On this first day of spring I decided to walk through the property to see how our woodland native plants are faring so far this season.
I’m taking stock of which plants are thriving at the moment, and where, as I will need to collect seed, or take cuttings from some of these plants, to replant an area that was recently stripped almost bare.
Often garden plant losses in winter are due to weather, but in our case most of the losses this winter occurred last week due to some overzealous garden help.
I’m always reluctant to hire anyone to help manage the wilder areas of the property. Managing native plant areas requires knowledge not only of the plants, but the conditions in which they grow and thrive, and even I’m still learning about the natives that grow here. Fire prevention though mandates some degree of understory growth management, so this year as we’ve been so busy, we decided to bring in a little help.
That’s a decision I now regret, deeply. Despite being recommended to us, and being given strict instructions on what to remove, and what to leave alone, in one afternoon five years of carefully selectively weeding out the thugs, and encouraging the natives to repopulate the slope pictured above, was almost completely undone.
It’s clear that one person’s native plants, are simply another man’s weeds, and many of the native understory plants on that slope were torn from their roots a week ago, and disposed of with wild abandon. When I saw the end result, I didn’t know if I should scream, or cry.
Only now, a week later, can I write about it without my blood completely boiling over, but I keep telling myself, what’s done is done, and now I simply need to focus on formulating a plan for replanting this area near the house. It’s clear I’m going to need a lot of patience, and time…a lot of time both to replant the area, and time for the plants to grow.
Most of the plantings in this area consisted of native gooseberry (Ribes californicum), redwood sorrel, of which we have plenty elsewhere on the property, Trillium, Western Sword, Goldback, and Coastal Wood ferns, and a few prized Blue-bead Lilies (Clintonia andrewsiana).
I can easily over the next week or two divide some redwood sorrel, and transplant it, before our rainy season ends.
Sadly though, the Clintonia andrewsiana that was discovered on this slope two years ago, may be lost, and is more difficult, and significantly more expensive to replace. We’ll have to see if any appear from beneath the soil later in the spring.
A beautiful large native California Hazel (Corylus cornuta var. californica) is completely missing though, so I’m hoping I can replace it with some cuttings from this plant.
The hazel wasn’t alone. A number of young, relatively healthy Tanbark Oaks (Lithocarpus densiflorus) were cut down, which for me feels like a tremendous loss. Most of the mature oaks of this species here are far from healthy, so we’ve been thinning some of the canopy in the woodland, and trimming back the native California Bay Laurels (Umbellularia californica) that host the agent of sudden oak death (Phytophthora ramorum). We hoped that in time the young tanoaks would fill in to replace those that were dying.
Unfortunately, many of those replacements were cut down, and incinerated.
With much of the ground now cleared, my fear is that some of the more aggressive natives will fill in, like bracken fern, and try to completely take over before others can get re-established.
This would make replanting some of the other native species potentially more difficult, but as this area is much more exposed now, who knows, perhaps the shade from the brackens once they leaf out will at least help to get the redwood sorrel re-established. Can you tell I’m looking for a silver lining?
I’m also hoping that the woodland strawberries (Fragaria vesca) don’t smother the ground, as they tend to spread quickly in open areas here, and can quickly choke out other plants. The goats might be able to help here as strawberry leaves seem to be a favorite.
My greatest fear when I first saw the hillside though was that the Trillium ovatum growing here would all be gone.
Katie at Nature ID recently asked how our Trilliums were doing this season, as by many accounts it seems to have been a good year for Trillium ovatum in the Monterey Bay Area this season. I’d seen a few, but hadn’t really taken the time to see how many we had in bloom.
Each year we seem to gain a few more blooms, but Trillium take years to flower, and those not in bloom are often easy to overlook as they hide between other understory plants.
I’d say overall we do seem to have a few extra blooming this year, despite a few losses on this slope, and I think I must have found at least two dozen today on my walk down past the creek, including this one that isn’t quite open yet.
Although some are missing, or damaged, I’m hopeful that next spring many will regrow from their underground rhizomes on the slope.
Toward the creek I was surprised to already see our Milk Maids (Cardamine californica) in full bloom.
In this area they grow with a blanket of redwood sorrel at their feet, and scattered amidst the clover-like leaves of the sorrel, our Stream Violets are also blooming.
Our recent rains have recharged our drainage area, so water is actively flowing through the property at the moment, and more than eager to point out the hole I had in my right boot when I stepped in the channel to cross to the other side.
There were more Trillium in this area, and the first signs of the Western Sword Ferns preparing to push new fronds for spring.
As I hiked back toward the gardens, I found some Western Sweetgrass in bloom. I’m happy to see this, as unfortunately we lost quite a lot of this grass when we built the goat barn, and I’m eager to replant it.
I’m hoping this grass won’t be too difficult to start from seed. This is one of the few native grasses I can identify with any confidence, and it has such pretty blooms. I also found what appears to be some sort of Carex sp. Perhaps Carex globosa? If anyone has any identification tips, I’d welcome the input…I’m still not very good at identifying native grasses.
Nearby, our native Forget-Me-Nots (Cynoglossum grande) are thriving this year.
This is especially true inside the deer-fenced area where I found a half dozen plants all growing beneath a Ceanothus behind the greenhouse, one of which is already in bloom.
Nearby some native Western Wood Anemones are in bloom too,
right at the feet of the native Dogwoods (Cornus sericea ‘Isanti’) that are pushing new growth.
The snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis and Symphoricarpos albus) are pushing lots of growth.
Lurking in between some snowberry though I also found the first sign of poison oak for the season too.
As much as we loathe poison oak, providing it’s not in the vegetable garden or orchard, we do try to leave it be as it’s an excellent habitat plant.
Scattered along the ground with the snowberry the Two-Eyed Violets are also in bloom.
In some of the more damp areas of the property, the Miner’s Lettuce is growing rampantly, but that’s no surprise.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the Spicebushes I planted last year are still with us and pushing growth. I’m really looking forward to seeing if they’ll bloom for us this year.
Also new to the garden, this Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) seems to be pushing lots of growth as well.
We’ve never grown one here, but are curious to see how it does in the garden, although I’m not sure if it will bloom this season.
Our native Big Leaf maples are showing their first signs of life this spring, and will soon be re-clothed in bright green leaves.
The stems of our native roses (Rosa gymnocarpa) are looking a little less menacing now that their leaves are emerging along their spiny stems.
The ‘Dark Star’ Ceanothus are blooming, although not profusely yet as these plants are quite young.
Our native Ceanothus, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus, should have a bumper crop of blooms this year though. This young plant is covered in buds from head to foot.
So overall, despite the relative devastation on the hillside at the beginning of this post, we have a lot of native plants blooming, and thriving elsewhere on the property that we can use to propagate new plants to revegetate the hillside. With the renewal that spring brings, and seeing so many of our native plants thriving, it’s difficult not to feel at least a little optimistic about how that slope may look again in a year or two. I just have to be patient.
In the meantime I’m going to be watching that slope like a hawk in the hopes the Clintonia will return. I can say, with confidence however, the overzealous gardener will not!