Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Plant of the Week: Firecracker Flower

Pop!  Boom!  Oooooooohhh!  That pretty much describes Brodiaea coccinea (or Dichelostemma ida-maia), a California native bulb.    When planted in the Fall, this scarlet beauty will explode with flowers by Spring.  It's native to the North Coast and prefers part shade/redwood type environments, although mine are hanging out in my South-facing Oakland garden with no signs of distress.  Apparently, it was once considered a delicacy among Native Americans (although please don't try it at home until you've researched it...)

It looks like the blossom has petticoats!

Sun:  Sun (near coast) to part shade
Soil:  well-drained to light clay (heavy clay can rot bulbs)
Plant:  Unfortunately, no instant gratification for you!  Nab some bulbs in the Fall for a show next Spring
Buy it:  Scheeper's, Far West Bulb Farm, or Garden Natives might have it by next year, too.
Good for:  a pop of red in Spring, pairing with gray-foliage or blue Fescues, honestly this one can be incorporated in any style of garden so just try it!

Even the upright dried flowers look interesting!  Can't wait to see how it sets seed.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Field Trip: Maker Faire, San Mateo

 Doggie Diner Talismans

We took a sojourn to the Maker Faire in San Mateo over the weekend and found a few things to oogle.  It mostly consisted of a circus of circuit boards, metal fire sculptures, steampunk parades, LEDs and random bits of randomness.  It's inspiring.  I'm not quite sure how yet, but a good time was had by all.

This could be a nice bit of irreverence in a formal garden.  Mirrors in shady places can add some much-needed sparkle.

A band played on the front porch of this little cut-away house.  I love the loft and the fact that the "interior" is furnished.  For some reason, it reminds me of this hilarious Mickey Mouse cartoon.

These silver cups hung from the ceiling and undulated in patterns like a droplet hitting a glass of water.  Mesmerizing!

And of course, a fluorescent polyester-covered party-mobile offered rides.  A spectacle to observe the spectacle.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What's For Dinner? Aphids? Again?!

Soon after the ladybird beetles descended en masse to devour the bounty of aphids in the front garden, these little orange creatures crashed the party.  Curious, I snapped a photo and decided to play insect detective.   With all these beetles flitting about, I just had to think of this little snippet (quoted from Wikipedia, but related to me by my favorite naturalist Steve):

     He [JBS Haldane] is famous for the response he gave when some theologians asked him what could be inferred about the mind of the Creator from the works of His Creation: "An inordinate fondness for beetles."[7] This is in reference to there being over 350,000 known species of beetles in the world, and that this represents 40% of all known insect species (at the time of the quote, it was over half of all known insect species).

This beetle in particular seemed to be quite the good guy.  He's a Soldier Beetle, in the Cantharidae family, but I hesitate to suggest he's a Cantharis rotundicollis.  While they look like the kind of thing to put holes in roses and such, they seem to eat aphids (especially the larvae), nectar and pollen.  Welcome pollinator!  I was reminded by this little soldier after reading Lisa and Robb's recent post on ladybugs and realizing that there are many other insects that help combat those evil little sap suckers.  In fact, after a quick google, I found this page that discusses the carnage of insect predation.  Sheesh, what doesn't eat aphids?!  Just another reminder for me to let nature do its thing.  (Ok, that's not entirely true since I'm ruthless when it comes to snails and slugs, but they're not native anyway so whatever!)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Buckeyes Are Blooming!

One of my favorite Aesculus californica (California Buckeye) trees in a neighborhood nearby has put on her Springtime dress.  The perfect tree for an urban garden, she encompasses all of the basic needs:  seasonal changes (including a flower show in Spring and bare silver branches at the close of Summer), shade to put your hammock under, smallish stature to conserve on space, and tolerance of sun and shade alike. 

While the little stick in my own garden valiantly grows and develops, I'll continue to linger at the base of this tree on my walks and enjoy its ethereal beauty.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Field Trip: Locke & the River Road

Oh, the River Road!  Such a welcome respite from traffic and noise in the journey from the Bay Area to Sacramento.  The road follows a wide ribbon of the Sacramento Delta high above on the levees, passing Sambucus (Blue Elderberry) sending out fountains of yellow blooms and roadsides of motorcycles neatly lined up, black and shiny.  Smalll towns perch like dragonflies along the side of the levee, each with their own quiet character. 

Inhabited, yet still retaining an air of desertion, the historic town of Locke was worth a stop.  Built by Chinese levee builders (and later farmers), Locke remains an unusual rural Chinatown.  The original buildings remain posted on either side of the narrow main street, hosting antique shops, museums and the strangely famous restaurant "Al the Wop's." 

The building pictured above seemed particularly enchanting considering the odd angles the walls decided to stand, but I also love the arch and its running square pattern.  The lightbulbs and the weathered wood really make it, I think.  Little boardwalked alleyways such as this one led mysteriously between buildings. 

Such a lovely presentation for a utilitarian path!

 I couldn't help but admire the color, patina, font, shape and well... everything about this sign!  So brilliant to pop the letters of "grocery" out like that.

I enjoyed the detour through Locke so much and would love to come back to explore a bit further.  Apparently, they're having a festival (pdf) this weekend.  However, I couldn't shake off the feeling we were being watched.

The kitties certainly make sure to keep an eye on the outsiders!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Plant of the Week: Bush Anemone

"A wooden cherry scent is faintly breathing the air" Tom Waits rasps in "Watch Her Disappear."  A Carpenteria californica doesn't smell anywhere near cherry, but for some reason, this lyric comes to mind when I'm around it.  It's not so much as a scent as it is a suggestion.  The air seems cleaner, more pure with a softness that you can't put your finger on.  The blooms turn this stately shrub into a confident bride, all white and lovely from Spring into Summer.  Can you guess what my new favorite plant is?

Sun:  Morning or filtered sun seems to be best, although near the Coast it can probably do sun
Soil:  I'm getting mixed messages from my favorite research sites, so just try it and see what happens
Plant:  Ideally in the Fall, but they're usually only available when they're about to bloom
Buy it:  the wholesale nursery has them in 15 gallon containers (looking fabulous!) all the way down to 1 gallon.  You can ask your local nursery to order one for you or try Las Pilitas or Yerba Buena
Good for:  Contrasting with gray foliaged plants, English gardens, scented gardens, setting a flowery background to perennials (would look fabulous with Penstemon heterophyllus!), attracting pollinators

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Let's Play!

For reasons that will become more apparent in the coming weeks, I recently fell through the rabbit hole of this amazing playground blog and couldn't climb back out until I had gone through each and every darn thing in it!  Playground structures I see around town seem so static and unimaginative, but there's so many inspiring images to see here!   It makes me want to run out and climb a tree or make a sand castle!  If only folks weren't so concerned with safety.  .  . 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's Raining. Let's Go For a Hike!

 amphitheater benches, set aside during construction

So what else to do on a drizzly Monday afternoon than drive a couple hours to go hiking at Big Basin, huh?  Driving through the narrow roads under a dense canopy of Redwoods, Madrones and Douglas Firs seemed like enough of an adventure in itself- wow, those curves!

We enabled each other to actually get out of the car and amazingly hiked for a couple of miles in gear not suited to rain (I had a scarf over my head).  Perhaps the canopy sifted the rain down in small doses, but I was far from drenched when we reached the car at the end of our hike. 

The Ceanothus stretched gauntly towards the light, but shot out incredible displays of powdery puffballs.  They looked like giant bouquets. The branches on this Oak seemed so gestural and dramatic- it's so hard to capture tall things in a photo!

As we left, I had to stop the car and jog back to this mysterious lavender-flowered plant.  The batteries in the camera died before I could get more than one photo, but the saw-toothed leaves are slightly sticky like a monkey flower (who were blooming nearby), but strongly scented like a sweeter version of a Pacific Wax Myrtle.  The plant had slightly purple stems and branched upright, growing about three feet high.  The flower clusters sat upon the tips of the branches and the flowers themselves were about 3/8 inch long.  It grew in an open area (previously Redwood forest) that had been through a fire maybe ten years ago?  What is it?!  It's driving me crazy not knowing!  Please, someone put me out of my misery and identify it for me!

 Also spotted in the same place, a Pearly Everlasting (blurry.  darn).  Oh.  .  .  now I know why it's called that!  The residual water droplets shone like little diamonds in between the pearl settings.  Wondrous!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Happy Birthday to You!

Oh, little blog- I can't believe I missed your first birthday yesterday!  And what a year it has been!  Full of new things to geek out on and incredible new friends that I'm so grateful to know.  Thanks to friends, family and random strangers who say, "Oh, I think I've been to your blog"- I've had such a fun time.

To celebrate, I'd like to list the five most popular posts:

1.  The Raspberry Trellis!  (huh... who knew this would be most popular!)
2.  Plant of the Week:  Santa Barbara Daisy (the equivalent of a gateway drug for natives!)
3.  A Rant About the Invasive/Naturalizing Sweet Broom
4.  My Creepy Spider Drawing (postcards of the spider can be found here)
5.  The Award Winning Photo of Spontaneous Sculpture

Meanwhile, other celebrations include nibbling at this lemon bar procured earlier today from Sweet Adeline.  Yum! 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An Afternoon in Ann's Garden

 I'm in heaven when I can spend the day gabbing on about native plants.  Sunday was that kind of day as I wandered about Ann's garden for the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour and answered questions for the passersby.  Designed by Rick Alatorre and installed a year ago (although it looks much more established!), this garden weaves a number of floriferous natives around a central stone patio.   The Limnanthes douglasii var sulpherea 'Pt Reyes' pictured above happily mounded in the sunshine and gave the bees a good workspace to gather pollen.  A native of vernal pools, this native annual adapts easily and reseeds like crazy!  There's actually a species of bee that only uses this flower to survive!

Among the cool kids of the garden plants- Monardella villosa, or Coyote Mint.  It wasn't even blooming and it seemed to be a clear favorite, especially when paired so well with the Iris douglasiana.

The garden magnet, however was the little porch, where visitors gathered to take in all the amazing Columbines and Currants.

Seriously, these were the Godzillas of Columbines!  The flower stalks rose to over 5 feet tall and the flowers looked like a gaggle of rockets blasting off into the stratosphere!

I came home with an interesting shoe-shaped tan line on my feet and a re-energized imagination for future design projects.  (Not to mention the satisfaction of having a string of visitors I knew- thanks for stopping by, Meeces!)