Tuesday, November 11, 2014

More Fall

Fall in Sacramento, when it comes in all earnestness, is a brief and sometimes wonderful few weeks.  In the last few days the autumn season has come on strong.  And today, being an overcast Veteran's Day, was a perfect chance for me to take the camera outside and spend a few quiet moments making some digital memories.

The mulberry tree doesn't produce much in the way of fall color but what it lacks in color it makes up in quantity.

I believe this is a Chinese pistache tree but I haven't been able to positively ID it yet.

More berries.  I once came "this close" to tearing out this frequently ungainly looking bush but the berries make it worth it keeping.

A struggling fuschia on the left and a slow-growing Japanese maple, 'Red Dragon' on the right under planted with some mondo grass.  This vignette will be reworked some day next spring, I think.  But for now it's good enough.

The liquid amber tree . . . it's a true love/hate relationship.  A tall, stately, columnar tree with beautiful fall color and interesting seed pods - that also act as hidden mines when they fall to the earth.  Bare feet beware, these guys mean business.

One of my favorite Japanese maples is this 'Koto No Ito' which means something like golden harp strings.  The inspiration for such a name is fairly obvious this time of year.

More fuschia.  Some blooms still hang on while others have given up the ghost.

More of the ubiquitous mulberry leaves and a succulent planting I'm rather fond of.

Crepe myrtle leaves:

A borrowed view of fall; over the neighbor's fence.

Not every plant and tree is on the same schedule.  Even here, a single branch can't seem to make up its mind.

Japanese maple 'Seiryu' went from total green last week to this:

The plum tree is a bewitching mix of orange, red and green:

And, finally, a word from my family to all the Veteran's out there:

Thank you, and happy Veteran's Day to all who serve and served.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Obligatory Fall Color Pictures

Fall in Sacramento isn't all that special and we're always way behind most of the rest of the country when it comes to changing colors.  Things are just now starting to change colors for the season.  Here are some shots from my yard tonight.

Looking way up into the crown of a Liquid Amber

Another Liquid Amber.  I think the impact would be greater if more of the tree changed at the same time.

A black-stemmed hydrangea.

We went to a pumpkin carving party with kids and their families from my daughter's school last weekend.
It was fun getting messy and then shaking hands with people we hadn't met yet.  

Harry, on the right, has been a family tradition for about 4 years now.  Every year he gets a makeover with either black or green mondo grass. and then that grass gets planted somewhere in the garden.  Bones, on the left, was a new addition this year.

Acer palmatum 'Orangeola' just beginning to revert back to its namesake color.  

Japanese blood grass hasn't developed that blood red color yet, but it is starting to fill in a bit more.

This fall color is making up for the fact that the birds beat me to all the blueberries on this young bush.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Something's Gonna Pay For This

I was minding my own business tonight after work.  I wasn't looking for a fight.  I was just taking a bag of garbage out when I saw something unusual.  Back by the compost bin I noticed something dark brown on the ground where it was usually light brown.  That light brown is what we drought-stricken Californians call "the new green".  

The picture below is almost too embarrassing for me to share.  It looks so splotchy and gross.  But this is what happens when you can't water your lawn.  The little bit of green you do see is probably just from the veggie garden's drip irrigation.  

At any rate, the dirt you see on the ground just to the right of the fence shouldn't be there.  A closer inspection was necessary.

And this is what I found.  Around the base of my active compost bin, something had been digging.  I have been composting for years and all this time I've been adding kitchen scraps, rotten fruit, and even the occasional dead bug and I've never had anything go after my compost bin other than worms.  

The back side of the compost bin

The front side

A somewhat closer view of the front.

I tried to get a picture of the claw marks I saw.  They looked fairly large but because they were up inside
I couldn't get a clear picture.  
Now I've been having issues with squirrels lately (more on that in the near future) but this doesn't seem like the work of the evil nuisance and bane of my gardening life.  While scratching my head (literally) I happened to notice a hole by the fence line not three or four feet away from the scene of the crime.

Gophers?  Moles?  Voles?  Squirrels?  What do you think this is?  I didn't see any telltale mounds or tunnels because this opening is right at my fence so it's possible that their are mounds or tunnels on the other side.

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Maybe I'm overreacting but I'm suddenly worried that two mysterious plant deaths in my garden weren't just unfortunate and untimely demises.  Perhaps they were sped along their way by some underground spawn of evil?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Trouble Brewing

The other day I was in the back corner of my property taking a closer look at some of the late summer growth on several Japanese maples.  My neighbor's property line boasts several mature trees whose branches stick out over my side of the fence.  This doesn't bother me - it's borrowed green as far as I'm concerned.  But I did notice that it was causing my maples to grow at awkward angles to reach more sunlight.  

While taking a closer look at the branches coming over the fence line I noticed what I believe to be a wisteria vine growing along the electrical lines.  I'm fairly certain the picture below contains my neighbor's cable line.  Perhaps I should tell her about this?

You have to admire the tenacity of the wisteria.

This picture makes it apparent that it's probably not just my neighbor's cable that could get strangled by the exuberant vine.

And here's just a couple pictures of something I've been working on.  I've got a long stretch of boring fence that I need to do something with.  I am working on killing the grass and I spent part of last weekend installing the dry-laid brick mow strip to outline what will be the new bed.  Hopefully everything will be ready in time for fall planting which is still about a month and a half away in Sacramento.

I hope to post more in the coming weeks.  This summer has been very busy and, truth be told, not very interesting from a gardening standpoint.  There's only so much I can do when it's 95-100 degrees every day.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sandbox Garden

When we moved about a year and a half ago, we did so because we wanted to find our “forever home” before our daughter started elementary school.  It was important to us that we give her the chance to grow up with the friends she would make at school and not have to go through the experience of leaving her best buds if at all possible.   Obviously there were other factors we had to consider as well, but that one certainly drove the timing of our decision to move.   

One of the things I was looking for in a new home was a larger yard where I could stretch my gardening wings a bit more.  I wanted a yard big enough to allow my gardening interests to flourish but still coexist with a child’s inalienable right to play.  I wanted room for a collection of Japanese maples and a Wiffle ball field.  I wanted a yard big enough to grow watermelons in and to lay out a slip-n-slide at the same time.  In short, I wanted a little slice of Americana.    

So when I saw the sandbox beneath the fruitless mulberry tree - the same mulberry tree that had wooden steps nailed into the trunk and ropes hung from a sturdy limb to support a swing, I thought for sure that I had found a yard that would work for both me and my daughter.   

I took this picture on the day of the home inspection.  You can see the swing at left.
I think the yard, in general, looks really different already.

In the months since we moved in, my girl has climbed those wooden planks several times and stood inside the canopy of the mulberry tree.  She’s marveled at the new world from up there and she’s decided that living in a tree house would be “so cool”.  She’s also begged me to find a swing to hang from those ropes too.  A request I have tried and failed to fulfill.  But she never got interested in the sandbox like I thought she would.  Maybe it was the more than occasional cat poop we found.  Or the omnipresent spiders.  Maybe it was the hardened sand, the constant leaf litter, or the fact that she’s already too old for sandboxes . . . if there is such a thing as being too old for sandboxes.  She just didn’t seem to care about it one way or another which was amazing to me because I was a kid that spent days on end in a sandbox.    

On the Saturday before Father’s day, I found myself standing outside, just soaking things in; plotting my next steps.  After my eyes kept stopping on my own misplaced clutter, I determined it was past time to find places for the things I had brought from the old house.  First and foremost was the fountain my wife gave me when I turned 30 a year or two ago . . . give or take the better part of a decade.  Since the move, the fountain had been left out of the way and unfilled under the mulberry tree just because I didn’t have anywhere else to put it.  I would need the fountain to be close to an electrical outlet for the pump.  I would need level ground.  And I wanted it be away from the house because I had learned through experience that it tends to splash and leave hard water stains which are as hard to get rid of as glitter on your skin. 
Tangent: I overheard a guy say to his girlfriend in a craft store a few months ago “Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.”  I’m pretty sure he adopted that line from a comedian, but I gave him due credit for making me laugh anyway.   
Given that one of the three outside outlets in our backyard is just feet from the sandbox it quickly dawned on me that the sandbox would be an ideal location.  But what would my little girl say to that?  I have seen her, several times, suddenly proclaim her rekindled affection for a toy or stuffed animal only after we decided to donate it to Good Will.  Would she suddenly have a hankering for sand castles or for finally embarking upon her long-planned digging expedition to China through the center of the earth?

The gap in the sidewalk was just wide enough to run the cord AND drip irrigation tubing.  Score!

I drilled a small hole at the base of the sandbox for the wiring and irrigation.

Clearly I was going to have to run it by her and get her buyoff.  So I asked her point blank, “are you gonna play in that thing ever again?” or something similarly eloquent.  And she said, basically, “of course not, Daddy.  I’m a more grown-up big-little-kid and I would prefer to do more productive and creative things with my time.”  So, with her permission, and with her help, we started digging out the sand.  It took a surprising amount of time since I didn’t just want to throw the sand away.  I could use the sand to level the pavers I had haphazardly placed as a walkway around the corner of the house.  So as we dug out the sandbox we also leveled the pavers (in the picture below).  That took us most of the afternoon - a long time to ask a 6-year-old to help you in the yard - but the two of us had a lot of fun working together especially since some of that work was just looking at the bugs that fled their homes when we unearthed them.

The smaller square rocks were leftover from a Tic Tac Toe game (using river rocks) that didn't get much use
after the first year so I repurposed them here.  They could use a cleaning, but I'm otherwise happy with the look.
On Father’s Day, after being spoiled with breakfast and coffee delivered to my lazy butt on the couch, my daughter accompanied me to the “rock store” (basically a quarry with a nursery attached to it) so we could buy a smooth paver to use as a base for the fountain.  Then we went to the nursery to pick out plants for our new sandbox garden. 

I took her to the shade plants section and basically said, “Anything you want we can get”.  She chose a couple good looking coleus plants and I picked a few ferns.   And together we planted them around the fountain.  One of the coleus plants lost a limb on the drive home so I showed her how we could put it into some water and it would grow roots of its own.  This was amazing to her (frankly, it’s amazing to me too).  As we worked side by side I got to listen to her daydream aloud about how we could sell coleus plants to people at a lemonade and flower stand. 

Our first "new" coleus is doing just fine.
We took cuttings from the other two types we bought and put them in a window sill in my man cave.

As far as Father’s Days goes, this last one was pretty great.  I am lucky to be a father and to get to spend time with my family.  And part of my fortune, I realized, is getting to see the world through the eyes of a child and discovering that it’s not always going to look the way I think it’s going to.  Sometimes that world is going to look like lemonade stands and plant sales instead of sandboxes.  And you can find happiness in either one.

A few shots of the new "sandbox garden":

Planted with asparagus ferns 'Myers', Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), Silver Lady Fern (Blechnum gibbum), Coleus blumei 'Electric Lime', Coleua blumei 'Rustic Orange', and Coleus blumei 'Crimson Gold'.