Tag Archives: shade

after the rain delay

The rain last weekend cleared out long enough for us to install the shade panel we’d constructed.

The fence you see faces north by northwest. Anything growing in the bed is in total shade for several months. About this time of year, though, the sun swings north, and things start to get sun exposure in the later parts of the day. We removed the termite-munched patio cover that shaded the delicate plants last fall–it had to go–but suddenly time was of the essence in restoring shade.

This is where a few shade denizens live in the bed…

…along with John’s collection of orchid cactus, Epiphyllum, that he’s amassed over the years. We also have a small assortment of hanging tillandsias and some tropicals, including a few surviving orchids from my rabid orchid-growing days two decades ago.

This weekend has turned rainy again, filling many of the holes in the shade screen with water. It’s slowed down moving the plants to their new home, but I won’t complain about the water we’re getting.

We’re already two inches ahead of the entire rainfall for last season (July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009). And last month’s rain accumulation alone, 5.4 inches, came close to the 5.5 total for all of 2009. Still we have a couple inches to go before we can even claim an average rainfall year.

This season’s rain is filling up vernal pools after several years of disappointments. Friday I stopped by some pools with a biologist to scope out a potential field trip for the local native plant society. Vernal pools are among the most threatened habitats locally. The occur on our mesa tops, areas that prove irresistible to developers because they’re flat and require less soil preparation than canyon bottoms or slopes.

Young plants were everywhere, including those of San Diego mesa mint (Pogogyne abramsii), a plant on several endangered species lists. If the rains keep up, it looks like it’s going to be a great year for them.

rain delay

It’s almost never too rainy to garden, and of course it’s never too wet to blog. But some outdoor projects have had to be put on hold temporarily.

Yesterday, when it was still dry, we started to construct a shade panel to begin to replace a patio cover we tore down last fall. Many of the plants on the patio are shade plants, and we still have some shade plants hanging in the shade of the greenhouse. As the weather warms and the sun begins to burn hotter in the sky many of the plants are starting to need some cover.

We got this far on the panel project yesterday. It’s a ten-by-four foot frame of aluminum, with an inset of perforated aluminum mesh. The diagonal cross pieces are for both structural support and what I hope will be a level of coolness.

And then it began to rain: Light mist now and then yesterday, and occasional rainsqualls this morning. Not safe weather for operating electric devices outside, but nothing to stop me from pulling some weeds and then stopping by my favorite local nursery, Walter Andersen Nursery. There was a bald spot out front and I needed a plant to fill it. One plant.

But the nursery was oozing green life force that proved irresistible and I came home with three instead: white flowering currant (Ribes indecorum), Route 66 California fuchsia (Zauschneria california ‘Route 66’) a second plant of Ceanothus ‘Tuxedo’ to go with one I purchased last year. I’ve resolved to plant at least fifty per-cent California native plants, and I think I succeeded. The first two qualify, and the last gets partial credit. (I have a post in the works describing why.)

Of course for me rainy days turn into opportunities to collect more rainwater for the prima donna bog plants that detest the water that comes from the tap. At this point I probably have several months’ supply in buckets and barrels. And the ground will hold its moisture and require minimal watering for several weeks. I wouldn’t want to force our county’s golf courses go without water, would I? (Well, yes, actually, I would. Yet another blog post…)

providing shelter

It’s one of the saddest things to see: A house undergoes a remodel or even minor revision like a new paintjob, and in the course of of the project the landscaping gets run over by equipment or trampled by workers oblivious to established plants that may be as old as the house.

How it begins

We’ve just started a project of our own on a little detached studio room behind the house. It began innocently enough with thoughts about replacing the patio cover that was starting its slow descent to the ground. (No piece of wood is safe in the land of termites.) Maybe two or three weekends of hard work to replace it. Yah, right.

As long as we were removing the patio that was attached to the room, we thought it would be a good time to redo the siding that has some spots that are failing. And as long as the walls were open, we really should insulate. And as long as we had things partly dissembled it made sense to replace the old single glazed windows and doors with better insulating ones. (The local power company provides rebates towards insulation, and one of the federal stimulus packages features 30% rebates on super-insulated replacement windows.) Now that the walls are starting to be opened, it’s clear that some of them are so gone that we’re having to re-frame them completely. So the little two weekend project has grown to two months or more. If it doesn’t rain.


Right: Just some of the spots we’re having to reframe.

With a fairly long-term project like this, we didn’t want to damage the plants in the middle of it. John’s assortment of epiphyllum cactus plants in pots needed shelter, and less portable plants planted in the raised shade bed around the pond wouldn’t be able to take much sun. The waterlilies in the pond would do okay with full sun, but the extra sun causes algae to grow and we didn’t want to have to battle pond scum as another house project.

Sheltered plants after the demolition

So the weekend we took down the sheltering patio cover, up went these little portable cabanas and beach umbrellas. It looks like we’re having a big garden party, but it’s going to be a lot less relaxing the next couple of months.

My workstation during this remodel

This is my main workstation where I do my blogging, layered over by protective sheeting and open to the great outdoors. I suspect my blogging is going to take a big hit for a while as all my waking hours start to be consumed with the project.

And all this is happening during the prime planting season in Southern California. I have seeds to sow and plants to plant. I’m stressed. But with my university job being one of those impacted by state furloughs, I’ll be having lots of time to work on the project. I suppose that’s seeing the silver lining to the dark cloud that’s about to send lightning bolts in my general direction…

a cool idea for garden shade

Maybe a year ago I was reading about a parking lot in town, at the local Kyocera corporate headquarters, where they’d installed what they were calling “Solar Trees.” (They actually trademarked the name, but really aren’t all trees solar?) The Kyocera species of trees were steel poles that supported big canopies made up of solar panels. They provided shade to the cars below, and at the same time they generated power. By the corporation’s estimate, one 30 by 40 foot solar tree would reduce as much greenhouse gases as a small grove of real trees.

Solar trees in parking lot

Installations like this are starting to appear in various places, including a couple of parking structures at UCSD where they’re installing rooftop arrays over this summer.

I’ve thought about doing more with active solar devices, but where to put the panels was always an issue since the house has some pretty wacked roof angles, most of which don’t face south. Some sort of solar structure in the garden might be an interesting solution, maybe something combining a patio cover function with power generation.

The Kyocera trees seem to be slanted more to corporate environments, and besides I find them more than a little monolithic and overwhelming. Would you want these in your garden? But something along these lines could be practical, good for the environment and attractive. Sounds like a job for an artist or designer instead of an engineer…

That these trees sprouted here in town left me wondering if there was any sort of link between them and Jim Bell, a local self-proclaimed “environmental designer” who, among other things, has run for mayor (unsuccessfully) twice, and once for City Council (also unsuccessfully). I met him at a book signing circa 2003, and he was hot on the idea of covering all the roofs and parking lots with solar panels. His web site has an interesting statistic:

In the San Diego/Tijuana region, where I live, 20 percent coverage of our buildings and parking lots with solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, coupled with efficiency improvements, would generate enough electricity to replace all forms of energy (electricity, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel) currently used in the region.

That idea was probably not his originally, either. But it speaks to a movement that’s in the air. Maybe the movement could begin right at home, in our back yards…