Sunday, October 26, 2008

Plant Profile: Desert Willows, Chilopsis Make Good Choices for Fall Planting in Dry Southern California Gardens

Yes, it's going to be 90 today, but my Favorite Time of the Year is just around the corner! It's almost time for Fall Planting Season. This is your chance to decide what your personal landscape will look like next year - and how much money you are willing to give to the DWP each month. So you better get out your list and start checking it twice!

I like planting in fall better than spring because we get a little extra free water from the rain and the temperatures are milder. I think I need to make room for Chilopsis linearis, or Sweet Desert Willow. Here are some photos of Desert Willow to entice you!

The Supulveda Dam Recreation Area covers acres of the San Fernando Valley. It's main purpose is to serve as a catch basin for the Los Angeles river during floods. Much of the area has been developed into parks, there's even a golf course in there and Balboa Lake, at the northern edge, is most famous for the blooming pink cherry trees who dance across the green rolling lawns in the spring. But there is also a large Wildlife Preserve and other areas planted in California or Western native plants.

Desert willow is one of the plants growing on the 'wild side' of the park. I caught these flowers as they were at the height of their bloom a few months ago. I would say they rival the fabled pink cherry blossoms and make a great alternative for dry gardens anywhere in the western US.

The exotic flowers are about three inches long and an inch wide and drip in giant clusters. Colors range from white or pastel pink to hot pinks or deep purple. Hummingbirds love the flowers and birds like the seeds too. Like cherry trees, they are deciduous, but Desert Willow develop exotic seed pods with cottony down before giving up for the winter. They can be left as large shrubs, or trained into multi-trunked trees. I've seen a few trained as regular standards too, but the trunks seem a little on the thin side to me. Of course, I'm partial to letting things go completely wild in the Back 40.

Unlike a cherry tree, they require little to no water once they are established; only 10 inches according to the USDA. Desert Willow can grow up to 30 feet tall and up to 20 feet wide and are hardy to 3 degrees. Their shiny leaves are thin and up to 5 inches long, with the traditional willow look. The shrubs are pretty even when they are not in bloom.

Put these on your list for fall planting season. I've found them at one of my favorite native nurseries; Las Pilitas Nursery

After the first year they should be living mainly on rainfall alone so you won't have to sweat the 200% increase in water rates!


Saturday, October 25, 2008

New Garden & Succulent Plant Section in My eCrater Online Store

I have divorced FeeBay and have opened a little online store on eCrater which I operate under my MomsRetro banner.  In keeping with my retro kitchen theme, my main focus is on collectibles, cookbooks and other cool vintage books, but I've added a new Garden & Plant section.  

In the spirit of the Mortgage Lifter Tomato I have decided to sell off clippings of my wonderful succulent plants until they are all trimmed back to little nubbins.  I've  also got big plans for garden-themed jewelry and other fun tidbits, so please drop on by and take a gander.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wisteria Pods Popping Over My Patio, It Must Be Fall

Here's a beautiful photo of my wisteria in bloom.  I need it to remind me why I love that vine on my patio.

After the flowers set seed they turn into giant seed pods.  

Right about now is when the seed pods dry out and start popping.  

They explode, sending out four or five seed disks flying and two twisted sides of the pod.  

You can hear them across the yard popping, then you hear glass cracking or dogs yelping when the seed shrapnel hits something.  

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating, but you can hear them, and the patio isn't the safest place to be right now.

The bricks are covered with crackly pods and seeds the size of dimes and pennies.

There is a giant wisteria growing near Los Angeles called the Sierra Madre Wisteria Vine.  

It was planted in 1894 and is known as the largest flowering plant on the planet.  

They have a huge Wisteria Festival in the spring. I always wonder what it's like over there when all the pods are popping.

Here's a cool article I found about the Sierra Madre Wisteria Vine at the Times…

Monday, October 13, 2008

Santa Ana Winds Fueling Los Angeles Fires, Clear Your Brush

It is Brush Fire Season in southern California.  We currently have Red Flag Conditions, which means the hot, dry Santa Ana winds are whipping around at 70+ miles per hour.  Since it's the end of the growing season our hillsides are covered with dry brush and dead grass.  Santa Anas are predicted through tomorrow and they are supposed to pick up even more around 11pm tonight. 

Right now, there are major brush fires burning to the north and west of Los Angeles, on the outskirts of the city.  The first one started about 2:00AM in Little Tujunga canyon where I used to hike as a girl and fell in love with trees and nature and growing things. 

I'm sure no matter where you are in the San Fernando Valley you can smell the fire.  I could smell it in my bedroom this morning when I woke up.  And if you live southwest as the wind blows (like in Malibu Beach), there will be ash in the air.  The smell is a mixture of sage, pine and something else.  It almost smells like your neighbor has a fire going in his fireplace.  But there is a darker scent in the mix.  The smell of houses, cars and personal possessions.  The news is now reporting there are fires in Porter Ranch, Newport Beach and two at Camp Pendleton down in San Diego County.

Even if you don't live in a threatened area you can't help feeling edgy.  Your primal Fight or Flight response kicks in.  I've taken an allergy tablet as a preventative measure but the winds get under your skin, the smoke hurts your lungs and eyes.  Unless your house has a NASA-approved airtight seal there will be grit and dirt layered on everything.  And the smell of the smoke is in the house and in your clothes.  Add in the ions from the winds and your get a whole new level of crazy.

Traffic is a nightmare in the north San Fernando Valley. Many freeways along the foothills have been closed either because the smoke is too thick to see, or there is actual fire burning next to traffic lanes.  There is a wide freeway that runs along the foothills in the north called the 118 Freeway or The Ronald Regan Highway.  It is wide enough for Jack Bauer to land a jet on, so it also makes a good impromptu firebreak.  Even with the Herculean efforts of LA County Fire, the fire has jumped the 118 in the northern rocky areas and is burning on the other side.  In the past, fires have roiled down this same path through the mountains, down the canyons and the only force capable of stopping it are the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Despite the damage so far I think we have the absolute best fire crews in the world.  LA City and County Fire can pluck a kitten from a tree one day and the next day they're in some volcanic layer of Dante's Inferno doing hand to hand combat with fire demons using axes and picks. 

I wish Michael Chertoff was here to learn a thing or two about coordinated response.  I see amazingly good communication and coordination between several county and city fire departments, police, sheriffs, Animal Control and private ranches (for horses and large animals), the Red Cross (who wants you to check in if you're evacuated) and even the media broadcasting information and directions from Fire Command Central.  I wish Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was here taking notes right now.  And after the fire is out they will dissect every ember and gust of wind to learn how the fire started, how it spread and how they can keep this from happening again next year.  I wish FEMA chief Michael Chertoff was here to watch how it's done.  And unless he's in the belly of a water-dropping C-130 tell the President not to bother. We're busy. 

If you live in a fire prone area no matter what part of the globe I would listen to the fire department who now recommends that you have 250 feet of defensible space around your house in very high fire danger areas. You might want to rethink the pine and eucalyptus trees.  Yes, I love them too, but in a fire they become 300 foot tall sparklers shooting out burning embers that can travel for miles before kindling another fire in a treetop.  This is what is helping this firestorm travel from canyon to canyon right now. 

Put on your favorite Ronald Regan cowboy hat and go clear some brush.  Cut down dead shrubs and trees.  Move your firewood pile away from the house and make sure nothing flammable is growing nearby.  Never, ever, EVER use fire in the landscape.  

Here's a piece I wrote on the Santa Ana winds for my LA blog; AngelCityArt.

Here is a copy of last year's letter to residents from LA County fire regarding brush clearance and fire safety.   http://www.fire.lacounty.gov/FirePrevention/PDFs/BrushClearance.pdf

CNN is also covering this story: Los Angeles fire officials say they're worried that nighttime winds could push two major wildfires, which already are blamed in two deaths, closer to pricey neighborhoods on the Pacific coast.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Newsflash: Rosary plant (Crassula rupestris) getting ready to flower


I have exciting news from my garden. The rosary plant has flower buds!

I love these little plants. I've got them spread out around the patio filling in pots.  I'm excited because my rosary plants don't all bloom reliably every year.

This one is in a tiny pot about 3 inches across. It is on the north side of the house.  I don't think it gets any sun at all in that spot. It has been 'established' in that pot for a few years so I think that's why I am getting flowers. My cuttings seem to need a few years to get growing before they feel like flowering.  

The flower springs get large in proportion to the plant but they look like your basic crassula flower.

More photos after the flowers open!

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