The Virtual Vacation

Since it doesn’t look like I’ll be traveling this year I’ve been re-living past trips via the photos on my computer and putting them into slideshows. As you know, photos take a lot of editing to limit the number to what a person can endure who wasn’t on the trip. I’ve got photos of Poland, Costa Rica, southern Mexico, Hawaii, Guatemala and Honduras. But the photos I’m really enjoying seeing again are those from the destination nurseries and public gardens I visited with my sister to islands in the Puget Sound.

My sister Evan & me

Years ago, before I lost my sister, I would visit her on Fox Island, near Gig Harbor, Washington. Off we’d go by ferry to one of the public gardens or destination nurseries on another island. We visited the islands of Vashon, Whidbey, Vancouver, Bainbridge and San Juan. Any destination was sure to provide lush landscapes and a cornucopia of colorful flowers.

Vancouver Island is home to the famous Butchart Gardens, transformed a 100 years ago from a limestone quarry. Their website is https://www.butchartgardens.com and worth a few minutes to explore. Smaller and more intimate, Abkhazi Garden offer a fine example of what you can do with a large lot full of rocks and trees when you put your mind to it. https://www.abkhaziteahouse.com/abkhazi-garden.

“Lavender Sisters”

Another ferry, another island. This time the ferry takes us to Whidbey Island. Here there are flowers blooming everywhere. Hanging baskets of purple and lilac supertunia, lobelia and red ivy geraniums grace every light pole. The container plantings burst with color. White rugosa roses grow on a split rail fence overlooking the harbor in Langley.

Another highlight of my tour of gardens on Whidbey Island was a visit to Chocolate Flower Farm. If you like deep burgundy, chocolate, black, midnight blue, deep magenta or mahogany flowers and foliage like I do, you would be amazed by this garden. No surprise but chocolate cosmos are featured prominently in the perennial beds https://www.chocolateflowerfarm.com/

Meerkerk Rhododendron Garden

Another of our stops on this island is Meekerk Rhododendron Garden. This peaceful woodland garden features dozens of varieties of rhododendrons and we were drawn to one called Golfer with silver fuzzy leaves. Another one had velvety rusty red leaves that sparkled when backlit by the late afternoon sun. http://www.meerkerkgardens.org/

Bainbridge Island is home to the world famous Bloedel Reserve. A place to connect with nature, this garden allows only a few visitors at a time so each can enjoy the solitude and beauty of the 150 acres. Their website will hook you for hours of inspiration. https://bloedelreserve.org/

Clematis and alstromeria

Vashon Island. a large green island at the southern end of Puget Sound is home to The Country Store and Gardens. This nursery, in the heart of the island, boasts mature plantings on a 10 acre site with the nursery featuring rare and and unusual plants along with a wide selection of perennials, shrubs and blueberries. The flowers of a deep, dark purple clematis mingled with a rich pink, climbing cabbage rose on a long trellis surrounding the front porch of the store. A dead fruit tree was left to provide support for another midnight purple clematis blooming above a bed of deep red Lucifer crocosmia. I’ll remember this exciting pairing for a future design where the spreading crocosmia won’t be a problem. https://www.countrystoreandfarm.com/

Closer to home Hakone Estate and Garden in Saratoga is now open. Also now open is Filoli Historic House and Garden in Woodside and Elizabeth Gamble Garden in Palo Alto. So if your out and about, be sure to visit one of these almost-local gardens. And check out the websites of the destination gardens and nurseries I’ve mentioned.

Nurseries and gardens nourish our soul. They are more important now than ever before. If you want to stay healthy, stay gardening.

The June Garden

With the soil warming and more daylight hours everything in the garden is growing like crazy. Some of that growth is welcome and some is too much of a good thing. Here are some things to tackle before they get out of hand.

Cooke’s Purple wisteria

There are few vines that rival wisteria for beauty. But at this time of year, those long new vines seem to grow a foot a day. Summer pruning of wisteria is a necessary task to keep these vines under control. Cut new growth back to within 6″ of the main branch. If you want to extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new streamer-like stems and tie them to a support in the direction you wish to train the plant.

While you have the pruners out shear back early flowering perennials to encourage another round of blooms. The season has just started and you’ll be enjoying lots more flowers in the months to come if you deadhead regularly. To keep them compact, prune shrubs like erysimum, lavender, euryops and pink breath of heaven.

Apply the second fertilizer application of the year to your citrus and fruit trees. The last one should be immediately after harvest. Apply the fertilizer to the soil around the drip line of the tree where feeder roots are located and scratch into the surface. Water in well. As with all fertilizers, make sure the trees are moist before you fertilize. Young trees in their first, second or third growing season should receive half the rate of established trees.

Pruning is a good way to spend a couple of hours in your garden. I’m not talking about trimming plants into little balls but the kind of pruning that makes for a healthier and happier plant.

If you grow Japanese maples now is the time to remove dead branches and train your tree to look like one of those specimens you see in the magazines. Thinning cuts build your ideal tree limb structure. If yours is a young tree, though, don’t be tempted to head back long branches too soon. As these mature they give your tree that desirable horizontal branching.

This principle is important to keep in mind when you train any young ornamental tree. Lateral buds grow along the sides of a shoot and give rise to sideways growth that makes a plant bushy.

Summer pruning of fruit trees controls size by removing energy-wasting water sprouts. Summer is also a good time to remove leafy upper branches that excessively shade fruit on the lower branches. Winter pruning is meant to stimulate the tree. Summer pruning uses thinning cuts, where the branch is cut off at its point of attachment instead of part way along the branch, and these cuts do not encourage new growth but control the size of your tree making fruit harvest easier.

Summer pruning also can control pests like coddling moths, mites or aphids. Just be sure to dispose of these trimmings and don’t compost them.

If you have apricots and cherries, summer pruning only is now advised as these trees are susceptible to a branch killing disease if pruned during rainy weather. Prune stone fruits like peaches and nectarines after harvest by 50%. They grow quite rapidly. Apricots and plums need to have only 20% of their new growth pruned away.

Be sure to thin the fruit on your trees. That’s another good reason to keep them smaller so you can more easily reach the branches. The best time to do this is when the fruit is still small. Thinning fruit discourages early fruit drop and improves the quality of the remaining fruit. It helps to avoid limb damage from a heavy fruit load. Also it stimulates next year’s crop and helps to avoid biennial bearing. Left to their own devices, a fruit tree may bear heavily one year and then light or not at all the next year. Some types of fruit trees like peaches and Golden Delicious apples are likely to bear biennially if the current year’s fruit crop isn’t thinned.

While out in the garden add some more mulch to areas that are a little thin. And check the ties on your trees to make sure they aren’t too tight. Also remove the stake if the trunk is strong enough to support the tree on its own.

Most importantly, enjoy your time outdoors. If a task is too big to do at one time, break it down into smaller sessions. As they say, take time to smell the roses. And be sure to visit VCUM.org or their Facebook page to enjoy this year’s virtual garden tour and fund raiser.

Take a Virtual Tour of 5 Enchanting Scotts Valley Gardens

The Vineyard Garden

I never miss the annual garden tour sponsored by Valley Churches United. Who wouldn’t be mesmerized by strolling through a beautiful local garden? Plus the proceeds from this fund raiser stay here to provide food and other services to our neighbors in need. This year’s tour is being presented as a virtual video tour and I can assure you it’ll be the best 30 minutes of your day. Enjoy these gardens online at VCUM.org or Valley Churches United Missions Facebook page and please donate to help this worthy cause.

I’ve watched this year’s virtual garden tour several times already. Each time I come away with another great landscaping idea, new tree variety, gardening tip and fresh inspiration. I’ve visited two of the gardens before so I have first hand knowledge of how special they are but the other three were new to me and are fabulous, too. The photography is excellent in the video and I especially enjoyed the aerial photography.

The Vineyard Garden

The first garden on the tour is Corbett and Sheri’s Vineyard Garden. This couple, over the past 25 years, have transformed their property into a plant lovers dream. They are truly plant connoisseurs including trees in their garden such as Shishigashira and Full Moon Japanese maples which are trained to show off their exquisite foliage and shape. Among the other beautiful trees that are featured among the different garden rooms are Chinese Fringe tree and the unusual Dove tree which is also called the Hankerchief tree. You’ll see why this tree is so named when you watch the video. This garden is filled with color from exbury azaleas, smoke bush, roses and Plum Delight loropetaum as well as a generous serving of white flowering shrubs like doublefile viburnum. Sitting areas, patios and water features abound amidst the veggie garden and the vineyard. This garden and the others will be featured on next year’s actual garden tour in May so don’t miss it.

Barry’s Garden is called the Forest Garden although the redwoods are just a part of this lovely garden. Barry bought the Tudor house in 2000 and has transformed it into a wonderland filled with beautiful paths, a formal garden in the front, a pond, 71 tree orchard, potting shed, green house, vegetable garden, shade pergola, gazebo and many other features that make this garden user and loved by his two dogs.

Bearded iris among the antiques.

Jim and Irene Cummins Iris Farm is one of those places you could spend all day and never see everything. I’ve spent a bit of time painting in this garden. Beside the stunning bearded iris the Cummins grow and propagate, this couple have collected an impressive collection of farm implements and tools. The property was originally a turkey farm owned by Irene’s family back in 1949 but the old barn dates back to the late 1800’s when it was a stop for the stagecoaches to change horses. This property is filled with hundreds of bird houses which Irene collects and everywhere you turn there are blooming irises among vintage collectibles.

Just one of the beautiful vignette’s in Robby’s garden.

Robby’s Zen Garden is another garden I’ve had the pleasure to visit often. This talented gardener is eager to share his vision and techniques to keep it mole and gopher free. As a deer resistant, low maintenance gardener Robby has created a soothing space complete with a hand made Japanese garden arch called a Tori. His shade garden is filled with tree ferns and the sitting area under the oaks beckons you to stop and enjoy the birds. There is a fire pit area plus a tree swing to enjoy before you head up to the rock garden and the cactus garden. This year round garden features tough but beautiful plants and there is something to admire everywhere you turn.

The last garden on the virtual tour is the Pool Garden of Robert and Monica. Some interesting facts about this garden include how the existing rock was jack hammered out for the pool and patio area. Heavy equipment scarred the rock and the rock that remains, which serves as a retaining wall, looks like it came straight from the Sierra. Filled with lavender, lantana, red hot poker, Monica’s grandmother’s bearded iris and other hummingbird attractors this garden beckons you to stop by the pool under the vine covered pergola and enjoy a cold beverage.

This is just a snippet of inspiration and ideas you’ll glean from these gardens on the virtual tour. Please donate what you can to help the food pantry of Valley Churches United.

The Magic of Butterflies

Western Tiger swallowtails are attracted to nectar-rich flowers like those of butterfly bush.

I was watering on the patio the other morning watching a pair of Western Tiger Swallowtails as they fluttered together in a dance among my plants. Although a Goldflame honeysuckle, filled with nectar, was in their path they were more interested in each other. This was their one flight as adults before the female lays her eggs and I was lucky to see it. You can get swallowtails and other local butterfly species to come to you by creating a “butterfly garden”. It’s a simple and rewarding way for anyone to create vital wildlife habitat in their own backyard.

We have about 90 species of butterflies in the Monterey Bay area. Many of these occur only in our mountains, forests and chaparral environments. Butterflies are less efficient than bees as pollinators but have their place in the ecosystem. They do not pick up much pollen on their bodies. Still they visit a variety of wildflowers and other plants to probe for nectar adding beauty and color to the garden. Did you know that butterflies taste with their feet?

Swallowtail drinking nectar from lemon blossom.

To attract the species of butterfly most common in your area, a butterfly garden should include plants that accommodate all stages of the life cycle – egg, larvae, pupa and adult . When both adult nectar and larval host plants are available, they will attract and support a butterfly population. In addition to the right plants, your garden should also have sun, a water source, protection from wind and plants in clusters. When maintaining your garden avoid the use of insecticides, including BT.

As adults, most butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers. Some local butterflies, like the Mourning Cloak and Red Admiral, feed primarily on rotting fruit or tree sap for moisture and nutrients while the California Sister feeds on aphid honeydew.

In the larval stage, most butterfly species are limited to a single plant family and occasionally a single genus. To attract more Western Tiger Swallowtails, for instance, provide larval host plants such as willow, sycamore, alder, Big Leaf maple, sycamore, plum and ash. Common Buckeye lay their eggs on mimulus and verbena while California Sister use the coast and canyon live oak. Planting a variety of grasses and shrubs like ceanothus, buckwheat, coffeeberry, bush lupine and manzanita and perennials like redwood violet, California aster and wallflower will attract a variety of local butterflies. If your garden is near a wild area that naturally supports the caterpillar stage, you can plant just the nectar plants to attract butterflies to your garden.

This swallowtail butterfly won’t find any nectar in a mophead hydrangea but that doesn’t keep it from checking it out.

Filling your garden with nectar producing flowers is the fun part. Adult butterflies rely on sugar-rich nectar for their daily fuel. Different species have different flower color and shape preferences. Many butterflies produce scents that attract the opposite sex and many of these scents smell like the flowers that they are attracted to and visit. The scent of these butterfly pollinated flowers may have evolved as an adaptation to ensure their survival.

Butterflies typically favor flat, clustered flowers that provide a landing pad although larger butterflies can feed on penstemon and salvias while hovering. Butterflies have good vision but a weak sense of smell. Unlike bees, butterflies can see red and are attracted to brightly colored flowers. Pink, red, orange, yellow and purple are the most attractive nectar source flower colors but they also use blue and white.

Consider the blooming time of each plant. Having plants blooming in the sun for many hours in the day will lengthen your viewing time. Nectar rich flowers include yarrow, aster, verbena, scabiosa, buckwheat, toyon, salvia, erysimum, zinnia, lantana and coneflower.

In addition to nectar, butterflies need a source of water and salts. A patch of mud kept wet year round or a shallow depression lined with pebbles and kept moist will work fine. Also provide some flat rocks for them to bask in the sun in an area protected from the wind by shrubs.

Having your own butterfly garden will enable you to witness close-up the wonder of butterflies and the flowers on which they feed.