Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Study in Texture

Tufts of grass undulate and hopefully hold tasty morsels for a hungry coyote.  I love how this looks soft yet scratchy at the same time.
This building facade in downtown San Rafael seems superfluous, but I find myself fascinated.  How wonderful that the architect decided to add these aerodynamic rock-studded panels.  The repeating pattern sets an imposing tone by visually elongating the height of the building.

First grass, then rocks and now grass with rocks!  I know the owner of this garden meant for the rocks to suppress the weeds, but the harsh edges of the rocks are softened by the thin blades of grass and create layers to the surface.  Serendipity. 

How funny to have come across this composition of gravel and Fescue a week later at Osmosis spa in Freestone.  It's the varying sizes of grasses that really captured my attention, spreading as if they were a contagious condition.

This fuzzy fence at the Pierce Point Ranch in Pt. Reyes combines two of my favorite textures:  weathered wood with the ruffled softness of mosses and lichens.  Here's a detail.

I love the juxtaposition of the deep, clear lines of wood grain and the tiny details of the different plants growing on it.  The closer you get to look at it, the more you see.  It also doesn't hurt that it's following my favorite new color palette that I can only describe as faded dull. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Contemporary Admidst the Chaos

While most of the East Bay is awash in Arts and Crafts style homes, more contemporary spots peek through the dark wood shingles and redwood lintels that dominate our area.  This '60s style home needed a garden to match its architecture.  Out go the roses, boxwoods and Japanese Maples (poor things- Japanese Maples in a West-facing garden seems so cruel).  The chaos of the existing garden becomes clean and exciting- spots of red dominate in summer with ribbons of ZauschneriaMimulus aurantiacus and California Poppies Maritima form lift their orange faces to the Spring sunshine.  Calamagrostis foliosa and Senecio mandraliscae (String Bean Succulent) provide an evergreen (and everblue, respectively) background.  

In keeping with my current fascination on the theme of "clashing colors are beautiful colors," Verbena lilacina flowers happily alongside the reds of Summer and oranges of Spring, giving off its light scent year-round.  Hummingbirds are gonna flip out over all the new choices they'll have, while skippers can sip the Verbena's nectar and drop their eggs over the grasses.

 photo taken from

It's not always about the plants, however.  The traditional bread-loaf shaped mailbox gets switched out for a sleeker version.  I found this local designer's mailbox and love the simple yet functional shape.

Another colorful, low water garden to better match the surrounding landscape, its visitors and most importantly, its owners.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Updates and New Things to Click On!

Well aren't I just full of news today?  Not only did Idora HQ experience the first Monarch sighting in the front garden (seen here sucking on a Malacothamnus flower), but the website's been updated with pretty new pictures and Facebook folks can now visit a brand new spiffy Facebook page.  (You can also "like" any of the posts you see here with the button dealie at the bottom.)

I forgot how big Monarchs are!  Hopefully this one will enjoy the puny Asclepias fascicularis I planted a few months ago.  An exciting start to the morning and motivation to get all those plants and bulbs in the ground that I've accumulated over the past two months! 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oh My Gosh, Oh My Gosh, Oh My Gosh!!!!!!!

The title of this post is the soundtrack anyone within a mile radius was treated to as I experienced my first tarantula sighting on Mt. Olympia in Mt. Diablo State Park yesterday!!!!!  We walked along the North Peak Trail/Road, hoping for spectacular views on a clear day and maybe, just maybe a chance meeting with a fuzzy-legged spider.  How perfect that we encountered both!
After a warm Autumn rain, male tarantulas emerge from their underground burrows to look for a mate.  I should note that the hand in the photo above is not mine- the fascination/fear of spiders keeps me close, yet at a safe distance.  I have a hunch that getting over my fear would lessen the fascination factor that I feel.

He crawled along robotically on the side of the trail in a mix of dried grasses, rocks and discarded Bay Laurel leaves on a sunny North-facing slope.  I wonder if the fact that we couldn't see his eyes lent to the idea that he was more machine than arachnid.  Perhaps there's too many insect-meets-post-apocalyptic movies out there! 

While the spider-sighting took center stage, the remainder of the hike provided plenty of opportunities for breathless exclamations and happy discoveries.  A few examples:

The muted color palette bowled me over- golds, grays and greens mixed among dark silhouettes of pines and oaks.

The Bay Laurels had produced their pear-shaped nuts, which I just read can be roasted and are relished for their unsweetened chocolate-like flavor.  As the sun fell upon the leaves, the aromatic scent surrounded the trail.   

The golden skeletons of Spring remained all across the hills- dried bulb stalks and seedpods.  This Clematis vine decided to dress as "Cousin It" for Halloween- flufferifous!

Not sure how we're going to top this hike, but I'm determined to try!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Garden Clean-up Becomes Halloween Decor

The rains last weekend decimated most of the Eriogonum flowers (that's California Buckwheat for those not Latin-inclined).  A quick snip of the spent heads revealed a neat mound of green underneath.  Pretty amazing for a plant that looked completely dead two weeks ago.  I saved an armful of the dried flower stalks, however to aid in the Halloweenization of the house.  They're not exactly spooky, but they will lend a frightful air alongside the shrunken apple heads, rubber bats and blood-dripping candles.

Here's what they looked like a month or so ago:

Carefree pink blooms inviting the bees and skippers in the Springtime has now devolved to dark and creepy puff-ball sticks.  Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bee House Bundles!

Don't you just want to shimmy inside one of these cozy little bee residences?  After harvesting an armful of Festuca stems topped with airy seed hulls, I saved the trimmed stems which looked like little straws and decided to bundle them up into tiny native bee condos. 

After attending the "Gardening for Wildlife" class at Tilden Park a few weeks ago with the Meeses, I've been stepping back to consider what my garden provides and what it's lacking.  While I provide tons of nectar, seeds and larval food sources, shelter remains in "some other place" for the daily visitors I receive. 

Hopefully these little straws, hanging horizontally from my Malacothamnus shrub will attract tiny little bees and other insects to sit and stay awhile.  Then in turn, insect-eating birds will decide to come 'round.  Then, dare I wish for a Red Tail Hawk to do a screeching fly-by?! 

While the neat ends look appealing to me, the bees supposedly will prefer the varying ends, choosing a straw close to a joint in the stem that they can build their nest against.  Hanging it 3 to 6 feet off the ground helps prevent moisture from rotting the straws and also keeps the obvious predators away.  I've read that bees need the morning sun to warm their wings (much like my morning coffee, I guess!) before they begin their day's journey, so orienting the house East or South-East facing makes the chances of this house getting used much greater.  The Pollinator Conservation Handbook can be an excellent resource for such things!

Since native bees come in all sizes, small lengths of bamboo or varying diameters of holes drilled into wood also do the trick.  Not all bees use ready-made holes, however.  Carpenter bees make their own by chewing a tunnel into wood, while bumble bees sometimes use discarded rodent nests.

Many projects to come in order to better provide for wildlife, but in the meantime I'll hang my houses and wait impatiently for the parade of woodland animals and insects! 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Adding Greenery to the Green Fair

Turnout might have been light, but my booth rocked the green fair!  I planted a couple of my vintage ballot boxes with the hot colors of Autumn- 'Tuxedo' Ceanothus, California fuchsia, and Dudleya pulverulenta surrounded by tumbled porcelain.  I had quite the convergence of rusty things, graciously lent out by Aunt Joyce as well as a sidewalk chalk area rug.

 I'm especially excited about my new twig trellis-I'll take some decent shots in the next few days to properly gloat about it...

Next time I'll have to have a large sign with my logo and "Landscape Design" on it so folks recognize what it is exactly I do.  Now that it's over I have quite few extra plants- anyone care for a few or are y'all up to your ears in Fall planting like me?  Don't even get me started about bulbs!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Did She Say 'Plant Sale'?!

Monardella micrantha 'Marion Sampson'
Just in case you haven't left the cave recently, the East Bay California Native Plant Society plant sale is this weekend!  I'll be volunteering on Sunday in the loading area.  It's such a festive atmosphere with so many happy people- I highly recommend stopping by!  Make a day of it by strolling through the Tilden Botanical Garden (which I still can't believe doesn't charge admission!) and coming to Native Here Nursery to pick up a few plants.  Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Come to the Fair, the Green Fair!

 You haven't heard a peep from me lately as I'm preparing a table at the Greening Oakland Homes Fair next Saturday the 16th at Ashby Lumber (the one on Ashby).  I'm so excited about the event that I'm constructing a new trellis design and will be putting together fun containers of splashy-looking native plants!

If you're wondering about doing some remodeling or just want to be a lookie-loo, come on by and say hello!  There will be a ton of experts on sustainable energy, green building, and thoughtful design.  (and me, of course!)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Obsessive Squirrel Mode Begins Tomorrow

Brodaiea californica

So the fact that I'm expecting a box today that contains 39 pounds of bulbs isn't excessive or anything, right?  I mean...  right?!?

(Most of them aren't for me, I swear!)  

Friday, October 1, 2010

Best Aphid Control Ever

I've been working in the shop of late on a new trellis design, but I had to share the magical experience of standing on the front porch yesterday afternoon.  Soaking in the late afternoon sun and dusting off errant flecks of redwood, I observed in wonder a gang of Bushtits who one by one zipped to the Malacothamnus and delicately picked off the aphids that had taken up residence.  I reveled in their happy chirps, transfixed by their tiny black legs and twig-like feet wrapped around the stems.  Then one, two, three...  four, five... and six alighted to the protection of the climbing rose across the street.  With a contented sigh I returned to my work, still surprised by the life my garden has taken on.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I've Caught Fall-Fever

 Many folks don't realize that us Californians have the advantage of two "Springs."  The conventional one that begins in March and the California Spring which begins when the rains come.  Manzanitas, Silk Tassel trees, Gooseberries and Currants begin blooming as soon as December and leaves begin to emerge after the sleepy late Summer heat has left us.  What does that mean for the significant others of garden geeks?  Well, they end up hearing all about the plants that will be planted, have to nod encouragingly at clusters of pots with spindly green things stuck in them (those are plants, honey!), and are left to their own devices when the plant sales come 'round. 

 Saturday found us at such a plant sale- the East Bay Wilds "everything must go, bring the truck" plant sale.  Lisa who I'm sure you're already aware of and Karen, my effervescent green-thumbed friend and I hopped into the Idora-mobile and headed out into the yonder of plant wonderment. 

Amorpha californica
 Poor Pete, running from end to end to help out his energetic and numerous clientele, hovered long enough to recommend a Pickeringia.  My response?  Okay!  And so it went.  The ladies scored some gorgeous pots and we filled the truck with armfuls of little green treasures. 

My haul includes:

the aforementioned Pickeringia, which through my obsessive Googling I have found attracts hummingbirds with its bright pink flowers.  It has a very fragile root system, which probably doesn't bode well for the number of times I've knocked the darn pot over.

Rhododendron occidentale

Rhododendron occidentale:  yes, California has a native Rhodie!  Not only that, but it's scented and has flowers colored like buttered popcorn.  Think I'll try this one in a pot.

Amorpha californica var. napensis or False Indigo:  a rare to the trade plant that attracts Bumble bees and hosts the California native insect, the Dog-Face Butterfly.  Cool!  Like the Pickeringia, it's in the pea family.

Dendromecon or Bush Poppy:  I think this is rigida and not hartfordii, but can't be sure.  What I do know is that the yellow poppy-shaped blooms pop against the blue-green foliage and will contrast nicely with...

Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman':  I'm aiming to get some Ceanothus Silk Moths in the back garden, not to mention a fast screen for privacy from the neighbors.  Oh, and it has lavender flowers that are lightly scented, bringing bees of all kinds from miles around?  Yes, please!

Penstemon centranthifolius or Scarlet Bugler:  Oh crap, I wish I had gotten more of these.  The perfect shot of red before the California Fuchsias appear and a natural hummingbird feeder. 

an unknown Dudleya:  my favorite kind, pictured up top.  What can I say, it's an addiction.  Perhaps he'll find himself in one of the terracotta tubes I've got sticking out of the garden.

Big 'ol mystery Wasp on a Cornus at the nursery

We capped the day with some Robb-made lemonade, with Lisa sending Karen and I home cradling jars of backyard honey.  As soon as the weather cools, I'll be in squirrel mode- digging around, planting and transplanting my Autumn away.  Thanks Pete of East Bay Wilds, for spreading that happy malady- Fall-Fever!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Field Tripping Through Google Images: Veggie Edition

I'm preparing myself for the Winter veggie season and by preparing I mean obsess over my Seed Savers book and dream of having a neat, orderly set of plantings (really this time!  I mean it!)  I keep picturing a little knot garden, but I would substitute boxwood for lettuces or radishes as the delineating boundries and filling the remaining spaces with squares of perky Carrots, Golden Chard and sweet little leaves of Mache, not to mention a bevy of cutting annuals such as red poppies (last photo), Baby Blue Eyes and Collinsia heterophylla.

My favorite method of instant inspiration these days involves sticking a phrase in the Google and clicking on images to see what comes up.  Many times I get quite relevant images, such as this one from the Better Homes and Gardens site:

And sometimes I go careening afield, to wonderfully unexpected places.  This morning, I landed onto to find my next "brilliant" installation against the fence of my triangular vegetable bed.

I picture getting two or three of these to grow the diminutive Mache or maybe even some Nasturtium 'Empress of India' to trail down the sides.  Can you just imagine all the possibilities?!  With a shoe rack of all things!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Breath of Fresh... Fog

Saturday presented a magical day in the garden; a fine and unexpected mist gradually descended on the leaves, on me, on the sidewalk of which a fresh rain scent refracted back in thanks.  I'm not the first to note (by "note" I mean complain bitterly) the erratic weather patterns of this year (I found it oddly fitting to tear out the last of the still-blooming sweet peas on the first of September), but I must say that this shot of beachy fog created a wonderland.

Drops of jewels clung to unfurling leaves, grateful for a little moisture, while inconspicuous spider webs became encrusted with bling.

The gray foliage, if you can call it foliage, of the Lessingia filanginifolia 'Silver Carpet' became magnified with contrast, carrying its browned globes triumphantly above white stems.

The stone mulch in a blink of an eye lost its chalky cast to a glimmery sheen.  The Dudleya threw its arms upward in celebration.

While still not fully recovered from its Clarkia party, the garden steams ahead with contrasting colors- whites, grays, greens, blacks/purples and reds.  This moment in the mist, fussing and exploring I could stand back and revel in the process.  When worry, regret and dissatisfaction over this small square of land overcome me, it is this kind of moment I am so grateful for.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Field Trip: MLK Regional Shoreline

 Can you imagine taking yourself next door to the airport to look for some peace and quiet?  Well, per Lisa's recommendation I did.  Improbably situated, the MLK Regional Shoreline ringing the San Leandro Bay is the eye of the storm, surrounded by the Oakland Airport, industrial complexes, and Downtown Oakland.  Take a stroll up the ramp of the Observation Tower above and look out over Arrowhead Marsh with binoculars and a bird ID book in hand.   Calm...

I loved the long dock the best, though.  The seemingly endless journey to the end of the dock and middle of the marsh can be a treasure hunt for sharp eyes.  Birds rustling around in the grasses below with piles of mussel and clam shells peeking through the mud.  At high tide you can spot gigantic rays fluttering their way to a meal.  At low tide the birds easily outnumber the tiny handful of human park patrons.  I love that the birds aren't what I'd see in my landlocked backyard only a few miles away.  Look up and the Oakland skyline looks downright romantic.   

I can't wait to go again and sit for awhile, taking in the quiet solitude as the world (and the rampant ground squirrels) scurry frantically around me.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Philosophy of Bees

Just when I thought I was soo cool and knew all about the little visitors in my garden, this little green bee popped up and turned me into a gaping novice.  Oh.  My.  Stars!  A Metallic Green Sweat Bee!  In my garden!  Frantic snapping of photos insued, hence the blurry photo below.  Note also the white insect egg cases in the flower pom-pom in the background of the photo above.

Can you believe the color combo that Nature so effortlessly arranged?!  The pink Eriogonum and green Agapostemon was a good call.  It brings up the old philosophical question, "If a Green Sweat Bee lands on an Eriogonum and no one is around to take a photo, is the bee totally awesome?"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Confession

Blog, I have to tell you something.  I...  I've been cheating on you.  It's true.  My unquenchable desires to create a park in my neighborhood have driven me to start a blog for the Idora Park community and I just haven't been able to spend as much time with you as I'd like. 
I'll make this work!  I can have two blogs at once!  Just don't be hurt, okay?

Friends of Idora Park

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Snowy Flowers to Cool Late Season Summers

For those folks who have spent the last couple of days cursing the sun and its hot, hot rays, this post I dedicate to you.  To temper the heat, cool your jets with these white blooming natives.  Feel that icy chill as you witness the massive snowball otherwise known as Eriogonum giganteum 'St. Catherine's Lace'.  Growing to 10 feet wide in one year (from a 5 gallon container, but still!), this beauty covers herself with layers of snowflakes for the longer months of the summer. 


If you manage not to cut all the flowers for arrangements (looks so pretty with roses), the blooms age gradually to a pinkish rust.  Despite the aging flowers, the bees continue their frantic visits.

Can't even deal with being in the sun?  This shady lady will give you the shivers.  Walk towards the Clematis ligusticifolia in bloom and the sweet scent hits about 10 feet away.  Standing next to it, the fragrance is intoxicating.  Oh, heavenly!

The sweet little flowers have a magical look close up- as if they'll spin in circles and fly away!  Stand back, and you're in for a breathtaking view.  Take a snip of one and keep it by the bed in a small vase.  Sigh.  Inhale the scent.  Repeat.  I'd love a mixologist to design a cocktail based on this flower.

So for all you foggy folks out there hiding out until our Summer (finally, Summer!) retreats into cooler Autumn days, I hope I've offered a little solace for a blazing afternoon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Breaking News! Blow-out Plant Sale of the Year!

 Alright, Fall planters get ready!  This weekend I received the following email from Pete at East Bay Wilds (via the EBCNPS google group):

Due to the sale of the property where my nursery is, I'm going to close my castro valley location in September.

I will have a big sale - 50% off everything on saturday and 75% off everything left on sunday until 3 pm on sept 25th and 26th.  most everything left at 3 pm on sunday, I'll sell for absolute minimal - $1-$3 or free!  I have moved plants, although many of my best ones are at my nursery in oakland - all the manzanitas, many ceanothus, dendromecons, pickeringias, etc..will stay in oakland

There are loads of others including many unusual plants at the castro valley location - many different coffeeberries, most buckwheats, mock oranges, penstemons, yucca whippleii and baccata, lots of native cacti, madrones, rhamnus illicifolias, many oaks, buckeyes, styrax, bay laurels, bayberries, mountain mahoganies, california walnuts, many ribes species, zauschnerias, eryngiums, goldenrods, asters, succulents, many, many grasses and many more plants of all kinds. 

If someone would like to know whether I have something in particular, I can answer people individually but I prefer email to telephone if possible.  I won't be able to reserve anything for pickup on that weekend or afterwards - just beforehand and not at the 50%/75% discounts. However, I will give 25% discounts on everything at the Castro Valley location until then.  in addition to the plants, I have lots of interesting garden props - pottery, antiques [old stuff is probably a better term], some fencing, gates, interesting rocks and wood for sale at the same big discounts.

In order to express my thanks for so many of you who have been wonderful customers over the years, I will be giving away one plant to everyone who comes [mostly soaproot lilies, but something similar, if I run out of those].

I'm going to keep my oakland nursery going and I'm still looking for a good location closer to my home in east oakland or alameda for a larger one - in case anyone knows of something.  it seems like w/ all these empty lots and warehouses everywhere around here I should have found something by now, but I haven't found the right place yet.  I just need lots of sun and water and if possible, a little office space.

Please help spread the word about the sale if you could.  Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.



Saturday, September 25 from 10 am until 4 pm

50% off entire inventory

Sunday, September 26 from 10 am until 3pm - AFTER 3pm, prices will be slashed down to next to nothing.

75% off entire inventory

Directions will be posted at on September 22nd.

I'd like to thank Bob and Caroline Sparks for so generously sharing their land in Castro Valley with us for the past four years.  They've been amazingly great  'neighbors' for all of us at East Bay Wilds and we will miss seeing them regularly.

Pete Veilleux
East Bay Wilds

photo botanical guide of California Native Plants:
to see some photos of the spring bloom, 2010:
to see photos of our new work, go here:

Ok, me again.  Who's carpooling with me?  I've got a whole truck to fill and my honey will be very mad if I fill it all myself...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Next, Please!

 Brodeaia found at Castle Rock (Mt. Diablo)

I wouldn't be a fanatical gardener if I didn't almost totally neglect the fabulous late show of Zauschnerias and Eriogonums currently dazzling the garden to ponder the age old conundrum, "What's next?"  The answer?  Why, bulbs of course!  Bulb purchasing always whips me up into a frenzy while turning the pages of my catalog or comparing bloom times in online forums. 

 'Jenny' Daffodil

They're so beautiful, the photos seem unreal- the abundance of flowers and bright colors.  It reminds me of the touch-ups and Photoshopping that takes place on models in magazines.  Can that really happen in my garden?!  Well, yes!  Allow me to offer a few tips:

Brodeaia ida-maia

I'm usually swayed by the pricing, so I tend to under-order.  Doesn't 100 bulbs sound like a lot?  Sometimes it's actually not enough!  However, I do know other folks who over-order, so my best advice would be to ask another gardener (one who will have no role in helping you plant the bulbs) if it sounds like too little or too much if you're unsure.  Close spacing can really make an impact, but not so close that the bulbs touch each other- it can lead to rot.

'Thalia' Daffodil after a rain shower

Mix in large and small bulbs together, but keep an eye out for bloom times and plant height. California native bulbs tend to bloom later, so a carpet of low-growing annuals such as Meadowfoam or Baby Blue eyes can help bridge the time between when the Manzanitas bloom and the Salvias bloom.

Calochortus superbus

If you're worried that some of the Tulips or Daffodils will not be California dreamin', catalogs usually mention if the varieties work well in the South (ie, grow in warmer climates).  Here's a few links to some online shops:

John Scheepers has selection and pretty good pricing.  They carry many natives under the "Best of the Rest" category if you're not finicky about hybrids or getting California natives from Connecticut by way of Holland.

I've never purchased from them, but Far West Bulb Farm carries the more unusual native varieties (plus they're sourced locally and ethically).

I also googled my way to Telos Rare Bulbs, who sells native, S. African and S. American varieties.  They have a blog, too to help facilitate my obsession!

I've never had luck with Tulips around here, so I haven't grown any in quite some time.  Anyone have advice to share?