Thursday, October 16, 2014

This is California — Fall is for Planting!

We live in California, a Mediterranean climate zone where the return of rains after a long dry summer means GROWTH and GREEN! and PLANTING!

That's why all gardeners in California should seek out your California Native Plant Society plant sales.

Opening time at the CNPS Santa Cruz County plant sale last weekend! Shoppers stream towards our beautifully set out and labeled plants...

Santa Clara Valley chapter's sale is this Saturday, October 18! at Hidden Villa Ranch (26870 Moody Road, Los Altos Hills, 2 miles west of I-280) from 10 am to 3 pm, with two talks:
Steve Rosenthal will talk about pollinator/plant connection at 1:00 p.m., and Kevin Bryant will talk about "Success with Native Plants for Beginners" at 2:00 p.m.
Excellent news for anyone within driving distance.  Click the link above for more details, including a plant list.

CNPS Santa Clara Valley also shares their venue with another plant sale - that of the wonderful Acterra Native Plant Nursery.

Shoppers get busy picking and choosing

My chapter's sale (Santa Cruz County) was last week - sorry - I was too busy doing publicity for it to post I'm afraid, including this article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on creating a butterfly (and caterpillar!) garden. My article also publicizes the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum plant sale, held separately but at the same time and place. I think that sort of pairing of organizations happens quite a lot - more plants attract more happy customers.

We had a special on Iris this time!

There's nothing quite like the smile of a gardener with new plants!

Get a load of these beauties!
So - sorry I'm putting out this word a bit late but hope some of you will be able to go to a native plant sale near you. CNPS Plant sales are our chapters' major fundraisers, making all the work we do possible - and you'll often find plants there that are not available at commercial nurseries too, including local natives and more.

Happy planting!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Minnesota Fall Visit

We came to Central Minnesota to visit my husband's family — and to enjoy some fall color.

Our fall color in central California is mainly provided by the radiant yellow of the big leaf maples, which are not yet putting on their display down our nearby creekside road. Maybe this is not the year for them.

But in Minnestoa, sugar maples and red oaks and other trees light up the woodlands in late September and early October.

I also enjoyed seeing some late blooming wild native plants. These Symphyotrichum laeve (Smooth Blue Aster) reminded me of our own California asters:

(I IDed the plants at Minnesota Wildflowers).

and these were everywhere too - Symphyotrichum laeve (Smooth Blue Aster) (Black-eyed Susan).

I'm not sure what this next one was - it was at my brother-in-law's lake house:

Most interestingly, my brother-in-law's wife told me about the lakeside native plant project she is undertaking, with rebates and oversight from the local government (via a landscape company I believe). The idea is to absorb runoff into the lake and prevent pollution. Fertilizing lawns, of course, is also discouraged. And these days you can't build a house closer than 100 yards from the lake shore.

I only caught a few names - one section of the area has labels:

In addition to the Carex deweyana, Dewey's sedge, I saw labels for Helianthus hirsutus, hispid sunflower and Viola cucullata, Marsh Blue Violet.

The mulch was interesting - sort of a chopped-straw mixture. As agriculture predominates in the region I suppose it's a plentiful ingredient. I think it was called environmental mulch perhaps.

Some lakes are specified as "environmental" which means, among other things, no power boats etc. The lake where we stayed was not one of those, but it was pretty quiet most of the time. People fished for sunnys, crappies, walleye and more.

Opposite their property, the view is wonderful:

In Minnesota - land o' lakes - there are about 15000 lakes. They formed during and after the ice age that dragged huge glaciers across the continent. Chunks of glacier ice were left behind, buried in the ground. They melted and — voila!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Piece of Paradise

I had very much hoped to stay home for the rest of the year, but when I was sent to Bellevue, Washington, I decided to take the opportunity. And, imaging my delight when I found out that my hotel, on the wrong side of the freeway, was at the same time about a half mile from the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

So, every morning I got up early, put on walking clothes, and dashed past the poor people gathered around what the hotel called breakfast, already in suits and shirts. The weather was different on the two days - you'll see it in the photos - but it was a beautiful place both days.

I especially enjoyed the herbaceous border, enchanting with different shades of green, and some fall bloomers.

Simple stone sculptures added a bit of whimsy (hey, I could do that! just rocks on top of each other!)

A small Japanese garden included a waterfall - and so much green!

Coming from a dry summer in California, it was wonderful to see the ferns, moss, and flowers.

Regrettably, the native garden was not impressive - it looked much like a work in progress. But a large wild area had just recently been added to the garden and included many native plants such as this redwood sorrel.

And ferns, even growing on the tree trunks!

Much as I love my California native garden, it was very enjoyable to have a bath of green - and it made me hope even more that the rains will arrive soon and will be plentiful.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dry Garden in Early Fall

All things considered, the garden this fall is quite attractive. Shown above, Erigoneum arborescens in the foreground, Arctostaphylos pajaroensis in the mid-distance on the right and the strong green toyon in the distance on the left offer both enough green and enough variety. Several of my neighbors have taken a different solution to the drought:

This is, of course, quite acceptable. But I'm worried that they'll just put in more turf when the rains start in the fall. Regardless, let's go on a little tour and see what's doing OK after a rather dry winter and a rather warm summer.

The front garden from the other side shows some signs of wear. the Salvia leucophylla (purple sage) did not bloom much but the greyish foliage with the many fine hairs allows it to survive. Regrettably the coyote brush (baccharis, much praised in Ms. Country Mouse's last post) looks terrible this year. No blossoms here (male or female), let's hope that cutting it to the ground will revive it. More in the background, some succulents are doing quite well, while the monkey flower is looking brown and unhappy, but that's how it looks in early fall.

As for the containers along the walkway to the back garden, the less said, the better. I watered these babies twice a week, but it's been too sunny and warm. Come fall, I'll take everything out, save what can be saved, and start fresh. Something to look forward to!

A happier sight as we turn the corner. California fuchsia is not blooming quite as spectacularly as some years, but is putting on a pretty good show! And ribes and some Heuchera in the background have done fine with some water and a lot of shade.

Turning toward the hammock, we see more green in the background: Acrtostaphylos hookeri 'Wayside' has done very well with almost no water in part shade, and in the background a coffee berry and two California snowdrop bush (Styrax Californica) are looking lush an green. Asclepias speciosa, behind the brownish grass on the left, is still looking pretty good with very minimual water. It's the cure against the fussy small leaf syndrom that California gardens can have, and I love the flowers and the large, odd seedheads.

Location, location! has been this summer's mantra. Festuca californica in the background in part sun looks half dead, while the same plant in more shade in the foreground is doing quite nicely.

Then again, the redwood habitat is a bit of a depressing sight. The ginger is barely hanging in there, while the redwood sorrel has almost given up - and we'll see about that fern.

In contrast, California fuchsia and rosy buckwheat, and a sedom in the background, are doing very well indeed, to the delight of the hummingbirds and pollinators.

And, altogether, the garden has how a feeling of hope. The worst of the heat is over. The buckwheats will help the pollinators, and later feed the migrating birds with seed. Many plants - such as the Salvia clevlandii above -- are putting out just a few flowers to say: we're still here, and we're ready for some rain and a new beginning.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


David George Haskell's book The Forest Unseen: a year's watch in nature is a favorite of mine. He picked a yard-square spot (his "mandala") in an old growth forest of Tennessee and wrote short natural history essays about his daily observations. Each one is a marvel of poetic yet scientific writing, revealing deep and deeply amazing connections between the different life forms he observes.

I've meant to emulate his practice for a long time (as far as I am able at least) and then I realized this morning that I in fact have been sitting in the same spot almost daily for a couple of years.

I sit outside with my tea, my McVities biscuits, and Duncan the dog, as close to dawn as I can manage, just a hop and skip from our front porch. It overlooks our chaparral slope, and the redwoods beyond, and beyond them, a sliver of Monterey Bay.

Where's my McVities?

Just in front

Bit down the slope

The elderberries are about gone now. They tempted many shy birds to reveal themselves, wren tits and maybe virioles (not sure yet on some IDs.) and towhees and more.

I sit on a zafu cushion and aim to be as upright as those young redwoods opposite

Some mornings mist makes those ridges and valleys really stand out - so lovely. 

Mist-filled monterey bay and hills beyond (and annoying wires!) and wonderful skies

Through the year I become very aware of the changing position of the sunrise, to my left. it's travelled quite a bit south since the summer equinox. Right now it shines through some old flowering cherries where I often see birds. Lots of lesser goldfinches in spring, and some now I think, passed through. Where are they going? Bushtits too sweep through many mornings, though I haven't seen them of late.

At my feet, I've been watching a ceanothus seedling grow

I'm wondering if it's a local native (C. thyrsiflorus or C. papillosus) or one of the nursery natives I planted, or a hybrid.

I've also been watching the pink cud weed grow and blossom

And turn brown at its base, with prettily curling little leaflets or leaves (if you can get beyond the brown)

And go to seed. These three photos are actually all taken on the same day. The plant is going through all phases simultaneously!

Strands of spider silk connect the various plants - Only when beaded with morning mist, they become visible. And not visible enough for my little camera.

But mostly, on this particular morning, I was struck to see all the tiny flowers budding out on the coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) to my right. My attention was first drawn here by the sound of bees.

And then this odd looking fellow (see first picture in this post for a closer view) who looked more like he'd rather pierce my skin than the stigma of a flower! I don't know what he is.

Fly of some sort… Inquiries are out! These are the female flowers. I had to look quite a bit to find a male plant.

Female flowers come to a narrow throat, like an amphora, with a pretty frill poking out. 

Male flowers of Baccharis pilularis are more yellow and have a broader top. You can see individual flowers here, almost. Oh, for a decent macro lens!

FYI here's an interesting note from National Phenology Network (using an app they developed called "Nature's Notebook") about Baccharis pilularis - giving the name derivation, which I hadn't known before:

Baccaris pilularis is in the Sunflower family. This species arrives as a secondary pioneer species after fire or grazing in chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities.  The genus name Baccharis derives from the Greek word "bakkaris", referring to plants with fragrant roots. The species name pilularis refers to the sticky globs on its flower buds. Native Americans used the heated leaves to reduce swelling, and the wood to make arrow shafts and houses.

I confess I wasn't sure exactly what phenology was. Google kindly offered this definition:

"Phenology: the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life."

Just what my mandala sitting encourages me to do, in fact!

I encourage you to find a "mandala" spot, too. It's a lovely way to start your day.

Especially with a nice cup of tea and a McVitie's Digestive Biscuit!