Saturday, April 29, 2017

Our Newest Gardening Adventure: Building a California Garden

I’m excited to report that two months ago, we moved from our apartment in the Lodge complex to a house where we have been given carte blanche by the landlord to create a garden after he saw our patio garden and this blog.  I am realizing my dream of building one more beautiful garden with my husband.  While we are currently renting this home, it’s our plan to eventually purchase it, but even if we don’t, our legacy will be a stunning display of color and beauty.

Currently, we have something of a blank slate with a few dead/dying plants in the back and a porch, an as yet unidentified medium sized tree, and some perennials in the front.  As we did in Massachusetts, we are going about this thoughtfully to be able to enjoy garden color throughout the extended season.

We started by planting some … you guessed it! … roses.  We planted a newly acquired Veteran’s Honor in front of the front porch as our tribute to the soldiers we lost in the Blackhawk crash as well as the many soldiers we adopted through Soldiers Angels while they were deployed.  We also are planting our Strawberry Hill, which has resided in a pot for a couple of years now,  against one of the posts on our front porch as well.  While not a true climber, (it’s a David Austin shrub rose), Strawberry Hill has very long canes and can be grown as a short climber.  We are going to train it up the post but keep it pruned to just below the roof line of the porch.  We also put a planter on a small plant stand and our fountain and fern on the front porch.  With a wreath on the door, it looks welcoming and homey.

The white camellia is currently blooming and we set it temporarily next to the front door in its pot but it will also be going into the ground in the backyard once the blooming season is over.

Also still in pots in the back are Sugar Moon, a gorgeous pure white climber. some perennials, and our lemon and key lime trees.  The lemon tree is sporting three luscious lemons ready for harvest and new blooms and new baby lemons and the key lime also has some limes growing.

The garden came with what looked to be a dead citrus tree of unknown variety and we were surprised to discover that it's now leafing out and blooming.  It has the largest, sharpest spines of all of our citrus trees and we are wondering if perhaps it might be a grapefruit tree.  

Hopefully, we'll have some fruit on it this year that can help identify it.  
The spines on this little tree are enormous.  If they are reflective of the size of the fruit, we are wondering if we are dealing with a grapefruit tree.
Our first major project has been to plant some grapes.  Yes, surprise!  It’s been the standing joke that we moved to wine country to plant roses, not grapes.  And what do we do?  We plant grapes!  No, the wine bug did not bite us.  These will be used strictly as table grapes.

Shortly before we moved to the house, the spring newsletter arrived from our local garden center, Mid City Nursery, with the news that they had a limited number of muscat grapevines for sale.  We couldn’t get there fast enough. If you’ve never tasted a muscat grape (the grapes that are used to make moscato wine) you simply must.  The season for muscat grapes is short and here in California, we can find them at the end of the summer in Whole Foods. They are simply the sweetest, juiciest, most flavorful grapes we’ve ever tasted. We had the staff at Mid City help us choose the best looking vines and then they potted the six of them up into a 5 gallon pot and stored them for us until we moved and could plant them. (Just one of the many reasons they are our favorite garden center.)

We have no large shade trees on the property but there is a very large pergola over the patio off the kitchen. It covers almost the entire patio and has 6 large posts supporting it.  We initially thought about climbing roses and jasmine, but deadheading roses and pruning them would be a huge challenge, not that pruning the grapes and keeping them manageable isn’t going to be challenge enough.  But the idea of our own ready supply of muscat grapes was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up and once the pergola is covered with vines, it should be a wonderful shady place to sit and relax. Our biggest concern at this point is having to share a limited harvest with the birds!

We acquired some wine barrels from a gentleman in town who works at a local winery. He purchases their discarded wine barrels and turns them into planters.  He plugs the bung holes, cuts them to the desired height, and drills drainage holes in the bottom.  We had him cut just the top off and leave them tall as we needed to find the largest planters we could find to sustain the grapes in adulthood.  We got one barrel to place next to each post and last month, with the help of our housekeeper’s husband Tony, Steve planted the grapes.  Already they are leafing out and have started their trek skyward.

Because they are in containers and require a consistent supply of water to thrive, we installed an irrigation system tthat can be set to run on a timer a couple of times a week or however often we need during the dry summer months.

Some of our other upcoming projects include raised beds for vegetables, herbs, and possibly some strawberries; planting the remaining potted trees and roses (and some more roses, especially) in the ground along the fence; and filling our empty patio pots with seasonal annuals to provide pops of color on the patio.

One of the things that recently arrived with our furniture from Massachusetts is a beautiful vintage style conservatory planter that I used to plant with mini green leafy plants and African violets.  Here in California I plan to fill it with succulents to bring garden color indoors as well. I have several of Debra Lee Baldwin’s wonderful books on succulents and hope to find some interesting minis at our garden center.

Just before we moved here, we had turned an old fountain into the most amazing succulent planter with the few hardy succulents that survived harsh New England winters. Here, we have so many interesting varieties available to us and I am excited about the prospect of choosing some interesting ones and planting them in this conservatory.

Be sure to sign up to follow our progress in the garden over the spring and summer!  We’ll also be sharing some gardening and cultivation tips for chemical free gardening over the next few months.

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