Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blooming in April


Today is Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, and Carol at May Dreams Garden is hosting another show-and-tell party. More importantly, it's only ten days to go until the Going Native Garden Tour will take place - and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the weather remains on the cool side so my beautiful blooms don't all disappear before the visitors.

The coral bells above are blooming for the first time, and I'm just thrilled. But I also have some other surprises to celebrate.


Last year's tidy tips (Layia platyglossa), which I mail ordered from Annie's Annuals, reseeded splendidly and have put on quite a show. I hope a few will be left in 10 days. 


Douglas iris, a shade loving California native, is at its best right now - I'm hoping for a few late bloomers but end of April is a little late for them even in a normal year. 



Because they are so easy to divide, I have them in many places in the garden. The bloom season is fairly short, but the reliably green foilage is a bonus in my garden, where several plants go summer dormant. 



The desert bluebells (Phacelia campanularia) were another suprise - next year, I'll try to grow a few more from seed.



My semi-native Fritillaria, grown from purchased bulbs, has surprised me this year with many blossoms. It's a small plant and especially attractive in pots.



Saliva brandegii 'Pacific Blue', a native sage that I espaliered against a wall, has been blooming since early March, and I'm hoping it can hang on for a few more days.



And nothing says "spring in California" like my monkey flowers, surprisingly abundant after the dry winter.

Happy bloom day - and if you live in the area, don't miss the garden tour!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Worst time of the year - for weeds! But wait: Toyon seedlings!

This year I'm doing a better job of pulling the Mediterranean weedy grasses in the north valley before they go to seed.

Pretty sure this grass is a weed!

I resolutely face up-slope towards my target zone and try to not think about the designated area of benign neglect lying below me.


Benign because - the critters have to have something to eat and hide in even if it is mostly weeds. Grasses and mustard and chervil and leafy spurge and sour grass and - oh my! — way more species of weeds - abound.

Above the path, I'm on the offensive though.

One section is mulched and one not - and the difference is quite dramatic.

The mulched area has a lot less weeds (Non mulched area is visible in top left)
Really no seedlings except a smattering of grasses and (of course!) sour grass are making it through the mulch. But - the non mulched area is a different story.

I've also been trying to distinguish between nasties like rip gut brome and common brome which is native. I think I have it: The native one has rougher grass blades and is generally hairier, and the stem is darker and not so plump. It's not an annual and is harder to pull too. I can tell from the seed head - but I don't want things to get that far.

I'm pretty sure the grass peeking up through the fern is common brome, a native - Bromus carinatus.

It's quite pleasant work really, if you forget about the whole killing living things bit. Your attention dwindles to one small area at a time. Weeding from a path to an up-slope is also easy on the back.

As I moved on from the mulched part to the non mulched part - oh! many more grass seedlings and tiny seedlings of all kinds.

Many seedlings - probably most weeds. Bigger ones are some kind of mustard.

And then - wonderful surprise - among the tiny multitudes one sort that rang a bell. I've propagated these! - They're toyon seedlings!

Toyon seedlings! (Heteromeles arbutifulia)



Lots of them!

Here are some of the parent shrubs - wild, leggy, old:


The wild toyons whence came the seeds!

Have I never seen them before because I just wasn't looking? Or was it the dry fall and winter? Because it was so dry I think we had very little sooty mold this year - and thus more lovely red Toyon berries (instead of blackened ones) - probably resulting in more viable seeds.

Not picture perfect but a whole lot better than any other year's berries on my property.

In any case, I immediately potted up 8 seedlings and marked a few more for observation where they are growing.




I'm not sure how many to grow - when I first started propagating I grew anything and everything that was wild and local - or tried to anyway. I was left with quite a few toyon and other large shrubs on my hands - neither I nor anybody else I knew (bar one) had much need for them. But eight seems like a good number.

In a couple of years, I think the mulch and jute netting will decompose, along with the annual grass seeds that abounded there too, I hope. It'll be interesting to compare the mulched and unmatched areas to see if in the end there is any difference in the outcome. Meanwhile I'm happy with my surprise babies.






Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Best Time of the Year


Now that we've finally gotten a little rain, many of the plants in the garden are starting to bloom - and a recent bike ride along the Steven's Creek Trail showed many California natives in full splendor. I was especially taken with several large flannel bush specimens (Fremontodendron californica).


The fuzzy green leaves are beautiful year round, but only for about a month in spring these beautiful small trees or large bushes are covered in flowers.


The flowers are easily 3 inches across, and will stop you in your tracks.

And the best is yet to come: This year, the volunteers on the Santa Clara Valley Going Native Garden Tour will each receive a beautiful T-Shirt with Fremontodentron blossoms.

It's still time to register for a volunteer shift - and it's still time to register for the (free) tour, which will happen on April 26 and April 27. With plant sales at selected gardens, talks and many of the gardens, and friendly docents (in beautiful T-Shirts) to show you around, you won't want to miss this.

Go to gngt.org to register (and get the garden addresses) or to volunteer!




Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Visit to East Bay Wilds - California Native Plant Nursery


Rainyday shopping at East Bay Wilds
Pete Veilleux lives in the East Bay area (of the San Francisco Bay Area) and his nursery, East Bay Wilds, is in an inner suburb of Oakland. I was excited to plan a trip to Pete's nursery last Sunday - and also catch up with an old friend who also gardens with natives. Less exciting was the weather for the visit. The worst of the rain waited for us to get out of our car! Mr Wood Rat waited patiently under a patio cover while my friend and I roved around the extensive offerings.



A covered patio gives some respite!

Pete's influence extends well beyond his nursery. A lifelong lover and student of native plants, he is a wonderful photographer as well as nurseryman. Through his extensive Flickr photograph collections, he has provided a great resource for all native plant lovers and pictures of projects that are helpful for those designing native plant gardens. He has been very generous in sharing his photos with me for CNPS Santa Cruz Chapter publicity efforts - especially useful when I'm looking for specific plants like "natives with edible berries."

Even the gargoyle looks fed up with the rain!
Pete is an active contributor on the Santa Clara Valley chapter's Gardening With Natives Yahoo! forum too. If you are looking for advice from more seasoned native plant gardeners - I recommend you sign up and seek it here. It's also great to just keep up with other native plant gardeners.


I love the noble Roman head on the left, with plants growing out of the top. And Dopey the dwarf!

Pete was holding a sale and despite the weather business was brisk.  I was a bit disappointed of course, not to have a more leisurely (and sunny) visit and a chance to chat. But it was great to see the nursery anyway.

The sale continues on Friday by the way - if you are local to the nursery.


Pete helping some customers to choose the right plants.

The other thing Pete excels in - as you can see - is finding amazing garden art and furniture, from here there and everywhere. He has a great eye.

And yet, what did I pick to take home with me?  Something for my granddaughter to love!



And two buckwheats and a lewisia as well. What with the rain dripping down my neck, I was a bit hurried…

I confess I am not sure if I picked up Eriogonum crocatum, or E. umbellatum - or what Lewisia that is.
It's OK - they'll grow and prettify my garden!



Monday, March 31, 2014

Green Wall Update


In 2010, tired of the bleak wall I was viewing from the kitchen window, I put up several succulent green wall contraption, and I've been quite happy with them over the years (see these posts).


Admittedly, the plants don't always look their best in summer - but there is no time when they look truly terrible. And now, after an infusion of succulents that were gifted to me during a plant exchange, things look pretty nice.

I changed the mix in the soil pockets to have a little more sand and a little less lava rock, and the plants seem to like it. 


All that's needed is a bit of water once a week, or every 2 weeks -- and sometimes, as a special surprise, I get blooms!


Yes, as plants are want to do, they don't always form a picture perfect arrangement - but it's just exciting to see the blossoms. And sometimes, they are rather fetching.


Are this California native succulents? Most of them, regrettably, are not. California native succulents live in very narrow ecological niches that are difficult to simulate. Many of them prefer coastal conditions, maybe fog - that's not what I have on offer.

So, while I do grow a few California native succulents, among them the Santa Barbara Live-Forever and the Chalk Dudleya, I'm just using what my friends bring for my green wall - and enjoy the different shades of green and the blossoms.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Best Garden Show Ever!


For Ms. Country Mouse and me, going to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show has become a tradition. We would not want to miss the opportunity to talk to the many wonderful people who come visit the California Native Plant Society booth. We very much enjoy the many different interpretations of our ears (bunny? bear? deer? mikey?) - this time, we even wore name tags but nobody noticed our "Hello, My Name is Town Mouse".

And of course, we enjoy the opportunity to admire the show gardens - and to do a bit of shopping.

This year, the show was under new management, and the focus was on - gasp - plants!! It was quite obvious even as we walked in, and I very much enjoyed having the show gardens in their own space, without the distraction of light from the booths. I snapped quite a few photos, and will post them here with few comments. I altogether liked the gardens this year - they (mostly) seemed livable while still being creative.

If I had to summarize the trends, I'd say:
  • Fewer edibles.  Less gimmicky stuff. Large outdoor kitchens seemed to mostly be out. No lawn.
  • More natives. Most gardens had a few natives, and some gardens featured them prominently. It was great to see them everywhere. 
  • Grasses. Green, brown, natural, architectural. Grasses were used to advantage in many of the gardens. 
  • Simple, pleasing designs. And often, a few art pieces for kids or adults (or both) to enjoy.  
Close to the entrance, a greenman added a bit of whimsey.

The floating flowers calmed the mood after the bustle of the shopping area.

This viney structure was possibly the most over-the-top but I admired the work.

Inside the viney structure - vine - eh wine bottle form a plaza on the ground.
Right next to that, Pete Villeux of East Bay Wilds was showing of a stunning
collection of California Natives for shade

Another very popular garden featured a yurt in an environment of Chinese healing plants --
I enjoyed both the idea and the execution. Many different plants, but the design was
clean and simple.
An old car -- previously almost a required show element -- was the bottom part of a bar.
But with the hanging planters, the whole looked pulled together.
And everybody loved the marble "stream". A clever idea, well executed.
This vintage California garden was one of my favorites.
But I would give first prize to The New Leaf by BuenaLuna Landscape Design.
The combination of Meadowfoam, native iris, and species tulips worked well.
And I loved the basalt stone basin. You can learn more about it on
the DryStoneGarden blog.
We were taken aback when we saw this ornament in another garden.
Was this not a copyright violation of the shape of our ears?

But no matter, a great time was had by all.  After our stroll through the garden, we strolled through the stores but ended up purchasing only plants. Then after the usual mediocre lunch - why can't they serve food that's more like what they demonstrate how to cook? - we very much enjoyed volunteering. With our terrible drought many people are getting interested in natives, and we hope that we've been able to help them find some of the resources they needed.

Here's hoping that next year's show will be equally amazing!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Redwood understory, Redwood Grove planting


I have a lot of gardening to catch you up with. If I spent the hours on my mother's pocket handkerchief garden that I have on our property of late, it would have edging of finest Belgian lace. But my actual garden areas are more like a patchwork of ragged gunnysacks.

It's been WEEDING WEEDING AND MORE WEEDING, and PLANTING EVERY GOSHDARN POTTED THING from the propagation efforts this past year or two.

After the entrance garden makeover, I turned to my collection of shade and wetland plants and I turned my eye on The Redwood Grove, the patch of redwoods behind the guest cottage.  It's really just a little cut-off part of the redwood forest that extends far down the north valley beyond our property - and to the south, past our chaparral slope.

The view to the south from our home - redwoods predominate. The distant hills are on the other side of Monterey Bay -
Yes, I love my home and its wonderful views and never cease to appreciate them.

With the exception of protected old growth giants, all the redwoods in our region were clear cut, starting in 1840s and continuing well into the 20th century. Redwoods grow first up, then slowly thicken for about another five hundred years or more.

An old-growth giant redwood in Henry Cowell SP
 So our second growth trees are very tall and mostly very skinny.

This little grove is fringed with a sparse but interesting selection of wild natives - creeping snowberry, melic grass, wild rose, hazel, and yerba buena. I've tried adding to the mixture, using nearby natives that grow in similar situations, thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) and sea foam (Holodiscus discolor) but I couldn't keep up with the watering needed to get them established. Just one sea foam bush has held its own. I can't wait for it to bloom this year, for the first time.

So — I will plant only near hose bibs this time!

Redwoods in our state parks have a rich understory.


Wild redwood habitat - in a riparian part of Henry Cowell SP. Five fingered fern, alum root, redwood sorrel, etc.

More understory. Sword fern and redwood sorrel with maybe some
thimbleberry or could be alum root or fringe cups.

Why is there absolutely no understory in my Redwood Grove, or in the redwoods nearby spilling down the north valley?

Where's the understory?

I expect it's because we are on a ridgetop, and it's just too dry. Farther down the valley the sponge effect keeps the soil wetter for a long time.

The chosen spot for the "starter garden"
As Benjamin Vogt said in a recent post, The Ethics of Native Plant Gardening:
I look at my garden and see a novel ecosystem, as many places on Earth are – places altered in large or small measure by our actions. 
This grove is going to be a novel ecosystem, with the redwood habitat plants I add. I hope, to create a more delightful space for humans to sit and walk in. And native critters to thrive in.

Here are a few redwood habitat plants that I have in pots, gathered locally or grown from seed:
  • Wild ginger - Asarum caudatum
  • Western Columbine - Dicentra formosa
  • Alum root - Heuchera micrantha
  • Redwood sorrel - Oxalis oregana
  • Western Coltsfoot - Petasites frigidus
  • Feathery false lily of the valley - Maianthemum stellata
  • Fernald's iris - Iris fernaldii

The chosen spot with "starter garden" mostly in place! 
Here are some redwood habitat plants I've seen wild locally that I have not yet grown/gathered - but hope to (con permiso):
  • Giant chainsaw fern - Woodwardia fimbriata
  • Sword fern - Polystichum minimum
  • Five-fingered fern - Adiantum aleuticum
  • Western wake robin - Trillium ovatum
  • Woodland madia - Madia madiodes
  • Hooker's fairy bells -  Prosartes hookeri (formerly Disporum hookeri)
  • Western azalea - Rhododendron occidentale
Oh how I would love to grow western azalea!

I would also like to add huckleberry - Vaccinium ovatum. It grows in nearby parks, but I haven't seen it in our neighborhood.

The starter garden with improvised deer deterrent!

There are of course more plants in the redwood habitat but these are good to be getting on with.

When I removed some of the redwood duff to plant in, I found it wasn't really all that thick -  the damp rotted under duff was permeated with thin roots - could only be redwood roots. I pried them apart to find the harder dark earth below, and snuggled the plants in as well as I could.

This morning there was fog for the first time in weeks - and I felt glad for the redwoods which surely have been looking stressed this dry winter.

Upper portions of some of the Redwood Grove trees - looking sparse on top and generally dry.


Petasites frigidus, western coltsfoot

Miracles! new sprouts from the Iris fernaldii!


Feathery false lily of the valley - Maianthemum stellatum, seems to be surviving!

If we were not going to the SF Flower and Garden show tomorrow and will have lots to post about for sure, I'd save this story for another post -

Recently while walking the dog to the other end of our road, I had to rub my eyes - what was I seeing??

What is all that lush green stuff - can't be anything good right?

Then all at once I saw a host - of feathery false lily of the valley!

And some resprouting nasty weed - eupatory. I pulled them and (con permiso)
dug up a few patches of the feathery false lily of the valley to take home

Really this is a wonderful cluster of madrone trunks!

And I planted the FFLV (It takes so long to type out feathery false lily of the valley!) in the Starter Garden in the grove and also here and there...

Planted some FFLV in a shady nook of the pool garden

And while gathering, saw a fabulous alligator lizard!

Rat and I are going to take a walk down the north valley beyond our property line some day soon, and see what's going on down there. I don't go on my own. To be frank, I'm a little afraid. It's the dark forest of fairy tales. But we'll protect each other, and live to tell our tale.