Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Reality Check: my garden at the beginning of December

Last week, in a blog post titled "In The Doldrums", my friend Alison wrote: "The certainty that I'm the only flawed gardener out there with a garden full of dying plants, thriving weeds, and huge areas of bare, ugly soil is such a drag."

The constant barrage of Instagram perfection, among other things, was getting her down. Hmm. I'll admit I don't ever intentionally set out to photograph ugly, where's the fun in that? I do a comprehensive garden tour every summer, when the garden is at its best. What about the rest of the year? Okay, game on: here's what my garden looks like now.

Just out the back door I encounter the Trevesia palmata Peter gifted me. It's there, along with the tree ferns, for quick "whisking into the house" when the temperatures warrant it.

The driveway stock tanks are under utilized, it's been a busy autumn. This one's home to some Agave pups, moss (I've been harvesting around the hood) and broken-off Opuntia pads I'm rooting.

There's also moss in this one, along with the left-over materials brought home from my wreath making spree at Rancho Cistus on Black Friday. I have plans for this goodness, but haven't managed to make it happen, yet.

Out front now...and I must admit the blast of sunshine makes things look better than a gloomy grey day would have.

I really thought this might be their year to bloom, the Tetrapanax buds looked so promising. Alas with the temperatures forecast it's not looking likely.

Brown Tetrapanax leaves have been falling to the ground almost daily.

The Amsonaia hubrichtii is crispy, and the Rhamnus frangula (Fine Line Buckthorn) and Fothergilla gardenii 'Blue Mist' have lost almost all their leaves.

I really need to cut back the Amsonia, soon.

The berry-spikes of Mahonia gracilipes are looking quite fetching. If this were a beauty blog post I would have cut back the Amsonia prior to taking this photo, so the Mahonia wasn't obscured by ugly.

The front garden, from the front porch.

South side of the front steps, hose not cropped out.

Looking into the front garden from the house sidewalk (as opposed to the street sidewalk)

I should mention I did a major leaf-clean up back on Saturday the 24th, prior to that you would have seen buckets full of the neighbor's dogwood leaves, and leaves from some neighborhood oak I've yet to locate, all over the place.

Leaf clean-up day is when I made the happy discovery of ripe pineapple-guava fruit, hooray (so sweet)! That red bit is a ripe Opuntia fruit that fell off in the front garden. I moved it here so it would be easier to watch deteriorate. Will something eat it? Will it turn to a mushy pile of seeds? Only time will tell.

Heading into the back garden...

The banana shows no signs of slowing down, the Canna at it's feet isn't quite so optimistic.

No Passiflora flowers, but still lots of foliage. The Clematis recta 'Purpurea Select' foliage (in the front) is yellowing up.

Clematis tibetana var. vernayi on the downward slide, that's gonna be a major clean-up effort.

This shot really shows the season. The "bulletin board" planter is removed from the side of the garage, the shade pavilion has become a "greenhouse", Clifford (Magnolia macrophylla) is naked, and the patio so bare...

Clifford, you've still got great form, even without your big leaves...

I'd say I miss the Bromeliad wonderland this area was last summer (here), but that wouldn't be true because now they're all in the house with me. I need to decide what I'm going to do about the seemingly dead Schefflera.

Where would I be without the palms?

Lots of evergreen/everspiky goodness here.

The tiny leaves of the Albizia julibrissin 'Summer Chocolate' make the grass look like it's got really dark soil showing through. There are millions of them in every square inch.

This! It was an interesting fungi-looking thing, I picked it up to look at it closer and realized it was actually grass that some creature had been chewing on. Photo taking halted while I went in to vigorously wash my hands.

The sticks in the high background are the bare branches of the Paulownia tomentosa.

Bare branches of Hibiscus syriacus 'Red Heart' up against the house.

So many tender Echium wildpretii around the garden, I suppose I should be coming up with a protection plan for them.

The wooden patio table and chairs spend winter in the garage, since we aren't out here much over the winter it seems a good way to protect the (cheap IKEA) furniture. These chairs are weather-proof and allow for garden enjoyment in the wet season.

A close-up looks so much more inviting, doesn't it?

Another Tetrapanax, on the verge.

Plastic Agave protection, definitely not pretty.

These pots winter in-place, the used shower curtain and PVC igloos keep the Agaves underneath dry. They're ugly, but you can't see them unless you're down on the patio so it's not an "in your face" kinda ugly.

The Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue' has gotten so big I had to get creative with it's cover this year.

The long sides kind of arc around the stock tank pond.

Speaking of, here's the "pond". The grid is the anti-raccoon fence I made last summer. It did the trick, no raccoons swimming in the stock tank this year! (it's only covering the back of the tank because that's where I figured they were getting in, jumping off the wall that separates the upper and lower parts of the back garden).
The metal piece that was once planted up with succulents (in it's glory here) is now sadly bare. You can see the Fir trees behind us drop A LOT of needles.
Fallen Paulownia tomentosa leaves are messy. I have more clean-up to do.

It's odd to have there be so much sky behind the shade pavilion greenhouse (SPG). The neighbor's HUGE dark leaf maple is bare and so we see sky where there is none during the summer. Of course that also allows for much better light in the SPG over the winter months.

I did warn you this was going to be a long post, didn't I?

The overturned pot has no drainage hole, so I must remember to turn it over so it doesn't fill with water and crack during a freeze. The orange Hover Dish planter get's evicted once the SPG roof goes up, so it spends winter resting on a large nursery pot (glamorous!).

The round stock tank is full of Podophyllum that go dormant, so it holds assorted unplanted things over the winter months. The Grevillea in the tall metal tube was just there to get it out of the way, it's now in the driveway, in case it needs to come in the house over the next few cold nights (if the 25F in at least one of the forecasts materializes).

The homeless plants.

The solid green Aspidistra is in the ground, the other plants are in pots.

Some of the neighbor's maple leaves (and the base to a pair of my dish planters, tops moved for the winter).

Wide-ish view of the back garden...

Finally we return to the palms (Trachycarpus fortunei and T. wagneriensis) and a thought about the winter garden and social media's "perfect world". I don't post pretty Instagram (or blog) photos as an attempt to hide the ugly, but rather as and excuse to seek out the beauty. Winter is hard for me, I want sunshine, warm temperatures, and to be outdoors. When I think the garden is nothing but a disaster I challenge myself to grab my phone and find something wonderful to take a photo of, once I'm out there it doesn't take long.

Trachycarpus fortunei, Albizia julibrissin 'Summer Chocolate' and Embothrium coccineum.

Beth who blogs at PlantPostings has issued a #shortdayschallenge on Instagram. She writes: "To encourage myself to appreciate every day instead of wishing away and crabbing my way through the winter, I started my #shortdayschallenge on Instagram. I'm challenging myself to post one special thing every day, from November through February."

I haven't joined in Beth's fun, but I appreciate what she's doing.

And I'm thankful for the stalwart evergreens that keep my garden looking decent through the winter months.

P.S. in quite the coincidence of timing Alison posted the first of a possible series of posts called #tellthetruthtuesday today on her blog. So hey, join in the fun and tell the truth!

Weather Diary, Dec 3: Hi 48, Low 32/ Precip 0

All material © 2009-2018 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. This was well-timed, I posted my first Tell The truth Tuesday post today. I showed only one area of my garden, looking pretty ugly and out of control. This was a fascinating look at your garden in the bleakness of early winter. Thanks for being brave enough to post all of it. I really do bow down to you as a style maven, so seeing that you let things look not-so-stylish is kind of shocking. I've seen those #shortdayschallenge posts on Instagram and wondered what they were about. I like the idea.

    1. I love how the timing of our posts happened!

  2. Your garden still looks lovely. There are so many cool plants with unique form and texture that are more visible now. Gray skies allow you to appreciate their structural beauty all the more.

  3. Your garden still looks great to me. Of course, I still have leaves covering everything along with the occasional beer can & other debris mulch that passersby provide.

    1. Oh come on, you can admit those beer cans are from Tom...

  4. Even in semi-dormancy, your garden still looks great. A little thinner, but still nice bones!

  5. I admire your will to defy the hardiness zone, I am exactly like that but in my case I want temperate/cold climate plants (roses, peonies) to thrive in my hot climate

  6. Your patio looks HUGE, doesn't it? I'm glad you mentioned the leaf cleanup, as I was going to ask about that. Is your neighborhood like mine, where it seems that a variety of tree species means leaves fall for about 3 months straight? I don't like raking multiple times.

    1. Yes! It is always shocking how big the patio is once it's bare. Unfortunately I have to do leaf removal multiple times, the xeric plants out front do not like being buried by wet leaves...

  7. Your garden is wonderful in all seasons! Bare branches are beautiful too :-) The cumquat's shiny leaves really get to stand out now. Still looking for a variegated Aspidistra like yours. Such a handsome plant.

    1. The loquat? Yes, that tree is a star! Try Flower World up in Snohomish for the variegated Aspidistra. Mine came from Peter, but that's where he said he got it.

  8. I don't know Loree, even your unkempt areas look pretty kempt to me. I'm going to do a post this weekend and I'm pretty sure I'll leave you in the dust.Or the mud as the case may be.

  9. Your winter-ready garden is different but still good-looking overall, Loree. I was impressed by the botanic-themed shower curtain agave cover-ups - they may not be pretty in a conventional sense but, given their purpose, they're classy nonetheless. Taking Alison's challenge to heart, I took photos of my ugly back slope this weekend as I contemplate, once again, what I can do to make it at least a bit more attractive in the future. I'm hoping to get those up this week but the holidays are interfering with my blogging schedule.

    1. Oh the holidays! They do add another layer of time-suck don't they?

  10. I love the idea of this meme. Maybe I'll join in after the temps increase a little bit. I'm hiding inside from the cold this week. What a great idea for protecting your Agaves! I need to figure out something for my blueberries in pots. They're hardy to zone 3 (and I'm zone 5), but still--they're in pots. I think I might just tie tarps around them on the porch. Your garden looks great even now. :)

    1. Thanks Beth, and thanks for the inspiration of the #shortdayschallenge.

  11. With all the evergreens in your garden, it still looks quite nice even in the "off" season. I'm looking forward to the day when all my evergreens fill in the enormous empty space of my garden. It's starting to get there, at least at ground level. A thought about your potentially dead Schefflera: if it was verticillium wilt, perhaps another palm, since they're immune? Most would get too wide for that narrow space, but maybe something like Chamaedorea microspadix? I think it would like the conditions in that bed and give a similar "feel" to the Schefflera.

    1. I got very excited with the mention of a (new to me) palm. However looking up Chamaedorea microspadix I see it's not hardy into the teens. Have you seen otherwise?

    2. Sean claims it's hardy to 7b. He may have a hardier collection of it. I suspect it starts getting foliage damage in the teens. https://plantlust.com/plants/42541/chamaedorea-microspadix/


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