Monday, November 22, 2010

Time to be thinking of next year's flowers - and getting them in the ground!

I've been thinking about spring, or more accurately called: next year's flower season.

I use photos a lot to help me think about how plants look throughout the seasons and it helps me to sort and re-sort them by season, or ecosystem, colors, sun/shade requirements, etc... which is why I really like using flickr. it helps me think about the possibilities for combinations that I might not have seen yet. I just put this set together of spring blooms which might be of interest to some of you.


I wish that we had a louder bullhorn to tell folks that NOW is the time to plant natives of all kinds. it's so much more practical to plant now, than to wait until march when you have to jump thru hoops [and spend lots more $$] to get things to survive. some plants which are really important to plant now are: wooly blue curls, flannelbush, most manzanitas, some ceanothus, goldenbushes, most sages, and almost any large specimen plants.

I'm really looking forward to experimenting w/ quite a few new plants for next year - perennials, flowering shrubs as well as some really cool annuals. some of the new ones I'm working w/ are:

chapparal pea:
golden fleece:
austin griffiths manzanita:
winterglow manzanita:
morro manzanita:
hoover manzanita:
'Pinky' Manzanita: no pics yet!
this really nice coastal hairgrass:
Thurber's Reedgrass:

and for annuals:
Turkish Rugging:
Golden Yarrow:
Grand Linanthus:
Ruby Chalice clarkia:
happy planting season! [thanksgiving too]

Pete Veilleux
East Bay Wilds

photo botanical guide of California Native Plants:
to see some photos of the spring bloom, 2010:
to see photos of our new work, go here:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beauty in Your Native Plant Garden Throughout the Year - is it possible?

i wrote this in response to a question on the Gardening with Natives listserve.

the question from Howard W. was: Can a native plant garden look attractive year round? My instructor in a horticulture course claims that a predominantly native-plant garden is not attractive year round. Are there any photos on a website that features the same native garden in fall, winter, spring, & summer?

one reason why a native plant garden can easily look pretty beat up is that it IS a native plant garden and every natural predator of these plants lives here too. yes, we can all guarantee perfectly plastic plants by going to costco and getting a bunch of agapanthus, calla lillies, or scotch broom [barf]. their predators live on the other side of the world, so you get to enjoy every last drop and don't get the pleasure of sharing them. every plant gets munched by something or other, and almost every plant has a time-out or rest for a period or two or more per year.

thankfully, there are plants which flower at different times throughout the year and these can be combined to cover most, if not all the year. but even more important is the foliage and to a lesser extent, bark - which also go thru peaks and lows throughout the year. judicious watering throughout the year is important to keep your garden looking gorgeous, but also for keeping your yard firesafe. a hydrated plant of any type is less flammable than a dehydrated one of any type. some plants will get their lifespan severely curtailed if you water them in the summer - primarily a few ceanothus and manzanita species and fremontodendrons. are there any other species which really need to avoid summer water? this is an important list for us to develop, I think.

one thing which judith lowry was able to pull off amazingly well in 'gardening w/ a wild heart', is the way she transmitted her appreciation for the beauty of healthy plants in whatever season they happen to be in - even their dormant seasons. I read somewhere recently a quote by john greenlee where he said something like 'golden brown is a color too!' and this is really true. I love walking thru a healthy native plant habitat - wild or cultivated at all times of the year. they are always full of surprises. but we need to recognize that it's not always the 'ordinarily-considered-beautiful-chrysanthemum/rose-kind-of-beauty'.

here's some examples of what I mean: many bigleaf maples have samaras which turn and stay scarlet for a long time at the beginning of summer. looking up thru one of these trees at the height of summer is as easily as beautiful as any camelia I've ever seen, but you can't call it a 'flower'. another example is when a healthy madrone goes thru a late summer or fall leaf drop. their leaves turn amazing colors - sometimes even looking a lot like the whole tree is festooned w/ brightly colored fruit for awhile. bay laurels and toyon go thru a similar leaf drop during the summer/fall and if you catch the sun coming thru them at the right time, it's almost a religious experience for us die-hard native plant folks. even the beautiful russet color of buckeye leaves against their white trunks in late summer is beautiful. other plants which have gorgeous colors in late summer/fall and into winter are: california blackberries, all the dogwoods [they are the most reliable bushes for wonderful and long-lasting color - although some need regular water to keep them looking so great]. I even love the beautiful golden, green and yellow of bracken ferns in the fall and early winter. and we cannot skip the beauty of fruit and nuts either [our native fauna sure don't!]. other plants w/ wonderful seeds/fruits which extend their beauty times are: buckeyes, western hopbush, spicebush, snowdrop bush, dogwoods, ninebark, toyon, madrone, summer holly, holly-leaved cherry, COFFEEBERRIES [of course!]. and one of my favorites for surprisingly beautiful foliage color is our evergreen huckleberry - actually all huckleberries and many other members of the Ericaceae family. photos:

then in mid-to-late fall the silktassles pop out their early tassles which slowly unfurl over several months - and the whole thing is a beautiful, long show. ptelea crenulata - western hopbush - has a great bright yellow leaf and after they drop, you get really lovely seed capsules and intricate branching patterns throughout most of the winter. the coastal flowering currants might be deciduous, but they sure do put on a nice show for most of the year. they often have great fall leaf color, and those leaves stay on practically until the flowers begin to pop out - given the right conditions. there are manzanitas which flower at different times throughout the year - particularly in the winter. some are early flowering - december/jan. others are later - feb/mar - and some even flower during the summer. and we cannot forget the really spectacular annual peel of manzanitas and madrones. that has to count at least as much as their flowers. manzanita throughout the year: buckeyes, including some really cool photos of ones which are fully-laden w/ amazing fruit:

I know of a ceanothus incanus in the santa cruz mountains which flowered 9 or 10 months out of the year a couple of years ago. it's a very large and very old shrub which was affected by sudden oak death the previous year - but not killed. the following year, it bloomed all year - and it was soooo fragrant and beautiful. the leaves are so handsome on that shrub. since then, it's gone back to a mostly normal schedule of heavy flowering for a couple of months in the spring and then sporadic flowering throughout the summer/fall. I'm really surprised that it's not used more often in landscapes. I finally got a few of them to establish in pots at my nursery and they are doing well, but it took awhile.

people often complain about how badly ribes speciosa and some of the other gooseberries look in late summer/fall, but I have some planted where they get a tiny bit of fog drip and north/east sunny exposures which look amazing right now - red/orange/yellow and even some green leaves at the same time. ditto for golden currants. for late season color, you can't forget the goldenrods either. I recently found another species of late-blooming goldenrod which is very attractive - meadow or canada goldenrod which is native to moist meadows in point reyes. photos:

no list of native plants for beauty throughout the year would be complete w/out the sunflowers. the california sunflower [a wetland perennial which can grow to astounding proportions - given certain conditions - but easily kept to a reasonable size by witholding water - begins to flower in late summer and just keeps on flowering if you give it a little irrigation. beginning in late summer, it grows very quickly and produces beautiful lavendar purple stems and then gets covered w/ bright yellow blooms which last and last w/ a little extra water. this year, I was surprised by a few plants I started from cuttings I took in the delta of bidens laevis - or beggar's ticks. this is a beautiful flower for the sunny side of a pond or even near an irrigated lawn. the plants I started have just begun flowering now. another really gorgeous local flower found in wetlands is Pluchea odorata or Marsh Fleabane. it does very well w/ minimal water, and it tends to seed around a lot - providing some surprise along w/ gorgeous late-season color. it's a close relative of new york ironweed, snakeroots, and joe pye weed - all of which are currently the rage in native gardens back east. ours is a shorter, more garden-sized version of it - no less spectacular and much easier to grow too. here's some pics including one I planted a couple months ago at the height of the summer heat in the hottest part of livermore in heavy clay w/ once weekly irrigation. you cannot get more harsh conditions for a plant [never mind a human!]. marsh fleabane photos:

there are grasses which look fantastic at different times of the year too. at this time of year, one of my favorites is alkali sacaton. what an amazingly beautiful, and underused native that one is. and if you do judiciously irrigate, you should have polypody ferns looking fabulous these days too.

of course you shouldn't forget our many different asters [sadly, only one species is grown over and over in native landscapes - but I hope to change this]. I consider asters, erigerons, lessingias, macharantheraes and even a few others to be 'asters' and they all flower at interesting times w/ beautiful and abundant blooms. I have a bunch of different kinds I've been growing from cuttings I've collected around the state and these flower at different times throughout the year - and some put on absolutely beautiful displays - usually when very little else is flowering. I've given up trying to figure out what kinds I've got and prefer to describe them as color, time/length of bloom and height. I've even got one I started from seed I collected in the sierra which thrives in full sun in san ramon - tight rosette of leaves producing six inch, stunning purple flowers at the hottest/driest time of year. it also seems to flower sporadically all year long. here's some pics:

like any garden - native or not - the trick to looking good all year is proper planning and proper care. when people think 'native', they immediately think 'wild', which also means unkempt and this is their excuse for not lifting a finger to care for their native garden except when it becomes an unbearably messy looking tangle and dry as a tinder box. it really doesn't have to be that way, and we need to get that message out there. too many folks let this happen and it turns off an awful lot of people from native landscapes.

oh my god - I just caught myself tsking a lot of people out there who are probably feeling shamed right now! I'm becoming my personal pet-peeve - a tsker!! in truth, I don't care how you keep your native plant garden! I think we all deserve gold stars for doing it however we choose to! and if others are smart enough to get it, then they will too. I really don't want to oversell anything. besides, plenty of people really love almost-plastic plants from home despot / costco and who am I to tell them how stupid that is? [ahem….]

here's some photos of madrones throughout the year:

some of you might remember the beautiful hybrid buckwheat I found last year in one of my gardens. well, I collected the seed and now have many and most seem to be showing the same great characteristics - beautiful blue/gray leaves, late and long-flowering on short stalks, w/ large and fluffy purpleish pink flowers. I have many very nice plants which are still flowering up a storm - even in 4" pots in full sun. here's some pics of the mother plant:

the tilden botanical garden has a page w/ links to 'what's flowering now' for each month of the year. I think glenn keator put that together. so that's a good place to start to find out what's flowering throughout the year.

on another note, I found a really odd fern at Point Reyes the other day. it looks a little like a cross between a deerfern and a giant chain fern - although as doreen and roger raiche pointed out to me - it's probably a sport of Blechnum spicant - Deerfern. but what an interesting oddity. if anyone has any insights, please share them w/ me!

Monday, June 15, 2009

'What can i plant in october or november to make my yard beautiful for a june wedding?'

this has come up before on listserves and I always get asked this by clients. it's hard to remember what looked great last june when i'm always asked in october, november, or december. I usually go thru my photos and search thru flowering ones which i took in june [or whichever month i'm searching for]. I've been keeping my eyes open lately and in the spirit of sharing great combinations from the wild which have inspired me, I thought I'd share some findings w/ you all.

my favorite shrub for a june wedding has to be Holodiscus discolor - Oceanspray. even before the flowers open, this is such a beauty w/ it's pink buds opening into frothy white sprays and very delicate leaves. while taking pictures of it yesterday, I asked my friend when he doused himself w/ perfume, and when he replied that he didn't use any, I realized I was catching wiffs of the holodiscus. it's kind of an ephemeral experience, because the scent comes and goes but when it's there, it's very strong and pleasant. here in the east bay, this is the most versatile shrub - does beautifully in full sun, where it gets the most flowers, but very elegant in full but bright shade too - like under high branches of either deciduous or evergreen trees. it works wonderfully on north and east-facing slopes - which is where it is usually found in nature. from my records, it's usually peaking towards the end of june, but as I mentioned, the pink or salmon-colored buds are fabulous throughout the second half of may and on into june.

for planting along w/ oceanspray, I highly recommend lonicera hispidula var.
vacillans - california honeysuckle. they flower at the same time and love the same conditions. they both need extra water for 2-3 yrs to get established well. another great one for combining w/ them is rubus parvifolia - thimbleberry. the very large and soft leaves are bright green and contrast nicely w/ the foliage of the oceanspray and the honeysuckle and they flower for a very long time - kind of sporadically, but the flowers are followed by very attractive berries which are just beginning to turn salmon pink now.

other plants for combining along w/ them are lots of ferns which are looking their best at this time of year. artemisia ludoviciana - white mugwort is too. madrones look very colorful right now w/ their orange/red old leaves and their very bright green new leaves and their bark is getting bright orangeish brown right now too. snowberries leaves are looking their best and they are flowering right now - w/ their beautiful albeit tiny pink and white flowers.

most of the heucheras - alumroots are flowering now. some of them have large sprays of tiny white and pink flowers and others have much more robust, deep rose pink flowers held in more compact sprays. Heuchera grow great in containers too and between their brightly colored foliage and tall sprays of flowers, they are a complete arrangement for indoor tables on their own.

as far as ferns: the lady fern in particular looks amazing right now - if it has been reliably watered. coastal wood fern is the best choice for a more drought-tolerant landscape. lady fern grows incredibly fast - as long as there is moisture present, but as soon as the soil dries completely, it collapses into a heap. it can grow from a tiny baby fern into a full-grown four ft mass of bright green lace in a single year under the right conditions. lady fern combines w/ anything which has red, orange, blue or purple and looks spectacular growing w/ japanese painted ferns [non-native, duh!].

for a may or early june wedding, you can't beat Heracleum lanatum - the giant cow parsnip. you want to plant one year old plants because they don't flower in their first year, but given the right conditions, they look really amazing. they look best planted en masse [you only need 5 of them to create the mass because of their very large size. the best conditions for them are where they will receive direct sunlight for 2 hours a day and bright shade for the rest of the day. try to place them where they will be in sunlight at the time of the special event. even off in the distance, they will make a beautiful impression on everyone.

another shrub which is peaking in beauty right now and can be used in either shade or sun is our cast-iron reliable coffeeberry. it flowers in may and is producing beautiful, multi-colored berries june through august. Carpenteria californica - California Bush Anemone flowers may thru the middle of june, and continues w/ a few stragglers to the end of june is carpenteria - another cast iron reliable for light shade to almost full sun and interesting seedpods too.

Clarkia concinna ssp. raichei - Raiche's Red Ribbons is one of the most beautiful annual wildflowers for light to full shade. Nothing brings color to shady spots like that plant.

for the full sun areas, buckwheats are budding right now and the buds are really beautiful - particularly on eriogonum grande rubescens and the many california buckwheats - eriogonum fasciculatums. even those w/ white flowers have pink buds right now. I also love the looks of eriogonum latifolium in all stages. these combine well w/ other plants which are looking great right now - john dourley manzanita, sunset manzanita, and the pajaro manzanitas- w/ their colorful bronzey red foliage. other plants flowering in full sun right now are eriophyllum cofertiflora - golden yarrow, eriophyllum lanatum - wooly sunflowers, clarkia rubicunda- ruby chalice clarkias, linum lewisii- blue flax, yarrow is beginning to flower.
although the local ninebark finished flowering a few weeks ago, the seedpods have turned a nice rosey apple red color and the sierra ninebarks are peaking. the sierra golden currant - ribes aureum var. aureum is still flowering it's incredibly fragrant flowers in may and early june. Mock orange - Philadelphus lewisii started to flower last week. I especially like the cultivar called 'Coville' for it's smaller size and neat habit as well as for lots of blooms. the local serviceberry flowered a couple months ago, but it's also very colorful right now w/ it's many large blueberries which range in color from bright red to deep purple and everything in between. For a much larger, gorgeous shrub/tree which grows fast, has beautiful foliage, and outstanding flowers, I always recommend Blue Elderberry. The flowers are kind of creamy yellow at the beginning of june, but are almost all turning bright white by the end of june. these should always be planted where the soil is heavy and stays wet all winter [they can dry out in summer once established]. if you need to have a large, tall shrub which looks established in less than a year and has gorgeous flowers and berries, plant a Red Elderberry and if the location isn't naturally wet throughout the year, soak it w/ water once per week and a 5 gal plant can become a 7-8 ft tall by 5' around bush loaded w/ white flowers / red berries
- in full sun - in less than a year. in mid-june, the cleveland sages open up their beautiful purple flowers all at once. these are easy plants which come in a variety of sizes and shades of purple and mature in a matter of months.

and for the piece de la resistance [I can't find my accents right now], the most beautiful california native wildflower of all is Trichostema lanatum - Wooly Blue Curls. [unfortunately, it can be a bit touchy to get established
- it really needs to be planted in the beginning of the rainy season].

I've been noticing which plants are real magnets for bees at the nursery.
the big surprise for me this year has been the beautiful Phacelia californica. this is an easy plant to grow and the lavendar flowers are BEAUTIFUL and the bumblebees go bonkers for them! plus, they flower dependably and throughout june w/ a little bit of water. another great wildlflower for shady areas is phacelia bolanderi - bolander's phacelia.
this is a real reliable plant which can almost be considered a groundcover for shady gardens. another very unusual flower which the bumblebees are fighting over is the napa false indigo - Amorpha californica var. napensis.
The flowers are kind of odd and not too significant to us anyways, but this tall, fast-growing shrub is very attractive for it's bright green, almost tropical-looking foliage. it grows normally in sunny canyon bottoms as well as along the steep walls of deep canyons. It can take full sun to substantial shade - like what you have under a buckeye is ideal.

here's some links to some photos of these plants.

Cal Honeysuckle:

Lady Fern:

various ferns:
White mugwort:
Blue Elderberry:
Red Elderberry:
Golden Yarrow:
Wooly Sunflowers:
Ruby Chalice Clarkias:
Blue Flax:
Raiches red ribbons:
Mock Orange:
Cleveland Sage:
Wooly Blue Curls:
California Phacelia:
Napa False Indigo:

happy gardening!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mount Diablo is Reaching it's Wildflower Peak Now!

Try to get there if you live anywhere near the Bay Area - it will be worth it!

I was amazed to find so many beautiful wildflowers there last saturday. The Ptelea crenulata - Hoptrees are loaded w/ beautiful bloom - really stunning small trees! the air around them was swarming w/ all kinds of insects - from flies to wasps to beetles, to bees all swarming around the sweet fragrance like cloves, cinanamon and cumin.

I found a small group of silver bush lupines w/ the most amazing colors of blooms I've ever seen. it seemed like the flowers had all turned from first white, then pink, to purple and finally to a rich caerulean blue after pollination on their tall spikes.

I also found a huge patch of gorgeous Asclepias californica - California Milkweed in full bloom, loads and loads of Chapparal Clematis, and I got to watch some native metallic bees headbutting over cobweb thistles [right after reading that wonderful article in the latest Baynature Magazine].

Even the Canyon Live Oaks and Interior Live Oaks were loaded down w/ colorful fringes of flowers. Those two trees grow together and can be difficult to tell apart on top of Mount Diablo, but when they are flowering, there's an easy way. The Canyon Live Oaks [supposedly a dwarf variety on top] have bright yellow and chartreuse flowers, while the Interior Live Oaks have red or russet-colored flowers. You can see some photos of many of the flowers I saw that day here:

Friday, April 3, 2009

What IS the California Native Tree with Leaves which Emerge Red, and slowly turn Green and Yellow Flowers which turn Crimson?

YES, it's TRUE! we have a real stunner in the RED variety of Bigleaf Maple - Acer macrophylla.

The leaves emerge a deep, blood red and slowly turn a bronzy green. At the same time, bright yellow [chartreuse] drupes of flowers emerge with the leaves and then over a few days turn bright crimson as the samaras emerge from the flowers. If you catch them in their glory [which lasts at least a couple of weeks right around now], they are easily one of the most beautiful native American trees.

The strange thing is, most people are not even aware of it. I haven't found any mention of it anywhere, but a well-known botanist friend told me that it is recognized by a few of them. I have been growing them from seed for the last couple of years and they grow very quickly and so far, all the leaves have come out true [the saplings from seeds from a red tree retain the red coloration]. I've included in the link above, photos of both the red one and the much more common green one [which is also very beautiful]. Take a look at them and use the slidshow feature in the upper right hand corner to see them more clearly.

Another very attractive feature of the bigleaf maple is the beautiful silvery-gray- and a little black bark. Although usually found in stream bottoms where the water table is very high, it's also found on ridgetops all around the Bay Area. It's surprisingly drought-tolerant once established but you can give it an occasional deep watering in the summer so that it retains it's leaves longer in the fall - which you DO want, because they turn wonderful shades of creamy orange and butter yellow - and totally cheery!

If you'd like more info or to purchase one of these trees, contact me at
thanks! please comment, if you feel like it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring Wildflower Meadows as an Inspiration to Lose the Lawn

I've been having lots of fun finding and exploring some spectacular wildflower meadows around the bay area over the last couple weeks. one I found in napa the other day was particularly stunning. I've identified as many of the plants as I can, and will continue to id those which I haven't narrowed down to species yet. I welcome any and all help in doing this.

I attended the native plant garden workshop in lafayette last saturday and I've been just itching to try all kinds of new things since then. i could barely stay in my seat towards the end of the day - I was so excited to go out and try some of the ideas which were coming to me - inspired by a fantastic panel of speakers/presenters. that event should be reproduced all over the state.

I've been making lists of the wildflowers I find in these meadows to help guide my seed purchases next fall and winter as well as to help me design and create better wildflower meadows for folks.

some plants of note which I am finding to be really key to a successful meadow are:

Lupines - both shrubby and herbaceous perennial ones as well as annual ones are so essential to native meadows here in california. there are so many different species - all of them so spectacular and relatively easy. you want to select ones which are appropriate to your site, because they don't all work everywhere - especially over several years.

Native clovers - the more I learn about our native clovers, the more I want to use them in place of aggressive grasses to create beautiful meadows. a few great ones are perennial, but most are annual, and many are easy to grow although increasingly rare in the wild. almost none of them are found regularly in native landscapes and they really should be. the foliage alone is reason to grow these plants, never mind their beautiful flowers and important wildlife value.

I've also been seeing the incredibly beautiful trees and shrubs around the meadows - what an important element to consider when designing a meadow. by placing certain types of trees on the edges of your meadow, you create habitats for entire gropus of meadow plants which might not thrive in full sun. for example, I can't wait to use Thalictrum fendleri - meadow rue, aquilegia eximia, and claytonias - under elderberry, hoptree, or dogwoods on the edge of a 'meadow'.

if I had to choose one plant which is the most important for establishing a wildflower meadow in a yard, it would be the claytonias - particularly miners lettuce and all it's subspecies and varieties. while exploring a really special place near livermore the other day, I found a bunch of them growing together which had the brightest red foliage I've ever seen. I don't know if it's a particular subspecies or variety, but I did get some seed and can't wait to see what it does after I plant it next year. I've begun to grow either miners lettuce or one of the claytonias in just about every garden I build. I think that miners lettuce has an amazing ability to help other plants around it establish well. I think it may work as a living [and then dead by summer if not irrigated] mulch around the plants it grows near. it's very easy and spreads like crazy wherever it likes the conditions, but I can't think of a more beautiful [albeit seasonal] groundcover. several years ago, I noticed that the native grasslands in hunter-ligget were full of claytonias - perfoliata, gypsophiloides, exigua, ssp. rubra, etc… and I've really loved the look of them ever since.

if you'd like see some photos of the meadows I've been exploring lately, check out this link:

I've also posted many photos to the calypteanna photo group here:

and the naturescape gardening group here: