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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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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Eclipse through an Oak-Tree Camera

In northern California, where the August 2017 solar eclipse covered up to 75% of the sun, an oak tree served as a pinhole camera, a “natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen (or for instance a wall) is projected through a small hole in that screen as a reversed and inverted image (left to right and upside down) on a surface opposite to the opening”.

Above, in the shadow of branches, the many crescents show the sun in eclipse. Tiny gaps between the oak leaves form pinhole cameras that project the sun’s image onto pavers.

Continue reading Eclipse through an Oak-Tree Camera

Low-Maintenance Douglas Iris

The Douglas iris plants we propagated a few years ago are doing well. We just did some light pruning, the only maintenance they require.

A California native plant, the iris douglasiana does well in partial shade. The irises shown above get only a couple hours of sun a day, shaded by the house and a large California live oak (quercus agrifolia). Low and green, irises look nice along walkways.

Continue reading Low-Maintenance Douglas Iris

Los Altos Weather – Rainless June

In June my home town of Los Altos, California, received no rain — not surprising for our dry summer. Although the US government expects California’s drought to continue, state and local agencies are reducing water conservation targets for urban users.

This month’s image is a red flame dragonfly sitting on a metal cage for a Sungold tomato in our backyard. The photo was taken on July 4. We resumed growing tomatoes this year after skipping last year. We’re also growing two heirloom varieties: San Marzano and Cherokee Purple.

June temperatures and rainfall

Our June temperatures were normal for us, with the overnight temperatures above average as usual. Higher overnight temperatures favors growing tomatoes. Our agriculture experts advise us to hold off transplanting tomatoes outside until the overnight lows are above 50 degrees F. In the past, this means we wait until May 1, but I transplanted our tomatoes on April 21, and the tomatoes are doing fine.

normal temperatures for June
normal temperatures for June

Our normal rainfall for June is only .09 inches — about the same as the zero rain we received. Our rainfall for the past year was nearly normal, much better than the previous few years. Rainfall since I started tracking this in January 2013 remains unchanged at 61%.

no rain in June
no rain in June
Cumulative rain since January 2013 remains at 61% of normal
Cumulative rain since January 2013 remains at 61% of normal

As California’s drought continues, water conservation targets reduced

While the US government continues to forecast  drought for California, state and local agencies are reducing water conservation targets for urban users.

Drought continues
Drought continues (source: US National Weather Service)

With our nearly normal rainfall last winter, our state and local agencies are reining back calls for urban users to conserve water. In late May,

California on Wednesday suspended its mandatory statewide 25 percent reduction in urban water use, telling local communities to set their own conservation standards after a relatively wet winter and a year of enormous savings in urban water use.

A few weeks later, our county water agency reduced our urban conservation target from 30% to 20%. Our local water company reduced our conservation target from 32% to 20%.

A Polypody in Summer

Troubled at first when our ferns polypodium californicum (California polypody) died back in June, I now enjoy the polypody’s use of dormancy to survive the harsh, dry summer of California. In our Mediterranean climate, we have mild, wet winters and dry, hot summers. Very appropriately, the polypody fern is lush and green when we have rain, and it goes dormant in the summer, when we get little rain for six months.

To illustrate how the polypody fades as summer nears, here are photos of the same fern frond at one-week intervals this June. On June 1, the polypody frond is turning yellow with some burnt spots. The fronds in the background are in deeper shade, and they are green.

polypody frond, 6/1
polypody frond, 6/1

One week later, the frond is no longer green, and the frond tips are brown. Sunlight filtered by an oak tree shines on the frond and lights the spider webs on the frond tips.

polypody frond, 6/8
polypody frond, 6/8

Two weeks after the initial photo, the polypody frond, now brown and curled, lies on the oak leaf litter. Fronds in deeper shade are still green, and some are fading.

polypody frond, 6/15
polypody frond, 6/15

The polypody, a California native plant, is a visible harbinger of summer.

I’m learning to use depth of field to focus attention on the subject, the polypody frond. When the frond was upright, I photographed it in a single plane where the entire frond was about the same distance from the camera. Therefore, I could use a narrow depth of field. By the 15th, the frond had fallen toward where I shot the first photos. To use the same viewpoint as before, I needed a greater depth of field to still keep the frond in focus and blur out the background.