Category Archives: landscape

bioluminescent waves

We’re just back from the beach, where we tried to catch some of the glowing red tide that people were so excited about last night. Unfortunately we’d missed it at it peak, but I got a few general shots of how it looked.

These were all from La Jolla Shores, where the glow of streetlights and ambient glow from houses all around didn’t help see the subtle effects. There actually is a tiny little blue shimmer in this one, in the wave breaking towards the left of the frame.

And then there was this one with no glowing waves at all, but I liked the neat effects of a lens left open for 30 seconds…

…another one with a subtle glow…

…and a final one.

Check out the photo from last night in a local news story [ here ]. What we saw tonight was cool, but I’m sorry I couldn’t make it out to the water last night.

staycation 2011

College Prowler, the website that provides crowdsource ratings of colleges and universities by important factors like campus dining, academics, and the guys who go there, recently also ranks the schools for “weather.” (Really, we’d call that “climate,” wouldn’t we?) Of the five schools rated as A+, three are here in San Diego.

Keeping that in mind, when I was recently trying to decide where I might want to go on a short little summer vacation, San Diego won out. Really, when Newark recently hit 108, D.C., D.C. struck 105 and Dallas roasted at 100 or more for three weeks solid, it was hard to think about going anywhere else, especially now in the hot breath of summer.

Monarch butterfly on ginger

So home it was. Long weekends in the garden…monarrch butterflies…

The long weekends were an excuse to get to the beach and get my feet wet. Pathetic that I haven’t done this in over two years.

The extra days were also an excuse to go for a short visit to Torrey Pines State Preserve, where lots was still in bloom even though it’s high summer and there’s been no significant rain for several months:

The new cat, hiding in the cables behind the electronics...

And we adopted a new cat. She’s closer to feral than being a lap cat, but we’re hoping that she’ll at least not feel the need to hide behind the furniture while humans are around.

James SOE NYUN. Yellowstone Lake Hotel, Yellowstone National Park, 2008. Digital pigment print, 16x19.75 inches.

And last, I had the chance to participate in some art stuff. I’m in the current 20th Juried Exhibition at the La Jolla Athenaeum. I was really surprised and honored that I was awarded first prize by the local big art name jurrors, Kathryn Kanjo of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and Joseph Bellows of the photo gallery that bears his name. Woohoo!

This is one of three images in the show, works from the Yellowstone region that channel photographers from the nineteenth century. If you’re on vacation here in town, stop by. The show is up through September 3.

Enjoy what’s left of the summer!

it’s da (yarn) bomb

My part of town got yarn-bombed earlier this year.

Guerrilla knitter Kevin Gauge (not his real name) has modified five stop signs around the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego, adding knitted stems and a pair of leaves to the support posts.

I’m probably not divulging anything too sensitive when I repeat that Clairemont is occasionally referred to as “Squaremont,” and that this home-centric community seems to cluster around a couple of homes away from home, Home Depot and Home Town Buffet.

I’ll have to admit that I get a little touchy when someone calls my neighborhood “Clairemont”: Clairemont is over a block away, and most of it is on the other side of the canyon. It has a different telephone area code. It has a totally different postal ZIP code. No, no, no, I do not live in Clairemont!

So to battle this apparent blandness the yarnbomber has proposed doing this to a hundred stop signs. He’s set up a blog, Stop Sign Flower, with some photos of past projects and some background. And to finance the enterprise he’s using to “Turn stop signs in San Diego into flowers!”

If you explore his blog a bit you’ll read that the knitter (who also goes by “knitting guy”) was inspired by one of the pieces by street artist Kevin Mark Jenkins. Check out Jenkins’ web page [ here ] and scroll down, down, down (past the dead mannikin with the perky balloons attached to it floating in the river in Malmö) to the Washington D.C. stop sign that started it all.

I find it interesting that street art is pretty much a boy’s club, and now there’s a male knitter who appears to be combating some of the medium’s general associations with being women’s work by taking it on the road. But I’m overgeneralizing on this tendency. According to the font of often-accurate information, Wikipedia, yarn bombing was started by a woman, Houston’s Magda Sayeg, and International Yarnbombing Day, first held on June 11 of this year, was the brainchild of another woman, Joann Matvichuk.

God. Is knitting so girly that even most of its street artists are women?

Knitting Guy–more power to ya!

[ Thanks to “Kevin Gauge” for the photo above, which is used by here with his permission. ]

keeping your dead tree healthy

There’s this dead tree outside my weekday office. A crew has been working on it for the last two weeks.

It’s one of three very dead trees that make up an 1986 installation by Terry Allen. Set in an area of the UCSD campus that’s seen many of the campus’ signature eucalyptus cut down to make way for buildings, they’re in part supposed to embody trees that were lost to the chainsaw of progress. The writeup at the Stuart Collection website has lots of things to say about the project, including: “Although they ostensibly represent displacement or loss, these trees offer a kind of compensation: one emits a series of recorded songs and the other a lively sequence of poems and stories created and arranged specifically for this project.”

This tree--the dead-looking gray one towards the left of this frame--plays recorded spoken things.

Yes. Two of the artist’s trees make noise. Loud, annoying noise. So in effect this artists has taken a tree–something that to me represents the possibility of the quiet that you find in a grove–and replaces it with devices with speakers in them that pollute the thin grove with poetry and loud music. By banishing what’s left of the quiet it’s the aural equivalent of clearcutting what’s left of the trees. You call that compensation?

I do not love this work.

This one plays music. Someone had brought in a plastic chair so they could sit and listen to the giant lead-plated iPod.

The trees in the project started out their lives in the adjacent groves but were removed. They were then dissembled and soaked in wood preservative. Once thoroughly embalmed, the trees were reassembled and sheets of lead nailed all over their outer surfaces. Over the course of 25 years the one mute tree–the one with the scissor lift next to it in the first phot above–developed the sort of white and yellow oxidation that lead can acquire over time. Oxidized lead makes up the artist’s pigment lead yellow, and sulfides of lead can turn the lead white.

The trunk of the spoken-word tree

I guess the natural processes went against the artist’s intentions of having a dark ghost of a tree the color of raw lead. The two workers have been pounding and cleaning and maybe even replacing some of the lead plating. The tree is starting to look really dead again.

My final thoughts? I don’t think this artist really gets nature. Natural processes are being denied. And now, you can’t hear the forest for the trees.

petals and parasites

The garden is turning decidedly brown as the temperatures warm and the dry summer gets underway–Sounds like a perfect time to revisit high spring in the local foothills. Or maybe that’s just a ruse to get an excuse to show some photos I didn’t get to posting yet. Pick whatever motivation sounds good to you…

When I visited Crestridge Ecological Preserve last May the rock roses (Helianthemum scoparium) were announcing themselves assertively. The little low plants were at their peak and vibrated with dozens to hundreds of brilliant yellow five-petaled flowers on each plant.

And anywhere that you saw rock roses you’d see hundreds of rock rose petals beneath the plants. I was trying to decide what I liked better, the flowering plants, or the red earth beneath them, dusted gold with fallen petals.

Rock rose. Cool plant.

“Cool plant” might not be your first reaction to the dodder (Cuscuta californica) that was everywhere. Lacking chlorophyll, its only way of surviving is to latch on to a host plant and suck on its vital plant juices, depleting the host while growing extravagantly all over it.

Hillside with chaparral mallow, chamise, pearly everlastings, deerweed and...dodder (the gold, twiny stuff)

Someone on the trip pointed out that DNA work has established this as a member of the Convolvulaceae, the same family that includes Calystegia, the genus of native morning glories, as well as Convolvulus, the genus that contains the common garden morning glories. The new draft Jepson manual follows this classification.

Dodder doing its thing, with chamies, golden yarrow and Lakeside ceanothis in the background. Ooh, pretty...

If you’ve planted the garden morning glories, only to recoil in horror at how they coil over absolutely everything in their path, you’ll recognize the growth pattern that dodder adopts. Like morning glories, it twines like crazy. And, it’s parasitic! Extra bonus!! Dodder is an annual, so that even though it feeds off its host, it does so for only part of the year, mainly during the growing season when the host stands the best hope of keeping up with the dodder’s demands.

All that ickiness aside I happen to love how the stuff looks, twiny and golden, working its way through the landscape. Visually, it does what nothing else in the landscape does. I’m not the only person struck by its forms. There’s a fairly abstract, very modernist photo of dodder in Laguna Beach that was taken by Edward Weston way back in 1937. [ Check out the image at the Center for Creative Photography, in Tucson. ]

So, as far as I’m concerned: Dodder. Cool plant.

About the time I took this trip I happened to open up the Sunday comics to see the week’s Bizarro single-panel. I won’t stomp all over copyright and lift the image for here, but you can view it on Dan Piraro’s blog [ here ]. But let me try to describe it:

Night. Suburbia. Exterior of a house with a lawn and low, mounding foundation plantings. A sidewalk leads away from the front door. Tight shot of a couple who are leaving the house.

The woman, smiling, says to the man, “What terrific hosts.”

Behind them, in the doorway of their home, stands the host couple. Light spills out from indoors and onto the stoop. The man wears a pair of round black glasses, “Harry Potter glasses” you might say, though you sense that he was wearing them long before Harry Potter existed. He waves a weak farewell.

Next to him the hosting woman stands, her hands clasped. She does not look happy. She speaks.

“What incredible parasites.”

Who’d ever think that the host/parasite relationship would ever be material for the funny pages? Talk about timing, talk about coincidence, the trip to Crestridge, the dodder, the Sunday comic…

all shook up

Visitors to this part of the UCSD campus won’t forget that California is Earthquake country. Set at the edge of a walkway next to the landscaping are these pillars that have undergone simulated tremors on a jumbo shake table that can deliver a massive series of movements emulating the Big One.

Another hint that this is California lies in the fact that these are pillars modeled on those that keep our freeways high in the air. The structures lab here has worked with transportation agencies to try to develop safer structural components for bridges and overpasses.

During severe shaking the tremendously strong yet fragile concrete disintegrates, leaving the supporting steel which has flexibility but comparatively little strength to keep structures aloft. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near a freeway with compromised supports like this.

The solution the structural engineers came up with is to wrap the columns in a material that bandages the concrete and keeps it from pulverizing into gravel. It almost seems too obvious a thing to do, but it looks like it really works when you compare these two pillars to the first ones I showed.

So, here in the middle of clipped hedges and mounds of orange lion’s tail, you have these six pillars, standing around like decaying Grecian columns or remnants of a garden folly in an Eighteenth-Century English garden.

Temple of Harmony SE Facade

This image is of the Temple of Harmony, a folly on the grounds of Halswell House, Goathurst, Somerset, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons. (Image by Stronach, released to the public domain. Thank you Stronach!) Even though it’s far from this land with the shakes the Temple apparently has some trouble standing up. The Wikipedia description states that “it now has the addition of a tie bar, a long retaining bolt that runs through the structure from one side to the other, helping to keep it together.”

Maybe the Halswell Park Trust could take a clue from the clever Californians and wrap the Temple in fiberglass, though, yeah, it might look a little more like the work of Christo than that of Thomas Prowse, its original architect…

visiting crestridge

For today’s Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day I’m doing something a little different. My garden looks a lot like it has in recent posts, so I thought I’d take you along on a tour last weekend of Crestridge Ecological Preserve, in San Diego County, a little over half an hour from the coast. The flowers were out in force.

One of the interesting narratives of this place is how a landscape responds to being burned. This preserve and many of the homes around it burned intensely in the big 2003 Cedar Fire. A lot of the homes nearby with their new tile roofs and crisp, new stucco look like they’ve been rebuilt out of the ashes.

Same goes for the plants. The Engelmann oaks that help define the character of the preserve burned. But many are bouncing back. Really, if it weren’t for the burned snags it’d be hard to guess that this area was cinders seven and a half years ago.

The Preserve features a small visitor kiosk designed by James T. Hubbell, the county’s best known proponent of organic architecture. Wood post-and-beam construction with straw-bale infill makes up the walls of the one-room space. Floors are a mix of flagstone and tile mosaics. Very groovy.

Around the kiosk is a native plant garden funded by a grant by the local CNPS chapter. Unlike the landscape around it, this garden receives some irrigation to keep it looking more garden-like. But today the garden extended seamless into the surrounding landscape.

The floral highlight of the trip is the the preserve’s stand of the rare Lakeside ceanothus, Ceanothus cyaneus. It’s vivid, dark color and big floral heads make it what must be one of the most spectacular of the ceanothus species. It’s not particularly garden tolerant, but given perfect drainage and no water once established, it might hang around for a few years and stop traffic passing by your garden.

On this trip we saw this lilac, as well as late-blooming examples of the much more common but less spectacular Ramona lilac, Ceanothus tomentosus, and some intergrades that look like they’re the love children of these two species.

Below is a little gallery of the visit. Hover on any image for a label of the plant. Click to see the entire image.

Check out what’s happening in gardens around the world in the other Garden Bloggers Bloom Day posts hosted by Carol, of May Dreams Gardens. As always, thanks, Carol!

monkeyflower spectrum

Yesterday I went out to Crestridge Ecological Preserve, about a half hour’s drive from coastal San Diego. There will be lots of photos from the trip, but here’s a little panorama to get started, featuring the common sticky monkeyflower, Mimusus aurantiacus.

Around here you can easily find clones of it that are soft apricot-yellow, or ones that are orange, or scarlet. I’d read somewhere that pretty much all the forms west of Interstate 15 were scarlet, and all of those east of it were apricot. It was supposed to have something to do with coastal plants supposedly being pollinated by hummingbirds, while those inland were visited by bees. (EDIT, May 9: Another source I just looked at mentioned that the primary pollinator of the pale form was the hawk moth, which makes sense for an adaptation towards larger, paler flowers.)

Well, what do you make of this? The top composite shows the plants, below are the details of the flowers on the plants. (You’ll definitely have to click to enlarge this photo to make sense of this wide panorama.) On this north slope were five plants that showed the complete range from apricot to scarlet, and the plants were arranged sequentially as if they lines in a spectrum. Crestridge is a couple dozen miles east of I-15, so I think these plants blow the I-15 hypothesis out of the water.

I’d guess the real answer will implicate plant-sex and require a more nuanced understanding of how these different color forms establish themselves in different areas.

survey season

This spring I’ve helped out with a couple plant surveys organized by the local CNPS chapter. There are plenty of plants in the county and relatively few people to survey them, so the chapter picks a plant or group of plants for which there’s a compelling need to inventory them. The theme this year was dune plants. I don’t know this group of plants very well, so it’s been a great learning experience.

Surveys in two locations netted five or six rare List 1B species. (See the CNPS definition of the various listings [ here ].) I was there for four to five of them.

At the first location it was hard to miss the rare form of Juncus acutus, towering over my head. Shown here, it’s surrounded by the common but wonderfully perky yellow beach evening primrose (Camissonia cheiranthifolia) and the exotic sea rocket, Cakile maritima.

(A closeup of the dune evening primrose.)

Also nearby, also yellow, common, and perky: telegraph weed, Heteroteca grandiflora.

But enough of these common plants. We came here looking for rare ones!

Here’s one that was pretty hard to miss: Nuttall’s lotus, Lotus nuttallianus. I hope you like yellow. The bright flowers turn orange-red after they’ve been pollinated, encouraging the pollinators to visit the still-not-deflowered yellow blooms.

This snowy plover and least tern preserve was one of the plants’ favored areas. The word “preserve” promised more than was evident here. It was a patch of sand like any other part of the beach, but with just one piece of white string around it. Any dog or small child or group of teens with a cooler could have stepped inside, squashing the plants, scrambling the eggs and nestlings.

We saw several hundred of these, Brand’s phacelia, Phacelia stellaris. Around the edges of this patch you can see the one of invasive species of Erodium.

Another look at the phacelia… Most were about this size, practically belly flowers. But occasionally–as in the semi-shade beneath a picnic bench–you’d find individuals almost a foot tall.

And the last of the rare plants we surveyed the first day, coast wooly-heads, Nemacaulis denudata var. denudata. There were thousands at the first site. They weren’t flowering yet, but the plants were unmistakable with their long accordion-pleated white leaves. In bloom, they’ll have wiry stems floating little creamy balls of bloom over the leaves.

Here’s a final shot, a closeup of the flowering heads of the Juncus acutus. ssp. leopoldii.

It’s a stunning plant out on the sand. And of all of these, the common form of Juncus acutus is something you’ll see offered in various native plant catalogs. If you need a big, architectural, spiky sedge that likes a certain amount of moisture, this might be just your plant.

california native plant week, the cartoon

Here’s a little cartoon I whipped up this morning on Xtranormal, the site that lets you create and distribute your own animations without needing to really know what you’re doing. (When it comes to CGI, that pretty much describes me…)

It’s pretty much California Native Plant Week meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets Hello Kitty. And it’s a test of how well voice synthesis can deal with some common (and less common) scientific names.

Pixar, my number is (619) 555-0213.