Saturday, July 20, 2013

In Bloom: July 2013

A Channel Islands themed bed, with blooming Santa Cruz Island buckwheat and Rosy Buckwheat (in front)
The summer months are a period of dormancy for most native plants. Spring flowers have come and gone, foliage is browning, and the general appearance of the native garden is less than optimal. This calendar year we have received virtually no rainfall here in the Bay Area, which has accelerated the summer browning process.

Over the past year, the front yard has gone through many changes. Many plants have died or been replaced after outgrowing a particular site. This unexpected turnover is directly related to poor choices on my part, simply not knowing about specific plant needs and not being able to visualize how they will fill in and grow together. It's disappointing, but expected given my lack of experience. In 2013, I had to say goodbye to the Cleveland sages, two manzanitas, Ceanothus 'Centennial' (of purple reign fame), and others. Welcomed in were a California buckwheat, more fuchsias and a new manzanita (Arctostaphylos bakeri 'Louis Edmonds') that I hope will serve as an evergreen anchor for the front yard. The Fall will likely bring more change. What a difference a year makes:

July 2012
July 2013
Despite the comparatively underwhelming summer show here in 2013, there are still a few plants to highlight:

An Anise Swallowtail rests here on the Coyote mint (Monardella villosa)
An upright fuchsia (Epilobium 'Carman's Gray')
'Cloverdale' fuchsia, a very nice compact selection that looks nice spilling over a wall
'Schieffelin's Choice' fuchsia, a very low ground-hugger and probably my favorite native fuchsia
Santa Cruz Island buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens), a year-round beauty
Rosy buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens), a wonderful source of summer color 
Left: Carman's Gray fuchsia; Right California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Hiking McNee Ranch State Park in Montara

Vista of Pacifica framed by blooming ceanothus and manzanita
When the weather cooperates, it's always pleasant to head west and explore the San Mateo County coastline. Summers can be very foggy, but occasionally you get clear days that afford majestic views of the ocean and beautiful rugged coastline. Recently I hiked a couple of the trails in McNee Ranch State Park in Montara, a small coastal town situated between Half Moon Bay and Pacifica. The park includes Montara Mountain,  one of the taller peaks on the Peninsula. I love the mix of coastal scrub and sea cliff dwelling plants that thrive in cool foggy summers.  One of the goals of these hikes was to get ideas for the front yard, which currently includes a mixture of local and non-local native plants.  This Fall I hope to create a landscape featuring only plants that can be found on San Bruno and Montara mountains. Finding these local plants is easier than you may think. Local nurseries that feature plants sourced from the Peninsula include: Mission Blue in Brisbane; Bay Natives in San Francisco; Watershed in Richmond; and Native Here in Berkeley.

Gray Whale Cove Trail is a flat, pleasant stroll that begins at the trailhead across from Montara State Beach and ends at a parking lot across from Gray Whale Cove beach. The hike covers about a mile each way and has panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean from the bluff above Highway One. On a recent hike, I was treated to the vistas seen below as well as an impressive array of flowers from coyote mint, yarrow, iris, monkeyflower, coastal gumplant, wooly sunflower, and checkerbloom to name a few. Spring and early Summer are really ideal times to explore this area.

View south towards Montara Beach
Looking North towards Devil's Slide
Not a bad place to stop and enjoy a beautiful day
The aptly titled Montara Mountain Trail departs from the same trailhead and is a much more strenuous ascent to the 1900 ft summit. The trek begins with a gradual climb up a windy paved road surrounded by overgrown vegetation. After a couple miles, the road transitions into a wide dirt path that steepens considerably and contains little shelter from the elements. I had to stop several times to catch my breath during this stretch. Luckily, when you do stop, you are treated to gorgeous views that only get better as you climb in elevation.  The vegetation also gets more interesting the closer you get to the summit. The lower growing elements of coastal sage scrub are replaced by tree-like ceanothus, coffeeberry, and my favorite, the Montara manzanita (Arctostaphylos montarensis), which can only be found on this mountain.

The mighty Montara manzanita

Views from the ascent:

Shortcut up the headlands to the Montara mountain trail
Looking south on a flatter portion of trail

An eastward view towards the Bay

Once reaching the summit, the hiker is treated to panoramic views, fields of wildflowers, and, well, abandoned vehicles. All in all, a hike not to be missed if the skies are clear along the coast. Word of advice: get an early start to avoid the beating sun on a clear day.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Monkey-flowering Around

White monkeyflower (Mimulus bifidus 'White')
Shrubby monkeyflowers (genus Mimulus) are a common site in the Bay Area, especially in the coastal scrub plant communities where they grow happily alongside sagebrush, chamise, coffeeberry, and others. In the spring, the plentiful orange flowers of Mimulus aurantiacus add a welcome dash of color to the greens and grays that typically dominate the landscape. Leaves have a characteristic sticky feel and plants can have a gangly, disheveled appearance in the wild.

In the garden, monkeyflowers have become very popular because they come in a wide variety of colors (orange, red, yellow, white, purple, etc.) and they bloom for a relatively long time over the spring and early summer. They are a magnet for hummingbirds and bees. Monkeyflowers in all their various forms can be found at most Bay Area nurseries, including Home Depot, where I recently saw the 'Jelly Bean Yellow' and 'Pink' varieties. Annie's Annuals and Yerba Buena Nursery probably have the best selection of monkeyflowers around, though be prepared to pay twice as much at Yerba Buena.

From my experience, monkeyflowers look best in the garden year round if they are in a part shade environment. In full sun, they will bloom well in Spring but then go completely dormant in Summer and Fall, turning an unappealing brown color. They will spring back to life with cooler temps and rain in late Fall, but most folks will be turned off by their appearance in summer. Behold the many faces of monkeyflower:

'Junipero Serra' monkeyflower grows low and has proportionally large flowers

Bush monkeyflower (M. aurantiacus), the wild form found all over the Bay Area
 'Curious Orange' monkeyflower has very large red/orange flowers
'Apricot' monkeyflower, with similar color to the wild form but better garden tolerance
'Eleanor' monkeyflower, a wonderful garden performer
Island bush monkeyflower (M. flemingii), a rare variety from the Channel Islands
'Jelly Bean Yellow' monkeyflower

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pretty in Pink (for Molly R.)

Western Redbud (Cercis Occidentalis) with Spring blooms
A while back I profiled the purple domination taking place in the front yard in early Spring. I would now like to highlight some of the pink-flowered plants occupying both the front and backyards. In the winter, the pink/white flowers of manzanitas and chaparral currants were peaking. In March, the brilliant floral display of the redbud, coral bells, and pink-flowering currants took center stage. Currently, the pinks of checkerbloom, sea thrift, hummingbird sage, and sea daisy are prominent. Later on, in summer and early fall, the pink hues of red-flowered buckwheat, santa cruz island buckwheat,  and island yarrow will dot the landscape.  Some photos, past and present:

Rosy buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens) thriving in the rock wall, July 2012
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium 'Island Pink'), July 2012
Chaparral Currant (Ribes malvaceum 'Dancing Tassels'), January 2013
Pajaro manzanita (Arctostaphylos pajaroensis 'Warren Roberts'), February 2013
Pink-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum 'Claremont'),  March 2013
Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea), March 2013
Trio of Sea thrift (Armeria maritima) requires daily watering in a pot
Coral bells hybrid (Heuchera 'Canyon Belle'), April 2013
Coral bells hybrid (Heuchera 'Lillian's Pink') will flower from February through Spring provided it has adequate shade

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Road Trip to Southern California

California signage at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
California signage at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

I just recently returned from a five day road trip that took me south down to Los Angeles, then up through Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. The primary goal of this journey was to visit as many gardens and parks as possible during the peak blooming season. As an added bonus, I was able to spend some quality time with a couple of close friends in LA and SLO. During my action-packed excursion, I visited four native gardens (Cal Poly Leaning Pine Arboretum, Nipomo Native Garden, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic, and Santa Barbara Botanic) and the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and Seal Sanctuary, and hiked to the Hollywood sign in LA and Bishop's Peak in San Luis Obispo. In non-native news, I also watched the Oakland A's destroy the Anaheim Angels in Anaheim. Other than the A's victory, highlights were definitely the impressive Rancho Santa Ana Botanic and Santa Barbara Botanic gardens. I hope to soon share some photos and information about these native plant sanctuaries in the near future. But first a few random pictures from the trip:

Protected seals on the beach in Carpinteria
Bench under Oak at Nipomo Native Garden
A shady retreat at the Nipomo Native Garden
Manzanita sign at the Nipomo Native Garden
Manzanita mania at the Nipomo Native Garden
Panoramic view of smoggy LA from behind Hollywood sign
Iconic view of LA from above the Hollywood sign
View from Bishop's Peak in San Luis Obispo looking northeast
View atop Bishop's Peak in San Luis Obispo

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Blooming ceanothus at the base of a Monterey cypress

Point Lobos, located just south of Carmel, is regarded by many as the "crown jewel" of the California state park system. After our recent visit to the park, I can see how one might come to that conclusion, especially on a warm Spring day when everything is bursting with fresh new growth and flowers.  The trails are well defined, relatively flat, and the views are outstanding. We hiked a loop that took us from Whaler's Cove, along the bluff to the Allen Memorial Cypress Grove, and finally to unprotected, wind-swept Sea Lion Point. Don't forget to pack a windbreaker. Some of what we saw along the trail:

Iris (Iris douglasiana) and wood mint (Stachys bullata) a common site in shaded areas along trail
Lots of life on the rocky cliffs of Point Lobos

Old cypress with orange lace lichen
Ceanothus in the foreground with Headland Cove and Sea Lion Point in the distance
The windy bluff trail around Sea Lion Point

The familiar coastal scrub palette that I love so much: sagebrush, coyote brush, lupines, seaside daisy and indian  paintbrush
Looking south down the Big Sur coast