Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fifty Shades of Green


I admit a temporary temptation for a post titled "Fifty Shades of Grey". And really, some plants of the California summer garden do offer a credible semblance of grey - just look at the Salvia sonomensis x clevlandii above. But with some forethought, it's actually possible to arrive at a pleasing combination of different shades of grey-green to green to almost-lime-green.


I talked in my last post about the garden slowly going summer dormant, and the flowers being smaller and less showy. But the different shades of green, the different shapes of the leaves, the combination of foliage color and texture make up for it. Above, Eriogonum arborescens and Eriogonum grande rubescens, two California native buckwheats with foilage to support the beautiful summer flowers.

But even without flowers, the combination of the almost-white leaves of Salvia leucophylla (purple sage) sets off nicely against the lacy leaves of a locally native Artemisia. . The grey leaves are usually covered with fine hairs, which serve as sun protection and also, being a lighter color, most likely reflect the sunlight ever so slightly. You're more likely to find grey in the sun and green in the shade. 


But Arctostaphylos St. Helena, a manzanita that will become a small tree, proves the point that yes, you can find true green in the sun.


And this California redbud, which gets a little bit of extra water, shows off large green leaves until late in the year.


In general, plants that get extra water or that manage to reach the water table are more likely to add those spots of green we all want in our gardens.

My Sambuccus mexicana is a case in point - I'm quite sure it gets its water from way below because it's competing with the neighbor's redwood trees. But the results are pleasing.


And because the fence shades the lower part of the plant, the leaves are impressively green, almost tropical.


That extra bit of shade will go a long way toward greening your natives. Here are two Heuchera that were a gift from Ms. Country Mouse in part shade. The flowers aren't so impressive, but look at that green, look at the reddish veins in the leaves of the plant in the background. 


Also in part shade, the stream orchids are hanging in there valiantly - if I were to cut off all the spent flower stalks, this would be pure green.


Sometimes we can even select the greener of two cultivars. Below, Zauschneria 'Calistoga' (I think, this was a gift), more on the grey-green side.


And right next to it, two greener Zauschneria cultivars. Clearly the two came from two different microclimates, and the gardener can select the color that harmonizes best with their design.


And, really, foilage color and texture are a much more important design decision than flower color - flowers you get for maybe 3 months, foilage you get for most of the year!

Below, a view of the decomposed granite plaza, surrounded by green (coffeeberry, 'Wayside' manzanita, and a few non-native junipers). Fairly restful to the eye, but the hardscaping offers the variation we like.


From another angle, we see the manzanita set off by a buckwheat with grey-green leaves and white flowers - just a little bit of excitement.


In the same way, I've combined native iris, a low-growing gumplant (Grindelia) and Ceanothus 'Diamond Heights'. The ceanothus is a cultivar with almost lime green leaves, and it plays well with the yellow flowers of the gumplant.


Do we have fifty shades yet? Maybe not, but it's time to go out into the garden, watch the lizards play and the birds harvest the seeds. Happy summer!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Real Summer Bloomers of the Summer Dry Garden


OK, I admit it. When asked about summer blooming California natives, I might wax poetically about salvias, monkey flower, penstemon, yarrow, and other beauties just like the rest of the devotees of our native flora. But is it true? What can I really find in my lightly irrigated garden this first day of summer?

Let's start with monkey flower. Even this part-shade small-blooming species, a generous gift from Ms. Country Mouse, was done blooming about a month ago, after about 6 weeks of spectacular display. 


I so have one Mimulus 'Jelly Bean' left blooming in bright shade in a fairly high irrigation zone with ferns and stream orchid. It's delightful, but I'm considering it the exception, not the rule.


The real suprise this year has been Sambuccus mexicana (blue elderberry) which is covered with blossoms. I prune this beautiful shrub almost to the ground each year, and I'm rewarded by blooms in summer and fruit for the birds in fall. I think this works because the tap root has now reached the water table - an impressive feat.


Almost faded are the blue blossoms of this Gilia, which reseeded for me this year and has found its home in a medium irrigation zone. I'm happy about this tall, non-aggressive annual though I'll probably remove the spent blossoms in a week or so.


I've also been quite pleased with Isomeris arborea (bladderpod), which has been putting out a few blossoms even in a no irrigation zone (in the background, a non-native succulent that also contributes some color to the garden).


But the stars of the summer garden, even in this dry year, are the native buckwheats. In my garden, they grow in sun or part sun, and pretty much without water. They're only just starting to bloom - in fact, a few haven't even started yet. I expect 6-8 weeks of blossoms and butterflies - buckwheats are famously popular both with butterflies who like the flat area to perch on and with pollinators. For those patient enough to sit for a bit, it's a delight to watch the comings and goings.

Here's Eriogonum 'grande rubescens', which is not so grande but most certainly red. 


It only just started opening up, so the flowers are bright red. They will fade to a rosy red over time, and then to a burnt orange before they drop the seeds to attract a constant stream of birds.


Eriogonum arborescens had, for me, bloomed at erratic times but this year it's summer. Large light rose flower clusters are admired even by those with no experience with California natives.


And finally, just starting, is Eriogonum fasciculatum, a locally native buckwheat with nice green foilage and white flowers that likes just a bit of water every few weeks. Here it is, behind the new garden chair which is the perfect spot for butterfly watching.


Now, am I missing the grand colors of the penstemon, monkey flowers, and other flowers that bloomed in spring? Not really. The  summer garden is subtle and beautiful, full of life and texture, much more nuanced and so inviting for the lizards and bumble bees.

I'll leave you with a final photo, and with a link to a Piet Oudolf documentary teaser. Watch it and consider how your garden might also celebrate the passing of the seasons,  and be full color in spring, full of texture, fragrance, and life in summer, full of memories in fall, and full of new hope in winter.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Can I clear the table now?


With the strange weather we've been having, the plants have been behaving a bit oddly. Case in point is Salvia apiana. One of the focal points of the front garden, the flower stalks of this beautiful gray-green sage usually grow to about 6 feet, and the plant can be pruned to about 4 feet after the growing season.

This year was different. The late rain resulted in 8+ feet high flower stalks, but the dry weather after caused the larger of the two plants to split in thirds at the bottom. The middle third broke off the root and had to be composted. The other two fell in opposite direction, creating a less than pleasing display. Initially, I planned to prune everything close to the ground - but then I realized that the remaining blossoms were literally humming with small bees and other pollinators (of course they fly away when you need a photo...).



Here's where things get complicated for the suburban gardener: On the one hand, I like my garden moderately tidy, on the other hand, offering a wildlife haven is high on my list of garden priorities. Fortunately, the rest of the garden didn't look bad, with some Clarkia providing much needed color and the grasses and coyote brush offering resting places for the eye. I decided to leave the salvia until all the blooms were spent, and went on a cutting spree when only the seeds were left.

Even that was a compromise, as I know how much the birds enjoy the seeds. I had a similar conundrum in the back. Salvia brandegii 'Pacific Blue' is supposed to be about 2 feet wide, trellised against a fence. Last year I'd been a little lazy cutting it back, so this year I had 4 feet of growth.


This delighted the birds, which enjoy perching on the branches and picking these seeds. 


But it's also the main view from the back window, so I decided a week ago that it was time to take out the pruners. It seemed acceptable because I knew that the lavender had started setting seed, and those are the most favorite of the gold finches. And, just to be on the safe side, I shook out each branch before I put it in the garden waste bin, a small offering for the visitors to the garden (here's a photo from an earlier post).



Friday, June 6, 2014

GGNRA propagation nursery with Betty Young - part II

In my first post about the Presidio Native Plant Nursery,  I wrote about the seed preparation and fern propagation areas we saw on our tour with director Betty Young. Now we go into the greenhouse and shade house areas to see how plants are grown for restoration projects.

This photo of the Presidio Native Plant Nursery really says it all. 


Quite a few seed flats in the greenhouse. Some seeds are sown direct into the cone-tainers.

Regret: I have not yet listened to the recording I made of the things Betty told us as we walked around - which included the composition of the various media used. I may do a separate post all about that when I get a free morning to process all that info. I do recall that they are working on using peat-free media but are not quite there yet.

Use of peat - not good for the earth. Peat bogs sequester carbon and are not renewable at the rate the peat is removed, no matter what the peat industry might say. You can use peat-free compost instead.

Here is an interesting article about Marney Blair and the amazing composting program at the nursery.


Heating below the flats - but Betty said they don't often use it.


Betty is showing us some healthy iris propagules


Here is another area in the wonderful greenhouse, full of cone-tainers


At most, propagules are transplanted once - from flats to cone-tainers. It's better not to disturb their roots. The conetainers give the roots lots of depth to grow into.

For horticultural propagation we use seed flats, liners, four inch liners, and gallon pots. But for restoration, the plants don't have to impress a customer or look good (or look good right away). They are planted when very small.

I followed this practice in planting out the rushes and sedges recently on our property. It's more of a garden than a restoration, though I'm using local natives.

I'm taking a "weed and wait then propagate what's natively growing there" approach farther away from our home, where there is less disruption of the natural environment. Closer I get to the house, more latitude I take. Within the golden rule of not planting invasives or anything that will have sex with local natives!


Healthy propagules!



Then it's off to the shade house to grow out or be held until needed in the field.


These are baby buckeye trees. 

I recently taught my two-year-old granddaughter to recognize buckeyes in bloom as we drive along our country roads. I was hoping she would surprise her mother by pointing them out to her — and it worked!


This is a display in the "Pot Palace" where containers of all kinds are cleaned. You can see the names of the different containers.

Everything in this nursery is so incredibly well organized. It feels like a happy place to work in as a volunteer. If you live near the Presidio in San Francisco you might like to join in.


Water catchment. Another activity of the nursery is creating compost tea and I believe this water is used. 


Then it's out to the field to plant. Look at these rain clothes for the workers. Pretty spiffy.

And all the work tools you might need. Did I mention this place is well organized??

What an amazing place. So many volunteers and interns work at the nurseries and in the field to make this all possible.

Our propagation group members are so grateful to Betty Young for giving us a great tour and sharing so much fascinating information.

Another day I hope I to visit the restoration areas themselves. And if I do - I'll be sure to write about it here.