Saturday, September 5, 2015

Yellowjackets munching Dutchman's Pipevine seed pods!

Dutchman's pipevine - Aristolochia californica

This year we had a bumper display of Dutchman's pipevine flowers. The vine shown above is growing up through a rambling rose.

This plant is the sole larval food of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly in our region (sole native larval food anyway), so gardeners are growing it in an attempt to create a butterfly "corridor." The Pipeline Swallowtail is not seen in Santa Cruz County any more due to lack of larval food. The plant has a toxin that makes the butterflies toxic (much like milkweed makes monarch's toxic to predators).

It's also a fun vine to grow. I've got several going rampant now, some sprawling along the ground. They seem to tolerate fairly dry conditions but prefer moisture and afternoon shade. Grow to fifteen feet or maybe a bit more when they ramble over the ground. They like narrow supports like wire (or rambling roses!) to grow up rather than a wood trellis.

Somehow, I had never noticed the very interesting seed pods on Dutchman's Pipevine before this year. (Or maybe last year, to be honest.) The one below is about two and a half inches long and quite solid.

And I'd and certainly not noticed what happens to them after splitting open, until today!

Yellow jackets were swarming all around, munching away inside the seed capsules. Below you can see the start of the munching. I believe it starts only after the seed capsule starts to split open at the bottom.

Below - This one has a few seeds inside. You can see the six chambers (carpels, I think in botanical terms).

The seeds are quite soft. So I wonder if they are also going into the yellow jackets' tummies.

I've put a net bag (the kind you put party favors in) over one to be sure I'll get some seed. Seeds need no pre-treatment, but I read in a forum that they can take up to three months to germinate.

Fun in the garden!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kezar Triangle, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Mr Wood Rat and I had occasion recently to cross Kezar Triangle on our way to eat a picnic lunch and watch the lawn bowlers in Golden Gate Park.

We've crossed Kezar Triangle before, and enjoyed watching people play sports or exercise their dogs on the extensive green space.

It was not otherwise very interesting, just a threadbare grassy field worn into rutted paths here and there that got soggy in the rain, bordered by three roads.

But that has all changed.

Salvias and a mallow and California fuchsia make a lovely combination at Kezar Triangle

Closer look at the native California mallow, not sure what species.

Now there are beds of beautifully laid out native plants, new pathways, art installations, and interesting low woven willow fencing. The greensward has also been repaired.

Community involvement is clearly very strong. There is a Friends of Kezar Triangle organization that I hope will stay active for the life of the park.

Above we see the Plot to Grow Art. The idea is that it will "help connect people to place through temporary plantings and agriculture," growing and harvesting plants of special interest, such as those used for dye. I like that it changes often, giving people a chance to try out their planting idea. The first idea was to plant barley, which was used in the 1860s to stabilize the dunes out of which Golden Gate Park was created.

"Wood Wave" by Chuck Oakander, made from a Monterey cypress log. Better picture and more info here

Very low growing coyote bush, California fuchsia (Epilobium),  and looks like young madrones in the back.

There was a variety of grasses too.

The native plant landscaping is tucked into the three corners and periphery of the park, leaving lots of room for field games. The old paths have been replaced with permanent ones. Lots of trees, mostly coast live oak and buckeye are in the plan. I saw, I think, madrones, and an ironwood.

Young madrone, pretty sure.

Santa Cruz Island Ironwood tree

You can see the planting plan and links to more details here. It might reward study, if you are thinking of doing some landscaping yourself this fall - as I am!

If you want to visit, look for Kezar Stadium, which you'll see to the right of Kezar Triangle on this Google map.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The California Native Landscape by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren

When I first read The California Native Landscape by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren, I didn't altogether like it. But then I'm not actually who this book was written for. Once I got that -- this became my favorite new book to spread the word about.

The California Native Landscape is THE book to buy for your aunts and uncles and, in general, any people you know who are on the cusp of change. People who are ready to learn about a whole new approach to gardening -- what we sometimes call deep gardening, environmental gardening, or gardening with nature.

This book doesn't just give the what, but also very nicely conveys the why.

Plus -- it's an all-in-one gardening book, bright and friendly. Everything you need to know, in just enough detail.

Though I have to say it does have a surprising lot of content about hardscape - I think Greg Rubin happens to have that particular expertise. Books have the personalities of their authors. This is not a bad thing.

Here is the table of contents. I'm going to pretty much walk through the chapters in this review.

Click to read

The structure of the book is a sandwich format.

  • Introductory chapters are one slice of the bread 1: California Environment, 2: our impact on it set the context. 
  • Then the filling of the sandwich covers standard gardening topics, but integrated into a Gardening with Natives outlook:  4: Design principles. 5: Garden Styles to choose from. 6: Plants to select for your design. 7: Installation. 8: Care and maintenance. 9: Pests and diseases. 
  • And then the other slice of bread - chapter 10 invasive weeds, and 11: fire, which get back into the context of the native plant garden: appreciation leading to advocacy for protection of the environment, and understanding of fire, which for me is quite a fear, living as I do on a ridge top, and a short Conclusion section. 

So I'll just start with that chapter on fire. It's one I particularly appreciate. I'm so glad to find these authors integrating Rick Halsey's excellent work in promoting the value and beauty of our California chaparral ecosystems. He's also a tireless myth-buster and advocate of proper and appropriate fire management practices and policies (instead of those that lead to clearing and re-vegetating with other types of plants).

If you haven't already looked it up - do visit Rick Halsey's California Chaparral Institute web site and after spending some worthwhile time there, consider joining or donating.

By the way, Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren are Southern Californians, as is Rick Halsey. But the book works just as well for those gardening in other parts of the state.

Click on any photo to see it large enough to read

Fire-wise planning and planting

Myth-busting truths!

But back to the beginning.

Chapter one, the California Environment. It's hard for me to read this with fresh eyes. It's a de rigueur part of any book on gardening with California natives and I've maybe read too many. You know, it's fine, and first time readers will likely be amazed by the wealth of plant species in our floristic region and its varied landscapes. Or they'll skip it because they just want to know what to do about that dead lawn.

But chapter two gets right into meaty topics that engage me every day: Look what we've done to the environment! It is not good! Understand it! Do your bit to appreciate what nature has done in this part of the world, which is amazing, and learn how to preserve and enjoy it in your garden and in the wild.

Chapter 3 on soil is a primer - but it's one that many novice and traditional gardeners might find revelatory. Our deepening understanding of the interconnected life of the soil has led to changes in traditional practices like no-dig gardening instead of double-dig gardening to preserve soil structure and foster micro-organisms and mycorrhizal fungi (which "extend" plant roots). It also covers routine things like alkalinity and acidity and soil texture and all that.

I forget now where this next snippet comes from but I think it may be in the soil chapter. (My book is out on loan to my nephew!) But I love this take on the lawn!

Chapter four, on design, is also a good primer.

Massing and repetition - general design principles.

Then there's a few ideas for choosing a garden style. Good to help the reader envision a garden other than the green hankie embroidered with annuals (or whatever your traditional garden looks like!).

Example style: desert or southwestern

Example style: Japanese or asian

Chapter six -- and now, the 100 page section on plants. The authors start by looking at plant community approach, and then go into it by plant type: trees, shrubs, ground covers, perennials.

Really? Redwood and bay in a suburban garden?

I gave a talk recently on best books for California native plant gardeners, and this post is the first of maybe several that I hope will leverage the work I put into it!

I decided to look at how the same plants are described across the books. For no particular reason I picked sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) and wild ginger (Asarum caudatum).

Unfortunately there is no mention of wild ginger in this book. Well, there is a mention I think somewhere on that Redwood and Bay tree page shown above.

That's because this book's plant selection is great for a starter garden (or starter gardener).

If you want to get deeper into plants - use Alrie Middlebrook and Glenn Keator's book Designing California Native Gardens for an effective plant community approach, and use California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bernstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Brien for sheer excellence and a focus on plant profiles.

Anyway, the section on monkeyflowers is fine (unless you compare it to Bernstein/Fross/O'Brien's).

Section on monkey flowers part 1

Section on monkey flowers part 2

Section on monkey flowers part 3

Chapter 7 on installation is - about installation. And hardscape. I don't have a lot to say about this. I bet it's gosh darn good.

From Chapter 7, Installation - Retaining walls

Chapter 8 on care and maintenance is another one I skimmed when reading and don't have the book in front of me. But I'm sure it talked about not lollipopping shrubs and mulching and how it's less of a bother than maintaining a traditional garden, and so on.

By the way, if you want to give anybody a book on maintenance that is actually beautiful and lyrical as well as practical, please make it California Native Gardening: A Month by Month Guide by Helen Popper. (Here's a link to an article I wrote in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on that book).

Chapter 9 on Pests and Diseases may be fine. Confession here: Don't know about you but reading about pests and diseases not something I am that eager to delve into. Somewhere along the way I got the idea about the "address the environment and the pests will take care of themselves" part of Integrated Pest Management and I'll stumble along with that until I need more help. But - this is likely another mind-shifter chapter for people who see an aphid and scream while reaching for a nasty chemical.

Chapter 10 is another eye opening mind shifting one if you haven't thought about this stuff yet. Written well for the audience. Good job Ms Warren! - the garden writer part of the author duo. Very approachable.

If this book was a yoga practice, the Conclusion section would be Savasana - where you lie on your back and integrate all the work you just did, or just fall asleep. No, no, I don't mean while reading this chapter. I hope that it works as intended, and leaves the novice gardener sinking back in deep satisfaction at the thought of pleasant years ahead, gardening with nature (and not against her).

Sunday, July 12, 2015

My very own discovery: Grassy Tarplant has two different seed distribution strategies!

Well, I may not be the first to notice this but... it's always deeply satisfying to make your own discoveries, don't you find?

"What the heck are these little burr things?" I wondered.
I was out in my garden gathering seeds of a nice-enough local wild native called grassy tarplant - or tarweed - or gumplant - choose your favorite common name. It's unequivocally called Madia gracilis in the botanical world.

This is a very branching, bushy form of Madia, less than three feet tall. It's otherwise not that remarkable or garden worthy.

Flowers are small, but instead of being clustered at the top of a huge rather ugly vertical stem (like M. sativa), they are sprinkled along long slender branches (not evident in the photo above, but rather pretty en masse).

I think it'll be perfect for my North Forty, where the farther away the plant, the less garden worthy it has to be (and the more locally native). Hence my seed collecting.

As I was gathering, I noticed some sticky burs on the back of my gardening gloves. See photo at top!

I was puzzled. I hadn't been near any of the usual culprits - chervil or bedstraw etc - and these were a different shape. Finally it twigged - when I saw an extra ring of seeds on all the seed heads I was collecting from!

Yup - those sticking-out bits were sticking to my gloves.

"The "burrs" are actually the phyllary bracts." This I learned - and much more - from botanist John Dittes. He and other knowledgeable people also helped me come up with this plant's ID - I wasn't sure what species of Madia it was - on FaceBook's California Native Plant Society group.

I felt so full of the pleasure of personally discovering something! We can't all be Darwin, but if we are out in nature noticing, we'll all have the chance to make personal discoveries that probably feel as great to us as the discovery of Natural Selection did to him. Well - maybe not quite.
At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing to a murder) immutable ... I think I have found out (here's presumption!) the simple way by which species become exquisitely adapted to various ends ...  (from Darwin's diaries
Many of us lesser mortals know that in daisy type flowers, each flower head is composed of multiple individual flowers - ray flowers are the "petals" and disk flowers are the clustered centers. But this is the first time I'd noticed that ray flowers can have their own seeds - and that those seeds can have a different distribution strategy from the disk seeds.

Of course, this is a well known thing to botanists, as anyone who looks up the Big Book - The Jepson Manual - conveniently available online - can see. Here's a link to the page for Madia gracilis. It quite casually mentions the ray fruit and the disk fruit.

However, Jepson doesn't mention the burr-like nature of the phyllary bracts. Or talk about the distribution strategies the plant employs in producing two different types of fruits.

What the strategy of the solid little disk seeds is - I can only guess at. Does anybody know? I don't think they would get pooped out like the seeds of a soft fruit. Do they just fall down and gradually the cluster of plants gets larger and larger? I'd love to know.

Madia elegans

Now for those of us who are left feeling thirsty for a bit of pretty - here are two shots of Madia elegans, showy madia, grown in my garden from local wild a couple of years ago...

Madia elegans, showy madia. Still sticky but at least you get nice flowers!

Madia elegans, showy madia. 
If you want to grow Madia elegans, I recommend you prune it back once or twice before it flowers - otherwise it shoots up to a leggy six feet tall, in garden soil anyway!  

Madia seeds are a favorite of the California quail and mourning doves who visit my garden.

Native Americans in California used Madia seeds to make pinole. Interesting details here.

Madia gracilis ID photos

And for those sticking with this post to the very end -- here are a few photos of Madia gracilis in case you want to ID any of these plants yourself...