Outside it is wet but the rain has stopped. Birds are hopping about in their ever hungry state looking for food in this calm between storms. While it is mid February, the dead of winter in many parts of the U.S., here in Southern California we are enjoying a double bounty of green following 5 years of drought and below average rainfall. This is ‘normal California’.
But despite the much needed rain and all the green something seems not quite so normal. Driving along Gilman Springs Road recently I looked up to see carpets of poppies blooming on this foothill spur of the San Jacinto Mountains. Mid February I pondered is pretty darn early a bloom time even for poppies.
At home in my native garden my prickly phlox is in full bloom, my Bermuda grass lawn, which should be dormant and brown, is green and growing; my peach tree is in full bud and starting to flower, and it seems wind machines in the citrus orchards are now a necessity of the past. With the regions milder climate we even have folks planting avocado orchards in Hemet - a business venture which only twenty years ago would have been considered a rather foolhardy undertaking. These times they are a changing, I feel it and I see it; to what end and at what consequence, I am not sure. But I, like many others, worry about such things.
Still, in my garden, life abounds and all is good; all is peaceful, orderly and safe providing me a refuge and temporary shelter from the troubles, so close and so present on the other side of my fence. So today I give to myself. No Facebook, no Syria, no Russia, no Trump. No protest letters to senators or listening to news pundits with their feeble attempts to interpret the selfish, shortsighted, irrational human behavior so prominent in our country right now. I give myself this one day of peace, this one day to reflect on my garden.
In the recent Alta Peak chapter newsletter of the California Native Plant Society President Melanie Keeley encouraged readers to [in planting native gardens] “create habitat, restore your land. Then watch and wait, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.” https://altapeakcnps.org
Melanie is so right. It truly is a wonderful experience to observe life happening in your own garden, happening in a natural organic transformative sort of way. In nature we find both peace and inspiration. For it is here that we find that we are not in charge, we have no responsibility, no duties, and no decisions to labor over. We can just be, just watch and wait. Traditional man made landscapes, as wonderful as they can be, are controlled and static. When something dies nothing will replace it unless we do; we decide how much water, how much pruning, what plants should grow here, which there. If we neglect our non-native landscapes for long they soon expire, dependent as they are upon us. Native gardens however, while not quite nature, are still so much more dynamic. Depending on how local the source of our garden palette the native garden can be quite self-healing and self sustaining. A pleasure palace to play in. A theater to engage in. A wonder to watch evolving and transforming itself through the years.
This season in my garden I have plenty going on to be excited about. In our urban Hemet garden I have seedlings of Boechera californica (California rock cress) coming up from plants grown from seed which I collected from a local canyon. A penstemon which had died out two year back is being replaced by a volunteer seedling. And I happen to have a new Abutilon palmeri (Palmer's Indian mallow) which happened to germinate and grow in a very fortuitous open spot next to its mother. My garden is not exactly how I intended it to be, but how it is intending itself to be. I am learning to work as more of a partner in the process of my garden’s becoming.
Another local plant I will try to get started in my garden will be Mimulus brevipes (wide throated yellow monkey flower), which I am growing out in my seed regen boxes. I am also excitedly anticipating the flowering and fruiting of my poppy and chia bowl. The decadently deep blue Salvia columbaria (chia) is from seed which I collected last year from plants native to our local San Jacinto River. The Eschscholzia californica (California poppy) are a wonderfully large flowering pure yellow strain which I collected from my mothers garden. When these go to seed I will harvest them for the front native garden, to watch and to wait, and to see what happens.
While I love my urban Hemet garden I am ecstatic about my Three Rivers Blue Oak Woodland garden. With almost 1.25 acres there is lots of area to restore and enjoy. Amongst the ubiquitous non-native brome grasses this very green winter I am happy to find Madia elegans (spring flowering media), Brodiaea elegans (harvest brodiaea), Chlorogalum pomeridianum (soap root), Phacelia cicutaria (caterpillar phacelia), and a few lupine species. One local native, (Lupinus benthamii - spider lupine), I am hoping to get reestablished from local seed I collected, grew out to bulk up the seed last year, and planted out last month.
For the longest time I have also desired to get the locally showy and fragrant Lupinus albifrons (silver bush lupine) established on our property. However, being out of town I always seem to miss that very narrow window of opportunity to collect seed. Finally up on the Salt Creek road last year my timing was right and I was able to get a small seed collection to grow out. I think with bush lupines younger plants will establish better so these plants will go out this march with a prayer for a cool spring, a late summer, and time to get at least some temporary irrigation in.
A more adventurous endeavor I am undertaking and which I am particularly excited about are the Monardella villosa (coyote mint) plants I am growing. These charming fragrant natives are common along High Sierra trails and have always enchanted me. Last season I sampled a few along one of these trails and this fall I had fairly good germination success. I have never seen these in the trade or other gardens so I am none too confident that they will thrive in our hot Kaweah lowlands. But with a bit of afternoon shade and a little extra water in the summer…. maybe? Then when I am tired from world affairs or the days news I can pay them a visit, pinch a leaf or two and inhaling their invigorating minty fragrance feel right with myself and the world again.
Other hopeful additions which I am propagating for our shady front planter areas are the tall and elegant Thalictrum fendleri (Fendler’s meadowrue) and the beautiful hummingbird favorite Aquilegia formosa (western columbine). These meadow rue are growing vigorous and healthy from ten year old seed.
On a larger plant scale we also have a number of regenerating blue oak seedlings on our property. On most properties the oak seedlings are mown down annually and I notice very little oak regeneration around neighbors homes. In an effort to allow successive generations of oaks to develop around our home in early summer, before cutting the dried grass and vegetation, I carefully survey the area flagging or placing a large log or rock by any oak or shrubby seedlings. To add to our native collection of oaks, and honestly because I can not stop myself from collecting and growing out seeds, last year - a banner acorn year - I collected an assortment of acorns. In addition to more Quercus douglasii (blue oak) I also collected acorns of Quercus chrysolepis (canyon live oak) and Quercus kellogii (black oak). Thus far in my containers the blue oaks have come up first, the canyon live oaks later as they are just now sending up shoots, while the black oaks, while rooting have yet to show signs of any shoot growth.
These local native tree additions will be planted out next fall. In addition to the oaks I have a few more redbuds grown out from local seed to add to the several I have previously propagated and planted out.
Wedding Trees. Of course we are most excited for our collection of wedding trees. Our oldest son and now daughter-in-marriage were wed at our home this February 10th. To honor and commemorate this happy occasion and the coming together of our two families I drew up a list with descriptions of several trees and large shrubs which would do well on our property. From this list the brides parents chose a California sycamore, my wife and I chose a big leaf maple, while the bride and groom selected a western redbud for their wedding tree.
During construction of our hardscape around the back and side of our home the property incurred considerable degradation from our wet conditions and the construction equipment. With this opportunity of bare soil before me I purchased two pounds of Larner Seed’s “Golden State Native Grass Erosion Control Mix” http://www.larnerseeds.com Included in this mix were fast growing Elymus glaucous (blue wildrye), Bromus californica (California brome), and Hordeum brachyantherum (California meadow barley). I also ordered some locally native lupine species (for nitrogen fixing) and poppies (just for fun) to augment the sowing. It will be interesting to see how they fare competing against the ever present non-native annual grasses and the gophers. Hopefully I will have something good to report on this fun experimental endeavor. I will be waiting and watching and enjoying my native garden.
Michael Wall - Hemet, CA