From the Ground Up

Gardening, books, and other interests

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Happy Earth Day!!

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”                      -Rachel Carson

I don't remember what kind of daff this is

Today is Earth Day, and I thought I’d celebrate by remembering Rachel Carson, the mother of modern environmentalism. Her book, “Silent Spring”, published in 1962 (over 50 years ago!), was groundbreaking in so many ways.  It forever changed our collective attitude about noxious chemicals in our food, air, and water. It woke up an entire generation to the need to protect, clean up, and conserve our natural resources. As a result of her writings there was a radical shift in public opinion. We no longer trusted big business and government to look out for our best interests and safety. The role of profit in decisions made by manufacturing and agribusiness (but affecting all of us) was unmasked. Over time, policies were changed. The Environmental Protection Agency was born, and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were passed.

The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, and 45 years later, our present day environmental concerns are of greater urgency than ever, and we are just as divided on the issues as we have ever been.,

So whatever your current opinion about about genetically modified crops, global warming, greenhouse gasses, and the regulatory power of the EPA, you’ve got to admit that Miss Carson’s words got the dialogue started, and that’s a good thing.

To quote another wise man who is close to my heart, Henry David Thoreau:

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”


I really love this post. The author uses her sharp eye and great photographic skills (or maybe she just has a very good camera!) to observe small signs of spring in her garden. I love to walk through my yard first thing in the morning and make note of all the changes, growth, decay, whatever. But these photos really capture that experience very beautifully.

Real Life Garden Solutions

One of the things I love most about gardening is observing the smallest details, especially early in the growing season. So here’s what I’ve been observing in the last few days:

Asparagus that I grew from seed in Asparagus that I grew from seed in 2013–the only one that survived my tender ministrations. I’m trying again this year–only 7 (of 18) seeds germinated.

Perennial iberis just openi Perennial iberis (candytuft) just opening.

Peony Peony

Anemone Anemone coronaria

Heuchera 'Purple Palace' Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’

New growth on spirea. It rea New growth on spirea. It really is that colour!

Euphorbia Euphorbia martinii

I don't remember what kind of daff this is I don’t remember what kind of daffodil this is, but the “cup” is only about 1 cm. You can see by comparison with the aubretia flowers (also about 1 cm across and about 10 cm high).

Unfurling ferns Unfurling ferns. This might be a native sword fern.

DSCN2665 Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Cristata’. You can just see at the top of the picture the “crested” habit of the fronds.

No-name herbaceous fern. Pops up everywhere, but easy to pull out if they're a bit over-enthusiastic. No-name herbaceous fern. Pops up everywhere, but easy…

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A Historic Occasion at Morelos Dam

I’ve been reading some firsthand accounts of something that happened earlier this week: On March 23, several hundred people gathered to watch as the gates of the Morelos Dam were opened for the first time in five decades, to allow a “pulse flow” of water to flow through the last 70 miles of the Colorado River, before it reaches the Sea of Cortez. As part of a landmark agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, the Colorado River Delta will once again have water coursing through its dried-up channels, which will extend to the lower delta and go all the way to the sea. With the exception of a couple of isolated “El Niño” rainstorms during the 1980’s and 90’s, this will be the first time that water from the Colorado has reached the sea since 1960. This is all made possible by Minute 319, an amendment of a 1944 treaty between U.S. and Mexico, that concerns their shared responsibility for the Colorado River. Scientists and officials of the two cooperating governments hope that the water will help efforts to restore the Delta and revitalize an ecosystem that once included native willows and cottonwoods, and teemed with insects, birds, and fish. The pulse flow, which will continue through May 18, will mimic the natural yearly flood from snow melt in the Rocky Mountains that used to take place before the Colorado River was dammed up and diverted to support the growth of arid desert communities like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles, and Denver.  

Jennifer Pitt of Environmental Defense Fund, posted on the Water Currents webpage about her experience as a witness to this historic first. She has been following the flow and marking how long it takes for the river to move downstream. The pictures on this webpage are glorious.

Minute 319 has been hailed by countries in Asia and Europe as a model for binational cooperation over shared rivers as well as policies that promote practical adaptation to climate change.

Encouraging news, isn’t it? Water is life, and life could now Imagereturn to the Colorado Delta as a result of this far-sighted policy.

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Big on Color, Low on Water– Plants for Drought Tolerant Gardens

I want to share an excellent article I came across, courtesy of Christine Tusher and There are some very good suggestions here regarding low water and drought tolerant plants for your garden, like lavender, kangaroo paws, sea lavender, succulents and sedum. Depending on how you group them, they can have a modern, highly symmetrical look, like a cool, arty Mondrian painting. Or they can be grouped together to form a lush, exuberant, cottage garden-type vista.  Thanks, Christine and Houzz!

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Wake up “Early Girl”–or– Spring is around the corner

Last weekend I started on my annual cleanup and prepping the garden for spring.  This consists of pruning back frost damaged plants and deadwood, allowing air and light to get to the new emerging growth; cleaning up any old leaves and debris from the ground; adding and tilling in fresh amendments to the raised vegetable beds; inspecting all the plants for snails and snail damage (handpick any live snails and toss into a bucket of water); replenishing mulch so there is at least 2-3 inches in all planter areas. I also make sure to inspect and repair any leaks in irrigation lines, and flush out the sediment and gunk from filters and at the end of each line. When I see new growth at the base of my established perennials, I know it’s time to cut back all the dead growth. But I don’t do any fertilizing until April!

I’ve been getting my raised veggie beds ready for tomato planting. Tomato seedlings are available at the garden centers now. You can buy them now if you like, but wait another week or two for planting, just to make sure the soil has warmed up enough. Also pay attention to nighttime temperatures–if temps are below 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t plant yet! When you buy tomato seedlings, here are a few pointers to keep in mind: Don’t buy a plant because it has lots of flowers or even little tomatoes on it; this is a plant that has already spent too much of its short life in the pot. Start with a younger plant. The idea is to look for shorter plants with thicker stems and healthy green foliage. Avoid long and spindly plants that have weak, brittle stems and yellowing leaves. When you get the plants home, harden them off by keeping them outdoors in a spot that’s sheltered from direct sun and wind. After a week of hardening off, they are less likely to suffer shock when planted in the ground.

Attention Southern California residents: For the largest selection of heirloom tomato seedlings in the state, check out a Tomatomania event near you. If you’ve never been to a Tomatomania sale before, it’s a lot of fun, and  Scott Daigre and friends are there to offer the best expert tomato-growing advice.

tomato seedlings

tomato seedlings

Harbinger of spring

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Jasminum polyanthum

Pink Jasmine

Jasminum polyanthum, or Pink Jasmine, is always a sure sign of spring approaching. The buds are pink when closed, opening up into white star-shaped flowers. The fragrance is rich and unmistakeable, which is why jasmine has historically been used in making perfume. Some find the scent a bit cloying from close up, but when the breeze carries just a hint of it in the air, I find it hard to resist.

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What’s in bloom right now?


Armeria maritima

While out walking my dog I took some snapshots of whatever growing things were looking especially good right now. This photo on the left shows a nice clump of Armeria maritima growing in my neighbor’s yard. Its common name is Sea Pink or Thrift. It has rose pink, globe-shaped flowers nodding on top of bright green mounds of grassy foliage. It’s more commonly seen in the coastal regions, but as you can see, it’s doing great further inland, too.


Geranium incanum

Also doing nicely at the moment is Cranesbill (Geranium incanum), with its delicate ferny-looking foliage and small magenta flowers. It’s one of several species of woodland geraniums that are “true” geraniums, as opposed to the zonal geraniums, ivy geraniums, or Martha Washingtons that are commonly sold in garden centers. Those plants with the thick fleshy leaves that your grandma grew in pots and everybody calls geraniums are really members of the genus Pelargonium. Pelargoniums are related to geraniums, both genera being in the same family of Geraniaceae,  but they are not the same plant.


Strelitzia reginae

The Bird of Paradise , AKA Strelitzia reginae (on the left) is a high drama plant. It happens to be the official flower of Los Angeles, even though its origin is in South Africa. It typically blooms from January to March. In South Africa they call it the crane flower, which is easy to understand from looking at the flower form. Another species of the same plant is called Strelitzia nicolai or Giant White Bird of Paradise; it looks like a giant banana tree and grows up to 20 feet high.



Also in bloom (on the right) is Osteospermum, the cheerful Freeway Daisy– another South African native. The first year after I moved to Los Angeles, the sloping backyard in the house we were renting was thickly covered in freeway daisies all through the month of February. I was both amazed and entranced by this, and sent pictures home to my family on the east coast. Here, in 1989, is my daughter in a yard full of daisies.


Dora in the daisies


Pink Trumpet tree

Then there are the winter-flowering trees. In addition to the deciduous magnolias and white-flowered ornamental pear trees that typically put on a show at  this time of year, see if you can spot one of the more  unusual ones, like the Pink Trumpet Tree (Handroanthus impetiginosus–formerly known as Tabebuia impetiginosa). It looks kind of surreal, covered with hot pink flowers. To see the largest specimen of Trumpet Tree in California, you can visit the LA County Arboretum




February is camellia season at Descanso Gardens and also at the Huntington Library. The annual Camellia Show at the Huntington already occurred this past weekend (Feb 8-9), but so what? The camellias still look gorgeous, and if you go to see them now you can be secretly pleased that you avoided the crowds.


Manzanita St Helena

Finally, we come to California native plants. Right now is a good time to see manzanitas, flowering currant, bush mallow and California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica)–they’re all in bloom in the hills, in nature, and also at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.