Monday, January 26, 2015

Mulch ado about — weed-free ferny paths

After unpacking our new Ikea kitchen, we had a lot of cardboard left over. So I decided to sheet mulch the path along the contour of our north-facing valley slope. It's about 120 feet long! It was hard work! I was so glad to see the bottom of the truck bed finally!

But soon the cardboard was thickly layered, and I spread three to four inches of Golden Nugget mulch on top.

The path has lasted well for several years without mulch, but the outside edges were starting to sink - I hope the mulch will help to spread the foot traffic pressure. Also it was getting weedy. Also - I'll need to put more stones on the downslope here and there to help shore things up - and add plants where there are none right now, to stabilize things more. The lower slope is a weedy future project.

I had to do a bit of rework because - ahem - I accidentally cut through an electrical cable running to a little building nearby. Thankfully, I survived to tell this tale!  Dear Mr Wood Rat patched things up, but had to disrupt the path. So I did a bit of remedial stone work:

And I made another little bench in the stone wall. You can see some of the bunch grasses I've been planted in this photo, too:

It's very comfy. Sometimes I sit there and see interesting birds back in the north garden.

Is this a varied thrush? Photo from a distance, so not a great shot… Seems to be a recent winter visitor.

Next I thought about plants. I've put a lot of bunch grasses on the slopes above - a friend came to help me one day and we had a good time. But I want to plant in and around the bank and the new walls, too. So I decided to rescue some ferns from the ditch of the little road I drive a lot. After seeing the road workers scalp the roadsides around here recently, with their mechanized scalping machines —  I no longer have any compunction about rescuing a few plants from the roadside ditches (not higher up where they might escape the blades of the road maintenance crews).

Some sweet polypody. I took three small clumps from three different spots in the ditch.

Of course many ferns live happily in our area with no help from me, and they seem to enjoy the stones. Some gold-back ferns, some woodfern. Also some sword fern.

These ferns just grew there all by themselves. Clever ferns!

I also brought one clump of five-fingered fern home with me. There was a lot more of it on the roadside, but it was growing higher than my "ethical collection zone."

I'm sorry to say I'm not quite finished with the path, but there isn't much to go.

Now, if we can only get some rain - our constant lament of late. January is shaping up as a warm, dry month indeed. Pleasant for humans — but only in the short term!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Winter Interest

In a recent post, the venerable garden rant came out strongly against "winter interest". "My garden stops in winter, which is just fine with me. I’m pretty much ignoring whatever winter interest it may have." And so on.

This was a great way to get lots of comments - everyone in an area of mild winters had something to say about their winter garden. So, let me add to the flurry, but I'd rather includes some photos to show what's special about winter in my California garden.

First, this is the time where the bones of the garden really show. Yes, some of the trees and shrubs lose their leaves, but that makes everything stand out more. The hummingbird sage (Salvia spatacaea) is truly green this time of year, and other plants, freshly pruned, are more compact and stand out more. Grasses are green this time of year - a great opportunity to remove last year's dried of stems.

Second, the shoots of the bulbs and seedlings of California native annuals make the gardener feel uplifted and hopeful. Will all those tidy tip seedlings above make it? Even if I get 10% I'll be happy!

Moss on the fountain, the rocks in the shade, and even on the folded up umbrella says: Yes, we do have seasons! Our winter if mild - no snow in the valleys. But I go out and hack a hole in the ice on the birdbath not that infrequently, and we have the heat on in the house. Some tender plants don't survive in my garden, and I gave up on them not wanting to play the covering with bedsheets game.

This depends partly on the plant. Maurandia, a delicate Southern California vine, freezes badly some years but resprouts. This year, so far, it's hanging in there, to the delight of the hummers who need the extra food this time of year.

My jade plant (not a native) often has some frost damage but blooms happily this year.

My green wall succulents are in a protected spot and love the extra moisture - and I love looking at them from the kitchen window.

But the true delight in the California winter garden are the early bloomers. As early as December, we find manzanitas, some of the currents, and some non-natives such as Camelias starting to put out flowers.

I'm sure this Sentinel manzanita turns some heads as the neighbors walk by.

And I'm always enchanted by the fuchsia-flowered gooseberry. It goes almost completely dormant in summer, but it's worth waiting for the winter and the flowers (I'm sure the hummers agree).

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Weeding sour grass, one thorough patch at a time.

Like many gardeners I have a persistent weed problem.  Well several, but the one I'm battling at the moment is Oxalis pes-caprae, commonly known as sour grass or Bermuda buttercup (though the plant comes from South Africa, not Bermuda).

Oxalis pes-caprae in the garden of someone who says, "Well at least it's green and has pretty flowers."
The picture above is NOT my garden. It is one I saw with shock and horror in Santa Cruz recently. The entire front yard is a sea of sour grass.

While I can get disheartened seeing those little clover-like leaves sprouting up from each plant's single main stem every flipping year, I do see less and less the more and more I pull early in the season - before the bulblets start to form along the stem. I hand pull and try to get as much of the root as I can.

THIS is my garden. I am definitely making progress. This is an area I've worked on for two years.
The worst thing areas are where the Oxalis grows among native blackberry (Rubus ursinus) which is covered with exceedingly thin prickles that get into the skin but won't get out.

I focus my efforts on a couple of garden areas, working thoroughly and repeatedly before the bulblets come. And then do the best I can on the rest. Next year - the same procedure, but many fewer plants in the focus areas. Some areas are almost clear now, just a few plants to pull. But it's a long haul.

To avoid depression, I focus on a defined small patch that I can clear by the end of one weeding session. That way, I can feel a sense of accomplishment when I'm done, rather than the endless torments of Sisyphus's gardening sister. If I find myself scrabbling at the plant tops, not really pulling each plant in Zen-like serenity - I know I've been too optimistic about what I can achieve in one session.

The Patch Weeded - and Beyond. (The slab is for a garden seat TBD.)
It's especially rewarding if you can do a bit of planting in the cleared area afterwards.

I added some local Juncus to the weeded area to help stabilize the down-slope side of the path.
The other thing about adding plants is it gives you a reason to weed there again, with hope for the future. And plantings can help shade out the Oxalis. So I'm told.

And speaking of Oxalis...

I have to be careful not to weed the locally native redwood sorrel, Oxalis oregana!
The yearly task is still daunting but less so every year. The only good thing about sour grass is that it disappears in early spring, so I can live in a pleasant delusion of success — until November rolls around again!

There are other approaches, and I'm working on one of them in this part of the garden - the north slope part. That is to sheet mulch the long snaking path that goes around the contour of the hillside. More on that anon!

Happy new year to one and all - may your gardening year ahead be full of growing - and weeding - success.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know!

Where the raindrops splatter,
and everyone's gladder
To hear blessed water coming down.

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas
With every storm that's coming in.

Where the mushrooms are growing,
And though it's not snowing,
We're all happy dancing in the rain!

May the jet stream stay where it's at
And may all your Christmases be wet!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Divide native iris, bring friends together

There is nothing better than a gardening project to bring friends together for a good time!

A couple weeks ago, my dear co-blogger and her friend Lisa came up to help me rid my yard of Iris douglasiana — What?? Rid my yard of gorgeous Douglas iris?? —

Well, yes - but only because they hybridize easily and I'm still trying to establish a good population of Fernald's iris, our locally wild species. I started that project after I'd already planted quite a bit of douglas iris.

Iris fernaldii, locally native in my neighborhood

I hope for lots more than this!

So - no Iris douglasiana for me!

Now, as you may recall from a recent Town Mouse post, The Gift that keeps on giving, the three of us gathered on a beautiful sunny fall day at Lisa's home to help her come up with a garden plan for her home, with lots of gorgeous native plants, and later Lisa and Town Mouse had a great time in Ms T Mouse's garden finding plants to share.

Well, iris are definitely on Lisa's list and I had quite a few to contribute. I began watering my problem patch to be sure they would lift easily.

Our native iris species are tough and resilient, with year-round green strappy leaves, and spring flowers that are intensely blue and gorgeous. Some Douglas iris are yellow, but the ones I had to share are straight-up blue with yellow accents. They like sun but also do well - or better inland - with less than full sun.

We forked and dug them out pretty easily, and divided them into clumps.

For a detailed post on dividing native iris, see my 2010 post Late November is time to divide native iris.

Ms. Town Mouse trimmed the leaves up as we proceeded.

Luckily I had a lot of pots, claimed from a recycle bin (Yes, I dumpster-dive for garden pots!)

Bye-bye Iris douglasiana! Glad you're going to a good home!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Maybe natives ARE better after all

While I prefer to plant California natives in my garden, I do, at times, wonder whether I'm getting carried away. Take Asclepias, the butterfly weed that is a primary food source for the Monarch butterfly. What could be wrong with planting a non-native butterfly weed? After all, the most favorite hangout of the monarchs along the California coast are the Eucalyptus trees.

Still, I enjoy the rare beauty of Asclepias speciosa, a native butterfly weed. I love the flowers, and enjoy the seed pods. I even did a post only about this plant here.

So imagine my surprise when I saw an article in the  New York Times Science Tuesday section last week that came down fairly hard on the side of the natives. talks about research being done that compares monarchs that feed on native milkweeds with monarchs that feed on a non-native species that is popular in the trade and therefore with gardeners.

...But the most widely available milkweed for planting, the scientists say, is an exotic species called tropical milkweed — not the native species with which the butterflies evolved. That may lead to unseasonal breeding, putting monarchs at higher risk of disease and reproductive failure.

See the article for the details. Research is still ongoing, but I'm feeling much happier about my milkweed going dormant in fall, with no danger of tempting any butterfly at the wrong time of year.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Gift that Keeps on Giving!

With help from the Santa Clara Valley Water District Landscape Rebate Program, my friend Lisa is converting her fairly large garden to natives. Of course I was very excited when I heard about it, and Ms. Country Mouse and I went for a visit during the planning phase.

"Oh, how about some Eriogonum here! And maybe two or three Mulenbergia over there?" we exclaimed. And then:" You can have some seedlings from me. And some Iris. And we can propagate some coral bells!"

That was more than a month ago and now, with the plan complete and the first gentle rain of November bringing the plants back to life, I invited my friend to come for a propagation party. For me, one of the miracles of using natives is how easy many of them are to propagate - and none of them are copyrighted either. So your garden can truly become a gift that keeps on giving. 

When my friend had arrived, I made sure to dress properly:

And to get my tools - clippers, shovel, and Hori Hori.

Lisa brought some well draining potting soil, and a collection of pots. The we went to work:
  • Dug out several Festuca Californica seedlings and put them in large pots because their roots grow long. 
  • Dug out a few Epipactis giganteum (stream orchid) - an experiment, right now they are dormant. 
  • Took cuttings of several Ribes sanguinium var. glutinosum, both the species and 'Claremnont". I'm keeping a few Claremont because it's so pretty. 
  • Took cuttings of Heuchera maxiuman, Heuchera Wendy, and a Heuchera with beautiful pink flowers. 
  • Divided white and yellow Iris - Ms. Country Mouse has already set aside some purple Iris for Lisa, so I focused on yellow and white. 
  • Dug out several Epilobium (California fuchsia), Penstemon heterophyllus, and Eriogonum grande rubescens seedlings. 
For the most part, I dug out the plants, while Lisa filled the pots with soil and put the babies in their new homes. We used rooting powder for the Heuchera - this has greatly helped me in the past.

After just a few hours, every plant was in its pot and the garden looked a little less messy. We looked at the results of our labors (about 50 plants) and were very pleased indeed. Here's hoping that by March or April, everything will be well rooted and the former expanse of lawn will become a native plant paradise, teeming with pollinators, butterflies, and birds.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Planting and Weeding and Planting and Weeding

Yes, in hopes that rain cannot surely be far off - I've been trying to get everything I've propagated into the ground. Oxalis oregana, sedges, heuchera and grasses, grasses, grasses.

And as I go I'm pulling the most persistent of the weeds before they propagate! Oxalis per caprae, weedy geraniums, and grasses, grasses, grasses!

While the warm sunny weather feels a bit surreal and quite a bit disturbing - it seems pointless not to enjoy it and it has been a great pleasure to spend time in the garden among all the fall-migrating visitor birds, as well as our local humming birds. True I'll have to hand water the new plantings - but they are babies and don't take that much.

I bought four plants at the CNPS sale - below are photos two of them. A cleveland sage, Salvia clevelandii; a scarlet flowered island bush snapdragon, Galvezia speciosa, a Phacelia californica - tough and attractive to pollinators; and most wonderful, a yellow flowered, bluish green leaved, channel island bush poppy, Dendromecon harfordii. It should grow about six feet tall and wide. It's away from deer, as is the Galvezia - not so deer resistant as the others.

Phacelia californica

Channel island bush poppy, Dendromecon harfordii

For the rest, I'm doing mostly "restoration plantings." Well, I'm planting natives that I propagated from local wild natives (within a mile or so of my home). Maybe not in the assemblages they would occur in in nature though. I figure if I get them growing and setting seed here, eventually they will naturalize where they are happiest, which is where they would naturally be.

A rush maybe Juncus patens - from locally gathered seeds.

Stipa lepida from local seed. Not as robust a grower as S. cernua, in my garden. I'm trying to get more going this year. I also planted some Iris fernaldii among the grasses - hoping that will look pretty.

Oak behind where grasses and sedges and rushes are planted (too small to see)

Heuchera micrantha, these in the pool garden. Deer have been relentlessly munching the ones outside the fence.

Rhamnus californica, from local seed, and a little Stipa cernua

I also emptied the bulb boxes of their treasures: bulbs of fairy lanterns (Calochortus albus), Fremont's star lily (Toxicoscordion fremontii), checker lily (Fritillaria affinis), and soap lily (Chlorogalum pomeridianum). I put all the bulbs in some kind of container as the critters love to eat them. Except I did try a couple of the Fremont's star lily in the ground as they are - as the name suggests - toxic. Their other common name is Fremont's death camas. Star lily and soap lily are the only ones to grow unassisted on our property. And one great year - some fairy lantern. I grew these bulbs from seeds. It takes a while. I've had flowers from them all - just not the vast quantity I hoped for - yet.

Bulbs of Fritillaria affinis

Mystery bulbs in a container! No idea what they are. Found them while planting other bulbs.

As I worked today I noticed some kinda mud bug houses on ribes stem? Any ideas?

I also noticed that the plant they were on - Ribes indecorum - is already coming into bloom!

Ribes malvaceum from cutting - beside dead R. nevidense. I don't have local wild Ribes in my garden or locally (though there are some, I just haven't found them). So I plant nursery Ribes.

Among my worst weeds are calla lilies -  garden flowers that shouldn't have been planted here. They get out into the wild and are just about impossible to get rid of.

Calla lilies keep on popping up years after I've tried to eliminate them.

Root of calla lily - this is why it's hard to eliminate them.  I took about half a big garbage bag of roots out of one small area of the garden. Well, hopefully it will knock them back a bit. But I fully expect them to rebound. GRRR!
I have a lot more projects lined up - more planting and weeding of course, and working on the long path that splits the upper from the lower slope of our "north garden" area. It's weedy and I'm going to try sheet mulching it and planting on the immediate downslope where it's slipping a bit. I just hope I can get to all of it — before the rains come!