Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You are the fire! You are the deer!

Plants are unpredictable. Even if the Internet and three reference books agree, they might bloom at unpredictable times, stay much smaller than expected, or spread. Take the Salvia cacaliifolia, (Guatemalan vine sage), one of my pre-native plant purchases. I received five 4 inch pots a few years ago. The plants grew respectably the first summer, but the winter after, a killing frost. I removed all the dead stuff, and they came back next year. Since then, when winter were cold, I just had to snip off the dead stuff. But when winters are mild, I have to remember my gardening teachers advice: "You are the fire, you are the deer, you are the frost."

When plants get out of hand, it's up to us to bring them down to size.

Last weekend, Salvia c. looked ready for me. I got out my trusty pruners and set to work. It's kind of fun not having to worry about the aesthetics of the work. Just snip snip snip, maybe a few pulls on roots that have spread too far.

There. That's better. Look at those hellebores and the Douglas iris on the right and left! And fortunately, even though the compost is full of leaves, we have garden waste pickup on Christmas Eve.

Perfect timing! And very satisfying to know that doing the work of fire, deer, and frost will keep the garden looking appealing and plants healthier.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Paignton Zoo - Saving Animals - and Plants from Extinction

I'm spending a few days on the so-called "English Riviera" with my older daughter and her family, who live in Paignton. Given the current cold snap in the UK, a more apt moniker would be South Coast Siberia.

Nothing daunted, on Sunday we all wrapped up and enjoyed a day out at Paignton Zoo.

There were so few visitors that the animals were bored and came up to have a good look at US. Even the local wildlife - like the little fluffed up robin at the top. So wonderful to see a "REAL" robin, the British Christmas card bird. (As opposed to what is also called a robin in the US.)

My soon-to-be-six-year-old granddaughter shared a picture she had drawn with a monkey who seemed quite taken with her masterpiece.

And my grandson, three in April, got his wish to get up close but not too personal with a "nine-oh-saur!" AKA saltwater crocodile:

As we wandered about, I noticed some California natives. Here's a snap of a healthy Garrya elliptica, silk tassel bush:

Many of our California natives are happy garden plants in the mild south west region of the UK.

I also saw a shrub with ceanothus like leaves but didn't quite recognize it. The zoo is also a botanical garden, and has a database of its plants. Here are all the species of Ceanothus you can see there:

Ceanothus ( Californian Lilac )
Ceanothus dentatus ( Sandscrub Californian lilac )
Ceanothus impressus ( )
Ceanothus impressus 'Puget Blue' ( Californian lilac )
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ( Californian lilac )
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Skylark' ( Californian lilac )
Ceanothus Xveitchianus ( Californian lilac )

I've never heard of that last one and while it is listed on, there are no pictures of it - not anywhere on the internet! I wish I had taken one! Maybe it is rare and endangered? My daughter says she'll see if she can get a photo for me.

I found this statement on the zoo's Botanical Gardens page:
The staff at Paignton Zoo Botanical Gardens have signed up to Plants for the Planet, supporting the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.

To pledge your support visit and sign up today!
I did visit and signed up. I discovered that the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation is an initiative of BGCI, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, a group that is new to me.

It seems that botanical gardens these days have a mission to save plants from extinction, just like zoological gardens now focus on preventing animal extinction, rather than providing entertainments such as the chimpanzee's tea party, a regular event at London Zoo in the days of my youth.

(CNPS also has a Rare Plant Program with a similar mission.)

Paignton zoo also promotes wildlife gardening, for biodiversity. Near this dead tree with its impressive fungus:

I was happy to see this sign:

In typical British fashion, the deadwood is classified into three types: standing, fallen, and deadwood on live trees.

British signs are wonderfully formal, in general. Here's a couple from the zoo's restaurant:

I also saw this box - similar to what we would use for native bees, but there was no sign so I'm not sure who was being invited to take up tenancy here:

And I got to have a cheese and onion pasty (pronounced paahsty) for lunch - a taste of home that whisked me back to college days.

Yes, a great day at the zoo was had by all. And tomorrow I begin the long trek home. I am looking forward to checking in on all my seedlings. Oh - and seeing my family too, of course!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Banner Year

Another year of celebrating California native plants has gone by too quickly. Maybe I'll get around to a pensive retrospective, a list of favorite posts. But for now, let's just have a look at this year's banners (just for once, do consider clicking each picture for better resolution). 

January 2010 came with the pink glow of Arctostaphylos pajaroensis (Pajaro manzanita). So inspiring that I planted 3 more just a few weeks ago.

In March, we showcase a few tiny blossoms of our native currant from up close.

In May, celebrating the April Garden Tour, I had a picture of the lovely Penstemon heterophyllus (Foothill penstemon).

The June banner showed off the stunning eardrops I had seen during a hike while at Tassajara for a few days.

In August I was out of town and was delighted to use Ms. Country Mouse's quail photo for the banner.

In September, I was happily back home and used Zauschneria Californica (California fuchsia).

The October photo really belonged to both of us, it was of a California native maple leaves we saw while up at Tilden Regional Park for a class.

And Country Mouse's beautiful photo of a hummingbird against a fall sky was a worthy banner for the cool and wet November and December.

Thanking all of our readers for great advice, thoughtful comments, and a few laughs we wish you a Bountiful and Floriferous New Year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rain, glorious rain!

Yes, I know there's been reports about severe storms in Southern California. But that's far away from here, and furthermore, we're in the rain shadow of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Even in a good year, we don't get more than 15 inches of rain, most of it in the spring.

For now, I couldn't be happier. Rain has finally managed to moisten the area under the redwood trees. Rain and wind have made short work of the last of the liquidambar leaves. Rain has brought forth seedlings of the California annuals I planted last year. Rain has filled the birdbath to the brim.

Even more amusing, mushrooms are springing up all over the garden.

Regrettably, no edible mushrooms. But still, a sign that all is well.

The welcome rains are soaking the garden, nurturing my California native shrubs and perennials. Listening to drumming of the rain on the skylights, I sleep well and dream of the wildflowers soon to come.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mystery Solved!

In September, I asked the gentle readers of this blog whether they might know the name of the mystery succulent here in my garden. I had some great suggestions, but either the leaves weren't right of the flowers weren't right, not a satisfactory resolution of the mystery.

I mentioned this to a good friend who's very knowledgeable about plants. That very evening, he had the answer to my question: Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga , available (wholesale) from San Marcos Growers. Here's their photo for comparison. Mine is actually a little less orange and a little more rose, but close enough. I'm so thrilled!

Monday, December 20, 2010

We're Guest Bloggers!

We've both been invited to do some guest blogging at the Beautiful Wildlife Garden blog. So, my first post there is right here. Country Mouse will do one next year. We're both thrilled about this great honor and promise we won't neglect our own blog.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cozy Here Beneath the Blast

Robert Burns's mouse thought she was as snug in her nest as I am in my greenhouse. But Burns's plough smashed it all up, and out of his dismay, he wrote his very famous poem To a Mouse, a wondrous marvel of empathy.

I'm a wondrous marvel of empathy too. I think I may have to start the only no-kill nursery in existence. I've spent many happy hours now pricking out this year's seedlings, putting the big healthy ones in their own little pots, and tucking the less precocious bairns back in their little blankies to develop a while longer.

I just don't have it in me to toss them, even though goodness only knows what I'm going to do with 20-odd thimbleberry plants. The thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorum, are thriving mightily:

Unfortunately, they are not so appropriate in a suburban garden. Each of my babies can grow into a spreading thicket up to 8 feet tall! (Around here though, more like 4 feet.)

I Googled some interesting info on this page of a site called, which is in Minnesota. It says thimbleberry is "well adapted to vigorously invade many types of burned sites through rhizomes or seed."

That site also says that the seed requires warm then cold stratification. All I did was stick the berries I collected into envelopes, ignored them for an indeterminate period, washed off the seeds, and then sowed them in a random flurry of activity. So - just goes to show, advice isn't always correct for a particular situation.

There's a lot of other good info on that page though, e.g., the fruits were relished by the indigenous folk, the bark was used to make soap, the leaves were boiled to make medicinal tea, and also dried to a powder and applied to wounds to minimize scarring.

I wonder if a root barrier would tame thimbleberry for use in larger gardens. They are very pretty with big leaves somewhat like a current bush, quite large flowers, and lovely little pink berries, like raspberries.

(I guess they aren't strictly berries. They are aggregates. I just looked it up. Lots of words for different types of fruits. I love this one: drupe. That would be yer plum and peach, fruits with a single stone.)

But I digress. Digressions happen frequently on rainy days when the wind is gusting. Which brings me back to my original quote. There I was, cozily beneath the blast when Bang Bang Bang - above me the vents were being forced open by the wind!

Woodrat says not to worry, they won't actually blow off but I hae' ma doots.

To digress a little more: This post has been interrupted by three brief power outs in the course of writing thus far. Who knows what pearls of wisdom vanished like the snow drops in the river. To throw in a spoonful of colorful cliches.

I'm now working on my laptop which doesn't go down when deprived of current! So let's on to other seedlings and I may remember what I wrote a few minutes ago, who knows.

Here are the Madia elegans, common madia, throwing up their arms:

And here is Heuchera micrantha, alum root, also doing really well. A friend with a shady garden is interested in having some of these:

It's fun to see that so far one leaf is really big, then the next is smaller, then the last true leaf to appear is tiny. They are all in that configuration right now.

The Aquilegia formosa, western colombine, however, is not cooperating.

A crust of peat, starting to go green, had formed on the top. I roughed up the top to break it up before taking the photos. Beneath the crust, it was comparatively dry. Next time I try these I'll have to do a bit more homework.

Eriophyllum confertiflorum, Golden yarrow, are sprouting tidily one to a pot, about half a dozen of them. I'd like to have seen more sprouting but there you are.

Eriogonum nudum, naked buckwheat, is what I was pricking out yesterday, a full flat of them or more. My friend with the shady garden is also interested in these. You can see the crinkles of the eriogonum leaves starting to form.

They are healthy and fortunately not so numerous as the regular and seep monkeyflower seedlings, which are crowded and small, much as they were last post I did on these seedlings. I won't bother to post a picture as there is little apparent change. They are all still bursting with hope.

A learning point:

This is the shakedown period of use in the greenhouse. One thing I have realized is that the upper rack is much too high. I can't see what's up there (let alone water it) even if I get on a chair.

And I'd like a lower rack, maybe 6 or 8 inches off the ground. Trays laid on the ground are too vulnerable to bags o stuff getting tipped on them, or Duncan dancing through them on his way by.

I don't have any gallon pots in here as yet, but then I doubt if I'll need to use the greenhouse for the larger pots. I am growing natives, after all, and I have places outdoors for the plants to grow on - our upper deck is great because it is on all sides of the house, so I can control the amount of sunlight.

I am agitating for a shade structure though, to protect young plants from too much sun, rain, and wind till they are tougher.

My lovely Wood Rat (who is currently gnawing the front off his closet as I write and putting new twigs in place (as it were), to create a computer rack that will keep the noise of computers to a minimum) said - no problem! so I'm happy as can be.

And Duncan, who is staring out the window as I write, will shortly be happy too because a break in the weather means he FINALLY gets his morning walkies.

Afterthought about cameras: My much loved and much repaired Canon PowerShot Digital Elph (SD790 IS) is finally and literally worn out. It no longer reliably - um - projects its lens when stimulated by pressure to its on switch.

So yesterday I lavished some dollars on a new pocket camera - the easier to remember Canon PowerShot S95. It's got more controls, which I like, personalizing it seems pretty easy, and it's still small enough to slip into a pocket for use (carefully) while gardening. (An in depth review comparing it to two other "enthusiast compact" cameras is found on here.)

But the thing I like best about it so far is that in auto mode, it switches automatically between macro mode and regular mode! Maybe they all do this now, but it is one of those features that really really makes a difference. How often have you taken a whole set of landscape shots not knowing you were in macro mode? I know I have.

OK, Duncan, we're going now!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

GBBD December - Things Change

Seems like yesterday -- though it was several days ago -- that I took this photo of Zauschneria 'Calistoga' (California fuchsia) and of Rhododendron occidentalis, the native rhododenron that freakily likes to bloom while it's losing its leaves.

Seems like yesterday that Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum (native currant) was just starting to turn color.

And then this.

Yes, even in the Bay Area the birdbath ices over, though it's pretty easy to smash the ice, or pick it up as I did for this photo. And even here, a few truly frosty nights change everything.

Now the currant glows with fall color.

Now Styrax Californica (California snowdrop bush) is turning yellow, as are the fruit trees, finally going dormant.

But for the hummingbirds, we still have Tecomaria capensis (Cape honeysuckle), and correa from Australia, both reliably confused about the seasons and a cheerful sight in the winter garden.

Even more wonderful, the first buds of this small Euphorbia, soon to bloom, and the knowledge that the different California manzanitas won't be far behind, frost or not.

Just look, even now, a single Heuchera blossom whispers promises of the blooms soon to come.

And now, late bloomer that I am this week, I'll head over to May Dreams Gardens to see what other blooms are to be found this month. Thanks as always to our gracious host Carol and to all other bloom day participants.

Unbloom-day - and Greenhouse Bliss

I was going to take bloomday shots and didn't - such a rainy foggy day it was. Also I forgot.

For the records, we still have yellow Encelia Californica blooming merrily and the non-native cape honeysuckle is feeding the hummingbirds with plenty of orange blossoms. But there isn't much else. A few sprigs of rosemary, that's it.

In another non-photo-op item, I'm happy to report that last night after a work-at-home day, I went out to the greenhouse in the pouring rain and potted on seedlings. It was heavenly.

I'm desperate to get the seedlings I blogged about recently into roomier quarters (2 inch pots - not so roomy, but still) before I leave for a week in the UK visiting family.

So I potted on most of a flat of Madia elegans, common madia, each holding up two long pale-green leaves like arms begging me to move them. And more Heuchera micrantha, and Rubus parviflorus, thimbleberry.

But when I lifted the mats of seep monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus, to see what could be done - they came away like wads of moss: all leaf and no root! I have so many so closely packed, I'm not sure what to do. So I tried various things with a section I scooped up: some one to a pot, some in clumps of up to six, and some in square inch clusters - maybe 20 plants!! And the rest I may leave till the roots get a bit deeper, if they do. Before I leave I'll post pictures, in the interest of documenting the different stages of growth.

Yes, it was such a delight to be out there all snug, happily pricking out the seedlings, with the rain pattering on the roof. The fluorescent workshop light Wood Rat installed is excellent, and so was the beer he brought out for us to share when he got home from work. I finished up some healthy looking heuchera babies while we chatted about our respective days.

Mine was a very good day indeed.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sweet Inspiration

Just like last year, I have the great pleasure of being on the garden selection committee of the Going Native Garden Tour. We've been soliciting gardens for the last few months, and went on the first evaluation tour of 7 gardens last week. I made quite a few photos because I found several of the gardens so inspiring. Above, a picture of the front garden of the garden designer on this evaluation tour. The evaluation committee always includes one designer and at least two other committee members, and last week we started at the designer's garden. I was impressed by the wildlife friendly yet tidy looking garden with deer grass and manzanita and beautiful redbuds. And can you believe the fence?

Yes, hand painted blue iris and iris leaves all along the fence, and some iris inside the fence to mirror the painted flowers. Just lovely. After I'd uuuhh'ed and aaaa'ed over the fence for a bit, we were off to the first garden, the demonstration garden of the Santa Clara Valley Audobon Society at McClellan Ranch Park.

We were enchanted by this beautiful little garden, alive with the songs of birds, beautifully maintained, and clearly labeled. Above, a manzanita nicely set off against the path to the visitor center.

A dramatic bird bath nestled between salvias, native buckwheat, and deer grass. Close by, a majestic  native oak giving shelter to the birds who enjoy the different types of feeders placed throughout the garden.

Succulents in a pot, with native iris right behind. We were impressed that this garden, designed and maintained by volunteers, showed such a great sense for design and was so vibrant and alive and we were delighted to accept this garden for the tour. If you live in the area, a visit to this garden might be fun any time of year; it's a public garden.

The owner of the next garden had removed her front lawn and made the garden drought tolerant and beautiful, partly with rebate money from the water district. I was immediately enchanted by the succulent plantings in the side strip.

All right, it's not all natives, but it looked great and was such a clever way to use that area.

And in spring an summer, the California poppies will give the succulent squares a native feeling. But there was more. Don't you love the stairs leading up to the house?

And just look how great that dry streambed looks with the bench (made with recycled wood) along the side.

Admittedly, the ceanothus, iris, asters, and other plants have a little bit of growing up to do. But I expect that by April, they'll have spread quite impressively, and that all visitors to the garden will find it inspiring.

The next garden was not too far, also a front garden but this one combined edibles and natives.  I was especially pleased by the many butterfly-friendly plants including Verbena liliacea, buckwheats, and a southern California sunflower.

But the centerpiece of this garden were the planter boxes with the attractive edging.

The garden was on a corner lot and looked inviting and attractive from all angles.

And a beautiful birdbath was the finishing touch.

 We were delighted to tell that gardener that we would happily accept their garden, and we're hoping more gardens will sign up so we can offer interesting and beautiful gardens throughout the Santa Clara Valley on tour day. The main rule is 50% California native plants, and no invasive plants (look at Don't Plant a Pest for a list of plants we won't accept).

If you live in the area, we may be waiting for YOUR application? We're hoping to offer some directions for bike tours from garden to garden this year, but need enough gardens to do that. Go to to apply.

If you don't live in the area, or if you live here and your garden is still half lawn, half yawn, I hope you'll find these photos inspiring and start planning your own native plant paradise.