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141209-0710

For once, all the weather models agree: We are going to get really, really wet!

As you may be able to discern from the IR view above, the jet stream is aiming right at us, sucking up gigatons of water off the warm ocean between Hawaii and the California coast. Yes, it is one of those iconic “pineapple express” patterns, and this is going to be a big one. We can expect a day of heavy rain and lots of powerful wind.

141209-0712The storm is expected to arrive in the Bay Area early Thursday morning, with rain and wind lasting all day.

If you have outdoor furniture or any other large, light objects now is the time to move them indoors or out of the wind. Check that your gutters and downspouts are clear. If there are lots of fallen leaves in the street, now is a good time to rake them into a pile away from street drains, or put them into the green bin. Better yet, spread those non-conifer leaves across your garden’s open spaces, where they will not only fertilize the earth, but protect it from erosion by heavy rain.

If you have plants in containers out under the sky, especially if they are succulents or cacti, it might be a good idea to move them to a sheltered spot where the rain will not flood them for hours and hours. Some plants might be killed or damaged by prolonged root flooding.

Trees or bushes with extended branches might be damaged by many hours of high winds. You may be able to protect some of these by tying down the long branches or covering the plants with a tarp that is tied firmly to heavy objects like cinder blocks.

If you have an open composting system, it’s a good idea to cover it with a tarp weighted with bricks or other heavy objects. While the compost will not be killed by a long, heavy rain, such a deep soaking will definitely wash many valuable nutrients down into the ground, where they will eventually be lost into the water table.

I am excited that we are finally getting a beautiful, powerful winter storm. This one looks like the biggest one in years. I can’t wait for those first drops, waking me up Thursday morning early. I hope you will enjoy the storm as much as me!

Want to know more about this coming storm? Check out this blog post from WeatherWest.com.

Below: A water vapor picture, showing how the jet stream is sucking up moisture from the ocean.

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Did you miss the previous episode in this series? You can also jump back to the beginning.

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December 19, 2012. Morning sun slants across the garden at little yellow house. There was some serious rain, and now thousands of sprouts are popping up in every blank space. The garden is greening up!

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Above: An odd little corner of the front strip features a variety of fascinating plants including petty spurge, groundsel, mallow, cut-leaf geranium, English violets, buttercup oxalis and more, plus a few pretty autumn leaves. Here’s a closer look:

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Right now, our most important task in this garden is thinning out extra sprouts of anything that is too abundant, plus removal of certain plants like buttercup oxalis that we generally prefer to restrict to selected areas because of their invasive nature.

Below: An area shadowed by a purple lantana in the street strip shows a bit of frost on leaves of English violet.

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Above: On the left side of the front walk the daisy bushes enjoy the sun while the wisteria bush behind it is still in shade. It leaves are turning yellow and dropping down. There’s frost on the neighbor’s roof in the background. Under the daisy bushes in front there is a carpet of violets and decorative strawberries, still filling in. Like almost every other plant in this garden they were there to begin with, not deliberately planted.

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Above: Skipping forward to Christmas eve, 2012 the garden continues to grow in rapidly. In the front strip is a drift of blooming buttercup oxalis, pushing up between the frost-burned stems of lantanas. In spite of the frost damage, some stems of lantana still bear pretty purple flowers.

This is one of two areas where we are allowing the oxalis to stay. Here it has to compete with the vigorous lantanas, and it is also quite difficult to extract from this zone without damaging the lantanas. The other oxalis drift is under the big wisteria bush, where they look pretty pushing up through the carpet of fallen leaves.

Below: Closer looks at the buttercup oxalis. The beautiful yellow flowers are edible and excellent in a tart-sweet, tangy way. Try them in salads!

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Below: A few more sweet little scenes from the garden at little yellow house on Christmas eve, 2012. We see English violets, sweet alyssum, a cute mushroom, and some autumn color.

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Next: Wisteria drops its leaves, the owner begins a stone patio, and there’s lots more thinning to do.

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At last, it looks like some good rain is coming to the Bay Area. This morning’s sunrise flared up with brilliant red fire, lighting up the landscape with crimson.

There was a brief photography window for about five or six minutes. What an explosion of color!

Sailors (and gardeners) take warning! It’s going to be wet soon.

Yay!

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The headlines proclaim, “The Worst California Drought In Recent History!” At the same time, thousands of gardens across the Bay Area still feature green lawns watered every day by pop-up, high pressure sprinklers, releasing a flood of water to keep them green, along with copious mist that evaporates into the air. What’s wrong with this picture?

In our semi-arid climate with frequent, prolonged droughts, any kind of lawn that needs regular water is wasteful of one of our most precious resources. More people are choosing to reduce or eliminate their lawn irrigation. You might have a golden-brown lawn or an inert, sun-baked gravel- or dirt-scape. There are even dead, dry lawns that have been spray-painted green.

Some people might choose to replace their lawn with a succulent garden, or with a heavily mulched space with super-drought tolerant plants (often California natives) watered by tiny little drip heads.

There is certainly nothing wrong with these water-wise lawn replacements. Every one of them reduces water usage and helps us better manage our resources. Congratulations to all gardeners who choose these and other xeriscaping options.

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At deep nature gardens we have developed another water-wise alternative for ecologically conscious gardeners.

If you value beauty, diversity, and abundance but you don’t like drip-watered mulch-scapes, slow-growing succulent gardens or spray-painted lawns, consider creating an ultra-drought-tolerant deep nature garden.

Here in the Bay Area we are surrounded by hills covered with some of the lushest, most diverse and abundant ecosystems in any dry climate on the planet. Our beautiful chapparal hillsides are supremely drought tolerant and yet they are densely clothed with rich, diverse vegetation. How do they do it?

We have studied the evolution of drought-tolerance in garden spaces, especially the kind of “managed nature” that is present in a deep nature garden.

You can have a garden of exceptional beauty, diversity, and abundance that is able to survive even times of extended dryness. Even when it is dry, such a garden can feature green leaves and an assortment of open flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and many other critters.

Any time is a great time to get started. We’ll remove that thirsty grass. We’ll move some soil around, making high and low places, and add some beautiful natural looking rocks with moss and lichen. We’ll plant a few starters and scatter a layer of eco-mix seeding blend. There will be a carefully managed watering scheme that will encourage just the right blend of plants. As everything grows in we’ll remove anything that does not fit.

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Within a few months you’ll see the beginnings of something extraordinary: a natural looking garden that is equally healthy whether it is in the middle of a wet rainy season or an extended California drought. Not only is it resilient to wet and dry, it is also beautiful. Deep nature gardens are living works of art.

If this sounds interesting please get in touch. Let’s have a free visit to your garden and talk about what is possible.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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In the morning after a rain, in a client’s leafy forest garden… this beautiful gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) posed at the edge of a rock. It was still chilly and wet, and this torpid insect was so sleepy that I could touch it. When I did, it opened up its wings for a few seconds…

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A few minutes later the sun finally emerged, and the butterfly opened its wings again, absorbing warmth. After about 30 seconds it flitted up into the air, soon landing on a nearby viola flower. Wake up, it’s time for breakfast!

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Gulf fritillaries are mostly tropical butterflies, whose larvae feed on passion fruit vines. They are not endangered and are surprisingly common in the Bay Area, especially this year for some reason.

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Want to encourage more gulf fritillaries in your garden? The best way is to plant a passion vine, but you can also attract them with hardy, nectar-laden tropical flowers like lantana.

The second butterfly was a real blessing. At a different client’s garden, it was right there on the blooming pieris bush, just long enough that I was able to snap a picture…

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Is it a monarch or a viceroy? This one is a monarch (Danaus plexippus) as indicated by the lack of a dark bar across the hind wing. Actually, viceroys (Limentis archippus, non-poisonous butterflies who benefit from their resemblance to the poisonous monarchs) seldom are seen in the Bay Area, being more common to the east of the Sierras.

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Another winter storm rolls on through bringing wetness and more wetness, turning everything gray and shiny. Not a good day for gardening, but great for growing things.

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What glorious fractal ripples in the transparent water puddles!

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Gray on gray can be beautiful too.

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You may recall Elizabeth’s new ecogarden with the redwood rounds, the beehives, and the chickens.

These days we are calling them deep nature gardens, but the project in Elizabeth’s back landscape has continued. There was a break during the summer, partly because this nature garden space is non-irrigated, so not much happens during the dry California summer, and partly because I needed some time to figure out some of the details of the deep nature gardening business.

Changes since our last update include the removal of the walkway made of redwood rounds. Elizabeth sometimes visits the chickens at night, and does not want to risk tripping on the wooden rounds in the dark. Sounds reasonable to me!

Instead, for now we will create a leafy pathway using some of the large fig and persimmon leaves that cover parts of the back yard in autumn. Later we might create a path using crushed shells or small gravel.

Some of the redwood rounds will be used to make pathways into the deeper recesses of the garden.

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Above: During the summer we dug a little rain garden, marked out by the sticks in the photo. A test with a hose spray showed that sure enough, it works! Look at that sweet puddle. To the right of the rain garden is the path to the chicken run, now free of redwood rounds. At the left, under the edge of the fig tree, we have created a low mound using the soil removed from the rain garden. In the foreground is a plum sapling that we want to keep.

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Above: Months have passed, and the rains have come. The rain garden and the low mound have both become covered in a mixed carpet of buttercup oxalis (Oxalis pes-caprae), cutleaf geranium (Geranium dissectum), common chickweed (Stellaria media), and many more kinds of sprouts.

Trees have lost most of their leaves, covering the ground with wonderful-nutrient rich food. In the background, between the rain garden and the persimmon tree, the path to the chicken run is now covered with leaves.

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The lush, green carpet is certainly beautiful, but the highly invasive oxalis is overtopping almost everything else, and if nothing is done it will hamper many interesting kinds of plants that struggle to compete for nutrients and light. So it is now time to do some serious thinning.

The oxalis has deep bulbs, very hard to extract. For this first round of thinning I did not even try to dig down to the bulbs. I simply pulled up everything from the bulb up, by grasping each plant firmly just below the crown with two fingers. If this is done correctly, you end up holding the green plant and a long, tapering, white underground stem. The stem can be as long as a carrot, though it is much thinner. Like all the non-bulb parts of buttercup oxalis, it is edible. Sweet and tangy!

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I worked in a patchwork pattern, focusing especially on the low bank, where some pretty rocks were added during a non-photo visit while it was still summer. I’ve also cleared out part of the basin of the rain garden, leaving behind a few patches for artistic balance.

Because the bulbs are still underground, many of these buttercup oxalis plants will grow back. The new growth will be flatter to the ground, smaller, and easier to pull out. There may be two or even three of these re-sprouts from each bulb, but eventually the bulbs will become exhausted and die.

What about the rest of the oxalis-dominated area? The plan is to continue working in patchwork patterns, clearing one area and then another, always leaving behind any interesting plants that managed to sprout between the oxalis. Discovered in the above clearing operation: miner’s lettuce, groundsel, scarlet pimpernel, and many small sprouts I did not recognize.

Am I worried that the sorrel and other fast-growing plants will get ahead of me? Nope, as long as I keep coming back I can move faster than they can. Look how much I was able to clear in just two hours or so, then consider that it took nature more than three months to grow that carpet of green.

The fig tree in the background above has been pruned so that it is possible to walk underneath — but please, let’s stay on the redwood rounds!

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Above: A closer view of the rain garden and the bank, with a row of rocks holding it up. At the right, redwood rounds lead behind the bank. At the far right, the edge of the leaf-litter zone under the fig tree.

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Last, this view of the far east corner, under the newly pruned fig tree. Big, floppy fig leaves cover the ground, partly smothering the oxalis and other plants trying to grow there. Lots more wait to fall. This is good, we want to create a nice deep layer back there. Any leaves that land on the rain garden or bank will be tossed into the east corner to make it even deeper.

Also in this zone are some irises that need pruning, some old, tangled roses that need shaping, and a very out-of-place palm sapling. That one might have to go. Eventually, it would be nice to add some native shade-loving shrubbery.

It was nice to get back to work in this happy little garden space. Stay tuned for more updates!

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After our recent rainy spell I had the opportunity to walk home from a client’s house through a wonderful section of Menlo Park with no sidewalks and lots of old-ish, interesting small ecosystems to explore.

Above is a great example, a front yard with various zones of shrubs and wild-looking areas. Beautiful, no? This comes very close to being a true deep nature garden.

There were many wonderful photos that offered themselves in that diffuse, after-the-storm lighting. They will fuel great future blog posts.

This particular sequence is about the amazing fungi (and two slime molds) that manifested along the way.

This will require several posts, or maybe a few more…

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Above: This was the first one that popped out at me. Mushrooms that get their nutrients from wood are called “lignicolous” and this one certainly is. It’s coming right out of the bark of an old oak tree.

Mushrooms are notoriously hard to identify, which is one reason why it’s such a bad idea to try to collect them yourself for food. There are a few obvious ones like the shaggy mane and the meadow mushroom, but people get in trouble all the time.

Some of these shrooms I can identify right away, some I can pinpoint with some research, and some will forever remain unnamed. Such is the lore of fungi.

What kind is this oak-eating mini-jewel? It’s what we call an “LBM” or “little brown mushroom.” Might be an Armillaria, but its surface looks too rough.

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Scouting eyes soon picked out the next catch, a waxy, wet looking yellow beauty in the deep shade under some old live oaks. See the acorns in the back?

Right there on top, another special find! A fungus fly, magically materialized out of nowhere just to sit serenely atop this amazing shroom.

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Deep in the dark recesses under a huge mass of mixed oak, laurel, and ailanthus: A noble temple of the fungi, fully expanded, shedding millions of spores into the moist air.

The upper right dark spot on the cap is — you guessed it, a fungus fly.

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Beneath a laurel tree was this trio of white parasols. One of them has tilted, probably from its own weight in the soft leaf litter.

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This beautiful domed shroom emerged under a live oak among struggling Vinca and wild strawberry. The striations around the rim reflect the gills underneath. The stem is surrounded by a veil of thin tissue.

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We end this segment with a distinctive purple jewel. If I am right, it’s a blewitt, which is frequently seen around here, especially in the coastal hills.

What a beautiful purple being!

Next: Boletus

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We’ve had some rain lately and every little space is sprouting up with lots of green. Here at the edge of the gravel parking space the dirt between the stones has exploded into life. All those seeds were right there in the soil, through all the hot baking summer days, driven over repeatedly by many cars and trucks. Amazing that they are still viable!

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There are at least 20 kinds of seedlings in here! Sadly, all of this mixed salad has to be pulled out. But we can still enjoy its green lushness, thanks to pixels and bits.

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You may know that we just had a rather large and exciting storm here in the Bay Area. We usually get one or two like this between Thanksgiving and New Year. This one included a vast amount of rain, some of it applied in huge downpours. Fun!

The deep nature gardens took it all in stride, mostly. There were a few small injuries and other changes.

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Above: This red clover in the upstairs container garden looks a bit beaten down, but it will recover quickly. This container is one of the “old style” boxes that dries out rather fast because it lacks a proper moisture barrier. The clover will do great over the winter now that its deep roots are finally getting enough water from the rains.

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Above: The main garden downstairs is looking very crisp and green. The bright orange flowers of the leonotis bush (at right center) have finally finished, and now they droop all brown and wilted from its branches. Still, they remain noble and beautiful. One of the leaves of a Swiss chard plant (front center) has been knocked down by the heavy rain. You can’t see it in the picture, but recent frosts have killed off the above-ground growth of a lush patch of purslane that was growing near the sidewalk at lower right.

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Above: A favorite wild strawberry plant soaks up some late afternoon sun after nearly a week of dark skies. It opens a cheerful white flower or two and offers its bright fruit. Sweet and delicious!

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Above: This bluish-white lichen on a rock has expanded and soaked up the rain. Right now it is soft and flexible, clearly alive. It grows in these times, when its tissues are moist and vibrant.

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Above: the most obvious damage in the garden is this cherished avocado sapling, which tilts at a windblown angle. Stepping into the center of the garden, keeping my feet on the stepping rocks, I was able to set it back mostly upright with a careful foot down onto its roots. I think it will be fine.

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Above: Another bit of wind damage is this fallen branch. It belonged to a medium size bush, which might be some kind of heath or heather (Calluna or Erica). The fallen branch will hardly be noticed by the vigorous bush from which it fell.

Maybe you can help me identify the shrub. Below, a close look at some of its flowers, along with a little visitor, a hover fly in the family Syrphidae:

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I wonder where the little fly took shelter during the storm?