resemble Egyptian hieroglyphics, but it made sense to me!
The gardening course suggested that I make out such a plan, so how did I miss the part about following it!

This is the reality.  In this shot there are peppers, zucchini, Roma tomatoes, summer squash, cantaloupe melon, a pak choi gone to seed, a lonely sunflower, and even the branches of the long gone cherry tree, used as pea stakes, are growing well!

I have a stray watermelon seed that germinated in my dill pot!  (I will transplant it…but where to?)   You can see that something has had a little nibble on it too - proof of organic gardening!

The pumpkins are still in seed trays, and I may have to be extra creative about where I plant those! 

Some have been planted on a mini raised bed where I have tried to bury a privet as I didn't have the tools, strength or inclination to dig out the stump.  A whole new twist on the term "lazy beds".   What are the odds of this working?

It does look like a grave complete with headstone - death of a privet - may it rest in peace, and not come back to haunt me!

I mixed up the different varieties of bell peppers I was germinating, so I don’t know what colors to expect the peppers to be, not only that, but they got mixed up with the egg plant seedlings – honestly, Mum, I had everything labeled, just like you taught me, but I took out the labels when I potted them up and forgot to put them back.  The labels are all sitting in a jar!  The egg plant and pepper seedling are different, and I’m hoping that I’ve figured out which is which, but still they are planted higgledy- piggledy all over the garden.  It's my first time ever growing warm season plants, and I don't know how to space them as I don't know how big they'll get. 

The one thing I can claim is that I do not have anything approximating a monoculture!

Here's a challenge - how many different plants can you see in the picture below?  Answers on a postcard - actually, better than that - just leave a comment beginning with the words "I spy with my little eye.."!  List the ones you see - you get a point for each correct one and then I'll post the answers next week with your scores.  If you have a blog, leave the link and I'll post it alongside your score!

The chaos in the garden gives me palpitations!  I like order, and here I am trying not to dead head to encourage seed production and accept the bugs in the garden (only 3% of bugs are harmful – so that means that 97% are beneficial or benign at worst) so I don’t spray with pesticides.

I felt much better after I noticed that Garden Rant  posted in their manifesto as their third point “ …in love with rambling, chaotic, dirty , bug ridden gardens.”  Mine certainly qualifies!

Some of my friends have said they’ll read my blog to get tips!  I can only say that to date, my blog can tell you what not to do!  On the up side - my first cherry tomato has ripened!  This one has been grown in the sun-room - an experiment in succession! 
 Byddi Lee

Friday, May 14, 2010

April Showers - in May! Whats up with that?

When people ask me when is the best time to travel to Ireland, I always say “Go in May.”  At this time of the year the weather is pretty good, though in Ireland that is never guaranteed, but at least the rain will be warmer.  The apple blossom will be out, and County Armagh turns pink and frothy with it - beautiful.  In green fields,  hillsides and mountains, the dark yellow gorse flowers spill their sweet, coconut scent into the air.  Bluebells blossom in drifts on woodland floors.  Am I sounding homesick?

Newcastle, Co. Down, Ireland, May 2009
Back in those days this blog wasn't even a twinkle in my eye, so unfortunately, I have no photos of these blooms from home.  Instead, I shall sprinkle this post with a few pictures that I took last Sunday in honor of May's Bloom Day.
Last year, I went home in May for my Mums birthday, another reason why I hate to miss May in Ireland. The weather was awful!  At one stage I was wearing every single item of clothing I had packed and brought with me.  I’m a shameless wussy – Note, I did say Wussy!  
It was also the first time I noticed just how optimistic the Irish are.  As I shivered my way around high street shops, I noticed that the clothes on the racks were more suitable for hot summers and Tropical climates.  Where were the layers of sheep’s wool sweaters to keep these 'poor creathurs' warm in the summer rain? 
As I tried to commiserate with them about the gale force winds and horizontal rain we encountered in May, 2009, the standard reply was, “Sure, a bad spring means a hot summer!”  The rumored heat wave never did strike last year, as it rarely does, but still the Irish live in hope that some summer it will be warm enough to wear their strappy dresses and high heeled sandals (and that’s just the guys!)
I’ve softened to the easy climate of California, and though it’s May, I’m still wearing socks and shoes…In Ireland, I’d have ditched the socks in order to feel that summer was just around the corner.  Chilblains or no chilblains, I’d sport those blue feet with pride and the attitude “I’ll look summery, even if it kills me” (pneumonia most likely)!
This is the only the second time I have ever spent May outside Ireland.  The last time I was in the South Pacific.  It was hard - missing my mum’s birthday, feeling guilty, lying on the white sand beaches, by the Blue Lagoon (from the movie), swimming in bathtub-warm, azure-blue water.  OK - so it wasn’t that hard.  Who am I kidding?
Even with the above average rainfall this month, May is beautiful in California too. Ironically, last weekend, after my husband installed the drip irrigation system in the garden, it rained for two days!  Even in California the weather is out to spite me.  In 2007, back when I still lived in Ireland, we had a lovely sunny day and I, realizing that I didn’t have a sun seat, ordered one to be delivered to my apartment.  From the day it arrived, it rained – I left for California before I ever got a chance to take the plastic wrap off it!
That wasn't the first time I experienced weird rain Karma.  In 2003, I toured the Australian Outback – they’d had years of drought – no rain at all.  We weren’t even allowed to flush the toilets for Number Ones!  I was there a day – and it rained…And Rained…AND RAINED!  At least we were permitted to flush the loo!
After the rain on Sunday, my poor husband, who was trying to finish off a few bits and pieces of the irrigation system (in the rain - go figure!) called me out with the camera to take pictures of the rain drops.  As an Irish person, I've probably never appreciated rain as much as I do now, in California.
 Byddi Lee

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Birds and the Bees!

When I was a biology teacher, (a hundred years ago, in another life), I used to love announcing to the kids, “Today we are doing reproduction.”  Their collective, poorly hidden excitement soon turned sour as I put up a diagram of a flower.  Plant reproduction was seemingly not that titillating for a teenager, yet who cannot gaze in wonder at these amazing reproductive organs – and right now they are everywhere!

My garden has surprised me with a burst of blossom.  Some of these plants I’ve inherited, like these fantastic Irises, that seem iridescent in the glow of the evening sun,

Even the wild root stock from a poorly pruned rose is beautiful and makes a nice indoor display.

Some of the plants I’ve grown especially for their blooms, yet their beauty still surprises me.  This sweetpea flower looks like it is made from satin.

Some I planted not expecting flowers – like the fabulous white orbs that my onions have produced.

Their cousins the chives have a smaller purple version of the same

The broccoli blossomed one day I didn’t get out to harvest for a while.  They made an attractive posy.

Tomato flowers are exquisite if you care to look closely.

Apparently, you can eat zucchini flowers – this early one surprised me.

Over the fence, the neighbors’ exotic bottle brush plant, a native of Australia that does well in the dry Californian climate, attracts lots of humming birds.

And where would all these gorgeous flowers be without their pollinators?  
Yesterday, whilst hiking in Rancho Canada del Oro we saw a swarm of bees.  The noise was incredible.  Having recently read “The Secret Life of Bees” I knew immediately what the sound was – it resonates through the air so that you can feel, not just hear, the hum.  I wasn’t as scared as I thought I might be to see so many bees in one place.  Sometimes you see something so awesome in nature that you forget about being afraid.  As it turned out, I had nothing to fear anyways – not a single person was stung.

They were right across the trail at one stage.

There were a few butterflies out that day too – this little Checkerspot looks like he’s just taking in the scenery!
I have a stack of photos from my hikes too, but I must stay on task and pull myself back to the garden.  And right now there is plenty of fun to be had there too.   This week I watched our resident mocking birds dive bomb crows who were trying to muscle into their territory (our front yard).  They chased it off towards the neighor’s and then came flying back at top speed – they in turn being chased by none other than two little humming birds!  These little guys are so brave – sometimes they “buzz” me if I’m in their way!

But love is in the air. Even the hummingbirds have stopped hovering long enough to gaze into each others eyes!  I took this through the kitchen window...

The mocking birds were it putting out there too!

And the squirrels – well, I nearly had to put my hands over my eyes with these guys – but here’s some that made it past the censor!

Byddi Lee