Category Archives: wildlife

Gardens Change with Time

quiet_path.1280Call it a trick, call it a treat, but all gardens change with time. It’s part of nature for the fittest to survive. Now possibly you have different ideas of what you want your garden to look like but it’s hard to fool Mother Nature. Recently I had the opportunity to visit a special garden in the Gilroy area that has evolved with time. This garden of California native plants truly demonstrates how nature can decide the best plants for birds, butterflies, wildlife and people.

It was one of our classic mild autumn days when several fellow landscape designer friends and I were treated to a tour by the enthusiastic owner of the 14 acres of land called Casa Dos Rios at the base of Mt Madonna. Jean Myers loves to share her deer_grass.1280property and especially the journey that has transformed it from a formal landscape with lots of lawn to the present truly native wild garden. She loves that the landscape now supports all sorts of wildlife including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish.

A few of the native plantings have been more successful than she would have liked, Jean laughed as she pointed out the California Rose thicket has taken over the entry garden. She wishes she had planted the native wood rose instead which doesn’t spread as much. She plans to remove the wild rose eventually to make room for other native plants that aren’t so aggressive.

At this time of year a native garden is at rest. There’s a quietness to the landscape as the wind blows through the grasses. Large swaths of deer grass have naturalized. Originally, Jean planted many varieties of native grasses and some still remain but the deer grass have been particularly successful. Jean explained that this grass was used for making baskets by the Ohlone Indians that used to live in the area. To keep this grass fresh looking she cuts them back to 6 inches from the ground in late winter.

Calif_fuchsia.1280The California Aster was still blooming along the path as we made our way to the frog pond. This plant is well liked by the native moths and butterflies, Jean said, as it provides a late source of nectar. The lavender flowers make perfect landing pads. The two species of butterfly weed bloomed earlier in the season and had already spread their seed for next year.

The frog pond consists of basalt columns that drip water into a deep pool filled with rocks which cools the water in the heat of the summer. Jean said the area is usually alive with birds but they were keeping their distance during our visit. Lots of time for them to bathe later when we weren’t invading their space. She said Pacific Tree frogs and Western toads call the area home, too.

Another late blooming plant, the California Fuchsia, covered a slope alongside massive granite boulders. You could barely see the foliage through the hundreds of flowers of this red blooming variety. These plants spread easily and with a bit of late winter pruning look great late into the season.

Jean loves all her native plants. From the butterfly garden to the bog garden she has a story to tell about each Calif_buckwheat.1280area. In the spring, Jean said, the native iris steal the show. She rounded up 600 of these from nurseries all over California when the garden was first planted. Grouping each type together she says was half the fun to keep the colors pure in each stand. I was amazed to see them in areas of full sun as well as part shade locations.

We picked late blackberries and raspberries as we walked around this amazing 14 acre property that benefits all wildlife. She is an avid birder and she and her husband manage two creeks, the Uvas and the Little Arthur that support hundreds more bird species, including bluebirds, swallows and owls. “There’s so much for them to eat here.” says Myers. She lets nature feed and attract all the native wildlife that visits.

It was a privilege to listen to Jean share her enthusiasm for gardening with California natives to attract wildlife and to conserve water. I left with my pockets filled with seeds from native wild grape and clematis so I’ll always have a bit of Case Dos Rios in my own garden.

Ahbkazi Garden – Victoria, BC.

How many beautiful gardens can one visit on one vacation? I spent a whole day at the spectacular Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. a couple of hours at St. Ann's Academy heritage garden and the lovely Empress Hotel rose garden is a nice place to watch the sunset over the harbor.  But I wanted more and on the outskirts of Victoria in a residential neighborhood I found the perfect garden.

Smaller and more intimate, Abkhazi Garden offers a fine example of what you can do with a large lot full of rocks and trees if you put your mind to it. Now owned by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, the property was bought in 1946 by Peggy Pemberton Carter who recognized the possibilities on this last undeveloped lot in the neighborhood. This independent minded woman traveled to the west coast after WW II from a prisoner of war camp in Georgia, using funds she had hidden during the war in talcum powder. She married Prince Abkhazi, a Russian fellow prisoner, when he joined her in Victoria and they began to build the summer house and lay out the garden together.

Over the next 40 years, Prince and Princess Abkhazi  designed, planted and maintained the property. Peggy had lived in Shanghai before the war and it was this influence that plays out in the garden. Chinese gardens are essentially places of meditation, places to withdraw from worldly cares. This must have been very appealing to the Abkhazi's  after their experiences in prisoner of war camps. Nothing in a Chinese garden is hurried or blatant. Paths are not just a way of getting from one point to another, instead they are a way of exploring changing views that slowly shift as you walk through the garden.

As I made my way between massive glaciated rock outcroppings and under mature native Garry oak trees gorgeous views of the snow-covered Olympic mountains and the Straight of San Juan de Fuca could be seen.
Each garden "room" utilizes the natural lay of the land and has a welcoming bench for sitting and taking in the flowers. Lots of birds and butterflies were busy feeding and going about their daily activities.

Purple allium flowers the size of grapefruit caught my attention. Growing nearby, pale yellow Candelabra primula[/caption]Japanese iris bordered one of the paths. Fragrant dianthus, several varieties of campanula and euphorbia, lady's mantle and candelabra primula were all blooming and the weeping Crimson Queen Japanese maples were pruned to perfection.

More than just a collection of plants, this garden flows with the natural contours and blends the house with it's surroundings. it is a stunning example of West Coast design. The garden flows around the rock outcroppings, taking advantage of deeper pockets of soil for conifers, Japanese maples and rhododendrons. The original Lily-of-the-Valley beds still carpet a slope. Alpine plants are placed like little jewels around the boulders and woodland plants border the undulating lawns.

A small waterfall flows into a pond where 2 large turtles sunned themselves on the rock edge while a third rested on a waterlily pad, it's red ear markings picking up the dark pink color of the waterlily flower. A stand of stately white calla lilies emerged through a piece of drifwood near a resting spot. The garden is magical. One that you could imagine on your own property if you had the next 40 years to plant and maintain it.
 
It would have been  a terrible loss if the property had not been purchased in 2000 by The Land Conservancy. After the death of the Abkhazis the land was slated to become a townhouse development. This unique garden
is truly a place of wonder. a place to meditate and to withdraw from worldly cares.
 

Terra Sole Nursery Trials New Plants

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start your own little nursery on your property? What would you grow? How would you decide?  Over the years, I've been asked by home owners with a bit of extra property what would be good to grow. What is there a market for? So I decided to ask some friends who trial plants on their Watsonville property and operate a small nursery there how it all works.

Terra Sole Nurseries was founded in 2004 by John and Sherry Hall with the goal of experimenting and growing native, unusual and drought tolerant plants that are adapted to our dry summer climate. "We push the limits on water use in our test garden until we fall too much in love with a plant and can't bear to see it die with our tough love approach", Sherry said as we talked about the their operation.

Just back from attending the California Spring Trials,  Sherry and John were excited to share how they decide what to grow In their nursery. Their focus is to grow a large variety of native and unusual plants, some of which are old-fashioned, some are hot new introductions. What treasures did they find this year?

During the course of a week at the Spring Trials,  the world's prominent plant breeders, propagation specialists, growers, marketing professionals and plant enthusiasts share the latest and greatest at several open houses throughout California. The robust plant varieties of today are a direct result of the countless hours and decades of study from the dedicated professionals spending their time observing, testing and experimenting the new varieties that are more disease resistant, more floriferous, the best performers and are easy to grow in ordinary landscapes and gardens.  

How does a plant get from an idea in a breeder's mind to your local nursery? It all starts with the breeders who might cross pollinate thousands of plants to select maybe a hundred of the best ones. Then the growers buy an unrooted cutting or the seed or plugs of rooted plants and grow them onto a larger size. This is where the finish growers buy the plugs and liners to put into bigger pots growing them to retail or sellable size. Terra Sole Nurseries bought some of the newest plants on the market this year themselves.

What are some of the newest trends that we might see in our neighborhood nursery this year? The breeders of impatiens have developed a variety that appears to have a gingerbread man in the center. Called Patchwork this  impatien has a bigger flower and comes in six bi-colors.

Grafted vegetables, higher in antioxidants, are being developed. Non GMO vegetable varieties are grafted onto vigorous rootstalks to produce a plant disease resistant higher in nutrients. Tomatoes, basil, cucumbers. peppers and lettuce are just some of the vegetables being grown.

Biodegradable pots made from wheat are another of the new trends being offered for sale at the Spring Trials. The pots look like plastic yet breakdown after being used and can be recycled in your compost system. They hold up to the normal environmental pressures of heat, water and cold.

Sunset Western Gardening and HGTV are both offering their own branded plants that are available this year. Patented varieties coming out include a compact hardenbergia called Meena, two upright. compact nandinas- Flirt and Obsessive with bright red winter color and a compact mahonia called Soft Caress with non-prickly foliage. A cold hardy salvia named Amistad that has a very long bloom time will also be coming out soon.

To simplify choices for gardeners, better dahlias, calibrachoa, petunias and pansies are coming on the market this season. Several types are grown in the same pot so the buyer need only to plant one of these in a basket or container to get a combination that will look good and grow happily all season.

With so many plant choices which ones do Terra Sole Nurseries trial in their own garden and grow in their nursery? Next week I'll talk about what Sherry and John have their eye on, which plants they grow and the results of their own plant trials. You can find out more about the nursery at www.terrasolenurseries.com.

Fall Tips for Gardeners

Halloween is just around the corner and besides deciding what your or the kids are going to be this year, it’s time to bring in any plants that you plan to overwinter in the house. Whether they’re the houseplants that you put out on the patio for the summer or frost tender plants that you want to save, this is the .

 Although our nights are still well above freezing,  plants need to acclimate to the indoor environment before you start turning on the heater regularly. Be sure to wash them thoroughly and inspect them for any insects that may have taken up residence while they were vacationing outside. Usually you can dislodge any hitchhikers with a strong spray of water but if that doesn’t do the trick, spray them with a mild insecticidal soap or one of the other mild organic herbal sprays like oil of thyme.

If you want to decorate for Halloween there is a lot of plant material you can harvest from your own garden or nearby woods. Manzanita branches can often be found on the ground and make great arrangements combined with nandina or other berries. Some of the trees have started to turn color and their leaves can also be used for wreaths.  The leaves of New Zealand flax last a long time and add fall color in bouquets.

Mums are the classic fall flower.  They come in nearly every color except blue and the flowers have many shapes from daisy to spider mums.  They are perennials and make good additions to the garden. Best of all they make excellent cut flowers.

This October has had the perfect weather  allowing fall color to develop in our trees, shrubs and perennials.  Warm days, cool nights, not a lot of wind or heavy rain all help plants to attain and keep those bright reds, oranges and yellow colors we love. Here’s a short list of small plants that you can easily find space for even in the smaller garden.

Japanese barberry turn yellow, orange or red. They get red berries and are deer resistant.
Blueberries not only are good for you and their foliage turns beautiful yellow-orange in the fall.
Oakleaf hydrangea leaves take on burgundy hues.
Crape myrtle shrubs explode with brilliant red and orange color.
Pomegranate bushes turn bright yellow
Spirea foliage varies from red, orange to yellow.

Squirrel wars
If you are at odds like me with squirrels that dig up everything while burying acorns for the winter, delay planting your bulbs until Thanksgiving when they’ve finished stocking the pantry.  Store you bulbs in the frig or a cool place until then.  If you just have to plant some on a beautiful autumn day, cover the area with flat stones or chicken wire.

Don’t prune now
One last thing and you’ll be happy to hear this.   Fall is not a good time to prune.  Wounds heal slowly, leaving them more susceptible to disease.  As a general rule, don’t prune when leaves are falling or forming.  Wait to prune most trees until late in the dormant season or  late spring after leaves and needles form.  To avoid sap flow on birches and maples, prune after leaves mature. 

Resilient Plants for Santa Cruz Gardeners

We all approach the new gardening season with enthusiasm and optimism. Then the rain come down hard and pelts your new plants into the ground, the nights turn cold again and some of the plants in your garden aren’t so happy anymore. That’s when you need some tried and true plants to star in your landscape no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.

I’m often asked to give suggestions for resilient plants for a problem spot. These plants may have beautiful foliage, bark and texture, too, and serve two purposes in the garden. They may have flowers for some of the year to provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds or berries to feed wildlife. Most of all they are easy to care for and trouble free.

Snowberry gets an A+ for all of these qualities. A California native of shaded, mixed evergreen and oak woodlands, this 3-6 ft shrub thrives in a variety of locations including the dry shade under large trees like oaks. It tolerates poor soil and neglect and will grow well in full shade but blooms better and produces more berries if it gets some sun. Clusters of pure white berries appear in late summer and early fall and last through much of the winter. In late spring or early summer, its pretty blue-green leaves provide a nice contrast to the tiny pink flowers which hummingbirds love. Bees produce a white honey from their nectar rich pollen.

They can be pruned as a nice hedge providing twiggy, dense shelter for wildlife.Because of their vigorous root system, they are useful to stabilize banks and slopes. Maintenance is easy- simply prune away some of the suckers every few years to keep it in check. If it gets too tall,  shear it back in late winter to keep compact. The berries are not the first choice for most birds but thrushes will eat them if there isn’t anything else available. Other wildlife will eat the berries, too.

Lewis and Clark collected this plant and brought it back to Thomas Jefferson. It was sent to England in 1817 and became a popular garden novelty among plant collectors there.

If showy flowers are what you’re looking for in a specific spot, the perennial Phygelius would make a nice addition to your garden. This large 3-4 ft plant blooms from early spring into fall and you can grow them in full sun or light shade. Related to snapdragons and penstemon, the flowers also suggest fuchsias which is where they get their common name, Cape Fuchsia. Coral Princess is one of my favorites with lots of tubular, soft salmon and yellow flowers which attract hummingbirds.

In the same bed you might plant a few to fill and and add a nice contrast at the base of the Cape Fuchsias. This bright bluish-pink true geranium groundcover grows 8" tall and spreads slowly but widely. Easy to care for true geraniums are hardy in the winter, need just average watering and can be sheared each fall for fresh spring flowers.
 

Backyard Wildlife Certification

One of my New Year resolutions is to get my garden certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. It will be fun for me and would also be a good school project for your kids. They can keep track of all the birds, butterflies, dragonflies, insects, mammals, lizards and frogs that come to visit your yard. Once your backyard is certified by NWF, you can order and display an attractive Certified Wildlife Habitat sign to convey your commitment to wildlife conservation and the environment and help spread the word to your neighbors.

All species of wildlife need the basics of food, water, cover and places to raise young. We can help conserve our natural resources like soil, water, air and habitat for native wildlife by gardening in an environmentally friendly way.  Here are some of the simple steps I’m doing in my small garden garden to reach this goal.

To provide food in my shady garden I plan to include Ca. native snowberry, pink flowering currant and mahonia for berries that attract birds.  Hummingbirds will find nectar from coral bells, western columbine and fuchsia-flowering currants. I also keep my feeders up year round for them.

Butterflies will like like Santa Barbara daisy, sweet alyssum and columbine. Plants that will attract beneficial insects are Ca. rose, coast live oak and ceanothus. Although I try to plant natives for their beauty and toughness, I believe that finding the right balance by mixing natives with non natives can enhance benefits to wildlife.

Next, I provide clean water for drinking, bathing and reproduction. I don’t have room for a pond but I do have bird baths that I keep filled year round. I’m also planning to make a puddling area for butterflies.

Wildlife need places to find shelter from the weather and predators. I keep some areas of my garden orderly but leave some less manicured. I plant in layers providing a canopy or tree layer, a shrub layer and a ground cover layer. This provides a large range of sheltering, feeding and nesting sites. Keep in mind, wildlife need to feel safe in their surroundings. They tend to steer clear of large, open spaces. I find most of the wildlife that visit my yard start at the wooded area in the back and work their way up through dense shrubs, wild berries, a dead tree and a small log pile.

Evergreens and deciduous trees provide nesting areas for birds. The rock wall and leaf pile are favorite spots for mice, sakes and salamander to lay their eggs or raise young. Butterfly larvae find food on host ceanothus, huckleberry, oaks, bleeding hearts, foxglove, sweet alyssum, ornamental strawberry, dogwood, viburnum, crabapple and red flowering currant. I’d plant a wisteria for them if I had more sun.

I conserve our valuable resources by doing simple measures like mulching, using drip and soaker hoses, planting low-water use plants like natives suited to this area, using organic pesticides only when necessary and using organic fertilizers.

In my little corner of the world, I’ve created a beautiful wildlife garden. Visit the National Wildlife Federation at NWF.org to get started on your own certification.