Currants for a Shady Spot

After two ferns died in the shade of an evergreen oak, we are replacing them with currants. The coast live oak (quercus agrifola) doesn’t like summer water and creates deep shade all year, a difficult site for nearby plants. Last winter we pruned a nearby currant and used the cuttings to start replacing the ferns.

Shown above, the two new currants (ribes sanguineum glutinosum ‘White Icicle’) are to the left of the surviving giant chain fern (woodwardia fimbriata), and they’re all within the drip line of the coast live oak in the background. The evergreen oak provides shade all year, and the currants and fern are on the north side of a solid fence, where they get little direct sun. This spot has deep shade and restricted water (to protect the oak tree from oak root fungus). We live in the San Francisco Bay Area; the fern and oak are California natives.

Planted twelve years ago, our California native plant garden is fairly mature where we’re only making incremental changes. The first part of this post shows our decision process to replace the ferns: problem statement, issues, alternatives considered, the selected alternative, and progress in implementing the alternative. Second, we chose to replace the ferns using cuttings from a currant, so the post concludes with a description of hardwood propagation and progress after five months.

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I’m Still Standing

In late June as the California polypody goes into summer dormancy, most fronds have fallen, but the last few fronds are still standing.

A California native plant, the California polypody (polypodium californicum) weathers the dry summers of our Mediterranean climate by going dormant in June and emerging in September.

A New Purple Douglas Iris

In January I divided some purple Douglas iris plants, and yesterday I noticed the first bloom from the transplants. I had hoped for blooms this first spring. The purple flowers are more fragile than the white irises, but I admire the deep color and veins of the purple iris.

All eight transplants survived, showing that the purple irises are as hardy as the white irises. The Douglas irises (iris douglasiana) are California native plants, and they are in the shade of a coastal live oak. I used a normal lens (105 mm) with a short extension tube to get a larger photo of the flower.

Propagating purple Douglas Iris

This weekend I divided and transplanted a clump of this purple Douglas Iris, a California native plant. The purple iris has beautiful flowers. Our favorite iris, it’s more delicate than the white irises I propagated several years ago. They’ve done great so we’re trying the purple ones this year.

I followed the same technique I used for the white irises.

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San Andreas Fault at Wallace Creek

We drove to the Carrizo Plain to see the wildflower bloom, so an opportunity to see visible effects of the San Andreas fault was an unexpected bonus. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake on the San Andreas fault led to fires that burned much of San Francisco.

According to a geology tour brochure from the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the San Andreas fault is about 700 miles long, and it’s “the boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.” The land on each side of the fault has slipped sideways as the tectonic plates moved, and you can see this at Carrizo Plain.

In the above aerial view from Google Earth, the red arrow points to where Wallace Creek crosses the San Andreas fault. The diagonal line running parallel to the Temblor Range is the San Andreas fault. From wikipedia, temblor is “from the Spanish word for ‘earthquake’ (terremoto)”.

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Wildflowers of Carrizo Plain

After the heavy rains that ended California’s five-year drought, our state’s wildflowers have made a comeback. Enjoying last year’s superbloom at Death Valley, we visited the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a premier place for California wildflowers. Shown above, coreopsis and fiddleheads bloom above Soda Lake, an alkaline lake ringed by salt. Reflected in Soda Lake, the Temblor Range is painted with swaths of wildflowers. I can see an impressionist painter splashing bold strokes of color on the canvas.

When rain falls, the water dissolves salts from the soil and usually flows to the ocean, already salty from past rain. Like Death Valley, Carrizo Plain has no outlet for rainwater, so water collects in the lowest spots and evaporates, leaving behind salts. Invasive plants struggle with this salty environment, while native plants that evolved here flourish without invasive competition. Consequently, Carrizo Plain has vast fields of California native plants and their spring blooms.

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Los Altos Weather – Spring is in the Air

After the storms of January and February, the San Francisco Bay Area is drying out and getting ready for spring. Our first iris bloomed in late March. It’s a Douglas iris, iris douglasiana, a California native plant. Hardy, drought-tolerant, and disease-free, these irises are stars for a California garden, with beautiful flowers in the spring and green leaves year-round. They’re easy to divide and move to new places in our yard.

California’s reservoirs are full, and the mountain snowpack is very large, so there’s lots of water to distribute to farms and urban users. Future challenges will be whether the water conservation forced by the drought will persist and dealing with groundwater overdrafts.

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