Sunday, January 26, 2014


In March we Divas of the Dirt met at Karla's - we already knew what her garden project would be. On the way in we admired Sophia's brand new car (what a beautiful blue!) with a detour to check out the crater from the fallen hackberry tree... that hole still looked huge.
Equally impressive was the stack of supplies in Karla's driveway. We could see she was serious about repairing the front landscaping.

In the dining room, deep apricot tulips spoke of spring.

Rabbits added whimsy to another beautiful bouquet in the breakfast room.

Buffy had a family emergency and could not join us, but seven of us were ready to visit & work, and once everyone had arrived... ready to tuck in.

Karla set out a beautiful fruit salad with mixed berries, pineapple & Kiwi fruit and two delicious baked dishes.

The Cheesy Amish Breakfast Casserole earned its name, a mix of eggs, bacon, onions, hash brown potatoes and 3 kinds of cheese. The second pan held Sopapilla Cheese cake, a combination of refrigerator crescent rolls, cinnamon, sugar, cream cheese and almonds.

We had a lovely, chatty breakfast - sharing funny stories and catching up on each other's lives.
Soon we were outside emptying and mixing the bags of soil and amendments. We could fill the huge hole in the ground, but as you can see in this photo from 2009, the tree had taken up a lot of vertical space, too. And when the tree disappeared, the shade cast by its trunk, branches and leaves also disappeared.

We advised Karla to watch and see how the surrounding shrubs and plants responded to the increased light. There might also be a difference because the tree's roots were no longer competing with the shrubs for water and nutrients.

Filling that hole was Karla's main request for the day - once it was done, she thought anything else we did was gravy!  

Although Karla didn't buy new plants, her large tropical plants, like this Hibiscus, needed a staging area.

Karla had existing plants that needed better spots. She told us that the Setcreasia pallida 'Purple Heart' in the front door bed had died. Since my house is just a few blocks from Karla's, I ran home to get starts of Purple Heart, some 'Amethyst Flame' iris, a Gulf-Brazon Penstemon tenuis, some purple oxalis/Oxalis regnellii 'Triangularis' and some burgundy-leaved Cannas. The Purple Heart, (also seen as Setcreasea purpurea 'Purple Heart', Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea', or Tradescantia pallida 'Purple Heart') was soon planted.

 We composted and snipped, weeded and transplanted, mulched - then stood the pots in place, restoring order to the front border

The iris was planted with some passalong yarrow in the adjoining border, with compost added, the edges sharpened and the whole thing mulched.

We continued tidying and mulching the border right down to the corner. Out of camera range is the refreshed parkway.

The front looked great - time to break for lunch.

The serving table stood ready with pulled pork and crusty onion rolls, juicy watermelon and broccoli salad.

Let's take a closer look at that Coconut Cream Cake on the far side of the table.

What a pretty combination of colors on the floral plates.

Karla made the Coconut Cream Cake from the recipe on a can of Lucky Leaf coconut cream pie filling. The cake was really rich and delicious, but I couldn't find the recipe on the Lucky Leaf website... guess it will have to remain a sweet memory.

After lunch we worked on the back borders - weeding, edging and mulching.

The Graptopetalum paraguayense/Ghost Plant really likes living on Karla's patio - and look - the iris have made buds. 

January & February 2013 were milder than usual so the leaves on Karla's decorative Ginger plants look good and the Justicia spicigera/Mexican Honeysuckle has continued to bloom.

Karla's grab bag gift from the January Holidiva day was a Talavera-style pottery orb... we moved it around to different beds, looking for the right spot. 

It had been a good project day but the daylight faded before we could finish everything. Barbie-dog came to visit while Mattie worked on Karla's yard. DivaAnnie gave Barbie a farewell pat and the Divas of the Dirt headed home..

 See you in April!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

2013 - February MATTIE'S GARDEN DAY

February can be a great month for a garden project, but Mattie's project day dawned with temperatures near freezing. Maybe we would eat breakfast verrry slowly until the day warmed up!
DivaAnnie was already at Mattie's house when Sophia & I arrived, and Karla, Sugar, Mindy & Buffy soon appeared.

The dining room looked beautiful.

Bowls of berries and fruit waiting on the counter for us.

Mattie had made broccoli quiche and she'd also baked a new, streamlined version of a classic sour cream coffee cake. It was still crunchy with nuts, but instead of sour cream, the new version uses Greek yogurt.

By 11am the air was pleasant and we went out to the garden.
Mattie's front yard had a mix of sun & shade. Mattie had added stone edging herself, block by heavy block, and on previous project days we Divas had helped her make beds and borders. The slope and sun were ideal for Salvia guaranitica, Salvia coccinea, Salvia 'Black and Blue", for milkweeds, roses, iris, lantana, Gaura lindheimeri, Silver ponyfoot, blue mistflower, Purple heart, Mexican Mint marigold, Gaillardia, and more - a vibrant mix of native and adapted plants that has settled in to make the front garden an appealing place.
It looked wonderful in fall 2012!

But the back yard was not appealing yet - large trees made it too shady for flowers or regular grass, and the established shrubs were in the wrong place. When the bare ground wasn't muddy it was dusty - some choice! The space was not large and it had no 'flow". Mattie wanted the center opened up, requested that a long border be made along the fence and she had ordered a special St Augustine that has been bred for shady areas. The pallets had been delivered and were ready for us to put down.

A previous owner had planted a Rose of Sharon. It had become a very tall, very wide, very twiggy shrub that blocked the whole middle of the yard, halfway between the patio and the fence, visually making the garden feel smaller and physically preventing natural movement through the space.

The flowers on Rose of Sharon make it a sentimental favorite, but its form is not great and it is leafless for half the year. It could be good in a mixed border with other kinds of shrubs, closer to the edges of the yard, but wasn't working as a specimen plant or a focal point. A few Divas took on the task of removing it. First the multiple trunks were chopped back with branches saved to root. It took another 1/2 hour to wrestle the root out. The stump was set aside in case someone could use it.

While the Rose of Sharon was reduced, other Divas used the hose to lay out the shape of the long border.

The majority of Divas of the Dirt projects are done under canine supervision - Barbie makes sure the line is laid properly

The border would sweep from the far left end near a Monterey-Spanish oak, all the way across the back fence to the opposite corner, then turn and head up toward the gate. Once the shape was settled, the discussions on plant placement began.

With so little lawn to remove, it wasn't long before the tiller was mixing in compost - oops! The Divas soon realized this project would need more materials than Mattie had planned on using. Mattie and Sugar decided to make a nursery run for supplies. Mattie also realized that she wanted more Aspidistra/Cast Iron plant. Should she buy some?

Sophia had a better idea - a trade! Sophia needed something dense and twiggy near her back fence and her established beds of Aspidistra can supply many divisions. Sophia & Annie hauled the Rose of Sharon stump off to Sophia's house, returning with freshly dug clumps of Cast Iron plants for Mattie's new borders along with divisions of Mexican honeysuckle.

Soon the tiller was mixing in more compost, the garden carts and wagons were filled with squares of grass for the back and some Divas turned out to be very good at laying out the pieces with speed and precision.

Mattie had new plants ready for the long border along with other plants she'd kept in containers for long months. The new plan meant that some shrubs that were planted last year would need a reshuffle and we wanted to redo the entire right corner.

The border soon held Philadelphus inodorus/American mockorange, Burford Holly, a Fig tree, Indian Hawthorn, the Mexican honeysuckle and more. 

The center turned green, the aspidistra earned a bed around a tree, mulch was added around all the new plants and things were moving along well by 4 pm - time for a late lunch!

Mattie had baked corn bread for us and made a wonderful acorn squash casserole with red peppers and feta cheese.

She'd used a coworkers recipe for beef stew - delicious!

For dessert, Mattie turned to her favorite Panache Cookbook and baked a Berry Apple Oat Crisp that was just sweet enough.

Even when a day in February is mild, it is still February! We had to move fast, clean up, snap a few more photos, get in more plants and spread more mulch because that sun would soon be down. The corner was just about done.

Aspidistra, dwarf black mondo grass and giant lirope added spiky character to the beds nearer the house.

Darkness stopped us from finishing the borders but the center was terrific! The view from the patio was no longer blocked by bare-twigged shrubs and instead of dusty bare dirt Mattie would see a serene sweep of green. With a bit of luck, we'd get some rain and the semi-shade would keep the need for watering down to a minimum.

We left for home and during the next few days Mattie finished the planting, kept sifting rocks out of the soil and completed the cleanup, and also sent us a sweet thank you note.