Where are YOU Planted, Country Mouse?

I was going to just leave a grateful comment on Town Mouse's wonderful and informative post on the topic of "Where are YOU planted" - originated by An Obsessive/Compulsive plant collector - when I realized that though we live only about 30 miles apart AND we are both in the same zones - Sunset Zone 16 and USDA Hardiness Zone 9b - yet our native plant habitats and growing conditions are quite different.

The Country Mouse and Wood Rat establishment is just a bit south-west of the square thingy that's above Scotts Valley on the map. The map includes Ms Town mouse's locale, which lies between Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. As you can see, Ms Town lives on the other side of the Coast Range from me, in one of the pleasant suburbs that spread along the flat-bottomed Santa Clara Valley.

Our home (shown in the image I cut out of Google Earth) is on a sunny ridge about 6.5 miles north of the Monterey Bay, and 900 feet above sea level, on the south-eastern flank of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which protect Santa Clara Valley from much, though not all, of the marine influence we feel much more strongly.

We get our share of fog here in winter; but we are fortunate (I think) to live in a "Coast Range Thermal Belt," which is why we are in Sunset Zone 16: hotter and drier in summer than you might expect, not quite so cold in winter. Lower, shadier locations not two miles from our home are in the more typical coastal zone, zone 17, cooler and more foggy. We can see Monterey Bay when it's clear. Sometimes white fog fills its basin like whipped cream, and creeps up the valleys to engulf us, and sometimes we are totally enveloped in low clouds. But generally it's sunny all summer long.

Our zones are the same, but my soil is also different from Tmouse's soil. Her soil is probably alkaline, deep and clayey. Rich but lacking in air spaces. Mine tends to be acidic, sandy, and thin where there are no trees to provide humus. California natives that like fast draining soil grow here.

Where TMouse has a large garden by suburban standards, we have a small lot by mountain standards: officially just under three acres. But it feels like an endless universe to me. I never would have guessed I would ever own such a property, not in my wildest dreams.

The Google image reveals that the "garden" areas of our property, close to the buildings, are not - ahem - very well developed as yet. I need help with design. But I also have control issues! Result: planting paralysis. More on that in another post maybe. I'm more focused on eradication of invasives, managing the fuel load, and propagation of local natives. But I would like a pretty garden one day.

In the photo you can see the chamise chaparral that lies to the south. The part across the road is on our property too - I'm not really sure where it ends. We haven't disturbed it and may not. On the house side of the road you can see where we have been thinning, taking out most of the chamise, and all the dead wood, as is recommended for fire safety. The photo shows how it looked last year. That area is almost completely thinned now.

There are also open spots now in the wooded areas on the northern facing slope, where the bay tree and eucalyptus were removed this spring. I wonder when that will show up on Google Earth. The northern slope has redwood and mixed-evergreen forest habitats with beautiful toyon, madrone, Douglas fir, and, of course, redwoods.

Las Pilitas has us wrong, in terms of their Communities by Zipcode feature. They say we should have Mixed Evergreen Forest, which we do, and Coastal Sage Scrub, which we we don't. We have Chamise Chaparral. Artemisia californica, California Sagebrush, grows nearby, but not on our property or the areas adjacent. Mother nature is messier than the botanist's neat schemes. Some plants common to both sage scrub and chaparral grow here, like monkey flower, and manzanita, but it's too hot and dry here in summer, I think, for the sage scrub habitat to take hold. Las Pilitas doesn't mention the redwoods either, that cover much of the shady slopes.

But I don't exectly know the history of this spot yet. At some point before this land was divided up into lots for wilderness homes, it was a "ranch." The old name still hangs from a disused farm gate at the end of our road. I would love to know what the rancher did up here, how much of the land was left in its original state, and how much was cleared - probably for orchards or grazing for animals - and then returned to the wild later, or turned into vineyards, a common use for land around here. Maybe there was sage scrub here, and it got converted to chamise chaparral through human intervention? I'd love to find out.

I'm thinking about history lately because I've been dipping into the books I splurged on, in a recent University of California Press sale. (I went there for Jepson, of which more anon, and ended up buying many more books!)

One of my purchases was A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West, the memoir of Mary Hallock Foote. She was a published writer and illustrator, an Easterner who came west with her engineer husband in the late 1870s. But even though she lived in the "far west" for most of her adult life, she never did feel at home here.

Curious, I read her short story, "In Exile," because it is set near here, and is based on her experiences living in the community that sprang up around the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine, just south of San Jose. (It's now the Almaden Quicksilver County Park, with a great museum and wonderful hiking.)

I was so surprised by the attitude of the characters in her story, the "exiles" filled with longing for their cultured eastern homes, and dislike of the arid California climate and landscape. Well, of course things are less rough-and-ready around here now. No lack of culture. Plus - the Internet! But it did make me realize how differently I feel.

How can I not feel that this is where I'm planted, amid this cornucopia of flora and fauna that spills out ever more abundantly about me, the more I simply look?


Rosey Pollen said…
Very interesting reading about where you are at. I loved how you showed the google image of the sat view of your place. I have never seen anybody else do that!
Enjoy your books! Speaking of, I need to get back to mine. :)
Brad B said…
Great post. Very interesting to hear about the plant communities around you. Don't hold your breath for changes on google. Our house still has a dead tree in the backyard that was removed over 2 years ago.

As for feeling exiled, it's an interesting idea to explore since so many people in California were born elsewhere. Throughout my childhood my mom (from Chicago) talked about missing seasons, leaves changing, snow, thunderstorms. But then once my parents moved to Arizona she missed California, the beach, the weather, etc. She became transplanted here and now they plan to move back.
Gail said…
What a splendid post! I can hear your appreciation for the land and its unique qualities coming through loud and clear. It's been a joy to hear (and see the photos) of your garden adventures. As for my own~~I never imagined living in the suburbs for 25 years! gail
Country Mouse said…
Yes, exile is an interesting idea. when I return to the UK (which I didn't for many years) I really enjoy it there. Maybe I'm a person who can settle in different places and be happy, and your mother is not, Brad. This was a fun post to write - it went where I didn't expect it to. I do appreciate being here indeed. And the google earth clip might be useful in other posts to orient people when I'm talking about work on a particular part of the property. It doesn't show the slopes, or the ex-horse corral (under trees) but it's fun. Maybe I can use it as the basis of an overall "base plan" sketch. Thanks indeed for your comments.
Christine said…
It's so cool that you have plants native to the region to base your additional plantings on. Our urban neighborhood causes me to look very closely for clues but I basically depend on educated guesses and artistic interpretations! I love this exploration of gardening archaeology!
susan morrison said…
Both this post and TM's just before really demonstrate that successful gardens are something that evolve over time. It can be one of the hardest parts of garden design, as I typically choose my plant palette based on fairly generic information. It definitely stops me from being adventurous at times, as the tougher the plants, the more likely they'll be able to manage any specific site issues that aren't easily apparent.

My best gardens are the collaborative ones I make with gardeners - they understand their garden's conditions better, are open to experimenting and realize that not every plant choice will turn out to be a success.
I like how you've shown that a sense of place comes from a wide mix of factors: climate, topography, the smell of the land, its history, its people...way more than a zipcode could possibly tell you. Of course generalizations can be useful starting points. The Las Pilitas page describes one of our main environments. But in its overgeneralization it misses the maritime chaparral that helps give this place a look and smell that's richer than the coastal sage scrub alone.
Country Mouse said…
Yes, Susan and Lost - I feel like the most satisfying thing in life would be to just study and savor this place, a total, multidimensional immersion - with the luxury of following one's curiosity without concern for putting food on the table. I know that's just a romantic feeling and not a reality. I'd also love to evolve the landscape into some playful aesthetic near the home areas. I was reading Adam Woodruff's post on the Oudolf nursery in the Netherlands (http://www.gardeninggonewild.com/?p=8742) and his pictures did something strange to my imagination. But I'm not sure what. Maybe my feet lifted just a micron off the ground.