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ingrid_vc

The Cosmetic Wonders of Mulch

I managed to snag a garden helper for five hours last Saturday and put him to work covering the garden beds with mulch from a tree that had to be cut down and which the tree people shredded for us. I was thrilled with how it improved the look of my garden which prior to this was a forlorn-looking mess of partially pruned roses with either plastic or wire barriers around most of them. It looked pretty grim, believe me. Miraculously, a fluffy layer of mulch somehow transformed this disaster into tidy looking beds that looked immeasurably better than before. Since it's now been quite warm since the rain stopped I'm hopeful it will also help to keep the ground around the roses; the rabbits had unfortunately eaten all the leaf mulch but I challenge them to eat this stuff. Success!!!

Comments (50)

  • bart_2015

    It does look REALLY good. Another thing that I am seeing in my garden is that my roses seem to enjoy being mulched so much that they respond almost immediately,looking stronger and healthier,even without my watering them; I bet yours will love this. Maybe it's just having their roots protected from the heat? Also improves the soil vastly and helps conserve water...

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked bart_2015
  • HalloBlondie (zone5a) Ontario, Canada
    I love mulch too! It really does tidy up the garden. Which reminds me I need to add that to my list of spring chores.
    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked HalloBlondie (zone5a) Ontario, Canada
  • totoro z7b Md

    Your garden looks great.

    Mulch does look good. I use shredded wood too. It is useful from stopping any piled up soil from eroding and perhaps with the weeds.

    But I have read that the break down of wood robs soil of nitrogen. I don't know. It does seem that when I feed with fish emulsion the roses frow more but I am not sure if they would do that even without a nitrogen deficiency.

    Maybe I try mulching with compost or pebbles?

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  • Rosylady (PNW zone 8)

    Ingrid, that looks wonderful!! Good mulch is the oriental carpet of the garden :)

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  • Krista_5NY

    I mulch, too, it helps to make the soil friable, and keeps the rose beds in good condition.

    It looks nice, Ingrid, recycling the tree into mulch worked out well.


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  • jc_7a_MiddleTN

    Ingrid, I know you were down in the dumps about your garden, but I think it looks amazing.

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  • Alana8aSC

    Looks absolutely wonderful Ingrid! You have such a beautiful rose garden!

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  • Magnus - England

    Wow you live in an absolutely stunning area!

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  • pat_bamaz7

    Your garden looks great!!! and those views are so amazing. Can't wait for more pictures!

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  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR

    I love it Ingrid, and am doing the same thing. The wood chips stay on so much better than leaves or compost which are also great. I'm sure your plants will love this.

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  • dianela7bnorthal

    Looks beautiful and soo put together. Your garden is perfect and ready for 2019. This reminds me I still have a very long way to go before my garden looks even close.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked dianela7bnorthal
  • bayarea_girl

    It looks great Ingrid. Thank you for sharing. I'm working on removing the weeds in my rose beds then put down a layer of steer manure and a layer of medium nugget mulch, too. Helen

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked bayarea_girl
  • mustbnuts zone 9 sunset 9

    I always love seeing your garden. Your beds and garden look so nice.

    I love putting down mulch that will break down and help the soil. It also keeps the weeds at bay (three inches keeps weeds out) and it helps to keep my plants cooler in the hotter than Hades summers we have and helps to keep the moisture in the ground since we are on water restrictions.

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  • titian1 10b Sydney

    I agree, Ingrid, wood chips sure do improve the look of a garden. For years, I've swept up leaves to use as mulch, and bought sugar cane mulch, which rots very quickly. I also used seaweed in a previous garden. Whereas, I'm sure they all improve the soil, they never gave the instant 'finished' look that the pine bark nuggets I've recently had spread, do. Good timing for you too, after all the rain you've had, as they should keep your 'soil' nice and moist.

    On another topic, I bought an aster divericatus this year, which I think you would like. It's grown to nearly 3' high from a tubestock, in 6 months, and is now smothered in tiny pale blue flowers.

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  • comtessedelacouche (10b S.Australia: hotdryMedclimate)

    IIRC, the nitrogen draw-down is is only a temporary effect, I think when it first gets wet, that's when you can get a bit of yellowing of leaves. But it soon passes - it's all in the chemistry, the details of which I can't remember. In the long run though, it'll break down and add to the nutrients and most importantly for your gritty soil, add humus to improve the soil structure, maybe helping make it a little more water retentive. Hopefully, anyway...

    The beds do look very smart too and have that cosy 'I'm being so-o-o cared for' look about them.

    Was it that giant ficus that you had chopped down? I remember your dilemma over that - whether it should stay or go.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked comtessedelacouche (10b S.Australia: hotdryMedclimate)
  • rhoder551 zone 9b-10

    Looks beautiful and wow what a view...the hills are very green.

    A neighbor of mine puts wood chips down every year on clay/construction packed hard soil. This weekend I took a tour of his garden and the soil felt really soft and springy under my feet, amazing!

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  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

    I'm sitting here with a big smile on my face, not only because you like what's been done but also, and infinitely more importantly, at how incredibly supportive and kind you all are. There are no words, but I will say thank you, however inadequate that is to express how I feel.

  • sara_ann-z6bok

    I’ve always admired your beautiful view, and your rose garden. Everything looks wonderful! I know it’s a good feeling when it all comes together in a good way.

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  • bayarea_girl

    comtessedelacouche, for those who worry about the short term nitrogen draw-down caused by the mulch layer, put a layer of manure/compost before put on a layer of mulch will take care of the problem. When the mulch breaks down, it will take some nitrogen from the soil. However, when you have a layer of manure/compost between the soil and the mulch, the mulch will take its needed nitrogen from the manure/compost layer. Helen

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  • Perma n’ Posies/9A FL

    Ingrid, it looks so good, and you have so much green! I love it! (I have been truly amazed at how long the mulch retains moisture in the soil; after the top layer looks really crispy, when you dig under you’ll see how moist is really is. Your plants will love it!) :-)

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  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

    Helen, a layer of compost would have been even better, but the energy and ability to achieve that just aren't there, and I'll just have to hope that the bit of leaf cover that was still there around the roses will be helpful. My roses have been through a lot, and I marvel at their ability to still bloom without fertilizer or really much of anything other than adequate water. There are not many plants that give so much beauty with so little work.

  • jc_7a_MiddleTN

    ingrid, that is why I like them!


    Roses provide the biggest ROI of any flowering plant I can think of.

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  • flowersaremusic z5 Inland NW

    Beautiful, Ingrid. That's how I got my mulch, too - trees removed from property, and subsequently learned about the value of wood chip mulch. I would have had the tree people haul it all away, but they convinced me to use it in my garden. After some research, I wondered why I had not known about this miracle before. It made an immediate difference in my roses and my soil. There is good information on concerns about nitrogen and mulch in the following links. http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS160E/FS160E.pdf and https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/403/2015/03/wood-chips.pdf.

    This was the best investment of time and energy you could do for your roses. But, with views like that, who needs roses! You are blessed to have both.

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  • bayarea_girl

    Ingrid, I agree. I still have the fish emulsion that I was supposed to give to my roses last year but didn't have time to do it and my whole garden is covering in weeds right now. I only have time to work in the garden a few hours in the weekend so your garden is in great condition compared with mine, lol :)


    My husband looks at all the weeds in my rose beds and shakes his head with a smile and I told him it's work in progress. Helen

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  • K S 8b Seattle

    This looks wonderful, Ingrid. I'm sure your roses will be happy to have this mulch when it starts getting dry in your area. It should really reduce evaporation.

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  • pink rose(9b, FL )

    wow your view is beautiful and unique , and the mulched garden looks neat !

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  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

    flowers, thanks so much for your link to that very interesting and helpful article. It seems that what I have on the ground now is much better than bark mulch and it made me even more happy to have it.

    bayarea, when you have so little time and no one to help you it's understandable that you can't have a picture-perfect garden. We all can only do so much, due to time or health constraints, but as long as we still have beautiful roses to enjoy (and hopefully some companion plants too) it's all good. The happiness we derive from them and the companionship we enjoy here makes it all so very worth-while. During the winter months (such as they are here) when the roses aren't blooming I tend to forget how beautiful they really are, and have to remind myself by looking at pictures I've taken during the spring and fall months to feel their magic again. Right now I'm already giddy with thinking about the spring bloom!

    International Herald Tribune and Marie Pavie spring 2018
    Wild Edrich and Limonium parezii
    Spring 2017 (prior to bunny ravages)

  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR

    I can't wait to see your photos, Ingrid. I love your wood chips. I had used some around new roses on a retaining wall that is a hot spot this Spring. Now today I got the brilliant idea to use up the 8 alfalfa hay bales my husband had gotten for me last Summer. So I put them on top of the wood chips around 15 roses, so unlike you, I am going from looking better to looking worse here.



    I know it will help create better soil in the long run even if it looks crude right now.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
  • KarenPA_6b

    Ingrid, your garden is beautiful despite all the constraints that you mentioned! I echo everyone sentiments and wish you a wonderful spring flush. Given the preview from your Spring 2017 pics above, I am excited to see pics of your garden in bloom this spring.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked KarenPA_6b
  • flowersaremusic z5 Inland NW

    Sheila, you will reap the rewards of the alfalfa hay. That's what I am thinking of doing when my wood chips run out. Doesn't one of the posters who has a couple thousand roses use only alfalfa hay for food and mulch? I remember that from way back a few years.

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  • nippstress - zone 5 Nebraska

    I "only" have a thousand or so roses, but the only fertilizer they get beyond leaf mulch is a scattering of alfalfa hay early in the season. Don't know if I'm who you referred to Flowers, but I'm way too lazy to do other fertilizing on a regular basis, and I've had too much trouble with fertilizer burn from even small amounts of other fertilizers that it's not worth it for me to even try any more.

    With Ingrid's bunny troubles, I might not recommend an emphasis on alfalfa hay or pellets as primary fertilizer around the roses, since alfalfa is also a food source for rodents including rabbits. Of course with Ingrid's generous heart she already feeds the rabbits and squirrels, but I suspect she has an area set up to do so that gently encourages them to congregate somewhere other than around her precious roses. Though with the natural and created beauty of her yard and the surrounding areas, I wouldn't blame the rabbits at all if they were to stop every few feet in her garden and marvel in wonder at the surroundings. If I were privileged enough to be there, that's what I'd be doing for sure.

    Cynthia

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  • flowersaremusic z5 Inland NW

    Cynthia, I thought it was you, but wasn't sure. With so many roses, you have your rose maintenance down to an art form. I think you referred to alfalfa hay about the time I started lurking around here or shortly after and it's been in the back of my mind as something I would like to try. But, if it attracts rodents, maybe not. Too many open fields with field mice just waiting for an invitation around here. Just thinking about pruning that many makes me need Advil and a nap.

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  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

    Sheila, the advantage of the alfalfa hay far outweighs any small cosmetic defects, and before you know it the roses will have grown out and over the circles. I can't wait to see your spring flush.

    Cynthia, I can't begin to fathom how you can do anything for that many roses. Your spring flush must be beyond anything I can even imagine. I long to invite you to my house for a nice recuperative rest. We can feed the bunnies together!

  • Perma n’ Posies/9A FL

    Sheila, I think that’s a brilliant idea! (I’ve been shredding mine & it’s a mess.) It will jumpstart all that bio-munching in the soil and your roses will love it!! :-)

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  • titian1 10b Sydney

    Ingrid, here's the aster (aster divericatus) I mentioned, in case you want more blue - which you probably don't, with those magnificent limoniums..

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked titian1 10b Sydney
  • comtessedelacouche (10b S.Australia: hotdryMedclimate)

    Ooh, lovely asters, Titian. :-)

    FWIW we use a lot of pea straw around here in the (reputedly) driest state of the driest continent... not sure if bunnies eat that... it's also high in nitrogen, like all the leguminous plants.

    We're very big on mulch here - have to be, really, or I don't think we'd have any viable /sustainable gardens, other than a few cast iron old faithfuls like the old roses that survive untended, as in California, in old/abandoned gardens and country churchyards, along with some ratty oleanders (which can be really beautiful when actually pruned and fed/watered occasionally, but since they're so tough people here tend not to bother, so they get decidedly less beautiful over the years), agapanthus (same neglect issues), and our local natives of course, which do fine.

    Usually we go for a nice 6 inch mulch blanket. Repeat each year in spring, or twice a year even, after the previous lot has broken down. It gets those much needed nutrients, and humus to provide the structure to hold them there, into our poor soils, for relatively little expense or effort - that is, if you can collect or have the bales delivered and you or someone else has the requisite energy to spread them around for you...

    Liquid seaweed extract is also used a lot because it builds up plants' cellular strength (IIRC) which makes them more robust and resilient to heat and drought and other stressors. (Maybe I should try a dose of it myself..??) You can get it alone or in combination with liquid fish emulsion and/or worm casting 'tea', in big bottles that you can attach to the hose for delivery,

    :-)

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked comtessedelacouche (10b S.Australia: hotdryMedclimate)
  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

    Comtesse, I'd never heard of pea straw, but it sounds very useful. I have a feeling that my mulch may not be deep enough to be really effective, but fortunately we have more stockpiled. I see you also have agapanthus, which is used so much here that I'd never plant it myself. We used to see oleanders everywhere, but they've now acquired some sort of disease and seem mostly gone from the landscape. Garden centers all seem to have the same basic few shrubs, trees and perennials, which is a pity because there are so many more out there that we never see or learn about.

  • suncoastflowers

    Really lovely! Your garden is beautiful. It's amazing what a layer of mulch does. It really refreshes the garden beds.

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  • comtessedelacouche (10b S.Australia: hotdryMedclimate)

    Ingrid, I expect your wood chip mulch would be quite a bit denser than pea straw (and other hay/straw type) mulches; 6 inches of pea straw would condense down to much less over time, probably not much different to what you have now. And I'm sure any addition of organic matter you're able to put down will be of benefit, no matter how small.

    I actually have a funny sort of affection for common garden plants. After all, what's thought of as commonplace and boring in one locality may be hailed as an exotic, treasured beauty in another, where it's less at home. A few examples of this:

    When I first came out to Australia, I was amazed to find people raving over their tulips, waiting with baited breath for each bloom to open; I'd always seen tulips as rather humdrum, standard fare in English gardens. Here, they were seen as something to be proud of, and duly celebrated.

    It was also here in Oz that I first came across oleanders, mostly growing along median strips on highways or struggling along in neglected backyards. I admired them for their apparent toughness, but didn't think much of them beyond that. Then, in Italy, at a grand old villa in the hills of Fiesole, I glimpsed a long row of healthy, immaculately trimmed specimens being grown in vast, ornate terracotta pots, lining a long terrace which led the eye onwards to a magnificent vista over the red roofs and Duomo of Florence, all shimmering in the blue early summer haze. What a romantic vision!
    And, back in Adelaide, I spotted a pure white one expertly trained into an elaborate tree form (with several of its bare stems twisted together to form its contorted 'trunk', iIRC), very reminiscent of a large old bonsai, in the garden of an older building of the University that had once been a private house. Again, beautifully cared for and healthy, it was a breathtaking sight.

    As for good old agapanthus ('aggies' here), I also met them in Oz for the first time, crammed en masse into beds as a low maintenance ground cover in every other garden; quite pretty and useful, but clearly, to the locals, just one of those 'set and forget' garden fillers. Imagine my surprise then, on a trip back to England, to find my sister growing one in a pot as a rare 'African Lily', which she was nurturing diligently, praising in almost reverential tones its superb beauty of colour and form!

    Whether visiting or moving to a new country or locality, I enjoy looking around the local area to see what's grown most often there, especially in the older gardens, because it indicates to me it's something that loves to grow in those specific conditions, that precise micro-climate, soil, etc., that can thrive and survive there without fuss. To me, these plants seem happy and non-stressed, which makes me feel happy and relaxed around them, even if they weren't a plant I'd previously been especially drawn to. They just seem to have a sense of calm and 'rightness' for the character of the place.

    So this is just my personal feeling, that we should look again with fresh eyes at the 'ordinary' and consider its innate good qualities and appropriateness for local conditions, before dismissing it out of hand. A common plant isn't common everywhere, and doesn't have to be grown in a common, careless way, left to struggle without love and respect. Imaginatively placed in the landscape, and lovingly nurtured, it will give of its best and reveal its full potential as a genuine thing of beauty... and hopefully, given its happiness in those conditions, a joy forever...

    :-)

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked comtessedelacouche (10b S.Australia: hotdryMedclimate)
  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR

    Comtesse, I agree completely! I am growing agapanthus in pots, which seem marvelously exotic to me (coming from the north), and Mlle Cecile Brunner which I saw in California everywhere. They don't seem like a cliche to me.

    "Storm Cloud" from Digging Dog Nursery.

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  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

    Comtesse, what a lovely post you wrote, and food for thought, although nothing will change my mind about agapanthus since I associate that plant with humdrum suburban gardens (including my own at one time, although I did not plant them). Sheila's is lovely, a deeper and nicer color than the ones I used to see everywhere when I lived for a while in a housing tract in a town, where every last one was the same color, a rather insipid blue. The plants I have now, roses, irises, sea lavender, penstemon, salvia, lavender - all are common and I grow them because they're easy, and also because each appeals to me. They also all have, to differing degrees, a natural look to them, as though they could easily escape from the garden and look quite at home in a wilder landscape.

  • Ellen W.

    Agapanthus is likle Stella d'Oro - it gets planted in massive, regimented beds and ends up looking awful. But when a few plants are tucked into a well-planned mixed bed they can be so amazing it's hard to believe they're the same plants. (I'm violently reactive to agapanthus sap which is a bummer because they would be really useful in my yard right now.)

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  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

    Ellen, I actually like Stella d'Oro, in spite of seeing it around a lot, and have one clump left that the bunnies haven't eaten, but you're so right that Stella and agapanthus are planted very unimaginatively. I suspect many people who are not really gardeners put these two iron-clad performers just anywhere in their yard "to have a bit of color", and the result is predictably not great. Still, better than nothing at all.

  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8

    Comtesse, what you wrote is so true and so well said: a classic statement about the value of "ordinary" plants.

    I have seen so many plants that are overplanted and, in many cases, badly treated, that it becomes difficult to see their good qualities. English laurel is common and greatly abused here, untrimmed, or grown on too small a scale, or yellowing in the sun, but occasionally you see it used correctly, and it's handsome as can be. Personally I love agapanthus, but then it's not one of those overused plants around here. I'm very fond of my couple of mid-blue clumps of 'Headborne Hybrids'. I never get tired of common lilac, forsythia (just as well it blooms only one month a year), wisteria, all of them magnificently comfortable in our growing conditions. I just figured out a place to put Prunus cerasiferus 'Pissardii', and am so pleased with myself. I've wanted this common-as-grass tree for years and have never been able to find a place for it, until now.

    When I lived in western Washington state I got sick to death of Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, because landscapers adored it, along with St. John's wort, and it was often neglected as well as overused. When I got here I reluctantly planted a clump of it, for lack of anything better, and discovered what a handsome all season shrub it is. The problem is that it has definite invasive tendencies. I find seedlings of it all over the place, and since it's bombproof I could end up with woods full of it. I keep and appreciate my plantings of it, but I pull the seedlings.

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  • sultry_jasmine_nights (Florida 9a)

    Sheila, I love your agapanthus and the color of your lounge chair cushions! I'm in the preocess of deciding new cushions for our light silvery blue patio set.

    Agapanthus does well here. I dont know why I havent got any yet.

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  • bart_2015

    It is always a bit of a surprise to me that there seems to be some pretty remarkable differences between your area and mine, Melissa. We're not that far apart, and yet...however I admit that this is one thing I love about Italy; in some areas, there are such dramatic differences to be seen even within the range of a few kilometers.For example, up in the tiny town where we used to live,the surrounding woods are predominently chestnut,but on the other side of the river, up where my land is, oak predominates, and chestnuts are extremely rare. Here, laurels aren't abused and look nice to me, but I hate photinia; hedges of it all over the place, and I don't like that tone of red at all. I have yet to try agapanthus; I guess I'm holding back because I worry that it either won't be hardy or will want to bloom only in July or August, and therefore might not work well because of lack of artificial irrigation. And where did you find Oregon Grape? I'd love to try that! Likewise Prunus "Pissardi",but the few on-line nurseries that offer it seem to charge a lot for it. Yet up where you are, it's "common-as-grass", lol.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked bart_2015
  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8

    Bart, here we're in stodgy northern Italy, distinctly not home to numbers of people who understand garden design or even much like plants. Quite a few people do like flowers and color, which is endearing, and the hills are beautiful, but I know of only one garden locally that I really like. Central Italy, or parts of it, may be distinctly different. I remember a vacation years ago not far from Lucca, where I walked around the small town where we were staying marveling at people's yards. The camellias and pink spirea and orchids in cans suggested an affection for plants that I seldom see here, where most green seems to be simply part of the home decor, required for the socially necessary 'bella figura'.

    I know we have a difference of opinion on the subject of photinia. Actually I agree about hedges of pure photinia, which I place on a par with forsythia pruned into balls or squares: both cases of plastification of shrubs that are marvelous when left to develop their natural form and mingle with other plants. Photinia has to be mixed with other shrubs, preferably ones more subdued in color than it is, and then it works very well. At least, that's what I think. I have a good deal of it scattered through the garden, as I like leathery foliage and appreciate photinia's massive toughness.

    I've bought a lot of baby plants over the years from Vivaio Dendroflor of Bologna, spending two or three euros a plant for minute specimens that actually adapt more easily to planting out than larger plants, though they take longer to grow to size. It's thanks to Dendroflor that I have the garden full of yews, flowering ash, Mahonia aquifolium, common lilac, forsythia, eleagnus 'Ebbingei' and a zillion other plants. They have a minimum order of eighty-five euros, which has rarely been a problem given the amount of space I have to fill in my garden. I just took a look at their site and find it's uncommunicative about prices and available plant sizes--it may be necessary to get a user ID and log on--and I haven't ordered from them for two or three years. However I've dealt them since 2004 and have always found them to be honest, competent, and helpful.

    Oh, more notes. My agapanthus gets morning sun only, which may be beneficial, but it's unirrigated and blooms regularly; also, cold has never damaged it. I leave the old foliage to cover it for protection during winter. My patch has been in place for over a decade. I don't know where to get 'Pissardii' myself, but it is common here, so I should be able to find it. Though I must admit there are some locally common plants that I can't track down, like the pink-flowered variegated weigela I've wanted for years, or the glorious cool pink double tree peony I admire every spring. The quality of tree peonies on offer in local nurseries seems to have deteriorated in late years, to the point that I'm reluctant to buy them. I suspect that each year brings a different group of varieties, all glorious, and that this particular kind hasn't been offered since I've been here.

    On our southfacing, hot, dry hillside we have oaks and flowering ash, and never chestnuts; but chestnuts grow on the opposite north-facing side of our hill, and are common at higher elevations, along with beeches. Our local town five miles away and in the bottom of the valley with its alluvial soil again has different vegetation.

    ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9 thanked Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

    Melissa, I read your posts for the sheer pleasure of your writing and the pictures you so evocatively paint of your garden, which transport me to a dream place that is partly of my imagination and partly of your words. Thank you for the pleasure you give to all of us here.

  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8

    Ingrid, you're so welcome. That's a lovely compliment.

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