Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Plant of the Month: Carpenteria Californica

Some plants are photo-shy, and even on the third try I've had trouble with one of my favorites, Carpenteria Californica. So I ask your forgiveness if the pictures don't quite do justice to the beauty of the plant itself.

The Western Horticultural Society has this to say:" The white blossom with its boss of rich yellow stamens look like a single rose. The well groomed evergreen foliage is a plus in all seasons. Carpenteria belongs to the hydrangeacea family and is the sole species in the genus. It is native to the foothills of Fresno and Madera Counties, where it grows along the edges of seasonal creeks."

In my garden, I've tried Carpenteria in two places. In the front, where it's sunny, she almost perished, even with some extra water. I finally dug her out and nursed her in a pot for a bit until she looked respectable enough to be given to a friend, who had just the spot. In the back, where it's shady, she grows along the fence and is over 8 feet tall, getting taller every year in an effort to catch more sun.

Blooms start in mid-April, this time we had some blossoms for the garden tour, and go on for about 8 weeks. After that, my dear Carpenteria looks a little spent, but if I snip off the spent flowers and usually some dried-up leaves, she looks respectable for the rest of the year with nice green leaves even with little water.

And soon enough, after the rains in winter, the buds appear again and I look forward to another spectacular show.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Choosy Chickadees. Happy House Finches

We were standing in the driveway when a young chestnut-backed chickadee couple (Poecile rufescens to their friends) came by to check out the real estate in our coast live oak tree. They looked around for quite a few minutes. Mr Chickadee was enthusiastic. His fine lady hung out in the branches nearby, looking unconvinced.

Mr Chickadee: Honey, look! I found the perfect house!
Ms Chickadee: You gotta be kidding. It doesn't even look like a house. I want a proper hole in a tree.
Mr Chickadee: It's modern, it's convenient. See you can hang out on this twig and fly over to the door when it's safe. Back. Forth. Back. Forth. You can pop right in the door. Out again. In again. Back to the twig. It's great!

Ms Chickadee: I just don't think so, sweetheart. I think maybe squirrels or snakes could get in there. We have to think of the children. Let's move on. The realtor told me about a lovely madrone over the way with a big apartment on the 25th floor.

And so there was - I saw a chickadee disappearing into a knot hole high up on our elegantly dying madrone.

This is the second year a couple has seriously considered our nesting box only to move on. I need to figure out what would make a more attractive location. This one is very convenient to a window where one can watch and take photos, though.

In other bird news, the house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) are still flying in and out of our garage but I don't see much difference in the Webster where they are seemingly intent on making their family home. They are always together, flying here and there. Singing on the corner of the upper deck railing that overlooks the garage. I don't have good pictures yet but here's a couple to give you the idea...

The Webster into which they dive with assorted grass and twigs is the dark blob right in the middle of the photo above.

Below is a blurry picture of the happy couple sitting on a dangling electrical cord. The spiky blob near them is the chimney sweeping brush, which they sensibly ignore, preferring the soft Webster.

The garage door is staying open for the duration!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wildflowers of Russian Ridge

The last few weekends, I'd been getting ready for the garden tour, so I was really ready for a wildflower expedition this Sunday. After a solid breakfast, Mr. Mouse, two friends, and I piled into a car and drove 30 minutes up to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserves. And even though Russian Ridge is so close to home, the flowers were almost as amazing as in the Sierra foothills.
At the left, the first tidy tip (Layia platyglossa). While these pretty daisy-like flowers usually have a lighter colored edge, I'm still pretty sure that those are tidy tips, and we later saw some with the characteristic halo. Yellow was the color of that first part of the hike, with fields of California buttercup (Ranunculus californicus).
In some places, they were so thick that the meadow actually looked yellow, as in this picture I took a little later in the hike.
Then came the first wonderful surprise, one of my most favorite flowers, Delphinium californicum (California larkspur).
I first saw this stunning plant at Edgewood Preserves, a very wonderful nature preserves. Let me quote from their site: "Because most species brought in with European settlement cannot live in serpentine soil, such areas form natural preserves of native plants and the animals that depend on them. Any time of year, Edgewood can show how our area looked before European settlement. Edgewood can be thought of as a living museum with a window to California’s past." And it's really true, it's an amazing place to see wildflowers. I still remember when I took my mother there every year, and how enchanted she was by the delphinium, with its beautiful large blue blossoms. Impossible to grow in gardens, it's a joy to discover in the wild.
On we went to find whole fields of blue Lupinus bicolor (minature lupine).

Only a few inches tall, these lupine cover whole areas, and this year had late rains but sun in April so there are more wildflowers than I've seen in a long time.

As we came to a shadier area, we saw some native Trillium. Being a gardener more than a botanist, I must admit I don't precisely know which one, just that it was very beautiful. These trillium are not garden plants, and perish when removed from their native habitat, so it's a treat to enjoy them in the wild.

Upon our return to the parking lot, I badgered everyone to go up the other side of Russian Ridge because I remembered the fields of owl's clover (Castilleja densiflora) on the serpentine in previous year. Strangely enough, this was not the year for them, though we did see a few and snapped a few photos. I've been told that you can see little owl's faces in the white part of the flower if you look at them just the right way.

By then, we were in need of some refreshment and drove down to Cafe Borone for a light repast. And after that, a nap. What a perfect Sunday!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Native or Naturalized?

Yesterday evening, Town Mouse (TM) had an interesting conversation with her imaginary friend Pet Rat (PR).

P.R: Nice photo.
T.M.: Yes, that's a Penstemon heterophyllus (Foothill Penstemon). With that great camera, I'm starting to get some better pictures. I'm even participating in this photo contest by Gardening Gone Wild. This particular contest is for photos of plants that are native in the state.
P.R.: Well, that should be easy. Whatever you see when you go for a walk in the woods or the hills is native.
T.M.: Unfortunately, that's not true. Many plants you see are native, but others might be invasive exotics that are naturalized.
P.R.: Naturalized?
T.M.: Yes. As Wikipedia says, "in biology, naturalisation is the process when foreign or cultivated plants or animals have spread into the wild, where they multiply by natural regeneration. Naturalised species may become invasive species if they become sufficiently abundant to have an adverse effect on native plants and animals."
For example, if you go for a walk around here, you might see forget-me-nots, calla lillies, and vinca major along the streams. Those plants are not native and have crowded out native vegetation. You probably don't see native Iris where the vinca is, it just can't compete.

P.R.: Forget-me-nots? You're kidding. I was sure they were native. So, naturalization sounds like a horrible thing!
T.M.: It all depends. I myself grow daffodils in my garden, and I'm quite happy that they naturalized, which means they multiply every year and I don't have to do anything for them. It all depends on how invasive the plant is and where you live.
P.R.: Well, I buy all my plants from a nursery, I don't just go scatter seeds about, so I should be safe.
T.M.: Don't be so sure. Unfortunately, nurseries are businesses, and they sell plants that are tough and look pretty. Those plants might well be invasive. Think of it, the bugs that live here haven't had enough time to get interested in them, quite in contrast to the natives, which always get nibbled at a bit, and then the owners get a panick attack and don't want that plant again. So, you can buy vinca, cotoneaster, and other invasives in most nurseries.
P.R: Oh no! What am I to do!

T.M.: Go native. Don't you like the Ceanothus Tilden Park above? But there are many attractive and non-invasive non-native plants to choose from. I have lavender, a tea tree, and a butterfly bush in my garden.
I would recommend, though, that you make sure you're not planting an invasive species. If you live in California, you can go to the California Invasive Plant Council web site and check there (we have a clickable link to them at the bottom of our blog). If you live in another state, other plants are invasive. In Oregon, for example, butterfly bush and berbascum are big problems, in most of California it's too dry, they are not a problem. is a good place to start. Or you can just ask a garden designer or a friend that is interested in such topics.
P.R.: Well, at least there are some web sites. Now I feel better, it's not so difficult after all. Still, maybe we can just go to the nursery together next time. I really like the plants you have in your garden. That Triteleia laxa looks great, and it's been blooming for more than a month! Next year I'll get some myself.

Tree work 2 - Chaparral-shape-up

I didn't feel so bad about the chaparral clearing from the plants' viewpoint. A fire sweeping through would have had similar effects. and there was so much old gnarly dead straggly intertwined branches in there - plus, poison oak. But I was concerned about nesting critters. So - we decided to stop with this portion for the breeding season. There is plenty more chaparral for the critters. Afterwards, there was just one pair of dark-eyed juncos who twittered about me, and in a storybook way I could imagine them saying - "Oh woe is us - What have you done with our nest, you cruel human!" But on the other hand they could have been saying - "Hey thanks for all the bugs, we're having a heck of a feast!" So - enough of the anthropomorphizing. Here are some before and after pictures.

BTW you should know that many chaparral shrubs are 'stump sprouters.' After a fire, the top growth may be gone, but the roots and crown are able to regenerate the plants. The guys cut down to the stumps all of the chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) which is very flammable, and also all of the coyote brush (baccharis pilularis). They left the small oaks, coffee berry, manzanita, and some of the ferns and monkeyflower. Later I'll decide where to put narrow paths and what can be allowed to come back, given fire safety considerations.

And I'll plant more monkeyflower, California fuschia, and bunch grasses, mostly propagated from indigenous plant material, as well as some penstemons and eriogonums from nursery stock for more garden color. I have about 200 plants I think - growing in little pots on the deck.

Looking up from the road towards dad's cottage - Before:

Looking up towards dad's cottage - After:

Looking up from the road towards the house - Before:

Looking up towards the house - After:

Just so's you know - standing at this vantage point, if you were to turn around and face the other way, there is more than this amount of chaparral on the other side of the road, continuing down the slope, and it's part of our property too. It's untouched. Also there is about the same amount of chaparral farther round the bend - we've done a good amount of clearing there in prior years ourselves. This is the first time I've hired workers to help. I was nervous at first, but they did a good job, and trimmed up the manzanita well as they went along.

Looking down from the driveway to the road - Before:

Looking down from the driveway - After.

Having the truck there gives you some perspective, some idea of the size and angle of that slope!

BTW as I've been working on this blog entry on my laptop, sitting upstairs in my living room looking out on a deck and the hills beyond, I keep seeing a pair of little rosy house finches pausing on the deck railing, sometimes with twigs and grasses in their beaks. They have decided to set up home in the rafters of our garage, right in the middle of a Webster duster that's stored up there - you know, those green brushes on a stick used for clearing cobwebs from ceilings! Now we can't close our garage door for the duration of the breeding season. I hope we get to hear the chirping of tiny birds by and by. Well, at least I can feel that if they do raise a brood, it's some atonement for the birds we may have dispossessed down in the chaparral.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Buddha and Two Monkeys

I took this photo in the shady part of TMouse's garden, a redwood habitat area, on April 11 this year. I admire TMouse's ability to pull together pleasing combinations of plants.

Tree work 1 - Eucalyptus-be-gone

I felt so sad. But it had to be done. Thanks to Huerta's Tree Service workers for their energy, skill, and efficient team work.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Going Native Garden Tour: Mission Accomplished

This is the fourth year that I've included my garden on the Going Native Garden Tour in Santa Clara Valley. And I really have two goals: I want to educate people about California natives, and I want for everyone (including myself) to have a good time.

For this years tour, I was just a little worried. As the sun was rising it was already in the high 60, and the forecast was for the low 90s. Still, it was pleasant to walk around in the morning light and distribute the signs for all the natives.

Every garden on tour must label all natives, and I use yogurt container lids that I distribute in the early morning and remove again at the end of the day. Looking around, I was pleased that more blossoms had opened on the Carpenteria Californica.

I wiped away some spit bug juice (they always arrive the day before the tour), brought out the books, my garden plan, and educational materials, then sat down to a delicious breakfast that Mr. Mouse had prepared for me.

At around 9:30, the fun began. My morning greeter (who is actually one of my neighbors, thanks again!), my fellow docent Country Mouse, and the nursery truck arrived. Yes, my garden had been selected to have Almaden Valley Nursery come and sell their stunning natives in my driveway. This was a special treat for all, not only because the visitors could buy plants, but also because the nursery staff was very knowledgable about the growing conditions of each plant and could therefore help with questions. They had quite a selection, here's a photo from later in the day. There's more on the left side of the driveway.

The first visitors started to arrive promptly at 10, and there were only very few lulls in the steady stream. Our attractive sign was out to make sure nobody missed us.

Right in front of the garage door, conveniently in the shade, we had the sign-in desk staffed by a volunteer and the cashier from the nursery.

As the sun got stronger, the garden looked more and more beautiful.

Especially in the shade. The neighbors' redwoods shade the back garden, so many of the visitors lingered, asking a few questions and sitting on the benches for a bit as the day got warmer. I really enjoyed meeting people, even some readers of this blog, answering questions, and being outside in the shade on such a beautiful day. My garden designer Chris Todd was my afternoon docent, and a second wonderful volunteer came for the front desk.

By 3:30, the stream of visitors slowed a bit. By 3:45, the nursery announced a special so the visitors that were there agonized over which plants to buy and we ended up running a little late. Then I collected the yogurt lid labels for next year, helped the nursery a bit with packing up (they even swept the driveway, I was so impressed), and then went inside and got a cool glass of tea. The next job was doing the math: 387 visitors this year. I was pretty impressed until I found out that the Old Adobe garden, featured in the Palo Alto Weekly the week before, had had over 800 visitors. But we actually were pretty close to the top.

As the totals from the different gardens came in by email, everyone remarked how delightful it had been to talk to people who were really interested in conserving water and changing their gardens. Everyone had more visitors than ever before, and we all felt our mission had been accomplished: Education... and FUN.

Meanwhile, the lizards and birds that like to hang out in the garden were greatly relieved that the circus was over and that the humans returned to their job of taking care of the plants and the bird baths.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

GGW Photo Competition Country Mouse - better late than never!

This picture is for the Gardening Gone Wild photo competition of native plants in a garden setting.

I posted another picture from this set in an earlier post. It's Bee's Bliss salvia in the early morning sun, right outside my front door. Blissful indeed!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

GGW Photo Contest: Town Mouse

Just a few days ago, the most miraculous thing happened. The buds of my Rhododendron marcophyllum (Pacific rhododendron), which I bought 2 1/2 years ago, started to open. This rhododendron had first almost perished for lack of water, and then some snails almost demolished it, but being a miracle plant, it somehow survived. Then it had a bud all winter. And in early April the bud showed its color. So this is my photo that I'm submitting to the Great Gardening Gone Wild Photo Contest.

This native habitat of Rhododendron macrophyllum is the coastal forests further north, and it needs supplemental water where I live. If you time it just right, you can see Rhododendron macrophyllum in the wild in Kruse Rhododendron State Park, a truly amazing experience.

Of course, this post would not be complete without the open blossom, which is here.

And for those who want the bigger picture, here's the blossom after a day of record breaking temperatures, clearly no longer quite so fresh, but miraculous none the less.

And now I invite all of you to go over to Gardening Gone Wild, where links to other wonderful plant photos are appearing just as we speak.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

GBBD: Late bloomer

I hope you've all read the A Grand Wildflower Day Out post in which Country Mouse describes our amazing adventures on I-140 in the Sierra foothills. While Country Mouse would have never endevored such a reckless undertaking on a work day (she has a few days off), I didn't stop to think twice, and I'm now atoning for my recklessness. This is relative, since I'm self employed, nevertheless, my post celebrating Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, by invitation from Carol of May Dream Gardens, is late because I've had to work.
But let's quick take a turn before it gets completely dark.

Above, on the doorstep, is Heuchera 'limelight', in a pot with a Western Maidenhair fern (Adiantum aleuticum) and a Deer fern (Blechnum spicant).

Also in the front garden we have a Triteleia laxa, a native bulb which has bloomed for at least a month (not to self: get more next fall). I'm stealing this great photo from a Country Mouse post dated March 25.

In the side strip next to the driveway we have three Shasta Sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum 'Shasta Sulphur'). I love this small buckwheat, the flowers turn from a sulfur color to a rich yellow and then fade over orange to brown. Quite a show, and it attracts butterflies! I had trouble with this plant until I realized it was missing the August thunderstorms that it gets in the Sierras. Now I water it a few times in late summer and fall and have better luck.

Ceanothus 'Tilden Park' is that rare ceanothus that tolerates some shade. I've planted three in the front garden, and the first has already started to bloom while my other ceanothus in the back are only just starting. Still, for the first time, I have at least some ceanothus to show during the Going Native Garden Tour which is this coming Sunday.

And here's a close-up. No bees because it's been quite cold and very windy the last 2 days.

And finally, I've run out of daylight. Just lucky that this Carpenteria Californica (California bush anenome) is white, so with just a bit of reflection, I was able to get a photo. Five blossoms are open, 200 more are to come (at least). And these blossoms are 2-3 inches across, so it's really quite a show!

Also blooming in the shade are Dicentra formosa (Western bleeding heart), Smilacea racemosa (False Salomon seal), Oxalis oregana (redwood sorrel), Mimulus puniceus (red monkeyflower) and Clivia (an excellent non-native for dry shade). In half shade the blooms of Sisyrinchium bellum (blue-eyed grass) Aquilega (columbine), and the first Mimulus hybrids (monkeyflower) are calling out, and in the sun Escholzia Californica (California poppy) and several salvias have started to bloom.

I actually took some photos of another plant, but I want to send one of these photos to the Photography Competition at Gardening Gone Wild. Have a look, you too could participate! There's even a prize. But most important, we can all have a look at each others favorite photos, and get some feedback from Saxon Holt, one of my heros.
But now, I'll wander over to Carol's and see what else is blooming...
Before I go, though, an invitation to visit Country Mouse, who takes you on a tour of her blooms in the next two posts (well, maybe, 1 1/2 posts) immediately below this one.