Lawn care vs. native plants

Errors corrected 1 Jan 08

Google Trends is a way to compare the incidence of key word phrases in search and in news media. In the graph below I compare the incidence of "lawn care" and "native plants" in all Google search (top graph) and in US news media (bottom graph - blank due to insufficient data).

"lawn care" shows cyclic peaks in the spring of each year. "native plants" peaks in the spring as well, but seems to lag "lawn care" by a month or so - is this because the lawn care industry has a well-oiled and proactive PR machine? Are native plant articles usually an afterthought of harried newspaper garden writers?

A similar graph for California alone isn't too interesting because of sparse data.

Of note in the "native plants" graph is the slight uptick for the proper (California) fall planting season, right before "lawn care" declines in advance of winter.


Urban lament

It's a bit upsetting to realize that the coyote howl you thought you heard in the distance is actually an approaching fire truck and that the sound of wind rustling the trees is really the fridge.

Freaking fridge

Before I left on my 1 week Christmas vacation, I had an emergency repair on my fridge to the tune of $329, which is a substantial fraction of the purchase price. (It seems like it was about $1000.) Imagine the pleasure upon my return from vacation, when the fridge is exhibiting the same failure symptoms as before. Sears says they have no appointments until the 2nd, the same day as my electrical upgrade starts. The bottom of the fridge and freezer stay cold, so I'm only slowly losing food to thaw. I'm BBQing some tri tip tonight (two of them) as a result. No idea where I'll keep the leftovers. This fridge is a Kenmore side-by-side, manufactured by Frigidaire for Sears. It's only 23 months after purchase.

Theodore Payne In His Own Words

subtitled, "A voice for California Native Plants" was one of my Christmas reads. I received the book from Juli because of my interest in native plants, but it's only tangentially about native plants. The book is written in three parts. The first part is a fairly detailed account of Payne's life as a ranch hand on the Modjeska Ranch, now known as Modjeska canyon and one of the sites of recent wildfire in Orange County. The second and third parts of parts of the book are anecdotes about the nursery trade. There's a lot of local place references, so for someone who knows the South Coast it sounds like familiar territory.

Here's some of the parts I found interesting:

One afternoon my wife and I went to Redondo Beach. We walked out onto the sand dunes where I usually collected seed of Bush Sunflower, White Snapdragon, and a few other things. I found the Beach Wallflower was ripe, so while I gathered some of the seed, my wife sat down and read a magazine.
Pretty soon a woman came along..."What's it good for, rheumatics?...Makes a good tea, eh?" she exclaimed and started furiously to grab all she could. If she saw a plant before I did, she would try to beat me to it. I was only interested in the seed spikes but she took the whole plant. After gathering all she could carry in her apron she left.
(Seed Collecting at Redondo Beach, p. 131)

From Goleta I went by train to Ellwood Station to visit the Ellwood Cooper ranch. Ellwood Cooper came to Santa Barbara in 1870 and bought this ranch. he became interested in growing eucalyptus and by 1875 had 50,000 trees growing....
I enjoyed meeting them very much. I visited this place on a number of occasions in later years and Fanny Cooper, one of the daughters, collected seed of various kinds of eucalyptus for me.
(p. 95)

During the Eucalyptus boom in Southern California which started in 1907 and continued for five years, there was a good demand for young eucalyptus trees in flats. Quite a number of small Eucalyptus Nurseries sprung up almost overnight. Many of these were operated by people who had regular jobs and who did this work in their spare time. A man would rent a vacant lot, have a water meter installed, purchase a quantity of flats and seed and raise perhaps 50,000 or 100,000 trees.
I supplied many of these dealers with the seed and helped dispose of their young plants....On one occasion I had a customer for a carload of young trees of the Red Gum (Eucalyptus rostrata) to be shipped to the San Joaquin Valley. I made arrangements to buy these trees from a man who raised them on Crocker Street. He was a stock broker by profession and had taken up eucalyptus raising as a side line.
(p. 132)

The Eucalyptus boom burst about 1912. There was now no demand for seed or trees. I had over 100 pounds of seed on hand. Nobody wanted it.
(p. 145)

There's no lesson here about the housing market, is there?

In April 1896 I entered the employ of the Germain Fruit Company, Seed and Plant Department....In those days Germain's handled pampas plumes which were then grown extensively here in Southern California. I represented the firm on this trip and sold over 40,000 of these dried plumes on London, Hamburg and Erfurt. (p. 191)

When I first came to California, what impressed me perhaps more then anything else was the wonderful native flora. But as the years went by it was with deep regret that I saw the wildflowers so rapidly disappearing from the landscape. I made up my mind that I would try to do something to awaken a greater interest in the native flora. Thus it was the a I began to specialize in the growing of wild flowers and native plants. I collected seed of a few kinds of wild flowers, grew then and offered the seed for sale.
Little or no success attended this first venture, it being generally conceded that it was foolish to waste time on "wild flowers." As a demonstration I secured the use of a vacant lot in Hollywood and sowed it with wild flower seeds. I went to Walter Raymond of the Raymond Hotel in Pasadena and asked him for the use of a piece of ground for sowing wild flower seeds. Mr Raymond readily consented and the following spring there was a splendid display. I also secured the use of two lots in Pasadena, one on Green Street and the other at the corner of Lake and Colorado, which I sowed with wild flower seeds. All these plots were greatly admired and I received complimentary letters from many people. This was really the beginning of wild flower planting.
My first wild flower catalog was a very modest little booklet published about 1906. (p.192-193)

Creeping up on To Do list strikeouts

I dropped some yard debris landscaping rocks off with my brother and sister in law this weekend, freeing me of the psychic burden of trying to use them in my landscape. They didn't fit in here, plus I have enough brick and concrete to do all the hardscaping chores that I envision. (Design guideline: Too many building elements makes it look bad.) Looked on as one of a chore cascade, this gets me incrementally closer to striking off some parts of my To Do list, which is again updated as of today.

Garage cleanup is going well which is a direct item on the To Do list and preparation for the coming Electical Nirvanna, provided it doesn't rain.


Places nearby where I could partner dance, if I wanted to and had the time and energy


Cowboy Country in Long Beach
Regency Ballroom in Lomita
Dancer Avenue in Lomita (was Stardance Studio)
Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo
Ballroom Craze in Long Beach
Joslyn Center in Manhattan Beach - Swing and Sway dance on the 2nd Friday of ea month general dancing w/special themes 8-11p
Joslyn Center in El Segundo - Saturdays 7-9:45p, mostly ballroom
South Bay Dance Club (formerly Hughes Social Dance Club) - Fridays, 1st & 3rd of ea month 630-930p
Alpine Village in Torrance
Mayflower Ballroom Wednesdays in Inglewood
Elks Club in Redondo Beach

Christmas vacation

Christmas holiday was in Santa Barbara with family. Meals were delicious - crown roast of pork and boeuf bourgogne for dinner on Christmas Eve and Day, respectively. A new recipe for persimmon pudding was enjoyed, though it was quite a bit lighter than the traditional one. I got some reading in, both for work and for pleasure, some computer upgrades (I Linux'ed an older laptop to use as a wireless terminal), a hike with my son. My brothers and sister were there and my son enjoyed time with them as well.

We saw some old and new family friends, and my son and I took pot shots with a pellet gun at tin cans one afternoon.

The winter freeze in early 2007 (end of the 2006-2007 winter) resulted in bumper crops of acorns across the state (see Masting) and I think that my brothers and I have planted well over 200 acorns from local trees on the Upper 40. We tried last year but with no success - those acorns were far fewer and were prepared according to directions at the California Oaks website, but many became moldy after only a couple months storage. This year we plucked them right from the trees, scraped a divot out in the ground, and covered them up. If all goes well, then we'll choose the ones we like in a year or two.

The woodpeckers had filled an acorn granary in the tall palm trees in the front yard so full that in winds up to 80 mph one night, the trees dropped the acorns like salt from a salt shaker - hundreds all over the ground. There were still plenty left on trees to refill the granary the next day.

The same high winds hit here in LA, but I don't think that they carried the same soot as the winds in Santa Barbara. I came out after two days of winds to find the soot in drifts up to 1/16th in. thick on my car. The soot was from the Zaca fire. Despite significant rain I guess it was still dry enough to kick up in a high wind.

LA Times on fire recovery of California native plants

While away on Christmas vacation with my son I read a promising article in the print edition of The LA Times about native plant recovery around a home lost to fire in 2003. It was a bit brief on the text, but that's to be expected during a time when many are on vacation. I've just now looked online and what I wasn't expecting was that the online version would be so much better, with far more pictures and more vibrant colors.

December 27, 2007

IF one were to look back at Southern California's top news stories of the year and wonder how a victim of wildfire could find solace in the loss of a home, Michael Bright has an answer.

In October 2003, as fire spread across Palmer and Evey canyons north of Claremont, the flames charred not only the manzanita-covered hillsides but also the house that Michael shared with wife Mary. Their life's possessions were lost.

But as the couple worried if they could recover from the blaze, the landscape surrounding the ruins of their home provided some inspiration. Just three months after the wildfire, signs of life began poking from the blackened ground.....

LA Times article on fire recovery of native plants.

LA Times photo essay on fire recovery of native plants.

The photo essay is linked from the article.


The LA Land Tree of the Week is Juglans californica var californica, also known as Southern California Black Walnut to you and me.

I've taken an interest in our native walnuts since going on the Payne Foundation garden tour and stopping to see a remnant walnut woodland in Encino where a road was once planned, but never put in. Walnut woodlands are far rarer than oak woodlands because they generally coincided with places people wanted to put homes. While there, we were encouraged to take several green walnuts with us, which I subsequently planted and which grew marvelously well without any special treatment. Several are now on the upper 40 slope at my parents' place as experiments and one is still in my back yard.

Aside: Dog latin plant names and plant nomenclature seem designed to trip one up. Here's one bit of trickiness that I think I've figured out. If you were to point to an arbitrary "Southern California Black Walnut" growing wild, then it would be "Juglans californica". However, if you were to purchase it from a nursery, you would get "Juglans californica var. californica" (frequently also "Juglans californica californica"), which is just a way of describing that the purchased variety was originally selected by the nursery trade from among a large number of wild Juglans californica plants, and may well be propagated from a cutting to ensure growth habits consistent with those known for the parent plant. (As a further aside, this makes it a clone of its siblings, which ought to be a consideration when thinking about biodiversity issues, though I would guess this is far from most gardeners' minds.)

I disagreed with some of the preferred habitat descriptions that were called out in the Tree of the Week, ("the SCBW prefers to grow on moist sites, northern slopes, and in streamside woodlands accompanied by oak or cottonwood") so I looked to some web resources at the Payne Foundation (my old favorite online plant reference guide) and Calflora (my new favorite online plant reference guide) . Consulting with both references, I found no preference for moist growing conditions. In fact Calfora states, "Wetlands: equally likely to occur in wetlands or non wetlands."

I was about to move on when I happened to look at some of the pictures of Juglans and noticed that the leaves were quite different from the plants that I have started so successfully in my back yard and on the upper 40. The leaves on my plants are pinnately lobed, but on Juglans they are invariably described and pictured as ovate to lanceolate (in other words singly pointed, not lobed). Is it possible that the juvenile growth habit of the leaves is different than the mature growth habit or did I just get a bunch of something other than Juglans but which resembled a walnut very much?

This is something I'll have to track down.

EDIT 30 Dec 2007: I asked my local nurseryman and the consensus is that the plant is Lavatera. I was told Lavatera maritima, but there's no Calflora listing under that species name. Comparing leaf shape and growth habit to the pictures I get Lavatera assurgentiflora (tree/bush/island/San Miguel island mallow), a California native flowering shrub to 15 feet tall. This is a nice plant with beautiful flowers that is happy to coexist with oak woodlands.


More rain 0.11"

0.11" of rain today and tonight. The storm seems to have passed and the forecast is for sunny skies for the next week.

Endangered species in my neighborhood

A recently released EIR for an underground aviation fuel pipeline to LAX calls out Coulter's goldfields among other California native plants as growing in a nearby sensitive area (the circular border of the sensitive area ends only blocks away from my house near the Lawndale / Hawthorne border). I suspect the naturally occurring goldfields are long gone, but if not then I have to suppose that seed that I have strewn about my yard willy nilly may dilute the local wild seed gene pool.

Above is a map of the sensitive areas. Despite its large size it has poor resolution even when viewed within the EIR from which I took it. The conspiracy theorist inside wonders if that's purposeful in order to obfuscate exact locations?

In addition to goldfields, also indicated in my area is San Bernardino aster (asters are in the parent family of sunflowers, I think). The next closest (and somewhat overlapping) sensitive species is California Orcutt grass ("An old report from the junction of Western Avenue and Rosecrans Avenue in Los Angeles around the old municipal airport is apparently an extirpated site." Orcutt grass is associated with vernal pools, now presumably paved over. ). Prostrate navarretia, another vernal pool plant in the flox family, is also located nearby.

According to this map, other endangered plant and animal species observed in the South Bay (LAX to PV, beach to Lomita) include Lyon's pentachaeta, Pacific pocket mouse, Mohave tui chub, coastal California gnatcatcher, tricolored blackbird, southern tarplant, Coast (San Diego) horned lizard, South Coast saltscale (Atriplex pacifica), Orcutt's pincushion (so rare or inconsequential that Calflora.org has no picture?), beach spectaclepod (Dithyrea maritima), spreading navarretia, coastal dunes milk vetch, Parrish's brittlescale, Brand's phacelia (not indexed in Calflora.org under that name).

If I could find some, wouldn't it be cool to propagate seed from some of the local plants?


Rain 1.0"

Exactly 1.00" of rainfall in my backyard from the storm ended today.

Grace reported 1.3" in a comment under the last rain update. She's about 3 miles away. I find it interesting that there can be a 30% difference in rainfall over such a short distance when the storm had a good 16 hours or so to distribute itself over our back yards.

Despite the inequities of local rainfall, I was out in it last night scattering small amounts of seed in the meadow and front yard: Goldfields and Lianthus. My lesson from last year is not to scatter too much seed, though I would guess that not a whole lot could grow through densely planted yarrow in the meadow area. Some remnant seed from last year has already sprouted at the edges of the meadow. Hopefully nature will have a better aesthetic sense than I did and I won't get a thicket effect again this year.

California native plant interest list II

01 May, 2008
03 April 2008
21 Mar 2008
10 Feb, 2008
05 Feb, 2008

This is a list of (mostly) California native plants that I'd like to know more about or that I know I'd like to try gardening with.

Venegasia carpesioides (Canyon Sunflower) - might be fun, 5-6' tall, bushy, sand to clay, part shade to sun, semi-dry to regular water. Las Pilitas will have this in the summer.

Dodecatheon clevelandii clevelandii "Shooting Star"- no widely acknowledged common name. I've seen some references to "Padres Shooting Star". Grows to 18", spring flowers, wide soil range, semi-dry soil. I've ordered seeds from the Payne Foundation 5 Feb 08 and planted them. No visible growth as of 21 Mar, or as of 1 May. I read somewhere that the seeds are hard to germinate, requiring cold stratification, so it's perhaps not surprising that I haven't seen any germination from this plant. "One of the most most stunning wildflowers" according to calflora.net (not to be confused with also excellent calflora.org)

Linum lewisii (Blue Flax) evergreen, blue summer flowers, arching branches to 18", sand to clay, sun to part sun, dry to regular water. I've ordered seeds from the Payne Foundation 5 Feb 08 and planted them. No visible growth as of 21 Mar. Some growth in the 4" pots that I seeded. 2" to 4" plants as of 1 May 08.

Thysanocarpus spp. (laciniatus, curvipes) - lacepod or spokepod. Annual flower 15" tall with distinctive wheel shaped seed pod.

Castilleja exserta (Owl's Clover) - annual

Claytonia perfoliata (Miner's lettuce aka wild Purslane) - for my vegetable garden or let it naturalize around the flower beds. One reference had clatonia perfoliata mexicana called out, but subsequent search of the web didn't turn that up. Payne Foundation has seed in their current seed list. I've ordered seeds from the Payne Foundation 5 Feb 08. Got more seed 15 Mar. Remains to be seen if I can naturalize it in my yard. 01 May: Failed. Peat pots, scattered seed, and 12" One Pot project all failed. Maybe it really needs earlier sowing.

Wyethia angustifolia (southern mule ears) - Sun to partial shade. Heavy soil preferred. Slow (even glacial) to initially establish and spread. Could go along fence in back. Hmm - fence comment and earlier was apparently when I thought this was a different plant. A little more sleuthing turns up awhole bunch of different Wyethia at Calflora.org I should use Calflora more often, it is a bit more sophisticated than the nursery info sites. When I first wrote this, I must have been thinking of...

...Wyethia ovata, which has a really distinctive broad and vertical leaf. It's also native to LA County. Feb '08 - I have asked local native plants people to see if traded seed can be found. Appears not to be available in any nursery.

Aster chilensis (Coast aster) - Native to SB County and parts north. Will stabilize hills. Use on Upper 40?

Madia elegans, Tarweed. Apparently has indescribably good scent, yellow flowers, 6-36" tall (Larner Seeds has it at 4' to 6' tall!) Stover Seed has it in their database. Not available at the Payne Foundation as I write this.

Digitalis (Foxglove) - not native, but interesting to me because of historic medicinal use. This is in my "edible" plants category.

Here's the list of plants that were formerly on the interest list.

Fraxinus dipetala (Flowering Ash, no widely accepted common name) shrubby tree. Native in Los Angeles County chaparral / transverse ranges, requires excellent drainage so not suitable for my garden.

Fraxinus velutina Torrey (velvet Ash, Arizona Ash) is also native to Ca and grows locally in the wild. Not interested in using it at this time.

Salix exigua? (Narrowleaf Willow as seen in the Madrona Marsh demonstration garden). Western states native if it's really exigua. Bamboo-like. Elegant screen. 10'. Don't really have a place for this in my yard, but I really like its growth habit.

Sidalcea malaeflora (Checkermallow) - This is on my list from some time ago when I missed out on the sole example at the fall Payne Foundation plant sale. Got some at TPF 15 Mar. Planted two in meadow.

Symphoricarpos mollis (Southern California Snowberry, Dwarf Snowberry, Creeping Snowberry) to 1' high, shade to coastal sun, tolerates clay. Purchased at TPF 15 March and installed in garden as experiment. Very nice delicate looking leaf and growth habit. Under pepper tree. Very elegant looking.

Betula occidentalis (sometimes identified as water birch, but no widely accepted common name) shrubby tree. Not wild in Los Angeles County, so of less interest.

Salvia apiana (White Sage) - Want to use in place of Morea off front porch. Purchased at ToL Nursery on 9 Feb and planted in front yard. Died. Lack of water during establishment period?


Electrical nirvana starts on Jan 2

I have a signed contract and a start date (weather allowing) for a panel upgrade: Jan 2. I'll need to clean and prep the interior garage corner and wall between now and then where all this will all take place.

$1800 buys me the new panel, an interior 150A subpanel, and two ground rods (one in the earth outside and one through the concrete floor of the garage, thereby avoiding the narrow side yard). I'll add a 120V exterior receptacle, a 120V 4-gang interior outlet in the garage, and an empty 240V receptacle and box (also in garage) for a couple hundred bucks more.

I am doing the stucco repair afterwards and consider this a good price.


More 15 minutes part II

The second of my home improvement posts has appeared over at the Times. The first post had a couple questions, which I answered. The second post has only one response (mine) at this time. That's par for the course with Kathy's blog - it hasn't seemed to generate the fevered interest of other LA Times blogs. Actually, I'm pretty flattered to have the two responses.

The original text I wrote is listed lower down the page here. I had to use blogger.com as a text editor while composing my post over Thanksgiving.

I think the Times did a good job of focusing my verbiage, short cutting my non-obvious humor and slightly pedantic style, and stitching in captions to the pictures that I provided. Bravo Times! Actually, I suspect Peter Viles (of their Real Estate Blog) did the editing, since I got a couple emails from him during Kathy's absence. There's a definite craft to journalism writing.


Decline of the West as seen through a martini glass

Consider this: “Five dry martinis symbolizing the decline of the West — up with twist.”

Rain 0.35"

0.35" last night. Cold winds (for California) blowing tonight.

Edit 12 Dec: There were a few more scattered showers that didn't leave enough to record. With the 0.35", the seasonal total is 2.14" in my back yard. 2.18" is the median rainfall over the past 60 years by the end of December. You might think, therefore, that we're on track to end up with a median or greater amount of rain this year but with weather it's still anyone's guess.


More of my 15 minutes

The LA Times is running an article I wrote in their home improvement blog, Pardon Our Dust. I and several others were asked by maestra Kathy Price to fill in during her absence. When the second part runs, I'll unveil the original here so that we can all check out the editing.

I'm not unhappy with the editing job, since I feel that they made a few improvements.

Grace noticed first and asked in another post if I had before pictures. She asks, "I saw your kitchen remodel in Pardon our dust. Will you show pix of your kitchen in its current state?"

Ans: I wasn't planning on it, but when I clear some stuff out in preparation for taking down the wall I'll be sure to snap a few before pictures.


Electrical nirvanna, one step closer

Gene from 1-Stop was by again today and we talked prices and schedule.

He'll give me a written quote in a day or two. I need to get him the authorization number from Edison (it has a three letter acronym that I can't remember now). We discussed how to address my concerns about the ground wires protruding out too much into the side walk. My idea was to drill through the garage floor and hide them with cabinetry. Gene thought he could drill through the sill plate and keep it really out of sight. Another alternative is to locate one just around the corner from the panel (outside) where I can protect it with some PVC pipe when I regrade and put in a new patio / work area.

We have a start date goal of Jan 2.

Update 11 Dec 07: I needed my "MSR" number from Edison in order to proceed with the permit application and I obtained it via a series of voice mail exchanges with Tom C last week. (705420) Today I called Gene to let him know I had it and set up a meeting on 13 Dec to go over the bid.

Bringing Nature Home

There's a post over on Garden Rant about a new book by Doug Tallamy, _Bringing Nature Home_, which urges you to plant 100% native gardens.

The book sounds interesting, but I'm linking mostly because of the follow up comments by Chuck of the whoreticulture blog, who has some very specific advice for California native growers.