Friday, October 9, 2015

The illusion of space and distance

When we moved into our current house, after spending most of our adult years in densely-populated urban environments, we had the impression of lots and lots of space.  During our graduate school years, we'd lived in a rent-controlled apartment.  The apartment, our neighbors and our neighborhood were great but we shared walls on both sides and the area was packed solid with condos and rental units.  Parking was an everyday challenge.  Later, when we bought a townhouse in a local beach city, we shared a driveway but no walls and we gained a tiny backyard all our own; however, we were surrounded by 2-story condos and townhouses on all sides which blocked most of the sun in the garden.  Only the jungle-like garden I created in the backyard gave us a modicum of privacy.  When we moved into our 1950s era house with its open view of the Los Angeles harbor almost 5 years ago, we felt we had real breathing room at last.  The properties on either side of us sit below us so we don't feel crowded by them.  But space is an illusion.  Although our property is a little over half an acre, our neighbors are still close.  Taking down the giant Yucca elephantipes at the bottom of our slope eliminated the visual boundary between us and the neighbor on one side.  The shrubs I planted down there have yet to repair the breach.  The boundary between us and the neighbor on the other side, made up of fences and plants, was fairly solid - until this week when she cut down the Strelitzia nicolai (Giant Bird of Paradise) and banana trees that lined her side of the fence.

Before and after view from the northwest corner of our property, which we recently cleared of sod

This before and after shot from our vegetable garden looking west over the corner of our garage shows the most dramatic change - from here and the front garden we now have direct views of 3 of our neighbors' homes

The change between the before and after shots in the dry garden doesn't look dramatic but, from another angle we can now see the neighbor's house, previously invisible except from the bottom of the slope

The neighbor's house with its teal trim peeks above the fence

On the good news side of things, the plants on our side of the fence will get more sun and better air circulation.  In addition, the neighbor didn't take out her plants but just cut them back to the ground so they should be back, eventually.

The main trunks were cut flush with the ground but side shoots were left

On the other hand, I now have a clear view of the homes up the street - the illusion of distance between us and our neighbors has been shattered.  My biggest concern is that the front area on our northwest side, recently cleared of sod and destined to become a shade garden, just became a whole lot sunnier.  Still, it's a good thing that the change occurred before I planted rather than afterwards.

All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wednesday Vignette: Pumpkin Palooza

My free time is mostly occupied with digging and sifting the soil we recently had stripped of sod.  It's a seemingly never-ending project but I escaped for several hours last weekend to attend a plant sale at the local botanic garden and a garden center with a friend.  I took very few photos but one is perhaps worthy of the Wednesday Vignette hosted by Anna of Flutter & Hum.

I love those warty pumpkins, although I haven't brought any home with me (yet).  Visit Anna at Flutter & Hum to find more interesting images.

All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, October 5, 2015

In a Vase on Monday: The Same but Different

I've heard many bloggers comment that they've felt the shift in the weather that fall brings but the change in seasons wasn't evident to me until Sunday when the daytime temperature plummeted, falling below 70F (21C) for the first time in months.  We even got a tiny bit of rain - 0.03 inches (0.8mm).  Although I haven't seen signs of many of our traditional fall bloomers yet, Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Warrior', featured in a minor role in my "In a Vase on Monday" post 2 weeks ago, is coming on strong so it was time to give him his due.

I have 2 clumps of Plectranthus 'Zulu Warrior' in the garden, both grown from cuttings originally brought from my old garden

I considered a few additions to this vase, such as blue Eustoma grandiflorum and ivory Clematis terniflora, but in the end I let it stand with just 2 elements so that nothing stole attention from the 'Warrior' this time.

Plectranthus 'Zulu Warrior' (left) makes me think of Wisteria.  Polygala  fruticosa 'Petite Butterfly' (right) has a subtle presence that supports 'Zulu Warrior' but doesn't compete.

However, as you may have already guessed, I didn't stop at one vase.  There are too many pink Eustoma in the backyard border to ignore so I have yet another pink vase this week.

As the pink Eustoma can hold its own in a vase with just about anything, I had no compunction about throwing in other floral and foliage elements.

Top row: Eustoma grandiflorum 'Mariachi Pink' looking particularly rose-like; bottom, left to right: Angelonia 'Archangel Raspberry', Pelargonium reniforme, and Pseuderanthemum 'Texas Tri-star'

The first vase landed in the front entry.

The pink vase ended up on the dining room table, mainly because it blends well with the table runner that was already there.

The large succulent vase constructed 3 weeks ago was displaced and now sits on the stone wall in the dining area, part of a built-in barbecue that came with the house.  (Apparently, in-home barbecues were an "in" thing in the early 1950s when the house was built but, after almost 5 years in the house, we still haven't figured out what to do with the space.)

The water-less succulent vase is STILL doing relatively well, although I did have a minor battle with mealy bugs that showed up on the teal blue succulent

My sympathies to any of you on the east coast affected by the terrible floods.  I hope the system clears out quickly without further damage.

Visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, the host of "In a Vase on Monday," to see what other gardeners have put together this week.

All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Wide Shots - October 2015

I'm finding it very hard to believe it's already October.  It feels like summer here.  The days are a bit shorter and the nighttime temperatures have finally dropped below 70F (21C) but those changes are the only real signs of fall.  Although we got a touch of rain early last month, giving us the wettest September in Southern California in 75 years, the garden remains very dry.  Daytime temperatures are hovering close to 90F (32C) so work in the garden is still largely confined to early mornings and late afternoons, which has made our work in digging up the backyard area formerly occupied by lawn slow going.

I estimate we've cleared  between 120 and 150 square feet of soil of grassroots, the plastic mesh used in sod, and rocks but we still have a LOT to do before we can lay paving stones and plant the area

That's all I'm going to show of the backyard this month.  Like last month, instead of showing photos of each of the major areas of my garden for this wide shots post, I'm focusing on just one section: the front garden.

The earliest photos I have of the front of our house were taken by my brother on Christmas Eve Day, 2011, approximately one year after we moved in.  They show a front yard with lots of lawn. The lawn was green because the photos were taken in winter, our rainy season, and because irrigation wasn't restricted until 2014.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

My first wide shot of the front garden was taken on September 30, 2013.

The quality of the photo is poor but you can see that the lawn was still in place

When I took photos for my wide shot post one year later in October 2014, we were in the middle of digging up the area formerly covered by lawn, going through a process nearly identical to the approach we're currently taking in the backyard.

You can see piles of recently dug soil in the far right side of this photo

By January of this year, we'd completed soil preparation, laid flagstones and planted the area.

Most of the plants in the foreground were installed in November and December 2014

Last month, I didn't post photos of the front garden but I did take pictures.

This month, the view is much the same except that it shows the bench/plant shelf we added surrounding the Magnolia tree in mid-September.  (Details are provided here.)

Photo taken looking east toward the front door from the far side of the driveway

Photo taken looking south

Photo taken looking north

The starkest before and after comparison I can provide is this one:

My brother's photo from December 2011 is on the left and my current photo, taken yesterday from a similar angle, is on the right

I can only hope that I'll be as pleased by the transformation of the backyard currently in progress as I am with the transformation of the front garden.

As always, my thanks to Heather of Xericstyle, who started me on the process of collecting wide shots of my garden in 2013.

All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wednesday Vignette: Spider Season

It's that time again.  Carrying a stick or a broom as one moves through the garden in early morning is recommended, at least if one wants to avoid getting one's face wrapped up in the silky strands of a spider's web.  The Cross Orbweavers (Araneus diadematus) are out in force.  As spiders go, they're very attractive creatures and an appropriate subject for a Wednesday Vignette, the meme hosted by Anna of Flutter & Hum to share interesting images.

The spider's common name derives from the white spots that form a cross on the creature's abdomen.  The spider is native to Europe but immigrated to North America like so many of our American ancestors.  It weaves an orb-shaped web and is generally found at its center with its head faced downward.  

This female spider initially constructed her bed, considerately I thought, just outside the flow of traffic above a grouping of Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass) adjacent to the outdoor porch we created for our cats, occupied now by just one cat, Pipig.  (To be truthful, our house is Pipig's domain but she does hang out on the porch off and on.)

If you look closely, you can see the delicate spider web with the female spider at the center

She wasn't alone in the area.  Spider webs are everywhere.

This web, still covered in morning dew, was easier to see but I couldn't bring myself to look at it closely to determine if what was caught in it was debris or something else

However, yesterday morning, after finding that the neighborhood raccoons had left their calling card at the fountain, I was stalking through the garden in a mission to determine what damage they had wrought and I found that my considerate spider had moved, weaving a new web across one of our main paths, which I came within inches of walking into.

The web between the pillar and the frame of the cat's porch was nearly invisible

I stopped just in time as I saw her, seemingly hanging in open air in the middle of the path as it transitions from the side porch to the flagstone pathway leading through the arbor to the front yard.

Neither she nor I would have been happy if I'd charged through the space

As gently as I could, I broke the web, allowing the spider to move safely to a nearby potted Copper Spoons plant  (Kalanchoe orgyalis), where she rested for a time.

In this position, the cross on her abdomen is less apparent but this is the same spider as in the preceding photo.  She looks rather pretty against the felt-like brown foliage of the Kalanchoe.

She was gone just a little later when I checked on her but I suspect I'll see her again.  Hopefully, I'll be prepared for our next encounter.

Visit Anna at Flutter & Hum to see what images captured her attention and that of other participants this week.

All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, September 28, 2015

In a Vase on Monday: Three Small Bouquets

I recently bought a collection of five small, inexpensive glass vases, each a different color but with the same tear drop shape.  I filled three of them this week with stems snipped from various areas of the garden.

The vibrant blue Salvia macrophylla in my front garden started me on this path.  It has produced sporadic blooms this summer but this week it's suddenly full of flowers.  The blue color of the Salvia is so bright it makes any most blue or purple blooms paired with it look dull so I kept things simple, adding just a few stems of Abelia 'Radiance' and variegated Caryopteris (noID).

The bright blue flowers even make the cobalt blue vase look somber

It'll be interesting to see if the Salvia macrophylla flowers hold up in a vase - they don't last long in the garden

I constructed the second vase around a few short stems of Clematis terniflora (aka Sweet Autumn Clematis), the only Clematis I've ever managed to grow successfully here.  I added two stems of Erysimum linifolium 'Variegatum' and reused the stem of Eustoma grandiflorum 'Borealis Yellow' from last week's vase.

In contrast to the blue vase, this one has a subdued aura

Thus far, most of the Clematis blooms are sitting in the sun at the very top of the arbor supporting the vine - I could reach only a few of the side shoots

I used flowers with orange tones in the third, amber-colored vase.  Grevillea 'Ned Kelly' is blooming again but its stems are short so a small vase is perfect.  I added Zinnias, Abelia 'Kaleidoscope', and Russelia 'Flamingo Park' to fill it out.

This is my personal favorite out of this week's arrangements

I think the Zinnias steal the show from the Grevillea

Vases this size are easy to tuck into spots throughout the house, which I did.

The blue vase sits in the kitchen window (where the glare made it hard to photograph); the green vase sits on the master bedroom mantle; and the amber vase sits on a side table in the living room

I had some extra stems of Abelia 'Kaleidoscope' left over so I threw together a larger vase for the front entryway starring Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun', which is starting to wane in the front garden.

In addition to the Abelia and Gaillardia, this vase contains Coreopsis 'Redshift' (which has been fried by the heat this summer) and immature fruits of an Arbutus 'Marina'

Meanwhile, the large succulent vase I created two weeks ago is back on the dining room table.

A few succulent leaves have withered since I created this water-less vase but I suspect I stressed it by leaving it sitting in full sun outside for a few hours a week ago

Visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, the host of the "In a Vase on Monday" meme to find still more flower and foliage arrangements.

All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Using every last inch of space

This week I had the opportunity to visit the garden of fellow blogger, Denise of A Growing Obsession.  Denise's blog was one of the first I began reading regularly, well before I started a blog of my own in December 2012.  Geographically, Denise is closer to me than any other garden blogger I know of and her Bloom Day posts always provide me with useful input on new and exotic plant selections.  I met Denise in person for the first time at a local flea market in December 2013 but I didn't have a chance to see her garden until this week.

She lives in the historic section of a nearby beach city in a charming bungalow, surrounded by similar homes.  The first thing I saw as I got out of the car was a tree-sized Schefflera across the street.  In bloom!

It isn't unusual to see the tropical Scheffleras, more commonly known to many people as houseplants, in the ground in our climate but seeing one in bloom was a first for me

The street is lined with trees and Denise's front courtyard was mostly in shade when I arrived in early afternoon.  The shade was pleasant as we've been suffering through yet another heatwave; however, it presented a challenge to my limited picture-taking skills.

Upon arrival, Ein, the official greeter met me at the gate.

Ein, a friendly Corgi, barks to announce each arrival, known or unknown, and dutifully escorts the visitor through the garden

As anyone who reads Denise's blog knows, she's fond of foliage and spiky things and her garden has plenty of both.

A good-sized Acacia stands alongside the front gate, underplanted with a diverse selection of spiky, drought-tolerant plants

Two Agave 'Blue Glow' along the front walk

I didn't even try to count the Agaves.

From left to right: Agave 'Blue Glow', A. 'Fireball' and A. 'Jaws' - What startled me most about Denise's Agaves wasn't their number or variety but their size.  The size isn't evident in my photos but many of these plants are huge!  I immediately began to worry about what's going to happen when my relatively diminutive specimens reach the same proportions one day.

Denise also collects Agave relatives.

Two of these are Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta' and a noID Mangave

It was obvious that I was in the garden of a plant collector who uses every inch of her garden space, as well as making creative use of vertical space.    As a former long-time resident of a beach city myself, I know there's always a premium on outdoor space in these locations.  Denise makes effective use of her vertical space, not only with vines and tall plants, but also by utilizing unique materials as planters.

With the exception of the City Planter from Potted on the top right (given to Denise by a UK blogger who won it at a garden blogger's Fling but couldn't carry it home in her suitcase), I believe all these planters were created by Denise using found objects.  The planters are filled with a variety of succulents and bromeliads.

Working around difficulties with her soil, she also has lots and lots of plants in decorative pots.

I like how Denise organized her potted plants into collections and elevated many to add dimension and interest to the space

Denise even outfitted an area on the back patio with a day bed by going up.

The day bed sits above the heads of any foot traffic below

There were flowers.

In addition to Grevillea 'Moonlight', shown here surrounded by Yucca recurvifolia 'Margaritaville' and Pennisetum setaceum 'Sky Rocket', I saw a Grevillea 'Robyn Gordon' in full bloom, a Plectranthus zuluensis that looks better than mine ever has, as well as Salvia uligisoa and Glaucium grandiflorum that I was unable to photograph in the bright afternoon light

But foliage plants are the stars of her garden.

A few examples, clockwise from the top left: chartreuse elephant ears (maybe Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger'?), Eucalyptus 'Moon Lagoon', Pennisetum setaceum 'Sky Rocket', and a noID Rhipsalis backed by the Yucca recurvifolia

She has some plants I've long been interested in but have been afraid to add to my garden due to their mature size.  Denise manages to keep those specimens under control.  I'm seriously considering following her example and trying a few of these in my my own garden.

Tetrapanax papyrifer, back-lit by the sun, with Acacia baileyana to the rear

Cussonia in a pot (I'm not sure which species - Denise has a number of these plants)

I didn't know Manihot (grahamii?) produced this cute round fruit

As the intense sun was accompanied by ever-worsening heat, I prematurely gave up my picture-taking and we sat in the shade in the back garden talking, guarded by the ever-vigilant Ein.  As I bid goodbye sometime later, Denise gifted me with succulent pups and bulbils as well as a pot she'd noted was a match to one I already had.  For each plant I've given Denise, I seem to get five in return.

Left: one of 4 small Agave mitis I brought home; right: a Mangave pup in a pot like the one on the right I already had

Thank you Denise for your generosity and for opening your garden to a visitor on a hot afternoon!

Note: Any errors in plant identification are mine.

All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party