Welcome to my Garden Blog

Nature: wild & untouched. Photographing it, preserving it, taking walks and drinking in the landscapes as they unfold.

Gardens: touched by loving hands. Cultivated, nurtured. Drinking in those landscapes is wonderful, as well.

In my garden one enjoys some of both. Generally unpruned & wild, my plants reshape the garden as they grow.

Beyond the garden borders, natives from the Santa Monica Mtns await. Oak trees with their shady canopies. Cactus & Sage in the sun.

Always there are animal creatures to join in the fun.

I look forward to sharing some of my experiences with you as they unfold.

Monday, December 7, 2015

This Magical Season and the Traveling Christmas Tree

It’s the Winter Holidays, that Magical Season when we celebrate the wonder and beauty of Nature, the balance of life on earth: between plants and animals, people and trees… It is also a time for reflection, as the days grow shorter and cooler, and we spend more time looking out the window at the landscape of our gardens. I reflect that we have taken so much from this planet; isn’t Christmastime a perfect time to give back to wildlife?

So then, why is it that people are celebrating this Season of Life by taking life, by chopping down healthy young trees? Why is this a standard tradition?  To me, a tree is a powerful living thing. It gives of itself without complaint all year long. A tree gives us shelter from the rain and summer’s hot sun; it gives food and makes a home for wildlife. So in this Magical Season affirming life, I cannot chop down a tree to decorate! When Christmas Tree Stands start to appear, I have to turn away. I cannot celebrate with the shoppers.

Now, I do love a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments collected over the years. I love to stare into the tree lights and remember all of the other Christmases that have gone before.  Yes, I want a Christmas tree, too.  So, I have my own tradition: I decorate a Living Tree each year, complete with Roots in a Pot! I usually buy a small tree that lasts 2-3 years. I put it out on the patio after the holidays are over.  And in the Spring I re-pot it into a larger pot.  So the little tree can come in for a second Christmas the following winter. This is fun because the tree has grown some, and the ornaments all fit differently. This also means the cost of the tree is absorbed over two years instead of one.

Now, my tradition isn’t for everyone. Maybe you don’t have room to plant large trees.  Well, in some areas the National Forest Service welcomes folks  to bring their trees out after the holidays to replant in forest areas that have suffered severe burns from wildfires! Families can put a name tag on the tree, and when children come back to the forest, years later, they can see how much their tree has grown! Wonderful.

Another option for folks who want a Living Tree with roots and soil in a pot, but have nowhere to plant it, is to rent a tree (click link for tree rental programs across the states)! Yep, here in So Cal there are a number of places gaining popularity for renting living trees at Christmas! They will come and pick up your tree when your holiday celebrations are over.  They say, “Why drag a dead tree into the house?” In Los Angeles, the Living Christmas Company will rent you a tree. And when it becomes too large, they donate it to the Urban Reforestation Project.

Another pretty alternative to evergreen trees is Rosemary.  A lot of nursery centers are now trimming rosemary into topiary tree shapes for the holidays. Jesse Elwert of BWG mentioned recently that this is her newtradition: a rosemary Christmas tree.  After the holidays are over, almost everyone has room for rosemary in their herb or cutting garden.

When I started traveling, Christmas of 2012, I got my first 4" potted traveling tree because it would fit into my car cupholder! Perfect for my lifestyle. I planted that tree in a state campground on the Central Coast of CA.  This year, my Living Tree is once again a small pine (Pinus pinea) that fits into the car cup holder, and, you know he is the cutest thing!  After the holidays, I plan to plant him in a California State Park where he can grow big, live wild and be a home to wildlife. 

This Christmas, as you gaze out across the darkened garden landscape under starry skies, whatever your traditions are for celebrating this Magical Season of Life, I hope you will affirm to be a good steward to the gentle creatures of this earth in the new year.

What is your tradition for celebrating this Holiday Season? Please share~

Currently, I am writing a California travel memoir. You are invited to visit www.gypsygardenermemoir.wordpress.com~

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Scary Things Lurking in the Grass

                                  Pacific Poison Oak, Rhus Toxicodendron diversilobum 
                                            Photo credit: Las Pilitas Nursery

It’s HALLOWEEN, and all things SCARY take center stage. Here in California’s Santa Monica Mountains I ponder what could be scary as I go about my day~

Starting out the day with a hike, following a trail through tall grass, it would be SCARY to run into a thicket of Pacific Poison Oak (Rhus Toxicondendron).

In the autumn, the red leaves-of-three add colorful interest among the tan-colored grass. At least in autumn, then, it is easier to spy the Rhus Toxicondendron in the grass than at other times of the year. Worse yet, you could run into Pacific Poison Oak hiding in your own backyard! If you do, try to save some of it for the deer, as  it is an important food source for them. The berries are also important food source to the birds in wintertime. Few native gardeners would plant Pacific Poison Oak, but some are brave enough to leave it alone to take its necessary place in the ecosystem.

Prickly Pear Cactus with Cochineal Insects, Topanga, 
Photo by Kathy Vilim

Another SCARY plant of the California chaparral is the Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia littoralis).  There are a number of different types of cactus that cover the hills here, and many long spines to look out for.  The prickly pear that dominates my yard at times becomes covered in this white mold-like stuff.  But it is far from it. Take a hose to that mold one day, as I did, and you will find the mold MOVES!  It is ALIVE!  

In fact, it is actually a type of scale insect called  Cochineal that burrows into the flesh  of the cactus and sucks the cactus’ juice.  If you manage to remove the Cochineal with the spray of water, what you get is a red ink that looks like BLOOD!  Indians used it to dye clothes, and in some places, farmers still grow cactus for this red dye.  Still, it is SCARY to get too close to the cactus. Some of their pricklers are so tiny as to be practically invisible, while others are downright long and SCARY, and they may be lurking in the tall grass!

Young Pacific Rattlesnake, 
Photo by: Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area

So you’ve gotten past the Pacific Poison Oak without a scratch, and you’ve passed through the tall grass without getting poked by a cactus.  That’s just a little red cactus juice on your pants, not BLOOD. Surely, there is nothing else Lurking in the Grass.. Nothing like say, Mr. Rattlesnake

Yes, the rattlesnake  is a resident of the California chaparral, as well. There are 7 different species of Rattlesnake in Southern California alone incl: Western Diamondback, Sidewinder, Speckled rattlesnake, Red Diamond rattlesnake, Southern Pacific, Great Basin rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake. It is very SCARY to walk through the tall grass thinking about SNAKES!  Some people will carry a staff or walking stick with them for this reason.  But not to worry, for most of the rattlesnakes have begun their hibernation by this time.

Little Brown Bat, photo by BLM.gov (Myotis-lucifugus)

Halloween is coming, and it is time to walk down the hill, down to the creek to watch the bats emerge!  Topanga has several different types of resident bats that live under the bridges.  The Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) are the most common species living under the bridge.  

They are attracted to the many insects that live by the creek. As darkness settles in, BATS will appear, all at once, startling you as they take flight!  SCARY BATS take to the sky, wings darker than the darkening Halloween night sky.  Leaving their alcoves, BATS claim the night time, which is theirs to share with coyote and owl.

Coyote (Canis latrans) Photo Credit: Demented Pixie

On your way home, you might listen to owls hooting from up high up in tall pine trees serenading you, and you might wish you could see them.  Then, if you feel like you are being followed, you might just be, as that curious trickster,  COYOTE may be escorting you home! SCARY!

What SCARY things are waiting in your neighborhood this Halloween?

(reprinted- original post by Kathy Vilim on beautifulwildifegarden.com October, 2013)
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Friday, July 10, 2015

Go Native for the California Drought

July, 2015: It is official! We are in our 4th Year of Drought in Southern California, and everybody is talking about water concerns. This is an unprecendented situation, and Governor Brown has declared mandatory reductions in water use statewide.  

Water Restrictions affect all Californians, from farmers to cattle ranchers, to industries like fisheries, tourism, water sports, and commercial landscaping, municipal landscaping, and to our own home & garden use.

This Summer, in the upcoming series of posts, I hope to touch on important aspects of the drought and offer practical tips, including:

  • Plant This Not That: All Drought Tolerant Plants are Not Equal
  • How to Replace Your Lawn: Landscaping Choices
  • Saving Gray Water for Reuse: Water Cachment Systems.
  • Practical Garden Ideas that will Conserve Moisture
  • Why Native Plants Matter

This drought is more far-reaching than just the State of California. It spreads all across the West, including places like Las Vegas, which has its own set of challenges. It affects water reservoirs, and places like Lake Mead are at historic low levels.  Officials are facing big challenges getting drinking water to all of us, while still providing for agriculture.  

I see the current challenges as a promising opportunity for Californians. When we rip out our lawns, we are provided the opportunity to embrace new plants in our landscaping.  NOW, is the time to choose native plants!

Native plants are drought tolerant, because they belong here!  Yes, there are non-native plants which are also drought tolerant and are commonly offered at nurseries.  But, why not give back to the local ecology by repairing the ecosystem with native plants.  Native plants bring us native insects, much to the happiness of native birds.

What are you doing to conserve water in your California garden this summer?  We'd love to hear about it!  

Wildflowers, Santa Monica Mtns

Wildflowers, Santa Monica Mtns