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Fire-Safe Landscaping with Kate Frey

19 Apr

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

The recent fires in the Napa/Sonoma area have touched everyone in Northern California. The physical composition and appearance of our landscapes, and our relationship with them is forever changed. From wildlands, rural hillsides, to city streets, what seemed permanent and safe is vulnerable to periodic fire. Not just the built environment, but many of our trees, shrubs and gardens are gone, living elements that act to soften and aesthetically anchor houses and buildings to the earth and create a sense of place around our homes.

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Our homes and businesses are set in and adjacent to wild landscapes. In our leisure time, we walk, bike or drive through their majestic scenes. People travel from all over the world to enjoy the atmospheric and rugged Napa Valley, and the wine region set in it. Our intense engagement with these environments has created a strong urban-wildland interface that is susceptible to fire, a natural aspect of our summer-dry landscape.

The Larger Context

It helps to understand the larger context of fire in the environment our homes and businesses are set in. Due to our long dry season without rain, low relative humidity, sometimes heat and winds, and with often-abundant fuels (vegetation), California is a fire-prone landscape. Ecosystems and plant communities have developed and evolved in this environment. Periodic fires are a natural aspect of most California ecosystems. Some are fire-dependent and require fire for seeds to germinate, renew over-mature vegetation, open forests to sunlight, and to provide nutrients for certain plants. The soft, new growth of native shrubs that grow after a fire provide much nutritious browse for animals such as deer. Bare soil and the lack of competition from shrubs and trees allow annual wildflowers to grow. But too frequent fires destroy seedbanks, and young trees and shrubs before they are old enough to set seed, and set in motion a landscape’s conversion to grasslands, a highly flammable vegetation type.

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Fire in Plant Communities

Dry conditions, low relative humidity, and winds help create physical conditions conducive to fire. Vegetative fuels with low moisture levels, and structural elements like houses feed fires. The golden hills of California, a ubiquitous and inherent aspect of our state’s identity, are now composed of over 90% non-native grasses and forbs. We have both purposely and inadvertently converted our natural understory landscape of perennial grasses and ephemeral annual wildflowers to very flammable non-native grasses. These plants grow quickly with the advent of winter rains, set seed and die early in the spring. They are highly flammable (often called “flashy), and allow fires to spread extremely rapidly. Dried grasses are dangerous when they invade or are adjacent to shrub or chaparral plant communities as the grasses act as ladders into the flammable shrub overstory. These grasses also dry much earlier in the season than other vegetation, and so extend the fire season greatly.

Chaparral, the most common plant community in the state, is composed of densely growing shrubs such as manzanita, chamise, toyon, scrub oak, and Ceanothus that form a closed stand over time. It is a fire-dependent ecosystem, yet fires historically naturally occur in these systems only about once or twice a century. Fires are often severe, eliminating most standing vegetation. Many shrubs and trees of this ecosystem either sprout from the base after a fire, or their seeds are stimulated to grow by fire and the resulting bare soil. Fires rejuvenate these areas. In conifer forests, fires were more frequent, usually patchy, and lighter in intensity, mostly consuming the understory and young trees with branches that reach the ground. With the advent of effective fire suppression, forests are widely considered more dense and even-aged than they were naturally, and consequently fires are now often severe and enter and spread in tree crowns. In oak woodlands, trees and shrubs both grow singly and in clumps. Older hardwood trees such as oaks, madrone, and California bay often have no lower branches due to age. They usually grow in wide expanses of dry grasses that are highly flammable. Winds can act to move flame from ground level into tree canopies.

How do fires start?

Over 90% of fires are started by human activity. Mowing, powerlines, and sparks from cars, cigarettes, and campfires, cause fires far more frequently than do lightning strikes. As we have seen, winds have a great influence in the generation and severity of fires and the catastrophic speed at which they move, and can cause devastation in areas never considered at risk.

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We can affect how fire-safe our landscapes are. Choosing appropriate plants for a fire-prone landscape, strategically siting and pruning plants, minimizing dry fuels such as grass, and adequately watering plants can have an effect on how landscapes behave in the event of a fire. Larger landscapes need to have defensible space around structures. Defensible space is defined as space where the vegetation has been designed or modified and maintained to reduce flammability, and where firefighters can defend a structure.

zauschneria_californica_horiz

Urban and rural areas have different laws and concerns about their properties and gardens. In rural areas existing fire ordinances govern how landscapes are managed. Most break down areas of concern into defensible space zones corresponding to distance from houses or structures. In an urban or suburban setting, where houses are closely spaced, and lot sizes are small, houses themselves form the vast majority of combustible fuels. In these spaces, we can still work to minimize our gardens possible contribution to further ignition of homes. Minimizing the use of highly flammable trees such as Monterey pines, junipers and eucalyptus, irrigating our plants well, maintaining plants (trees, vines, shrubs and groundcovers) free of dead leaves and stems, and thinning dense vegetation will all contribute to a more fire safe environment. 

Defensible Space Zones for Wildfire:

Zone 1: 1-30 feet from structure.

  • Remove dead plants and dead grass/weeds.
  • Remove any overhanging tree branches over roof or touching house.
  • Trees should have a 10-foot space between them.
  • Use low flammability shrubs under windows and around decks.
  • Use gravel mulches. Compost can be placed around plants.
  • Water plants well.

Zone 2: 30-100 feet from structure.

  • Dead grasses mowed to four-inches.
  • Fallen leaves/needles/small branches and plant debris can be no more than three-inches deep.
  • Eliminate ladder fuels to trees. Limb up trees to six-foot from ground.
  • Create horizontal space between trees and shrubs. Space trees and shrubs widely. (See CalFire website for details). Create non-contiguous plantings.
  • Create vertical space in between trees and shrubs. Remove shrubs under trees that could act as ladder fuels. (See CalFire website for details).
  • Use low flammability mulches such as decomposed woodchips or composted greenwaste.

Choosing and maintaining fire-resistant plants and gardens

All plants can burn!

  • Irrigate your plants adequately. A high-moisture content acts to buffer flammability. Well-irrigated plants require more energy to ignite and sustain combustion.
  • Maintain plants free of deadwood/twigs/stems.
  • Thin dense tree and shrub canopies to reduce fuels.
  • Limb up trees 6-10 feet from ground level to minimize ‘fire ladder’ effect. Limb up shrubs so foliage does not touch ground.
  • In wildlands thin chaparral shrubs. Base-sprouting plants like coyote brush, chamise and coffeeberry can be cut down every few years in fall to reduce fuel load and keep vegetation young.
  • Chose fire-resistant plants for your garden. Fire-resistant plants are open in growth habit, don’t accumulate dead wood/leaves/stems, and are free of flammable resins/oils and turpenes.
  • Use more low-growing plants (less than two-feet in height) than upright shrubs or trees.
  • Space plants adequately for each fire zone and around structures. On large lots and properties, the immediate critical 30-foot area around houses should have just widely spaced, well-irrigated specimen trees and low plantings free of mulch. Sprinkle compost around plants for soil fertility. From 30-100 feet from houses, space trees 20-40 feet apart. Space shrubs widely. Low plantings should not be contiguous.
  • Thin or remove highly flammable plants- such as many conifers, especially near structures. Deciduous trees are less flammable.
  • Have adequate numbers of plants with deep and extensive roots (such as native plants), to hold and protect soil during winter rains- especially on slopes.
  • Use mulches with low flammability. Mulches that have large air spaces between particles or pieces are more flammable. Shredded barks can be highly combustible. A two-inch layer of woodchips, and even better, composted woodchips or composted greenwaste have low flammability and tend to smolder rather than flame. Compost has less flammability still as particles are very small and closer in composition to that of soil. Consider installing microsprinklers in mulched areas so mulch can be moistened during times of red-flag fire warnings. Red-flag warnings are when humidity is less than 19% and winds over 25 mph. Intersperse mulch with non-combustible materials such as pavers, decomposed granite, gravel or rock.
  • Mow annual grasses and weeds in a 100 feet perimeter around structures to 3 inches in height before they are completely dry to minimize any fire spread and fire ladder effect.

 

Further information:

The Napa Communities Fire Wise Foundation Defensible Space

http://www.napafirewise.org/DS%20Download/defensable-space-live/index.html

Cal Fire

http://www.fire.ca.gov

Home Landscaping for Fire UCANR Publication 8228

http://ucanr.edu/sites/cfro/files/167774.pdf

Defensible Space State Law: Public Resources Code 4291

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=4291.&lawCode=PRC

The photos are all from Brett Van Paepeghem and are of his beautiful fire-wise garden at the:

College of Western Idaho – Idaho Botanical Garden
2355 Old Penitentiary Rd.
Boise, ID 83712

The Firewise Demonstration Garden at the College of Western Idaho – Idaho Botanical Gardens (IDG) was the first of Firewise demonstration gardens developed in Idaho to show homeowners how they can live on the edge of wildlands more safely and beautifully.

This Firewise Garden was born out of the 2000 fire season, the worst at the time since 1910. Seven million acres burned and fires caused $10 billion in loses – including entire neighborhoods in Los Alamos, NM. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) botanist Roger Rosentreter, now retired, got the idea from a similar garden he saw in San Diego. Many of the plants in the San Diego garden would not grow in Idaho’s climate, so Dr. Rosentreter convinced the BLM to partner with Boise State University, the Idaho Botanical Garden and later the College of Western Idaho and Idaho Firewise, to install and manage this garden in what once was an ugly weed patch.

The garden was opened to the public in 2008 and is currently visited by over 100 thousand people a year.

The BLM Firewise Garden was developed just outside of the Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden Wetlands area. It is a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, College of Western Idaho’s Horticulture Program, and the Idaho Botanical Garden. The Garden now supports more than 300 species and cultivars of plants, both native and non-native.

Brett Van Paepeghem is a 4th generation Idaho native. He holds an AAS in Horticulture and BAS in Biology with specialization in Botany and Ecology from Boise State University. Brett has worked for the USFS on the Payette National Forest as a Range Tech with the Noxious Weed Control Team and 7 years at the Idaho State office BLM as a Plant Biological Tech. In June of 2014 he joined Idaho Firewise as the Southern Idaho Project Manager where he manages the BLM/CWI/IBG Firewise Garden and has collaborated with various agencies on the development of several new Firewise Demo Landscapes throughout Southern Idaho.

 

 

 

 

 

Combination Nation!

21 Mar

A garden is more than just the sum of its parts. It’s about getting some of the sum to party together at the same time!

Over the years, we’ve come across some pretty dependable – and dependably pretty – bloom-at-the-same-time plant combinations. And each year, it seems we discover new ones! For us, that’s a huge part of the fun of gardening – and of course, we love to share our tried-and-true, can’t-go-wrong favorites with you!

Our Springtime gardens wouldn’t be the same without our  favorite California wildflower and #1 stunner , Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes.” Once you’ve edged your Spring garden in this little slice of sky-blue heaven, you’ll be hooked! Which is fine because it looks great with everything, especially other natives that bloom at the same time. Here it looking perfectly perky with Malcolmia maritima and  fellow natives Platystemon californicusNemophila menziesii ‘Snow White’ and Limnanthes douglasii “Meadow Foam.”

Nemophila menziesii scene

Yup, looks great with the fiery red of Eschscholzia californica ‘Red Chief,’ too!

Nemophila "Baby Blue Eyes" & Cal Poppy 'Red Chief'

“Baby Blue Eyes” looking extra fine with red hot Cal Poppy ‘Red Chief.’

Another knock-out and goof-proof duo we return to again and again is Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Blue Springs’ and Eschscholzia californica ‘Apricot Chiffon.’ You just can’t beat the alchemy between the radiant Poppy and the luminous, almost turquoise Penstemon. Not shy in the bloom department, these two will go to town for months! Deer and drought resistant, they’re fine in low fertility soil and even more bodacious in regular garden soil with some compost!

Cal Poppy 'Apricot Chiffon' & Penstemon heterophyllus

Cal Poppy 'Apricot Chiffon' & Penstemon heterophyllus
Okay, so say pastels aren’t really your thing. We can work with that! One of our favorite combinations pits primary gentian blue Anagallis monellii against the solar flare sunshine of Ursinia anthemoides. Throw in the peachy-amber foliage of Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ and you’ve got a fantasically contrastic combo that does great in low water gardens.

Anagallis monellii & Ursinia anthemoides

From left to right: Heuchera ‘Marmalade’, Anagallis monellii and Ursinia anthemoides. BAM.

Ursinia anethoides & Anagallis monellii

Dreamiest spikes of creamiest apricot-blushed-rose blooms make this properly 3′ tall Snapdragon a perfect companion to so many other Spring (and Summer!) bloomers. Here it is canoodling with the long-blooming frothy lace caps of Orlaya grandiflora “Minoan Lace.”

Antirrhinum 'Chantilly Peach' and Orlaya grandiflora

Antirrhinum 'Chantilly Peach,' Orlaya  grandiflora & Nicotiana 'Lime Green'
If we handed out awards to our favorite bloomers, Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ would probably sweep the floor, winning “Most Congenial,” Most Stylish” AND “Most Versatile.” Easy and exceptionally long blooming, it gets along with EVERYBODY and looks chic and fabulous doing it.  Plant it in containers or in the garden, it’ll thrive in sun (along the coast) or shade, its lime green flowers providing the perfect foil for more vibrant bloomers like Agrostemma githago ‘Milas.’

Nicotiana 'Lime Green' & Agrostemma g. 'Milas'

Agrostemma githago 'Milas'

So there you have it, folks – some simple and stunning combos you can try at home. AND, since so many of these luscious lovelies self-sow, you’ll enjoy future generations of combinations next Spring and beyond!

Spring Gardens Report Card

7 Jun

So, here’s the update on how my Spring blooming combos worked out this year. A lovely year all in all with a nice early bloom show for our Spring Party in mid-April and a perfect peak show just in time for our Mother’s Day Party.

SMALL Spring Garden U BED  left side full bloom

Papaver commutatum - Nemophila menziesii  & Agrostemma Ocean Pearls for blog

Here is the final result for the always popular mixed planting of Papaver commutatum “ Ladybird Poppy” with California native Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes” and tall, white, cottagey classic annual Agrostemma githago ‘Ocean Pearls’ or “White Corncockle”. A fool proof-slam dunk Springtime combination – just imagine these plants repeated in groups over a larger space!

Papaver commutatum , White Cal Poppy & Nemophila 04-12 c GOOD

Here it is a month earlier before the Agrostemma started blooming and when the white California poppies, Eschscholzia californica ‘Alba’, were just coming into flower. Here along the coast in the Bay Area, I plant all these annuals in early February for a maximum bloom-at-the-same-time April – May show. You folks in Southern California would generally plant them in November – December for a late February – March bloom. Basically, they take 2 months from their 4” pot size to burst into all their glory. I plant them pretty darn close together – about 10-12” apart as you can see in my last blog, where I tried to show what they look like just after planting. This helps them fill in fast, look super co-mingly and prevents unattractive bare space (and weeds!).

Big thrill for me! My first-time experiment pairing EASY South African bulb Ixia ‘Buttercup’ and new-to-me Southern California purple California native Phacelia minor was a success! They did bloom at the same time!

Phacelia minor-Ixia Buttercup & Thomas Church

I planted the Phacelia in early March and it worked out just right. Wonderfully rich colored bells were displayed so showily atop quite handsome low foliage. A swell contrast with the Ixia, which has been in the ground for 2 years. And notice the rather perfect purple and yellow bicolored Lupinus regalis ‘Thomas Church’ in the background, making a picture perfect harmonious vertical accent. The Lupine is a perennial and so is the Ixia, which spreads politely in your garden to make a patch of bright primrose prettiness each year. The Phacelia is a bee-magnet extraordinaire and will self-sow for a repeat performance each Spring.

Lupinus Thomas Church & Ixia Buttercup bb ADJ

As I mentioned in my March post, I try to make the front bed as you enter the nursery as romantic as I can. Not everything worked out as I had imagined it (a really common occurrence!).
U BED Spring Garden Elayne ADJ & CROP

This spot is under partial shadow of a tree and I always forget that sun loving plants take longer to bloom with less sun, so my white poppies, Papaver ‘Bridal Silk’, bloomed late and you can only see one bloom on the right side of this photo. Luckily, the white columbine, Aquilegia caerulea ‘Krystal’ took its place. Still pretty, though, don’t you think? Here is a close-up of always beautiful, long lived and long blooming Dianthus ‘Pinkerton’ and “Baby Blue Eyes”.

Dianthus Pinkerton & Nemophila

Lastly, this was the first year I’ve tried this lovely new apricot colored Calendula ‘Bronzed Beauty’ in our gardens.

Calendula  Bronze Beauty  side  NICE

Calendula Bronze Beauty close PERFECT

The gentian Ajuga genevensis I had planned for the front of the bed bloomed late this year, so I added in some quick flowering Viola ‘Bolwes Black’ along with the blue Delphinium bellamosum, peach foliaged Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ and Bellis perennis “English Daisy”. And here’s how it turned out for these photos – I think pretty nice!

Calendula  Bronzed Beaury Viola Bowles Black 7 Heuchera Marmalade nn

Calendula Bronze Beauty  SIDE GOOD  ADJ & CROP

That’s one thing I have learned from my years of gardening. You can never quite count on perennials, like the Ajuga, to behave the same way each year or to bloom at the exact same time – that’s one important reason to accessorize and fill in with annuals. You pretty much know what you’re gonna get and that it’s gonna look great. Besides, they self-sow for free plants every new season.

I hope my experiments lend some inspiration. Do stay tuned, as we filmed some nice videos of our Spring gardens this year, featuring more of my favorite “bloom-at-the-same-time combos” in all their fabulous glory! And hey, Happy Gardening everybody!

It’s starting to happen!

28 Apr

Looks like the gardens will peak just in time for our Mother’s Day Party on May 7 & 8! Get all the deets HERE!

Everything is blooming about a month late because of the cold and the rain and the hail (and the rain an the hail and the cold). We didn’t know if this year’s gardens would end up a complete disaster after an unusually brutal Winter but once again, Mother Nature is delighting us with her magic.

lupinus_thomas_church_garden

Lupinus 'Thomas Church' and Aquilegia v. 'Blue Barlow' looking spiffy!

The California natives seem to be especially slow, with California poppies yet to bloom and Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes” growing in slow motion. But, the Lupines are earlier than ever and thriving!

lupinus_thomas_church_spiking

Omphalodes linifolia provides a delightful white skirt to our boy 'Thomas.'

Layias were one of the CA natives not affected by the rain and it didn’t seem to mind the cold. Some of them did get a little beaten down by the hail, but they’re sure bringing their rays of sunshine to the beds right now.

LAYIA & PHYGELIUS CROP PRETTY ADJ  copy

Layia platyglossa "Tidy Tips" and Penstemon pseudospectabilis with Campanula glomerata.

layia_glandulosa_in_garden

Layia glandulosa makes the perfect partner to Nemophila menziesii "Baby Blue Eyes."

We’re LOVING the true form of Layia glandulosa. Everybody loves blues and whites in the Spring garden, but you need soft yellows to balance it out and bright pinks to make it pop. I’m so excited because this is the perfect soft yellow to go with all of our Spring bloomers!

Gladiolus carneus "Painted Lady" & Glaucium grandiflorum GOOD copy

Gladiolus carneus "Painted Lady" and Glaucium grandiflorum make odd bedfellows.

Every year is different and full of surprises. I’ve never seen these two plants bloom at the same time before, hence the unusual color combo! That’s Gladiolus carneus, a South African bulb, returning for another year and Glaucium grandiflorum (orange), blooming much earlier than it usually does for us. Both require no Summer water.

Just coming into bloom is Delphinium belladonna ‘Cliveden Beauty’, Sidalcea hendersonii and ultra-blue CA native Phacelia viscida. The Sidalcea is one of my favorite perennials, I use it everywhere because it blooms Spring thru Fall and is so very reliable, becoming bigger and bloomier every year.

Sidalcea hendersonii & Phacelia viscida Garden  copy

From left to right: Delphinium belladonna 'Cliveden Beauty,' Sidalcea hendersonii and Phacelia viscida.

Phacelia viscida

Bumblebee magnet Phacelia viscida how we love you!

Believe it or not, there are a whole lot more plants still to bloom in this garden. I think they should hit their peak just in time for our Mother’s Day Party on May 7 and 8. How cool is that? You should definitely come – bring your Mom AND your camera! MORE ABOUT THE PARTY HERE!

spring_garden

Carnival colors: Greek poppies (red), Layia platyglossa (yellow), Cheiranthus allionii (orange), Eschscholzia caespitosa (shortie yellow) and Aquilegia c. "Rocky Mountain Columbine" (light blue in background).

Bestill our Hearts – Kate Frey at the Nursery!

30 Mar

NEWSFLASH!! The incredible Kate Frey is coming to speak at the nursery for our AMAZING SPRING PARTY on Saturday, April 9 at 11 am! Kate will be giving a presentation on “How to Create a Pollinator Paradise in your own Garden.” As pollinators the world over are struggling, we think this is an extremely important talk – you must come!

Once there was a princess in Cretan Greek mythology who was changed into a bee after she learned how to collect honey. Her name was Melissa.

Bee Goddess, Q. Cassetti, Trumansburg, New York, 2010, Mixed Media

Last year, Kate invited all of us at Annie’s to visit the thrilling “Melissa Garden” she created in Healdsburg, CA for “bee-stewards” Barbara and Jacques Schlumberger. The Melissa Garden was created as a bee sanctuary extraordinaire where hives are treated as living beings. The bees are raised in innovative hives under natural conditions and provided with an exuberant garden brimming with year-round nectary flowers. I don’t think anyone else has created a garden quite like this anywhere in the world. I highly encourage you to check out this enchanting world Kate has created. The garden is open once a month to the public. Do visit it yourself and be inspired as much as we were! (Or, if you live far away, you can watch the SLIDESHOW from our visit last July).

The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, CA

I first met Kate in the mid-1990’s when I visited the organic gardens she designed at Fetzer Winery in Hopland. It was, simply, the most awesome garden I had ever seen. Awestruck and delighted, I felt giddy. The air was alive with butterflies and bees zooming around and each plant was a glorious, perfect specimen.

Kate and her garden was the goddess Melissa come to life!

Gorgeous black compost blanketed the ground – grapeseed compost from the winery, one of Kate’s fantastic secrets for extraordinary plant growth! I was an instant convert and started using it my own gardens with awesome success. We began offering it at the nursery and it now has a devoted following – all thanks to Kate!

I see Kate as a goddess, I really do. Not only that, she looks like a princess.

Princess Kate meets The Queen

Kate's Gold Medal Garden at The Chelsea Flower Show

Over the years, Kate has sprinkled her magic around the world. She has twice won the gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show and met the Queen! In 2009 she created a sustainable garden in the World Garden Competition in Hamamatsu, Japan. Her latest adventure is creating a sustainable and organic food garden in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Kate Frey!

Kate and Annie at the nursery

This is really a great opportunity to meet our wonderful Kate in person. Plus she’ll be sharing her favorite varieties to create your own Melissa Garden! How can you resist!

Visit Kate and her husband Ben’s BLOG to see more of their incredible gardens!

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – It’s On!

15 Mar

Sometime in the last month, Mother Nature hit the “on” button for Spring here in USDA zone 9-10. More sunshine, bees, birdsong and – oh yeah! – longer days to enjoy it all. So many pretty things have woken up and unfurled their flowers, way too many to post! I’ll keep it simple with a handful of hard-working but easy going CA natives that never fail to knock our socks off.

Ribes 'Claremont' and hummer

Ah, Ribes! How you brighten up our Winters and make the hummingbirds so happy! Our mother plant of Ribes sanguineum ‘Claremont’ is in massive beautiful bloom back by the seeding shed. With extra large, pendulous, 4″ blooms, you can see how the hummingbirds are mad for it. Just don’t get too close, or they might get mad at you. Check out the habit on this lovely plant – stunning!

lathyrus_vestitus

We’re excited about this new-to-us NATIVE sweet pea that climbs by delicate-looking tendrils to 6-10′. Not thuggy like some of the other perennial peas (Lathyrus latifolius, we’re looking at you), Lathyrus vestitus can be found growing under oaks in light shade in both clay and sand in its native habitat. Supposedly deciduous, ours remained evergreen during our mild Winter and burst out in violet-pink, lightly grape-soda scented flowers in February. It’s been blooming ever since. Love!

Galvezia speciosa

The first few flowers of Galvezia speciosa are starting to peep out. This tough Channel Island native blooms Spring through Fall, with electric reddish-pink flowers and small fuzzy leaves on a pretty shrub 3′ tall by 3-4′ wide. It’s clay and drought tolerant, making it extra useful in the garden. I probably should have waited to take a picture of it next month when it will be even bloomier, but I couldn’t help myself.

Ranunculus californicus

Just last weekend I went for a walk in Briones Regional Park and was cheered to see Ranunculus californicus starting to bloom along the trails. It’s wide awake and starting to bloom in the nursery, too. Easy to grow and requiring virtually no-care once established, I dare you to find a more cheerful and quintessentially buttercuppy buttercup. It makes me happy every time I walk by it, whether on the trail or in the garden.

Of course, there are many, many other wonderful things starting to bloom right now. If you’re nearby, come see for yourself! Or visit our Flickr stream for frequent updates.

Big ups to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day! See what’s blooming on other folks’ gardens this March!

California’s Crazy Cabbages!

23 Feb

It’s a Cabbagey time of year, but not in the way you might expect! Though I do have a soft spot for sauerkraut and odd ornamental kales (last year we celebrated “Take Your Cabbage to Work Day” and a magnificent head of ‘Filderkraut’ attended our staff meeting), I mean instead to wax ecstatic on the wild, NATIVE cousins of our vegetable friends.

Caulanthus inflatus

Caulanthus inflatus doing it's thing. Eventually the stem will puff up like a smallish banana!

May we introduce Caulanthus inflatus “Desert Candle?” It’s the only annual I can think of that’s grown for its STEM, which is curiously inflated and bright yellow. It’s only during the first few months of the year that we’re able to grow this bizarrity, and after real sunshine starts to hit our part of the world, up, up it goes, like a banana that’s been bred with a balloon and we can no longer offer starts. So sad! So seasonal! If I could grow this annual year round, I would, but it doesn’t grow that way. As the common name suggests, it’s on loan to us from more arid parts of the state and it’s biological clock tells it to bloom like there’s NO TOMORROW before the scorching sets in. Given a milder climate, luxurious soil and more ample agua, some desert wildflowers carry on for much much longer than they would in the wilds, but Caulanthus inflatus keeps the window tight. Thus my very special public service announcement: should you like to grow this truly strange cabbage cousin for yourself, you must get them in the ground pretty much NOW. Go go go!

Another of our native cabbages that looks more extraterrestrial than local is Streptanthus farnsworthianus. Subtle in color, but so strange in form! The appeal is not so much the flowers, but the foliage, which starts as a tuft of ferny green and elongates and ages as the plant comes into bloom into strange winged purple forms with a pearlescent sheen. It’s very hard to capture and document properly and even our best photos seem to miss the whimsy and oddity of the plant. You must grow it and see for yourself!

streptanthus_farnsworthianus-1

Strange and pretty CA native Streptanthus farnsworthianus has purple papery wings that outshine the flowers.

streptanthus_farnsworthianus_again

Last and hardly least comes Thysanocarpus radians, whose delicate stems carry some of the prettiest seeds I’ve ever seen. Held many to a stem, they look very much like elegant jewelry. A translucent wing surrounds each seed and if you’re careful with your meadow maintenance (mind your Sluggo and keep the weeds at bay) you can get a little patch going that will reseed and return every year! This is another plant that we cannot offer late, so plant soon or you’ll miss your chance!

thysanocarpus_radians

thysanocarpus_radians_form

Here are a few other colorful cabbages of note floating about the nursery:

Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’ – Heirloom and exclusive! Also the most decadent “Money Plant” around.

Lunaria annua 'Rosemary Verey'

Heliophila longifolia – Airy, barely there foliage builds into a frothy bouquet of beautiful blue.

heliophila_longifolia_2

Streptanthus albidus peramoena “Most Beautiful Jewel Flower” – Lovely, showy, ENDANGERED. What more can be said?

streptanthus_albidus_peramoenus_diptych

Erysimum capitatum ssp. capitatum – New this year! I’ve fallen in love with this orange flowered CA native on the side of the road many times. I’m excited we can finally offer it for sale in the nursery!

Erysimum capitatum ssp. capitatum