Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wonder in an unexpected moment - western azalea (and phacelia and ninebark)



So as I drive the creek-side road up towards our ridge-top road, I keep my eye open for seeding natives that might like to extend their reach by a mile or two to my restoration garden. I stopped to check and -  POW!! I saw the white and yellow blossoms of Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale).

I've been keeping my eye on the Phacelia californica (I think that's the phacelia species) that grows along the road side.

Phacelia californica. Not the showiest of native perennials, but useful for wildlife and locally wild where I live. You can buy prettier ones like Tansy Leaf Phacelia (which is an annual).

A shot showing the foliage for your ID-ing pleasure

The stems and leaves are prickly-irritating so I don't want to put them where I'll be doing a lot of hand-weeding. I'd just like them to live wild and prosper in the wilder parts of the property.

I took four flower heads that had mostly gone to seed - though the fruiting bodies are a bit green still. I'm hoping some seeds will mature and dry in a paper bag. There are enough blooming plants that I think it's worth just a try. I'll wait before checking them again and try to learn their seed ripening time for future reference.




Because the inflorescence is a scorpioid raceme (yes I did have to look that up), new flowers bloom towards the unfurling end while flowers lower on the rachis (another term I had to look up) get on with turning into seeds.

And BTW this is the area where there is a nice western ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus) shrub, another shade lover.  So far I've failed to make plants from cuttings - I have one still hanging on but I'm not hopeful. So I'm moving on to trying from seed.

western ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus

In bloom, ninebark has round, creamy-white inflorescences. Here you can see unripe fruits. I'll keep checking and hope to make a note of when they ripen, for future reference.

So - the western azalea story.

Western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) growing right along the road-side river bank! I'll be checking these blossoms for seeds too, along with the ninebark and phacelia.

Usually I've seen the western azalea in this creek only in inaccessible locations, deep in a poison-oak filled area. Here it was proffering nice soft- to semi-hard shoots, hanging out where the road maintenance hedge-trimmer tractor attachment would be sure to macerate them e'er long.  They begged to be turned into cuttings and - hopefully - increase the western azalea population in our area.

So I took out my little folding scissors and neatly snipped off four low-growing shoots, about six or eight inches each, leaving narry a stub.

Back in the greenhouse, I made eight or nine cuttings and put them in my plastic greenhouse with other cuttings.

Western azalea cuttings

I've set the mini-greenhouse up in a peculiar part of our bathroom where I hope cuttings will not get too hot or dry out too fast. The deck outside is shaded. (It's an owner-built house and has some oddities in the original construction that Wood Rat is putting to rights bit by bit!)

My latest attempt to grow cuttings in this mini-greenhouse in the bathroom!

I have to confess I've not had terrific luck with cuttings lately, except for anything in the Ribes genus. If you fancy a go at growing from cuttings I can recommend Ribes as a slam dunk no matter how you do it!

A few miscellaneous cuttings - some Ribes, some Salvia - one ninebark, and four western azalea!

So - wish me luck. If they do grow, and I get more than the one or two plants I think I can support with a bit of irrigation in the shadiest part of our property - I'll offer them to neighbors who have creeks on their properties. That would be fabulous. But - I'm not going to be too disappointed if it doesn't work. Just coming upon those lovely blooms was enough pleasure for me.

And oh here is another lovely bloom that was growing in that nice part of the road (which is otherwise slowly succumbing to invasive weeds, I'm very sorry to say).

A bit of yarrow, Achillea millefolium, growing nearby.

Footnote: I always gather responsibly (very small percentage of seeds, minimal gathering of material for cuttings), and only very locally to my property - never in public parks or protected areas. I gather with permission on my neighbors' properties, and along verges of nearby county roads. I was told by a commenter a while back that gathering from roadsides is illegal (tell that to the berry pickers!!). I actually tried to get a ruling from local authorities on the legality of such gathering and they were not aware of any rules preventing me from doing so. Road maintenance crews routinely scalp these county roadsides so I feel absolutely no guilt about doing what I do!







Sunday, May 10, 2015

Inspiration from an unexpected source


I was at a fundraiser for my granddaughter's preschool a couple of weeks ago at a venue in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Its lush gardens were - especially in this time of drought - rather startling.

The venue has huge lawns - some call these sterile swamps.

After all, here is what the Santa Cruz mountains look like au natural - very close to my home.

Local chaparral and trees, with a creek flowing through the distant right area. Quite a different color palette


OK, let's play a game like we're at the optometrist's office, and you have to pick between lens One? or lens Two? ...

Do you like fundraiser venue One?  or ...

Country mouse garden Two?
On the ridge where we live, an artificial dry creek bed is the best I can do. I'm not sure where the fundraiser venue's ponds came from - I should have asked. They have a few large ones. But it has to be said: my garden has a long way to go to reach the decorative qualities of the fundraiser venue.


Do you like One? - Fundraiser venue has - Color! Texture! Variety!

Or Two? - Country Mouse native garden. 
I do have some color in my garden - here are golden rod and seaside daisy, and I'm working on texture and variety. See the recycled fake fireplace rock path in the top left? But I have to say, the fundraiser venue's landscaping had a strong pull on my emotions.

It's vibrant and colorful and thirst-quenching. I do wonder how much water it takes to provide that refreshing view.

Fundraiser venue - One?

Or Country Mouse garden - Two? 
One is definitely prettier. But are those Santa Barbara daisies in the foreground of choice One?

Santa Barbara daisie are on the California Invasive Plant Council's watch list, though the jury is out as yet on how much of a problem they might be.

No - Santa Barbara daisies (Erigeron karvinskianus) are not native. Don't let the common name fool you. Try another common name, like Latin American fleabane.

Option Two is more relished by wildlife - and the greenhouse is relished by a country mouse!

I noticed signage around the fundraiser venue for example that they are  certified by Audubon as a bird sanctuary, and they provided a list of maybe a dozen or so (mainly non-native) pollinator plants in the garden for butterflies. Their bird bath, however, was dry. True it was not in the main pleasure grounds, but still I couldn't help but harrumph at the irony.

I also saw quite a lot of invasive plantings, and in the "natural" woodland walks, garden plants that have escaped into the wild in our region: Alyssum, sweet pea, vinca, pride-of-Madeira, forget-me-nots - and more whose names I don't know.


One? - How many invasive plants can you spot here?

Another view of choice One? Forget me nots are terribly invasive around here.

Or Two - some wild and some planted natives in a Country Mouse garden woodland setting.
 I've been working on my woodland areas this year. I think next year they will be really burgeoning. Here are sedges, blackcurrant, redwood sorrel, Indian lettuce, and Fernald's iris.

Another choice "Two" - Deer weed (Acmispon glaber), here with yellow face bumble bee aboard, volunteers in my south facing garden and grows where it sprouts.

And - another choice "Two." Another weed that I let spread almost anywhere it grows in my garden, because it's a local native verbena (I forget the species name) - and the bees love it. But I think maybe I let my garden go too wild.


My grandson, learning to do a bit of weeding, at the fundraiser venue, which has beautiful stonework, paths and walls, throughout. The weed between these pavings is ubiquitous in our region - in gardens anyway. I struggle with it every year, and it seems to be less every year - but it still persists. Here it's being allowed to grow like a ground cover. Unfortunately it won't stay within the paved path area.

So where does this all leave me? The fundraiser venue made a big impression on me. It's big and bold and beautiful - it provides nice surroundings for weddings and other events - and yet - I find it also disturbing. Mainly for the carelessness - or lack of awareness - in their stewardship. If they had lush European style gardens, and also natural areas that are well tended - I could be OK with that, if their irrigation could be kept somewhat reasonable.

And I did take away the lesson about what gets us in the emotional gut: design, design, design. Color, texture, form, repetition - and all the other things that the worthy Fran Adams taught us in that adult ed class so many years ago now.

When you realize the sterility of most gardens designed for visual appeal alone, and turn to gardening for wildlife - learning about a whole new palette of plants and their relationship to each other and the soil and the critters - it takes time (or expertise you can hire and support a worthy professional!). I've got a fair bit of understanding of local native plants under my belt, and that's where my curiosity takes me - I'm turning into an amateur naturalist bit by bit.

But it is indeed possible to integrate good design into a wildlife garden AS WELL. It's not my forte, and I have a tendency to privilege the wildlife over the design (as demonstrated by my overgrown paths).

That fundraising venue's pleasure gardens did inspire me to do better - to honor not just the natural landscapes that inspire and surround my gardens, and the wildlife they sustain, but also the aesthetic pleasures of order and harmony, restfulness, and the delicious turn of a garden path inviting us to explore.

Weeds glorious (and native) weeds, and a Mylitta Crescent butterfly (I think).


Monday, May 4, 2015

Seabright Ecosystem Restoration


The ecological restoration at Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz

Till I got overcommitted to too much volunteering, I helped out with the Westcliff Ecological Restoration group (WCER), whose mission it is to replace the smothering blanket of highway ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis) with the local native plants that should be growing along coastal cliffs and beaches in Santa Cruz.

Invasive highway ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis)

I wish I could clone myself and rejoin WCER's efforts!

I happened to be walking along by Seabright Beach a couple days ago and was totally blown away by the vigor of the restoration area - and its lack of weeds. Someone is tending this restoration very lovingly, and I think it's a community group of folks living in the Seabright area.



It takes skill and oomph and the ability to get out a corps of volunteers to kick off a restoration effort. WCER is an enthusiastic group and does a great job at recruiting volunteers old and young.

Nice signage by a young volunteer!

But without ongoing community involvement, the weeds move in and soon people tramp over it, not realizing this is anything special. It's so disappointing to see the results when that happens.

That's why this project is so very heartening. Nobody has trashed this effort. Even the new beach grasses recently planted are all standing tall and healthy. (I don't know what species.)


One man was peacefully sleeping on a soft bed of coastal sagewort, but I don't think you could blame him.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Path clearing - a little poem



It had gotten to the point where I had to step on tender shoots to get to the gate


And one day I just ripped and hacked them back
Till I could again see the boulders edging the path.


I sat on a green plastic chair, admiring the path, drinking tea,
Trying not to think about my rough amputations,

Or this so recently unwilded ridge in summer-dry, drought-dry California,
Or the wooden-walled house that protects me from fear.


Country Mouse

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Belly plants of Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve. Etc.


But first an apology.

And no, this is not Paul Heiple apologizing on my behalf. He's just looking at something very, very small in the kingdom Plantae.

So many interesting topics have come up for blogging - then fallen by the wayside due to the business of life outside of the blogosphere.


Ben Lomond spine flower (Chorizanthe pungens var. hartwegiana) is just one of the special rare and endangered plants growing at ant-level in the Santa Cruz Sand Hills habitat (and other types of habitats) of this reserve. Here is a Wikipedia article about what makes the sand hills so special.

First I was going to do a post about all the fabulous ferns we found on a CNPS hike in Fall Creek Extension (of the Henry Cowell State Park).

Then, one about how I've been studying oaks to try and make identifications in my neighborhood: do we have just coast live oak or also interior live - and maybe Shreve oak, and a scrub oak or two as well? But I wasn't very good at that, as it turned out.


This fairy-sized plant, just budding out, is everlasting nest-straw, (Stylocline gnaphaloides)

Then I wanted to write about how Mr Woodrat and I explored a lot for sale "with acreage" on a nearby ridge. Wow!  a huge stand of purple needle grass up the hillside!! I've never even seen purple needle grass in our area before! I took pictures you may never see.

Then Town Mouse posted her lovely ungarden tour photos of her garden - and I thought: I should do a post of my garden, it would make a nice pairing. But my garden wasn't nice enough then. It'll never be nice like Town Mouse's garden - and that's a topic of another post too - but things are popping all the same and I'm very happy about it all (except the weeds).


The Martin fire burned through the reserve in 2008. These are probably dead ponderosa pines. Local botanist Toni Corelli has an album of Bonny Doon photos on Flickr with some photos from one year after. It's amazing how quickly things started growing - and how overgrown some areas have become now compared to then - with Ceanothus and other shrubby fire followers.

Several other post ideas came and went. Like rediscovering paths that had become mostly hidden under the spread of a Bees Bliss sage planted in the wrong place (such a sprawler - it really needs a lot of room!). Paths are a good gardening topic. Nope. Didn't write that post either.

Another thought was to steal content from my recent article on pollinators or maybe focus on some aspect of the research that got left out because I was writing for a general Santa Cruz Sentinel/Monterey Herald audience. Or - maybe you'd like to just read the article itself. They gave it the title Embracing Insects.


I just liked this dead tree. I turned the photo into B/W.

Then there was the short article I wrote in our CNPS chapter's newsletter (which I edit) about telling bee plant (good) from eupatory (oh so bad) - which I thought I might repurpose. You can look at that too if you want - it's useful to know, and it's imperative that you pull eupatory (Ageratina adenophora) on sight! Be aware this link takes you to a 4.5 MB file.
(Editor's Note: the above link takes you to whatever is the current newsletter. If I don't update this post when the next newsletter comes out and this one shuffles off to the archive - you'll find the article in the page of past newsletters, which you can get to from the home page (cruzcnps.org). It's the May-June 2015 edition.)

And I've been reading some good books on gardening with California natives - a new one: The California Native Landscape by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren, and the first one I ever read - Gardening with a Wild Heart, by Judith Larner Lowry. They both have the word "restoring" in their subtitles - but what the two books mean by it are somewhat different things. Both interesting and valuable books - and it would be good to write a post about them.

Part of the "moon rocks" area of the reserve - off limits to visitors (we just walked to the base, on the officially sanctioned trail).

All these topics and more I've now forgotten have come up for sharing — and gone nowhere due to the busy nature of life after retirement.

So — to get to the point. Oh. But, I've run out of time - yours and mine both.

I thought I'd do a quick post on last Sunday's hike at Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve, led by Kevin Bryant. But I took so many photos, I had to winnow them to about a third, and then I wanted to annotate them all - they're on Flickr in an album here — so I still didn't get to blogging. But - well here we are!

All kinds of things to see everywhere along the trail with other happy hikers!

Mainly the thought I have with me now as I write (apart from the eternal nature of weeds) is —  the pleasure I took on the hike, not just in the plants, but in the company of like minded people, beginners and professionals and in-between hobbyists like myself.


Sally Casey

And in particular I was delighted to find Sally Casey among our number. Sally is a CNPS Fellow, an expert in California native grasses. She was a botanist in her professional life. She is associated with the Santa Clara Valley chapter (as is Kevin Bryant, the trip leader).


Is Sally looking at whatever Kevin (with black beard) is pointing out? One of the local manzanitas that grow in the reserve, maybe?

And this 93-year-old can hike! My dad got a bit wobbly in his nineties so — at first I was sticking close to her a little nervously, or checking that someone else was - then I realized she was doing just fine and ended the five-mile hike with the rest of us, happy as can be.


Western Azalea! - in the dry chaparral/sand hill environment? It's because sandstone - and schist - hold moisture, and schist has fractures that become seeps where a water loving plant like this Rhododendron occidentale can put down roots.


How wonderful to be able to hike and enjoy such lovely plants and be able to inhale the sweet sweet scent — at any age!

So regarding all those topics - I do intend to swing back and pick up some of them — or at least, when other topics roll around, to write about them before I get swamped with the next next thing!


Keep on smiling!




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 www.gngt.org 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!