Thursday, June 22, 2017

No Place Like Home

My California native garden is almost four years old.  For the past two years, Scott and I have lived in Arlington Virginia, a few miles outside of Washington D.C., 80% of the time.  My garden has been patiently waiting for my return... thriving, for the most part, though it has a few bare spots.  
The effect I wanted: of coastal sage scrub and chaparral. Smells so good!

Occasional pruning is required, at least if I want to see out of my windows.  The garden has gone up to six or eight weeks at a time with no water.  I looked into automated watering, but decided to stick with an occasional application of Israeli mini-sprinklers to supplement the rainy season (unnecessary this year!) and Beer Watering in the summer and fall.  
Darwinian gardening.  The manzanitas, 'Howard McMinn' (left) and 'Lester Rowntree' (right) are duking it out in front of our bedroom,  while the part-wild hybrid grape 'Roger's Red' threatens to cover all.

The front required a fair amount of weeding in this very wet spring.  Students were hired for one bout.  I could have mulched.  The backyard resists most weeds, while still managing to germinate abundant almost-native Suncups (Calylophus hartwegii, below.)  I am guessing overspray from the overwatered Association lawn germinates the weed seeds.
Backyard: sage rules!  Two different Cleveland sage cultivars at left add their hummingbird-pleasing purple balls, while white sage sends ten-foot flower stalks up and around the drought-dwarfed citrus.

Mixing fruits and sages in the backyard was not a great success.  White sage goes nuts with even a little extra water.  Pineapple guava and Satsuma mandarin are barely hanging on, though Meyer lemon is doing OK.  
Toyon doing its job, hiding utility doors and screening the kitchen from the street.  Dwarf coyote bush 'Pozo Surf' takes to trimming in a ball shape just fine.  The air conditioner is new.  Shall we build a screen for it?

Some of the trees and tall shrubs are starting to show their stuff.  The successes:  Lemonade berry (finally hiding the compost bin), Toyon, and California Bay Laurel.   My Catalina Ironwood just stays a shrub.  And a few bare walls remain. 
In addition to being a yummy dark green, California Bay Laurel (behind the birdbath) smells amazing.  Don't put more than half a leaf into your soup or it's overpowering.

Out our kitchen window we are treated to hummingbirds on the Baja Fairy Duster, as well as a screen of lacy shades of green, hiding our pajamas from street view.  A few untimely and mysterious deaths  have left bare spots, including the death of a rather widespread dwarf sage in the front of the mound above.  The culprit may be fungus, but who knows. 
A hodgepodge of natives, borrowing some water from the lawn, creates a lush border.

Tomaz, the next door neighbor who got me started with natives, moved to New Jersey.  My new neighbor Seema is still adjusting to natives, but does like this border between our yards.  We will have fun together filling the holes in our yards this fall.  Native plant nursery, here we come!
I don't have a lot of blooms right now, but pink buckwheat is a nice accent.

I have grown to appreciate Virginia forests and wildflowers during my sojourn there.  After all, I've been living across the street from a Nature Conservancy garden.  But when it comes to gardens, there's no place like home.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Contemplating a Native Garden?

**Note: This is my first blog post in... um... a long time.  The garden is doing fine, and I will soon be moving back to California.  More to come...
Not my garden... goldfields in the UCI preserve.
It rained this year!  But drought will come again.  If you are thinking about going native, now is a good time to plan, and to learn about the unique requirements and habits of California native plants.  You have missed the low-water planting season, so you have time (till October...) to catch your breath and learn.  You might want to visit native gardens in the summer to see how they hold up during summer dormancy.  Some California natives are evergreen, some disappear in the dry season, and some get a bit scruffy.  Best to know in advance what you can put up with. 

Natives are different.  They don’t want soil amendments; in fact most will happily grow on a mound of decomposed granite.  They don’t want fertilizer.  They never need pesticides.  They don’t want watering more than once or twice a month, but they do want deep watering.  Most of all, THEY DON’T WANT SUMMER WATER.  Natives evolved in a climate where it almost never rains six months of the year, and they have no protection from root rot in warm damp soil.  If you must water in summer, just hose off the foliage every week or two.  Planting natives is different too.  And no practical native ‘lawn’ exists; we have to think outside that lawn box to avoid not only the water use, but the pesticide and fertilizer runoff that pollutes our bays and oceans.  (lush weed-free lawns are one of our biggest sources of water waste and pollution!)

My garden, back in the drought years, at the end of summer.  With just a little beer watering!
Buyer Beware. Know what you are planting and what it requires to thrive.  Few staff of regular nurseries understand how to grow natives.  Some even think ‘native’ is the same as ‘low water.’  Turf Terminators don’t have a clue.  Sadly, neither do most commercial landscapers or gardeners.  If you are shelling out for professional help (design or upkeep), make sure you see a 3-5 year old native garden that person has created and/or maintained.

Get to know the natives.  Las Pilitas Nursery’s extensive website will tell you more about these eco-friendy plants, as will my blog,  Orange County residents can visit Tree of Life Nursery, or the friendly volunteers at Golden West College’s Native Garden. Here are some of my favorite natives for coastal Southern California.
Hedges and Shrubs: Coffeeberry, Manzanita Howard McMinn, Ceanothus ‘Concha’.
Perennials: (all great for butterflies and hummingbirds!) Cleveland Sage, Baja Fairy Duster, Island Bush Snapdragon, Lilac Verbena.
Ground covers for sun: Dwarf Coyote Bush, Dwarf Sages (Dara’s Choice, Bees’ Bliss)
Ground covers for shade: Hummingbird Sage, Catalina Perfume.
Trees:  California Bay Laurel, Toyon, Catalina Cherry, ‘Mexican’ Elderberry.
And don't forget California's cutest succulents: Dudleyas!
(These are Dudley Farinosa, at Tilden Native Garden in Berkeley.)
Be patient.  Natives root deep, and take a while to express their potential.  They go dormant in the summer.  They feed native birds and animals.  On a minimum of water and no fertilizer or pesticide, their subtle beauty offers a deep connection with the rhythms of nature that feed the soul. 

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