Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dry Garden in Early Fall

All things considered, the garden this fall is quite attractive. Shown above, Erigoneum arborescens in the foreground, Arctostaphylos pajaroensis in the mid-distance on the right and the strong green toyon in the distance on the left offer both enough green and enough variety. Several of my neighbors have taken a different solution to the drought:

This is, of course, quite acceptable. But I'm worried that they'll just put in more turf when the rains start in the fall. Regardless, let's go on a little tour and see what's doing OK after a rather dry winter and a rather warm summer.

The front garden from the other side shows some signs of wear. the Salvia leucophylla (purple sage) did not bloom much but the greyish foliage with the many fine hairs allows it to survive. Regrettably the coyote brush (baccharis, much praised in Ms. Country Mouse's last post) looks terrible this year. No blossoms here (male or female), let's hope that cutting it to the ground will revive it. More in the background, some succulents are doing quite well, while the monkey flower is looking brown and unhappy, but that's how it looks in early fall.

As for the containers along the walkway to the back garden, the less said, the better. I watered these babies twice a week, but it's been too sunny and warm. Come fall, I'll take everything out, save what can be saved, and start fresh. Something to look forward to!

A happier sight as we turn the corner. California fuchsia is not blooming quite as spectacularly as some years, but is putting on a pretty good show! And ribes and some Heuchera in the background have done fine with some water and a lot of shade.

Turning toward the hammock, we see more green in the background: Acrtostaphylos hookeri 'Wayside' has done very well with almost no water in part shade, and in the background a coffee berry and two California snowdrop bush (Styrax Californica) are looking lush an green. Asclepias speciosa, behind the brownish grass on the left, is still looking pretty good with very minimual water. It's the cure against the fussy small leaf syndrom that California gardens can have, and I love the flowers and the large, odd seedheads.

Location, location! has been this summer's mantra. Festuca californica in the background in part sun looks half dead, while the same plant in more shade in the foreground is doing quite nicely.

Then again, the redwood habitat is a bit of a depressing sight. The ginger is barely hanging in there, while the redwood sorrel has almost given up - and we'll see about that fern.

In contrast, California fuchsia and rosy buckwheat, and a sedom in the background, are doing very well indeed, to the delight of the hummingbirds and pollinators.

And, altogether, the garden has how a feeling of hope. The worst of the heat is over. The buckwheats will help the pollinators, and later feed the migrating birds with seed. Many plants - such as the Salvia clevlandii above -- are putting out just a few flowers to say: we're still here, and we're ready for some rain and a new beginning.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


David George Haskell's book The Forest Unseen: a year's watch in nature is a favorite of mine. He picked a yard-square spot (his "mandala") in an old growth forest of Tennessee and wrote short natural history essays about his daily observations. Each one is a marvel of poetic yet scientific writing, revealing deep and deeply amazing connections between the different life forms he observes.

I've meant to emulate his practice for a long time (as far as I am able at least) and then I realized this morning that I in fact have been sitting in the same spot almost daily for a couple of years.

I sit outside with my tea, my McVities biscuits, and Duncan the dog, as close to dawn as I can manage, just a hop and skip from our front porch. It overlooks our chaparral slope, and the redwoods beyond, and beyond them, a sliver of Monterey Bay.

Where's my McVities?

Just in front

Bit down the slope

The elderberries are about gone now. They tempted many shy birds to reveal themselves, wren tits and maybe virioles (not sure yet on some IDs.) and towhees and more.

I sit on a zafu cushion and aim to be as upright as those young redwoods opposite

Some mornings mist makes those ridges and valleys really stand out - so lovely. 

Mist-filled monterey bay and hills beyond (and annoying wires!) and wonderful skies

Through the year I become very aware of the changing position of the sunrise, to my left. it's travelled quite a bit south since the summer equinox. Right now it shines through some old flowering cherries where I often see birds. Lots of lesser goldfinches in spring, and some now I think, passed through. Where are they going? Bushtits too sweep through many mornings, though I haven't seen them of late.

At my feet, I've been watching a ceanothus seedling grow

I'm wondering if it's a local native (C. thyrsiflorus or C. papillosus) or one of the nursery natives I planted, or a hybrid.

I've also been watching the pink cud weed grow and blossom

And turn brown at its base, with prettily curling little leaflets or leaves (if you can get beyond the brown)

And go to seed. These three photos are actually all taken on the same day. The plant is going through all phases simultaneously!

Strands of spider silk connect the various plants - Only when beaded with morning mist, they become visible. And not visible enough for my little camera.

But mostly, on this particular morning, I was struck to see all the tiny flowers budding out on the coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) to my right. My attention was first drawn here by the sound of bees.

And then this odd looking fellow (see first picture in this post for a closer view) who looked more like he'd rather pierce my skin than the stigma of a flower! I don't know what he is.

Fly of some sort… Inquiries are out! These are the female flowers. I had to look quite a bit to find a male plant.

Female flowers come to a narrow throat, like an amphora, with a pretty frill poking out. 

Male flowers of Baccharis pilularis are more yellow and have a broader top. You can see individual flowers here, almost. Oh, for a decent macro lens!

FYI here's an interesting note from National Phenology Network (using an app they developed called "Nature's Notebook") about Baccharis pilularis - giving the name derivation, which I hadn't known before:

Baccaris pilularis is in the Sunflower family. This species arrives as a secondary pioneer species after fire or grazing in chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities.  The genus name Baccharis derives from the Greek word "bakkaris", referring to plants with fragrant roots. The species name pilularis refers to the sticky globs on its flower buds. Native Americans used the heated leaves to reduce swelling, and the wood to make arrow shafts and houses.

I confess I wasn't sure exactly what phenology was. Google kindly offered this definition:

"Phenology: the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life."

Just what my mandala sitting encourages me to do, in fact!

I encourage you to find a "mandala" spot, too. It's a lovely way to start your day.

Especially with a nice cup of tea and a McVitie's Digestive Biscuit!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Extra Dry

It's been in the news, and for one, they aren't exaggerating: we're in a drought, and things are extra dry. Above, a photo I took several weeks ago on a hike in the Los Padres National Forest. Yes, it's always dry there in fall, but this year, it's extra dry. A resident told me they had 13 inches of rain in the winter instead of the average of 35.

All that means that things go dormant sooner - above, the big leaf maple is completely yellow in early August. It normally shows its beautiful fall color a month later.

And yet, it was also quite beautiful. Just look at the fluffy seed heads of Clematis lasiantha against the clear blue sky.

Or the buckwheat, going string out there and also in my own garden.

The best fall color, as always, from the poison oak - well, at least it's easy to see it when it lights up like that.

Interestingly, some of the ferns were hanging in there, even in part sun.

And especially impressive the manzanita, which looked just as good as in spring - again, similar to the manzanita's in my garden.

So, maybe we'll have to have a stroll around the garden next and consider who's looking good, and who's more questionable. It's actually right in front of my eyes every day, so let's see whether I manage to snap the photos and share.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Morning fog and drought

Pseudognaphalium ramosissimum - Pink everlasting
I've been gone from the blog for a while. My thanks to Town Mouse, who has kept the summer time posts flowing.

When I got back from a trip to the U.K. I was shocked at the change in the garden. I left it full of blooming clarkia and sage. I watered before I left. Half an hour of sprinkling takes a long time when you have only two sprinkler heads going at a time, on the end of hoses, but it doesn't take the sun long to suck up that moisture.

Yes, it's been a hot dry summer, and of course we are in the midst of an intense period of drought. Even the coyote brush looks stressed.

But for the past month we have been blessed with a thick blanket of night fog that lingers into the morning. (Where blessing, like Mother Nature, is just a kindly metaphor for me.) It relieves us, temporarily, of our fear of wildfire.

Fog-moistened berries are balls of juice and seed, relished by many of our birds: elderberries, coffee berries, and hairy honeysuckle berries.

I've seen more wrentits lately than ever, cheeping their bouncing-ball accelerating monotone, because they can easily access berries from a low-growing elderberry in the chaparral where they hide out.

Coffeeberry, Frangula californica

Lonicera californica, hairy honeysuckle

And there are lots of seeds that bring California quail into our garden. The amazing display of Salvia 'Winifred Gilman' has turned from vibrant blue to rich brown. Sparrows forage under these plants for seeds too.

I've been harvesting seeds of our local Clarkia - Clarkia rubicunda. I'm at stage one: clipping armfuls, wheelbarrowfuls, of the thin, dry twigs, each bearing several of the long, narrow seed heads whose curling back ends remind me of Mark Twain riverboat funnels. Birds love clarkia seeds too.

Yet here and there pockets of shade hold moisture long long enough to sustain green growth and flowers on the Clarkia rubicunda.

Below is California aster, now named Symphyotrichum chilense. I'm so happy with this plant - it's the first time I've managed to grow one from local wild seed.

Symphyotrichum chilense

And other plants are happy - especially ferns - this is Polystichum munitum, sword fern, with a "cup and saucer" spiderweb.

Other flowers are just happy as can be with the current dry conditions. You might consider some of these for your Coastal California garden.

California goldenrod, Solidago californica
Madia elegans, common madia.. Quail love madia seeds!

close up of Madia elegans blossom

Eriogonum grande rubescens
Not locally native - red (or rosy) buckwheat, Eriogonum grande rubescens blooms where all else is dead and gone! Not deer proof - in fact in my area, this year - no buckwheat is.

Encelia californica 

Encelia californica - coast sunflower, a Southern California native, stays green despite almost no irrigation

Encelia california blossom