Friday, April 30, 2010

Plant of the Week: Lilac Verbena

Many plants I just don't get what all the fuss is about.  Petunias.  Huh?  And those garish Verbenas!  Yikes, too much. Well, enter Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina.'  I decided to give her a chance in one of my latest gardens- dense clay soil, ravenous deer, furnace-like full sun against the house and lots of hungry bees.  She didn't even flinch and bloomed so impressively right out of her one gallon container.  Verbena lilacina brings the lace to the tea party- soft, feathery foliage and delicate lavender blossoms that carry on all year when planted near the coast.  She was found on Cedros Island (Western coast of Baja) and introduced to the trade by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.  Yay! 

Sun:  Full sun to part shade
Soil:  Sandy to clay, but less water if planted in more clay soils
Plant:  As soon as you can get your hands on it!  Anytime should be fine.  It's most often grown from cuttings.
Buy it:  Many wholesale growers have it, so talk to your local nursery or ask Annie's, Yerba Buena, Bay Natives, or California Flora Nursery
Good for:  Notorious plant killers wanting to reform their murderous ways and wanting to start out with something easy, attracting butterflies & other pollinators, year-round bloom, hot sun, deer-resistant gardens, native cottage garden borders

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Respite From the Rain

An icky, windy, rainy day like this warrants a few pretty pictures, like this Carpenteria californica who can hardly contain itself.

 Or this show-stopping Iris fernaldii, a gift from my favorite farmers, Curbstone Valley.

What about this guppy-faced Penstemon palmeri about to release its Springtime fragrance? 

Oh, that's where the sun went!  It got swallowed up by this luminescent poppy.  Well, I hope the poppy decides to share- this gloomy weather is not hastening the planting of those columbines I keep meaning to put in!  As I glance longingly out the window again and return with a shiver, I've declared this to be hot chocolate hour.  Join me for a mug? 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bee Friendly, Play Nice!

A miracle happened the other day in the form of two little bee hives perched solidly in the overgrown backyard.  Steven, of swarm catching fame, delivered them last week and I've been sitting a few feet away from the entrances on sunny days like a silent air traffic control, watching them zoom this way and that.  I also check on them in the morning to see if they've begun their day's work (even before I start the coffee!).  Oddly enough, my responsibilities regarding these hives end here, as Steven comes once a month or so to check on them, add a story to their hive, or harvest their honey.  This is the miracle part.  The bees pollinate my cucumbers and in return I take their honey and give a jar or two to the skeptic neighbors.  (Well, Steven harvests the honey, I just eat it and give it away.)  Could I be any happier?!

Since they've arrived, I find myself thinking of plants they and their native counterparts prefer and am considering planting a few things to keep them busy in my own garden before they must venture out beyond.  I pulled out my copy of the Pollinator Conservation Handbook (review here) and refreshed my memory.

-Like many folks I know, bees seem to have a favorite color:  blue.  Now not all blue-flowered plants support bees and not all bees only go for blue flowers, but as a starting point this can be helpful.

-In mild climates like ours, bees need a constant source of nectar.  Planning the garden based on year-round flowers not only makes it look prettier to you, but it's also tastier to the bees.

-Those showy hybridized plants at the big-box store typically don't produce much or any pollen or nectar.  Best to stick with the classics.

-Pesticides kill those bugs ruining your plants.  They also kill every other bug that comes in contact with it.  Try to use pesticide as a last-resort (or not at all).

-Planting the same plant close together is more effective than spacing them out in various parts of the garden.

Here's a plant list I've put together of CA native plants that bees seem to like very much:

for Sun:
Ceanothus, any Ceanothus
Manzanitas give yummy soft pink flowers just after Christmas.
Rhus ovata or integrifolia (ovata's leaves and habit fit better in a garden setting)
Rhamnus californica or Coffeeberry
Trictostema lanatum, Wooly Blue Curls

Manzanita 'St. Helena'
for Shade:

Manzanitas give yummy soft pink flowers just after Christmas. (some are more shade tolerant than others)
Rhus ovata or integrifolia (ovata's leaves and habit fit better in a garden setting)
Rhamnus californica or Coffeeberry
Cream Bush or Holodiscus discolor

for Sun:
All the Salvias (Sages), although spathacea or Hummingbird Sage markets to a different audience
All the Eriogonums, or Buckwheats.  Honeybees love the grande rubescens while the hoverflies and smaller native bees are big fans of St. Catherine's lace.
Penstemon heterophyllus for the bumbles
Erigeron glaucus W.R. attracts all sorts of lovely creatures, bees included
Grindelia's provide late season sources of nectar (Gumplant)

 Heuchera flowering away

for Shade:
Scrophularia (Common name is Bee Plant.  Hmm....)
Heucheras or Alum Roots
Oxalis oregana, or Redwood Sorrel
Prunella vulgaris, or Self Heal
Salvia 'Bee's Bliss' will grow in part shade

Carpenter Bee snacking on a Collinsia heterophylla

for Sun:
Collinsia heterophylla, Chinese Houses (Carpenter bees especially love this one)
Phacelia (seriously, tanacetifolia's common name is "Bee's Friend."), but other Phacelias help just as well.
Clarkias, or Farewell to Summer might bring you the Clarkia bee
California poppies give the Bumble bees something to do
Gilia capitata, Globe Gilia is a bee magnet! 
Lupines!  Lots of Lupines!
You've heard of Clover honey, right?
for Shade:
Collinsia heterophylla, Chinese Houses (Carpenter bees especially love this one)
Limnanthes douglasii or Meadowfoam or Poached Egg Plant

If anyone has others, please add them to the comments.  Also, here's a few links that could be quite helpful or will at least help you procrastinate a little longer:

Urban Bee Gardens- a guide for planting to help out the bees in the Bay Area

Pollinator Pathway in Seattle- cool corridor planting project!

Las Pilitas' bumblebee page- they're such helpful folks!

Monday, April 26, 2010

An Afternoon in Town Mouse's Garden

Gracious, Spring has been a tornado of activity!  I'm finally getting to tell you all about the amazing native garden of one Town Mouse.  Maybe you've heard of her?  She participated in the Going Native Garden Tour last Sunday and certainly erupted bubbles of envy and wonder in me!

Just look at the graceful stream-bed and the comfy chair behind the Salvia apiana (or White Sage/Bee Sage).  So many natives did their best to show off for the tour- in this photo I see Mimulus aurantiacus, Penstemon heterophyllus, a tiny flower stalk of Dudleya pulverulenta, and the dramatic flowering stalks of Festuca californica.

I'm so glad to have seen this Festuca in person.  I haven't used it yet since I was turned off by the "deciduous" on the label, especially when it's so rare to see photos of them in the Summer, when they have turned golden.  I'm beginning to think that whatever it looks like in other seasons, this grass is so totally worth it!

The back garden can not really be described any better than paradise.  The inviting hammock in the afternoon shade sits on a decomposed granite patio (can you believe that was once a swimming pool?!) while the Redwood Sorrel looks on from the raised beds.  The dry creek beds continue in looping lazy arcs and bees sip daintily from the bird bath nearby.  So many wonderful specimens, birds and bugs that I was on sensory overload!  Perhaps it was the tea and engaging conversation with Town and Country Mouse as well as the Curbstone Valley Farm crew.  We all converged, chatted, scattered in different directions with our cameras and had such a lovely afternoon.  Town Mouse insisted on sending us home with an armful of homegrown avocados and a jar of some incredible plum chutney.  Sigh.  .  .  what a lovely day! 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Plant of the Week: Fuchsia Flowering Gooseberry

Let's face it- dangerous plants are pretty sexy.  (at a distance, anyway)  Take for instance, the Ribes speciosum or Fuchsia Flowering Gooseberry.  Red spikes, bright green leaves, dangling fuchsia flowers that turn to glowing red berries in the Summer...

I'm in love as long as I have a pair of thick gloves on.  Needless to say, it's best to position this beauty in a low traffic area or as a barrier.  But stand back and let the hummingbirds take over as the blooms emerge in winter.  Over time it will arch its way into a shrub and provide shelter to neighborhood birds, although I should say that it does go deciduous without summer water.  I'm hoping that will be yet another show as the glossy berries hang off of the bare, thorny branches.  Sounds dramatic!

Sun:  According to my research, it's pretty adaptable. 
Soil:  Again, pretty darn adaptable.  Well-drained is probably ideal.
Plant:  Anytime.  Could it be any easier to grow this?!
Buy it:  Ask your local nursery to special order it, or talk to Las Pilitas Nursery, Yerba Buena Nursery, or California Flora Nursery
Good for:  Directing traffic or as inexpensive burglar deterrents, habitat gardens, red gardens, shade gardens, but probably not for dim lit night-viewing gardens (ouch!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What Is That Thing?!

 photo by Matthew Field and found on Wikipedia

So another amazing weekend adventure involved driving down to the South Bay to attend the Going Native Garden Tour and to meet the Meeses in person!  (and see the Curbstone Valley crew again, too!)  The first garden where I stopped had some amazing bees buzzing about the blooming poppies, lupines, and other incredible natives.  Wandering around, all the visitors abruptly stopped and turned their heads to observe the giant golden buzzing thing hovering amongst the Rhus ovata (or Sugar Bush).  What is it?!  Well, I had to know and after googling "giant yellow bee", I immediately found the answer:  Xylocopa varipuncta, or a male Valley Carpenter Bee.  The females are shiny and black, but the males really steal the show with their size alone.  I'll resist the urge to fish story it, but it was huge.  Since he was hovering around one area, he must have been protecting nesting females. 

Hopefully now that I'm picking up my own Rhus ovata at the nursery this afternoon, I can attract a few myself!  ( I couldn't resist)

Here's a link to another amazing photo.  Aren't they gorgeous?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mariposa Lily: An Abrupt End to the Story

This weekend consisted of waves of adrenaline, constant amusement, and well-earned sleep at the end of it all!  One of the many excitements resulted in the photos here:  the journey of the Mariposa lily, which I am now so totally obsessed with.

She opened up right before the compost delivery truck dumped three yards of compost on her.  Yeah, ouch.  I'll always have pictures to tide me over until next year.  And a few other lovelies will climb their way out of the mulch to endlessly amuse me in the coming weeks.

Her neighbor, who survived, closes at night only to awaken to the sunshine the next morning.  Those petals seem to fit together so perfectly!

Another bee's eye view.  After a quick google diversion, I still can't figure out what its pollinator is...  I know that a few plants produce flowers that resemble meat to attract flies as pollinators, but I don't know if this is the case here.  Can anyone contribute to my confusion any further?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Presenting: Mariposa Lily in Four Acts

I'm trying to embrace my impatience with the reluctant Mariposa Lily, instead focusing on the ever-changing story unfolding in my garden.  I'm beginning to learn that the other parts of the story besides the climax can be important, too as this Calochortus slowly unfurls her party dress in the sunshine.  She's striking quite the vogue-style pose in the photo above!

The drama builds...

An unexpected sub-plot emerges!

The tension rises and the suspense continues...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Show and Tell: Kicks of Color

Here's one of my latest drawings for a bungalow garden.  Circles rarely communicate what I'd like them to, so I've begun adding color spots showing the approximate foliage and flower color.  It ends up resembling a bunch of little cells floating about! 

I really enjoyed creating this design, with bright kicks of red and yellow amid bits of blue, with varying shades of gray foliage all around.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Feed 'Em To the Worms, Boys

Jan over at Thanks for Today has created a monster of a blogging theme:  the Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project, where folks can discuss their favorite environmental issue for the upcoming Earth Day (that's the 22nd of April, folks).

So let's talk about worms.  Worms?!  You can't go anywhere without hearing all about the benefits of growing your own food, right?  Healthy eating, less carbon footprint, organic veggies- you know the schpeal.  But after going to all this trouble to create a healthy garden, who wants to dump Miracle Grow all over their heirloom organic seedlings?  (Hi, Dad!)

It just so happens that certain species of worms create the best compost to make your greens smile uncontrollably.  Red wriggler worms, or Eisenia foetida eat away the rotten bits of fruit and vegetable scraps, churning them away in their little compost machines for you to later deposit under your tomatoes.  Wonderful!  Now what?

Well, to begin your new career as a vermicomposter, first you need a box, or rather a stack of boxes.  Rodale Institute has ridiculously easy instructions for one here, but I received mine at a discount from a city program designed to entice people to compost.  It's usually two or three boxes nested into each other with holes drilled into all but the bottom box.  Shred newspaper into strips or buy a block of coconut coir fiber.  Spread a generous layer on the bottom of the next to the last bin.  If using newspaper, spritz with water until it's damp/wet, but not quite dripping.  Store your worm bin where it won't freeze, cook or be pirated by raccoons- under a tree, in the garage, in the cabinet under the kitchen sink. 

Buy your worms from a bait shop (I didn't have much luck with those myself), online, or from a friend.  Just make sure you're getting Eisenia foetida.  They're small, red and become quite active if handled or exposed to light.  The reason these worms work so well for composting is because they're adapted to rainforest environments, in which layers upon layers of natural mulch keep them busy and chomping away.  They don't actually live underground, just under mulch.  They're not adapted to cold temperatures, too so throwing them in the garden to tunnel away won't do you much good.  (Nice try!) 

a look into one of Bay Worms' compost bins

Lay the little buggers in the bedding and let them get used to their new home for a few days.  Don't worry, if they're hungry they'll nibble at the newspaper or coconut fiber.  Then slowly add bits of raw fruits, veggies, coffee grounds and tea bags.  Then can be picky eaters, however so here's a few guidelines:

Steer clear of feeding them:
Onions or citrus (some folks say citrus is ok, some say don't try it)
Cooked food
Dairy and meat (attracts undesirable creepy-crawlies)

When you add new food to that first box, make sure it's covered by the shredded newspaper.  It helps prevent that icky rotten food smell, which makes life more livable and the worms less attractive to raccoons, flies, etc.  As the worms eat, the food turns to compost and the space in the box fills.  When this happens, add new food bits to the second box up, covering with the shredded newspaper.  The worms will follow the food up, leaving you with a glorious bin of compost underneath.  Easy!  I probably check on my worms once every 2 weeks or so, adding some apple cores or mango peels when the mood strikes me.  Just try it out and see what happens.  You'll make cheap compost, use up scraps that might otherwise find themselves at the local dump, and have tomatoes that your neighbors will envy.    

Here's a couple of links for further research:

Bay Worms

A great starter's guide from Earthworm Digest

Wikipedia's vermicomposting article

Stop Waste's instructions on building your own bins

Thanks, Jan for hosting such a great theme!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Me, too! Me, too!

I've been jealously viewing everyone's gorgeous photos of the wildflowers blooming on their respective blogs, so naturally I had to take a day trip to Sonoma and see a few for myself (tough life, huh?).  

Soon enough, I happened upon a serpentine meadow in the hills above town.  I'm guessing it's serpentine because the soil is quite rocky, there aren't any shrubs, the plants look stunted in growth and it's in an area that I would consider chaparral (or my trusty friends at Las Pilitas would, anyway).  Serpentine soils pervade California and are characterized by their lack of minerals that plants typically require to survive.  Unless, of course you're a California wildflower adapted to grow there!  The photo at the top shows a gaggle of happy Lasthenia californica, or Goldfields.  Usually these can be spotted from the road as a low sea of sunshine.

The Lupine made a strong showing, as the small Bumblebees looped from flower to flower in this small meadow.

It's not a party until the poppies arrive, right?  While they bloomed so beautifully, they didn't take over, which allowed the clover, Dichelostemma, and oddly enough, some white Forget-Me-Nots to all play nice.  Ah, a sun-drenched day in the country!  I love Spring!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Random Acts of Art

Few things along Alcatraz Ave. make me stop, U-turn and dash out of the car with my camera.  This, however.  Wow.  A bit of guerrilla art with a tree stump.  Another reason why I hella heart Oakland!

Up close, pencil marks and the trail of a handsaw reveal the care and thought put into something so seemingly random.  Does anyone know the artist?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Plant of the Week: Mariposa Lily

I'm getting tempted to gently pull apart the bud of this lovely Calochortus superbus just to see inside as my patience is that thin.  Ok, I won't, but the suspense is terrible!  It is with that anticipation that I preemptively name the Mariposa Lily "Plant of the Week."

A native bulb, Mariposa Lily emerges in the Spring, with lackluster foliage and a knock-out of a flower.  Very Impressionist, I think!   This is one of the natives that has found an international following.  I obtained these bulbs from Scheepers, in Connecticut, of all places!

Photo found on Calphotos, © 2002 George W. Hartwell

Sun:  Full sun to part shade
Soil:  well drained with no summer watering
Plant:  Stick the bulbs in the ground in Fall, but if there's greenery (a 4" or gallon container), try to plant it before it blooms
Buy it:  Ok, next year I'm totally getting my bulbs from these guys, Far West Bulb Farm.  They've got some fantastic varieties!  If you didn't get a head start, Annie's might have some at the nursery.
Good for:  Springtime showstopper, filling in blank spaces between new plantings, containers.  I can't figure out if this flower supports wildlife.  Mariposa means butterfly in Spanish, but is it because its petals resemble a butterfly's wings or because the butterflies enjoy its company?  Anyone like to jump in here?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Waiting for the Big Show

Oh, the suspense!  Everyone is budding up for Spring and it's getting so hard to be patient!  Take this Dudleya hassei branch, for instance.  It's so rewarding to have seen it quadruple in size the past year and it will be quite the celebration when he blooms!  I'm hoping a hummingbird will come to join the party.

The Carpenter bees will be so excited when this Collinsia heterophylla comes out to play.  It reseeded from last year!

The Prunella vulgaris has swiftly taken charge of the garden and will grace this shady bed with purple spikes.

But I'm in awe of this little treasure- a Columbine that I had left for dead.  Apparently, it just needed a year to get established because it's sending up its little red rocket blossoms.  It's hard not to be cautiously optimistic about it, though.  With powdery mildew on its way, I'll just enjoy what I've discovered for now and worry about what comes later!

Happy Spring!

Monday, April 5, 2010

SF Garden Show: Papillon Pad

Ok, I swear this is the last post on the SF Flower and Garden Show!  I had to make sure to include this wonderful garden- a celebration of wood and stone in the most elegant of ways.  Mariposa Gardening and Design teamed up with Thomas Pedemonte Fine Woodworking to create the Papillon Pad, the perfect place to flap your wings in the sunshine and sip nectar. 

The open design of the terrace balances casual and formal; classic columns create the structure as edibles ring the perimeter to encourage spontaneous snacking.  The linear columns support a dancing line of wire mesh, with pea tendrils serving as partner.  It also shamelessly courts the wood geeks of the world with its gentle George Nakashima-inspired butterfly joint, standing in beautifully for a lucky horseshoe above the entrance.

Actually, where this garden is not wood geek paradise, it's careful to provide the stone folks with something to ogle.  Tiny details, such as this herringbone stonework at the base of the platform really excite me.  It takes a natural element and puts a human touch upon it, instead of attempting to recreate the field in which the stone was found.

But then the wood geek in me takes over and I've once again fallen for the brilliant use of reclaimed wood, like this walnut bench perfect for an impromptu rest.  I can't remember for sure, but it also looks like scraps of 2 x 4s delineate the spaces between pebbles.  

Since this is the last garden show post, (I did promise...) I'll throw in a photo of this rad sculpture, too.  Goodbye, garden show!  Can't wait to see you next year!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Greenery amongst the Plants

Here's just a blip of a post to enter my hat into Gardening Gone Wild's Picture This photo contest.  I had to repost the photo to meet the size requirements, but you can read the original post here if you're curious.  The theme of this month's contest is "Green World" and I wanted to include something more architectural and even a little industial.  Good luck everyone!

SF Garden Show: The Living Room aka Succulent Cube

Since the nice guys at Cactus Jungle's Cactus Blog took the time to actually link to me (thanks Peter and Hap!), I should at the very least show some photos of the incredible succulent cube that everyone's buzzing about. 

The photo above was an accident, but a happy one.  It's the light sculpture inside the cube and  I.  Want.  One.  Now! 

This "Living Room" by Organic Mechanics encapsulated what I feel really makes the show special.  Imaginative, conceptual, not at all practical, gathering a crowd of gawkers, and using luscious materials. 

The cube floated on a sea bobbing with glass orbs, ringed by glowing stone bowls.  A tapestry of Echevarias and other small succulents wended across the walls of the cube in playfully elegant patterns and punctuated by small slits of turquoise-lined windows.

The entrance required the adventurous act of crossing the moat on lilypad-like millstones and ducking into the structure under a radiant book-matched trunk of polished wood.

The reward for the dangerous crossing?  A lush little room in which to have foie gras and expensive wine, perhaps 16 courses following.  The walls inside were draped in jute, which I found a tidge off-putting after the immense attention to detail on the exterior.  I would have loved to see a handcrafted table to carry the wood theme inside or at least some Tillandsias or ferns mimicking the design of the succulents.  But the chandelier captured my heart and you could look out the little windows at the growing line of people waiting to go inside, so I did enjoy it.  I can't imagine the work involved to create this and it seems from others' responses that this will be remembered as the icon of the show.