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!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My dry summer garden California Native bloomers

Honey moon view from our home

A the joys of summer! Alternating between periods of frantic busy-ness and delicious idleness. Oh that moon was amazing!

Yes, it's me, Country Mouse posting again finally! Just a lazy photo post with the wonderful flowers I'm enjoying in my garden - for more than a month now these stars of the dry native plant garden have been going strong!

This is to console Ms. Town Mouse for her lack of color, which she wrote about in this post — and to complement her wonderful take on all the lovely greens in the California native garden in this post.

I have no irrigation system and the blooms in this post get no water, or just a sprinkle.

I do have new plantings that I'm watering - but the hungry deer have saved me from watering many of them by eating them!

I don't mind you nibbling on this large coffee berry. But please! leave the new plants alone!

The drought has reduced the amount of food available to them. Also - bunnies.

This cute bunny ate all my buckwheats!

Clarkia rubicunda
Local wild Clarkia - in the fenced garden. Deer do nibble it outside the fence.

Local wild monkey flower still blooming a bit

Clarkia and salvia in early June

Same Clarkia and Salvia in early July
Clarkia rubicunda with Salvia 'Winifred Gilman' - I love love love them! On foggy mornings especially the air is just filled with that lovely smoky kind of - dry - musky? how would you describe the scent of salvia?

The clarkia reseeded from seeds I planted a couple or three years ago now, gathered from local wild.

Just yesterday I took out a few plants that looked like they had hybridized with a few Clarkia lewisii that came back - I planted them about five years ago and this year they decided it was a good time to make an appearance.

Is this a hybrid plant - or some sort of "sport?"

I'm not sure if it was a hybrid, or if so, of what - but I have my suspicions. I have that bolting the door after the horse got out feeling. I am now a little uncertain how much of the seed to come will be true Clarkia rubicunda.

Pretty sure these are all straight species but… 

I think a small percentage of the seeds may grow to have that pale streaky petal. It's not bad as such - happens in nature - but I want to be able to share the local wild species.

Fence lizards in love!
The male is doing his pushups and I think the other is a female. It's such fun having a garden full of fence lizards.  Not a great photo but anyway, I liked the pose.

In various parts of the garden I've been enjoying the soap lily, local wild native, whose ethereal white blooms open around four or five in the evening. I tried to get native bees in the photo but they are shy and all went away when I hovered near with my peering lens. The honey bees don't care though. I think each flower blooms for a day. Slowly the white fire of blossoming burns down the stem, day by day.

Chlorogalum pomeridianum. Soap lily

I also have a few natives from other parts of California in the pool garden (fenced garden). I'm not sure how they would fare outside the fence. I'd like to try some in our entrance garden in the fall.

Coast sunflower, Encelia californica A southern California native
I had cut back the Encelia to nubs this spring and - well you wouldn't know it now. They are a thicket!

Keckiella cordifolia, heartleaf penstemon

Keckiella does grow around here - on higher, dryer ridges. But not right where I live. Its range is central to southern California.

I love its arching growth habit. Good for back of border. Too bad I didn't plant it there! I still like its wild look.

Native annual in pot near chalk dudleya. I am blanking out on what this little guy is!
I've also been enjoying a few annuals I bought at the spring CNPS plant sale. Only those that are not locally native here in case of more hybridization. (So far the only annual I've found locally is the Clarkia). Some are still blooming.

The deer ate some - but NOT five-spot (Nemophila maculata)! I'm going to plant more of those next year.

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.