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

A Race for Saving Water

On Apr 14, 2018,   I participated the Great Race for Saving Water in Palo Alto.  This is the fifth Earth Day celebration hosted by city of Palo Alto.  It is a 5K run/walk and kids 1K fun run to “raise awareness about water resources, conservation and environmental health”.

Great Race for Saving Water

Great Race for Saving Water 2

The race would start at 9am.  From the early morning,  people started streaming into the start venue, Palo Alto Baylands Athletic Center.  Once there, a lot of exciting things were already waiting.

A water truck – H2O On the Go

You have seen food trucks, but have you seen a water truck?  One of the first thing that would catch anyone’s eyes  was a water truck, Santa Clara Water District’s “H2O to Go”.

As Santa Clara Water District describes on the truck’s website, “Standing 11 feet tall, the water dispenser-on-wheels holds approximately 500 gallons of chilled tap water; about enough to fill 8,000 servings in 8-ounce cups. Under a roll-out canopy on each side, residents can fill up at any of the vehicle’s 14 dispensers, seven on each side. The cold, refreshing water is from the district’s water treatment plants, which supply Santa Clara County with clean, safe and high-quality water. Water from our treatment plants consistently meets or exceeds all state and federal regulations, which continually grow more stringent. Drinking tap water also helps to protect the environment. With enough water to replace almost 4,000 water bottles, the water truck can save the earth from 105 pounds of plastic waste”.

water truck

There are so many benefits drinking from tap like these in the truck versus bottle.  A big portion of bottled water actually is just tap water;  while the tap water costs consumer almost nothing ($0.004/gallon), bottled water costs 300 times more, at $1.22/gallon.   Despite all these, the bottled water consumption has increased tremendously in the last several decades.  Per capita consumption increased 3 fold from 9.8 gallons per person annually in 1991 to 30.8 in 2012.

One huge issue stemming from this massive consumption is pollution.  Globally, humans buy 1 million plastic bottles per minute; however, 91% of the plastic is not recycled.  A huge number of plastic bottles end up in landfill, and a big part of them go into ocean.   According to Ocean Conservancy, plastics are believed to threaten at least 600 different wildlife species90% of seabirds are now eating plastics on a regular basis; by 2050, that figure is expected to rise to 100%; At that time, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.   To manage the issue, Europe is planning to ban 10 single use plastic items that make up for 70% of all litter in EU waters and on beaches.  While we all need to drink water, we definitely do not need more plastic bottles.

Everyone would enjoy some cold, refreshing water, especially after running at a race.  Before the water truck,  water supplied to thirsty runners at a race like this would be just boxes after boxes of bottles.  As there are over 30,000 organized races and close to 17 million race finishers in the US a year, suppose one runner at least consumes 1 bottle, the races in US alone will generate 17 million bottles, with a big portion of that ending in landfill and oceans!  The Great Race was estimated to be attended by 1000 people.  By providing a water truck, the race organizer and Santa Clara Water District removed at least 1K bottles from this event.  Kudos to them for quenching the thirst for the runners, and doing a great thing for the environment!

Here, no bottle was found at the bins:

A leaky toilet

At 9am, the race started.  In the race, one could not help but notice something that was rather unusual  – a running “leaky toilet”; to be more concise, someone who was wearing a costume of a toilet.  Why a toilet?  Well, it carried a rather big message about water.

According to Peninsula Press, “Leaky toilets are just one source of common water wastage in home, since one out of five homes may have a toilet in any given year, according to Ora Chaiken from WaterSmart Software. She reprised her role as the “running toilet”, which participants tried to catch during the 5k and 1k fun runs.”

Leaks are a big source of water waste.  Up to 50% of households will experience some kind of water leak in a given year;  according to EPA,  household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. enough for more than 11 million homes’ annual water use!  As water leaks can waste so much water, we should do everything we can to prevent and fix it immediately when it happens.

We all understand the importance of using high water efficiency products, like the high efficiency toilet shown here, to save water. However,  if leaks happen, any  savings can be wiped out, and more.  It is good that we use these products, like the toilet, or water efficient irrigation such as drip ; equally important though, is that we can prevent, detect and fix any leaks quickly when they happen.

leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Plant a garden with native plants

There were quite a few partner booths and activities at the festival.  Here, a landscape designer was giving a presentation about landscaping with California native plants.  Compared with a lawn, a garden with drought tolerant and native plants can save water significantly.  In addition, these plants can provide habitat for pollinators like bees, birds and butterflies, providing rich biodiversity and supporting a healthy eco system, which a lawn can not.  A garden can also add so much color and textures to the space, making it attractive and adding the curb appeal for the house.

Outdoor landscaping accounts for half of the urban water use in California, which is a lot.  To save water, replacing a lawn with a water efficient gardens is one of the most effective ways.  Plant some wild flowers, save water and help out the bees and birds.  They will surely be grateful!

wild flower presentation
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Kids Played a Big Part

When one came to the festival, they would find this sure was an event not just for adults, but also for kids.  There were kids everywhere, from little babies to teenagers; There was an 1K fun run just for kids.  For a kid,  there were so many fun things to look and do.  The smokey bear!  The eagle!

Smokey bear
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Eagle
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water

With global warming, pollution and other environmental issues, our globe is facing some serious challenges, which will just become more serious if not managed well.  This makes it really important for kids to be involved early, to become educated in the topics about earth, environment and sustainability.

When today’s kids grow up, they will inherit the earth with all the issues and challenges; what they learn now can prepare them for the challenges then; furthermore, if they understand the importance today, they can join join adults and do something to prevent, reduce or slow down the impact of these issues.  For example, our water supply from snowpack might decline by 60% in just 20 years.  Facing such a future, kids should learn today how precious our wate is, and what they can do now to conserve water.  By chasing the “leaky toilet”, they will understand the significance of preventing water losses like leaks.  When they grow up, in a world that will have less stable water supply than today, they will fully appreciate the value of water and try to come up with ways to use it well. Out of the many things they will do,  they might design a better toilet that have less leaks, and save more water.

Kids chasing leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
#1 kid
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Win at the race

Well, beyond all the fun activities, this still was a race.  I was just planning to have a good time and did not prepare anything special for the race.  After the race started, I dashed through the 5K.  When they announced the winner for each age group, to my happy surprise, I won 1st place in my age group.

Luckily, in our long race towards a clean and sustainable earth, not just one person, or a group, a country, or one generation  can be the winner.  All of us can.  If we come together and work together, if we bring our kids along, we will all win in the end.   The sky will still be blue, water still be clean in the next generation, and the next.

The Great Race for Saving Water has been a very fun and educational event, blending in sports, games, plants, animals and many more to give everyone an abundant dose of fun and information.  It is truly a Great Race for Saving Water.

race finish
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water

Capture Every Raindrop In Your Garden

After a long dry winter rains finally came!  For three days the rains just came down heavily.  This garden was completed right before the rains. During the rain, raindrops can be seen coming down from the two down spouts, going right into the the soil of the garden.  The plants waved gently in the rain, as if saying: “Thank you!”

Water Efficient Garden in rain

downspout in rain

Before – brown lawns

The owner has been at this place for some time.  Ever since he moved here, he had not done anything to the front and back yards.  The lawns went brown during the drought, looking quite barren.   Even after the very wet year of 2017, they did not come back.  Finally, when the owner heard about the Santa Clara Landscape Rebate Program in his city, he decided it was the time to start doing something.

He wanted to build a garden that will meet all the requirements of the rebate program.  After he did some searches online, he found the website of Water Efficient Garden, where he got exactly the information he needed.

Brown Lawn

In the backyard  there is an olive tree.  It is a large tree with lots of black olives lying on the ground.

Olive tree

Designing the Garden

The owner wanted to have a simple and easy conversion which would meet all the requirements of the Rebate Program.  Luckily, there are  a large number of attractive drought tolerant plants to choose from.  When selected carefully, even just with a few, the plants can make an elegant and water efficient garden.

In Mediterranean areas like Spain where the olive trees originate from, the tree can be seen everywhere: in the open fields, at the hill tops, etc.  There, lavender, rosemary, and other Mediterranean natives also grow in abundance.  They are well adapted to the climate there, very drought tolerant, yet with attractive flowers and aroma.

California shares the same Mediterranean climate, so these plants also do well here.  For the backyard design, it was decided some of these plants will be used, keeping the Mediterranean vibe alive.

Olive tree in Spain
An olive tree on top of a hill at Barcelona
Capture every drop in the garden

The front yard sits next to the side of the house, with thick bushes almost completely blocking out the wall.  When the project started, the grasses were removed, the bushes cut, exposing the wall.   On it there are two down spouts, pointing to the yard below (only one is shown in this photo).  So, when it rains, all the rainwater from the roof will go into the yard, not driveway or other impervious surfaces, which is excellent.

After the historical drought that ended just last year,  people all realize now how valuable water really is.  With population increase and climate change, our demand for water will only increase.  On the other hand, as the Sierra Nevada snowpack will “very likely” shrink  by 30% in the next 20 years, the supply will decrease.  How can we have enough water to meet our demand?

A big chunk of water do come to us every year, but in the past we send a large part of it away right away – the rain water.  Rainwater is not a waste, but a very valuable resource of water.   Steven Moore, a member of the State Water Resources Control Board, said, “Stormwater could be a significant addition to California’s water supply. Los Angeles estimates that rainfall could provide nearly half a million acre-feet (620 million cubic meters) per year. Stormwater could make a difference, it could see us through seven years of drought instead of five.”

If the rain water is directed to impervious surfaces like driveway, the water will just become runoff and be sent right away, which is a waste for this valuable water resource.   In places with natural ground cover, 50% of the rain water can go back in the soil.  In urban areas where a big chunk of surfaces are impervious,  only about 15% of water goes back.  Specifically, only 5% of the water infiltrates deep down, versus 25% with natural ground cover, which seriously deprives the ground from water recharging that is badly needed.

So, when it rains, we should direct as much water as possible to our garden, let it water the plants, soak into the soil, and recharge the ground water.   By capturing every drop, we can make the best use of the water that fall on our roof every year.

After – drought tolerant landscape

The garden projects are done!  This is how the front yard looks now:

To further absorb the rainwater, a small ditch was made in the middle of the garden.  Filled with pebble stones, the “river” can take all the rain water coming down the two down sprouts when it rains.  In addition to capturing the rain water,  it adds a vivid element to the landscape, making it look more lively and appealing.   The rocks scattering across the garden add yet more textures and balance out the “river” in the middle.

All the plants are drought tolerant. They sport pink, purple, yellow and white blossoms, making the garden not just water efficient, but also cheerful.

For the backyard, in front of the Olive tree, another Mediterranean native  – the lavenders, add color and aroma.

a water efficient garden

Close to the patio, a native plant from California flank the pathway with their tiny blue blossom and dark green leaves.

California native plant

Irrigation controller and drip irrigation was done for all the plants.  In addition, a rain sensor was also installed, which is connected to the irrigation controller.  When it rains, the rain sensor will send signal to the controller, which will delay the irrigation scheduled until the rain stops.  A simple device can save even more water for the garden.

How does it do in the rain?

Right after the garden was installed, a much-waited-for rain came.  For 3 days rain kept pouring down.  How did the garden do?

Very well.  While the rain that fell on the driveway inevitably runs off,  every drop of the rain that fell on the roof all went into the garden from the two down spouts.  Plants love the rain water, which is not  treated with chemicals, as is the case for in-house water.  Plants grown up with rain water usually grow faster, stronger, and have better and larger blossom.

After the project was finished,  information such as garden photos were submitted to the Rebate Program, which issued a rebate promptly.

By converting a brown lawn into a water efficient garden, the space looks much more appealing.  In a dry place like California, it can save 30-60%  of water comparing with a lawn, saving cost and maintenance work.  On top of it, when it rains, it can absorb every drop of the rain water, feeding the plants, and saving even more water.  For all these these great benefits, you can receive a rebate of $1-$2 per square foot.

The owner was happy with the project.  “It looks very good.  We are really happy with the design. ”

We are not receiving the average level of rain this year;  it looks we are going to have another dry year.   We’ve got to be prepared for the dry time now.  Why wait?  Start today!

lawn to water efficient garden conversion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds At an Aquatic Habitat: What Changes Could You See After Storms?

In Santa Clara county where the Silicon Valley is located, Los Gatos Creek is one of the few urban streams that remains relatively intact throughout countless developments in the area during the last 200 years.  The stream originates in the Santa Cruz Mountains, flows into the Vasona Reservoir, winds through a small valley, and clears into the Guadalupe river that finally empties into the San Francisco Bay.  It is one of the many steams and creeks in the vast Guadalupe River watershed, and a habitat for many wetland species.

Los Gatos Creek Map

Watersheds are critical habitats for birds, fishes and other animals that live a wetland environment.  200 years ago, before any of the modern developments, the creek must have been a heaven for the birds and fishes.  At the time, all kinds of birds could be seen flying in the sky and resting in the creek; fishes swimming through the creek in massive numbers.

Unfortunately, in the 200 years since, “about 90% of California’s original aquatic habitat has been altered or destroyed through human activities”, more than any other states in the nation.  What we see in Los Gatos Creek today is one of the 10% that remains.

Los Gatos Creek

Today many of the parks like Los Gatos Creek often provides the only refuge in urban areas for native wetland species.  They have been living here for tens of  thousands of years.   During migration season some species of birds will also come and use the place as a resting area, critical for their survival.  If the park no longer exists, or its environment dramatically changes, it can be devastating for all the birds that have been depending on it for so many years.

Bird sightings at normal time

The birds that can be seen most often are Canadian goose.

Los Gatos Creek

Canada Goose

Great egret and snowy egret can also be seen from time to time.

snowy egret

This was in the migration season of November.  These birds were taking a rest before they flew out to their next destination.

Bird sightings after storms in 2016 winter

After an epic, historic 5 year drought, starting from late fall of 2016, California went from extremely dry to extremely wet, with record breaking rainfalls.   Heavy rains pummeled from late fall all the way  into spring, in some places floods and mudslides occurred.  At Los Gatos creek, parts of the trail were also flooded several times.

Flood

The new “stream” in the previous trail was quickly discovered by some lovely “guests”.  They came in swiftly, playing in this new playground of theirs, relaxing, fishing and enjoying a good meal!

Feeding

Same as these ducks, quite some birds found out the new water and came right in.  Here is normally what you would see when you cross a bridge to enter the trail and look down at the water .  The right side of the creek bed is completely dry.  On the morning after several heavy storms in January, though, the whole span of the creek bed was fully filled with flood water.  On the muddy yellow water you could see these two little birds, guests that were not seen here before.

Creek

Two Birds

They are hooded mergansers.

After you walked a bit more along the trail, there was another surprise waiting.  A Double Crested Cormorant was “relaxing” on a tree, which was never seen here either.  She streatched her wings, turning her head from left to right, right to left, then left to right….with the kind of excitement of a baby.  In the second photo, the two small birds could also be seen swimming in the same place.

Bird

Bird 2

The cormorant really liked it here. In the next 2-3 weeks you can see her swimming, resting and relaxing in this particular spot.

Bird

Bird

Bird

Even more surprises ahead.  After you went further down the creek and came to this spot – Look!  literally a bird’s paradise.  So many birds, of different species, gathered here, rested in this comfy patch made from branches and grasses brought by the flood water.  The patch was right in the middle of the creek, providing the birds all they needed: food, shelter, and a fun place to hang out.  After just one  day, though, the patch was gone, so went all the birds.  Such a view was not seen again.

birds after storm

A great blue heron, and a great egret:

Birds

In the next 2-3 weeks when it continued to rain hard, more birds usually unseen could be found at the creek.

Bird

Bird

2 couples of the mallard duck.  Look at that beautiful blue stripe.

A big group of the American coot, on the flooded trail.  While coots can be seen often, such a big group was only seen during this time.

birds

A big bird was seen here at the tree right beside the trail, towards the end of the rainy season. She really enjoyed the tree and stayed on it for hours, ignoring all the people who passed by on the trail.  She was seen only once.  This is a black-crowned night-heron.

Bird on a tree

Birds, habitat, and water

The heavy rains at Los Gatos Creek gave us a valuable opportunity to observe how a sudden increased level of water would mean for the creek habitat, and the ecosystem.  If we just look at the birds, the answer is clear: they loved all that water.  While we don’t have a count for the birds’ numbers during the storm time, the number of species, and the size of the bird groups we saw, increased quite significantly.  This happened with just 2 months of storms, one could only imagine how it would turn out if the same rains continued for a longer time.

In the last 5 years, when California experienced the epic drought, the birds, and the whole ecosystem at the aquatic habitats must have been very stressed.  They lost a big chunk of their habitat; at the habitats that did remain, water was way more scarce than usual.  As Professor Peter Moyle from University of California, Davis pointed out, “Drought is hard enough on us, and on farmers, and cities, and so forth.  It’s really hard on the fish, really hard on the aquatic and riparian systems.”

Continue with water conservation

Water will just become more scare in the future, relative to our demand for it, with population growth, economic expansion, and climate change.  How can we manage and use it , so that we not only will have enough for ourselves, but also for the birds and fishes in the aquatic and reparian habitats?

While all kinds of solutions are being explored, one thing is clear: we must continue to conserve water,  which is the easiest and cheapest solution among all.  In California, we use half of our water in outdoor landscaping.  If we can all switch to water efficient gardening, we can surely save a significant amount of water.  As we see in the picture, when we save water with drought tolerant plants like these Mexican bush sages, we no only save for us, but also those birds in the creek.

Lake

 

A Tale of Two California Flowers

Everywhere you go, flowers are blossoming!  In the mountains, on the plains,  around the corners of our neighborhood, they offer so much beauty and charm of the nature.  Among them, these two flowers probably catch your eyes quite a lot: the tall Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri), and the splendid, golden California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica).  Together, they are a tale of two flowers.

Matilija Poppy

California Poppy

Voting for the State Flower of California

In 1893, the California State Floral Society met to vote on the state flower of California.  There were 3 contenders: the Matilija Poppy, the California Poppy, and Mariposa Lily.  All native to California.

Mariposa Lily
Mariposa Lily

The result: California Poppy received all the votes except for 3, which went to Mariposa Lily.  The California Poppy was determined to be California’s state flower.  A decade later, in 1903, legislature made the title official. Here is a California Scenic Highway sign with the California Poppy.

CA State Flower

Two Flowers, Great Plants for a California Friendly Garden

Both Motilija Poppy and California Poppy are beautiful California native plants that are drought tolerant, making them great choices for a water efficient garden.

Matilija Poppy  is native to dry, sunny environments in Southern California and Baja California.  The flower, like a fried egg (“Fried Egg Flower”, another name of Matilija Poppy) is one of the biggest of any species native to California.  The flowers usually begin from early spring and can last until late summer.

Matilija Poppy is tough and very drought tolerant, can survive in most of the soil conditions.  It can grow to be 7 feet tall and 28 feet wide.  If there are some spaces needed to be filled in the garden, the Matilija Poppy can be a good contender.

In this garden, the Matilija Poppies are planted near the window.   When fully grown, they can become a shield for privacy and hot sunlight.

The California Poppy is 4 to 12 inches tall.  They bloom in spring, adding their bright golden or yellow color to any garden. It is drought tolerant and easy to grow. Here, the green foliage and yellow flowers decorate the dry creek bed of this water efficient garden very nicely.

Vote on Your Favorite California Flower

Now you have a chance to vote on your favorite California flower.  These 4 flowers are all California natives. In addition to the Matilija Poppy and California Poppy introduced above, the other two are California Lilac (Cean0thus) and Lupine (Lupinus).  They are all drought tolerant plants great for a California friendly garden.

Which one is your favorite?

  1. Matilija Poppy
  2. California Poppy
  3. California Lilac
  4. Lupine

California Flowers

A Floral Dream Blooms In Spring

After experiencing one of the worst droughts in the state’s history from water year 2011-2016, California went to another extreme since the start of water year 2017, receiving so much rains that it became one of the wettest for the time period so far.  We know generally plants like rain, but how about the drought tolerant plants and native plants that were planted in water efficient gardens last year?  Did they survive?  How do they do after all the rains?  Recently I went back and checked on those gardens, what I saw totally blew me away.  A floral dream is blooming!

floral-dream-4

 

A floral dram came true

In the design phase of the garden, one plant chosen to be the anchor was Pride of Madeira (Echium), a drought tolerant plant. At 6-8 feet when fully grown, their big spikes are like flower towers in a garden.  With them in the picture, there is no chance a garden is plain or dull!  However, the Echium was just this small plant when the garden was installed.  It would take quite a while before it could grow to 6-8 feet and bloom, everyone reckoned.  “Let’s just wait, and it will come in some years.”

But, as it shows, you don’t need to wait that long!  In a mere 3 months of time, during which it rained heavily, it grew from one foot to 5 foot, with 4 huge spikes of flower tower in full bloom.  It is a spectacular view.  The owner took a trip before it bloomed.  When she returned and saw those spikes, “I was so surprised! It was gorgeous!”

Jan 2017

Echium

Apr 2017

Echium 2

Apart from Echium, other plants also grew and bloomed beautifully.

Jan 2017

Sage 1

Apr 2017

Sage 2

More flowers

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blossom-1

Rain help make floral dreams come true

While most of the drought tolerant plants are tough and can thrive in new environments, without a doubt, the heavy rains in the last winter and spring helped them grow so well as they did.

One might ask, since these plants are drought tolerant, why are the rains still so important?  Yes, it is true they adapt to dry conditions and can survive in a low water environment; however, most of them would still like a certain amount of water to bloom, or bloom well.  If it was dry in the last season, they can still live, but likely not produce such splendid blossom.

For plants like Echium and Seaside Daisy (the purple flower above), which originate from areas of Mediterranean climate (Canary Island and California coast), they are accustomed to rains in winter and very little to no water in summer.  They will grow rapidly in the rainy season, then go dormant or grow slowly in the dry summer season.  It is amazing how we can observe the same wonder of nature in our garden.

A beautiful view, and conserving water

In addition to providing us with a beautiful view of all the blooming flowers, water efficient gardens like this can conserve a lot of water. Compared to a lawn, such a garden can save water by 15 to 40%.

Yes, with the heavy rains, California is out of the 5-year drought. However, with population growth and climate change, water the resource will just become scarcer relative to its demand.   Water conservation is a way of life in California.  By building a water efficient garden, one not only can live in such a way, but enjoy all the beautiful views from the many blossoms nature has to offer.

 

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From a Weedy Turf to a Dream Garden

From a weedy turf to a dream garden:

beforenafter

Against a full wall of Camilla trees, Lucy (not her real name)’s lawn used to be green and lush.  With the drought, however, parts of the turf just went bare, with the remaining thin and weedy.  Then rains – lots of them- came, the turf just turned into this big bed of wild weeds.  Lucy had been wanting to replace it with a much nicer “dream garden”, but with her really busy schedule, she did not even have the time to think about it.

Graden - Before

Graden - Before

After Lucy heard about the Santa Clara Landscape Conversion Rebate Program, especially the way her project will be done, i.e., all the paper work will be handled, the project will cover the entire process of design and installation, the only time she needed to be involved was the design of the garden – she happily got on board.

Landscape Conversion Program Application

To apply for the Rebate Program, a pre-inspection was scheduled.  At the end of pre-inspection, the application forms were provided.  For the application, the filled forms, along with the design of the garden were to be submitted.

Rebate Program Pre-Inspection

Designing the Garden

This will be a water efficient garden, meeting all the requirements of the Rebate program, i.e., using only native or drought tolerant plants, using drip irrigation, applying mulch, etc.

The next consideration was the look.  There was a wall of the camellias at the back of the front yard; in addition, two small fruit trees in the middle. The camellias were in their full blossom, sporting bright pink and red colors, against thick green leaves. It was a beautiful view.  A good design should add to the view, not take away from it.

At the time of plant selection, when Lucy spotted a picture of a lavender, she cried “that is it!” A path with lavender on both sides, with its strong scent – that was something of a dream for her.  Very luckily, lavender is one of those low water-use plants that qualify for the rebate. Now she could have her dream realized!

The application was submitted with the garden design.  After a week or so, the Notice to Proceed was received.  The project could kick off now.

Installing the Garden

The weeds and turf were removed, plants purchased and placed.  For mulch, it was bark chips, which came in different colors.  The mulch can effectively prevent evaporation and keep the soil moist longer.  When the chips decompose, it can add to the organic matters of the soil, improving the its quality and water holding capacity, which in turn will save more water.  Lucy chose the black color, which turned out to be a great choice.

Installing a Water Efficient Garden

A Dream Garden Came True

Beautiful Water Efficient Garden

The clean design and black surface from mulch make the Camilla’ colors really “pop” out.  The light step stones surrounding the two small trees in front not only provide something very functional, but accentuate the trees and add liveliness to the garden.

These plants dot the garden space with colors and textures, without distracting from the main view of Camilla.  They are all drought tolerant and qualify for the Rebate program.

Water Efficient Garden

Water Efficient Garden

While the garden already looks nice, there is more to look forward to. When the lavenders grow up and fully bloom, walking in the middle will be like walking through a purple corridor with that wonderful lavender scent.  Now that is something to wait for!

Dream Garden with Lavender

 

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.

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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