Monday, July 27, 2015

Tilden Eden (Regional Parks Botanical Garden)

On my semi-annual circuit to visit relatives in Northern California in mid-July, I discovered the Regional Parks Botanical Garden in Tilden Park, Berkeley.  This natives-only garden put the native section of the U.C. Berkeley Botanical Garden (which has terrific world garden sections) to shame.  Thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  
Nestled in a canyon, the Garden has huge east- and west-facing rock terraces to showcase a vast collection.
In addition to its extensive collections of plants from all over California (including ones from Orange County I'd never seen before), the condition of all the plants at Tilden was top-notch.  No scruffy runts, and they are managing to keep some stress-deciduous varieties green in July while still cultivating plenty of summer-dry-loving specimens.  They have some very knowledgeable gardeners. (Bart O'Brien, director since 2013 and formerly of Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, is one.)
Found in a rock planter near the entrance.  Happy like all the rest.  But no label.  Do you know what it is?
Berkeley hills, being further north and shrouded in fog most nights of the year, has a much longer spring season than Southern California before summer dormancy.  Still, the variety of plants in bloom at one time (from nine different regions of California) speaks to a deep knowledge of what makes natives happy.  A dozen different low-growing Ceanothus and Manzanitas formed emerald mats, as one expects in the Berkeley hills.  But I wasn't expecting the profusion of annual wildflowers.
Various species of Clarkia (Farewell-to-Spring) were in profuse bloom, crowding whole garden beds.  Oh, bliss!  
Another variety, Clarkia gracilis ssp. albicaulis
This ruffled version was labeled Presidio Clarkia, from, you guessed it, the Presidio in San Francisco.  But it doesn't match the Calflora entry, so who knows. A happy hybrid?  Unusual foliage form, and just as prolific here as its relatives.
Tilden runs the gamut from meadow flowers and bulbs to redwoods and sequoias, chaparral plants to riparians (with their own streams and waterfalls), and a bewildering variety of shade lovers.  I could camp there!
Many native gardens have their own Coast Redwood or five, but Tilden has its own Giant Sequoia grove.  They are babies compared to the remnant old growth groves in the Sierras, but it's all relative.
Plants that never looked worth the bother of cultivating other places are in their glory here.  And plants I'd never even heard of.  Most of the plants appear to be collected or propagated from the wild (locations marked on the pretty good signage) rather than cultivars chosen by propagators, which accounts for the uniqueness of so many specimens.  CNPS folks, put this place on your bucket list!
After seeing this fine fellow I finally understand why people bother cultivating Monardella.  Not sure which species it is, though.
Their shade collection is diverse and fascinating, covering a lot of territory both geographically and in plant families.
Leopard lilies (Lilium pardalinum) are a specialty of the garden, popping up (and up) under many trees.  This specimen was eight feet tall.
Yet their chapparal plants seemed entirely at home too, not stunted or spindly from overwater.
Oh-so-happy Dudleyas, these from way up north.  And in bloom, below.
Alas, my visit was too short.  Will someone please visit for me, and quiz the gardeners on how they achieve this state of garden nirvana?
Growing happily on a west-facing slope with no label. Could it be Clarkia biloba?
As we struggle through drought and  landscapers with zero native experience tell us how to garden, resources like this seventy-five year old garden and its staff are invaluable. A small greenhouse and growing yard were raising up the next generation of beauty.   I met a cadre of volunteers throughout the garden, busily trimming and planting.  This does seem to be one of the requirements for a successful botanical garden.  I'm adding this garden stop to my annual visit to the relatives!

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Wildflowers on the Edge (A Grand Canyon Album)

Here are more wildflowers from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. (My first post on the North Rim, Perspective, is here.)  Identifications (provisional) rely on Nancy Varga's wildflower album at the desk of the North Rim Visitor's Center.  Repeated burns have cleared the forest, leaving aspen saplings and vast fields of lupine. What a scent!
I don't remember seeing a single (European) honeybee all week.  All kinds of other pollinators were on duty, including this brawny pollen-shouldered fellow. (The lupines are spread out enough that the fields don't impress in a photo.)
 Perhaps the next most common wildflower was Beardlip Penstemon, which grew in a variety of habitats.
This patch was on the North Kabob Trail a little down from the rim.  Listed as Penstemon barbatus, it is similar to the California native Firecracker Penstemon Penstemon eatonii.  The leaves are narrower, and the flower has an undercut lower lip.
DYC's, "Darn Yellow Composites," were present in abundance; here are two that intrigued me.
Oops. didn't catch this one's name!   I like the lacy doily of foliage.
Fineleaf Woolywhite.  Doesn't look white to me! Unusual flower structure. (Hymenopappus filifolius var. lugens)
As is often the case, roadsides were some of the best wildflower sites: disturbed soil, sometimes a ditch to catch the rain, and plenty of sunlight out from under the pines.
This Cryptantha was growing 3 feet tall along the road near Cape Royal.  A Popcorn Flower relative, it is not one of the 88 listed California species (!)  Varga says it's Cryptantha setosissima.  Whatever you call it, it's the biggest, showiest Cryptantha I've seen.
Grand Canyon Prickly Pear cacti, not common on the rim, are willing to show multiple blooms simultaneously in a way Orange County cacti seem to resist.  Maybe it's the shorter growing season.
I think this is Engelmann's Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmanii).  It comes in a variety of flower colors; this one's a winner. 
A few feet away, Mojave Prickly Pear, Opuntia erinacaea, refuses to be outdone.
Secrets lurk in the forest.  Including an orchid with no chlorophyll in it, which almost went unnoticed as we hiked by.
Spotted Coralroot, Corallorhiza maculata, is widespread in American mountain forests, and is featured in the aptly-named poem "On Going Unnoticed" by Robert Frost.
We saw one, and only one, Columbine in the forest.
Colorado columbine, Aquilegia caerulea, this one all white and very showy.
Out on  a scrubby bluff alongside buckbrush and salsify was the local Mariposa Lily.
Or Sego lily, as they call it. Calochortus nuttalli, the state flower of Utah.  It grows from an edible bulb, but don't you dare.
Mules travel along the top section of the North Kaibab trail into the canyon, so the wildflowers there have dust issues.  Still this one was lovely.
Missed the name of these little red stars too.  Anybody?
The forest is mixed, and in many areas bare from devastating burns.  Ponderosa Pines survive the smaller fires, and are the stars of the North Rim with their thick puzzle-piece bark, bouquet-like bursts of needles, and towering dimensions.  Our campground was almost a monoculture of Ponderosa.
In this unlikely spot, a Ponderosa Pine is thriving.  No competition. 
This Arizona Sister was one of many butterflies drifting about.
What a treat to be led by Thea Gavin on long hikes for the purpose of savoring nature, filling our senses so we would have plenty of material for Writing on the Edge through the Grand Canyon Field Institute.  Want to join us next year?  (June 17-19, 2016.)  Indulge me as I offer you one more poem.

On the Way to Tanager Point

I cannot make good time.
I have to check for belly flowers,
regret leaving my camera behind,
smell the pines.

When I move fast I miss
the savor of the junco's tiny song,
a rat's nest of pussy toes,
clouds gathering themselves
     into heroic shapes
     in preparation for sunset.

When I move fast I miss
the wind on my skin,
that sense of dislocation in a barely know place,
my losses:
     move quickly or they'll catch up with you.

I cannot make good time in this place.
I will walk slowly and wait,
and hear the whoosh of the raven's wing,
and watch the raindrops dissolve my thoughts.
Nancy, me and Thea on the edge.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Perspective (North Rim Grand Canyon)

Last week I visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, so the plants in this post are Arizona natives.  A recent cold snap with late spring rains left the area lush and full of blooms.  I couldn't have arranged better timing.
North Kaibab Trail.  Can you see the bridge at the bottom?  It looks like a toothpick.
Perspective matters.  The Grand Canyon, and Scott's recent medical crisis, have offered me a vertiginous change in perspective.  What is large and what is small?  What is important and what is not?  Wild or tame?  Safe or risky?  The answers depend on your perspective.
Muddy spring, or gnarled pine against a cloud-strewn sky?  
Some plants at the Rim were familiar, sort of.  "Is that a Ceanothus?"  California Lilacs are long past blooming in my neighborhood, yet the local Buckbrushes, Ceanothus fendleri, were in bud or in copious bloom at different spots around the rim.  All grow low to the ground, perhaps so they can nestle under the snow when the weather gets rough.  One was covered with tiny bee-like critters, perhaps specialized pollinators.
Pollinators love Ceanothus.  
Manzanitas looked lush compared to ours, but also hugged the ground.
Desert Snowberries (Symphoricarpos longiflorus) wore tiny pink blooms in abundance.
Other plants were stunningly unique.  When I saw this delicate plant hanging in a mossy crevice at the back of an overhang at Hidden Springs I knew it was special.  It is the Cave Primrose (Primula specuicola) found only at sheltered springs on the Colorado Plateau.
Cave Primrose tucked under a deep overhang at Hidden Springs.  The spring has contained five of these plants for the last 50 years, despite the fact that each plant lives three or four years.  A naturalist speculated that seeds fall "up" by getting caught in spiderwebs on the cave walls.

This little herb grew at an interesting angle.
I am grateful to Nancy Varga, a longtime Grand Canyon volunteer who created a wonderful photo guide to the local wildflowers.  It resides in the North Rim Visitor Center.
Cliff Rose (Purshia mexicana) in flower looks like a Rockrose.  Up close, aging flowers reveal feathery appendages, like some sea invertebrate at 8000 feet.
What is your perspective on non-native plants in the wild? Salsify is a Eurasian immigrant but it sure is cool.  (The wildflower guide reported that Native Americans used it for food and medicine. Recently, I guess.)
You might think this Salsify (Tragopogon dubius) was a normal sized puffball if you didn't have my finger for perspective.
The occasion for my visit was a class taught by Thea Gavin (prime mover of Concordia University's Heritage Garden) called "Writing on the Edge."  It was sponsored by the Grand Canyon Field Institute, which has all kinds of amazing classes and adventures.  Leisurely hiking, close observation of the wonders around us, and writing to open-ended prompts invited us to see the beauty around us with new perspectives.  You can join us June 17-19 of 2016!
What is your perspective on barefoot hiking?  Thea, our instructor, has been doing it for years. She provided endless entertainment to other hikers.

Someday the artificial green of our drenched and manicured and chemical-dosed Southern California lawns will be seen for the waste that it is, and the fitting beauty of native plants will be acknowledged.  Sometimes it takes the edge of a cliff to change a person's perspective.

If you'd like to read a poem I wrote that takes a variety of perspectives, read on.

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