Tag Archives: drought

Water, watercress, and catsear.

Dandelions and false dandelions – Over the last couple of years the false kind, or catsear, Hypochaeris radicata L., has flourished in dead or dying lawns in our town. Many people have let their lawns go, because of the drought, and there’s no recovering them now just because the winter was wet.

The catsear is prettier, I think, because the flowers are on long stems that wave in the breeze. I had them before my re-landscaping project began, and several of my neighbors still have them in abundance; here I am showing Ray’s place, as good as it ever looks, because he never does anything but mow once or twice a year….

And below, Vera’s front yard. Unlike Ray, Vera likes to garden, and she gave me my aloe saponaria start many years ago.

I never see real dandelions anymore. They must need more water, and the recent conditions are letting the catsear dominate.

I walk by this rose bush several times a week. It’s not cared for, and looks generally bad, but on this particular morning there was one rare perfect bloom proudly standing out from the mess.

The most interesting thing I’ve seen in a long time on my walks was two Asian women down at the creek gathering watercress.

And the prettiest thing was bees on Russian sage. I can’t resist trying to photograph one more bee on one more flower, especially if it is a pairing of insect and flower that I haven’t captured before. I was so happy on my walk this morning, I didn’t want it to end, so I changed my route to add a few more blocks, and that’s how I happened to see these bees.

 

Back in my own garden, more plants are blooming. Kim gave me hollyhock seeds three years ago, and I planted them in my new greenhouse last fall and transplanted them to a spot that I think must be too shady, because the plants are diminutive – but the first bloom is out!

 

 

When designing my backyard garden, we deliberately planted the salvia near the dodonea, to get this color contrast. It’s working right now!

Above: fig tree, mock orange, and sea holly.

I have two kinds of lamb’s ears: the old ones that were propagated from my old garden, and which are all sending up long flower spikes right now.

…and new ones bought at a nursery, which have broad leaves, more green, and may not flower much. Lots of people have told me that their lamb’s ears don’t. But one of them is sneaking out a flower, only to send it on to the sidewalk to risk a trampling.

June has brought warmer temperatures, and I hope to spend more time in the garden again. Yesterday my dear godmother came over and we did sit eating our ice cream where we could hear the bees humming and the see the goldfinches at the feeder.

And we could smell the sweet peas! I ended up picking four bouquets of them yesterday, including one to send home with her. I also had to trim back some of the stems to keep them from squishing the pole beans. So this may be the peak of the bloom. There’s not much room for me to grow anything else just yet, because it’s the Year of the Sweet Peas!

They rise against their rootedness.

February is one of my favorite months for driving up and down the center of our very agricultural state. I won’t have that pleasure this year, but a few Februarys when I managed to visit family and the land where I grew up, the expanses of almond orchards were to be seen out my window for at least as many miles as it took me to drive one of the hours through what is called the West Side of the Central Valley. They are especially pretty on stormy days when the clouds are also playing their melodrama in the skies above.

The landscape along Highway 5 is never static, and not just because the seasons change. Our drought, and the loss of aquifer, mean that some farms will have to change what they grow, or downsize, or go out of business. One grower recently announced that they will be taking 10,000 acres of almonds out of production this year.

So I will enjoy the orchards I see, and not presume on their future. Richard Wilbur in this poem helps me to see aspects of fruit trees that I might not consider on my own, such as lifespans. Is it old orchards that are being “taken out,” or young trees that will never have the chance to be fully grown? What are the West Side bees meditating about this year?

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YOUNG ORCHARD

These trees came to stay. w-side alm med close
Planted at intervals of
Thirty feet each way,

Each one stands alone
Where it is to live and die.
Still, when they are grown

To full size, these trees
Will blend their crowns, and hum with
Meditating bees.almond-tree-flower

Meanwhile, see how they
Rise against their rootedness
On a gusty day,

Nodding one and all
To one another, as they
Rise again and fall,

Swept by flutterings
So that they appear a great
Consort of sweet strings.

~ Richard Wilbur

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Sisters +1 Jelly

GL P1020238What is proper footwear for a mountain cabin? My sisters and niece showed me how to dress properly, and even provided the gear.

I had a very full long weekend. Unfortunately it necessitated me driving two exhausting days for the sake of enjoying two layover days with family, at my sister Cairenn’s cabin that I was experiencing for the first time.

 

Good thing I had little I needed to do on my recovery day but look at photographs and write sentences to go with them. While I’m still in a grouchy mood I’ll get the bad parts of the excursion off my mind first. That way I can have pleasant pictures at the end and maybe go to bed feeling more elevated. But, okay, before we get to the bad parts, a beautiful jay. And a close-up of his blueness:

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Drought. Here in the lower elevations of the more southern Sierra Nevada, the lack of adequate snow and rainfall for several years in a row is evidenced by the sight of many dead trees. And on my way up the hill I saw Lake Success, which is at about 4% of its capacity.GL P1020490 Lake Success crpGL P1020397

Camp Nelson is a small community at a much lower elevation than our family cabin that is also in the Sierras. This town stays open all year, and the roads get plowed every day when it snows. The last many miles going in are so curvy, I got carsick even though I was driving. Of course that made the drive seem even longer.

I haven’t beenGL P1020435orig in the High(er) Sierra since July. Maybe the trees there are also yellowing and dying by now, but I suspect that these at the lower elevations and farther south are suffering more. At least one big tree on Cairenn’s lot needs to be removed safely before it comes down dangerously. It’s the one on the left in this photo with the peak of her cabin below.

In many cases it’s not the lack of water that kills the trees, but the bark beetle that does it. A USDA article explains: “Under normal conditions, trees produce enough resinous pitch to drown and ‘pitch out’ the beetles that attempt to enter. When trees are stressed they are unable to produce sufficient amounts of defensive pitch and the beetles are able to bore deep into the trunks of trees, eventually killing the tree.”

GL P1020394 Chamaebatia foliolosa mountain miseryOne plant that was a new discovery for me has always been disagreeable to my sister Nancy. When she first pointed it out to me on one of our several walks together around the village, I leaned up close and she cried, “Don’t touch it!”

She didn’t want me to be contaminated by its notoriously clinging odor. This wildflower in the rose family, called Bear Clover or Mountain Misery, is also not appreciated by most animals because of its smell. In the forest’s ecosystem it plays a complex role, as I read about in this article. It’s very drought-tolerant and recovers quickly from fire, too.GL P1020377

What else is super drought-tolerant? Our beloved manzanita. I took almost as many pictures of manzanita last weekend as of Steller’s jays. The ones in Camp Nelson get so tall! They all looked particularly healthy; I think they have the added protection of not being the sort of material the bark beetle prefers.

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In this picture on the right we have just discovered a manzanita seedling growing in the bank, and it is about to be transplanted by group effort to Cairenn’s lot.

We looked at trees a lot during our Sisters +1 Retreat. Those huge pine trees, Ponderosas and Jeffreys, are both found in this area. I have written about them before on my blog, but as often happens, the more you know the more you realize you don’t know…

 

 

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They resemble each other in so many ways. I hadn’t even heard before that the bark of one smells like vanilla; ah, but which one is it…? Both, as I read when I got home. The ones we sniffed did have that yummy scent.

I could tell by the way I was frequently lagging behind on these walks, that we didn’t have enough of a group mindset to do an intensive tree study, and anyway I’m not encouraged to spend a lot of time on the questions myself when I read that even experts have had to correct their identification errors.

GL P1020440 Camp Nelson wall art

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On our walks we saw donkeys and mules and deer. One evening we saw seventeen deer on the “meadow” that is a sort of town green.

And a bear track! I circled it in green below, looking something like a thumbless human handprint.

 

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As we relaxed at the cabin, eating, playing games, eating, reading and chatting, eating, the Steller’s jays and squirrels entertained us and kept me busy with my camera.

 

 

 

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After I took about a hundred pictures of the jays I got down to business and did some sewing. I sewed a button on to my fleece jacket, which I then hung on a hook and left at the cabin – ugh! GL P1020415

I worked on one of my patchwork potholders, and started to take apart a pillow that was made for Pippin by her grandmother 30 years ago. I hope to spiff it up and re-stuff it.

 

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I even did some coloring with my sister and my niece Jelly. The picture I chose to color was one of the simplest in the book, and it reminds me a little of the elderberry bushes that I have admired so often up in the mountains. I didn’t see any in this area, though.

 

 

 

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What I did see were mountain sunflowers and their seed heads.

 

Two days with dear people went by so fast… Next thing I knew, I was driving back GL P1020461down that curvy road, early enough in the morning to get some more nice pictures. I had been taking vitamin B6 for two days, and maybe that was why I didn’t get queasy on the descent.

Just a little lower down there were fewer conifers and more desert-y plants to be seen, and wildly painted rock cliffs to highlight their drama.

Below is another plant I didn’t take the time to research today. It looks like some kind of berry bush, growing out of a rock cleft.

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…and I have to admit that yes, its leaves do somewhat resemble those of manzanita. I guess I have a fondness for leathery gray-green Survivors.

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As I wound my way down, off to the south the morning light came over the ridges and fell on forests of manzanita bushes that spread in rough bands across the slopes.

GL P1020469The last mountain scene I captured was of more rock, with late penstemon blooming out of it. I was amazed, and honored.

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When I arrived on the flats of the southern Central Valley, I kept taking pictures, because of the olive trees. More gray-green and hardy specimens! Tall ones dwarfing the orange groves…P1020495 Pville olives crp

…and just a few blocks from my old high school, old gnarly and knobby ones like this:

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I was grateful for the chance to walk around in this grove, and the brief encounter was very satisfying. Just hanging around the trees must have given me the strength to soldier my way up the Interstate for the remaining hours that were required to get me home. I like being home.

Good night.

 

Garden tour with figs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mrs. J lately. She has been involved in my life in so many ways for over 30 years now, from the time when we became neighbors in the neighborhood where neither of us lives any longer. I hadn’t seen her since my husband’s funeral, and was glad when she phoned today.GLP1010502crp

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oaks and olives

Mrs. J has always loved plants, and soon after we met she was taking horticulture classes and learning the botanical names for everything. When we planted a rock garden at our old house she helped us choose the plants, including at least two that I want to plant in my new back yard garden, a Mugo Pine and a Pineapple Guava. Many plants that I love remind me of this friend.

Mrs. J became a realtor and helped us sell that old house and buy this one. She advised us to plant the Sweet Olive bush that has been a joy to me and which I am now nursing back to health from drought. She was the first person I knew to use manzanita bushes in a residential landscape, planting sixteen of them in her front yard across the street.

Usually we see each other once a year for the triple-birthday celebration we have with another friend; the three of us lived on the same street for a couple of years, back when our babies were coming along regularly. We all love gardening and we discovered that we all were born within a four-day period in the same year. We started taking turns preparing birthday lunches for each other, and have celebrated 30 of them so far.

Today is Labor Day, a special day that we never have celebrated together. Mrs. J was surprised to find herself without pressing obligations on this holiday, so she phoned me. I also was without pressing obligations, and as we began to talk about my back yard project we came up with the idea that I might travel the half hour to her place to get a garden tour. I soon was off on a country drive.

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The sort of grouping we both like.

That route made me very nostalgic and weepy. Our family has been driving these roads for 42 years now, and much of our history took place at one end or the other of this winding hilly road through oaks and golden hills, which Mr. Glad also drove back and forth to work for 20+ years.

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fig with zinnias

The pictures above are of the stretch of road a mile or two from our old house, where our family would take walks or bike rides. Back then there was no yellow line down the middle; that line seems to me to pretend that the road is always wide enough for two cars.

Over the years Mrs. J has designed landscapes and houses in several places. Currently she lives by a creek and has space and resources to use many of the ideas she’s been collecting her life long.  When we went out her front door we soon found ourselves by her beautiful fig tree that had several fruits ready to eat right then. We ate and they were sweet and juicy. Did I tell you I am going to have a fig tree in my garden?

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dogwood

 

Dogwoods are a species I don’t plan to have, but Mrs. J loves them and has varieties from all over. They get enough shade from the tall oaks by the creek. This might be the Korean one.

 

 

She went up north to Corning, CA and bought an olive tree that is 100 years old. It had been pruned a few months earlier to prepare it for transplanting; now it has been given a spot where it can leaf out and enjoy its new and more temperate home.

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Olive trees don’t need as much water as you might think. Mrs. J had to remove some ornamentals from under another olive tree because the irrigation of them was too much for the tree. In another place, where an emitter is leaking, she cleverly made use of the extra water to plant a clump of horsetail grass.

 

The creek has never been so low, she said; I was surprised that it still had any water at all. In a few months this stream could turn into a torrent. That is our hope and prayer.

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