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Lukens Lake Shooting Stars

Lukens Lake Meadow

I just got back from my first Yosemite/Tuolumne trip of the year, including a hike to Lukens Lake to see the wildflowers. This is late June, rather than the late July of my visit last year, so most of the wildflowers were not in bloom yet. But it was still great. Instead of the multitude of species I found last year, this year I found multitudes of a single species, Shooting Stars, the most I’ve ever seen. They followed the flow of water through the meadow in a graceful drift that gathered into a pool of flowers near the lake, really beautiful.

Shooting Stars and Corn Lily

Lukens Lake Wildflowers

I’ve mostly been hiking with a sketchbook lately, but I did take my camera on one hike, to Lukens Lake in Yosemite. It was a drizzly overcast day and I really just picked Lukens Lake because it’s only a mile from the road and I’d never hiked to it before, but it turned out to be a great destination (surprise, surprise, a great spot in Yosemite NP, right?), with some of the best wildflowers patches I’ve ever seen. I counted two dozen different species blooming in about a one hundred yard radius.

The mix is similar what I saw at Agnew Meadows a couple of years ago. Both spots are upper montane forest at similar elevations (8,100 feet for Agnew Meadows, 8,200 feet for Lukens Lake) and they might be less than a hundred miles apart as the crow flies, though Lukens Lake is on the west slope of the Sierras, Agnew Meadows on the east. Agnew Meadows has the bigger Lily, L. kelleyanum, compared to Small Tiger Lily, L. parvum, at Lukens, but otherwise many of the plants were the same.

Small Tiger Lily is, like the name says, one of the smaller lilies out there, but there’s still something about these flowers that always stops me in my tracks. They’re not much bigger or showier than Western Columbine, but they make the whole space feel like a garden.

Though Columbines are also pretty great.

Corn Lily was the dominant plant visually. I’m really starting to appreciate them, for the flowers but also the way the other wildflowers are set off against their leaves.

Lots of purple from Lupine but also Monk’s Hood (above) and Larkspur mixed in with the Indian Paintbrush (below).

And quite a few other flowers, including tons of this Aster, which I’ve never identified despite the fact that it’s so widespread. Kind of like LBB and LGB (Little Gray Bird, Little Brown Bird) and DYC (Damned Yellow Composite) which I learned from Town Mouse, I just think of these as SKA — Some Kind of Aster. I also saw a pink flower that I don’t know; it might have been an Owl’s Clover. Other flowers included Meadow Rue, Monkey Flower, Viola, Angelica, Senecio, Mariposa Lily just outside of the meadows, and more. A great place to see wildflowers in July.

Yerba Mansa

This week saw the first flower from a native I’ve been growing for three years, Yerba Mansa, Anemopsis californica. I feel like I rarely see it planted, no doubt because it’s a runner and it likes water, but it’s a nice little plant. We have ours in a container with the drain plugged. Sometimes it gets a lot of water, sometimes it gets a lot of neglect, which is probably why it took three years to bloom. Despite drying out at times, it has increased in size pretty steadily in the time that we’ve had it, growing from a single 4″ pot to fill a ten gallon sized container.

I was so happy to see it bloom that I took a picture of the bud too. Kind of a nice little flower bud, and I definitely like the flower, which develops red spots as it ages. Mature plantings seem to be full of flowers, so I’m expecting ours to be more prolific in the future. We’ll see. The plant was/is collected by Native Americans and is popular with herbalists — it’s often compared to Goldenseal — and I’ve seen tinctures of it for sale. We now have enough to start harvesting, but we give ours water from our turtle tank which makes me a little hesitant to ingest it. Below are some photos I took at Tilden when the plant first caught my interest. (more…)

Carlson Wildflowers

For the past few weeks, Anita and I have been enjoying a wildflower planting in the new medians on Carlson Ave near our house. For years Carlson was an oddly humped road that had such a steep cross-slope near the sidewalk that the car door would hit the curb before it opened all the way and bicycling felt treacherous. To fix that, the city had to lower the street more than two feet to bring it down below the sidewalk, and in the process they also had to lower all of the utilities. The entire project took more than two years, involved all kinds of blocking of cross-streets and traffic, and was hugely inconvenient. But all is now forgiven, as far as I’m concerned, because the city added a median to the street and filled it with twelve blocks worth of wildflowers, many of them native. I’m happy to have my roads blocked if it means I get to drive and bicycle past wildflowers.

So far, I’ve seen California Poppies, Bachelor Buttons, Tidy Tips, Baby Blue Eyes, Alyssum, Lupine, and a few Snapdragons blooming, and there is a lot of Clarkia waiting for next month.

Hmmm…. Be careful what you praise on the internet. The same day that I put this post up, the city weedwacked all of the wildflowers. I’m guessing the planting grew too tall and was blocking visibility, but the city might also be ready to plant trees now. Farewell (to Spring), Clarkia, we never saw you bloom.

— Coda — Apparently an elderly driver got into an accident because of the reduced visibility caused by the wildflowers. Unfortunate for him and the wildflowers.

Foliage Season

Dicentra formosa amidst Oxalis oregana

We don’t have a many deciduous plants in our garden, but for the last couple of years I’ve made a note of when each of them leafed out each spring. I didn’t really know how much variation there would be from year to year. So far, there hasn’t been much. Comparing last year, 2011, and the year before, 2010, I’d say everything has been remarkably consistent. And not just the wake up times for the plants, the garden itself has stayed consistent, with every plant on previous lists still growing in the garden except for the Indigofera which we took our during construction on our shed. A couple of Currant bushes are the only new deciduous plants of note.


Dicentra formosa has been leafed out for about 3 weeks, Dicentra ‘Bachanal’ is leafing out now
Ribes ‘White Icicle’ has one remaining bloom cluster
Calycanthus occidentalis is leafing out, leaves are out but not near full size
Ninebark leafed out at the start of February and has fit’s first flower bud opening, the same schedule as last year
Snowberry has been in leaf for about a month, it started leafing out soon after the ninebark
Mimulus cardinalis has been in leaf for a month, I moved its tub and replanted it and it has come roaring back, I also replanted the stream orchid, but it is just poking up through the soil
Clematis ligusticifolia is leafed out, about a week earlier than last year, the volunteer in a pot has been leafed out for over a month
native asters are leafed out
Phildelphus microphyllus is leafing out
Acer cirnatum, young and in a container is dormant
Amelanchier alnifolia in containers is still dormant
Allium unifolium has buds
native lilies are a foot tall and have been up for several weeks
not a deciduous plant, but I ate the first woodland strawberry this weekend


the fig is leafed out and has a bigger spring crop this year, about 10 figs
the Chaste tree has leaf buds opening
Acer palmatum from seed has been fully leafed out for several weeks, Acer palmatum ‘Japanese Sunrise’ is mostly leafed out
the neighbor’s Chinese Pistaches are budding, our more sheltered one is not
the Walnut Tree is budding
One of the young Eastern Redbuds has some flowers, the other 2 are dormant, mature ones in the neighborhood are blooming
the Fruiting Mulberry, in a container, has leaf buds opening
Astilbes are still dormant, leaves beginning to appear on the 3rd of April
both Black Currant bushes (transplanted in December) are budding

Our Fig Tree

For the plants that are still dormant, I’ll probably come back and add final leaf-out dates.

The California Native Vertical Garden

Last weekend I went to see the Drew School vertical garden by Patrick Blanc, the French botanist who started the current green wall craze. He designed a wall in San Francisco that was installed this past February (San Francisco Magazine did a feature with photos of when it was first installed and a planting plan). I was a little skeptical of the whole green wall thing, but then looking up at his wall — four stories high of California natives with over 100 species — my doubts evaporated. The whole thing absolutely overflows with enthusiasm for plants. Two big walls covered in natives, what’s not to love.

A pair of gardeners were doing maintenance while I was there. At first I was a little bummed to see this big orange cherry picker in front of the wall, but then I realized that it was a great opportunity to find out about the wall. I mean, I see this thing and I wonder how much does it cost, how will it age, how much maintenance does it need, and who will give me one for Christmas? Watching them work, I was impressed at how easy the maintenance actually seemed. Like any other gardeners, they cut the plants back with Felcos; they just let the green waste fall to the sidewalk and they barely even had to bend over to work. Progress was steady. It looked quite pleasant.

The plants are essentially growing hydroponically. The black flannel acts as the planting medium for the roots, and water mixed with nutrients drips down the wall, collects at the bottom and then recirculates. This is the first time anyone has ever tried something like this with California natives (he usually uses tropical plants), so the project was considered something of an experiment. Some species like Oxalis oregana or Mimulus cardinalis seem like reasonable candidates for a hydroponic wall, but some of the others like Artemisia tridentata and the Fremontodendron were a shock to me. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but up at the top there’s a Ribes sanguineum, a couple of bushy Mallows, and at least one Ceanothus.

The gardeners said they had done some replanting in September, but this was the first full maintenance pruning. They were cutting things back to do a one-year assessment of the planting and see how everything was growing. After a year of growth, some plants were starting to cover others. The Beach Strawberry was running all over the place, the Dudleyas were getting covered by other plants the same as they did in the Academy of Sciences green roof, the Lupines were short-lived, Penstemon heterophyllus looked like it was also going to be short-lived, but overall the plants were doing really well. The shrubs up top were growing exuberantly, maybe a little too exuberantly; the shade groundcovers down towards the bottom had the best year-round appearance. I found that in the places where the fabric showed between the plants, it didn’t bother me or diminish the effect.

Pretty healthy for a bunch of plants on the side of a building.

I definitely want to make it back in the spring when a lot of the plants have grown back in and are blooming. It really does have tremendous impact when you see it on the street.

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