Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tassajara 2016 - A Banner Year for Wildflowers

White ceanothus on top of the ridge
This May, I had the good fortune to attend the Wildflowers and Birds of Tassajara workshop - one of the longest running workshop at Tassajara Hot Springs monastery. I had hoped that the spring rains would bring an abundance of wildflowers, and was not disappointed.

After the workshop, I stayed a while longer. These photos are from three different hikes - two to the top of the ridge on the road, and one on the horsepasture trail.

When my friends and I drove in, we already remarked that this was a year with unusual abundance of blooms. Above, ceanothus integerrimus in full bloom. At the top of the ridge, it was mixed with wart-leaf ceanothus (ceanothus papillosus). Our teacher Diane told us that she's heard this beautiful plant is often used for hybridizing by nurseries.

Wart-leaf ceanothus
Penstemon centranthifolius 'Scarlet Bugler' was everywhere, in full bloom. I saw it in in the Tassajara garden, along the horse pasture trail, and even at fairly high elevation. And yes, hummingbirds love it. I'm going to plant another one (or two) in my garden this fall.

Penstemon centranthifolius 'Scarlet Bugler' - top of ridge
Also along the road on top of the ridge was chia, beloved by the Native Americans and now a popular health food. Beautiful color, as well....

Further down, the hills were covered with the flowers of perennials. The photo below shows monkey flower and golden yarrow, with yerba santa in the background. The monkey flower in this region was considered a separate species because the flowers are larger and a lighter yellow then the typical monkey flower - but the botanists changed their mind. Golden yarrow is not a yarrow, its botanical name (right now) is Eriophyllum confertiflorum. Because this attractive short-lived perennial gets by with very little water, I just planted two in my garden. We'll see whether it can tolerate the clay.

Monkeyflower, golden yarrow, and yerba santa
Because I stayed at Tassajara for two weeks - some of that time working as a student - I was able to see the changes in the flowers. The coyote mint, shown below with golden yarrow, only started blooming as I was about to leave. Some plants, such as globe lily, were almost done blooming when I arrived.

Coyote mint and golden yarrow

I kept thinking how mother nature's plantings easily outshine many plantings I've seen in gardens, and felt so fortunate to drink in the beauty (and to learn about the plants and ecology from such a knowledgable teacher).
Some of the plants, such as the larkspur below, I'd always thought of as garden plants. But in the Los Padres national forest, they bloom along the side of the road. 

Larkspur (dephinium)
The abundance of annuals was also stunning. We saw fields of clarkia, interspersed with other annuals.

Clarkia and tarweed (yellow)
The tarweed (madia), a summer bloomer, was a suprise to me, but I saw it other places as well, including the Tassajara grounds and along the road with yucca.

Tarweed (madia) and yucca
But I found other signs of the fading of spring - the clematis showed its seedheads already. The baby birds were fledging. All showing a change of seasons.

Clematis seedheads
Wouldn't it have been fun to stay longer, to experience the seasons change, to see other plants and birds? But my own garden was waiting, and I was happy enough to return refreshed and with far too many photos... I'm leaving you with my favorite harlequin lupine, which I saw along the side of the road. Amazing!

Harlequin lupine

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Growing Castilleja affinis, paintbrush, from seed -- part II

I wrote last November about my experiment to grow paintbrush - Castilleja affinis ssp. affinis - the species of paintbrush that grows wild close to where I live - about 3/4 mile from my house.

So I got a little local wild seed,

And hey! quite a lot grew!

I paired the seedlings with various perennial plants out in the garden (see earlier post) and also tried a couple in a pot. But I really want it to make a home and spread on my 3 acres, all by itself.

So how's it going?

As Pete Veilleux suggested it would in a FB conversation, paintbrush did do very well in a pot with other plants. Here it is, happily flowering with coyote mint and a bunch grass and probably something else I forget about.

I'm looking forward to gathering seeds from these potted plants, and a few from wild too, for the sake of gene pool diversity.

What's happening in the moister sloping north-facing areas of my garden

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing -- Oh be still my beating heart! I was so excited when I saw this little splash of color on the north facing yet fairly sunny hillside behind our home!! ...

And a little more color farther along. Maybe three plants are in bloom, here and there.

And some are trying to make up their minds about it, maybe too shaded to be more robust.

What's happening in the sunny south-facing flat areas of my garden

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nope. On the open and south sides - the paintbrush seedlings are quite tentative about growing up even a little bit (those I can find at all).

I think there could be two problems - one, it's getting pretty overcrowded in those beds with sagebrush growing marvelously and the paintbrush seedlings in their shadow may not have gotten enough light. And two - the seedlings that did get enough light probably dried out. Even though we had a lot of rain, we've also had a few hot spells, enough to kill off a seedling that wasn't carefully tended. These beds dry out really fast.

But this little guy looks quite perky all the same - maybe there's hope yet ...

What Pairings Worked or Didn't Work? Sorry - not sure!

I'm not sure I can say with any certainty what the young plants have paired or not paired with (they are hemiparasitical, and you can read more about that in the earlier post). If I had more devotion to the question, I might get more scientific about it and maybe at some future date I'll document and so on more carefully.

I can say that not being near the roots of something meant the seedlings never grew beyond tiny seedling stage, though they hung on for a good long time. I think there may even still be one in the seed tray.

C. affinis or C. foliolosa?

Finally, just want to mention - I have been having some plant ID qualms (for which I take two aspirin and water the garden).  But I'm pretty sure mine are not Castilleja foliolosa - wooly paintbrush - whose photos you can see next. I took these photos at Bonny Doon ecological preserve, a dryer and sandier spot than where I live.

As you can maybe see, the foliage is whitish and definitely wooly. Whereas C. affinis ssp. affinis is greener and less felty.

However,  I'm going on gestalt rather than Jepson details. You can have a go if you want - the key is available here. Prepare to feel "exserted!"  -- and other challenging botanical things!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Second Flush of Spring

Clarkia in April
The rain this winter - just average, but coming at the rain time - has done the garden good. And the annuals, looking promising in March, are now starting to deliver. Elegant clarkia, in hot pink, salmon, white, and every shade in between is one of the eye-catching plants right now.

Clarkia, one-leaf onion, and Ceanothus 'Tuxedo'
Here, a photo in front of the bamboo screen, standing out among some one-leaf onion, the first of the Codyledon, and Ceanothus 'Tuxedo' in the background.

And finally, together with some star-of-persia along the garden path. 

The second annual that's still going strong is Chinese houses. Beloved by all during the garden tour (kids loved the little pagodas), that display has gotten much better now. Below, we see it three weeks ago.

Chinese houses and iris
And now, it's peaking. Notice the red monkey flower in the background (and the new trellis, which probably deserves a separate post). 

Several of the perennials are also going strong in April. Here are more monkey flowers, and some stream orchid in the foreground. This native orchid is ridiculously easy to transplant. I started with two small orchids, gifted by a gardener friend. Now I have them in several places in the garden. They go completely dormant in late summer and appear again in early spring. Prefer part shade, as do the ferns and monkey flower that I'm growing with them. 

Stream orchid and monkey flower

Here another view of the monkey flower, a purchase from Gold Rush Nursery a few years ago. 

I'm also very happy about the show of penstemons in the garden this year - below the blue foothill penstemon together with the checkerbloom mallow and one-leaf onion. 

Foothill penstemon and mallow
But I'm leaving the best for last: This year, finally, after I'd almost given up hope, my beautiful, fragrant Western azelea is blooming in earnest. Yes, this plant takes a while, but it's so worth it. Nothing like enjoying the white blossoms in the evening with a cup of tea. 

Western azalea with canyon sunflower in the background