Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Poor puppies...

It's COLD outside, especially if you're a little rat terrier/chihuahua (i.e. "rathuahua") with super short hair and you've already outgrown your adoption-day sweater. No problem staying warm inside the house, though!

I spoke too soon

After the freeze and frosts, my veggies all perked up and so did many other plants, but my 3 newly-planted princess flower shrubs (Tibouchina) and 3 Mexican bush sages (S. leucantha, pictured below) really suffered.

Compare backyard-planted ones with an unprotected southwestern exposure...
. the east-facing ones planted out front, right up against the house (reflected heat):

They were all planted from the same batch of plants at the same time. Just goes to show you... Microclimate really does matter!

I think all plants will survive, but it's a drag that some got nipped back.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Plants fared better than I thought...

After a week of frosts and a freeze, all plants are faring better than I thought. Well, my newly planted Mexican Bush Sage is looking a little limp. That's not surprising since it's a bit marginal for our area (hardy in Zone 14, but not 8 or 9). Its blooming tips wilted and leaves shriveled about a third of the way down. Several other plants looked dull, dark and limp during the frost, but all perked up considerably when the sun came out.

Looks like rain is returning in a few days, so that should give us a break from freezing temps. I don't dabble in tropicals much since Sacto's climate is subtropical (i.e. too hot and sunny in the summer and too cold in the winter for tropicals). Tropicals tend to have big, fleshy leaves that turn to mush after a freeze. Hmmm... what's the fleshiest plant in my yard? Bird-of-Paradise. Since it's next to the house (stucco) and under an overhang, I didn't bother covering it last week.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Row Covers from Peaceful Valley

I decided to order some inexpensive row covers for frost protection. One is for light frost; the other, heavy.

Here's a link to the one designed for heavy frost protection: Agribon

Could be a cold winter...

Frosty Freezy Carmichael

We've had several consecutive days of frosts or freezes (3? 4? 5?). I'm starting to see some casualties. Nothing's dead, but I think I'm going to end up with a fair bit of top-kill on the following: Mexican bush sage, echium, my veggies, some herbs (esp. sage) and a few others. I'm keeping a close eye on my 9 citrus trees. I've been covering them with plastic tarps or bubble wrap (whatever I have handy), but they're young and vulnerable. If this keeps up, I may go the extra step and wrap the trunks. It's not even winter yet!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Finally planted sweet peas

I've been feeling pretty proud of myself lately for getting my bulbs and "Annie's plants" (4" perennials from Annie's Annuals)in the ground. I guess I'm proud because I did something for which the reward comes later. Now that the work is done, I can sit back and enjoy the show come springtime.

I planted more bulbs than ever before. A Berkeley landscape designer whose work I admire, Keeyla Meadows, relies heavily on bulbs for a really big color show. Many bulbs are spectacularly showy, but because they have a dormant period or might be lost to critters, rot, or might be a one-shot deal (most tulips), I haven't focused on them as much in the past. I'm hoping for a great show this year, especially since my soil is recently improved with lots of compost. Fingers crossed that squirrels don't eat everything I planted. I'm pretty convinced they gobbled up nearly the entire bag of 100 daffodil bulbs I planted last year in a raised planter. Now I've added lilies to the menu... heirloom lilies.

I also got my wildflowers planted (they're sprouting). The one task I kept neglecting... well, that and housework in general... was planting my flowering sweet peas. If I'd planted them when I planted my SugarSnap peas, they'd probably be 3-4 feet tall by now. Just got my 'Royal Family' seeds in the ground today. Better late than never, I guess. I hope.

It's supposed to be frosty tomorrow. Gotta protect my citrus tonight. I'm also going to move my containerized 'Caspian Pink' tomato plant into the greenhouse to see if I can get a few more ripe tomatoes out of it.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Cottony Cushion Scale...

... It's not just for breakfast anymore. ;-)

But a few of my newly planted citrus trees have it. According to the UC Pest Note on cottony cushion scale, a few natural enemies provide "excellent control." Cool, I don't have to spray! Not wanting to do nothing, however, I remembered an old house plant trick for scale where you swab the scale off with Q-tips dipped in rubbing alcohol. What does the alcohol do? I haven't the foggiest. Since I didn't see any predators, I went ahead and swabbed all the scale insects I could find.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Bulb Closure... almost

Finally got all my bulbs planted except for one bag of paperwhites which I'll use for forcing. I'm sure I'll forget where I planted many of them and will have some nice surprises come springtime. Most bulbs went in the ground, but I also stuck some in pots.

I'm happy to see that my 'Mission Bells' and 'Apricot Chiffon' California poppies are sprouting. I also planted Calendula 'Pink Surprise', which came from Select Seeds as a free bonus. It's pretty!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Meet Annie and Dan... They are a 12-week-old rat terrier/chihuahua brother and sister we just adopted from the S.P.C.A. They are the sweetest, silliest, most playful and affectionate little puppies!
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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Bulb Log

Making progress with my bulb planting... In the ground so far: Species tulips (Tulipa saxatilis), Dutch iris 'Blue Ribbon', Anemone 'Blue Poppy', Allium 'Gladiator', Freesia 'Double Blue', and 'Angelique' tulips. Still mulling over where to put my 'Apricot Beauty' tulips (leaning toward a container) and still waiting for one more mail order bulb shipment.

I'm experimenting with not chilling my "chill-requiring" bulbs this year. I always have in the past, but remember reading... in Sunset Mag. I think... that unchilled tulips, etc. will still bloom without chilling but will be shorter and smaller. We'll see.

Looking forward to my antique bulbs order! One of the lilies I ordered, Black Beauty (1957), can grow to 8 feet tall!!! The bulbs are coming from Old House Gardens.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Annie's Annuals Appearance at Bushnell's

Annie Hayes of Annie's Annuals spoke at Bushnell's today. Great turnout and fun talk! Annie specializes in seed-grown 4" potted annuals and perennials that do well in Mediterranean regions like Sacramento. Bushnell's provided chairs, hot drinks and cookies (Annie munched while she talked). Even though it was alternately misty and raining, we were comfy and dry under Bushnell's large awning.

I took notes on plants Annie said were her favorites and/or do well in our area:

Echinops (globe thistle)
Aquilegia caerulea
Aquilegia chrysantha
Salvia patens (full shade)
Deschampsia flexuosa (bright shade)
Tanacetum (chartreuse variety)
Rudbeckia occidentalis (no petals, some shade)
Viola corsica (longest-blooming)
Wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata... loves heat, great groundcover)
Dianthus superbus (evergreen)
Cheddar pinks (dense groundcover, long-blooming)
Dianthus barbatus nigrescens 'Sooty Black' (part sun, smells like CHOCOLATE)
Eriogonum giganteum 'St. Catherine's Lace' (buckwheat, great for no water, full sun areas)
Lupinus 'Morello Cherry' (some shade)
Tellima grandiflora ("fringe cups", heuchera-like)
Verbascum chiaxii (must-have)
Campanula primulifolia
Heuchera pilosissima
Silene regia
Silene dioicia
Scabiosa atropurpurea
Centauria atropurpurea

The plants offered for sale were scooped up before, during and after Annie's talk, so call Bushnell's if you want to know when they'll be restocked. Now's the IDEAL time to be planting soooooo many plants. Check out They even sell mail order!

Friday, October 22, 2004

seedling trays and 6-packs from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
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Just getting going with some cuttings and seedlings that were cooped up on my kitchen counter for too long.
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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Bulb Auger works great!

With this break in the weather, I wanted to get some of my tulips in the ground using my new bulb auger. It took a few tries before I got the hang of it, but now I'm a bulb-plantin' fool! I think having a powerful cordless drill helps. I don't, so I borrowed a nice Makita. Did I manage to hit drip tubing with the auger? Yes. Several times. I have a knack for killing my drip system. With me, an auger becomes more of a drip system sensing device.

The important thing is, now I look forward to bulb planting instead of dreading it. One word of caution. The recent rains probably made the soil a lot more penetrable than it usually is. Don't try the thing in dry, unamended soil.

Just checked Gardener's Supply and they're sold out on the augers! Glad I got mine when I did...

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

It's raining!

Looks like fall is really here... I managed to get my California poppy seeds sprinkled just in time. This year, instead of my usual wildflower mix, I'm going with 'Mission Bells' and 'Apricot Chiffon' California poppies. It'll be interesting to see if any of last year's wildflowers that went to seed come up in spring/summer.

Now that I have a greenhouse, I've been ordering more seeds. There are so many fun things to grow that you just can't find in our local nurseries. Plus, it's waaaaaaay more economical. Ok, not so if you count the cost of the greenhouse. Oh, nevermind.

In the garden, my tomatoes are winding down, but in the greenhouse, they're just getting going. We'll see if I can manage to produce some winter tomatoes. I think I remember Farmer Fred mentioning on his radio show that he had trouble with whiteflies on his greenhouse tomatoes. I'll be watching out for the little buggers. I grew them in the greenhouse in one of my classes at UCD on these really cool vine supports. We did a lot of pinching and tying, so they really did act like vines and only took up about a square foot of soil.

I'm behind on my bulb planting. Wishing very much that I'd gotten them in the ground before the rain. Oh well. Because I hate those bulb planter thingies, I ordered a bulb-planting drill bit from Gardener's supply. I'll let y'all know how it works.

More later...

Saturday, October 02, 2004

View from patio
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Saucer magnolia, penstemon, white echinacea, Chinese ground orchids (Bletilla striata), Salvia (labeled 'May Knight', but could be another... it's dark purple anyway) and pansies.
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Veggies are growing nicely. Sugarsnap peas are sprouting. I was disappointed to learn that my 4 4" scallions were in fact 1 scallion, 2 Walla Wallas and one leek! They all looked the friggin' same when I bought them and the first one was labeled "Scallions." I made the mistake of assuming the others were too. My bad...
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More progress... ignore the plethora of chairs. They're leftovers from a big party and I'm too lazy to do anything about them just yet.
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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I feel like a Mini Martha...

Pre-conviction, that is.

Favorite Martha quote of late: "If events unfold as I have been led to believe, I will have this ordeal behind me and be back to work before spring planting season." Sounds like she's finally getting her priorities straight. Martha, Martha, Martha. I know gardening is an expensive hobby, but sheesh, you're a gazillionaire with absolutely no reason to do anything crooked. I still love you.

It's a... GREENHOUSE! Well, ok, it's still under construction, but what isn't in my life? I want to add that I had nothing to do with its existence other than ordering it, selecting its location and stepping all over its pieces while it sat in my garage for, well, for a long time.

I did, however, plant the lettuce, chard, parsley and peas in the foreground. I'll be adding the scallions I picked up yesterday evening in a few minutes. The Sugarsnap pea seeds were from Johnny's Selected Seeds, a great mail order company. Also ordered Easter Egg radish seeds and Royal Mix flowering sweet peas.

My 2nd dwarf avocado arrived from Wayside Gardens the other day. I'm keeping it in my kitchen window until the greenhouse is operational. The 1st dwarf avo didn't survive the winter. I ordered it thinking the greenhouse would be ready but you know what? They don't build themselves. Neither do I.

Whatcha gotta do is find a few dudes who paid attention in shop class. I actually took shop class on a lark in middle school. Got yelled at for walking away from the disk sander while it was still spinning. So, anyway, I find the use of power tools NOT to be my calling. The fact that my shop teacher was missing part of his thumb may have something to do with that feeling.

Btw, the uuuuuugly pool filter and a/c unit will be screened with redwood lattice panels. Soon, I hope.

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Saturday, September 25, 2004

Nursery Cans Flying Everywhere!

Another bed is coming together... I love my Smith & Hawken cobalt blue birdbath. I've surrounded it with yellow lantana, pink sedum, Mexican bush sage and lavender. In the background are 3 princess flower shrubs. You can't see them because they're still tiny! Got 'em at Whole Foods in 4" containers. I think they'll do well up against the fence since they tend to be sorta viney, as shrubs go. Adding interest in the foreground is a rusted metal quail family. Rusted metal yard art is included in my lengthy list of garden addictions. ;-)
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It's amazing how quickly the birds and butterflies come when you start making a garden. Well, ok, it helped that I put up two hummingbird feeders and a gourmet selection of shelled sunflower seed and niger thistle. The hummers found the nectar feeders right away, but the seed eaters haven't come around yet. I've been told it's a somewhat quiet time in my area, birdwise. By the way, am I crazy or do hummingbirds seem smart? Maybe both.

Monday, September 20, 2004

I might as well say it now... "Oh, my achin' back!"
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Sunday, September 19, 2004

Wanna know how to make it rain?

Have Hastie's dump 4 giant piles (19 cubic yards) of bark, compost, planting mix and crushed rock in the street (blocking the gutter, of course) in front of your house. ;-)

Friday, September 17, 2004

and this...
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Let's not forget this...
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How am I supposed to get anything done when this is my inspiration?
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Thursday, September 16, 2004

White echinacea in the foreground, next to a Home Depot decorative glass ball stake. The Cheryl Chair is in the background.
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I thought the colors in these 'Dynamite Wine Flash' Pansies went well with my stainless steel gazing ball.
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Dwarf English lavender, a really pretty pink sedum and a cute little yellow... uh... I'll get back to you on that... waiting for a properly prepped bed. (in Martha Stewart's voice) Again, notice how the cobalt blue birdbath is echoed by the lovely cobalt blue wheelbarrow.
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I moved my "Home Depot planter" onto the new patio. Notice how its verticality is echoed by the lovely nursery cans and Kangaroo yard waste container in the background. ;-)
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A Closer Look

A closer View of the "Cheryl Chair" area. The Cheryl chair is so named because my friend Cheryl gave it to me one day when we were junk hunting for things like seatless chairs. I was describing the kind of chair I'd love to find and she said she had just the chair at home! Now that she sees how pretty it looks planted, I think she wants it back.
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The Fun Part of Landscaping... Plant Placement!!!

My first big batch of plants was delivered yesterday from POW Nursery. I was glad to have met their minimum for free delivery. As is my way, I selected plants not according to a predetermined list, but by what caught my eye, looked healthy, and by what seemed like a good price.

As long as I stick to the rule of using even numbers of plants for formal, symmetrical arrangements and odd numbers (3+ plants is my usual minimum)for informal plantings, I can have a little fun with what I'm buying.

Another trick for successful "spontaneous landscaping" is to bring flowers from your garden to the nursery so you can see what looks good with what you've already got.

Sure, I make fantasy lists of plants I'd like to own, but on my nursery jaunts the thrill comes from discovering something I hadn't anticipated buying.

This batch of plants included 20 green hopseeds for a possibly temporary eyesore screen (the fence) and privacy screen (neighbors' 2nd story windows) while slower-growing sasanqua camellias (which I haven't found yet) fill in... and out... and up. My other acquisitions were mainly fun perennials (lavender, coreopsis, sedum, penstemon, daylily, echinacea, etc.) and a jasmine vine.

Right now, the plants have been placed but not planted. Placing plants is another fun, somewhat intuitive part of how I garden.

Almost forgot... I also got a saucer magnolia! I looooooooovvvvvve deciduous magnolias and am so happy to finally have one. It's M. x soulangiana, which is a classic. I'm also gonna try squeezing in one more smaller-growing cultivar with darker petals (an M. liliflora cultivar, probably).

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Monday, September 13, 2004

Plant a Chair

Pansies, osteospermum, purple sweet potato vine and heliotrope are the new inhabitants of my chair planter.
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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Mail-order Citrus

By the way, part of the reason I ordered directly from Four Winds by mail-order was to evaluate the quality of their mail-order service.
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Four Winds gets an A+. The trees came quickly by UPS, were well packaged and are very, very healthy! One even had (until I... oops...knocked it off) a huge orange on it! These folks know what they're doing. And get this... the trees came bare-root! They were packed in sawdust! How often do we see bare-root citrus, right? Also, all six trees were ingeniously packaged in 2 boxes no bigger than about 6" x a foot x 4 ft. total (boxes were taped together).

I probably could have saved a few bucks by buying from a local retail nursery selling dwarf citrus, but I had a feeling I'd have to hunt around for some of my 6 varieties.

Ideally, you want to plant citrus in spring so they'll have longer to establish before a potentially frosty winter... but I don't mind keeping an eye on them this winter. I want to pick fruit!!! Grow, trees, grow!

The two limes are on a west-facing wall. I'm hoping the reflected heat from the stucco house will help warm them in winter. Limes need more protection than most types of citrus.
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Got O.J.?

With today's delivery from Four Winds Citrus Growers, my citrus collection now includes: Improved Meyer Lemon, Eureka Lemon, Trovita Orange, Valencia Orange, Washington Navel Orange, Bearss Seedless Lime, Mexican Lime, Satsuma Mandarin and an Indiomandarinquat.<
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The orange trees were selected for flavor and a very extended harvest. Washington navel ripens in winter, Trovita ripens in spring, and Valencia ripens in summer. How delicious is that?!!!

Friday, August 27, 2004

Smith & Hawken Umbrella Base

So much for saving money... The only umbrella base I could find that fits under my teak table costs as much as the umbrella! Oh well... at least it'll keep the thing from spinning (I hope... there is a little screw thingy on the side) or impaling one of my neighbors during a freak wind storm. ;-)

Smith & Hawken Disk Base for 1 1/2"-Dia. pole Item # 758474

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Costco Love

Teak patio set (Costco) with newly arrived patio umbrella (Costco). In foreground is Smith & Hawken portable firepit.
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I researched umbrellas for awhile before purchasing. I found a lot of nice umbrellas locally and online, but didn't see any prices I liked until I checked Costco. My taste runs on the teak & Sunbrella side, but my budget can't always support my impeccable taste...

Along with this rectangular off-white umbrella for the back (Olefin fabric), I got a round 9 footer with black Sunbrella fabric for the front yard sitting area. Both umbrellas have a metal pole with faux wood-grain pattern (ew!) and a beige plastic ball on top (ew!). The overall effect is still pretty and quite umbrellariffic. The total cost for both umbrellas was around the same as one umbrella at most other stores I checked. Did I mention how much I love Costco? How else would I have been able to afford teak dining sets?

BTW, the crank mechanism on both and the tilt mechanism on the round umbrella work great! Super easy and impressive technology.

One minor disappointment: The rectangular umbrella got to spinnin' a bit in today's breeze. Wouldn't be such a big deal on a round umbrella, but it is on this rectangular one. Will have to find some way to stabilize it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Birth of a Greenhouse

Greenhouse footing (forms still attached).
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Check out all the empty concrete bags in the background!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Impulse Purchase

Impulse purchase of the day... Went to Home Depot for some Round Up (yes, I'm mostly organic except for Round Up) and came home with this planter (around $28). In it I planted a 1-gallon purple fountain grass (Pennisetum 'Rubrum'), a 1-gallon Angelonia angustifolia and 3 lovely 4" 'Lemon Symphony' Osteospermums. The fountain grass needs to gain some height and girth, but I can already tell the combo is gonna be great.
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The landscapers are done!

All I have to do now is plant an aesthetically pleasing yet quite edible landscape. ;-)

For now, I'm having fun putting up birdfeeders. Thanks to Cheryl at Wild Bird Center on Sunrise Blvd., I now have the ultimate hummingbird feeder (not too big, not too small, easy to clean, dome cover, ant trap), a really nice seed feeder (with already shelled sunflower seeds), and a refillable niger thistle sock. I can't wait for the birds to discover their new eatery!
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Clearly, I need more "arms" for my birdfeeder pole. I'm workin' on that...

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Oh, sod it all...

Quick update: The landscapers were shorted on their sod order so they couldn't finish yesterday or today. Said sod comes from Lodi, so we must wait until tomorrow for lawn closure.

Meanwhile, I've been having fun fidgeting with my garden ornaments. Birdbath. Gazing ball. Firepit. Bird feeder hook thingy. Etc. I know it's a little early to be placing the finishing touches, but I just couldn't help myself. Plus, I can always move them again. And again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Flagstone sitting area and lawn... LAWN, with real live sprinklers and everything!!!
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Just needs grass, plants, lattice screening and a greenhouse... ;-)
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Crushed rock and flagstone. The rock is still a little dusty. After rinsing, it's more of a peachy color.
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Friday, August 13, 2004

Flowerbeds edged with Epic border, mow strip and veggie bed. They're gonna hate me on Tuesday, when work resumes, cuz I'm gonna ask for the veggie beds to be shortened by around a foot so there's more room to walk around them at the ends. A peachy colored crushed rock is going down in the pathways. Flagstone will be set in the crushed rock in the long, straight stretch near the house.
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Flagstone sitting area... Still being laid out, but you can get a sense of the flagstone color and sizes. They were nice enough to use the table and chairs as a guide for setting the stones for minimizing awkward dips and bumps.
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Playground Bark! As for that weird box sticking up in the foreground, it controls the pool lights. Was it put in a dumb place? Yes. You know those hokey fake rock covers? That's what I'm thinking of "disguising" it with.
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Monday, August 09, 2004

An Impulsive bit of lawn!

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The cool thing about not working from a plan is that you can design in real space and real time! When I decided to add a small patch of lawn between the pool decking and crushed gravel paths around the rectangular veggie beds, all we had to do was lay out the shape we wanted with a hose!

BTW, I plan on growing veggies in the "flowerbeds" along the house and fence too, so I'm not limited to the 2 4 x 10 ft. rectangles. They'll come in handy for sprawling things like melons and squash, though. Mmmm... 'Ambrosia' cantaloupe and yellow crookneck squash... Get this-- the veggie rectangle beds each have their own spigot, AND will be tied in with the irrigation controller. This means flexibility for watering (by hand, drip, etc.) and freedom to leave town without losing everything or having to hire a plant sitter!

The foreman and his assistants are being very accomodating and pleasant, especially considering the last-minute nature of some of my requests. I'm having a blast!

The mow strips are in!

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There were a few unexpected glitches, the worst part being that they occurred before I was properly caffeinated, but in the end everything went well! The mow strips are curing (it was hot today, so we had to mist them a bit) and most of the irrigation is in. I like the color of the mow strip... "Flagstone Brown." Yay! The pool decking is "San Diego Buff", which you can see on the same page as the "flagstone brown" link. We're probably going to have the pool decking sealed, which will restore some of the richness and darkness of the San Diego Buff.

The mow strips were the most critical aspect of the job because nothing else is "set in concrete." The flagstone sitting area will be in d.g. and edged with Epic Bender Board, so we can scoot things in here and there. The veggie beds (2 @ 4 ft. by 10 ft.) will also be edged in Epic.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

On Playground Bark and Concrete Tinting

Decided not to use recycled rubber mulch under the play structure. At first glance, it seemed like pretty neat stuff... comes in fun colors and is nice and spongy... but guess what it smells like? Tires! Duh...

Imagine how it smells on a hot day! No way. Also, a little online sleuthing dug up the fact that rubber mulch is toxic to plants, which will be nearby, gets hot enough for there to have been a lawsuit in which a child was burned, and the fumes aren't so healthy either. Back to good old playground bark.

I picked a color for the concrete mow strip: Flagstone brown! The mow strip will be poured or, rather, extruded on Monday.

Friday, August 06, 2004

future veggie garden and greenhouse
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play structure under trees, to left of pool
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It's great having the play structure under trees. The only disadvantage of the tree cover is that it gets pretty webby without regular blasts from a hose.

view from patio, looking right
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View from patio, looking left
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In between the gate and first post, the flagstone in d.g. path will begin (right off the patio) and end in the new flagstone sitting area for the oval teak table. To the far left (up against the fence) will be flowerbeds. Beds will pretty much be around the entire perimeter so I can "disappear" the fence. To the right of the first post, picture sod. Instant lawn. Can't wait. Well, I have waited... 9 years! My little boy, who isn't so little anymore, is finally getting grass to play on, and cushy bark or rubber mulch under his play structure (which he will outgrow in the next 5 minutes).

View of Pool and Patio Cover (Under Construction)
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This shot was taken in late afternoon. You can see how much wonderful shade the trees provide later in the day. You can also see the partially constructed patio cover. When finished, it'll have a sort of wraparound, multi-level quality. The as-yet-unbuilt section will be a little higher. Paint, which isn't finished, is a blue and navajo white combo. Oh, and see how the round patio section just outside the future French doors (aka 6' slider) slopes weirdly? It's a little exaggerated because I used a wide-angle lens, but not much. I still have to figure out a new use for the space. Firepit? Hmmm... probably not a good idea under a wood patio cover. Lounge chairs or Adirondack chairs maybe? Ooh, maybe those really cool Sky Chairs you see every year at the fair and that I saw again at the S.F. Flower & Garden Show!

Monday, August 02, 2004

Will Somebody Pinch Me?

Things are actually running ahead of schedule. Clearing and cleanup begin on Thursday of this week! My job is to water the back so the soil is more workable and to dig up the sad little citrus trees and rose bushes I planted in desperation, before the irrigation went in. My tomatoes are in half-barrels this year, so they're safe.

One thing I've been going back-and-forth on is lawn edging. Landscape companies like to use extruded concrete mow strips because they're fast, easy and economical. There's hi-lo, flat and wedge-shaped. I'd prefer a more natural edging material, like cobble or brick, but have to admit that a hi-lo mow strip is pretty practical. The low side provides a nice level footing for mower wheels and the high side helps hold in bark and mounded soil. Still, I know I'll never get that timeless garden look with a visible extruded concrete mow strip. Since budget is an issue, it's really hard to ignore the extruded strip's practicality.

The manager on the job made a suggestion that helped me to feel more ok about the mow strip-- we'll tint it a natural brown or tan color. It's easy enough for them to add color and it'll only add about $50. I appreciated his suggestion.

He's also going to show me some samples of recycled rubber mulch (which also comes in different colors) as an alternative to playground bark under our son's play structure. My son wanted sand, so I had to provide him with the image of his play area being used as a giant kitty litter box. With that image, he's less opposed to bark. The rubber stuff might be best.

Re: flagstone

We're going with flagstone in d.g. (decomposed granite) for a smallish sitting area featuring an oval teak table (from Costco, btw). The pieces are to be large and with narrow spaces between the flagstone pieces. In another area of the yard, 4' x 10' (probably) vegetable beds will be surrounded by crushed rock in a similar color (peachy/purpley/buff tones).

More later...

Monday, July 26, 2004

Sign Here, Please...

Today, we sign with a landscape contractor. Work is to commence approximately 10 days later. I'll try to post some photos when we break ground.

If things go well, I might even tell ya which company did the work. ;-)

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Garden Shop Echium

Not a great shot, but it shows the incredible echium plants (spiky ones in background) at the garden shop, along with this really neat woven arch.

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Here I am (looking a little blurry, as usual) at this really cool garden shop in Mendocino village. The whole town is flower heaven...
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Window box flowers on Mendocino's Main Street

Salpiglossis sinuata
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Back to Reality

Just got back from a nice coastal getaway... Finding it hard to get back to the daily grind. Coming back to an uncharacteristically humid, hot Sacramento didn't help. Still have just 2 contractor bids... well, still waiting for one to come in (he came and measured) . I was disappointed to learn that contractor #2 wouldn't be able to start until October at the earliest.

I'm inclined to go with the first company because they're well-established, are well-insured, seem fair-priced, and are equipped to start much sooner.

In the meantime, family stepped in to help with the patio cover (made lots of progress) and have promised to help put the kit greenhouse together. There may be orchids in my future yet...

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The bid is in...

Got the first bid. Surprisingly, the numbers didn't shock me. Of course, the bid didn't include plants... or anything fancy like built-in barbecues or outdoor fireplaces. My Smith & Hawken portable firepit will have to suffice in the fire department. Lighting wasn't included either; or raised beds; or the biggie-- construction of my greenhouse. They don't want to mess with it, but will refer me to a general contractor (versus landscape contractor).

So, I'm attributing the fact that the numbers didn't phase me to a) they're bidding on just the basics (grass, sprinklers, mow strip, etc.), b) they're fairly reasonable and c) I'm getting a bit jaded in my old age.

The one splurge is flagstone in D.G. (decomposed granite). We all know flagstone is expensive, but the funny thing is, I was told D.G. has gotten pricey! How could something that looks like rocky dirt, or dirty rock, that gets stuck in your shoes and scrapes up your hardwood floors be pricey? Is there no justice in the world?

Contractor visit #2 is happening today! Should be interesting to have a comparison...

Monday, July 05, 2004

Bid, Interrupted

The first bid from a landscape contractor was supposed to be ready Friday, but the bidder got food poisoning. No, really! I believe him!

We rescheduled for tomorrow. I, of course, joked about who was going to bring the smelling salts for reviving me after I read the $$figures$$. He said he always brings the drinks... Ha ha ha... those landscape contractors are such comedians.

Thursday, June 24, 2004


Finally heard back from the 3rd landscape contractor on the list. He asked me to describe the yard... wanted to make sure it wasn't "tiny"... Suddenly I felt like I was being interviewed... I felt like I had to "pump up" my yard just so he'd come take a look! When asked if I knew the yard's "footage", I said I wasn't sure, but gave him the total lot size (1/4 acre) and assured him it wasn't a "postage stamp yard". When I mentioned the existing pool (and no, I said nothing about its sordid history), he said a pool might be a "complicating factor" and would have to call me back. Huh?!!! The other two companies I've talked to so far didn't seem to be intimidated by the pool. So, we'll see.

I guess it's a good sign for the local economy that some contractors can be so picky!

If I had to choose one contractor now, based on phone manners alone, I do have a favorite... Also happens to be the most booked-up. We'll see who ends up doing the job. And when.

Shouldn't I wait until fall, the ideal planting time, to be doing all this? Yes, but I'm eager to get going. Depending on how things go, we may be looking at a fall installation anyway... ;-)
Full Bloom

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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Gorgeous Pink Poolside Lily & the Lily-livered Homeowner...

Posted by Hello

The above lilies are gorgeous this year... I think they're 'Le Reve', but wouldn't bet anyone's life on it. When I first planted them last fall, the flower stalks were short (but pretty). This year... WOW! Each stalk is about 4 feet tall and covered with huge, gorgeous blooms. This photo shows only the first bloom.

They're temporarily growing in a wooden container near our frigid (no solar yet) swimming pool because we're "about" to landscape the backyard. I put that in quotes because we've been saying that for... gulp... 8 years. Built a new house in Carmichael on a treed lot; finished the front within the first year; the back has been in a state of incompletion for 8 long years. Time flies, I guess.

What does the yard look like right now? Picture a couple smallish valley oak trees, a redwood and steel play structure (cha ching), a newish trellis-top fence (cha ching) and a freeform swimming pool (cha cha CHING!). Taking up one whole garage stall is a 9' x 12' redwood and tempered glass greenhouse kit (cha ching)... all that's missing are the elves who were supposed to come in the night and build the damned thing. Weren't they included in the "Deluxe Kit"? I thought so...

Having experienced a major emotional breakthrough this morning, I actually called some landscape contractors and set up appointments to get estimates. Why the procrastination? Why the hesitation, even though there's a lonely home-improvement loan waiting to be used? Well, it's complicated. But I can say with confidence that I'm terrified to actually hire someone. Every contractor-hiring experience so far came with surprises... some not so pleasant.

Like the pool. Putting in a pool is a big deal, but if you're going to do it, you have to do it before the rest of the landscape goes in because the process will absolutely trash your yard. Fences come down. Bobcats grind deep ruts in your formerly fluffy topsoil. Imagine putting in a pool after your grass and sprinklers and fences are in. Oh, the waste. Oh, the destruction.

Once we decided to take the plunge (ha ha) and put in a pool, we decided to use the well-known company that put in our neighbor's lovely pool. We even toured other pools the company built and were eager to get going. What could go wrong, right?

Well, everything turned out great except for one tiny little thing... they put in a pool that was 4 inches too high. In other words, they should have dug 4 inches deeper. Oops! 4 inches may not seem like a lot, but it sure had the concrete sub-contractor in a tizzy, because he had to use extra concrete and even had to build special forms to support the now taller patio edges.

Things sort of snowballed from there because now that we had this slightly elevated pool on a pancake-flat lot, we were faced with having to import topsoil to bring the yard up to the level of the pool.

Nevermind the fact that an entire swimming pool's worth of soil had already been carted away, never to return.

We did order a little topsoil after the fact. It wasn't enough, and what the sand & gravel company we'd used for years (no names) delivered as "topsoil" was more akin to "quicksand". In winter, walk outside and your feet quickly sink, oh, about 4 inches. I'm suspecting we got a load of mostly sand... perhaps it was the dregs of what was once a nice topsoil blend.

Also, when you have a slab foundation on a really flat lot, there isn't a lot of wiggle room when you're raising the existing soil level near the house. I do know that piling extra soil up against a house is a definite no-no in all minds except a termite's.

Because of this gaff, we also ended up with parts of the pool decking sloping towards the house. Another no-no. You're supposed to maintain positive drainage away from the house. Ugly little strip drains had to be added up against the house. What a pain.

Why else is the added slope a pain? Cockeyed patio tables. Nobody wants to sit at a table so slanted that food rolls off onto the ground. So, plan B: the tables go somewhere else and the extensive decking is useful only for lounging, not dining. Bummer.

In the end, the pool company made lots of excuses, then went out of business, leaving a trail of happy and unhappy customers. I guess you could say we're happy and unhappy. It's a pretty pool and except for the elevation problem, well-constructed. Let me add that I never even imagined I'd have a pool. It was always something that only other people had... Despite my pool-unworthiness, I still can't help wishing they'd read the plans just a little more carefully.

So, let's just say I don't trust my ability to 'peg 'em'. I learned that even contractors who've done good work sometimes mess up. Or, rather, the people they hire to do the work sometimes mess up.

Oh, wanna hear another one? My neighbor hired a contractor to install decking around her pool. It came out this really funny color and started cracking weirdly. Know what she did? She had 'em tear it out and do it over! Not once, but TWICE! I admire her forcefulness, but will be the first to admit that if that had happened to me, I'd have felt sorry for the well-intentioned blundering contractor and rationalized myself into thinking that the crackly pink patio looked "kinda pretty... in a way."

When I have found reliable, competitively priced contractors in the past, I thought, "Cool! Now I never have to use the Yellow Pages to find somebody because I'll just hire so-and-so over and over again." Nope, because once these so-and-sos figured out that we liked their work so much, they started throwing out preposterously high bids on future jobs.

So, back to square one. Open Yellow Pages, evaluate ads in a way not unlike reading tea leaves... medium-sized ad (not too big, not too small)... nice font... hey, cool phone number... pretty drawing of tree... Established in 1976... member of the Better Business Bureau (probably a good idea to look for this one, actually).

So far I've got 2 confirmed contractor bid appointments and am waiting to hear from another. Need to call a few more. Wonder how they'll like the fact that I want them to put in everything but the plants?

"Whattya mean, lady? You want flowerbeds, sprinklers, a lawn and raised beds, but no plants?"

"That's right. I'm going to plant them myself."

"You sure you know what you're doing, lady?"

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Hot enough to fry an egg...

99 degrees F. Think I did anything besides water today? Uh uh. No way. Nosiree Bob.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Armed and Dangerously Minty...

Grabbed the last two cans of Victor hornet spray on the shelf at Emigh. Repeated the practice of first spraying the creeping fig with a hose to rouse hornets that survived the initial nest destruction. By the way, the survivors were likely nest guards or were "out in the field" when the nest was sprayed. The spray seemed quite effective at killing when direct contact was made.

Sure enough, encountered about 4 more buzzing around near the ground and crawling out from inside the vine. Got 'em all with direct hits, but somehow, I have a feeling there'll be a few more encounters before they disappear entirely. I also sprayed the creeping fig to make it less hospitable.

Total cost? $15 for 3 cans of spray... not bad, considering pest control company B wanted $139.

Fear and Laziness

Gotta drag my lazy, uh, self back to Emigh today to pick up more Victor brand "minty hornet spray". Regretting that moment in the store when I thought to myself, "Should I get a couple cans now, while I'm here?" and answered to myself, "Nah, one ought to be plenty." Last time I checked (yesterday), there were 4+ hornets buzzing angrily around ground zero.

Whenever I get near them, they come at me! For now, creeping fig continues creeping.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Uh oh... They're baaaack...

Just went out to check for survivors. Saw no signs of any hornets anywhere. The nest is half-dissolved (by the spray) and empty. Decided to give the nearby creeping fig vine a good spray with a hose to make sure none were lurking in the vine. After giving it a good spray, turned off the water and walked back over for a closer look. Saw one hornet crawl out of the vine and up the wall... ran inside for the nearly empty spray can... came back out and couldn't find The One... scanned for airbornes... holy... there's one... sprayed... dead... there's another... sprayed... dead... and another... uh oh... missed... and another... missed... and those two look mad... ran like, um, heck, back in the house and slammed the door. Now that I'm officially on the hornet hit list, am a little afraid to leave the house. Will report back later. Must check supplies.

Why, oh why, did I watch "The Swarm" at such an impressionable age?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Dirty Deed is Done...

I stopped at Emigh Hardware this afternoon to pick up some hornet spray. Reached for the standard stuff; powerful; cautions about ingesting, breathing, etc.... but then noticed they sell a "Poison-free" hornet killer by Victor, the company that makes Safer brand pesticides. It's called VICTOR® POISON-FREE® Wasp & Hornet Killer and comes in the same style can as the standard stuff, but this one uses mint oil and sodium lauryl sulfate. It's very minty!

Will check tomorrow for any surviving hornets. I do feel bad getting rid of "pests"... but having a nest a mere spitting distance from my front patio table (not that much if any spitting goes on there) was just too close for comfort. Yup, the idea of having someone stung to death whilst sipping French roast coffee; or finally tackling the creeping fig; was a big motivator.

Hornets are "Social Wasps"

Now that I know this, I see that there is a page on the IPM website for them...

How cool!

The Sac/Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District will send someone out to your house to spray your pesky hornet's nests. What a great service. They, too, come during the day. We're going to try the nighttime thing to reduce chances of leaving strays wanting to re-build... In any case, check out their excellent website.

Hornet's nest in front yard sitting area.