Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp niphopila (for Jane)

propped up Eucalyptus

Jane, known to many as the Mulchmaid was bemoaning the fact that her Eucalyptus was listing to starboard after recent storms. We were having that problem, so R propped ours up like so.

close-up of the prop

Here is a close-up of the end that makes contact with the trunk of the tree. Extra boards are screwed to opposing sides of the 4×4 post, making a groove for the tree trunk. The post and tree are lashed together with electrical tape below those boards and the other end of the post was driven deep into the ground. These trees have a tendency to shoot up rapidly and get a bit gangly. The shallow root system makes them likely to tip over, especially when the ground has become soggy with heavy rains.


I’m pretty sure any expert would tell us to cut back all of those suckers coming up from the ground, but the main part of the tree is so rangy that the extra fullness they provide is welcome. The buttress has been in place now for two years, so I think it is about time to remove it and see if the tree can make it on its own. Jane’s leaning tree has a much handsomer profile…well worth a little extra effort to keep him on the up and up.

after the storm

‘Thunderhead’ pine

The rain ceased, the clouds parted and a patch of blue sky could be seen: a fine opportunity for a walk around our place and up the road. I spent a long time looking for my ‘Thunderhead’ pine back before they started popping up everywhere. It has been in place now for about four years and was beginning to earn its name, before this drastic pruning job administered by Mom Nature. It lost a good half of its volume. Several less precious pines out in the front hedgerow suffered lesser damage.

broken birch

We have a little grove of birches along the entry drive. Several of them had their main leaders broken off.

sapsucker damaged birch trunk

Of course, the birches had been weakened by the attack of the sapsuckers, who had drilled them full of holes before R put the protective cages of chicken wire around them. This latest of several home remedies seems to be doing the trick, especially if I keep the suet feeders full.

rain-beaten grasses

Grasses that had been standing tall have been beaten to the ground. Guess I can’t put off cutting them back much longer.

roadside snow

Out on the road, the remnants of the snow storm linger. Many of our neighbors had burn piles going to deal with the debris. With all that wet material it looked like they were sending smoke signals back and forth.

forest damage

The forest gets thinned out naturally from time to time. This go-around left broken branches and fallen trees all over the place.

salvaged rocks

Loosened rocks fall onto the roadsides every winter. We hauled home some beauties today.

mossy rock

Here’s a rock from a previous plundering party that has had a chance to settle in and accumulate some moss. Seldom have I met a rock that didn’t call out to me for adoption.

It was pointed out to me by Loree, that most dangerous of gardeners, that I have been largely absent from the blogosphere of late. I was touched to have it noticed. I guess I am beginning to feel some spring-like stirrings that should prompt a spate of new subjects to spout off about. Thanks you, as always, for stopping by.

wall pocket history


This is what my wall pocket looks like right now, decked out for the holidays with two wintergreen plants, (Gaultheria procumbens) and a lemon cypress cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest Wilma’. I have had this pot for many years and am fond of it, but finding just the right plants has always been a challenge. It is attached to the wall next to our front door. The roof of the deck is plexiglass beyond a two-foot overhang, so it gets indirect sunlight. Early on, I was very pleased with a planting of Streptocarpella, which had deeply grooved, velvety leaves with pale blue blossoms on wiry stems that danced with the slightest breeze. Sadly, I have not seen this plant for sale anywhere in years.

Ipomoea ‘Margeurite’ & Lobelia

A couple of years ago I hit upon this combination: a pale blue lobelia flanked by two sweet potato vines named ‘Marguerite’.

‘Marguerite’ takes over

The lobelia did not fare well, but Marguerite flourished.

trailing Marguerite

By season’s end, she was trailing flirtily down the wall.

Ipomoea ‘Lime’

With the idea of building on the previous year’s success, I repeated the Ipomoea, this time ‘Lime’, but I really did want to punch it up with a bit of contrast. Aha! A coleus with sunset tones and just a smidge of lime at the edges would be perfect.


What went wrong? I examined what was left of the plants for predators: nope. The plants had come from the nearby one-stop. While they were not primo, they gave no clues that they would end up like this. I had to believe I was the culprit. I dumped out plants and soil, then soaked the pot in a bleach solution overnight.

replacement plants

The replacement plants (from a real nursery, just to be on the safe side) were a less satisfying color combination, but they did thrive. My wish for you in the new year is that you will thrive, as will all that you touch…in the garden and elsewhere. I am looking forward to sharing 2012 with you.

critter wars

ant guard

Our cheapo hummingbird feeder had outlived its usefulness. At one time, it had effectively foiled the ants attracted to the sweet nectar, but now they were back and the results were fairly disgusting. At our local one-stop-shopping center, I found this glass ball feeder. It is better than the kind with the feeder tube, because several birds can use it simultaneously. My experience has also been that the rubber nipples on those tubes have a tendency to fall off, letting the nectar drip into a big, messy, sticky puddle. On the same shelf as the feeder was a baffle device to repel ants (it’s the green thing at the top). Guess what? It works! least, so far.

foiling the raccoons

We have tried several methods to protect the goldfish from marauding raccoons. The water lily pads and duckweed give them places to hide, but lately the raccoons have taken to feasting on the lilies. The small stakes placed across the pond are not about to prevent them from having their salad course, but by disturbing the stakes, they signal to the fish to swim for cover. So far, they have avoided becoming the entree.

I have written here about our many pacifist efforts to come to terms with wild visitors. Gophers, on the other hand, have been known to drive the gentlest of souls to acts of revenge. It is only in the last couple of years that they have shown up here. Neighbors who have lived here for 30+ years say that it is a new problem. Our yards look like the battlefield after a cannonade.

gopher’s victim

The Pinus mugo ‘White Bud’ is not the first precious plant to fall victim. When something begins to look a bit peaked, we can be pretty sure that when we dig it up we will find the root system eaten away. Sometimes we will find just the tip of a plant showing where the rest of it has been pulled down into the villain’s tunnel.

illustration of gopher

Last time we went to Portland Nursery, we picked up one of the sound devices advertised to drive rodents mad (or at least drive them AWAY).

sound device

Four D size batteries go into that white tube, which is then inserted into the black tube. The whole thing gets buried in the ground and capped off with that green lid, emitting a high-pitched sound that goes undetected by all but the target varmints for the life of the batteries. It has been successful enough to prompt the purchase of four more, to keep at least the areas close to the house from looking like a war zone. When we first googled the problem, we laughed off many of the suggested remedies as far too violent. As conflict escalated, we found ourselves praising the cats for their hunterly instincts. Yesterday, I caught sight of R oiling and cleaning his .22

at the corner of “oops” & “not so fast”

opuntia (dead)

No amount of waiting or wishful thinking is going to bring the Opuntiaback to life. I see them growing happily around town, and I put effort into planting properly. Some sort of critter or bug had been nibbling on it before the rain set in, so it probably let in the moisture to turn it to mush. I think I will try one in a pot next.

Agave neomexicana ($)

The jury is still out on Agave neomexicana. I think it’s too soon to give up on it, but it is not looking very happy.

leather fern

Nearby, this crispy critter is Astrolepis inuata, or wavy cloak fern. Looks hopeless to me, but I won’t dig it up just yet.

sedums engulfing hesperaloe and yucca

Bucking the trend at the other end of the same berm, the sedums are engulfing a Yucca ‘Bright Edge’ and a hesperaloe. My plan is to extricate them from the sedum’s clutches, move them somewhere else and hope for the best. My best plans for this berm seem to be destined for failure, so I just may let the sedums have it.

Romney coulterii (dead)

Meanwhile, out at the fence-line, the Romneya coulterii was not looking good.

Romneya coulterii (it’s alive!)

But wait! What’s this? Sometimes I am too timid about cutting back hard. Mom Nature has no such qualms. Time will tell if it was just what this plant wanted.

Rhododendron sinogrande (?)

We were so disappointed when we saw how dejected Rhododendron sinogrande was when we carefully removed his winter wrappings. Those drooping upper leaves soon darkened, curled up and fell off.

Rhododendron sinogrande (in recovery)

Soon the lower stalks formed big buds that looked like they would become flowers, but no, here they are unfurling replacement leaves. Even that stalk in the upper left corner is showing signs of new buds forming. Hallelujah!

Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’

In the six years that my ‘Casa Blanca’ lilies have been growing here, they have never been bothered by slugs. I went out there the other day in the pouring rain and there were slugs draped across many of the upper leaves. Looks like they have feasted to the detriment of this year’s blooms. We shall see. I tore them off with my gloved hands (they resisted as if they had been super-glued in place) and threw them back into the woods where they are actually beneficial. I will patrol the area more diligently in future.

nibbled geum

And then there are the deer. A friend gave me this geum. The buds were swelling and just beginning to color up. I was looking forward to the splash of orange: just what this bed needed. Instead, the deer neatly nipped off each bud. Time to mix up a new batch of my evil witches’ brew to spray on susceptible plants.

geum (coming back)

It worked! Here is the first cheery orange blossom to make it all the way to maturity. If you want to try my formula for deterring deer, you will find it here.
hydrangeas (struggling)

My hydrangeas took a big hit with the one-two punch of two harsh winters. Some did better than others, and if you want to know which ones will be hardiest you should check out Joy Creek’s blog. Hydrangeas are one of their specialties and they devoted their most recent blog post to the subject.

wall pocket (my bad)

Sometimes we have no one to blame but you-know-who. I have had great success with Ipomoea batatas spilling from my porch pocket. I found a couple of them, plus a coleus with exactly the perfect complementary color at our local one-stop market and popped them in the pot. I kept them watered, but they insisted upon this dying act. Well, I emptied the pot, scrubbed it out and soaked it in bleach solution overnight. The new coleus housed there is doing fine. So how about you? How has nature, in her many guises, conspired for and against you so far?

here comes march

It came in more like a polar bear than a lion. When we woke up yesterday morning, this was the scene that greeted us.

snowy scene

About 4″ of heavy, wet snow covered everything in sight. It was ironic, because the week before, the media was all abuzz with warning of a killer storm coming, only later calling it “The storm that packed a pinch”. In Portland, snow is rare enough that the mere threat of a few flakes sends all stations into emergency weather coverage 24/7. This weather event crept in without a word of warning.

magnolia grandiflora

All of the branches of the Magnolia grandiflora were bent double by the weight of the snow.

bent birches

As were the birches.

bent cypresses

The Italian cypresses didn’t quite touch their toes, but came pretty close.

Cupresseus macrocarpus

Last year the Cupresseus macrocarpus ‘Citrodora’ suffered broken branches and die-back when the snow was much lighter and fluffier than this load.


I feared the same fate was in store for Chamaecyparis ‘Barry’s Silver’, so the morning was spent patrolling the grounds with a long-handled broom and knocking the snow off of everything that looked threatened.

snowy pear tree

It was beautiful, though. Richard had just finished pruning this pear tree and here it is blooming with snow.

snowy birch catkins

The more mature birch tree stood up to the snow better, and I loved the way the dark catkins showed up against the snowy branches.

By the time I came back inside, my fingers were frozen and the power was out (it remained so for the rest of the day). We built a roaring fire, wrapped up in wool blankets and read all afternoon. Boy, was it pleasant…but now…bring on Spring!

thank you

Little did I know, when I began blogging, that a world of cyberfriends awaited. I appreciate each and every one of you for you own interesting blogs, your helpful, funny and insightful comments and the feeling of connection to a larger world I get every time I log on. Here’s a little piece I wrote for for the Ventura County Reporter when my daughter was editor. It is a little snide, based upon an antipathy for turkey…but I hope it will give you a chuckle without detracting from your appreciation for the bird.


A Turkey by Any Other Name


I cried the first time it fell to me to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. My distress had nothing to do with feelings of culinary inadequacy. It was the naked vulnerability of the bird, stripped of its plumage, shivering in my sink. How could I possibly further assault the poor fowl by stuffing its cavities with however delectable a mixture of bread cubes, herbs, etc., augmented by a fine dice of its own organs? Worse than that, my recipe called for inserting a puree of other tasty ingredients beneath its skin. It would require a couple of glasses of sherry to stiffen my resolve. Even then, it was only the prospect of a house full of people expecting traditional fare and a festive mood that spurred me to action. The occasion, by all accounts, was a success, right down to my children dressed as pilgrims. Fortunately, it was a large gathering. In the spirit of reciprocity, it would be years before I need face a repeat of the ordeal.

Now, with the burgeoning of specialty groceries and deli’s, a squeamish cook has options undreamed of even a few years ago. Tofurkey has been around for some time, but its appeal is more to the politically motivated menu planners amongst us. I don’t care for the real thing all that much, even when it is served up pre-carved with a side of cranberry relish. Still, the holiday spirit seems ill served by a fake bird fashioned from soybean curd.

Goose conjures up images of Ingmar Bergman in his nostalgically extravagant phase. The romance of the idea of goose as a main course quickly fades as the subject shrinks before your eyes, while the roasting pan fills with grease (more Eraserhead than Franny and Alexander). Only Babbette could pull off this Feast. But wait. Here is where the new-age markets come in. Staffed by Babbette Wannabe’s, they have cooked up all kinds of exotic alternatives to the same old meal. What kind of magic they work behind the scenes remains a mystery, but somehow the goose is picture-perfect.

Or you might opt for quail: de-boned, stuffed and rearranged into a tidy little package with a sprig of sage for garnish. It will take two of them, even with all the side dishes from the family archives, to satisfy a normal appetite. Capons might be a better choice for hearty eaters…or even game hens.

The heights of gourmet inventiveness are scaled with the advent of the “turducken” (careful how you parse that word). It sounds like a feat of genetic engineering, but instead owes its creation to the splicing skills of the meat department’s own Dr Frankenstein. What, exactly, is it?  Here again, a lot of de-boning is involved: first a chicken is placed inside a duck, inside a turkey. The turkey is allowed to keep its legs and wings, so the final product looks pretty much like the real McCoy. Since there are no bones to contend with, you needn’t have a skilled carver in the crowd. Just slice crossways, and each serving yields a cross section of all three meats. To be sure that all meat involved is organic and free-range, you can order one from Whole Foods. Cajun versions with cornbread or seafood jambalaya stuffing are available over the Internet for $78.

Be forewarned that the cooking time for such a concoction is about 8 hours. I am told that the typical turducken will serve 12 to 14 people, but that is allowing each diner a one to one and a half pound portion. I don’t personally know anyone who can down that much protein in a sitting, but the meat coordinator at Whole Foods (yes, there really is such a person) apparently travels in heftier circles. If you are committed to the do-it-yourself approach and are skilled at wielding a hammer (Paul Prudhomme’s recipe on the web required the use of this unusual kitchen tool for the de-boning process) you can log on and pull up recipes. Hats off to you for your courage and dedication.

But what is the fascination with winged creatures? Give me a nice crown roast any day. It makes a perfect crater to fill with stuffing (isn’t that what the Thanksgiving meal is all about?). Once you pull it from the oven and trim it with those frilly little paper cuffs, what could be more celebratory? What I like best about it is its complete lack of resemblance to the beast from which it came, sparing the need for endless glasses of sherry if I happen to be the cook.

photography ??? answered

Mike, over at greenpix came through with the goods. If you have been waiting for some simple, down-to-earth advice for getting good shots in high contrast situations, you will find it by following the above link. I plan to do some experimenting, and will share my results here. I would be happy to link to yours, too. Just leave a comment here, so I know where to send the curious.

deadheading season

And, no, it has nothing to do with Garcia sightings.


Last year, I had just the right amount of Verbena bonariensis scattered about the garden. Silly me…I enjoyed it a little too much. Meaning: I failed to pull it up or cut it off before it went to seed. Now I have forests of the stuff.


With ever more new recruits marching in. Fortunately, they have a tenuous grip. As soon as they get big enough to grasp, I pull them out with little resistance. The mature ones, I yank out as soon as the flowers begin to fade. Hmmm…I wonder what next year will bring?


I purposefully left the Belamcanda alone, to see what would happen. The seedheads displayed the source of its common name, blackberry flower, and yes, it produced a batch of babies. I am happy to have it fill in the blank space at its feet, but will patrol the area more carefully in future. Cute as kittens, but enough is enough.


I learned about Lychnis the hard way. Wait too long and the sound of millions of little seeds escaping creates that sinking feeling. Sure enough, many hours on one’s knees grubbing out seedlings will be in store.


Laxity is not without its compensations. See how the errant Lychnis peeks through the Hydrangea quercifolia so coquettishly? I would never have planned that.

All in all, deadheading is an occupation perfectly suited to late summer. One can drift about the garden, snipping seedheads into a bucket without ever breaking a sweat. Come to think of it, why am I sitting here at the computer when I can feel the tug of the garden calling? Bye now.

phormium death? not so fast

Megan did a post about coastal gardens and how well Phormiums do there…blooming, even. I didn’t even know they did that until I saw a hothouse specimen in full bloom at Cistus. While there, R looked at my plant selections and asked why I didn’t go for one of those big, dramatic plants with the strappy leaves. I explained about recent flax deaths in Portland gardens.


But what have we here? Weeding in the east berm uncovered the remnants of Phormium tenax astropurpurea given up for lost. I took a division to move to the dry berm (foolish, probably, but at this point I figured what have I got to lose?), filled in with amended soil and mulched with gravel. It had been in the ground for about 3 years before we started having nordic winters, so maybe the root system was strong enough to see it through.


There is the transplant, way in the back, to the left of the yucca bloom. We shall see.


Then our good friends moved from their big old Victorian house into a condo and gave us their collection of potted plants. Among them was this colorful flax. I plan to move it to the covered deck for the winter.

Never say “never” is, I guess, the moral to this story. I would not have laid out cash to add more of these plants, but I do love them, and under these circumstances I am sure willing to give them another chance (and even provide a little extra tlc to help them along).