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.