December 20, 2020

I had an early morning review of back yard gardens. I sprinkled small amount of coffee grounds around plantings in the border garden and generously watered all the plants, including the matilija poppies just starting to leaf out. Too cold for weeding, I will come back to that chore perhaps at a midday next week.

I had a quick run at Lowe’s after the outdoor church service in Ione, singing carols in the frosty air. I was looking for a replacement pin cushion grass. The grass section was uninspiring, the only possibility was a Scottish tufted grass. Instead I found two amazing succulents, full to partial sun, and rooting well in cold weather – a broad leafed roseate cactus with leaves grading from red to yellow and an aeonium with leaf clusters around yellow buttons.

On the way in I planted the two succulents in the Circle Garden at the barn with generous water to start. I also sprinkled animal repellent liberally and buried used cat litter as a bonus.

December 19, 2020

I called Gloria this morning to wish her a happy 90th birthday. Her family and neighbors organized a drive-by birthday celebration.

Sunny skies and colder temperatures this morning, only 39 degrees when I was out feeding Spots. I adjusted the sprinkler to the Berry Patch to reach all the plants and not encourage the grass on the slope down to the fire lane. I will go back to work the clips when my hands are usable again.

Winter pruning continued at midday. Compact, well-behaved ceanothus and cotoneaster are now side by side in the front slope garden.

The lavender and purple lantana planted around the manifold are an ongoing pruning project, digging out the manifold so that I can trace and repair irrigation feeders. I cut the lantana back to its core. The pruning of the lavender was more judicious, clearing dead wood from underneath but leaving a core wood base. I will see how it responds.

All the geraniums continue to bloom – pink, cerise and white – and the mimulus has delicate white flowers. The two cyclamen continue to thrive in their planters.

In the Main Box Garden in the back yard, the Australian fuchsia has delicate pink to white flowers with yellow centers.

I stopped at the Circle Garden on my way in from Ione. My favorite blue salvia appears to have come back to life, and the flowering quince is settling in for the winter – supplemental water to both plants. The pin cushion grass has disappeared, apparently another contribution to the well being of wildlife in this area.

December 18, 2020

The deep red cactus from Rancho Murieta has finished its first bloom with one blossom left. It graced the piano for our recording of the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

The pink cactus is on schedule for a Christmas spectacular, blooming almost overnight. I set it on the piano for the recording of the Christmas Eve service.

Winter pruning continues. I try to contain the senior sweet pea within reasonable limits in the border garden, off the flagstone walk and the retaining wall. The centered and largest fortnight lily was pruned back to its core, and the stone frog appeared from underneath.

December 14, 2020

Rain has fallen steadily for two days, the first rain this month. Mostly a light drizzle, but keeping on through the day and night. This morning I woke to low cloud cover and a fine mist on the land. The cloud cover muffled the sound of woodpeckers at the trees, hopefully not on the side of the house.

December 11, 2020

The berry patch is now planted: southern high-bush blueberries and heritage raspberries from the East Bay Nursery, blackberries from the Pine Ridge Nursery. I mixed clay-breaking soil amendment and acid soil mix with the ground inside and outside gopher baskets. The soil was more forgiving when I dug closer to the fence – the soil around the blackberry bush had to be dug out with a pickax to a hole two feet deep and three feet wide. Drainage in each of three planting holes was moderate on top of the rock shelf. I covered the three camellias with the leftover acid soil mix. I also hauled in more hay and grass from Spots’s pen for more mulch and added acid to the soil.

I finished laying the flagstones on the mid-walkway this afternoon just as the rain started to sprinkle. The path is meant to leave a way to reach around one side of all three berry bushes. I expect the rain will set the paver sand tonight.

The cactuses from Rancho Murieta are blooming on schedule. The potted succulents appear to be thriving under the shelter of the house, either on the front porch or at the back of the Main Box Garden in the back. The outdoor kalanchoe appears to have buds promising pink flowers. Greenie, my favorite in the back yard, having survived multiple overturns and deracinations, is showing new growth.

Cutting back all plants for the winter will be a several day, if not week, project. I cut the established lantanas back to bare stalks, and showed more restraint on those that have not had a winter over. I also cut back the firecracker plant to a few core branches. The maida elegans worries me as it does not appear healthy. Wait for the spring. I shoveled up the oak leaves and other organic debris and spread it onto the beds, hoping the coming rain will tamp it down.

At Lowe’s I found a flowering quince (chaenomeles Texas scarlet) for the Circle Garden at the barn. Not only clay tolerant and drought resistant, but unappealing to deer and rabbits. I will look for scarlet flowers in the spring and summer. I can only hope the tough ad thorny stems may not appeal to my friendly neighborhood jackrabbit. The blue salvia in the Circle Garden appears to be recovering.

November 15, 2020

Bright sunny day with mild temperatures. I spent two and a half hours this afternoon mostly paying attention to the back yard.

I mowed the grass that is not growing so profusely these days. I seeded the grass with Scott’s Turf Builder, walking up and down with the seed sifter. The brown patches where the Bermuda grass and crab grass are going dormant received extra hand seeding.

I had new plants from Lowe’s and will go back to Miracle-Gro Quick Start transplant food. I found a liriope ground cover to replace the yellow eyed grass in the front border garden. In the spring and summer it should have a spike brush bloom much like the salvia or butterfly bushes. The projected height is one to two feet. I amended the soil around the newly planted liriope and found surprisingly good drainage.

Cyclamen are just in at Lowe’s. I planted a variegated wine color and a standard white in the two pots at the entry to the front sidewalk. The variegated cyclamen I have never seen and will try it, even though it may only be hardy to 40 degrees. I also gave one to Helen, and she will keep it on her porch with the other plants under a thermal blanket. I gave both plants a healthy dose of Repels-All because of signs of burrowing.

All the new plants, in ground and container, and the lime green ceanothus received a bonus application of Quick Start.

I pruned back the two back yard oleanders by half, as they were covered with scale, and applied neem oil to the pink oleander. I also pruned back the maida elegans, and need to watch its growth pattern on the winter over. It should now be well rooted in the raised bed soil.

I turned off the irrigation water to the back yard yesterday. Significant rain is due next Tuesday. The Uruguayan firecracker plant has a new home in the back yard along the fence, after I hacked back the white lantana. In the course of the transplant, I found an extensive root system and bundled as much soil and roots as I could into a five gallon gopher basket. I followed the usual procedure: apply Quick Start, amend the soil and pray.

I finished work in the last light of the day, a few minutes past five, just as the sidewalk lamps were lighting up. I stretched and a watched the sunset over the western ridge.

November 13, 2020

I left Oakland last night soon after 5.00, my first nighttime drive over the Altamont for the season. With the end of daylight savings time, the sun sets by late afternoon.

Low cloud cover this morning, with mild temperatures while I gave Spots his breakfast. The shrub rockroses in the front slope garden are finally starting to grow out. Spots gratefully received a large bunch of clippings.

I pruned back the plumbago to its core. For aggression relief, I ripped out half of the lysimachia and a good chunk of Jerry’s ice plant from under the white oleander. While there, I trimmed back my favorite variegated geranium in the front border garden.

The red and yellow chrysanthemum is blooming, bright autumn colors. The droop onto the ground is unusual this year, but I will let it be while the blooms last.

I moved the potted camellia out to the sunshine and rainfall, whenever it may come. I also moved the potted succulents from the front border succulent garden under the shelter of the porch. The Monterey cactus and the Christmas star cactus remain imbedded in ground. We will see how each of them winters over, and if some do better than others.

Steady rainfall in the afternoon, probably not yet enough to soften the ground, substantial beach on all sides of the pond

November 9, 2020

The outside temperature was 30 degrees when I fed Spots this morning, and the side table at the gazebo had a layer of ice. I moved the potted succulents at the gazebo against the shelter of the house.

I supplemented the water on front yard succulent garden, potted camellia and transplanted lime green ceanothus. No rain is expected for the next several weeks.

Winter maintenance today was pruning back the royal blue salvia and the second sunset rockrose in the front slope garden. I was periodically dive bombed by hummingbirds, possibly angry at the removal of a favorite source of nectar.

November 7, 2020

Biden and Harris are elected. Where were you on this historic day?

I pruned back the red oleander in the front border garden by half and applied pruning seal on the exposed large branches. The seal also went on the exposed branches of the pruned butterfly bushes and on the valley oak that suffered the amputation.

The large sunset rock rose was spilling over the rock wall. I pruned it back by half and cut out much of the dead wood underneath.

I transplanted lime green ceanothus to the spot where the dusty miller shriveled and died and then the gazanias sickened and died. That area of the front slope garden has moist soil and good drainage, as evidence by filling the planting hold with vitamin B-1 water. I planted the ceanothus in a gopher basket for added protection, seeing holes as evidence of active burrowing on the slope.

In the conservatory, the large cactus is showing its first buds. I moved the white kalanchoe forward to catch more sun from the windows.

Tonight was a spectacular autumn sunset with the light low on the horizon and through the trees that you only see at this time of year.

November 8, 2020

First rain of the year overnight. I brought in seat cushions from the gazebo. The chairs can stay out for a while longer.

My Sunday drive today was into the mountains and past West Point. Roads winding through beautiful autumn forests with deciduous trees turning yellow and even orange. The light in the fall has its own gentle and melancholy character, low in the sky and filtered through the trees.

The sky grew darker and darker as I climbed into the mountains. I drifted down roads that were more patch than paving and wondered when or if I would ever find a maintained road. Snow flurries began just outside Murphys. I momentarily thought of pushing on through the snow towards Big Trees State Park, but turned around at the chain control sign just outside of town. I took State Highway 4 nine miles down to Angels Camp and met bright sunshine. The end of the drive was a gentle sunny state highway through San Andreas and Valley Springs, looking out on familiar grassland just before the turn of the rainy season.