Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rain, rain, and more rain...

It's been raining all day. And, boy - do we need it here in Southern California. I think the Bear Creek fire station can now finally change its Smoky the Bear sign on Clinton Keith Road from "High" fire danger to "Low."

It's 4:30pm right now and it's coming down in buckets. Since the house is upslope, we're not worried about flooding, but the water is carving out gullies along the driveway and adjacent hill.

Of course, I had to pick today to go down to Lowe's in Murrieta earlier this morning to get our Christmas tree. We got a 6-7' Douglas Fir, which we have sitting upright in the tree stand in the garage so it can dry out before we haul it into the living room. Unfortunately, Hana did a VERY BAD thing whilst the tree was aerating. She apparently noticed it in the garage on her way out to the dog run and decided to PEE PEE on it!! What a BAAAADDDD girl!!!!! You'd think that a girl dog would not do such a thing, but this one must be gender conflicted because she has no qualms about lifting her leg to mark her turf. Now I've got to bleach the base of the tree stand to ensure she doesn't do it again once the tree is in the house.

Neighbor's horses don't seem to mind the rain.

Water pooling around the driveway in front of the garage.

Water streaming down the slope towards the bottom of our driveway.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Last harvest of the season

With our recent bout of frosty weather, I decided it was time to harvest the vestiges of the warm season crops still hanging on for dear life in my veggie garden.

All told, I procured a small batch of purple tomatillos, a couple Serrano chilies, and a few New Mexico chilies. Already used the New Mexico chilies in a turkey meatloaf day before yesterday (delish!), but not sure if there are enough tomatillos to make a decent salsa verde. May have to supplement with the store-bought variety.

I had planted a bunch of "Shao Bai Tsai" (i.e., "little white cabbage") from seed a month ago,  and they are now about 2 inches high. One of my favorite greens as a youngster in Taiwan. The cool weather seems to be keeping their growth in check.

If you are looking for a local source of Asian vegetable seeds, check out, a mail-order seed company located in Anaheim, CA. They offer over 350 varieties of Asian vegetable seeds, including a great selection of Taiwanese favorites like  small Chinese Cabbage (what I call 'Shao Bai Tsai' or 'little white cabbage'), Taiwan Coriander, 'Ping Tung Long' Eggplant, Chinese celery, and Taiwan basil.

12/6/09 Left to right: New Mexico Chilies, Purple Tomatillos, Serrano Chilies

Also got some ripening citrus crops at this time, including Meyer Lemons, Moro Blood Oranges, Meiwa Kumquats, and a ton of those diminutive Mexican Limes.

12/5/09 'Meiwa' Semi-Dwarf Kumquat (Fortunella crassifolia)

12/8/09 'Shao Bai Tsai' (Brassica campestris var. chinensis). The seed package is labeled as 'Small Chinese Cabbage', but a better translation is 'Little White Cabbage'.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow in Southern California

The first really significant rainstorm hit the Southland yesterday, and we're expecting another system or two to come through this Thursday through Saturday. A cold front accompanied by high winds followed the recent rain, and our temperatures here in La Cresta have dipped below freezing for the past two days. In fact, right now, at 9:50pm, it's already down to 33F. Dang! that's just too cold for us temperate-weathered types.

The snow level for this last storm was probably around 3,000-4,000 feet, so we didn't get any snow in the Santa Ana Mountains.  However, on the drive to work this morning, we saw some beautiful snow-covered peaks in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino ranges.

12/8/09 View of Mt. Baldy, San Bernardino Mountains, northbound on I-15 at Norco

12/8/09 View of San Bernardino Mountains, northbound on I-15 at Norco

12/8/09 View of Mt. Baldy, San Bernardino Mountains,
northbound I-15 at Limonite (Mira Loma)

'Tis the season for a picnic table...

YES! Finally found that 6' pine picnic table that no one seems to have in stock this time of year. Lowe's and Home Depot didn't have any because they are apparently "not in season". Ok, here in Southern California, when is a picnic table not in season? But thank goodness for the very helpful folks at Ace Hardware, who had this puppy in stock at their warehouse. So I bought it and it was delivered to their Wildomar store for pick up last weekend.

The table came unassembled, which was a good thing, or otherwise it wouldn't fit into the bed of the Tundra. We spent about an hour and a half putting it together. Probably would have gone quicker if the weather was a tad less dicey. I think we were barely above 50 degrees on Saturday afternoon, with added wind chill factor from the extremely blustery breezes.

12/5/09 Part one of assembly (the easy part). Put table top on flat surface...

Gilbert at his workshop, i.e., the bed of the Tundra. No need to glare, I know you didn't volunteer to put this thing together, but imagine all the al fresco dining we'll be able to enjoy after all is said and done!

Oooh, look - it's got legs!

Hana is not impressed.

You see, there's just no impressing a Princess...

Another baleful assessment from Hana...

YAY! All done.

Except for minor adjustment of the nuts and bolts. Can't have the thing collapsing from the weight of four full-sized adults.

Storm clouds on the horizon. Perfect weather for a picnic. Seriously...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blooms du jour and perchance some rain...

There's a 30% chance of rain forcast for late tonight. I'm not optimistic, but please, please let this be more than passing mist that evaporates before it ever hits the ground.

Been trimming & deadheading the salvias and penstemons as the fall season winds down. Amazed by some of the stuff that's still blooming.


10/24/09 Chaparral Mallow (Malocothamnus fasciculatus). Native on the property.

11/27/09 Most Beautiful Jewel Flower (Streptanthus albidus peramoena).

11/27/09 Creeping Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus).

11/27/09 'Jack' Monkeyflower (Mimulus cultivar).

11/27/09 Canyon Sunflower (Venegasia carpesioides).

11/27/09 Wallace's Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans).

11/27/09 'De La Mina' Cedros Island Verbena (Verbena lilacina). Not a California native per se, but a selection from Cedros Island off the west coast of Baja California. Often included in native plant sales because its native habitat is part of the California Floristic Province. I really, really love this plant. So low maintenance, very drought tolerant, and blooms almost year round except during the coldest periods of winter.


11/27/09 'Acapulco Rose' Mexican Giant Hyssop (Agastache mexicana).

11/27/09 Baja Fairyduster (Calliandra californica).
Hummingbirds attack each other with gusto over these blossoms.

11/27/09 Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans).

11/27/09 'Stampede Lavender' Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).

11/27/09 'Lipstick' Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).

11/27/09 'Hot Lips' Salvia (Salvia microphylla).

11/27/09 'Navajo' Bright Red Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).

11/27/09 'Gentle Giant', a stunning Hybrid Tea rose, with soft pale pink petals tinged on the edges by a slightly darker mauve.

11/27/09 'Techno Blue' Lobelia (Lobelia erinus). So reminiscent of Downingias!

11/27/09 'Mutabilis' China Rose (Rosa chinensis). Wow, what an extremely floriferous rose, with every gorgeous, willowy-petaled blossom exhibiting a slightly different hue.

The Genesis of a Pond, or The Myth of Sisyphus

This is the story of a dream pond turned nightmare - a pond which I still love despite a glaring, monumental defect in its construction. I'm sure ours is not an unfamiliar story to those who have had a similarly bad experience working with unlicensed contractors. So, it is with resigned resignation that I put forth the following pictorial expose of the genesis of said pond.  





7/2/08 Fixing the original mistake (or not)


 10/17/08 Lesser Goldfinch at top of falls

3/30/09 Mallard Ducks



In a nutshell, the original contractor we hired to build the pond seemed quite knowledgable and capable in the beginning, and quoted us a very reasonable price for a rather sizable pond. He said he was going to use the native rock from our site to line the pond perimeter and he also had the brilliant idea to put build a "bridge" over the water, requiring the installation of 6 concrete footings in the pond to support the large stone slabs that would form the "walkway" over the water.

Not being experts at pond construction, little did we realize that when Mark (the ersatz "contractor) cut holes into the flexible liner to accommodate those footings, he had irrevocably compromised the integrity of the liner. The end result was that our pond has been leaking ever since anywhere from 6-12" per day. Not that we didn't notice or complain initially, but Mark, that incredible jerk, refused to return our phone calls after he had unsuccessfully tried to fix the leak a couple times. He knew he had screwed up big time on this job and decided to skip out on us altogether. 

Then in July we hired Glen (electrician who wired our house and self-professed Koi pond expert) to fix the leak, and he spent several weeks and no small amount of moolah ostensibly repairing the problem, while also building up the waterfall a couple tiers to give it more dramatic effect. In terms of repairing the leak, Glen replaced the liner with something more heavy duty but left the footings in place. He did add extra concrete around the footings to "seal" the areas where the liner had been cut around them. My gut instinct told me that the footings had to go or the pond would continue leaking  - but I had deferred to Glen's expert opinion on this matter. Sure enough, after Glen completed the repair, the water level continued to drop, unabated, by several inches every day. Glen's response? Nah - don't worry, it's just "evaporation", which will happen with a pond of that size. Are you kidding me? The drudgery of having to refill the pond every day because of an "evaporation" problem seemed beyond ludicrous. Who the hell would put in a 3,000+ gallon water feature in their landscape just for the sheer pleasure of having to add water to it on a daily basis?  So Gilbert told him no, we didn't think the leak was fixed and could he just please take out all the footings. Well, it was clear at that point that Glen was not a happy camper - sure he could take the footings out, but he was going to have to charge us more moolah to do so.

That was the last straw. Felt like we had been had twice and throwing money with reckless abandon down a bottomless pit. So, we just said no - no more repairs - and put a temporary cease and desist on this neverending nightmare.

To this day, the pond continues to bleed H20 at the same rate, but on the bright side, that water is irrigating the pondside plantings I have installed. And, thank goodness, our water bill has not been adversely affected. For now, we'll just keep on refilling and enjoying the multitude of birdies and other critters that like to bathe, drink, swim and/or otherwise congregate in and around this Sisyphusean watering hole.

Moral of the story is, it's worth the extra money to hire a licensed contractor to do pond construction. That's what we plan to do down the line when we have the budget and energy to tackle this baby once again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Native Plant Sale & Book Signing by Marvin Trotter at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve

Made my annual trek to the Fall native plant sale at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve this past Saturday.

Only picked up 3 plants (versus my usual dozen) this time around, since we didn't get there until after noon, and I'm sure the best selections had been gotten earlier in the day. So my bounty consisted of Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa), Quailbush (Atriplex lentiformis), and Mahonia 'Golden Abundance.'

My main objective, however, was to go the book signing by Mrs. Marvin Trotter at the Plateau's visitor center. Her newly published book "Plants of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve" is certainly long overdue - I've been waiting for years for someone to catalog all the plants on the reserve in book form, and it's finally happened! On the cover is the endemic Santa Rosa Plateau Basalt Brodiaea (Brodiaea santarosae) recently discovered by Tom Chester, Kay Madore and Wayne Armstrong.

I had a chance to talk briefly with Mrs. Trotter as we were waiting for the ink to dry on her inscription in the book I had just purchased. Such a wonderful lady, only 84 years young, and with an impeccable sense of humor. With a twinkle in her eye, she told me that she had to use a black felt-tipped marker for the book signings so she could see what she was writing, and also chatted about her vegetable garden and citrus trees on her Wildomar property.

Mrs. Marvin Trotter showing some of the photographs taken for her new book (photo by Bill Wechter, staff photographer for the North County Times)

Mrs. Marvin Trotter at her Wildomar home, with the Canon Rebel 35mm camera she used to take many of the photos for her new book (photo by Bill Wechter, staff photographer for the North County Times).

This book, which she started with her husband (who subsequently passed away) back in 2004, was clearly a labor of love and a culmination of her many years of photographing the plants in this area. Wow, a woman after my own heart! Gilbert and I had been visiting and (I) photographing plants on the reserve since 1997. In fact, we relocated from LA County all the way out to La Cresta primarily because of its proximity to the Santa Rosa Plateau. And, we're still commuting every day to LA & Orange Counties to work. It's all about lovin' where you live. Mrs. Trotter, you are a true inspiration!

Marvin Trotter was featured in an article published on November 14, 2009 in The Californian: "Local woman publishes book on plants: Work catalogs more than 600 Santa Rosa Plateau species" (source of the above photos).

All proceeds from the book sales (cost is $40 and 100% tax deductible) will go to the Santa Rosa Plateau Foundation, supporting educational programs for elementary school children at the reserve. For more info, check out the Foundation's website at

Sunday, October 18, 2009

UCR Fall Plant Sale & other Fall happenings

Aaaahhh - Fall...finally I can now let loose, unfettered, with my gusto for native plant planting. I will nevah, evah plant natives smack dab in the middle of summah again. Woe is me for having even tried. I'm mortified by all the unhappy casualties of my tragic experiments:

Arctostaphylos pringlei drupacea? POOF! Arctostaphylos luciana? KAPUT! Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn'? DESSICATED! Arctostaphylos glandulosa howellii? SAY IT AIN'T SO! Heteromeles arbutifolia var. macrocarpa? AUF WIEDERSEHEN! Prunus virginiana? ASHES TO ASHES Castilleja miniata? WHAT WAS I THINKING? Monardella odoratissima? ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST! Salvia dorrii? TSAI JEN! Arenaria macradenia? AY CARAMBA!

I could go on and on, but it's simply too gut-wrenching. I know that conventional wisdom generally dictates fall planting for CA natives. However, my problem with gardening is and always has been unbridled enthusiasm with a touch of OCD. I simply could not resist the temptation to plant something, anything, even in the dead heat of July-August (like those boneheads who want to go camping in Death Valley when it's a balmy 130F). Whyfore hath reason absconded from thee?

But with the extremely subtle change of season upon us, I can now plant without undue fear of root rot reprisal!

Went to the UC Riverside Botanic Garden's annual Fall plant sale yesterday and scored the following:

  • Winter Fat (Krascheninnikovia lanata)
  • Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)
  • Mormon Tea (Ephedra viridis)
  • 'Arroyo de la Cruz' Ceanothus (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus)
  • 'Santa Ana Cardinal' Coral Bells (Heuchera hybrid)
  • Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)
  • Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)
  • Island Oak (Quercus tomentella)
  • Cedros Island Verbena (Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina')
  • 'Magenta Hope' Autumn Sage (Salvia x jamensis)
  • 'Dancing Dolls' Autumn Sage (Salvia x jamensis)
  • 'Ruby Cluster' Rockrose (Cistus hybrid)
So am I satiated? Nope...already drooling over the goodies to be had at the upcoming Fall native plant sale next month at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont. Oh yeah, baby!

Today was a phenomenal, quintessential Southern California Fall day. Got all the above planted without too much hassle, other than the occasional need to ward off the swarming yellow jacket wasps with my extremely stylized but still impressive (at least to my dog) hover-jump-kicking Keanu-Matrixesque moves.

According to Wiki, "In late summer, foraging [yellowjacket] workers change their food preference from meats to ripe, decaying fruits or scavenge human garbage, sodas, picnics, etc., since larvae in the nest fail to meet requirements as a source of sugar. This is why yellowjackets are known largely as pests that are capable of ruining picnics."

All I can say is, don't leave your unscreened doors or windows open this time of year, unless you want to find a few morsels of uninvited black & yellow-striped insect proteins floating around and flavoring that pot of soup you've been simmering in the kitchen. Believe you me - BEEN THERE, DONE THAT. Really tips the scales on the Yuck meter.

10/18/09 Zen Arbor partially draped by Anacapa Pink Island Morning Glory (Calystegia macrostegia) and some cool clouds

10/18/09 Mt. San Jacinto sort of visible today...

10/18/09 Angel's Trumpet Brugmansia in full bloom. A couple years ago, this plant was just a wee sproutling that my Mom had commandeered from their previous residence in West Covina. The scent emanating from those ginormous blossoms are absolutely heady in the evening hours.