Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Conundrum Series: Sun or Shade?

Ever since I started gardening, I've found myself falling into the "sun or shade" trap. It works like this: I buy a plant, such as the beautiful manzanitas I purchased last weekend, and in my mind, I have the perfect spot for them. In the front garden, where the plants will have sun for most of the day. Or at least half of the day. Or will they? 

Most extreme are the examples of plants at the edge. The Meyer Lemon in the pot above is in a sunny spot on the porch in winter, I move it to bright shade (with 4-6 hours of morning sun) in summer. This year, I've waited too long to return the pot to the sunny porch. You can guess which side of the plant is in the shade. Correct! The little lemon wants to be in the sun and has large beautiful leaves on the right, and sickly looking small leaves on the left. I'm adding the move to the list of weekend chores. 

And here's the rub: Out during a hike, it would not trouble me that the two Monardella villosa plants in the picture above have completely different sizes. But here, in my garden, I'd prefer if they could present the pleasing matching little mounds of purple (or, right now, green) that I had in mind. Instead, we have the little guy on the shady side. 

And the big guy on the sunny side. 

Sometimes I don't follow the rules and things work out. My Salvia spathacea (hummingbird sage) was languishing in the nice shady spot I had chosen for it, full of a white spotty fungus and no blooms all year. I decided to choose a mostly sunny location instead, and even with fairly little water, I've had beautiful blooms and very few fungus problems (the photo below is from this spring, but even now, the plant is mostly green and even trying for a few blossoms). 

Sometimes, the plant survives but does not produce the desired abundance of blossoms, or languishes for months or even years. Here are two Salvias my garden designer put into the original design of the Mediterranean mounds. The first is in bright shade, except for a few months in summer.

And here is its big sister, getting some sun for most of the year. The two are right next to each other, and look just a little bit odd together.

And here's the bad part: No matter how much research I do, I'm never sure what books or websites mean by "part sun" or "part shade". Sometimes they even specify: Sun means 6 hours or more of sunshine. Well, what time of year? Sometimes, they specify "Sun inland, part-shade in coastal locations". Well, is my garden in a coastal location? I'm about 40 miles from the coast, is that coastal?

And so I live and learn, and remain grateful for the plants that tolerate just about everything, such as California poppies, and the plants that look good (though different) in many conditions. Here, Festuca Californica, beautifully bluish green in the shade.

And here Festuca Californica, golden and glorious in the summer front garden.

As for the manzanitas I bought, we'll just have to see how that works out. Will they languish for lack of sunlight? Or will sun after 1 p.m. be enough?  Only time will tell.

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's time to buy plants! (How about tomorrow?)

Fall is the time when a gardeners who have California natives get ready to plant. So imagine my delight when I heard about not one but two native plant sales this weekend. Native Revival in Aptos is having their annual sale, and East Bay Wilds is closing the nursery at the current location in Castro Valley and they're having a BIG blow-out sale (though they hope to reopen elsewhere in the east bay). 

I had carefully studied both plant lists and decided to take a chance and drive over to East Bay Wilds. I had heard about Pete for a long time. He owns a design/build company that specializes in native plants, he's a frequent contributor to the Gardening with Natives Yahoo! Group, and he has amazing photo collections of natives on Flickr here.

But I digress. Because I have a lot planned for tomorrow, I sent Pete an email and asked whether someone would be at the nursery today. He replied he'd be there in the afternoon, so I got in the car a little after lunch. It was surreal to drive along the 4-5 lane highways linking the east bay cities, and to then be rather suddenly transported to a decidedly pastoral setting. 
I actually missed the nursery the first time -- the signs were not up yet, but I persevered,  and made it all the way to the nursery door, where a beautiful mallow greeted me. 

Pete's staff was hard at work getting everything ready for the big sale tomorrow and Sunday, and I took a little time to have a look around. And it was truly impressive! Rows upon rows of healthy-looking perennials, shrubs, succulents, and grasses. Sure, not nursery pretty, but strong, well rooted plants.

I spent a little time looking around, and then went to Pete with my list. He took me around the nursery, and we picked up plants as we went. It was so much fun to listen to a true expert talk about the plants. GWN group members know that Pete has actually collected and propagated several very interesting species from the wild, and I was sorely tempted to buy even more than I did. "This is a once in a lifetime chance," said the devil on my one shoulder.  "You just don't have a spot for this plant," said the angel on the other shoulder.

But seriously, it was just so inspiring to be at this nursery. Did I mention the container plantings (and Pete does have some beautiful pots, also on sale tomorrow and Sunday). Then the enticing colors and shapes of everything, below a redbud turning color in the front, and gray Artemesia behind that. 

Well, it was a good thing I had my list. Sure, a few things slipped on it, but it wasn't bad. So, there's lots of plants left! Tomorrow everything is 50% off, Sunday everything is (gasp!) 75% off. Directions are here. Have fun if you're in the area -- and if not, I hope you enjoyed the virtual visit.

And what did I get? Here's the list, as much to help me remember as to tell my esteemed readers.

Arctostaphylos standordii Louis Edmunds (1)
Arctostaphylos hoovery (1 "a rare plant" says Las Pillitas. My, hope I don't kill it)
Acer circinnatum (1, for a pot)
Asclepias fasciculatum (3 - Need more butterflies)
Eriogonum arborescens (2)
Grindelia (2 Need more yellow in the yellow corner)
Unknown aster (1)
Solidago (3 - Pete has the one that does not reseed agressively, but I forgot the name)
Zauschneria 'Select Matole' (3 for color in the fall front garden)
Heuchera micranta (3 Native Coral Bells that change color in dry season)
Penstemon centrantifolia (4 Scarlet penstemon to interplant with Arctostaphylos)
Ribes Aureum aureum (2 Yellow blooming current from the Sierras, beautiful fall color)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yardwork Catch-up

We haven't been sitting around admiring the views all that much. Though the big fat yellow moon rising yesterday evening and setting early this morning - that was stupendous. No photos: please use imagination!

Mr Wood Rat has finished reinforcing the bottom of the black wire pool fence with 1/2 inch square wire mesh. He dug a trench and made sure there were no gaps, but didn't go down 18 inches, which I hear is what it takes to really keep out the bunnies. Too difficult and disruptive on this sloping area (steep slope within 2-3 feet of the fence). So we'll see. Nice job, Rat!

I saw those clarkia seedlings grow long and lank and thought the need to transplant was urgent, but now I'm not so sure it was. Why did they get so lanky? Too much water and not enough sun? Or is that just what clarkia does? First times are always full of question and doubt.

I split them up into deep 4 inch pots, and many survived. They are just looking lanky in more pots. I lost quite a few to stem breakage. I did some pots with just one, some with a small clump, some with just two. If half a dozen survive and reproduce, it'll be just fine. An out of season experiment.

Like Town Mouse, I did some pruning, and need to do a lot more. I pruned the heck out of the large Ribes indecorum. Here it is just after I started, and realized I should take a "before" shot. It's just budding now so I wanted to get this done. It's blocking a path. Who knew it would be a giant!

I could see some bad results of my former pruning efforts (first attempts again!) and tried to take corrective action. Hope I can learn by observing what didn't work before. I will go back and do a bit more I think. Eliminate crossing branches. Make the last bud at the end be the one whose direction we want to grow in. Thin out clumps of too many branches.

Another thing I did was gather seeds from the last Ceanothus thyrsiflorus growing on our property. Actually it's just half a Ceanothus thyrsiflorus as the other half blew down in a storm a couple years ago. I do want to propagate that. I keep trying. (I would also like to find some local ribes and get some going - our last one died just shortly after I noticed it was there. Don't know what kind they were.) I got a few little bags from a party shop - the kind you put favors in for a wedding. They did a great job of catching the seeds.

It wasn't so hard cleaning them either - a bit fiddly getting the seed coverings separated. I just blew and picked and sieved till they were gone. The last batch I stratified got mold on em. This time I sterilized the damp peat in the microwave before putting the seeds in the fridge to chill for a couple months. Then - it'll be into the greenhouse with them, I hope!

Wood rat also cleaned up the beds on the black fence side of the pool garden. Clean palette. Scary! We are going to mound up a bit near the end where the old lawn is piled up into a lump, and bring the soil level up a bit generally. Need to grow a few things along the fence to minimize it, yet leave gaps to see through. We'd like to make the madrone more visible and the views down the valley - may need to prune some of the toyon to do that - not sure about that one. Ideas for this area most welcome!

Monday, September 20, 2010

On Getting Old

In last Thursday's New York Times was an interview with Woody Allen (above, a statue shown in his Wikipedia entry -- let's not think about this as a garden ornament).

Much of what he said I've already forgotten; though it was interesting at the time. The following statement struck a cord, though:

How do you feel about the aging process?
Well, I’m against it. [laughs] I think it has nothing to recommend it. You don’t gain any wisdom as the years go by. You fall apart, is what happens. People try and put a nice varnish on it, and say, well, you mellow. You come to understand life and accept things. But you’d trade all of that for being 35 again.

Now, I'm not sure whether I agree, and really, I'm much younger than he is, so I can't really comment without comparing apples and oranges (or Eschholzia Californica with Papaver orientale). But when it comes to plants, aging really is bad new in many cases. Take this Salvia Clevlandii (Cleveland sage).

Yes, just this spring, she was beautiful, green, enticing with her blue blossoms and heady fragrance (on the left in the photo below).

But she was hiding an ugly secret: under the attractive top layer of blooms and leaves was a tangle of branches that were either dead or had seen better days.

Not much better -- and having been planted at the same time -- was the Eriogonum fasciculatum (narrow-leaf buckwheat) right next to the salvia. It looked great behind the wine barrel water feature, but it was starting to invade the paths, the barrel, and the salvia.

So this weekend, I finally gathered my courage, my pruners, and my loppers and set to work. The first cuts were hard, but then I started pulling and cutting like a woman obsessed. The rule for salvias is usually to leave 1/3 of the plant, and I actually left even more in height. But I radically cut back in width. I did make sure some green remained, and gave the poor thing a thorough soaking with the hose afterwards. There, that's better. Now please, please don't die on me!

(As for the Eriogonum, I decided to wait until it's done blooming. A wise decision, and all the lizards that lived under the salvia appreciate shelter there for a little while longer.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mystery Succulent (Can You Help?)

A few years ago, while on a shopping expedition to Native Revival (one of my favorite nurseries), I picked up two 4-inch pots with an attractive, fleshy, blue-green succulent. When I asked a person on staff what it was, she said:"Oh, that's not a native. We stock it because people want them." And no, she did not know what it was. Well, it was on sale and so I took it home.

At first I thought it was a kind of Senecio, but then the blossoms appeared, and I realized I had no idea what I had. 

But whatever it is, it is quite happy in my garden! Each winter, the plants seem to double in size. They are easily transplanted, and I've tucked them into containers and put them in the sunny, dry, front garden. While other succulents almost don't make it through the dry summers or succumb to the light frost we sometimes get, this plant seems to love it here.

So, does anybody know? My mystery sedum taller than the blueish Senecio (the first photo has it next to a chair for comparison). Flowers in late spring. Reblooms. Tolerates light frost. Sadly nameless for several years now...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

GBBD September - Country Mouse Report

For a really great show of blooms, demonstrating how lovely a California native garden can look this time of year - go see Ms Town Mouses' post! My post will feature few blooms as we have few. We have had much fog, and relatively little sun of late. I'm not focused on blooms this year - propagation and weed removal are my themes. Let's see what next year brings... Anyway there is one standout (also featured in Town Mouse's garden) and that is a Channel Islands plant, Eriogonum giganteum:

You can see how it's starting to turn a lovely rusty red - I love how it morphs slowly from dewy white to rusty red over a period of many months.

Another southern plant flowering in the garden is Encelia californica, Coast Sunflower. For a nice shot as you see it in the wild, check out this lost in the landscape post. I think here it is a little foggy for her pleasure:

Here she is in whole, behind and to the left of Duncan who is pointing something out to me. Probably something furry:

Another channel islands plant, Keckiella cordifolia, still blooming but in a scraggly kind of way - this is a volunteer actually:

Duncan on patrol, and my trusty snapdragon in front, blooming away, and a Spanish lavender that volunteered and I stuck in a pot. BTW you can see we added a board along the top of the new fence - the neighbor on the other side was concerned deer might jump into our pool area and over the fence into his orchard - so we did the neighborly thing.

The dubiously native Sphaeralcea munroana is blooming scantily. I would put this with something more lush perhaps so the pretty blooms show up against a better back drop. Or maybe it just isn't happy.

Love this non-native abutilon - it managed to squeeze out a flower...

Winifred Gilman sage - a cultivar of Salvia clevelandii - still scents the air with its foliage. And pops the odd flower out all the time, but only one or two.

She's actually a bit scraggly too - and I think it's just too shady where she is right now.

I impulsively bought three more when I was at the nursery for a watering wand the other day. I just love the scent - I'm going to find a sunny and well-drained spot for them, close to the house.

This Lessingia filaginifolia looks a bit ratty but I'm actually stunned that it is flowering at all. It is in a very inhospitable narrow strip between driveway and road, and gets no irrigation and maybe not enough sun either - though it does seem to like a bit of afternoon shade. Yet it survives. I'm going to put masses of these in that spot I think, and they may look better. A good plant for difficult situations:

Here's a closeup - with a bit of tlc I think you'd see more of these pretty little flowers for sure:

Just a few blooms of California Fuschia, epilobium canum (formerly known as Zauschneria californica) - this is a cultivar whose name I forget. This one is a problem for me actually as I would like to propagate our locally native Epilobium canum and don't want them to hybridize.

Ah finally an indigenous native - the sweet little Aster radulinus. When Jeffrey Caldwell came to consult with me the first time, this was the very first "mystery flower" he IDed for me and I was so happy. He said that by removing the invasive weeds I had made room for this little native to thrive. I was over the moon! Now on the Gardening with Natives forum, there has been discussion about growing this in a garden setting. I have seeds to share, but have to get to the seed sharing meetings to share them!

Finally a "mystery flower" IDed for me as Heterotheca grandiflora by Pete Veilleux of East Bay Wilds. (He's giving a talk on propagation Thursday November 4 at the Peninsula Conservation Center in Palo Alto - seed sharing to follow. Hope I don't miss it!)

This flower is weedy, you find it on roadsides. But I'm happy to let it bloom along our roadside. I bet massed it could look quite good... maybe...

Thanks as ever to May Dreams Gardens for hosting GBBD!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

GBBD: The Town Mouse Report

Today, I started a 10-week drawing class. When I mentioned to the teacher that I wanted to learn how to draw plants, she said:"Oh, too bad this time of year nothing is blooming." Mmmm. Let's have a look at nothing...

In the front garden, above, Eriogonum arborescens (Channel island buckwheat) still puts on a good show, and I enjoy the colors of the slowly fading blossom clusters. Also in the front, several self-seeded and transplanted Zauschneria Californica (California Fuchsia). I'm hoping to plant even more this fall.

The back side garden still looks fairly lush, with Eriogonum arborescens, Eriogonum grande rubescens, and Sedum Autumn Joy, all near the Christmas fountain and offset against a lush dark green Toyon on the right.

Here's a close-up of the sedum.

And here's a close-up of the Eriogonum together with the mystery sedum (Ms. ElephantsEye from South Africa will attempt to identify it, I'm planning on a post with blooms soon -- but it's done blooming so I can't include it here)

The mediterranean mounds look much better than last hear because it's been unusually cool. Here the ceanothus, still quite green, with another native buckwheat and Stipa gigantea (giant feathergrass), a very drought-tolerant mediterranean grass.

A close-up of this buckwheat, which really shines this time of year with silvery foilage and white blossoms, beloved by pollinators and butterflies. 

But we also have color! Here, a deep red salvia, revived with a 20 minute soak after the irrigation had been shut of for 3 weeks in my absence. 

This salvia is a big hit with the hummingbirds as is, despite of its blue flowers, the Agaphantus. This one is over 5 feet, and I left a few blossoms during a recent clean-up. 

The big surprise has been that we have a few monkey flower blossoms in the garden. Usually, monkeyflowers are just a sorry heap of dead-looking leaves, with a bit of green mixed in. But this year, a few blossoms. 

And in the shade, the plant playing tricks on me is Rhododendron occidentale. This California native rhododendron was supposed to bloom in spring but did not. It's decided to bloom now, while the leaves are starting to turn at the same time. The beautiful white flowers are tinged with a bit of yellow and fragrant. 

I'd hope that my drawing teacher would be impressed with my collection of California natives and other mediterranean climate plants. But if she were not -- some are not so showy -- I think I'd surely win here over with the waterlily.

And now, I'll briefly head over to Carol at May Dreams Gardens who has faithfully brought us Garden Blogger's Bloom Day for many months and years. Tomorrow, I hope I'll have time to visit longer and see what's blooming in other parts of the country (and the world).