Douglas Iris noxious weed?

Yep, it appears that it is.

I was looking through noxiousweed_ratings.pdf on the California Dept of Food and Agriculture website and was surprised to find "Iris douglasiana Herb." with a rating of "C". (Simplistically speaking, noxious weeds are rated A through C. A = worst, B = worse, C = bad. Q rating is a provisional A rating.)

Since Iris douglasiana is a native plant, I wondered how it could be on the CDFA noxious weed list. Here's the answer::

"species are native to California and under most circumstances are not troublesome weeds. However, in highly disturbed places, such as heavily grazed meadows and some forestry sites, these hardy plants can aggressively proliferate and form extensive, dense stands as other native plants decline. Leaves and rhizomes are toxic if ingested, but rarely consumed by livestock because of the bitter taste."

So there you go. Native plant or noxious weed. You make the call.

"A" – Eradication, containment, rejection, or other holding action at the state-county level. Quarantine interceptions to be rejected or treated at any point in the state. This weed hasn't yet escaped to the point where we've given up on it, so perhaps we can nip it's spread in the bud, so to speak.

"B" – Eradication, containment, control or other holding action at the discretion of the commissioner. If we have extra volunteers, let them work on this weed.

"C" – State endorsed holding action and eradication only when found in a nursery; action to retard spread outside of nurseries at the discretion of the commissioner; reject only when found in a cropseed for planting or at the discretion of the commissioner. This one got away from us and it's naturalized so much that we're mostly ignoring it now.

Edible plants that I'd like to know more about

This is a living list, growing as I add to it.

last updated
30 May 2008
27 May 2008
3 April 2008

I wrote a different list earlier, which I completely forgot about when I first wrote this blog post. It was only after a week or so that I remembered. It's interesting that I have some duplicates and encouraging that even though I'd forgotten about the old list, I've tried to grow or eat several of the plants on it.

Celeriac (Celery root) - Winter vegetable, not a starch, long growing season (112 days), not _actually_ the root of grocery store celery but you can use the upper parts of the plant like a drinking straw. Bloody Mary with a "celery" straw, anyone?

Orach - like spinach but better? A Thinking Stomach says it grows great in Pasadena and keeps its flavor even when it bolts.

Mâche - bolts easily but grows quickly so you can always have it in your line up.

Fukushu kumquats - Old variety from Japan. Supposed to be better than Meiwa variety commonly available.

Sorrel - leafy green perennial, salad seasoning, fish sauce, puree in soups, etc

Sunchoke Helianthus Tuberosus (Sunchoke is a new name. They were formerly known widely as Jerusalem Artichokes) - native N. American plant in the sunflower family. November to March harvest of the root (not the flower).

Lovage - This is on the old list, and I'm trying to start it from seed right now. 27 May - failed completely to start this from seed.

Artichoke - The Press-Telegram had a 5/19/08 article on artichokes. "`Imperial Star,' a variety developed by the University of California a dozen years ago, is widely acknowledged as the best artichoke for California growing. ...There is ample evidence that artichokes grown from seed have stronger heat resistance than those clonally propagated by division. If you planted `Imperial Star' from seed at this time of year, you would begin to see fruit in late fall, once the plant had been exposed to 500 hours of temperatures below 50 degrees...Letting the plant flower, however, saps its vigor and shortens its productive life....Artichokes prefer a soil amended with compost and will accept asparagus, lettuce, summer savory and parsley as companions in the same garden bed....None of these edibles will abide standing water, yet none of them will grow effectively when water-deprived. Two good weekly soakings should keep plants happy once they are well-rooted but they may be watered more often as long as soil drainage is good. An application of mulch is advisable to extend watering intervals....Once you complete your artichoke harvest in early spring, immediately cut your plants all the way down to the ground. Provide an ample supply of nitrogen fertilizer and watch as they begin to grow again. You can order `Imperial Star' artichoke seeds from Territorial Seeds at (800) 626-0866 or www.territorialseed.com; or from Park Seeds at (800) 213-0076 or www.parkseed.com.

Scotch Broom at Home Depot

I was by Home Despot today and noticed two full pallets of "Sweet Broom" for sale. I got a little alarmed that looked the same as the invasive pest plant Scotch Broom, but after some friendly conversation with the Los Angeles County Ag Dept determined that apparently it is not. Sweet Broom is a hybrid that is sold by Morovia (Cytisus x spachianus) and apparently not invasive, so far as we know at this time ("Great for dry hillside plantings and naturalizing" says the ad copy).

Although we don't know what the Broom labeled as Azaleas in this blog post really was, one can hope that it's a similar hybrid.

However, while browsing the online literature about invasive plants in LA County, I came across this one, which calls out the Castor Bean plant as highly undesirable due to toxicity and invasiveness. This is the plant that recently made news in connection with an aborted terror incident in Nevada, I think. The toxic agent Ricin can be made from the seed, but some gardeners like the distinctive look of the plant in spite of its drawbacks.

Coincidentally, I had seen uncommonly many seed packets for sale at my regular garden center only the other day. I called them and alerted them to what was on their seed rack and they said they would take them right off. I think they responded with alacrity due to the toxicity issue, mostly, but it was nice that they were so responsive. The seed rack is not stocked by them - the seed distributor does it, so they didn't know what was on it.


Report from a local nursery; vegetable garden

I'm ill, so doing light duty tasks this weekend.

I stopped by local nursery South Bay Gardens to pick up some tomato starts: Early Girl and Celebrity. I want to get a start with those, then move to harvest the ones I have from seed.

I was surprised to see that although the nursery had a fair number of different tomato plants, that there weren't many in terms of their total numbers. I also missed seeing many of the heirloom varieties that they had last year. When I mentioned this Alan behind the counter he commented that he just can't keep them in stock - tomatoes in general have been far more popular than last year and the heirloom varieties are more scarce from his supplier.

I've read elsewhere that people are re-focusing on vegetable gardens, so perhaps this is another piece of anecdotal evidence to support that idea.

At Alan's suggestion I picked up some Swiss Chard "BrightLights" seed. It had several things to recommend it, including being a beautiful, multicolored perennial. I haven't grown it before, though I have cooked with it.

My cauliflower have all bolted or look bad. I'm consoled by having recently read that it is the most picky of the cruciferous vegetables.

EDIT 20 Mar: Trey over at The Blogging Nurseryman speculates about a return to gardening, as the economy takes a dip. He thinks the simple pleasures and great vegetables from a home garden will be a trend in the coming year. Since he has many more years of experience than I, he's probably that much better a prognosticator.


Stonebird's photos

I don't know why I've been keeping the link to these photos of local wild areas to myself. Some of them are sublime. The focus is mainly on Ballona wetlands, but other areas are sometimes documented.

Book review and notes - Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens

Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas Tallamy has been next to my bed for a while. It's been out since 2007, so it's not exactly fresh off the presses. Slow starter that I am, I finished it only recently and thought I'd post a quick review and brief notes, since it has occasionally been the subject of controversy.

The bottom line is that I like and recommend the book. It's written in an approachable manner, with many fascinating color pictures that amplify on the text and the topic is timely given the increase of green thinking that is sweeping the nation.

The first half of the book is valuable to all gardeners. But starting around chapter 10, the book becomes much more focussed on east coast flora, and therefore of less interest to those outside that area. The opinions in the book are supported by citations from scientific literature and personal anecdote, though Tallamy admits that the data are incomplete and much work remains to be done. Nonetheless, he convincingly makes the case that extrapolation from the knowledge that we presently have suggests that urban and suburban gardeners can remediate the damage that human presence has had on the wild food web. (The food web is an extension of the grade school concept of the food chain, but with multiple redundant paths up and down. This concept and current understanding that we have of "keystone species" - species that are essential to preserving the food web, are covered early in his book. It's interesting to note that I'm confining this to a parenthetical side note and considering not even mentioning it at all because of its obviousness, but apparently until somewhat recently these concepts were not commonly understood.) The tone of the book is not preachy or histrionic. He makes his case calmly, with facts, anecdotes, and extrapolation: From Tallamy's point of view, it's not too late to do something that makes an essential difference.

Tallamy is an entomologist at the University of Delaware in Newark, so he takes a look at how humans have altered the historically longstanding food web as we've expanded into previously wild areas from the standpoint of disruption at the insect level. Looking one level up and down the food chain from herbivorous insects (by total tonnage the largest group of herbivores in the world and whose predation accounts for the most abundant source of food energy in the world) he pieces together an argument supporting the expanded use of natives as follows:

Tallamy takes as his definition of native plants as species "having a historical evolutionary relationship" with their environs. This definition does away with arguments, for example, that one can take a plant from anywhere in North America and plant it anywhere else, so long as the USDA hardiness zones are the same, and call it a native. By contrast, alien species do not have a historical evolutionary relationship with their environs and therefore do not participate completely in their local ecosystems. In fact, the nursery trade has made a virtue out of "pest free" plants, in other words, aliens which won't support significant amounts of indigenous insect life.

Because native insects have a common evolutionary history with native plants, the insects have a preferred diet of native plants and in some cases exist only on certain natives. Alien plants nourish far fewer (in number and in diversity) insects than natives, even those that have been here for 100s of years. (100s of years is quite short in terms of evolutionary adaptation.) Because insects feed on plants and in turn are fed upon by higher trophic levels (mostly birds), reducing the number of natives will proportionately reduce the number of higher higher trophic levels supported.

As remedy, Tallamy proposes that urban and suburban gardens favor native plants over aliens in order to take the place of the diverse woods and wildlands that they have displaced. As a corollary, we must actively guard (or garden) remaining "wild" areas to prevent intrusion of aliens. These steps, he argues, are essential if we are to preserve the next higher link in the food chain - birds, mostly, as well as other small mammals that eat insects.

In addition to native plant species, Tallamy recommends high diversity both in species and in structure. Structural complexity means having varied types of plants (grasses to trees and everything in between). This is logical from the standpoint of replicating the diversity of native habitats which provide for the habitat needs at many more cycles of life: The insect herbivores need both larval and adult food which are often completely different plants.

Finally, he points out that the beneficial insect predators that you want in your garden (such as ladybugs) need populations of prey insects (such as aphids) to sustain them or they will abandon your garden. Therefore the co-existence of small numbers of "pest" insects is necessary to ensure that the beneficial ones are there when you need them. Your garden won't be perfect, but he cites a study showing that even the most gardeners won't notice or perhaps care about 10% leaf damage, so there's the possibility of peaceful coexistence of a variety of insects, in balanced numbers, with peoples' requirements for nice looking plants. As for where to put these plants: He suggests shrinking your monoculture lawn and expanding your hedgerows to incorporate natives and increase diversity in a subtle way.

Here's an illustrative quote from the book on the topic of diversity.

In the East, the number one pest of ornamental gardens is the azalea lace bug (Raupp & Noland, 1984). This bug was introduced along with evergreen azaleas from Asia and now sucks the chlorophyll from alien azalea leaves wherever the plants are massed in a sunny setting, although the bugs won't touch our native azalea species. Why don't natural enemies, the insect predators and parasites native to North America, control this pest? Because the community structure of most of our gardens is far too simple to support the numbers and diversity of natural enemies required to keep the azalea lace bug in check. Picture a classic suburban foundation planting: a row of Asian azaleas along the front of the house, bookended by two arborvitaes. Just where are the natural enemies needed to control the lace bug supposed to come from? Ladybird beetles, assassin bugs, damsel bugs, and parasitic wasps can only live in a garden if there are enough types of prey available to support them at all stages of their life cycle. Because our classic suburban foundation planting is dominated by alien plants, the only insect available to support a community of predators is the azalea lace bug. When the lace bug population is small, which is the critical time for predators and parasites to prevent an outbreak, there simply is not enough [other] prey biomass in the garden to attract and support populations of natural enemies. And so the lace bug population explodes, the homeowner runs for the insecticide, and the goal of having an undamaged garden is lost.

One of the areas where Tallamy has come in for criticism is in his recommendation of trees as primary insect habitat. Of course, for habitats that didn't originally have a lot of trees, such as the California coastal prairie habitat originally around my house, this makes little sense. However, a reasonably careful reader of his book will note that in chapter 12 he writes, "I am also forced to slight western North America and focus on...eight states of the easter deciduous forest biome.... I restrict my discussion to this region because it is the only area for which we have done an exhaustive literature search for host plant relationships." So casual readers may misunderstand his writings, but the disclaimer is there for all to see, and the results are still quite interesting.

Working with moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera) as representative of all insect herbivores (apparently they represent over 50% of all insect herbivores in this country, so this is a good first choice) he then sets forth some interesting findings: Among woody plants, Oaks support the most Lepidoptera with 517 species, willows are next with 456, and Walnut, Beech, and Chestnut trees bring up the bottom of the list with 130, 126, and 125 each, respectively.

It's probably zeroth or first order correct to pull the tree genus' native to California directly from his list and assign them that relative rank in terms of insect value. However, there is no mention of the contributions of other plant types (groundcover, vines, shrubs, cactus, etc) so for areas of historically sparse woody plants, like California coastal scrub or prairie, there's no equivalent starting point to make most effective use of California's other plants.

Read an interview with Tallamy on Garden Rant.

A related link to BUGS - Biodiversity in Urban Gardens.

Your Home Technical Manual

These guys in Australia have it figured out. Now all they need is a web application where you can input your long. and lat. and get a graphical display of the sun on your house.

Home Technical Manual Windows, Eaves, and Sun Exposure.

Of course when they write northern exposure, you have to translate to southern exposure, etc.

Weekend roundup

I made more progress on pruning the Brazilian Pepper tree. This followed a blood donation to the Red Cross earlier in the day, so it was a bit more fraught with hazard than normal. However, I have a good track record of activity after giving blood and I managed to avoid becoming sick and dizzy while scaling the heights of the tree.
Here it is after I was done for the day. I'm making great inroads on my side of the fence and its taking well to the form I had in mind for it. I'm not on great terms one neighbor due to an old mistake but with luck I won't have to go on their side of the fence.
I dug some compost into the vegetable garden, both purchased and home-made. The soil changes from sandy at one end to clay-like at the other, so for vegetables both types of soil benefit from organic amendments. At the clay end, the garden soil changes suddenly into a hard clay that I don't really like to grow anything in. I'll be digging some of that up as I expand my garage area outdoor workspace - some will be garden and some will be useful work area. It's not a useful work space now because it's broken up by lame brick trim (not my doing) and set on multiple levels - about a foot of height separates highest and lowest areas.

While gardening I managed to step on a cultivator which promptly levered up and knocked me in the eye. Very cartoonish. Maybe next time I'll try following Road Runner into the tunnel painted on the wall. After I decided that I wasn't going to lose my eye, I applied a bag of frozen corn and went about my business. This made a funny story later that day when my parents visited, then later that night when I was dining with some of Juli's friends, and finally on Monday at work. Imagine how funny it could have been if I'd actually maimed myself.

After the cartoon emulation, I took out two of the Rosemary plants and replaced them with Artemisia. In addition to relieving the rather unrelenting green of the Rosemary, the native plants might attract more beneficial insects to the garden. The foliage contrast of Artemesia against Rosemary is more subtle than I expected, particularly when the underside of the Rosemary leaves are exposed - Below, I've recently uprooted the Rosemary plant's close neighbor, so its leaves are in a bit of disarray and we see both tops and bottoms of them. The bottoms are a lighter green than the tops. Gnaphalium is at left, Artemisia at right, and Rosemary in the background.

It's a key element of good garden design to consider foliage color and texture as primary plant attributes and flower color as a secondary attribute (or even as an incidental attribute). However, like many males I just don't have an intrinsic sense of whether these two go together. Placed side by side this weekend I was having doubts that they were sufficiently different to be noticed, but when mature I expect the difference to be more apparent as suggested below. There, I'm holding the Artemisia up so that it's backed by the dark green top sides of the Rosemary leaves.

Another design failing on my part is the failure to be bold. Small, tentative gestures - like one isolated Artemisia - risk being overwhelmed and perceived as an afterthought. Many Artemisia, boldly growing among the Rosemary, are a statement. I'm not confident enough to make a statement right out of the gate. Since I'm experimenting and can propagate from cuttings if I like them, I have two; not a bold statement, but hopefully not an afterthought either. I had also planned to hedge my bet by trying some Gnaphalium, but I'm having second thoughts about it since it dies back.

I noticed that there had been some predation on the leaves of my Ceanothus - not enough to complain about since it's only noticeable up close. Since I'm reading Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas Tallamy, I found this an encouraging indicator of a native insect species in my yard, because those leaves are tough and waxy looking and probably require some evolutionary adaptation to gnaw on. I'll post a review and notes from the book from the viewpoint of a California gardener later. I'm about half way through and finding it quite good, but it's begun to veer into east coast specific planting recommendations so I may end up just skimming the last half.


"Battle Royale"

I happened across the blog Invasive Notes the other day. It's an interesting read, written from a scholarly but personal standpoint, and appears to have a focus on plant politics and policy. I'll probably return from time to time for a larger perspective on native and invasive plants.

The article that caught my attention was Invasive Species: a Wicked Inconvenience; a battle royale which is commentary on the controversy at San Francisco Parks Bond: pennies for habitat! located at the Bay Area Bird Blog.

If you have a spare 30 minutes or so, it might be worth reading both blogs and the commentary on the Bird Blog.

If you'd rather spend the time organizing your sock drawer, you'll have to trust me to summarize: Bird Blogger bemoans the state of funding for SF Bay Area natural parks, he's verbally assaulted by activists with the opposite points of view, he responds even handedly, ad hominem attacks ensue, accusations of Nazism are thrown about, the activists are revealed to have a hidden agenda related to preservation/expansion of dogs-off-leash areas and mis-directed personal ax grinding. This is summarized at the meta-level on Invasive Notes, with appropriate policy insight, concluding with, "As with most issues related to the environment and related issues, fuzzy definitions are occasionally batted about, contributing to what I call the wicked inconvenience of, not only invasive species, but their obverse, endangered species. Ecosystems are a type of wicked problem, and this fascinating discussion thread highlights the chaos of competing stakeholders’ end views used to create particular group dynamics."

Shakespeare by the Sea starts 12 June

A Midsummer Night's Dream and Antony and Cleopatra are the two Shakespeare plays being put on by Shakespeare by the Sea this summer, starting 12 June.

The program brings Shakespeare to local parks across the South Bay. We've attended the last two summers with a picnic dinner.


Margaret's flower yard

Margaret's yard is looking good. She has mostly wildflowers visible at present, but there's a few shrubs in there somewhere too. Margarent lives closer to the beach, so she's on more of the sandy back dune soil, but she says that one block away it can be dense clay at the surface, probably an artifact of the the grading for her housing tract.

There's more beautiful photos at http://podfeet.com/NosillaCast/photos/margarets_flower_yard/album/index.html

All photos are courtesy of Allison Sheridan of the NosillaCast podcast hosted at www.podfeet.com A Technology Geek Podcast With An EVER So Slight Macintosh Bias.

Here's what Margaret had to say about her start with native plants:

'How I Started Native Planting' in Margaret's words
I have NEVER watered my lawn. Brown in summer, green in winter. Never believed in watering a lawn in SoCal. I grew up during the '70s drought, so I was well-schooled.

While riding my bike I met Brad Henderson before he planted. I admired his house. A couple of years later I read about his problems in the Daily Breeze. I remembered being outraged as I am very familiar with the (lack of) landscape in Lawndale. Reading the article I also discovered, "There is such a thing as California Natives that aren't succulents?!"

A few more years went by as I did not have money to pursue conversion of my lawn. By happy coincidence a friend's daughter was volunteering at the SEALAB and told me about their plant restoration projects. She urged me to contact Monica Acosta at the SEALAB.

One year later, I did. Summer 2006 - Dec 2006 I started weeding out my yard. December, 2006 I hired a friend to rake up behind me while I rototilled my lawn. My next door neighbor came out and SHE too decided to hire a gardener to rototill her yard. I was her catalyst. She even went inside and gave this book to me: 'Gardening With A Wild Heart' by Judith Larner Lowry.

Yard rototilled, I headed off to the SEALAB and met Monica. She warned me that her plants are not the kind you see in gardens, but rather in seaside restoration projects. Also, I wouldn't get instant gratification. I was unfazed. Since I had no clue what native plants to buy (or even what they should look like), I followed Monica around while she described the plants. I did bring a drawing of my front yard with measurements as reference. Basically I said, "Give me 5 of those, 2 of those", and so on. Monica was also the one who gave me reference to Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Ranch Santa Ana Botanic Garden, 'California Native Plants For The Garden', The Complete Book of Salvias: Sages For Every Garden' and the name of the maintenance book that you and I got when we became Payne members. Monica also advised me to buy some wildflower seeds from Larner Seeds and just throw in the yard to kind of fill it in.

I went home and planted as well as laid down a pathway and brick work (with same friend who raked). It took us a couple of days. The following week we had the coldest night with frost on the ground. Everything survived! Plants in ground, I decided to read the 'Gardening With A Wild Heart' book. Boy, am I glad I did. The author has a militant, but not off-putting style about her. Her message was wonderful. Basically, to just do it and not get caught up in the details. She has a wonderful story in the book that starts out, 'A Plant Is Not a Couch'. Here is a passage from the book:

"A plant is not a couch" has been our motto for some years, somewhat cryptically calling attention to the element of uncertainty that is always part of dealing with living things. We hope to encourage our gardening customers to relax, take chances, be of good heart, take the losses lightly, and enjoy themselves.

I was so laid-back that I didn't even bother to research before I planted!

A couple of months pass by and no rain. I had by this time made a trip to Payne, and bought plants while my neighbor went to Las Pilitas (we gave each other our wish lists). I'm working on my yard +/- 15 hours a week. I received lots of compliments and questions from the dog walkers. Unlike you, I have not had any negative comments. Lucky for me, my neighbor two doors down has a run down, unpainted (until last year when the neighbor offered to paint at cost) and weed filled yard. I guess all the attention was focused there. Also as I was outside so much that first year, the neighbors knew I was up to something. Where was I? Oh yeah, a couple of months go by. I'm hanging out with my friend I hired to help with the initial demolition. She lives with her sister in Lawndale 6 months out of the year. Together we went to the Henderson house to check out his plants. Brad was outside and came over to talk. I proudly told him how we converted my yard and how I had met him years earlier. He was very gracious...even gave me a copy of the Huell Howser video. I watched it and was happy to see that he advises new native plant gardeners to read the 'Gardening With A Wild Heart; book. CHECK.

By this time I had also read the other books. I am glad I didn't start first with the Bart O'Brien books. It might have overwhelmed me. Very informative and NOW a good resource tool, but in the beginning I would have been paranoid that I was planting or maintaining incorrectly. Too much information is not necessarily a good thing.

I made it through that first drought year just fine. Even bought more plants from Payne as well as Rancho Santa Ana. Only my Dune lupines from the SEALAB died after about 6 months. They just did not like my clay soil. This year, everything took off. I even had to 'weed' some of the wildflowers so they did not crowd out my other plants. Summer, 2007 I rototilled the backyard and in Nov, 2007 I planted Festuca rubra molate and meadow wildflower seeds in the backyard. So far, so good.

Weekend activities

On Saturday I managed to get to both the Payne Foundation (by coincidence just one week ahead of their Poppy Days sale weekend, a time when they have great inventory but few crowds) and to the native grass planting party later that day.

At the Payne Foundation I used my member discount to purchase a number of the items on my purchase list.

Here's what I bought and didn't buy, and why:
  1. 1 packet of Claytonia perfoliata (Miner's lettuce) seed. I'll need to start it ASAP.
  2. Two Sidalcea malaeflora "Palustre" (Checkermallow) - They had tens in stock. I limited my purchase to two due to concerns about compability with my soil. Planted them in my meadow.
  3. Three Iris "Moonlight" (white with blue). I immediately planted these next to my others with the intent of eventually having a large drift of Iris. Apparently I shouldn't expect flowers until year three. The Iris already in my garden have only 1 year, but they've grown quite a bit in that time.
  4. I gave the Encelia californica (Bush sunflower) a pass, since it seemed based on the plant stake info that the size of the one I have would exceed my needs. I usually check that stuff before I shop, but I decided better safe than sorry. However, I've now come to distrust the plants stakes and "shelf talkers" at the nursery. See 7 and 8 for why.
  5. Symphoricarpos mollis (Creeping Snowberry) - one for experimental purposes, planted in the part shade under the Brazillian pepper tree in the back yard.
  6. Two Artemesia californica to interplant with my Rosemary hedge around my vegetable garden as an experiment. The foliage has a similar shape and the growth habit and cultural requirements are close. Contrasting silvery foliage against the dark green rosemary might be just the thing for pleasing visual contrast.
  7. Two Gnaphalium californicum (Everlasting (the common name it's marketed under) or Cudweed (a name I'm sure the marketing department wants to forget) ) to interplant with my Rosemary hedge around my vegetable garden as an experiment. Bought on a whim, I hadn't even heard of this before. It has fuzzy light green leaves, so I don't know if the color will work against Rosemary. Additionally, I thought it was advertised as perennial, but now I see that according to TPF online it dies back. Hmmm.
  8. Two 4" pots with Triteleia laxa 'Queen Fabiola' (Ithuriel's spear), lilac sprouts that were said to enjoy clay and full sun, so that's what it got near the compost bin. But screw me if the online information at TPF doesn't say it wants well drained soil. In fact, there's not a single lilac that doesn't want well drained soil. Hmmm Harumph.
So what explains the disconnect between plant information sources in items 7 and 8? Am I extra careless? Am I really not reading that well these days? Caught up in plant buying fever? Maybe TPF isn't vetting their nursery "shelf talker" info very well? I'm not too fretted, but I do like to start my plant experiments with at least a possibility of success on paper.

Checkermallow as planted.

Note: I wrote the previous paragraph earlier today but now that I'm home I checked the plant stakes that came with each pot and they say "evergreen" on the Gnaphalium californicum, which explains why I thought it was a perennial while shopping. Las Pilitas is a bit more informative than TPF on the matter, "A native biennial or short-lived perennial that grows in disturbed places. This species is a pioneer plant that helps to prepare the site, and aids in the establishment of longer-lived plants in the native landscape..." But the Triteleia disconnect is still unexplained.

Between slow traffic, a long wait at the gas station, and lunch, I made the native grass planting party only just in time. There were maybe 20 or 2 dozen people there and I worked with two others to plant about 25 juncus starts in a seasonal creek bottom in a reserve area at the edge of a new parking lot at CSUDH. Apparently the parking lot covers what used to be a preserve, and this little corner is all that is left. It has the potential to be nice habitat with some year old willow in the creek bed and appropriate grasses and shrubs all less than a year old planted in amongst the wild radish and other invasive aliens. I think that many of the volunteers were new to plants and planting, not just to new to native plants because there didn't seem to be a high awareness of proper planting techniques. Perhaps the greatest benefit will be the sense of ownership that the volunteers will have rather than the actual plants that they installed.

As a reward we were treated to free plants. I picked up some starts of Agrostis Pallens (Bent grass or Thin grass), a turf-forming native grass with a nice delicate look to it. I'll try it in a corner of the yard as a potential lawn substitute. Most others made a bee line for the Tidy Tips.

Dinner Saturday was with Juli, my brother, and his wife. We ended up talking over hot drinks
until late.

Sunday I just hung out until I left to get my son. The garden was growing nicely.

Phacelia with poppies in background.

Roger's Red grape vine climbing arbor.
Matilija Poppies going great. I think they'll be spectacular this summer.

When we got home he helped me start pruning and shaping the large Brazillian pepper that blocks my morning sun. I've decided that I'll lace it out and live with it for a while. If I still can't live with it, then I'll demo it.

Here's the tree after I've pruned it a bit. I last cleaned it out several years ago. Rosemary hedge in foreground. The neighbors have butchered the tree on their side of the fence over the years, but perhaps I can recover some pleasing shape.

You’re Invited to a Garden Tea Party - April 12

If you're not on the Payne Foundation tour then this seems like a fun event.

You’re Invited to a Garden Tea Party

garden tours / plant sale / native plant teas

Saturday, April 12th 2008, noon - 3:00 p.m.

Madrona Marsh Nature Center
3201 Plaza Del Amo, Torrance

Presented by the Recreation Services Division

City of Torrance Community Services Department
Friends of the Madrona Marsh with the support of ExxonMobil


Native plants on your plate - April 10th

This received by email. It looks like it's right up my alley, especially with the Clatonia that I just received.

Native S. CA Plants That Can be Eaten for Salads or Cooked Greens

“Out of the Wilds and into Your Garden” Series

Thursday, April 10th 2008 – 6:00-7:30 p.m.

Arthur Johnson Memorial Park
Community Room
1200 W. 170th St
Gardena, CA


Presented by the Friends of Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve, Inc.

April is usually a busy month for garden activities. Our 'Out of the Wilds' talk for April 10th (6:00 p.m.) features native plants that can be eaten as raw or cooked greens. Learn how to grow and prepare foods that will liven up your salads, soups, omlettes, etc. Yum - I'm getting hungry just thinking about it! We will bring several of the plants to class so you can try them.


Ultra climber on Fargo St

Dan G. sent me this link to video of him riding a modified bicycle up Fargo St in Los Angeles, a 32% grade. He went 4 times up this past weekend before the chain broke.

"Cycling Instructor/Aerospace Engineer uses a special bike he created to climb striaght up Fargo Street; the toughest hill in North America with a 32% grade for over 1/10 mile in length." Check out the head-mounted video camera.


North by northeast

I had a realization the other day that north wasn't where I thought it was and that the resulting shift in imagined versus actual sun exposure makes a lot of sense in explaining some of the challenges of my yard. For example, my side yards get blazing hot in summer, but remain damp and cool in winter. I've planted many (now deceased) things there that don't like either extreme. With the understanding that the "north side" fence does not really run E-W but rather NE-SW and accounting for the shift of sun angle winter to summer, I understand how the shade of my house can be as unrelenting in winter as the reflected summer sun can be six months later.

This ought to have been blindingly obvious years ago, but I persisted in using believing that I could account for the curved streets in my neighborhood using dead reckoning , even in the face of significant clues to the contrary. I'm replanning my kitchen porch / planting areas based on this tardy realization and considering the fate of a large and dense Brazillian Pepper tree that screens morning sun.

After this weekend's trip planned to the Payne Foundation, I think I'll be done with the natives for a while and I'll focus on my vegetable garden. Since some of my weird garden growth is now understood in the context of a better sun/shade model, I may be able to make wiser choices. One obvious solution is to use the front of the house for more food crops, since it gets the majority of the sun. Actually, the south-corner driveway is the ideal location for a vegetable patch. Well, some things aren't meant to happen.

I think that the soil in my vegetable garden needs a lot of organic amendments. My little composter doesn't really produce enough volume to remediate the soil, so I'll amend the soil if I have time.

The pictures below are nice because they were taken at different times of day and (presumably) in different seasons. They show some of the deep shadow that I have to contend with around the house.

I used Google maps satellite view, Terraserver, and a nice integrated mapping utility called Flash Earth.

My house is indicated with the green arrow here. See the deep shade in the back. My vegetable garden gets some of that shade.

In this picture the sun is a bit more southerly, judging by the angle of the shadows, so it must be closer to winter. You can see that the fence on the "south" side of the property makes a nice line of shade. I have sun-loving berries planted along the fence. They do well enough, but have always had a rust problem.


Purchase list for Payne Foundation

  1. Claytonia perfoliata (Miner's lettuce) need seed to augment the seed that my son scattered.
  2. Sidalcea malaeflora "Palustre" (Checkermallow) - Missed it last time around. They finally have it in stock, though I'd rather have the species. Should get several for use in the meadow, but now I'm having second thoughts since it prefers rocky and acidic soil so maybe I'll only get a couple.
  3. Iris - I need to put in some more for large drifts next year. Two hybrids in stock. Prefer "Pacific Coast Hybrids" for consistency with my existing plants.
  4. Encelia californica (Bush sunflower) - need two to interplant with the new sages in front
  5. Symphoricarpos mollis (Creeping Snowberry) - need one for experimental purposes
  6. Something that I can interplant with my Rosemary hedge around my vegetable garden. Ideas:
    1. Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostema lanatum). Similar foliage shape, 4' high 4'wide - can I keep it pruned narrow like the Rosemary?
    2. Mimulus aurantiacus - upright growth, cultural reqts same as Rosemary. Semi-deciduous could be ugly problem. Also M. puniceus "Payne's Red", and M. longiflorus "Verity White" as well as other M. longiflorus ssp
    3. Some exotic perennial herb TBD, Tarragon?
    4. Penstemon - lots of hybrids to choose from. P clevelandii connatus?


Weekend update III

Perhaps inspired by recent reading and viewing, I've refined the focus of my kitchen. Recently I'm interested in incorporating more vegetables - organic preferably or from the farmers' market, less meat, and trying to enjoy the meal with my family and others.

Here's a pizza from Friday night, a recipe that I've made before.
It had mozzarella, goat, and parmigiano cheeses on a Boboli-type crust. The asparagus (organic from Trader Joes) was peeled at the tough end and cooked beforehand.

I think I prefer peeled thick asparagus stalks to unpeeled slender ones.

On Sunday I made tuna melt sandwiches, but instead of the celery that I usually dice and put in the tuna fish, I added kohlrabi, a new vegetable for me. It has a very faint radish taste and not much else, however it also has a satisfying crispy crunch. My son protests that he doesn't like it, but I don't think that will last.

Sunday night I made colcannon. Recipes abound on the web, but it's little more than mashed potatoes with some greens mixed in. Usually cabbage is used, but I'd bet you could find a recipe for every green under the sun. I used kale from the farmers' market from which I cut the tough part of the rib, then chopped and steamed in a pan in which I'd earlier sauteed some diced onion in olive oil. The kale went right on top of the onion. The mashed potatoes were Yukon Gold with the skins on. A dab of leftover cream, some milk, a knob of butter, salt, and pepper were the other ingredients. After the potatoes were mashed, I stirred in the onions and kale.

I wrote in the previous paragraph colcannon is "little more than mashed potatoes with some greens mixed in" but although that's true, its also great disservice to colcannon. In the case of the kale that I added, it was transformative - juicy, crunchy, and a whole 'nother dimension of mashed potatoes. I'll be making this again.

I served the colcannon with half a smoked sausage from Valley Hungarian which I picked up on the way back from Wrightwood last weekend. Delicious!

Pollinators in my back yard


I was watching pollinators in my garden on Saturday AM. Bees were particularly active around the Ceanothus which was brilliant blue in the sun, but there was also a small wasp-looking thing (not shown below, but it was 1/4 to 1/3 the size of a European honey bee, long but narrow, with a banded abdomen. Reminded me of a termite.) and another that looked exactly like a housefly. In fact, the housefly look was so real, as was its movement, that I doubt that it was adaptive mimicry. Why would anyone mimic a fly anyway? So I guess I now have to count flies among the pollinators in my garden.

This isn't news to some, but there are far more pollinators on the native plants than any other plant around.

Weekend update II

I've lined out the broken tub spigot replacement on the To Do list! This was a real tale of triumph over adversity and uncertainty.

After some delay tactics doing chores that I know are well within my competency - replacing the kitchen sink washers to halt a slow drip there - I started with vise grips on the rusted nipple. They just crushed it down and I got nowhere. The pipe, normally a thick sidewall that could take this, was lace thin. I then took a hacksaw to the crushed pipe end and flared out the remaining stub with a large persuader - enough to jam a nipple extractor inside. I tried this tool on the advice of my local hardware store, but had no luck - the pipe was too corroded inside for the nipple extractor to grip well.

Finally I returned to the hardware store where I ended up with a #7 Easy-Out which did the trick after applying a whole lot of muscle.

Rex from Rare Earth News and Ballona Native Plants Compendium, who left me advice below deserves a huge thank you for his suggestion to use an easy out. The corrosion was localized to the spigot pipe nipple only, so I was able to just replace it with confidence that the rest of the pipes won't break similarly. I believe that the failure was brought about by corrosive cleaners, which got in under the spout and sat on the galvanized pipe, rapidly turning it to crumbles. This was aided by a leaky faucet (which I still need to tackle). Since this is my only bathroom, I felt extremely fortunate that I didn't disable it for more than a few hours. Juli advised me not to take on the faucet, and I have to agree that was the right choice for now; they are so corroded that I can't even get the handles off!

The new spigot doesn't mount flush to the wall because the "homeowner special" tile installation is waaay off vertical. Not to mention the spigot pipe doesn't come out exactly straight Neither of these are correctable right now, nor are they my fault. The bathroom needs a redo in the next couple years, so I'll get it then. For now, a healthy glop of caulk will hide it.

Photography credits: Juli.

Weekend update

I met Margaret at one of the native plant classes that I've been to recently. We share the fact that we've both recently taken on significant native plant garden projects. She happened to stop by on Friday and we spent an enjoyable 20 or 30 minutes chatting about native plants. She was seeking one of the other houses in my neighborhood that have converted their front and back yard plants to mostly Mediterranean species.

We discussed my front garden design and she agreed that the buckwheat I'd placed front and center was too large. That's OK. As a result of our conversation, I've put in a smaller buckwheat species - what I think is San Miguel Island or Red Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens). This species was profiled in a recent LA Times article by Emily Green. By coincidence, I already had one of those that I had propagated from cuttings taken when I saved what I could from the Cabrillo butterfly garden. I've now put it front and center, shoving a few of the overabundant Gilia and Poppies to the side. If it grows well in my heavier than optimum soil, I'll shovel-prune its bigger cousin. Problem solved.

My son was ill this weekend. Juli was infected in under 24H after contact and succumbed. I stayed healthy, perhaps because of a flu shot last year. Between playing games and watching movies with my son I managed to complete the backyard border and cross it off my To Do list. I spent some extra time moving the border to give me a bit more space to put plantings in and I feel it was well worth it. The nice thing about this border is that it can be moved and adjusted far more easily than the poured concrete concept that I started with. I have plenty of bricks left over - I'll use them on front entrance and bedroom side yard most likely.

I have a few plants left to put in and move, but I'm rapidly getting to done for this native plant season.

Other chores accomplished this weekend: mowing, edging, weeding, throwing crap out, donating old clothes to the Salvation Army, making three squares a day.

Here's the first part of the LA Times article on native buckwheat mentioned earlier:

LAST summer, a chef friend stood admiring the edge of my herb garden, joking that the blaze of color from the red-flowering buckwheat planted along the border was far too pretty to harvest for pancake flour.

In truth, I had no intention of grinding up the blossoms. It seemed incredible that even the most avid Russian blini maker ever had the patience to mill and sift the tiny flowers, which truth be told are not really red, but an intense dirty pink. Crush the flowers in your fingers and the seeds are so small, you can barely see them. You'd need an acre to produce a canapé.

It took native plants man Bart O'Brien to set me straight -- once he had stopped laughing -- that cooking buckwheat comes from another genus of plants, Asian in origin, called Fagopyrum. Our native American western buckwheats come from the genus Eriogonum, pronounced "air-ee-og-oh-num," and my floating and delicate red-flowering buckwheat is a species with the oddly aristocratic name E. grande rubescens.

So much for culinary references. Yet I couldn't rip this California native from my herb garden. No plant looks better planted in the foreground of dill and fennel, which also have spiring flowers. Moreover, long after dill is done and fennel quits in late summer, showing the limits of some immigrant plants in their adopted land, the native buckwheat is still flowering.
link to rest


PV surf camp

A potential summer activity:

An afternoon of grasses - 15 Mar

I'm thinking about going to this.

An Afternoon of Grasses

What: A fun afternoon focused on the native grasses of our region. We’ll talk about native grasses, plant a lot of them in our ‘Heritage Creek’ site and weed around previous plantings. You’ll go home tired, but knowing much more about our heritage grasses.

When: Saturday, March 15th 2008 - 2:00-5:00 p.m.

Where: ‘Heritage Creek’ demonstration site, CSU Dominguez Hills (see map, next page)

Who: CSUDH students, faculty & staff; community volunteers; anyone else interested in
learning about native grasses and meeting others who enjoy native plants

Contact: Connie Vadheim (jconroth att hughes dott net) to let us know you plan to come.
We will send more details & contact you if we need to reschedule due to rain.

Bring: Wear old clothes & study shoes/boots. Bring gardening gloves, shovels & trowels (if you have them). Wear a hat and sunscreen. We will supply water.
Getting to CSU Dominguez Hills

CSUDH is located at:
1000 E. Victoria Street
Carson, CA 90747


driving directions

Enter campus from Victoria (190th) at Birchknoll Drive. Continue on Birchknoll past 2 stop signs. You will turn into Parking Lot 7 (on right, just past the second stop sign) and proceed to the bottom (South) end. You should see people, plants and equipment there.

If you enter from University Drive, enter campus at Toro Center Drive, right on Pacific View, then left on Birchknoll to Lot 7


Kurt True Value Hardware

I was over at Kurt True Value Hardware today and got great service and advice from their well-stocked store. I've been there before, but somehow appreciate them more today.

I'm not the only one who is a fan of Kurt.

Kurt True Value Hardware
2404 Artesia Blvd
Redondo Beach, CA 90278-3208
Phone: (310) 376-3494


Farmer John; CSAs in Los Angeles

Last night we watched The Real Dirt on Farmer John, the first sad then joyful story of an Illinois farmer who is forced through a series of misfortunes to reinvent both himself and his farm. This is a family movie with a wholesome and uplifting message, although occasional interspersed footage of outlandishly dressed Farmer John and friends made me think at first that I'd soon be explaining alternative lifestyles to my son. However, by the time the movie ends you understand that John is just exploring art, culture, and belief. Some explorations caught on film tend to biodynamic extremes, which even he admits are founded in mysticism.


The movie ends on a note of triumph, as we see the current incarnation of John's farm as a large and prosperous community supported farm, delivering boxes of fresh organic food to urban "subscribers".

The movie inspired me to find out if there are any CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture, the generic term for farm subscription programs) near me, because I am not always able to make it to a local farmers' market. That urge led me to localharvest.org, an index of CSAs and farmers' markets. A little more clicking led me to The Tierra Miguel Foundation, apparently the only CSA that delivers widely through the greater Los Angeles area. Wednesday in Manhattan Beach is my closest delivery spot.

Current prices for the TMF CSA are $2000 for 46 weeks of Certified Organic produce. Farmer John offers 20 weeks (shorter growing season in Illinois) of vegetables only for $600. An every other week fruit share is available as an add on.

The TMF prices are less than $45.00 per week (compared with $30 per week for Farmer John), which is less than I spend at the farmers' market when I go, but I don't have a good feeling for how I would have to augment the share to make it through a week (adding fruit for lunches, citrus for juice, etc). One advantage of a CSA for me might be that it reduces shopping trips, provided I don't have to augment too much.

Other Los Angeles area related services

www.chowhound.com has additional discussion.