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Archive for May, 2009

Fence_wide

Mary Beth: Memorial Day weekend on Block Island was a busy one and if it hadn’t started to rain I’d still be out there. The reason I was so busy was that this is the year Ray and I decided to come up with a real solution to the deer problem — well, I decided and Ray graciously offered to help make it possible (encouraged no doubt by my promise of delicious home-baked goodies).
In years past I’ve relied on some temporary netting and deer repellant spray made from a recipe I learned in my Master Gardener training. These tactics deterred the deer most of the time, but I was so tired of re-spraying the veggies after watering them and of the deer trampling the plants while trying to find something that didn’t taste bad. Plus I like eating the cherry tomatoes off the vine and it grossed me out to think about the rotten raw eggs I’d sprayed on them.

We’d talked for years about a more permanent solution and a few weeks ago we finally ordered the supplies for a deer fence. Ray found some untreated Atlantic White Cedar that he had milled by a one-man shop in Massachusetts. The mill trimmed out twenty-two 4” x 4” x 8’ rough-cut posts which we set into 2-foot deep holes. We compacted the soil around the posts and then stapled 7’ black PVC 2” x 2” fencing to them.

Ray

Once we got it all set up, the posts were about 6’ tall and the PVC fencing stood at about 5’ 8”. The black fencing is great because when you look at it straight on it’s almost invisible. Ever the perfectionist, Ray decided the fence needed to be “prettied up”, so he beveled the tops of the posts. And he was right; it’s amazing how a small detail can make such a big difference.

I confess that when I first saw those honkin’ big posts in the ground I had my doubts, but it looks really nice and the fence is attracting lots of attention and more than a few compliments. (Hopefully it’ll attract some new clients for Ray as well.)

We still need to add finishing touches like gates, but the hard part is over and, with luck, I won’t have to use a posthole digger anytime soon! Best of all, it will be so nice not to wake up in the morning worrying about the damage the deer inflicted on the vegetable garden. Not that I’m wishing ill on my neighbors, but I hope the fence discourages the deer enough that they will take our property off their list of places to munch.

Kia_Fence

Another benefit of the fence came as a pleasant surprise. As you know from previous posts, I’m a bit of a freak and another thing I’m freaky about is feeling confined. I was a little worried that I might not like working inside the fenced area. What actually happened was the fence made me focus on the task at hand! I’m pretty distractible and if I notice something in the periphery, I’ll wander over to it and lose track of my original task. Now I can’t do that anymore. I wonder if I can apply this technique to other areas of my life? Small portable fencing anyone?

In addition to the fence project, I decided to plant out half of my tomatoes. They were getting quite large and I wasn’t sure when I’d get back into the garden. (Between the persistent rain and the backlog of clients that are eager for me to begin the season’s work in their gardens, it may be a while till I can tend to my own.) I spread out the lettuce plants in between the tomatoes and it felt great to see everything coming together.

I also planted some plants I bought for the bees: scabiosa, white salvia, baptista, more lavender, Joe Pye weed and lemon balm. Next I found the 37 dahlias that I’d stored away this winter in the cellar and put those in the ground. Then I fertilized all the roses and gave everything a dousing of fish emulsion with EM-1 mixed in. I was cross-eyed with exhaustion and shocked that it was 7 pm when I finally made it into the house. Yup, I’m so glad I took two days off from work!

The Block Island Bee Report

My bees are generally doing well, but there was some weird thing going on with one of the frames. For the second time the bees had built a comb that bubbled out in the lower brood box and they’re able to get behind it. I took the last one off, but this one was bigger. It had lots of larvae and they seemed to really be busy on it so I didn’t have the heart to pry it off.

The bees were edgier than usual and seemed to be pissed off — maybe it was the storm that was brewing, so I closed up everything and let them be. I’ve decided to let the whole thing play out and see what happens.

The bees had really loaded up the bottom brood box. The second brood box was coming along too and they had 3 frames built out with comb. Another frame was loaded with a different color pollen. Pretty neat! Overall, I noticed there were a lot more bees. Because it was so crowded, I didn’t see the queen this time, but she’s clearly been very busy laying eggs.

Hanger

I got two new tools last week and they made it easier to handle the frames. One tool is a frame perch and the other a pry and grip tool. I recommend both of them to the beekeeping readers.

Columbine

Flowers that are blooming this week: clematis, rosa rugosa, rhododendron, iris, columbine, clover, buttercups, amsonia, allium, red honeysuckle, purple salvia, blueberries and wisteria.  Summer’s almost in full swing!

Southern California News

Barbara: Traveling and work demands have left a big gap in our blog, but I’m happy to be back with some time to catch up.

There’s not a whole lot happening in the garden. Our weather has been pretty gloomy between “real” clouds and the persistent marine layer. My natives seem fine, but I think they’re sulking about the lack of sunshine. They’re bound to start growing when the sun returns. Of course, by then the heat will be blasting, and I’ll have to remember to be sure they get enough water this summer. Mary Beth tells me that the number one reason drought-tolerant plants fail to make it in the first year is that they don’t get enough water because these plants aren’t truly drought-tolerant until they get established. Of course, the number two reason they don’t make it is because of too much water. I’ll just need to pay attention and get this mix just right.

This weekend I went to the nursery determined to stick to just returning something I didn’t need. How may of you want to guess what happened next? Right. I came home with more plants. Sigh.

Herbs

At least I was a little more selective than usual. I have a little atrium where I decided to try to grow herbs for cooking and garnishing. The nursery had a nice selection of organics that should do well in part shade and I chose plants that bees like. I bought lemon balm, lovage, German chamomile, purple sage, and onion chives. I’ll also plant two “bee pots” — containers of plants that bees love — in a sunnier spot. For those, I got hyssop, which smells amazing, and borage. That should make the little wild foragers here in Irvine happy.

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Exuberant, wild-blooming shad is proof positive the growing season has finally arrived.

Exuberant, wild-blooming shad is proof positive the growing season has finally arrived.

B: Our spring landscape features acres and acres of pillowy white clouds covering most of Block Island. In the morning the bees shoot out of the hive straight into this gnarled, blossom-covered tree.

From here on out Mary Beth’s garden will be surging with new-green shoots. Then in a few quick weeks, with help from her bees, the perennials will be in their prime and we’ll begin to harvest the first fruits of her labors.

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B: My plants are finally in the ground. It seemed like such a long process. And the truth is it kind of was. Per my usual habit, I had to research EVERYTHING; partly because I just need to know and partly because I HATE making mistakes. And that’s ridiculous, of course. I mean really, what’s the worst that can happen? A plant will fail to thrive or die? Frustrating and sad, but not a tragedy.

I did a crazy amount of cross referencing among California native, drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly plant lists (with special attention to honeybees) to see what would thrive in a difficult, part-shade location that’s under a canopy of eucalyptus trees, in heavy clay soil, and in a bed that tends to be dry in the back and wet in the front. “List mania” took a lot of time, but I learned a lot about backyard restoration, native plants, my micro-climate and my soil. In a way all of these limitations made the final selections easier because I ended up with a list of only 25 plants, mostly natives, which might work. I hope. I hope. I hope!

Tree of Life Nursery

Tree of Life Nursery

My list was shortened a little more by what was available at the Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. TOL grows California native plants and they have many mature specimens on the property that helped me visualize what my plants would look like a few years down the road.

Salvia greggii Autumn Sage

Salvia greggii Autumn Sage

The bonus is that this place is a true oasis. When I feel like I need to get away from it all, I’m always tempted to call and ask if they’d let me move into the office. I go there just to soak up its wild beauty. Which ends up being a dangerous thing to do with all those beautiful plants begging to be taken home.

Can I live here? Please?

Can I live here? Please?

After much poking around and many questions answered by the knowledgeable staff, I came home with 14 little beauties. And little they are, too. These natives are a bit fragile in that they have brittle roots and so it’s much better to start out with 1-gallon sized plants, rather than the larger 5-gallon size. I’m told they’ll survive transplanting much better at the smaller size.

Selecting my plants.

Selecting my plants.

Here’s the list of my babies:
These are the plants that will get pretty big. Most of them will grow to be from 6 to 10 feet tall.

I’m in love with the Arctostaphylos bakeri/Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn’. With some careful pruning this shrub will mature into a beautiful “tree” with twisting branches covered in mahogany-colored bark. It will provide nectar for hummingbirds and bumblebees in the spring.

Carpenteria californica/Bush Anemone — A big shrub with large, fragrant white flowers with bright yellow stamens and ivory and tan peeling bark. I think it will look lovely against the brick wall. Provides spring and summer pollen for bees.
Ceanothus/Wild Lilac ‘Sierra Blue’ — A pretty blue-flowered shrub that grows to 10 feet. It likes dry, poor soil. (No problem there.) Pollen and nectar in spring for butterflies, honeybees and bumblebees.
Philadelphus lewisii/Western Mock Orange — It has white, highly fragrant blossoms on arching branches. Supposed to be easy to grow. This wasn’t on the pollinator list; for the life of me I can’t remember what possessed me to buy this. Oops!
Rhamnus californica/Coffeeberry ‘Eve Case’ — At TOL this shrub was literally covered with all kinds of bees and other insects gathering pollen and nectar from tiny lime-green flowers. The berries color up through the spring and summer going from lime-green to rose to red and then to burgundy-black in the fall at which point they become food for the birds. Butterflies like it too. The nurserywoman said, “I can’t say enough good things about this plant.” Sold!
Ribes malvaceum/Chaparral Currant ‘Dancing Tassels’ — This one worries me a little. In the spring it has beautiful light-green leaves and dancing light-pink flower tassels, but it’s deciduous. Will I be happy with it when it drops its leaves in the summer? Not on the bee-friendly list, but hummingbirds love it’s nectar and birds like the berries. Those lovely dancing tassels seduced me.

On the smaller side:
Ribes viburnifolium/Evergreen Currant ‘Catalina Perfume’ — A fragrant groundcover. Supposed to eventually do well under mature trees. Note eventually — we’ll see. Not on the pollinator’s list. Why did I get this? Can’t remember.
Salvia greggii/Autumn Sage ‘Annie’ — A delicious orangey-pink. Not a California native, but it is drought tolerant and my options were limited. Besides the specimen at TOL was gorgeous and I couldn’t resist. Butterflies, hummingbirds and honeybees love the nectar. My Anna’s Hummingbird came to visit everyday as I was planting. Soon he’ll be sipping nectar.
Salvia greggii/Autumn Sage ‘Lavender Rose’ — Another one for the hummingbirds, etc. in a lovely lavender-tinged pink.

Heuchera Coral Bells "Canyon Chimes"

Heuchera Coral Bells "Canyon Chimes"

Heuchera/Coral Bells ‘Canyon Chimes’ — I can’t overstate how excited I was to discover that this plant was a California native. A favorite of mine from my East Coast gardening days, this was a gift, something familiar. A favorite of hummingbirds.

Mimulus aurantiacus Monkeyflower

Mimulus aurantiacus Monkeyflower

Mimulus aurantiacus/Bush Monkeyflower — With a sweet apricot-colored flower, this was the first CA native that I was able to recognize in the wild. Provides spring pollen and nectar for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Monardella villosa/Coyote Mint — Love the name, it sounds so outlaw. The fragrance of the leaves is delightful – mint with an edgy twist. Soon bees, butterflies and hummingbirds will be sipping nectar and gathering pollen from its purple blossoms.
Iris douglasiana/California Iris — another familiar plant! I love this old-fashioned beauty. This one has a lovely pale-blue flower that really pops in the shade. Not on the pollinator list, but too pretty to pass up.
At TOL I spotted a gorgeous dark-blue variety under a massive 200 year-old sycamore. When I asked where I could find a pot of it, they told me that this plant just appeared and they are waiting for it to get big enough so they can propagate it. Put me on the list. This is a spectacular flower.

Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed Grass. This poor blossom is a little beat up, but you get the idea.

Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed Grass. This poor blossom is a little beat up, but you get the idea.

Sisyrinchium bellum/Blue-eyed Grass — What can I say? Another plant that stole my heart. It has the most delicate little blue flowers with bright yellow centers. This dainty plant sways in the slightest breeze.

Once I got my babies in the ground, I spent the next two days checking them every hour or so to see how they were doing. When my husband started worrying about my mental state, I limited myself to checking every few hours. I’m happy to report that they have responded to my constant attention and, except for the sulking Chaparral Currant, all have new growth.

I tried as much as possible to get plants that would provide food for insects and birds. Those that don’t will provide cover and nesting places. Soon I’ll need to fill in with some that bloom later in the season. And I have lots of containers that I want to convert to what Mary Beth calls “bee pots” — container plants for bees. These might be CA natives, but I also want to plant bee favorites like rosemary and borage.

Now that this first bed is enlarged and planted, I love taking my morning tea out to the garden to admire my handiwork. Soon I’ll be making my plan for replacing the rest of the lawn with pathways and new beds. I can hardly wait to see the transformation of a wasteful lawn-covered space into a wildlife habitat. This really is turning out to be quite the adventure.

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