Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tallamy is a professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware. In his book, he writes about research that shows conclusively that native American species are critically dependent on native American plants. But this is not a dry and boring research review. Tallamy writes from his own experience, and uses many examples. In 14 chapters that cover such topics as "The Vital New Role of the Suburban Garden", "Who Cares About Biodiversity?", and "Answers to Tough Questions", he educates and entertains. The book also includes photos of native insects and birds, and, sadly, of landscapes invated by multiflora rose and bittersweet. Californians who live along the middle coast could add their own photos of the new coastline with Pampas grass, which did now grow here even ten years ago and is now rampant, displacing natives and looking out of place.
Like many gardeners, I'm often on the fence about how native I want to be. You usually can't quite get the stunning color combinations or just the right shape for a spot using natives. The plants you can buy in the nursery are usually tough, easy to take care of, and pretty. Natives are harder to find and may need more attention when they're small. But Tallamy makes very clear that natives are important. "We have allowed alien plants to replace natives all over the country. Our native animals and plants cannot adapt to this gross and completely unnatural manipulation of the environment in time to negate the consequences. Their only hope for a sustainable future is for us to intervene to right the wrongs that we have perpetrated. In order to let nature creat its course, we must first recreate nature."
Tallamy also includes some stories about the landscaping industry that just want to make you cry. I had not known that the sudden oak death fungus was imported on rhododendrons from Germany and identified in 1995. He says "Unbelievably, in May of 2005, infected nursery stock was shipped from California and Origon to 23 other states. Georgia alone received 59,000 infected plants..." What is so sad is that the gardeners that planted the infected rhododendron only wanted to create beauty. But problems of such diseases that kill natives can be avoided completely if we stick with natives.
So, what makes sense to me is to focus on natives, and to create a garden that is appealing to both the critters and the people. Too many people think of natives as weeds, and there's only one way to show them they can be colorful, have interesting shapes, and delight by being unusual.
So, do yourself a favor and buy the book. I had trouble ordering it from my local bookstore, so I got my copies from Amazon.com. You can also have a look at the book's site bringingnaturehome.net and from Timber Press, which offers free shipping and has a tempting array of other gardening books on their site.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
One area is between the neighbor fence and the swimming pool fence (yes, a swimming pool came with the house - I have a harebrained scheme to convert it to a natural pool one day...). The deer occasionally use this passage, though they can move freely through our property in other areas. A bit too freely sometimes...
The other area (not shown) is behind the pool fence to the north, where the land slopes down to a valley of mixed-evergreen forest and redwood habitats. I've been removing non-native weeds and poison oak there for the past few years. (I can't live with poison oak where I garden.)
I washed down our entire cedar-shingled house with this power washer a couple years ago to great - and lasting - effect. So I was ready to take on the oxalis.
I discovered that the width of the nozzle and the angle, and the distance from the soil all have a large effect.
Holding a narrow nozzle vertically and close to the soil dug out great channels about 6 inches or more deep. A slight angle, a slight distance, and moving the nozzle rapidly and in a rotating manner all helped. Also harder ground was - obviously - less disturbed than softer ground by the blast.
Here's a link to a video of me power washing the soil. Turn down the volume - the sound of the power washer isn't too amusing. The video shows the other area, which I did first. I tried out different ways of working - in the end I found that standing on the not-washed soil and working backwards worked best (as shown in the picture).
Well, in the end it looked a lot better than in the beginning. But I'm not sure what I've done as yet in terms of ridding the soil of weeds. Cameron recommends three applications about 45 days apart, so I'll have to follow up to complete the experiment.
I did feel sorry for the soil critters I blasted. I didn't see any, though, so the part of me that believes in fairies also believes that they all heard me coming and slithered away to a safe place.
But here's the thing...
THIS TOOK ONLY ABOUT 20 MINUTES!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I've lived in California for more than twenty years now, and I'm still surprised about the ice on the birdbath each time it happens. Especially because we really don't get snow down here in the valley. It's either clear and frosty or, when the clouds roll in, it warms up just a bit.
Of course frost can be a big problem for gardeners. I used to dash out on the cool evening to cover my bougainvilla and some other tender plants. With limited success, I might add. Now I have Clematis lasanthia on that fence, and have replaced most of the tender plants with natives that have, so far, pulled through admirably. Of course, a really bad frost might still do some damage to my new plants. But average temperatures should not be a problem. And I'm actually really glad we're finally getting some chill hours for the fruit trees.
Friday, December 26, 2008
I like to think of myself as a just Walden pond and a few birds, stuff doesn't matter much kind of person. But here's a post about some useful additions to my garden that recently came my way:
- New Trellis. I read in some other blog about this amazing modular trellis you can buy at Ikea. So I braved the pre-Christmas crowds and loaded my cart, picking up a nice taupe ceramic saucer for use as a birdbath along the way. I then installed the trellis with my garden designer Chris Todd, who helps with jobs that require two people for a very reasonable fee. After 2 hourse, viola, the first trellis was mounted. I'm going to grow two Clematis lasantia (Chaparral clematis) and one Lonicera hispedula on that one. We then realized we did not have enough pieces but by weekend we were equipped with the second trellis, which I mounted on a different fence. Chris twined an aristolochia onto that trellis, a much better solution than the cup hooks I had been using. Both trellises are made of aluminum, and the vines are relatively light weight and not very woody, so I have high hope this will work out. Great price, attractive, and easy to put together.
- For Christmas, I had asked for a wicker hose pot and some hose stops, and I did, indeed, find them both under the wreath. I'm especially pleased about the hose pot. It has an open bottom, so the constant fretting about water accumulating in the hose pot and breeding mosquitos is over.
- Also for Chrismas I received a beautiful blue ceramic pot and a sunflower wind chime. Both will go into a new area where I'll be growing some natives in pots. The pictures of potted native plants posted by Pete from East Bay Wilds will be a great inspiration. Maybe I'll even start next weekend...
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Next we have correa, a plant from Australia that never figured out that this is fall and winter.
Correa is very drought tolerant and blooms from September to February or so. While it's not a native, it's beloved by hummers. I have it at a difficult spot next to an east-facing wooden fence. All the plants along that fence suffer. In summer, they roast in the evening sun. In winter and spring, they don't get any sun because the fence shades them. So, I say, if something survives there, I'll let it be.
Finally, here's my loquat in bloom. Loquats are from Asia and one of the first fruit trees to set fruit in this area. I had my first loquat some years ago when visiting Country Mouse. Her neighbor had planted some of those beautiful trees, and I just loved the fresh taste. April is still cold and rainy around here, so I was just enchanted. I planted a 5-gallon tree 3 years ago and had my first real crop last spring. It was a bumper crop, and I scrambled to give away as much as I could because loquats don't keep (one reason why they are not commercially available).
I am making an exception to the Natives Rule rule for fruit trees. Besides, the bloosoms are wonderful in winter, and loquats need very little water.
Monday, December 22, 2008
- She lives out in the country, about 30 miles from town, while I live in the suburbs and can actually walk to the next town.
- Her garden is a native restauration garden, and she pays a lot of attention to using locally native plants, and removing invasives. I have some non-natives, and there are quite a few California Natives that are not locally native in my garden. The danger of cross-pollinating with a rare manzanita is just not as great. Though I am careful with reseeders.
- She has deer, racoons, gophers, and many other amazing critters in her garden. I have birds, squirrels, lizards, and the odd racoon.
One fine fall day, country mouse was visiting her cousin town mouse in the fall. They had a jolly time, and there was enough food and they enjoyed watching the children and going in the garden to collect acorns. And as the days got shorter and shorter, country mouse was sure it was time to hibernate, but town mouse said don't worry, there's a lot of food. So the two spent the winter awake, eating cheese, being chased by the odd cat, but generally having a great time. And in the story I remember country mouse keeps saying "It's just amazing what you'll see when you don't sleep all winter". Like, snow, and Christmas cookies.
Then, come spring, country mouse invites town mouse and they have the best time with the beautiful flowers and the birds singing in the country. So, in my memory, this was a win-win story all around. The two were great friends, and learned from each other.
Imagine my suprise when I searched the Web and found that the actual Aesop fable is quite different. Here's a retelling from Wikipedia:
In the story, a proud town mouse visits his cousin in the country. The country mouse offers the city mouse a meal of simple country foods, at which the visitor scoffs. He takes the country mouse back to the city to show him the "fine life". But their city meal of cakes and jellies was interrupted by a couple of dogs which forced the mice to abandon their feast and scurry to safety. After this, the country mouse promptly returns to the country, and says:
"Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear"
Well, there you have it. Had I known the REAL story, I'm not sure I would have agreed to being the Town Mouse. But now that I can't be the Country Mouse and we already have this very cool name for our blog, we'll just keep it that way. Maybe I do have a more dangerous life riding my bike to work than Country Mouse. And I must admit to a fondness for cakes, and a dislike of bacon (though I kind of like beans...)
So, the moral of the story? Mmm. Don't trust your childhood memories. Don't get too attached to your blog name. Ahhh, whatever. My reputation's ruined, at least I can now say what I want.
We non-native Californians are all over the place. Unfortunately so are the plants we have introduced. My main battle at the moment is against the omnipresent South African import, Oxalis pes-caprae. (Pes caprae means goat's foot in Latin, I think.) It's not in flower right now so I grabbed a picture from the internet.
(Photo by Jonathan Alcorn, accessed 12/22/08 here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/photo/).
You'll recognize it I know, by its pretty yellow flower and clover-like leaves, though you may be more familiar with it as "sour grass" if you have children who like to suck on the flower stems. (Oxalis is poisonous but not in such small doses.)
I have been slacking off lately and the pes-caprae troops have received massive reinforcements. I want to root them out before they stock up on cannon balls -- I mean the little root nodules that remain in the ground when you pull them, making this Oxalis so hard to get rid of. My friend, the naturalist Jeffrey Caldwell, told me that gophers gather the nodules and store them for eating, which helps the weed to spread. I also believe they reseed freely. I've tried Roundup I confess in hard-to-treat areas and it is successful but only if you keep on squirting. I feel guilty every time I spray. Hand pulling is more effective, but again, only if you repeat repeat repeat. I'm seeing headway in the areas where I have been most diligent. But not victory. It's time for a Churchillian speech to keep up the spirits.
Or a new secret weapon.
I was cheered in this regard when I met Cameron Colson recently, an energetic young businessperson with a new application for power washing technology: invasive weed control.
We happen to have a power washer, and I'm going to give it a go on my own. Cameron has industrial strength machinery but the only specialized part is a special nozzle. He can take down trees! But I just want to see what it does to the Oxalis pes-caprae. The technique promises to turn all surface vegetation into a nice mulch, and, with three applications to blast away the regrowth, to significantly reduce the weeds. It's not only chemical free, but improves the health of the soil.
I'll write about my experience, and about Cameron's ideas and fledgling business, in another post.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Friends from the east coast or from Europe often remark that California has no fall colors.But I've actually seen some stunning fall color here in the Bay Area. It doesn't hurt that it's usually sunny, and the crisp blue fall sky contrasts nicely with the red leaves of the liquidambar and pepper trees. Cities have planted trees that have good color -- love it or not -- and some of the natives also change colors. Here's California snow drop bush (Styrax officinales), with vibrant yellow leaves in the late fall (and very pretty white flowers in the spring.
Here's Aristolochia Californica (California pipe stem) I have next to my front door. It's not aggressive and works well on the elegant little bamboo trellis.
Seems to thrive with little water in fairly deep shade. Of course, it won't look like much for the next few months, but the heart-shaped leaves and very weird flowers are worth it. Not to mention the butterfly that can survive only if enough Aristolochia are around.
And her's a picture of Rhododendron occidentalis. Yes, that's a little blossom there. I have no idea why it decided to bloom and chuck its leaves at the same time, but the yellow spots on the flower are a perfect match for the leaves. I'm growing this Rhododendron in a pot under redwoods and I water it about 3 times a week in the dry season. It has very shallow roots, so a pot that's wide but not deep works well. Once all the leaves are off, I'm planning on repotting. That ought to help me stay warm, too. Nothing like lifting a large plant out of its pot when it's in the low fifties.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Timing was great for me because I managed to go to the Farmer's market mount my trellis's during the dry spells.
Now everything is washed clean and the ground is decently wet. Interestingly enough, it's still bone dry under the redwoods. I planted a Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum (native current) and had trouble getting a hole into the hard ground. But I didn't want to wait any more, it was time to plant what I could plant. I'm even thinking of planting the Heuchera maxima that I rooted myself. Maybe this weekend.
Also prepared about 40 pots with native seeds: Lupinus nanus, Gilia tricolor, and -- well, now I can't remember. Something else pretty and blue. I've covered the pots with chicken wire to keep the birds out, we'll see whether I finally manage to get some native annuals this coming spring. (Aside from the poppies, that is, which are sprouting like weeds).
Monday, December 8, 2008
Yet again, this time of year I'm just amazed how much time I spend cleaning up after my plants. This Sunday I didn't do much else.
- Pruned all Zauschneria to 1 inch.
- Pruned Albutilon from 8 feet to 10 feet.
- Swept and composted leaves from walkways.
What's funny is that all summer, when my fellow gardeners were mowing the grass and tending the vegetables, I really did not do anything in the garden. Well, maybe a little hand watering. But when fall came, things heated up, and now that the cool season is fully upon us I could easily spend 6 hours each weekend. I feel lucky, though, to be doing this work when it's nice and cool, and the birds sing, and the air smells fresh.
Now I'd just like a little rain to go with all that, please.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
So, what does a native plant gardener do? This question came up at the Gardening with Natives Yahoo Group. And the answer? Follow the rules.
- Water new plants once a week in the first year. I've decided to save water by hand watering, either holding the hose over the new plant or using a watering can.
- Water 1 year old plants every two weeks.
- Water 2 year old plants every three weeks.
Still, the rules apply. This is the time for native plants to be growing, so they really expect some water. Furthermore, plants new from the nursery expect to be watered once a day or so, so depending on rain won't work, at least initially.
Now I'm just hoping we'll finally get some of that water from above so I can water less and blog more...