Friday, December 2, 2011

Black oaks in the fog

If I had a large property, I would plant a grove of California black oaks (Quercus kelloggii). You find these magnificent trees, some up to 80 ft. tall, in many places in Northern California but they often grow side by side with conifers, which in my opinion takes away from their beauty.

My favorite “pure” stand of black oaks is in Mount Shasta along the road to Castle Lake (be sure to check out this photo to see how spectacular this landscape is). I’ve photographed this stand for many years, in various seasons, and the mood differs greatly depending on the prevailing color.

Green dominates in the summer…


…while in the fall it’s yellow.


But these trees are at their most ethereal in the late fall and winter when there is the fog. I was fortunate enough to be in the right spot at the right time on Thanksgiving morning. The photos below capture the mood of the place—majestic, mystical, eery.


Within 15 minutes, the sun started to chase away the fog. First the light turned almost pure white—a blinding glare—then the fog was gone and the forest looked a lot more ordinary.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nocturne in the fog

I haven’t had much free time this week due to work that didn’t get done over the Thanksgiving break. Since it’s dark by 5:30 p.m. these days, there’s little opportunity for garden-related activities after work. I have a long list of chores for the weekend, including repotting of some bamboos and removal of two overly large clumps of Kniphofia uvaria. I’m also thinking of creating another succulent bed in the backyard—not 100% sure about that one yet. And let’s not forget the drifts of leaves everywhere, especially after the super windy day we’ve had today. They need to be dealt with, too.

What I did do the other night was take some photos of our yard and the neighborhood since it was really foggy. As I was patiently waiting for each 30-second exposure to complete, I couldn’t help but be in awe at the silence that fog brings. While we live in a reasonably quiet part of town, there’s always noise from somewhere; sometimes we can even hear the train although the tracks are miles away.

Not so when there is fog.

What I did hear was the almost otherworldly honking of geese flying overhead. Since it was dark and the fog was thick as pea soup, I couldn’t see even a trace of them. I kept wondering if they were real or if I was imagining them. It was a very Edgar Allan Poe moment!

Giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) in front of our house
Baby blue bamboo (Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata) in our front yard
Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) next to street light
Succulent rain cover (read this post for more info)
Dwarf Cavendish banana (Musa acuminata 'Dwarf Cavendish')
Chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa) on the left
and bamboo muhly grass (Muhlenbergia dumosa) in the pot on the right
Looking down the street
Dropping off library books

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Late fall at the UC Davis Arboretum

The Arboretum on the University of California Davis campus is only a few miles from our house. I visit frequently and have written several related posts (1 2 3 4).

Sunday was a gray day but temperatures were fairly mild so the whole family joined me on a walk along Putah Creek, the main body of water that winds its way through the Arboretum.


I knew that there would be fall color from deciduous trees such as Chinese pistache and cohorts, and I wasn’t disappointed.

111127_trunk leaves

To my surprise, I also encountered two species of deciduous conifers I had never noticed there before: bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), common in the Southeastern U.S. but not often seen here in the West, and dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), a redwood relative native to Central China.

Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) glowing like a beacon
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Left: Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Middle: Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Right: Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

The Arboretum has quite a few ginkgos, many of them planted as memorial trees. Unlike the blazing yellow specimen I photographed last week, many were still mostly green, with just a hint of yellow around the leaf margins.

Ginkgo biloba ‘Fairmont’

Some of the trees planted right along the banks of Putah Creek are very sculptural, their branches reaching down and almost touching the water. With leaves beginning to turn, or already gone, they are reflecting the time of year.

Unidentified big tree by the water
This small dock is a popular hangout for kids who like to feed the ducks (officially discouraged but…)
Trees that have already shed their leaves present a majestic outline against the gray sky

While deciduous shrubs and trees bear witness to the season, many Mediterranean plants look the way they always do. In fact, winter is when rosemary blooms best in our climate.

Blooming rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
111127_rosemary bushgermander
Blooming rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and bush germander (Teucrium fruticans)
Not a Mediterranean native, but flowering merrily at this time of year: a winter-blooming red hot poker (Knipfhofia sp.)

At the end of our walk, we circled through the Ruth Storer Valley-Wise Garden which showcases both native and climate-appropriate plants from other parts of the world. Here you find Japanese barberries planted next to yuccas from the Southwest, and brachyglottis from New Zealand juxtaposed with a smoke bush from the Southeast.

111127_Yucca-Margaritaville Berberis-thunbergii-Rose-Glow
Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville’ and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’)
111127_Berberis-thunbergii-Rose-Glow Zantedeschia-aethiopica
Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’)
111127_Berberis-thunbergii-Rose-Glow- -Miscanthus-sinensis-Silberspinne_001
Silver Spider maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberspinne’) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Sarabande maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Sarabande’) and autumn sage (Salvia gregii)
Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria x dummeri ‘Grace’)
Brachyglottis-Sunshine Cotinus-coggygria
Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) and Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’
Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine.’ This small shrub from New Zealand used to be part of the gigantic Senecio family
111127_rose Leucophyllum-frutescens
No sign of late fall here: Texas sage or cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) and an unidentified rose cultivar

Unsung beauty

Whenever we visit my in-laws, I look forward to the panoramic views of Mount Shasta, at 14,179 ft. (4,322 m) one of the highest peaks in California. However, this time the mountain was covered by clouds the entire time we were there and I never saw it in its full glory. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it caused me to focus on the beauty closer at hand—the beauty of a tree full of berries, of moss growing on a rock, of cedar seeds floating in a puddle in the driveway.

All too often we’re seduced by the grand views and we forget to look at the little things around us. This post is meant to celebrate the kind of unsung beauty we too often miss. All of the photos below were taken either on my in-laws’ property or in their rural neighborhood on the outskirts of the town of Mount Shasta.

A glimpse of Black Butte, the “other” mountain in Mount Shasta
111124_mtshasta_trees cloud
Cloud and trees
Birch filigree
111124_blonde gray
The colors of winter
Winter meadow
Backlit ferns
Still life with oak leaves
111124_oak new_branch
New life from an old oak tree
Moss so soft you want to lie down on it
Forgotten apple tree
Mountain ash
Mountain ash berries
Leaf litter on driveway
Western redcedar seeds and leaves
Cedar seeds floating in puddle