Monday, April 29, 2013

Seeing the Garden Through Someone Else's Eyes

I so enjoy seeing my garden through the lens of someone else's photos and writing. Imagine my delight when I found that Ryan of Dry Stone Garden did a post about his visit to the garden on garden tour day. It was especially wonderful because I hadn't thought to do photos or do a write-up myself.

It was also a nice counterpoint to a post that Rebecca of Gossip in the Garden had done a few years ago.  Wow, I had actually forgotten how many photos were in that post...

Meanwhile, I've done more hiking -- more about that some other time.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Best traffic circle ever

During a recent walk at Steven's Creek Trail, I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I saw the amazing plantings that the City of Mountain View had put in at a traffic circle near the Rengstorff House.

The eye catching ceanothus - I think that's Dark Star in the back, and a groundcover ceanothus toward the front - drew me in right away.

Coming closer, I also saw some tall mallows and salvias, just starting to bloom. Happy bees and bumblebees were enjoying the feast.

And I'm quite sure that this planting saves the city some water. What I appreciate is that the city plants more traditional annuals and perennials in the traffic circle downtown, where I'm sure people prefer the bolder colors and rotation of plants. But here, close to places for walking and biking, it's a great idea to use plants that are attractive, drought tolerant, and good for wildlife. It just made me smile. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

California Natives for Irrigated Shade or Part Shade

Hummingbird sage, Salvia spathacea, can take water and partial shade

I write occasional articles about native plants and related topics for our local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel -- and certainly before each of our California Native Plant Society chapter's plant sales! Our spring sale was today (Saturday April 20 as I write) and yesterday the Sentinel did a great job laying out an article I wrote on a slightly unusual topic - California natives that like water and shade - or at least some water and some shade. Here you go... And Thanks! to Ms Town Mouse for contributing some fine photos!

(One correction though - we have over 8000 native and naturalized plants - over 6,000 are natives, not 8000 as I said below.)
 - - - -

Drought-tolerant California native shrubs have become a popular choice for gardeners looking to replace their water-guzzling and chemical-dependent lawn. Manzanita, coffee-berry, and ceanothus make an attractive show, along with some other sun loving natives. But a host of other beautiful California native plants is available for shady and irrigated garden conditions, too.

Our state boasts over 8,000 different native plant species that flourish in the very different plant communities found up and down California, from the High Sierras to coastal lagoons; from deserts, to forested river banks. In fact, California is one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots. That’s why our state government has dedicated the third week in April as California Native Plant Week, a time when you’ll find many great native plant events up and down California -- including native plant sales where you can find plants for all types of gardens.

Pink flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, stunning early blooms that benefit hummingbirds

Some of the earliest blooming shrubs are the flowering currants. They are wonderful in partial shade situations, and many that do well with occasional water can thrive with regular garden irrigation, too. Pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), for example, is a popular vase-shaped shrub that wakens the year with tender foliage and pendulous pink clusters of flowers. Like many plants native to woodlands or the edge of woodlands, it does well in partial shade and can also take quite a lot of sun. Pink sierra currant (Ribes nevadense), similar to the pink flowering currant, is one of a few that requires regular water -- though it can also take full sun.

Seep monkey flower, Mimulus gutattus blooming yellow below thimbleberry,  Rubus parviflorus.
A local shrub whose large maple-like leaves light up a shady spot is thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus). It can grow up to six feet tall and wide and will eventually spread to form a thicket if you allow it to. It also does well in containers, where it remains fairly compact. Thimbleberry is deciduous, which some see as a disadvantage. But gardens are not static places, and deciduous plants bring a sense of the changing seasons. Western Spiraea (Spiraea douglasii) is also deciduous. It likes water and partial shade and produces showy rose-colored flower clusters from June to September. For an evergreen sun-or-shade lover, you might try California myrtle (Myrica californica). It takes regular water, and can be shaped into a hedge if desired.

California mist maiden, Romanzoffia californica

Perennial ground covers for shade are generally native to woodland areas. They brighten with small flowers, usually in spring, and some will spill prettily from containers.

Redwood sorrel, Clinipodium douglasii, spreads in the shade

These matting perennials retain their leaves year round, generally take full shade to partial shade, and can thrive on occasional to regular irrigation. Check out redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana), woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca), yerba buena (Clinipodium douglasii), and California mist maiden (Romanzoffia californica). Note that California mist maiden, locally native but rare in the wild, should be allowed to dry out in summer.

White inside-out flower (sorry, no blooms yet), Vancouveria hexandra

Yerba buena is common in Santa Cruz woodlands, and makes a tasty mint tea. White inside out flower (Vancouveria hexandra) is a little taller, maybe fifteen inches, and has lovely and unusually-shaped soft foliage. It requires shade and regular water. Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) has large, coarse leaves that are fragrant and deer resistant and it puts out showy spikes of magenta flowers loved by hummingbirds. It can get by with little water, but tolerates regular water too, in well-drained soil.  For a low growing shrub that likes shade, try creeping snowberry (Symphocarpos mollis). It has pretty rounded leaves and white berries that birds love.

Western bleeding heart, Dicentra formosa, reappears each year, like magic!

Like slow-mo firework displays, a few shade-loving perennials grow, blossom, and disappear each year. They bring a lovely sense of surprise to the garden. For example,  western bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) sports wonderful delicate foliage and unusual heart-shaped pink flowers, and Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa) has lovely pendulous orange-red flowers.

Western columbine, Aquilegia formosa, is another spring firework display

Both of these require shade and regular water, bloom from late spring to late summer (with irrigation) and then disappear till the next year. You can easily spread bleeding heart around your garden by division, or simply by digging up their horizontal underground stems (rhizomes) and shallowly burying them in other suitable spots. Western columbine reseeds when happy.

Island alum root, Heuchera maxima with sword fern, Polystichum munitum (Photo: Town Mouse)

Other shade-loving perennials have year-round foliage. Island alum root (Heuchera maxima) and our smaller but still pretty local native alum root (Heuchera micrantha) look great in containers or in the ground. They push out stunning foot-long or more creamy white spikes each year from rosettes of pretty rounded leaves, which last year-round. In cool areas these coral bell-like beauties can take sun and are drought tolerant, but they do look better with some water and shade.

Douglas iris, Iris douglasii (Photo: Town Mouse)

Native iris are showy additions to the garden. While they are drought tolerant, they can also take irrigation and shade and look better with some water. Remember to divide them in November, not July like the non-native irises. The California Native Plant Society spring sale always features a large selection of white, lavender, purple, and yellow irises.

Pacific coast hybrid iris  (Photo: Town Mouse)

Coast irises hybridize easily to produce colorful garden bloomers.

In very wet spots, seep monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) produces masses of yellow snap-dragon-like flowers and reseeds reliably - sometimes too reliably - but what a great excuse to let that leaky faucet keep on dripping! They are also good around bird baths or ponds. You can treat this perennial like an annual if it reseeds profusely where you plant it. It actually does quite well with only moderate water when grown in the shade.

Containers with ferns and pink ribbons, Clarkia concinna  (Photo: Town Mouse)

Some native annuals are perfect for irrigated shade gardens, too, such as the pretty, pagoda-like flowers of Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla), and delicate Pink ribbons (Clarkia concinna). Most Clarkias can take some shade though they’ll flower more prolifically in the sun.

Another lovely container, with deer fern Blechnum spirant and wild ginger Asarum caudatum.

Ferns and grasses round out the shady plant palette. The tall and narrow fronds of deer fern (Blechnum spicant) require shade and regular water, while the similar looking sword fern (Polystichum munitum) can survive occasional dry periods, as can the more lacy-looking coastal woodfern (Dryopteris arguta).

California fescue, Festuca californica  (Photo: Town Mouse)

Festuca californica is a pretty bunch grass with tall stems. It likes partial shade and can take irrigation. Red fescue (Festuca rubra) is a shorter grass that also takes irrigation and tolerates some shade. It is sometimes used for a “lumpy lawn” - that is, an area of low-growing native grasses that mound gently and require mowing down perhaps once every year or so. Torrey’s melic (Melica torreyana) is an attractive locally-native grass that likes to grow on shady banks and has lovely spreading spikes of flowers that ripen to pretty dark seed heads. It also grows in sun, with irrigation.

As you can see, there’s more to California native plants than the tough chaparralians!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Going Native Garden Tour Next Weekend!

Yes, the time has come again you can visit over 60 gardens with at least 50% natives.

Here's how to do it:
  • Register at Registration is free.
  • Use the garden pages to plan your visit - You can actually preview the gardens with many photos at - but you can't see the addresses, which are available only to registered users. 
  • If you want, print plant lists for the gardens you want to visit - or just take a camera and notepad or your favorite electronic device, and be inspired!

My garden is playing its usual interesting games. The ceanothus in the front garden, and even the woolly blue curl started blooming weeks ago.  Salvia apiana, in contrast, doesn't look ready.

Salvia leucophylla has been stunning this year. But Carpenteria won't be ready, most likely.

Sidalcea malveflora, a California native mallow, has showed off its enticing pink flowers for weeks, and I'm a little worried that the plants that get the evening sun will be all done on tour day. But the columbine's don't look ready to bloom.

The sweet little monkey flowers from Gold Rush Nursery are blooming up a storm. I'm fortunate to have the nursery at my garden on Sunday, and I know my neighbors will enjoy the opportunity for a little shopping. 

Gardens from South San Jose to all the way up in Belmont will be on tour, and we'll gave a great variety, from inspiring small front gardens to large 1-acre lots, from beautiful gardens installed and designed by home owners to professionally installed and maintained show pieces.

Now, let's all hope for perfect weather - not too hot, not too cold....


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mystery Bulb Identified! - Fritillaria affinis

In August 8 2012, I harvested the bulb boxes I sowed two years prior with seeds of local wild flowers. I wrote about the initial sowing here, the harvesting here, and the subsequent planting out here.

I sowed four sets -- one of them a mystery - some labeling faux pas occurred somewhere along the line.

What the heck ... ?

As of early April, the Chlorogalum pomeridianum, soap root plant, are growing all over the place - the Calochortus albus, fairy lanterns, is growing in one shady spot, getting ready to bloom, and  Toxicoscordion Fremontii, Fremont's Star Lily is growing in two places, blooming in one. I'm pretty happy about them all!

But there was little sign of the mystery bulbs, which look like this:

Do you know what plant these will grow into?

Just one large leaf emerging from the ground, like the others I had seen in the bulb box.

Until recently the mystery bulbs had produced nothing but one fat leaf each.

And then -- in a pot - a thing I thought must have come from somewhere just by chance!!

Where did this come from?

And then - it bloomed!

Turns out it's Fritillaria affinis, checker lily

I'm so happy I can't stop looking at it. It's been a few days and the flowers are wilting - I'm not sure if I'll get seeds.

Thanks to this Curbstone Valley Farm post - which I got to by Googling "Fritillaria Santa Cruz"--  I connected the dots - or I should say the leaves! The broad single leaf is a "bulb leaf"which occurs in non-flowering plants.

This is not an unusual flower, really. It needs to be kept somewhat moist and cool in summer, and also needs excellent drainage. This flower was growing in pots that are in a regularly watered shady place.

My little story illustrates that plants don't have to be unusual to have a special place in our lives. It's taken me a couple years to learn what this mystery bulb is. Now I know what it wants to thrive, I can give it the care it needs, and, hopefully, I'll see a lot more of these lovelies.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


It might seem as if all my post titles of late end with an exclamation mark - but Reseeds! is actually a quote from the Annie's Annuals catalogue. And it's true - while there's a lot of to do about proprietary hybrics, Annie's will send you plants that reseed readily. With everyone loving the idea of growing plants from seed (or having plants that reseed without being aggressive, I thought I'd list my favorites here.

Above Phacelia tanacetifolia is quite possibly the most reliably reseeder I have. I started with a little packet of seeds, and now, when bloom time is over, I put the seedheads in a place where I want some plants - and in spring, they're back. Mind you, these plants have a pretty high germination rate, and I have a small jungle of Phacelia in the front garden. But there isn't a single plant in the neighbor's yard, so I consider this a winner.

Last year, I bought Layia platyglossa (Tidy tips) for the first time from Annie's and was very happy with those happy yellow faces and a fairly long bloom time. One plant of three reseeded, so I bought two new ones for this year. Not sure whether the very dry spring or the layer of mulch in the front garden is to blame.

Similarly OK, but not enough, is Clarkia cocinna "Pink Ribbons".  A rare Clarkia that prefers part shade, this beautiful bloomer does well in a pot, and I got some second generation plants. But the first generation is more lush and I've ordered two new plants to supplement my volunteers.

Much more reliable are California poppies. They will come through for you even if you put down a decent layer of mulch. Frost sets them back for a bit, but they will rally and put on a show for weeks in April and May. Seeds are beloved by mourning doves, but there's more than enough to go around. Poppies might show up in unexpected places - I pull them when they show up in my front garden, or between the stepping stones. So, if you get poppies, get ready to murder some plants that show up where you don't want them.

Equally reliable and possibly even more showy is Clarkia amoena. I bought a packet of seeds 5 years ago, and have enjoyed an impressive show of blooms in late April and May every year. I pull everything out and leave seedheads in places where I want more plants. Clarkia amoena does fine with some mulch, and does not seem to travel.

A little more adventurous is Clarkia unguiculata (Elegant clarkia). I've seen it travel a few feet, then a few more feet, and I hesitate to pull them because they are so showy. Still, this is not an aggressive spreader and come July, she will be done for the year, and I can scatter the seeds, or not.

I've been a little less fortunate with five spot, baby blue-eyes, and 'Penny Black' three different flavors of Nemophilia. All delightful, five spot is the best reseeder but most of my baby plants got eaten this year (birds?). The baby blue-eyes that came up from seed are a little smaller than their parents, and seem to have a problem with mulch (though they like to come up in the gravel path).  I have a few baby plants in puts, and I'm hoping they'll be ready in another week or two. But my story of growing plants from seed will have to wait for another post....

For now, I'm enjoying the bounty of spring and the surprises I find in the garden every day.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rain, Glorious Rain!

Rain on Festuca California.

Ever since I started gardening, I've been addicted to the text discussion of the National Weather Service (for my region, the forecast is here). And, after a very promising start in December, the weather news has been grim. No rain at all in January and February, and nothing much in March.
Then, it was supposed to rain last Saturday, and it didn't. But on Sunday evening, things finally picked up.

Raindrops on Sidalcaea malviflora, a native California mallow.

A short downpour in the evening, and then a steady drizzle overnight. I think it was close to a quarter inch, which was very welcome indeed.

Ribes speciosum (Claifornia gooseberry)

In the morning, I was so excited to go outside and look at everything fresh and clean.

Hybrid trout lily with raindrops

I love how everything sparkles, and I was also relieved because I was very close to turning on the irrigation. Now I can give it another week.

Heuchera and native ginger (Asarum caudatum) in the rain

Even the pots, which I have been hand watering, can probably go for a few days. And who knows, more disturbances are forecast so I might enjoy another round of glorious rain before the dry season starts.

Salvia brandegii 'Pacific Blue', with birdbath in background

I'm ready for another storm or two!