Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Garden Pond

I mentioned in one of my first posts that I used to have a pond. The neighborhood raccoons made a total mess of it. It was small and shallow so they would get into it and have parties, eating the plants and turning it into a mud puddle. So I filled in that pond with dirst and made it into the bog area which is now doing very well.

I was not willing to give up on the pond idea, and I learned that raccoons will not go into a pond that is too deep or steep sided. So I dug a hole for a new pond next to the bog area. I made the hole about 4 ft. deep at the deep end and about 3 ft. deep at the shallow end. Next I bought EPDM (rubber) liner and fitted into into and around the hole. The edges of the liner were anchored down with pieces of flagstone which also make the edge of the pond look somewhat more natural. Below is how the pond looked prior to filling with water. Not too natural looking yet.

After filling it with water I proceed to the important part which is PLANTS. My goal is to have the pond filled with native aquatic plants. However, they are pretty hard to find. So I have started with water lilies which are non-native. Water lilies have a rhizome that goes in soil, and the leaves and flowers arise from it. I had some rhizomes left over from my old pond, and I just needed a container to plant them in. Pond plant stores sell special containers for water lilies, but I found something that works just as well and is very inexpensive. Below is a plastic basin from a hardware store that is used for mixing cement, plaster, etc.

I filled this pan with regular garden soil that had some general purpose plant food added to it. I placed the rhizomes in it and carefully lowered it into the water. For more info about planting water lilies there are lots of videos on the internet that will give you more detail. Below is one of these pans in the pond but not yet sprouting any leaves. The lily pads to the right of the container are from a new one that I bought so that I could have some instant gratification.

The photos below don't have anything to do with plants - it's just an excuse to show two of my grandkids (Chadd and Alexa) with their feet in the pond. You can see a willow branch fence that I installed to keep little kids out.

I found a place where I can buy native California pond plants - Owned and operated by the Curtright family, they are located in Escondido, not too far from me. Not all of their plants are natives, but they have a better selection than just about anyone else that I could find. What I was really looking for was Nuphar polysepala (also known as Nuphar lutea) which is a lovely yellow water lily native to northern California. About the furthest south it gets is San Luis Obispo county. I cannot find anyone who sells it in the nursery trade, but I'm not giving up. If I can ever find it I'll remove my other water lilies and use only the Nuphar.

Anyway, I was able to get a number of great plants from David Curtright. I bought a couple of Giant Arrowhead (Sagittaria montevidensis) which has leaves somewhat like a Calla lily but very different flowers (see below). It's a bog plant so I put it in a damp area near the edge of the pond.

I also bought some Lobed Marsh Moneywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides). This is another bog plant but it can also just be floated in the pond which I have done below.

One other plant I got from is Bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza). It's floater and presently too small for me to get a decent photo of it. If you want to see what it looks like, go to

To finish off the pond (for the moment) I bought some grasses from Moosa Creek Nursery. Here's one shot with 3 different grasses in it.

Below is Clustered field sedge (Carex praegracilis).

All of these grasses are native to wet places in San Diego county. I made a makeshift waterfall out of an old wheelbarrow. One of these days I will set up a more permanent one, but this works for now.

Below is an overall view of what the pond looks like now.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bog Planting Update No. 2

The bog plant area is coming along very nicely. The Monkeyflowers (Mimulus sp.) and rushes (Carex sp.) are getting bigger and spreading nicely. The Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica) is putting out runners all over the place. And the Lobelias are getting bigger, hopefully getting ready to put up flower stalks.

Most exciting to me is that the Stream Orchid (Epipactis gigantea) is blooming. The plants are not yet living up to their specific epithet ("gigantea") as they are only about 6 inches tall, but it is really great that they are blooming their first year in the bog.

California Island Species

The Channel Island of southern California are the home of some highly interesting and useful plants. Many of these are endemic to one or more islands, and many are suitable for the mainland home garden. First, a brief overview of the islands. They include (from south to north) San Clemente Island, Santa Catalina Island, San Nicholas Island, and five others that comprise Channel Islands National Park. See for info on the islands in the National Park.

Because of their separation from the mainland, the island species have evolved in unique ways. In the recent past (and to some extent in the present) these islands were subjected to military activities, grazing by livestock, hunting, tourist development (primarily on Catalina), and other human activities that have negatively affected their fragile ecology to varying degrees. Yet, they retain many of their important features and are receiving much better management today.

One of my favorite plants from the Channel Islands is Santa Cruz Island Ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius). Remarkably, it is in the rose family. It is fast growing to roughly 50 ft. in height with an upright form and not too much spread. Mine is in the back yard where it can provide some afternoon shade for the house in the summer.

It has large, compound leaves that look rather fern-like, and it produces huge clusters of white flowers in the Spring.

One of the many appealing features of this tree is its bark which resembles a redwood but peels off in long strips. This bark can look shaggy after awhile so you can either peel it off to clean it up or just leave it alone.

 The amount of leaf drop is considerable so be prepared for that if you intend to plant one. I believe that the mulch provided by the fallen leaves is beneficial to the tree and to suitable understory plants, so I leave it all in place. When dry, the leaves crumble up nicely.

I think the best plants to have under the ironwood are other island natives. I have some Giant Coreopsis (Leptosyne gigantea) which is found on several of the islands, Santa Barbara Island liveforever (Dudleya traskiae), Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens), and St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum).

In the photo above, the Dudleya traskiae is in the foreground and the Leptosyne gigantea is the funny looking thing on a woody stalk. The Leptosyne used  to be included in the Coreopsis (sunflower) genus and it has typical sunflower flowers, but the taxonomists have recently moved it into a new genus. This plant grows only on the Channel Islands and a few spots on the mainland, primarily near the LA/Ventura County line. It wants to be very near the coast. In the summer it will lose all of its greenery and become a naked, somewhat sculptural stalk. When the winter rains come it will leaf out again and produce flowers. Mine have not flowered yet because they have only been in the ground a few months. They will next Spring. I love this plant because it reminds me of my visits to Anacapa Island.

The two buckwheats are shown below. First is St. Catherine's Lace, showing overall habit, leaves, and flower buds. The flowers have not opened yet (June 5) but should soon.

Next is Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat. This one really belongs where I have planted it because it is from the same island as the ironwood. I can easily imagine them growing together like this in some sheltered canyon on Santa Cruz Island.