Sunday, May 8, 2016

Growing Castilleja affinis, paintbrush, from seed -- part II

I wrote last November about my experiment to grow paintbrush - Castilleja affinis ssp. affinis - the species of paintbrush that grows wild close to where I live - about 3/4 mile from my house.

So I got a little local wild seed,

And hey! quite a lot grew!

I paired the seedlings with various perennial plants out in the garden (see earlier post) and also tried a couple in a pot. But I really want it to make a home and spread on my 3 acres, all by itself.

So how's it going?

As Pete Veilleux suggested it would in a FB conversation, paintbrush did do very well in a pot with other plants. Here it is, happily flowering with coyote mint and a bunch grass and probably something else I forget about.

I'm looking forward to gathering seeds from these potted plants, and a few from wild too, for the sake of gene pool diversity.

What's happening in the moister sloping north-facing areas of my garden

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing -- Oh be still my beating heart! I was so excited when I saw this little splash of color on the north facing yet fairly sunny hillside behind our home!! ...

And a little more color farther along. Maybe three plants are in bloom, here and there.

And some are trying to make up their minds about it, maybe too shaded to be more robust.

What's happening in the sunny south-facing flat areas of my garden

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nope. On the open and south sides - the paintbrush seedlings are quite tentative about growing up even a little bit (those I can find at all).

I think there could be two problems - one, it's getting pretty overcrowded in those beds with sagebrush growing marvelously and the paintbrush seedlings in their shadow may not have gotten enough light. And two - the seedlings that did get enough light probably dried out. Even though we had a lot of rain, we've also had a few hot spells, enough to kill off a seedling that wasn't carefully tended. These beds dry out really fast.

But this little guy looks quite perky all the same - maybe there's hope yet ...

What Pairings Worked or Didn't Work? Sorry - not sure!

I'm not sure I can say with any certainty what the young plants have paired or not paired with (they are hemiparasitical, and you can read more about that in the earlier post). If I had more devotion to the question, I might get more scientific about it and maybe at some future date I'll document and so on more carefully.

I can say that not being near the roots of something meant the seedlings never grew beyond tiny seedling stage, though they hung on for a good long time. I think there may even still be one in the seed tray.

C. affinis or C. foliolosa?

Finally, just want to mention - I have been having some plant ID qualms (for which I take two aspirin and water the garden).  But I'm pretty sure mine are not Castilleja foliolosa - wooly paintbrush - whose photos you can see next. I took these photos at Bonny Doon ecological preserve, a dryer and sandier spot than where I live.

As you can maybe see, the foliage is whitish and definitely wooly. Whereas C. affinis ssp. affinis is greener and less felty.

However,  I'm going on gestalt rather than Jepson details. You can have a go if you want - the key is available here. Prepare to feel "exserted!"  -- and other challenging botanical things!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Second Flush of Spring

Clarkia in April
The rain this winter - just average, but coming at the rain time - has done the garden good. And the annuals, looking promising in March, are now starting to deliver. Elegant clarkia, in hot pink, salmon, white, and every shade in between is one of the eye-catching plants right now.

Clarkia, one-leaf onion, and Ceanothus 'Tuxedo'
Here, a photo in front of the bamboo screen, standing out among some one-leaf onion, the first of the Codyledon, and Ceanothus 'Tuxedo' in the background.

And finally, together with some star-of-persia along the garden path. 

The second annual that's still going strong is Chinese houses. Beloved by all during the garden tour (kids loved the little pagodas), that display has gotten much better now. Below, we see it three weeks ago.

Chinese houses and iris
And now, it's peaking. Notice the red monkey flower in the background (and the new trellis, which probably deserves a separate post). 

Several of the perennials are also going strong in April. Here are more monkey flowers, and some stream orchid in the foreground. This native orchid is ridiculously easy to transplant. I started with two small orchids, gifted by a gardener friend. Now I have them in several places in the garden. They go completely dormant in late summer and appear again in early spring. Prefer part shade, as do the ferns and monkey flower that I'm growing with them. 

Stream orchid and monkey flower

Here another view of the monkey flower, a purchase from Gold Rush Nursery a few years ago. 

I'm also very happy about the show of penstemons in the garden this year - below the blue foothill penstemon together with the checkerbloom mallow and one-leaf onion. 

Foothill penstemon and mallow
But I'm leaving the best for last: This year, finally, after I'd almost given up hope, my beautiful, fragrant Western azelea is blooming in earnest. Yes, this plant takes a while, but it's so worth it. Nothing like enjoying the white blossoms in the evening with a cup of tea. 

Western azalea with canyon sunflower in the background

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A visit to the Town Mouse garden, and a younger one

It was my pleasure to visit Town Mouse last weekend and see her garden in its post-garden-tour splendor, and then go on to visit her friend Lisa, whose garden we had visited a year or so ago when it was still in the thinking through stages, and now it is looking really splendid. It's interesting to see these two lovely gardens at different stages of development. Town Mouse's garden of course has more mature shrubs and layers of height to add interest.

I wrote about dividing iris in my garden to share with Lisa about in the fall of '14. And I got to see those iris doing really well! Why didn't I take a photo? Darn! But I did get some lovely garden views, though - and we all enjoyed a cup of tea and some chocolate dipped strawberries that Mr. and Mrs. Town Mouse had made at home - yum!

Lisa's Garden

In the foreground, I think Penstemon heterophylla 'Margarita BOP' and mounding in the upper left, Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina' which is from Baja Mexico, though it's considered the California floristic province.

Gorgeous mounds of buckwheat: Eriogonum umbellatum var. polyanthum 'Shasta Sulfur'

That lovely low spreading border, from a different angle.

Lisa and Town Mouse on the grand tour!

Hard to get a good picture of grasses (Unless you're Saxon Holt of course!). Here Festuca califonica I believe. And one of Lisa's husband's wonderful sculptures in the background.

Under the spreading oak, hummingbird sage, Salvia spathacea, and hard to see in a photo but stunning in actual real life - western columbine, Aquilegia formosa, about five feet tall!

This little ground cover is modesty, Whipplea modesta I would like to try this in my garden. It grows wild all over our county - I may have seen it and not recognized it. It's good to have a nice tidy little ground cover like this for filling in spaces between rocks and so on.

Some Heuchera - now I forget which species. Maxima? Lovely in this shaded courtyard area.

Town Mouse Garden

In the back garden, a wonderful display of the showy annual Chinese houses, Collinsia heterophylla, with red monkey flower - maybe Mimulus aurantiacus var. punicius?

Cobweb thistle, Cirsium occidentale. I am jealous! I kill this whenever I try to grow it.

In the front garden, Layers: two different Penstemons in front, and wooly blue curls, Trichostema lanatum behind. What is it with Penstemons this year - they are doing fabulously. I even had some pop up in my garden, where I'd last seen them about five years ago or more!!

Pretty face, a native bulb, Triteleia ixioides. It comes back every year!

Dudleya caespitosa in front, I think, and Mimulus aurantiacus and that show-stopper wooly blue curls again!

Last but not least - let's insert the gardener into the scene - Town Mouse herself, doing a bit of spot-weeding I think.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Design and Maintenance of Native Plant Gardens - 1: Jim Martin, Garden Designer

A landscape in Capitola, coastal Central California, by Plant Landscape Design.
For a partial plant list, scroll to end of this post. Photo: Matt Ross.

I recently wrote an article for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, which they titled Lawn's gone - so now what. I wrote it mostly for people who might want to replace their lawn but are afraid to get started, because they don't know how to maintain a low-water use garden of mostly shrubs. I also wrote it to publicize our CNPS Santa Cruz County chapter native plant sale, on April 9th. Which, despite some rain, was a great success.

I learned a lot in researching the article that obviously couldn't fit into a 900 word article, and I'm going to share some of the interesting info on a few posts in the upcoming weeks.

First I'd like to present landscape designer Jim Martin's thoughtful email answer to my question about maintaining a newly installed garden. He's one of two owners of Plant Landscape Design, based in Soquel California.

Me: I'm interested in how to maintain a new low water use mostly natives landscape --- the type that might replace a lawn --- and how that will change over time. I'd like to present maintenance tasks in a seasonal way in the article.

Jim Martin co-owner of Plant Landscape Design: A “Zero Maintenance” landscape is a myth.
Every garden will require some attention—usually more in the first couple of seasons until plants reach maturity.  Of the hottest topics in this category will be water use.  Even a “Drought tolerant native planting” requires water in its first few establishment seasons.  We always encourage a drip system for a new planting to provide regular and consistent watering during this establishment time.

Over time, plants will grow their own “skirts” to shield the soil from letting go of too much moisture.  Mature plants also will have more developed root systems to seek out and more efficiently use available water without so much supplemental irrigation.

Mulch is key to new plantings in conserving water until plant maturity is reached.  Mulch provides a blanket for the soil to retain its moisture, suppresses herby weeds from growing, regulates soil temperatures from excessive extremes, and provides a base nutritive bank (most native plants will require only this as fertilization, top dressed once a year thereafter to keep a steady feed*).

Our typical ongoing maintenance regime after a new planting consists of alternating week visits (usually two to three visits per month, every other week) to monitor plant growth/prune where necessary (although proper plant choice and spacing here will limit the need for any undue pruning), and mainly keeping up on weeds.  While weeds are largely controlled by mulching, wind and birds may import weed seeds during the year and must be managed. 
Again as every yard is different, so is its varying degree of maintenance needs.  A comprehensive landscape design, aimed at informed plant choices should see a general decrease in general maintenance needs, as well as water consumption.  All yards will require at least seasonal attention, but we do aim for a maintenance plateau after several seasons.
*In the article I added that top dressing with compost and then mulch on top to maintain a depth of 4 inches is recommended (based on further info obtained).

Plant List for the Capitola Garden (with a few notes I found in researching)

Another view of the landscape in Capitola. Photo: Matt Ross
This garden, designed, installed, and maintained by Plant Landscape Design, is in the small coastal city of Capitola, in the Monterey Bay area. Many people visit to enjoy Capitola's village atmosphere, quaint architecture, tourist shops and eateries right on the beach and mouth of Soquel Creek. State beaches nearby offer wonderful ocean, beach, and bluff experiences as well as nature centers and native plants too.

Here's a partial plant list for this coastal garden. BTW these are natives but not local natives. Low water use was one of the main considerations - as well as the open, attractive appearance and and low maintenance.

  • Rosy Buckwheat, Eriogonum grande var. rubescens
  • Deer grass, Muhlenbergia rigens
  • Coyote mint, Monardella villosa
  • Bush anemone, Carpenteria californica
  • Wheeler Canyon Ceanothus, Ceanothus papillosus var. roweanus hybrid 'Wheeler Canyon'. I read in a Santa Barbara Botanic Garden publication Branching Out: "Propagated from cuttings by Horticulturist Dara Emery from a plant found roadside in Wheeler Gorge, Ventura County" 4-6’ tall, 4-8’ wide.
  • Shagbark Manzanita, Arctostaphylos rudis ‘Vandenberg'. I read this interesting story on the Native Revival nursery web site: "Several years ago at Vandenburg Air Force Base, Nevin Smith saved this plant from a mile-wide swath that was being stripped of all vegetation." 7' tall and 10' wide. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Best Garden Tour Ever!

With the weather forecast decidedly mixed, Mr. Mouse and I looked forward to this year's garden tour with some trepidation. Yes, we had both spent a goodly amount of time in the garden - pulling weeds, raking leaves, pulling more weeds - but what if you have a tour and nobody comes?

We needn't have worried. Even though publicity for the tour wasn't great this year, the rain meant that the people who showed up were the true plant lovers. There must be a correlation between people who like plants and people who like rain (or are at least willing to leave the house even if some wet stuff comes down from the sky).

It probably helped that I was fortunate to have Nicky from Gold Rush Nursery sell plants at my garden this year.  And I was so happy to see people snap up not only the dainty little columbine and pretty iris but also all of the California native cobweb thistles, and all of the bee plant (Scrophularia)! Because in the end, I'm putting my garden on tour to encourage people to consider habitat-friendly plants that are not only beautiful, fragrant, and drought tolerant, but also great for butterflies, pollinators, or hummingbirds.

It really felt my heart with joy to see so many people, young, old, CA native and immigrants, consider that our gardens can be an oasis for us, and also for other creatures that we share this earth with.

Wooly blue curl, foothill penstemon, and plant sale in the back
It probably helped that the front garden looked pretty good, and quite colorful. The wooly blue curl, bladderpod, and tidy tips were eye-catching. And I had three different penstemon species: foothill penstemon, scented penstemon, and desert beard tounge.  The last two were from Annies Annuals and after two not-so-great years, they finally surprised me with a great show this year.

Scented penstemon and prettyface, a bulb
My bulbs had also multiplied, and even prettyface was on stems that were more than an inch this time! Quite stunning.

In the back garden, the shade from the redwoods meant that things were mostly green. Surely a welcome sight, but just a little disappointing for those who came for the color. Luckily a few early spring bloomers were looking good already. Below, canyon sunflower, a Southern California native that's a bit frost tender. It's gotten bigger than I had planned and I'll have to try to transplant (or kill) it in early fall. But everyone enjoyed the lush green and happy sunflower faces.

Canyon sunflower
The iris in the garden were at perfect peak - I had worried after a very hot day last week, but the rain helped keep them alive just a little longer.

I have iris in several colors, and one plant that might even be a non-Douglas native iris. The leaves are skinnier, and the flower is a rich, dark purple.

"Come back in two weeks," I wanted to tell everyone. "When the Chinese houses are in full bloom, and the clarkia!" But garden tour day is but once a year. So I felt lucky it was such a great, moist (and not so cold) day, and that so many people (282, to be precise) had a chance to come by, enjoy the garden - and take home a few habitat-friendly plants for their own gardens!

The first of the Chinese houses

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Small San Francisco Flower and Garden Show with one very interesting native garden

As readers of this blog may know, Town Mouse and I make an annual trip to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, to volunteer in the California Native Plant Society booth for a few hours, and then to enjoy a wander around. Unfortunately she couldn't make it this year, but a friend of mine from our local Santa Cruz County chapter of CNPS agreed to come along and we teamed up for a volunteer shift.

This year's booth was amazing - Due to amazing low prices, Yerba Buena chapter's own Ellen Edelson (shown on the left above) was able to book a double-wide space -- and due to Ellen's amazing powers - the booth was full of interesting things to look at and engage with.

Our next door neighbors were Foothill College Hort department, where I took a number of courses while I was still commuting past the campus on my drive home from work.

It was nice to visit an old prof. of mine there and chat with current students. Their booth was very attractive and compact.

But overall, I have to say, the show was disappointing this year. I feel sorry for the organizers - something must be very amiss in their world. And that's probably why they were offering double-wide booths at bargain rates. There were few gardens. I've tried to google this year's gardens, but have not been able to (I saw a message on Google saying their site was hacked) but - really it was quite lacking in that verve and fun and interest that we mice have enjoyed in visits past (here's links to 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012... - or use label "Garden show" to see them all).

The standout for me was Nature at Your Door, which was a 100% natives booth.

I read that Billy Krimmel, founder of Restoration Landscaping Company, has been working to create "bugscapes" in vacant city lots, which is an interesting idea. He says:
We want to plant both the plants and the insects (i.e., breeding and releasing native insect species on the native plants we plant), and pick combinations that are of value for education, restoration and pest control.
What we bring to the table is a completely new concept of gardening that focuses on plant-insect ecological communities rather than just plants.
And the garden for the show, which took a couple of gold medals, was designed to be "an ideal habitat for dragonflies and butterflies."

Ah, dragonflies -- hence the water feature - which wasn't a wow for visual effect, but now I understand what it's about I appreciate it more. Which is true, after all, of our way of gardening with natives in general. There's more to it than pizzazz. 

Very interesting. Billy Krimmel holds a PhD in Ecology at U.C. Davis, focusing his research on plant-insect interactions, so I bet his work is really great. Also, I don't think I've ever seen a copy of the Jepson manual lying casually around on a display before:

It's too bad we only had an hour or so to look around - we kept to the gardens and truly that didn't take very long. Here are a few more photos of the Nature at Your Door garden. It was dimly lit so - I did the best I could...

The company also has services relating to rainwater harvesting. I loved this elegant and fun rainwater barrel - I wonder how much it costs? I can't find anything about it on the web.

Worth a mention is a company with native (and other) lawn-substitute grasses and sedges.

But the only other standout was a succulent and cactus garden, not California natives, whose design and layout was a wow!

But we did have three people take out memberships to CNPS and we helped a number of others with their native gardening questions - and that was as much fun as ever!