Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bleak House


This Winter has been so warm and so strange. Instead of the Winter blasted landscape we would expect, we have warm Spring sun and little rain, no snow, no ice. The native plants are still in hiding and frogs are already  singing in the shallow puddles from our last rain. 

Blackberry hedge in Winter
Today I'll be joining Town Mouse at her First Views blog reality check. I love this because it keeps me honest and gives me great benchmarks to look back on and a deadline to meet. It's fun  to look back and remember each season and someday each year. Isn't that what garden blogging is really about? I also love seeing all those beautiful native gardens! Thanks Mouse!


When I look at our place this time of year all the barren space makes me think of how it was when we first moved here and all the new decisions we had to make. See this giant expanse of rock? Not pretty is it? There is a reason for it though. If you want your home defended from wildfire, you need an open space for firetrucks to drive down and turn around.

And why all that rock anyway? Mud. Vehicle engulfing mud.

Here's our sea of rock looking up the hill. Why didn't we just build on top? Again more reasons, considerations, limitations unique to rural homes. Dust! The answer is dust. Never ever build your home on a dusty road unless you enjoy being smothered in dust.

View down the back hill
Why build on a hillside when it would be so much easier to build on flat land? Well, these are the foothills baby, and steeper is cheaper. We have seven and a half acres here. Why do we need all that land? We don't, but the county is zoned for five acre minimum parcels. My garden probably takes up less than an acre of land. The woodland below is totally wild. I love to walk there in the Spring when the wildflowers are out.


And why,



oh why all this grass? Five dogs, five cats, three kids and their horses, plus mud and dust does one big mess make. It would seem that mud and dust trump fine design, it does here anyway. The grass also really helps keep the house cool. I water and mow as little as possible and never fertilize. A few years back I planted White Dutch clover in the grass. It's beautiful and is always full of bees and butterflies.


These pears and apples were planted along the south side of the house to shade the wall in the afternoon. A basket or two of fruit is pretty nice too. Last year we got about a dozen 'Arkansas Black' apples. They were wonderful!


These Catalpas and London Planes are planted on the West side for afternoon shade. It will be so nice when they get bigger! I planted the trees back like this because I like to look up at the sky from the kitchen window. Even though it gets hot in the kitchen on Summer afternoons I still wouldn't put a shade structure over the window for the same reason.


My husband put a little swale along the back bank to draw water away from the house. Later I cut a little ditch leading to it for water coming off the driveway. This works nicely because as silt builds up, weeds sprout up in it. Then you can just pull up the shallow rooted weeds and their clinging silt and throw them in the compost. Butterflies love this place!


The borders are also very functional with their bee and butterfly attracting, deer repelling plants. It was nice to get all the lavender planted. I sure hope the gophers leave it alone. 

Back flower bed all cut back to stubble. In a few weeks the dormant plants will begin to show their pretty faces.

A casual reader of this blog might think all I ever do is chop stuff down. And I do... in the winter. The reason I don't like working in the flower beds in the warm months is because of the rattlesnakes. One of our previous bloodhounds was bitten by a rattlesnake on the nose. The vet couldn't do much for her until all the poisoned tissue had died. We had to wash out the open wound for a couple of weeks until he could stitch her back together again. She ended up looking a bit like Frankenstein. 

Back rose bed
Some things are here just because I love them. Hybrid tea roses have a hard time here. I try to prune them as late as possible so the new shoots don't get killed in the late frost. As long as you don't expect perfection, they're just fine.

Double Delights under the kitchen window
Roses have always been my favorite. They remind me of home. These remind me of my Grandpa.


There are two more rose beds in the front facing East. All little white shrub roses cut back for the year. This one is under the front window.


This one is several feet to the right next to the shady spot under the fireplace.


In between the two is my little bench. Pretty bleak right now, but it's my favorite spot in the garden. It's warm and sunny there in the mornings, cool and shady in the afternoons. There are salvia planted across the walkway. Hummingbirds and shiny black bumble bees constantly visit the red and white checkered blooms.


This is the front border. The deer grass glows here all through the Winter.


Have you ever smelled witch hazel? It's the one thing that makes Winter almost bearable. These are growing at the base of the hill at the front corner of the house. I don't know about you, but without rain, snow, or cold, I don't see much point in Winter at all. This barren warmth is not a bit comforting.

16 comments :

  1. What fun! There's so much I don't know about living in the country, I like your explanation for the different views.

    I agree, the dry weather is super creepy. I'm just glad I didn't plant a lot this year. Well, let's hope we'll get a little more rain.

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    1. There is a lot to learn when you move to the country - and mostly learned the hard way! One thing about the dry weather, it'll sure make people consider using more native plants.

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  2. Not bleak at all Kate. I get it...what you have is the "thinking womans garden". I recently discovered that I've been approaching this whole gardening thing wrong--and causing myself a lot of aggravation. For example, my M.O. had been to plant something, say, under a pine tree. I watch it struggle, gasp and die. Without thinking, I replace the plant...same plant, same location--never thought to find out why. I've begun to realize that a garden (even a small one) has many gardens within it; each with special requirements and attributes. Since that lightbulb went on, I'm trying to be a better student of my little yard. I'm slooowly figuring out how to work within the limitations (heat, expensive water, laziness). A lot of hits and misses still, oh well. Your Sis

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    1. "Thinking woman's garden"!! I'll be laughing about that for a long time. I'm glad you had the most crucial gardening revelation of all: Nature has a lot to teach you. Keep thinking of yourself as the student and you'll be fine. It's when you think you're the master that you run into trouble.

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  3. We live on a slope as well, and it can be a challenge. I, too, love walking in the forest beyond the property. Even though the slope can be quite a challenge, the forest beyond it provides us with so much wildlife and great views and privacy. Our winter has been a no-winter winter as well...don't know if winter will ever really arrive...

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    1. It's good to hear from you again! It's funny how gardeners from all over this giant country can have so much in common. I sure do enjoy the photos of your woods. I'll try to take some of our woods this Spring. I hope you didn't just jinx yourself on Winter!

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  4. Listening to you muse as you wander through your garden spaces is a lot like listening to myself! I agree with Anon - not bleak at all! I particularly love the swale. I'm glad you enjoy wandering through your forest areas. Lots of people living out in the wilderness don't. Actually, below to the north, past the open valley bit, I don't walk much at all because of poison oak and because it's thick with fallen redwood branches that make it difficult. And frankly because I'm afraid of mountain lions. (We had a bad one here for a couple years, ate quite a few goats before he was shot, by a neighbor who got a permit to do so.) -- Like you are afraid of the rattlers and for good reason! But I do want to establish "vague trails" down there so I can explore more often. With Rat in tow for backup. I want to gather items for propagation. I'm so happy to hear about your propagation, and will be perusing your blog to look for more on that topic!

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    1. I love the swale too. In the Summer it's the insect hub of the garden. The poison oak is pretty bad here too. I walk very carefully! I'm very excited about my first success propagating natives. I don't know why I was so intimidated by the prospect before. I'll be looking to you for help too!

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  5. What a great tour, Katie, and I like your comment that this keeps us honest. Ha! If a blogger just has pretty close-ups of flowers, you don't get the real gardening story. I personally like this time of year and it seems to off set the 'busy-ness' of Spring with all the chores, weeding and blooms. Real seasons. At least California seasons!

    We're on a slope to and our house has about the sme situation. I had to laugh at the chair with it's back to the slope. Our set is like that,...you think you'll fall over the side sometimes.

    I'm so tired of all the trimming and deadheading, though! The less it rains, the more I go out in the garden,...the more I do that the more I see to trim down. My garden is as neat as a pin! I want a rest, looking out at some snowflakes with a cuppa tea!

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    1. The thing that keeps me fascinated with garden blogs is that they're mostly just regular people doing the same things I like to do. I like pretty pictures as much as anyone, but what I really like is the chance to learn along with other people and let them learn along with me. I think we all have a lot to contribute and it doesn't really matter if we're "experts" or not. I'm sorry you're missing out on you Winter rest. Resist the temptation to keep pruning or soon you may have nothing left!

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  6. It always interesting to see how the house we live in for years changes all these years of putting lots of love to it to call it home.

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    1. It sure is! Meeting so many people who also love their own little gardens has been really fun too.

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  7. I'd love to have that much land. Well if someone else would help weed it. :) Trying to catch up a little. Still behind with all the work here but wanted to drop by some of my faves.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Glad you stopped by! Hope Winter is going well for you and that you get all caught up soon. How nice to be someone's fave. You're one of mine too.

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  8. I can just imagine your blackberry hedge in full fruit! YUM!

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    1. Blackberry pie. Breakfast of champions.

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