Monday, December 22, 2014

Hidden December Blooming Scabiosa Flower

This afternoon I went out to harvest some kale from my front flower bed, and to my right I noticed a flash of light blue hidden in a clump of dried hyssop. I hadn't realized when I wrote my post yesterday that my scabiosa, better known as the pincushion flower, was still in bloom. So I need to add it to the list of things that bloom in Paso Robles in December. 

The hyssop itself had bloomed all the way into the end of July and then the flowers dried to the way you see them here. It's time to cut it back. I hope my gardener will cut it and all but the new growth on my oregano back when he comes tomorrow. 

I also need to cut the top dead spikes from my mullein plant, since the secondary shoots from it are still trying to bloom. The top photo below was taken last week, and I see I also need to add the gazanias to the list of what's blooming in December. It blooms almost year round. You can see the yellow gazanias near the wall in the second photo, which was taken today. The first one below shows the front flower bed from a distance. Here the mullein is just a silhouette, but you can see the long dead flower spikes on top. Those are what I need to have cut.

Here you see a close-up of the bottom part of the mullein that is trying to bloom again. Click to expand the photo. To the right of the mullein is a kale plant, and there is another one at the left toward the back. Right behind the first kale are the blooming gazanias. To the right of the mullein is some tricolor sage, not in bloom. It has never bloomed for me, but the leaf color contrasts with surrounding foliage. 

The other thing obvious if you expand this photo are the number of weeds and weedy grasses beginning to take over any bare ground. I had surgery just before all the rains and I am restricted from any gardening activities for another six weeks at least. I want to be getting those weeds out. It's killing me to just watch them keep the light and nutrients from seedlings struggling to emerge. I did have someone at least pull the tops off some of these grassy weeds today, but it only made a dent. I can hardly wait to get my hands in the dirt again and start doing what needs to be done before it's too late. 

Have you started your seasonal weeding yet? Those of us in California need to start dealing with the baby milk thistle and poison hemlock plants and other weeds I see starting to claim their ground. Click the link to see photos of the most common weeds on the central coast we need to deal with early. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?

Flowers Do Bloom in December

This month I've had a lot of time to roam my Riverbank tract neighborhood in Paso Robles to see what's blooming. It's good information to have when planning gardens. What you see to the left is a day lily I saw on my walk today, December 21. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
A Day Lily in December

A Timely Rain Gave the Flowers a Boost

Usually, winter is the time when there is very little color besides green in most gardens.  We have been fortunate to have more than average rainfall compared to last year during autumn, and we still have lots of clouds that seem to promise more rain. All that rain is turning our brown grass green again and giving our garden plants a much-needed drink. I photographed this sky yesterday, December 20. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?

I hope we get a lot more rain this season because all the plants love it. 

What's Blooming in My Own Garden

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Calendula Flower in December

I was expecting to see my calendula in bloom because calendulas add cheer to my garden when almost nothing else is blooming, and I wasn't disappointed. The rain has really helped them thrive. 

What surprised me was that a purple iris started to bloom. Maybe the rain woke it up. I had planted it a year ago but it didn't bloom in April like the other irises. It was a welcome sight. I wonder if it will bloom again on schedule in April or whether it just wanted to welcome me home from the hospital after my neck surgery this month. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Iris in December

My holly is also in bloom. The berries from the holly help carry the birds such as bluebirds, woodpeckers, and mockingbirds through this time of year. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Holly in December

What's Blooming in My Neighbor's Gardens?

When I don't limit myself to what I have in my own yard, there are many more options for color in December.  Both I and many of my neighbors grow roses and rosemary. Many rose varieties are still blooming. 

The yard below got rid of its lawn to conserve water and the attractive plants they have chosen to replace the lawn include both roses and rosemary. I think you will easily find the red roses in the center. Next to them on the right is a smaller white rose bush. The rosemary is on the slope to the left. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
My Neighbor's Xeriscaped Yard in December

I also grow rosemary. I started with a plant that was already there when I moved in, and then I easily rooted more in water within a couple of weeks. I used those to expand the drought-resistant shrubs in my own garden. Almost everyone in my neighborhood has rosemary. It not only has attractive tiny blue flowers, but it attracts bees and helps carry them through the winter. Read more about landscaping for the bees. 

The city of Paso Robles also uses a lot of rosemary in its landscaping. It's on the slopes in Larry Moore Park and in the parkway between Riverbank Lane and the Park. I show it below under a sweet gum tree that still has a few red leaves. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Sweet Gum Leaves and Rosemary

After I headed back home I passed some other homes that had flowers that surprised me by being in bloom in December. The poinsettia didn't surprise me. I would expect to see it now. But those sunflowers next to it stopped me short. On the left of the poinsettia, I believe we see a smaller sunflower variety. I'm not sure what the small white flowers were because I couldn't get close enough for a good look. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Poinsettias and Sunflowers in December

A couple of houses down were these blanket flowers brightening their yard. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Blanket Flowers in December

Notice the mallow plant in the lower left corner. It's an edible weed you can substitute for spinach. Learn how to use mallow.

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
I came across another plant blooming I couldn't identify. To the left, you see a closeup of the flower itself. It's very small. But this section is just part of a large clumping plant. I show you the entire plant below. If anyone can identify it, please comment so we can correct this information. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Mystery Plant in Bloom in December

Growing close to this plant is another I believe is a variety of lavender. Most of the lavender growing in our neighborhood has stopped blooming, but this variety is still going. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Lavender in Bloom in December

When I got home from this walk, I got the camera out again to capture my watermelon sage. It, too, is still in bloom. See it below. Many of my neighbors also have a red sage in bloom. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Wild Watermelon Sage in Bloom in December

Yesterday I took another walk and didn't get very far before I saw something else I didn't expect -- a blooming zonal geranium. These usually die when it gets cold, but it's not that cold yet this year. It certainly brightens up my neighbor's garden. It's in her new drought-resistant landscaping makeover. 

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Zonal Geraniums in Bloom in December

One of the other plants I'm seeing all over the neighborhood is society garlic. It blooms through most of the year and is drought tolerant. If you crush or cut the leaves, they have a faint onion or garlic smell, which is why most people don't use society garlic in cut flower arrangements. The Sunset Garden Book says the chopped leaves can be used as seasoning. See it below.

What Blooms in December in Paso Robles?
Society Garlic in December

I'm sure I haven't covered everything that blooms in December in this area, but there's enough here to add to your garden to see that it will have some Christmas color before next December rolls around. Many of these plants add color for months. 

What's blooming in your December garden?

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Why I Stopped Hating Coyote Brush

Garden Fence Tries to Keep Coyote Brush from Invading Garden. That deer fence is six feet high. 

When I first moved to Templeton, California in 1991, I could not even name the invasive shrub that seemed to spring up everywhere, often in the company of poison oak. In the photo above, you see it lurking just on the other side of my garden fence. What you can't see in this photo is the poison oak lurking behind it and in its depths, making it hard for someone to go in and get rid of all of it. You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it to see the original size.

Female Coyote Brush in Bloom
Once I got a garden planted inside the fence, I found out just how invasive the coyote brush was. Its seeds blow in the wind like dandelion seeds, and where they land they become new little coyote brush plants. Soon ground not covered with anything else was full of small coyote brush plants. You can read all about coyote brush and see photos of everything I'm describing in detail in my HubPages article "Coyote Brush: Blessing or Curse."

Many photos in the article referred to above show you how long the roots of even the smallest plants are and how annoying coyote brush can be when it's not controlled. It ruined a trap I forgot to put away. It often grows right next to something you value before you even notice it, making it very difficult to safe the plant you want. The article will help you recognize even the smallest seedlings, since the best way to get rid of this is to pull the plants while they are still small.
Root of Small Coyote Brush

It's only after years of living with and studying my coyote brush and that on other properties that I'm beginning to discover that it has some virtues. First, in a land often without enough water to sustain many shrubs, the long roots of the coyote brush enable it to seek water the roots of most plants can't reach. This makes it drought resistant. It is also resistant to fire. In dry country where hillsides can be tinderboxes, coyote brush does not provide good fuel for any fires that might break out.

Although deer don't like to eat it, coyote brush does help hide them, and it also provides shelter for other small wildlife and birds. Quail love to take cover under its branches, and I often see them scurrying near it. Bees and butterflies also love its nectar, and since it blooms in late fall and winter, it helps the bees survive the winter when they can find little else to eat.

One very cold winter, almost all the plants in my neighborhood lost their leaves and turned brown. Only evergreens kept their color, but that still left a countryside mostly green and brown. It was then I noticed that the coyote brush was the one contrast to a very drab landscape. It was coyote brush that lightened the hills . See how this bush stands out from the dormant poison oak around it? The snowy white bushes are the females, and the males are mostly green from this distance.

Coyote Brush in Winter
The dead looking brown shrubs surrounding it are dormant poison oak. They can still give you a bad rash. 

I have come to the conclusion that coyote brush serves a purpose in God's plan I was late catching on to. It adds beauty to winter hillsides and helps feed the bees when they have little for forage. Having several of these shrubs on your property can help protect against fires spreading. So if you have lots of space you don't need for other plants, you may find coyote bush is a friend you can give a home. Just keep it where you want it and watch out for spreading seedlings where you don't want them. This forest was once just a couple of bushes.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

After the Rains Come the Snails

Snails on the Kale

We had our first rain of the season to break our long drought last week. This made all the inhabitants of the California Central Coast very happy. It also reactivated the snails.

Unfortunately, I had not thought to reapply my favorite snail bait before the rain. I don't use poisons, since I'm an organic gardener, but the bait I use contains iron phosphate which kills the snails without affecting people or pets. 

When I went out to pick my kale to cook for dinner, I saw baby snails on the underside of the most chewed up leaves. 

After the Rains Come the Snails
Snail on Kale, © B. Radisavljevic 

The Brown Bug

 I also saw this brown bug. I'm not sure what it is. I'm hoping it doesn't have too many friends in my yard. I'm hoping the bugs aren't as voracious as the snails. 

After the Rains Come the Snails
Brown Bug on Kale, © B. Radisavljevic 

I did spread what snail bait I had left, around my kale and chard plants to try to discourage any more baby snails, but I think I'll have to spend some time hand picking some off tomorrow. 

How I Cooked the Kale

After cleaning the kale and a couple of dandelion plants I also plucked from the garden, I chopped them up and stir fried them with chopped onions and garlic in the grease from two slices of bacon I had cooked and removed to let them drain. I added a bit of olive oil before adding the veggies. After stir frying the veggies until the greens were limp and the onions transparent, I added a bit of lemon juice, vinegar, and soy sauce before crumbling the two slices of cooked bacon and adding it back in. I turned it on low and covered it until everything was tender enough to eat. As far as I know, we did not have any escargot.

How do you cook your kale? If you still need ideas, try one of these recipe books and you'll turn into a kale chef.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Growth of Clary Sage

Clary is a Unique Sage in my Garden

Clary sage (Slavia Schlerea) is quite different from the other other sages I grow. I had no idea to expect when I planted it. It's lush flower spikes surprised me. Best known historically as a remedy for getting foreign matter out of one's eyes with its seeds, it also can be used in the kitchen, but is not as versatile there as the other sages are. Pregnant woman should avoid it, and no one should mix it with alcohol.   I only grow clary sage to add beauty to my summer garden. 

The Growth of Clary Sage
Clary Sage Bud, May 25

My Experience with Clary Sage in the Garden

I first planted my clary in a pot in my yard in Templeton. A couple of years ago I brought the pot to our Paso Robles home. It bloomed there last year. Then it appeared to die down and I thought it was gone. I've since learned it can be biennial (blooming the second year and then dying) or perennial. 

After this year's rains, it came back and started to grow again. On May 25, I snapped the photo of its first bud of the season, which you see above.

Within a week, the buds had turned into the flower spikes you see to the right. The plant is still in the original pot. I am hoping it will reseed. It reseeded once three years ago, but the weed abatement man thought it was a weed and dug it up. He tried a day later to pot it, but the roots had been exposed too long to make a recovery.

The Growth of Clary Sage
Clary Sage in Bloom, Early June

Other Sages I Grow

I also grow tricolor sage, to the left in the photo above. I can't recall if I ever saw it bloom. Most sages bloom in June, but so far I've never seen so much as a blossom on this potted plant. I have seen the more established plants in Templeton bloom. I made this greeting card on Zazzle with it pictured in bloom next to common sage. 

It could be the tricolor variety is on a different timetable than other sage varieties, in spite of what the books say. The Missouri Botanical Garden website says tricolor sage should bloom in May or June. The flowers are supposed to be lavender or purple and quite showy. They should be hard to miss. Maybe tricolor sage has different blooming dates in Missouri. 

My common sage, pictured below, has been blooming since at least April in my Templeton herb garden as has been my black sage in both gardens. My watermelon and Spanish sages have also been in bloom since at least May. You can see them, in addition to the black sage, pictured in my post on what blooms at the end of May

The Growth of Clary Sage
Common Sage in Neglected Herb Garden, © B. Radisavljevic

Have you ever grown clary sage? If not, would you like to? What is your favorite variety of sage?  Please feel free to leave your feedback in the comment box below the share buttons. 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Monarda Didyma (Bee Balm) Is Blooming

I planted this mother monarda didyma plant last year on June 14.  It stayed mostly low to the ground, competing for space with all the gazanias surrounding it. I had to dig out a clearing in the middle of the gazanias. You can see the monarda (bee balm) freshly planted there near the center of the photo. That was a good year for gazanias, which bloom yellow, but they don't bloom as much in this partial shade as they do in full sun all day. 

I planted the bee balm here because I wanted its red flowers to contrast with the green and yellow around it. It took the monarda longer to bloom that first year. The flowers were few. Maybe all that competition from the gazanias hurt it, and I had planted it later than I should have. In the photo below you can see how it looked in its surroundings when it did bloom. The photo was taken in the middle of August. The bee balm flower is the one rising in back over the other flowers. The photo is a bit over exposed so the red color is faint. The flowers in front are opal basil, borage, catmint (in the pot), African basil, and calendula. 

During our very cold winter, most of the gazanias died back, as did all the basils, leaving less competition. In the early spring.  I thought the monarda had died, too. I didn't see it anywhere. I thought this was a perennial plant, but I've never had it last more than one year.

This spring, several monarda plants sprung up in a row. The mother plant must have reseeded itself. I saw the first bud on May 25. See it in the photo to the right? I took the photo from the back of the flower bed looking out toward the dying lawn. 

To the right of the foreground is my mullein, with the very large leaves, which I planted last year. It's a biennial which should bloom this year. I think it was attacked by a tomato hornworm I found on a borage plant in this flower bed. I have the snails under control.

You can see the row of blooming monardas below. They almost appear to be dancing. Some of the gazanias in back are reviving, but not enough to give my bee balm much competition. I hope my bee balm reseeds again next year. I would like to have an entire clump back there next June. 

I grow monarda primarily for its ornamental value. I'm also hoping it will attract hummingbirds and bees as it is supposed to.  My Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs  tells me bee balm flowers are also tasty in salads and the leaves are good for tea. I just may experiment with the culinary uses of monarda this year. 

Have you ever grown monarda? If so, it it meet your expectations? Have you used it in the kitchen or for medical conditions? I'd love to have you share your experiences. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What Blooms in My Paso Robles Garden at the End Of May: Herbs

Herbs are an important part of my garden plan. They feed the bees and butterflies, and they also contribute color to supplement that provided by the flowers. Many of the herbs, including the borage and the hyssop, are pictured mixed with the flowers in my previous post,  What Blooms in My Paso Robles Garden at the End of May: Flowers. Pictured at the left is Spanish sage, surrounded by star jasmine. I planted the Spanish sage last year about this time. 

I divided the santolina you see below from a plant I have in Templeton. I love the yellow color, but the Templeton mother plant sprawls. I had this in a pot, so I moved it pot and all into my flower bed closest to the house, near the back. The gray foliage contrasts well with the green leaves of other plants and the yellow of its own button flowers. 

A plant that was new to me last year was salvia microphylla, also known as wild watermelon sage. It is drought-resistant. I expect it will continue to spread and grow taller, as I intended. I am trying to fill my dry side yard with larger shrubby herbs that will spread to choke out weeds while providing color during every season. Below is my watermelon sage. The blossoms are small, but they do contribute color.

Many sages seem to bloom at this time of year. My common sage is blooming in Templeton, but I haven't planted any of it here in Paso Robles. I did divide my black sage plant there and I planted the division in my side bed here. The mother plant is huge -- about six feet tall and just as wide in all directions. So far it's still small here. I plan to keep it under control. It is not especially colorful with its tiny whorls of pale lavender flowers, but it's always covered with bees when in bloom. See the flowers below.

Black Sage on May 27

I planted the red velvet yarrow below in a pot to keep it from spreading, since I've heard it can be invasive. I think it's outgrowing the pot, though, and it's getting leggy.  I think in fall I will divide it and plant it near the tansy in the front corner of the side yard. It does well under dry conditions. 

Red Velvet Yarrow in Pot

As I write this, my monarda and clary sage have buds and will soon be in bloom. I will be sharing those photos soon.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Blooms in My Paso Robles Garden at the End of May: Flowers

May is a colorful month in the garden. I have decided to start keeping a record of what blooms each month so that I can predict what my garden will look like every month of the year. My goal is to have some  garden color through all seasons. I took this photo on May 27, 2014. Not all colors come from flowers.

In the foreground you can see the mums which started to bloom a couple of weeks ago. If you look back a bit and to the right, you will see a pot of tricolor sage that adds a touch of purple to the mix. Next to it is a hyssop plant with its tiny blue flowers to feed the bees. The yellow is calendula, and that blooms almost all year and reseeds itself. As you can see, I like to mix plants up in my garden, so it has a somewhat wild look. Now we will take a closer look at individual flowers.

First are the chrysanthemums. I usually associate them with autumn, but these are also blooming for me in spring. I just read that I can take cuttings from these up until the end of the month. I might try it to see if I can make more plants by fall. I have two regular size mums and two miniature ones of different colors spread throughout this garden now. 

Pansies have been special to me since I was a child. My grandmother used to have them planted around her fruit trees in small circular beds. These were planted last fall, and I don't expect they will last much longer as the days get hotter. I'm glad they are still blooming in late May. 

I also planted some petunias in the fall. Most have faded and died, but this pink one still remains. These are technically perennials, but people usually grow them as annuals.  I may not replace them, since they don't do well without more water than I want to give them since water for landscaping is rationed until the end of summer. This petunia is taking cover under an iris leaf. 

Carnations have always had a special place in my gardens because my mother loved them. I still have some carnation plants that came from root divisions of one of her plants. I first started one in our Newbury Park home in Ventura County, and when we moved, I brought it here. I have two babies from that mother plant in my Paso Robles garden now. They produce very light pink flowers. You can see one of those plants below. Although I have been deadheading them, they appear not to be producing many new flowers now, so I think their season may be coming to an end. They have been covered with flowers for the past two months. Now each plant only has a flower or two left.

Since I have long wanted a more colorful carnation, I could not resist this two-tone dark pink with purple Chomley Farran carnation. (See below.) It is not only deeper in color, but the purple markings make it more striking. It seems I planted it too far back in the bed, though,  and the flower stems are much too long as they reach out toward the sun. 

As you can see, in order to keep the flowers from landing on the ground, I've propped them up on some borage plants -- also in bloom with tiny star-like blue flowers. On the far right you can see a single yellow calendula. 

In this next photo I have also mixed the flowers with herbs. I wanted some drought resistant plants in a side bed in a corner between two sidewalks. It has poor soil and doesn't get much water. I decided to plant a Fruity Teucrium there, with a tansy plant on either side of it. I expected the tansy to contrast with the purple flowers of the Teucrium, since the tansy will bloom yellow when it finally blooms. I know tansy spreads, but I didn't expect it to be so much taller than the Teucrium to the extent that it almost blocks it from the light. I will have to cut it back if the Teucrium is to survive. 

Fruity Teucrium Surrounded by Tansy
Another plant I bought new last year was the butterfly blue scabiosa you see here. It's also known as the pincushion flower. I would like to find more of them, and I may plant more from seed, but I think I want deeper and brighter colors if I add more plants. The small blue flowers you see on the right side are from the hyssop plant that shares a border with the scabiosa. 

This is Lamb's Ear. The mother plant came from my Templeton house, where I kept it in a pot because the gophers liked to eat it when it was in the ground. I have terrible gopher problems there, so I always keep the mother plant of anything new in a pot until I see if the gophers like it. Since Lamb's Ear really spreads to the point of being invasive and needs little care, I like to use it where I want to fill in bare ground to suppress the growth of weeds. I love the fuzzy gray Lamb's Ear leaves, and at this time of year the pale  flower stalks shoot up and fill with tiny lavender flowers. If you look carefully, you will see the bees love them. 

Last in this post I will show you my star jasmine which started blooming in May and which I expect to keep blooming all summer. It's attractive in moderation, but it tends to want to bury my border plants and I have to keep it well-trimmed. It does provide a nice background for contrast with the calendula, sage, pansies, godetias, lilies of the Nile, and poppies which I planted in front of it near the sidewalk.

The Flanders poppies also bloomed at the end of May as you saw in my last post. 

In my next post I will introduce the herbs that are currently blooming. Please stay tuned.
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