Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More Stuff Starting to Bloom

We've had some warm weather the past several days and the result has been a number of plants deciding to bloom now. This seems really early to me, but maybe it's normal. So first we have Del Mar Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. crassifolia). This is a rare manzanita that occurs only near the coast in eroded sandstone soils between the Torrey Pines area and Carlsbad.

Next is Eriophyllum millefolium or Common Yarrow. The nursery had it labeled as ssp. lanulosum, but Calflora and JM2 do not seem to recognize any subspecies. I planted this one about a year ago, and it has turned out to be a nicely spreading ground cover with lacy, ferny foliage. I have it in part sun/part shade and it seems quite happy there. It appears fairly drought tolerant but definitely looks better with regular watering. It mixes well with Blue-eyed grass and Cinquefoil.

I've had a Cleveland sage, Salvia clevelandii, for many years. It is easy to grow, a very reliable bloomer and super fragrant. It thrives on neglect. The only thing it needs is cutting back every year or two so that it doesn't take over the whole yard.

Another early bloomer is Santa Cruz Island Gooseberry (Ribes thacherianum). It is drought deciduous and goes dormant in summer. With the first rains of fall it leaps back to life and puts out flowers almost immediately. They are small but delicate and beautiful. I also have several other Gooseberries. I mentioned that my R. indecorum is also blooming now. Others that have not bloomed yet are speciosum, malvaceum, sanguineum and viburnifolium.

The next couple of photos are of a completely different Kingdom, the Fungi. I used to view mushrooms in my garden as a sign that something was wrong. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi that are living in the soil, and I thought that any fungus in the soil was bad. More recently I have learned that plants in undisturbed areas and in an established ecological relationship with each other are connected together by a beneficial fungal network in the soil.

The soil fungus and plants have a symbiotic relationship that is called mychorrizal. The minute hyphae (root-like structures) of the fungus are more efficient at infiltrating the soil and taking up water than the roots of green plants. In a mychorrizal relationship, the fungal hyphae connect with the roots of green plants and the fungus shares its water with these plants. In return, the green plants share some of their carbohydrates with the fungus, which the fungus cannot produce on its own because it has no chlorophyll. Studies have shown that over 90% of green plant families are mychorrhizal if conditions are right to allow soil fungi to thrive.

The gardener who wants to maintain an ecologically healthy garden will want to create the right conditions for mychorrizal fungi. What conditions are those? From a gardening perspective, the two things that are most important are to minimize soil toxins, particularly those that are fungicidal, and to minimize soil disturbance. The latter point means don't dig up the soil unnecessarily because doing so can sever the connection between soil fungi and your plants. It doesn't mean that you have to avoid digging entirely. Just don't get out the rototiller and turn over the soil every year, as recommended by some gardening "authorities." Having primarily plants native to your area should also help because the local fungi and local plants should already be acquainted with each other and should link up more readily. I also advocate leaving the leaf litter from your plants on the ground, and leave any mushrooms alone. They are actually a good sign that the mychorrizal network is starting to function.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Year-End Activity

Following up to my last post, here are more status reports on what I have been doing and what the plants have been doing as we approach the end of 2013. When I was at Tree of Life a couple months ago they had a plant that I have never heard of before and is not listed in their catalog. It is Munzothamnus blairii. I assume the genus is named after the famous botanist, Philip Munz.  It seems to occur only on San Clement Island off the coast of San Diego County. It's an attractive plant so I bought it to add to the Channel Island section of the garden. It is in the Asteraceae family and has composite flowers, the ray flowers being pink to white. The leaves are also quite nice. Interestingly, this one was in bloom when I bought it and is continuing to put out new blooms. I'm excited about this one.

I also bought a couple of new cacti recently. The first one is a Cardon (Pachycereus pringlei). I bought it from Anderson's La Costa Nursery which is not a native plant nursery but occasionally has some California or Baja natives. This one was a good size (16 in.) and the right price. Cardons are slow-growing and so are usually somewhat pricey because the nurseries have to grow them for such a long time. Really old ones in Baja can be 60 ft. tall. This one is somewhat top heavy for its root system so I have it propped up for now.

I bought a couple more cacti from cactusbylin.com via ebay. They sell cacti and succulents from all over the world, including a number of California and Baja natives. I am super happy with the cacti that I got. The first one is a Cochemiea setispina from the mountainous region of central Baja. Although it is not a coastal species, I'm hoping it will do well in Encinitas. The thing I am most impressed with is the size of this specimen - 9 in. in diameter. Cochemieas are clumpers with multiple heads, like Echinocerus and some others. Mine has approximately 40 heads! If I wanted to put this in a container and take it to cactus shows, I'm sure it would be an award winner. But in want it in the ground in my Baja section. Note that I have used some bent wire coat hangers to pin it down until the roots become firmly attached to the soil. The Cochemieas have great flowers, and I'm looking forward to this one blooming.

The second one I bought from cactusbylin.com is a Ferocactus fordii from the coast of northern Baja. It is a smaller form of barrel cactus which I think will do well in a container. Again, this was a really nice size specimen for the price. I have bought other cacti from online dealers but they have always tended to be pretty small. I should also mention that these two were well packaged and delivered in great condition.

Although it's early in the season, a few plants are starting to bloom already. Below is a Dudleya candida that is putting up its inflorescence.

 Next is a Dudleya brittonii putting up multiple inflorescences.

Last of the early bloomers in my garden is a Ribes indecorum that is covered with tiny white flowers from top to bottom.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

An Even More Lengthy Hiatus

My last post was in September. Since then I've been busy planting new stuff and weeding. I don't know why I didn't get around to posting anything, but now I'm going to get caught up.

I'm getting some nice seedlings coming up from some of the more established plants. Below are a small Dudleya lanceolata and a Euphorbia misera. Actually, there are a number of E. misera seedlings coming up around the mother plant. This is always gratifying to see because it means these plants are really happy where they are.

I've had a Baja Ocotillo (Fouquieria diguetii) in a container for several years. I think it has probably put roots out through the bottom of the container and into the ground, which is fine with me because it is now showing lots of new growth. It has never bloomed but I'm hopeful that it will this year. The more familiar Ocotillo species is F. splendens which is found from the California deserts to west Texas and into Baja. In fact there is a small area in Baja where both species are found together. Both share the trait of having two types of leaves. The first type forms on new stem growth and they have a very stout petiole (small stem that the leaf is directly attached to). The petiole makes these leaves look like tiny shovels. When the leaf dries and falls off, the petiole remains and becomes a woody spine.The second type of leaf then develops at the base of the spine and has no petiole. All of this can be seen in the photo below.

Another aspect of my garden (in addition to the plants) is the places I have made for pollinators and other critters. I'm glad to see that the bee nesting blocks that I made are being used. These are simply wood blocks in which I drilled a number of holes of different sizes. I attached a couple of these to my pepper tree in the front yard.

The honey bees that we are all familiar with are imports from Europe. They live in colonies and produce honey. In contrast, most native North American bees are solitary nesters and do not produce honey. You can see in the photo that some of the holes have little pieces of wood sticking out. This is the work of the native carpenter bee. The female lays eggs in holes in dead wood, either pre-drilled holes or ones she has chewed herself. She then plugs the hole with wood chips which she has chewed off. She provisions the nest with "bee bread", a mixture of flower nectar and pollen. The larvae develop in the holes until Spring, at which time they eat the "bee bread", then chew their way out and fly off to find a mate. I'm very happy to see that they are using the blocks.

Among the new plants I bought are some small Baja succulents that I put into a planter. The rear left is a F. diguetii that I bought from San Diego Botanical Gardens. They must have some seedlings coming up in their Mexican section. Mine is showing a little transplant shock but I'm confidant it will recover. The cactus on the right is Ferocactus chrysacanthus which is native to Cedros Island off the coast of Baja. In the foreground is Dudleya arizonica which I bought from Tree of Life. It is found from the California deserts into Arizona and southwards into Baja. All of these plants like rock mulch and very porous, sandy/gravelly soil, full sun and minimal water.

That's all for now.

Monday, September 23, 2013

After a Lengthy Hiatus...

I haven't posted anything since August 12 because I was in Reston, Virginia visiting my older son and his family. While I was there we did a lot of work in his garden, planting species that are native to the Piedmont region. It was very fun and educational to note the differences between east coast plants and west coast plants.

Now that I'm back in SoCal, the primary order of business is getting ready for Fall planting. I have made a list of the places in the garden where plants are needed and species that I want to buy. Most of them are ones that I already have and want to have more of. At this time, my wish list is as follows:
  • Allium haematochiton - Redskin onion
  • Aquiligia formosa - Western columbine
  • Asclepias fascicularis -Narrow leaf milkweed
  • Eriogonum arborescens and E. gigantea - Santa Cruz Island buckwheat and St. Catherine's lace
  • Lysiloma candidum (not sure about this one) - Palo blanco
  • Monardella linoides ssp. viminea - Willlowy monardella
  • Rosa minutifolia - Small-flowered rose
  • Salvia brandegei - Santa Rosa Island sage
  • Clinopodium (Satureja) chandleri - San Miguel Savory
  • Solanum hindsianum - Baja nightshade
  • Ribes malvaceum 'Dancing Tassels' - Dancing tassels currant
  • Hazardia dentosa - Island bristleweed
  • Styrax officinalis - Snowdrop bush
  • Cneoridium dumosum - Spicebush
  • Penstemon sp.
  • Trichostema lanatum - Woolly bluecurls
 I also have a few annual seeds that I plan to spread around the garden. At this time I have:
  • Acmispon americanus (formerly Lotus purshianus) - Spanish lotus
  • Hulsea heterochroma - Red-rayed hulsea
  • Phacelia tanacetifolia - Tansy leafed phacelia
  • Clarkia amoena - Farewell to Spring
  • Clarkia unguiculata - Woodland clarkia
  • Castilleja exserta - Owl's clover
  • Gilia tricolor - Bird's eye gilia
Last year I had good performance from a number of annuals that I expect to re-seed themselves. These include:
  • Eschscholzia californica - Calif. poppy
  • Lupinus succulentus - Arroyo lupine
  • Layia platyglossa  - Tidy tips
  • Phacelia grandiflora - Large flowered phacelia
  • Clarkia bottae - Botta's clarkia
  • Cirsium occidentale - Cobweb thistle
There isn't much blooming at the moment, but I have one container plant that is extremely happy right now. It is a Baja elephant tree, Pachycormus discolor. I have seen some large specimens of this in Baja but I have never seen one in bloom before. In addition, it has a light, pleasant fragrance. What a treat!

I have been watering it every 2 weeks during the summer to simulate the kinds of rain it would get in central and southern Baja. Lately we have been having some clear, warm days which made this plant feel right at home. I have it in a fairly large pot where it will hopefully be happy for a long time.

The other plant that is blooming (profusely) now is Epilobium canum (California fuchsia). It is a very reliable late summer bloomer that spreads itself readily by rhizomes and seeds. In fact, it is a bit too aggressive in its spreading, and I am always having to pull it out of places where I don't want it to take over. Aside from that it's a great plant that is much appreciated by insects and hummingbirds at this time of year.

Monday, August 12, 2013

More Late Summer Observations

As I mentioned in my last post, late summer is the quiet season in native California gardens. Most of these plants are completely adapted to going without any rain from roughly May to November. But that doesn't mean that nothing is happening. Some plants will be killed by supplement water while others respond by blooming again. It's important to know the difference and treat them accordingly.

For example, Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) should not be given any surface water in the summer because there are soil pathogens that will be invigorated by the combination of warmth and water, and they will attack the roots of oaks. By contrast, the succulent shown below, Oregon Stonecrop (Sedum oreganum) requires regular summer water. I'm very pleased that this one if flowering right now.

There are lots of Sedum species, many from Mecixo. But this one is native to far northern California and Oregon where summer temperatures are somewhat cooler and there is more fog/dew to keep them hydrated. Another Sedum from NorCal is S. spathulifolium. Mine is a variety called 'Cape Blanco'.

I keep both of these in containers for several reason.  I can give them a bit more water, they don't get hidden underneath taller plants, and their sprawling growth habit makes them spill over the edge of a container in a pleasing way.

Other plants in my garden have virtually constant water - namely the pond and the bog area. The pond has been naturalizing well and now has a good cover of water lilies with periodic blooms.

These water lilies are not native to California, but it has been extremely difficult for me to find native aquatic plants. So the water lilies will stay unless I find something better. One native wetland plant that I just recently discovered is Giant Arrowhead (Sagittaria montevidensis). I has broad, arrowhead-shaped leaves and a lovely white flower with burgundy markings.

Speaking of wetland plants, the bog area is really filling in now. The Stream Orchid and the two mimulus species have gone into dormancy which I assume is typical of them in the wild. The other bog plants are growing large, especially the San Diego Sedge (Carex spissa).

Some of the smaller bog plants are holding their own, particularly the Lobelia Cardinalis which is blooming now. In the photo below the flowers are from the Lobelia but the foliage is an adjacent plant.

In the drier parts of the garden there are still some plants blooming. There is a small Elderberry tree (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea). I used to have a very large tree but it was becoming problematic in several ways, so I cut it down a few years ago. Now I get sprouts coming up from the stump every Spring. This year I decided to let one of the sprouts get a bit larger. It got big enough to bloom and produce fruit. The berries are popular with a number of birds.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Late Summer - The Quiet Season

Late summer and early fall are the quiet season in a native California garden. There are exceptions, but for the most part my plants have gone into dormancy. There has been no rain here in Encinitas since May, as is normal for coastal San Diego County. There is not likely to be any rain until November. These native plants are adapted to the long drought, in part by going to sleep for several months.

Some visibly go to sleep, such as the Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri). Mine finished blooming a short time ago, and now the leaves are drying up.

I like to use the dried leaves and stems as mulch, so I cut them down to the ground at this time. When the leaves are fully brown and dried, they crumble easily. I cut up the stems with a hand pruner. Cutting back this poppy is generally recommended because it triggers new growth. It also opens up the area to more sunlight which is good for the other plants.

Another genus that goes into quite visible dormancy is the Dudleyas. The one below is D. pulverulenta. It bloomed in June and July with tall flower stalks that put its blossoms up where hummingbirds can get at them. Now it's work for the year is done, and the leaves shrivel to become papery flakes. Though dead-looking at this time, these Dudleyas are quite alive. They can wait patiently another 3 or 4 months until the rains arrive. Note that the Dudleya is the background looks less dessicated because it is in the shade of the oak tree.

Other plants go dormant without looking quite as dead. In the photo below, the Yucca Shidigera looks much the same as always, while the cream-colored flowers of the buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) become cinnamon-colored seed heads.

Then there are the late bloomers, those plants that for whatever reasons produce their flowers in late summer. One of the best of these for the garden is California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum) in the Onagraceae (Primrose) family. There are several species and subspecies of this plant, but in general they have silvery foliage with tubular red flowers that are well used by hummingbirds.

Another late bloomer, at least in my garden, is Eriogonum grande var. rubescens. It's a Channel Islands species that can bloom as early as April or as late as October (according to Calflora.org). I'm using it as one of the understory plants beneath a large Santa Cruz Island Ironwood.

Still another late bloomer is Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostemma lanatum), a member of the Mint family.

Last but not least is an agave that I've had in a container for around 10-12 years. I believe it is A. parryi, but it may be a hybrid or variety. I just don't remember. Anyway, it decided to bloom this year. Like all other members of the agave genus, it will die when it's done flowering. For now it is spectacular. The 3 photos below show the full inflorescence, the unopened flower buds, and the open flowers which are loaded with so much nectar that they drip onto the ground. Note also the huge anthers and filaments. It will be interesting to see if any seeds are produced.

I was recently reading an excellent article in Fremontia (the journal of the California Native Plant Society). The article was written by Mark Bourne who spent 4 years in Japan learning their traditional approach to landscape design. He focused on the philosophical concept of Wabi. To quote Mr. Bourne, "Wabi is an aesthetic of emotions, expressed in the atmosphere of unadorned fulfillment that can be found in Japanese poetry. Wabi conveys a feeling of rusticity, simplicity, soberness..." The Wabi approach to both poetry and gardening involves references to the seasons and to specific natural locations, especially in the off-seasons. In Japan the off-season is late winter. In California it is late summer. Anyone can fall in love with a garden in Spring, but it takes more study and reflection to love a garden in late summer. Learning about Wabi has helped me to better appreciate my garden in this quiet season when there is as much brown as green, and the flowers are few and a far between. The plants are merely at rest, waiting, conserving water and energy to be ready for whatever comes next.

Friday, July 26, 2013

More Baja Plants

I have previously written about my interest in Baja plants for the garden, but I did not cover all the species I have. So today I will describe the other Baja species in my garden, starting with Mammillaria cactus. I love all cacti but if I had to choose one genus that I love the most it would be the Mamms. Their diminutive size makes them great for either containers or any size garden. They can tuck underneath larger shrubs and be perfectly happy there. Like all cacti they are extremely heat and drought tolerant, but not very tolerant of cold or wetness. But above all, when they bloom the tiny flowers can be extravagantly beautiful. Below is one that is blooming right now, a Mammillaria blossfeldiana which is a Baja endemic found in the vicinity of Santa Rosalillita and on Cedros Island.

I took the above closeup shot early in the morning and there was still dew on the plants. This species stays very small, typically about 2 inches in height. It is reported to bloom in April and May in its native habitat, but here it is in my garden near the end of July.

Another Baja Mamm is fraileana which is found in the Cape region. It also has lovely pink flowers, but mine has not bloomed yet. It has been in this container less than a year.

Yet another Mamm in my garden is albicans which is found from Loreto to the northern Cape region, primarily along the coast. In the background is a Ferocactus viridescens which if found both north and south of the border.

Cochemiea is another genus of small cacti, and the entire genus is endemic to Baja. They used to be lumped together with Mammillaria but now they are considered distinct. Like the Mamms, they have very interesting, beautiful flowers. I have two of them and I'm anxious to see them bloom. Cochemiea halei (below) is a rare species found only on Magdalena and Santa Margarita Islands and a very few locations on the immediate coast of the adjacent peninsula. It is somewhat taller than other Cochemiea and has only straight spines.

Cochemiea poselgeri has a more sprawling habit and strongly hooked spines. It is common throughout much of Baja Sur. I have mine in a container with another Baja succulent, Euphorbia (Pedilanthus) lomelii, commonly known as Candelilla or Slipper Plant.

To finish up the cacti, I have a small specimen of Echinocereus maritimus var. maritimus which is a clumping or hedgehog cactus from the Ensenada area. It is reported to be the only species of Echinocereus in California or Baja that has yellow flowers. Although I've had mine for several years it has never bloomed. I'm hopeful that it will one of these years.

Moving away from the cacti, one of my other favorite genera is the Dudleyas in the Crassula family. I have a couple of Baja Dudleyas. First is Dudleya brittonii, endemic to the coast from the border south to the Ensenada area.

Below is a new acquisition, Dudleya Candida,closely related to brittonii but reported to be endemic to the Coronados Islands which are just south of the U.S. border. 

To wrap up the Baja natives, below is a plant that I know little about called Burroughsia fastigiata in the Verbena family. The Baja California Plant Field Guide ( Rebman and Roberts) does not mention it, but the SD Museum of Natural History web site says it is found in central Baja. So for it seems to be happy in my garden.

I am frankly more nuts about Baja plants than I am about California plants, especially the succulents. I plan to get more for planting in Fall.