Another day…another salvia

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Perhaps you remember this this box of precious finds from my post on the Spring Plant Sale at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Center stage is Salvia ‘Big Swing’, one of several  totally new to me salvias I saw that day. I got it in the ground in my front garden in early May but of course failed to photograph it. As I gave it a good large open space the photograph would have only shown the velvety leaves about 6″ tall surrounded by a vast sea of humus!

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Salvia ‘Big Swing’ mid October 2019

It has been an exciting summer venturing away from the many twiggy, small leafed salvias I’ve grown for several years. Selections from the greggii and microphylla species are very successful here and bloom almost year around given periodic cutting back as the blooms fade. Below, Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ is my enduring favorite with its nice mix of flowers and brighter green foliage. It has also been tough as nails in terms of weather and water.

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Grouping of S. ‘Mesa Azure’
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Masses of lavender blooms, each lit up by a tiny white blotch

Feeling the need to expand my salvia horizons into some of the more tender perennial species I having been picking up whatever I find on my gardening travels, usually just a single plant to trial as I did with ‘Big Swing’.

Salvia ‘Big Swing’ originated as a chance seedling between S. macrophylla and Ssagittata and was brought to gardens by noted Bay Area salvia expert Betsy Clebsch. I also purchased a Salvia sagittata but it has not been as successful for me as ‘Big Swing’ which purports to be more compact than its parent.

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First bloom stalk opens June 3

The foliage was fast growing to a lovely mound of large, almost chartreuse green arrow shaped leaves. Both the leaves and stems are soft and somewhat downy.  This is my second wave of branched flower stalks–the first flush having been cut back in August. The flowers are not especially numerous but prominently held high above the foliage.

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The saturated cobalt blue flowers are almost electric and their shape interesting in the salvia world. On a breezy day the blooms appear as dancing butterflies atop the wiry stems.

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‘Big Swing’ is a tender perennial having hardiness only to USDA zone 10a according to one of my references. Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, CA lists zones 8-10 which is more hopeful for me–could be dicey to overwinter in my zone 9 so I may cut back, mulch and cover before our cooler weather sets in. Even if I lose this one, I would gladly treat it as an annual just to be able to enjoy it every year. Finding it again locally will be a challenge but that is what road trips are for! On the other end of the weather spectrum reference notes that it may require some afternoon shade and adequate water in the sunniest climates. My ‘Big Swing’ is in true full sun (southern) until very late afternoon and has done fine within the parameters of my weekly automatic sprinkler schedule. Of note is that the parent species S. sagittata purchased and planted at the same time does get some afternoon shade and perhaps a bit more water. It is half the size and has very few flower stalks!

Salvia ‘Big Swing’ gets an A+ for performance in my garden. For interesting information about great salvias for your garden check out any of the books written by Betsey Clebsch including The New Book of Salvias: Sages for Every Garden (Timber Press 2003).

 

 

Dog and other woods…

The last trip to our cabin in Fish Camp near Yosemite National Park had a few hours for leisurely walks and Yatzhee! on the wraparound deck but was mostly about accomplishing chores necessary for the coming winter. We take the removable snow rails down from the deck and pull out the painted plywood snow doors for installation on two of our three entry doors. With central heat and a nice wood stove, we make use the cabin every few weeks throughout the cold season. It’s impossible to know whether we will have 10 feet of snow or none at all and so the smart money is to be prepared for whatever comes well in advance the the first icy flakes.

In my 2018 post Dogwood day…Memorial Day I featured bloom photos from the lone Cornus nuttalii, Pacific dogwood, on our property. I’ve since found that we have one other but certainly that’s not really the making of a dogwood forest, especially when the spring blooms bursting out along the highway to our place have almost a wedding like feel. On this visit the dogwood’s leaves are starting to show their fall color.

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Shaded by a high canopy of cedars, firs and pines it is a little hard to see the russet and purple tones creeping in.

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I got pretty excited when I saw a number of seed clusters well within my reach–maybe I can grow my own little dogwood forest! I texted my native plant mentor Ann for counsel and spent a bit of time on a few California native plant propagations sites to get a sense of the best way to go. The consensus was that directly sowing the seeds would probably be more successful than trying to start in pots. I was amazed to learn that germination could take up to 18 months!! Seed collection is #1 on my to-do list for our next trip–hopefully I won’t have missed my window of opportunity.

Number one of this trip’s list was to take care of our wood supply for the winter. We are able to cut firewood every year in specific amounts and from designated locations on public lands with US Forest Service permits. Every couple of years we supplement that supply with a load of cured and cut almond.

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In preparation for the new wood we shift the older wood remaining on the second set of wood cribs to the front one, making a nice open space for the new wood to be delivered. Even with two sets of hands this is a several hour job.

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The big truck makes the big dump

The weight of the wood truck (this one hauling 4 cords of wood stacked in the bed with vertical partitions separating each cord) dictates that the wood must be dumped at the TOP of our year old asphalt driveway–the truck could come down but would never be able to get back up!

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Our wood moving method involves Dave backing up our truck to the pile. We then fill up the bed, drive the truck down the hill and back it up near the wood cribs and unload it into another pile…three times.  A strong motivating factor is that we cannot drive off our property until the wood is moved.

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Then that big pile gets stacked onto the empty crib. The whole process takes about six or seven hours. Dave is strong and I am slow but steady. I am not sure I would have survived “the olden days”. He always gets the honor of placing the last log. With every stick tucked in its spot both piles get tarps and bungee cords to keep the wood dry. We use these two wood storage stacks to refresh the smaller wood supplies kept closer to the cabin. I am here to tell you this work makes even the most strenuous garden tasks seem lightweight!

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Missing these beautiful blooms until next spring (taken May 2018)

 

 

Salvia mexicana ‘Ocampo’?

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I have had several failed attempts to successfully grow Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’–most recently a couple of years ago in my back garden close to the fencing so as to provide a green backdrop for other lower perennials planted in the foreground. As much as I would appreciate it, few plants die with a definitive autopsy report conveniently attached to their crispy brown stems. I am reasonably sure this last loss resulted from the species’ need for more shade and less of our death star summer sun.

Not to be defeated and with a few large open areas in the new front beds having a high shade canopy from the Raywood ash, I threw caution to the win and bought 3 wee 4″ pots in late March. The ‘Limelight’ cultivar is known for the chartreuse calyces which form in the fall signaling impending bloom. Unlike many of my other salvias which bloom year round given periodic cutting back, this one appears to be a true fall bloomer. As spring and summer passed the three little plants grew and grew. I did a little pinching back to promote bushiness but not having any experience of when they would actually bloom I was perhaps too timid, worrying about nipping off soon to be bloom spikes.

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Here you see one of the three, having grown to about 6 feet tall and 4 feet across. A second is directly behind it but on the other side of the ash’s canopy, near an open pathway which provides me access to the bed for tidying up and planting tasks. The inflorescences which eventually grow to 6 or 8″ in length started to form just a couple of weeks ago.

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The calyces on all of my plants lack ‘Limelight’s signature yellow-green color. A little research leads me to believe my plants may actually be Salvia mexicana ‘Ocampo’ which is known for its dark purple to almost black calyces. So for all my self congratulation through the summer at these flourishing specimens I STILL haven’t been able to successfully grow ‘Limelight’! Regardless of what I call it, this salvia is a hummingbird and bee magnet. Its sturdy structure sways in a light breeze and the dappled shade makes the bright green leaves dance. I love it!

The third of my plants was sited in slightly more sun. All got adequate water (they are are not especially drought tolerant) due to regular hand watering to supplement the minimal automatic irrigation of the bed and I’d give their planting positions an A+ for drainage.

While the last of the plants grew as large, if not larger, than the two in slightly more shade; many of the new leaves emerged somewhat curled. Even as the entire plant looked on death’s door it continued to put on new leaves with some emerging curled or crispy dark brown. Through this seemingly torturous growing process it too began the process of forming bloom spikes along with its neighbors. As the siting of the struggling plant pretty much obscured its closest and better performing neighbor, I gave in and cut it back to about 15″ a few days ago. It is starting to put on a few new leaves but they too are deformed–any thoughts out there in gardening land??

For those of you who would like to try Salvia mexicana, (‘Limelight’, ‘Ocampo’ or a more compact form ‘Lollie Jackson)’ give your plant sun to bright shade depending on your summer climate and well-drained rich soil. Protection from frost is essential although most are root hardy down into the 20°s. Your reward will be a summer of beautiful clean foliage followed by stunning fall flowers buzzing with nectar loving pollinators.

In other salvia news…

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This unidentified microphylla/greggii hybrid–maybe Heatwave ‘Blaze’–is putting on a fabulous show as you approach my front door.

 

Quilting in the Garden…

Every year on the last weekend in September, one of my favorite road trip nurseries hangs the works of local quilters throughout its grounds and welcomes quilters and gardeners alike for a weekend of shopping, classes and special exhibits.

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Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore, California is a family owned full service garden center established in 1955 on a parcel of land home to dozens of majestic Valley oaks (Quercus lobata.) Once in the countryside, it is now surrounded by town and takes its role in this small community seriously, sponsoring many weekends of seasonal activities every year.

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Alden Lane’s gift shops, houseplants and administrative offices are housed in a beautiful residence like structure with a Country French vibe–offering lots of “yard” spaces to introduce planting schemes. I had always assumed this to have been an original home on the property but learned on this trip that despite the building’s vintage feel, it was built only 20 years ago.

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As you can clearly see, on this morning it was slightly overcast and very windy. The main nursery entrance is decorated with colorful quilts and seasonal pumpkins. The addition of huge swathes of dappled shade from the centuries old oaks made photography challenging.

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Almost every fall weekend event features this apple stand with several varieties of local apples for sale
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This long view over the annuals gives you an idea of the size of these wonderful oaks
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Featured Artist Sue Rasmussen’s work hangs high amongst the massive branches
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A little let up in the wind!
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Shopping at Fig Tree Quilts’ booth
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 Local quilters gift veterans with quilts made especially for them through the Quilts of Valor program–presentations were to be made later in the day
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One of several on site food vendors
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This little quilt is perfect for this little house

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If you could line up the far left of the top photo with the far right of the bottom photo you would have the full expanse of this oak branch which lies close to the ground. I can imagine having this unbelievable living sculpture as part of my garden would become a quiet place to sit in the shade and a magical climbing structure for anyone over 2 and under 90.

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Woo-hoo, hold onto your hats!
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Even the nursery’s selfie spot needed a wrap to take the chill off
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Rainbows in the trees

Despite bring pretty windblown and wishing I had brought more than a lightweight jacket, I spent a couple of hours wandering the grounds taking in the more than 250 fabric works of art ruffling in the breezes.

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I brought home a very small batch of goodies including a thyme leafed fuchsia with blooms no more than 1/4″ long

Alden Lane Nursery’s website http://www.aldenlane.com is full of information about upcoming events including October 12 & 13th’s Fall Festival. Their associated blog posts offer seasonal gardens tips and a useful monthly garden checklist. I am sure you will enjoy the wealth of gardening resources Alden Lane provides!

 

 

 

Is is fall yet?

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A late summer Lilium speciosum album in the front garden

Fall can be sort of a moving target in California’s Central Valley. Some years we pull out our hoodies in mid-October and others find us Christmas tree shopping in shorts. We are not without seasons–just not sure when to expect them to change throughout the year!

Whenever it gets here, fall is my favorite season in the garden. It is certainly not the most attractive as many plants, even those not naturally winding down their seasons due to shorter days and longer nights, look pretty peaked from the ravages of the hot and dry summer. Fall is the season symbolizing another year of work well done in the garden with a little time for reflection, planning and rest on the horizon. Our short, relatively mild winters make attention to the garden in fall even more critical.

This year our spring was cooler, longer and wetter than average and the summer days in the triple digits were fewer than many years–all in all a summer worthy of rejoicing. That being said, as I write this post temps for the next few days range from 89° to 98° with a definite cooling trend into the 70s at week’s end. The last couple of weeks we have had cooler early mornings well suited to getting going on fall garden tasks and some light winds which seem to have made the mosquitoes less active–always a plus.

Last year every available gardening minute from September through the end of the year was devoted to the last phase of the front garden’s lawn removal/bed replanting effort. The back garden was left to fend for itself–roses were never pruned, perennials not cut back, winter annual weed pre-emergent never scattered, and humsy mulch never refreshed. I think you get the picture…

Like the 5 year old who feels neglected amidst the excitement of a new baby in the house, my back garden has both pouted and gone wild. It’s time to get back to a more normal rhythm for both gardens and see what can be refreshed (or just plain salvaged) in hopes that after a little winter’s nap it will reward me with another year of fresh foliage or bright blooms.

First on my hit list are the vigorous clumps of Viola ‘Royal Robe’ which have all but taken over the shade bed adjacent the back patio. Below you see some of the smaller clumps nestled up against Helleborus x hybridus ‘Double Queen’ and Geranium ‘Brookside’

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The hellebores can hold their own against this thug but many of the bed’s less substantial ground covers like the lime green foliaged Campanula ‘Dickson’s Gold’ are all but lost. Don’t get me wrong–I love the violets. I generally thin them drastically in the early fall as they are ready to reseed with the goal of keeping enough in the bed to enjoy the flowers without them turning into the playground bully. Without last year’s thinning, they reseeded prolifically and just about every open space in the long bed looked just like the above photo.

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It took me about 9 hours spread over several days to dig out every clump, large and small, figuring there was enough seed already dropped to have gracious plenty come back next year. Each one of the seed pods forming at the base of the plant contains dozens of seeds and I swear every single one germinates in this bed which stays relatively cool and moist. The clumps, even with the dirt shaken off the roots, filled almost four trash cans.

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Shade bed cleaned of violets!

I also trimmed back the sun scorched maidenhair ferns, cleaned up the iris foliage, trimmed off any hellebore foliage with snail damage and pulled off all but the freshest foliage from all the hardy geraniums. All that turned up soil resulting from the violet digging begged for a layer of enriching humus to be dug in. A light dusting of granular pre-emergent seemed warranted to minimize germination of any seeds churned up to the surface.

Dave did the heavy digging and lifting to remove two huge clumps of Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’ from behind the rocks of the pool waterfall. They had originally been planted flanking the rock work in 2011 but quickly proved to be incompatible with that full southern sun location. Absent any other place to put them I dug them in behind the waterfall where they got a little shade from the boulders. When I later added some climbing roses to the fence they provided a nice foliage contrast at the base of the climbers–even though I was really the only one who even knew they were there! Fast forward to 2019 and the clumps are so large I have lost all ability to even stand at the base of the roses (wedged up against the back of the waterfall!) to do routine maintenance…and the dianellas, commonly called flax lilies, are still in too much sun to have pretty foliage. The plan was to dig them out, divide and replant in shadier locations.

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No easy feat to lift this clump out over the rocks and other mature plants

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Dave moved the first one into the shade of the pavilion for me and I set to pulling it apart! This one yield over 60 divisions–plenty for me to replant in my yard and pass along to gardening friends. Much of the literature about dianella indicates that they can be invasive as they spread by underground runners. My guess is that they probably need to be in good rich and moist soil to become a pest. Although my clumps grew quite large over many years each was very compact. The striped foliage of this species makes a nice contrast in areas of predominantly green foliage. Flax lilies bear small clusters of starlike blue flowers, followed by bluish purple berries, on narrow stems held above the foliage–not terribly showy. In a shady area of the replanted front garden I have added a grouping of Dianella ‘BluTopia’ which is a hybrid of Dianella prunina ‘Utopia’ and Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’–it will be interesting to see how this cousin of ‘Variegata’ will perform in a moister, shadier area.

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Dianella ‘BluTopia’

Each of the back gardens beds in turn will get a little love over the next few weeks. Working early in the morning and in easily managed chunks of tasks I hope to get through everything needing attention by mid-October.

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This small poolside bed anchored by a ‘Purple Pony’ ornamental plum needs only a light deadheading of the pink Sunblaze® miniature roses and ground hugging purple Salvia ‘Gleneden’ PPAF. Several large clumps of Aristea ecklonii on the far side were groomed soon after their early summer blooms faded. They are aggressive reseeders and I have learned to remove the spent flower stems religiously after a few seasons of digging scores of volunteers on my hands and knees. Almost done here–I’ll be on to the next bed soon!

I hope you are all enjoying your almost fall gardens–whether you are blessed with actual autumn weather or are just in a fall state of mind.

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A nodding agapanthus bloom bids summer adieu

 

 

Gardening gratitude…

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My neighbor’s bright yellow ginkgo as seen through my pair of mature crape myrtles

Just as I type in the title of this post on the eve of Thanksgiving, the first raindrops of a long predicted storm start to fall. Our last rainfall was mid April and our last truly appreciable rain was in late March. Here in Central California we tend to make ourselves feel better as our long awaited “rainy season” approaches by flashing the words STORM WATCH all over the TV screen and still congratulate ourselves on our good fortune when the next day’s weather wrap up tells us we got a whopping 1/4″–you take what you can get! Even a small rainfall will clear our woefully bad air quality and make life feel fresh and new. I pray that the lives of those affected by the fires in both the north and south of my state will not be made substantially worse by this much needed precipitation.

A few things this gardener is grateful for, not just on Thanksgiving but all year-round:

A world wide community of gardeners who share their gardens and garden passion, not to mention ideas, tips, plants and labor with each other through print, video and face-to-face

The Internet, not withstanding all its faults, which has broadened gardeners’ knowledge of the diversity of our natural world exponentially and given us the ability to talk to and learn from gardeners far and wide

Those whose efforts allow the rest of us to enjoy beautiful public spaces and visit legendary historic homes and gardens

My stalwart road tripping friends who understand when I fall behind to examine a plant, admire a pleasing vignette or get just one more photo

My indulgent husband who, as the years have passed, is called upon to do more of the grunt work necessary to lay the foundation for whatever my current project happens to be

My  ever confident sons who believe in my garden knowledge and skills to the extent that I can identify a plant from a fuzzy photo snapped in a friend’s yard with only one half dead leaf. I can just hear them saying, “Oh, my mom will know what that is and how to make it grow–she’s a gardener.” Note: these same two boys, now very close to being middle-aged, brought their friends home after school on Halloween confidant I could sew them a costume by nightfall

To our Creator whose beautiful earth is the canvas to our paint and whose gifts of our soils, climates and diverse plant life have challenged us to make our surroundings bountiful, beautiful and healthy–all to His glory

“THANKSGIVING, AFTER ALL, IS A WORD OF ACTION.”–W. J. Cameron

 

 

 

Judy Adler gardens with nature in mind…

A few years ago while searching for garden tours on the internet I ran across the site for the Bringing Back the Natives Tour which takes place annually in the East Bay. Their site http://www.bringingbackthenatives.net is the home of not only the 14 year old tour, but also offers many resources for gardeners interested in native plants, water conservation, backyard wildlife habitats and much more. The May 2018 self guided tour included forty Alameda and Contra Costa County gardens, workshops and a native plant sale. Unfortunately May is a month overflowing with garden touring and educational opportunities (not to mention an intensive  work time in my own garden) and I have yet to be able to participate in the tour.

Their regular and very informational emails led me to sign up for a class last week end entitled Gardening With Nature in Mind and taught by environmental educator Judy Adler at her half acre garden in Walnut Creek. As with all Bay Area road trip type classes, it was an early departure from Fresno and a long day but well worth the drive.

We were a small class which allowed plenty of time for questions and to get to know each other’s diverse gardening interests and experiences. Judy’s home landscape functions as suburban farm, an ecological and horticultural laboratory, a wildlife habitat and a community educational resource. Her passion for nature and sharing the interconnectedness of all facets of the natural world is boundless. A walk around her garden and her so called “trespass area” offers learning opportunities and examples of sustainable gardening practices in play at every turn.

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Judy’s home is one of two in a cul-de-sac adjacent to a Walnut Creek public school. Across the street lies an open area, once a mustard field, that belongs to the school district. Since 1996 Judy has shaped a half acre plot of this land into a biodiverse dry garden which reflects what is able to survive with only rainfall. In the shade of the oaks we learn about the Mediterranean Climate range across the world–areas marked by dry, hot summers and mild, wet winters. The logs you see “planted” in the ground are examples of hugelkulture, a horticultural technique where a mound created by decaying wood debris can produce a planting area with improved soil fertility, water retention and soil warming.

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The spines on this acacia species native to Chile provide cover and protection for birds and other wildlife.

Berries of the evergreen toyon provide winter food for birds and the juicy fruits of the prickly pear has been food for both wildlife and man through the ages.

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Piles of brush and trimmings are left to decay in place, offering additional wildlife habitat as they are on their journey to nourishing the soil beneath.

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This area has many colonies of milkweed. As we encounter stands of now desiccated milkweeds plants, Judy shares a photographic life cycle book of the plants and the monarch butterflies they feed that she has produced as an educational resource.

Of course the area includes lots of spiky things–Judy’s lesson here was to make sure you know the mature sizes of those cute little succulents you put in the ground!

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Looking back toward the hills behind the dry garden. In the foreground are stands of California native rye, Leymus triticoides, which has been fashioned into a maze for young gardeners to explore.

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A short walk back up the street to Judy’s home offered a chance to admire the sculptural quality of the trunks of this group of manzanita.

Prior to class Judy had sent us all electronically a lot of reference material, including a plant list of her garden, a list of resources covering topics such as bee-keeping and permaculture and much more plus a little pre-class homework to learn to calculate rainfall volumes. Judy is all about the water. The fact is that she has very little to work with and is committed to being the best steward of her little piece of the earth’s resources, as well as carrying that message to the general public. I admitted to not doing my homework as our class moved into a discussion of rainwater harvesting. Had I done the math I would have not been so surprised to learn that a roof surface of 2500 square feet could yield almost 30,000 gallons of rainwater in an area receiving only 18 inches of rain a year!

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Here you see Judy as she explains the roof rainwater harvesting system she built with the help of friends and neighbors. The addition of a product called Gutter Gloves as an initial filtering agent allows rainwater to flow off her roof surfaces free of large debris, into a PVC pipe system that then provides a second filter and ultimately routes the water into one of the three 3,000 gallon water tanks just visible over her shoulder. The system is pressure operated with no pump involved. She also uses recycled fire hoses to deliver water to various parts of her landscape!

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A basic botany lesson introduces us to the characteristics of different pollinator insects and blooms in Judy’s pollinator garden give her an opportunity for a pop quiz to review what we have just learned.

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This 1,500 gallon pond incorporates an upper tier bio bog to aid oxygenation. Judy shared that this pond teems with wildlife throughout the year and provides her with a wonderful observation spot.

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This small greenhouse is in full sun part of the day. These recycled containers are filled with harvested water which warms in the daytime and heats the greenhouse when temperatures cool in the evening.

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Raised beds with the remnants of the season remain as food and shelter for birds and insects.

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A pergola to the back patio supports native grape vines. The bright white foliage is a woody perennial shrub called germander which sports bright blue flowers in spring.

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The resident hens participate in the patio goings-on. Judy uses the coop’s manure to enrich needy soil and enjoys both the eggs and the company her girls give her. The chickens are all rescues and relish visitors to the garden as they know there will be a little treat for them!

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During our time with Judy she touched on many topics of interest to gardeners and wildlife lovers alike. Rather than an in depth coverage of any one facet we were able to get a little taste of a diverse range of related subjects and the resource materials Judy shared offered avenues for further exploration on an individual basis.

While my own gardening aesthetic probably will never rise to the level of sustainability Judy practices I absolutely admire the fact that she very clearly WALKS the TALK in all aspects of her life. Her enthusiasm, matter of fact style and plain language is appealing to adults and children alike and I am sure everyone in my class went home having learned at least one new thing–I know I did.

Leaving her garden you see this diminutive art piece with arms raised to the heavens. It is a perfect representation of the joy and peace Judy experiences by observing and being connected with life in all its forms. The art piece was the inspiration for her ebullient garden gate created by metal sculptor Mark Oldland.

Please visit http://www.diablonature.org to learn more about Judy Adler’s life and work.