Sunday, September 30, 2007

Native Horticulture

Native californians have been gardening with california plants for thousands of years. Hmm, maybe I could tap into that knowledge to the benefit of the land and myself.

I've already mentioned coppicing, but how about cultivation practices that improve berry production, seed germination, mushroom production, and what else? (And reducing fire loads in our forests). Knowing when and how much to take. AND how to encourage native biodiversity. I really have everything to learn.

Kat Anderson's "Before the Wilderness" is a book about this idea on a larger, land management level. Haven't read it yet, but it's at my library and hopefully I can get to it this week.

This is one of the most radical and potentially beneficial gardening ideas I can think of. It would strengthen the human/nature relationship and put deeper meaning into a garden.

At least one of the gardeners at Gardener Rant (see link at far right) rants about the idea of the "yardeners," I'm guessing those that want a no maintenance yard, instead of a garden they are actively engaged with. Well, maybe the ornamental garden isn't that far ahead of a "yarden." Maybe the next step would be to pretend there is no fence around our garden and plug our garden into the larger landscape. Blend the line between cultivated and noncultivated a bit. Maybe this is a way that nonnatives, like recent human migrants, broccoli, and what not, can become native. I don't know, these are just the beginnings of thoughts.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Coastal Prairie

One of the best things about fall is that the sun becomes just a bit lower, making the lighting (and backlighting) more dramatic. Ok, so the two following photos are taken late in the day, around five. Below are Clarkia amoena and Coastal Hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa).

This is a view of our "coastal prairie" in the front of the house, viewed from the stairway. Sorry the photo is so dark. I think it's coming together nicely, but needs some more green, so that it blends in better with the surrounding forest, and so the flowers are more noticable. I think I'll rely on the short soft mystery sedge and springbank clover for ground cover.

Below you can see the Coastal Hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa) that I coppiced, in front of one that I haven't. See all the bright green? That's what I'm going for. I'm excited about the materials I'm gathering from pruning the grasses and graminoids, because they'll make an excellent mulch for other areas. Cutting the grasses down will also expose the soil to more sunlight, easing wildflower germination this spring.

I'm going to wait till early spring before cutting some of the hairgrass back because their inflorescences are interesting, especially with that autumn light.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pruning Tips from Las Pilitas

I have never been to Las Pilitas, the native nursery down in Southern California, but I really like their website. Whoever is writing the text is doing a great job. It is extremely opiniated and no-nonsense. I can't personally attest to what they recommend, because I haven't tried out most of it, but when it's said so confidently it certainly makes me want give their methods a try. (And I'm aware that not all of the methods can be applied to Humboldt County, it is radically different than San Diego. On the other hand, some of their species are our species.) But what are their methods? Take a look at their pruning tips, for a start.

Lonicera involucrata involucrata

I had to make this photo a giant so you can see the swollen nectaries at the base of these flowers. Must be for hummingbirds, butterflies, or both. Don't these flowers look like two femurs attached to a pelvis? It's called twinberry honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata involucrata). Twinberry because the flowers will swell at the base to become two dark shiny berries, side by side. The fused bracts (or involucre--notice scientific name) that the flowers are sitting on will become deep red.

They are bizzare, but also beautiful at the right angle.

But like many interesting flowers, you've got to look closely to fully appreciate them. They are easy to overlook.

Yep, it's a Humboldt County native from the backyard.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Work Thoughts

These are just some random, and somewhat obvious, thoughts I've had while working at the nursery. (Many thoughts have had to be cut. I'm trying to stay positive here.)

Skunk cabbage has a tuberish thing with long roots that are mostly unbranched, rubbery things that have rings like annelids, but more closely spaced. Reminds me of mandrake (isn't that the screaming plant in the first Harry Potter movie?).

Weed pots, especially weed out alders and willows before they become full size trees! The trees can be salvaged, but the root systems are bound and usually lopsided, while the intentional plant is nearly dead or dead.

Wind barriers are very important at a nurery with trees. Stakes are important too, but make sure you don't buy stakes that need support themselves. Oh and invent something that will keep treepots reliably upright. Unless you are going for bonsai materials, don't let young trees grow crooked. And nearly all trees should be single-trunked, if you ever want to sell them.

Soil sterilizer, I wish I had one. But is there not a low-tech alternative? My faith in the composting process isn't that strong. I have a compost pile that I completely neglect. Composting is a real weakness of mine!

Seed propagation. It surely must be the noblest form of propagation. Must become a seed master. I do not like wild collecting, especially on a large scale, especially for profit. I don't mind taking a snip here or a seed capsule there.

Wouldn't it be cool to have woven old-english stlye fences everywhere? With a hedge of wild roses and hazels behind it? And geese running around keeping the grass down? Old England meets native California culture and plants. This is the Garden of La Mancha.

Organization on the grounds and in the books is "importante" for a business. So are clean, sharp, tools. Yes tools. You know, I really would like a scythe. Why don't we use them anymore? I also would like a pruning knife. And a watering can with a rose attachment.

All by-products need to become products. When I coppice my grasses and rushes this year I'll have native straw for mulch. Some of the "weeds" (only the natives) can be potted up. Things must be reused. Close the loop!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I missed Bloom Day, but here are some of plants flowering in the yard right now.

Springbank Clover

Annuals: white phlox (can't remember the name at the moment) with pink Clarkia amoena

Mimulus aurantiacus with culms of Deschampsia caespitosa

Hedge Nettle (Stachys sp.), a volunteer.
Sisyrinchium bellum. I have to hold up the flowers because they flop over, sadly.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Righteous Garden

This gardener fights for the right and struggles to find out what "right" means. It's not easy, but this is my quest. And there are somethings I'm able to grasp as being right and good.

These include: Gratitude, Diversity, and Hope. The idea of diversity pops up over and over again in my life and has led me to some conclusions about life that can, of course, be applied to the garden.

Things to Apply to Your Garden.

Native Plant gardeners are often accused of being self-righteous and sometimes xenophobic. And maybe some of us are, and maybe part of me is. But I'm cautious of falling into these categories, and that says something. I can't speak for all native plant gardeners, so I'll speak only for myself.

Like I've said, I believe in diversity. In culture and in ecology. It's good to have as many angles as possible so that we can carve out truths. (I choose to believe in truths, call me a modernist. I choose to believe in diversity, call me a postmodernist). And a wide range of ideas keeps our culture running smoothly and gives us options. But beyond all the practical reasons for salvaging and creating diversity, the need, beyond these reasons I want diversity. It keeps life interesting.

The Garden of La Mancha prioritizes thus:

1. Food--the best way to be happy and responsible is to provide for oneself as much as possible. Heirloom varieties are preferable for agricultural diversity's sake.

2. Natives--the best way to keep the local biodiversity going.

3. Beauty--is that well-tended garden with wild corners. Beauty will be expressed as much as possible with edible and native plants. Non-native, non-food producing ornamentals, will be chosen with great care and must be absolutely irresistable to be included in the garden.

4. The garden should never be static. There will always be new projects and experiments. So plants will come and go. It will be an ecosystem with successions within successions and some disturbances.

Perhaps the heirarchy is more like a food pyrimad, with edibles on the bottom, natives in the middle, and eye-candy on top. (Too much variegated and colorful foliage, and too many gawdy flowers gross me out). Of course, if you have a lot of land, you may want to let more of it grow wild.

To me, the thoughts that a plant is useful or native adds beauty to it. It's similar to how heavy whole wheat bread tastes better to me becuase of the thought that it is good for me. This is why a native plant with a few holes in the leaves is more beautiful, than the invasive gawdy non-native plant down the street.

Never invasive non-natives.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Lilies

The other day at work I grabbed a couple of the ripe seed pods from some of our native L. pardilinum spp. pitkinense plants. The Lily lady (see previous post) had told me that they would be hybrids between the ssp. pitkinense and ssp. pardilinum because our spp. pitkinense were all clones (grown from bulb scales) and they can only be pollinated by a genetically-different individuals. They were next to ssp. pardilinum, so it's fairly safe to assume...

Anyway, I've always admired Lilium pardilinum for the red turban flowers. There was one flowering in our garden ths spring (the only lilium on the property). Very beautiful. Tomorrow I'll pot up these seeds and cap my lily acquisitions.

This Lilum pardilinum photo is from the Lily Society website.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


A lady came into work today asking about a native lily and it turns out she is a lily afficianado. She grows them and sells the seeds and bulbs online. Here is her website. You should look at her online gallery of all the lilies native to the pacific northwest (the pics on this page are from the gallery). Amazing and very diverse. Besides buying over a dozen lilies from me, she told me a bit about how to grow them and gave me two free packets of native lily seed! It just happens to be the time to plant lily seeds and that these can go directly outdoors in pots (no greenhouse required) and will sprout this spring. Very kind. It's good too, because I've been trying to get into seed propagation. I've never sown seeds with confidence. But a few weeks ago I planted some Clintonia andrewsiana (Bead Lily, it would make a great houseplant) seed I collected from the forest, and now I have seed for...
Lilium rubescens (above) and Lilum washingtonianum spp. purpuratum (below)

I planted the seeds right when I got home. Two 1-gallon pots for each species (densly planted). They'll sprout in the spring (did I sound confident?), then a couple of years later they'll be large enough to flower.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rhododendron neoglandulosum

This is my new plant, the native bog-loving shrub, Labrador Tea (Rhododendron neoglandulosum, formerly Ledum glandulosum). It will grow to about 3 feet tall, 3 feet across and will have small white rhododendron flowers. I first saw this species in the wild a couple of years ago in a bog near Crescent City growing with sedges, Darlingtonia californica, and western azaleas. I'm keeping it in a pot until it gets bigger.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I see many leggy, ugly, misshapen shrubs. I want to cut it all back and let it sprout. Many people wonder if they can cut off diseased or mostly dead parts of plants, and I tell them yes. The plants will love it. The native plants too. Of course wildlife does like dead branches and things, but for the plant's sake and for the sake of a nice looking garden, pruning is desirable.

Coppicing is the harshest form of pruning. It's cutting the whole plant down to a couple of inches above the soil line, even if the plant looks fairly healthy. It's not for all plants, but it can be useful.

It can rejuvenate an older shrub by forcing it to send out new vigorous shoots. (I've heard many times that coppicing can also extend the life of a shrub/forb/grass.)

Coppicing some trees and shrubs creates a crop of straight sticks for use in basketry, wickerwork, or for other crafts.

It also can be used get a regular supply of conveniently-sized firewood. A regular coppicing cycle (say, coppicing some, not just any, tree species every seven or so years) can produce "five or even ten times as much burnable wood per acre per year as if you wait for mature trees." And the logs can be thin so that they won't need to be split. (This info comes from an essay in Field Days by Roger Swain. I haven't read it, but I've read about it from Last Person Rural by Noel Perrin.)

Coppicing is a tradition found in cultures all over the world including England (chestnut, willow, and hazelnut coppices especially) and the Pacific Northwest (the Yurok coppice many shrubs for basket materials and Philadelphus lewisii for arrow shafts).

So how can I use coppicing to my advantage?

I need to find out which native species would be able to handle coppicing AND would be good for burning. Madrone is one of the best woods for burning around here, but I'm not sure it would resprout vigorously enough (plus we only have one on the lot and it's not doing so well). On the otherhand, redwood sprouts like crazy, but I don't think its that great for burning.
Garden Uses
These are species that have brightly colors stems or that are traditionally used.
Cornus sericea
Corylus cornuta
Salix spp.

(The invasive nonnative Cotoneaster is excellent for crafts and coppicing. It's bark is mottled gray and white when old, and the plants, despite every effort, always bounce back...Below is a trellis I made of it for my mother on mother's day. I'm really not crafty, for the record, though I would like to make my own fences and trellis one day.)

For Appearances
I borrowed a book from work today called California Native Plants for the Garden
By Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien. I was very pleased with it because it actually has species-specific pruning advice. I can't recall any other native plant book that does. Anyway here's a quick and dirty list I've compiled of the native plants they say you can coppice, supplemented with other species I've heard you can coppice:

California sunflower
Indian mallow
California fuchsia
Penstemons (they cut them down every late fall at The Arboretum at Flagstaff)
Ferns (really helps ragged-looking sword fern)
Mimulus aurantiacus (personal experience)
Graminoids (grasses, sedges, and rushes):
All of them can and should be cut down at the end of the growing season, according to John Greenlee's Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses.

Snowberry (every several years)
Western redbud
Cercis betuloides
Cornus sericea
Philadelphus lewisii (every five years or so)
Ribes sanguineum
Corylus cornuta
Coyote Brush

(According to Bornstein et al, shrubs that should not be coppiced include manzanitas and ceanothi.)

One plant that probably should be cut back twice a year is the tall herbaceous perrenial, Scrophularia californica (above). It looks horrible except in early spring, but the bees LOVE the flowers. Other insects love this speceis too, telling by all the holes in the leaves. It's really for the wildlife, but I'm going to experiment. I coppiced it last year and it was much bushier. Then it got ugly. Now it's putting on another round of growth and flowers atop it's ugliness. If I had cut it down after it's first wave of flowers it might be looking a whole lot better now.

Anyway, this late fall/winter (when coppicing should be done), I'm going to rejuvenate some of the plants on the lot. The Deschampsia caespitosa definetely has too much thatch. The coyote brushes could be less leggy. Many of the Mimulus aurantiacus plants could be bushier. (Last winter I cut back some of them and atleast one of them REALLY took off (above). Its form is really nice. This picture is from a couple of months ago).

Not all of the plants that can be coppiced, should be coppiced, of course. But if it offendeth thee, cut it off!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Stairs in the Forest

My father, brother, and I built these steps in my parent's redwood forest fives years or so ago. The redwood logs supporting the steps are falling apart and beautiful woodland plants have filled in.
Like this mystery woodland sedge (Carex sp.). It is arguably my favorite species on the property.
And here it is with a carpet of Piggybag Plant (Tolmei menziesii) and candyflower (Claytonia sibirica).

The stairway is shaded with red alder, cascara sagrada, redwoods, spruce, and a lone black cottonwood growing in the ravine below the stairs. The understory consists of elderberry, salmonberry, red huckleberry, and thimbleberry (leaf pictured below), among many, many other species.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Potawot Health Village

Yesterday I visited the Potawot Health Village in Arcata. I love going here because the building and landscape are beautiful and the plants are all native. Minus the weeds, of course. "Potawot" is the Wiyot name for the Mad River, which runs nearby. The building is a health clinic for the native tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

Acer circumnatum with Fragaria chiloensis ground cover.

Patio area with containers of Deschampsia caespitosa and Sisyrinchium californica. Informal hedge of Loncera involucrata, Rosa californica, and Myrica californica. I love the creek systems they have running in the landscape and the dead trees that they've erected (buried? Reebarred? I'd like to know how they did it).

Megan trying some berries of Sambucus mexicana. They were too tart. The rosehips and currants weren't that great either (dry/bland and bland/seedy, respectively). The black huckleberries, however, were excellent. With the taste of muffins still fresh on my tongue and dreams of huckleberry jam, I think I'd like to grow 30 or so huckleberry plants from seed and have a proper huckleberry patch in the yard one day (it would take many years to have plants large enough to bear fruit). I'd better get reading.

At the far end of the health village, there is an impressive community vegetable/fruit garden with an orchard (couldn't capture the expanse in this photo).

Even the parking strips have native shrubs and trees growing in them. The Symphoricarpos shrubs are cut like boxwood hedges. I'm not sure I like the way they are pruned or not.

There are also interpretive panels along the trails surrounding the building. Tule's scientific name has been changed to Scheonoplectis acutus FYI. And some of the plant signs don't have scientific names, but I have no other complaints. The signs are nicely done.

Since we visited on Labor Day, the main building was closed. I thought it would be. Sometime I'll have to blog about the inside. It's amazing! And it even has an all-native courtyard garden...

Take a look at this (United Indian Services) and this (Architecture and more). Oh, and one about the plants.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The empty seed pods of Lupinus polyphyllus

Ghost Orchids of Humboldt County

I stumbled across an article about ghost orchids (click on the link for info and a beautiful photo). It made me begin to think about those mysterious plants, to me anyway, that reside right here in Humboldt County.

  • Taxus brevifolia (never seen one in the wild, though I know people who have seen it).
  • Calypso bulbosa (seen it a few times. Beautiful little orchids. There is/was a whole colony at Big Lagoon, but they seem to have disappeared--seasonal thing? hope so.)
  • Euonymus occidentalis (Seen only one growing wild up the street, but the neighbors recently cut back the whole area, euonymus and all)