Sunday, September 7, 2008

Making Marks

First there was a weeping beech. Not only is the bark smooth and white (which makes carvings more legible that they would be on say, a black walnut), but the architecture of the tree creates seclusion—a place where one’s not as likely to be caught being a vandal.

To everyone that journeys under its canopy, the tree becomes their place, makes them feel a sense of discovery, that maybe they’re privy to this spot. And it's satisfying finding a curious shaded spot off the beat path after wandering on the sunny, public grounds of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It's a nice contrast.

It’s also interesting to see what people (individuals, couples, maybe even groups) carve when no one else is watching. And what do they carve?

Their identities. Some cool designs. The tree has been changed. Cuts are generally unhealthy for a tree. Weakens growth, exposes inner tissues to pathogens…and yet, in my opinion, the bark has become very beautiful. The most beautiful marks are the ones filled in with scar tissue, where the marks have had time to influence the tree’s growth—to become part of the tree. I didn’t feel the need to contribute (perhaps I’m more of a critic than a participant and besides, I like my trees healthy), but I bet the first cut was all it took to get the ball rolling. I wonder when it hit that threshold: when it became a community art project.

Same with this abandoned pumphouse in Manayunk. Brick, lumber, spray paint, human hands, and decay has created a rich texture.

Layers upon layers. Sublime.

(Don't worry, I was not alone. This was on a field trip with a class.)

We humans like to make a mark.

It's contagious.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I spent the Fourth of July with my family at Big Lagoon and Trinidad. There are lots of cool things on the beach for the garden: rocks, driftwood, bleachglass, and what have you. (When I was a kid my mom paid me five bucks to haul a "stepping-stone" down the sand spit of Big Lagoon.) But on the 4th I made a real find.

A Dudleya farinosa (!) about the size of my hand, washed up or delivered by dog. (The rosette's a few inches across.) Surely this is guilt-free wild plant collection. For you non-Californians, Dudleyas are echevaria-like succulents that grow on our coast (and inland, and in Mexico). Wikipedia has a nice photo of a healthy specimen. The plant I found, while lacking roots, is still firm and should be as easy to propagate as a sedum.

One may recall that big silver Dudleyas were on my fountain planting wishlist, but on second thought, I think it would get too much water there.

And in related news, the Triteleia bulbs have surprised me by putting out rapid growth: flower buds and one bloom. It's a little late for the 4th of July, but the color combination turned out to be red, silver (or white, if you will), and blue, instead of red, purple and silver. Some changes may be necessary for next year. Still, I can't complain.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Iris Rootborer

Last year I noticed a few of the irises yellowing and that even green leaves loosely fell off the plants. While I was proud, to pinpoint the problem (below, fairly obvious), I was sad to have to destroy the afflicted plants. This year it seems that the rest of the doug irises in the coastal prairie are succumbing and I don't know what to do.

Monday, June 30, 2008


Here's a quick article from about an eccentric man and his garden. Skimpy on the gardening, but we share some thoughts:

"Ugly can sometimes be beautiful, but merely pretty can never be beautiful," he says. "Things that are really beautiful keep you coming back because they're not just attractive, they're compelling."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Green Daylily

Check out Frances's green daylily. While I normally despise daylilies (sorry Frances, if you're reading this, it's just me...I prefer Lilium), there is something about green (and black actually) flowers that make them candidates for a dream garden.


I have a landscaper friend who had to leave town for a couple of months, so I've been doing the gardening for a few of her clients on the weekends. It's been fun.

Anyway, I want to remember this:

Forget landscape tape--that nasty oily tape that one has to buy, that may never biodegrade, and that usually stands out in a garden despite being green. The Phormium tenax growing in the pot over there has a few browning leaves it won't miss. Cut them off, shred them into a few strips. There. They work wonderfully.

Food, fiber, firewood, building material, medicine...what are the resources around you?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

June Bloom Day

The prairie is at peak bloom. The lupines are nearly finished, but the Armeria maritima, yarrow, and others have taken off.

Mimulus aurantiacus. What I've learned this season is that while my winter pruning helped keep them bushy (though one did not survive the harsh cutting back--ok because of seedlings), the ones left unpruned bloomed several weeks earlier. It's a trade off.

There are a few random wildflowers. I didn't sow a mix this year, so these were probably spawned from last year's crop. Collinsia heterophylla.

I planted about seven Aquilegia formosa last year. The full sun and poor soil are keeping them pretty short with only a couple flowers per plant, but as the meadow fills in I hope more an more will appear. I've noticed a few seedlings already.

Sisyrinchium californicum
Ok, some more clover shots. Trifolium wormskioldii in front of a golden mystery sedge.

The fountain has Lotus 'Amazon Sunset' and lemon variegated thyme blooming (society garlic blooms come from a pot on the back porch). The Triteleia laxa 'Queen Fabiola bulbs have not produced blooms (or even buds yet), but they were planted extremely late for bulbs.

Today I bought a pygmy white waterlily, Nymphaea 'Candida,' to give to my dad for Father's Day (kind of a self-serving gift...but he did want one!).

Ah, this is what the bulbs in the fountain should look like when they bloom. This Triteleia has been here a few years, in a bed behind the fountain.

Water parsley is blooming in the middle of Juncus patens.

Eleocharis macrostachys, a snippet propagule, is blooming. This will eventually go in the bog.

Mimulus guttatus is blooming all around the bog.

Ok, I've got wrap this up. Fuchsia procumben is growing under a potted hydrangea. The blooms are small, not much longer than a thumbnail, but have you seen a more colorful flower? Check out the blue pollen.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Just a self-indulgent look at two plants.

Euphorbia bupleurifolia, the pineapple or pine cone euphorbia. My favorite plant.
I love its bizarre form and how the leaves and flowers seem to shoot out the top. It's from the southern cape region of South Africa, and is apparently endangered. I bought mine at an Arcata Farmer's Market (in CA) five (?) years ago for $10, and haven't seen it for sale anywhere else or I would buy a few more. I'd like to at least acquire one female plant, since mine is male, and supposedly it's relatively easy to raise from seed. Has anyone out there seen these for sale?

I'm mentioning the plant now because there has been a new development: a little side branch is appearing.

I will miss its old simple form, but am curious to see what it will look like. (To see an incredibly cool specimen of this species click here.)

The second plant I have obsessed over before. Trifolium wormskioldii, the Springbank clover. This is how the story goes. I saw some flowerless clover growing near the shore of Big Lagoon on a canoe trip. I took a piece because the leaves had a "native" look--they didn't look like red or white clover. I put the piece in a pot waited a year and had a pot full of the stuff. Transplanted some into the garden. Last year it bloomed and it's identity was confirmed.

Turns out it was an important vegetable for the native peoples of the northwest. I propagated it more and more (piece of cake--just pull off piece with nodes and insert in soil). It's spread beautifully. Last year there were maybe 5 flowers, this year there are dozens.

(Sorry the picture's so dark.) The propagation continues as we have a lot of wet clay that needs cover, and I have to say, it's my favorite plant in the garden right now. I hope to introduce this plant to our local chapter of the California Native Plant Society. It'd be good for sales. Tips I will humbly offer: put it in a sunny, moist place and cut it to the ground in winter if you want to maintain a tidier patch. C'est tout.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Arcata Community Forest

The Hike
I used to go several times a week on this same trail when I was attending Humboldt State University. I've been living nearby off and on for the last couple of years, but when I am staying in the area I go at least once a week. It's not the most impressive redwood forest, since it's a second-growth managed forest, but there are wonderful corners here and there where you can feel lost.

( I have been lost several times in this forest..this is how I originally found the trail.)

Katie is home for the summer and so is our mom's poodle, Annie.

The Color
May is a good time for a hike. I've been impatient, but the Clintonia andrewsiana are finally beginning to bloom. When the flowers dissappear, they'll be replaced by spectacular blue egg-shaped berries. I have Clintonia seedlings growing in a flat at Bayside, but it will be several years before they look like this.

The diversity of flower color in douglas iris is intriguing. My favorites are the pale blue ones, but they also come in deep red-purple, and intermediate shades.

Mimulus dentatus is one of those plants I discovered, propagated, and identified. There's now a nice patch growing in thre creek near the Bayside House. It's similar to M. guttatus the common yellow monkeyflower, but is more graceful and delicate. The leaves are thinner and softer with serrated edges, and the flowers are more trumpet shaped. It also blooms much earlier.

Rubus parviflorus is spineless with big soft maple-like leaves, large flowers, and edible berries. The Northcoast Journal published a nice article about this plant. (I think the berries are like a mild rasperry.)
The Greenery
Streptopus amplexifolius var. americanus, the twisted stalk. It's form is very architectural.

And underneath, where the flowers hange, the plant is glaucus blue.

Blechnum splicant, the common deer fern, is uncommonly cool.

The spore producing leaves are more skeletal, and they'll turn dark and dry when they go into production
while the vegetative leaves begin as lime zigzags and darken into a more subtle green.

Fully back from it's winter rest, is the five-fingered fern, Adiantum pedatum.

The black wiry stems and leaf ribs were, and perhaps are, the main source of black basketry material for the native peoples of the area.

The fresh growth of conifers stand out in the darkness. Here are the new needles of the coastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens.

The immature berry of Rubus spectabilis, the salmon berry.

Flowers of the piggyback plant, Tolmiea menzesii, common houseplant elsewhere, a native forest dweller locally.

It's cousin, Mitre's wort, Mitella caulescens, which I simply can't stop looking at.

The bright suspended stars of Trientalis borealis.
Petasites frigidis next to sword fern, Polystichum munitum, and redwood sorrel, Oxalis oreganum.

Polystichum munitum.

Time to emerge from the shadows.

Same time next week okay?