Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seasonal Changes In The Coastal Garden

As we start our cooler weather in October on the north coast, changes in light, temperature, and blooming begin. When fall and winter arrive I am always grateful for the shrubs and vines that stay green and withstand most of the frosts and weather here.

With fall weather, the heathers sporting colorful leaves start deepening their hues from evergreens and yellows to oranges, reds and bronse, standing out more in the garden as the other flowers begin to fade. The late blooming heathers are a wonderful addition as the months grow colder since so many of them bloom from September to October and even November. The pink jasmine stays green all year long, flowering more during summer, yet, surprisingly has a small amount of white with pink tinged flowers blooming even during the coldest of winter months.

The lithodora ground cover remains green all year long after its blue flowers bloom in summer, as do my azaleas, rhododendron, and the cotoneaster plant, which features orange berries all year long. This gives the garden some color and leaf shape when the rose leaves look sparse, the Johnson's Blue geranium dies back, the garnet pestemon gives up its blooms, the kiwi vines and butterfly bushes are bare, and the other spring and summer plants go dormant.

The passionflower vines on the front yard fence have survived well through most winters here, surprisingly so. Our first year the vines were hit by a very cold winter, with heavy frost and temperatures below the low thirties. The passionflower vines on the fence died back and then quickly recovered in spring, as if the frost did nothing to them that year. Since then I've practiced a hard trim back in early spring, leaving the vines and leaves lush and full from summer over fall and winter, which seems to help protect the vines during colder weather.

The privet hedge is always green, not my favorite hedge but in winter it helps to see the green outline our front yard. Even the curly willow and drooping cherry tree that both drops its leaves by winter have beautiful bare, curled branches that are striking during the cold weather of winter. If only the passionflower vines on the trellis out front would stay leafed out during the colder months, but it seems my garden passionflower vines during winter are only full with green leaves when located against the front yard fence.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vines Around the Coastal Garden

I feel fortunate that when we moved into our home three years ago, a number of vines were well established in our front and back yards. The pink jasmine is all over the front and back yards, planted by the previous homeowner. This is a good and a bad thing at times, since the pink jasmine is a high climber when it comes to vines. The trellis in the back yard has pink jasmine crawling up at least eight to ten feet, great for that area but not so great for the short deck area, where the vines billow out and grow aggressively. They look beautiful but so much pruning!

The passionflower vines on the fence are growing like crazy this year, flowering well even though I haven't had as much chance to run the soaker hose along the base of the vines growing against the front yard fence. There are not as many flowers this year because I have not soaked the vines on a regular basis, but the light purple and green flowers still look great draped over the front and the back of the front yard fence. I planted four roots from the green and purple flowering passionflower in the trellis boxes last spring but so far nothing. I hope the roots take hold and the vines grow from these seedlings. I've never dug up and planted a seedling root of passionflower before, so I am hoping by next spring I will see some growth.

I discovered last year that the previous homeowner had planted yet more pink jasmine, this time a plant in each of the front yard trellis boxes. The plants have been doing little growth since we've been here until finally this summer the vines are reaching the top of the trellis and building up in size. Originally after two of the four the dark purple passionflower vines died off I tried to dig up the jasmine vines because I thought they would be too much in terms of pruning in the trellis boxes. The passionflower vines behave themselves fine in the trellis and grow upwards, but I discovered they are shorter lived than I thought they would be. This summer its been pretty bare again like last summer. I planted some sweet pea seeds, added some rich soil and nothing happened. I've always had hit or miss luck with sweet peas, not sure what I am doing wrong, guess its time to study up more on them. With the lack of sweet peas and passionflower seedlings in the trellis boxes I finally realized perhaps because the pink jasmine does best growing tall these vines will do well there after all. When grown to grow tall the pink jasmine vines do not need as much pruning. I also realized the pink jasmine sports flowers and green with burgundy leaves almost all year long here, another benefit for the trellis. I am hoping by next spring I'll see more flowers and vines on the trellis boxes, even if the pink jasmine dominates the trellis, no doubt it will be a beautiful display after all.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

R.I.P. Steve the Cat

Steve the cat had been my faithful companion eighteen years, two months and one week. He left us on Friday, October 8 at 4:00 p.m. I first met Steve at my apartment complex, he was about three months old and hanging out with other stray cats at the bottom of my stairway. I've always had a soft spot for animals, especially kitties, so I put some dry food and water out for the kitties at the top of my stairs. Steve was a Russian Blue, a gorgeous grey, very tall for his age but so young, I worried for him. Steve ate the food regularly at the top of my stairs and unlike the other kitties would take that opportunity to run into my apartment whenever I opened the door for the next few weeks. Steve kept running into my apartment when he got the chance and we bonded. When he ran into my apartment after my friends left that Christmas Eve, I decided he was my Christmas present and I adopted him and named him Steve after a college friend who had passed away. He had a lot of nicknames along the way, including the one I used most, Stevecat.

My favorite memory of Steve is when he sat at the screen door looking out into the garden. I kept him as an indoor cat and he readily accepted the change, since when he was outdoors he was scared to be out there. When I met my future husband a few months later, my husband used a feather on a stick to keep Steve entertained. Steve was a one person cat, but eventually he became very close to my husband as well. Steve enjoyed sitting in the window above our bed, jumping up and scratching the wood as he climbed. We didn't mind so much because he loved looking outside. Steve loved to sit in the doorway with the screendoor opened so he could smell the fresh air and watch the world go by. When we moved up to Eureka, he was fourteen and adjusted well, sitting on a stool at the back door with the screen open so he could look out into our garden. This was a much better view for Steve and he made the most of his time at the back door.

The last six months Steve declined, but with every look he gave you he was still Steve, even up to the last few hours. Steve did a little upside down head turn when he was laying down, so cute, and he managed to do a head turn the day before he passed away. We were both honored to hold him as he died peacefully at home.

We will miss you Stevecat...more than you can ever know. Jump up in the window all you want.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Visiting the Annual Heather Farm Sale

The annual heather farm sale was this last weekend, and as we have every year since we arrived in Eureka, we went to the sale and selected some great heathers for our garden. The apple tree behind the farm's house is always a welcome sight, thick bent branches hold red apples with yellow markings, birds chirping, and a bird house hangs from a branch. The farm has hills surrounding it with fog rolling over them. The meadow where the heathers are raised has green grass, and plenty of heaths and heathers to view in beds throughout the property. Each four inch and gallon pot were selling for $3 each, a real bargain to say the least. The heather farm owners always puts out a spread of savory and sweet snacks for visitors, some packaged candies for the children who come with their parents, coffee and tea, and there is a table in the meadow so you can sit, relax, and enjoy the scenery as well. The annual heather sale is always a highlight of fall for me here on the north coast.

This time I went to the heather sale with a list and my husband was impressed. As is often the case the plants you buy the year before are not available, and this year was no exception. I don't mind too much because it is always fun to buy different heathers for the yard. There were less heather overall this year and no heaths available, good thing I stocked up on heaths last year. I only found one heather on my list, but was lucky enough to find the one heather I was most anxious to get more of, Kramer's Rote. This is a beautiful low to the ground heather that has delicate evergreen leaves that are covered in cream buds in the fall, opening to a striking fuchsia pink flower. This heather has become a wonderful ground cover mixed in with my lithodora plant, both perfect accents to the rhododendron and pestemon hovering over them. I grabbed two Kramer's Rote to add under the pink roses in the front yard. I found another heather that stated it acted as a thick ground cover, smothering out weeds. This particular heather is also low to the ground and is supposed to have heliotrope colored blooms. I selected two of these to go along with the Kramer's Rote heather, all to line up under the pink roses. The height of these heathers should be no more than six to eight inches high, but both spread out quite a bit when fully grown.

I found two other heathers that I plan to plant under the jasmine at the bottom of the back yard deck. There was a heather that I have grown before in Petaluma, very similar to my yellow/orange/bronze heathers in the front yard. The other heather had a beautiful pink flower and will sit nearby the brightly colored heather, both will be visible from the arbor where I sit to enjoy the garden. The final heather we purchase is an heather that grows 5 feet tall...I've never seen one that grew that tall available at the heather farm. There was one left and I grabbed it, glad we had arrived early for the sale that day. This evergreen heather is going to be planted near the pink climbing roses, it features pale pink flowers edged in a darker pink at the opening of the flowers, really a stunning shrub. I can't wait to see this heather perform in the garden, and am hoping it enjoys the sunny spot I have chosen for it.

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