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.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Making Honey with California Native Flowers

                  Phacelia grandifloria, Topanga Canyon, Photo by Kathy Vilim

We’re making honey out here in Southern California. How do we do it? Well, beekeepers are taking advantage of some of nature’s finest resources: flowering native plants! Luckily, the hillsides are covered with blooming natives in the coastal mountains from Santa Barbara down to Baja, including here in Topanga Canyon, home to Topanga Quality Honey.

Many California plants have nectar that is delicious to the honeybee. Beekeepers take their bees to a meadow where wildflowers such as largeflower phacelia (above) are blooming in the spring. When those blossoms fade, they move to a hillside of white sage or buckwheat (below), which bloom into fall.

      California Buckwheat, Topanga, Photo by Kathy Vilim

California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) has an abundance of flowers—creamy white, tinged with pink. As they mature, the flowers turn to a rust color. "Viewing wild hillsides covered with the coppery seed heads of California buckwheat is a uniquely Western experience," wrote Carol Bornstein, co-author of California Native Plants for the Garden. The honey made from this plant is sought for its dark, full-bodied flavor as well as its nutritional value."—Kathy Vilim of Topanga Canyon, California

The above post was written in June, 2010 for the National Wildlife Federation's "Gold Medal Favorites" feature. Thank you, Kelly Senser, for the opportunity to share my photos of plants for pollinators. 

For full NWF article: http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2010/Native-Plants-for-Pollinators.aspx

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Monkeyflowers for Memorial Day

As a preface to my readers who do not live in Topanga, we are in a fire area. As such, we are under restrictions to cut back grasses & growth that might endanger homes in the event of a wildfire. That is what I refer to as "brush clearance".

Just the other day, when I was taking my usual walk past a meadow of undisturbed wildflowers & native bushes, I delighted in seeing my friend, a young Sycamore, who I had first encountered when he was a sapling less than 12" high, many years ago.  He was growing so close to the road, I had feared some overly-zealous brush clearance crew might get him.  But no, he is still there. YAY!  This year, he is big enough to cast a nice shadow.  And taking advantage of this shade, was a Sticky Monkeyflower bush Mimulus aurantiacus.  How smart of it to position itself here.  With this bit of shade, it will bloom long into Summer, when his cousins have stopped blooming.  This is good.. good for the bees that pollinate the Sticky Monkeyflowers.  And, we all know how much we need to keep the bees happy.

Sticky Monkeyflower, Mimulus aurantiacus, photo by Kathy Vilim

So, I was delighted:  Monkeyflowers for Memorial Day!  And a whole hillside of other wildflowers blooming behind him, as well.  I took pictures.  It was a perfect day of blue skies, white "catpaw" clouds, and gentle breezes.

But the difference a day makes: when I walked up the road a few days later, there was the crew with their noisy gas-guzzling weed whackers, clearing dry grass. They were so "efficient" that they took down ALL the wildflowers on the hillside, including the Monkeyflowers!  Oh sadness.  The Sycamore's Monkeyflower would NOT outlive his cousins, and last long into the Summer, even though he had picked a perfect spot.  Why are all the wildflowers cut, before they even get a chance to finish blooming and giving their pollen to the bees?

Now, this does not have to be.  Grass can be cut without killing native plants and flowers.  You can have your crew go AROUND the plants you wish to save, oh my Topanga friends.  Many of you already know this.  But some of you who are perhaps new to the Canyon may not be sure how to clear brush, or find a good crew, or perhaps are more worried about timely compliance with County Ordinances.  I have been in Topanga for a long time, and I have been known to go out and "tag" native plants in my yard with ribbons so the crew would leave them be.  That way the wildflowers & blooming natives could complete their natural cycle with the pollinators.

Or, you can just wait a couple weeks.  When the yellow daisies (Bush Sunflowers, Encelia californica) go to seed, then you know the soil has lost moisture and the grass is dry. Then it is time to cut the grass.  This usually happens about now, during the month of June. (Though the daisies go to seed annually, and will survive a mowing, it is not so with all flowering natives, and they should be permitted to remain.)

I have been known to play "Johnny Appleseed" and collect seeds from the daisies that would have fallen onto the unfriendly roadway pavement and relocate them to a more hospitable spot.. like my yard!

Native plants are an important part of the Canyon's Ecosystem. Their blooms attract specific insects which pollinate their flowers or feed off them, and are eaten then by birds. It is important when you live in a place like the Santa Monica Mountains to take on the work of being a good steward. Keep Topanga thriving!

Wildflowers, Santa Monica Mtns

Wildflowers, Santa Monica Mtns