Mar 27, 2011

Hair-owing Garden Tales

I don't consider my yard a battlefield. I'm not one of these Chevy-Chase-in-Caddyshack types locked in an ever-escalating war with moles--or with gophers, or rabbits or snails or slugs, or even deer. (I was at war with ivy once, but peace has reigned now for several seasons.) Many local gardeners I know do seem to consider deer a mortal enemy, but I've always had a pretty peaceable--even affectionate--attitude toward our hooved brothers and sisters. And I confess I like to only half-jokingly say that it's my good deer karma that protects my plants from being devoured, despite the fact that the yard--nestled, as it is, in a valley surrounded by open hills--is basically a kind of on-ramp to a major Cervine Superhighway.

This spring, however, I'm afraid the deer have indeed been snipping off the flowering stalks of my Heucheras and Potentillas.  (Heuchera maxima and Potentilla glandulosa.)  Granted, it's not a huge deal--the deer so far seem to be just clipping off the flower stalks, and leaving the bulk of the plants pretty well untouched. But's springtime, and I was looking forward to the annual spring flower display. Now I'm imagining some cheery deer kitchen with a vase full of flowers on the table and the man deer reading the paper while the lady deer makes a cup of tea...

Here's the picked-over Heuchera. Leaves good, flower stalks clipped.

And the Potentilla, below.  This is a highly local plant, grown from seed found in a park just a mile from the house, and it flourishes in the yard--but I'd still like it to get to have more than one teeny tiny flower!

The good news with the Heuchs is that they produce flower stalks for quite a long time, so if the deer decide they are tired of the tasty buds, then I could get a good show of flowers yet. I was thinking of maybe trying a little gentle dissuasion on the deer. I've heard that placing human hair on a plant can be a good, if slightly icky-looking, deer deterrent. I can collect a pretty good supply of said material every time I shower, plus, the hair might serve a dual purpose in the garden.

Philanthropic feline.
My mum, who has always been a good friend to birds, places the hair from her brush out on tree branches in the spring, because she read that birds like to use hair to make their nests. Many people, myself included, are surprised to learn that birds have next to no sense of smell, so they don't notice if potential nesting material originated on a creature they consider dangerous. To this end, I have enlisted my cat, Celeste, to make daily coat donations to the bird community. After brushing her, I take out the wad of fur and stick it on a branch.  It seems to disappear quickly enough, and I hope at least some of it finds its way into cozy bird nests and not into the neighbors' swimming pool filters. (I would solicit donations from both cats, but Neo won't allow brushing--apparently he has some sort of embargo on bird-related aid, though he is gentlemanly enough to help Celeste with her coat.)

Perfect starter home for young couple with clutch.
My best-case scenario is if a sweet little feathered couple accepts the hair and fur offerings and takes up residence in the little house pictured here, which is right outside my home office. I can think of no better distraction from taxes and bill-paying than watching a couple of wrens or chickadees build a deluxe, fur-lined home for their family.

Mar 19, 2011

All Hail Tough Natives

Some great, unusual (for the Bay Area) weather last night.  I don't know if hail is harmful to most people's plants, but the natives sure take it in stride.  It was fun to have some lightning and thunder and white stuff on the ground.  (The cats thought differently.)

(The photos make it look like I went to town with the perlite, but it's hail.)

I don't do much, or anything, in the way of babying any of my plants, including seedlings and cuttings, because I sort of figure if they require codling then I don't have the time and energy for them, so everything is quite exposed.  These Clarkia concinna seedlings seem to have forgotten all about the pelting.

I don't have any plants that minded being briefly put on ice, either. The actual air temp was well above freezing, but even when it does freeze around here--down to 22 degrees one time--none of plants have ever minded. I don't really understand why my natives are so tough, as many originate right along the coastline, where it doesn't freeze, and yet they take whatever my slightly inland weather throws at them.

Mar 9, 2011

More on Mystery Lupine

A comment from Lisa and Robb on my last, long-ago post has prompted me to get off my keister and post an update. I've been allowing myself to fall back on the excuse of being distracted and busy. I haven't actually spent a lot of time in the yard this winter, but it is carrying on quite well without me--which is exactly what I wanted it to do. I do check in with the plants, but I've done very little serious work. Spent a day each of planting and weeding in January. It gives me unspeakable joy--and I'm not really exaggerating there--to see the plants take on a life of their own, spreading a little or a lot, and growing in expected and unexpected ways.

So, in sum, a pretty hands-off winter for this gardener, but by way of update on the strange lupine from my pre-Christmas post:  it isn't presently blooming, but I'd say it's healthier than ever.  As I'd mentioned, I can't think of what it would be other than Lupinus succulentus, because that was introduced in the yard in the form of a wildflower seed packet years ago. I'm not one to whip out a Jepson Manual (I don't even have one) and key out plants, but the lupine fits the general description of L. succulentus, except for its persistence through the seasons, so I think it is simply The Annual that Wouldn't Die.

Also, it now has a lovely large family!  Here's a seedling that volunteered in a cell pack of assorted cuttings.

And here's one that volunteered in a patio pot.

I think it'll look nice in a pot, too.  In addition, when I had to cut the big mama plant back from the footpath, I took about 10 cuttings of it, a couple of which keeled, three of which are still unrooted, and five of which struck roots and have already been planted out.  I put  the cuttings in cell packs, and I don't think it's customary to plant out  into the yard straight from cell packs, but I've always heard that lupines don't like having their roots messed with, so I opted to skip the intermediate step of potting up to a 4".  Here's one of the unrooted cell pack cuttings still at home after his siblings have headed off to college.

The cuttings that rooted took about two months.  Which is another weird thing about the lupine being an annual, because I don't think of cuttings as a thing you do with annuals.  Do gardeners out there reproduce annual species via cuttings?   Maybe it only works if they are weird, immortal annuals like this one...

I do think the plant is lovely.   Here it is in my little former-lawn area where it volunteered--it's that bushy thing behind the grasses.

The comment on my previous post mentioned lupines being tricky to grow, and except in the case of this one, I agree.  My L. arboreus on the patio keeled (too hot), and my L. albifrons on the hill keeled (reason unknown).

And last year I did try one other, Lupinus latifolius ssp. parishii, but all four specimens got eaten--by snails, I think.  I desperately wanted that plant, because it is a shade-tolerant lupine.  L. latifolius, which is local to the area but sparse, is apparently not found in the nursery trade, so I went with the subspecies. (If any local nurserypersons are reading, please propagate some L. latifolius!)

Lisa and Robb, I'm pretty confident my giant lupine and its family will bloom again, so if you want, I can collect some seeds; when they're ready I could let you know and you could send an address to send them. Free, of course!

In closing, here's a picture of the boss-man supervising me as I took the photos today. By the look on his face, I don't think he's impressed with my work.