Sunday, October 24, 2010

Unexpected Visitors

Before I began the courtyard renovations, I bought a little fountain. The rumbling air conditioner, the weakly flowering gardenias, and root bound plants still in their black containers looked even more pathetic once I got my husband to drag it in. So I got motivated and tidied up my neglected courtyard. After trying my best to artfully arrange the best of the remaining potted plants around the fountain, I sat and enjoyed the gurgling.

Gurgle. Gurgle.

In the meantime, I had spied some American goldfinches hanging around my birch tree just on the other side of the fence. I would see a flash of olive green and pale yellow out of the corner of my eye or I would hear them peeling the bark off of the birch just for fun. And then they were in my fountain!

Why, hello there!

Check that out. Habitat! I thought I would need some interesting plants for them, but the birch provides the perches and hidy places they like. I have since put out a little feeder for them. Just thistle seed as I don’t want those bully sparrows coming in and hogging all the food. 

I swore I wasn’t going to put out another birdfeeder. They are such a mess. But the goldfinches are cute, so I put up with their sloppy ways.

Yes. I'm very cute. And I'm going to poop everywhere. But you won't care. Because I'm cute.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Plant Sale Booty

All I have is a moved AC unit and a new fence. I’m not ready for plants - not even close - but I couldn’t help myself last Saturday. It was a plant sale!! I was looking for hummingbird and beneficial insect plants as well as plants that would go into the soon-to-be-purchased pots that I am coveting at Pottery World.  I hope they live long enough so I can be a part of the California Native Plant Society (Sacramento Valley Chapter) ‘Gardens Gone Native’ plant tour next spring. 

Check it out:

The Booty
(2) Carpenteria californica ‘Elizabeth’/bush anemone. This compact form of bush anemone is only supposed to get about 6’ tall at the most. I hope so, because they are going into the pair of large pots that will flank the gate of my courtyard.

(4) Scrophularia californica/bee plant. These are so cute. They are supposed to attract bees (go figure!) and will go in the pots with the bush anemone.

(2) Monardella odoratissima/mountain pennyroyal. A native bee was actually on the cute puffy flowers at the plant sale. How could I resist? Well, I didn’t, so I bought two. These are supposed to be shade or sun plants and will also go into the bush anemone pots.

(2) Monardella villosa/coyote mint. Another native mint that can handle some shade. This will go in the ground and I hope it will bring some butterflies to my courtyard.

(4) Fragaria vesca/wood strawberry. These are supposed to handle shade as well and will go in another pair of pots that will flank the house entry door into the courtyard. Who knows, maybe I’ll get enough strawberries to put in a salad once in a while.

 (2) Satureja douglasii/yerba buena. This likes shade and moisture, has wonderfully fragrant leaves, will look really cool draping out of pot and guess what? It will go in the shade pots.

(1) Lonicera hispidula/pink wild honeysuckle. This deciduous honeysuckle works in sun to shade and has pink tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The berries attract birds. This will go in the ground and I need to get a trellis so it will climb up the fence.

(4) Lilium pardalinum/leopard lily. These will go in the shady part of my garden and their bright orange color will really pop against the dark terra cotta walls of the house.

(1) Mahonia aquifolium ‘Compacta’/compact Oregon grape. I was going to put this next to my relocated AC condenser as a screen. But after just a week, it’s already dead!

So that's what I have to get started. Once I get the courtyard paving done, I'll continue the planting. In the meantime, I’ll just move the containers around the courtyard and imagine them in the ground and in pots.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Love the Smell of Plant Sales in the Morning

It’s September so that means it’s time for the fall native plant sales and botanical geekiness to reign for the next 6 weeks or so in northern California. To celebrate this time of year, my next few posts will highlight some of my favorite California native plants for the garden. This post focuses on a few of the red-flowering hummingbird attractors which can all be found at the California Native Plant Demonstration Garden at the Old City Cemetery in Sacramento. I took all of the photos, so the usual copyright and all rights reserved, and request for permission to use the photos if you find them lovely applies.

Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea)
Hummingbird sage is a great plant for dry shade. Native to the coast, interior central valley, and foothills from Napa to El Dorado down to Orange County. This grows in the Demonstration Garden under the shade of conifers. It is in shade for the first part of the day and gets some western sun in the afternoon for a few hours. Like most of the plants in the Demonstration Garden, it gets no supplemental water other than seasonal rain. Hummingbird sage makes babies via rhizomes; the basal clump of fragrant leaves gets about 10” to 12" tall with 24” or so tall flower stalks that bloom from about March to May. When the old leaves and flower stalks start to look ratty, pull them off to tidy up the plant. It has been growing in the Demonstration Garden since 1998 or so. I think I’ll go steal some babies for my own garden this weekend.

Fuchsia-flowering gooseberry (Ribes speciosum)
This showy gooseberry is for you if you like beautiful plants that will rip the flesh off of your body if you are not careful. This little beast is found in coastal sage scrub and chaparral plant communities of coastal mountain areas from Napa to Baja California. The jewel-toned pendant flowers are some of the first arrivals in late winter and will bloom until about May. Bright red berries follow. The lush green foliage hides some vicious thorns. Even though this grows in part shade, by summer the foliage is looking pretty crispy in the Demonstration Garden, so give it a little extra water once a week in the summer and fall to keep it from going drought deciduous. Plant this where you need a barrier, and no animal or human will dare to go near it after their first encounter.

Scarlet bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius)
Scarlet bugler is a neat little plant for full sun. It is native to dry slopes of the coast ranges and southern Sierras down to Mexico. The hot red flowers on 2’ to 4’ stalks contrast starkly against the 1’ to 2’ mound of gray-green stiff foliage. Blooms from April to July. Looks great in flower arrangements. Extraordinarily drought tolerant. It runs its course by midsummer and looks like a bunch of dried sticks by fall. Trim back the dead stems so it doesn’t look like a typical weedy native.

So get out to a plant sale this month, blow a few bucks on some natives, try not to kill them, and see what little critters will stop by and visit.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Greenie's Dilemma

The fence man is here. And the post holes are being dug right now. But this moment has not come without some internal debate on being green and what part I play in our throwaway culture. The concept of being sustainable is so overused to the point of being trite, but even with a little courtyard project, I get to decide if I want to add to the trash pile or not.

As I moved ahead with courtyard enlargement plans, my initial consideration was to go all new. Just tear everything out and put up a shiny new fence. I love new stuff. Overpackaged new, smells like new, just off the boat and made by underpaid workers from China new.

But after my husband grumbled about the cost of a new fence, he tried working the self-righteous greenie in me to see if the costs could be reduced. “Why don’t we reuse the wood. It’s perfectly good wood. It will be more … green.” He got me.

So after some consideration of whether I would be happy with a weathered look (yes, I decided), the contractor and I decided that re-using the wood is what would be done. It wasn’t going to save all that much money, but I could now wear my greenie badge with pride.

This morning. Bad news. As Marco looked more closely at the current fence construction, he regretfully informed me that the only way to reuse the planks would be to leave them in place and just move the entire fence panel.  Because the homebuilder’s subcontractor used nails instead of screws to fasten the planks to the framing, the now-cracked redwood planks would fracture even more if they were pulled off. If we left it alone, with some power washing and wood stain, I could get another 4 years out of my fence. Or, for $50 more, I could get all new fence material made of treated Douglas fir and have at least 10 years of fence. It won’t be redwood, but it will look just as good and last just as long. Guess I’m going with all new after all.

But I’ll still be left with the old wood, lying there in an accusatory pile as it awaits its fate either as kindling or a trip to the landfill. Neither my husband or I are terribly handy nor do we have a lot of power tools to make nifty stuff. So I’ve been thinking, thinking, thinking … and I came up with …

Bee houses!!

According the very informative instructions by the Montana Wildlife Gardner, they are pretty simple to make without needing a lot of skill or tools. Now we’ll be able to salvage the wood and try our hands at pollinator habitat creation simultaneously. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Solitary bee houses.
Photo by Justin Knopp, The Bumblebee Chronicle

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Featured Plant - California Buckwheat

Painted admiral on California buckwheat at the CA Native Plant Demonstration Garden.
A great addition to the beneficial insect garden is Eriogonum fasciculatum/California buckwheat. This buckwheat is a vigorous butterfly and pollinator plant and very drought tolerant here in Sacramento. At the California Native Plant Demonstration Garden here in Sacramento, they grow in full sun and are located in well-drained soil (will tolerate clay soils, too). They receive only water from the fall and winter rains. We planted them back in 1997 and they are still growing as robustly as ever.

The flowers start opening in spring, are in full bloom by summer, then turn pink, to finally rust-colored in fall. In the winter, it is cut back almost to the ground, and it’s back up to 4 feet tall and wide by the following summer.

My man Bert at Las Pilitas Nursery calls California buckwheat the pillar of the butterfly community. But it is also a key plant for the bee population. In summer, as you pass by the buckwheats, all you can hear is the hum of dozens of European honeybees, native bees, bumblebees, and wasps. In this day of collapsing bee colonies, this is a must-have plant for a healthy and vibrant garden.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Courtyard Chronicles - Well Rooted

It’s done!

Check that out … emptiness. The very appreciated yet poorly located air conditioning condenser has moved around the corner.

Much better. Just need to screen the hoses and wiring now.
But wait – what is that pile of stuff on the ground back there? 

Because I was caffeinated and very eager, I started leveling the old condenser location right after HVAC guy moved it. I began to uncover a few thin roots from the Himalayan birch that grows on the other side of the fence. What I thought was going to be a bit of root clipping has turned into this:

And this:

Crap! Crap!
And there is more. Oh yes, so much, much more. I gave up after 20 minutes of pulling and cutting. Over the last 7 years, the roots have slowly creeped in, creating a fibrous, thick mat throughout the courtyard (Note to landscape architects and designers: specify a root barrier for trees if a yard is going to be on the other side of a fence. Roots want to spread to up to 2 times the canopy width, sometimes more).

Getting these roots out of the courtyard planting areas will keep me busy for a little while, much to the relief of my husband. I was going to move on to the fence extension phase of my courtyard project next week. But with our Governor winning his appeal to start work furloughs again, the cash I thought I was going to have disappeared this month as of last Thursday (silly Governor – that furlough cash would have re-entered the local economy and helped out some small independent contractors and the businesses that they support).

So, no fence extension for now. I’ll just pull up roots for a while and watch the recycled plants grow around the AC condenser.

Hope you like your new home Mr. Condenser
I gave you some plants to keep you company.
Grow, little plants! Grow!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Courtyard of My Discontent

Finally. It’s really going to happen. After living in our house for 7 years, I’m finally going to start putting my courtyard garden together. As a new house, it came with bare, compacted earth, a 3-foot square concrete pad, and a rattling, air conditioner unit. This Saturday, the first phase of the garden design will begin with the arrival of HVAC man and 4 hours of his time to relocate the air conditioner condenser. My days of trying to conjure up courtyard cuteness with bark mulch, rootbound potted plants, and desperately artful hanging of twinky lights will soon be over.

please try not to gaze too long at this sad little arrangement.
the ac unit's new home pre-plant dig
The foxtail asparagus fern (Asparagus meyeri) and the California wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) have been doing great on this north side since they were planted 7 years ago. I have no supplemental water to them since the adjacent turf irrigation provides enough overspray to keep them happy. This shade garden also includes western columbine (Aquilegia formosa), Catalina perfume currant (Ribes vibernifolium) - a fragrant, sprawling evergreen native from the Channel Islands, and heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica 'Compacta').

getting closer ...
pile of plants waiting for their new home
It probably wasn’t the best idea to try and move my shade plants in mid-August, but I have high hopes for their survival.