During the wildflower season, I spent a few hours pulling weeds at a restoration project at Shell Ridge Open Space in Walnut Creek. It’s a compelling, though still somewhat nascent, project, a steep slope facing the entrance of the open space. Most of the restoration work has happened in the last few years. The plants are young and there’s quite a variety of species, including a number of beautiful bunch grasses — Poa, Nasella, and Koeleria, maybe a few others — but the biggest visual impact came from the annuals that were blooming — California Poppies, Chinese Houses, and to lesser extent a Phacelia that I hadn’t seen before, P. distans which was popular with the bees but not really photogenic or garden worthy.
I loved the big patches of Collinsia heterophylla. I tried to grow them in my garden this year, but they didn’t do well, I think because of slugs and snails.
Other areas have been more recently cleared and planted. That’s a great looking oak; it will be beautiful with wildflowers filled in around it.
There’s a former quarry across from the restoration area. From a distance the quarry shows like a scar, but it’s a nice landscape up close.
Some of the boulders display the shells that presumably inspired the name Shell Ridge.
I hadn’t been to Shell Ridge in years, so it was great to be lured out by the restoration project. It’s a pretty classic California landscape, lovely grassy hills, and I’ll be sure to go back see how the restoration project continues to progress.
This past weekend was the Bringing Back the Natives Tour. I spent Sunday afternoon volunteering at a garden that we maintain, Carol Baird and Alan Harper’s garden in the Oakland Hills, an extensive garden on five acres overlooking Redwood Regional Park. It’s a tremendous garden and there’s a lot I could say about it, but this post just scratches the surface. I’m sure I’ll post about it again at some future point.
To give an overview, the house and garden were put in about fifteen years ago. Roger Raiche, who I have mentioned on this blog before, planted the garden, imprinting the main areas around the pool and entrance with his signature style — closely-spaced interwoven plantings, an extensive variety of plants, lots of chartreuse and variegated foliage, strong forms, bold contrasts. Afterwards, the maintenance gardener began weeding and taking out blackberry thickets on the rest of the property using the Bradley method, restoring a lovely section of oak woodland and making quite a bit of progress on a grassland area. She retired two years ago and we took over the maintenance, continuing to use the Bradley method in the restoration areas, as well as making some upgrades. The trellis in the photo above was recently added for the climbing rose, and I’ve done some stonework in a couple of areas, including this little basalt wall next to the parking area.
Some of these photos include flowers but more than anything this garden is a celebration of foliage. Roger Raiche’s concept was ‘Every shade of green’ and I can attest to there being just about every shade imaginable. A lot of the foliage is set to contrast, but there are also a lot of interesting ways that the colors and forms are carried from one plant into another, such as the way the green striping on the Phormium echoes the Berkeley Sedge. At first glance the stripe could be a blade of the sedge, and even after your eye adjusts it still looks a little bit as if the sedge’s green was somehow injected into the Phormium.
Roger Raiche is a native plant expert and he used a lot of natives, including this clever use of Western Spicebush, Calycanthus occidentalis, to drape over a ten foot retaining wall along the driveway. I’ve never seen Spicebush used like this anywhere else; it’s effective and easy to maintain, casually matching the scale of the wall.
The majority of the natives in the garden, however, planted themselves. Anita is more involved with the restoration and maintenance than I am, so I don’t always know for sure what was planted and what came as a volunteer, but a tremendous variety of native plants were uncovered from the blackberry thickets or seeded themselves afterwards. I love the combination of plants in the photo above, a beautiful woodland mix as pretty as anyone could hope to design.
I put the other photos from the slideshow below.
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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. Read the rest of this entry »
I barely took photos in Bahia Asuncion, but I did take some photos at a fishing camp north of town, Campo San Roque. Fascinating landscape, even more extreme than Bahia Asuncion. There are less than a dozen houses, most of them empty, with no running water or plumbing, the plants are low leafless scrub, and the beach stretches for a couple of miles without a structure or person on it.
Tucked against the rocks is a great snorkeling site with gorgeous chartreuse-colored sea grass, lobster, and lots of colorful fish, plus the first guitarfish and octopus I’ve ever seen. It heightens the effect to be in such a barren place and then drop below the water into a lush aquarium.
Oddly enough, the town has a charmingly minimalist new church.
It reminded me of Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light. No doubt some elements of the San Roque church such as the lack of glass in the windows and the simplicity of the building come from pragmatism rather than a devotion to modernist purity, and Ando is obviously getting much more powerful effects from his design moves, but it was still an effective little building in a memorable little place.
We spent the bulk of our Baja trip in a fishing town called Bahia Asuncion about halfway down the peninsula on the Pacific Coast. The town itself is somewhat drab and utilitarian rather than charming, but the landscape around it is fascinating. It’s incredibly austere — none of the plants are over waist high, they’re widely spaced, and none of them had foliage — and I was at first a little unsure about the place as a vacation destination. But it grew on me, as desert landscapes tend to do, and the beaches are fantastic, endless and empty of other people. I made about a dozen watercolors while I was there, doing the sketch on site during the day and then adding color during the evening.
I also made two watercolors of the central desert, Ocotillos, Cardons, and Boojums in the boulder gardens.
And I did three watercolors of the missions. One of an Elephant Tree at Mission Mulege.
And two at Mission San Ignacio.
Death Valley and the ‘super bloom’ was just one stop on the trip, we spent the bulk of our time south of the border in Baja. We revisited Cerro San Ignacio, an amazing spot that deserves an interpretive trail perhaps more than any other site in the world. But we’d been there once before; the botanical highlight of this trip was the Boojums. Boojums! I’d wanted to see the boojum forests for years.
We did our boojum viewing amongst the boulder gardens around the oasis town Cataviña, a beautiful area with pinkish granular granite reminiscent of the rock at Joshua Tree (there’s apparently good climbing on some of it, too). Some of the boojums had strange curlicues at the top like something out of Dr. Seuss, but my favorites were the graceful upright ones. There’s something illogical about them, as if the plant got confused and put it’s taproot in the air and it’s branches underground.
The area also has tremendous Cardón cactus trees.
Elephant trees are another favorite. A little bit like small oaks from a distance, but with striking caudiciform trunks up close.
As with any great rock garden, in some places the plants were a compliment to the rocks and in other places the rocks were a compliment to the plants.
There were plenty of showy flowers tucked amongst the rocks and arroyos. A few of my favorites are below. Read the rest of this entry »