Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sources of Inspiration for Drought Proofing Your Garden

Dudleya pulverulenta is a gorgeous California native

The severe drought of the last three years has demanded a revised approach to gardening and garden design in California. If you haven't replaced your lawn yet, consider taking advantage of incentives and rebates. Check your local city web pages.

Dialing it up a Notch
Having a landscape with low to moderate water needs in a severe drought isn't good enough, so I've been dialing up the drought tolerance of my garden. Besides, the less I'm watering other stuff, the more edibles I can grow. 

And it's not that I'll be deprived of a rewarding garden, it just takes some focused plant choices. To keep it simple, collecting plants from the salvia (sages) and succulents groups offers lots of showy and water-wise choices, including drought tolerant California natives. As a bonus, saliva and succulent flowers are potent magnets for pollinators, especially hummingbirds and bees of various types.

A Sage for Every Garden

Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, is a hummingbird magnet
 Not all salivas are drought tolerant. For the toughest and showiest look to our California natives: Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman', Salvia pachyphylla, Rose Sage, and Salvia apiana, White Sage, to name some of the most popular selections. Look for your local chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) plants sales to purchase native sages.

Many sages flower almost all year round

If you are choosing sages at your local nursery, make sure to check on the water needs of each specific variety before you plant them in your garden. They'll reward you with abundant flowers and fragrant foliage with very little upkeep. Most sages appreciate an annual pruning to renew foliage and flowers for the next season.

Succulent Envy

A recent shopping trip to Succulent Gardens in Castroville
There seems to be no end to the variety of shapes and  sizes of this plant group that includes cacti, as well as echeveria, sempervivens (Hens and Chicks), groundcover sedums, plus aloes and agaves.

Succulents pair well with natural rock features

Use them on the ground in mass plantings, create a rock garden, hanging baskets, or in plant in repurposed containers for interesting focal features. 

Success with Succulents
For low maintenance success you'll need to make sure the soil has excellent drainage, and no chance of remaining soggy. I like to use succulent & cacti planting mix or buy soil for potted plants and mix with lava fines 2:1. Don't fertilize, as a rule. If you must, use very little to kick-start growth then just water periodically when the soil is dry. Avoid keeping them moist which leads to rotting.

It's also important to note the hardiness, or frost tolerance of your selection. If you've fallen in love with a frost sensitive type, make sure you remember to protect her when the cold season approaches.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lawn Replacement Rebates Renewed

Succulents are excellent landscaping plants for our mediterranean climate 
The Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) announced that rebates for replacing your lawn with climate appropriate low water-using plants have been extended to June 30, 2015. 

This means that the current rates of reimbursement per square foot of lawn or pools removed will remain at the high rates of $2 for Mountain View and much of the county, and an enticing $4 for Palo Alto. Call the SCVWD hotline (408) 630-2554 for more information, or see their web page.

It's not difficult to qualify if you have an existing lawn and/or functioning swimming pool that you'd like to replace. See my previous post for tips and links to resources.

 Thymes and sages are approved plants for lawn replacement rebates

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Crimson Flowered Broad Beans or Favas

A special, old variety of fava, er, broad beans
Normally I call these fava beans, but with respect for this lovely bean's origins, I'm including broad bean in the title of this post. What we call fava beans in the USA are called broad beans in the UK. I was stopped in my tracks when I first saw them flowering at Seed Savers Exchange's (SSE) Heritage Farm in Decorah Iowa last summer. 

Crimson-flowered Fava Bean growing in SSE's diversity garden
Fava beans are one of my must-grow crops every fall to spring season. In the San Francisco Bay Area they're the perfect thing to grow over our mild winters. They can take our frosts, and if I plant them in the fall I can count on eating fresh fava beans in the spring around April. But I had never seen this gorgeous red variety.

The common fava flowers are white with black splotches  
Far from being a novel and modern cultivar, the crimson flowered fava was apparently saved from extinction by the Heritage Seed Library after receiving a donation of only four seeds from a gardener in Kent in 1978. 

I got my seeds from fellow SSE member Christina Wengar, who is the sole seed steward for this variety in SSE's member's yearbook, where members go to discover which seeds are available to request from other members. 

When I searched for other seed sources I found some in the UK and Australia, and those sources referred to the crimson flowered fava as being very rare.

My fava spring salad

I can't wait to try out the crimson favas in my favorite fava dishes. And yes, you can bet I'll be saving those seeds!

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke