Saturday, February 27, 2010



For the last month or so, we've often been surprised to see a hummingbird hard at work picking the white stuff out of the seedpots of the Japanese anemone. "Look!" I'd say to Mr. Mouse. "A hummingbird! Look!"
Anyway. I've tried to take a photo, but each time I finally had the camera ready, the hummingbird had departed, laden with fluffy stuff. 

And when I recently tried to clean up that area, and started cutting of the stems and jamming it all into the compost basket, I heard indignant hummingbird noises from up in the neighbor's Chinese pear. And I mean indignant, and for quite a long time. So I gave up and left about a third of the stems with the most promising-looking seedpods.

In retrospect, that was a kind thing to do. Because we had a pretty violent storm yesterday, with about a half inch of rain in about 2 hours, and high winds. And when I cleaned up a bit in the garden today...


Yes, here's last year's hummingbird nest. Carefully attached to a redwood branch, now old and brown. Beautifully made. Very solid, with lots of fluffy stuff.


I hope the nest sticks together until the garden tour so I can show it to the kids that come (well, the adults as well, I guess). Thanks Mr. and Ms. Hummingbird. What a great gift!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Central Coast Ferns - Part 3: Part Shade to Shade (larger ferns)

Like the picture above, my knowledge of ferns has some pretty dark areas, and a lot of mystery spots. I need more experience. At the frond level, I have a hard time telling any generally ferny shaped thing from any other (Lady fern, coastal wood fern, bracken fern, etc) .

For example, at a park just up the coast, Wilder Ranch state park, there is a coastal bluff walk that is very enjoyable, and three miles from the parking lot or maybe less is Fern Grotto Beach. Here are the ferns growing down from the roof the "grotto" - a shallow cave. In summer, house finches nest here and its great fun to watch them.

But what are they? Coastal wood fern maybe?

When learning to ID something it's good to get hold of a few handles so you can recognize the parts. For ferns we use different botanical terminology than for flowering plants.
  • The stem-like thing we see arising from the ground is not the real stem (which apparently does not grow above ground). It is a stipe.
  • The bits that stick out from the stipe are the pinnae (latin for feathers).
  • In bipinnately compound fronds, the leaflet things that stick out from the pinnae are pinnules.
I've been puzzling to ID the fronds of some of our common ferns and - as we say in Scotland - getting my knickers in a twist. I have noticed this:
  • Giant chain fern pinnules are long and floppy
  • Bracken fern pinnules are more leathery and not dentate or cut
  • Lady fern pinnules are dentate or cut (not sure of the term). Also its pinnules are longer than those of coastal wood fern.
  • Coastal wood fern pinnules are also kinda cut, but they are shorter.
Clearly I'm no expert, but I find that half an hour of painful confusion is worth it if you can get observation in the field shortly thereafter, to resolve the lacunae of knowledge thus brought to awareness. And luckily today I was able to get down the road to the shady stillness of a vale, between rain showers. But let me interrupt this blog post for...

Advice from an Expert
Before getting into the fern pictures I'd like to share some info from someone who is an expert, Pete Veilleux of East Bay Wilds nursery. He gave this advice on the Gardening with Natives forum recently and gave me permission to share it here. [Note: I normalized the punctuation - Pete, like my older daughter, doesn't seem to like capital letters. BTW I added the bold type on one tip that you'll want to be sure to catch.]
Giant chain and deerfern grow where there is water all year long. Chain fern can grow in a tiny, soggy spot in the middle of the desert - as long as it stays soggy. Deer fern like the duff that they live in to remain evenly moist all year - which is pretty difficult considering duff dries out before soil does. Sword ferns grow normally in very deep duff - sometimes in soil which stays a tiny bit moist year round, but they definitely do best w/ higher humidity. The drier it gets where you are, the deeper the shade they need to be in. Thrips is their bane and it takes a loooong time for them to recover from them. Chain fern is the easiest, because it just needs a little mudhole to stay happy. So my advice is site them in total shade - not dark shade, just total shade. Mulch them very heavily and keep the mulch topped off - the more composted the mulch the better. And keep them all watered regularly w/out ever forgetting to water them. Timers are really good for that. otoh, ferns do real well in containers IF you are reliable about watering them. They can get huge and gorgeous in no time [well, in under a year anyways].

I grow the following California native ferns and find them all pretty easy: lady fern, bladder fern, bracken fern, coville's lipfern, wooly lipfern, giant chain fern, california sword fern, coastal wood fern, goldback fern, california lace fern, 5-finger fern, southern maidenhair fern, jordan's maidenhair fern, coffee fern, bird's foot fern, imbricate sword fern, and dudley's sword fern. On top of those, I grow another 6 or 7 non-native ferns. One secret I've learned which works for most ferns [although not all of them], is even if they are always found in acidic environments, they will thrive if given a dusting of lime twice per year. It really promotes growth and vigor in so many of them. The only one I know which doesn't benefit from this is adiantum aleuticum or the 5 finger fern. They get vigorous, but not in a good way. They get kind of crinkly and stunted rather than graceful and soft.
OK, on with the show...

Polystichum munitum, Western Sword Fern
Sword fern and deer fern are similar. I don't see deer fern around here, but deer fern don't have the "hilt" at the end close to the stipe. Western Sword Fern rises tall and narrow in shady moist places or tumbles down from a slope. It is dark, dark green - and it is evergreen, whereas many of the ferns are deciduous. I refer you to Curbstone Farm's blog post for a lovely detailed description of this fern.

In the picture above there are three ferns at least, I think. Is it bracken fern on the left and lady fern on the right? Or Coastal wood fern? I just can't figure it out at this point. The above photo was taken, I think, in Henry Cowell park. And here is the "hilt" part that gives them their common name:

Woodwardia fimbriata, Western Chain Fern
These large ferns, their fronds up to six feet long, spring up and out from the center in a lovely display. They grow nearby, but lower than our property, along the streams. Here's some pictures I took today.

The above is about 12-15 feet across! Here is one frond:

Easily 6 feet long. You can see a five fingered fern below on the right, for a sense of scale. And below are the pinnae and pinnules close up. You can see they are distinctively long.

This photo from last spring is of a youngish western chain fern that is happily growing in Town Mouse's garden.

Blechnum spicant, Deer Fern
Deer Fern is a bit similar to Polystichum munitum but it doesn't have the sticky-out bit (the "hilt" of the sword) at the bottom of the pinnae. There are also different types of fronds, sterile (shown below) and fertile - taller and narrower.

Here's a photo by Pete Veilleux of East Bay Wilds. His Flickr site is a treasure trove of beautiful photos of native plants and animals. He has a whole set on native California ferns.

Athyrium filix-femina, Lady Fern
This fern has such a classic fern shape, I just have a hard time identifying it. I don't know if I've ever really seen it. Here it is, in another of Pete's pictures:

This fern has been well used by humans over time. The quote below is taken from a page on World Biomes:
Grizzly bears like to eat Lady ferns as a major food source. Elk will also eat it also. Native Americans had many uses for Lady ferns. They used lady ferns for drying berries on, and covering food. The young shoots, or fiddleheads, were cooked, baked or eaten raw. Tea was made from the leaves to help urination and to stop breast pain caused by childbirth. The tea was also used to ease labour pains. Roots were dried and ground into a dust to help heal wounds. Oil from the roots of Lady ferns has been used since the 1st century AD to get rid of worms. An overdose could cause weakness, coma, and often blindness.
And here is a clever thing Pete does that I just love - he takes photos of different things and then mirrors them to create interesting symmetries.

I saw a lot of interesting things growing down the road by the stream - including this blossoming thing growing in the wet at the foot of the hill. The picture isn't very good but if you know what this is, please let me know!

I now have 9 or 10 "mystery plants" to ID! I'll share with you anything interesting I find out another time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Central Coast Ferns - Part 2: Part Shade to Shade (smaller ferns. And a banana slug.)

Above is the source of this month's banner. Who says ferns aren't colorful? You just have to look. Below you'll see a picture showing the other side of the polypody, which you normally see.

BTW I decided to make this a three parter as I'm running out of time this morning - such is the working blogger's life - and tomorrow I may get down to where the local Western Chain Ferns are growing, with a tripod. So this post is focused on the smaller ferns that grow around here in the shade, mostly on rocky walls.

Polypodium californicum
, California polypody

California polypody is about the most common small fern around here, growing on shady rock faces. They often colonize a large area. Below you can see the sori bumps showing on the upper surface.

Each blade arises separately from the rock face. But the name means multiple feet, and I guess their rhizomes have multiple knobby branches. When they are just getting established they look more like this.

And here's a picture I like, looking down on them spilling down a slope. Unfortunately flash is sometimes the only way to get a sharp shot of shady ferns, if you don't like hiking with a tripod. These were at a local park.

Adiantum aleuticum, Five Fingered Fern
Another wonderful small fern that grows on shady, moist rock faces is Adiantum aleuticum, five fingered fern. It is a type of maidenhair fern. I haven't noticed it right around here, but at De Laveaga park in Santa Cruz it covers the rock face above a long stretch of the main trail, which used to be a logging road.

(There is some irony in the fact that so many of the trails in our local parks were originally logging roads. Old-growth redwoods built San Francisco and other Bay Area towns in the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th.)

It is a very pretty fern indeed and its wiry black stems were much prized by native people for making patterns in special baskets that were used to hold obsidian knives for a jumping ceremony.

This year I'm not going to miss Ohlone Day at Henry Cowell park, Saturday September 11. It's a wonderful day out for the family and you learn a lot and get to participate in traditional crafts like building a tule reed boat. Plus - there's traditional dancing!

Adiantum jordanii, California Maidenhair Fern
I see this one around here, on shady chaparral slopes. Another beautiful delicate yet strong fern with wiry black stems, obviously related to Five Fingered Fern.

And around here, where there be moist places, there be banana slugs (Ariolimax dolichophallus). Wonderfully large, often five inches long, and the mascot of UC Santa Cruz, where my older daughter, whose hand you see below, gained a degree in anthropology.

-- Go Slugs!

Central Coast Ferns - Part 1: Sun to Part Shade

Ferns are magical, breathing an ancient stillness into a place. On the Central Coast, we are so lucky to have very many fine ferns locally that are beautiful and gardenworthy. Native people used to use them - and still do - in basketry and also to thatch buildings.

Ferns grow in many ecological niches, from damp and shady to sunny and dry. Above is Dryopteris arguta, Coastal Wood Fern, which is happy in sun or shade (more pictures of it below). This is part 1 of a two part post - one for ferns that grow in surprisingly dry sunny spots, and another for those that grow in the moister shadier places.

Pellaea andromedaefolia
, Coffee Fern

These are delicate, small ferns that can grow in masses on sunny rocky slopes.

Pellaea andromedaefolia, Coffee Fern, has rounded leaf segment tips, and Pellaea mucronata, Bird's Foot Fern has a point at the tip of each leaf segment, but otherwise they are similar at least to the non-botanist.

I don't know that these are available in the trade, so maybe they are difficult to grow in a garden. They would be lovely in a rock wall. Same goes for the next fern...

Pentagramma triangularis, Golden-back Fern
(AKA Pityrogramma triangularis)

I love this little fern, so delicate and so tough. Native Americans used the black stems in their basketry. I love how ferns unfurl.

It grows in the most inhospitable crevices on dry rocky and sandy places in the chaparral. At the right time of year, you can pat the small fronds on a child's hand and leave a golden print from the powdery spores on the underside.

Pteridium aquilinum, Bracken Fern
Bracken fern, Pteridium aquilinum, appears sporadically here. I have a vivid memory of a sweeping hillside in Wales in fall, covered with pinkish-orange bracken fern, a magical fairy forest for me and my three-year-old companion to creep under. Around my neighborhood I see it growing on sunny south slopes, and also shady areas too. Our local native is Pteridium aquilinium pubescens, but I don't know if that's what is here though I expect so. I have to do more work to figure that out.

I love the color of dead brackenfern fronds.

Dryopteris arguta, Coastal Wood Fern
Though books say this fern likes the shade, I find it all over my property and mostly on the sunny chaparral side, sometimes in the partial shade of a shrub. It is a tough cookie and an attractive classic upright fern shape. It is a dominant fern on our property, along with goldenback fern. I love seeing it grow in odd nooks and crannies along the chaparral slope here.

When young, and in the shade, it is tenderest green. Like other shady ferns - of which more in a later post.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shout Out: North Coast Gardening

Just last week, Genevieve at North Coast Gardening did a very interesting post on a Podcast on Natives with Douglas Tallamy, of Bringing Nature Home fame. The book was one of my primary motivator for gardening with natives, and I recommend it to everyone. I must admit that I haven't listened yet, though it's only about 45 minutes total. But I'm really looking forward to it.

I expect the Podcast will be so inspiring that everyone who listens will want to go out and garden right away. So, before you overdo, be sure to view some of Genevieve's videos on proper posture and the right tools...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sustainable Living for Gardeners

Jan at Thanks for 2 Day has invited garden bloggers to participate in here Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living project in honor of Earth Day (April 22).

I actually did a post for Blog Action Day called Earth Friendly Gardening Practices, so I thought I'd cast my net a little wider with my Earth Day post and consider some ideas for reducing your garden's (and your) carbon footprint. According to Wikipedia, the "carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event or product". And the more emissions, the more climate change. "Mother Earth is running a fever," a friend of mine said. Actually, it seems more like malaria, with alternating fever and chills, but I'm quite sure she'd be happier if we could modify our collective behavior so she could heal.

1. Grow some edibles. Many garden bloggers are working on reducing their food carbon footprint by growing fruit and vegetables (and eating them). Hats of too you, dear friends! If I didn't live in a summer dry climate I might have my own vegetable bed. As it is, I prefer to feed the wildlife with my low-water garden and grow some fruit. And I try to eat low on the food chain. Here's a thoughtful post on how much eating vegetarian can reduce your carbon footprint.

And here some peaches from my own garden.

2. Shun annuals or propagate. Yes, annuals look so pretty and tempting in the nursery. And often they are cheap. Industrial and government agency gardens often have an ever-changing collection of cheap impatients. In for 2 months, then out in the trash. Repeat. But consider that each plant has to be raised, with fertilizer, in a pot (usually not reusable) and trucked first to the nursery and then trucked to the sight. Two months later, trucked to the landfill or, if you're lucky, the local composting site.

Regrettably, many gardeners are tempted as well. They could have perennials. They could have beautiful bulbs, miraculously reborn each year (like this Triteleia laxa).

Another alternative is propagation. Country Mouse is a passionate and competent propagator. Even with some failures and disappointments, she persevered and has propagated grasses, perennials, and annuals from seed she collected on her own property. I much admire her diligence and I'm excited about her successes, such as the river of grass project she wrote about recently.

So, next time you're tempted by an annual at the nursery, consider your options. Buy it if you expect to use the seeds to have your own home grown plants next year, otherwise, move on.

3. Consider your own transportation. I realize transportation is only tangentially related to gardening. But not one but two garden bloggers have recently sang praise to their SUV and pickup truck in a post.

Fair enough, that didn't trouble me. Different folks, different tastes. What did trouble me were the 40+ comments on one of those blogs. "This truck is so sexy! Your truck is so macho! I love my own truck and they'll have to pull it from my clawing hands when I'm on my deathbed. When I was a little girl, all I wanted when I grew up was a truck like that." That kind of thing.

I found that very upsetting. I had just assumed that as gardeners, we all share a concern for the environment. But it appears I might have been mistaken.

So let me just say what I think:
  • Trucks are fine for hauling big things. Mr. W. Rat has a truck, which he uses, for example, when he builds a greenhouse for Ms. Country Mouse. He does not commute to work in his truck. (We sometimes gratefully borrow the truck.)
  • Trucks are stupid for driving around. 
  • Trucks are not sexy. Actually, I don't think cars are sexy. I think a guy/gal just back from a bike ride, flushed and a with a happy grin, looks sexy. 
  • When I was a little girl in Germany, many middle-aged and older women rode their bikes everywhere. They went shopping, rode to their garden plots to pick up vegetables, or rode to the preschool to pick up their grandkids. I always wanted to be like them, strong and self-sufficient, always ready with a smile, and often with a piece of fruit or a fresh carrot. Really there, not hidden behind a few tons of steel. 
In the interest of full disclosure, here's what I do.
  • I ride my bike to work unless it's raining or I have other commitments, or I'm sick.  
  • I ride my bike on the weekend, for errands and for fun. You'd be surprised what you can fit into the panniers of a good bike.
  • We are a two-Prius family. One of the Prius' is a plug-in hybrid, and Mr. Mouse is just doing a series on electric cars on his Netzerolife blog. I don't ride my bike everywhere, but I try to combine errands, and ask myself whether I could ride my bike with each trip I take.  
 Want to join me? I'm sure we'll see more interesting gardens if we're not sitting up in a truck, but low in a small car. We'll smell the salvias and hear the birds if we ride our bikes. And we can make a big difference to our carbon footprint and help Mother Earth.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I'll see your moss, TM, and raise you one liverwort!

I loved TM's last post, Moss, so when I went out for a walk, I took special pleasure in all the mosses that abound in the mountains here. On the slope below our driveway I noticed the above tiny umbrellas and at first thought they were the fruiting or sexual bodies of the surrounding moss, but you can see they arise from fleshier looking bases - they are a liverwort, but I'm not sure which one.

Those little umbrellas are called archegoniophores, now how's that for a term. And if you want a LOT more juicy botanical terms, visit this professor's lecture notes*. There are male and female liverworts, each having umbrella-like receptacles for sexual reproduction. All bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, and hornworts) have a two-stage lifecycle - as do ferns - which I find fascinating. They have a whole phase when they are tiny things quite unlike the form we are familiar with. Sometime I want to sit for an hour and learn more about that, but today I'm posting quickly before work so I don't have that info to share.

We have a lot of sandstone around here, and the road was cut through it here and there, creating shady, mossy cliffs. So shady it's hard to get a good picture. Here's a picture of a mossy cliff wall where dudleya are growing.

I am hoping to propagate them, but so far, no luck on that front. I have to catch them at the right time. I'm not sure what type they are. They sort of look like Dudleya farinosa, bluff lettuce, but are not so fleshy (and are not on a bluff exactly!), or Dudleya cymosa, canyon dudleya, but they are pointier. Any ideas, anyone?

At least five different types of ferns also grow among the mosses (and elsewhere) in our vicinity, and I want to post about those in more detail later this month, but most commonly on the mossy walls you'll see polypody, Polipodium californicum.

(Dim light makes it hard to get a nice sharp picture).

The glow of mosses on the trees is hard to catch in a picture. I'll close with this snap of the oaks near our corral, which leaves most of the glow to your imagination.

Bryophytes are indeed restful, peaceful, strange plants to contemplate. My resolution for the weekend is to learn more about them, and to determine which ones commonly grow around here.

* Koning, Ross E. 1994. Bryophytes: Liverworts. Plant Physiology Information Website. (2-19-2010).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Frances at Fairegarden, one of the most popular garden bloggers out there, recently did one of a series of posts on moss. And when, in a comment, I mentioned that I might do a post on my moss, she responded "Glad to hear that moss will grow for you as well. It is not something I remember from our time living in southern CA. Your conditions must be vastly different up north."

So, let it be known to all: During the rainy season we have moss. And it might stick around in moist places elsewhere. The picture above is from the edge of the birdbath, which is just a little mossy year round.

But there's also moss along the walls in the shade.

And those rocks look like this from closer by.

And here's another rock, with Oxalis oregoneum in the background.


Other rocks have a mix of moss and lichen. 
And even the concrete buddha-face has now been around long enough to start gathering a little moss. 

The fountain is surrounded by moss year round. 

Though the cracks between concrete pavers collect moss only during the rains.


I know that some gardeners are not so happy to find moss in their gardens. I myself am just delighted to see it cover the walls in winter. 
I love the combination of different greens, above a moss wall with a monkey-flower and some Aquilegia in the background.  And here up close. 

That said, I actually know fairly little about moss. I'm just glad to see it thrive, a happy reminder that the rains have not failed us and the thirsty flowers can drink their fill.