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The Lowes Parking Lot Wildflower Meadow?

Wow

Wow

To my complete astonishment, the highlight of my day yesterday was the Lowes parking lot in Concord. It has the biggest, bloomingest, most successful wildflower meadow I’ve ever seen. I have some cynical thoughts about it — it was probably done to appease environmentalists or the planning commission, it was probably amended with all the damaged bags of Miracle Grow, Monsanto probably supplied the seed mix — but it was impressive nevertheless. Not something I expected to see at a big box store.

Tidy Tips, Layia platyglossa

Tidy Tips, Layia platyglossa

Tidy Tips predominated in the bio-swale, Chinese Houses on the berms.

Swale on the right, Berm on the Left

A lot of Tidy Tips and other wildflowers

I had never been to Lowes before and it turned out to be even more like Home Depot than I expected, but my hat’s off to whoever is responsible for that meadow. It’s pretty incredible.

Tidy Tips, Baby Blue Eyes, Alyssum, and African Daisy

Tidy Tips, Baby Blue Eyes, Alyssum, and African Daisy

Mountain Phlox, Linanthus Grandiflorus

Mountain Phlox, Linanthus grandiflorus

Mountain Phlox, Linanthus grandiflora

It’s seeding time for California wildflowers. It’s mid-October and the recent rains have germinated the reseeders, both wanted and unwanted. We always start some in potting soil this time of year, so that we can direct seed the wildflowers we want and then use the potting soil starts to fill in any gaps where the direct seeding failed. One of the ones we’re starting this year, after a couple of years break, is Mountain Phlox, Linanthus grandiflorus. We started it in a couple of gardens three years ago and hadn’t really thought about it since then, but this year we noticed that it naturalized pretty well in those gardens and that it keeps blooming until quite late in the year; it can bloom until as late as September in a garden where it gets some supplemental water. Also, we saw a thick patch of it in the Botanic Garden at Tilden this past July, looking good when most of the other native annuals were done, and it made us want to plant some more of it.

Linanthus at Tilden

Mountain Phlox, Linanthus grandiflorus, at Tilden

We also started California Wind Poppy (Stylomecon heterophylla), which we grew for the first time this past year, Blue Flax (Linum lewisii) which isn’t an annual but functions a bit like one, and Clarkia bottae. The rest of the wildflowers will just be whatever reseeds.

The Agnew Meadows Wildflower Mix

Sierra Lily, Lilium kelleyanum

Sierra Lily, Lilium kelleyanum

I was up in the east side at a great time for wildflowers. One area that really impressed me was at Agnew Meadows in Devil’s Postpile National Monument. In one place — a boggy meadow beside a stream — I counted a dozen different wildflowers in full bloom within a twenty foot radius, and I was impressed at how well the colors all complimented each other, purples and blues contrasted with yellows. I saw the same flowers growing together in various combinations at many of the other meadows and streamsides in the monument and in the national forest, but because they were all present at once in Agnew I started to think of them as the Agnew Meadows wildflower mix, as if it were a seed company’s wildflower packet. For a moist cottage garden at high elevation, I reckon you couldn’t do much better.
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Seed Grown Sidalcea Malviflora

Sidalcea malviflora, checkerbloom

Sidalcea malviflora, checkerbloom

Our Sidalcea malviflora (checkerbloom), grown from seed, surprised us when the different plants put out different shades of flowers. They’re just about done blooming for the year. We don’t water them, so they’ll go dormant and disappear at some point and then come back with the rains.

Naturalized Meadow Foam, Limnanthes Douglasii

Pt. Reyes meadow foam at the Tilden bot garden

Pt. Reyes meadow foam at the Tilden bot garden

Tomorrow is the Bringing Back the Natives Tour and I will be certain to visit two particular gardens on the tour, the Regional Parks Botanic Garden at Tilden and the Fleming garden, two of the states oldest and best gardens for California natives. The are great gardens on any day, and right about now is the time when they look their best.

The Fleming garden is the absolute must-see garden of the tour. It goes way beyond what is typical of a residential or native garden, and I think it’s especially interesting to also see the botanic garden on the same day. I don’t know exact history of either garden, but I do know that Jenny Fleming was involved with the botanic garden to some extent throughout the years, and her garden feels like a condensed, concentrated form of the botanic garden at a private home, with a lot of similar plants and combinations. Luke Hass, who does the maintenance for the Fleming garden, has a couple of articles about the garden on his website. RootedinCalifornia has some recent photos and the tour’s website has others. It’s an amazing garden that has to be seen in person to be appreciated.

meadowfoam and stream orchid

meadowfoam and stream orchid

Both gardens are over fifty years old, which makes them unique places to see native plants used in Bay Area gardens. Often times on native tours it can be boring to see the same plants at every garden, but in this case it’s interesting to compare how the plants are used in the two settings. The naturalized plantings of meadow foamLimnanthes douglasii, are a good example. In the Fleming garden it’s intermingled with stream orchid, Epipactis gigantea, while the Tilden garden has the yellow form, Pt. Reyes meadow foam, Limnanthes douglasii var. sulphurea, with Maianthemum. Meadow foam is an annual, but it’s growing in a way that only happens in a mature garden.

meadow foam and maianthemum

meadow foam and maianthemum

Partly as a result of seeing it at Tilden and the Fleming garden, I have it at my house as well, in the veggie garden in between some of the edibles and in our outer garden where it is growing up through the Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. It’s not the prettiest plant after it finishes blooming, while you wait for the seeds to form, but the flowers are charming and it combines really nicely with other plants.

meadow foam flower with snowberry foliage

meadow foam flower with snowberry foliage

Indian Paintbrush and The Watershed Nursery

indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush is one of my favorite native wildflowers to see hiking, and one of the more unusual plants in any of our gardens. It is a hemiparasite, meaning it takes nourishment from a host plant but also photosynthesizes for itself. To grow it, you have to germinate the seed and then put it in a pot with another plant and wait for them to join root systems; when I read about the process, it sounded like a huge pain in the neck. Now that it’s established, though, it’s really carefree, growing with an Artemisia californica in some of the heaviest clay soil we’ve ever planted in. The two plants have similar foliage, so you don’t notice the paintbrush for much of the year, but then the blooms pop out from under the shrub and carry on for a long time before fading back and going dormant for the winter.

We got the plant at the Watershed Nursery, the only nursery I’ve ever seen selling it, and, in our experience, the best source for natives in the area. East Bay Nursery and Berkeley Hort and Annie’s Annuals are all good for natives, too, but they mostly sell cultivars and their plants come from all over the state, not really “native” in the purest sense. The Watershed Nursery, on the other hand, sells Bay Area natives, grown here in the Bay Area from seed collected here in the Bay Area. If you want to plant the same plants that you see when you’re out hiking, it’s the nursery to go to.

The paintbrush came in a gallon pot with the artemisia, but the Watershed Nursery grows most of their stock in restoration tubes. Restoration tubes, if you’ve never used them before, have some advantages over the typical gallon pots you find in the typical retail nurseries. Compared with a gallon-sized pot, it takes less time for the plant to fill the narrow tubes with roots, so the plant will cost less while still getting its roots just as deep in the ground, and the plants haven’t spent as much time in potting soil, so they are quicker to adapt to whatever soil you plant them in. The tubes have vertical ribs to keep the roots from girdling, and they are open at the bottom so the roots air-prune instead of circling the bottom or heading back up to the top. You don’t have to spend as much time undoing a root ball, so you can plant a lot more quickly, and you don’t do as much damage to the roots, so the plants establish themselves almost immediately. The plants look small when you first plant them, but they often seem to explode out of the ground. I’ve recently been passing by several yards where we planted a lot of Watershed Nursery plants, and they’ve all been looking big and healthy and happy. They have a sale every year during the upcoming Bringing Back the Natives Tour.

The Kew seed slideshow has a cool photo of an Indian paintbrush seed.

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