Thursday, January 29, 2015

California Plants are Special

You and the 38 million people living here already know: California is special. You may not know that California native plants are special too.

Our state flower, CA Poppy (Eschscholzia californica),
Photo from Las Pilitas Nursery, used by permission.
Those 38 million people have an impact, as does their pollution, farming, logging, mining, and oil drilling.  I can't do much about that with my tiny garden.  But we can all help develop awareness of the precious resource around us that is rapidly disappearing, and support preservation and restoration efforts.

The "California Floristic Province" (CAFP) is home to 2124 endemic (found nowhere else) plant species; 60% of its plants are endemic.*  It has been designated by Conservation International as one of 35 worldwide biodiversity hotspots, the places with the most biodiversity and the most loss from human development. From the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund:
As one of only five areas with a Mediterranean-type climate in the world — all of which are on the hotspot list — the California Floristic Province is characterized by hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. The region contains a wide variety of ecosystems, including sagebrush steppe, prickly pear shrubland, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, juniper-pine woodland, upper montane-subalpine forest, alpine forest, riparian forest, cypress forests, mixed evergreen forests, Douglas fir forests, sequoia forests, redwood forests, coastal dunes, and salt marshes. Today, about 80,000 square kilometers or 24.7 percent of the original vegetation, remains in more or less pristine condition.
The number of vascular plant species found in the California Floristic Province is greater than the total number of species from the central and northeastern United States and adjacent parts of Canada, an area ten times larger than the California hotspot.
Human population pressures have rendered California one of the four most ecologically degraded states in the country... California supplies one-half of all the agricultural products consumed in the United States each year... Native grasslands and vernal pool habitats in the hotspot have been reduced to about one percent of their original extent... Other seriously threatened ecosystems include wetlands, riparian woodlands and southern maritime sage scrub, which have all been reduced to 10 percent or less of their original area...[sorry to be so depressing.]
This lacy-leafed Catalina Ironwood is one of a number of plants
 found only on the Channel Islands.
Fossils show Ironwoods grew all over the Southwest– over 6 million years ago.
The CAFP includes all but the easternmost and Sonoran Desert parts of California, as well as southern coastal Oregon and northern Baja.  Some species that used to be found widely before the ice ages are now found only in California, which didn't get iced. They are "paleoendemic." Examples are the Giant Sequoia, the largest tree on earth by volume, and Coast Redwood, the tallest tree on earth.  Is that special or what?  Other  "neoendemics" developed relatively recently as California got drier; these include many Ceanothus and Manzanita species. The varied climates and soils of California further promotes biodiversity.

Ceanothus 'Concha' - According to the UK Telegraph,
this cultivar of a CA native came out of a garden in Wales in 1986!
Photo from Las Pilitas Nursery, used by permission.
California native plants were quite the rage in England over a century ago.  The English take their gardens very seriously.  They bred some fine cultivars.  Too bad Californians can't grow their own natives.  I see casualties in expensive landscape plantings everywhere.  The reason, I suspect, is simple.  Underwater in winter in drought years, overwater in summer, or both.  Think about it.  Most of California gets not one drop of rain from May through October.  Our natives do not know how to cope with summer water.  At all.  Perhaps CA gardeners can adapt! 

Death Valley wildflowers in the amazing spring of 2005.
* Source: Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund website. (Note: the numbers and percentages of CA endemic plants varies widely in different sources.  This source is relatively recent and has footnotes.)

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Darling Dudleya

Few succulents grow in coastal California.  Fortunately one genus is very charming.  It greets you from vertical cliff faces and road cuts as you zip down the highway.  Silver rosettes against dark rock:  how improbable! Possibly the cutest native plant you’ll find: Dudleya.
My very own Dudleya.  It languished at the top of a mound
till I yanked it out and jammed it horizontally into the steepest slope I had,
in the shade.  Now it is happy.
Dudleya like to be planted at an angle, to prevent water from pooling in their rosettes, and they like impeccable drainage.  So plant them horizontally.  Really.  The ultimate rock garden plant.  Also they look cool growing horizontally.  
Native plants pot with Dudleya at Tree of Life Nursery.
I’m crazy about Dudleya.  They make striking accents in a pot. Use sand or gravel in your soil for excellent drainage.  The most stunning Dudleyas I have seen are festooned across a dark cliff face (road cut) on Highway 101 around Thousand Oaks. Cheery little white rosettes, defying gravity.  I'd like to take a photo, but I would be killed. 
Chalk Dudleya 10 feet up a road cut on Highway 74.
Not much shoulder on that curvy road, and people take it at speed.
I risked my life to get this photo.
And they drove too fast to see the Dudleya.
I love the contrast of the white Chalk Dudleya leaves against dark rock or soil.  Dudleya pulverulenta is the common native Southern California Chalk Dudleya.  “Giant Chalk Dudleya,” Dudleya brittoni, is native to Baja CA.
On the same road cut, a green Dudleya edulis, of a different habit.
100% horizontal.
But then, a nice green “fingertips” Dudleya against grey rock is nice too. (D. edulis.)

Dudleya’s old-fashioned common name is “live-forever.”  You can kill it by rot (overwater or bad drainage), or by a hard freeze.  Not really any other way.   It can be disfigured by a light freeze, but it will keep growing.  Pull it out by its roots and set it on a shelf, and it will wait patiently for better times. If dudleya gets spindly, just cut off the rosette with an inch or two of stalk and stick it into the soil.  Horizontally, of course. 
Dudleya is an unusual succulent in that it prefers shade or part shade; full sun only right at the coast.  So you will only see it on north-facing road cuts.  Where did it live before we cut roads?  It may surprise you from deep under an oak tree, where you expected to see a fern or an iris. But only when the slope is steep so it can be happily horizontal.
These Dudleyas were growing in a road cut on Highway 1 in Big Sur.
The pull-off was wider; I did not risk my life.
As you explore different regions of coastal California, you will meet different Dudleyas endemic to each region.  What fun!
Two different Dudleya species grow side by side (horizontally) on Highway 74.
Life at risk for photo.
Which Dudleya species is it?  Who cares, if you like it.  I think I’ve seen hybrids in the wild.  The folks at Tree of Life seem remarkably unconcerned about their various Dudleyas having “hybridized a little.”  Oddly, I saw two distinct species growing right next to each other on Ortega Highway.  Maybe they’ll hybridize next year.  
Dudleya caespitosa in the rain at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.
Great collection of Dudleyas there!
(Totally safe.)
Dudleyas refuse to grow in summer; best to let them shrivel (to appear dead, even), maybe giving them an occasional light dusting with a hose.  They’ll wake up when the time is right.   From Las Pilitas:
How do these dormant plants know when there has been rain if they are inside the greenhouse? This is such a bizarre thing. Dudleya pulverulenta (Chalk Dudleya) looks shriveled and dried up all summer. Even though they are in a plastic greenhouse, getting regular water. As soon as we get the first rain (outside) they start growing and look succulent and lush. Totally weird!
Check out all the different Dudleyas, including nifty flower stalks, at Calflora’s webpage. If you click on the individual species, you will see its natural range. Tree of Life Nursery has an article on Dudleyas, with a downloadable (PDF) photo chart.

Please never harvest a wild Dudleya.  It may be decades old, and rare or endangered to boot.  Sadly, you cannot propagate Dudleya from a leaf.  But you can harvest seeds!  I’ll be happy to take any seedlings off your hands.  Buy a small plant in Fall or Winter (Back to Natives Nursery has them now) and it will grow big if it’s happy.  Then when it gets daughter rosettes, give them to me. Thanks in advance.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Friends Old and New

I had the pleasure of introducing old friends to new friends at Julia Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur last week.

Shoreline at Julia Pfeiffer.
 Not a native plant, but a natural wonder.
The new friends were my roommates last week at an Esalen retreat two miles south, "Mindful Self-Compassion."  The old friends were coastal native plants.  "May I tell you their names?" I asked my roomies as we walked the trail to the waterfall.  I proceeded to point and name.  "Tell me when you get tired of this!"  But they claimed to be grateful to know the names of my native friends.

Three friends together on a sea cliff.  From left to right:  Black Sage (Salvia mellifera), Coyote Brush
(Baccharis pilularis), and CA Sagebrush (Artemisia californica.)
(Click on the photos to enlarge.)
Three friends together at the park entrance.
From left to right:  Sandy from Ontario, Terry and Naomi from L.A.
It bugs me when I don't know the name of a plant, just as it bugs me when I can't remember the name of a person.  (I am bugged a lot, but I am learning tricks...) Humor me when I say I have relationships with plants.  I want to know them by name; it helps me attend to them properly.

Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) require a little more awe than most friends.
Sort of like elder statesmen you actually meet in person. 
If ever you drive Highway 1 through Big Sur, Julia Pfeiffer is worth a stop.  Two short, wide loops take you to a dramatic ocean overlook complete with waterfall, or a grove of old growth redwoods, complete with fire-hollowed trunk "caves" and giant "fairy rings" (trees in a circle, daughters sprouted from a central mother that has since died.)

A surprise meeting: Western Columbine
(Aquilegia formosa) blooming very early along the sea cliff trail
Hello, I don't remember meeting you.
Looking you up at Calflora, might you be CA Polypody?
The wonder of a native garden is that I get to take my friends home with me.  But it is still a treat to meet them at their home. 

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Beware Organic Poisons - and Hidden Ones

If you like the idea of growing native, you probably also like the idea of growing organic.  But what does organic gardening mean? Does it mean "no poisons?"  Unfortunately not.

Several complex chemical pesticides are considered "organic," because they are naturally found in plants or bacteria.  But that does NOT make them safe.  Astoundingly, produce can be grown using these poisonous substances and still be labeled "organic!"

Pesticides can sneak up on you.  A dear friend had been applying "systemic" to her roses for years. I asked her if she could do without the pesticide.  "What pesticide?"  She never realized she was applying systemic (i.e. long-acting) pesticides to her roses, not just fertilizers.  She is no dummy; those labels are tricky.  If you apply any commercial substance to your plants, please read the label with a magnifying glass! "Make your plant healthy" blends often have pesticides in the mix.  If it doesn't say "%N, P or K" after the chemical, assume it is a pesticide. (Or google the substance name...)

A native garden does not need pesticides.  It has natural bug defenses. I use harmless soap/oil sprays to wash off an infestation if I am feeling fastidious.  If the plant looks really ratty, I trim it. After all, a butterfly garden has to feed the caterpillars!

I do not treat my roses either.  I find that regular fertilizing and a weekly rinse-off in the spring leaves them "healthy enough."  Perfection is a harsh mistress; I don't work for her.  When a plant is truly infested, I remember the words of a master gardener friend:  "If it is infested, it was stressed."  Then if a soap bath and a little TLC won't cure it, I practice Darwinian Gardening (TM) and toss it in the compost heap.

If you have invested in a thousand acres of orange groves, you must save those oranges by any means necessary.  Monoculture is evil.  A commercial organic gardener I met at Esalen mentioned that he grows 70 different crops!  And decades of experience in keeping them healthy without chemicals.  As a home gardener, if a critter eats one plant, I figure out a non-chemical remedy, or grow something else.  I like knowing anything that grows in my yard is safe to touch and to eat, and that I am as welcoming to bees as I know how to bee.

Most pesticides, "organic" or otherwise, are thousands of times more poisonous to bugs than to mammals and birds.  As they should be!  But they are instant death to bees, frogs, and sometimes fish as well.  And the farmworkers who must apply them or work in treated fields get huge exposures.

Here is the rogues' gallery.

Pyrethrin(s), the most widely used "organic," is derived from some chrysanthemum plants.  From the Natural Resources Defense Council website:
When used by themselves, pyrethrins breakdown fairly quickly in the environment and can also be readily detoxified by most mammals. However, pyrethrins do pose a risk to cats because they lack the ability to process these chemicals and exposures can can cause tremors, twitching, convulsions, and death. 
Pyrethrins, especially when used in combination with chemical enhancers such as piperonyl butoxide, can be toxic to the human nervous system as well and can also cause allergic reactions and exacerbate asthma. [Note, when not used with enhancers they often stun insects rather than kill them.] EPA classifies pyrethrins as "Suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity but not sufficient to assess human carcinogenic potential." Signs of pyrethin poisoning may include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, runny or stuffy nose, chest pain or difficulty breathing. 
Several household bug-killing sprays, foggers, houseplant sprays, lice shampoos, and pet flea/tick control products contain pyrethrins, usually in combination with other chemicals. Using these products can expose you and your family.  Although pyrethrins break down quickly in sunlight, indoors they can persist in carpet dust for up to two months. When chemicals are present in floor and carpet dust, young children may ingest the chemicals after putting their hands in their mouths.

Rotenone, another plant-derived pesticide, is very unselective.  It was used by indigenous South Americans to poison fish.  While it decays quickly in warm conditions, it can produce Parkinson's symptoms in mammals. 

Nicotine was formerly used as a pesticide but due to its high toxicity to mammals it is now banned in the U.S. for that use.

Neem oil is a traditional Indian medicine that can be poisonous to humans in less than gram quantity.  It has simply not been tested enough to know its toxicity to animal life and its persistence in the environment.

Spinosad, derived from bacteria, is a new insecticide on the market.  It is a chemical, not a bacterium, despite some deceptive labeling.  Spinosad is about as poisonous to mammals and birds as sugar, so it is a great choice for treating head lice and fleas.  But it is still death to bees.  "Cap'n Jack's DeadBug Brew" and "Monterey Garden Insect Spray" are common brands.

Natural substances like sulfur, boric acid and "dormant oil" (simple oils) are used for particular applications.  Be aware that they may build up over time.

Nutrition Diva (Monica Reinagel) did a podcast on avoiding pesticide exposure.  She has learned that people who exert trouble and expense to buy organic often go about their homes and gardens spraying insecticides with great abandon.  They are oblivious to the fact that their exposures are many times what any residue in conventionally-grown food would have given.  On that front, I am still working to get my neighborhood association to stop random monthly pesticide dousings in the common areas, which accomplish nothing.  Wish me luck.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Going Gently Native

Thinking of popping a few natives into your garden but worried they won't flourish, or look ragged?  Here are some California natives that can be eased gently into the suburban garden, and they stay green in summer.  Don't wait; plant while they'll have time to do some growing before summer dormancy!  Do not amend the soil.  Give one very thorough watering, then no more than weekly; including light weekly waterings through the first summer.
This Baja Fairy Duster at Fullerton Arboretum was about 8 feet wide.
Fortunately they are easy to prune.
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica): Baja is California, after all.  A long season bloomer that will tolerate a little summer water. Delicate foliage reveals its relation to Mimosa.  Can grow tall if happy, but prune it how you like. Be sure to get Baja, not the less colorful and shorter blooming Calliandra eriophylla (unless you get very cold temperatures.)
New growth on Howard McMinn Manzanita almost looks like a flower.
Its tiny heart-shaped flowers are adorable, and it is deep green all summer.
You need this plant.
'Howard McMinn' Manzanita (Arctostaphylos 'Howard McMinn')  Grows slow and steady, in sun or shade, reliable and elegant bush.  A favorite of mine.
White Sage thriving in suburbia.
Sages of all kinds.  White sage, while an iconic native (make your own smudge sticks!) will tolerate summer water; it just won't look as white.  Cleveland Sage scents up a yard and has fun flower spikes.  Just wash off the leaves in summer for best results.  Hummingbird Sage is great for shady spots with light to moderate watering.  Very green sages (and most sages for sale) are probably not native.  
Island Bush Snapdragon, a hummingbird favorite.
(Copyrighted photo used with permission of
Island Bush Snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa) tolerates wide soil and water conditions, and grows happily in moderate shade.  It is a cheerful light green sprawling bush/vine/groundcover that can be pruned as needed: great filler for a sparse young garden.  The cultivar 'Firecracker' is wonderfully fuzzy and more upright than the species; 'Boca Rosa' is a compact bush.

Check Tree of Life's directory for details about expected size and frost hardiness. Where to buy?  How to plant?  More on that soon.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

An Elfin Forest

Highway 1 from Los Angeles to Monterey offers breathtaking seaside vistas.  On a recent trip I discovered  El Moro Elfin Forest Natural Area, hidden behind residential streets in Los Osos, on the south end of Morro Bay.  Native plants in the wild!

Can you see Morro Rock?
10-foot wide Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) with Morro Bay in the hazy background.
Click once on the photos to expand.
"Elfin forest" is area of coastal sage scrub or chaparral that has grown six feet tall or more.  As you walk through it, you feel like a giant whose head reaches the treetops.  El Moro is unique in also having Coast Live Oaks, dwarfed by the sandy soil and ocean winds to 6 to 12 feet tall, despite being hundreds of years old.  

Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), grove of dwarfs, about 12 feet tall.
Note the white bark.

Native forest bling: moss on fallen logs.
El Moro also has the more typical Elfin Forest "trees": coastal sage scrub and chaparral plants that we normally think of as bushes.  Elfin forest must be undisturbed by grazing and clearing for many years; it is easily destroyed.

Hummingbirds always choose the highest spot, in this case the top of an 8-ft Ceanothus.

Bees love California Lilacs (Ceanothus species– maybe cuneatus)

A few typical forest dwellers can be found in the deeper patches.

Fuchsia-flowering Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum) growing under the oaks. 
This jewel loses all its leaves in summer.
The threatened Morro Manzanita, among other plants, has been hit hard by the drought. While I saw plenty of new growth, some older "trees" are mostly or completely dead. 

New growth on Morro Manzanita (Arctostaphylos morroensis)
California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) seems to have more handsome flower stalks so near the coast than it does on hilltops (or, unfortunately, in my garden– a problem I am overcoming by planting it in shade.)  Different varieties?  Or just different growing conditions?

CA Sagebrush retains last fall's flower stalks
The dudleya that grows at El Moro is particularly elegant, I think.

Dudleya (lanceolata and caespitosa hybrid?)
My thanks to the dedicated folks at the Los Osos / Morro Bay Chapter of Small Wilderness Area Preservation (SWAP).  After being the prime mover in securing the 90 acre area, they "adopted" the Forest in 1994. The Chapter continues to remove invasive plants, provide erosion control, and conduct plant revegetation projects through its Conservation Committee and "Weed Warriors."  Wonderful pockets of nature near residential areas can't exist without the help of caring people.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

What's Blooming?

What's blooming in the native garden in January?
Here are some photos Scott took yesterday.

Manzanitas have charming, but tiny, heart-shaped
flowers for a few weeks in winter.
Different varieties, different times. This is 'Paradise.'
We Southern Californians try not to get smug about our flowers in midwinter, or our 70 degree days when the rest of the country is sub-zero.  We don't try very hard.  But most of the natives are getting their green on right now.  They will start their flower show in late winter or spring.  

First Monkeyflowers of the season.  That color is real.
Two flowers light up a bed.
Step up close.  If you pay attention, you don't need a whole bed full of flowers to experience the delight of natural beauty.  If you want all flowers all the time, don't go native. If you pay attention, though, you will notice some timely blooms (Manzanitas) and some untimely blooms (because plants get confused about seasons in SoCal.)    

Bush Anemone putting on a show outside my kitchen window.
 Few natives have showy flowers for a long season, but Bush Anemone (Carpenteria californica) is one that does– if it gets enough sun. It might be finicky; mine grew when Tomaz's didn't.  And of course Seaside Daisies.  No posts for a week or more; I'm on a road trip to Big Sur.

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Friday, January 9, 2015


Volunteer seedlings fill in the bare spots, and add a little cheerful chaos to any garden.

CA poppies: the largest overwintered, 
the rest are less than two months old.
I haven't made the commitment to grow native annuals from seed.  I did dump a few packets on the ground.  Why not, they're cheap?  I wait and see what pops up.  I also hope that the annuals I paid for in years past have spread their seed.

Could be Clarkia.
Now that the ground has been damp a while, all kinds of sprouts have sprouted.  Some of them are weeds.  Most of the volunteers are California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica), in fact those have grown beyond the sprout size.  Also California Fuchsias (Zauschneria, or more recently Epilobum– which is not related to garden fucshiaall over the place.   That's strange, because the stunning plant which probably seeded them is, alas, long expired. Fuchsias do seem to be better at sprouting than enduring long years.  

Successfully transplanted daisy volunteer.  
Want one?

My most prolific volunteer is Mexican Fleabane a.k.a. Santa Barbara Daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus– a variety from Tomaz that has lush green foliage and weathers drought), not the showiest plant but I love it.  It is one of those rare troopers that blooms and looks lush in dryish shade.  It transplants well, a rarity among natives. Not to worry; it is easy to weed.

Blue-eyed grass, second year volunteer.  
Bloom already!
Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) seeds well, but it doesn't bloom the first year.  I think I see a few Blackfoot Daisies (Melampodium leucanthum– a nearly native from Arizona).  And a Red Buckwheat!  (Eriogonum grande rubescens). And lots of other mystery sprouts, which may be annuals or may be weeds.  Time will tell.

Fuchsia by the dryer vent. 
Volunteers don't always pop up in sensible spots.  The crack between the garden and the cement walk is quite the incubator, but not a prime location for a mature plant.  The daisy transplants easily; most of the others not so much.  Easy come, easy go.  

To encourage volunteers, I don't deadhead, or remove spent annuals, very promptly. Call me a neglectful gardener, but this is a wildlife-friendly way to garden, and we want our gardens to be wildlife friendly, right? Where do you think bird seed comes from? Watch a flock of migrating birds descend on your "dead" daisies and you'll be glad your garden is not perfectly groomed. 

The champion volunteers in my garden are not native.  About seventeen years ago I planted a pack of mixed-color sweet peas.  They have come back every year, by the hundreds, but have all turned an ethereal purple.   I prop them up on three or four tomato cages. I pick scores of bouquets and supply all my friends.  They shrivel up in the first summer heat and I wait for next year's volunteers.
Sweet pea invasion, partial view. 
Note tomato cage for scale.  (From last spring)

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bloomingest Native

Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus) is the bloomingest native in my garden.  Its cheery lavender flowers decorate the garden most of the year. It will tolerate garden conditions (i.e. summer water) and some shade, but blooms much better a little dryer and in at least a half day of sun.  
Seaside Daisies are great for screening summer dormant plants.
Click on the photo to enlarge and find Island Sagebrush
(Artemisia nesiotica) popping out at the top.
It doesn't like inland heat, though you can try it in afternoon shade inland.  It is a native evergreen: will stay green and bloomy on a schedule of brief washing every other week in the summer.  Will stay green and not so bloomy on less.  It is great in a mixed border next to a sidewalk or path. Plant lots!

Going strong– in August!  And letting spindly
 Blackfoot Daisies (Melampodium leucanthum)
borrow some foliage.
Several cultivars are available (intermittently).  Las Pilitas advises against 'Arthur Menzies' and recommends 'Wayne Roderick.'  There is a pink Seaside Daisy for sale.  Just say no. Who needs a pink Seaside Daisy?  It's like a white CA poppy– messing with an icon.  

Homely seaside baby, with potential.
Tomaz gave me this plant from a cutting.
Most natives have their quirks, habits that make them difficult to use in a typical bulletproof suburban planting.  Before you run and plop a native in your garden, know its quirks and be prepared to work with them.   Seaside Daisy does not like to be uprooted.  It will take its time recovering from planting; it may not flower at all its first year.   It may never prosper in clay.  (Beach plant!)  Or too much water. (Duh.) Like any plant with biggish flowers, it will require some deadheading to look its best.  When it is happy, it will keep growing till it gets lanky. Prune all you like; it will grow back.

We have seen Seaside Daisy wild in Cambria... at the beach!  Looks just like ours, but working a little harder. Las Pilitas has some nice pictures of wild daisies.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why this blog?

The whole front yard, fisheye-style, in May 2013 (15 months old).
The budget blog software.  Runs off the page!
Dear Reader, 
I write this blog to:

  • Share the joy I experience in my native garden,
  • Support and encourage gardeners to grow natives successfully,
  • Cultivate appreciation and conservation of CA native plants in the wild and in restoration projects,
  • Be part of developing a native garden aesthetic,
  • And help spread the horticultural knowledge that will allow CA natives, and environmentally friendly gardening in general, to become a more viable choice for landscapers and homeowners. 
I hope you enjoy reading it!

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Indian Burial Mounds

Some mounds before planting.
My son came home from college right after I installed my garden.  He was not impressed.  "What are those Indian burial mounds doing in our yard?"  He was referring to the sandy soil I had gently mounded in order to improve drainage in my clay-and-bedrock soil.

A little drainage helps natives weather summer water.  It means the difference between life and death for many natives.  My yard doesn't have it.  Back when I planted roses, I did the drainage test as specified in the Sunset Garden Book:  dig a planting hole, fill it with water, and see how long it takes to drain.  After a few hours I gave up waiting.

When I decided to go native, I knew I needed raised beds for drainage.  I copied my next door neighbor Tomaz and had sandy soil delivered from the building supply company.

Some mounds just after planting.
My landscape architect friend Cheryl Fields convinced me that sloped mounds would look more natural than raised beds edged in rocks.  She was right– everyone comments on the effect, though as the plants grow taller it is less striking.

About that added soil.  8 cubic yards was dumped in my court. I have no driveway.  Thank you forbearing neighbors.  I did the math, but I forgot to figure in the swales that lead to the drains.  Too much dirt!  So...some of my mounds are too high.  If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't go higher than 12 or 18 inches; the tops of the mounds get very dry.

"Mounding" was the most labor-intensive part of my installation.  (My kind gardener and his son may have other opinions; they removed the lawn and bushes.)  I could have stuck with a palette of natives that tolerate clay.  I'm glad I didn't.  It is SOOO easy to dig in these sandy mounds.
Can you see the mounds now?

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