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Mendocino--Coastal Walk


This is part two of a plant photo report from our recent trip to Mendocino. The first shows some plant highlights from the Coast Botanical Garden. This one will show you some of the plants and views from a hike around the town of Mendocino on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To take this walk, one usually starts at the south end of the town, crossing the last business street will take you down near the bluffs. Just find a trail, turn right, and start walking, pausing often for views and closer looks at the plants. If you keep walking you will pass around the West side of town and come out at the northwest corner. Then you can turn inland and walk south back down the main drag.

     The wide swath of weeds and wild flowers follows the coast. Below the bluffs are inaccessible beaches between rocky cliffs. Wild waves splash around the many rocks near the shore. There are natural arches and even a blow hole. This beach aster overlooks one of the vertiginous views. .

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   If you are a food gardener, one plant on the walk is instantly familiar. It's a cole crop, probably collards. These plants have escaped from cultivation to grow happily in this maritime habitat much like that of the European coasts where they evolved. The waxy coating on their leaves evolved to protect them from damp air. However, while these are definitely collards, when I collected seed, some years ago, to see what would grow, I discovered that they produced plants with rather tough leaves. They have probably drifted from the more palatable cultivated ones that farmers originally grew nearby and are toughened by the cold, windy location and low water.

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 If you know plants and have sharp eyes, you will see that it is growing amidst a stand of poison oak, which is also common near this trail--whatch your step if you take it!

We were there at the end of May, when several iconic coastal California natives were in bloom. One is California poppy, a mid-California coastal variant, which is yellow.

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Another is Sidalcia, or checkerbloom, a low plant with flowers like miniature pink hollyhocks.

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The plants I've shown so far (except for poison oak) are all ones that have been brought into gardens successfully. This last one, not so much. Castilleja, commonly known as Indian paintbrush, only grows where it can link its roots to another plant to share sustenance. To grow it you have to sow the seed next to a plant it can link to, possibly native bunch grass, or buckwheat. This isn't done often, but this wild specimen shows why it might be worth a try.

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Finally, we walked back to town, where the gardens include many old plants such as the ones mentioned in my book Wildly Successful Plants. This particular old cultivar of fuchsia shows no fuchsia mite damage at all, making it a good candidate for modern gardens or for breeding programs trying to bring back the old fuchsias lost to the mite.

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Gardening Up Close--Managing Self-Sowers, Plants with Runners, and Bulbs

Gardening: Up Close   What to do about plants that crowd eachother and themselves. 

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Garden plants do not just stand still and look pretty. Not only do they grow taller, but they also leap wildly from place to place, creep stealthily outside their allotted area, and sometimes bunch up until they are so close together they can barely breathe, let alone bloom. So one of the tasks of the gardener is to serve as a plant referee. This photo shows three plants that are competing for the same space. Not only that, but one of them is competing with itself! These plants also illustrate the three main ways plants reproduce: seeds, runners, and bulbs, and how a gardener might referee their competition.   

            The blue-flowered lobelia is an annual, a plant that grows only from seed, blooms in a couple of months, and dies in under a year. It spreads in a garden by dropping seeds. They might grow where they drop or may roll or be moved by water into new places. In my garden, dropped lobelia seed doesn't grow very often, resulting in only a few random plants a year, so it doesn't make a pest of itself. I watch for the  small lobelias with their first blue flowers, and either leave them unmolested where they choose to grow, or move them to a place I prefer. I left the one in the photo alone to grow where it voted to put down its roots. I thought it a nice touch at the base of the broken concrete retaining wall next to the creeping fern.

            Then the fern began to creep toward the lobelia. Its rhizomes crept forth, forming new plantlets every few inches. OK with me, since it makes a nice backdrop for the tiny sapphire blossoms. The fern is Blechnum penna-marina, a South American species that in cool moist locations, in mild winter gardens, makes a tidy perennial patch of low, leathery leaves.This one survived in a neglected corner of my garden for several years, just getting by, but has been growing happily in the new spot to which I moved it about five years ago. It has filled in its space and slightly enlarged the area it covered.

            As this past spring progressed, the lobelia got bigger, and then the fern began to creep under and past it, into the area where I have been growing some Babiana. Babiana is from South Africa, where it blooms after winter rains and can survive the  long dry summer. The leaves that emerge with my California autumn rains grow to about eight inches tall. Then in late winter flower stems reach a foot or so tall, each bearing about a half-dozen rosy-purple flowers. Very nice on an early spring afternoon with the sun shining through.

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            Spring passes, summer comes, I cut the browning flower stems, then the dying leaves. Soon there is only a tidy brown stubble, awaiting another chance to grow. The bulbs, or in this case, the similar structures known as corms, have stored up food enough to send down fresh roots when the rains begin again, to start the process over.

            Babiana has been the perfect choice for this tiny strip of rather sandy soil between the brick patio and the retaining wall. It turned out that strip was so narrow that it was very difficult to keep moist all through the summer, but since Babiana is dormant all summer, it needs zero summer water.             

            As the fern runners continue their reach, fern roots are going to tangle with the perennial Babiana corms. I have no way of knowing if the Babiana will survive this overrunning of its territory, so I must consider taking out some of the competing fern growth.

            Mediating further in the direction of fern control now is the fact that the Babiana corms, have been multiplying in their appointed spot for several years. This plant, as is the case with bulbs generally, doesn't move around, it just becomes more crowded. The plant is fighting with itself to find more room. There are more and more leafy plants each year. At first, the stand just produced more flowers, but in the past couple of years, the number of flower stems has held steady, or maybe even decreased. The Babiana is succeeding so well that it has begun to fail.

            At this point, I need to dig up all the corms and divide them. This just means separating them--they are loosely connected--and resetting the largest of the bulbs with a bit of room among them. If there are too many large ones for the space allotted, I'll have the choice of giving the planting more room or giving some of them away.

            There will also be small ones that won't bloom for two or maybe three years. These can be interplanted with the large corms in a larger area, or can be grown in an out-of-the-way place until they bloom, when you can decide where you want a new bed of Babiana. Or, they can be given to someone who wants to wait while they reach blooming size, or added to compost.          

            The questioning mind might wonder: If bulbs that grow from year to year crowd themselves up until there are few blooms, what happens in nature? In the case of Babiana, I have been told that they got their scientific name from the fact that baboons like to eat them. They dig up the corms and chomp them down, probably in the dry season when it is easier to wipe them clear of soil and they provide a welcome bit of moist food. I imagine baboons eat the biggest corms first, but miss some and especially miss the small ones, naturally thinning the lot.

            In some cases, as with Watsonias, the corms eventually form a large circular mound. If some animal begins to bite or kick out a corm here or there, and some that become detached might don't get eaten, they might roll off to a new location to start a new stand of Watsonias.

            The same goes for plants like my fern that grow from rhizomes or runners. Some foraging animal might break some off and not do a thorough job of munching all the broken plant bits, so some broken bits could roll or blow to a new place and send down roots.

            But a garden is not part of an intact ecosystem, with an equilibrium between animals and plants, so when plants are fighting it out, the gardener must step in. I now need to legislate the locations of the running fern and the clumping Babiana. Where do I want to let them be? And do I want to let the innocent lobelia, which grew from a randomly dropped viable seed right between the fern and the Babiana live out its short life in peace?

            First, I will dig up the part of the fern that has overtaken the Babiana bed, pot it up and save it for a friend who wants to grow some. Then I will dig up all of the Babiana corms and see what I have there. I will probably dig some fertilizer, a bit of earthworm compost, into the place they have been growing. Then I'll replant some of the larger corms 4 inches deep and 4 inches apart. (I looked the best depth and spacing up in a book.)  What if there are more large ones than I need for my tiny space? Hmm. Then a decision needs to be made.

            I will not disturb the part of the fern under the lobelia right now, because it is such a cheerful spot of blue! Only when it begins to fade will I decide if I have taken out enough of the fern.  

            But for a while longer, I will simply enjoy the battle, letting visitors to the garden think that this handsome plant grouping is an intentional and stable garden arrangement, created by nature and my careful planning.

I'll show that first photo again and if your eyes are sharp, you will see two other situations developing that will need attention one day.

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Did you notice the different kind of fern, the one with the larger fronds, at the base of the broken concrete, just above the lobelia? There seem to have been fern spores in the crannies of the used concrete we got through Craigs List, and some of them have germinated. Chances are this wll be a large fern, too large for the space. I may not be able to priy it out to move it either, so when it starts to overwhelm the spot, I may have to just rip it out. Sigh.

And arching up into the cracks of the concrete above and to the right of that fern, you will notice the leaves of some creeping campanula that has reached down from the top of the wall. Nice now; it made a few blue flowers that were very winsome in the wall in June. But if the wall were to be covered with it you'd lose the charm of the wall. You got it, more ripping out in the offing.

 


Mendocino--Coast Botanical Garden

At the end of May, we took a trip to Mendocino, where we visited the Coast Botanical Garden. It is always a treat, in part because the plantings are lovely, and in part because there are such a variety of environments. At the front, there is a perennial garden, then cactus and succulents, trees and shrubs, water garden, woodland garden, and if you keep on walking, you enter wild land that eventually leads to a tall grassy bluff over the ocean. Below there are rocks and waves. Above, native bunch grasses and wildflowers. One year there was a sea otter in the rocks below us. This year, no such luck, but I got this shot of the California native seathrift (Armeria maritima) at the very edge of the bluff.

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I knew that this species was from near the ocean, from the "maritima" in the specific epithet, but I had never pictured exactly what that could mean-right over the water as it is.

It was also fun to see all the native succulents, the Duddleyas, that grew down the rocky slopes to the water, but not possible to climb down and photograph them.

In the perennial plantings of the garden, there are both native and non-native plants. And of the natives, both species and cultivated varieties of wild species. This wonderful California poppy variety is called 'Champagne and Roses'.

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And right in the front, in the window boxes of the cafe, there was this wonderful planting of bidens. Both cultivars have larger flowers than the species, and the rusty-orange one has purple leaves. I wanted it, but the nursery manager said she was not only out of it, but so were all of her suppliers! Darn!

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 I was so busy taking photos that I forgot to ask the name of the cultivar, but I am hoping to find it again. Any reader happen to know what it is called?

Next post I will show some photos of plants in the town of Mendocino and the coastal trail around the city. The town is full of common and rare flowers and surrounded by a skirt of wild flowers.