Elsewhere: The Real Hollywood – Toyon

My friend, Keri, over at Animalbytes.net has a great write up on one of our California natives and what it provides for the animals that live here. Keri always has lots of great content on the animals and environment of California on her blog. I highly recommend you check it out — Animalbytes.net.

The Real Hollywood – Toyon

If you need evidence that Southern California has received less rain than normal, all you have to do is look at the plants.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is a native shrub in our chaparral. The dark green, toothed leaves and red berries in winter resemble holly. Newcomers to southern California called it California holly. “Hollywoodland,” the name a real estate developer first used to market homes built into the foothills northwest of Los Angeles, refers to the red-berried toyon plants that were on the hillsides. When the letters spelling “land” fell down what remained was the “Hollywood” sign.


Read the entire article

Video: Container Vegetable Update 010 – Basil and peppermint and spinach and strawberries!

In this update, Basil and peppermint and spinach and strawberries! An overview of the containers since I moved them into a sunnier spot.

AGN Container Garden Update 10

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Music: “Whiskey on the MIssissippi” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)  – Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Garden Vocabulary: Humus

Garden Vocabulary Logo

This Garden Vocabulary series seeks to introduce and explain to you — and in many cases, myself — words and terms associated with gardening. Please let me know if  there are any terms you would like me to explore. You can leave your ideas in the comments section and we can learn together!


In soil science, humus (coined 1790–1800; < Latin: earth, ground[1]) refers to any organic matter that has reached a point of stability, where it will break down no further and might, if conditions do not change, remain as it is for centuries, if not millennia.[2] Humus significantly improves the structure of soil and contributes to moisture and nutrient retention.

Read the entire article on Wikipedia, Humushttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humus

Growing up in a small farm town, I heard the word humus a lot, but for me it simply represented some form of dark, even black, organic soil. It the local Ohio farmer vernacular, the older farmers simply called it “muck.” We had a sizable area of swamp in our nearby 10 acres and it was filled to a deep depth this soil. So much so, in fact that it once caught fire and smoldered for months. Beyond that, though, i had no idea of the official, scientific definition of humus found above.

According to further reading in the Wikipedia article and elsewhere, humus, it seems that humus is the final product of overall composting of organic materials. It provides many diverse benefits for both soil fertility and soil structure.

The humus I encountered in my youth was soft and almost like cake crumbs when slightly damp. If allowed to dry further it took on the texture of dust and, in some cases when tilled with farm equipment, almost a powder. It smelled “earthy” if that somewhat generic term can be used, where clay (which we also had in abundance on our property) had its own different smell, color and consistency. We had some pockets of almost pure clay below the farm topsoil that probably could have been used to make bricks or pottery. In fact, there was a clay quarry and tile yard in another part of town that did just that.

I can personally verify the information in the article that speaks of the dark color of soil and how it allows the soil to heat up more quickly in the Spring. Those parts of our fields that contained more humus usually defrosted much more quickly that other areas of the same field. Of course, it also turned to a soupy, sticky much that could — and sometimes did — pull the boots from your feet if you weren’t careful.

Further reading on Humus:


Previously on Garden Vocabulary:

Books on Hold: The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage

Books on Hold is a blog series dedicated to books I have seen in passing and then requested from my local library. See more in the series at the end of this blog post. — Douglas

The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage 

* Discovered via Dirt Therapy

From Amazon.com…

Brandywine Cottage is David Culp’s beloved two-acre Pennsylvania garden where he mastered the design technique of layering — interplanting many different species in the same area so that as one plant passes its peak, another takes over. The result is a nonstop parade of color that begins with a tapestry of heirloom daffodils and hellebores in spring and ends with a jewel-like blend of Asian wildflowers at the onset of winter.

The Layered Garden shows you how to recreate Culp’s majestic display. It starts with a basic lesson in layering — how to choose the correct plants by understanding how they grow and change throughout the seasons, how to design a layered garden, and how to maintain it. To illustrate how layering works, Culp takes you on a personal tour through each part of his celebrated garden: the woodland garden, the perennial border, the kitchen garden, the shrubbery, and the walled garden. The book culminates with a chapter dedicated to signature plants for all four seasons.

As practical as it is inspiring, The Layered Garden will provide you with expert information gleaned from decades of hard work and close observation. If you thought that a four-season garden was beyond your reach, this book will show you how to achieve that elusive, tantalizing goal.”

Previously in Books on Hold:

Garden Inventory: Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo)

Garden Inventory is a series where I begin an inventory of all the plants and trees in my garden. Along with some of my own pictures, I will link to various sources of information about each plant and tree so we can learn a little more together.

I would also like to highlight your special plants and tress. Pass along your favorite plants in the comments and I will use them for future Garden Inventory posts. — Douglas

Garden Inventory: Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo)

Nandina is a incredibly common landscape plant here in Southern California although it looks as if it were in favor more in the past then currently. Older properties like mine usually have it somewhere in the yard or garden. In my case I have probably removed 4-6 plantings of Nandina over the years, but there are still these two, along with two more in another part of the  garden. This garden was originally themed as an Japanese garden, so the Nandina would have been an integral part of the look when planted by the previous owners.

Nandina and Bricks - 7

Nandina and Bricks - 16 Nandina and Bricks - 10 Nandina and Bricks - 3 Nandina and Bricks - 2Nandina and Bricks - 1 Nandina and Bricks - 11

Photos of Nandina plant with closeups of leaves, new and mature fruit, and new growth

For me, Nandina is a “set it and forget it” type of plant. It doesn’t really require much care or feeding, or even water. It doesn’t grow too quickly or too large. Nandina is not really a bamboo at all, but I am sure it’s similar appearance to traditional bamboo led to its common name. While Nandina is not as invasive as some bamboos can be, it is still classified as invasive in many area of the United States. According to the Wikipedia article linked below, it was first imported from China to the UK in 1804 as a landscaping plant. Nandina grows as a clump and does not spread quickly at all. It doesn’t need much pruning, if any at all and usually looks nice, if a bit unexceptional, no matter where you plant it. 

I had never known it, but the plant is somewhat poisonous, although supposedly non-toxic to humans, but could be considered toxic to cats and grazing animals.

Here in Southern California, Nandina provides lovely red berries to use as Christmas decorations, since holly does not grow well at all here in Los Angeles, despite the name of Hollywood just over the hill from us. The developers of Hollywoodland discovered this to their detriment when they tried to plant holly as part of this housing development.

Nandina can be useful if you are looking for a well-behaved shrub that can function in shade or sun. It can be a place holder until you find a more decorative plant or a filler for larger areas such as along fences. 

More information on Nandina domestica:

Previously on Garden Inventory:

Video: In the garden…short: Onions sprouting already!

“In the garden…” is a series for A Gardener’s Notebook highlighting what is happening in my garden, my friend’s gardens and California gardens throughout the seasons.

I was really surprised to see these onions sprouts pushing out of the soil today as it seems I just planted them a few days ago.

Watch all the past “In the garden…” videos in this YouTube playlist.

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Garden Alphabet: Kniphofia “Red Hot Poker”

Garden Alphabet: Kniphofia "Red Hot Poker"

Link: Kniphofia from Wikipedia.org
Books from Amazon.com:
Plants from Amazon.com:

Previously in Garden Alphabet:

Interesting Plant: Black Forest Calla Lily

Quite a striking flower. Even though it is more deep purple than true black, it certainly makes a statement. Not sure why I am on such a black plant kick in these first two entries in the Interesting Plants series, but these are simply what caught my eye.

I am looking for new, interesting plants to add to my garden after 16 years of basically living with what I inherited from the previous owners. Something like this would certainly fit the bit. I wonder if I could do a bed of calla lilies of varying typing, including my most interesting finds. Hmmm…thinking, thinking, thinking.


Source: robertasgardens.net via Vanessa on Pinterest


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Previously in the Interesting Plant series: 

Video: The Peterson Garden Project in Chicago, Illinois


The Peterson Garden Project is a not-for-profit organization (Chicago, IL) looking to inspire everyone they meet to grown their own food and community. If you love the taste of a homegrown tomato, are curious about growing food yourself, and would like to make urban gardening the norm, not the exception — then they’re looking for you!

For more information visit petersongarden.org

Interesting Plant: Black Bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra)

I came across this photo of Black Bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) on Pinterest and was immediately taken with it. It looks so dramatic with its dark canes against the green foliage. Unfortunately, as it grows to over 30 feet tall, I don’t think I have a spot for it in my garden. Still, I wanted to pass along this picture for those of you who might be interested in it. I will definitely store away this idea for future reference should I ever start a garden where it mint fit in.

As with all bamboos, Black Bamboo can be invasive and needs to be well managed to keep it in control. There are lots of gardener reports on the plant in the link below from DavesGarden.com. You’ll also find more pictures and info in the links below.


Source: Uploaded by user via Janet on Pinterest


For more information on Black Bamboo:


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