Archive for the ‘plants’ Category
Happy new year. I’ve been on a trip to Oaxaca, skipping out on a lot of the rain and mudslides we’ve been having. I’ll probably have some posts related to that at some point — among other things a sinkhole opened in one of my gardens where EBMUD punctured a storm drain — but for now I’ll be posting about Oaxaca. Its stonework, ruins, art, and plants are the stuff DryStoneGarden dreams are made of.
One of the first things I did was visit the Tule Tree, a Montezuma Cypress with the world’s widest tree trunk, 46 feet across at its widest point, 147 feet total in diameter. I recommend clicking on the photo to get the full size view. The people in the left corner give a sense of scale.
The tree is beside a church in the center of a town. One legend says it was planted 1400 years ago by a priest of the Aztec wind god, another legend says it was a walking stick planted by a king or god. More recently, someone planted hollyhocks, roses, and a lawn around it, creating a distinct ‘world’s biggest ball of twine’ vibe. The topiary collection includes a dinosaur, a teddy bear, and kissing ducks.
But in spite of that, a 1400 year old tree has a presence powerful enough to overcome any indignity presented by its surroundings. The trunk is truly superlative.
And even more than the trunk, the canopy is magnificent, like an entire forest in a single tree. The branches droop down nearly to the ground, giving a wonderful sense of enclosure, and the trunks rise up like the clustered columns of a gothic cathedral.
I’ve been in groves that felt like a cathedral, but I’ve never had that feeling from a single tree.
I stopped by the Drew School green wall again recently. Planted with California natives by the world’s foremost green waller Patrick Blanc, it’s the most interesting green wall in the Bay Area and I’ve been checking in on it periodically. Helpfully, it’s a few blocks from one of my ongoing projects.
I was impressed the first time I saw it in 2011 and again when I visited in May 2015. This time not as much; there’s a lot of bare felt and dead foliage. November is not its month to shine, so maybe I’m being a little unfair, but photos of green walls seem to always show them either looking brand new and gorgeous or or completely dead and failure-soaked, and this one is somewhere in between those two extremes. I didn’t see anything wrong with the overall system, just that it could use some maintenance and replanting; I’m sure it will be better looking in the spring. At this point, I still think it compares reasonably with a conventional garden — more ambitious, more expensive, requiring more maintenance, and more thrilling when it hits its peak. Even with the bare patches and dead foliage, it’s still an exciting thing to see on the side of a building.
One disappointment, though, is the use of non-natives where many of the California plants failed to establish themselves long term. The wall now sports some New Zealand Tree Ferns and a lot of European Geranium. Penstemon heteropyllus and Mimulus bloomed prettily at first but were short-lived. Heuchera, a plant which often grows on cliffs, thrived in the first few years but is now almost gone. Oxalis and Asarum have faded away, and the long runners of Beach Strawberry, which draped over several sections of the wall when I first saw it, must not have managed to attach roots to the felt and have now withered away. None of that is entirely atypical for a native planting in such an urban area. This was Patrick Blanc’s first time using California natives, and he always acknowledged that it was somewhat experimental. I wonder what he would say about it. It’s no longer the tapestry he first planted but it has begun to approximate a recognizable native habitat, the type of fern-covered slope I showed in a post about the Bouverie Preserve. With deciduous ferns lower down and scruffy shrubs higher up, that particular habitat is gorgeous and green in spring, less delightful in its off-season, and then gorgeous and green again.
After the Meadowfoam has finished, the other wildflower display in our front garden comes from Seaside Daisy, Erigeron glaucus. I wasn’t originally a fan of it, and in fact I only have it in my garden because I bought a dozen for a project but got cold feet and brought them home instead. I didn’t know what to do with them so I planted them, and since then, I’ve come to appreciate them, a good habitat plant with a long bloom season. I’ve gone on to use it in a few different plantings, with pretty good results.
I’ve used a few of the different cultivars as well as the regular species, but I’m still figuring them out. I thought I knew which ones I was growing here, but I remember them having pink flowers and these don’t look pink. Occasionally on overcast days they take on a pinkish cast, but most of the time they are whitish with a blue tinge. Maybe I got rid of the pink ones and that’s why I like them now?
There’s two different ones, one that hugs the ground with smaller flowers, another that sprawls a bit, with larger flowers held on longer stems.
The sprawling, larger flowers are maybe a little pink or lavender, but not as pink as I remember.
In any case, the color works with the Campanula, as well as the white Philadelphus microphyllus, blue Brodiaea, and the faded pink Allium unifolium. More harmonious than I was expecting. It’s one of my least deliberate plantings, but I’m enjoying it.
Springtime is Meadowfoam time in our garden. It has been blooming since we got back from Baja. I love this plant. It is such a cheerful yellow to greet me when I get home. This path, leading from the top of our steps to the potting area, is the most convenient place to stash leftover materials from our jobs so it tends to get covered up, but when the Meadowfoam is blooming I make a point of keeping it clear.
I made the path with leftover stone from several projects. There are four different types of stone; a few pieces are flagstone, but much of it is wall stone and extends quite deep into the ground. The path was dirt, then mulch, then halfway paved for about a year, and finally completed last winter.
There is beach and woodland strawberry growing with the Meadowfoam, but this is the thickest the Meadowfoam has grown in, and I am curious to see how the other plants have held up beneath it.
The Meadowfoam is blooming well around our birdbath also, but not as full or as dramatic as in the front. It gets less sun here and has less space to spread and the plants look a little more leggy, a little more messy, as a result. Judith Larner Lowry at Larner Seeds, where I originally bought the seed, recommends giving it a space at least three feet wide for best effect. The plants are getting pushed out of the raised gray water bed by the Scarlet Monkeyflower and the Juncus, and I think it will only come back at ground level next year unless I actively make space and resow it in the raised bed.
The rest of that planting has filled in pretty well and I don’t think it will need the Meadowfoam next year. These plants are one of my goto combinations, I think of it as ‘green native mix’ or ‘native woodland mix’ and use it fairly often. Iris, Mahonia, Sidalcea, Tellima, Asarum, a few other plants such as Heuchera come and go with essentially the same effect.
I have more photos of the Meadowfoam below. (more…)
Anita and I have been in Baja for the last month. On our way back we swung through Death Valley to see the ‘super bloom.’ It had waned by the time we got there — apparently a combination of hot weather followed by high winds had finished the thickest patches, and quite a few of the plants had spent flower heads mixed in with the fresh blooms — but there were still some impressive areas.
Desert Gold was the most prolific. It made bands of color in the distance but up close it was politely spaced so we could wander around without stepping on any flowers. An impressive number of other species were mixed in with it. My personal count came to over 20 different species inside the park, including a number of flowers I’d never seen before.
The yellow Camissonia was my favorite of the wildflowers. Such a clear, crisp yellow. Gravel Ghost was another favorite, with the white flowers high over a ground-hugging rosette.
I’ll have some posts about Baja, the main focus of our trip. There is more wildflower photo bling at this Death Valley Wildflower Report.
Our garden is looking pretty sad these days. I’m not watering much, and a lot of the plants look drought stricken, struggling to hang on until the rumored El Niño arrives. Plus our dog has been marauding through the veggie garden chasing squirrels. One spot — where she repeatedly slams to a halt after missing the squirrel — looks like a shallow bomb crater. The only happy plants are the larger ones that she has to avoid and the ones that are safely raised up in containers, out of the trample zone. Far and away the best thing in our garden right now is the Scarlet Monkey Flower, Mimulus cardinalis, in our greywater bed.
Above is what the greywater bed looked like in November when I rebuilt it and replanted it with two Juncus and several divisions of Scarlet Monkey Flower. Below is a similar view only eight months later. Needless to say, the Scarlet Monkey have thrived. We’ve had profuse blooms for nearly two months.
They make such a profusely blooming mass that I don’t always notice the form of the flowers, but up close I like the flowers quite a bit. They aren’t the most refined looking plant, they reseed a bit, and they do best with good amounts of water, but they’re a good plant, perhaps one of the most underutilized natives. I don’t know a lot of flowering natives that thrive with greywater, so as that kind of planting becomes more common, maybe we’ll start to see them used more.
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