The Buck Stops Here: How to Outsmart Hungry Deer

9 Nov

By Earl Nickel
Special Contributor

Gardeners whose yards are often visited by deer face a perplexing problem: how to keep these normally beloved animals from munching all their vegetables and/or ornamental plants. Deer usually stay in parks or open spaces, plentiful with their native food sources. But prolonged drought has driven a greater number of deer into city gardeners’ yards in search of both food and water. Equal opportunity feeders (unlike certain other critters that only target one type of plant), deer will munch on anything they can reach that is edible. That means almost anything and everything in your garden, be it fruit or flower or a vegetable, is fair game.

So how can you keep Bambi from using your garden as a snack bar? Here are three approaches that work:

BARRIERS

The simplest and most effective way to keep your garden deer-free is to erect fencing to physically prevent deer from getting to your yard. Sometimes this is impractical, especially if there is too large of a space to cover. But where there is a narrow entrance, you can erect a temporary gate made of chicken wire, netting or bamboo stakes. Make sure it is at least 8’ tall as deer can jump anything less than that. You can roll back this temporary gate during the day, as deer mostly arrive at night. Just keep your eye out for the brazen few who are looking for a mid-day snack. You can also employ fencing around immature trees to prevent their tender trunks from being savaged.

DEER SPRAYS AND PELLETS

If you can still find it, powdered Coyote urine is the most effective olfactory deterrent. Unlike all other sprays or pellets, which work due to unpleasantly scented concentrated oils, coyote urine sends a message to invading deer that a predator is nearby. While there is a strong smell when you first open the product, it soon dissipates to human senses. If that isn’t available, I can recommend two other products. Based on customer feedback, Deer Stopper has worked quite well. You spray it on the plants, then refresh it every two weeks. Alternatively, blood meal can be used as a fine granular application. Here again, it’s the strong scent that deters adventurous deer. You can apply it next to individual plants or make a thick line or circle to protect a particular bed.

I also recommend minimizing water sources in your yard. Deer often come into yards looking for a much needed drink then hang around to snack.

DEER RESISTANT PLANTS

The first thing to know is that outside of a handful of poisonous plants, deer may at some time eat all plants. I’ve learned through direct feedback that a lot of the plants on “deer resistant” lists are not always safe to plant in deer infested gardens – in other words, they’ll eat almost anything if they are hungry enough. But all is not lost. Deer know to steer clear of poisonous plants so those are always a safe bet. Two other categories are worth trying – plants with a strong scent and plants that have tough or spiny foliage.

FEARFUL FIVE

Fast-growing “Family Jewels Tree” (Asclepias physocarpa) can easily reach 5′ in its first year!

Start with everybody’s favorite MilkweedAsclepias. Whether you’re planting the native A. speciosa or A. fascicularis or Mexican milkweed (A. curassivica), Monarch butterflies will find it, even as deer stay clear. Euphorbias, with their poisonous sap, are also a great deer-proof choice for a sunny or part shade location. Amazingly diverse in form and size, most share those fabulous heads of chartreuse flowers. E. characias ‘Dwarf’ has especially large heads while E. ‘Blue Haze’ has lovely bluish-gray foliage to add to its appeal.

Euphorbia characias ‘Dwarf’ produces exceptionally big blooming balls on a tidy, compact shrub. Great for bouquets!

Anything from the Solanum (Nightshade) family is safe and a few are appealingly exotic. S. pyracanthum features eye-catching orange spines along its stems while S. quitoense ‘Naranjilla’ offers tropical foliage and curious orange fruits. The highly ornamental S. ‘Navidad, Jalisco’ resembles a purple potato vine and that’s because it is one. Curiously, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are also nightshade members and thus deer-proof.

Massive wisteria-like clusters of glittery purple blooms cascade off vining Solanum valerianum ‘Navidad, Jalisco’.

For part shade there is the always lovely Foxglove (Digitalis), which comes in a variety of pinks, reds, purples and, of course, white. Want something taller? Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) is a fabulous and fast growing ornamental, featuring those distinctive large trumpets of nearly every color imaginable. The fragrant, peach-colored ‘Charles Grimaldi’ is a favorite of many a gardener.

Gloriously fragrant night-scented pendulous blooms cover Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’, a fast-growing small tree/shrub.

SMELLY SELECTIONS

Gardeners with lots of deer-deterring experience love Salvias and Annie’s grows a fabulous selection in every color imaginable. Richly scented natives S. clevelandii ‘Winifred Gilman’ and S. apiana (White Sage) are great additions, while fruity S. elegans (Pineapple Sage) and S. dorisiana (Fruit-Scented Sage) display brilliant red and magenta flowers respectively.

One of our favorite sages, California native Salvia clevelandii ‘Winifred Gilman’ boasts outstanding fragrance and gorgeous whorls of lavender blooms irresistible to hummers!

The delicious pineappley scent of Salvia dorisiana’s tropicalesque heart-shaped leaves make this South American sage a “must-rub”!

Yarrow (Achillea) is an excellent deer resistant selection. This California native is drought tolerant and selections such as A. ‘Red Velvet’ and Rosa Maria’ add a pop of color while A. ‘Salmon Beauty’ offers an ever changing palette of pastel colors.

Achillea millefolium ‘Salmon Beauty’s’ color-shifting rosy-hued umbels stand tall above a lush ferny mound of foliage.

Heliotropium arborescens ‘Alba’ has all the charms of the purple species but is non-dwarfed, vigorous and especially fragrant. Good for mixed sun, it blooms over a long season in Summer and Fall. Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) has become really popular, given its low water tolerance and range of colors and scents – charms that are completely lost on deer. A. rupestris dazzles with its orangish-pink flowers and delicate foliage, while A. ‘Black Adder’ forms a strong upright bush topped with spires of vivid purple flowers.

Dense clubs of luscious purple blooms appear Summer thru Fall on Agastache‘Black Adder’ – a sterile hybrid that’s aces on bloomiferousness, but nil on unwanted reseeding.

Sunset-hued Agastache aurantiaca ‘Coronado’ brings an airy brilliance to full sun gardens. It’s delightfully minty leaves release waves of fragrance when fondled and, like many Agastaches, can be used in herbal teas.

Got shade? No problem when you have literally a dozen different aromatic Plectranthus to use. Short (P. neochilus) or tall (P. barbatus ‘White Rhino’ or P. ecklonii), large-leaved or small, Plectranthus are tough as nails, clay and drought tolerant once established and just darn pretty to behold.

The trifecta of deer resistance: Geranium maderense, Echium webbii and Plectranthus neochilus.

TOUGH CUSTOMERS

Plants also employ tough or spiny foliage as a defense strategy, making them almost inedible to deer and other animals. Most Agaves certainly fit the bill, with thick rigid leaves and often deadly leaf tips. Whale’s Tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) features bluish leaves and spiny tips. The dramatic Giant Mezcal agave (A. valenciana) and the modest-sized A. titanota ‘Blue’ are worthy additions to any dry garden.

Reaching around 6′ across, brilliantly blue Agave ovatifolia “Whale’s Tongue Agave” is exceptionally hardy – down to USDA zone 7b!

California native Ceanothus such as ‘Dark Star’ and ‘Julia Phelps’, with their dense crinkled leaves, are usually a safe bet. Cordylines feature leathery leaves that deer can’t easily bite or chew, making them an excellent choice for a sunny or part shade location. Cordyline ‘Can Can’ and ‘Renegade’ are especially lively selections, brightening containers and beds with strappy and colorful leaves.

Evergreen California native Ceanothus x impressus ‘Dark Star’ produces exceptionally fragrant blue flowers bloom in earliest Spring.

Echiums are famous for three things: being tough and drought tolerant, having exceptionally pretty blue, purple or pink flowers and for being absolute bee and hummingbird magnets. Add to that list the fact that deer dislike their tough, bristly leaves and we have a winner for the dry or xeric garden. 

Brilliant cherry-red Seussian flower towers emerge from a grouping of Echium wildpretii”Tower of Jewels”.

For shade, Hellebores are an easy, long-lived and reliable choice. They’re low and the leaves are often tough. I would stick with japonica hybrids such as the “Lady”-series and “Winter Jewels” selections like ‘Peppermint Ice’ and ‘Onyx Odyssey’, all of which add eye-catching color in late Winter, just when you need it.

One of the most floriferous Hellebores we’ve ever seen! ‘Yellow Lady’ produces masses of chartreuse blooms from late Winter to early Spring.

Helleborus ‘Blue Lady’ boasts sumptuous reddish-purple outward-facing flowers. It’s easy to grow, tough as nails, drought and clay tolerant, and hardy to USDA zone 3!

WHY BOTHER?

The last category of deer resistant plants are those that are either too wispy – largely grasses – or too low for deer to take a fatal interest. Grasses like native Carex pansa or low growing ground covers like California natives Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’, Lippia repens and Satureja douglasii or Lampranthus ‘Pink Kaboom’, Fuchsia procumbens and Rubus calycinoides are all hardy and safe selections.

California native groundcover Lippia repens quickly forms a dense mat of minute foliage. The multi-hued flowers are much loved by bees!

An evergreen grass that makes a perfect low-maintenance lawn substitute. California native Carex pansa tops out at 6″ tall and can be mowed or left free-form and meadowy.

Think Like a Plant – Resisting Drought with Kate Frey!

21 Sep

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

In our summer-dry climate most of us have to water our gardens. The frequency ranges from several times a week in hot inland areas, to once a week in cool coastal areas, or even less frequently if we have planted very drought resistant plants. Plants that require little water are referred to as drought resistant, and gardens that feature them exclusively as xeriscapes. Plants vary greatly in their ability to withstand or evade drought and many from dry climates have developed a number of morphological and physiological strategies to aid in survival. Other factors influencing the drought resistant qualities of each garden depend on plant types, the garden’s location, weather, soil type, depth, exposure, soil organic matter content and mulch.MGPlants take up water through root hairs, most of which are in the top fifteen inches of soil. Plants from desert regions like cacti and succulents often have extensive, shallow, fibrous roots to capture water from light rainfalls. Leaves are reduced to spines and water is stored in swollen leaves and stems. Spines don’t just function as deterrents to predators but serve to break up air currents and minimize transpiration (evaporation of water from plants) across the leaf surface – minimizing water loss.

Spiky Agave leaves help minimize water loss.

Hairs on plant leaves perform the same function as spines to break up air currents and limit water loss across leaves. Some plants have large noticeable hairs such as “Clary Sage”, and others are covered with fine wool like Lamb’s ears, Mulliens like Verbascum olympicum and V. bomyciferum, and French lavender (Lavandula dentata).

Annual plants from summer-dry climates avoid drought by germinating, growing, flowering and setting seed during the rainy season – dying at the end of it. Seed reserves remain dormant until rains allow germination when suitable conditions return. Most California annual wildflowers are in this category and germinate and grow during cool weather when soil is moist, and finish their lifecycles as temperatures warm and the soil dries. Exceptions are the tarweeds (Hemizonia and Madia) that follow this pattern but remain small until spring annuals die, then grow and flower when this competition for space is minimized.

Summer-dormant bulbs like Daffodils and Narcissus evade drought by developing large underground storage units (we call bulbs) during the rainy season to store water and carbohydrates. They weather the dry season in a dormant state. Other examples are our many native bulbs, Freesias, Sparaxis, Ixia, Squill, Tulips, Grape Hyacinth and Crocus. “Naked Ladies” grow abundant foliage during the rainy season that dies in summer. Flower stalks are sent up in summer using the large reserves contained in the huge bulbs.

Some plants have white or silver foliage to reflect light and heat. We often grow them for their strikingly colored foliage. Artemisia, Lambsears, Calocephalus brownii, Santalina, Dusty Miller, Russian Sage, Lavender, some Milkweeds, and Teucrium fruticans have beautiful silver leaves.

Plants like Manzanitas, Olives, many Oaks, Myrtle, Italian Buckthorn, Strawberry Tree, California Buckwheats (Eriogonum sp.) and others have leathery or waxy leaves with the stomata (where respiration and water transpiration occurs) recessed in the bottom of the leaf in deep stomatic crypts. Recessing the stomata in deep crypts limits transpiration. Thick, leathery leaves help reduce water loss.

Other plants have reduced leaf size to minimize water loss. Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, Olives, Broom, Junipers and Teucrium are examples. These plants may grow slowly due to reduced leaf area for photosynthesis.

Leaves on plants like some Manzanitas turn parallel to the sun to avoid solar interception.

Resinous oils found on the foliage of plants like Sage, Lavender, and Rosemary acts not just to deter animals that eat plants, but these oils evaporate on very hot days and cool plants. These are the resinous odors so apparent to us on warm afternoons.

Some plants drop a portion of their lower leaves as the weather warms. The ground under Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) may be littered with dried leaves, though the trees themselves are lush and green. Other plants such as Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis) have juvenile leaves that are shed as the season progresses.

California buckeye (Aesculus californica) and California polypody fern (Polypodium californicum) are drought deciduous and go completely dormant in summer even with regular water.

The Olive tree and many Manzanitas combine the strategies of silver foliage, reduced leaf size, and leathery leaves to resist drought. Lavender plants combine reduced leaf size, silver, and wooly foliage plus resinous oils to resist it. What other examples do you see in your garden?

Med walk

Soil type is a big factor in developing watering schedules. As sandy soils have large pores and high porosity, water moves through these soils quickly and is not retained. Increasing the organic matter content by either incorporating compost and/or mulching with it increases the water holding capacity of sandy soils tremendously. Clay soil particles are tiny and evenly dispersed. These soils have a high water holding capacity, and poor drainage. Incorporating compost and gypsum helps these soils to aggregate so water will penetrate more easily and be held in the soil in beneficial quantities and ratios with air (oxygen), necessary for plant roots and soil micro and macroorganisms. Mulch will also increase porosity in soils over time. Make sure to use compost or composted greenwaste/manures rather than woodchips. Woodchips rob the soil of nitrogen as they break down. Loam soils generally have good water holding capacity, but this is also helped by compost. Compost is a key factor in developing soils that aid in your plants ability to resist drought.

Ch3.H1bi perimeter bed

These themes and much other practical information designed to help you create successful, healthy beautiful gardens is what we are teaching at our new garden school – The American Garden School.

The American Garden School was created to address a growing need in the U.S. for quality garden education. Many of us do not have the time or desire to commit to a formal series of horticulture-based classes at a university, yet wish to gain quality education to better our landscapes, convert our lawns, or develop a kitchen garden.

Our goal is to be the go-to garden school for comprehensive, quality, tested and fun garden education for homeowners, garden enthusiasts, landscape practitioners, school gardens and very small farmers. Our courses are designed to help you generate a successful and beautiful garden, with themes pertinent to the West such as drought tolerance, ecology, sustainable practices, and time saving. We believe in systems, efficiency, technology, science based practices, and most importantly, that a garden should bring you joy.

These intensive courses are a remarkable opportunity to learn practical and tested methods for creating successful gardens.  Two-time Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner, educator and renowned horticulturist and designer Kate Frey and local landscape manager and designer, Christa Moné, will share their expertise developed over many years in Northern California and internationally. Kate and Christa bring a wealth of information in educating people on how to create gardens that are remarkably beautiful, healthy, productive, creative and efficient to care for.

Upcoming Classes:

THE EDIBLE GARDEN-FALL/WINTER
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

SEPTEMBER 28, 2017
9:30AM-12:30PM

This ain’t your grandma’s veggie garden! We want to raise the bar on the concept of how we plan and plant our edible gardens, and show you that they can be just as beautiful as any other- and filled with delicious things to eat all year round!

Whether you like precise rows, or an impressionistic composition of verdant plants, this intensive, practical course will get you on the right track with simple principles and techniques to consistently generate a multitude of healthy, delicious vegetables (and flowers!). Seasonal focus will be fall and winter.

FALL OPEN GARDEN DAY & WORKSHOP
@ KATE FREY’S GARDEN

OCTOBER 7, 2017
HOPLAND,CA

Back by popular demand! Please join us for this great opportunity to see the principles and practices of The American Garden School expressed and demonstrated in Kate and her husband, Ben’s unique experiential and flower-filled garden in scenic Hopland, inland Mendocino county this fall.

Profusely planted, full of flowers, bees, bird song, and rustic structures created from wood Ben has resuscitated, it has many unique seating areas, and places to explore. Visitors call it an instant sanctuary. It is eight years old and is composed of native plants and habitat plants that attract and support a wide variety of insects and birds as well as delighting our senses. There is a vegetable garden, many rustic structures, a hermit’s hut, chicken palace (with the cutest chickens ever), bar, wood library, Swiss Chalet house, and whimsical gateposts. Surprises abound! Bring a lunch!

The Workshop will cover design, site preparation, building health soil, weed control, bees and wildlife in the garden, plant care, and will look at some great plant varieties. It will end with an irrigation system demonstration.

The Open Garden is available for people to wander and enjoy the unique and relaxing spaces of the garden.

PRACTICAL SOILS & IRRIGATION
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

OCTOBER 20, 2017
9:30AM-12:30PM

Why do so many plants and gardens fail to thrive despite our best efforts and intentions? Soil health and irrigation are too often overlooked in our garden planning and maintenance, and can feel overwhelming to take on.  Healthy soil creates healthy plants, yet what is healthy soil and how do we create it? Irrigation is essential to any garden or landscape, but how does it all work? Do we till, or can we choose not to? Different plant categories such as vegetables, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees each require different approaches to soil development and watering.

Design Intensive
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

November 6, 2017
10:00AM-2:30PM

Details will follow soon! Please Check website

Contact us: https://americangardenschool.com/contact/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join us in Paradise – Kate’s Frey’s Open Garden!

8 Jun

Don’t miss a fantastic opportunity to visit an incredible garden! Our beloved friend, the fabulous and outrageously talented designer Kate Frey and her master builder husband, Ben, will open their vibrant and life-filled garden in Hopland (inland Mendocino County on Hwy 101) for a workshop and tour on June 17.  The event is in conjunction with The American Garden School, Kate’s (and business partner Christa Mone’s) new garden school. Read on for details and stunning photos of Kate and Ben’s inspiring gardens below!

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

Profusely planted (and all organic), full of colorful flowers, bees, bird song, and rustic structures created from wood Ben has resuscitated, our garden has many places to explore as well as seating areas to take in the profuse beauty and delicious fragrances. Visitors call it an instant sanctuary and sometimes refuse to leave. It is a garden of life with colorful plantings that support a world of insects and birds as well as delighting our eyes and senses. There are many floral borders, a vegetable garden, unique rustic structures, a hermit’s hut, chicken palace (with the cutest chickens ever), bar, wood library, Swiss Chalet house, and whimsical massive wood columns. Surprises abound! 

Two workshops (9:30-10:45 and 11:00-12:15, see bottom of page) will cover garden design, developing healthy soils, efficient irrigation systems, plant care, and some great plant varieties. The garden is open for touring 10:30 until 2:00. We will be available to answer questions. Bring your lunch! 

What is a garden and what is it for? The answer announces itself again and again when I go into my garden, into what was just a bare, flat rectangular acre under an often-blasting sun. Now, dueling hummingbirds, the quiet melodies of goldfinches, iridescent bluebirds, courting titmice in the arbor, battling tanagers, velvet upholstered bumblebees, and Osmia bees in the Phacelias greet a garden stroll. The perfume of daphne, osmanthus, akebia, roses, coffeeberry, buckeye, honeysuckle, and mock orange follow one through the seasons and is everywhere.  Plants and flowers drape and embrace rustic structures. In the vegetable garden, brilliant chards and deep blue kales beckon in the cool mornings, and a rainbow of tomatoes decorate the hot afternoons. Everywhere is sensation, scent and life. Nature has woken up and it resides in our garden, marching forth until the frosts of November render a quiet landscape.

 I used to judge the merit, interest and beauty of a garden by the structure of the design and the composition of form. Now my goal is to create healthy, dynamic gardens that create a moving and inspirational experience for all who visit: gardens that act on our senses with the layered forms of plants, flower color, scent, and that are filled with life. 

The wildlife that visits the plants and flowers is an integral part of the beauty and vitality, a tangible aspect of it that can’t be separated from concepts of design. Pollinators are a main focus of our home garden and much of it is planted for their needs. A profusion of flowering plants offer pollen and nectar resources over a long growing season.  Pollinator gardens are necessarily flower filled gardens, delighting us while supporting bees, but also beneficial insects, butterflies, hummingbirds, and birds that fed their nestlings insects.

 Our garden is densely planted, and the plants form an impressionistic froth of form and color. Foliage intermingles and provides a profusion of ever-changing bloom.

The east side of our house, a protected space from the hot sun and full of plants that need afternoon shade. 
A green Victorian door and Millie the garden dog guard the vegetable garden and the Hermit’s Hut, and is surrounded by a haze of bronze fennel, perennial sunflowers, old-fashioned roses, crimson Salvias, mauve Teucriums, Oreganos, California Fuchsia, and the orange Kniphofia ‘Yellow Cheer”.
Vegetable gardens should be surrounded and guarded by flowers. Ours in May.
 Ben’s famous hermit’s hut.
 The arbor in summer.
The garden in September with Louie and Millie the garden dogs expecting some excitement amidst the resident hummingbirds and finches.

Please come and visit us June 17, 2017!

Session 1: 9:30- 10:45 Workshop: RSVP on website

Session 2: 11:00-12:15 Workshop: RSVP on website

10:30-2:00 Open Garden: RSVP on website 

Make it a day!

Additionally, The Garden Conservancy is having a Garden Open Day in Mendocino County on June 17th, and there are a number of unique and bucolic gardens to visit 50-55 minutes away in Anderson Valley.  The GC event is completely separate from ours, so please buy tickets on their website or at individual gardens on the tour: 

https://www.gardenconservancy.org/open-days/open-days-schedule/mendocino-county-ca-open-day-2

Wild for California Native Wildflowers!

15 Mar

By Earl Nickel
Special contributor

As some parts of the California desert are enjoying once-in-a-decade “super blooms”, it reminds me of the joys of our own native wildflowers here in the Bay Area. From “Baby Blue Eyes”, Clarkias and Gilias to “Tidy Tips” and Lupines, our local hillsides and meadows are a veritable carpet of colorful wildflowers starting in early Spring.

Native wildflowers play a valuable role in the life of pollinators, too – especially native bees and butterflies attuned to the timing of their nectar-rich flowers. This is also true when we add native annuals to our gardens. These sun-loving plants not only beautify our urban and suburban landscapes, but collectively provide a widespread source of nectar and larval foods for a bounty of native fauna.

It’s easy to fold native wildflowers into your garden. Here in the Bay Area, gardeners who got a jump on the Spring season by planting in Fall may already be enjoying the earliest blooms, but there is still plenty of time to plant and fill in bare spots with colorful, spontaneous additions. I always leave some space open as Spring approaches, knowing I’ll be adding my favorite wildflowers. Most of these plants have a 3-5 month season, so you can use that space later for another colorful annual or perhaps an exciting new perennial. Many of our native wildflowers self-sow, too, so you’ll enjoy them year after year.

I also decide ahead of time that some of my annuals will reside in pots. I put nearly all of my perennials (native and otherwise) in beds, so they can get established and spread out. Planting annuals in containers not only saves valuable ground space, but it also gives you the flexibility to move your containers around for the greatest visual appeal.

Layia glandulosa and Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes” grow beautifully in containers and can be moved around to best effect.

Maximizing Space

To maximize space you can plant early blooming Spring natives in front of deciduous shrubs like Philadelphus, Hibiscus, Oakleaf Hydrangea or Sambucus. One other space-saving tip is to plant annuals over bulbs, especially Summer bloomers like Dahlias, Lilies and Gladiolas. You’ll enjoy a burst of color in Spring, then as the flowers fade, the Summer bulbs will push through and offer their own delights.

Fast-growing natives like Lupinus succulentus ‘Rodeo Rose’ and Eschscholzia caespitosa “Tufted California Poppy” are great planted in front of larger perennials or as a Summer bulb cover.

Going for the gold 

With their wealth of yellow and blue flowers, Spring wildflowers offer two contrasting colors that look fantastic together. “Tidy Tips” (Layia platyglossa) boasts fragrant, lemon-yellow flowers tipped in white that are the epitome of cheerfulness.

If there were garden awards for “Most Cheerful CA Native” surely Layia platyglossa “Tidy Tips” would win.

Keep an eye out for the Checkerspot butterfly, which loves this flower’s nectar. There’s also “Woodland Tidy Tips” (Layia gaillardioides), valued for its solid mass of #2 pencil yellow flowers that spill over a favorite container or a low rock wall.

I like to think of Limnanthes douglasii as a kissing cousin to “Tidy Tips”. Featuring a never-ending fountain of open-faced, yellow flowers generously rimmed with white atop a dense, shiny, groundcovery mound, this aptly named “Meadow Foam” blends beautifully with all manner of blue flowers.

Lemon yellow Limnanthes douglasii is sweetly scented.

“Cream Cups” (Platystemon californicus) produce smaller, butter-yellow flowers with a central boss of flattened stamen filaments that make them look like water lilies that washed ashore. Charming and fragrant!

Fragrant Platystemon californicus sports zillions of 1″ flowers atop silver, grey-green leaves. Self-sows when happy! Looks great here with red perennial pincushion Knautia macedonica and annual Papaver rhoeas ‘Falling in Love’.

Cheerful “Cream Cups” make the cutest cut flowers ever.

Speaking of fragrant, check out Madia elegans. This hardy, drought tolerant and long-blooming sun lover is fashionably late, blooming mid-Summer to Fall. The large, daisy-like yellow flowers and the foliage have a delicious pineapple fragrance, all the more noticeable when the weather is warm.

Pineapple scented Madia elegans blooms later than most native wildflowers, bringing sunshine to the Summer garden. Shown here brightening up native perennial Eriogonums and Ribes.

Do the blues make you happy?

They will if you’re adding any of the exciting true blue wildflowers available this time of year. Start with Phacelias, a group that should be every bit as well-known as Nemophilas “Baby Blue Eyes”. Their blue tones are darker and richer, especially stately P. viscida. Showcasing 2”, electric-blue flowers with patterned centers, this 2’ tall, multi-branching native puts on quite a show.

Electric blue Phacelia viscida will have all the bumblebees going wild!

Want cascading blue? Phacelia campanularia, known as “Desert Bluebell” (but grows just fine in regular garden soil), offers an endless display of gentian-blue inch+ flowers that tumble forward like the prettiest skirt. The distinctive leaves add a dark blush to their veined green form. Their motto might well be: ‘I spill, therefore I am.’

“Blue Thimble Flower” may seem like an odd common name but one look at the wealth of inch-wide round flowers of Gilia capitata and you’ll say “Oh, yes.” This annual forms a dense, small bush comprised of lacy, ferny foliage topped by a sea of purple-blue heads. Irresistible.

Gilia capitata “Blue Thimble Flower” boasts an extra long bloom season – and couldn’t be easier to grow.

And lastly there is the justly famous “Baby Blue Eyes” (Nemophila menziesii). No need to go looking for this Nemo, the masses of robin’s egg blue blooms will be one of the first things you and passersby spot in your garden. Another terrific spiller, it combines well with just about any Spring flower (especially any of the colorful selections of Eschscholzia californica), bringing a bit of sky into the earthly delights of your garden.

Heck Yeah Hellebores!

13 Oct

By Earl Nickel
Special contributor

We gardeners are always looking for something tough and beautiful for shade. But in the never-ending search for the “latest and greatest” we sometimes lose track of the tried-and-true classics – like beautiful, dependable, shade-loving Hellebores. Fall is an excellent time to plant these long-lived beauties, giving them time to establish for their Winter and Spring bloom season.

helleborus_peppermint_ice_mass

Helleborus ‘Peppermint Ice’

helleborus_peppermint_ice_bloom

Helleborus ‘Peppermint Ice’

Mega-tough and tolerant of neglect, Hellebores can handle quite a bit of shade but they’ll be happy in dappled light up to full morning sun. No need to hide these beauties away in a dark corner – but if a dark corner is what you have, they’ll handle it with aplomb (if fewer flowers). I find that bright, indirect light or a bit of morning or late afternoon sun is ideal for these nearly evergreen perennials.

Infinitely useful, Hellebores shine in a variety of settings. They make great understory plants in a part shade bed, planted around Camellias, Azaleas or smaller conifers. They complement part shade bulbs such as the native Iris douglasiana or late Winter blooming Snowdrops. Massing them makes for a sophisticated and virtually effortless late Winter show.

helleborus_yellow_lady_horiz

Helleborus ‘Yellow Lady’

helleborus_yellow_lady_close

Helleborus ‘Yellow Lady’

Tender, mint green shoots in late December or early January develop into a handsome mound of dark green palmate foliage, followed by the first flower buds. Blooms appear late Winter through Spring – hence their common name “Lenten Roses” – looking for all the world like dew-sparkled jewels when few other plants are up, much less in bloom. Most varieties open into 2-3” five-petaled, saucer-shaped flowers that persist for weeks – making an extended late Winter show. As plants mature, they’ll gradually colonize to fill about a 2’ foot diameter area.

The world of “Lenten Roses” has expanded greatly over the last decade, thanks to breeders who have developed a fabulous selection of colors and forms. In addition to a kaleidoscope of pinks, reds, burgundies, apricots, yellows, whites and even blacks, gardeners can choose from a host of alluringly spotted singles and frilly doubles. Blossoms generally nod, to keep the pollen from getting wet in extreme Winter weather, but some new varieties sport outward facing blooms.

helleborus_onyx_odyssey_hand

Helleborus ‘Onyx Odyssey’

Three of my favorites are the brilliant pure red H. ‘Red Lady,’ looking almost so inviting you want to eat its flowers, and H. ‘Yellow Lady,’ a  shade brightening, vivid yellow orientalis hybrid whose flowers are especially large. And the double forms of ‘Peppermint Ice’ (featuring prominently pink-veined white flowers) and breathtakingly deepest wine-black ‘Onyx Odyssey’ are simply gorgeous.

helleborus_red_lady

Helleborus ‘Red Lady’

helleborus_red_lady_horiz_profile1

Helleborus ‘Red Lady’

Resistant to both deer and drought, these long-lived perennials are far from a flash in the pan. Once established, they use little water and in milder zones like ours here in the Bay Area, hold on to their foliage well into Fall. I suggest cutting them to the ground in November. This removes the less attractive older leaves, allowing plants to sprout fresh new growth in a month’s time.

Problem-solving Plants for Neglected Areas and Hot and Dry Hillsides

7 Jul
By Earl Nickel
Special contributor 

As a nurseryman of over 30 years, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard just about every garden problem you can imagine. Two of the most common problems gardeners face, especially here in the drought conscious West, are choosing tough plants for neglected areas and hillsides. These are usually areas in the garden, let’s say where the hose won’t reach and/or places you just don’t want to fuss over. Often, these folks have already tried planting several things in these difficult areas with little or no success.

Seldom Attended Areas

Before sharing some great selections, I have some very important advice: Anything you plant is going to need some water to get established and some occasional moisture during the first year as it puts out new roots. Just because a plant is drought tolerant, doesn’t mean you don’t have to water it. Secondly, you’ll want to do some soil preparation and make sure the drainage is adequate (as opposed to hard-pan clay).

For a sunny, dry area, I always recommend these two EASY, neglect-proof shrubs – California native Ceanothus ‘Joyce Coulter’ and Mediterranean perennial Echium fastuosum ‘Pride of Madeira’.

ceanothus joyce coulter

Ceanothus ‘Joyce Coulter’ is perfect for dry slopes and anywhere you want a tough, evergreen groundcover.

This Ceanothus aka “California Lilac” is a fantastic, long-lived, large-scale groundcover, growing up to 2’ tall and 8’ across. It takes up a good amount of space with almost no care. Covered in fragrant vibrant blue blooms in Spring, it’s especially attractive to bees, butterflies and hummers. Evergreen, clay tolerant and fire-resistant, it also boasts good deer resistance.

ECHIUM CANDICANS ( E. FASTUOSUM)

Echium fastuosum “Pride of Madeira” – just one of several Echiums that thrive in poor, dry, well-drained soil. Photo courtesy James Gaither.

Echiums have a well-earned reputation for being incredibly tough and resilient. Whether it’s the bushy purple-flowering Echium fastuosum, the conical spires of sparkling pink Echium wildprettii, with its gorgeous rosette of silvery leaves or the electric blue flowers of Echium webbii, these plants get high-marks for thriving where other plants bite the dust. Unparalleled bee and hummingbird magnets, they’re deer resistant, too.

PHLOMIS PURPUREA SSP. PURPUREA

Need a large almost ever-blooming shrub for a HOT, DRY, DEER INFESTED location? Phlomis purpurea is your plant! Photo courtesy James Gaither.

Salvias are always a good choice but here’s an even easier, lower care alternative – Phlomis purpurea. Known as “Jerusalem Sage”, it creates a large, low clump of big, felted, textured leaves with curving, lipped lavender flowers on upright branches over a surprisingly long period – at least Summer to Fall.

eriogonum_grande_rubescens_hand_2016

Goof-proof, evergreen Eriogonums thrive on neglect and prefer dry, clay soil.

Consider another California native: Eriogonum. Known as “California Buckwheat”, these plants define resilience. Most are low and spreading, with flower colors ranging from sunny yellow ‘Ella Nelson’s Yellow’ to the pink shades of Eriogonum grande rubescens and Eriogonum latifolium or the white of Eriogonum parvifolium. One of the absolute BEST plants for local pollinators.

 

lychnis_coronaria

Easy-going Lychnis coronaria tolerates hot sun to dry shade, poor soil, clay soil AND it’s deer resistant.

Highly drought tolerant and a cottage garden classic, Lychnis coronaria, better known as “Rose Campion”, is tough as nails and produces gorgeous deep fuchsia-colored flowers in Summer, offset nicely by silvery-gray foliage. Self-sows reliably.

heuchera_maxima_carol

CA native Heuchera maxima is happy under oaks.

For shady areas, CA native Heuchera maxima is a durable and long-lived choice. If you’ve ever had problems with the colorful hybrid Heucheras (and many people have), they can’t hold a candle to the toughness of this species. Attractive upright blooms over a much longer period in Spring, too.

 

Easy, tough choices for hillsides

Here, the main challenge is that you’re usually dealing with a larger area. Ideally, you want each plant to cover up to a three-foot diameter, especially if you’re concerned with erosion control.

fragaria_carole_ann_flower_2016 fragaria_chiloensis_carole_anne

Strawberries may seem like an odd choice for the job but Fragaria chiloensis, a California native often known as “Beach Strawberry”, is one tough, low growing customer. The fruits may not be that edible but it’s a great plant for erosion control.

geranium_bill_wallis

Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ – fast, tough and EASY, it won’t fade away if you forget to water.

Same goes for Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallace’. Fast-growing to 18” across, it blooms over a long period with a mass of single, purple flowers and self-sows reliably to fill in any empty spaces.

arctostaphylos_carmel_sur

Among the many handsome heat and drought tolerant groundcover Manzanitas, Arctostaphylos edmundsii ‘Carmel Sur’.

Three more of my favorite plants to recommend for hillsides include low growing Arctostaphylus (Manzanita) – a tough and popular choice by knowledgeable landscapers (always a good sign). Its only drawback is that it’s slower than other choices. 

rubus_calycinoides_foliage

Rubus calycinoides – tough and dependable, weed suppressing, but not invasive.

How about a bramble? No, not the bramble that Brer Rabbit dove into but a low growing species called Rubus calycinoides. It sports lovely dark green crinkled leaves and even if it doesn’t flower readily, it makes a handsome, dense, spreading mat to 4” tall by at least 4’ wide. Tough doesn’t even begin to describe this guy and it can handle a shady location, too.

plectranthus_neochilis

Plectranthus neochilus – a smart choice for carefree edging in sun or shade and dry, difficult spots.

Another shade lover is Plectranthus neochilus. Plectranthus have a well-earned reputation for toughness and adaptability and this one doesn’t get too tall.

carex_pansa

Carex pansa – mowable lawn substitute is tolerant of traffic and diverse soil types including both sand and clay.

Grasses aren’t always the best choice for a dry garden but the California native Carex pansa is the exception. Staying low (4-6”), it spreads by rhizomes to cover a good-sized area over time. With year-round good looks, it’s evergreen and an excellent, mowable choice for dog yards.

convolvulus_mauritanicus_3

Photo courtesy Stan Shebs.

If you’re looking for something to provide color over a long-season, consider Convolvulus sabatius, better known as “Ground Morning Glory”. Sporting pretty single lavender flowers almost year-round along the coast, this fast-growing evergreen mounder/trailer is tenacious and stays low, to just 1’ tall by 3’ around.

Earl Nickel is a professional nurseryman, gardening writer and photographer living in Oakland CA. He’s writes a regular column for the SF Chronicle and Pacific Horticulture magazine.

Help our Mighty Monarchs Make A Comeback!

23 Jun

GOOD NEWS DEAR GARDENERS! Things are looking a bit brighter for Monarch Butterflies this year! The latest count of Monarchs overwintering in Mexico increased to 150 million this year over last year’s 42 million. And the latest report from the Xerces Society Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count is showing more positive indicators – 15 sites (out of 187), which have been continuously monitored since the late 1990’s, show Monarchs turning up in numbers unseen for decades! What’s more, this past year they were seen overwintering in brand new sites such as Berkeley’s Aquatic Park and Muir Woods in Marin County.

Now, this is pretty great news for us gardeners, and so many of us who care about the myriad threats to our pollinator friends, especially our iconic Monarch Butterfly.

monarch_butterflies_pacific_grove

Monarchs overwintering near Pacific Grove, CA. Photo courtesy Agunther

But as most of you know, there is still a long way to go to ensure a healthy population of Monarchs. Here are some sobering numbers: Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count volunteers counted a total of 1.2 million butterflies in the late 90’s. This year’s count was 271,924. 

We are so grateful to the many folks putting so much effort into studying and supporting our Monarchs and other pollinators and sharing their information with us.

So now, let me introduce you to a lady I am in awe of. Local hero and pollinator powerhouse Tora Rocha, Oakland Public Works Park Supervisor, who is responsible for single-handedly supervising over 75 parks and public spaces in Oakland. But we know her as the guardian goddess of downtown Oakland’s The Gardens at Lake Merritt. Promoting the idea that people – especially gardeners – “should become hands-on stewards of their local ecosystems”, Tora practices what she preaches.

tora_rocha

Pollinator powerhouse Tora Rocha.

Unlike anyone or anything I’ve seen in the world of Monarch research, Tora is operating a multi-faceted Monarch lab. Using the gardens as a testing ground, she is constantly trialing which plants are helpful to Monarchs and other butterflies. In her daily work in the garden she can easily see which plants are the most popular for nectar sipping and for egg laying, sharing her sometimes surprising info with us.

BUTTERFLY RESCUE

What’s more, Tora is also helping increase butterfly survival rates. Since only one out of 300 eggs will survive and transform into adult caterpillars, Tora and her small but mighty crew go about the garden collecting butterfly eggs and caterpillars (as well as taking in those brought in by local gardeners), raising them in butterfly nurseries to protect them from predators and diseases. The first year they started this project, they raised and released 30 Monarchs, the second year 300 and in 2015, 900. So far in 2016, they’ve raised and released over 2000 Monarchs! There were so many caterpillars, she had to recruit families, friends and volunteers to take them home to feed, nurture, watch and wait while they went through the positively miraculous stages of metamorphosis – shape shifting magically from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Many of these wonderful folks bring their butterflies back to Tora, to release back into the garden.

Here is a link to our friend Tansy Mattingly’s kitchen table video of this incredible process.

HERE ARE THE CLIFF NOTES TO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!

Here in California, Western Monarchs do not travel to Mexico but overwinter in over 200 groves along the California coast. In earliest Spring, they start to fly – madly mating,  laying eggs and dispersing across California and western states searching for Milkweed as it appears.

monarchmap-natureserve-10-20

Spring and Fall Monarch Migration. Graphic courtesy Xerces Society.

Milkweed, of course, or Asclepias species is the only plant on which Monarchs will lay their eggs. After 3-5 days, out pops a little caterpillar

Immediately, the tiny caterpillar becomes a voracious eating machine, the leaves of Milkweed foliage imparting important cardenolide toxins. By the time they are adult butterflies, this accumulation of toxins makes them poisonous and bad tasting to birds. Growing very fast, the caterpillar will increase 3000 times its size in the next 14-18 days! This would be like a human baby growing into a blue whale in that amount of time! After 18 days, the caterpillar starts shedding its outer skin or exoskeleton to reveal the stunningly beautiful chrysalis inside.

After 3 or 4 generations, the last generation or “Super Monarchs” begin arriving in our gardens in September to overwinter and cluster in a state of suspended reproduction or “sexual diapause”. Come February the cycle starts once again.

As “Big Ag” and its herbicides and urban/suburban sprawl destroy habitat and Milkweed feeding grounds, what can we home gardeners do to be better “stewards of our little garden eco-systems” as Tora asks? How can we support our pollinator friends especially since we’ve reached the point where butterflies passing through urban areas are almost entirely dependent on city gardens?

HERE’S WHAT TORA SAYS:

PLANT MILKWEED!!
Tora’s favorite Milkweeds in order of beauty and pollinator action are:

Asclepias speciosa ‘Davis’, Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias fascicularis, Asclepias physocarpa and Asclepias curassavica.

asclepias_speciosa_davis_close

Superstar Asclepias speciosa ‘Davis’

Plant in groups or even in masses. Planting in groups of 5 or more host or nectar plants is far more effective for attracting Monarchs to your garden than singles of each variety. So if you have a small garden you might just choose one Milkweed variety and plant it in abundance. The same goes for nectar plants ­­– choose just a handful of Monarch favorites and plant a swath of them.

Monarchs need NECTAR PLANTS, too! You must have nectar plants as well as host Milkweed in your garden so Monarchs will have a source of nutrition for their long travels. In fact, Tora recommends planting an equal number of host plants and nectar plants with at least one variety blooming at all times.

Here are Tora’s favorites:

  • Verbena lilacina ‘De La Mina’ – Tora’s # 1 favorite Spring blooming California native nectar plant – especially since its hardy to USDA zone 7 and blooms year around in mild climates. Remember, Monarchs are searching out nectar sources in September and October in much of California – just when many folks are cutting back plants and cleaning up their gardens. Tora recommends leaving a little “Monarch Corner” with some of their favorite treats. Tora has noticed that some Monarchs stay year-round in her gardens and has even observed butterflies nectaring in December on days when the temperatures go above 70 degrees.

    verbena_lilacina_de_la_mina

    Verbena lilacina ‘De La Mina’, pollinator magnet and Monarch favorite.

  • Anisodontea sp. ‘Strybing Beauty’ is a beautiful shrub in the Mallow family. It’s easy, fast-growing and blooms its heart out year-round in coastal California.

    anisodontea_strybing_sm

    Anisodontea sp. ‘Strybing Beauty’.

  • Tagetes lemonii Blooms off and on for most of the year, peaking in Fall to mid-Winter. Deer resistant, too!

Top 10 Reasons to Love Verbascums!

25 Jun

Do you grow Verbascums? If you haven’t yet, it’s totally understandable as you rarely see them in front yard gardens, you never see them in garden centers, they’re not sold by the branded plant companies, they don’t bloom in 4″ pots and are rarely sold in gallon containers. Under-recognized, they are often the unsung heroes of my gardens and one of the first plants I recommend to beginning gardeners as well as long-time gardeners.

In my opinion, everyone should grow Verbascums, common name “Mullein”, and here’s why!

1) They’re so EASY my dog could grow them.

AUGIE & Verbascum 2 NO HAT

If Augie Doggie can grow Verbascums – so can you!

You can grow most Verbascums anywhere – from sun to shade and they’re not fussy about soil. Growing in infertile soil to loamy, compost-rich soil, they’ll even grow in clay with no complaints. Deer don’t eat them, snails don’t eat them – they’re completely pest free.

2) They’re DROUGHT TOLERANT requiring little water once established.

3) They provide that often neglected but so important vertical accent to your garden. And some do it fast, blooming just a few months after planting.

4) They are LOVED by bees! Bumblebees, honeybees, you-name-it bees.

Verbascums are positively irresistible to bees of all stripes!

5) Verbascums self-sow! Not hideously but just the right amount to complete the garden. They just seem to know where to plant themselves to make your garden look more interesting and feel more garden-y. And hey, free plants! Now I know that some folks complain over self-sown volunteers. Here’s what I say: A: They’re a cinch to remove if you don’t want one in that spot and B: well, you’re already weeding your garden, right? What’s a few more volunteers?

Self-sown Verbascum nigrum ‘Album’ growing out of rock wall.

6) There are so many different varieties to choose from! There are perennials and biennials (biennials bloom the fastest – within a month or two here in California, like annuals). What’s so rewarding about the perennial Verbascums, especially here in long growing season California, is that they are “cut and come again” or repeat bloomers. After blooming for up to two months, you just cut the spent flower spikes down to the foliage and they’ll soon bounce right back with more gorgeous bloom spikes.

7) They never look bad. You’d really have to try hard to make them look bad.

8) They combine so well with so many – they look great in cottage gardens, rose gardens, understated gardens, drought tolerant and rock gardens.

8.5) Did I say they self-sow? If you love them as much as me, know that you’ll never have to do without the surprising charm they bring to your garden.

9) They’re medicinal and aha! You can smoke it! 

10) And my favorite thing about Verbascums is that when they bloom (and they bloom a lot), you feel so successful and happy with your garden, even though you’ve done nothing to maintain them!

Now, let’s highlight some of our favey-faves:

Verbascum nigrum ‘Album’ – This one’s perennial, living for many years, happy in sun or shade, creating a lovely, robust rosette to 30″ across and featuring felty, rich-green, spade shaped leaves. Not long after planting from 4″ size, they’ll begin to bloom with numerous erect spikes to 3′ tall or up to 4′ tall in shadier conditions. Densely studded spikes of creamy white 1″ blooms sport surprisingly flashy fuzzy bright caterpillar-like violet stamens ending in neon-orange anthers. Repeat bloomer! Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Verbascum chiaxii Album Habit ADJ CROP

Verbascum chiaxii album  My garden 06-15 ADJ .jpg

Verbascum chiaxii ‘Wedding Candles’ – Much like V. nigrum ‘Album’ above, except that it creates these outrageous candelabras. May not live more than 2 years but self-sows reliably. Repeat bloomer! Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Verbascum chiaxii 16 candles my yard ADJ  06-15

Verbascum 16 candles - Ploygonum orientale & Brugmansia Charles 06-15 ADJ

Verbascum nigrum – Long-lived like the white variety V. nigrum ‘Album’, this one’s an especially pleasing bright primrose (not golden) yellow with the same cool violet and orange eyes. Repeat bloomer! Hardy to USDA zone 5.

verbascum_nigrum

Verbascum nigrum my Garden B   06-15   ADJ

Verbascum nigrum & JapananeseSilverleaf Sunflower OCT 13b ADJ

Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’ – Probably our most popular Verbascum because it comes in such sophisticated shades of chamois, dusty rose, soft primrose and apricot centered with fuzzy purple eyes. Grows from 2′ to 30″ tall, it’s almost ever-blooming if you cut spent spikes. Prefers sun to half-day sun here along the coast. Lives 1-2 years generally, but self-sows. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Verbascum Southern Charm CLOSE PRETTY CROP

verbascum_southern_charm_rose1
Verbascum Southern Charm  & Garden angle  BEST  ADJ & CROP

Verbascum olympicum – The grand marshal of Verbascum-land! You want drama, we got drama. This one grows up to 8-10′ tall with a positively immense candelabra of golden yellow spikes easily 3′ across. Huge foliar rosette of wavy, gray-green, felted foliage to 3′ or more across. Thrives in poor soil. Not a cut and come again Verbascum but blooms for months. Traffic stopper extraordinaire!


VERBASCUM OLYMPICUM HABIT SHOPPED CROP

Verbascum olympicum FOLIAGE

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’ – Speaking of traffic stopping, this drop dead gorgeous Verbascum creates a basal rosette up to 5′ across with stunning large silvery leaves that are wavy-edged and coated in a soft down. Wonderfully tactile and a bold garden statement plant! Loads of branching spikes 3-5′ tall – up to 20 at a time – emerge blanketed in a snowy white fleece from which large bright yellow 1.5″ blooms appear. This one requires good drainage, best on the edge of a bed or in a container, and prefers (which means it will die without) very low water.

verbascum bombyciferum_close

Verbascum arctic sumer FOL ADJ & CROP

Wigandia & Verbascum 'Arctic Summer' CROP

Verbascum sp. ‘Cotswold King’ – Probably our second most popular Verbascum. Considered a biennial, it’s our fastest-to-bloom, flowering within a month to month and a half if planted in Spring or Summer, so really it acts as an annual here in California because it will die after blooming. But what bang for the buck! Growing quickly to 4-5′ tall, it has the largest and most amusing scented flowers. To 2″ across, bright lemon yellow and cartoon-like, they remind me of Yosemite Sam! Each plant bears up to 10 erect spikes and blooms for several months. You’ll be glad this one’s a reliable self-sower as it really brings a fun and cheerful quality to your garden.

Verbascum Cotswold  CLOSE 04-11-14  ADJ jpg

Verbascum Cotswold  ADJ

Papaver Orange Chiffon - Verbascum Cotswold & Delphinium HORIZ     ADJ & CROP  05-15

So go forth my gardening friends and do try one of these good natured, effortless garden accents. They’ll tolerate neglect and give so much back. But ha, of course it’s me talking, so what will I say to make your Verbascums grow perfectly (all except for V. ‘Arctic Summer’)? Yes, compost! Side dress with a 1/2″ to 1″ of some good compost after planting and each Spring thereafter for extra robust growth and flowering. And yes, even if you’re planting them in a low-water garden.

Thanks for tuning in!

Annie

Home Gardeners are NOT the Problem!

23 Apr
ShowerFinalSmall(1)

© Art by Lisa Crowther

Gardeners! Are you as confused as I was over whether we should just completely stop watering our gardens because of California’s “worst drought in history?” Even as I was seeing the greenest grass, the most wildflowers and more vernal pools filled to the brim than I had seen in at least 5 years on my morning hikes in the East Bay Hills, everyone was telling me how scary the drought was. Folks visiting our nursery would apologize for buying a few plants and for even watering their small urban gardens at all. I was away from the nursery one day when the final straw happened. I was taking a shower in the communal shower room after a swim at my local swimming pool. Picture me naked (lol, no don’t!), showering with 3 other ladies, when I bent over to pick up my shampoo bottle off the floor. This took me no more than 3 seconds. The lady showering across from me gave me the stink eye and said in her most disdainful voice “Looks like you forgot to turn off the water when you did that …” Really? I thought to myself “Are people just getting ruder these days or is this a new thing? Naked Water Police?”

surprised_showerer

© Art by Lisa Crowther

On my drive home, I thought about all I had heard about California’s drought while talking with random folks around town. I thought about all the fear-inducing news reports I had seen while watching network news shows with my TV-loving 82-year-old mom when she was in town last Fall. You’ve probably seen these headlines too: “Worst California Drought in History”, “Empty Reservoirs Everywhere!” and the scariest, “ONLY ONE YEAR OF WATER LEFT IN CALIFORNIA!” Whoa! Was this true?

I’m a flower-loving gardener and my business involves sharing my love and enthusiasm for all the joys and benefits of gardening. But now? I was getting a panicky feeling that any water I use on my garden was threatening the future survival of California residents. Was I really supposed to use water only for essential needs and let my garden die as my eye doctor told me he was doing, during my annual eye check-up? Should I stop gardening forever? I don’t want to hurt anyone or the environment!

more_bees

Read more about how to attract bees to your backyard HERE

Then I thought about all the good my garden provides my neighborhood, my environment – and me! Bees. Lots of organically grown flowers feed lots of bees and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s not only a joyful, beautiful thing, it’s important, too. Under a slew of threats, including habitat loss, flowerful urban gardens provide essential support for dwindling bee diversity and populations. Some say that bees are doing better nowadays in urban spaces as compared to rural areas. Then there are the butterflies; we all know they are in serious trouble. I’ve walked for many years in Pt. Pinole Regional Park, near the nursery, which also happens to be an overwintering site for Monarch Butterflies and I have watched their numbers shrink until this year … nothing. Short of our local civic leaders funding acres and acres of native Milkweed plants for our Monarch friends to lay their eggs on and whose leaves their caterpillars must eat to grow, our backyard Milkweed plantings offer islands of survival for these wondrous creatures. Add in a multitude of other pollinators and all manner of birds and I started think, where is the media interest, where are the conversations, defending gardens in all this? And who wants to live in an ecological desert?

butterflies

Monarch Butterflies May Join Endangered Species List. Read more HERE

So I spent the next few days doing some research, and after all I had heard, I was shocked to discover that residential water use is a mere 5%-8% of total water use in California and roughly half of that is going to watering lawns. 75%-80% of our water goes to agribusiness and another 15% goes to industry. Fracking in California currently uses 2 million gallons of water a day. A month later I was chatting with a visitor to our nursery who works for the Sacramento Water District. He scoffed at the media reports and confided in me, “Annie, if every domestic household in California stopped using water completely it would barely make a difference at all.” I tried to convince him to share his insider info with us by giving a talk at the nursery but he just laughed, “Public speaking gives me the willies” and was off with his carload of plants.

Next I called Scott Sommerfeld, EBMUD (East Bay Municipal Water District) water conservation representative and irrigation specialist. Scott gave a jam-packed talk here at the nursery in February on drought and the resilient garden and had some surprising things to say about managing water use. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, in fact, he’s a champion of beautiful, sustainable gardens and doesn’t believe for one minute that gardens have to suffer from lack of water. He works with cities, counties, developers and EBMUD customers to evaluate irrigation systems and provide efficiency recommendations AND he helped develop EBMUDs Lawn Conversion and Irrigation Rebate program.

more_hummers

© Art by Lisa Crowther

Though concerned over our recent less-than-desirable rain pattern, Scott certainly did not seem panicked. When we asked him about the headlines that claim California only has one year of water left, he put it into perspective for me. In a normal year, EBMUD has only two years worth of water stored in its primary reservoir and doesn’t have the capacity to store more than that. One year of storage was not an anomaly. Drought is nothing new to California, Scott said. “There are more dry years than wet years in California,” he said. “37% of the last 80 or 90 years have been dry or critically dry.”

Scott’s main concern isn’t the headlines – it’s lawns. Lawns are a high water use groundcover that don’t fit into a sustainable landscape, especially now. His mission is to promote sensible water use – and discourage the watering of large residential lawns, especially in hotter areas.

“It is an immense challenge to change the way people think about lawns,” Scott said. “If the only time you walk on your lawn is to mow it, you probably shouldn’t grow it.

“Most people overwater their landscape [read: mostly lawns] a lot – especially when they have a drip irrigation timer. Auto-timers can be your best friend of your worst enemy. They water their landscape whether it needs it or not.”

Whether you have a lawn or not, and you’re using an irrigation timer, Scott says it’s essential to water deeply. Look for a “cycle and soak” function on your water timer – it promotes deep rooting by watering for a couple of minutes, then pausing to let the water soak into the ground. It will maximize deep root watering, minimize runoff and reduce how much water you’ll use. Or, you can always hand water, which allows you to water only when the garden needs it, which varies depending on the weather and time of year.

Finally, here was first hand, true information about water usage for home gardeners. This is what I learned from Scott: If you don’t have a large lawn in a hot Summer area, YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. If you’re growing a sensible mix of low and average water use plants YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. Home gardeners who are growing healthful fruits and vegetables or flowers for joy, beauty, and to support and enjoy our birds, butterflies and bees ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. You don’t have to stop watering your beautiful plantings – just be smart about it.

 

GardenFinalSmall

© Art by Lisa Crowther

“Our landscape is so important to our quality of life, so we’re not advocating no landscape,” Scott says. “If you’re doing everything you can do to conserve water, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about gardening. There’s enough to use, just none to waste.”

So folks, let’s do our best to sustain and support California’s natural resources including our wildlife as well as our water. I think organic gardening is a terribly important part of the whole picture. To alter an old hippy motto: “Gardening is Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.” And finally, let’s hope for more activity on the part of gardeners, politicians and hey, even the media, to advocate better long-term, sustainable water resource management in California; to create and promote more small to mega-scale ways to recapture the rain that does fall. To protect the Delta and California’s waterways and eliminate destructive industrial and agribusiness practices that threaten the future of this beautiful place we call home.

kitty

© Art by Lisa Crowther

Be healthy and excellent to each other,

Annie

More links:

True Romance!

25 Jul

Introducing John Barrington’s Deliciously Fragrant Heirloom Carnations

dianthus_queen_of_hearts

Glowing in the garden, Dianthus ‘Queen of Hearts.‘  Thank you John Barrington!

If any of you follow my ramblings over the past several decades, you know that I am enamored with the genus Dianthus. Now, not those silly, boinky, dwarfed, sadly scentless and die-really-fast ones you get at the box stores and garden centers, but the cottagey-perennial, divinely fragrant and long lived prolific bloomers of my gardens here at the nursery.

Interestingly, our most popular Dianthus has been the strange and fantastical (but not intensely scented) Carnation type Dianthus ‘Chomely Farran.’ As far as I can tell, it is the last remaining (at least in the US) of a huge group of Carnation types called “Bizarres” that were very popular prior to 1830. Looking for any information on “Bizarres” and another category of lost Dianthus called “Flakes’ I came across a reprint of Thomas Hogg’s 1839 book, “A Practical Treatise,” which lists well over 200 named varieties of ‘Bizarres.’ How exciting!

Dianthus 'Chomley Farran' in hand

Nearly perfect and oh-so-psychedelic ‘Chomley Farran’, why can’t you be more fragrant?

Wondering if there could be any of these heirloom Dianthus still alive somewhere in the world led me to Google every named variety listed in Hogg’s book until ding-ding! A hit!
Vintage plane blue sky

Off I flew to the UK – to the house and nursery of Carnation fanatic and devotee John Barrington in Somerset, England. Tucked away on a 200-acre farm in the middle of what seems like nowhere, John is passionate about recapturing the long stemmed, ever-blooming Carnations of old and has devoted his life to bringing romance – and most importantly FRAGRANCE – back to this heirloom favorite.

Walking through John’s greenhouses, packed with hundreds of varieties in tidy rows, was like waking up on Christmas morning! So welcoming and kind-hearted, John was delighted to share the delicious scents we had only dreamed of! It was like I had found the Holy Grail of Carnation-kind!

John_Barrington's_ greenhouse

Row upon row of heirloom Carnation inspiration!!

As I thrilled to each new scent, he excitedly bounced around taking cuttings of all the varieties I liked the best. To meet someone so obsessed with one particular plant – and so dedicated to saving and recapturing an important piece of horticultural history – made this my favorite plant hunting experience ever! If you ever find yourself in the UK, you must visit him. I guarantee you will love him as much as I did!
Annie_Holding_Carnations1

Now, after two years of increasing our stock, we are thrilled to be able to finally share these enchanting heirlooms with you! Almost non-stop blooming (year-round here in our mild climate), strongly perennial and vigorous – we’re offering the prettiest and most fragrant of the bunch. Among them is a legendary “Flake.”

dianthus JB #12 'Cheshire Cat'

The purrrr-fect “Flake”- introducing ‘Cheshire Cat!’

dianthus JB #33 'White Rabbit'

‘White Rabbit’ boasts the most fragrance of all!

dianthus JB #29 'Queen of Hearts'

Off with its head! ‘Queen of Hearts’ makes a fabulous cut flower.

Check out all our Perpetual Carnations HERE!

Our obsession with all things Dianthus runs deep – check out all of the wonderful and heirloom varieties we offer!