California Buckeye

California buckeye resembles related horse chestnut.

Chaparral climates are not easy without irrigation. The long summers are warm and arid. California buckeye, Aesculus californica, knows what to do if it can not stay hydrated out in the wild. It simply defoliates. Yes, it goes bare right in the middle of summer. If it does it early enough, it refoliates after rain resumes in autumn, only to defoliate again for winter.

This ‘twice deciduous’ characteristic is likely why California buckeye is not more popular for unirrigated landscapes of other natives. Shade is an asset through warm summers. In coastal, riparian or irrigated landscapes, the original spring foliage lasts through summer to defoliate in autumn, like that of most other deciduous plants. It may get shabby though. 

Nonetheless, California buckeye is a delightful small tree, typically with a broad and low canopy suspended by a sculptural branch structure. Not many get more than twenty feet tall, although some get twice as tall. Bark is strikingly pallid gray. The elegant leaves are palmately compound. Six inch long trusses of tiny white flowers are sweetly fragrant in spring.

California Poppy

Wild California poppies are bright orange.

Even after so many pretty shades of yellow, red, pink and and white have been been developed, the natural orange of the native California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, is still the best. That is probably why they all eventually revert to orange after reseeding. Although native, they do not reseed everywhere, and actually seem to be more reliable in unrefined and unamended areas of the garden than in rich soil with generous irrigation. However, a bit of watering can prolong sporadic bloom until autumn. Bloom otherwise ends before warm summer weather.

California poppy is grown as an annual because the perennial plants get tired rather quickly. They fortunately self sow prolifically. Flowers are typically about two inches wide, with four petals. The intricately lobed leaves are slightly bluish. Foliage is not much more than half a foot deep.

‘Carmel Creeper’ Ceanothus

Such true blue color is rare.

Its narrow native range stays near to the North and Central Coast of California, including Carmel. However, its nomenclature is all over the map. The genus is Ceanothus. After that, the species name might be any combination of thyrsiflorus, griseus or horizontalis, or omitted. ‘Carmel Creeper’ is its cultivar name, with or without the species designation.
It is certainly no horror movie starring Clint Eastwood. Carmel Creeper is one of the more practical ceanothus. It spreads out laterally as a deep and densely foliated groundcover. With room to sprawl, it can stay less than three feet tall. Shiny evergreen foliage remains after the fuzzy denim blue bloom of early spring. Individual leaves are distinctly rounded.
Like all native ceanothus, or California lilac, California creeper ceanothus does not want much water once established. It dislikes major pruning too, so prefers areas where it can sprawl freely. Partial shade inhibits bloom and foliar density. Birds enjoy the cover. Bees enjoy the bloom. Unfortunately, even happy plants may not live longer than fifteen years.

Western Redbud

Western redbud is a domesticated native.

The thin stems of Western redbud, Cercis occidentalis, that had been bare through winter are now outfitted with an abundance of tiny but almost offensively bright magenta flowers. Rounded or nearly heart shaped leaves will become more prominent as bloom fades. As foliage yellows and falls later in autumn, coffee colored pods that are about two inches long remain until they get dislodged by winter weather. Pods can be very abundant on older or distressed plants, or scarce on young or vigorous plants.

Western redbud is typically grown as a large shrub or a small tree with multiple trunks. Mature trees may stay less than ten feet tall, and do not often get taller than fifteen feet, although they can get more than twice as tall where they need to compete with other trees. Once established, western redbud does not need to be watered, but seems to be happiest if occasionally watered through summer. Seedlings that appear around mature plants should be moved or potted while dormant through winter, and while young, since they will not want to be disturbed once they have dispersed roots.

Manzanita

Shrubby manzanitas develop sculptural stems with shiny cinnamon brown bark.

There are more than a hundred specie of Manzanita, Arctostaphylos spp., that range in size and form from creeping ground covers to small trees that can get almost twenty feet tall. (They are more commonly known by their cultivar names than by their specie names.) Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’ is as the name implies a nice low groundcover for dry slopes. Arctostaphylos ‘Doctor Hurd’ is a shrubby small tree that is often pruned to expose strikingly sculptural trunks that are as smooth and rich brown as a chestnut.

Abundant trusses of tiny ‘urn’ shaped flowers bloom about now. Almost all are pale white. A few are pale pink. The subsequent red berries typically get eaten by birds before anyone else sees them. The evergreen foliage is quite dense. Individual leaves are rather small and disproportionately thick.

Manzanita should be planted while small, because larger plants are more susceptible to rot. New plants want to be watered to prevent desiccation until they disperse their roots. If planted in autumn, they get enough water from rain through winter (typically), so that they only want occasional watering through the following spring and summer. Once established, they do not want much water at all, and can be damaged by fertilizer. The happiest plants are satisfied with what they get from rain after they get established.

Common or Soft Rush

Physiologically, common rush is more interesting than it looks.

There was nothing common or soft about Rush, the innovative hard rock band of the seventies and eighties. Juncus effusus is only known as soft rush because the spiky and sharply pointed ‘foliage’ appears to be stiff, but is actually quite soft. It is common because in has such a vast natural range, including North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. It does not like hard rock, but instead prefers rich and moist soil, and will even be happy in soil that is too damp for other plants. Common rush tolerates a bit of shade but prefers good exposure. Because winters are too mild to freeze it back to the ground naturally, overgrown or discolored common rush can be cut down and then left to regenerate as winter ends.

The distinctive ‘foliage’ is not actually foliage. The minute leaves are unimpressive brown scales that do not do much at the base of each of the many upright green stems that function like foliage. The top six inches or so of each of these spike like stems is actually a bract that extends above the dangling but uninteresting tan or dingy yellow flowers that hang to the side. Collectively, the stems and bracts form distinctively sculptural clumps that radiate upward and outward. Healthy clumps are not much more than three feet high and wide.

Felton Covered Bridge

Ha! This old article shows how less uptight I was about blogging three years ago.

Tony Tomeo

04Now that I have been watching a few other blogs for three months, I notice that some people write some very interesting or at least entertaining articles about topic that are not directly related to the main topic of their respective blogs. Most are just like old fashioned slide shows (remember those?) with cool pictures from around the neighborhood, travels, home projects, or whatever might be interesting. I have not done this yet; but I happen to have a bit of free time at the moment, so thought that I would post these three pictures of the historic Felton Covered Bridge. Although I am technically from Los Gatos, my home is in the Santa Cruz Mountains between Los Gatos and Felton. I also have history in Felton, since my grandparents and my Pa used to live here.

In an attempt to keep this post relevant to horticulture, I should mention…

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Coral Bells

Coral bells can bloom again in autumn. (This is not my picture.)

From Santa Barbara to Vancouver, and also in central Idaho, the humble native coral bells, Heuchera micrantha, is not much to look at, with compact rosettes of relatively small and bronzy rounded leaves with weird tomentum (hairs). In spring and early summer, and sometimes again in autumn, sparse trusses of minute brick red flowers hover about a foot above on wiry and slightly fuzzy stems. Old plants that get bare in the middle can be divided into several small plants in spring or autumn.

Modern cultivars are considerably more interesting, with more substantial foliage in various shades of green, gold, tan, brown, bronze and purplish bronze. The larger and variably lobed leaves can be two inches wide or slightly wider. The flowers stand as much as two feet high, but lack color. Most are pale greenish white. ‘Palace Purple’ has deep bronze or almost purplish foliage. ‘Ruffles’ has deeply lobed and ruffled green leaves. Unlike undemanding wild plants that can grow in cracks in exposed stone, modern cultivars like rich soil. Harsh exposure can scorch foliage, so a bit of partial shade is preferred.

Most coral bells are grown more for their colorful and low foliage than for their bloom. (Both pictures here were obtained online. I can not find my pictures.)

Valley Oak

Valley oak is also known as ‘roble’.

From the north end of the Sacramento Valley to the San Fernando Valley, the valley oak, Quercus lobata, is among the most familiar and distinctive of native oaks. It is the largest oak of North America, reaching more than a hundred feet tall with trunks as wide as ten feet, which is why it is rare in urban gardens. The hundred fifty foot tall ‘Henley Oak’ of Covelo is the tallest hardwood tree in North America. The oldest trees are about six centuries old.

The two or three inch long leaves have deep and round lobes. The foliage turns only dingy yellow and then brown in autumn, and can be messy as it continues to fall through early winter, particularly since the trees have such big canopies. The gnarly limbs are strikingly sculptural while bare through the rest of winter. The gray bark is evenly furrowed.

Incidentally, Oakland, Thousand Oaks, Paso Robles and various other communities within their range are named for valley oaks. (‘Roble’ is the Spanish name.)

Valley Oak

Valley oak is the grandest oak.

From the northern end of the Sacramento Valley to Santa Catalina Island, valley oak, Quercus lobata, is as Californian as Valley Girl. It inhabits mixed riparian forests and low hillsides up to about 2,000 feet, but prefers alluvial valley meadows in between. Although unpopular for landscaping, it sometimes self sows into home gardens. New landscapes sometimes develop around old trees.

Valley oak is one of the biggest of oaks, and the tallest oak of North America. Mature trees can be more than a hundred feet tall, and several centuries old. Trunks may be more than ten feet wide. Such big trees make big messes of acorns and deciduous foliage, which shed for weeks. Unfortunately, old valley oaks within new landscapes are susceptible to spontaneous limb failure and rot.

Where space is sufficient, new valley oaks are for future generations. They develop their distinctively sculptural branch structure slowly through several decades. If irrigation is not excessive, roots are remarkably complaisant. The evenly furrowed gray bark is rustically distinguished. The elegantly lobed leaves are about three inches long and half as wide. Yellowish autumn color is subdued.