California native meadow apology / apologia

I owe some time and effort to my California meadow, which despite my neglect for a year or more, has come back to life with our recent rains, but it hasn't come back as it was originally envisioned or planned. It looks nice and green, but it's weed city.

This blog is both apology and apologia for my meadow, and a bit of a How-Not-To as well as a How-To for those considering a California native meadow of their own. Here's short time line of my learning process.

I started in December of 2006 or January of 2007 with an over-seeded (by a factor of 10 at least!) little patch next to the curb that I thought was ruined by the termite crew who trampled the seeds into the mud. The crew may actually have stimulated germination, and I grew a veritable jungle of wildflowers that first year. It was a visual and audible triumph with what must have been hundreds of bees buzzing into the mix of too too many flowers.

The original mix of nine(!) types of seed has had some winners and some losers:

1. Wild Heliotrope (Phacelia Tanacetifolia) - flourished in the meadow area for the first year. Afterwards spread to less competitive parts of the garden.
2. Goldfields (Lasthenia Californica) - I had a small patch the first year but these were overwhelmed by the taller flowers and I never saw them again.
3. Botta's Clarkia (Clarkia bottae) - never saw it.
4. Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia Unguiculata)- this grew nicely in the meadow and then spread to areas of the garden where it didn't have such competition.
5. Purple Needle Grass (Nasella Pulchra) - Didn't like the meadow area but flourishes beside it. I since read that if incorporating bunch grasses in a meadow, one should give the grasses a season head start to grow on their own before incorporating annuals.
5. Red Fescue (Festuca rubra molate) - This has been popping up in scattered locations for a while and making the whole thing look unplanned.
6. Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata capitata) - Vigorous grower, but it too now likes other parts of the garden with less competition.
7. Yarrow (Achilea millefolium) - Outgrew them all like the tortoise racing the hare. The root system and dense mat of yarrow kept out most wild flowers in subsequent years. It then died back and we've had a bit of a revival lately with mostly poppies among the yarrow.
8. California poppy (Escholsia of a couple varieties) - I didn't know enough to chose the coastal variety when I started so I have hybrids.
blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium douglasii)- inhabits the occasional spot where it can wedge in.
9. Foothill California Fuchsia (wild selection - most likely Epilobium canum latifolium) - A surprise success. It keeps popping up at the edges of the meadow, but can't seem to establish itself firmly.

I should have planted just a few different types.

After the first crop of wildflowers had bloomed, I realized that the taller wildflowers had allowed the lower-growing yarrow to insinuate its roots into all corners of the meadow and I was left with an almost monoculture yarrow "lawn" for the remainder of that year.

I thought it was pretty cool, but I allowed the yarrow to flower and get dried out and rangy looking and a year later it wasn't quite so cool. The lesson here is that since I have a suburban yard and garden, not an actual meadow in the wilds, it ought to look a bit more groomed which means mowed or string-cut every so often and irrigated enough to stay greenish. Plenty of people maintain mowed yarrow "lawns", so this isn't unreasonable.

The profuse wildflower bloom was never repeated, but the flowers have mostly managed to hang on in other parts of the front garden, so I haven't lost all annual wildflowers. I since learned that botanic gardens that maintain meadows actually work really hard to maintain the meadow aspects and even go so far as to solar-sterilize the soil every few years to keep the invasive weeds down. They also sow seed in defined drifts as opposed to my method of all mixed together - a good garden design guideline. They would also NEVER sow nine varieties in a spot this small. I ought to have started with two or three well-chosen varieties - maybe yarrow transplanted from a flat in order to space it out and control it more, the coastal variety of poppies, and one other.

In 2009 I took "drought tolerant" at face value, perhaps because I was feeling ambivalent about the whole thing, and the yarrow all but withered away so that by the end of last summer the whole meadow was looking pretty desolate and weedy. I had sprinklers, but I chose not to use them. I wasn't feeling good about my yard. When the yarrow dies back, the wind brought weed seeds to my yard which have infested the meadow area. Maybe some well meaning saboteur even scattered weed^H^H^H^Hgrass seed to help me out.

This brings us up to winter 2010-2011. Enough yarrow survived that with this winter's rain it's come back somewhat - but not to the monocultural levels that it previously was at. In the mean time, poppies have "popped" up in profusion among the weeds, perhaps because I scattered some more seed at some point. It turns out that the two dominant native plants still surviving are the same as a"lawn" mixture that Larner Seeds is selling.

The Grassless Lawn Combo

For light lawn use, strolling not soccer, we have had good success on the coast with a combination of Achillea millefolium, yarrow, and Eschscholzia californica var. californica, the coastal poppy. These two tough and vigorous perennials can be mowed for a lawnlike effect or left to flower for a flowery meadow. Drought-tolerant on the coast once established, it needs occasional water inland. Seeding rates: 12-15# per acre, 1# per 800 sq. ft., and one ounce sows approximately 50 square feet.

So I'm going to go with it. I have a 12 year old who can learn the art of weed pulling and we'll pull all those grassy weeds, put down some fine mulch to prevent more weeds, and let the yarrow and poppies duke it out.


0.86" rain; season total 13.47"

0.85" rain overnight ending in the early AM on 26 Feb.
0.01" hail and rain that fell briefly in the PM.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Juli made me do it

As of last weekend, I have a little brick and concrete paver patio in the back.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Rain 0.20"; season total 12.61"

0.20" on 20 Feb

The San Pedro annex recorded 0.30" for the whole storm, about half of what recorded.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Native plants at Home Depot

Juli and I were at Home Depot today. She first asked about Narcissus.
J: Do you work in the garden center? Ok. Do you have any Narcissus?
Slackjaw: Nasisus?
J: No, Narcissus.
S: Narsis? I've never heard of it. Turns to mouthbreather: How about you?
M: blank look and shrug

The conversation continued just as futilely but I wandered off. We were about to go to Anderson's in frustration, since at least the nursery staff are conversant with common exotic plants when we remembered that our pocketbooks prefer Home Despot.

We decided on Leptospermum scoparium "Crimson Glory" ( Crimson Glory Tea Tree ) that Juli wanted after finding the particulars of the three different selections offered on our smart phones.

Right next to the Leptospermum were 20 or more Ceanothus "Yankee Point" favorably priced at 5.98 for a 1 gal! Hmm what's this California native plant doing at HD?

Should I be looking for signs of the apocalypse or what?

We took a last crack at Narcissus with another nursery staff member who at least knew where the bulbs were located, but failed, and left.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone

Location:Torrance Crossroads

Rain 0.48"; season total 12.41"

19 Feb 0.45" in the am
19 Feb 0.03" by the pm

It's still raining, but we have yet to get anywhere near the 3" forecast for this storm.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Rain 0.26"; season total 11.93"

0.04" on 15 Feb
0.22" on 16 Feb

A couple more days of rain are in the forecast, including one report I heard today of 3" of rain in coastal areas.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Lupines persist in industrial park

An undeveloped area that I pass on a regular basis is slated for use as a large industrial and commercial park. This year and last I've noticed these nice lupines that persist in the weeds of the graded and waiting land. I believe that they were turned up from the native seedbank when the land was last bulldozed. I wonder if someone ought to harvest their seed to preserve locally endemic genetic variation?

It was about 3 years ago that the fields were leveled by bulldozer and I imagine that the real estate crash has contributed to them lying fallow for the past two rainy seasons.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone

Location:E Maple Ave,El Segundo,United States


Grow Native Nursery in Westwood

I visited the Grow Native nursery in Westwood last weekend on Superbowl Sunday. It was only a short jaunt up the freeway - the closest of any solely native plant nursery to me It's been open only since late last year and I hadn't had an earlier chance to visit because I've focused on home improvement tasks (which I decided were mostly not interesting enough to blog about since I was hiring others for the big stuff).

A partnership between Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System, helps train veterans on the propagation, care and maintenance of California native plants and offers beautiful plants for sale to the public. A weekly farmers and artisan market is held every Thursday from 12 to 6 p.m. RSABG members receive 10 percent discount on all purchases from the Grow Native Nursery booth at the market and at the nursery.

Juli wanted some of the coastal variety of California Poppies for her yard and some other native plants. Since I wouldn't ever discourage her from planting natives, off we went. They had a reasonable selection and we ended up with:

Wind Poppy (Stylomecon heterophylla) x2 pkts of seed. These are marvelous flowers that I hadn't even known of two years ago. Search on Google Images or see this or this.

Maritime Cal. Poppy (Eschscholzia californica maritima)- The coastal variety has yellow centers instead of the solid orange of the inland variety (in 1 gal pots x2)

A dwarf selection of blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum
probably ‘Rocky Point’) to go with a dwarf selection that she already had - based on growth habit they are the same selection but memory fails as to the correct selection. x2

A 1 gal Ribes speciosum (Fuschi-Flowering Gooseberry) a plant with wicked thorns that will be an impediment to prowlers at the bottom of her yard.

When purchasing, I was asked if I was a member of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens and when I responded that I was not, and regretted that I'd never visited, we received two complimentary tickets for admission.

I will have the pleasure of planting all these some time this weekend in the San Pedro garden annex.


The all new house

Freshly painted trim (Evan's Painting in San Pedro) and new green stucco (Jeff Graham Plastering in Torrance). Red door using Benjamin Moore Country Red was either my mother's or Juli's insistence, though I had done the work of picking the exact color in an earlier iteration of this color scheme. This proves that I do take advice, despite claims to the contrary.

The meadow and most of the native plants are highly unkempt, which explains why I haven't posted about them in a long while. I may have a longer native plant mea culpa later. For the moment the Aristida purpurea in the second photo is about as kempt as the natives get.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone