Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Happened To the Dragon Fountain?

In this post I told the sad story of the wine barrel water feature, and how I finally removed it after a summer of lost battles with raccoons.

I'm happy to report that the replacement, I Chinese wedding stool with a reservoir below and a solar fountain pump to power the water, is finally completed. I started with a solar pump that looked on paper (well, on the company website) as if it would be strong enough. But 3 weeks of sad trickles convinced us that this was not enough. Mr. Mouse kindly came to the rescue and ordered and installed a larger solar pump with a more efficient solar panel. The advantage is not only that the fountain looks better, but also that the sound of the water returning to the reservoir is easier to hear.

The racoons have lost interest. No water lilies and no fish. I hope they return to Steven's Creek, where they belong.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Going Native - The View from Inside, and Outside

As I stood in the long line for the Indian meal at the cafeteria yesterday, a lively young woman engaged me in conversation. What role do you play in the company? she asked. Oh, I'm in tech pubs. Ah she said.

She was in marketing. I tried marketing writing once, I said. But I like solid ground beneath my feet. Facts. Oh, she said, I wondered when you would get to that. You know, marketing has that image. Fluff.

For a few minutes, she defended marketing ably: it's about projecting a strong brand image customers can trust and respect, she said. So that when something like Exxon happens, the company won't go under. I thought she was doing well up to that point.

Actually, I said, I'm retiring from high tech in a month or so. I'll be doing a kind of marketing writing myself. Advocacy, for the environment, for California's native plants.

It's something I've been thinking a lot about, lately, and discussing with Ms. Town Mouse.

When Ms Town Mouse and I were driving between California native gardens last Sunday, we talked (as she mentioned in her last post) with some dismay about how isolated the native gardens looked in their suburban setting of lawn after lawn, edged with the same old could-care-less shrubs, for the most part.

 Gardens that are neither ecological nor native, any more than the smooth green - soon to be golden - hills above them are. Those hills were transformed into grazing lands for cattle and are dominated by Mediterranean grasses, just as the suburbs below are dominated by alien grasses. Lawns like that require water, fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides, a lot of gasoline-powered equipment, and time to keep them in trim.

When I made my first garden here - this is what it looked like:

 The lawn was just freshly unrolled, and the dahlias I later grew in the borders had not yet been eaten by gophers.
My garden in 2005 looked, in fact, just like my mother's garden, back in the U.K.

I quickly grew tired of edging and mowing even this small area of turf. And all it attracted were armies of spiders, that made it impossible to do the very thing I had  installed it for: to enjoy relaxing on, after a swim.

Native gardens are so much more interesting, bringing birds and butterflies and native bees, and they take less water, little fertilizer, no herbicides or insecticides, and actually they take way less time to keep in trim. Here is the same area in 2012:

Same area in 2012

It isn't all natives, but it mostly is. It isn't perfectly neat or perfect in any way, really. The fuzzy grayish area near the fence is a coast sunflower in which I suspect some birds are nesting, so I'm leaving it be till summer. But it is SO much more interesting - And All I do is pick a few weeds out each week, and as I do so, I enjoy looking at how things are coming along.

So why are people not "getting the marketing message?" We wondered. They have - we all have - so little time. But it's actually more work to maintain the lawn. But then it's also fairly cheap to pay for a "mow and blow" service that keeps up the conventionally acceptable appearance. 

It's not the amount of physical work, I suspect. It's the mental work involved. When you don't know about natives, what to pick, how to care for them, you feel discouraged. We none of us have much mental energy left after a busy day with work and kids and parents. Meals and household chores. Mentally, the effort to maintain a lawn-with-shrubs is minimal, and you can get on with other parts of your life. It is perfectly understandable.

So maybe I think I still need to be in the fact mode - the best marketing is simple information.

Written in haste. Gotta go to work. More another day on this topic - Helen Popper talking at one of the gardens we visited.... And plants for shady areas....

Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Native Garden Tour - A Visitor's View

This year, after requests for it for several years, we finally had a two-day garden tour. My garden was on tour on Saturday, and it was a great experience. Wonderful volunteers (including Mr. Mouse and Ms. Country Mouse), thoughtful questions from the visitors (mostly).

Then, on Sunday, I had the rare opportunity to be a visitor to some gardens. Ms. Country Mouse and I decided to focus on two gardens, both amazing and a little off the beaten track. In the first garden, we had the great pleasure to attend a book talk by Helen Popper and we were amazed to see how much biodiversity can be available in a very small garden.

Bucking the current trend in garden design to use ten species and repeat them (preferably at right angles), the owner and designer had created a pollinator paradise with annuals and grasses, several different vines, and well chosen foundation shrubs and small trees. The garden included a Franciscan manzanita and three California buckeye. And I especially enjoyed the many small paths that allowed easy access to the planting, both for weeding and for a closer look.

Visiting the garden made me rethink the amount of hardscaping I have in my garden - who knows, maybe this will be the inspiration to take out a little more of the many square feet of aggregate.

The second garden was on a much larger scale with a house on a one acre lot, surrounded by interesting combinations of plants and a very large number of Ceanothus. It was amazing to see how large Fremontodendron, Lavatera, and Galvezia speciosa will get if you let then - and how beautiful they look unconstrained and at mature size.

But most impressive were the ceanothus. Light blue to a very rich, dark shade of blue, large flower clusters and gracefully elongated clusters like the ceanothus from San Diego county below.

 We learned a lot from the owner who told the story of the conversion from blank subsoil to simple drought tolerant plantings to a native plant paradise, without  irrigation (except for some handwatering in the first year).  

With all that beauty, you might think I came home elated and excited. But here's the catch. In my own neighborhood, I've gotten used to my neighbors' preference for smallish pieces of lawn surrounded by knockout roses, rosemary, and other more or less drought tolerant plantings. I know that most of my neighbors are too busy to get involved with their gardens - between kids, dogs, cats, jobs, and sometimes parents, it's just not possible for them to find the time. But seeing other native plant gardens at their peak, beautiful and inviting, and seeing the same pattern of a total lack of neighborhood participation made me sad. One neighbor across the ceanothus garden had turned on the sprinklers on his huge lawn - was it to force visitors to not park at the curb in front of his house? One of the neighbors of the biodiversity showcase had completely paved over every last inch of his sizable front garden. 

I feel fortunate that several of my neighbors came by to see my garden, and one of them even bought quite a few plants. But now I'm worried that she'll stick them in the ground and forget about them - and that she'll never look at a native plant again after that. So I'm wondering what we can do to get the word out about how little it takes, how great the rewards can be, and how important gardening with natives is for us, our children, and our planet. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day - The Country Mouse Extravaganza

Yes, we mice are in heaven as spring awakens our wonderful flowering natives! Here's what's blooming on the California Central Coast, on a ridge at 930 feet or so above sea level, in Santa Cruz County.

It's a very good week to pick as California's Native Plant Week!

Lots of native plant sales and garden tours are coming up - just as a short peek at my immediate locales:- April 21 and 22 is the Going Native Garden Tour, which Ms Town Mouse is involved in orgainzing - and her garden is also on display.  April 21 is also when to hit the Santa Cruz CNPS plant sale and Santa Clara CNPS plant sale - so get out there and Go Native!

Ceanothus "Julia Phelps" graces the bird bath. Still blooming - Dark star has just about finished - these are nursery bought cultivars, very floriferous and loved by pollinators and people alike.

Our native wild wartleaf ceanothus, C. papillosus, is also in full bloom (left) and the flannel bush (Fremontodendron californicum) too - just amazing this year! I wonder how big that flannel bush will get? I hope it gets large enough to fill the space - but no larger! They have felty stems and leaves, and the tiny hairs can irritate when you're pruning.

The blooms on this alum root plant, Heuchera micrantha, - a local wild native I'm growing - have been lovely for a few weeks now, changing from white to pink. Lots more are budding out - this one was very early. I'm not sure if I have one kind with variation or two kinds.

Lovely delicate blossom of Iris fernaldii - local wild iris I'm growing.

They are a bit floppy. Did I baby them too much?  They like high shade. These are under a dark star ceanothus - not very high.

Local wild monkeyflower starting to bloom - and be eaten with relish by variable checkerspot caterpillars.

Oh, the cloud of delicate awns blowing in the breeze, catching the light. Nodding needlegrass, Nasella cernua. Another local wild plant I'm growing. Lots of the new babies I planted out are doing well. Rabbits do eat it if they can, though.

"Poppies golden poppies - symbol of our state" as my children used to sing in school. Not the local kind - these are the kind you buy from nurseries. Eschscholzia californica. Be nice to get some of the coastal ones. They are more yellow with orange in the center.
No poet has yet sung the full beauty of our poppy, no painter has successfully portrayed the satiny sheen of it lustrous petals, no scientist has satisfactorily diagnosed the vagaries of its variations and adaptability. In its abundance, this colorful plant should not be slighted: cherish it and be ever thankful that so rare a plant is common.
—John Thomas Howell, botanist (1937)
quoted from:

The seep monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus, another local native, comes back in pots where I grew it last year. Requires regular water. I love the buttery blooms with their red spotted throats.

Yet another local native that's very gardenworthy, purple bush lupine, Lupinus arboreus, the lavender colored form. When they thrive, they grow big and bushy and have wonderful large blooms. Sometimes they just up and die, and I don't know why.

I love how poppies emerge.

Purple sage, Salvia leuchophylla - still just going gangbusters! Grows natively as far north as Monterey county (just south of us). This one is a mother plant for the CNPS propagation group I volunteer with.

Hummingbird sage, Salvia spathacea  - has a very long bloom period!

Scarlet bugler, Penstemon Centranthifolius - looks so vivid in the garden - can't get it to show up in a photo though. Requires excellent drainage. I love it! I'm thinking I'll try it on other dry slopes. Here it is on an artificial mound in my garden. Not locally native - I've seen it in Monterey county though.

Another trusty bloomer - seaside daisy, Erigeron glaucus. Grows locally on the coast, but not up here on the ridge.

Lovely little violets, local natives that just volunteered in my garden. Viola adunca.

Western bleeding heart, Dicentra formosa - native in the county but not close to where I live. So pretty, and foliage so delicate. They completely disappear when they're done! then they pop up next spring. They pread from stolons, underground stems.

Not in my garden but just down the road - I have not yet been able to grow these from seed. Aquilegia formosa, columbine.

Western morning glory, Calystegia occidentalis. Local native volunteer - covering the toyon. I like it but sometimes I pull it off things if it's smothering them. It is a bit weedy around here.

Blue eyed grass, Sisyrynchium bellum. So glossy and nice. Nursery bought. native almost all over California.

Blue eyed grass - with syrphid fly - local pollinator.

Soap plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum - starts opening around 4 pm. This photo taken around 7 pm, so it's a bit fuzzy. Spidery and interesting plant - not easy to get a good picture though! This is a wild native volunteer.

DON'T PLANT A PEST - I will remove this Spanish lavender. It doesn't take over - yet. But it definitely spreads. I've seen it sneakin around my place. What's your experience of this one? Other lavenders, I haven't seen spreading.

Nursery bought local native - coast dudleya, Dudleya caespitosa. It's just budding now, not flowering. I love this one's red stems

Here's another coast dudleya - stems not so red.

And this is Dudleya cymosa, rock dudleya or canyon dudleya. Vivid orange-red flowers, actually these ones are nearly done blooming but I think more are on the way. Also nursery bought and native in most parts of California.

On to the fun succulents that are not native. I'm not sure what these are any more. I need to brush up. All these non-native succulents were given to students at a class at the Stanford cactus garden as cuttings. They have that violent pink color I'm not sure I like - but I'm willing to try.

Similar little iceplant with softer pink flowers. Succulents are good near a house, in fireprone areas. I hope these will spread where they are planted - and no more. That was the assurance!

Well that was quite a trip I must say - and I forgot one or two native bloomers, oh well.

I'll log on late to the garden blogger's bloom day site hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens every 15th of the month - thanks Carol! Better late than never. And if you haven't seen Town Mouse's bloom day post, please scroll on! It's magnifique!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day - the Town Mouse Celebration

Lepechina fragans (pitcher sage) outlined against ceanothus

After a week of rain, we're thankfully up to 7 inches for the rainfall year. That's only half or normal, but my plants were happy. Now, after a day in the garden, I'm quite tired but I don't want to miss out on Garden Blogger's Bloom day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens every 15th of the month. So I'll follow the lead of my fellow blogger Ms. Country Mouse and will just show in some captions what's blooming in my garden.

Ceanothus 'Tilden Park' in full bloom in the front garden

Baby blue eyes, a California native annual I bought from Annie's Annuals.

Five-spot, reseeded from last year and blooming profusely

Heuchera maxima at the end of the bridge

 Pink heuchera pretty against Festuca California and California poppy leaves

Close-up of pink Heuchera

Hummingbird sage with some poppies in background

Mimulus along freshly cleaned path

Mimulus puniceus in redwood habitat

Tritileia, one of the first bulbs this year

Phacelia and Mulenbergia rigens (deer grass)

Phacelia close-up

First of Layia platyglossa (tidy tips)