Category Archives: birds

The February Garden

Just one of my my many Merriam’s chipmunks

The battle is on. Iíve gotten new bird feeders in an effort to thwart the squirrels. Hopefully, Iíve slowed them down. The chipmunks are so cute Iíve just given them free range. The suet feeders attract beautiful Townsend warblers daily in addition to pygmy nuthatches, chickadees, juncos, purple finches and lesser goldfinches. Did you know that lesser goldfinches are perfect mimics and can belt out the songs of 15 different birds in succession? Amazing.

banana slug

I have an Autumnalis flowering cherry thatís in full bloom again for the third time in a year. I love this tree. Iíve had to up my banana slug relocation program efforts during this moist weather. They are scavengers feeding on detritus and small dead insects on the forest floor so Iím sure they are happy when I relocate them to other parts of my property. Banana slugs reproduce year round. They live up to 7 years and move over 6 inches per minute which seems slow until you relocate one and within a short time itís back on the patio.

Flowering maple outside my backdoor.

The hummingbirds are happy with the flowering maples (Abutilon) that bloom nearly year round plus I have several nectar feeders to provide food until the flowers in the garden start to bloom. Iím waiting patiently for the buds on my pink flowering currant to start showing color. Theyíre still pretty small at this stage but Iíve assured my hummingbird population that soon they will have long clusters of nectar-rich flowers to visit. When I was out pruning last week I didnít touch this plant otherwise Iíd have cut off all those potential flower clusters loaded with nectar. This is what I did do in my garden.

The mild-ish winter, so far at least, has encouraged many of my plants, normally still dormant at this time of year, to start growing for the season. Whatís a gardener to do when the roses, fuchsias, oakleaf hydrangeas and many other plants arenít even dormant?

Cut back woody shrubs to stimulate lush new growth. Trim plants like Mexican bush sage and artemisia to within a few inches of the ground. Don’t use this approach on lavender or ceanothus, though. Lightly prune those after blooming later in the season and don’t cut back to bare wood inside the plant.

Prune fuchsias back by a third and remove dead, crossing branches and interior twiggy growth. My fuchsias were starting to grow and bloom already so this was hard for me to do but because fuchsias bloom on new wood it was necessary. Container fuchsias can be cut back almost to the pot rim. Do this right away if you havenít already done so.

My hydrangeas in back. I might have gone overboard that winter with the soil acidifier.

Cut back hydrangeas stems that bloomed last year and apply a soil acidifier if you want the flowers blue. Although aluminum sulfate is the traditional favorite for quickly acidifying soil itís not as kind to beneficial soil microorganisms. Coffee grounds, pine needles, peat moss and cottonseed meal are better for your soil.

Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs like lilac, weigela and spirea or flowering trees such as cherry, plum and crabapple now. These and evergreens like rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias should be pruned after they flower. You can cut some branches while they are blooming to bring into the house for bouquets.

Wait to prune back perennials that may have their new foliage damaged in a late frost. Same goes for shrubs that might have gotten hit by frost. That damaged foliage can protect the plant from further frost damage. Mid-March is the estimated date of hard frost in our area or at least it used to be. We gardeners are always betting Mother Nature will go our way and our efforts will not have gone in vain.

Prune fruit, nut, shade trees and deciduous vines like clematis.

Cut back ornamental grasses. Iím pruning California fuchsia, salvia ĎBeeís Blissí and hummingbird sage now. They look okay now but I want the encourage new, compact growth.

So thatís whatís happening in my world. How about yours?

Twas the Week after Thanksgiving

If working in the garden Thanksgiving weekend is not high on your list then youíre in luck. Here are some reasons why along with other information you need to know.

In the category of news you can use. A reader shared with me that a plant I mentioned a couple weeks ago in my column about hedges- Italian buckthorn or rhamnus alaternus – has evolved and is now considered invasive by the California Invasive Plant Council. Seems that over the past 3 to 4 years Italian buckthorn ĎJohn Edwardsí has overcome the reproduction invasion barrier of being entirely dioecious (having male and female plants separate). The shrub has become a serious problem in riparian and other wildland areas. Birds love the berries which are apparently all female. Thank you to my faithful reader for sharing this information with me. Donít plant this shrub.

Being that November has was so dry up until the day before Thanksgiving I looked up the current El Nino rain prediction for this winter season. Interesting enough I found lots of info on the surfline website in addition to NOAA. Sounds like weíre still on track for Californiaís midsection to have an equal chance of more precipitation than other years and warmer than usual from December to February. Canít come soon enough for me.

For me the growing season is pretty much over except to enjoy whatís left of fall color and the ornamental grasses waving their seed heads in the wind. A lot of perennials are dying back but Iím not in a hurry to neaten things up. The seed heads left in the garden supply food for birds and other creatures while the foliage provides shelter for the plant in the cold and frost. Remove anything when it turns slimy or just plain unattractive but leave berries and seed heads for the birds and winter interest.

Lesser Goldfinch

At this time of year my garden is visited mostly by chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, purple finches and warblers. They will spend the winter here and Iím doing them a big favor by not cutting back brown foliage containing nutrient-rich seed heads. Some of the reliable seed producers that I wonít have to clean up this weekend include artemisia, aster, coreopsis, penstemon, sedum, lupine, salvia, black-eye Susan, coneflower, phlomis, monarda, agapanthus and grasses.

Chickadees gather hundreds of seeds in fall and early winter and store them in hiding places to ensure themselves a food supply later in the season. They are a remarkable bird that we take for granted being so common. I read in Audubon magazine a couple years ago that a chickadee weighs about as much as a dozen paperclips but their body is large for their weight. This means they have to ramp up the number of hours they devote to feeding. At night chickadees cram themselves into tiny cavities and shiver, burning the day’s fuel to keep from freezing.

Hummingbirds still need a nectar source at this time of year. Anna’s hummingbirds live in this area all year long. So In addition to the plants in my garden that supply nectar I keep my feeders up year-round and keep them clean. They need your nectar even more in the winter when very little is in bloom. In addition to nectar rich natives like mahonia my abutilons are a winter favorite for them.

And I donít need to prune trees and shrubs at this time of year. Other than clipping a few well placed branches to use in a holiday wreath, Iím off the hook for this task right now. Deciduous trees are still in the process of losing their leaves and are not fully dormant. Evergreens shrubs and conifers can be trimmed lightly but most shaping is done when they start growing in late winter or very early spring.

Celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day celebrates the natural beauty of our planet and reminds us of what we can do to keep it healthy.† Always on April 22nd, Earth Day is a day of education about environmental issues and is now a global celebration. In anticipation of this day I recently spent the morning in nature at the UCSC Arboretum where the birds and the bees were enjoying the nectar flowers. Whether you plant a tree, clean up litter, garden, hike in the woods or marvel at emerging wildflower, be in contact with the soil and breathe fresh air outside on this day.

Fremontodendron aka Flannel Bush

My day at the Arboretum started in the California native plant garden. Plants thrive when theyíre natural to your area and the flannel bush, one of the most spectacular of our native shrubs, is a good example. Huge abundant deep yellow blooms cover the plant for a long time starting in the spring.

Iris douglasiana aka Pacific Coast Iris

Impressive swaths of rich blue Pacific Coast iris bordered the path. Nearby a bush poppy, covered with 2 inch yellow flowers put on itís spring display. It will bloom sporadically for most of the year.

The South African and Australian gardens at the Arboretum is where all the action takes place for hummingbird watchers. The courtship display of the dozens of Annaís hummingbirds, taking place inches over your head, sure puts one in contact with nature. You can bring nature into your garden with plants that attract these jewels of the avian world as well as butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Planting wildflowers on Earth Day is a good place to start.

Wildflowers like poppies, tidy tips, yarrow and baby blue eyes provide nectar and pollen for the pollinators, including honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees. Attract other beneficial insects such as ladybugs, parasitoid wasps and army worms to be the unpaid pest control agents in your garden. Beside wildflowers, plants such as aster, goldenrod and California fuchsia attract beneficial insects and are grown to attract, feed and shelter the insect parasites and predators to enhance your biological pest control. Everything is connected on the planet.

Protea or Pinchushion plant

The pincushion protea from South Africa is one the the brilliantly colored shrubs in this garden in the Arboretum. The flowers are striking, not only for their appearance, but also for their unusual structure and pollination sequence. They make a good long lasting cut flower.

Pink Rice Flower or pimelea ferrugine

In the New Zealand garden a beautiful small shrub with small dark green glossy leaves and masses of showy, fragrant magenta pink tubular flowers was attracting butterflies. The Pink Rice Flower was in full bloom and would sure look great in my garden in my well drained soil.

Remember that plants drink their food. If your soil dries out completely, your plants will starve. Take steps on Earth Day and the rest of the year to water wisely and retain the valuable moisture. Steps include improving your soil with organic matter, planning a smaller garden, choosing bush varieties of vegetables, placing plants closer together to shade the soil which helps conserve moisture and reduces weed growth. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Keep those moisture grabbing weeds at bay. Use a drip irrigation system to conserve water.

Celebrate Earth Day this April 22nd and throughout the whole year.

Watering Tips when Planting for the Birds & Bees

Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

I may not be so fond of gophers but I never tire of the birds, butterflies and bees that visit my garden. Iím always on the look out for plants that will attract even more of these exquisite creatures and itís one of the top requests for nearly every garden that I design. Fortunately there are many plants that fit the bill and have low water requirements for our summer dry climate.

Trees that provide fruit, seeds, nectar and protein from insects attract many kinds of songbirds. Our native Big Leaf Maple is a favorite of the Evening Grosbeak who relish the seeds and early spring buds. Another bird magnet is the dogwood. Our Pacific dogwood as well as the Eastern dogwood and even the hybrid of the two, Eddieís White Wonder, all are very valuable sources of food for many birds. Their summer berries are high in fat and important for migratory and wintering birds.

Lesser goldfinch

There are many great low water-use shrubs and perennials that attract birds. My favorite Lesser Goldfinch is partial to the seeds of yarrow, buckwheat and aster. Kevinís mahonia is favored by Western bluebirds. Blooming now in our own neck of the woods is Mexican elderberry. Their butter yellow flowers will form purple berries rich in carbohydrates and protein and attract an incredible number of birds. And I always can find space for another variety of manzanita or ceanothus.

Mimulus ‘Jelly Bean Gold’

Both hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to flowers that provide nectar. Among their favorites that wonít break your water budget are natives such as penstemon and salvia. galvezia, mimulus, monardella. California fuchsia and ribes are also important nectar sources for birds in your garden. Add a couple non-native, drought tolerant perennials like lavender, gaura, coreopsis, verbena, scabiosa, lantana and wallflower and youíll provide a feast for all your winged visitors.

So how much water do different types of plants need during the heat of summer?

As a rule of thumb, trees and large shrubs need deep but infrequent waterings. They should be on a separate valve than your smaller shrubs and perennials. Water ornamental trees 1-3 times per month depending on the type and soil. Tree roots grow 12-36Ē deep and require 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter.

Sambucus nigra berries

Apply with a soaker hose, drip system emitters or hand held hose with shut off and soft spray attachment according to your water districts restrictions. Donít dig holes in the ground in an effort to water deeply. This dries out roots even more. Be sure to water the root zone to the indicated root depth every time you water. Watering deeper than the root zone only means you are wasting water. You can test how deep you watered by pushing a smooth rod -1/4Ē – 3/8Ē in diameter- into the ground soon after you irrigate. The soil probe should easily slide through the wet soil but become difficult to push when reaching dry soil.

The roots of smaller shrubs are 12-24Ē deep in the soil. Established native shrubs may need only monthly irrigation to keep them looking their best while other shrubs may need watering every 7-10 days during the heat of the summer. Perennial roots only go down 12Ē or so and may need watering once or twice a week depending on type.

With lots of mulch and the above watering tips you can keep all your plants happy and healthy for the birds, butterflies and bees to enjoy.

California Natives for Containers

My ambitious plans to augment this garden here in Bonny Doon with California natives and colorful plants to attract birds and wildlife is not turning out exactly as Iíd pictured. I thought that I had licked my gopher problem by planting everything in baskets. Not so, now they just come up next to their plant of choice at night and eat whole thing from the top, dragging the rest down into their neat little hole while leaving the root still snug in its basket. Hopefully, some will regrow from the roots.

rhododendron_occidentale3
Western azalea

But Iím not giving up on planting for the birds and bees. Iíve got plans to increase my container garden collection. Gardening in containers is easy. I can control the soil, water and light and the gophers canít undermine my efforts. There are a lot of California native plants that do well in containers and Iím going to place them where both the birds and I can enjoy them.

For some of my largest containers Iíll choose from natives like Western Azalea, Deer Grass, Chaparral Pea or Giant Chain Fern. Any of the taller growing ceanothus and manzanita would look great too by themselves or combined with smaller growing plants.

mimulus_JellyBean_gold
Mimulus ‘Jelly Bean Gold’

For small to medium containers I can use Conejo Buckwheat, Hummingbird Mint, Penstemon Heterophyllos, Mimulus, Woolly Blue Curls or Coastal Daisy, These combine well with colorful Lewisia, Dog Violets or Wild Strawberry.

I might combine a madrone with a Canyon Gray Coastal Sagebrush – Artemisia californica – which grows about a foot high and will trail over the side of the container adding beautiful gray color to contrast with the rich green of the other leaves. I also like the combination of California Hazelnut, Deer Fern, Redwood Sorrel and Wild Ginger.

Some of the most dramatic containers utilize the concept of combining a thriller, some fillers and spiller or two. Not all my containers will use this formula but I seem to be drawn to those that do. Plants in nature can be quite random in the way they grow together and still be lovely. Containers need a bit more order to dazzle and direct the eye.

Thrillers act as the centerpiece of a container. They are usually big, bold and beautiful. Giant Elk Clover is one such California native that is an attention getter. Chilopsis linearis-Desert Willow is another great subject for containers as it is slow growing and beautiful in leaf and flower. Other architectural natives that will catch your eye as the centerpiece of a container are Hibiscus or Rose Mallow and Pacific Dogwood. The thriller goes in the center of the pot or if your container will be viewed from only one side it goes in the back.

Next come the fillers. They can be foliage or flowering plants but they should complement and not overwhelm your largest plant. Usually they have a mounding shape and Iíll plant several around the thriller. Good fillers include Heuchera Maxima and Western Maidenhair Fern.

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California fuchsia

The last plants Iíll add are the spillers which are small and will soften the edge of the container. Redwood Sorrel, Wild Ginger and Minerís Lettuce are good choices. California Fuchsia would look spectacular with its red or orange flowers and grey foliage spilling down the side of my container.

The best overall soil mix for natives in containers sharp sand and horticultural pumice added to a good potting soil. Never use perlite or that puffed up pumice because it will float and look terrible. Happy Container Gardening.

Gardening for the Birds with Cats

My garden is alive with birds. Butterflies and bees also seem to find it an interesting place to visit. When I first moved up to this house in Bonny Doon the prior owners had hung a couple of small hummingbird feeders which attracted only a few hummers. Their plantings consisted of manzanita and ceanothus varieties. Both great plants to attract birds but not much diversity. It felt like I was living in a void without the sound of song birds or the whir of hummingbird wings. Itís taken me a season or two but between the new plants Iíve added and the seed, suet and nectar feeders Iíve hung throughout the garden I attract dozens and dozens of my winged friends.

Sam_Birdsbesafe_collar
Sam Spade with his Birdsbsafe collar

How is this all possible sharing the garden with two cats? I knew right away that I couldnít live with myself if I attracted birds only to have them endangered by Sam and Archer. As natural predators they couldnít help getting into trouble. The problem was solved by the brightly colored, clown-like collar from Birdsbesafe they each wear that makes them more visible to birds. Neither wore a collar previously but they donít seem to mind or notice they look like court jesters.

The birds in the garden are safe now or very nearly so and Iím happy too. Itís the height of breeding season and the birds are going nuts in the garden. Iím always on the look out for plants that will attract even more of these exquisite creatures. Fortunately there are many that have low water requirements which is a prerequisite these days.

Purple_finch copy
Purple finch

Trees that provide fruit, seeds, nectar and protein from insects attract many kinds of songbirds. Our native Big Leaf Maple is a favorite of the Evening Grosbeak who relish the seeds and early spring buds. Another bird magnet is the dogwood. Our Pacific dogwood as well as the Eastern dogwood and the hybrid of the two- Eddieís White Wonder- are all very valuable sources of food for many birds. Their summer berries of dogwood are high in fat and important for migratory and wintering birds.

Lesser_Goldfinch
Lesser goldfinch

In every garden possible I try to include low water use shrubs and perennials that attract birds. My favorite Lesser Goldfinch is partial to the seeds of yarrow, buckwheat and aster. Kevinís mahonia is favored by Western bluebirds. Blooming now in our own neck of the woods is Mexican elderberry. Their butter yellow flowers will form purple berries rich in carbohydrates and protein and attract an incredible number of birds.

Both hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to flowers that provide nectar. Among their favorites that wonít break your water budget are natives such as penstemon and salvia. I always can find space for another variety of salvia.
Galvezia, mimulus, monardella, California fuchsia and ribes are also important nectar sources for birds in your garden. Add a couple non-native, drought tolerant perennials like lavender, gaura, coreopsis, verbena, scabiosa, lantana and wallflower and youíll provide a feast for all your winged visitors.

Everybody loves winged creatures in the garden. Adding plants that attract birds, bees and butterflies is at the top of the list of requests for nearly every garden that I design.

Gifts from the Garden

Lesser_Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinch

With the colder, rainy weather my feathered friends appreciate the seed in the feeders I have around my house even more. The Annaís hummingbirds still frequent their feeders regularly now that the pineapple sage flowers and flowering maple are about the only nectar source in my garden. I strive to attract wildlife to my garden with the right plants, water and shelter.

That brings me to Christmas. The turkey leftovers are gone signaling itís time to dust off the Christmas list. I add an idea for a present for a loved one and then one for me. Iím the easy one. I like everything. Sometimes Iím stumped, sometimes it all comes together seamlessly but whatever I decide to give I know some of the best gifts are the ones from nature or that I make myself. With that in mind I have a few ideas up my sleeve.

A friend loaned me a book entitled ĎWildlife Gardensí that is published by the National Home Gardening Club. Within the 8 chapters, ranging from ďWhoís Out There and What are They Looking For” to ďWhen Wildlife is a ProblemĒ are many ideas, reminders and advice to discover the wildlife garden. Whether yours is a young friend or a long time friend thatís on your gift giving list, thereís a gift idea from nature for everyone.

The wildlife garden is a place to relax and recover a sense of connection with other creatures. Nesting boxes, flowers and other plants encourage birds to make their homes in your yard. Give a bird feeder or suet feeder to someone and theyíll be hooked. You can make simple feeders yourself. A platform with edges gives many birds a chance to feed at once. You can add a roof supported by branches you find in your own garden to upgrade the look.

Plants provide needed food year round in the garden and especially during the winter. Why not give a friend a

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Swallowtail butterfly feeding on butterfly bush.

plant or offset of one of your plants that birds, bees or butterflies would appreciate? Some easy-to-divide favorites that attract birds include foxglove, coral bells, red-hot poker, California fuchsia, mahonia and purple coneflower.

You might have one of the following butterfly favorites that you could divide and pot up for a friend. Yarrow, aster, veronica, agapanthus, astilbe, coreopsis and gaura to name a few that butterflies favor. Ceanothus and columbine are two plants that self sow in my garden and would be great to pot up for a gift.

A fun thing I like to do during the holidays is decorate a plant or tree outside with edible ornaments for the birds. You could trim an evergreen swag and decorate it as an easy gift. Both fruit-eating and seed-eating birds will appreciate the dietary boost during the lean winter months. For the fruit-eaters attach dried apples, hawthorn berries, cranberries and grapes to the greenery. You can also thread them onto wire loops with raw whole peanuts in the shell and wire orange slices to the branches.

Seed-eaters relish stalks of ornamental wheat tied to the branches, along with ears of dried corn. The favorite of all the “ornaments” is peanut butter-coated pinecones encrusted with wild birdseed mix and hung with florist wire. Millet sprays tied to the branches are a hit, too. Look around your garden for other berries that you can use to decorate your own trees or plants or a swag of evergreen cuttings as a present for the birds and the nature lover on your list.

succulentsAlso on my list of gift ideas is a dry arrangement of seed heads, pods and foliage from my garden in a thrift shop container or tea tin. A selection of little succulent cuttings you can spare look great in a recycled container or pot and would be a welcome addition to anyoneís kitchen window.

The holidays, maybe even more this year, are a time to bring a smile to someone you care about. Your gift doesnít need to cost very much to show your love.

Edible Plants for Birds, Bees and People

rain gauge Nov1With every rain forecast I hope for enough precipitation to give my garden a good soak. Last Monday I was not disappointed. I heard the pitter patter of rain on leaves and jumped up in the morning to check the rain gauge. To my delight the last storm dropped 1.67 inches of the wet stuff on my garden in Bonny Doon. The prior three October showers had barely totaled a tenth of an inch. Last year, the hills and meadows were already greening up with 3Ē of the wet stuff. After this much needed precipitation the deer are happy, the forest is happy, our gardens are happy, everybody is happy.

Some weather forecasters are predicting a drier than normal November for our area while a recent NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) report predicted El Nino rains starting this November. Iím going with the folks at NOAA. A November 1st rain event qualifies them as the best forecasters so far.

Iím enjoying the vibrant colors of the fall garden. Everything is brighter after a rain. Iíll also be looking for some new plants with berries for the birds, more shrubs with fall and winter interest and a couple new grasses. With water conservation in mind here are some of the plants Iím considering. Some put on their best show at the end of the season.

feijoa_sellowiana_flowers
PIneapple guava edible flowers

I canít get enough of delicious pineapple guava fruit thanks to my best friend, Karen. Her plant is loaded with fruit this year. Pineapple guava has been on my wish list for a while because of its versatility and this fall Iím going to plant one. Easy to grow Feijoa sellowiana needs only occasional watering. An established plant can survive without any supplemental water but If you want to enjoy more flowers and delicious fruit give them a little extra water especially during flowering and fruiting periods. Mulch the soil around the plants to protect the shallow roots and conserve moisture.

The early summer flowers are showy, contrast nicely with the gray green foliage and are completely edible. You can eat them right off the plant, toss them into a salad, add them to iced tea or make jelly. They have a fruity flavor and bees, butterflies and birds also appreciate them. The pineapple-flavored 2 inch oval fruit is produced three to four months after the flowers. Itís easy to cut the little fruits in half and scoop out the fleshy inside with a spoon.

Pineapple guava grow at a medium rate to about 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. You can easily train one as an espalier, hedge or small specimen tree. They do well in containers, too, so if youíre like a lot of people with limited space or time this is a good plant to grow. Did I mention theyíre deer resistant? This is one unfussy plant.

toyon-berries
Toyon berries

Another plant that is definitely going to be planted in my landscape this fall is a California native. Each year when I see a toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) covered in red berries I vow to get one for myself. They have very low water needs even in the summer and make a good addition for the back of the garden. Irrigate them occasionally during spring and summer to promote fire resistance. Although they often take a few years to establish, their deep roots are good for soil erosion and slope stabilization.

Also known as the Christmas berry, no berry is more sought after when is season. Robins love them. Waxwings and purple finches also rip open the fruits to eat in great numbers. Unlike pyracantha berries birds do not get drunk on toyon berries. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers.

Toyon is one of the classic shrubs of the California chaparral. Except for an extension into Baja, the shrub only occurs in California. Its resemblance to European holly and abundance in Southern Californiaís Holly Canyon were the origin of the name Hollywood. The name toyon was given by the Ohlone tribe and is the only California native plant that continues to be commonly known by a Native American name.

Toyon make good container specimens and the berries can be used in place of English holly for Christmas decorating.

Gardening with Kids

Adelyn in hosta
Adelyn and the giant hosta

My friend Adelyn came to visit the other day. Adelyn just turned three. We always have a good time exploring my garden and checking out the forest. This time was even more fun.

I didnít have any cherry tomatoes to share because Mr. Gopher got to the plants first but there are always lots of flowers to admire and some have a wonderful fragrance. Over a dozens hummingbirds visit my feeders daily and they love the flowers that produce nectar, too. Songbirds have their own feeders plus suet to eat and all the little seeds that nature can provide. My sunflowers will soon be ripe for the goldfinches to enjoy.

To share oneís excitement and knowledge of the outdoor world with a child is fun and rewarding. The wonder on a young personís face as they discover a swallowtail butterfly or a flower just starting to open or a bird feeding in the garden is priceless.

Sure it would be great to have a large vegetable garden to share with Adelyn. We could build a teepee out of fallen branches and plant scarlet runner beans around the outside. Or we could grow a pizza garden in a circle divided like pizza slices with long wooden stakes. Weíd plant tomatoes, sweet red peppers and basil in the slices and use stepping stones to mimic pepperoni slices.

But I have lots of other cool things so when Adelyn comes to my house we become a couple of naturalists and horticulturalists and thatís OK with us.

Adelyn_with_bird_book-closeup.1600
Adelyn with her new bird book

For her last visit I made Adelyn her own bird book with pictures I took here at my house. It has photos of other things besides birds – butterflies, flowers, a tree frog and pictures of family when they have visited. It was fun to watch her run around and identify which bird or flower had a picture in her book.

In a short time, she had seen the grosbeak, junco, chickadee, purple finch, goldfinch and nuthatch all snatching a seed from the feeder. The flowers were easier to find as they donít fly. She really liked the blue hydrangeas and the red flowering maples. Hiding among the huge hosta leaves was fun for her, too.

We took some more pictures during the afternoon and printed them out on the computer to add to her little book. The book is one of those inexpensive four by six inch photo albums with sleeves for the photos. We looked for the chipmunks to photograph for the album but they were out feeding elsewhere in the forest.

Adelyn playing in the garden
Adelyn playing in the garden

Finding things to do in the garden is easy. You probably already have some edible flowers in your garden. Tuberous begonia petals taste like lemon. Calendulas are spicy as are carnations and marigolds. Dianthus are clove-flavored, nasturtiums give a hint of horseradish and violas, pansies, hollyhock, squash blossoms and johnny-jump-ups taste like mild lettuce. You can also freeze flowers like violas, fuchsias, geranium, stock and thyme in ice cubes.

Flowers that kids can cut will be interesting for them, too, especially when planted in their own garden. Cosmos, planted from six packs, provide instant color as well as attracting butterflies. Zinnias come in a rainbow of colors and are a favorite of swallowtail butterflies. Another easy to grow flower for cutting is the snapdragon.

Besides flowers, fragrant plants like lemon basil, lemon verbena, lime thyme, orange mint and other herbs engage the senses and can be included in a kid’s garden. Lamb’s ears are soft and furry.

Get a kid into gardening and nature and they’ll be good stewards of the land for a lifetime. Plus youíll have a lot of fun in the process.

Planting for Birds and Watering Tips

Purple-finch
Purple finch

My garden is alive with birds. Butterflies and bees also seem to find it an interesting place to visit. Iím always on the look out for plants that will attract even more of these exquisite creatures. Fortunately there are many that have low water requirements which is a prerequisite these days.

But how do you plant something new given the new water restrictions? And what about those existing trees, shrubs and perennials that birds, bees and butterflies depend on? How much water do they need to survive?

Everybody loves winged creatures in the garden. Adding plants that attract birds, bees and butterflies is at the top of the list of requests for nearly every garden that I design.

Trees that provide fruit, seeds, nectar and protein from insects attract many kinds of songbirds. Our native Big Leaf Maple is a favorite of the Evening Grosbeak who relish the seeds and early spring buds. Another bird magnet is the dogwood. Our Pacific dogwood as well as the Eastern dogwood and even the hybrid of the two, Eddieís White Wonder, all are very valuable sources of food for many birds. Their summer berries are high in fat and important for migratory and wintering birds.

achillea_yellow
Achillea

In every garden possible I try to include low water use shrubs and perennials that attract birds. My favorite Lesser Goldfinch is partial to the seeds of yarrow, buckwheat and aster. Kevinís mahonia is favored by Western bluebirds. Blooming now in our own neck of the woods is Mexican elderberry. Their butter yellow flowers will form purple berries rich in carbohydrates and protein and attract an incredible number of birds. And I always can find space for another variety of manzanita or ceanothus.

Both hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to flowers that provide nectar. Among their favorites that wonít break your water budget are natives such as penstemon and salvia. Galvezia, mimulus, monardella, California fuchsia and ribes are also important nectar sources for them in your garden. Add a couple non-native, drought tolerant perennials like lavender, gaura, coreopsis, verbena, scabiosa, lantana and wallflower and youíll provide a feast for all your winged visitors.

So how much water do different types of plants need during the heat of summer?

As a rule of thumb, trees and large shrubs need deep but infrequent waterings. They should be on a separate valve than your smaller shrubs and perennials. After the last two winters of little rain, many trees are showing signs of stress. Itís not easy to replace a tree that will take 20 years to regrow if you have to replant. Water ornamental trees 1-3 times per month depending on the type and soil. Tree roots are 12-36Ē deep and require 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter.

Apply with a soaker hose, drip system emitters or hand held hose with shut off and soft spray attachment according to your water districts restrictions. Donít dig holes in the ground in an effort to water deeply. This dries out roots even more. Be sure to water the root zone to the indicated root depth every time you water. Watering deeper than the root zone only means you are wasting water. You can test how deep you watered by pushing a smooth rod -1/4Ē – 3/8Ē in diameter- into the ground soon after you irrigate. The soil probe should easily slide through the wet soil but become difficult to push when reaching dry soil.

verbena_Homestead-purple
Homestead Purple verbena

The roots of smaller shrubs are 12-24Ē deep in the soil. Established native shrubs may need only monthly waterings to keep them looking their best while other shrubs may need watering every 7-10 days during the heat of the summer. Perennial roots only go down 12Ē or so and may need watering once or twice a week depending on itís water needs.

With lots of mulch and the above watering tips you can keep all your plants happy and healthy for everyone to enjoy.

What to Do in the Garden in Wintry Weather

toyon-berriesTwas the weekend after Thanksgiving and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a gardener. I should probably do something productive, but what? Should I be good and do a little light weeding? Maybe I can muster up the energy to plant a few more bulbs. Come spring Iíll be happy I did. Then again I could make notes of my gardening successes and not so great horticultural decisions. ďI knowĒ, I say to myself, ďthis weekend Iíll revel in what I donít have to do in the gardenĒ.

I donít need to prune trees and shrubs at this time of year. Other than clipping a few OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwell placed branches to use in a holiday wreath, Iím off the hook for this task right now. Deciduous trees are still in the process of losing their leaves and are not fully dormant. Evergreens shrubs and conifers can be trimmed lightly but most shaping is done when they start growing in late winter or very early spring.

The season is pretty much over for me except to enjoy whatís left of fall color and the ornamental grasses waving their seed heads in the wind. A lot of perennials are dying back but Iím not in a hurry to neaten things up. The seed heads left in the garden supply food for birds and other creatures while the foliage provides shelter for the plant in the cold and frost. Remove anything that has turned slimy or just plain unattractive but leave berries and seed heads for food and winter interest.

hakonechloa_winter2At this time of year my garden is visited mostly by chickadees, nuthatches and goldfinches. They will spend the winter here and Iím doing them a big favor by not cutting back brown foliage containing nutrient-rich seed heads. Some of the reliable seed producers that I wonít have to clean up this weekend include artemisia, aster, coreopsis, penstemon, sedum, lupine, salvia, black-eye Susan, coneflower, phlomis, monarda, agapanthus and grasses.

Chickadees gather hundreds of seeds in fall and early winter and store them in hiding places to ensure themselves a food supply later in the season. They are a remarkable bird that we take for granted being so common. I read in Audubon magazine a couple years ago that a chickadee weighs about as much as a dozen paperclips but their body is large for their weight. This means they have to ramp up the number of hours they devote to feeding. At night chickadees cram themselves into tiny cavities and shiver, burning the day’s fuel to keep from freezing.

Hummingbirds still need a nectar source at this time of year. Anna’s hummingbirds live in this area all year long. So In addition to the plants in my garden that supply nectar I keep my feeders up year-round and keep them clean.
They need your nectar even more in the winter when very little is in bloom. In addition to nectar rich natives like mahonia, my abutilons are a winter favorite for them.

Other tasks I can put off at least for this weekend include planting wildflower seeds. I see California poppies coming up all over the place. Nature knows when the time is right. Well, maybe Iíll broadcast a few working them into the soil very lightly. I need to hoe off some early weeds that would compete with them. How many calories arenít burned in light gardening? I might just reconsider not being a total couch potato this weekend.

Gardens Change with Time

quiet_path.1280Call it a trick, call it a treat, but all gardens change with time. Itís part of nature for the fittest to survive. Now possibly you have different ideas of what you want your garden to look like but itís 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 doesnít spread as much. She plans to remove the wild rose eventually to make room for other native plants that arenít so aggressive.

At this time of year a native garden is at rest. Thereís 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 werenít 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. ďThereís so much for them to eat here.Ē 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 Iíll always have a bit of Case Dos Rios in my own garden.

Challenges of Organic Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

strawberries_grape_vinesThey live in a neighborhood of traditional landscaping. Large lawns surrounded by neat mounds of boxwood and foundation plants are the norm here in the Pacific Northwest. But Bob and Bev had a different vision for their 2/3 acre corner property, They wanted fruit trees, vegetables and berries in addition to flowering shrubs, perennials and roses and they wanted to grow it organically.

Bob and Bev live next door to my sister, Evan, on Fox Island. Located in the southern part of Puget Sound, the islandís weather and climate are tempered by the water that surrounds it on all sides. This is both a blessing and a curse. Strong winds, thunder, lightning and heavy rain in both the summer and winter are interspersed with idyllic sunshine and blue skies. Youíd never know these challenges exist when you look at Bob and Bevís garden. Itís spectacular.

Both love being outside. Bob was raised in the midwest and Bev on the east coast. Bev confesses that long ago she was more into zinnias and petunias and ďdidnít get itĒ when it came to real gardening. They started creating the garden about 6 years ago with Bob designing the hardscaping and laying out the original beds and recirculating stream. They told me they ďtake one step at a timeĒ in the garden so it seems itís never done. Donít we all know that feeling?

There are a lot of deer on Fox Island which has been an ongoing battle. Originally, after deer ate acorn_squasheverything including the red-twig dogwood, roses, fruit trees and berries, Bob put up a short fence thinking it was enough of a deterrent. When that was less than successful, he surrounded the lower property where the edibles live with a 6 ft see-through fence topped with 2 wires slanting outward. ďWorks greatĒ, Bob says although they have both see deer on their hind legs trying to pull down the fencing with their hooves. One time a young buck and doe got under the fence and it took several neighbors to help herd them out of the gate.

Wildlife is abundant on the island. They take down the 3 bird feeders nightly as the raccoons were tearing them down and demolishing them to get to the feed. On this morning a small flock of American goldfinches were enjoying a meal, the males displaying their deep, butter yellow breasts. They often hear coyotes closeby and 3 years ago a couple of bears swam over to the island from the mainland. ďAre there foxes on the island, too?, I asked. Bev laughed. ďNo, the island was named after a British explorerĒ, she told me. The most aggressive animal they have ever had was a pheasant they named Phinneus. Seems he terrorized the neighborhood last year. He would land on their fence, jump in and chase Bev around the garden pecking at her legs.

It was predicted that the island would have a warm, dry summer but Bev told me itís turned out they have been getting some rain. The strawberries are still producing as are the blueberries. The blackberries, which donít normally ripen until August, are almost done for the season. ďClimate change?Ē, Bev theorized.

grape_cluster_greenBob and Bevís grapes were still green but coming along nicely. They grow a concord-type grape and have good harvests in mid-September now that they allow the leaves to cover the clusters and hide them from the birds. The main vegetable garden is fenced to protect it from Delia, the dog, who loves to eat carrots right from the ground as well as some of the other vegetables. The acorn squash are growing nicely and new rows of beans have been planted and fertilized with worm casting juice.

With so much to see in this garden my head was spinning. The stories just kept coming about the successes and methods they have worked out to provide food for the soul as well as the table.

Next week Iíll tell you more about this wonderful garden on Fox island.

Drought Tolerant Plants for Birds & Butterflies

red_breasted_nuthatchI admit I’m spending way too much time watching new birds come to the feeder. Every time I pass a window I check to see if the pair of purple finches is gobbling up the sunflower chips. She seems to love the safflower seeds, too. The pygmy nuthatches are the bullies of the feeder. Guess no one has told them they are teeny tiny little things. Spotted towhees come when the juncos are done and the stellar’s jays are gone. The Anna’s hummingbirds were really prolific this spring. Their young are drinking nectar almost faster than I can refill the feeders. I have lots of mimulus, salvia and ceanothus flowers for them to enjoy but I need more plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies.† I want to conserve water and also enjoy my winged friends.

Unthirsty plant choices are high on my list this year. Some of my favorite plants are survivors- easy to grow with minimal water use once established while also attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden.

Everyone should have some lavender in their garden. Hummingbirds and butterflies both favor this plantlavender_West_Zayante and there are new introductions every year from growers. There are dozens of new varieties to choose from. Hidcote Superior forms a bushy compact mound with sensational purple flowers in early summer. Or you might try Royal Purple, Betty’s Blue, Violet Intrigue, Sachet or Royal Velvet. Goodwin Creek is an old stand-by that blooms from spring to late fall with deep violet blue flowers. For midsummer bloom plant Grosso which is a widely planted commercial variety in France and Italy. It’s possibly the most fragrant lavender of all. Spanish lavender blooms spring into summer if sheared. By planting an assortment of lavenders you can have a succession of flowers throughout the season.

Penstemon also lure hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden. They come in a wide range of colors and varieties from native species to garden hybrids. I especially like the red flowers of Garnet and the blossoms of the natiOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAve Blue Bedder.

Another long blooming, tough plant is achillea Moonshine. Butterflies love to alight on their yellow flat landing pads of this yarrow.† The dense flower clusters make good cut flowers and the gray-green foliage blends with all color in the garden. Yarrow need only routine care once established. They can take some watering although they endure drought once established. Cut them back after bloom and divide when clumps get crowded.

There are so many salvias to choose from and all are great additions to a tough love garden. Autumn sage blooms summer through fall in colors ranging from deep purple through true red to rose, pink and white. Purple Pastel is especially beautiful covering 3-4 foot plants with blossoms filled with nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies.

Those who seek true blue flowers for their gardens might try planting salvia chamaedryoides. This elegant front-of-the-border plant has silvery foliage which sets off the brilliant blue flowers. Heaviest bloom is in late spring and fall. Deadheading encourages re-bloom.† This salvia is drought tolerant but blooms longer and better with a little occasional summer water.

More un-thirsty bloomers that attract either hummingbirds, butterflies or both and are easy to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgrow are gaura, coreopsis and homestead purple verbena. Asters, Russian sage, black-eyed Susan, bee balm, mums, autumn joy sedum and cosmos are also on the menu of our winged friends.† Many of these also make good cut flowers.

Plant some new water efficient plants for color that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Afterwards spread† fresh bark or compost to mulch the soil. This insulates and protects shallow roots from the heat of the summer sun. While keeping the soil cool, mulch slows the evaporations of water from the soil so it stays moist.

Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve 2014

peak_rush_roseI hike in the Bonny Doon Ecological reserve quite often but had never seen the waterfall. Since the Martin fire in 2008 I have written several columns about the remarkable comeback nature can make after a natural catastrophe. Each spring I eagerly await the new growth of manzanita, chinquapin, pine and the spring flower display. Recently I joined a group led by botanist and revegetation specialist Val Haley, who has been a volunteer at the reserve since 1993 and knows just about everything there is to know about this unique place on the planet.

During the Miocene Epoch which started about 23 million years ago and lasted until 5 million years ago, the global climate warmed. Plant studies show that by the end of this period 95% of modern plant families that reproduce by seeds existed. The soils in the reserve are a marine sediment and sandstone from an ancient sea that once encompassed California’s Central Valley. As the Santa Cruz Mountains were uplifted, the seabed and shoreline terraces were exposed and are known as the Santa Cruz Sandhills. This soil, called Zayante, is almost 90% sand and contains little organic matter. The Sandhills in Bonny Doon and other spots in our county are found no where else on earth.

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Val was excited to share her knowledge of silver_bush_lupinethe rare and endangered plants that have adapted to the sandhills. We enjoyed observing acorn woodpeckers visiting their granary in a Ponderosa pine and the bushtits eagerly eating manzanita berries. Along the trails we identified scat from some of the resident animals like coyote but didn’t see any evidence of Santa Cruz kangaroo rat. But it was the remarkable regrowth of the manzanita and pine and of the colorful wildflowers that got most of our attention.

There are several manzanita species living in the reserve and each has a different strategy of reproduction. Standing near a large burned out Silverleaf manzanita specimen, Val told us that this variety spreads its seeds outward from the trunk and with the heat of the Martin fire have sprouted in impressive numbers. Other varieties like the Brittleleaf manzanita are crown spouters and have regrown from their base. These new shoots are bigger and more vigorous than the seed spouters. Later we sought the shade of a live 20 ft Silverleaf manzanita. With a trunk of 12″ in diameter, Val estimated that this tree was about 200 years old. “They get much larger up here than at Quail Hollow”. she said. “And the berries make a really nice cider”.† I’ll have to try making some.

Mimulus lined the trail covered in bright orange blooms. Their common name is monkey flower and Val told us she is authorized to collect their seed for revegetation projects. She places the seed pods in a box and then walks over them. It’s my “monkey flower walk”, she laughed. Interesting to note that with the rise of genetics many plants have been reclassified and renamed. This drought tolerant plant is now diplacus. Seems with all these name changes many of us are using common names more and more.

We found a small stand of the endangered spineflower. ‘Not as many this year”, she told us. Some years they will carpet open areas with small dusty rose flowers. The bush poppies were in full bloom. I was surprised to hear that they weren’t as prevalent in the sandhills until after the fire. The succession of plant life and how it paves the way for the next generation of plants is always being studied. It’s wonderful to witness firsthand.

yerba_santaOur area has a rich history of native people who lived here before us. Val enjoys sharing her knowledge of the old ways to be passed on to the next generation. Yerba santa grows everywhere in the reserve. Covered now with lovely lavender flowers, Val told us its the leaves that have long been shredded and steeped into a tea. Naturally sweet it’s a vasodilator and traditionally used to help with respiratory problems like bronchitis, asthma and colds.

The wildflowers may not be as plentiful this year due to the drought but we were treated to many little gems. Peak rush rose, a rockrose relative, bloomed with tiny yellow flowers. Purple gila flowered near the endangered Ben Lomond wallflower. Western azalea were just finishing their bloom cycle in a moist swale going down to Reggiardo creek. Blue dicks, silver bush lupine, sky lupine and a California poppy of a distinct genera and sporting a deep yellow color lined the path.

At the Reggiardo creek we saw dozens of flowering plants surrounding the Reggiardo_waterfallfalls, including heuchera, ceanothus papillosus, saxifrage, redwood sorrel, redwood violets, deer fern and Western burning bush.

My day at the reserve was filled with beauty and new found knowledge thanks to Val Haley, her expertise and her wonder-filled spirit. If you would like a preview of what you may see when you go visit the website-
http://www.inaturalist.org/places/bonny-doon-ecological-reserve

Dogwood in the Santa Cruz Mountains

dogwood_RoblesEarlier this year the flowering plums were the first trees to welcome the beginning of spring. Then came the flowering cherries, crabapples, pears, redbuds and lilacs. But now the flowering dogwoods take over as the stars of the show. They are blooming everywhere I go. Whole neighborhoods, lined with dogwood trees, are coming to life.† I† know of several beautiful specimens along Hwy 9 that bursts into bloom this time of year covered in snowy white, pink or rosy blossoms. There are many types of dogwoods and every garden has the perfect spot for at least one. What better way to honor Earth Day 2014 than to plant a tree?

When thinking about where to plant your dogwood tree consider what role you want cornus_florida_closeupthe tree to play in your garden. You might place it where it becomes the main focal point especially during the spring flowering season but also where you can enjoy the brilliant fall foliage. Maybe one located at the back of the garden would be nice drawing the eye along a path and the flowering shrubs growing along the edges.

Dogwoods need good drainage. If your garden has heavy clay soil plant your tree in a raised bed. They make excellent understory trees in high filtered shade if the air circulation and drainage are good. With 2-3″ of mulch dogwoods thrive in full sun, too. The fungal disease anthracnose is not usually a problem here in our summer dry area if drainage is good. Hybridizers have successfully crossed the Japanese dogwood, cornus kousa, with the eastern dogwood, cornus florida, to create the wonderful disease resistant Stellar series. Also the native Pacific dogwood, cornus nutalli, has been crossed with the eastern variety to produce Eddie’s White Wonder. Both are good choices.

cornus_florida_closeup2The beautiful flowers of the dogwood are actually bracts, a leaf-like structure surrounding a flower. The colorful bracts of poinsettias, the magenta bracts of bougainvilleas and the bracts of the dogwood are often mistaken for flower petals. No matter what you call them, the blossoms are spectacular.

Dogwoods attract a variety of wildlife. All sorts of critters use this tree for food and shelter. The giant silk moth and several species of butterflies favor dogwoods as host plants. The spring flowers provide nectar to bees and other pollinating insects. Robins and sparrow are just two of the bird species than build nests on the horizontal branches and many others seek shelter in the leaves. The high calcium, high fat, fleshy red fruits are eaten by 35 species of birds including titmice, juncos and waxwings.

The fruit of flowering dogwood is poisonous to humans but the root bark was used by Native Americans as a fever reducer, skin astringent, an anti diarrhea agent and as a pain reliever for headache and backache relief. It was also use to counteract the effects of many poisons and as a general tonic. The flowers were infused to reduce fever and relieve colic and several plant parts were used as medicine for blood diseases like malaria.

Because dogwood leaf litter decomposes more rapidly than most other species it has been planted on abandoned strip mines and used for urban forestry projects. The wood is hard, strong and shock resistant, making it suitable for wood products that need to withstand rough use like tool handles, roller skate wheels, golf club heads and knitting needles and spools.

Dogwoods look so great in our area because we get some winter chill.† Some of cornus_capitata_closeupmy favorite varieties include cornus capitata also known as Evergreen or Himalayan Dogwood. It’s a slow growing tree which will reach 20 ft tall after about 25 years and has large white blossoms.

Other common favorites with rosy flowers are Eastern dogwood, Cherokee Chief and Cherokee Brave. Their leaves turn glowing red in fall with fruit lasting well into winter. There are lots of white blooming varieties also and this tree is the parent of the exceptional hybrid Eddie’s White Wonder and the anthacnose-resistant Stellar Pink.

The Japanese dogwood, cornus kousa, starts blooming several weeks later than the Eastern varieties and continues for 5-6 wks. The flowers open along with the leaves which is different than its relatives. This dense multi-stemmed tree grows to 20 ft tall.† With raspberry-like fruits that persist into winter and leaves that turn yellow or scarlet in autumn it’s a beautiful addition to the garden.

Remember a mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year. Trees clean the soil and air of pollutants, act as windbreaks and can muffle noises.

How to Design a Perennial Border

rhododendron_occidentale2.1600When I visit my best friend’s house I park next to the perennial border that lines her driveway. At any given time of year there is something blooming, flowers filling the air with fragrance and juicy apples hanging on the tree for picking later in the summertime. She has some California natives as well as traditional cottage garden plants all mixed in together. Originally from Illinois, she loves a garden filled with lush green and color but has designed the space with plants that can use less water than you would expect and still look spectacular.

What makes for a successful border? You see DIY articles in the gardening magazines showing lovely combinations with rules to follow but they always seem to be for a different climate or location. We often have borrowed scenery from the mixed woods and some of their ideas just don’t work well here. Here are some tips for planting a terrific perennial border in our neck of the woods.

Some of the key players in my friends perennial border are natives like Western azalea, kerria_japonica2hazelnut and flowering currant. These are large, woody shrubs that add height, texture and year round interest. They provide the backbone or structure to the border throughout the seasons and even in the winter. She also has a weeping bottlebrush which is evergreen and provides nectar for the hummingbirds as does the flowering currant. An apple tree and a persimmon tower over all the other plants creating a canopy for the shrubs, herbaceous perennials and groundcovers. You could also plant spirea, weigela, cornus and viburnums to provide structure to your border.

My friend’s border is planted so that there is something of interest every month during the growing season. The persimmon tree is the star of the late fall garden with bright orange fruit that hang like ornaments on the tree. In the spring I can’t take my eyes off the kerria japonica whose graceful shape is covered with double golden, pom pom shaped flowers. The vivid, new foliage of the Rose Glow barberry complements the stand of Pacific coast iris with similar cream and burgundy flowers blooming next to it.† Under the bottlebrush a sweep of billbergia nutans or Queen’s Tears is flowering with those exotic looking, drooping flower clusters. They make a great groundcover under the tree and also are long lasting in a vase.

ompholodes2.1600Mid-sized filler plants that thrive in this border include Hot Lips salvia, daylilies and polemonium to name just a few. Daffodils and tulips have naturalized throughout the space. Groundcovers grow thickly to shade the soil and prevent precious moisture evaporation.† Lamb’s ears like their spot under the flowering currant and the omphalodes have spread throughout the border. This little plant looks and blooms like the forget-me-not but the delicate deep blue flowers don’t produce those sticky seeds that plague both our socks and animal fur.

This border get morning sun and mid-afternoon sun until about 3pm. If you have a situation that calls for all sun lovers you could try asters, shasta daisy, grasses, coreopsis, achillea, echinacea, gaillardia, sedum, kniphofia, lavender, liatris and rudbeckia.† Perennials that work well to attract butterflies and hummingbirds include monarda and my personal favorite, cardinal flower.† Both have long, tubular flowers in bright colors such as red, orange and yellow. it’s easy to have the birds and butterflies coming all season when you plant perennials with overlapping bloom times.

Perhaps some of these plant combinations would look great in your garden, too. Just don’t worry too much about the “rules” of perennial borders. Mix it up. You don’t want the border to look like stadium seating. The idea is to have fun and create a border that makes you happy.

Frozen Plant Care and Plants that Don’t Freeze

toyon.1600Early on one of those freezing mornings I came across a large stand of California native toyon shrubs, every branch covered with juicy red berries. Dozens of songbirds were enjoying the feast loading up and bracing for another cold night. You couldn’t ask for a more Christmas-y plant. Bright red and green- the Christmas colors.† I made a note to put toyon on my list for gift ideas.† What would be better than to give my loved ones something that feeds the birds and the spirit?

Toyon is a hardy shrub in our area no matter how low the temps drop. Many of the plants in your garden may not be so lucky after the multiple nights of freezing weather we recently experienced. Even if you covered sensitive plants a hard frost can nip plants that normally would be fine in a light frost.† Here’s how to deal with frost damage.

Don’t be tempted to rush out and prune away the damaged parts of† plants.† This winter will have more cold weather and the upper part of your plant, even if damaged, can protect the crown from further freezing and provide protection for tender new buds and shoots coming along for next year. This applies to citrus trees, too. If a perennial like Mexican sage froze to a gooey, black mess, cut the plant down to the ground. It will re-grow come spring from the root system.

Remember If you have plants that need covering in another frost later this winter, use a frost blanket, light towel, sheets, burlap or other type of cloth and not plastic.† The cold will go right through plastic and damage the plant.

Getting back to my Christmas list, everybody loves color in the winter garden. Besides toyon berries to feed the birds and other wildlife, Strawberry trees have fruit for much of the winter as do crabapples, beautyberry,† pyracantha and nandina if the robins don’t get them first.

Mahonia or Oregon grape will be blooming soon and their yellow flowers† would look great with golden Iceland poppies. Many of their leaves are purplish or bronze now that the nights have gotten cold and are very colorful.† Hummingbirds favor their flowers and many songbirds eat the delicious berries.

For those really dark places, fragrant sarcococca is perfect combined with red primroses and will be blooming very soon. You can smell their perfume from a long distance. Hellebores bloom in the winter, too, and offer texture in your containers.† A variegated osmanthus will hold up in even our harshest weather and would be a show stopper in a Chinese red container.

If the idea of sitting under a beautiful shade tree in the summer would appeal to the gardener on your list, flowering cherryyou might consider giving them a Paul’s Scarlet Hawthorn that’s covered in masses of rosy blossoms in the spring and colorful berries in the winter.† October Glory Maple is a great tree for shade and gorgeous fall color. Autumnalis Flowering Cherry blooms twice a year giving you double the show.† Mine is in the middle of its fall blooming cycle right now.† It’s a welcome sight. A smaller Southern Magnolia like ‘Little Gem‘ with huge fragrant white flowers would also make a nice gift.

These are just a few of the shade and ornamental trees that would make a valuable addition to any landscape. Visit a nursery to look for those plants with berries and winter color for other gift ideas.

Garden Tasks for Late Fall

honey_mushroomsIt came out of the earth suddenly, pushing soil and plants that were in it’s way to the side. Just a bit of moisture had allowed this large clump of honey mushrooms to emerge and start its path to reproduction. At this time of year when the trees are turning the color of flame and some have already gone into dormancy it seems the earth is growing silent. Winter will soon be here. For nature life continues. Look around you and be thankful for the bounty, the restfulness, the time to enjoy these beautiful mountains that we call home.

The Giant Pacific salamanders in the forest duff are resting up for next seasons batch of young. Maybe now that we’ve had some rain the deer will have something to eat other than my garden. young_buckAs the weather cools, my garden plants are looking past their prime. The seed heads that remain invite small song birds to feast on what remains. Chickadees hop from plant to plant. They even find something to eat in the Japanese maple leaves and the old dried hydrangea flowers that have turned a dusty rose color. Spotted towhees scratch for seeds buried under fall leaves. I’m always slow to cut down and clear everything away but  there are some things I should be doing this autumn. I’ll pay if I leave everything for next spring when it all needs doing at once.

First, I’ll cut back perennials such as hostas, asters and mums, which collapse into a gooey mess and shelter slugs and snails. I’ll pick up and dispose of diseased  leaves, especially under the roses to prevent pathogens from spreading. Coneflowers, ligularia and rudbeckia flowers and ornamental grasses can stay to contribute winter interest for me and the birds.

I’ll leave as much foliage as possible to provide cover, protection from cold winds and foraging spots for other critters and good insects. I’ll wait to cut back the stems and foliages of not only the grasses but evergreen perennials, salvias, hardy fuchsias until spring. There are few things as rewarding as seeing your winter garden turn into a sanctuary for wildlife.

As weeds emerge I’ll spend a little time here and there keeping up with them. There are 300 dormant weed seeds per square inch of soil and I don’t want to add to that.

I don’t have the space to plant a cover crop so I like to top dress the soil with compost or bark chips. I have a few new trees that need staking to secure them through the winter. This prevents breakage and allows new roots to grow deep and stable. Be sure to set the stake on the windy side of the tree and tie loosely so it has some wiggle room This movement stimulates the trunk to grow thicker. Come next summer the trees will  probably be ready to stand on their own. I don’t want to keep them staked longer than necessary. Also check any trees or shrubs that were transplanted and are still tightly bound to a stake. Remove or reset the stake so the trunk will not become girdled as it grows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA word about all those leaves that cover the ground, the lawn and the perennial beds at this time of year. You can build up your garden soil by running a mower over them to chop into smaller pieces and spread over the soil. Worms and other organisms will start to break them down right away. Next spring dig what’s left into the soil. If you leave more than an inch or two of whole leaves on top the rains will compact them into a soggy mess and prevent oxygen from reaching the soil. If you have too much of a good thing when it comes to leaves, it’s best to put them into your green waste can.

Hummingbirds still need a nectar source at this time of year. Anna’s hummingbirds live in this area all year long.  They need your nectar even more in the winter when very little is in bloom. My abutilons are a winter favorite for them in my garden. Keep your feeders up year-round and keep them clean.

Beneficial Gardens in a Small Space

waterfall_2He told me that his was a one-of-a-kind garden, unique in such a small space and would I be interested in visiting some time? I love being invited to tour all types of gardens but I had an inkling that the garden of Rich Merrill, former Director of the Horticulture Dept. and Professor Emeritus at Cabrillo College, would be something special.

It was a beautiful morning when I arrived at Merrill's garden overflowing with flowering plants, small trees, edibles and water features. Many large boulders, surrounded by pebbles, caught my attention in such a small space. All part of the design to attract beneficial insects I was told. His organic garden is teeming with small beetles, spiders, predatory bugs, syrphid flies, parasitic wasps and lacewings. It's the ideal method of pest control, environmentally safe and free of cost.

While admiring his lovely garden, Merrill shared his knowledge of beneficials- from insects to birds to spiders to frogs and beetles. They are all part of the ecology of a successful habitat garden. I could barely keep up, writing down notes on my yellow legal pad as he weaved a story about how each of the elements in his garden contributes to its total health. I was never able to take one of his classes at Cabrillo College so this was a real treat. My own private class.

The wide diversity of plants in Merrill's garden provide moisture, shelter, prey and nutrition in the form of santivalia2nectar for carbohydrates and pollen for protein. His plants are "beneficial" plants because they foster beneficial insects. It just so happens  that many of these plants are also beautiful in the garden. Some of his favorites include composite flowers like sunflowers, marigolds buckwheat, scabiosa and santivalia or creeping zinnia.  They have flat  flower clusters with accessible landing platforms and small nectar and pollen to make it easier for insects to feed. They in turn eat the tiny eggs of the bad bugs in your garden. His is a complete ecosystem.

This 800 square foot garden happens to be in a mobile home park but any small space could be designed to be as beautiful and full of life as Merrill's. Most of my clients ask for a garden filled with color, hummingbirds, songbirds, butterflies and wildlife so I came away with lots of great ideas.

blue_thunbergia2Once a teacher, always a teacher. Merrill gave me a handout he'd prepared for Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden, explaining in more detail why he lets the broccoli go to flower to attract beneficials and why he allows aphids on his cruciferous vegetables to feed the beneficial insects when prey is scarce so they are on hand should he have an outbreak of bad insects that might ruin his flowers and plants.

As we strolled within a border of palms, olive trees, phormium, bottlebrush, Marjorie Channon pittosporum and cordyline, Merrill showed me his philosophy of right plant in the right place in action. Asclepias curassavica, commonly called Mexican Butterfly Weed, has self sown on its own in unexpected spots. One happened to come up next to the gorgeous blue thunbergia by the pondless waterfall making an awesome combination. Both monarch butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy the nectar.

Next to a red salvia, a red and white bicolor Rose of Sharon made it's home. Merrill lets all his plants intertwine and the pink flowering Heckrottii honeysuckle was already inching up into an olive tree. Other salvias in his garden include Hot Lips, San Antonio and San Jacinto. There isn't room to grow any of the larger salvias, Merrill explained. He swears he doesn't know where the brilliant blue one came from. Must be from the "fairy dust" his wife, Dida says he sprinkled over the garden to make everything grow so lush.

She loves flowers for fragrance and cutting so in several beds they grow gardenia, lemons, roses and alstroemeria among the alyssum which is a prime syrphid fly attractor. Several bird of paradise, obtained from different locales in the hopes one will be hardier grow beneath a tall palm.

Merrill grows only the vegetables that do well and are the most nutritious like kale, onions, garlic, broccoli and collards. He enjoyed growing cucumbers this year and has a large pumpkin in the making for his grandson. The rest he gets from the farmer's market. He had developed his own strain of elephant garlic which is actually a leek and has a milder flavor than garlic. I left his garden with a gift of elephant garlic and lots of inspiration.

Native Plants for Winter Birds in the Santa Cruz Mts.

There's no way around it. January may signal the start of the new year but most of our plants still have the day off. I need inspiration on these cold mornings when most of my plants are asleep. This is the time of year when it's doubly important to include plants in your garden that can take a licking, keep on ticking and provide some much needed food for our feathered friends.

During the winter small songbirds and hummingbirds face big challenges, too. Just like us, they need to keep warm.  Our fuel might be a comfort food like hot stew, theirs are foods rich in antioxidants and fats or high octane nectar. Native shrubs with berries or nectar at this time of year will benefit them as well as providing hardy winter color in your garden.

Small flocks of Chestnut-backed chickadees frequent my garden regularly. I can hear their familiar chattering from quite a distance. I read in Audubon magazine that they weigh about as much as a dozen paperclips but their bodies are large for their mass. They have to ramp up the number of hours they devote to feeding. At night chickadees cram themselves into tiny cavities and shiver, burning the day's fuel to keep from freezing.

Other birds that I enjoy in my garden at this time of year are Lesser goldfinches, Townsend warblers, Ruby-Crowned kinglets, robins, brown creepers, Hutton's vireo, Dark-eyed juncos and Anna's hummingbirds.  These native plants will make both of you happy and it's not too late to plant.

Mahonia (Berberis aquifolium) is one of my favorites for winter color and spring berries. Fat cluster of golden yellow flowers light up the Douglas fir woodland understory. In the garden it has a surprising level of adaptability to tough conditions including low water, not-so-great soil and shade or partial sun. In the barberry family, they have gorgeous prickly foliage and powdery-blue, then black berries that the birds devour in late winter and early spring. Hummingbirds rely on the flowers as a source of nectar-rich food in wintertime when there isn't much else around. I saw them visiting these beautiful flower spikes in Seattle recently at Chihuly Glass Exhibit (got the spelling right this time). There are many cultivars of mahonia now available and they are all great.

Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpus albus) is a native that starts its show in fall. It thrives in a woodland garden or in the dry shade under oak trees. A background plant most of the year, the white berries on thie 4-foot shrub stand out when the leaves drop.  Seldom troubled by pests this small shrub can be used to control erosion and is deer resistant. Beautiful ornamental white fruits cover the plant at this time of year and are valued by varied thrush, robins and quail.

Hairy honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) can  provide both berries and nectar for local birds. Large, pink nectar-rich blossoms give way to red juicy berries in the fall and often hang on the vines during the winter. They are relished by birds. By pruning them a bit to get more branching they'll be denser and flower more. It's as deer proof as they come. They do well in clay soil in full sun and also shade. Snowberry, Hummingbird sage, toyon and coffeeberry are other natives that complement them.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is the official shrub of the State of California. Also called the Christmas berry shrub it's common in chaparral and open wooded forest. Many birds enjoy their bright red berries throughout the winter including cedar waxwing, bushtit, warblers, robins, flickers, finches and sparrows.  Toyon make a good screen as well as a beautiful specimen plant. They are drought tolerant when established but tolerate some water in the garden if drainage is good. They are relatively fire resistant, like full sun but will tolerate shade. They adapt to sand, clay or serpentine soils. Butterflies also are attracted to the flowers in the summer.

These are just a few great natives to plant in your garden. Other native plants for the winter garden are Pacific wax myrtle, Strawberry tree and Red-twig dogwood.  

By choosing plants that are native to our region birds spend less energy and time foraging for food as they more easily recognize them as a food source. You can have your beautiful berries and color and the birds can eat them, too.
 

Chihuly Garden & Glass

Recently I visited a garden of glass and it was spectacular. At the base of the Space Needle in Seattle, the newly opened Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit is a marriage of garden and art like no other I've ever seen. To experience larger-than-life blown glass in vibrant rainbow colors nestled among trees and shrubs was magical. I was transported beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary.

You may have seen some Dale Chihuly glass art at the DeYoung Museum when it was displayed there several years ago. Some of the pieces were influenced by Pacific Northwest American Indian art, others reminiscent of plants and sea forms. In a PBS special currently airing called Chihuly Outside, I learned that his love of blown glass has evolved since 1995 from installations in glass houses in Europe and the U.S. to massive outside exhibits in Finland, Venice, Japan, Australia and Jerusalem. The Chihuly Gardens and Glass Exhibit in Seattle is his most ambitious project ever.

Soft winter sunlight backlit the glass art that seemed to sprout up from the earth. Evergreen magnolia trees, pines and weeping cedar formed a dark green backdrop for the vivid blue, red, yellow, orange, mauve and chartreuse blown glass. Coral Bark maples echoed the same shade of glass reeds and spears. Red Twig dogwood sported a stand of fiori or flower inspired glass. Cobalt glass spheres reflected the Space Needle nearby. Swaths of steel blue eryngium or sea holly were still blooming a bit complementing the ruby glass behind.

Seattle is cold in the winter with lots of rain (sound familiar?) so plants appropriate to the site and climate are a must. Lily-of-the-Valley shrubs provide year-round interest. Their burgundy flower buds hung in clusters ready to open in the spring. Mahonia, which are native to our area also, bloomed with spikes of yellow flowers attracting hummingbirds that over winter in the area. Helleborus or Lenten Rose held tight flower buds just waiting to open. Sasanqua camellias in pink, rose and white popped with color.

Lots of burgundy coral bells carpeted the ground in front of massive logs that looked like petrified wood. I had to check for myself. Mondo grass, epimedium, strawberry  begonia and Japanese Forest grass complemented more flower inspired glass art. Strolling the garden and looking at the glass from different angles as the changing light filtered through was awesome. Chihuly doesn't so much mimic nature as borrow inspiration from it. As with all art, it's in the eye of the beholder and I fell, hook, line and sinker under its spell.

This garden of glass reminds you of frog legs with webbed toes, anemones waving in the incoming tide, towers of tall ti plants. Harmonizing plants and art is the creation of designer Richard Hartlage. Conifers, evergreen grasses, small shrubs and ferns set off the brilliant glass art. A green roof can be seen from above,a green screen of evergreen clematis encloses one side and large crape myrtles provide beautiful winter bark that blends with the lavender and burgundy glass sculptures.

A visit to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle was a day spent with light and glass and the plants that make them sparkle. I hoping to see this garden next July when the asters and rhododendrons are in bloom. Even in the quiet months of winter it was spectacular.
 

A Garden Reflects it’s Designer

To quote Luther Burbank, "Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul".  After visiting the garden of Bev Kaplan in Boulder Creek I couldn't agree more.

I never tire of being invited to spend time with a fellow gardening enthusiast. Everyone creates a unique garden which reflects their individuality and personality. To share a garden is a personal experience. To tell the story of each part and how it came to life is a special honor bestowed on those we care about. Here is the story of Bev's garden.

Bev and her husband, Jeff, bought the property in 1992. Then it was covered with poison oak and Scotch broom but they saw potential and got started on the dramatic transformation. A huge culvert that runs under the driveway used to be lined with old Texaco 50 gallon drums. Now redone with stone,  it blooms with agapanthus that were being given away by a friend. Groundcovers blanket the slopes now but in the winter the culvert carries a lot of water.

Bordering the driveway are planters built with concrete from the old pool. Her "designer" bearded iris have finished blooming but Bev bragged about the huge 6" flowers that they bear each spring. Deer can reach this part of the property so iris and grasses survive well here.

A steep slope along another side of the driveway is home to her resident deer. She pointed to the wisteria vines growing over the trees. When in bloom they cover the slope with purple blooms and a wonderful fragrance. She started the wisteria 14 years ago from one seed collected from the hamburger joint at the southern edge of Boulder Creek. It took 7 years for it to bloom but now when the seed pods burst they hit the kitchen window a hundred feet away.

Strolling under the Southern magnolia tree with those huge, white flowers that smell like oranges, we passed the "Bottle Garden". Bev explained she just gave up trying to grow anything in this shady area so made bouquets of colored bottles placed upside down in pots. It's charming, whimsical and the ultimate in recycling.

"Maple Lane" was our next destination. Her large Japanese maple collection grows happily alongside abutilon, which are also called Flowering maples.  Hummingbirds enjoy all of the flowers equally be they colored red, orange or yellow. Sweet violets and astilbe find homes here, too.

A welcoming flagstone patio under the shade of massive redwoods held a large firepit and lots of chairs. Calling her home, "Bev's Bread and Breakfast", she explained that many relatives come from out of town to stay and the warmth of the fire ring is welcomed by those who are used to warmer nights. Camellias and rhododendrons enclose this beautiful patio with a view of the San Lorenzo Valley.

Everywhere I looked in this garden, glass beads were sprinkled between stepping stones. Like jewels, I was told these "Pixie Fairy Gems" keep the weeds down and invite the fairies – clear ones brightened up the shade, blue ones nestled between the brick-red stepping stones in the hospital area.

Opposite the hospital area, which didn't house any current patients I noticed, a several bowling balls sat atop a patch of Mexican pebbles. These belonged to her husband's late parents and she wanted to remember them by creating this unusual garden.

Finally arriving at the pool garden I was speechless. This labor of love is a riot of color attracting dragonflies, hummingbirds and songbirds and butterflies by the score. I asked how she takes care of all of it. Bev smiled and pulled out a large serving spoon and a pair of kitchen shears. "With these", she said.

During a delicious lunch of spinach souffle and fresh lemonade with mint, I was surrounded by the fragrance of honeysuckle, star jasmine, scented geraniums, buddleja, nemesia, purple petunia and dianthus. Many varieties of salvia, calibrachoa, scaevola, dahlia and gladiola filled the many pots and hanging baskets around the pool.

Bev takes care of the entire garden with just a little help. She doesn't spray with anything, even organics, preferring to keep bugs at bay by washing the deck with simple green, hand picking and spritzing with the hose.

It was a day I'll always remember. This garden is a personal labor of love and I hope to be invited back to see the hawk babies when they fledge.
 

Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon

Enter the Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon with me as I preview several gardens that will be featured on the tour this coming weekend.  While some of our gardens have a few areas with a "wow factor" , the gardens I was privileged to visit have this element at every turn. I was amazed, impressed and truly honored to spend time in each of them.

First stop was a garden that took my breath away. Looking past the lush lawn, the view takes in all of Monterey Bay. It wasn't always this way, the owner explained. When she moved to the property in 1981, she didn't even know there was an ocean view. It was only after some judicious pruning that this stunning view was revealed.

We  ambled through the many paths that took us up close and personal with perennial beds overflowing with blooming iris, spirea, weigela, succulents, hardy geraniums, coprosma and coleonema to name just a few.

Rabbits are an ongoing problem in this garden. Seems they love her Angelina sedum, coprosma, and Rose Campion as much as she does. Little 12" tall fences surround several of the beds which looks comical but apparently works as the rabbits don't like to jump over them.

Stained urbanite has been stacked by the owner to make short retaining walls and the look is quite classy blending in the flagstone and gravel paths. She explained how easy it was to stain the broken concrete from the old driveway by slapping on some concrete stain. "Piece of cake", she told me.

Other flower beds she edged with Sonoma fieldstone, stacking them herself. At every turn you can see the personal touches that make a garden unique. An old rusty mailbox was tucked into one of the beds overflowing with blooming pansies and million bells calibrachoa.  I loved this garden.

Next stop was another garden 30 years in the making. You won't believe the "before" pictures when you see this garden now. I could barely see the potential in the old pictures but the owner could and started to build up the rock hard soil bed by bed. After many years she has created  an organic garden full of flowering rhododendron, roses, viburnum, herbs, vegetables, citrus, apples and a 5 year old  Staghorn fern that measures 4 ft across.

The owner explained that deer are not a problem because they won't jump the irregular picket fence. Seems the wide pickets confuse their eyesight. Unfortunately, the gophers have decided recently that after 14 years, her camellias are now on the menu and she has lost almost all of the original 40 in the past year. Instead of lamenting her loss, she sees it as an opportunity to add new plants. She has the optimism that all gardeners possess.

Chickadees nested in a box attached to the porch. Garter snakes and alligator lizards patrol the flower beds. A bathtub, sunk into the earth serves as "the poor man's hot tub". Old metal chairs are planted with flowers and ferns and other found garden art is sprinkled generously though out the garden. This is the garden of an artist whose studio is nestled back among the trees. At every turn you feel the peacefulness of this wonderful place. This is a garden to experience not just view.

The last garden I was lucky enough to preview, was an asphalt driveway just 6 short years ago. There are occasional unplanted spots that still show asphalt. What a transformation. With the help of lots of top soil and an auger this gardener has created a spectacular space.  "Everything grows like crazy here", she explained.

The front garden is open to deer and is planted with echium, leucospermum, arctotis, barberry, thyme, rosemary and New Zealand flax. One of her favorite plants is a huge variegated holly that buzzed so loudly with bees I thought the electrical line coming into the house was making all the racket.

In the back, a small orchard edged the fence. Blooming lilacs by the deck heavily scented the air. Succulents intermingle with peony, erysimum and gaura. This gardener explained she " she is one of those people who buys whatever she likes and then finds a place for it". Having had previous experience growing grapes and olives in Sonoma, she is a hands-on gardener who does it all herself. She's a self-described  "drip queen".

A ceramic artist, her sculptures are focal points though out the garden. There is a lot of other garden art in this garden, too.

Where do these gardeners find the garden art, water features and other items that give their gardens that personal touch? One explained, she is always on the lookout for estate sales as she drives around or sees advertised in the paper. "That's were you can really find the treasures", she explained. "Little old ladies have some great plants and other wonderful finds in the back of the garden".

The Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon Tour takes place Saturday and Sunday, May 19th and 20th. Don't miss it.
 

Trials & Tribulations of a Test Garden

While at the Watsonville Terra Sole Nursery recently, owner's John and Sherry Hall shared with me their experiences growing and experimenting with plants in their own landscape and nursery. From these personal trials, they decide what to propagate and sell in the small, independent nursery they operate on their property.

With a philosophy to share what they learn with their customers, they grow native and unusual plants and other drought tolerant plants that are adapted to our dry summer climate. Sherry told me that they grow their plants as sustainably as possible, hand pulling weeds and collecting snails by hand. They said they propagate and grow their plants without growth regulators or dangerous chemicals. I saw many birdbaths both in their own landscape and in the nursery. Sherry told me they encourage feathered friends like the Western Bluebird to live in the garden to eat bugs. It's a win-win situation.

Sustainable doesn't just get lip service at this nursery. They don't use labels on their containers making it easy to recycle them. And John makes his own succulent garden boxes from 100 year old barn wood. They looked awesome planted up with a collection of various succulents propagated in the greenhouse.

I commented on the hardy geraniums and other plants coming up through the gravel on the nursery floor. John and Sherry both laughed as they told me "it's the best place to propagate some of the plants. Our son works at a big grower nearby and can't propagate some of these plants even in his $10,000 greenhouse".

What were some of my favorite plants that I saw on the tour and which do they think are the best performers?  
In the test garden, a Lemon Fizz santolina, with foliage so brilliant it looked like a lit light bulb, nestled at the base of a burgundy phormium. A blooming euphorbia completed the vignette. Santolinas are drought and deer tolerant. One important thing Sherry has learned from the test garden is how close to plant things. "They get a lot bigger than you'd imagine from seeing them in that cute little gallon can".

They have an extensive coral bell or heuchera collection that they have been testing for the past 4 years. Starting with 80 plants of different kinds, 90% have survived. The fancy hybrids do need some summer water and compost to look their best. The variety Pinot Gris, with molasses colored foliage, really stood out among the rest.

The echinacea were just emerging from dormancy and will bloom during the summer.  They are very dependable in the garden unless the gophers get them, I was told. Agastache is another one of their favorites and the hummingbirds love them, too. They grow many colorful cordyline from clumpers to tall types. They are doing great, Sherry said. "Maybe a little too great" as they get big fast. Gaillardia have been disappointing but maybe they received too much water at the wrong time, she confessed.

In the nursery, I was drawn to the hardy geranium, 'Bill Wallace'. Loaded with purplish-blue flowers, this mounding perennial blooms for a long time. In another spot, I couldn't miss the rich, dark burgundy flowers of the camellia "Night Rider". "It's the only camellia we grow", the Hall's explained. A very slow grower, it's perfect for containers.

At the Spring Trials they bought a flat of a new acacia called 'Cousin Itt'. This plant is very different from the invasive tree we see blooming each winter. A well behaved 30" mound of soft, emerald green foliage it's drought tolerant and would look great near a dry stream bed.

With so many plants to talk about, we ran out of time and ended with the "under-used, under-appreciated" Beschorneria.  This genus of succulent plants belong to the subfamily agavoides and is native to Mexico. The Hall's are concentrating on propagating a variegated variety in their nursery. A tall blooming red spike had emerged from one of the green species.

This is just a taste of the many plants I learned about that day at Terra Sole Nurseries. From drought tolerance, disease resistance, cold and wildlife compatible the experiments continue.

You can find out more about this small nursery at www.terrasolenurseries.com.

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.

Native Plants for the Santa Cruz Mts

In celebration of Native Plant Week earlier this month, let’s talk about using . How do you pick the best ones for your situation and what do they need to grow in your garden?

California is a vast domain when it comes to natural features and different soils. From hills to mountains to deserts to valleys and ocean bluffs, there are 6000 plus plant species within our borders. Hundreds of these are showy and useful plants worthy of cultivation in our garden. Some, like ceanothus, have already been cultivated for a century or more, both here and abroad.

There are features of the California landscape that present a certain flavor and seasonal progression, quite distinct from that of the subtropics and year-round, moist forests that many traditional garden plants come from. Plants of hilly and mountainous areas are often found in rocky or sandy soils and require well-drained garden soils. Many plants of the chaparral have poor resistance to the root pathogens that thrive in a warm, moist soil and may not tolerate typical garden style irrigation in summer.

Matching or creating the right conditions is the key to success to grow California natives. Planting on a raised mound or berm, for instance, is one way to drain water away from sensitive crowns. Knowing where in California a given native plant comes from can help you make the right decisions.

That being said there are many natives with an amazing broad tolerance of different conditions. Heteromeles arbutifolia or toyon grows in both sandy and clay soils as does Achillea millifolium or yarrow which is also a good cut flower. Carex grass and Erigeron glaucus or Seaside daisy also do well in most soils.

If you garden in clay soils,  good native shrubs are Western redbud, manzanita, spicebush, bush anemone, ceanothus, garrya, Pacific wax myrtle, western mock orange, blue elderberry, mahonia, California wild rose and snowberry. Native perennials for clay soil include coral bells, sticky monkeyflower ( a good cut flower ), salvias, deer grass, rubus and Dutchman’s pipe vine.

Sandy conditions require California natives that are decidedly drought tolerant. You may already grow many of our manzanitas and ceanothus. But do you also have lupine, lavatera, coffeeberry, buckwheat, fuchsia-flowering gooseberry, purple sage, wallflower or the beautiful Douglas iris?

Then there are the folks that live in the shade. Native plants from canyons and riparian areas will do well in your garden. They require some summer watering but that’s all. Native shrubs that tolerate bright shade are manzanita, spicebush, bush anemone, ceanothus, mahonia, Ca. wax myrtle, any of the ribes, wild rose, snowberry and huckleberry. Perennials for color are columbine, Western bleeding heart, Ca. fuchsia, Douglas iris and coral bells.

Where ever you garden, to provide food and nectar or berries for our winged friends be sure you have some flowering currant, sticky monkey flower, coffeeberry, salvia clevelandii, Dutchman’s pipe vine,wax myrtle, Ca. fuchsia, aster chilensis or seaside daisy.

New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

Last year I was brave and published my New Year’s resolutions– at least those that pertain to the garden. It’s now the day of reckoning. Let’s see how I did and which ones I’ll  keep for 2011.   In the garden, as in life, simple changes can make a big difference over a long time. I’m adding a couple new ones that are important, too.

Learn something new every day. Whether it’s something new in the garden or elsewhere, keep learning. I’m starting to learn about local mushrooms. They come up in the most beautiful places. I’m looking forward to the Fungus Fair in January.
Enjoy the simple things. Laugh often. Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.  Everyday is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.


Of the 16 gardener’s resolutions I made last year I can honestly say I achieved half of them.

I did pay more attention to the size that plants grow and believed the tag when it said "spreading habit". But I also found that pruning shears are life savers  when you just have to have that new foliage plant that just came out.

I started making garden journal entries in February instead of January as I resolved. But then I tried to make up for it in March, May, June, October, November and December.  I missed 5 out of 12 months. I get a "C-".

I added more pollen-producing flowering plants to attract beneficial insects which kept the good guys around longer to eat the bad bugs. And I learned what quite a few of the good guys look like.  ( That counts as two resolutions )

I sat in my garden and enjoyed it, not jumping up to rearrange containers. (This one was easy)

I applied to get my little garden certified as a wildlife habitat  with the National Wildlife Federation by making sure I provided food sources, water, cover, places to raise young and used sustainable gardening techniques.

I fertilized my perennials a couple of times this year with organic compost and fertilizer instead of just once and boy were they happy. The trees and larger shrubs really only need a light dose once a year so I was good there.

I wore sunscreen everyday. (My doctor wants a hat, too. Maybe this year I’ll wear one.)

The other half of last year’s resolutions are being recycled as they’re still good ones:

I will not buy a new flower, shrub or tree until I have a plan for it in the garden.

I will sharpen and clean my garden tools so they look spiffy and work better.

I will start a worm bin with my kitchen scraps and a compost pile for leaves and plant debris. (I have so many raccoons it’s like a party out there at night but I’m going to come up with a critter-proof solution.)

I will weed regularly- not waiting until they’re so tall they swallow up my gardening tools when I lay them down.

I will accept a few holes in my plants but tour the garden regularly to identify if a problem is getting out of control and I need to break out an organic pesticide.

I will prune my maples, transplant my overgrown containers and divide my perennials when I’m supposed to.

I will plant more things to eat. Edibles anywhere in the garden feed the body and the soul. (This summer was so cold I didn’t have much luck in my partial shade.)

I will stop rationalizing my plant habit is better than gambling, clothes shopping or smoking.

I will do better to practice what I preach in this column.

Happy New Year in 2011 from The Mountain Gardener

What to Plant in Clay Soil in the Santa Cruz Mountains

              "The soil is made of butterfly wings, dinosaur teeth, pumpkin seeds, lizard skins, and fallen leaves.
                  Put your hands in the soil and touch yesterday, and all that will be left of tomorrow shall return
                                         so that new life can celebrate this day."  -Betty Peck

Soil is a wonderful thing. It grows our food, anchors our trees and provides a foundation under our feet. But it sure can be hard to work with if it’s not the soft, crumbly loam that many plants prefer. It’s amazing that anything grows in some of the soils here in the Santa Cruz mountains. Some folks garden in an ancient sea bed of sand and there are others who have such heavy clay in their gardens that you wonder how anything survives.  Recently I helped plant in the dense clay of Garrahan Park in Boulder Creek and I dedicate this column to those of you with similar inhospitable soils.

The soil in Boulder Creek required a pick ax to break up enough to plant. Sound familiar?  Although rich in nutrients it needed compost in many areas to provide the environment  necessary so beneficial microbes, worms and other critters could do their work and aerate the soil. A thick layer of mulch will be spread over the soil by The Boy Scouts to preserve the structure and prevent it from packing down again.

There are many plants that are tolerant of clay soils and plant selection is half the equation. The park chose mostly California natives that won’t need fertilization or pruning, can be eventually weaned from irrigation and will provide food for the birds and visiting children. Juncus, a type of grass, red-flowering currant, redtwig dogwood, California rose and western redbud will be the stars of the park in the wet, clay soil. The drier side of the park was planted with deer grass, toyon, California rose, huckleberry, coffeeberry , ceanothus, native honeysuckle, vine maple, native iris and California fescue grass.

I’m sure the park will be the crown jewel of the area and hopefully you will come to visit and see the progress of the plants. Kinda like a local demonstration garden in the San Lorenzo Valley.

There are plants from similar environments in other parts of the world that would also do well if you garden in heavy soil. One of my favorite trees for these conditions is the strawberry tree. Also hackberry, ash, gingko and paperbark trees work well also. Shrubs to try include flowering quince, bottlebrush, Australian fuchsia, smoke tree, escallonia, pineapple guava, mahonia, osmanthus, Italian buckthorn, elderberry and vitex. Easy perennials for clay soils are yarrow, bergenia, carex grasses, fortnight lily, coreopsis, echinacea, nepeta, salvia, teucrium and verbena to name just a few.

If you’re not familiar with some of these plants it’s easy to see what they look like by Googling images. It’s what I do to see a plant full grown and not just a line drawing or a close-up of the flower.

So you see, there are plants that will be successful even in heavy, clay soil, you just have to pick the right ones.

Attracting Birds to your Garden

Fall brings with it not only foliage color but also colorful fruits and berries that invite birds into your garden. If you’re a backyard birder you probably already have lots of plants to lure our feathered friends,

If you have room for a new tree, consider Paul’s scarlet hawthorn.  With clusters of double rose flowers and small vivid red fruits resembling tiny apples in late summer and fall that hang from the branches well into winter, this tree offers interest in more than one season.  Robins are attracted to hawthorn berries.
 
Flowering crabapples sport showy edible fruit relished by many birds in the winter, including black-headed grosbeaks.  Fruit color ranges from reddish purple, brilliant red to golden orange.  Crabapples are good lawn trees and their spring blossoms are stunning.  To avoid disfiguring diseases, choose varieties that are resistant to cedar-apple rust, scab and powdery mildew.   Among these is ‘Prairiefire‘, with pink flowers and dark red fruit.  This tree grows 20 feet tall.
 
A native that puts on a fall show is  A background plant most of the year, the white berries on this 4-foot shrub stand out when the leaves drop.  Snowberry is a good choice for erosion control on banks.

Looking like clusters of pale purple pearls, the gorgeous fruits of beautyberry ( Callicarpa ) are born well into winter.  This deciduous shrub reaches to 6 feet and takes sun or light shade.
 
For both bird-attracting berries and brilliant winter stems, plant redtwig dogwood.  Native along creeks and other moist spots from northern California through the Northwest, it performs well with little additional summer water once established in gardens
 
Other shrubs with beautiful colored berries include barberry, cotoneaster, currant, elderberry, mahonia, nandina and pyracantha.  As an added bonus many of these berries make good holiday decorations, too.