Succulent dish racks

I’ve always loved pretty dishes and hate to hide them away in the cupboard. This is a nice way to enjoy them every day. The salvaged dish racks are lined with moss and filled with potting soil and dishes. The succulents that I’ve chosen for these will stay compact and are meant to look like bubbles overflowing the sides. The silverware adds the finishing touch (and support for flowers).

Around the grounds: June

This huge aeonium flower stalk is amazing! Already trimmed off a couple dozen stems of blooms for table vases, and it’s still going strong. Love the way the lower leaves are turning color.Nasturtiums climb over everything with their perky (and also edible) flowers. This cactus used to be a 4″ tall in a pot on my windowsill over 20 years ago. Epiphyllum mixed with burro tail succulents love the shade of this oak tree.

June berries

Our berry bushes (mix of blackberries, raspberries and olallieberries) have produced like never before this year. The new vines that will bear fruit next year have had to be cut back so I can get in there to pick them… a bowl like this every 2 or 3 days!  I can’t make pies fast enough, and there’s already bags in the freezer for those fruitless winter months.

Baby owl update

The five baby owls that hatched this year have all fledged and are roosting in our palms trees. The first three started early, and the youngest two struggled to keep up. Our front yard is still ‘home base’ for the young owls as they continue to improve their flying techniques. It’s obvious they love each other as they twitter and snuggle… encouraging one another to try new things. 014_1The parents aren’t far away and one occasionally stops by the nest box with a dead rodent and the babies let out a screech and fly there to get it. Whoever grabs it first, hops from branch to branch, trying to keep it away from its siblings, until it can swallow it. This brood of owlets have been pretty quiet so far, which indicates they have been well fed. That should change soon, as the parents withhold food as incentive to teach their babies to hunt their own prey.

Stink lily

This stink lily (Dracunculus vulgaris) came up this year bigger than ever. Beautiful and unusual, but once it warms up… it reeks of rotting meat (yuck), and is covered in buzzing flies.


What has caused everything this spring to bloom so above and beyond? The long suffering drought… followed by above normal rain this season? We don’t know, but it’s amazing!
This Epiphyllum (Orchid cactus) has over 50 buds!! We can hardly wait until it’s a huge, hanging mass of flowers. My sweet peas have grown so tall that I have to use a ladder to cut my daily bouquet. I learned to plant sweet pea seeds in mid September when I lived in the hot San Joaquin valley. They sprouted nicely in the warm fall weather to about 6″ tall. Peas handle cold winter temperatures easily, and they start to shoot up by February. You get blooms early, that fizzle later in the hot weather. Now with the cool summers here on the coast, they keep blooming for months!This Echium pininana alba, also known as Echium ‘Snow Tower’ is a rare white form of the Tree Echium. It’s grown over 12 feet tall (so far), and is covered with bees. Totally drought tolerant, this plant doesn’t need any summer watering, and really dresses up the cactus garden. The lupine across the street is putting on a show like never before. Until last year, Popeye the neighborhood horse lived there, and kept everything trimmed to the ground. This property was sold and he had to move next door. Hopefully the new owners like lupine too.

Owl family update

Yesterday was the first day that the female owl didn’t roost in with the young ones. She was seen here during the day this past week, on the lookout for predators. The usual suspect being our cat, Buddy. Check out the video of her screeching at him. The babies seemed well behaved last night… pretty quiet without their mother around all day. She had been leaving at sunset for the past several nights to help her mate hunt. That tells us that the smallest owlet can swallow a mouse whole now (yipee!). We’ve been hearing them a lot lately… at least three distinct voices when they screech and hiss. They will be poking their heads out soon, and stepping out to practice flapping. Stay tuned…

Wedding sunflowers

Put these together for a small beach wedding a couple of weeks ago. Sunflowers aren’t in season in California yet, so they had to be shipped from Baja, Mexico. They turned out very summer-like with succulents and all! The mini-sunflower-like mums worked perfectly for corsages and boutonnieres. The attendants (2 daughters and 4 sons) were wearing navy blue, so blue ribbons were added to match. Congratulations to the happy couple!

Succulent stuff for sale

It’s been busy around here, getting things ready for the Smart Gardening Fair.
Kitchen containers such as colanders are so pretty planted with succulents. This succulent dish rack looks like soapy water bubbling over with dishes and colorful silverware mixed in. Frames, succulent bonsai trees and assorted baskets are ready to go. The succulents growing out of the watering can looks like water pouring out. A planted side table holds a purse teacup and cute baby shoes filled with succulents. This iron bar stool is double-decked with succulents.

Tiny succulent pots

I put together these cute little succulent pots for holiday gifts during the first week of December. Just a small piece of floral foam stuffed into the pot, topped with moss… and a succulent cutting stuck in, to hold it together. Almost two months later, they are still thriving. The four on the left have been inside and are totally dry. The three on the right were outside on the patio, and are soaked from rain. So hardy and long lasting! And of course, they can be planted outside at any time.

Staghorn fern in oak tree

This old Platycerium bifurcatum is thriving in the rainy weather we’ve had recently. You can see the brown spores on the underside of the frond on the left. The spores will be released when it warms up this spring… although unlike Platycerium superbum, this variety is usually propagated by ‘pups’ instead of spores. More Staghorn ferns

Chicken coop

Since we had to move our fence over recently, it seemed like a good time to do something different with this spot on the back side of our chicken shed. So began the chicken coop upgrade project.Plans began for a small attached coop when I came up with the brilliant idea of cutting through the back wall and use the existing shelves for nest boxes. 012_1We cut a hole and put up wood strips to cover the cracks in the old shed wall, and added a section of fence on the other side. The ground was leveled and covered with wire, with block walls on both sides. Salvaged wood and fiberglass was used for the next steps.A couple of 2 x 4s with smoothed edges went up for roosts. The floor was covered with straw and we added a ‘dust bath’ tub of wood ash and diatomaceous earth. Hens naturally take dust baths in dry dirt to keep away pests like mites. This tub will stay dry in here during the wet winter.

The shelf worked out beautifully for next boxes, where eggs can be gathered from inside. The large door on the downhill side allows for easy access. The hens are hesitant to use the coop as it’s new and different, but we’re optimistic that they will love it. Then we can more easily introduce new chicks in the future, using our old community nest box as a brooder. We’ll just divide the chicken yard with wire until the chicks are old enough to mix with the older hens.

Upgrade one year later

Fancy Fungi

What is this round orange ball poking out of the dirt? After getting several inches of rain, the ground is thoroughly soaked… and the mushrooms are emerging!The Amanita muscaria is one of the most striking of all mushrooms. The tops are beautifully speckled white and dark orange, with a frilly skirt around the stem. They grow as big as a dinner plate!

Smaller white capped mushrooms are popping up all over under the cedars. These glossy brown caps blend in well with the wet leaves. Kuehneromyces mutabilis, commonly known as the sheathed woodtuft are edible.

Terrarium: How To

Recently, I accepted the challenge of planting a terrarium for another member of AHA… and I just love the container! With the recessed area in the middle of the stone-like pottery base, it’s obviously made to be a terrarium. Great design – it’s stable and will not tip over. So this is how it came together… First I filled up the recessed area with 3/8 inch gravel mixed with some activated filter carbon (to filter the air and water). Then added a piece of fiberglass screen cut to fit, (or you could use moss), to keep the soil above the gravel. Gathered together some ferns, mosses, pretty rocks, and one of the ceramic frogs that our friend Marcella makes. So perfect for this piece!  I mixed and moistened approximate equal parts peat moss and potting soil and shoveled in a few inches. Then carefully added the plants and arranged the rocks and frog.008_1As an experiment, I added a small tillandsia (air plant) and bromeliad…  just to see if they will thrive in this new little ecosystem.

Succulent Firepit

Found this fire pit frame at a yard sale and knew it would look good planted with succulents that looked like fire. First I lined it with aviary wire and sprayed it black. Then came a layer of moss, and potting soil.

The ‘Campfire’ crassula capitella and Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ really do look like flames.

Queen Protea

The Queen Protea is definitely out shining everything else on the grounds right now. This was after some recent rain… which we are so grateful for after such a long drought. This variety didn’t seem to be affected at all by the lack of water.

A pot of salamanders

Getting a huge root-bound Giant Bird of Paradise out of its pot was not an easy task. Back on September 13th, we pulled and tugged and rolled it around and around. When it finally came out, in the bottom of the concave mass of roots were two salamanders. Poor things were probably shaken up! Then we noticed what looked like a mass of eggs. We thought that they usually laid their eggs in water, and because the pot hadn’t been watered in awhile, it was barely damp. We cut off the bottom third of the root ball that held the salamanders and eggs and put it back in the pot, topped it off with a layer of leaves and a saucer to weigh it down, watered it.. and hoped for the best. A couple of weeks later, about ten teeny, tiny baby salamanders could be seen in the bottom of the pot. Recently, these three below have made an appearance on top of the leaves under the saucer. They have grown quite a bit and still are only about an inch long.

Nesting wreaths

012_1The new batch of nesting wreaths are bigger and better than before. Made with mosses, dryer lint, pet fur (freshly washed), strips of material, dried flowers and seed. With your feathered friends in mind, it’s wrapped onto a vine wreath with a wire hanger (no glue). Nesting wreaths start out as holiday decoration for your door or mantle. After the end of the year, it can hang outside, where the sunflower heads and amaranth will feed hungry birds, and then provide them with nesting material for spring.


I just love my greenhouse-workshop!  This favorite spot is never too hot or too cold, the cement block base is a thermal mass that keeps the temperature stable. See how it was built here.

Staghorn moose with antler

The moose head staghorn fern on the right has more fronds on one side, so I added an old deer antler on the other side to even things out. Every so often I hear a loud crunching noise and have to chase a squirrel away, who has been chewing on the antler. I’ve tried spraying with water and cayenne pepper to keep it away, but it is undeterred. Google revealed that squirrels and other animals eat antlers for calcium and other nutrients. Learn something new every day…

Faux copper downspouts

The new downspouts and leader heads look really great! Spray painting them copper was an easy way to get the expensive look we were going for. It was so good to hear the rain splashing down them last night. The two downspouts that empty into rain barrels now have a two-way split that will deliver rain to a tank in the front when the barrels are full.

Eggs: fresh vs store bought

It’s easy to tell the difference between an egg from the store and one laid by neighborhood hens in this breakfast skillet. Happy chickens that can free range and get kitchen scraps lay the best eggs! The yolk is darker, bigger and sits up like a ball. Taste better too!

Transgender chicken?

A few weeks ago, one of our two black & white Barred Rock chickens started trying to crow in the morning. Then the other one joined in! Our neighbor verified that one was indeed male, and was growing spurs on his legs. There’s a chance this could happen when buying sexed chicks from the feed store, but it’s our first time in 20+ chicks over the years. Our chicken shed is close to our bedroom, so we don’t want a rooster, and found him a good home.

Meanwhile, the verified female chicken continues to crow every morning (see video). Hopefully when they start laying later this month, she will figure out that she’s not a rooster after all. Update 10/01/15: So much for verified female… the rooster was a late bloomer and was finally getting spurs on his legs. The crowing got to be too much and too loud. He went to a good home where he can be as loud as he wants.