How Can A Garden Thrive In Hot Summer

Feeling really hot this summer?  It’s right.  Everywhere you go, you can see news about record high temperatures and wild fires.  In such hot weather, how can plants in a garden survive and thrive?

Record Temperature

July 2018 is the hottest month in California since 1895, when the temperatures were first recorded.  The average statewide temperature was 79.7 degrees, according to National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Several places in southern California set records for the hot temperature: UCLA: 111 Fahrenheit degrees; Burbank Airport 114; Santa Ana, 114; Riverside, 118; Ocotillo Wells (San Diego): 124.

According to Indicators of Climate Change in California, a comprehensive study by the California Environmental Protection Agency,

  • “Annual average air temperatures have increased since 1895, with the warmest four years on record occurring in the last four years.
  • Five of the state’s years with severe to extreme drought since record keeping began in 1895 occurred between 2007 and 2016.
  • Some of the largest glaciers in the Sierra Nevada have lost between 50 to 85 percent
 of their surface area since 1903.”

Wild Fire

With the record high temperature, 2018 is another year with huge wild fires.

According to the same study above:  “The area burned by wildfires each year has been increasing since 1950. Five of the largest fire years have occurred since 2006. The largest single recorded wildfire in the state, the Thomas Fire, which resulted in the filing of more than $1.8 billion in insurance claims, occurred in 2017.” The Thomas fire actually was just surpassed by the Ranch Fire that started in late July.

Per Wikipedia, in 2018, a total of 5,723 fires had burned an area of 1,250,467 acres (5,060.46 km2), according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center, as of August 28. The active Mendocino Complex Fire has burned more than 459,000 acres (1,860 km2), becoming the largest complex fire in the state’s history, with the complex’s Ranch Fire surpassing the Thomas Fire to become California’s single-largest modern wildfire.

wild fire

Plants suffer in the hot weather

With the record temperature, plants need sufficient water to survive and thrive.  When not enough water is provided, plants show signs of stress, which can be seen everywhere.

stressed plant

If the plants do not get enough water for too long, they will pass the point of being saved and just die off.

dead plant

To keep the lawn green,  a large amount of water is needed to spray on it, otherwise it will go yellow very quickly.

lawn watering

A garden thrives in the hot summer

Some gardens, however, do not need any extra water versus usual, yet still grow well despite the heat.  How is this achieved?

This garden was first installed in early spring:

drought tolerant garden

After just 3 months, the plants grew in a lot, with beautiful blossom:

drought tolerant garden

This sage grew from a small plant to a bush in just 3 months, big enough for the hummingbird to visit:

sage plant
When first installed

After 3 months:

sage plant
3 months after install

Another 3 months passed since late spring, it is the hot summer time with close-to-record setting temperatures.  How do the plants do?

They all do well!  While the high temperature stressed out so many other plants, not here.  The owner said he did not do anything after the garden was installed; he just let the irrigation run as first programmed, which is mere couple minutes each time, at about 3 times a week.

drought tolerant garden

 

Keys to a robust garden in summer

There are several important reasons to the thriving garden.

Plants

All the plants selected are drought tolerant, such as California native plants, and succulents.  The native plants are well adapted to California’s arid weather.  They have very strong root system and can go very deep and suck in the water.  That means, at very dry and hot times, they are better able to get water than other non-drought tolerant plants.  Here you see a California native Monkey Flower can live off very little water, on a rock.

California native

When they are planted in a garden, for many native plants, after they are established, they don’t need any extra water all year round.  They can sustain themselves from the water in the soil.  Here is the same native plant Monkey Flower in the garden.

California native

Succulents are another type of plants that only need little water.  They have no fear for dry and hot conditions – they thrive in it.

Succulent

Drip Irrigation

Even though all the plants are drought tolerant, they still need proper watering to establish.   Here, drip irrigation is the secret behind the water.

When the garden was installed, for every plant, a drip line was placed around its root zone, so water can drip right into the root ball in the soil.  As water is slowly dripped, it can be absorbed into the soil without any runoff.

A irrigation controller was installed to control the watering frequency and length automatically.  For this garden, just a short watering time was programmed, so the water usage is quite low.

drip irrigation

Mulch

Mulch is another key piece for the puzzle.  With it on the soil, evaporation is greatly reduced, and the moisture can be kept in the soil much longer.  In addition, it will suppress the  growth of the weeds, which take water away from the plants.  The mulch is made from tree bark, which is organic.  When it decompose, it will add organic matters to the soil, which will enhance the water storage capability, to allow it to hold more water, longer.

mulch

Much water can be saved versus lawn

In hot summer days, according to Ben Erickson,  “While the amount of water needed will vary depending on your climate, the weather, and the time of year; the general rule of thumb is to make sure your lawn receives 1″ of water to your lawn per week during dry conditions.”  So, for a 1000 square feet of lawn, in every week of dry conditions it needs 623 gallons of water, or, 89 gallons a day!

irrigation for lawn

A drought tolerant garden, on the other hand, uses much less.  As it only lasts couple minutes each time, by drip, the garden shown above uses just about 1/4 of the water of the same size lawn.    When you add up such drought tolerant landscapes, the amount of water saving can be really significant.

drip irrigation

When it is hot, everyone uses more water, so it puts a huge demand for the  water supply.  Unfortunately, the supply has been on the decline with the shrinking of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, higher temperature and other reasons.  Here is the Guadalupe river, the river of the Silicon Valley, at the peak of summer.

river

Here at Los Gatos Creek, a tributary to the Guadalupe river, the water was very low.  However, the birds and other aqua animals that live in this habitat, like this hawk, depend on the water to survive.

hawk

According to USGS, “Each Californian uses an average of 181 GALLONS of water each day. ” We then use half of that water on lawns and other outdoor landscaping to keep it green.  Water is a very valuable resource, we may use it in a more efficient manner.

On May 31,2018, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into effect two water use efficiency bills, SB 606 and AB 1668.   “In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely. We have efficiency goals for energy and cars – and now we have them for water”.

“Establishing an indoor, per person water use goal of 55 gallons per day until 2025, 52.5 gallons from 2025 to 2030 and 50 gallons beginning in 2030.”  An outdoor target will be announced later.

For outdoor landscaping, we should aim to reduce the water usage from the current 50% of total to something lower.   This can be best achieved with a  water efficient garden.  As we can see in the garden above, it needs much less water than that for a lawn.   The drought tolerant plants can fill the garden with beautiful colors, and keep the water usage low even in hot summer days.   Birds and other pollinators love the blossom and will drop by often to visit.

It is hot out there.  No more worrying about spraying more water on the lawn to keep it green.   Just sit back, let the irrigation run as programmed, and enjoy the beautiful view the garden has to offer.

drought tolerant garden

How to Attract Pollinator to Your Yard in 3 Steps

A golden monarch butterfly stopping on a bush, a hummingbird sucking from a flower…a view that everyone would love to see.  The good news is, we can turn a yard into a pollinator friendly garden and enjoy such a view often.   Pollinators play a vital role for the eco-system, and for us humans, yet their populations have experienced dramatic decline in the last 20 years.  We can do something now to help slow or stop the decline.  Here, by looking at the garden as an example, we can show that in 3 steps, a space without any pollinator can become one full of it within just 2 years.

Step 1: shrink down or remove the lawn

After the historic drought in California 2 years ago, this lawn turned completely brown.  The house owner wanted to get rid of the eye sore  and have something beautiful.  They wanted a garden with  lots flowers, a garden that would bloom year round.  When they heard that such a conversion would also allow them to receive the Landscape Conversion Rebate, they decided to take on the project.

To replace a lawn makes sense, as it needs a lot of water.  A converted landscape can save water by 30-80%.   in addition, a lawn does not have the different colors and flowers that pollinators need, so it can hardly be a habitat.

Step 2: Put in plants that sport bright blossom

During the design process, plants were carefully selected to have bright blossom, and would bloom for a long time.   Luckily, many of the drought tolerant plants meeting the requirements of the rebate program can fit the bill very well.  There were a lot to choose from.  Plants like Statice, Cherry Sage, Cone Flower, Lion’s Tail were all good candidates.

The project started, very quickly a floral garden was installed.

Step 3: Wait for the blossom, and pollinators follow

The plants grew quickly.  After just a couple months, in early spring, some plants already grew to a point where they bloomed.

After just a year, the garden was in full bloom.  A dream was fulfilled:

pollinator friendly garden

Sure enough, some small visitors came.:

bees on flower

Sage 2

monarch butterfly

This humming bird really craved the flower.  It worked on every single petal:

hummingbird

hummingbird

In just 3 steps ,  a little a space without any pollinator became this magnet that attracted all types and many of them.

Another garden: same transformation

This garden also went from a lawn without pollinator to one with a lot.  The garden was designed to be a California native plants garden, so more native plants were chosen.

 

One of the plant selected was Matilijia Poppy.  This is a big California native, once a contender for the California state flower.  This is how it looks like in the field:

Planted in the garden:

M Poppy

In the first summer after planting, it grew its first flower:

M Poppy

After another year,  it grew into this full bush with its big white flowers.   M Poppy

Sure enough, bees came to visit:

M Poppy

Another California native chosen was the California Golden Poppy, also favorite for the bees:

G Poppy

At the end of summer, even though most of the poppies already faded, the bee still wanted to have what was out there:

G Poppy

Both gardens showed to us, that by replacing  lawns with landscapes of nectar plants, the pollinators would love them and come.  We could provide a habitat to them from our own yards.

A serious issue – decline of pollinators

Pollinators play a critical role for the eco system in nature, and for us humans.

When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into seeds and fruits.   The seeds allow the next generations of the plants to grow, thus ensuring a bio system to continue and thrive.

For agriculture, bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops.  According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops.

Unfortunately, in the last 2 decades, the pollinators of bee, butterfly and hummingbird all experience rather significant decline, some species go as far as to the brink of extinction.  The culprit?  while the scientists are still exploring, the widespread use of pesticide, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat all count as remarkable reasons.

Bee

According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):

  • “Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.”

The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by almost 90% since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017.  It became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species.

In this article “Why are bees declining“, the big reasons for the decline are described as:

“Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation – Homelessness; General declines in wildflowers within the landscape – Hunger, Pests and disease – Sickness, Agrochemicals – Poisoning, Climate change – Changing environment”

Humming Bird

According to Ellen Paul, “the annual breeding bird survey shows that between 1966 and 2013, the rufous population on the Pacific Coast dropped an average of 2.67 per cent per year. ”  Pesticide was thought to be one possible factor for the decline, with a research going on right now to find out;  Climate change, and loss of habitat that comes with it, can be another big one.  According to Climate Central:

“the warming temperatures make it harder for these birds to eat, rest, and even reproduce… Rather than search for food in the increasingly hotter summers, some hummingbirds simply seek shade to remain cool. They are also less social during the hotter weather, suggesting they are not as likely to mate.

Suitable habitats for hummingbirds are also starting to shrink as the climate changes. Spring blooms are occurring earlier in the year, affecting the timing between blooming plants and hummingbirds’ return from their tropical winter retreat. This can leave the flowering blooms without their necessary pollinators, and at the same time birds have less food, which puts both plants and animals at risk.”

Monarch Butterfly

The most alarming decline comes from monarch butterfly.  According to David Mizejewski on EcoWatch, “populations of this once-common iconic black and orange butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades. The threats to the species are the loss of habitat in the United States–both the lack of availability of milkweed, the only host food plant for monarch caterpillars, as well as nectar plants needed by adults- through land conversion of habitat for agriculture, removal of native plants and the use of pesticides and loss of habitat in Mexico from illegal logging around the monarchs’ overwintering habitat. The new population numbers underscore the need to continue conservation measures to reverse this trend.”

One of the most effective conversion measures, that we can do,  is to build more habitats for the pollinators.  It can be in our front and back yards, or on the campus of a company or school.

Big tech putting native plants on their campuses

In the last several years, big high tech companies in the Silicon Valley  planted native plants around their campuses and transformed them into spaces friendly for pollinators.

Apple

At Apple’s iconic spaceship campus, the 3 acres space is filled by 9000 trees, California native and other drought tolerant plants.

Spaceship

 

native plants

The native plants that were planted just a year ago on the campus, are already serving the hungry bees the food they love.

native plants

bee

Google

At Google’s Mountain View headquarter, most of the planting areas are also filled with California native and drought tolerant plants.  Here the California native buckwheat is blooming in the heat of summer.

native plants

The bee is busy feeding on nectar

bee

Here is a parking lot on the campus.  A butterfly is working on the California native Cleveland Sage planted in the garden next to the parking lot.

 

butterfly

More plants, more pollinators

native plants

 

native plants

While we don’t have a huge yard like these, when we all put a couple native plants and other nectar plants in our garden, together they can make up this habitat that the pollinators badly need for their survival and thrive.  Let’s act today and build a garden friendly for pollinator.

 

 

 

 

 

Great Makeover Story: From Barren to Beauty (1)

This story is about an amazing transformation from barren to beauty.

When the owners moved into the house, the first thing they wanted to change was the front and back yards.  It was barren, utterly unattractive.  The main part of the front yard was this hard surface covered with sand.  It had been used as a parking space for years.  The backyard had the similar hard sandy surface as the path, with a big bush of catti plants in the middle.  When it was windy, the sands from the surfaces would be blown up and hit everything around: people, dogs, kids.  It could be messy.

Barren old front yard

Old Back Yard

The owner wanted beautiful landscapes for their yards; meanwhile, they also wanted something that is environmentally friendly, that would not use a lot of water.  To be “good” to the environment was important for them.  They wanted to be efficient for all natural resources, keeping the footprint on environment as small as possible.

Addressing the challenges of building a garden

When one looked at the front yard, the challenges for building a garden was obvious.  A big lot.  Hard surface. No top soil.  And, on a slope.  For plants to grow well, at the minimum, they would need water and soil.  How would these be addressed?

Capture and reuse rain Water

When one checked on the site, they would see two downspouts, one on each side of the house, come right down to the lot.   They pointed to hard surface, which would just let the rainwater runoff.   That is quite a waste.   Rainwater is an excellent resource of water, which can be used to water plants.   To capture and reuse rain water, one can use a rain barrel, or build a rain garden.  As the the front yard is on a slope where rain water would flow down naturally, a rain garden built close to the bottom of the slope could capture the rain water and reuse it well.

Downspout 1
Downspout 1
Downspout 2
Downspout 2

When it doesn’t rain, plants still need water to establish and grow.  For irrigation of a water efficient garden, drip irrigation is the way to go.  It can point to the root area for each plant precisely, so water can get to where it is needed exactly, without mass runoff.  Compared with a sprinkler system, drip can save water by 30-60%.

Select hardy and drought tolerant plants

As the soil under the surface is very hard from years of being used as a parking lot, it was not the best soil for many plants.  Ideally, the soil could be improved with materials such as compost and organic matters over a longer period of time; however, the option was not  available due to the time limit of the project.  This made the selection of plants especially important.

Many native  and other plants are adapted to California’s soil system and can thrive in all kinds of soils.  They can be hardy for tough environments, and need little water once established.  They also have other benefits.  A lot of them produce blossom that are good food for pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds, supporting a vibrant Eco system.

California Native Plant

Repurpose of the existing plants

For the design of the back yard, it was decided that the bush of cactus plants would go; the space would be emptied for other uses.  The catti plants thrived well in the micro system around the house, making them a a good bet for the soil conditions in the front yard.  Instead of discarding them, the catti would be reused for front yard.

Catti Bush

Building the garden

After the design of the garden was finished, the project entered installment.

Installing a rain garden

There are several parts to this.  First, proper discharge of rain water from the down spout.  Instead of letting the rainwater just go down to the ground and run off, the water would be drained into the garden.  Ditches were dug, pipes were connected.   Two  channels were also dug from the end of the pipes to the rain garden.  When it rains, rain water would be discharged out of the pipes, into the channel, then flow into the rain garden.

Pipe 1

Pipe 2

Stream 1

Stream 2

Then an area was dug for the rain garden.   The shape of the rain garden usually is round or curvy, to reduce the force of runoff and effect of erosion.

After that, plants were put into the rain garden.  There are some special requirements for such plants.  Specifically, they should be able to stand both wet and dry conditions well.  Better yet, they can add color and texture to the garden, making the garden look even more attractive.

Lastly, the whole area of the channels and rain garden were filled with pebble stones.  Once the stones were added, two “streams” and a “pond” came into life.  When it rains, all the roof’s rain water would flow into the stream,  out to the pond, seep through the pebbles, water the plants, then percolate deep down and recharge ground water, an act badly needed for our environment.

Rain Garden 1

Rain Garden 2

In big cities where surfaces like concrete is prevalent, only 5% of rain water can infiltrate deep into the soil, depriving groundwater the opportunity of being recharged.  Areas like rain garden can change that and let as much as 25% of rain water go deep under.  Recharging groundwater  is very important for keeping a healthy water system and providing backup when drought hits.

Impervious Cover

A lovely catti Area

Catti plants are favorites for many people!  They come in all kinds of shapes, colors and forms, some of them sporting splendid and beautiful flowers.  They are very drought tolerant, needing only very little water once they are established.  Catti plants can fill out a full garden, or can be integrated as part of a bigger garden, just like what was being done here.  Here they fill out the long stripe along the driveway, offering something wonderful to see and enjoy when one comes home.

Catti Plant 1

Catti Plant 2

A magnet for bees  and birds

Plants with splendid blossom provide the food that bees, birds and other pollinators depend on.  As bees’ population has been on a decline,  it is even more important that we provide places where these small creatures can feed on and take a good break.  Compared with a lawn which does not provide any food or shelter, gardens with drought tolerant and native plants can become a paradise for bees and birds.

Here, this plant was planted in a row along the pathway.  When it blooms, it has this bright beautiful blossom that is hard to miss.  It is not just us who love them,  bees and birds crave them too!

Plant for Bee

Bee

Parking Strip not to be ignored

Compared with the main garden, quite often, parking strips are “after thoughts” since they are a bit small.  However, in quite some cases they still have sizable spaces, and are an important part of the front space.  They can also be filled with the drought tolerant plants and native plants, adding to the curb appeal, and food for bees and birds.

Parking Strip 1

Adding Mulch

After the garden is finished, an important step is to cover the whole surface with mulch.  There are several benefits of this.  First, they can significantly slow down water evaporation, keep soil moist longer so reduce water required for the plants.  They can also suppress the growth of weeds, further reducing water usage.  Third, organic mulch like this made from bark can disintegrate into the soil over time, adding to the organic matters in the soil, improving soil quality and water retention capability.  Aesthetically, they provide this backdrop for all the foliage and blossom, making the space look even more appealing.

A brand new garden

Tieing all the elements together…the new garden was born!  The space has dramatically changed.  Here was how it was like:

Old Yard

And the new garden:

A rain garden doing well in rain

Shortly after the garden was finished, several storms hit the area.  How did the garden do in the rain?

All came out to be good!  Water flew into the stream and pond as designed; plants enjoyed the rain and grew well.

Off the garden, water that came down from impervious surfaces like driveway pooled into runoff, which would flow out to a sewer and empty into the streams and rivers.  There were lots of pollutants in the runoff which would hurt the animals living in the waters, and pollute the broader water system.  That is why we should limit the areas with impervious cover and try to build more rain gardens, like the one shown here.

With a design of native and drought tolerant plants, the front space of this residence has been completely transformed.  Not only has it gone from utterly unattractive to beautiful, but also become  a wonderful place for bees, birds and butterflies.   As the plants are drought tolerant, only a little water will be needed after the plants are established.  Low water use, beautiful, great for the bees – water efficient gardens can add so much charm for your space!

Bees love them, they are planted heavily around the Apple campus

Last year, 5 years after Apple’s legendary co-founder Steve Jobs unveiled the “spaceship” design for the new Apple campus, the project finally finished and the new campus started its use.  While the huge spaceship is undoubtedly the most striking element of the campus, there is another equally important yet less known feature.

It is this massive amount of plants planted on the campus, which fills out the 3 acre space – 9000 trees, and countless California native and other drought tolerant plants.

It is not something that just happened that way – it is by design.  When Steve Jobs was planning the campus, from the very beginning he was very adamant that it should just be like what Silicon Valley was  before the digital transformation.  As Steven Levy of Backchannel said,  Jobs “wanted to create a microcosm of Silicon Valley, a landscape reenactment of the days when the cradle of digital disruption had more fruit trees than engineers. In one sense, the building would be an ecological preservation project; in another sense, it’d be a roman a clef written in soil, bark, and blossom.”  Today the campus fulfills that vision.  Inside and outside, the space is fully filled with trees and shrubs, many of them California natives.

A plant that grow in abundance on the campus is California Lilac.  On an early morning in March, a stroll along the campus could find that some of the lilacs grew to be big bushes already in less than one year’s time.   They are blooming, with massive bright blue blossom.

Native plants around Apple campus

Native plants around Apple campus 2

Close up, you will see some small creatures busy at work.

A bee on a lilac

A bee on a lilac 2

Bees at work

The bees were busy collecting pollens, which is their food.  Look at the two small yellow balls – they sure have collected quite a bit of pollen!

When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into fruits. As most flowers need pollination to grow into fruits, without these small creatures, we can’t enjoy a lot of the fruits we are so accustomed to having every day.

Look around us – from the apple we ate in the morning, to the jeans we wear (cotton), and blueberries we snacked on in the afternoon, they all have bees to thank for.  Bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops.  According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops!

A bee on a lilac 3

Bees on a decline

Unfortunately, in the last several decades, bees have been on a decline. According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):

  • “Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.”

For one of the wild bees, the rusty patched bumble bee, its population has declined by so much (almost 90%) since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017.  The bee became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species.

Why such decline?  In the same study, the author indicated that “A primary driver of these declines is agricultural intensification, which includes habitat destruction and pesticide use. Other major threats are climate change and urbanization.”

Loss of habitat is one of the top reasons for loss of bees, which makes total sense.  The bees have been feeding on the plants in their native land for hundreds of thousands of years; when the habitats are lost to farming or industrialization, the plants are gone, so are the bees.

Native plants for bees

Bees need flowers’ nectar and pollen for their food; they especially like those from native plants, which is something that they have been feeding on for hundreds of thousands of years.  The California Lilac seen here at the Apple campus, is a big California native, and a favorite for bees with its dense blue blossom.  Lilac can bloom from late spring to summer, providing a good 4-5 months of food to the bees.

Another big native plant, the state flower, California Golden Poppy, also attract bees when they bloom.

Golden poppy on a field

Golden Poppy

Seaside Daisy, and Yarrow, heavily planted around the Apple campus, are two other natives that bees love.

Seaside Daisy

Apple Park 3

Plant more natives, restore the habitat

As bees play such a critical role for the ecosystem we live in, and for our food and agriculture business, we should do everything we can to provide them a good environment, putting them back onto a path for healthy growth. One critical step to achieve this is plant more native and other pollinator friendly plants.

Apple has done this by planting massive amounts of native plants on its campus; Many city parks and nature reserves also use their vast spaces for the purpose.  Here you can see California Lilac in a city park and a nature reserve in the San Francisco Bay area.  These are all great examples, but we can do more.

Lilac in a park
California Lilac in a city park
California Lilac in a nature reserve. See the bees on the blue blossom

In the last several decades, lawns have become the dominate landscapes for most single family residences in the country. People now realize, lawns not only consume a lot of water – over half of the water is used for outdoor watering in California, but also contribute to the loss of habitats for bees and other pollinators.  The stretch after stretch of green provides hardly any food or shelter for the bees.

By replacing lawns with native and other bee friendly plants, we can gradually put back the habitats that were lost, piece by piece.  We can help restore the habitats, starting from our own house.

The owner of this place wanted to replace their back yard with something much more attractive.  They decided to put in drought tolerant landscapes, and applied for Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Conversion Rebate Program.  During the project, when they saw a lilac, they wanted it for their garden right away.  The project was finished quickly and they received the rebate promptly.  Now, they can enjoy the lovely garden, and the striking beauty the lilac provides.  Bees surely will love the new lilac too!

This garden is filled with California natives.  It was installed in fall, by next spring the bloom was already full on, with bees busy feasting on the Golden Poppy, Buckwheat and Matilijia Poppy. On a day in summer, while the poppy was already near its end of the bloom, a bee could still be seen working on it.

A garden with native plants

By putting in a garden with lots of California natives and other drought tolerant plants, not only can you save a lot of water, but provide a habitat for the bees and other pollinators, which in turn can help build a more sustainable environment.   Spring is a great time for planting.  Start today, and see native plants’ bloom and bees tomorrow!

Apple Park – a Spaceship and 9000 Trees

On Sept 12, Apple announced the launch of iPhone 8 and other products at its new Steve Jobs theater, which is part of the brand new campus Apple Park.  While the world finally got to see the next generation of iPhone and other hotly-anticipated products, it also got a glimpse of the near complete Apple park, a project that has been in the works since 2014.

Apple Park

Apple Park sits on a 150 acres lot , 1 mile from its current headquater in Cupetino, in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It  is the brainchild of the legendary Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, a legacy project of his.  “I want to leave a signature campus that expresses the values of the company for generations.”   (Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs, p.535).  Everyone were curious to find out: how would this be achieved?

Spaceship, and 9000 trees

The most famous part of the Apple Park, of course, is the unique shape of its office building.  As Steve Jobs said, “It’s like a spaceship has landed.” Creative, high tech, cutting-edge, futuristic… a very fitting image for the world’s most valuable high tech company.

Spaceship

Is the spaceship the only major feature of the Apple Park?  No.  If one takes a walk around Apple Park, he will see lots and lots of green – the campus is fully surrounded by trees and plants, not just inside, but also outside of the fence that separates the campus from the rest of the city.

Apple Park 2

Apple Park 3

Why all this green?  Two obvious answers will jump to one’s mind: beautifying the campus, and privacy.  Sure.  However, there are some deeper reasons.

According to “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, “One of his (Steve’s)  lingering memories was of the orchards that had once dominated the area, so he hired a senior arborist from Stanford and decreed that 80% of the property would be landscaped in a natural manner, with six thousand trees.   ‘I asked him (the arborist) to make sure to include a new set of apricot orchards, you used to see them everywhere, even on the corners, and they’re pare of the legacy of this valley. ‘’’  (p.536)

So the trees and plants here are not just to to green up the space, but to serve two other very important purposes: to honor the legacy of the area, and create an environment that will look like the natural landscape around here.

Steve Jobs liked to walk at Stanford Dish, a trail around a large satellite dish with views of rolling hills that make up the valley.  He admired the hundreds of live oaks there so much that he asked his people to track down the arborist who planted them, and hired him to be the senior arborist of the new Apple Park.  As Steven Levy of Backchannel said,  Jobs “wanted to create a microcosm of Silicon Valley, a landscape reenactment of the days when the cradle of digital disruption had more fruit trees than engineers. In one sense, the building would be an ecological preservation project; in another sense, it’d be a roman a clef written in soil, bark, and blossom.”

Dish
A view on Stanford Dish; the dish can be seen on the left

The result is a 150 acre campus that is 80% landscaped, with fruit trees, Califonia natives, and drought tolerant plants from other regions.  The campus now has 9000 trees, 50% more than Jobs’ original number.

Bring back the “Old Valley” with California native plants

Just from the outside, one can see how Jobs’ vision is being realized.

Here, you can see lots of oak trees.  Per Re-Oaking Silicon Valley, “In Silicon Valley, oak ecosystems were the defining feature of the landscape before large-scale transformation. Oak savannas and woodlands were so extensive that the valley was christened the Llano de los Robles, or Plain of the Oaks, by early explorers.”  While we are far away from that now, these oak trees and others can bring us one step closer to it.

Oak

Here, you can see oak, strawberry tree, and perenials of yarrow and Douglas iris, all “big” California natives.  All of them adpat well to California’s mediterrian climate, very drought tolerant and hardy.

Douglas Iris is a beautiful plant native to California coast.  They bloom in spring, with purple blue flowers amid long green leaves.

Apple Park 4

Manzanita, another big California native

manzanita

Seaside Daisy.  You can find them at many coastal locations.  They thrive in windy, cold and dry environments, with all the pretty purple blossom.

Seaside Daisy

California Lilac

All these California native plants not only render the campus a beautiful place, but help bring back an old valley that existed before the transformation.  What is more, since they are all drought tolerant, much less water is needed, helping to conserve  a large amount of water .

When we are planning our own gardens, we can borrow a page from Apple, to build very water efficient yet pretty gardens with mostly native and drought tolerant plants.  If you replace your lawn with a water efficient garden, you may receive rebate by removing the lawn and putting in water efficient plants now ($1 per square feet if all requirements are met).  Find out more about the Santa Clara Landscape Conversion Rebate Program here.

Irrigate trees with recycled water

While most plants are native and only need a little water once established, when they were just planted, they still need quite some water to settle.  As we can see, all the trees and planting areas are equipped with automatic irrigation, receiving regular watering.

9000 trees on the campus need a lot of water.  To address this need, Apple planned something well ahead.  It partly funded a project to lay pipes and bring recyled water to the campus.   Per Jordan Kahn of 9to5mac.com, “Apple catalyzed talks among the various water stakeholders in the area, making plain its desire to use recycled water on its new campus, said Katherine Oven, deputy operating officer of the water district… ”Apple drove this project,” she said. ‘It really is a true partnership of both public and private agencies.’”  The project finished in late 2016, in time for most of the trees and plants’ arrival.

By using recycled water, Apple can further reduce its net water usage, conserving more water.  In a world where water the resource just keeps getting more scarce relative to our demand, recycled water has become a bigger and bigger part of the overall water strategy.  How Apple waters its vast campus sets a good example.

Benefits of Trees

Trees can provide many benefits in addition to honoring a place’s legacy.  They can

  • Improve air quality by reducing pollution and filtering out a big portion of the fine particle pollutants, and noises.  In places with many trees, the air just feels more fresh and the environment quieter.  In a city like Tokyo, although it has a population of over 9 million people and heavy car traffic, abundance of trees and vegetation must have played a big role in making it very clean (air) and quiet.
  • Reduce stress.  Last year a study found that simply looking at trees can reduce your stress.  If one gets more active by taking a walk or jog in the trees, the health benefit can be more significant.
  • Cool down the environment during hot summer days and reduce air conditioning energy and cost.  While we are having more and more heat waves and extreme hot weathers in summer, the cooling effect of the trees have become ever more important.  By reducing the energy required for air conditioning, we can further cut down the green house gas and its warming effect.
  • Increase biodiversity.  A big tree like an oak can support a big ecosystem, with all kinds of insets, birds, small animals such as mouses and squirrels, as well as the plants that have been living close to it for tens of thousands of years.  Each ecosystem can contribute to the health and richness of the much bigger ecosystem of the whole area.
  • Manage storm water and reduce the hazard of a flood.  During storms trees can absorb a large amount of water, reduce runoff, reduce the speed and power of the rainfall, thus reduce the hazard of a flood in the city.

With all these benefits and more, it is easy to see why we should plant more trees.  At office parks, at our own gardens, in the streets and parks.  Include a tree or two when planning a water efficient garden.

Office and Trees: Yin and Yang of an Office Park

When Steve Jobs presented Apple Park’s plan to the Cupertino city council, he said, “I think we have a shot at building the best office building in the world.”

On the one hand, the Apple Park has a building in the very bold and creative shape of a spaceship; on the other, 9000 trees that take up 80% of the space.  One is for innovation, technology, and products; another is for environment, nature, beauty, and inspiration; one eyes the future, the other ties to the place where we come from.

The building and trees are like Yin and Yang for Apple Park.  Together they make this environment where people want to absorb the best the nature offers, and create the best technology and products in return.

 

 

Wild Flowers on Pacific Coast

Wild flowers are in full bloom on Pacific Coast!  Look at the fields full of wild flowers – what a beautiful view!

coastalwildflower2

Native plants grow and thrive in hard coastal environments that are very cold, windy and dry.  When spring and summer come, they will all go into full blossom, turning the field into a huge colorful blanket.

Here is the good news – you can plant a lot of these native plants in your garden, so you can enjoy the same blossom from the comfort of your home.  In fact, you are encouraged to plant them, as many of them are drought tolerant, and qualify for Santa Clara Water District’s Rebate Program.  The beautiful yellow and purple flowers in the photo are two such plants.

Golden Yarrow

Native to California, this perennial plant (Eriophyllum confertiflorum)  is well adapted to dry and windy coastal climate.  Very hardy and drought tolerant, you don’t need to water much after they establish.  The golden color is lovely!   Qualifies for the Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Rebate Program.

Golden Yarrow on Pacific Coast

Golden yarrow on Pacific Coast

Golden yarrow in a garden

Golden yarrow in a garden

Common Yarrow

In addition to Golden Yarrow, the white-flowered yarrow also grow and blossom in abundance in the same place.  This kind of yarrow is called Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium & hybrids).  Just like their sister Golden Yarrow, they are also native, very tough and drought tolerant. Another great choice for a garden.

Common Yarrow on Pacific Coast
Common Yarrow on Pacific Coast
Common Yarrow in a garden
Common Yarrow in a garden
Seaside Daisy

As its name indicates, this perennial plant ((Erigeron glaucus) is native to the seaside areas on West Coast.  Tough, drought tolerant, it blooms for a long time (spring to late summer).  It can grow to be 1 feet tall and 2 feet wide.  A great plant for a water efficient garden.  Qualifies for the Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Rebate Program.

Seaside Daisy on Pacific Coast
Seaside Daisy on Pacific Coast
spring blossom
Seaside Daisy in a garden

A garden with the seaside daisy.

garden
Garden with Seaside Daisy

In summary, if you want to conserve water, and enjoy coastal wild flower beauty in your home, a great way is to plant some of these native plants in your garden!  Find out more info at waterefficientgarden.com

 

7 Native Plants Great for Your Garden


7 native plants great for your garden

If you go for a hike in one of the state parks or nature preserves in northern California now, chances are, you will see blossoming wild flowers.  They can be as tall as a tree (Matilija Poppy), or as small as a daisy. Standing with flowers of all the different colors and shapes, they make spring come to life.  Wild flowers under blue sky – one of the most beautiful scenes you can see in nature.

Benefits of Gardening with Native Plants

Native plants are not only beautiful, they are great for gardening.  Adapted to California’s dry and windy environment, they are hardy, strong and can thrive without any care.  There are a lot of benefits of gardening with native plants:

  • Water efficient: these plants do not need that much water; compared to a lawn, a garden with mostly native plants can save a significant amount of water;
  • Low maintenance: they can thrive on their own; no or little care is needed.
  • Attracting butterflies, birds and bees: they sure like the food from the plants that they know well, and you can view them often in addition to the beautiful blossoms.

The native plants below are excellent choices for a garden.  They are all water efficient plants and all qualify for Santa Clara Water District’s Rebate Program.

Matilija Poppy

What does the flower look like to you?  That is right, a fried egg!  Also named Fried Egg Flower, Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri) is native to dry, sunny environments in Southern California and Baja California.  The flower is one of the biggest of any species native to California.

Matilija Poppy is very drought tolerant.  It can grow to be 7 feet tall and 28 feet wide.  The flowers usually begin from early spring and can last until late summer.

Tree Poppy California Poppy

When spring comes, the bright color of California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) lights up hills and open spaces throughout California and other western states.  Easy to grow, drought tolerant, and that golden color – this plant is ideal for a water efficient garden.

California Poppy

California Lilac 

This shrub with dense blue flowers ((Ceanothus spp.) can be seen everywhere in California.  It is very tough and drought tolerant.  It can grow to be 4-6 feet tall.

California Lilac

Monkey Flower

Monkey Flower

Monkey Flower (Mimulus spp.)  is a perennial plant native to the west coast areas from Southern Oregon all the way to Baja.  It can grow to be 5 feet tall. In flowering season, the whole plant can be covered with golden blossom, which makes it really stand out. It is quite drought tolerant.

Moneky Flower

Beach Aster 

As its name indicates, this perennial plant ((Erigeron glaucus) is native to the beach areas on the west coast.  Very hardy and drought tolerant, it doesn’t need any care once established, yet flowers for a long time (spring to late summer).  It can grow to be 1 feet tall and 2 feet wide.  This is a great choice for gardens on the west coast.

Beach Aster

Douglas Iris 

The plant with the beautiful flower is native to areas along west coast.  Very easy to care, quite drought tolerant.  It can grow to be 2-3 feet tall.  Another great choice for a water efficient garden.

Douglas Iris

Yarrow

Yarrow

This perennial plant (Achillea millefolium) is very easy to grow and drought tolerant.  There are different varieties, with white or yellow blossoms.  They can grow to be 1-3 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide, depending on the variety. They are aromatic and attract butterflies.

Golden Yarrow