October garden retrospective

This is one of the things I like about my house. I took the photo with the HDR setting on my iPhone just before sunrise. The Giant Bird of Paradise (large leaf upper left)  will be a thing of the past when I get around to it.  For now, it's nice framing that continues the fiction of subtropical Southern California. 



Coppicing Agapanthus

Saul Jaramillo takes care of the nuts and bolts of my yard and last year he showed me a technique to renew Agapanthus.  I was skeptical, but it worked like a charm.  It's a simple cut-to-the-ground-and-let-it-regrow technique.  Since I have so much Agapanthus I've had to learn to live with them and make them look their best.  I'm gradually replacing them, but I can't foresee a time when I have none, so here's a photo of three plants at various stages of renewal.


'Roger's Red' and other 'new' plants

I finally made it over to the Payne Foundation for some bread and butter / meat and potatoes types of native plants.  Plant prices haven't stood still at any nursery I've been to recently, so I was happy to get the 15% members discount.

I picked up Vitis 'Roger's Red' ($8.00 in 1 gal).  I had previously purchased what I thought was one of these in a 4" pot at the local Ca. native plant sale, and I spoke to the grower at that time but I think he said something odd: That he'd grown the plant from seed.  Vitis 'Roger's Red' is an F1 hybrid of Vitis Califonica and Vitis vinifera.  F1 hybrids don't usually grow true from seed, instead assuming characteristics of one or the other of their parents, so they are usually grown from cuttings.  As I looked into it further, I decided that I didn't want to take a chance on the seed-grown specimen not being true to expectations so I purchased a "second" 'Roger's Red' and planted it last weekend.

I purchased three Iris 'Canyon Snow' ($10 in 1 gal.) and probably need two more to create the start of a drift of Iris that will begin to replace the Agapanthus near the driveway.  This area is visible from the street and I'm trying to plant it with natives that have good public appeal.  'Canyon Snow' is a hybrid and San Marcos Growers has this to day about it, "Pacific Coast Hybrid Iris that was introduced into the nursery trade by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. It was hybridized by the late Dara Emery, who in 1979 received the prestigious Mitchell Award from the American Iris Society for this beautiful hybrid Iris. In spring emerge the large flowers, which are white with bright yellow central markings on each petal. Iris 'Canyon Snow' is also noted for its vigor and bright glossy green foliage. As with other Pacific Coast Hybrid Iris, plant in a light acidic soil in full sun (coastal only), light shade, morning or late afternoon shade and water sparingly in coastal areas and more regularly inland."

Arctostaphylos 'Lester Rowntree'.  ($10 in 1 gal) This is for my hillside planting Tree of Life Nursery writes, "Lester Rowntree Manzanita was originally collected and named for the enthusiastic California plantswoman of the 1950’s and was introduced by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in 1982. It is thought to be a hybrid between two central coast species, Arctostaphylos obispoensis and Arctostaphylos pararoensis."  I've started reading Hardy Californians, by Lester Rowntree, and it's been an interesting read so far.  She definitely marched to the beat of her own drum.

Ceanothus 'Frosty Blue'.  ($8 in 1 gal) Another per plan for the hillside planting, which is detailed in another blog post.

Fremontodendron 'California Glory'.  ($14 in 1 gal) California Flora Nursery writes, "One of the Golden State's numerous native shrubs is the Flannel Bush, an inelegantly named shrub notable for at least three reasons: 1) strong yellow flowers; 2) lengthy bloom season; 3) horribly irritating hairs. The first two reasons sufficiently outweigh its drawback, supposing that gardeners plant it in the right location --ideally, where it is seen but not handled. Your neighbor's garden, for example." This was my  third purchase of the day for the hillside planting, and it's almost going in the neighbor's yard.

 "The generic name Fremontodendron dates from 1893. Before then, the genus was called Fremontia (1851), because it had been discovered in 1846 by John Charles Frémont (1813 - 1890), a celebrated soldier, general, politician, explorer and natural historian. Alas, Fremontia the name, however, had already been used in 1843, and so Fremontodendron (Fremont's tree) had to be substituted to be legal."http://www.arthurleej.com/p-o-m-Feb10.html

Chlorogalum pomeridianum (soap plant) and Calochortus venustus (Butterfly Mariposa Lily).

I also purchased some really superior plant tags the kind that are soft metal that you write on with a ball point pen, using the pen to indent your script rather than for its ink. 


Hillside planting plan

My back hillside is a mess, but hopefully it will be getting better.  The house and former pool deck look out over a city lights view that I could see and envision when I first looked at the house.  In fact, it was a deciding factor in the purchase of this house.

Here's a recent pre-dawn photo from my phone camera, through a window, and looking east.

Unfortunately, the former owners let their California Pepper tree run amok and its root, sprouts, and progeny infiltrated the hillside along with volunteer ash trees (another on the Do-Not-Plant-in-California list), a series of overgrown Oleanders, a volunteer palm tree or two, and more junk plants.

Last year around this time, full of enthusiasm and wanting to boldly check spread of the pepper tree and replace it with appropriately-sized natives, I made a series of mistakes which led to accidentally pruning (to the ground) across the property line, which runs at an odd diagonal angle up the back slope.  It looked terrible at first (but grew back just like I said it would).  Unfortunately, the neighbor seemed to think that this was an opportunity for profit and ended up with a settlement from my homeowner's insurance and I ended up with an eyesore fence on the property line that I protested, but was forced to accept.

So last year's planting plans came to a disappointing and grinding halt as I waited for the situation to resolve. I was depressed to have made the amateur mistakes of over enthusiasm that led to total garden work stoppage.  One thing I did do right, however, was to call Ric Dykzeul, a local garden designer.  He came over and assessed the hill and made some recommendations based on my stated willingness to actively manage the resprouting pepper, oleander, etc. as well as some overall recommendations for the back yard (which is mostly concrete, having been a pool deck before the pool was filled in).

Here's a plan that he sketched up for half of the back hill that I am slavishly following, mostly. North is up.  My house is to the west and the edge of the concrete patio is the dashed line.  The hillside descends steeply from the dashed line to the east and the plan ends at the property line fence, indicated by lines+X's. The remaining half of the back yard slope is much narrower and we didn't know what form the fence would take, so we didn't plan for that area.



Alien versus native

In the near corner, looking fleshy and pale green is iceplant (the alien, brought in to "stabilize" sand dunes it often does more harm than good).  In the far corner, looking a cheerful yellow is Isocoma menziesii (Menzies' goldenbush)

I camped at Pt Mugu Beach State Park this last weekend. It was a rare opportunity to camp right on the sand, 10' from the high water mark. The weekend was full of photos, but this was the only plant photo that I took. ID of Goldenbush is based on a Claflora search - this particular example seems more prostrate than online descriptions state, perhaps due to competition from the iceplant.  


An order from Annies

Disappointed to miss the Theodore Payne Foundation sale on the weekend of the 12th and 13th, I took advantage of Annie's Annuals 25% off sale and placed an order with them, with a ship-by date of the 16th.  Mostly I was thinking of planting in the back yard, which has a lot of bright sun and a lot of ground to cover.  I used Annie's successfully last year and thought it was reasonable value.  The sale price of 25% off covered California State sales tax and shipping, plus a bit more.  Here's my purchase list with nice links to Annie's web site for each of the items.

Item# Product Name Quantity Unit Price Total
1 Camissonia cheiranthifolia "Beach Primrose" 3 $6.95 $20.85
2 Cirsium occidentale "Cobweb Thistle" 3 $8.95 $26.85
3 Dudleya lanceolata "Lanceleaf Live-Forever" 3 $8.95 $26.85
4 Eriogonum grande rubescens "Red Buckwheat" 1 $8.95 $8.95
5 Erysimum capitatum ssp. capitatum "Western Wallflower" 3 $6.95 $20.85
6 Lonicera hispidula "California Honeysuckle" 1 $8.95 $8.95
7 Solidago californica "California Goldenrod" 2 $7.95 $15.90

These are prices for 4" pots, which seems to be the majority of Annie's stock.

Last year I grew (poorly, due to my own planting practices and bad timing) the Cirsium occidentale.  It still looked impressive.  So I've ordered three more.

I've grown this particular Eriogonum before, but it wasn't as red as Annie's photo.  Maybe I just had the species and not the rubescens variety.

The others I haven't grown before so it will be a nice new learning experience. 


Inexplicable Ficus love affair

We Southern Californians seem to have a love affair with the Ficus benjamina tree despite their dubious merits, their inappropriate size for most yards, their poor wildlife value, little attention to their care and placement, and their invasive roots.  Although these are nice trees when confined to pots indoors, they are more often than not considered free range trees or become feral when the pot is moved outside and the tap root finds its way out the bottom of the pot.  Even blog mill E-How thinks that they are excellent indoors, but does not claim any outdoor uses.

Is that an alien spacecraft landing in North Redondo?  Nope, but the tree is just about as big as the 1950's era house that it eclipses.  In other words, too big.

Rain 0.02"; 0.02" season total

Not a whole lot of rain at my house on Oct 11 - just enough to wet the ground and keep my newly installed plants happy.  Last year I noted the first rain on 5 Oct, though in a greater amount - well over 1".  We all know how that season turned out.


Obelisk or tree?

Here's another prime example of what not to do.

What is that, a giant bowling pin?

Weekend plant sale at Grow Native

Juli and I wandered up to the Grow Native Nursery in West L.A. for their Autumn Garden Party last Saturday. We took a seat at the periphery of a lecture and I was pleased to immediately recognize the lecturer, Barbara Eisenstein, of the Weeding Wild Suburbia blog. I read her blog often for its insightful commentary and I'm pleased to report that her lecture was good humored, engaging, and informative. Even Juli, not even close to my level of native plant fanaticism, got interested. Later, I introduced myself to Barbara, not having previously met her in person, and she told me that she recognized me. What a nice bit of serendipity to have run into her!

I went with the intention of purchasing only a replacement for the dead Giant Chain Fern in the more-sunny-than-I-expected pot by the front door, but I ended up with much more. Of course.
I found three Ribes aureum var. gracillimum (Golden Currant) which I planted along the fence on the south side of the driveway on 5' centers. They will soften the fence (one of those horrible unrelentingly manufactured-looking vinyl fences) and provide foliage in counterpoint to the Cercis occidentalis (Western Red Bud) that I planted earlier this year in front of them.

Cercis + Ribes is a well-known plant combination that I used at my previous house. It's a bit odd that despite the fact that my landscape plans are orthogonal to most of the other houses in my neighborhood, that I'm a bit dissatisfied simply because Ribes + Cercis is a relatively commonplace combination among native plant gardens. I find myself yearning for the next least common thing. I guess I enjoy being a bit different. Still, it's the front yard, so in terms of being a public example for native plants it will work admirably. Following the guideline that repetition is a fundamental and attractive garden design practice, I may add several more.

I was happy to purchase Vaccinium ovatum (California Huckleberry). I haven't tried this before and it's somewhat rare in the trade. I'll plant three underneath the fruit trees in the side yard and try to mulch with pine needles.

I found two Rhamnus californica ssp californica (California Coffeeberry) from my long term shopping list. These go on the back hill.

Also scratching my itch for something new was Lepechinia fragrans (Fragrant Pitcher Sage), which I have not grown before, and which is native to the Channel Islands and LA County. Palos Verdes is often considered to be the most coastal of the Channel Islands given similarities in climate and soils. The helpful staff at Grow Native pointed me to it for the pot by the front door. Apparently it can take a variety of lighting and soil conditions, which makes it good for the front door pot where the Giant Chain Fern was.

In winter there's little direct light, but in summer it sees a few hours of intense direct sun every day. I bought a second one for somewhere else in the garden.


Quaking Aspen - home sweet home

I like the Quaking Aspens (Populus tremuloides) that are planted at Lair of the Bear. The forest is managed and I believe that they are part of the approved trees that can be planted. The bugs love them too. I found two types of bug houses that I was able to photograph adequately in June of this year.
The multi-leaf rolled houses must take some time to build. 

Much simpler is this single-leaf roll.  You get two for the price of one leaf here.


Two years at Cleo's Bath

2011 was a banner year for water in California and in June of that year I took a hike in the Sierra up to a little place called Cleo's Bath. The water was ice cold, having just melted from snow not too many miles up stream.
It also wasn't safe to swim in since it was running too rapidly. I waded in at a shore just down stream and my feet quickly went numb. In 2012 I returned to the same spot at the same time and saw this:
That's the same tree in the foreground. You can see that flow is greatly reduced in 2012. That day we didn't mind too much because it led to great fun: