Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dad's Memorial Garden, Planted

A few posts ago I mentioned I was working on a special little garden and would write more about it soon. Well, I was writing about my dad's memorial garden. My dad passed away in April. We miss him, but how can we feel bad -- 97 years of full life, and an easy passing. Can't complain.

We enjoyed having Dad live in the cottage next to our house. For the ten years he lived there, he fed the hummingbirds, gave 'em as much as they wanted -- sometimes a gallon of syrup a day! I'm feeding them now, much less, and planting hummingbird favorites around the cottage to provide lots of nectar.

As well as feeding the hummingbirds and caring for Duncan, his dog, Dad liked building computers -- lots of them! -- and also taking pictures of birds at the bird bath he could see from his window.

Dad's photo of a visiting black-headed grosbeak. You can view an album of his pictures here: Santa Cruz Birds.
So I decided to add some new plants to the area around the bird bath and put his ashes to rest there.

Dad's memorial garden - work in progress. Ribes nevadense in foreground.

Because I'm filling the bird bath every day or so, I can give this area some extra water. So I'm trying a few plants that need more water, or can tolerate it.

Ribes thacherianum, Santa Cruz Island gooseberry
The soil in this area is not the best -- compacted and a lot of clay. It gets sun from mid morning to mid afternoon, with some shade from trees. I'm growing some shrubs to fill the gap behind the garden, but they'll take a few years to fill in. I'll also tidy up the existing shrubs in a month or two.

Ribes sanguineum, pink flowering currant

Blossom of the pink flowering currant - R. nevadense is similar.
Of course I hope the hummingbirds will enjoy a lot of the plants. Here's a list of what I put in:

Three different flowering currants - from this year's CNPS spring plant sale:
  • Ribes sanguineum, pink flowering currant: Likes partial shade, occasional to moderate water, depending on where it's growing -- can also take regular water.
  • Ribes Thacherianum, Santa Cruz Island gooseberry. Likes part to full shade, occasional to moderate water. Dark pink to white flowers. It's rare in the wild.
  • Ribes nevadense, pink Sierra currant -- the high mountains version of pink flowering currant. Flexible as to water -- can even grow with its feet in water. Later flowering than the others - listed as April to July, and can take sun to partial shade.
Also I planted an Australian Grevillea, because my dad lived in Australia for many years, and hummingbirds enjoy their nectar.

And  a mixture of other local wild flowers both just growing there, and some I had to hand from spring planting, mainly:
  • Alum root - Heuchera micrantha
  • Golden yarrow - Eriophyllum confertiflorum
  • Ruby chalice clarkia - Clarkia rubicundum
  • For late summer nectar, our local California fuchsia, Epilobium canis.
  • Bush lupine, Lupinus arboreus
  • Seep monkey flower, Mimulus guttatus
  • I also planted a tiny coffee berry seedling just downslope - Frangula californica
  • And a wart-leaf ceanothus, Ceanothus papillosus, also on the downslope.
  • Also a mystery sedge which is growing really well in another garden area. it is really nice and green.
Mystery sedge!
Some of what's just growing wild. Rough leaf aster, Eurybia radulina in foreground not blooming yet

You'll have to check back next spring to see what all this can develop into, and its value to wildlife.

And here is Dad's great granddaughter, who used to light up his eyes with a smile. She will surely develop into a great gardener, if I have anything to do with it!

Helping plant the garden -- my younger daughter and granddaughter

Monday, May 27, 2013

Hillsides covered in blooming chamise

Blossoms of chamise, tiny but exquisite
I live among a patchwork of plant communities: redwood, mixed-evergreen-forest, and chaparral covered slopes. With vineyards, orchards, corrals, homes, and gardens mixed in.

Right now the chaparral slopes are highlighted like one of those museum displays where you push the button to light up something on a map.
Chamise-chaparral slope near my home. It is facing south, and you can see a north-facing slope in the distance, covered by mixed evergreen forest

That's because all the south-facing slopes are covered in a pale cream sheen of chaparral blossoms. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, they blossom in May.

The type of chaparral we have here is known as chamise chaparral. It's the most common type of chaparral in California. As you might guess, the main component of this type of chaparral is chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum.

Lots of other chaparral shrubs and small trees make up the mix, like manzanita, toyon, coyote bush, coffee-berry, and more. At this time of year, though, you wouldn't know it.

I recommend a set of gorgeous chamise photos by Pete Veilleux, which you can view here: Adenostoma fasciculatum - Chamise.

Pretty as it is, I have mixed feelings about chamise, which is also known as "grease-wood."

That's because of its known high flammability, combined with its proximity to my home, and other homes in these here hills.

In fact chamiso is Spanish for firewood!

So every couple of years, when I do my summer chaparral thinning and dead-wood removal tasks, I single out the chamise for coppicing. Chamise is a stump (or burl) sprouter, so I'm not killing it. Its roots  stabilize the slope. And I also enjoy its fresh green growth -- which in May is covered with wonderful tiny creamy flowers that the bees feast upon.

Maybe I should do as the Native Americans did -- use the tough hardwood that I cut for making tools. Native people made clam-gathering sticks, arrow shafts, digging and reaming tools from the wood. * I wonder what I could make from it?

The Latin species name, fasciculatum, was given because the needle like leaves sprout in bundles, or fascicles. 
And as Bert Wilson at Las Pilitas Nursery's fire page says, if you water lightly throughout the summer, every two weeks or so, the plants absorb enough water to significantly reduce their flammability.

Besides, it wouldn't be much of a chamise chaparral without any chamise, now, would it?

* Plants of San Luis Obispo, Matt Ritter. Kendall/Hunt, 2006.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Yay! I'm a California Naturalist!

I spent a marvelous day today with my fellows in the California Naturalist Program at the UCSC Arboretum. We were wrapping up a 10 week program by presenting our "capstone projects."

Such a variety of wonderful projects there were, too, all to do with sharing nature with others and promoting understanding of our local area's natural treasures. I'll write about them another time. This is just a quick post...

But in the meantime, you can read all about the California Naturalist Program -- which is a statewide program that YOU may be able to participate in if you live in the state -- in an article I wrote for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. It was my "capstone project" for the program:

California Naturalist Program offers learning with a huge dollop of fun.

I urge you to read the article - not because I'm puffing myself - but because the program has been so FANTASTIC! -- and I hope to blog more about different aspects of it over the upcoming weeks.

It's Memorial Day Weekend here in the States. May you enjoy barbecues with friends and family -- and give some thought to the military people who have given their all.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Late Answer to an Unfortunate Exhibition

At this year's SF Flower and Garden Show, one exhibit stood by not featuring plants, but featuring opinions. "Wanted Weeds" had reams of paper for people to comment on an idea that wasn't so very new - summarized in their garden description like this:

This garden provokes and inspires conversation, questioning our values around European invaders. The garden will be mobile as beds of weeds roll around the expo floor. When we think of weeds, we think tenacious, invasive, opportunistic…all negative judgments. However these villains can be virtuous host plants, nectar sources, and medicinals. We place our natives on a pedestal; we have a somewhat pious attitude about what should survive and thrive. Do we desire a pure white nature? Perhaps this fantasy is not worth perpetuating? Maybe changing our attitude about weeds is the answer and the nature that we should look towards.

I found the collection of weeds that were chosen quite interesting. I seem to remember yarrow - well, why not. But there was also dandelion, which I could live without, and the dreaded Ivy, which likes to smother everything in its path. This odd combination of naturalized, relative benign exotics and a clearly invasive exotic high on the Don't Plant a Pest list made me wonder whether the folks who put in this "garden" really thought about this question before provoking others to think. The group, - a collection of instigators, fine artists, and inspirators (whatever that is) does mostly art projects and might shy away from science.

So, here's some suggested reading, friends:

(And, just as an aside, I also think a native habitat with its astonishing biodiversity and change over the season does look more attractive than an area of ivy - at least here in California. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Joy of Bulbing

I almost titled this post "Why don't Bulbs Read Books" - because I'm actually breaking the number 1 rule for bulbs in my garden - plant in containers.
I have in a container:
  • Colochortus luteus 'Golden Orb', the yellow Mariposa lily, above, which really does need perfect drainage. 
  • Erythronium Pagoda, a 50% native trout lily, that really does need more water than my garden offers. I planted about 10, and most of them come up with shiny glossy leaves, but only the one in a pot, watered twice/week, blooms. 

The rest of my bulbs are in various places in the garden - some years they so spectacularly well, and others, well, they seem to at least survive. Most of them. Here's what we had this year.

Triteleia 'Queen Fabiola (above), which I planted mostly in the front garden, usually does spectacularly well. This year, though, it's been mostly dry since the big rainstorm in December. I got a decent amount of leaves, but very few flowers.

In contrast, Allium unifolium has outdone itself this year. Big flowerheads in several locations in the garden, starting an attractive light purple and still looking good when faded to white. I put these bulbs in 2 years ago and thought them a loss initially, but there they were, a delight for all.

Also quite impressive is Dichelostemma ida-maia 'Pink Diamond'. At least 1 1/2 feet tall and very attractive to hummingbirds - just a bit showier than its cousin the red and lime green species.

Also quite spectacular this year is Triteleia ixiodes 'Starlight' - I planted quite a few of these bulbs this year and have been delighted by their pretty faces popping up in different locations in the garden. Fairly long blooming, this is definitely a winner. What's even better is that nobody thinks they're Agapanthus - and I get that comment a lot for Queen Fabiola.

So, how can these bulbs do all right in my clay soil, with mostly pretty poor drainage?
  • Where possible, I've planted them at a bit of a slope.
  • More  importantly, I've planted them in areas with no summer water
  • Finally, I've probably lost some, and there are good years and bad years for the different species
If you have a "normal" garden that receives regular water, I urge you to follow the advice of planting in pots. (One of the tips in Ms Country Mouse's last post.) On the other hand, if you have areas where your California natives grow happily without water, you might be fine planting in the ground. As for the critters, they seem to mostly go to my neighbors gardens, where fruit and vegetables are tasty treats (and they will not eat the Allium).

 Let's hope it stays that way...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Gardening with California Native Bulbs

Triteleia ixiodes 'Starlight' - Pretty Face in Town Mouse garden

Town Mouse is going to be posting about her garden bulbs so first we thought it would be good to share some general info about growing native California bulbs. Some of this material was published in an article I wrote for the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Growing tips:
California native bulbs are easier to grow in containers than in the ground -- both because bulbs are tasty food for burrowing critters and slugs, and because the bulbs must be kept dry when dormant in summer. Most bulbs like to be in full sun to part shade.

You can plant (or replant) bulbs in the fall, at a depth of three times the length or width of the bulb, whichever is greater. Or - generally three to six inches. Root end down!

A recommended potting mix is: 40% potting soil, 40% sand, 20% loam. Use pots that are at least eight inches deep.

Allow to dry between watering (as needed only) during the wet season, and keep dry during the dry summer season.

Fairy lanterns, Calochortus albus - gorgeous! Unpredictable in the garden.

It’s also useful to know that native bulbs do not like to grow among tall plants. In the vast wild-flower meadows of former days, they evolved along with grazing herds of antelope and elk that kept the vegetation low.

(Native people also used controlled burns to promote the growth of edible bulbs and for other reasons to do with support of their lifestyle (as we would say today). Because of native peoples' land management techniques, California had a lot more flower meadow/prairie landscapes than we see today, and they were rich with interesting and diverse life. Those prairies have been steadily closing in with shrubs and woodlands (or being converted to ag. uses). But that's another story.)

One flower in an umbel of Fremont's Star Lily, Toxicoscordion fremontii - they grow in the chaparral here, and also are common in our coastal prairies such as those near the UC Santa Cruz campus.

After blooming and seed set - gather seeds for sharing, and remove dried stalks for appearance sake. Bulbs in the ground disappear while dormant in the dry season, so keep that in mind when designing your garden plantings.

One bulb that is fairly easy to grow in the garden, though, is Meadow onion (Allium unifolium),

Meadow onion, Allium unifolium, starting to go to seed (sorry this photo has the wrong file name btw)

Meadow onion is not so readily eaten by animals, though gophers may snack on it, and it will spread -- if not irrigated in summer. Plant in sun to part shade in lean soil.

Soap Plant - usually pollinated by moths in the evening
Soap root plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), is another easy-to-grow bulb that can survive in the ground. Its tall spikes of small white flowers bloom from May to August and open in the late afternoon for pollination by moths. Soap root bulbs were used by native Americans to make brushes (using the fibers surrounding the bulb), for soap, and also to stun fish.

Ithuriel's spear, Triteleia laxa - kind of an odd color, maybe to do with the camera

Other native bulbs you can try in containers include these:  

  • Elegant brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans
  • Blue dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum (ex. D. pulchellum) - blue. I had a few of these pop up unexpectedly in my garden this year! Why? I don't know!
  • Ookow, Dichelostemma congestum, bluish/purple - stalks can be three feet tall.White triteleia, Triteleia hyacinthina
  • Pretty face, Triteleia ixioides, a lovely creamy color (see first photo)
  • Ithuriel's spear, Triteleia laxa,  generally blue/violet
  • Marsh Triteleia (also known as long-rayed broodier) Triteleia peduncularis
  • Other Calochortus genus bulbs - can be tricky but are very showy
Calochortus blooming in Town Mouse garden - maybe Ms T Mouse can let us know which species?

I've also grown local native bulbs: Fremont's Star Lily,  Toxicoscordon fremontii,  Fairy Lanterns, and (through sheer luck) Fritillaria affinis, checker lily

Checker lily, Fritillaria affinis, in a Country Mouse paw!
Wishing you fun with native bulbs! Through spring you can enjoy their blooms - and plan for more plantings in the fall.

CNPS Grow Natives blog post on bulbs
Pacific Bulb Society - pages on each species are especially helpful.

You can also use our blog label "bulbs" to find more of our posts.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

May Flowers in the Country Mouse Estate - Reseeding, Resprouting

I've been enjoying a few blooms in particular lately. Most of them are blooms of plants that I propagated from local wild. And most of them are in the sunny pool garden...

Poppies golden poppies, Symbol of our state!! From purchased seed. Here with ornamental sage, and local native Stipa cernua, nodding needle grass in the background. Poppies are growing everywhere this year.

I've been harvesting the copious seeds of the nodding needlegrass, and also Stipa lepida, foothill needlegrass - another locally native needlegrass, with shorter awns. I'm leaving plenty for the birds. I think next year I'll grow more S. lepida, the foothill needlegrass.

I grew four different kinds of locally native bulbs from wild gathered seed, with varying success. My fault entirely - I forgot to feed the bulbs in the bulb boxes after harvesting the bigger ones, and the ones I planted out - probably didn't get enough water, or got eaten by gophers. Of the ones planted out - Fairy Lanterns, Calochortus albus did very well - as shown above, seed pods developing. Fremont's star lily - not so much. One plant grew, of the bulbs I planted out. And one fritillary, Fritillaria affinis (I was glad to get an ID on that one!) Soap root plant is doing great though. 

The plant that's captivated me this year is Eriophyllum confertiflorum, golden yarrow - not a true yarrow.  It brightens up so many spots around our property. Does best around here with a little shade, and some water - but it also grows on the arid and sunny chaparral slope down near the road. It's a perennial - just cut it back a bit for the next season.

Also I've been very happy to see that the hairy honeysuckle, Lonicera hispidula, that's growing through the golden yarrow here is doing so well. I grew this plant and others like it from local wild seed several years ago, and I'm enjoying how they sprawl around the edges of the garden and clamber up the fence here and there (they're not very tenacious climbers).

And I'm very happy to see that lupines large and small are reseeding all over the place. They are just starting to bloom. I'll be curious to see if these Lupinus arboreus pack it in after one year, as they did last year, or if they will be perennial as advertised. I also have seen a lot of the little annual lupine,  L. bicolor

Alum root, Heuchera micrantha, second year in its pot there. Just lovely! They are returning where I planted them - doing better with a little shade and water than in sunnier areas. 

Over in the shady bed, things are looking interesting - and a bit chaotic. Right now Mimulus guttatus, seep monkey flower, is bursting out all over. I really love them - but if they dry out in the sun, they really wither big time.

The Verbena lilacena "De La Mina" is coming back after being pruned back hard last year. This is a nursery bought native that the butterflies love.

And here is a butterfly to prove it - The Variable Checkerspot or Chalcedon Checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona). It's been wonderful seeing their caterpillars and pupae too.

Well, that's it for now - I just wanted to share these native California blooms that make me feel so very happy. I'll be writing about a special garden bed I'm putting in, next time. Apart from enjoying the reseeding plants, I've mostly been weeding like crazy everywhere I can. But today - I was overjoyed to see that I've got seeds of local wild western columbine, Aquilegia formosa finally germinating - the first time I've had success with them - I hope I can bring them on!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Instructions for the House Sitter

I'm planning several trips these summer, but I'm lucky to have Mr. Mouse or a house sitter here at all times. A lot of my garden is on Techline drip, and the front garden can get by for a few weeks without watering. But the pots, both inside the house and outside, need a little attention periodically.

1. In the house:
  • Water upstairs twice a week, 2 small watering cans full. 
  • Water downstairs twice a week, 2-3 small watering cans full, or use the large green watering can maybe 1/2 full. 
2. Outside:

2.1 The succulents in the terracotta pots need water once every week at the most. They are tough, and prefer to be dry.  Consider adding some water to the hanging birdbath when you're there, the birds will appreciate it greatly, and it's fun to watch them drink and bathe.

I tried tomatoes in these pots once, and I'm sooooo happy I've replace them with succulents.

2.2 The black pots and the two planters with the mini Japanese maples need water twice a week.

It always feels funny to me to water more in the shade than in the sun. But the CA natives that I have in the shade (and the Japanese maples) are from habitats where they get more water.

Ferns like moisture, and Rudbekia California, in the background, is from mountain meadows and streambanks. I really enjoyed the big yellow flowers, so it's worth the extra water - and I actually never use very much. My new Italian spray head (shown in the first picture) has served me well - I can adjust the volume at the top, the spray density at the other end, and lock and release the flow. It cost a bit more, but I think it will be worth it. And the nice lady from Lee Valley Tools who was selling it at the SF Flower and Garden Store said I can return it if it breaks down really quickly. So far, though, I've been very impressed.

When you're in that area, add a little water to the bird bath, and to the small pot in the flower bed right across from the sunroom.

2.3 Before you turn off the hose, water all the blue pots at the side of the house. These also need water about twice a week because they're shade plants that get a little midday sun.

Finally, water the succulents that hang on the fence in the pockets and the green wall contraption.

I'm not yet completely sure whether they need water that often, but it doesn't hurt to give them some, and it takes very little time.

And that's all, really. When I'm here, I might spray a little water over the other ferns or the ginger. But these are all California natives, so the worst that can happen is that they go summer dormant, only to start over green and beautiful when the rains start again in the fall.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

You can't fault Gerald Weber - Geology at Point Año Nuevo

Sedimentary, my dear Watson!

No matter what your focus as a naturalist -- plants, birds, animals, whatever -- understanding the geology of the place where those things exist is, well, foundational.

I've wanted to want to like geology for a long time, and with recent encounters with local experts -- including Gary Griggs, distinguished professor and author of the Santa Cruz Sentinel column Our Ocean Backyard -- I'm coming pretty darn close to actually enjoying it!

On Saturday, I explored some coastal features along with my classmates in the California Naturalist Program, which is hosted in our area by the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum.  Our able and witty leaders were Gerald (Jerry) Weber, geologic consultant, and Hilde Schwartz, senior lecturer at University of California, Santa Cruz.

Gerald Weber -- I believe that's the Año Nuevo Creek fault line behind his right shoulder.

At Point Año Nuevo, Jerry told us how he discovered an active fault in the late 1960s when studying for his PhD -- and thus prevented PG&E from building a a nuclear power plant at Point Año Nuevo, where elephant seals come to breed each year. Other factors played into the decision but still, Jerry saved the day, in my book. PG&E had sent geologists to inspect the area earlier, and they totally missed the signs that Jerry had spotted that day. (As he told us with just a little professional glee.) I'll try to convey what Jerry told us those signs were as we stood near the place where Año Nuevo Creek flows to the sea.

For one thing, you can see uptilting strata that are being dragged up by the earth's movement along the fault.

Hilde Schwartz shows us the evidence for the Frijoles fault that Jerry discovered.

Here are those rising strata in fluvial deposits that are only around 10K years old, indicating the fault is active.

You can also see that the layers of rock - Purisima formation at this point - are offset on either side of this creek mouth area. (We could see these areas of offset but I don't have pictures.)

Grapic showing the Frijoles fault and the Año Nuevo Creek fault

The same area, with classmates clustered around a fault line.

And here you can see how the river backfilled its channel when sea levels changed - the fluvial deposits.

Jerry and Hilde show us where the Purisima formation meets the rubbly material that flowed in from the river
This was but the last fact-filled stop on our field trip. I cannot remember now if the fluvial deposits occurred because the land rose or the sea fell or vice versa, or what it had to tell us about the fault activity. I may have some of the other details a bit muddled too - I'm sorry if so. Even the tip of the iceberg of what there is to know, which is all the dynamic duo were presenting really, was causing my brain to erupt with facts like a volcano! But now I'm motivated to learn more.

For some other accounts of similar field trips with Jerry, here is a link to an NPR article and here is an account of a Sierra Club field trip.

The main point Jerry Weber wanted to leave us with was this: Here in the San Francisco Bay Area and adjacent Central Coast region, we think of ourselves living between fault lines which shift and cause earthquakes. Instead, Jerry wants us to realize that this whole area is a wide borderland between two tectonic plates,  a mishmash of stressed and fractured rock squished between the Pacific and North American plates.

Oh dear! To repurpose the old Chinese curse - may you live in interesting places!

In another post I'll show you toilet bowls. Not real ones - rock formations of course! And more about marine terraces... and maybe even the coastal prairie habitat that exists on them. But it's time to get ready and go to Hilde's lecture tonight, part of the California Naturalist Program. She'll talk about fossils ... and even without trying, everybody loves fossils, right?