Backyard Garden Tour – Flowers and Plants!

This is the most exciting part of my backyard garden tour, where I show the flowers and plants I selected in more detail! In selecting my plants, I wanted to make sure that most were low-water plants (with the exception of the roses…those need more water but I justify it because they are my favorite and I use them for lots of culinary uses and herbal teas in the winter). I also gave myself the added challenge of making sure there were no poisonous flowers or plants since our cats and dogs like to nibble on anything they can find. They used to munch on grass, but now that we have no lawn, anything is fair game to them. Also, I would hate for our little guy or any of his friends to get sick if they put a plant in their mouth!

I ended up using a variety of flowers that are actually edible and/or herbs. Roses are edible, as are fuchsias, nasturtiums, and many other flowers. The cats love finding a cozy spot to curl up with some of the herbs I planted such as lavender. Below, I have some nasturtiums, Santa Barbara daisies, geraniums, Mexican sage, California lilac, Shasta daisies, red valerian, elephant’s bush, and a David Austin rose. I planted lots of geraniums and Santa Barbara daisies throughout the garden because they do so well in our climate. They were actually planted here in a couple of spots by a previous owner and survived despite the house being vacant for about a year.

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Another variety of sage with some more David Austin roses.
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My David Austin Malvern Hills rambling roses.
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I selected almost all David Austin roses because I love their scents and old fashioned charm. They look so different from most of the roses that you see these days, and to me they are worth the extra investment.
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Bacopa and ivy geranium in hanging baskets near the Malvern Hills roses.
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Lavender, nasturtiums and our dwarf lemon tree.
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A little vignette of color in a semi-shady area…coleus, fuchsias, bacopa, sweet potato vines, and heuchera.
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These firestick succulents in the center of this arrangement have actually been relocated elsewhere since I took this photo. I learned from one of the instructors in the series of gardening classes I am currently taking that they are extremely toxic and can cause temporary blindness, and even be poisonous enough to kill if enough is ingested. When I initially read about them online, all I saw was that they could be a “mild skin irritant”. Apparently they can do a whole lot more than just irritate your skin!
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I planted pretty much any kind of sage and lavender I could find.
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The bright pink flowers below were actually here when we bought our house. They are one of the very few plants that were here originally that I left growing (there were many diseased, dying, poorly planted, and poisonous plants that I removed over the past couple of years). They are called red valerian or Jupiter’s beard. They are amazing and super hardy. They are self-seeding, and come back year after year. Occasionally, I trim off the spent blooms to clean them up a bit, but they are really low maintenance. They also require almost no water. I literally barely ever water them. Right now, in our horrible drought, they are one of the few plants that I see in the nearby wild areas that are still alive. Even lots of the native plants are just brown with the current drought.

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I also recently found a similar white flower, which I was excited about.
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In the level below all of the red valerian, I have lots of geraniums and Santa Barbara daisies planted. They also need very little water.
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Under our fig tree, I have a little shady area of the garden that needed some shade loving plants. I used lots of fuchsias, with some jade, Persian shield, coleus, and mint. The jade plants were burnt in the heatwave recently but are recovering quite nicely now.
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This is another little shady area under our hibiscus tree. Here I planted helichrysum, begonias, heuchera, fuchsias, coleus, Persian shield and iresine. I just love all of the bright colors in this area. Most people tend to think they have to grow impatiens in a shady area (which I think are such a boring flower), but there are so many more options for shady areas of your garden!

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Behind the row of roses, the sunflowers that my son and I planted from seed are really starting to bloom like crazy. 🙂
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Bug Off!

I have been having the worst time with pests in the garden lately! Any organic gardener will occasionally have to deal with a pest infestation, but things have been crazy lately. It all started with something as simple and seemingly harmless as a hummingbird feeder, and let to a very frustrating domino effect.

I started out hanging up a pretty blown glass hummingbird feeder on a shepherd’s hook, near some of my roses. We already get tons of hummingbirds and butterflies in our garden because of the flowers I have planted, but I wanted to try to lure them a bit closer to E’s play house so he could see the hummingbirds a bit closer. After filling the feeder up and letting it hang for half a day, I came out later that evening and realized the feeder had an awful design and had slowly leaked the sticky syrup all over my roses. I tried to rinse the syrup off the roses, but it was a pretty impossible task.

Sure enough, by the next day, the area was swarming with wasps, coming in for the easy snack of that sweet syrup that was now all over my roses. We cannot seem to find a wasp nest anywhere on our property, so I have no idea where they were coming from. I used a store-bought wasp trap in the past (when we didn’t realize we had a wasp nest at our old house), and that thing caught zero wasps. I looked online and read that you can use savory lures to trap wasps, such as tuna or meat, which won’t interest honey bees (I definitely don’t want to kill off all of the beneficial, non-violent pollinators that are so essential to a successful garden!). I put together a trap with some tuna and water. You can make a trap by cutting open a plastic bottle, and turning the top inside the bottom like a funnel, taping the two pieces together. A lot of those things that you read on Pinterest are flat-out lies. Tuna DID NOT LURE ANY WASPS! It did however give us a temporary fly infestation and a horrible stench, both of which were really fun to deal with.

Next, I tried another bottle lure with some fermented honey. I read from a more reliable source that you can take one part honey and one part water, mix them and let it sit for 24 hours to create fermented honey. The mixture will attract wasps but honey bees will have no interest in it. That trapped four wasps, but did not really make a dent in the overall numbers.

By now, the stupid syrup on my roses had trapped a bunch of moisture on the rose leaves, bringing on a bad case of white powdery mildew. I always water my roses just at the root base, early in the morning to prevent getting powdery mildew, so it was pretty disappointing. I have started treating the mildew with neem oil (great for so many uses in organic gardening). If you are unfamiliar with neem oil, it is an organic oil made from a tree nut, and is used for pest control and disease treatment. It is available diluted or in the pure, concentrated formula. I use the pure neem oil, dilute it down, and put it in one of those big sprayers that you carry over your shoulder. Never use it undiluted since it will be too harsh for your plants undiluted.

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I started getting frustrated with the lack of results from my wasp trapping experiments, and went on Amazon and ordered a couple of Waspinators (found here). They are designed to look like a wasp nest and scare off wasps since most types of wasps are territorial and won’t hang out where they think another nest is already located. The first few days, I was pretty angry. I didn’t see a bit of difference. The wasps were happily flying all around the Waspinators. However, the past few days, I haven’t seen any wasps suddenly. I am not sure if the neem oil has countered the syrup enough so now the wasps are no longer interested, or if they eventually got scared off by the Waspinators. I am going to be keeping a close eye on things, but I think we may be in the clear! I am very relieved since I am highly allergic to wasp stings! I don’t know for sure that the Waspinators did the trick, but if you have a wasp problem and no nest in sight, it may be worth a try!

Below, this is where the hummingbird feeder originally hung. Now the Waspinator is hanging there.

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Another frustrating discover that I found yesterday morning was an infestation of black aphids on one area of my nasturtium flowers. 😦 I treated them with a heavy spray of neem oil as well. E and I are crazy about these edible flowers, so I may have gone a bit overboard in planting them. They are starting to take over the back garden, and I may need to thin them out a bit anyway. They never got this large where I planted them in our front garden or at our old house! The difference in the micro-climate from our front yard and our back yard is pretty remarkable…the front yard has shade from the pine trees, the ocean breeze, and the backyard has no shade (yet) and gets extra hot from the way the cement retaining walls trap the heat.

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The most frustrating pest experience of the week was with my little tomato seedlings in my greenhouse. I saw a bunch of grasshoppers one day, and the next day, all 30 of my seedlings were completely gone. I have had the greenhouse partially open so it doesn’t get too hot in there. Those things are voracious eaters, especially with veggies! 😦

Garden Update

The roses in the front have started blooming again. Roses are seriously one of my favorite things in life. 🙂 The tiny cream ones were actually from our wedding reception (they were the centerpieces), and moved with us when we bought this house two years ago.

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My husband finally finished trenching the lines for the new irrigation system in the back. He had a lot of trouble with bad tool rentals so far with this project, and the trenching took way longer than we expected because of that. He is finishing up the water lines and we planted the roses in their permanent homes. While he was trenching, I put lots of plants in flower pots and urns. I also picked out lots more plants that will go in the ground…more info on what I will be planting coming later this week!

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Updated Tour Of Our Front Yard Garden

Someone recently wrote to me and asked to see a full tour of my garden, and I have been excited to post this for a while now.  A full tour of the edible garden can be seen here (although that tour is slightly outdated and needs an update soon!).  We have a lot of plans for some changes to the hardscape in our front garden, but I am happy with how it looks for now. 🙂

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Gardening Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Aphids

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Most gardening enthusiasts know that aphids have a tendency to attack roses.  I have been fortunate so far in my rose growing experience, both at this house and our previous house, that I have not had to deal with aphids on any of my roses.  I do take preventative steps to keep them away though.  I regularly purchase and release ladybugs into the garden.  I also regularly spray the roses with a soapy water mixture, with phosphate free dish soap.  Lastly, I spray the roses with a seaweed extract and add compost and fertilizer regularly to keep them healthy.

One evening last week, I noticed that my corn was suddenly infested with aphids.  I was a little panicked since I had never had to deal with them up until now.  I had no idea that aphids will also eat corn.  I used my air pressurized water sprayer to spray my soapy water mixture on them, and it killed them all, plus has been preventing new ones from coming around.  I sprayed all of my corn, even the non-affected ones, just to be safe.  My corn is a reasonable distance away from my roses, so I also picked up and relocated a few ladybugs over to the corn area as extra protection.  So far, this simple method has been working amazingly well!

How To: Plant a Garden Full of Flowers Without Spending a Fortune

I always check the sale racks in the garden sections of the big box stores since occasionally you can find some great deals.  I never buy annuals that are on the sale rack since those are usually on their last leg.  Perennials on the sale rack are usually a great deal.  I check to make sure that they look disease free, and otherwise generally healthy.

I found these flowers on sale recently, and they were an amazing deal.  They were originally around $20, and marked down to just $3.50 for these huge 3.5 gallon containers!  Most did not have flowers on them at the moment, but the descriptive tag on the side told me that they are white roses and pink geraniums…things that were on my shopping list anyway!  Roses and geraniums are so hardy that I should have no trouble with these.  I don’t have the space prepped yet where I am planning to plant these, but they were such a good deal that I just couldn’t pass them up!

I always plant flowers from seed since it is so much cheaper this way, especially for annuals and wildflower mixes.  I usually plant the seeds directly in the garden, but since I had a little trouble with that recently (original post here), I decided that I will start more wildflower seeds in nursery containers, covered with plastic wrap, to create a mini-greenhouse effect.  This should help them get a better start, and will help me make sure that I am actually planting flowers in my garden, and not more weeds.

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Gardening Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Cleaning Up Someone Else’s Gardening Mistakes

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There were so many things wrong with these gardens when we bought the house.  It is really amazing that everything wasn’t completely dead since almost everything was planted with seemingly no knowledge or planning.  From what I have heard, the previous owners even hired a “professional” to plant and maintain everything.  To me, most of the things they did horribly wrong seem like they should have been common knowledge.  Since common sense is not as common as one would hope, I decided to detail a list of the problems that I have had to clean up in these gardens.  It is shocking that someone may have actually paid to have so much done horribly wrong!

1.  It is never a good idea to plant an extremely large cactus where it will reach over a walkway, gate, and stairs.  That is just dangerous and a lawsuit waiting to happen.  That cactus was one of the first things we removed.

2.  No roses thrive in full shade!  Nearly all roses need full sun.  There are a few varieties that will grow in partial shade such as white iceberg roses, but no roses will thrive in full shade, such as when they are planted directly under very large trees.  Sadly, there were numerous rose bushes planted in this manner at our house.

3.  The tropical “tree” shown above was being burnt in full sun, and will do much better in its new home in partial sun.  It was also getting too leggy and should have been trimmed down and re-rooted.  Besides all that, one random tropical plant stuck in with a bunch of roses and daisies is the strangest planting choice I have ever seen!  I gave this guy away for free on Craigslist…hopefully it is happier in its new home.

4.  The flowering mini tree also shown above should have been in full sun, and it was planted in full shade.  It also started sending out runners around it, trying to create little baby trees everywhere.  Thanks a million for this one…I am really looking forward to digging up all of these runners under the grass in the front yard where they have spread like a disease.  I really do not need baby trees popping up all over my lawn!  This was another one given away on Craigslist.

5.  Bushy perennials like the shasta daisies planted everywhere should be periodically dug up in early spring and divided so they don’t end up taking over everything around them.  I really enjoyed digging up years worth of overgrown flowers and trying to divide them.

6.  Flower bulbs should be dug up yearly (or at least on a somewhat regular basis!) and divided.  I found so many bulbs all smashed together in one spot.  Luckily for me, I will have tons to spread around for next spring!

7.  Flower bulbs placed ON TOP of the soil WILL NOT GROW.  They need to be buried in the dirt to grow!

8.  Short, low growing flowers like begonias should be planted toward the front of a flower bed where they can be seen, and not in the very back where no one will ever notice them!

9.  Ferns of all sorts should not be planted in full sun.  Pretty simple and straightforward…plant them in partial shade or full shade.

10.  There is no point in planting an asparagus fern or spider plant directly behind a rose bush.  No one will see it.  I do however, appreciate the free found plants that I have used elsewhere.

11.  Fig trees get tall.  Ridiculously tall if you let them.  They should be pruned periodically, and whoever thought it would be a good idea to plant a huge fig tree in a tall raised planter bed was crazy.

12.  Grape vines need to be pruned yearly when dormant.  I have a huge task ahead of me this winter.

13.  Flowers should be deadheaded when the blooms are spent.  Letting dead flower heads just sit there creates a messy situation in some cases.  I am not enjoying my battle with the very large shasta daisies growing in parts of the grass since they were left on long enough to go to seed and spread their seeds in unwanted areas.

14.  The large overgrown bushes that were previously in our backyard were a haven for wasps.  Those also had to go.

15.  The irrigation system previously set up here was the worst ever.  I will go into all the details in a later post, but having the timer set up to water the grass twice a day is a huge waste of water.  Furthermore, the best time to water grass is early in the morning, around sunrise.  The worst times to water grass are in the middle of the day, and late at night…the two times of day the timer was set to water.

16. Lantham flowers should be planted in full sun.  In our yard,they were  planted in the partial shade area and they were diseased and rotten looking.  I also removed those.

17.  Ivy is the worst thing to plant near a retaining wall.  The tentacles grab onto the mortar and slowly weaken the wall.  Getting rid of the ivy has become a long battle.

18. Putting down layers of sod over and over does no good if you make no effort to keep weeds from taking over the grass.

19. Furthermore, the existing layer of sod is generally dug up and removed before a new layer is planted.  I really enjoyed digging through two layers of dead sod when creating my vegetable garden. 🙂

20.  Placing a nursery container of flowers that has been taken over with weeds in the flower bed will still spread weeds throughout the flower bed.  Just because the weeds are in a container does not mean they will not spread.  Who buys flowers that already have weeds growing in them anyway?