Hands down, the best tomato ever

mortgage lifter heirloom tomatoes

Mortgage Lifter Heirloom Tomatoes. So named because they were developed in the 1930s by a gardener who sold so many tomato plants he paid off his mortgage in six years. Tomato Geek has the whole story here.

Anyway, we’ve been getting a steady supply of these all summer from my in-laws (these vines are quite prolific). Huge, pink red tomatoes. Meaty, juicy, very few seeds, and the flavor is unbelievable: sweet and rich. We’ve eaten them sliced with fresh mozzarella and basil, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, in salads, on burgers, and in a relish with mangoes and onions. They make a spectacular fresh tomato sauce and they’re so good plain – just cut them up and put a little salt on them.

They are definitely going in my garden next year.

Gardens for small, difficult spaces

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It’s not easy gardening in my neighborhood. The homes here are on small lots in the hills. None of the yards are flat, some are very steeply sloped, and many have necessary but ugly retaining walls. It costs a fortune to redo hardscaping, driveways, and patios because of the retaining wall and drainage functions, so a lot of us have to live with what’s there even if it’s run down or just plain hideous (my hardscaping is both run down and hideous, yay!). There might only be a little spot for a garden before the hill drops away. Water runs off or drains away. The hills here are full of native oaks which are beautiful, but nearly impossible to grow things under.

Above, the citrus tree and topiary are in terra cotta pots. Lavender and tiny boxwood hedges add structure. Yellow, purple, and white annuals fill in the rest of the spaces and add color.

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This home is on a down slope and the front has very limited space for plants. When this 1950s ranch got a modern facelift, the garden did as well. Mixed grasses and Gaura lindheimeri are low maintenance, drought tolerant, and sway with the frequent wind.

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This garden is partly shaded by oaks and pines. I didn’t take a picture of the house but it’s an A frame that would be right at home in the mountains and the garden shares the mountain vibe. The upper terrace has a small sitting area. Mixed evergreens, asparagus ferns, helichrysum, euphorbia, japanese maple, and mexican feather grass can all tolerate the dry part shade. And how cool is that house number?

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I’m not sure if you can tell what’s going on here, but the street and driveway are higher than the house so the courtyard garden is basically in a hole. So shade and not a lot of space. They’ve chosen plants and packed the beds for a lush, colorful effect. The Cordylines are beautiful accent plants and everything is tall enough so that you can see the some of the garden from street level. If they had gone with smaller plants, the view down in the courtyard would still be pretty but from the street, the house would look bare instead of lush and inviting.

Plants you can’t kill: Matilija Poppies

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Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) growing in my front yard.

I planted a one gallon pot of these a few years ago in the fall, and didn’t do a thing. Seriously. Not a thing. Now I have 6-8 foot tall stems covered with these giant fried egg flowers starting in the late spring and blooming all summer. They’ve filled in about 4-5 square feet of space and are still spreading. It smells good, butterflies like it, and the deer don’t. It doesn’t get any direct water, but some nearby plants get weekly water once a week during hot weather.

Plant them in full sun in the fall when the rainy season starts. That’s it.

Six stunning planters for indoor or outdoor gardens

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Because what you put a plant IN is as important as what plant you choose. I love a mix of traditional, country, and what you could call vintage modern and this group, with their their colors and their handmade (or handmade looking) forms, works equally well with any or all styles.

  1. Anthropologie Celadon Garden Pot
  2. Crate and Barrel Bataan Small Planter
  3. Etsy Owl Planter
  4. Which also comes in turquoise (and lots of other colors and sizes)
  5. Terrain Cast Stone Poppy Pot
  6. Etsy Turquoise Stoneware Planter

Turquoise patio furniture, and it’s on sale

crate and barrel furniture

These chairs and side table are on sale right now for $99 and $49 at Crate and Barrel. I love all things turquoise and am severely tempted. These would look amazing in any patio or garden – the design will play nicely with traditional, eclectic or modern and turquoise looks great with just about everything.

The happiest place on earth: Half Moon Bay Nursery

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“The Mothership of Peninsula Nurseries” – Sunset Magazine

I’d say that about covers it. Three acres of everything under the sun in a stunningly beautiful setting. Landscape plants, drought tolerant plants, fruit trees, palm trees, grasses, succulents, camellias, roses, tropicals, indoor plants, and every perennial you can think of. They also have some really interesting, unusual stuff including a huge selection from Annie’s Annuals.

You can get tons of things in 4″ pots which are easier to plant, easier to establish, and easier on your budget.

It’s on Highway 92, which can get packed on weekends with everyone heading out to the coast, so go early (as in before 9am) or go during the week. More info is here.

DIY gold dipped succulent pots

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My very sweet in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary today, surrounded by family and friends. For the centerpieces/table decorations, I made these gold dipped terra cotta pots full of succulents.

Succulents were born to be party plants. They don’t wilt in the heat, they don’t need to be watered just before the event, they don’t drop leaves and petals on the table, and they make adorable favors for guests to take home. Succulents have great staying power, so you can make these a few days ahead of time.

Here is the how-to:

  1. 1 gallon of gold paint. I used Martha Stewart Gold Base from Home Depot. It’s a soft, pretty, non-garish gold.
  2. Dip the pots right into the paint. Vary the angles and how deep you dip. These are 4″ pots.
  3. Set the pots on wax paper to dry.
  4. Finish with one or two coats of clear lacquer or polyurethane inside and out. Coat the painted portion of the outside, and the entire inside stopping about one inch down from the rim. I skipped this step this time around and my paint did bubble a little after I watered the pots.
  5. Fill with dirt and mixed succulents. I stuck to six kinds of succuents. I varied the pots to make them more interesting, but limiting the number of succulent types made a harmonious overall group.
  6. Lightly water.

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My biggest worry was that the raccoons would destroy the pots during the night. Which they have very happily done before. I placed all of the pots very close together on top of the table, hoping they’d be discouraged by the lack of space and potential for everything to come crashing down on them. The pots made it safely through the night.