Friday, May 30, 2014

"Confetti gardens" - pros and cons

I have posts waiting (greenhouses of Golden Gate National Recreation Area nursery, trip to the arboretum at Golden Gate Park) but today I'm moved to write about confetti gardening, which has been my wont, and the alternative - gardening with large masses for form.

I've been so happy that things actually grow, I've let them pop up anywhere they want!

It looks lovely when Clarkia rubicunda (local native) and California poppies (forget how I got them - seed packet probably) and coastal sunflowers (Southern CA native) are in full bloom

Or this lovely melange up at the Golden Gate Park arboretum - looks like meadow foam and tidy tips maybe? Not sure. And poppies.

And of course no matter what the overall effect - the individual blooms (Clarkia rubicunda here) are stunning!

But then - it gets kind of ratty when it's past its prime. And its prime tends to pass quickly. And it's just kind of all one thing, like paintbox colors all mixed up.

The photo above is not the worst - now the poppies are lying down and mouldering all over the place in various stages of decomposition because I've been too busy to take them out. Which means more billions of seeds for the quail - and for growing next year.

Gardens that feature masses (again the arboretum) like this wonderful large fremontia on the left) and structure like paths can look good past their prime. The eye enjoys resting and moving between these large forms. Creating forms that are aesthetically pleasing is a challenge to me though.

So I want to work on providing masses of one thing and keeping the structure of paths and stairs more defined (and not inundated by gorgeous but sprawling foliage and flowers). This is basic landscaping I know, but I'm a bit slow I guess.

I've been propagating these juncus of unknown species as yet. I gathered the seeds locally (they were abundant and I took only a little) and they all obligingly germinated. I've grown three flats.

In addition to the juncus, I also propagated quite a bit of Carex bolanderi, and Stipa cernua - all easy to grow and locally native.

BTW I would not normally be planting in summer, but somehow I got a greenhouse full of propagules and I think they will just do better in the ground than in their tiny pots over summer. I find it hard to keep them adequately irrigated in their little pots. It gets very hot and dry up here on our ridge. I plan to get my propagation calendar worked out for fall planting. After first good soaking rains is definitely the best time to plant. Also I need something for weed control in the areas I've recently cleared of weedy grasses and mustard and etc. etc., and I'm hoping the plantings will shade out some of them

So my sort of random gardening style continues, using plants that happen to have germinated well — but now I'm thinking a bit about form and placement.

This makes me nervous but I'm having a go anyway.

Many Carex bolanderi, in redwood sawdust mulch. 

This shot shows you most of the area that I'm planting this year. And my granddaughter who helped me garden on May 21 - when her mom and dad were busy with the birth of her little brother!
Later in the year I hope to show some more of the planting on the slopes in the distance in the photo above. Below the propane tank,  I've planted six Ribes viburnifolium (which I hope will screen that ugly tank) and below that lots of hummingbird sage, and some chaparral currant. I'm waiting till fall to plant the farthest slope - near the red sandstone stairs in the distance.

This whole upper slope is a heck of a lot of work and almost overwhelming to even talk about.

In the foreground slope - which extends quite a bit "behind me" - out of the shot - I'm massing the juncus and carex and stipa (rush and sedge and needle grass). You can see a clump of needle grass I planted earlier - and I've been extending it in a wide swoopy swath that goes down the slope. At the bottom of this area is a lot of wild wood rose - pretty! I've also planted a few larger shrubs  - wart leaf ceanothus and coffee berry - locally native - to provide some shade. The slope here faces north west and gets quite a bit of afternoon sun.

Where you see steps (above and to the left of my granddaughter) I'm growing mostly buckwheat and california fuchsia.

BTW the urbanite for the steps came from a path demo at Town Mouse's garden and I'm happy I finally got to use it all up!

Around the urbanite steps, I'm planting buckwheat, Eriogonum latifolium, in the lower area and California fuchsia (Epilobium canum in the upper area. I've also got a row of soap root lilies just below the concrete block retaining wall but the deer have been munching those.
Actually I made a mistake in the eriogonum planting - I thought I picked up the flat of Eriogonum nudum - naked buckwheat - which (like the epilobium) is locally wild-gathered. Instead I grabbed a flat of Eriogonum latifolium.  I only noticed when they were all in. I had grown these for a friend who lives on the coast — in Santa Cruz, where they are locally native.  Sorry! Fortunately I am allowing myself "Eriogonum latitude" this year - not sticking to only naked buckwheat - our local species, but also using others like Eriogonum crocatum for a bit of color and variety in the garden. And really, I think the low form of this buckwheat will look better here.

I'm still tucking odd things in here and there, like Iris fernaldii and Heuchera micrantha - and some new items for me that I've managed to grow from local seed, like California aster and verbena and goldenrod. I'm trying to figure out where these local natives thrive in my garden. But I'm trying not to interrupt the "mass of one thing" areas.

At the bottom of the area to the left of the urbanite steps,  I put in a thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) to add some height. The deer don't agree with my plan though, and it remains quite low!
I'm looking forward to the time when the masses of one thing are actually there. You can hardly see where I've planted them right now. I hope they'll look good — I'll keep you posted!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wildflowers of the Los Padres National Forest

I very much enjoy visiting Tassajara, a monastery in a deep canyon in the Los Padres National Forest. In the summer, Tassajara has a guest season, and the paying guests - which support the monastery for the fall and winter - enjoy the wonderful hot springs, the relaxing atmosphere, and the delicious food.

And, most of all, I enjoy the beautiful wildflowers in the spring - and was quite surprised how much there was to see even with rainfall being only half of normal. Above, a white ceanothus lights up the chaparral.

A close-up shows how unusual this ceanothus is - truly resembling a lilac with flower clusters that are easily 3-4 inches long.

A second, blue ceanothus is harder to find and seemed especially attractive to pollinators.

Similarly, the chaparral clematis was humming with activity.

At the side of the road, where annuals and perennials could enjoy more sun, I saw at least three different species of lupine, plus Penstemon 'Scarlet Bugler' and chia plants.

And, hidden in the rock, the sweetest little dudleya, almost ready to flower.

The star of the show this year was the Santa Lucia monkey flower.

Characterized by larger flowers than the monkey flower in Santa Clara or Santa Cruz county, this species also has distinctive coloring.

Though I was a little puzzled when I saw a plant with buttery yellow flowers right next to one with much lighter flowers. It was tempting to take cuttings, but it's extremely likely that a plant that's used to sandy soil and sharp drainage won't make it through a Bay Area winter.

I also enjoyed yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum), large shrubs with lilac-colored flower clusters. It's supposedly good for asthma and allergies, but I tend to be timid when it comes to eating or drinking things I don't know so I mainly enjoyed the flowers. 

Things changed when the doors opened for Tassajara bag lunch - between delicious spreads, grilled veggies, fresh Tassajara bread, and cookies everybody found something they liked - and I looked forward to take my wonderful lunch out on a hike to discover more flowers.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

GGNRA propagation nursery for local restoration. Now THAT'S a proper propagation nursery!

In the Presidio of San Francisco near Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco,

nestled among the former military housing, sits an amazing restoration nursery.
You can see its shade house on the right.
It propagates local native plants for the Golden Gate Regional Recreation area

Five of our CNPS propagation group recently took a field trip to the Presidio Native Plant Nursery, one of the six (I think) propagation nurseries run by the redoubtable Betty Young. These nurseries propagate plants for restoration projects in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes the Presidio and natural areas north and south of Golden Gate Bridge.

Unlike propagation for horticulture, restoration propagation is done by seed where possible, to ensure biodiversity. Seeds are collected from many different plants, fifty or so if possible, and the resulting plants are planted in the same sub-watershed as the parent plants.

First we visited the seed preparation area. So organized, with equipment so clean and useable.

A wonderful device for separating chaff from seed. 

Here's the motor for the device.

These intriguing pieces of home-made equipment are for rubbing seeds to separate the seed from the seed head and chaff

Wonderful screens of different sizes, again to get the seeds clean.

And of course colanders and sieves and so on

Seeds are placed in envelopes carefully coded for species and watershed, and other information, and sealed in air-tight containers, with silicone (in that tub on the top-right) to keep things super dry

Betty Young, Director of the nurseries, shows us the large fridge where cleaned seeds are stored until ready to grow.

Then we moved on to the seed sowing side of things.

Seeds that need to be stratified (breaking dormancy with cold to mimic winter) are stored in this fridge
Seed mix is prepared from perlite and so on stored in those wonderful white bins on rollers.

The nursery also propagates ferns, which is a tricky proposition. In the fern propagation area, Betty described the hygienic measures taken to avoid fungus.

The fern spores are sealed into small plastic cups in a sterile planting medium moistened with distilled water.

Then placed under grow-lights.
They may stay under the grow-lights for two years, going through the intermediate life-stage of a fern. Then when small ferns emerge, they are planted. Made me want to have a go!

We passed by notice boards and maps showing who is doing what.

This board listed tasks for each area of the nursery.

This one listed plants (using 4-letter codes) ready for planting in the different sub-watershed areas
Various watershed maps. Some areas are smaller than the sub-watershed areas. Restoration is very area specific!

Betty told us that all seeds that are not used are taken to the location where they were collected and scattered. So everything is returned.

Then it was on to the greenhouses and shade house areas, and I'll cover that in the next post. Enough excitement for one night. I'll never look at my little messy greenhouse/potting shed the same way after all this. And I'll certainly be tidying up and organizing!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Tale of Four Penstemons

(FYI - This is a Town Mouse post)

California natives, beloved for being drought tolerant and pollinator friendly, do not have a reputation for being showy. Because of that, I'm always working on adding a little extra zing to my garden for April and May, when garden tour visitors come and when everyone pays more attention to plants.

Foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus) has long been a welcome focal point in the garden. This penstemon is the easiest to grow of all CA native penstemons and can frequently be found in the regular nursery trade.

I bought several cultivars over the years and can't rightly be sure any more whether I have 'Margarita BOP', 'Electric Blue', or something else completely different. I've been lucky to end up with one cultivar that reseeds, and have even been able to give away seedlings to friends.

I haven't been quite as lucky with Penstemon centrantifoluis 'Scarlet Bugler'. This penstemon favors sandy soils and likes sharp drainage.

While I've encountered large areas during hikes in the Los Padres mountains, I've found them a bit challenging. But over the years, one of my plants seems to have settled well enough, and who knows, maybe one day they'll look like this.

 Penstemon palmeri (scented penstemon) is a more recent purchase from Annie's Annuals. It's one of your "like sharp drainage but might tolerate clay soil" mystery plants - but I won't even mid growing it as an annual, it's that stunning. Just look at the little golden beards, the delicate striping - well worth the trouble, and who knows, it might come back.

Penstemon pseudospectabilis (desert beardtoung) is also from Annies. I had one or two give up in a location with winter shade, but one, planted in the sunny front garden, has been covered with blossoms for week and seems happy even without irrigation.

One of those 3 foot tall and narrow plants that are hard to find. 

And beautiful up close.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Magical Day at the Arboreturm

The week before the garden tour, I decided to throw caution to the wind and spend the day in San Francisco with a friend. Surely, the garden clean-up could wait?

And it was truly a wonder day - with a visit to the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit at the deYoung and a tasty lunch with a friend. But the true magic was in the visit to the arboretum. It was one of those San Francisco days, with low feathery clouds giving that perfect light for photography. I was a little sorry I had not brought my large camera, but nonetheless, I was happy with my photo of the still pool with the Japanese stone lantern and so much green.

"Is this duck alive?" two tourists from England asked. Yes, alive, and posing perfectly for a picture. 

Then my friend and I made our way to the CA Native area, and the late rains has done wonders. I was quite stunned to see a field of native iris in the sun - only 40 miles further south part shade is a requirement.

Here's a close-up of another native iris - clearly quite happy in full sun.

The native mallows contrasted with the still-green grass.

I also tried to capture a river of meadowfoam, but it was beyond the powers of my camera. Still, there was enough to see, such as this beautiful yellow lupine.

And a stunning large ceanothus. "There's one blooming from February through May" said my friend, who has enjoyed watching the many pollinators come to the different species of ceanothus showcased in the garden.

The true stunner this year, though, were the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron occidentale). Slow growing and a little touchy, these miracle plants burst into creamy yellow or pink blossoms in spring, and the heady fragrance distinguishes them from other rhododendron.

The closer you get, the more they will amaze you.

Is this for real? (And why doesn't it look like this in my garden?)

After enjoying the blossoms we headed over to the redwood habitat. On the way, my friend pointed out a giant sequoia - which, interestingly, doesn't really look giant in this botanical garden because the warm winters result in a completely different shape than the one we are used to.

But the coastal redwoods look just like those I see on hikes nearby - and the vegetation is lush and green.

Time flew by and I was sorry to leave. Now I'm hoping to return a few more times this year, to enjoy this magical place.