Saturday, April 18, 2015

Garden Tour Day!

Let's say this up front: The Town Mouse garden is not on the Going Native Garden tour this year. Town Mouse is leaving for a long trip, and a house sitter will take care of the house and garden.

But you can still register to see the many beautiful gardens on tour today (South Santa Clara county) and tomorrow (North Santa Clara county and part of San Mateo county). Go to to register and get the addresses.

And you can get a virtual tour of the Town Mouse garden, which isn't looking bad at all this year! While the Sierra snow pack is pityful and California is in a drought, we actually got more total rainfall than normal, and the plants seem to like it. Above, one of several native penstenmons I bought last year (is it spectabilis?) with tidy tips, clarkia, and tidy tips in the background.

Elegant clarkia (Clarkia ungiuculata) is more stunning every day - and these plants all reseeded!

And Penstemon heterophyllis (foothill penstemon) is just as brightly blue as ever - though possibly not as tall. This penstemon is also reseeding, and I've found little baby plants in the dry stream bed.

A bladderpod (Isomeris arborea) is finally blooming beautifully this year - it's interesting how the plants from Southern California are starting to do better here than those that are locally native. The little pods to the side of the flowers are going to make rattling sounds, supposedly. That will be fun!

In the back garden, everything is blooming as well! around the fountain, a big patch of Douglas iris, monkey flower, and Allium unifolium, a native onion. The allium has been quite spectacular this year, and I do seem to get more plants over time.

And the iris have never looked better.

Other plants are blooming a little bit ahead of their time, such as this Styrax officinalis (California snowdrop bush).

Tomorrow I'll be off to volunteer at another garden, enjoying this oh so brief spring. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Annuals - The Gift that Keeps On Giving

Usually, I write about California native annuals and bulbs in October, as I look through seed supplier offerings and get ready for sowing and planting. This year - why not - let's have a look at the results of the labors of the gardener.

Even though it's been a very bad year from the standpoint of California's water districts - no snow in the Sierras to replenish the water supply - two strong storms brought good amounts of water to the garden this year, and it's showing in the garden. Above, we see the colorful picture that greets the visitor. It's even better closer to the front door.

Beautiful pink Clarkia unguiculata (elegant clarkia) catches the eye immediately.

Clarkia's are fairly happy reseeders, and I'm finding then in different spots in the garden, mostly pink and some salmon-colored.

The tall purple annual is Phacelia tanacetifolia or tansy-leaved phacelia. Beloved by pollinators such as bumble bees, this pretty annual reseeds very reliably in my garden.

Some years, I even find that Phacelia spreads a little aggressively. This year, I weeded the seedlings to keep the plants primarily in the back - where 3-4 foot tall annuals belong.

The star of the show this year are Layia platyglossa or tidy tips. I initially bought a few pots from Annie's Annuals at the garden show. The next year, a few plants came back, and then a few more. This year, it's been amazing!

In the back garden, the stars of the show have been Collinsia Heterophylla or Chinese houses. Interestingly, they came up in a different spot than originally intended, but I'm not arguing. A small field of pretty annuals is welcome anywhere.

This photo shows why they're called Chinese houses - the flowers suggest little pagoda-like roofs. In the background, one of the few California poppies. For some reason, none of the poppies reseeded this year and I'm thinking of buying a packet of seeds in the fall.

Also in the back garden some Nemophila maculata or fivespot. Also reseeded in an unexpected place, I'm hoping these little beauties will spread and might collect some seeds. The photo shows them with a Triteleia, one of the bulbs in my garden. But that's for another post.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Garden Celebrates Spring

This rainy season has been good news / bad news all around. The good news is that we've had a lot more rain for the rainfall year because of two large storms in late fall. The bad news is that it pretty much hasn't rained at all this calendar year.

This has had two effects on the plants: Everything is quite lush and beautiful - and everything is blooming early and might not last long - it's warm, sunny, and dry.

Today, I want to celebrate the beautiful blooms that the garden has been offering for several weeks now. Above Salvia leucophila 'Pt. Sal Spreader' looks wonderful with purple blossoms and green winter foliage.

Ceanothus 'Tilden Park' is also stunning this year. After a disappointing display last year, I'm impressed with the blossoms everywhere, and the pollinators are happy too.

And the first bulbs are also showing up - above, a dainty Tritileia.

And here's how it all looks from the street. Certainly beats the dead lawns some houses are now featuring - and my front garden does not have automatic irrigation (though I hand water just a bit in late spring).

I'm also happy with the Phacelia this year. Not sure whether they aren't quite as weedy because I pulled quite a few, or whether they self-control when it's fairly dry. But there's less danger of them choking all other plants - and the bumble bees appreciate them more than ever.

Both Phacelia and the tidy tips shown above reseed quite reliably every year. I started with, I think, two tidy tip seedlings from Annie's and I enjoy them along the walkway to the front step. They're even growing in some cracks in the driveway - I try my best not to run over them.

In the back garden, I removed 3 large Ceanothus thyrsiflorus and planted some 1-gallon Ceanothus 'Midnight' instead. I did this in part because thyrsiflorus clearly wanted more sun, and the redwoods shade the spots for quite a big part of the day. Last year, I wasn't sure whether the experiment was going to succeed, but I'm more hopeful now- and I certainly love the color of this particular Ceanothus. Nice contrast to Mimulus puniceus, the southern red monkey flower that also tolerates some shade.

I'll leave you with another reminder that we're not just planting for our own enjoyment but for the different critters that visit the garden. And the hummingbird sage above is a great plant both for pollinators and for hummingbirds. I think they're building a nest nearby, and I'm so happy I can offer some natural food for them.

Happy spring!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Going Wild In the CNPS Booth at the 2015 San Francisco Flower and Garden Show

Ellen Edelson (Yerba Buena chapter) and Town Mouse, in the CNPS booth at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show
Yesterday we mice did our annual stint in in the California Native Plant Society booth at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.

Ellen Edelson, who volunteers with the Yerba Buena (San Francisco) chapter of CNPS, has ensured that CNPS is well represented at the show for more years than I know. She brings a whole booth-load of stuff in her small truck, along with enough energy to power the entire event center.

This year Ellen had a conflicting commitment, and other volunteers stepped forward to fill in until she could get to the show. Town Mouse was there on opening day, and did all the cut flower arrangements. 

Even at closing on Sunday, when we were there to take the last shift and help with tear-down, the flower arrangements still looked absolutely lovely (as you can see). Town Mouse has quite a talent!

We mice wandered the maze of exhibit gardens and vendors for a couple of hours before our shift in the booth. This year's show theme was Going Wild. But really only a couple of the exhibit gardens lived up to that name in my view and, I think, Town Mouse's too. 

One that spoke to me was called Bring Nature Home. Here we both enjoyed the mixing of wood and stone and the wilderness feel to the garden, and the abundance of native plants. 

Oh, I would love to create an entrance like the above in my garden!

The Bring Nature Home garden was brought to us by the National Wildlife Federation, SUN Sustainable, and Vallee Landscaping, and was designed by April Owens, Nancy Bauer, and Charlotte Togovitsky.

I found walking into this dell particularly enchanting. The garden was called Uproot. I confess I didn't spend much time thinking about the plants assembled. I just enjoyed the magical space that being in this meadow slope gave me.

And it was fun to see how it was created from tiers of black gallon pots.

Town Mouse wore a jacket that took "Going Wild" in a whole different direction!

The Uproot garden designed by students of landscape architecture at University of California, Berkeley. I liked how they left the infrastructure open to view - a fun flip-side.

Living Light, designed by David Warren, was another fun garden to walk through. It featured succulents and edibles and native plants - and a cool wild-looking living roof. And an amazing bee habitat by Harkness Gardens. The living roof cabin even had a fungus garden inside!

The Living Light garden featured log cabins by Sterling Log Cabins of Vashon Island, WA, Old World Design, in Oakland CA, Green Gallery Landscape & Harkness Landscape, Berkeley CA.

Many exhibits focused on imaginative use of environmentally friendly and recycled materials. Town Mouse felt that some designers were using plants for their color and form rather than any other criteria for grouping them, such as their sun/shade/water needs, or native plant community, or value to pollinators. Still, there were plenty of visual treats, like this one (I didn't record the designer, unfortunately).

Want to see more? I uploaded a set of garden show photos to this Flickr album. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

How I water my suburban garden in winter and spring

It's been another strange winter in California. Yes, we did get more rain - regrettably, it all arrived in two large storms, with months of no-rain-at-all in between.

It's hard for us humans to cope with this - I so loved the rain, rejoiced when seeing the mushrooms come up everywhere, the lychen and mosses green up. And then it did not rain for a long time. Interestingly, many of the plants did not mind very much - if anything, the mild weather with very little frost got us early bloomers like the Maurandia below.

And the manzanitas were spectacular. All of them, starting in December and still going strong in February.

Of course my fingers twitched on the irrigation controller - no rain at all in January? I'd better do something! But I remembered the good advice from my garden designer who said that most of the plants are happiest if they're left alone in winter.

As long as the temperature doesn't get into the sixties consistently, the plants are half asleep, and extra watering won't help. Sure, the neighbor's redwood trees will suck the moisture right up, no matter what the temperature. But benefit of watering is limited, especially for established plants. (I did water 2 newcomers every other week).

I'm happy to report that my benign neglect, and refusal to start watering in winter, did not seem to cause problems - the different bulbs and the annuals such as the tidy tips above came up happily and by now, I'm starting to see flowers everywhere.

Here's the catch, though: In spring, California native plants do expect and require water. It's gotten quite warm in the last few days. So, even though some of the soil in my garden is still somewhat moist, I have turned on the drip, at 50% for March. I'll leave it on until we'll get a storm, then increase the percentage in April and May.

In June, I hold steady and in July and August I start reducing the irrigation - plants can go semi-dormant in summer, and most of them perk right back up when the rains start again.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sowing Native California Plant Seeds in Early Springtime

Eight native California plant species in one box!
Spring comes to California sometime in the week following New Year it seems. By late February in my neck of the woods, spring is positively bouncing up and down, with blooms and germination and happy birds and bees everywhere. No wonder this is when we get family visitors from Minnesota - especially this year.

So I decided to follow nature and sow seeds when wild seeds are germinating all around me.

I'm off to a successful start in the greenhouse — in the seed box, there is at least one seedling in each section, just eight days after sowing! And I also direct-sowed some clarkia, too.

Nurseries might sow perennials in July, so that plants are ready for a fall planting. But I don't have nursery conditions. I've found that in mid-July it's just too hot up on our ridge for me to have much success.

BTW You can read about native plant nurseryman and propagation expert Dara Emery's seed sowing schedule in my earlier post: Dara Emery's Seed Sowing Schedule (And Stories from Reality).

I had seeds in large bags to prepare for storage and old seeds that needed to be sorted through, so I picked a few species for my north garden area, which has some quite sunny areas and some partial shade, and stays moist longer than any other part of the property.

California aster has abundant seeds - and they are very hairy.

Hairy seeds of California Aster, after rubbing through a sieve.

I just kept rubbing them through a sieve till the hairs separated, then walked through the garden lifting and dropping the seeds into a bowl till most of the hairs had lifted off in the breeze.

Some of what was left. (There were some more seeds but I had stored them before I thought to take a picture)

Maybe some seeds lifted off in the breeze too, but that's OK. I had plenty. Enough to share with the birds and maybe some will germinate in unexpected places. Aster can take over a garden, spreading into a large patch. I have space to spare, so that's not a problem for me.

I sowed far fewer seeds than in earlier years - eight species in a box instead of eight boxes. I've learned from experience. So far, it's looking good. Just eight days after sowing, I'm seeing germination in all species I sowed!

California aster seedlings

Course it remains to be seen if the seeds growing are the ones I sowed and not some strangers that blew in on a breeze! With the exception of the rosy buckwheat, they are all local natives gathered within a mile of my home (or grown from second generation wild plants in my garden).

  • Eriogonum grande var. rubescens, rosy buckwheat (nursery stock) – quite a few
  • Artemisia douglasiana, mugwort – a couple.
  • Symphyotrichum chilense, Pacific Aster  – quite a few!
  • Solidago californica, California Goldenrod – one.
  • Monardella villosa, coyote mint – a few.
  • Anisocarpus madiodes, Woodland Madia – a few.
  • Ceanothus papillosus, wartleaf ceanothus, from 2012 – a few. 
  • Dudleya caespitosa, bluff dudleya from 2012 (and 14?) – quite a few!

I'll be thrilled if I get lots of these plants. They are great for wildlife, especially for pollinators, and except for the mugwort, have pretty flowers too. 

I'd love to have a lot of the rosy buckwheat in our fenced-off garden - I just love the raspberry blooms, and so do bees and butterflies. And deer. 

We don't get buckwheat in my neighborhood. Naked buckwheat does grow a mile away and I've grown some in my garden. It reseeds right where I planted it but doesn't spread. So I decided non-local garden buckwheats are OK. Of course if I see any rosy naked buckwheat down where it grows wild, I'll have to rethink the idea!

Mugwort may not be so ornamental. It disappears half the year, too. But it's a nice green and smells amazing, and birds love the seeds too. It's also good for erosion control, so I'm going to try to get it established on the slopes of the north garden. It grows wild just up our road half a mile.

Then, there's the Clarkia. I harvest a lot - a LOT - of Clarkia rubicunda, ruby-chalice clarkia, our local native species. I've been growing it for about four years or more now, and I have a good population that reseeds wonderfully.

I have so much, in fact, that I'm thinking of reseeding my neighborhood. Unfortunately where I originally gathered the Clarkia seeds from (con permiso), the invasives are taking over - sticky eupatory and french broom and Oxalis pes-caprae. So sad! It's a steep slope with lots of poison oak, or I'd maybe try to do a bit of weeding. What am I saying -  I'm weeding full time on my own property!

So I decided to just sow some of them - my oldest seeds, from 2012, all over the place, especially along the path in the north garden. They are germinating!

Tiny Clarkia rubicunda seedlings along the bank above the path.

Slightly older Clarkia rubicunda seedlings 

Unfortunately deer and gophers eat the Clarkia, so I'm just hoping that enough grow so the browsers don't take them all.

This year, I've got major gopher holes and mounds in my fenced garden. And shallow tunnels humping up under my mulch paths. I squish them down whenever I see them. Sorry critter! Of course that isn't enough.

Where I usually have rampant Clarkia, things are looking very sparse and it can only be the gophers I think. Even I, sentimental as I am, am contemplating calling in the gopher guy, who humanely kills them with traps that cut their little heads off!

Well - I hope to post a few updates on the progress of these seeds, and maybe I'll sow few more this week. Wish me luck!