Coastal Gardener: Nature's various gardens are breathtaking

June 17, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • The delicate Mount Diablo Mariposa Lily (Calochortus pulchellus) grows only in a small natural area east of San Francisco-Oakland.
The delicate Mount Diablo Mariposa Lily (Calochortus… (Ron Vanderhoff,…)

"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,

for going out, I found, was really going in."

—John Muir


We pulled back into the driveway, our adventure through some of California's best wild and human gardens was complete. Or was it?

Accompanying me on this road trip to some of California's botanical highlights were my 18-year-old daughter and her best friend. Although we enjoyed the trip, especially the time together, I think outings like this leave lingering impressions, especially on young people.

Last week's column was about the cultivated gardens we visited; today's is about nature's gardens, those without a gardener to sustain them.


On Mount Diablo, east of the San Francisco Bay, we searched for Mariposa Lilies, especially for a beautiful yellow version that is found there and nowhere else, Calochortus pulchellus. We found it; as beautiful and lovely as any flower bred by humans in any greenhouse or nursery field.

Along the beaches of Big Sur we explored the fragile sand dune habitat that is nearly gone from the southern half of our state. There, the native yellows of lupines, Eriophyllum and Cammissonia combine so perfectly with the feather gray of sprawling Sandhill Sages and the always rolling, flowing foliage of native Dune Sedge.

Pale blue Beach Asters (Erigeron) were blooming here more vigorously than in my own garden, perhaps happier in nature's home. I wish I could paint this scene — and take it with me; the waves crashing, the cliffs resisting, and the plants and animals all in perfect, natural coordination with their environment. A wild, sensual, coastal garden.

In stark contrast to the exposed beaches to the west, we explored the shady, cool and moist redwood forests only a couple of miles inland. With quite different environments, the disparity of these two gardens was extreme. Lessons like these, when experienced firsthand and up close, are priceless as we often struggle in our own gardens to match plant to plot.

As we explored the lush redwood forests we were delighted with so many of nature's woodland jewels: blooming violets, giant trilliums, delicate starflowers (Trientalis), beautiful red-flowering Clintonia and carpets of wild gingers (Asarum) and redwood sorrel (Oxalis). Huge orange banana slugs, some five inches long, stalked us as we enjoyed the spectacle.

Not far away I was rewarded with a view I will never forget.

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