Saturday, July 25, 2015

Garden Celebrity

Confession: I do not follow the world of celebrities. I was totally not even sad when Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck called it quits. I've never watched Keeping Up With the Kardashians.  And I ....

Oh my God!!! Hold the phone. A flutter of orange has caught my eye.

I step out of my garden clogs. Why? I have no idea. So I step back into them and gingerly walk backwards to the house. Where is the camera? Where is the camera?  Where is @%#*! camera!!!!???

Deep breath. I've located it. I launch myself out the back door. It is still there. Soaring over the right side of the garden - my native butterfly host plant bed. It's here!!! It came!!!!

A monarch butterfly has discovered my bed of carefully tended milkweed.  Much of it raised from seeds, in my greenhouse, watered with collected rain water and eased into the soil when summer's heat had passed.

Yes, I had a monarch last year. A tired one. (Don't ask how I know. I just do!) One monarch butterfly that I know of which came, sipped from the milkweed blooms and laid an egg or two (maybe) before slogging its way down the California coast.

But this! This monarch is different. It isn't tired. (Don't ask how I know. I just do.) It floats and dips.  For the first fifteen minutes, it is all about the milkweed - which I am happy to say is blossoming nicely! It then locates my second patch of milkweed which is blossoming less nicely but still proffers a single, small blossom. It sips.

After soaking up the milkweed, the monarch butterfly has deemed the rest of my garden visit-worthy. He (I'm pretty sure its a boy because no egg-laying moves happening) stops at the yarrow, the California figwort, the native sunflowers and wild carrots. All of those plants which I planted just for it!! And they are being used. Exactly for the intended purpose. Who would have thunk?

It chases away a red dragonfly. Good riddance! Normally I would love to have that dragonfly in my garden. But who cares about Kate Mara when you've got Beyonce dancing all over your flowers? A painted lady zooms past me. Whatever. Another B-list pollinator. I've only got eyes for you Beyonce, I mean, Monarch.

Do I sit calmly through this 40 minutes of heaven? I do not. I go all paparazzi on the gorgeous blaze of color, clicking hundreds of mostly blurry photos. I decide to take a few videos but my hands shake. When it comes down to it, I guess I am a fangirl!

I may not care much about human celebrities but garden celebrities leave me aflutter!

Do you know how hard it is to get a photo of a monarch with its wings open that is not blurry!!
Plant for them and THEY WILL COME!

This post is part of the Tuesday Garden Party and Maple Hill Hop.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How to Connect Kids to Nature

"Wait, where did you see a beetle?" a voice floats back to me, across the dusty trail.

"I still haven't found any cottonwood," my youngest niece intones.

"I'll show you where to look," her older cousin offers, leading her to look down the hill and pointing toward the river. "They seem to grow more down there," he surmises.

We are on a hike. A very hot and very uphill hike. The scenery is beautiful but I would be lying if I said that these kids wanted to be here. At least initially. Until I whipped out a homemade scavenger hunt and offered a prize for all who participated (pack of gum) with a bounty (cold hard cash, people) for the one who found the most items the quickest.

Read the rest at The Green Phone Booth.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What NOT To Do in a Drought

I'll bet when you clicked on this link, you thought it would be full of overly watered lush green lawns, hosed off sidewalks and water sprinting down the gutter.  Here is an obligatory photo.  Please do not do these things in a drought - or at all, ever.

There are a number of measures taken in the name of water conservation, however, that you really really should NOT do either.  Read about those things over at The Green Phone Booth.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gardening for Life

From the bean of Green Bean.

I took a break from planting runner beans to watch a painted lady butterfly cartwheel across the phacelia.  White cabbage butterflies performed acrobatics over the wild radish and bumblebees launched themselves into the California poppies.  A squirrel stretched to pluck seeds from the borage while a lizard tiptoed over the gravel pathway.

A squirrel balancing on a small hawthorne branch to eat spring buds.
From the tall trees on either side, the birds' songs were a cacophony - chittering of titmice (admonishing their new babies), squeaks of chickadees and the screech of the scrub jay.  A hummingbird hovered in mid-air, a ballerina in search of nectar.  After years of gardening for beauty and food, I now find that I am gardening for life.

A painted lady butterfly suns itself on a borage leaf.
Oh sure, I still have raised beds overflowing with tomatoes and herbs.  Peppers peep out from behind peas while pumpkins and cucumbers wait off-stage, in the greenhouse, for their entrance to the summer garden.  Of course, I also still garden for the sheer beauty of it, but now, I ask for much more from my garden.

Lady bug on native Clarkia.
Pretty is not enough.  Before I put something non-edible in the ground, I want to know what sort of life it will support.  Will this bring pollinators to the garden?  Will it provide nesting material or winter berries for birds?  Will butterflies lay their eggs here?

Skipper on a California poppy.
Our native wildlife are increasingly squeezed out by habitat loss, pollution, drought, and extreme weather events.  In the last 40 years, wildlife on earth has decreased by 50%.  Closer to home, kids today see 35% fewer butterflies than their parents did 40 years ago.  By gardening for life, I can push back against those statistics.  

Native bee on wild radish.
By seeking out the less flashy butterfly host plants and accepting leaf damage, I can help increase the local butterfly population.

By letting leaves decompose instead of blowing the beds free of debris, I can increase the insect population and thereby the bird population.

A Varied Thrush overwintered in our garden for the first time, and spent most of his or her time
digging in the leaf litter looking for bugs. 
By eschewing pesticides and planting natives, I can ensure that bird parents have enough insects to feed their babies - which are almost exclusively feed insects, not seeds.

A titmouse bringing food to a birdhouse full of babies.
I do all of these things and more so that tomorrow brings more birds, more butterflies, more bees, more life.  I garden for life.  Will you?

A goldfinch waits while its mate gathers nesting materials nearby.
This post is part of the Tuesday Garden PartyMaple Hill Hop and Green Thumb Thursday.

Monday, March 9, 2015

How to Grow Your Own Perennials

When we first moved to our home 5 years ago, it was a mostly blank slate.  A few exotic plants here and there and ivy.  Lots of ivy.

In transforming our lot into a garden for food and wildlife, I visited a lot of nurseries.  I bought a lot of plants.  And spent a lot of money.

Five years later, most of our yard is full of happy California natives, herbs and other drought tolerant, pollinator-friendly perennials.  While the plants are fairly well established, there are still bare spots waiting to be filled.

I have decided, however, that I have spent enough money establishing my garden though.  I'm now putting my plants to work for me by growing my own perennials.  I use 4 primary methods for growing perennial plants.


I learned how to propagate by accident when a new prized native perennial had a branch snapped off. I quickly read up on what to do and ended up turning that broken branch into a new plant.

Island Bush Snapdragon - my first propagated plant.  It is 3 years old. 

Island Bush Snapdragon, all grown up.  Ground nesting birds - Juncos- nest inside.
To propagate a plant, you simply need to snip off a sprig.  Your cutting should not have many leaves and no flowers on it.  You want it to put its energy into growing roots - not keeping leaves alive.   Clear the stem of leaves and dip it into rooting hormone or cinnamon.  Then poke it into a pot filled with potting soil.  Keep your cutting damp and in 6 months to a year, it can be transplanted into your garden.

Some of my recently propagated plants and runner plants.  They will be ready for planting in the fall.
Think about season before snipping.  Propagated plants grow better in different seasons.  For instance, pineapple sage is better to propagate in the fall but other plants might be better to do in the spring.  You can find out when to cut your particular plants for propagating through an Internet search or by reading books on the subject.  For my natives, I rely heavily on California Native Gardening: Month by Month Guide which specifies which months work best for which plants.


Growing perennials from seed requires more steps and patience and sowing annuals but is basically the same process.

Milkweed and Hooker's Evening Primrose growing in my greenhouse now.
Perennial seeds need more coddling than their annual brethren.  Some (like my native milkweed) just need to be soaked overnight.  Others need to be cold stratified.  To achieve this, you can either plant them in the fall and leave them outside where they will get the cold naturally or put them in a bag with some damp potting soil and refrigerate for two to four weeks, depending on the species.

Once your seeds are ready to be planted, treat them just like annuals - put them in a starter mix, keep them warm and well-lit and well watered.  Unlike annuals, which can be transplanted out to the garden in short order, these little fellows need more pampering.  I have lost many perennials by transplanting them before they were ready.  It works better to pot starts up to a larger container and let them spend from 6 months to a year - depending on variety - in a pot.  At that point, they are big enough to survive the big bad outdoors.

Monarch butterfly on native milkweed in my backyard.

If you want to grow a perennial that you do not have yet in your garden, buy the seed from a reputable source.  To grow from a plant in your backyard, simply collect the seeds and plant.  My native milkweed bloomed last year and I happily collected the seed.  As I type this, those seeds are germinating in my greenhouse, producing more milkweed plants for more neighborhood monarchs.

Milkweed seed
You can also grow trees from seed.  Oak trees grown from acorns have been better structure than nursery planted oaks.  Here are detailed instructions on planting acorns.  I have also planted California buckeyes from seeds.  Like acorns, you collect the large seeds in the fall.  It is best to get them off the tree or right after they have fallen to the ground.  Plant them within a couple of days and wait until spring.  I have had 5 out of 6 seeds germinate this way.

California buckeye - the result of a buckeye seed planted last fall.

California fuchsia (front) reseeded itself in the perfect spot. California figwort (middle) grown from seed last year. 
If you read my posts regularly, you know I love lazy gardening!  I often do not cut my perennials back when recommended.  I like to leave them up over the winter - the seeds fodder for wildlife, the dead stems useful for nest building.  Occasionally, there will be another bonus.  Some of the plants will actually reseed themselves around the garden.

Lamb's ear reseeded itself in my garden path. I transplanted it last fall to fill in the front of a side yard bed.
My favorite California fuchsia plant (seen below) has had babies.  Lots of them!  Resulting in 8 to 10 free plants around my garden and a few more dug up and shared with friends.

Hummingbird on California fuchsia

Grey hairstreak butterfly on chaparral mallow
Finally there are those perennial plants that spread by rhizomes or runners.  Some may complain about these as being aggressive but, so long as they are not invasive exotics, I look at them as more free plants!  I planted a beloved chaparral mallow four years ago.  I have kept it in bounds by digging up runners and either replanting them around the garden or sharing them with friends.  At least 4 friends and one local elementary school boast my mallow's babies in their gardens.

Similarly, I planted a native elderberry a few years back.  Sadly, the elderberry died its first winter but a single woodland strawberry plant that had hitched a ride in the nursery pot thrived, and spread and spread.  Last fall, I was looking for a native ground cover that tolerated shade to plant in the front yard.  When my Internet search landed on woodland strawberries, I did not hustle down to the nursery.  Instead, I simply dug up the requisite amount of strawberries from the patch in the backyard.

The back half of this bed is full of woodland strawberries.  Free to start with, they have spread nicely.  I've take some out for planting elsewhere in the garden.

Although growing your own perennials takes time, it results in a full garden and wallet.  Do you grow your own perennials?  What methods do you use?

This post is part of the Tuesday Garden PartyMaple Hill Hop and Green Thumb Thursday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How To Provide Nesting Material for Birds in Your Garden

Although much of America is still buried under piles of snow, birds here in California have been busy building nests for the last month.  Because I want to encourage birds to nest nearby and increase them as visitors to our garden, I am happy to provide as much nesting material as possible.  Fortunately, it is easy and very inexpensive.


Lazy gardeners rejoice!  When fall comes around, do not hasty to cut back perennials and dead annual stems.  Don't rake up the twigs and pine needles.  Leave the mulch alone.  Let grass clippings lie on your lawn. You are doing a service to local wildlife - not to mention your soil as the organic material will also enrich your soil as it decays.

Spider webs make great bird nest fodder!

Mulching with organic materials - above, pine needles - help the soil and provide nesting materials.  


The robins' nest (above) fell from one of our trees during a windstorm last year.  As you can see, much of it is comprised of twigs and pine needles.  A fair amount of the bottom, though is from the native bunch grasses (below) that I put in a couple of years ago. 

California native "deer grass".


Last year, I made the decision to skip plastic garden tape and opt for twine.  To ditch the metal and plastic plant markers and use wooden popsicle sticks.  I wanted biodegradable-only materials in the garden.

I was glad of my decision when I watched finches gathering strands from last year's bean tepee twine for this year's nests.


Three years ago (I kid you not!), I invested $5 in a ball of cotton batting from local birding store. We do not have snow here in California but we do (occasionally) have rain.  This fluff has remained on the tree year in and out and is used every year by birds building nests.

Just this January, I watched a mother hummingbird gathering material multiple times.  Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough to get a good photo but you get the idea.

Even though it seems like a great reuse, do NOT offer dryer lint which can be harmful to birds.  


Finally, you can pull together your small yarn scraps, bits of twine and pet hair.  Put them in a suet or peanut bird feeder or mesh bag and hang them on a tree.  Word of warning - pet hair is the most favorite of birds in our garden.  We've even have fights break out over it.  

By following these simple steps, you can welcome more wildlife into your garden.

This post is part of Tuesday Garden Party, Green Thumb Thursday, and Maple Hill Hop

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

When Green Living is a Labor of Love

You care about your kids' future.  Or the planet.  Or the open space and wildlife.  Or your health.  And so you decide to "go green".  You recycle more and shop less.  You use reusable bags and eat local food and bicycle.  You compost and grow a garden and bake your own bread and spend your time reading the back of deodorant bottles.

And at some point, it becomes, well, too much.

Green living should not be a chore.  By focusing on the fun stuff, we can stick with our positive lifestyle changes and, maybe, add more. If you are looking to extend your lighter living choices, here are a few things that the superheroes of the Green Phone Booth find irresistible.

Read the rest at The Green Phone Booth.


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