Reader Favorite California Native: Ceanothus

Image: Kousvet

Ceanothus thyrsyflorus ‘Repens.’ Image: Kousvet

When I asked readers for native plant favorites not included in our short list of six favorites, we had a few votes for Ceanothus a.k.a California lilac, wild lilac, and soap bush. In case you’re not familiar with this stunning plant, it’s a family of shrubs and ground covers that have dark green leaves and deep purple or sometimes white flowers.

The reason I didn’t include it is that it didn’t meet my “bombproof” criteria, at least in our garden. It’s one of the many plants we’ve managed to kill. It’s true that once you get it going, other than yearly pruning, you can retire to the nearest bar and rest on your gardening laurels. But getting it established can be tricky. The most common mistake is over-watering during the summer months and planting in overly fertile soil. We didn’t over-water, so how we manged to kill three of them is a Root Simple gardening mystery.

That said, many of our neighbors have had no problems with Ceanothus. If you have a well drained sunny spot, it’s a good bet. I’m particularly fond of the short sprawling varieties such as Ceanothus thyrsiflorus repens.

The UC Davis Arboretum keeps a list of “All Star” plants that includes Ceanothus ‘Concha’ and Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet’. You can find more Ceanothus varieties on the Las Pilitas Nursery website.

By United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge: Ceanothus americanus L., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=666534

Ceanothus americanus Image: United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Our East Coast readers can plant Ceanothus americanus, a plant used by early settlers as a substitute for British tea.

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Top Six California Native Plant Performers

whitesageBetween Kelly’s aortic episode and my mom’s passing, gardening took a back seat during the past six months. As a result, our yard doesn’t exactly look like Versailles. I’m thankful Kelly had the foresight, before our family emergencies, to reduce the amount of fussy annuals and increase the number of California native plants. While no garden is ever “zero maintenance,” some plants, such as these six California natives can survive with less care. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list but just a few of the plants that have been successful in our garden. Your results may vary.

1. White sage (Salvia apiana)
Kelly and I both love this plant. It’s aromatic, useful as a spice and incense and both honeybees and native bees love it. There’s a lot of unethical foraging going on in our local wilderness areas to supply the Silver Lake shamans with their white sage smudge sticks. Grow white sage in your yard and you can roll your own smudge sticks. You can also put a leaf in your water bottle for a refreshing drink. Each fall it should be pruned back to avoid legginess.

IMG_79742. Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
This one is becoming as popular with house flippers as Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) was back in the aughts. It’s easy to see why. Salvia clevelandii is pretty and grows like a weed.

blacksage3. Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)
Our black sage is doing so well that it might just swallow the entire backyard. This is good as we haven’t a clue what to do with the part of the yard it occupies. Sprawl on Salvia mellifera!

gigantium4. St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum)
Note the “giganteum” in the scientific name for this member of the buckwheat family. Give this baby some room. Ours is doing well in partial shade.

toyonsmall5. Toyon (Heteromeles arbutitolia)
This treeish native stared the drought in the face and laughed. We planted it in the neighbor’s yard where it got cut down accidentally. A year later it had grown back to its former glory. Birds love the little red berries, which can be dried for a not very exciting human snack.

coyotebush6. Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis)
A hellstrip favorite, this bright green ground cover can keep native plant phobic neighbors happy and withstand some late night trampling from Silver Lake shamans on their way back from Coachella.

A warning here: all of these plants are large. Watch your spacing when you plant them and don’t put them too close together.

While we’re talking about native plants, our friend David Newsom has launched an important new initiative called the Wild Yards Project to encourage people to “restore native plant and animal habitat, one yard at a time, using native plants and trees wherever you live.” Note that this project is for people all over the US, not just in California. We’re going to have him on the podcast to discuss the project in depth, but before we do that I’d like all of you to join the Wild Yards Facebook and Instagram. David would especially like people to post before and after photos of their gardens.

Do you have some favorite California natives that should be included on our “top performers” list?

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Saturday Tweets: Gin Poles, Gardens and a $35 Chicken

More on How to Make Clear Ice

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When I crafted a casual blog post on how to make clear ice, on Monday, I had no idea that I was stepping into one of the most divisive topics in contemporary bartending.

Thankfully booze journalist Camper English has done my work for me and carefully tested every clear ice making method and documented the results in painstaking detail on his entertaining and enlightening blog Alcademics. The winning method he suggests is the one I wrote about: freezing ice in a cooler (also known as “directional freezing”). The distilled water and hot water methods don’t work, according to English.

I also learned that the enigmatic David Rees (author of a book on sharpening pencils!), and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, did a whole National Geographic special on ice that includes a segment on making clear ice.

And did you know that clear ice sometimes happens naturally? Behold this viral YouTube hit, “Walking on beautiful clean ice in Slovakian Mountains:”

Lastly, I want to leave you with one of the most satisfying videos I’ve ever watched, Tokyo bartender Hidetsugu Ueno carving ice into diamond shapes (note the use of what I think is a soba noodle knife for the initial ice cutting):

Having a bad day? Just watch that video ten times and you’ll calm right down.

And a correction to my original post: it is both air bubbles and impurities that cause cloudy ice, not just minerals in the water.

102 Beekeeping Controversies With Susan Rudnicki

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Listen to “102 Beekeeping Contoversies With Susan Rudnicki” on Spreaker.

Behind the headlines about bee die-offs is an untold story about the methods of conventional beekeeping. There is a sharp divide between mainstream beekeepers and natural beekeepers. In this episode we delve deep into the controversies over how bees are managed with beekeeper Susan Rudnicki. We recorded this episode in front of a live audience at one of Honey Love’s monthly symposiums. We get into a lot of detail on beekeeping methods, so consider this episode a kind of natural beekeeping 101. During the podcast Susan discusses:

  • Why are all the bees dying?
  • Treatment vs. non-treatment.
  • Why most advice is pro-treatment.
  • Keeping feral stock.
  • Africanized bees.
  • Mistakes.
  • How often to inspect.
  • Swarm prevention.
  • When to take honey in a Mediterranean climate
  • Dodgy bee removal services.
  • The “Complete Idiots Guide to Beekeeping.”
  • What’s wrong with package bees?
  • The difference between swarming and absconding.
  • That Flow Hive thingy.
  • Darwinian concepts in beekeeping.
  • “Scientific” beekeeper Randy Oliver’s change of opinion on feral stock: here and here.
  • Bee Audacious conference.
  • Foundation vs. no foundation.
  • Reducing entrances.
  • Queen excluders.
  • Screened bottom boards.
  • Straightening crooked comb.
  • Eight frame boxes.
  • The problem with organic treatments.
  • Les Crowder’s “Top Bar Beekeeping.”

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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