Monday, November 30, 2009

Gathering Memories

I thought I'd commemorate my 100th post (100!) by showing my latest obsession with Autumn leaves, their colors and textures.  I'm planning on collecting and drying them to use to decorate for Christmas, although I will probably not have much time.  There's never enough time before Christmas, but on top of that, we'll be heading to Israel for a week or so.  If anyone has suggestions on places to go and people to see please let me know!  The leaf above was collected whilst hiking at Redwood Regional Park

The wind in Sacramento during Thanksgiving caused leaves to fall like snow.  Absolutely magical!  I collected a few and stacked them methodically to keep them all together.  The different shapes layered together look so pretty!

The negative space they create reminds me of projects in Intro to Drawing class at art school.

These I pilfered from my neighbor and his magnolia tree.  I love the stories these leaf collections gather with remembrances of friends and family and happy discoveries.

I won? I won!

Yesterday brought the discovery that I was one of three silver medal winners in Gardeninggonewild's monthly photo contest!  Who knew?  Be sure to check out everyone's entries in the comments here- so many talented people out there!  There's some amazing photos in there if you haven't checked it out yet- it certainly adds to my disbelief in being part of the winner's circle!  Click here to read my original post.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

No Red Rider BB Gun For Me This Year!

Every November 1st, my Dad calls me to ask for my Christmas list and every year I dilly-dally my way past Thanksgiving without even a hint.  I'm trying to be good this year and get started on it, so thought I'd share my perusings through the Builders Booksource online store (it's a great place to spend more time than you intended browsing books you always hoped existed).  Enjoy the show!


By our very own Alice Joyce of Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel!


Gardening by plant community.  Sounds like a good idea to me!


Absolutely essential for anyone who thought they wanted to go to architecture school after reading Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language series.


Someday I'll talk a client into wanting to do this...


Any book about treehouses should be a book of mine...


A great reference and pretty pictures!  It looks like the Sunset Western Garden Book for us Californians.


Whenever I page through this book, I swear I have to make sure I don't drool onto the pictures!  By the way, Mrs. Dalloways is also an amazing bookstore that specializes in gardening books!   They had some amazing booklets about the historical garden styles of California.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Plant of the Week: Snowberry

My dear friend Will came to visit from back East (it snows there!) so I figured I'd show him what November in California looks like.  We headed out to Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills the day after a rainstorm and came across a parade of Symphoricarpos albus cheering us along the path.  Hooray!  Each Fall, Snowberry graces the shady hills with bright spots of white berries at the ends of arching branches reminding me of the way Maidenhair Ferns hold themselves.   Quite the ballerina.

I have to admit, these characters looked a tidge scraggly, but I'm thinking they would behave themselves better in garden conditions.

Soil:  Moist and light clay I would think.  This one forms a great root system and would be great on slopes
Sun:  Dappled shade
Plant:  Try it now or perhaps after the berries are done
Buy it:  CNPS's Native Here Nursery seems to have a few and of course, Las Pilitas Nursery
Good for:  a backdrop of grace for a slightly moist shady spot

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Art Found Within the Garden

The prettiest thing I've seen today!  This Jacaranda pod hung from a branch this morning and I couldn't help myself but to tug it off and take it home.  No plans on what I'll do with it- most likely keep it close at hand to glance at for inspiration.  Wouldn't it be lovely in a flower arrangement?

 Also spotted were these dried Abutilon flower pods that I wish were crushed velvet buttons!  I'd stick them on everything!

Une Bonne Trouvaille (A Good Find)

I found myself searching for interesting new eye candy yesterday and happened upon a place of wonderment.  Oddly enough, I was a part of itParadisexpress is my favorite new blog and the fact that they included me in their delightfully curated mix made me feel quite honored.  Luckily for us language challenged, the text is provided in English as well as French. 

Dreamy, delightful things await you here!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Show and Tell: Waterbug Tile Set

I never told you about these concrete tiles I designed?  Oh... well here you go!  I'd love to do the backsplash of a fountain wall with these someday, surrounded by lush ferns and bits of water collecting in the crevices of the "insects."  Their design allows for a number of orientations and I've never been able to decide with way I like them best.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Look into a Tiny World: a Follow-up

I've been anticipating Jerry Powell's lecture at the California Native Plant Society's November meeting since I heard about it.  His talk about micro-Lepidoptera made me realize how much is really going on out there.  Tiny leaf miners, rappelling themselves from the leaves onto the ground and emerging as minuscule moths, many never eat a thing after they've metamorphosed. 
One thing I found incredibly interesting was the fact that most species are host specific, or in English:  they only eat one specific kind of plant.  It's made me rethink my plantings so that I'll have more host plants instead of all nectar plants.  Also, the larger the plant (such as oak trees), the more species will use that plant as a host.  While these insects may cause a little mar in a leaf here or there, they will not harm the life of the plant.  It's amazing how nature has it all figured out. 
Until, of course you get us involved.  That's right, human involvement.  Apparently, Swallowtail butterflies that use the European Sweet Fennel plant as a host have become dependent on this invasive weed and it allows them to hatch in more than one season.  They're thriving off of our mistakes.  What a dilemma!  Remove an invasive plant or save the Swallowtail?  As Steve, my favorite naturalist says, "Humans.  Ruin.  Everything."

Field Trip: Larner Seeds

So many things going on and not enough time to tell you all about them!  That means that Plant of the Week is taking a week off and will return next Wednesday.  But....  instead I present another adventure with Aunt Joyce!  To Larner Seeds in Bolinas!  You wouldn't believe the crazy winding roads to get to Bolinas.  Apparently, the residents regularly remove signs guiding your way in an attempt to prevent tourism.  (And I don't blame them, I'd love to have it all to myself it I could!)  Despite this, we found our way and entered into a world of California natives.

While no profusion of blooms greeted us, the garden held little treasures:  a blooming Ceanothus, the seed-heads of a Western Clematis, a Dudleya popping out of its pot. 

The main attraction, however found us inside the little shop perusing the wall of white and green envelopes ooh-ing, aww-ing and grabbing one of this and two of that.

I purchased packets of Baby Blue Eyes, Meadowfoam, Red Maids, Owl Clover, Linanthus grandiflorus, Arroyo Lupine, and Scrophularia californica (which I am so, so excited about).
I've bought more than I can handle and I'd be happy to share if y'all let me know.  Wouldn't it be fun to do a seed exchange one of these days?

For those that can't navigate the winding roads to the nursery, you can purchase seeds, books, tools and pamphlets online at Larner Seeds' website.  Happy Fall planting!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What do Plants Want? Just Ask Them!

I'm not a scientific kinda girl.  When it comes to plants I'll learn their names and growing conditions, but ask me how many pistils one has and I'll give you a pretty blank look.  Sometimes I'll find myself at the nursery and will come across a little lovely with no label.  Hmmm, what might this be?  And what kind of home would it like to be in?  I'll typically take a pretty non-scientific approach.

Plants have their own ways of coping with their natural environments, just like us.  When you go to the beach, you take your sunscreen.  Well, sometimes plants do, too!  If you have the clues, you can begin to make educated guesses as to what climate your mystery plant prefers.

Take this thistle shown above, for example.  It has gray-green foliage that will not absorb as much heat from the sun.  Not only that, but if you look closely there are small hairs growing between the leaves.  Sunscreen!  If you had to guess, you'd think to put this in a desert-like setting.  (And you'd be right- this was taken at the base of the Eastern Sierra)

Let's be clear:  this is not a fool-proof method at all.  Being non-scientific has its risks and guesses should always be followed up with a cruise through the Sunset Western Garden Book or for California natives.  Listen to the scientists!

So if foliage color provides one clue, leaf size will help with another.  This Mimulus sports long, narrow leaves.  Not a ton of surface area, huh?  It doesn't need it, because it prefers a sunny spot and gets plenty of opportunities to absorb the light.  Likewise, large, broad-leaf plants will typically prefer part shade conditions.

And what about foliage texture?  This Dudleya hassei has thick, fleshy fingers.  Why is that?  Well, Dudleyas typically live in places that don't get much rainfall.  They need the extra closet space to store all the water they'll need throughout the year.  So a flimsy green leaf?  Probably a more water dependent guy.

Let me say again that this is only a way to make educated guesses, but it's also a fun way to experience the garden- like a conversation at a cocktail party.  "Where are you from?  What do you do?"  The plants are talking.  Ask the right questions and listen carefully!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Plant Geek Goes Wine Tasting

This last weekend we did something very grown-up and went wine-tasting in the Russian River area.  We'd never been wine tasting before, so it was fun to learn the customs and culture and pretend to know what we were talking about. 

I made sure to bring my camera and double-checked that I had it in my purse.  Unfortunately, the memory card decided to stay behind with a cosy weekend alone with the laptop.  Sigh...  The camera phone didn't do much for me, either so the photo above was found here.  (Thanks Mark S!)

Gary Farrell Winery, sited at the top of a hill, overlooked the valley below and was the only winery we saw planted conspicuously with California native plants.  Good job!  While the Manzanitas were a tidge unkempt for my taste, the choice of plants made for a dramatic effect with a uniquely Californian palette.  The Muhlenbergia rigens were out in full force and looked fabulous!  Oh yeah, and the wines were tasty, too.

We also checked out Armstrong woods, an old-growth redwood forest with backpacking trails and short walks.  A lovely walk, although early in the brisk morning under the cover of the trees I couldn't feel my increasingly chilled toes and we practically raced back to bask in the heat in the car!  Brr!
Apparently this is the ideal time to go wine tasting as the crowds have bundled up for the winter and the vines are still turning colors. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book Review: Farm City by Novella Carpenter

I devoured this book in a matter of days!  Novella Carpenter's "Farm City:  The Education of an Urban Farmer" is just that.  Moving to Oakland's Ghost Town neighborhood (and I use the term "neighborhood" loosely, Novella set up shop in a vacant lot, planting trees, veggies, setting up a chicken coop and harboring a bee hive.  This alone I find impressive, but not satisfied she goes on to raise (and butcher and consume) ducks, turkeys, rabbits and yes... pigs.  
The writing style seems conversational and as a result very personal.  I especially enjoy that she doesn't necessarily find what she does very unusual.  Sure, loose turkeys on MLK is pretty darn unexpected, but her efforts feel humble and she does not try to place herself on a pedestal.  "Anyone can do this if you're ready for this lifestyle," she seems to say.  Yet she is not selling an idea, either.
It seems she learns more about people and the environment around her than farming itself as she negotiates vegetable thieves, high-end chefs, and neighborhood children discovering farm animals in person for the first time.
While I'm not quite to the point of taking a pair of pruning shears to a duck's head, I am feeling more motivated to get my vegetable garden in gear for winter greens and root vegetables.  I'm even contemplating bees.  .  .  and eventually chickens.  It's like Novella decides early on- chickens are the gateway drugs of farm animals!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Plant of the Week: California Springtime Emergences!

I've been working on a new trellis design in my shop, so I haven't had as much time to ramble about in search of tantalizing plants to brag about so instead I'm celebrating the emergence of Spring!  Spring, you ask? 
Well.  .  .  yes!  While planting bulbs on Monday I came across some lovely surprises, like the happy forest of Collinsia heterophylla pictured above. 
While the winter chill has yet to greet us, native wildflowers are already planning on keeping us company.  It's the perfect time to scatter your annual seeds or if you're like me, just hang out and see what pops up from last year.  If you're starting fresh, check out Larner Seeds in Bolinas.  They hand collect many of their selections and have quite the variety!  Be on the look out for the results of my little field trip there next week.  I can't wait!

Look how exuberant you are, white poppy!  The bees will be so happy to see you again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Garden Sculpture from the Garden

 *UPDATE*  Following Susie's wise advice, the photo above is now entered into the Gardening Gone Wild monthly photo contest.  This month's theme "End of the Line", applies in two ways for this photo:  the length of leaf terminating into a knot and the fact that the leaves are at the end of their life-cycle.  Enjoy!  (Back to your regularly scheduled program)

The only living thing in our little front garden that we actually kept was a tall yucca-like tree, probably planted soon after the house was built in 1931.  It seems to be a place for birds to take a rest and squirrels to chide our cat watching them from the nearby window.  After the recent storms, a slew of dried leaves littered the ground like a strange game of pick-up sticks.  Instead of throwing them into the green bin, I methodically bundled handfuls and lashed them together with their own leaves.  I've left them lying around the front yard, where they seem to convey the remnants of a witches' ceremony.  I find myself drawn to the contrast of the organically curled ends and the matter-of-fact pointy tips.

The big win-win-win is that I didn't have to fill the green bin with the leaves and I'll be able to attack the encroaching ivy before garbage day, I now have Autumnal garden sculpture, and the thought that native bees just might nest inside the bundles for a winter snuggle keeps me happy.  (Even if the idea is far-fetched).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Bulbs Are Here!

Hooray!  I was so late in the game as far as bulb ordering goes, but they finally arrived and I'm ready to squirrel away my weekend!  Pictured here is Brodiaea coccinea, which will dazzle my springtime with firecracker red flowers (at least that's what I'm hoping for).  Town Mouse includes a great picture of the blooms on her post about the bulbs she ordered this year (although she was totally on top of her game and got them months ago!).  The excitement in planting bulbs for me is always the anticipation- it's greater than the actual result, but I can't help myself year after year. 
I'm also going to try Calochortus superbus and a Brodiaea mixture.  Happy planting!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Plant of the Week: Self-Heal

 Alright, "Self-Heal" sounds really boring, like gnawing on a dry granola bar.  However, Prunella vulgaris has more to it than health benefits.  This ground-cover with purple flowers, as shown above and procured through Wikispecies is the native I've been looking for!  A sun (or part shade) loving, native ground-cover with enchanting lavender blooms, Prunella prefers moist soils and enjoys running rampant and can even be invasive.  With that in mind, I've got mine on the regular drought tolerant water system to prevent introducing a monster.  (My disclaimer:  Please plant responsibly- don't let monsters take over your garden) 
I first saw it on the green roof of the CA Academy of Sciences, amongst the last of the Clarkias, and Aster chilensis, attracting pollinators intrigued by living the high life. 


Apparently, Self-Heal deserves its name as there are many claims extolling its healthful virtues.  From Prunella vulgaris' Wikipedia entry:

"Heal all was once proclaimed to be a holy herb and was thought to be sent by God to cure all ailments of man or beast. It was said to drive away the devil, which lead to the belief that Heal-All was grown in the Witches garden as a disguise."

How can you not plant something that promises to scare the devil away?

Soil:  I think as long as you don't have pure sand or pure clay, it'll do fine.
Sun:  full sun to part shade
Plant:  since it prefers moist soils, I would plant before the rains to help it get established
Buy it:  I got mine at the CNPS plant sale or you can also order it through Las Pilitas
Good for: filling in partly shady places, attracting pollinators, fueling your witch doctor hobbies.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Let's Nerd Out on Caterpillars! (The Squishy Kind)

Is it my birthday?!  What did I do to deserve this amazing gift of Dr. Jerry Powell speaking at the next California Native Plant Society East Bay member meeting?!  And it's all about moth and butterfly caterpillars!  (insert teenage squeal here). 
Dr. Powell wrote my favorite insect field guide, California Insects, which helped me identify the little lovely above as a Western Tiger Swallowtail.  The photos are few and a tidge blurry at times, but the line drawings and descriptions always help me nail down their identities.  It doesn't hurt that it focuses solely on insects found in our fair state, which prevents me from thinking it's some rarity from Rhode Island and keeps me on track. 
The meeting, which is open to all, will be in the Orinda Public Library's Garden Room (how appropriate) on the 18th at 7:30pm.  Anyone want to carpool from Oakland?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fictitious Animals and Their Gardens

Does anyone remember the days when Garden Design magazine came printed on brown paper?  Neither do I, but my Aunt Joyce gave me some vintage clippings (the 80's, I think) of a few enchanting articles and thought I would share.  This feature highlighted the gardens described in children's books and I couldn't help but be fascinated by two very different styles. 
One, the "Dear Old Briar-Patch" exemplifies exactly what a native habitat garden should do.  Bunnies, birds, spiders and mice (well, maybe the mice aren't so good) cavort under the safety of an overgrown garden.  I tend  to take two views of this- providing a space for wildlife to make a home in the garden, but also imagining making a little burrow for myself to hide away from the freeway noise.  In my design work, these somewhat opposing goals become part of a larger goal:  make a place for wildlife to play, but not at the expense of its human inhabitants. 

I have to admit, though that my absolute favorite is this illustration from "The Wind in the Willows" and I might just have to walk down to the library to check out and read for myself.  Here's an excerpt: 

     "On the walls hung wire baskets with ferns in them, alternating with brackets carrying plaster statuary-        Garibaldi, and the infant Samuel, and Queen Victoria, and other heroes of modern Italy.  Down one side of the fore-court ran a skittle alley, with benches along it and little wooden tables marked with rings that hinted at beer mugs.  In the middle was a small round pond containing goldfish and surrounded by a cockle-shell border.  Out of the centre of the pond rose a fanciful erection clothed in more cockle-shells and topped by a large silver glass ball that reflected everything all wrong and had a very pleasing effect."

Ok, that's it.  I'm going to have to make an underground garden with cockle-shells and plaster statues!