Sunday, January 27, 2008


Inch for inch, Japanese dry gardens pack a lot of power. But I'm glad that it's contained to a small courtyard because (inch for inch) it's not the greatest space for biodiversity or productivity.

And if it sprawled out, it would lose its magic and become a golf course.

I like a healthy balance of modernism and postmodernism. I like beauty and the sublime, but there is more to life than aesthetics. There are other things to express, and there are means for expression other than color, form and texture. I don't have to limit myself to expressing one thing either (as cool as that focus is in the dry garden).

Here are some of the things I’m trying to express in Bayside:

1. The value and coolness of local biodiversity. Leave a brush pile for the shrews. Encourage the Scrophularia. Call it performance art.

2. The dark forest myth. (It’s not clear why exactly, but this really resonates with me. The surrounding landscape and those fantasy novels I read as a kid are probably responsible.) This, at least in part, is leaving the creepy side of nature intact and the idea of artifacts.

3. Stewardship. Our need of the land, and the land’s need for us. I became a gardener a few years ago to make everything in Bayside look “natural.” I now like the idea of coppices, crops, and compost piles within the wilder landscape. I am especially drawn to traditional land management techniques like burning and coppicing. Sometimes I use a stick to dig my planting holes, no joke. This is partly responsible.

What I’m really trying to express is my idea of paradise. For me, paradise is not just “pretty.” It’s ferociously beautiful, diverse and productive. And I get to live in it.

Quick Garden Update

The last time I worked in the Bayside garden was a week ago (I’m still at Big Lagoon). I noticed that some of the Penstemon heterophyllus cuttings have rooted. The lily seeds have not germinated yet (and neither have the Clintonia andrewsiana seeds). Triteleia laxa has sent up leaves, as have the daffodils and tulips in the herb garden, but the Lilium pardilinum has not. A bunch of Lupinus polyphyllus volunteers have popped up in the herb garden. I’ll move them to the Coastal Prairie when they’re a bit larger.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Garden Lightening

(not my picture.)

I have never been to a real Japanese dry garden, but when I first understood that the gravel was the sea and that the rocks were islands I wanted to tell someone. Suddenly, this small space was an entire world, and me a tiny thing. Electric.

Thank you, books and photographs.

I wonder if anyone has since used a garden space to such a powerful effect. Are there other powerful (not just beautiful) gardens out there? If so, what are their effects?
Pictures from Trinidad's historic lighthouse, from this morning...

Collecting Pollen

(not my picture.)

A few years ago in a contemporary art class, I became aware of Wolfgang Laib, a German artist who spends whole days collecting pollen, usually from dandelions. He brings the pollen into museums and puts it in piles on the floor. How unusual.

True, there is something monastic about the look of these piles and his other work that appeals to me. Maybe because I draw with chalky pastels I can appreciate the glow of a simple pile of yellow pigment, but I suspect that there is more magic here.

So I’m thinking…

(not my SEM image.)

His piles are actually more than pigment. The mechanics of each grain of pollen is incredible, having emerged from millions of years of evolution. I’m reminded that “simple” pollen, like all life, is much more complex and awesome than the Mona Lisas we usually find in the museum.

After graduation I took an internship at an arboretum in Flagstaff, AZ. I did a variety of work there, and sometimes I spent hours in the wild grasses behind the arboretum collecting their seeds in bags for the collection. I’d just pull them off between my finger and thumb, as I walked by.

There is something so down-to-earth (humble, wholesome, patient) and meditative about tasks like these, and I imagine this is much like collecting pollen. Maybe this is some of the magic he is expressing, the kind of magic that’s easy to lose and forget about these days.

(not my photo.)

While bees feed on pollen (and feed pollen to their young), Laib exhibits and sells pollen to make a living. Maybe the acknowledgement that our lives depend on simple things like plants, air, and soil, and that we tap into these basic sources just like the common bee, is part of the magic.

Luckily we can experience these kinds of magic in the garden. No, not because gardens are full pollen (though I guess it could be). Gardens are places in which we can admire and interact with other life, where we can get back down to earth, and where we can directly tap into the systems that keep us alive (maybe by eating huckleberries from the bush).

Is Laib’s pollen collecting minimalist gardening?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Myrica californica

If I had a small yard on the north coast and was allowed only one native tree, it would be the Pacific wax myrtle, Myrica californica.

It’s a small, fast-growing evergeen with shiny bright foliage. And is incredibly versatile. I’ve seen it grown as a specimen tree, as a shrub, and cut as a hedge. It likes partial-shade or full sun, and the ample moisture it receives here on the coast.

As a landscape tree at a Big Lagoon cabin.

Cut (and shaped by the wind) as part of a mixed hedge. The brightest green is Myrica californica.

In the wild especially, I’ve seen many old trees that twist about like Chinese dragons. In fact we have a couple of such trees growing in the Bayside family redwood forest. The wax myrtle, along with the shore pine and the willows, is also a common species of the dune forest.

If your tree, like the one below, was pummeled by falling Sitka spruces in a coastal storm and is holding onto anything for support, I recommend chopping it down. They’ll shoot back with a vengeance.

Besides its beauty and utility, the Pacific Wax Myrtle is great for wildlife. It is commonly recommended as one of the best plants for birds in my area. (Pines and willows definitely make the list too). Birds love the tiny purplish fruits.

Sadly, unlike other Myrica species, the fruit of Myrica californica reportedly does not yield enough wax to make candles. And while we’re on the subject of burning, I’m not sure how well it burns as firewood either. We cut down part of one by the cabin last year, and I just split the wood, so we’ll find out.

And I suppose for those who need flowers, I should mention that the wax myrtle’s are tiny and inconspicuous.

But if you want a reliable year-round spot of bright green in your coastal garden, decorated with birds instead of bright flowers and berries, give the wax myrtle a try.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Creatures Great and Small

Yesterday was a beautiful clear day. In the morning I walked by the lagoon and beach and saw a man trying to fly.

I spent the rest of my morning and most of my afternoon splitting wood. I found five or so pseudoscorpions while pulling away some wet bark. I’ve only seen them in pictures, so I was very excited. You can see from the picture how incredibly tiny one is compared to my thumb.

They are close relatives to scorpions, they lack tails. More info.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January Bloom Day

I know I'm supposed to be in exhile, but I had to come home to say goodbye to my grandma, who was staying with my parents for the holidays. I thought since I'm here at least for a few more hours, I would start out the year right by contributing to Bloom Day. (After all, this is a garden blog and I think I should have some garden-related postings.)

As you can see above, some Clarkia amoena are still blooming. Hello-to-spring, I guess. I've mentioned before that I'm fond of Euphorbias. Well below is a garden variety called 'Red Wings' that someone else planted in the herb garden. We don't use it as an herb however; it's very toxic. One herb that is blooming quite a bit right now is the creeping rosemary (not pictured).

Inside, this orchid's still blooming strong.

This one's very close. You can see that the flowers are forming on a new shoot coming from the old flowering shoot (which I decided not to cut off, luckily). It's the same situation with the pink orchide above. But maybe if I had cut them off an entirely new shoot would have appeared. Who knows.

There's also a red Schlumbergera that's just finishing its blooms, but I don't care for it much. But I am excited to see many flowers on the Vaccinium ovatum growing wildly outside. Means lots of huckleberries this summer.

Monday, January 14, 2008

More Pictures from Home

This is the bog where sundews grow. I don't think they're awake right now. I don't know because I forgot my rubber boots.

Back into the dark woods I photographed here. The deer is a fallen branch.

False lily of the valley berries.

One of the lagoon's beaches.

Those bunch grasses are Deschampsia caespitosa, the same species we grow in the coastal prairie garden.
The lagoon.

A boat on the beach. But no one's around.

Some kind of dead Juncus right on the edge.

The ocean's on the other side of that horizon.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Home at Big Lagoon

I've applied to three graduate programs (in landscape architecture) and am applying to one in horticulture.

I’m staying at Big Lagoon for a while in a cabin with a woodstove. I’ll travel into Trinidad to use the Beach Comber CafĂ©’s wireless internet to post on what’s happening here and to search and apply for jobs. Trinidad is also where I’ll shop for groceries and access the (tiny) branch of the county library.

When I’m not in Trinidad, I’ll be wandering along the old trails around Big Lagoon, taking notes for a writing project I’ve been working on for some time, and picking up shells and whatnot to practice drawing. I’m taking these projects, and my life right now, two or three feet at a time. So if nothing comes of this self-exhile or Walden experience, then oh well. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Sure is beautiful.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

well said

"I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult."

E.B. White

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year!

I'm back in Humboldt County. Still no job, school, or place to live. My life has never been so up in the air. This year I'm determined to strengthen myself. To root out anything in the way of my happiness and be bolder (and more decisive) than ever. Happy New Years, everyone.