November Notes

It is the third week in November, the weekend before Thanksgiving.   There has been a remarkable change in the gardens in the last few days.  A few cold fronts have blown through and, like a light switch being flipped on, the splendors of fall have arrived.

Pyracantha coccinea (Scarlet Firethorn), a native to SE Asia which is a squatter on our property (i.e., not planted, volunteer),  and Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon), a drought-tolerant California native shrub (that will become a tree if you let it), have been show-stoppers this month.  In early November, they began to bloom, with the Toyon demonstrating why it is sometimes also referred to as Christmas Berry.  The Firethorn is first below, and Toyon follows.  Both are in a shady area under a canopy of Olea europaea (Olive).  Each is approximately 15 feet in height.

One of the Echeveria subrigida apparently thinks it is summer and has begun sending up a flower.

The Aeonium in the gardens seemed to have awakened in early November.

The Ceanothus ‘yankee point’, a California native wild lilac, continues to show new growth.  2 to 3 months until they bloom (we think)!

We are not certain of the species of this Rhodendron (Azalea), but it will be temporarily known as ‘November Beauty’.  This grows in the shade under the Olea europaea.

As mentioned in October Observations, the manzanitas are beginning to bloom. First was Arctostaphylos viridissima.  This month, Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’, a California native manzanita, is showing its beautiful urn like flowers.

A Camelia that was here when we arrived, and which we can’t get ourselves to replace, proved her worth with this display of flowering.

We recently planted a grove of Rubus parviflorus (Thimbleberry), a California native woodland plant.   The oldest Coast Live Oak on our property offers it needed shade.  We love this plant for among other reasons — it reminds us of Oregon. The yellowing of its leaves, as it prepares for winter is a wonderful offering of nature — even if it will soon be nothing more than stems with no leaves.

An old Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple) reminds us each year why our gardens will never be entirely composed of California natives.  Although the height of its colors are not yet here in our gardens, this offers a glimpse of things to come in the next few days.

And from in and around our neighborhood, we are reminded of the magnificence of Ginkgo biloba and Liquidambar (taken on a rainy Sunday afternoon).

October Observations

October has always been a month of “transition to darkness” for us, when the days get shorter, and people and presumably nature retreat inward, to prepare for winter.   In college, October was the month when you realized that it was time to start studying and catch up on the reading you had failed to do.  In our daily occupations, October has been a month in which work becomes more burdensome as clients focus on year-end goals and decide to get busy.  All inward, hunkering down.    This explains why we were totally surprised to see a burst of cheerfulness — new growth and flowering throughout the gardens in October.  Here are a few examples:

Arctostaphylos viridissima (manzanita):  Planted in Summer 2011. Flowering for the first time in our gardens.

October 2011

Ribes viburnifollium (catalina perfume):  Numerous new leaf buds.  When you rub this between your fingers, it releases a wonderfully light fragrance.

October 2011

Acanthus mollis (bear’s breeches):  In August, we cut this back all the way to the ground.  It burst from the ground in October. 

October 2011

Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree):  Flowering in October 2011. The flower shape is very similar to the manzanita above.  The urn-like flower is common to the Ericacaea family of plants (also known as the Heath family) — and Arbutus and Arctostaphylos are two of the genera within that family.

October 2011

Liriope muscari:  Flowered in early October.  In early September, I visited Kew Gardens in London and their Liriope was in full bloom at that time.  Wonderful.

October 2011

Callistemon viminalis (bottlebrush tree): shows significant new growth and flowers in early October.

October 2011

Applying what I learned in Intro to Horticulture

On this page, I have revisited many of the topics we covered in Introduction to Horticulture taught by Darlene Pickell at UCLA Extension (Summer 2011) and sought to apply them to our property.

Climate Zone Designation for our Property:

  • American Horticultural Society Heat Zone Map:  Zone 8
  • USDA Cold Hardiness Map:  Zone 9b/10a
  • Sunset Western Climate Zone Map:  21

Examples of plants in the garden illustrating differences between biological classifications

(applicable photos are below the caption in each case)

Angiosperm: flowering plants that produce fruits and seeds within, such as this Rhamnus californica with seed bearing fruit just emerging (August 2011).

Gymnosperm:  cone-bearing plants, such as this fallen cone from Pinus halipensis
Monocot:  Angiosperm that is non-woody, showing parallel leaf veins and flowering in petal clusters of 3s. The first example is Liriope muscari.  The second photo below contains two examples — Agapanthus orientalis and Clivia miniata.

Dicot: Angiosperm that is typically woody, showing branched, reticulated leaf veins and flowering in petal clusters of 5s.  The first example is Arctostaphylos viridissima (Manzanita).  The second example is Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’.

Leaf Type: Simple, as on this Ribes viburnifolium

Leaf Type:  Pinnately Compound,as on this Fraxinus [?]

Leaf Type:  Palmately Compound [?], as on this Acer palmatum

Leaf Type:  Double Pinnately Compound, as on this Nandina domestica

Leaf Arrangements:  Whorled, as in this Pittorsporum tobira variegata

Leaf Arrangement:  Opposite, as in this Mahonia repens

Leaf Arrangements:  Alternate, as in this Rhamnus californica (coffeeberry)
See the Soils Analysis sub-tab wherein we summarize the results of 10 soil samples taken throughout the Property.  Observations regarding the findings are at the bottom. Here is the link:  Soil Analysis
Based on the soil analysis, and the particular needs of plants in different parts of the property, we put together a fertilizing plan.  Here is the link:  Fertilizing Plan
Pests and Problems:
Our observational skills in this regard are developing.  We’ve started to notice issues such as those taught in class.  See the following link:  Pests and Problems


Welcome to our gardens.

In the posts and pages here, you will witness the growth of a garden and its gardeners.   This site started as a project for a class at UCLA, Introduction to Horticulture, that Michael took in the summer of 2011.  Prior to taking the class, Michael knew very little about plants or how to keep them alive (he certainly knew how to kill them, however).   One would have thought the scientific background and approach required in Michael’s prior profession as a geologist, and the current analytical demands of business lawyering would lead to an instinctively methodical and scientific approach to gardening.  Wrong.  His was a completely haphazard gardening technique.  However, with the introduction provided by the class, and a bit of practice, we are beginning to see some changes. For more of what Michael has learned this summer and applied to the gardens, follow this link “Intro to Horticulture“.

When we purchased our current house, the landcaping consisted of over 300 different types of plants.  In a single 20′ x 20′ planter bed, there were 27 different types of succulents. Throughout the gardens were annuals, perennials, fruit trees, grasses, succulents, volunteer trees and shrubs, uncontrollable vines, and numerous weeds and weeds in disguise.  The grass was dying, the irrigation systems were a mess, the trees had been very poorly pruned (killing a few), and there was generally no rhyme or reason to the plant selections in terms of shade versus sun, water needy versus drought tolerant, low maintenance versus high maintenance, etc.

Early attempts to rectify the situation failed.  After spending too much money on a “professional” re-do of certain parts of the gardens in 2010, we decided to get personally engaged in the gardens and be more thoughtful about how we interacted with them. We first gave thought to the “garden ethic” or “philosophy” that we want to achieve.  Michael was turned onto this concept by Sarah Hayden Reichard’s book “The Conscientious Gardener: Cultivating a Garden Ethic“.   Native plants are an obvious path in this regard.  So, Michael dove into the native gardening literature and visited many of the native plant nurseries throughout California (the best in his opinion are Tree of Life and Theodore Payne Foundation).   The native plant movement is fascinating and Michael is clearly drinking the kool-aid.  One fundamental dilemma however — he loves certain plants that are not natives, he thinks turf has certain functionality and aesthetic appeal, but yet he hates half measures.  So, he is constantly balancing the inevitable (and arrogant) scorn for non-natives, with his love of, for example, Callistemon and Pittorsporum.   It is a struggle.

Notwithstanding these conflicts, a garden ethic has begun to emerge. The gardens are slowly returning to a more natural aesthetic.  Massing of plants, hydrozoning (relocating and grouping plants with similar water needs) and incorporation of region-appropriate plants has begun to make a difference (we think).  Follow this link for a “Quick Tour“.

One final thought — In the garden, as in other facets of life, we tend to the “clean, orderly” aesthetic (i.e., we are anal).   Some might suggest that such an aesthetic is inconsistent with a garden filled with chapparal native plants.  We disagree.  While we respect native plant enthusiasts who simply plant and let nature take its course — that is not our preference.  We relish nature and its wonders and are advocates for all-things environmental, but we simply need some order on the chaos of our immediate surroundings.  In this context, we are reminded of something we recently read in “Founding Gardeners” by Andrea Wulf (great book, highly recommended):

“[At Monticello, Thomas] Jefferson had combined beauty with utility, the untamed wilderness of the forest with the orderly lines of apples, pears, and cherries in the orchard, and colorful native and exotic flowers with a sweeping panorama across Virginia’s spectactular landscape.  If nature had been dominated by man, it seemed it was only in order to celebrate it.

With this spirit of celebration (and order!), we hope you will enjoy the site and visit often…. as this garden and its gardeners continue to grow.