Monday, October 24, 2016

Planting a wheelbarrow (and a pair of boots) with local natives.

The replanted old wheelbarrow.

I'll write another time about the many sprawling larger projects in progress and pending about the place, but today I want to share something small, complete, and very satisfying: replanting the old wheelbarrow with some local natives plants I've been propagating.

Earlier this year I managed to grow paintbrush, Castilleja affinis in the mix. I apparently didn't take many pictures of the spring-summer planting, but here you can see the tail end of the Clarkia rubicunda, from June of this year...

How the wheelbarrow looked in June. 
(BTW the Clarkia rubicunda was blooming into mid October on shadier and moister parts of the property!)

Not looking so good now!

Cleaned out of all but two dudleya and a sturdy sedge.

I decided to take a risk and put plants that like partial shade into the wheelbarrow for a fall planting. I can always wheel it to a more shaded spot if need be in spring.

Heuchera micrantha on left, Iris fernaldii at 11 o'clock, sedges yet to be identified, and Dudleya lanceolata, all locally native and grown from local wild seed (or descendants' seed). See below for complete plant list and notes.

Here you can see some sedges and heuchera more close up.

The layout, plus addition of a broken duck flowerpot. I don't claim to artistic merit in the layouts but I'm trying my best. 

The complete plant list is as follows:

Dudleya lanceolata, lanceleaf dudleya, which is native to southern and central California. I find it likes afternoon shade, but maybe that's because I've only been growing it one season. I'll write a separate post about fun I'm having planting these in nooks and crannies and slopes everywhere -- I've only got about a hundred of the lovelies. Their flowers are not very showy, sort of yellow, on the usual dudleya stalks. I'm currently in love with these plants, just for their amazing roseate form.

Epilobium canum, California fuchsia - hard to see in the photos as they are single-stalked youngsters. I just stuck them in because I have them - they won't bloom till late summer next year. I find these do tolerably well in full sun, but they seem to perk up if planted where there's a little respite from the sun and a bit of supplemental water. They grow locally in dry conditions on north-west slopes.

Frangula californica, coffee berry. Okay I know these grow to about eight feet, but I wanted something with a little bit of height and I happened to have a nice one around! I can plant it in the ground later on. Fran Adams always used to say we should think of potted plants as long lasting flower arrangements.

Heuchera micrantha, alum root. Another of my favorites - like a coral bells in appearance. I've been planting masses of these also, on north-facing slopes. And dousing them with deer spray. Deer aren't passionately fond of them but if they are along the deer path, they'll munch them down.

Iris fernaldii, Fernald's iris, slender creamy yellow iris, found mostly only in central california near the coast it seems. Likes high shade. I'm planting it around the place too, and I have a big clump to split up this year, the first one since I started growing them.

Who the heck was Fernald anyway. I'll have to look that up.

OK, according to SPCNI, Iris fernaldii was named "By Robert C. Foster, after Merritt Lyndon Fernald, a respected Harvard University professor of botany." And who was Robert C. Foster? Seems to have been an iris guy. He also named Iris thompsonii and Iris munzii. But here the trail of botanists ends, for this post!

A Juncus probably Juncus patens, not sure. I stuck one plant in a corner - a token design feature to give Height and Vertical Form.

Some sort of Carex, unidentified as yet. I hope next year I can get some IDs of the three or four nice local sedges I'm growing around the place to provide welcome greenery. Some are more tolerant of dry conditions than others, some are tall, some are short. I'm trying to observe them and sort them out, but not with any rigor.

So we'll see how this little assemblage fares over time.

And while I was in the mood I planted my old garden boots, too, just for fun!

Boots with Dudleya in? What a load of old cobblers! ;-)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Propagation Porn

Yes, every now and then I like to throw a little sex into our native plant blog. Plant sex that is. And not just any plant sex - WILD plant sex!! Yes -- that's what gets my plant juices flowing! Yours too? How did I guess! Read on....

(And don't miss the bottom (snicker) of this post for a Santa Cruz event Sept 12 2016.)

It's not just the coy flowers, here seen peeking through the poison oak, that pique our prurient interest.

Dudleya lanceolata blossoms peeking through poison oak.
There are many species in the Dudleya genus. All are known as liveforevers.

It's what follows...

Boudoir picture of Dudleya Lanceolata seed heads.
(lying languorously in my plastic collection bag)
Seeds themselves are tiny. I crumbled up the seedheads and removed the big bits of chaff. 

And what followed that -- GERMINATION! Especially outrageous germination rates like this!

I did nothing special - just sowed into a mix with some sand, sowed crumbled up seed heads, sprinkled a little sand on top to settle them in (not like a whole layer even) and - voila! Within a couple or three weeks there they were!

And what fabulous grow-out rates - look at these wonderful plants...

Dudleya lanceolata mostly in 2" pots! Note the long lanceolate leaves.
I hadn't noticed how tight-packed they had become - so I spread them out to give their leaves room to grow to the natural shape. (BTW the huge leaf overarching isn't a monster dudleya - it's some kind of huge aloe I planted long ago.)

Now - look at these Dudleya, from the same seed source. Quite a bit different!

Some of these miscellaneous ones are growing in odd shapes - maybe because of overcrowding.
This photo shows them after I spaced them out yesterday.

But wait - there's more (and another tray that's half full besides!) These will be potted up in the next couple of days.

I have planted some out in the garden already. The ones I planted in shade to semi-shaded areas are doing the best so far. (When it comes time to flower, I bet the ones in the shade don't do as well as the semi-shade ones - it'll be interesting to see).

Soon after planting. They are bigger now.

This one is one of the broader leaf sorts. It's in a wheelbarrow with a sedge and a paintbrush (Castilleja affinis) which has since bloomed.

Here's a photo of that assemblage I took today, showing the Castilleja in bloom!

They love container life! Look how different the left and right one look. Also how they are growing those deformed looking leaves. Both are a bit broader than the very lanceolate ones that are more common.

Here are the mature (parent) plants,  Dudleya lanceolata in the wild, just down the road from me

The local Dudleya lanceolata plants I gathered from were on a steep road-cut which gets quite a bit of shade.

Here you can see two leaf forms - upper plant broader than the D. lanceolata I mostly saw. It's a mystery!

Regarding the variation in leaf shape... Most are indisputably Dudleya lanceolata, but others have a broader blade. They could possibly be hybrids of D. palmeri or D cymosa, based on observing the broader-leaved species in this query to Calflora that shows all native Dudleya spp. growing in Santa Cruz County. Or, since Dudleya are famously happy to mate with other species in their genus -- they could be hybrids of some exotic Dudleya planted in a nearby garden, I don't know if I can ever be sure. Or they may be examples of other species, and not hybrids. I'll have to wait for some flowers to provide more information that may be diagnostic.

Regarding the plants that grew up weird (Well they say, "Keep Santa Cruz Weird!"),* some seem to grow naturally with their leaves crumpled or twisted or rumpled. But then too, as I worked yesterday I realized I had to space them out more because they were all growing into each other and possibly deforming each other's growth.

In fall, I'll plant out a whole ton more, and in the meanwhile, I'll be sharing these with my neighbors so our local Dudleya lanceolata can thrive locally!

Oh - local readers -- I nearly forgot!!

 On September 12 2016, at 7:30 pm, in the meeting hall of UCSC Arboretum -- Stephen McCabe will be addressing our local chapter with a slide show and talk entitled, "Conservation of Liveforevers: Threats and New Species. Stephen wrote the Jepson section on Dudleyas and is the Emeritus Director of Research at UCSC Arboretum. And he's a really nice chap. If you're around - do come for a good talk. Who knows, maybe I'll bring some dudleyas to give away!

See our CNPS chapter Events page before Sept 12 for more details (the link always takes you to the current event).

*I just love it when I get so many punctuation marks in a row!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Seed Season, Rest Season

Later summer is a restful time for California native plant gardeners. Many plants have done their work -- flowers pollinated, seeds set -- and are taking their own break. Like the Clarkia rubicunda I made a banner out of for this post.

Yes, 'tis the season when we smirk say to our color-loving garden friends, "Brown is a color too, you know."

Flowers of naked buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum, gently browning

Mr. Woodrat helped me harvest the top halves of the dried-up Clarkia plants. Their seeds are exploding like sparks out of a riverboat funnel. Well, in my imagination anyway.

I can't wait to run my fingers through the silky seeds hiding in here!

I've spent some hours going through my seeds, those I collected this year as well as in prior years. This year, instead of sowing into seed flats -- which always encourages me to sow way too many seeds even if I do subdivide them -- I'm using 3" and 4" pots to start the seeds.

This is a good start! Shade loving plants on the right, sun on the left.

I'm growing several species, maybe 40 or more by the time I'm done. I'll talk about which ones in another post or two.

I'll also be putting some seeds in the fridge to "stratify" before sowing. Mostly shrubs. I'm debating whether to hold off on the shrubs (so they'll be ready to sow around March 2017) or just stick 'em all in the fridge now. I hate to wait!

I'm happy to say some of the plants I'm growing may take root in the native garden at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, and its nearby Pilkington Creek restoration, as well as at Jikoji Zen Center up on Skyline Blvd. I'll grow to share.

But even now -- thanks in part to a mild August (mild until today, that is) -- California wild fuchsia, goldenrod, and even some Clarkia rubicunda are continuing to bloom in shady nooks and somewhat irrigated parts of the garden...

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Worst of Times, the Best of Times

White currant going summer dormant
Let's be honest A California summer garden that's watered very little (or not at all) is not the prettiest of sights. And while the rains last season were quite adequate, they did not even come close to making up for several years of extreme drought. I was quite struck by a talk by Jay Famiglietti this spring in which he discussed issues around water in California. And his message was clear: Water as little as possible.

California native plants have different strategies for coping with the dry season - and regrettably, summer dormancy is a fairly popular one. The white currant above doubled in size during the rains - then it was unable to hang on to that much new growth. I've cut it back, and I'm hoping it comes back in the fall.

Monkey flower semi-dormant in summer
Monkey flowers are so popular for their beautiful, profuse flowers - but even in part sun, the monkey flower above looks unsightly even after I pruned the top 50%.

Many other plants drop many of their leaves and grow a new set. For example, my Cleveland sage - they grey plant in the background behind the buckwheat - now has leaves that are much smaller and more hairy to help it through the long sunny days.

CA native buckwheat (center) Cleveland sage (left) and Pajaro manzanita (right)
So, what's a gardener to do? Here are my strategies.

Ignore it!
Yes, with the neighbors dry lawns my garden doesn't look bad at all. And while the currant and monkey flowers are more brown than I like, having enough green and flowering plants in the garden helps move the eye away from the sore spots. Below, the yellow flowers and interesting fruit stands of the bladderpod take the eye away from the monkey flower in the background.


Embrace it!
This season more than ever I've done my best to let the annuals go to seed - and that included placing little "bouquets" of dry sticks on the ground where I want more flowers. Collecting seeds requires more time and energy than I have. Let's just do it mother nature's way...

Clarkia stalks in front of perennial goldenrod
Yes, my pitcher sages really don't like the long dry summer - but they were so stunning and green last spring that I'm thinking of this as a dry flower arrangement. And with enough green in the background, it' doesn't look bad. 

I water the front garden by hand every 3 weeks, really more a rinse than a watering, so I'm actually impressed it's doing as well as it is.

Pitcher sage, summer dormant
Enjoy it!
Finally, especially in summer, location is important. While some of the monkey flowers are looking pretty dismal, others, under a shade-cloth pergola, look pretty decent - the hummingbirds are happy!

And the buckwheats are doing their best to bring some cheer to the summer garden. Not to mention the pollinators and butterflies that visit the garden all the time. For the critters, there is a difference between a dead lawn and a mix of semi-dormant and blooming CA natives!

Buckwheat in background, iris leaves in foreground
This year, we even have berries on the "Claremont" current that bloomed so spectacularly this spring. They're tasty in a mouth-puckering sort of way, and I have one or two each time I walk by. 

The greatest joy, however, is still to see the birds and butterflies come by for a visit, enjoying the garden with us. Another reason to have a garden that's a little bit messy, a little bit bedraggled, a little bit wild. 

Juncos enjoying seeds of the lavender and Cleveland sage

Friday, July 15, 2016

California's Beautiful Beneficial Bountiful Buckwheats Beat the Heat

Island buckwheat, Eriogonum arborescens, in Town Mouse garden

The great Nevin Smith says of buckwheats:
They are the ridge runners, the cliff dwellers, and the denizens of rocky scree and (fortunately, for the more fainthearted tourist) road banks. (Native Treasures p 179.)
And -- they are the delightful denizens of native plant gardens in July and on into fall. This post is kind of a compendium of Buckwheats I have grown - or want to. And you might want to too.

All have lots of pom-pom (or sometimes flattened pom-pom) heads of densely clustered tiny flowers held aloft on stems that "radiate like spokes from a common base" (Smith), ranging in color from white, cream, yellow, orange, and pink to crimson.

Their blooms last long and slowly turn shades of cinnamon brown that have visual appeal even for those of us who have not fully learned the love of such sunny California tints.

Eriogonum is a huge genus. Over a hundred species and subspecies grow in California and as many again elsewhere. It is related through its botanical family tree to the kind we eat - in the genus Fagopyrum, which originated in Asia.

Buckwheats are great for pollinators; bees and especially butterflies love the nectar. In addition, bees use the pollen to feed larva and butterfly larvae (aka caterpillars, aka protein-rich baby food for birds) can eat the plants.

Caterpillars don't (in my experience) eat whole plants - please leave the caterpillars. No caterpillars, no birds -- or butterflies.

Deer never eat naked buckwheat or any other species I'm growing -- except sometimes coastal (E. latifolium) and rosy buckwheat (E. rubicunda)- at least my deer never do. Other buckwheats vary. Rosy buckwheat grows safe within a fence on my property, for example.

I grow several different sorts of buckwheats on my sunny Central Coast ridge and I'll show you pictures of them below. Everyone who can should grow these cheerful plants!

For more info on buckwheats - advice on garden use, and pictures of even more species - see this Las Pilitas page. And for a list of many butterflies that buckwheats support, see this other Las Pilitas page.

Eriogonum nudum, Naked Buckwheat - My local native

This is the only buckwheat that grows wild near me. It's also the most common species in California, according to Nevin Smith. 

Native wasp on a naked buckwheat flower.
Buckwheats also provide food for caterpillars and pollen for bee larvae

Clouds and clouds of tiny white to pink pom-poms float about four feet in the air atop the long stems.

Naked buckwheat in my garden (this photo and following ones)

The nearest wild population of our local buckwheat is about a mile away from my garden. It grows on the dry sandy slopes uphill from a creek. This is where I gathered seeds, many years ago now.

Buckwheats are tough. Here growing wild on a dry sandy slope a mile from our home.

Naked buckwheat plants rise high from a basal whorl of felty leaves on upward-growing, elegantly dividing naked stems, which are hollow, and (like all buckwheat species) brittle.

Because the basal flowers tend to get crusty in the dry summer garden (and because it's rather tall for front of border), naked buckwheat is best used in the middle of things.

Here's a lovely article on naked buckwheat by a fellow native plant gardener and writer, Debbie Ballantine

BTW - I'm curious to see if I get any naked buckwheat hybrids popping up in the garden. This was my fear when I used to grow only this one species, but I've since loosened the reins. I feel only a little uneasy about this guilty pleasure! I'm not going to provide seeds or plants for restoration anywhere else, and I don't think the wild ones are close enough to be in danger of gene pool pollution from my other garden beauties.

Eriogonum crocatum, Conejo Buckwheat

Conejo buckwheat, Eriogonum crocatum. Photo: John Rusk

I bought my single plant some years ago from East Bay Wilds, Pete Veilleux's native plant nursery in the middle of Oakland. (Look for Pete's photos on Flickr - amazing!)
I'll let John Rusk give you some information on this lemony-yellow buckwheat, which grows successfully in my hot south garden.
Eriogonum crocatum—Conejo buckwheat. Included in the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants on list 1B.2 (rare, threatened, or endangered in CA and elsewhere). The species is also listed by the State of California as Rare. The only wild populations are in the Conejo Grade area of Ventura County (I probably trampled over several plants when I was with the Seabees back in the early 1960s). Successfully introduced to coastal southern California gardens, trickier elsewhere. Each flower within the inflorescence measures 5 to 6 mm. Photographed at Regional Parks Botanic Garden located in Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley, CA.

Eriogonum umbellatum var. polyanthum, Shasta Sulfur Buckwheat

Eriogonum umbellatum var. polyanthum, Shasta Sulfur Buckwheat -- in a friend's garden

Popular in gardens, this can be a short-lived species. But well worth it for the splash of color. It's a brighter yellow than the E. crocatum, I think, but like that buckwheat, is a compact plant. The flower heads have a nice tight geometrical arrangement. I'm not currently growing this one but have - and will again.

Eriogonum rubicunda, Rosy Buckwheat

This to my mind is simply the most GORGEOUS buckwheat you can grow! But deer will eat this one more than others. I'm growing it behind a fence.

Eriogonum grande rubescens, rosy buckwheat, in my garden with
Clarkia rubicunda, ruby chalice clarkia, to right, Keckiella cordifolia, heartleaf penstemon, upper right,
and Encelia californica, coastal or brittle leaf sunflower, upper left (nearing the end of its big bloom period).

A favorite shot of mine - Eriogonum grande rubescens in a garden I photographed for an article a while back

Here's E. grande rubescens, rosy buckwheat, turning cinnamon in late summer

Eriogonum latifolium, Coast Buckwheat

Coast buckwheat are gorgeous in the wild - you can see lots on the bluffs at Wilder Ranch State park, and other locations north of Santa Cruz. And elsewhere along the coast of California too.

Their pom-poms are about an inch big and vary from creamy to pink. Deer do nibble them though, in my garden.

Eriogonum latifolium, coast buckwheat, growing wild north of Santa Cruz

Eriogonum latifolium, coast buckwheat. Indificual plants grow in a big pincushion form

Oops! these are Eriogonum parvifolium, sea cliff buckwheat! Thanks to my astute commenter Katie for clearing up my doubts here!

E. latifolium in a friend's garden, with native bee.

In my garden, they are growing creamy white with big flower heads. Does it depend on soil, the color?
These are children of the children of the wild plants pictured above (or their nearby siblings)

Eriogonum arborescens, Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat

Eriogonum arborescens, Santa Cruz Island buckwheat, in Town Mouse garden
Nevin Smith is really enthusiastic about this long-lived buckwheat as a great small shrub (up to three feet tall and wider) especially for dry slopes. Its flowers are a kind of old-fashioned muted pink I really love and they grade into a lovely pinkish brown shade as they dry.

I've got a small one growing which I dug from Town Mouse's garden while she wasn't looking. No - just kidding - she kindly offered me a couple that had grown from seed near her lovely plants (see top of post). One is surviving and I'm hoping for great things from it next year.

Eriogonum giganteum, Saint Catherine's Lace Buckwheat

If you want a big dramatic statement -- go for the giant! 

Eriogonum giganteum, Sant Catherine's lace buckwheat in my garden
 - actually just below it on a dry sandy chaparral slope

E. giganteum reseeded itself massively this year - after several years of just not being there!

The flower heads are big as dinner plates - no, bigger! Unlike most buckwheats and like other unrelated plants
given the common name Saint Catherine's lace -- the flower heads are spread out in a flat arrangement.
Flower heads are as big as - no, bigger than! -- dinner plates.

Attractively felted large gray-green leaves grow up the plant rather than in a basal whorl.

I love this buckwheat - but it may reseed too enthusiastically in my totally dry, sandy, sloping chaparral slope. In fact some years ago, I stopped growing it - uprooted all my plants and any seedlings that followed -- when I was growing E. nudum for seed collection and sharing (to avoid danger of hybridization).

That was some years ago - and yet this year, a whole bank of them has sprouted up where I used to grow them! I put it down to the rainy winter which seems to have primed all sorts of things to put on a great show this year. I'm not sure if I'll let it spread - it really is nice and I might let it go a bit to see how it behaves.

Eriogonum fasciculatum, California buckwheat

Eriogonum fasciculatum, California buckwheat, in the amazing Regional Park Botanic Garden,
a native plant wonder in Tilden Regional Park, in the Berkeley hills.

Eriogonum fasciculatum, California buckwheat - maybe!
See commenter Katie's comments below on it being possibly a "narrow-arrow form of seacliff (E. parvifolium)"

I don't grow this buckwheat currently but I plan to. It has such huge wildlife value, being a host plant for a lot of rather rare butterflies. Plus it's so tough - good for sunny dry areas. I think it gets a bit sprawl but I can't comment from experience - so it might be better for -- less formal gardens.

The leaves are different from other buckwheats, being held in needle-like fascicles, a sign of its ability to get by in hot dry summers.

For more info on this tough plant, widespread from the Central Coast south, you could start with this Wikipedia article.