Tag Archives: native plant gardens

getting close to the 2015 garden tour

Native Plants Live Here Sign_WEB

This weekend I had a chance to revisit five of the twenty gardens that will be on the 2015 Garden Native Tour on March 28-29. One cool sighting was the new CNPS sign that features a monarch butterfly feasting on native milkweed.

The gardens were looking nice now, and should be great at the end of the month for the tour. Here are a few great details:

A compact, long-established garden at a condominium, with large, mature shrubs and lots of dappled sunlight…a step into a bright woodland…

Winter blooms on the Howard McMinn manzanita
Winter blooms on the Howard McMinn manzanita

The sheltered woodsy plants beneath a dark-trunked Howard McMinn manzanita
The sheltered woodsy plants beneath a dark-trunked Howard McMinn manzanita

Tasty strawberry on a native strawberry--a bright green groundcover that supplies you with treats while you're weeding...
Tasty strawberry on a native strawberry–a bright green groundcover that supplies you with treats while you’re weeding…

The interpretive native plant landscape at Old Town San Diego State Historical Park–The site will serve as one of the sign-in points on the tour weekend.

The historic McCoy House on the edge of the Old Town native plant landscape
The historic McCoy House on the edge of the Old Town native plant landscape
White yarrow against the white picket fence in front of the McCoy house--what a cool planting idea!
White yarrow against the white picket fence in front of the McCoy house–what a cool planting idea!
Lupines at their peak in Old Town
Lupines at their peak in Old Town
Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry, in crazy bloom at the Old Town landscape
Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry, in crazy bloom at the Old Town landscape

…and some random great ideas…

A delicate planting of our humble ranunculus, R. californica
A delicate planting of our humble native ranunculus, R. californica
A gloriously wild, unmowed "lawn" of sedges
A gloriously wild, unmowed “lawn” of sedges
A bright yellow yarrow selection planted on the edge of a rain-permeable driveway
A bright yellow yarrow selection planted on the edge of a rain-permeable driveway

I have too many things going on this month, but–hey–this will have to be one of them!

photos for a garden tour

This will be my second year helping out with the photography for the spring native garden tour of the San Diego CNPS chapter. Last year I supplied a few of the images, but I mostly helped editing photos that others had taken, sharpening, cropping, and color-matching everything from cellphone snapshots to nearly-perfect finished photos. This year I actually had a chance to go out a couple days during peak bloom to get some source material myself, and there’ll be a few more of my photos in the mix.

First, the tour specifics:
Caprio_Front_Signature_SMALL

Saturday and Sunday, March 28-29, 2015
9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day
San Diego and Poway, California


In taking the photos I did a certain amount of randomly wandering around gardens, looking for pretty pictures. But in the end I tried to select for images that showed gardens as intentionally-created arrangements of collections of plants. Although native gardeners often aim to recreate slices of nature on their properties, I tried not to include too many photos of plants that could be indistinguishable from photos that could have been taken out on a hike. These are gardens, after all.

Walsh2_SMALL WEBAlso, I tried to get a few photos that might appeal to readers of aspirational shelter mags like Sunset, Dwell or Martha Stewart Living. (Five years ago I might have added “viewers of HGTV” to this sentence, but that network has long distanced itself from the “G” in its name. Pity.) A certain part of the public is immune to the siren call of the consumerist lifestyles highlighted in the pages of these magazines, and a large portion of the native plant community is even actively working against lifestyles that tax the earth’s resources unnecessarily. Still, good intentions are no excuse for bad design, and the gardens scheduled for the tour show had plenty of intelligent and beautiful design details that made for good photos. Caprio-Hummingbird_SMALL WEBA garden-tour audience is broader than the core native-plant community, and many have some shelter-mag aspirations. What would be a better goal for an event than to show that you can have compelling design that treads lightly on the earth, and at the same time gives back by providing food and shelter for wildlife?

The tour will highlight work by accomplished local designers as well as homeowners, and runs the stylistic gamut from the orderly, decidedly gardenesque spaces of Greg Rubin (as in the one in the tour’s signature image above) to near-wild spaces designed by Wes Hudson. And in between those poles you’ll see lots of other approaches to garden-making.

One of the more gardenesque spaces on the tour...
One of the more gardenesque spaces on the tour….
One of the more nature-like gardens on the tour.
One of the wilder, more nature-like gardens on the tour.

For those of you not in San Diego County, you have almost four months to make your travel arrangements. (Really, it’s not such a stretch. Last spring I ran into a couple from Portland that had read about the event on this blog. Pretty wild!) It’s going to be another great garden tour, and I hope to see you there!

Pullenza-Bee in Aster_SMALL WEB

january anza-borrego desert garden

As far as interpretative visitor’s centers go Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has a pretty awesome one. The area has a rich mix of natural and cultural resources and histories, and the center does a good job of introducing you to some of the highlights. It’s also staffed by knowledgeable staff and volunteers happy to get you started with what to see and do.

ABDSP Visitor center stair leading up to green roof

The building itself is pretty cool in that it has a green roof–if you can call desert plants with white sand in between “green.” It’s painfully hot (and cold) much of the year, so it helps moderate the temperatures inside the visitor’s center.

ABDSP Visitor centor green roof with Agave deserti

ABDSP Visitor centor green roof vent

Up top they’ve done a pretty good job of disguising the fact that there’s a working building underfoot. A few vents tip you off that this might not be a normal desert floor…

Immediately outside the center’s doors there’s an impressive desert garden that’ll get you up to speed on the main plants you’ll find in the area. And it’s a chance to see one of the locally rare specimens of torote, the elephant tree. Among the more common and more charismatic species:

Beavertail cactus Opuntia basilaris var basilaris

Beavertail cactus (Is this plant’s name an oxymoron, at least in the sense that you’d never see a beaver anywhere near cactus habitat?)

Barrel cactus at ABDSP Ferrocactus cylindricus

Barrel cactus…

Ocotillo in January at ABDSP

Ocotillo in January at ABDSP closeup

Ocotillo…

January greasewood Larrea tridentata at ABDSP

Creosote bush.

Psorothamnus schottii leaf textures Indigo bush at ABDSP

Indigo bush, too early for it to be blooming, but a wonderful vaporous texture.

Jnauary bloomers at ABDSP visitor center

Some things were already (or still) blooming. This is a nice little tableaux of brittlebush, Encelia farinosa with desert agave, Agave deserti in foreground.

Vegetation textues at ABDSP

And this busy tangle features red blooms on chuparosa, Justicia californica. When you encounter it later in the season the plant is leafless, but there was water enough that you could find leaves on many of its branches.

Calliandra eriophylla at ABDSP

The last thing I saw blooming with any umph was this fairy duster, Calliandra eriophylla. It’s flowers are smaller, maybe a couple inches across, than those of the Baja fairy duster, C. californica, that is sold more frequently. Yes, California does have a plant that could easily be mistaken for a bottlebrush from down under.

Pup fish habitat

A pond feature provided habitat for the ├╝ber-rare desert pup fish. There were plenty in the water, but I guess the critters consider photographers predators and scurried off. Justin Bieber behaves the same way.

New plants at ABDSP visitor center

A few gallon cans lets you know that this, like any other garden, is a work in progress.

Plant grouping at ABDSP Visitor Center

And a final shot, a nice grouping of some of the plants above, arranged to please the eye, though the plants might consider themselves a little too close for comfort. But given a little extra water and grooming, you can get away with it.

When “in the neighborhood,” be sure to check out the center and the garden.

more from rancho santa ana botanic garden

Here are a few more photos from My previous post looked at the Cultivar Garden and Wildflower Meadow at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. Today I’m sharing a couple more categories of what you’ll find there: shade gardens and California natives grown in containers.

Parts of Rancho look wild, and the shade plantings fall into that category. Coral bells and iris form a dense green carpet and pink

This place is very much a tended garden, but these many acres of oaks under-planted with drought-tolerant shade plants buzz with a wild vibe. Benches under the oaks humanize the space and let you know things are under control.

Most of us probably don’t have anything approaching the acreage to pull this off at home. Places like this are great to appreciate plantings taken really big.

I liked the starry yellow flowers in this planting. Bloomeria, maybe?

Closeup of the yellow flowers…

A killer group planting like this makes me think that my little row of coral bells at home is lame by contrast.

Moving out into semi-shade I found this iris. Many plants near it were labeled. This one was not. CalFlora didn’t help with the ID, so if any of you have any ideas, let me know!


By contrast to the shady woodlands the demonstration container garden looks totally suburban and attainable. It’s much smaller in scale and the corrugated steel fence-walls give the space a sheltered backyard sort of feel. There’s a golf course on the other side of the fence (not part of the garden) to provide comfort if all the nature-looking plantings in other parts of the garden scare you.

The tallest plant in this photo is a variegated form of Cornus sericea, ‘Hedgerows Gold.’

Here’s a detail of the foliage, yellow-green with darker green splotches. Yes, the leaves are really cool, but so are the red twigs. This is a great plant even in winter, after the leaves have dropped.

Ceanothus Silver Surprise was another option with variegated foliage.

In the container garden they have a couple of these sculptural knots of dead plant parts. Primal and just a tad scary.

Most of the potted plants looked urban, but a few moved back towards nature, like this pot of bunchgrasses interplanted with wildflowers. Here the gilia was in bloom.

I took more photos, but you get the idea…

Be sure to go for a visit if you’re in the neighborhood. And you wouldn’t go wrong planning a little vacation around it.

quick side trip to rancho santa ana botanic garden

In mid-May we had a chance to go up to Claremont, home of the Claremont Colleges, to see John’s niece graduate from Pomona College. (Congratulations Chrysanthe!)

Claremont also happens to be home to one of the premier California native plant gardens in the state, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. With all the competition from the graduation festivities we barely made it over, but we managed to pack in one more thing to do on a busy graduation afternoon.

Here’s Part I of my photos from the trip.

The garden had an end-of-spring vibe gong on. There were flowers, but the floral orgy of late winter and early spring was past. Today the season belonged to late penstemons, wooly blue curls and various sunflowers (Encelia, Venegesia, Helianthus). And if there was a drop-dead gorgeous OMG plant it had to be the California buckeyes going at it in full force in broad daylight. They should be ashamed.



The first big gesture at the garden is the wildflower meadow. Lots of penstemon here, and a perky dose of yellow from the desert marigold.


What garden doesn’t have an issue with bugs? Here they were hosting an outdoor installation of David Rogers’ Big Bugs, some really big insects made out of natural materials.


With a visitor who’s 6 foot 9 inches tall for scale, here you can see the size of these things.

The penstemon wasn’t limited to life in the meadow. Someone with a big bag of seeds made sure any empty spaces got a sprinkling of penstemon. It makes for a gentle transition into the browns and grays of the summer native garden.

Nice shady places to sit…

Canyon sunflower.

Lots of folks visiting a native plant garden want to see how these plants can be arranged in a garden. The Cultivar Garden here showcases horticultural selections of the more garden-worthy natives. In the background is buckeye, once again, with sage in the foreground.

And a wider view of the Cultivar Garden. Who wouldn’t want to have a garden like this?

More images to follow…

book review: california native gardening

Book coverHelen Popper’s recent book (March, 2012) California Native Gardening hit my mailbox a few weeks ago. It’s been reviewed [ here ] and [ there ], and it looked worth checking out.

The quick take on this new guide: Yes, it’s a good book, and it’s a nice supplement to other books out there on horticultural uses of California native plants.

Look at its title and you’ve got a good idea of its focus: California Native Gardening. That’s the active verb-noun “gardening” at the end, and the gerund signals that this is a book about doing and not just sitting back and admiring.

The core of the book is organized around the months of the year. This being California, it begins with October, the beginning of our “spring,” our annual renaissance. It’s a useful device to get readers to rethink traditional notions of a garden’s cycles and get used to how plants behave in our Mediterranean climate.

Each month presents you with a list of tasks for the month, and each of the tasks is developed into several paragraphs of explanation. May’s essays are: Let Wildflower Seeds Ripen, Pinch and Prune, Propagate with Cuttings, Water Now Before the Heat of Summer, Plant and Sow, and Weed and Mulch. (Different months have different lists of things to do.) Each area under the larger headings generally gives you a short list of plants that you would be applying that task to that month. Under the section on cuttings, for instance, we’re told that several shrubs and perennials are good for attempting propagation by cuttings this month, including golden currant, wild mock orange, coyote bush, tree anemone and yerba buena.

Lest you fear that the book will leave you exhausted after all your chores, each month also ends with a section called What’s in Bloom. Here you’ll learn some of the plants that are likely to be in bloom this month, with May hosting flowers from sulfur buckwheat, California phacelia, grape soda lupine and western columbine, among over a dozen others. You can sit back and enjoy the blooms or add the plants to a shopping list for next fall in case the garden is lacking flowers during parts of the year.

O'brien book cover

The ecological niche that this book occupies places it in the company of cultural guides like the under-appreciated Care & Maintenance of Southern California Native Plant Gardens by Bart O’Brien, Betsey Landis and Ellen Mackey. The O’Brien book organizes its garden tasks around plants and what they require throughout the year. California Native Gardening uses the month-by-month approach, which sometimes spreads out tasks for one plant over several months. For instance we learn that coyote bush, is a good candidate for cuttings in January, February, May and September, which can be a lot of page-flipping if you’re interest in a plant and not necessarily the month. Both methods of presenting tasks are imperfect ways to organize information, and you can decide for yourself which one you might respond to. Also, California Native Gardening carries a wider selection of plants from around the state. If anything, it seems to have a slight–not huge–bias to the north, though I could be imagining this. Related to this thought, many of the plants that make up a typical native plantscape also come from the north. I’d be curious to see what others think on this point.

So, in the end, I’d definitely recommend this book to cover the active gardening activities of having a California native plant garden. It doesn’t present a lot of information on garden planning and design, something that is better dealt with in books written with that purpose in mind. (My favorite in that category is Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens by Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook.) But whose library consists of only one book? Add this to yours.

PS: It’s got nice pictures, too.

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!

two saturdays

A couple hours of community service: Sounds a little like a sentence handed down by a judge, but it was actually how I spent some of last Saturday. I’ve posted earlier about the native plant garden at Old Town State Historic Park. That trip I was walking the paths and enjoying garden.

palm-seedlings

But this time I was a volunteer helping maintain this interesting young garden. Much of the time I was squatted down in the dirt pulling up little palm trees. If you live in another part of the world you might think that pulling up palm trees is a bizarre thing to do. But palm seedlings are a very real weed around here, especially when there are still actively fruiting palms nearby, and when there’s still an active seedbank left from one of the palms that was removed to make way for the garden.

palm-date

palm-mexican-fan

mallow-flower

In just one month since my last visit, the number of flowers had diminished as we head into our long brown season when many plants approach dormancy. There were some splashy clarkia flowers remaining, as well as this mallow from the Channel Islands.

There were other weeds to pull at, and the day ended with a quick pruning demonstration and a demonstration on one way to maintain deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens). With this big, dramatic grass you can let the stems go brown–which is an easy-maintenance approach to this plant. Or you can reach down on each of the old flowering stems, feel for a joint a couple inches above the base of the plant, and pull. muhlenbergia-rigensIf you find the node, the stem yanks out without much resistance. It’s not a chore you can do easily while wearing thick gloves, and without gloves you’ve likely to shred your hands. Fortunately this a grass that looks stately and architectural whether or not you pull the dried stems. We left most of the plants as they were.

After just two hours of tidying the garden looked even better and ready for the dry months ahead.

Jump ahead one week…

plant-sale-wet-pavement

Even though June is typically one of our dry months, today was cool and drizzly as John and I headed for the Master Gardener’s plant sale at Balboa Park.

plant-sale-fig

We parked near the park’s jumbo Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla). It’s an amazing plant, but like many figs, it’s not a good choice if you’re concerned about keeping your home’s foundation intact. I was appreciative of having the park, a great publicly-funded shared space, where you can go to enjoy spectacular plants that don’t make sense to plant in most home spaces.

plant-sale-lined-up

Rain or shine, the people make a trail to this plant sale. This is half an hour before the sale, with all these brave souls standing in the heavy mist waiting to get first crack at this year’s offerings.

plant-sale-shoppers

…and this is during the first few minutes of the sale.

Some highlights this year were bromeliads from Balboa Park’s propagation program–big plants for the price of a Happy Meal–and an entire table of different salvias. As thrilled as I am with the genus salvia, I resisted the temptations. No space in the garden is no space in the garden.

plant-sale-johns-plant

But John didn’t show the same restraint. He likes his succulents. And the more unlabeled the succulent is the better. I swear he does this to drive me crazy, knowing how much I like my plant names. (The succulent expert on site looked at it and said that it’s some sort of crassula relative, which is what I’d have called it. Okay, we have a family name, and now only 1400 species to go through… Any help out there?)

Although we didn’t end up dropping a lot of change on this sale, many people with more space in the gardens found interesting plants to populate their spaces. And the proceeds from the sale go to a good cause.

So these two Saturdays showed a couple way you can help the botanical organizations around town. You can donate your labor. Or you can do what comes naturally for most Americans: Go shopping!