Feb 24, 2010

Turquoise and Lime

Anyone else out there been enjoying the turquoise and lime graphics coming from the Vancouver winter games? I saw someone on TV criticizing the Olympic graphic art as wimpy and not sports-like, but I’ve long adored that color scheme. I find myself focusing more on how well the figure skaters’ costumes coordinate with the backdrop than on whether they land their quads or triple double doubles or whatever the heck they are.

Turquoise-lime seems to have been in fashion the last several years, since you see it everywhere, and it’s a combination that I find at once soothing and stunning. I first fell hard for it years ago while idly leafing through a book on interior design in India. I turned to a page featuring a kitchen with one full-on turquoise wall adjacent to a full-on lime wall, and on the table a simple vase of shocking pink bougainvillea. When I saw that picture I pulled one of these:

I think it was at that moment that I decided I must one day own a home, so that I could recreate that picture. When I finally did get the chance, I took the paint a few shades darker and substituted Clarkias for the bougainvillea. Here are my supermodels posing in front of each color. (The Clarkia vase is only in spring--and only out for about a minute before it has to be removed from the curious supermodels' reach).

Nature has its own version of the turquoise-lime scheme in California—it employs similar hues but a bit less intensity—and as with the picture in the Indian book, when I see it I want to recreate it at home.
While contrasting deep greens with light blue/grays is a classic California look, and one I’m sure professional designers sign off on enthusiastically, because it contrasts not only hue (color), but also value (light/dark), but I’d like to make a case for mixing the medium tones—using lighter, more yellowy greens with the blue/gray standards. Throw in a few really dark greens for grounding and you’ve got a scheme so pretty you barely need flowers.

Nature wields the blue-green scheme masterfully on the chaparral-covered hillsides of Mt. Diablo. I’ve hiked there sometimes and felt like I would keel over the side of a sandstone outcropping, so dizzying was the beauty of the vistas. It’s especially effective on misty days when everything is damp and washed, and the sky is a neutral white backdrop. Mt. Diablo’s chaparral pallet consists largely of two Arctostaphylos species. Arctostaphylos auriculata, or Mt. Diablo Manzanita, has a lovely, muted blue tone, like seafoam—or like crest toothpaste, or office scrubs. But Crest or scrubs or no, it’s a lovely color, let’s face it. Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp. laevigata is more of a bright, limey green, and it is also a plant on the not-small list of plants found on Diablo and almost nowhere else. (Don’t ever let anyone tell you Mt. Diablo is not a special place.) I find a hillside covered in these two manzanitas pretty much unmatched in the pastoral beauty department. I wish I had a photo that did it true justice, but I seem to forget my camera on the most photogenic days. I hope you can get the idea somewhat.

Mt. Diablo also works the blue brush with the majestic Pinus sabiniana, or Grey Pine. I love this pine with its enormous cones and long wispy needles, a foothill species that also comes down to our elevation to mingle with the chaparral and scrub, providing a blue counterpoint to the bright greens of coyote brush.
I’m also blown away by my favorite color scheme on my drive to work each morning. On a vivid, rain-washed morning like today, it’s all I can do to not drive off the road when I see the silver-blue bush lupines scattered among the limey grasses and mosses. Also this time of year, native roadside willows are putting on chartreuse spring leaves, and when I see a baby slate-blue Eucalyptus in among them, my lizard brain has moment of pure reflexive joy before my cerebral cortex steps in and says Whoa whoa whoa, those Eucalypts don't belong. For that matter, most of the brilliant green grasses don't either, but the colors still astonish.

In the garden, there are many ways to go green-blue. The list of bluish California natives is long, since blue/gray leaves are an adaptation to manage little water and lots of sun. To mention a few, Artemisia pycnocephala and A. californica, Lessingia filaginifolia (actually now called Corethrogyne filaginifolia), Penstemon palmerii, Epilobiums, Salvia leucophylla and apiana and many cultivars, Leymus condensatus (Canyon Prince especially), Datura wrightii, Eriophyllum confertiflorum or nevinii, many (most) Eriogonum, Lupinus albifrons, Atriplex, Dendromecon, Lepechinia ,and many Arctostaphylos.
And for the the lime green component, some choices might be: Trichostema lanatum, Mirabilis californica, Heucheras, Salvia spathacea, various Mimulus, Galvezia speciosa, and just about any native grass or sedge. And many Arctostaphylos. For a blue and green groundcover, trusty yarrows could fit both bills, as the species and many cultivars are lovely bright green, but the cultivar ‘Calistoga’ is marvelously silvery. And some plants go either way, depending on conditions, or even change with the seasons. For example, when I see Artemisia douglasii or Lepechinia in other people’s yards or in the wild, they’re usually distinctly gray, but in my yard, where they get quite a bit of shade, they are pure, fresh-looking green.

In the garden section pictured below, my idea is to mix the bright green of the Trichostema (Woolly Bluecurls) with blue-gray Artemisia pychnocephala in front and Canyon Prince Wild Rye (Leymus) behind. The Datura is pretty dark, but also bluish.

If a color scheme is stunning on a roadside or stunning on Mt. Diablo (or stunning around the Olympic skating rink), then bring it into the yard. Human eyes have more color-sensing cones than almost any other mammal, so why not swoon over these lovely variations and schemes every single day? Last night I went to dinner with some coworkers to an astonishingly great vegan restaurant and talk inevitably led to comparisons of other vegan restaurants. The consensus around the table came down hard against a place that makes their wait staff ask each customer, “What are you grateful for today?” I can appreciate that it would be hard to pull such a thing off without seeming sanctimonious or corny. But actually? When you think about it? I’m grateful as hell for Lupinus albifrons atop lime green moss, and for green and blue manzanitas lining hiking trails, and for the cone-heavy human eyes that allow me to see them.

Feb 9, 2010

January Showers Bring February Flowers

Spring comes early for us lucky Californians (to think some people have to wait till May!) so I thought I’d take a moment to document my yard’s first outward signs of it. Blooms, that is! Below are the first of what I consider spring blooms. While I have a potted Arctostaphylos uva-ursi with lovely blooms, and a Ribes malvaceum that’s been decked out for over a month, I consider those winter bloomers, so don’t count them as harbingers of spring. However, I have heard numerous reports of some of the species below blooming in other people’s gardens weeks ago. I’m finding that part of the thrill (and I mean thrill) of redoing a yard in natives is learning what its own particular seasonal schedules will be.

So, my eager greeters of spring:

Salvia spathacea. Only one flower stalk so far, and I’m glad to see it, because this plant is among the first natives I ever bought and planted, some over two years ago, but they haven’t bloomed for me yet. (Experienced gardeners out there, please tell me, is this one of those plants that has to live for a few years before blooming?) I would love to see multitudes of flower stalks rising out of the Salvia patch one day. Right now I guess even saying "patch" is pushing it--more of a smattering--but some people have "warned" me of this sage's "invasiveness." At this point, I wish. This is one of those plants that other people were reporting in bloom weeks ago, so I hope mine are just a little tardy.

Second: Salvia mellifera, or Mel, as I call mine. Weighing in with three blooming stalks, and way more than three times the overall volume it was a year ago, Mel is so far one of the most successful citizens in the New Yard Order. Bought this lovely critter as a gallon at a botanic garden, labeled as just S. mellifera, but it’s looking to be actually a prostrate form. And that’s okay, the low sprawling version fits the spot just fine, with blades of Nassella and Aristida poking out of it. I hope it develops a lot more than three blooms in the weeks to come. Didn't bloom too much in its first spring, last year.

Next up, Ceanothus ‘Concha.' Just one itty bitty blossom, somewhat lost in the branches, but I’m counting it. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I worship unabashedly at the altar of Ceanothus and welcome the arrival of the purple-drenched season. Concha (or Conch Concherello, as I call it—sorry, gotta remember 70s TV for that one) is located next to a ‘Skylark’ Ceanothus, which blooms late, like into June, so in theory there will be a long stretch of Ceanothusyness each year. I worry a little about Conch ‘n’ Jon, er, Skylark, though, because their site is a bit shadier than my wishful-thinking memory had bet on.

That’s it for me bloom-wise so far. Oop, also some Lewisia cotyledon, which I forgot to photograph, but they seem to bloom on a whim whenever they feel like it, so not sure they count as signs of spring. Also some blooms on the wild strawberries, didn’t even think to photograph them—overlooked my lowly little friends, even though I really value them for their low groundcover usefulness.

Budding up next looks to be Ribes viburnifolium. It was blooming nicely by late February last year. I think it is a somewhat underrated plant, being really tough in dry conditions, yet able to grow and bloom in near full shade, and though others may describe the flowers as somewhat nondescript, I find them delightful. Here’s a pic from last year.

Finally, though my potted Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is covered in its sweet little pink bells, my ‘St. Helena’ and ‘Louis Edmunds’ Arctos are barely threatening to bloom. Some Arctostaphylos in the area are already dropping petals, so it causes me to worry a little that mine aren’t happy, but as I said, every site puts its own subtle spin on the seasons, so I’ll keep watching.