Saturday, August 30, 2014

Extra Dry


It's been in the news, and for one, they aren't exaggerating: we're in a drought, and things are extra dry. Above, a photo I took several weeks ago on a hike in the Los Padres National Forest. Yes, it's always dry there in fall, but this year, it's extra dry. A resident told me they had 13 inches of rain in the winter instead of the average of 35.


All that means that things go dormant sooner - above, the big leaf maple is completely yellow in early August. It normally shows its beautiful fall color a month later.

And yet, it was also quite beautiful. Just look at the fluffy seed heads of Clematis lasiantha against the clear blue sky.


Or the buckwheat, going string out there and also in my own garden.


The best fall color, as always, from the poison oak - well, at least it's easy to see it when it lights up like that.


Interestingly, some of the ferns were hanging in there, even in part sun.


And especially impressive the manzanita, which looked just as good as in spring - again, similar to the manzanita's in my garden.


So, maybe we'll have to have a stroll around the garden next and consider who's looking good, and who's more questionable. It's actually right in front of my eyes every day, so let's see whether I manage to snap the photos and share.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Morning fog and drought


Pseudognaphalium ramosissimum - Pink everlasting
I've been gone from the blog for a while. My thanks to Town Mouse, who has kept the summer time posts flowing.

When I got back from a trip to the U.K. I was shocked at the change in the garden. I left it full of blooming clarkia and sage. I watered before I left. Half an hour of sprinkling takes a long time when you have only two sprinkler heads going at a time, on the end of hoses, but it doesn't take the sun long to suck up that moisture.


Yes, it's been a hot dry summer, and of course we are in the midst of an intense period of drought. Even the coyote brush looks stressed.


But for the past month we have been blessed with a thick blanket of night fog that lingers into the morning. (Where blessing, like Mother Nature, is just a kindly metaphor for me.) It relieves us, temporarily, of our fear of wildfire.

Fog-moistened berries are balls of juice and seed, relished by many of our birds: elderberries, coffee berries, and hairy honeysuckle berries.


I've seen more wrentits lately than ever, cheeping their bouncing-ball accelerating monotone, because they can easily access berries from a low-growing elderberry in the chaparral where they hide out.

Coffeeberry, Frangula californica


Lonicera californica, hairy honeysuckle

And there are lots of seeds that bring California quail into our garden. The amazing display of Salvia 'Winifred Gilman' has turned from vibrant blue to rich brown. Sparrows forage under these plants for seeds too.


I've been harvesting seeds of our local Clarkia - Clarkia rubicunda. I'm at stage one: clipping armfuls, wheelbarrowfuls, of the thin, dry twigs, each bearing several of the long, narrow seed heads whose curling back ends remind me of Mark Twain riverboat funnels. Birds love clarkia seeds too.


Yet here and there pockets of shade hold moisture long long enough to sustain green growth and flowers on the Clarkia rubicunda.



Below is California aster, now named Symphyotrichum chilense. I'm so happy with this plant - it's the first time I've managed to grow one from local wild seed.

Symphyotrichum chilense

And other plants are happy - especially ferns - this is Polystichum munitum, sword fern, with a "cup and saucer" spiderweb.


Other flowers are just happy as can be with the current dry conditions. You might consider some of these for your Coastal California garden.

California goldenrod, Solidago californica
Madia elegans, common madia.. Quail love madia seeds!


close up of Madia elegans blossom

Eriogonum grande rubescens
Not locally native - red (or rosy) buckwheat, Eriogonum grande rubescens blooms where all else is dead and gone! Not deer proof - in fact in my area, this year - no buckwheat is.

Encelia californica 

Encelia californica - coast sunflower, a Southern California native, stays green despite almost no irrigation

Encelia california blossom





Saturday, August 9, 2014

Now That's a Restoration Project!


As part of our Pacific Northwest trip, Mr. Mouse and I had the great pleasure of learning more about the removal of the Elwah dam and the associated restoration project.

This dam removal project - actually, the removal of two dams - is the largest in the world, and a lot of research is going on in the hopes that other projects might benefit. The project started because the existing dams, put in originally to generate electricity, were starting to deteriorate. Those dams had been put in without fish ladders or proper permits and had destroyed one of the most abundant salmon fisheries in the world. Here are some links - it's a fascinating project at many levels.
Our group had a presentation by a park ranger who showed photos and videos of the dam removal and also had lots of information about the effects of the dam and the dam removal. Then, on the last day of our trip, we went on a trip to see the former location of the first dam, and to then walk the former lakebed, now exposed and part of a very extensive revegetation project.

What struck us first as we started walking on the sands of the former lake were the tree stumps, still notched with the old tools from 100 years ago. Many branches and trunks, caught by stumps, covered the big expanse, offering shelter for the birds and mammals who were surely starting to return, adding much needed fertilizer.

Many of the tree trunks that had been brought in by the river were even starting to sprout!


Close to the former banks of the lake, grasses and flowers were abundant, reseeding and migrating into the new land by themselves.


Closer to the river, on the wide expanse of sand, newly planted tree seedlings and perennials were taking hold.


It was unfortunate that the winter had been so dry and the summer had been so warm - it's hard to know which of the plants will make it. However, the current revegetation is, I believe, still part of the experimental revegetation stage and a precursor to the actual revegetation (2014 - 2017).


But with a little shade, some condensation, and the occasional rainstorm, I'm hoping things will work out.


At times it was hard to know which of the plants had been planted by humans, and which by birds or by the wind - and that is how it should be.


I especially appreciated the efforts to remove exotic invasives such as foxglove, which is spreading aggressively in the Pacific Northwest. The restoration plan has a detailed list of species of concerns, clearly, avoiding revegetation through exotic invasives is as important as planting natives. 

Disclaimer: I'm not even sure whether some of the grasses I'm showing in my photos are the bullies that don't belong.


Our final stop was the ocean, where we could see the river return to the ocean. Because so much sediment was behind the dam, an ever-changing delta is being created and only time will tell how the river, the former lakebeds, and the delta will look after everything has settled. Who knows, maybe in just 5 years I will return to find a forest of little trees along the banks of the Elwah.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Flowers in the High Country


The premise of my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest was that our group was to see a different ecosystem every day - and the trip leaders did not disappoint! Our second day was spent hiking along Hurricane Ridge. Here's what their website has to say:

Hurricane Ridge is the most easily accessed mountain area within Olympic National Park. In clear weather, fantastic views can be enjoyed throughout the year.

With perfect weather, and the best time for wildflower viewing, we were excited to go, and we were not disappointed.  Just as in Yosemite, lupine, Indian warrior, and larkspur dotted the meadows.




We also enjoyed larkspur, and a wallflower that looked a bit different from the one I see back here.


But what's this? A penstemon perhaps?


Even more intriguing was this plant, that I first suspected of being a lewisia (cliff maid) because it looked a bit similar to one I had puzzled over at Pinnacles.


But our guide insisted it was a wild onion, and he was right! It is the scalloped onion (Allium crenulatum). 

But I'm saving the best for last. As we rounded a corner, we were welcomed by a breathtaking display of flowers I had never seen before! 


This was Erythronium_montanum (white avalanche lily) and it was spectacular! We also saw its sister plant, Erythronium grandiflorum (glacier lily). But hiking in a group means you can't always stop for a photo when you feel like it, so I ended up with only a few - still, amazing and special. I would so enjoy welcoming this plant to my garden, but I know it needs the special ecosystem up there on the ridge, and I'm so happy I had a chance to see it.


After drinking the beauty of the mountains and the flowers, and the wildlife - we saw a marmot that seemed twice the size of the California critters - we were ready for the visitor center and a coffee drink, and then headed back to the lodge, already looking forward to the next day of adventures!

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Well Watered Paradise


Mr. Mouse and I just returned from a wonderful trip to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. While some parts of that region are comparatively dry (17 inches of rain per year) others are quite wet (110 inches of rain per year). We had the good fortune of visiting a different ecosystem every day, going for a fairly long hike most days, and learning a lot from the naturalist who accompanied our group.

For me, it was interesting to see many of the west coast forest plants that I so enjoy when I visit Point Reyes or even the Santa Cruz Mountains - but all on steroids. Or rather, on water.

The western sword ferns were 4 feet, lush and green. Thimbleberries abounded and we enjoyed the tasty fruit, just ripe. Here's a photo of a five finger fern.


We were in the area during an unusually warm and dry period - amusingly, when I said to a woman in a store:"Hot, isn't it?" she answered "Yes! Isn't it wonderful?" -- that wasn't precisely my reaction, but I appreciated that it was special for her.

The seasons are offset a bit from California, so I say mid-June plants in early July, like this lily.


Interestingly, there wasn't much color, but it was green, green, green, with the forest floor covered with moss even in the dryer areas of the peninsula.


Moss was everywhere in the Ho Rain Forest.





Several of my photos ended up overexposed because we visited on a bright day. But I still see in my mind the trees and the forest floor covered with moss.


I remember how peaceful it felt surrounded by green, quiet, even the footfalls seemed more cushioned and the birds more subdued. I felt as if I was seeing the world through moss-colored glasses.


Much more water than I was used to - and regrettably a good number of mosquitoes that found me irresistibly attractive. But the itchy bites are long gone, and I'll cherish the photos and the memories for a long time to come.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Harvest Festival of Feasting Finches


Summer is lazy around the garden. I water a little here and there. I weed a little. Mostly I'm enjoying the plants, and watching the wildlife enjoy the plants.

Today I enjoyed the house finches feasting on the blue elderberry bushes.

Blue elderberry is now called Sambucus nigra  ssp. caerulea - it used to be Sambucus mexicana. It is native to California. Several years ago, a row of them volunteered in my garden along the fence where birds sit — and poop.



Look at these luscious berries!



Difference between house and purple finches? House finches are a more orange-red and purple finches a more blue-red, is my main determinant. This 10,000 bird blog has a good visual comparison.

Females are easier I think- purple finch females have bold markings around their eyes, kind of like someone sketched in large human eyes around their bird eyes.

Here are a few photos from this morning.












Can you see three birds?

Bet you missed this one in the photo above.

The coffee berry (Frangula californica) next to the elderberry bushes is full of ripening berries too - but nobody was visiting them today. Orioles like them - those are visitors I look forward to every year.


Well time for a cup of tea, then off to my daughter's. It's world cup final day today. I won't be watching though - I'll be playing with grandchildren!