Mexican and South American Macros

Not all of the plants in my garden are from mediterranean climates. There are a lot of cool Salvias and Cupheas from Mexico and South America that grow really well on the California Coast.

Salvia semiatrata is from the mountains of southern Mexico in Oaxaca. The overall plant seems rather brittle and delicate to me. I don’t think I would plant it in a very windy place. The dark violet corollas are pretty small but the calyces and stems are bright magenta and really stand out. It looks pretty nice in front of Anemanthele lessoniana. Both are in my plant ghetto but I’ll have to keep in mine how nice they look together when I finally plant them (in my next garden).

Salva mexicana ‘Limelight’, from central Mexico, has been blooming since spring. It was starting to die back and look a bit sad so I cut much of it back but some of its lower branches started blooming again so I left that part alone for now. It is a favorite of my resident Anna’s hummingbird and he often perches on the highest branches and chirps at me while I am working in garden. I posted a picture of this plant on a Facebook group and someone suggested that a pineapple sage with red flowers and yellow foliage was a nicer plant. That person was crazy.

There is something almost sinister and furtive about Peruvian Salvia discolor. The corolla is such a dark shade of purple it reads as black and the light green calyx is covered in little white hairs. The perfect plant for a black and white garden.

The stems of Salvia discolor are so sticky that they become an insect graveyard. Little gnats and flies land on them and can’t escape. Defense mechanism for the plant or do they derive some sort of nutrients from all the little insect corpses? I read a study recently that suggests that the carrion attracts predatory insects that may help control other insect pests on the plants. Cool!

Salvia coahuilensis is from Coahuila in northern Mexico. Its flowers are similar in shape to those of S. greggii and S. microphylla but they are intense blue-violet in color. My photo doesn’t do it justice at all. You really have to see it in person to appreciate it.

The individual flowers of Brazilian Salvia confertiflora are tiny and bright red-orange but entire foot long inflorescence is a deep velvety red. The plants grow quickly and can grow over five feet tall and wide. It looks wonderful paired with deep blue Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ but mine is next to pink and white Nicotiana mutabilis. Perhaps not the best color combination but the hummingbirds are very happy with the arrangement.

The above picture is from my last post on wildlife in the garden so you can see this combo in all its glory. Sometimes things don’t quite work out how you plan but you learn to live with them.

Moving on from Salvias we have some Cupheas which are in the loosestrife family. The above plant is Cuphea ‘Strybing Sunset’. I’m not sure of the exact parentage of this Cuphea. I assume it is a hybrid and possibly has C. ignea as a parent which is from Mexico. The flowers are teeny tiny but the plant is covered top to bottom in hundreds of them and of course the hummingbirds love them. It sulks a bit in winter but seems to be in bloom all year.

Cuphea ‘Minnie Mouse’ from Annie’s is a much more robust plant. Perfect to light up a shady spot in the garden. Always in bloom so you take it for granted but the hummingbirds appreciate it.

Now speaking of macros as you can see I have mixed success on that front. Some of the above pics are pretty good. Some are so-so. Many more were rubbish and had to be deleted. My SLR camera is a Panasonic Lumix that I have had for almost 10 years. It takes pretty nice photos but to get the best flower shots I really feel like manual focus is the way to go and this camera is awful in that regard. The LCD display is rather small and hard to read in even the lowest light and for some reason when you use manual focus the view gets even smaller. A little box in the middle of the screen. It is difficult to be certain that your subject is in focus.

So eventually I will have to think about getting a new camera. Any suggestions? I’d like something with changeable lenses too so I can switch from wide-angle, zoom, and macro.

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Wildlife in the Garden

You don’t have to do too much to attract wildlife to your garden. Basically if you build it they will come. Certain plant families are have a lot to offer different types of wildlife though. Salvias and any Asteraceae are sure things to attract a wide range of little beasties. Hummingbirds and bees love Salvia nectar and finches enjoy the seeds. Butterflies and bees love plants in the Aster family and once again finches and other birds love the seeds.

Of course bird feeders are helpful too. Bird feeders and seed are pretty expensive though. A nyjer/thistle feeder is probably the most affordable route to go as the seed generally lasts a long time and usually only small finches are attracted to it and can fit on the feeders. Shelled sunflower seeds are an excellent way to attract birds too. I prefer getting the shelled or hulled seeds because the shells make a huge mess in the garden that can prohibit plant growth. Again this makes it more expensive so now I use a cheaper “no mess” mix. I prefer the ones that include things like millet rather than large seeds and nuts.

This male lesser goldfinch is enjoying my Salvia confertiflora. Large flocks come to the feeders but they enjoy my Salvias, Verbena, and Tithonia too.

Female lesser goldfinch hanging out on Verbena bonariensis (could be an American goldfinch. But I think most of my goldfinches are the lesser variety. Hard to tell when they don’t have their breeding plumage).

And another goldfinch rooting around in a Verbena bonariensis looking for seeds. Or perhaps they like the nectar too. I’m not really sure.

I was about to head outside into the garden when I got a bit of a shock. Hawks usually pick a higher vantage point like the top of a tree or telephone pole to survey my yard but this young Cooper’s hawk sat himself down on my fence right near my feeder.

Maybe he was hoping that if he stood perfectly still some yummy little finch would land right next to him. Alas a crow soon did see him waiting here and chased him off. The number one way I notice hawks in my yard is I hear crows and other birds complaining about them. Smaller birds mob large predatory birds when they get too close to their nests. It is a pretty funny thing to watch.

This male Anna’s hummingbird owns my yard. He sits on this Yucca (the tallest thing in my yard) watching for rivals to chase away from his plants. In the next yard another hummingbird watches from a Myoporum and across the street one sits on a tall Cedar. They all sit singing their little hummingbird songs as if daring each other to overstep their bounds.

I finally have monarch caterpillars on my Asclepias curassavica (and some little bright orange Asclepias aphids if you look closely). I purposely planted this food source to entice monarchs into laying their eggs in my yard but I think it was the Tithonia rotundifolia that really lured them in.

Monarch caterpillars go through 5 different molts (called instars) before they form a chrysalis. I think the little one on the left is a 2nd or 3rd instar and the big guy is a 4th or 5th instar. I’ll be keeping an eye on them the next few weeks.

I was thrilled that a big flock of bushtits was hanging out in my garden this afternoon (warning – do not Google bushtit with safe search off). They are the sweetest little birds. I was even happier when I managed to get this picture of one of them on a Fuchsia stem next to some Cuphea ‘Minnie Mouse’. They don’t stay still for very long.

A juvenile white crowned sparrow hanging out on some dried up Tithonia rotundifolia. The Tithonia looks pretty ugly when it starts to die but it is important to leave annuals in the garden as long as you can. The longer you can put up with it looking like crap the more birds you will attract and the more seedlings you will have next season.

In my next garden I’m definitely going to try to grow my fruit bearing shrubs and trees to attract a broader range of birds. A water source, particularly moving water is great for attracting birds too so I will probably get some sort of bubbling fountain. But considering how little life there was in my yard before I started this garden and now it is home to dozens of birds I think I am off to a good start.

July Blooms

Even though I have been really busy I try to take the time to snap a few photos in the garden.  Here are a few of the things that are blooming now.

Epilobium ‘Marin Pink’

I think this Epilobium is sort of insipid. I would have been happier with the standard bright red blooms rather than this pale salmon cultivar. But one of my neighbors loves it.  Maybe in the fall I’ll dig it up and give it to her.

Nothing insipid about Mentzelia lindleyi.  This is another California native annual I grew from seed.  They are doing well despite the fact that I left them in little two inch pots way longer than I should have.

Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’

This plant is grown more for the ornamental seed heads than the flowers.  The blooms are typical pale blue Scabiosa flowers but they very quickly go to seed.  This was very easy to grow but I am not sure I will grow it again.

They are more a novelty plant and aren’t that ornamental in large quantities in the garden.  Maybe a few tucked in here and there would work but I planted about a dozen of them and from a distance it just looks like I have a bunch of dead plants in my garden! And lots of grass coming up.  Please ignore the grass.

Didiscus caeruleus (aka Trachymene caerulea) on the other hand is very ornamental.  It is an Australian annual and is very drought tolerant, and while it was super easy to grow from seed, it did take them about six months to bloom. They are amazing as a cut flower lasting about two weeks in a vase. Does anyone cut flowers from their garden? I almost never do.  Sometimes if something snaps off in the wind I will bring it inside. I love the idea of a cutting garden but in reality I would rather just enjoy them outdoors.  If I bring them inside I’ll just have a mess of flower petals to clean up inside.

They are also available in pink and white but one of the things that makes them so neat is that blue is not a common color in umbellifers.

The red seed heads are ornamental too.

Moluccella laevis is still going strong.

Gaillardia X grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’

I finally finished planting the bed in my fenced backyard. It is mostly Salvias but I have been so happy with the Gaillardia in other parts of my garden I couldn’t resist adding these yellow ones.

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ was a chance hybrid seedling found by an Australian gardener. Maybe a mix of S. buchanii and S. vanhouttei?

Finally the baby quail in the neighborhood are growing up.  A pair of proud parents brought seven little babies around the other day.  They grow so fast! Already out of the tiny walnut stage and growing in their first feathers.

Hopefully I’ll have more time soon to post some new updates. I’ve been taking some photos so that I can post an update about what worked and what didn’t work in the path garden.  Look for it soon(ish)!

Winter Walk-Off: Fifty Shots around Los Osos

Les over at A Tidewater Gardener is hosting his annual “Winter Walk-Off Challenge”. Since I have been so busy working on installing my gardens I haven’t had much time to explore town the past month so I thought participating would be a good excuse to get out and go for a walk.  I’ve done blog posts about walks to the north, south, and west so I thought for this one I would head east towards the more rural part of town.

I ended up taking tons of pictures and chose fifty to share which is a bit much so feel free to just scroll through and click on any that catch your eye for a bigger view.

Ceanothus is still in bloom.

There is this cute little honor system honey stand of honey on a busy street in the middle of town.  Apparently it is all local honey.

Echium candicans starts blooming in winter and will continue into spring.

Nice little water wise garden in front of this house with natives, mediterraneans, and succulents.

Cotyledon orbiculata is in bloom.

Cistus X purpureus

Acacia have been in bloom for the past month. This species is quite common though I am not sure what it is.  Maybe Acacia longifolia.  If anyone knows feel free to correct me.

Close up of the Acacia.

The further east you go the larger the lots get.  I’m not sure what is going on in this front yard but I am totally imaging gardens here.  I would kill for a yard this big.

Leucadendrons are still looking magnificent.  Like this yellow one…

and this orange one.

Quail Decor

It looks like they are getting read to do some work in this gated yard on the east side of town.  I love their view of Hollister Peak in the background.

Not all ice plant are evil invasives.  This one is quite lovely.

I wanted to get a closer look at this garden room and what appears to be a small field of lavender but there were two loud and aggressive dogs guarding that were not happy to see me.

This large front yard has a coastal dunes planting theme going on.

And heading back towards the west end of town this yard had a Japanese inspired collection of bonsai and an ornamental lathe house for Cymbidums to shade them from the sun.

Another species of Acacia.

LOVE this.  What a welcome entrance with a Cantua scrambling up an arbor.

Cantua buxifolia

California poppies have been in bloom since our last (brief) rain storm.

LOVE everything about this.  It is a canary aviary, with a green roof, featuring daffodils, decorated with a metal sculpture.

Their yard is also protected by some alien artwork.

They should seriously win an award for awesomeness!

More Leucadendrons.  They are almost as common here as Rhododendrons and Azaleas are back east.

This Leucadendron ‘Jester’ goes nicely with the red garage in the background.

Love these houses!  The one on the right is for sale.

Linaria which goes by the common names of toadflax or baby snap dragons is a common escaped weed in California.  I loved the color combination of this one.

This house had native plantings including this Salvia spathacea or hummingbird sage.

Close up of their flowery coolness.

Pretty sure this little chuckle patch is Leucanthemum hosmariense.  I love any type of daisy flower.  I probably should add some to my garden.

I made my way back to my neighborhood and the bay.  I believe this is a female northern shoveler.  Look at how crazy her beak is!

Dutch Iris by the bay.  The north-western part of town is called Baywood or Baywood Park.  This is one of the few areas that actually has some shops and restaurants and bed and breakfasts (and the laundromat where I do my laundry).  We are a “bedroom community” for San Luis Obispo so most of the rest of town is just houses without a real downtown.

A very fragrant Psoralea pinnata. Some people say it smells like Kool-Aid.  It is definitely fragrant but I’m not sure if I even know what Kool-Aid smells like so I don’t know if that description is accurate (I was more of a Hawaiian Punch kid growing up).

Close up of the little pea flowers.

Geranium madarense are in full bloom now.  These monocarpic plants die quite spectacularly after they finish blooming and reseed quite a bit.  There were tons of seedlings around this plant.

Close up of the exquisite detailing of the flowers.

Looking back south over this little arm of the bay.  My neighborhood is beyond the break in the trees toward the left.

Calla lilies are lovely but are also a pernicious, nearly impossible to remove, weed.  I’m glad I don’t have any in my yard.

Before I headed home I decided to stop at the Audobon Societies Sweet Springs Nature Preserve which is just a few blocks from my house.  This is the spring running into the bay with Morro Rock in the background.

This is the doomed Eucalyptus grove that makes up the preserve.  There are over one hundred trees here and they are planning on chopping them down so they can add more natives.  I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand they are established trees hosting communities of wildlife (hummingbirds and monarch butterflies to name a few) and provide some windscreen. I can see this grove from my house where it is already very windy. I imagine it will be worse without them.  On the other hand it will open up the view of the bay (which again I will be able to see from my house) and the addition of more native plants might be quite lovely over time.  Of course there is a bitter debate raging and there are people trying to stop the destruction of the trees.

View of Morro Rock from the preserve.

Lots of different birds make this area of the bay their home or use it as a resting place during their migration.  I believe these are cinnamon teals.

And I believe this is a group of green-winged teals.

This is a view from the north of the field near my house.  See those three palm trees over on the left? I live right across the street from them. I think it is because of this field that we have bluebirds. I have seen him several more times since the first time (and I never have my camera handy!).

Mimulus aurantiacus in an empty lot.

Chickens at my neighbors house!  Lots of my neighbors have chickens. I can hear them clucking sometimes as they lay their eggs in the mornings.  No one in my part of town seems to have roosters but I did hear some crowing on the east side of town this morning.

More ice plants in bloom.

There are lots of empty lots in town because there is a building moratorium due to a lengthy (over 30 year) battle over the switch over from septic to sewers. This lot has a nice little vegetable garden at the far end.

Finally home sweet home.  I took this shot to show the view of Montana de Oro in the background. I can’t actually see it from inside my house by it is nice to know it is there.

Hope you enjoyed this (rather long) walking tour of Los Osos.  And be sure to check out A Tidewater Gardener on the 19th of March to see the rest of the tours that people have taken around their neighborhoods.

Building My Garden Part 3 – Mediterranean Bed

I got tired of being sick and lounging about so yesterday I jumped into action and started planting one of my new gardens beds.  It is a large island bed that is home to a purple leaf plum.  I was going to get rid of the plum but it was one of the few plants that my landlady has an emotional attachment to. I considered moving it but she was too worried it wouldn’t survive so I had to modify my plans.  Not a huge set back in the scheme of things.  I’ve wanted a mediterranean garden (lowercase m for describing the garden style. upperclass M for describing the region of the world) for a while now.  It didn’t really matter where on the property it was.

OK I know it doesn’t look like much.  You have to remember that even though I live in California it is still February!

Just try and imagine what the plants will look like three months from now at the start of spring after months of cool weather and winter rains.

Come on!  I know you can do it!  Stop laughing.  Picture the plants all big and in bloom and imagine that I have put down some nice mulch.

Gardens always look a bit sad in photos when they are first installed and for a few moments I always despair a bit.  But I have a mind that imagines gardens and I just walk around the bed picturing what each plant will look like once it is full sized and bursting with flowers.

This isn’t just a garden for fun. Mediterranean style gardens are perfect for California so are a big share of the type of gardens I design.  It was important to me to be able to grow and experiment with some of the plants that I use in designs.  You can be an OK designer reading about a plants growing habits and dimensions and looking at pictures but I to be really good I think you need to grow the plants you work with.  Most of the plants in this bed are from Native Sons, a wholesaler that specializes in plants for our mediterranean climate here in California.  By growing their plants at home I can get a better idea of how these plants will look in future designs and play around with some nice combinations.

Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’ is a plant I have coveted since it first came on the scene about ten years ago.

Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’ has beautiful variegated foliage that will really set off the metallic blue flowers once they color up.

Dorycnium hirsutum is a small fuzzy leaved shrub with pale pinkish white pea flowers.  At the bottom of the plant you can see a bit of the chicken wire sticking out that I used to cage the root balls of my plants.  It was kind of a pain but worth the extra planting time protecting my plants from gophers rather than crying months from now when an established plant is devoured from under ground.  The only plants I won’t cage and am confident won’t be eaten are Euphorbias.  I also didn’t cage a rosemary, Salvia, and Nepeta as an experiment to see if the things that make them unpalatable to rabbits and deer will work against gophers.

Plecostachys serpyfolia forms beautiful silver mounds about a foot tall and four feet across.

Have you ever seen a plant in a book or magazine and coveted it for years before you could grow it? Maybe it isn’t something that will grow where you live.  Maybe it is something that is so rare in the trade it took you forever to track one down. I still remember the first time I saw Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’. It was back when I was in school almost ten years ago and I was on a bus from NYC headed to my dads house for the weekend. I was reading an article about a Colorado rock garden in a magazine that had just arrived and this plant caught my eye.  I memorized the name and lamented the fact that I lived on the east coast where Helianthemums don’t do particularly well.  Well when going over the list of plants available at Native Sons last week this name jumped out at me and I knew I had to have it for my garden!  Just imagine in a few months it will be covered in tons of little reddish-orange flowers.

I am really looking forward to seeing how this garden turns out.  Aside from the plants pictured above the garden will feature Rosmarinus ‘Tuscan Blue’, Salvia ‘Aromas’, Nepeta X faassenii, Eschscholzia ‘Moonglow’ and ‘Buttermilk’, Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, Epilobium ‘Marin Pink’, Stipa gigantea ‘Pixie’, and Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’.  There are still a few spots left for Lavenders (I’m still trying to decide which species and cultivars I want to grow) and some other choice plants.

Remember I complained about birds attacking my mesembs and seedlings the other day?  This is what a Conophytum that has been attacked by a birds beak looks like.

And a Lithops.  I might have thought they had burst from too much water if it wasn’t for the fact that other small plants were completely torn out of their pots and my nearby seedlings were also nibbled on and torn up.

Now my precious little year old Mitrophyllum dissitum seedlings are protected with bird netting.  I’m so relieved the bird didn’t find these plants.

In fact all my seedlings are protected with bird netting now.  Hopefully by next year I’ll have a greenhouse.

Elfin Forest and One Hundred Page View Celebration!

As promised I have pictures of the El Moro Elfin Forest that I visited the other day.  But first I wanted to give a big thank you to everyone who visited yesterday.  For the first time ever I got over a hundred page views in a single day(one hundred and three to be exact).  That may not seem like a lot but my blog sort of stalled last year when I got sick after my England trip and didn’t post any updates for a while.

But now that I have moved and will be more directly involved in my garden designs and am finally able to keep a garden of my own this blog will be seeing  a lot more activity.  So if you are a garden blogger and are reading this spread the word to your viewers and any tips you have to improve my numbers or improve the look of the blog would be appreciated.  And non bloggers please spread the word to your garden loving friends!  Next goal one thousand views a day!

Also feel free to leave comments, questions or corrections on my posts and thanks to everyone who stuck around even when I went through a bit of a posting slump last year.

And now back to the pictures.  So the other day I walked over to the El Moro Elfin Forest Natural Area which is on the north east edge of town bordering the Morro Bay Estuary.  It is only a mile and a half away from my new place and I had been hearing about it for years so I thought I should finally check it out.

Well worth the visit.  The Quercus agrifolia that grow here are stunted due to the environment and instead of fifty feet they range from four to twenty feet tall.  The area is protected now and a boardwalk and trails meander through with amazing views of the bay and surrounding hills and lots of local flora and fauna.

The elfin forest is located southeast of the estuary and the bay.  You can see Morro Rock in the center of the photo.  This whole area is a bird watchers paradise. I need to get some binoculars.

Pale whitish-blue flowered Ceanothus cuneatus is in full bloom now and was swarming with buzzing honey bees.

Between the Ceanothus, sages, and Artemisia the air is wonderfully fragrant.

I have to admit that I only just learned there was such a thing as Paeonia californica last week.  So I was pretty excited to see them growing here.

A few along the trail were even in bud.  I have to remember to go back and try to get pictures of them blooming.

I’m not really a pro at identifying native Salvias but I think this is Salvia mellifera.

I had no problem identifying the Ribes speciosum blooming all over.  Fuchsia flowered gooseberries are a hummingbird favorite and they were buzzing all around the forest fighting over each patch of flowers.

This male Anna’s hummingbird stopped and perched to survey his territory.  No, really. I swear there is a hummingbird there.  Click the photo to enlarge it and press your nose right up against your screen.  I should have brought my better camera.

This is the sort of place that demands panoramic photos.  From certain vantage points you are just surrounded by beautiful sights. This is another picture worth clicking to see the original giant photo.  You can make out several of the “Nine Sisters” ancient volcanic peaks between Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo.  Morro Rock is on the left in the center of the bay, the small black hill bordering the forest is the appropriately named Black Hill, the large hilly area in the center is Cerro Cabrillo, and the really jagged rock formation off toward the right is Hollister Peak. Cool thing about Hollister Peak is that the owners of the land keep it all closed off as private property to preserve it.  While I am sure there are people who would love to climb all over it I kind of love that it is off-limits and hope it stays that way.

In a few spots the old gnarled trunks of the pygmy oaks are exposed along the path.  This lichen covered grove made a nice ghostly display.  If you visit the elfin forest be sure to stay on the marked trails and boardwalk. Aside from the Salvia, bracken ferns, and California blackberry under that grove I am pretty sure I can make out some poison oak.

The oaks are blooming now.  OK, maybe not as impressive as the Ribes, Ceanothus, and Arctostaphylos but still pretty neat.

Even the dead oaks are pretty.  On the right you can see Hollister Peak again.  One of the mos distinct hills in the area and definitely my favorite.  I’ll have to get some better pictures of it some day to share here.

In the center of the forest is the Rose Bowker Grove.  A boardwalk leads you right under the canopy of these pygmy oaks to a seating area where you can admire their twisted trunks.

Almost forgot to mention I saw a bunch of California quail running around in the brush near the entrance.  Well “saw” is a bit generous. I mostly just caught glimpses of them as they scurried about.  But I definitely heard their very distinctive quail noises.  Really just about the cutest birds ever.  Their babies in summer look like little walnuts with feet.  I’m hoping I can figure out a way to attract them to my yard.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour and if you are ever visiting the Central Coast consider a visit to the El Moro Elfin Forest.