Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Hibernal Solstice and The Return of the Oak King

Celtic myth posits that the seasons are ruled by two kings, the Oak King and the Holly King, and that they battle each other for supremacy over the earth twice a year -- on the Summer and Winter (or Hibernal) Solstices. On the Summer Solstice the Oak King loses to the Holly King, and thus begins summer's long decline into autumn and its final end, as the Holly King solidifies his grasp over the Earth.

But on the Hibernal Solstice, which begins today, the Oak King wins back his supremacy from the Holly King, and rules for the next six months, from mid-winter till mid-summer, thus heralding the arrival of more daylight hours and the return of green, growing things. He's often depicted as the traditional Green Man, sold in catalogs for display on fences and in gardens. (The Holly King looks a bit like Santa).

Oak leaves in my garden, back in the autumn

A sculpture made by my MIL that hangs inside my house (she associated oak trees with her husband, my FIL, and it hangs below a photo of her)

My Green Man

Will you join me in welcoming the Oak King back to rule over the Earth? This year's Winter Solstice coincides with a full moon.

Read more about the Oak King and the Holly King here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Visit to the Greenhouse

Perhaps I've focused on the negative enough for now. It's time for a visit to the lush tropical environment of my greenhouse, which has been keeping me sane lately (well, as sane as I ever get, which isn't saying much). On these cold, dark winter days I have been spending a couple of hours each day puttering in the greenhouse, potting up, sorting out, making room for winter's seedlings, grooming plants as they sometimes die back a little in winter's darker light, and listening to the rain as it beats on the roof.

Basically I use the greenhouse to start seeds, to overwinter the plants that spend the spring, summer and part of autumn on the front and back porches, and for a bit of storage. If you want to see how they looked this past year on the front porch, Peter The Outlaw Gardener posted about it, which you can view here.

To the right as you go through the door, there are quite a few potted plants, but the Monstera is covering them all

My favorite motto

Staghorn fern, a recent acquisition that I mounted myself

When I put plants away in here at the end of the growing season I try to group them by care and light needs, but that isn't always possible.

These shelves are a bit inaccessible, so it's a good thing they will probably need the least water over the winter

This Begonia luxurians is finally starting to look lush

Two Dyckias bought over a year ago and still not potted up

Dyckia flower

Piles of stuff crammed under the wire table

There's always a pile of unused ceramic pots that are not winter-proof

Can you see Baby Groot hiding in the asparagus fern?


Six pots of Aloe polyphylla

Five pots of Geranium sidoides

Four pots of Kalanchoe synsepala

Three Agave desmettiana pups

Two pots of Sedum spathulifolium 'Carnea'

And a partridge in a pear tree.... No, actually, a Moby baby -- Agave ovatifolia -- that split into five plants

Aloe starts and four pots of Centranthus ruber that I started from seed last winter and never planted out along with a few other tender plants

More starts of various tender succulents

For most of the winter this electric heater keeps the greenhouse in the low 50s/high 40s at night

On very cold nights, like recently when it was going into the 20s, I augment the electric heater with this propane heater. On its lowest setting it provides just enough heat to keep the greenhouse in the 50s from about 10:30 at night until about 7 a.m. the next morning.

For the first time this year I decided to put a draft excluder along the bottom of the door, because I noticed cold air coming in that way, and I think it has helped a bit

I like to decorate the greenhouse with birdcages with various inhabitants that keep me amused.

If you're wondering where summer went, I'm holding it captive in my greenhouse

The world on a bed of moss with a Harry Potter time-turner

That'll stop the robots from taking over the world

Oops! I must have forgotten to feed them

The following -- Ruby Slippers -- is a work in progress. I might fill them with soil and succulents, and decorate further with scraps of blue gingham and maybe a pair of cut-off braided black pigtails. Who says you can't rewrite the ending of The Wizard of Oz to suit yourself?

That little girl who keeps crying about wanting to go home is so annoying. Don't you think the witch deserves to win?

Be careful, or the witch might turn you into a frog!

And now -- do you have about 7 minutes to waste? I filmed a video tour of the greenhouse with narration. I tried it first with no narration, which was boring, so instead you get to listen to my goofy, overexcited, breathless voice. There's a fair amount of overlap between the video and the picture tour above, so proceed at your own risk.

A Greenhouse Tour

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tell The Truth Tuesday -- The Gravel Garden

Hold onto your hats!

With apologies to anyone living in wildfire-stricken areas of California, my gravel garden is a disaster area. I have a lot of ugly to show you. I seldom, if ever, show pictures of it anymore, or of anything growing or flowering in it, because I have ignored and neglected it for at least the last three years. I haven't watered, or pulled a single weed, or trimmed or cut back a plant in all that time. Originally conceived as a screen between me and the neighbors to my left, the bed rather quickly succumbed to weeds, as it became choked with weed seeds blown in from the neighbor's yard. The bed was mulched in gravel, which was really hard to dig in, and as a result, any amount of time spent trying to dig out weeds always resulted in hands covered in blisters. I gave up, and devoted myself to other areas, while occasionally wracking my brains about what to do about it.

This bed, which I call the Gravel Garden, was originally nothing but a pristine gravel parking area when we first moved in 9 years ago. You can see an End of the Month View post from 2013 about the Gravel Garden here. And if you're interested in reading about its evolution and construction, you can see posts about that here, here and here.

It doesn't look that bad from here, because the enormous Arbutus unedo 'Compacta' hides a multitude of sins

It has turned into a handsome shrub, but I wonder if I should trim up the bottom to reveal some of the beauty of its lower branches, which have red, peely bark

That even more enormous mass on the right is a Ceanothus which has completely taken over the space -- note the weeds below, which used to be gravel -- and still is, below the weeds

Expanse of weeds, formerly pristine gravel -- the bare patch is where we had a pile of gravel which we used up last year building paths

Culvert full of weeds -- no matter how much I top up the soil here, it keeps compacting down

Weed-infested plants -- Yucca rostrata on left, Euphorbia at center, Dasylirion wheeleri at right

Another smaller Yucca rostrata hiding in the weeds near the Dasylirion

Beschorneria also hiding in the weeds

I used to be able to fit through a gap here to reach the area behind the culvert to work, but not any longer -- the Ceanothus is a monster

Weeds at the base of the Ceanothus

There's a struggling Agave parryi in there

Opuntia, Sedum Angelina and weeds

at the back of the bed is a stock tank with a dead Tetrapanax -- Impossible to reach now

Teucrium with crinkly leaves and the bare branches of a gold-leaf Caryopteris -- both deserve rescuing after surviving so well with no summer water for three years in a row

I need to figure out what to do with this big empty pot -- like the culvert the soil keeps compacting down no matter how much I add to it

Weed-choked patch of black mondo grass

Weeds, weeds, weeds

The other stock tank and guess what? Weeds

Black bamboo growing in the stock tank, flanked by a patch of Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' on the left and Stipa gigantea on the right

Another Stipa gigantea and weeds

Japanese snowbell has thrived here, flowering profusely every spring despite no summer water -- I'd like to move it to a spot where it will get better summer care

The other culvert planter, which has Alliums in it that I've tried digging but many still prove elusive

Another thriving Teucrium

Weed-choked Hesperaloe

Weeds and sleeping Alliums

Stipa gigantea

Beyond the culvert, piles of junk below an enormous English laurel

There was once a 'Fat Albert' blue spruce here, but it became engulfed by the English laurel and died on one entire side, and had to be cut down last year

'Fat Albert' stump and weeds

At least with all those dandelions it's full of pretty yellow flowers in the spring

I'd like to empty the stock tanks and move them out of this bed completely to a spot where they're more accessible and usable. I've come to the conclusion that my original plan to leave a path through the bed is untenable.

My current plan for this area is to pull out and save the plants that have survived neglect, because they deserve it, cut down the enormous Ceanothus because working around it is impossible, and turn the bed into a prairie/meadow style planting. That would require either tilling in the gravel mulch or sifting it out. I need to figure out what to do with all the gravel area in front of the bed as well. Weeds just want to grow there. I suppose I could dose it twice a year with Roundup. Or I could put in lots of paving stones, and some deliberate plants. Weeds will always grow where the plants aren't.

One drawback of all of that is that a meadow provides no screening from the neighbors, but as you can see from the pictures, what's there now isn't providing a lot of screening either.

One of my biggest problems with working in this area is that the neighbors on this side have acquired a large, black, aggressive, barky dog that reacts to me every time I walk through this area, even just to throw away trash. He has even barked at and rushed us when we've gone out to get our mail. You may have noticed the flimsy black wrought iron fence in one of the photos above, which is pretty much useless. On my best days I tolerate dogs (although Peter's Poms are cute), but on my worst days I'm terrified of them.

I suppose if I can manage to empty out the bed maybe we could then hire someone to install a big, sturdy fence between us and the neighbor.

This is probably my worst garden area, and also my biggest challenge. I still have lots of little messes to share in the future. So, do you have more ugliness to show us? Tell us about your garden problems in a post.