Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for December, 2008

Summer Deciduous

ribes malvaceumRibes malvaceum

Summer deciduous can be a hard concept to bring into the garden. It makes perfect sense–plants go dormant during the dry summers and leaf out again during the temperate, wet winters–but it takes a fair bit of confidence to keep reassuring your clients that the plant is healthy when other plants in their garden and virtually all of the plants in their neighbors’ gardens are using summer as their time to shine. 

This Ribes malvaceum is full of brand new leaves several days after the winter solstice. Planted as a five gallon in June, the ribes sat there with tired, raggedy-looking leaves and dormant leaf buds all summer and fall, and as soon as the rains came, it put out these beautiful big green leaves and even a few token blooms. It might be in leaf a bit early because this is its first year and it’s getting regular irrigation, but it’s clearly not on the same schedule as a lot of the more traditional deciduous shrubs and trees; for instance, the Japanese maples in that same garden are just losing the last of their leaves. This Ribes has its most beautiful foliage at the same time as other plants have abandoned theirs.

ryan 12/26


calendula & geranium "bill walls"

We try pretty hard for year-round bloom to keep our beneficial insects happy, but I doubt they’re very impressed with our offering on the first day of winter. Geranium “Bill Walls,” this calendula, and Linaria pururea are the only ones in full bloom. Everything else is young or only able to muster a token bloom. Of interest probably only to me, the bloom list is below:


Meep! Meep!

cotoneaster topiary cotoneaster roadrunner

The best topiary in our neighborhood. Goofy, brilliant, makes me smile.

— Note — Anita claims the roadrunner says Beep Beep, I claim Meep Meep. According to someone on Metafilter, the voice of the roadrunner, Chuck Jones, spelled it ‘Beep-Beep,” but pronounced it ‘Meep-Meep.”

Calandrinia Spectabilis



These calandrinias sure are happy. This spot used to have bamboo in the ground, so before planting, we dug out the soil to a depth of two feet. Whenever we turnover or dig soil, we also add compost (turning soil increases the oxygen in the soil which in turn increases the population of bacterial microbes; you need to provide additional food to sustain the boom of bacterial life or else the population will go bust and leave you with worse soil than before you started), so these calandrinias are growing in two feet of loose, ammended soil, slightly raised to provide good drainage, full coastal sun, pretty much their ideal conditions. They’ve pretty much exploded, tripling in size in three months and blooming by their second or third week in the ground. 

We usually plant them in less optimal conditions where they grow well but much more cautiously. The photo shows their leggy bloom habit. They seem to look best if you can raise them a foot or two so the blooms are stretching up to just below eye level. They will bloom most or all of the winter in Berkeley and Richmond.

The aloe in the lower corner was a dark red when we planted it, but the good soil and (I’m guessing) generous hand-watering by the homeowner has turned it blue-green. Below are a couple of shots of Calandrinia in my neighbor’s garden. (more…)

Feral Grape

wild grape  wild grape

This is the front yard of a house where I used to live. One of my roommates at the time did this little native planting; I’m still friends with the owner and occasionally help out with the maintenance, which this time of year means dealing with the Wild Grape. “Wild” doesn’t really begin to describe how this plant behaves; feral seems a little more accurate, maybe a little more pejorative. It’s not really the right plant for a space this size that rarely gets any maintenance, but my friend seems to enjoy watching it go crazy, and the plants do manage to cope. The Manzanitas sit tight, the Heucheras go dormant, the Gauras get scale, and the Ceanothus “Dark Star” is actually trying to bloom. The saddest part is that I felt obliged to cut it back before it could do its show of fall color.

Canna & Fuchsia Graywater Planter

Canna & Fucshia Gartenmeister

Canna & Fuchsia Gartenmeister

This combination of cannna and Fuchsia “Gartenmeister” is one way we try to do water-wise gardening without necessarily resorting to xeriscapic plants. Both plants look quite tropical and work well together–different sized leaves, hot colored blooms, and the purplish tint of the canna leaves echoed in the stems and veins of the fuchsia–and both are actually able to survive quite a bit of drought in our climate, though they look their best with a lot of water. We have them in a raised wooden planter with an open bottom to give their roots a deep run and we water them with the graywater from our washing machine. (In our area you can use laundry water for landscaping as long as you don’t spray the water through the area. Shower and sink graywater requires a permit. EBMUD has a graywater fact sheet that lists the conditions with which a graywater system does not require a permit.) I don’t remember if we wanted to have some tropical looking plants without wasting a lot of water so we fed the graywater to them or if we first planned to use our graywater and then chose those plants because of their wide tolerance of water quantity. Probably a bit of both. In any case, the canna and fuchsias are thriving, and we’re not pumping our laundry water into the sewer system anymore.

Hooking up the washer to the planter was really easy. We just fed the hose into a section of pipe that ran gently downhill along the side of our porch, we capped the end, and then just drilled a few holes where we wanted the water to exit into the planter. I can’t remember if we had to turn down the hot water or if it was already cool enough to pipe directly onto the plants, and we were already using biodegradable, earth-friendly laundry soap. We clean the pipe once in a while to make sure it doesn’t clog.  We used a raised planter, thinking we might want to dispose of the top layer of potting soil at some point, but it hasn’t gotten nasty yet. It’s been two years now without problems, and the plants have been really happy; the canna blooms nine months of the year and the fuchsia year round, partly, I think, because of all the phosphates in the laundry soap.

Our washer was probably easier than most because it is already outside of our house, but we’ve helped a couple of other people hook up their washing machines, and it’s usually not complicated or technical. Getting the hose outside of the house is usually most complicated part, but, otherwise, it’s a simple process. You want to keep it gravity fed, so just pick a section of your yard that’s lower than the washer, and it’s best to give the water to plants like cannas or sedges that are generally not too fussy about water quality or quantity; our Calycanthus occidentalis (western spicebush) probably has its roots under the planter by now, an example of a California native that seems to do well with graywater. Avoid anything edible, Australian plants that don’t like phosphorus, and the more drought-tolerant/fussy-about-drainage California natives.

Probably, the best rule of using graywater is to keep it very simple. Pumps, storage, moving parts, and anything not easily accessible are all likely to cause future headaches. Oasis Design is a good source of online info. They seem to approach all systems and most internet sources of info (including probably this blog post) with a healthy skepticism, and that’s probably the best attitude to start with. Our system was pretty unambitious and involved less than $20 worth of parts, and partly because of that we’re really happy with it. I stuck a photo of our outdoor laundry hutch below. Our landlord built it from materials we used in our display garden for the flower and garden show this past spring. (more…)

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