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California Native Green Wall Revisited

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It’s four years since Patrick Blanc installed the vertical garden at the Drew School. I’ve been curious how it was doing. I was hugely impressed when I saw it, even though it was late fall and the plants were getting cut back for the winter. I always intended to check back on it, see how it would endure over time. As you can see, it’s doing great. It’s lush and green; it’s not organized into as much of a tapestry as some of his other walls and it’s not particularly full of springtime flowers, but it’s still a dramatic, exuberant, awesome thing to see on the side of a building.

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The planting has simplified over time, with fewer species. Lower sections are mostly covered by ferns, with patches of oxalis and heuchera. I couldn’t tell exactly what’s growing up top, except for an Island Bush Poppy in bloom, but some of the shrubs have grown quite large.

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A couple of sections are patchy, with felt showing, but it doesn’t ruin the overall effect.

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And so much of it is exuberantly lush and green. It’s great to see natives filling the side of a building.

Erigeron glaucus in December

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One native plant I haven’t always appreciated is Erigeron glaucus. It’s a nice enough plant — tough, low-water, good habitat value, long bloom period, showy during peak bloom — but the odd yellow in its center clashes with the purer yellows I like — Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, daffodils — and I’ve also never been totally happy with how it combines with a lot of the purplish bloomers that I tend to use. I have a dozen of them in my garden, but I only have them because I bought them on impulse for a project and then decided they clashed with the other plants. I brought them home and eventually planted them because I didn’t have anywhere else to put them; they look okay but I’ve never been particularly excited about them.

SesleriaErigeronDelosperma

I really like how they work in this planting, however. The cultivar is ‘Wayne Roderick’, which has more of a lavender tinge to the petals than the pinkish ‘Cape Sebastian’ in my garden. More than that, though, I like them because the planting around them is primarily grasses — Sesleria ‘Greenlee’s Hybrid’, Festuca idahoensis ‘Tomales Bay’, and Lomandra ‘Breeze’ — and a patch of Delosperma, so there aren’t a lot of other colors for the yellow to clash with. And even though there aren’t many other things to bloom in that part of the planting, they bloom heavily enough and continuously enough to carry the flower burden; it’s December and they haven’t been cut back once this year, but they still have flowers. The focus of the photo above is the Sesleria in front of them, but the flowers in the background do a lot to add interest and give it a meadowy look, and all those old stems waiting to be deadheaded speak to what they looked like earlier this year. Obviously I’ll be able to get a better photo in the spring, but this is pretty good for mid-December without any maintenance, and it’s nice to find myself coming around to a native plant I hadn’t previously embraced.

Wildflowering L.A.

Video about a great project, Wildflowering L.A., by Fritz Haeg. 50 sites throughout the Los Angeles area were seeded with native wildflowers. The sites were also given signage inspired by forest service and park service aesthetics to announce the project and communicate to people that the ‘wild’ look of the wildflowers was deliberate. It would be nice to see something similar done in the Bay Area.

There’s a timelapse of one of the sites here.

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…)

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