Sunday, May 30, 2010

'Vista' Fire in La Cresta

Around 3pm yesterday afternoon, Elaine, Dan, Gil and I were sitting under the portico at the front entry enjoying some beverages when we noticed a rather large orange-colored plane circling around, followed by a smaller white plane flying at a quick clip and low altitude right over our roof. Gil quickly ran to the back of the house to see where the plane was going, and all of a sudden we heard him yelling "there's a fire, there's a fire!" Well, of course we didn't quite believe him, as Gil is occasionally prone to hyperbolic, intentional exaggeration. But, holy moly, was he right this time! From the back patio we could see flames & smoke erupting from a property about 2-3 miles down the hill. The planes were apparently air tankers deployed to drop fire retardant on the fire. In addition, there was a water-dropping helicopter and crews from Riverside County Fire, Cal Fire San Diego, and the U.S. Forest Service on hand to put down the flames. It was pretty dramatic watching the aerial attacks. After about 45 minutes it appeared that they had this thing more or less under control.

5/30/10 'Vista' Fire, at Paseo de Flores & Avenida La Cresta.

According the The Californian this morning, although the fire appeared to be very close to several homes, no structures were damaged. Riverside County Fire's online incident report dubbed this the "Vista' fire. Approximately 10 acres burned near the intersection of Avenida La Cresta, Paseo de Flores and Valle Vista. The cause is still under investigation. Hope it was not arson or someone mowing dry brush on a hot, breezy day.

The last time we had a fire this close by was the Bear Creek fire back in September 2009. That was when they closed Clinton Keith Road, which is the only access into the Plateau, and Gilbert (who was at work when it happened) had to use an off road track to make his way home.

Wasn't as scary this time around, but maybe that's because there were four of us hanging out with a pleasant champagne/beer buzz going on, which makes everything seem so much less dire. Well, fire season, here we go again...

Air tanker dropping fire retardant. 

Water-dropping helicopter.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Evolution of a Haphazard Garden: Native Plant Gardening, from Clueless to 'Hey, they're not all dead yet..."

As I've mentioned many times before, I started my little adventure with native plant gardening about 4 years ago when we moved out to our property. In the beginning I felt really overwhelmed. We had moved from a townhouse with a miniscule back yard to a 5-acre lot (Tinkerbell to T-Rex). Although we preserved about 3 acres of the native chaparral, some portions adjacent to the house had been cleared during construction, leaving swathes of exposed decomposed granite ('DG'), which looked about as alluring as the Martian landscape in Total Recall, minus the hellish red hue and general lack of oxygen, of course.

We quickly found out that the cost to have the property professionally landscaped was going to be astronomical, so I had to go Zen and accept the fact that this whole gardening thing was going to have to be a labor of love (crap, there goes instant gratification) and involve a lot of DIY and TLC...

As I survey my experiments in landscaping today, two things come to mind: First, MAN, did I kill a lot of native plants over the years - generally that's what happens to the novice who plants in the wrong season (fall-early winter are the best times in SoCal to install natives) or screws up the watering regimen. Second, the end result after 4 years of sometimes laughable trial and error are actually not so bad. There's not one spot of grass/lawn on the property except in Hana's dog run, and that really, really cuts back on the water bill.

In retrospect, I have the good fortune of having the perfect soil here in the form of DG, which many natives happen to thrive in. Also, I've learned that if you plant in the cooler weather of fall-winter, root systems will become better established, after which drought tolerant varieties may not need any supplemental water during the summer months after the first year. My challenges remain the prolific bunnies (ours will eat EVERYTHING and anything green that's under 3' tall) and a variety of rodents (which love to recklessly pillage and snack on the bulbs of native lilies, alliums, brodiaeas, etc.).

As for garden design, I am at best a "Haphazard" gardener. More often than not, I follow my own twisted logic when it comes to assembling color combos & palettes. My gut instinct, which has worked thus far, is to group plants with similar cultural requirements (recommended by all the native plant experts) and then add a splash of colorful annuals and/or native bulbs in betwixt. So there. Abracadabra & Shazam! Oh, and it's also good to use lots & lots of wood chip mulch.

Here's a sampling of some of the more perky parts of the garden:

5/27/10 'Burgundy' Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) on the left; Laguna Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. adamsii), Konocti Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp. elegans), Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), Showy Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis), St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum), 'Route 66,' 'Uvas Canyon' & 'Ghostly Red' California Fuchsias (Zauschneria californica),  Woolly Bluecurls (Trichostemma lanatum), Prickly Phlox (Leptodactylon californicum).

5/22/10 Same shot, different angle.

5/27/10 An ersatz allee of Western Redbuds (Cercis occidentalis) along the front entry's super rustic walkway (pea gravel galore). The low shrubs in between are 'Sunset' & 'Harmony' Manzanitas. Good subs for boxwoods for now, but I think they'll get much bigger over time (hopefully they won't morph into the likes of Audrey, a la Little Shop of Horrors).

5/27/10 'Catalina' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica), 'Dr. Hurd' Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita), Coastal Gum Plant (Grindelia arenicola) in front of rose bed.



Flower beds with natives such as Island Alumroot (Heuchera maxima), Heuchera 'Blushing Bells,' Bolander's Phacelia (Phacelia bolanderi), Desert & Western Columbine (Aquiligea formosa), Fort William Fairyfan (Clarkia williamsonii), Wine Cup Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea quadrivulnera), 'Pink Ribbons' Clarkia (Clarkia concinna), Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata), Pt. Reyes Wallflower (Erysimum concinnum), Frying Pans (Eschscholzia lobbii), Grand Linanthus (Linanthus grandiflorus), Blue Flax (Linum lewisii), Bird's Eye Gilia (Gilia tricolor),  & others. 

5/22/10 Clarkias & Southwest natives, all getting swimmingly along. 

5/22/10 Nascent beginnings (redundant?) of a desert garden.


5/22/10 Pond framed by Manzanitas. Left to right: California Sycamore in the backdrop (Platanus racemosa), Cuyamaca/Julian Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula var. platyphylla), Pointleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens), Laguna Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. adamsii). 

5/22/10 Driveway lined with Rock Roses (Cistus spp.), Ceanothus spp., California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Arizona Sycamores (Platanus racemosa var. wrightii), & native grasses.

5/22/10 And now, a Native/Mediterranean interlude: 'Powis Castle' Artemesia, St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum), Tuscan Blue Rosemary, Spice Islands Rosemary, 'Purple Floorshow' English Legend roses, assorted Scented Geraniums & Lavenders, San Diego Red & Barbara Karst Bougainvillea.


5/28/10 And last but not least, the obligatory Hana cameo.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Crazy Rainstorm this Morning

Awoke to the sound of pounding rain this morning around 7:30am. Wanted to sleep in, but this time it was the rain and not Hana's incessant growl-whining that put an end to that fantasy. Hana's circadian rhythms are finely tuned into the weekends, so as soon as the day breaks on every freaking Saturday morning, she goes nuts and demands to be taken out for a walk. I think one of these days we'll need the help of the great one, i.e., Cesar Millan, aka "The Dog Whisperer."

Anyhoo, the weather forecast as of last night was that there would be "a very slight chance of rain, not more than a tenth of an inch, if any." Well, the deluge this morning certainly blew that prognostication out of the water. At 9:30am the temperature dropped to about 45F and it started hailing ice pellets. What the hey is going on with our weather? Very odd for Southern California when you have to crank up the heater and break out the extra blankies in late May.

Hail on the deck.

More hail on the deck.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Treks on the Santa Rosa Plateau: Vernal Pool Trail (DOWNINGIAS!!)

A cool and breezy day today, perfect for trekking out to the Plateau. I had read last week in Theodore Payne's weekly wildflower report that the Hoover's Downingias were in full bloom at the main vernal pool. So of course, we had to drop everything and go (and by 'we' I'm speaking collectively for both Gil & myself, even though I'm sure he would have rather been at home with the pooch watching the History Channel or Military Channel). That's how absolutely fab and important these little gems are to the raison d'etre of any mildly obsessive-compulsive wildflower watcher. The Downingias, needless to say, did not disappoint.

5/22/10 Hoover's Downingia (Downingia bella), Main vernal pool.

And as the masses of grasses begin their slouching towards senescence, I must admit that there's beauty in old, as there's beauty in gold.

The Downingias were definitely the icing, but these wildflowers were certainly the cake. Here's the rundown on some of the other stuff blooming along the Vernal Pool Trail:

Wild Hyacinth (Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum)
Long-Beaked Filaree (Erodium botrys)
Western Buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis)
Splendid Mariposa Lily (Calochortus splendens)
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora ssp. sparsiflora)
Hooked Popcorn Flower (at main vernal pool) (Plagiobothrys undulatus)
Wine Cup Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea ssp. quadrivulnera)
Thread-leaved Brodiaea (Brodiaea filifolia)
Clover Fern (at main vernal pool) (Marsilea vestita)
Brass Buttons* (at main vernal pool) (Cotula coronopifolia)
Wild Morning Glory (Calystegia macrostegia)
Slender Tarweed (Hemizonia fasciculata)
California Everlasting (Gnaphalium californicum)

5/22/10 Thread-leaf Brodiaea (Brodiaea filifolia). A rare & federally/state protected wildflower. The ones further away from the main vernal pool seem to be a deeper purple color (last photo). OR, could this be a different animal from Brodiaea filifolia?? Please, please tell me now...

5/22/10 Wine Cup Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea ssp. quadrivulnera). Vernal Pool Trail.

5/22/10 Splendid Mariposa Lily (Calochortus splendens). Splendid, indeed. I've never seen so many of these Mariposa Lilies in bloom here on the Plateau. Wave upon wave of these mauvish beauties were immersed in the sea of grasslands. Vernal Pool Trail.

5/22/10 Slender Tarweed (Hemizonia fasciculata). Vernal Pool Trail.

5/22/10 California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica). Vernal Pool Trail.

5/22/10 Curly Dock (Rumex crispus). Main Vernal Pool.

5/22/10 Main Vernal Pool. Waterline is receding big time from a couple months back when our ample winter rains actually flooded and inundated the boardwalk.

5/22/10 Clover Fern (Marsilea vestita), Main Vernal Pool.

And now for the critters. 

5/22/10 Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). The ubiquitous marsh, ag, riparian blackbird of the farmish wetlands. Hi-Ho! Perched on Curly Dock in the Main Vernal Pool.

5/22/10 A wee-biddy little froggy, approximately an inch in length, hopping frenetically about on the boardwalk. Could this be a Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla)?

5/22/10 Another diminutive amphibian on the boardwalk. Unlike the previous chap, this one is distinctively green-hued. Perhaps a different iteration of the Pacific Chorus Frog? 

5/22/10 Dragonfly, Main Vernal Pool.

5/22/10 Molted snake skin in the main vernal pool. Probably from the Two-Striped Garter Snake, a denizen of these ephemeral waters.