Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cultivating Community: Concordia's Heritage Garden

An organic vegetable garden, orchard, and native garden in Irvine?  Who knew?  It's the Heritage Garden at Concordia University.  A group of faculty, spearheaded by English professor Thea Gavin, began it just over a year ago on a weedy hillside on the north end of campus.

Thea's vision and enthusiasm are contagious. Her husband Steve is all in as the irrigation specialist. She has gotten labor and materials from Concordia students (especially from the dedicated Student Garden Club), colleagues, friends from the Orange County chapter of the CA Native Plant Society, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, and more.

White Sage (Salvia apiana) overlooks Shady Canyon and the hills beyond.
The garden has a spectacular city view from its hillside perch.  Yet it brings to mind the old country gardens I remember from my college days at UC Davis, a.k.a. "the agricultural extension."  Organic vegetables and fruit trees are surrounded and interspersed with native plants, and a few ornamental flower patches. The garden has what few homes in Orange County have: space!
Sweet Peas, which like our coastal weather.
As a university venture, many lofty words describe its goals and benefits.  I learned a new phrase: "Ecosystem Gardening."  Natives are foundational to the garden, and I've never seen natives and vegetables getting on so well.  (They get watered separately.)
These native perennials were donated by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (extra inventory from revegetation projects), planted last July (not ideal!), and have been thriving.
This synergy was waiting to be revealed.  At the base of the garden lies the wild side of Mason Park. Remnant wild patches of native elderberry and sagebrush rim parts of the garden.  Most delightfully, when the southern end of the garden was freed of invasive mustard, milkweed and other natives sprang up in its place.
What a delight when natives appear on their own!  The Monarch butterflies have not yet found this Narrow-Leaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), which I am assured is much healthier for them than the showy, garden-tolerant South American milkweed you'll find at the nursery.
At the center of the garden is a circular planting of local natives.  A thriving Elderberry was the first item planted, in recognition of the Acjachemen native people who lived here long before westerners.  Thea learned that an elderberry was at the center of each of their villages.
Coast Sunflower (Encelia californica) is still in bloom, and California Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) is lush,  because of water from the fountain. 
The garden is designed to welcome wildlife.  Features include perches made of branches, rock and log piles to shelter lizards, and a bluebird nest box, currently holding some baby birds.
Western Fence Lizard, a.k.a. Blue Belly (our most common lizard), sunning on his very own rock pile.
Community has been essential to the garden's creation. Many faculty, students, and community hobbyists participate in the huge task of clearing away invasive weeds, planting natives and food plants, and tending the garden.  The garden's vision broadens a little as each person adds to it.  Dori and her OCCNPS friends are helping to create a wildflower meadow.  Meadows are the rarest native habitats, requiring lots of weeding.  When I first visited, a whole family was gardening, or catching bugs, depending on age.  Next visit, nine kids from Village of Hope were checking up on the corn they had planted six weeks before.
The kids are mulching their corn; next they will plant pumpkins.
The heritage garden includes Dudleyas, as every Southern California native garden should.
Which Dudleya is this, and why the odd growing habit?  I don't know, but Thea gave me one to take home!
If you want to get your hands dirty, or just gawk, and take home a bit of the harvest of the day, all are welcome at the Heritage Garden Wednesdays from 3 to 5 pm during the school year.  Check for special events on the Garden's Facebook page.  Get directions and a parking permit from the Concordia entrance gatehouse, and join the fun.
Professor Thea Gavin, the force behind the garden, with elderberry tree and young helper. 

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Late Bloomers at SBBG

The meadow at SBBG.  Borrowed landscape doesn't get better than this.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden renovated their wildflower meadow this year.  It's looking great for so late in the season, I presume with a fair dose of supplemental water.  Yellow Lupines, Punchbowl Clarkia, and California Poppy predominate.

Elsewhere in the garden, many of the sages, monkey flowers, ceanothus, and other big bloomers were spent, or nearly so.  This close to the ocean, it can be hard to predict what blooms when.  A late bloomer will be found hidden in a microclimate.
Some late-blooming annual Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila menziesii) were hiding in part shade.  The bunnies ate mine.
I got to see the garden's wide variety of Dudleyas in bloom.   A stalk can be much larger than the plant, though not all those stalks have showy flowers.
The yellow flowers of Dudleya caespitosa, Coast Dudleya, are showy enough for me.
Some flowers are hard to find.  Alan Lindsay called my attention to the curious Soap Plant.  Its flowers, on long branching stalks above the ground-hugging leaves, only open in the early evening.
Bees must have waited all day for these Soap Plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) flowers.  There were as many bees as flowers.
The Garden's sages were mostly done blooming.  The spent flower stalks of sages are decorative, and provide seeds for birds, so don't cut them off till the birds have emptied them of seeds.
These spent Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea)  flower stalks are striking; usually the stalks get black.  Maybe because these were growing in sun: wild ones typically grow in shade.
Having been to the garden for about two years, I notice that lots of the blooming perennials come and go.  So do not despair if yours are short lived, or alternatively, plant more shrubs if you can't be bothered.  Many of them also volunteer from seed. Native gardening is not for control freaks.  Small plants with bright color (yellow seems to work best) can make an impression disproportionate to their size; you need not have a garden full of blooms.
This little guy makes a statement.  Golden Yarrow, Eriophyllum  confertiflorum.
Buckwheats bloom later than most natives; several varieties were in full swing, and red buckwheat was not started yet.  Most buckwheats are prolific flowerers. 
Rare Eriogonum crocatum, Conejo or Saffron Buckwheat, has handsome foliage even when it's not in flower.   It does best in gardens within a few miles of the coast.
This wasn't the most impressive St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum, foreground) but it had the best view.
Manzanitas bloomed back in January, but they are decorative all year long.
This hybrid Manzanita has been well pruned to show its sculptural branches.  Rocks help.
Matilija Poppies don't mess around, with their hand-sized fried egg-shaped flowers.

Planting is long done.  The garden shows are over.   Soon the buckwheat flowers will turn reddish-brown and the garden will go to sleep for the summer. Now is the season to stop making gardening work, get ourselves a cup of tea, and just enjoy the late bloomers.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Discovering Nature (Dori's Garden)

Welcome to Dori's garden in Huntington Beach.  Dori's advice to gardeners is:  "Go native.  You have a wide palette to choose from, and you get to discover all the birds and insects that rely on natives."
The backyard, with swale on the left, riparian (dampish) plants front, and hardly-watered chaparral center.
In a sea of 1960's tract homes, Dori's yard stands out, in a good way.  I remember seeing it for the first time two years ago.  The front was only a little over a year old at that time, but it was my favorite CNPS Tour garden (of the ones I saw.)
From the parking strip right up to the neighbor's monumental junipers, Dori's natives have curb appeal.
Dori got help from Dan Songster, curator of Golden West College California Native Garden, in choosing plants, designing swales to catch rain from the roof (and add texture to the garden), and wrangling a wall of mature junipers.
Gravelly swale (depression to catch rainwater) and artful pruning of tree-sized junipers evoke a streambed at the forest's edge.
She made a plan at leisure, then  installed the garden very quickly.  Home delivery from Tree of Life Nursery makes sense when you order 100 pots!  (And when most of them are one-gallon-size, that may not be as expensive as you think.)  She got 11 cubic yards (!) of mulch delivered as well (basic coarse "forest floor" stuff from Aguinagua in Irvine) and with the help of 9 or 10 of her friends from the GW College garden over a weekend, instant native garden!  
Dori (center) with gardening friends Jan (left, who helped plant her garden) and Merry (right) at Golden West College's native garden.
Dori relied heavily on annual wildflowers at first.  This is a great approach for a new garden; the bare spots between longer-lived plants will be a riot of color in the spring.  Those wildflowers quickly migrated and self-selected: not a great approach for the gardener into order and control. Oh, and did I mention the Bermuda Grass?  She did not kill all of it initially.  Mistake. She is getting really tired of weeding it out of her garden.  The dichondra?  Blends right in.  There are advantages to not making your garden too orderly.
Elegant randomness: Tall Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) has migrated across the front yard.
The garden accomplishes unity in diversity.  Dori is a collector.  I'm guessing she might have a hundred different plants in her yard. Yet a few large drifts, letting shrubs grow to size, and lots of harmonious combinations produce a unified effect instead of the collector's usual hodgepodge.
When you hang around other hobby gardeners all the time, how can you say no to a free cutting of this, and a pot of rare special that?  But Dori goes beyond serendipitous collecting. Witness this rare north coast Miners Lettuce from native seed guru Judith Lowry Larner.
Dori hand waters her garden.  Large sections of it receive no supplemental water other than a quick "dusting off" with the hose every other week, despite the drought.  Deep mulch and some fog drip helps.
We are all envious of Dori's Wooly Blue Curls, a plant that is notoriously sensitive to summer water.
Dori is not much of a trimmer.  I suspect that if she had not just prepared for the OCCNPS garden tour, I would have done some bushwhacking to see her back yard.  
St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum), the largest buckwheat, needs a lot of space, not trimming. This glorious mound (of two plants) is just starting to bloom. Yes, those are all buds.
Every corner has something to see.  Dori's vegetable bed is hiding by the backyard fence.  She loves to walk through the chocolate mint to release its scent.  
This whimsical henge was given to Dori by artist neighbor Don Brashear.  The ceramic "stones" are only about 8 inches tall.
Dori is a "late blooming" gardener, despite having farmers for grandparents and a dad who worked as a gardener and nurseryman (or maybe because of that!)  She had a boring SoCal lawn for over twenty years.  One day as she sat in her backyard, a hummingbird staged a Blue Angels show for her, dive-bombing four times from great heights.  On that day she woke up to the natural wonders in her own backyard.  Wanting to explore this new world, she discovered the GWC Garden in 2009.  She gradually transitioned her backyard to natives before her front-yard blitz.  And she takes hikes with OCCNPS.
Just another well-tended corner of the garden 
Dori invites to you check out her front garden on Oak Tree Circle in Huntington Beach, or you can talk to her many Tuesday or Thursday mornings as she helps out at the Golden West Garden a few blocks away.
Dori has Dudleyas, of course.  They grow particularly well along her water-conserving gravel swales.  In this case, the edging material is "urbanite", recycled concrete. Dudleya edulis is center.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The E-Garden Tour

Last weekend was the OC-CNPS Garden Tour, and a tour for neighbors the following day.   The garden has never looked better.  Nothing like inviting company to get me to tidy, trim, and repair.  Despite our fifth heat wave of the year, things were still in bloom.  So come on in and have a look.  Click on the photos to enlarge.
The front garden was planted in January 2013.
The theme of the front garden right now is lilac.  Lilac Verbena blooms have weathered successive heat waves, though up close you will see they are on their last legs.  Verbena has done well in my garden, so I keep planting more of it.
Verbena on top, daisies below. And peeking out from the back of the border is the redwood box hiding the oh-so-ugly air conditioner.  Never would have been built without a garden tour to dress up for.
It was serendipity, not skill on my part, that lilac-colored Seaside Daisies and Farewell-To-Spring are at their peak bloom now too.  I don't mange to think about color co-ordinating flowers when I plant.
Farewell-to-spring grows in the bioswale at the bottom of the mound along with blue-eyed grass and other wildflowers, and will fade away in summer.
Near the door, the Coral Bells are also hanging on through the heat.  Hiding behind them is orange Monkeyflower, and non-native Dragon Wing Begonias by the door on the left.
Yes, these strawberries are edible, but tiny, and good luck getting the ripe ones before the critters!  A family of bunnies has taken residence in our garden.  Mostly they eat grass...
People liked the plant name labels– I made lots, laminated them for re-use, and included the Latin name,  plant range, rarity, etc. Yes, I am a nerd.
It was fun to look up the ranges of all the species on, and the origin of the garden cultivars.  FYI:  Calflora has the correct current Latin names. But plant nurseries often don't.
The side yard is mostly non-native, but brave natives are tucked in with the roses and fruit trees.
The Italian Cypresses got trimmed for the occasion.  'Fame' rose always looks good, and its flowers lasts a long time. Natives are great for spots the sprinklers miss.
The back yard is coming into its own.  It's hot in summer; it's where I get full sun.
Not so bare this year!
It's not clear whether growing citrus and native sages together is going to fly, but right now they are coexisting. (This idea was tried because there's only one spot with sun all day, except the patio.  Sigh.)
That White Sage, borrowing water and fertilizer from the little citrus trees, has eight-foot-tall flower stalks.
Some ad-hoc combinations are working out well.  Certain plants grow well in and through others.  Full disclosure: I pulled out the more spectacular fails.  A garden is a work in progress.
A pile of snapdragon, cleveland sage and manzanita behind the rock works well.  That climbing rose on the right has never thrived.  I wonder if a Flannelbush would survive there...
And some areas are just problematic... foundation non-natives that I hate to lose, deep or variable shade, association overwatering... and there are always surprises.
Tomaz and I are collaborating on this new section, which has both shade and random association water. So far Bush Snapdragon and Hummingbird Sage thrive, and Bladderpod too, surprise! "Gorilla hair" redwood bark mulch covers the bare spots.
Thanks for visiting my garden!

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

"Trim Me!"

“Wash me!” Perhaps you have seen a car covered in a thick layer of dust and dirt, with those words scraped on the window by someone’s finger. (Whether a thick layer of dust should be a badge of pride in our current drought is a beyond the scope of this blog.)
This Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia)  is making a fine foundation hedge. After a flush of spring growth, it is ready for a light trimming, but it has been well shaped and trimmed in previous seasons.  (CNPS San Diego garden tour home).
 “Trim me!” is what I could write on some of my neighbors’ plants.  They want to be handsome and well groomed. They want to fit in the space. But they are denied this simple mark of respect, and so people deem them ugly, or unfit for a suburban garden. I have heard it said that trimming natives “is not natural.”  Well.   Drought, wind, deer and rabbits trim natives very well, thank you.  And buying them in pots from greenhouses and putting them in parking strips isn't exactly au natural either.
This poor Lemonadeberry is saying, "Trim me."  It has been sheared to clear the driveway but never topped, and now it is intimidating the garage.
I would much rather trim an over-vigorous Leviathan repeatedly than nurse along a languishing Lilliputian.   Mockoranges (Pittosporum tobira variegated) from my pre-native days grow snugly against my garden wall. They are pretty much impossible to kill (I’ve done the experiments: overwater, underwater, deep shade…) but I do need to shape them once or twice a year. People remark on their unusual shape. Because it is unusual to trim a bush in any shape other than a box in this part of the world.
This fifteen-year-old non-native Mockorange (Pittosporum tobira variegated) hugs the wall nicely, because it has been properly trimmed over the years.  It is leggy on the bottom because it was improperly trimmed once, two years ago.  Neighbors who don't trim theirs eventually have fifteen foot tall by ten foot wide pittosporum walls.
If you allow garden-variety gardeners to trim unsupervised, you may produce irreparable damage. Once I hired gardeners to trim. I was yards away, but not watching closely. Those Mockoranges all got miniskirts: bare branches up to three feet. Miniskirts look awkward on almost everybody.  Two years later the shrubs are mostly recovered. (In the gardener’s defense, sprinklers do work better when not blocked by bushes. But 18 inches is sufficient.)
This coyote bush, however, was deliberately trimmed of dead branches and of sprouts at ground level for a sculptural look. What do you think?  
So as I prepared my garden to look its best for the Orange County CNPS Garden Tour (woo hoo!) I got fastidious about my trimming. We must look our best! I have an English Garden effect in my front yard, which works surprisingly well with natives (and well-draining mounded soil) but it does have plants growing up against, and even through, each other. Unchecked, the Island Bush Snapdragon, sagebrushes, and coyote bush would be the only things left.
The Roger's Red (or any other) Grape must be trimmed so it doesn't strangle its neighbors or grow into the next yard. Anybody have a recipe for fresh grape leaves?
Trimming can look natural. I clip rather than shear, for all but the most privet-like plants or the ones furthest in back. (Dwarf Coyote Bush can take a light shearing.) Imagine a deer nibbling the lanky stray shoots off your plants. By trimming a couple of times a year, you don’t notice any “damage”, just plants of a pleasing size and shape. A few natives take special care in trimming: Ceanothus, Manzanita, Flannelbush, Bush Poppy. I will study up on mine before trimming. And dip my clippers in rubbing alcohol to sterilize.
If I hadn't trimmed back the Bee's Bliss Sage (left) and Beach Gum Plant (Grindelia stricta var. platyphylla, right), this Our Lord's Candle Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei), center, would have been invisible.
Some natives require serious trimming to look their best: coyote bush, sagebrushes, and most grasses. Many others will fit the space and look sharp if trimmed once or twice a year.  Any tree wants shaping to give the effect you desire.
My Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) wants a little trimming, but I haven’t decided exactly how yet. Right now it is doing its best to hide the utility closets.
Most natives will stay exactly how you trim them from June to October (their dormant season) and be just fine (except maybe lose all their leaves- don't panic!)  In October or November, you can trim them smaller than you need them to make room for new growth.
My windows are low, so the plants in front of them must be trimmed regularly.  But not flat-topped!  Species Lilac Verbena (Glandularia lilacina) needs to be pinched back in November to make these nice round lilac-studded balls.
Are you hesitant to trim plants?  Not sure what to do?  Call me or another gardening nut over to help. And I in my turn will invite wise friends to help when it's time to trim the tricky Manzanitas.  Good gardening is not a solo sport!

No more mohawks, flat-tops, or never-cut Cousin It looks.  Let's give these hard-working natives the respectable haircuts they deserve. 

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