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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Gardening for Health: 3. Time and Anticipation

Goldenstars (Bloomeria crocea) brighten the spring garden.

Gardening for health is more than just exercise doing garden chores.  It’s about designing gardens to help combat the stresses of daily modern life.  The digital era compounds our sense of urgency: there’s something new to worry about every few minutes.  This constant pressure is stressful – it wears us down.  One way that gardens promote health is by taking us out of this toxic environment - at least for a little while.   And there are tricks to make your garden experience even more healthful.

In the natural world, Mother Nature doles out her treats a little at a time.  If you live (or once lived) near a natural area, you know what we mean.  In S. California, the currants and gooseberries surprise with their blooms early in the year.  Lupines enchant with their rain-drenched colors in February and March; they also attract the early flying pollinators, like the bumblebees.  And so on through the seasons. Each month brings special treats to anticipate and keep us coming back. 

A natural place is never quite the same when we revisit it.  Some things stay the same (or nearly so).  But other elements change, month to month and year to year. Mother Nature gets the balance right: enough constancy and enough change.  Too little change is boring; too much can be overwhelming.  Because nature hits the sweet spot we keep returning, both to relax and to see what’s new. Nature is simply irresistible! 


We can adapt nature’s seasonal tricks in planning our gardens.  Most gardens include plants that stay pretty much the same throughout the year.  Evergreen trees and shrubs are good backbone plants because they provide sameness.  The constancy is calming, relaxing and reassuring.  It’s something your family can count on, year after year.     Such enduring views are even more important in an era of rapid change.

But we also need to plan for seasonal ‘treats’; things that give the garden a special allure at certain times of the year.  Among our favorite seasonal elements are the native geophytes (bulbs, corms and rhizomatous perennials).  They are easy to grow and that’s reason enough to use them.  They increase every year and naturalize in the garden – also good traits.

Wild hyacinth (Dichelostemma capitatum)

But native bulbs, corms and rhizomatous perennials also are some of the best ways to add seasonal interest to a garden.  In Mother Nature’s Backyard, we look forward to the emergence of new bulb leaves every winter/spring.  Then we monitor the progress of developing buds over the weeks.  Finally, the flowers emerge – each species according to its season – providing a moment of glorious color (and sometimes scent).   Native geophytes engage, delight and surprise us – every year, year after year.

Native geophytes provide something that’s often lost in contemporary gardens – a sense of time.  They give us a treat to look forward to.  We treasure their ephemeral flowers, knowing that their limited engagement makes them all the more special.  And we know they will return, at the proper time, year after year.  The geophytes provide something rare: that perfect blend of change and constancy that our contemporary world so desperately needs.


So spend a few months learning about the geophytes native to your area.  Think about places where they might succeed in your garden.  Many do well in containers, so even a small garden can utilize them.   Be sure to order your bulbs early (July or August is good – they won’t be shipped until fall).   Then plant a little bit of healthful magic in the form of bulbs and corms.    Trust us, you’ll feel happier – and healthier – for doing so.

For more on gardening with native bulbs see:

For more posts in this series see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2018/01/gardening-for-health-1-go-hug-tree-for.html


We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

California Gourmet: Sweet and Savory Treats from the Theodore Payne Garden Tour

Theodore Payne Tour - 2018

The Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour celebrates the use of California native plants in gardens.  We’ve been honored to participate in this tour several times – including this year. 

One of the ways we like to share native plants is through food.  We offered several new ‘California Gourmet’ treats at this year’s garden tour.  Visitors seemed to enjoy these native plant inspired/flavored foods.   We’d like to share several of the recipes with you.

Minty Melting Moments Cookies


1 ½ cups + 1 Tbsp.  all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter (unsalted is best), softened to room temperature (substitute margarine for part of the butter, if desired)
½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. native mint kitchen extract*
1-2 drops green food coloring (if desired)


Sift together flour, cornstarch and salt.  In another bowl (or in bowl of mixer) cream butter and sugar until smooth.  Add in extracts and food coloring (if desired) and mix well.   Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until well blended.
Chill dough for 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).  Line baking sheets with parchment paper (or lightly grease).  Roll dough into 1-inch balls with your hands.  Place about 1 inch apart on cookie sheets.  Press down on the top of each cookie with the tines of a fork to give it a nice pattern (cookies should be about ¼ to 1/3 inch thick).  Bake 12-15 minutes, or until just beginning to show some golden color.  Remove from oven, let cool on cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes, then remove from cookie sheet and let cool all the way on a cooling rack.

When cookies are completely cool, frost with a thin icing made by combining powdered sugar and 1-2 Tbsp. native mint extract. Frosting should be thin; brush on with a pastry brush.  Let icing dry completely, then store in airtight tins or cookie jar.   They probably will be gobbled up pretty quickly!
* Native mint extracts are made by extracting the flavor from a native mint using vodka.  They can be made from any of the California native mints: Mentha, Monardella, Pycnanthemum or Clinopodium and Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) are what we use most.    For more on making native plant extracts see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/04/california-gourmet-making-flavored.html

Chickpea Flatbread with Herbed Drizzling Oil [Gluten-Free]

1 cup chickpea flour1 cup water
2-4 tablespoons chives, minced (can also use edible native onion like Allium haematochiton)
1 tsp. dried, ground California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) or Salvia (your choice)
1/2 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a large bowl, mix the water and chickpea flour until well combined. It will be a wetter batter but don’t worry, it’ll firm up in the oven. Stir in the chives, parsley/native herbs and salt.

Let mixture sit at room temperature 1-2 hours.   Skim off foam.

Line a baking sheet (with sides) or jellyroll pan with parchment paper.   Pour the batter onto the parchment paper and spread out evenly.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the sides begin to brown.

Let cool and cut into squares.   Drizzle with California Gourmet Drizzling Oil just before eating.


California Gourmet Drizzling Oil
Place chopped fresh* California native herbs (Salvia; Artemisia; Mints; your choice) in a glass jar.  Cover herbs with olive oil.  Cover tightly and let site for 2-3 days to develop flavor.  Strain out the larger plant parts.  Drizzle over Chickpea Flatbread or use as a dipping sauce or salad dressing.   Refrigerate to store (up to 2 months).


For more cookie recipes see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2015/03/california-gourmet-berry-dream-bar.html and http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/04/california-gourmet-three-cookies.html



We encourage you to send us your questions, comments and recipes (either comment below or e-mail to us at : mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com)


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Plant of the Month (April) : Meadow onion – Allium unifolium

Meadow onion (Allium unifolium): about to bloom
Mother Nature's Backyard

It’s April and California native bulbs are beginning to bloom in local gardens.  The Meadow onions in Mother Nature’s Backyard have flower buds – about ready to burst into bloom.  So we feature this lovely true bulb as our Plant of the Month.  The scientific name is pronounced: AL-ee-um  yu-nee-FOE-lee-um.

The Meadow onion is not native to Los Angeles County.  It grows along the Central and Northern coast of California, from San Luis Obispo County into Oregon.  It grows in moist, often grassy areas on coastal cliffs in the coastal pine and mixed evergreen forests.  It likes moist soils and is most comfortable in clay.  These two preferences make it a good choice for many gardens.

Meadow onion (Allium unifolium): bulb

Allium unifolium is an onion (genus Allium), a cousin to our culinary onions and garlic.  The onions were formerly included in a large bulb-forming family, the Lilliaceae.  Some taxonomists now recommend placing the onions in their own family, the Alliaceae. Others place the onions in the Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae), along with such garden genera as Agapanthus, Amaryllis, Clivia, Narcissis and Zephyranthes.   Only time will tell where the Alliums will end up.

California has over 45 different species of native onions.  The vast majority grow in Northern California or the Sierra Nevada Range.   Only 11 are native to Los Angeles County, and only four (Allium dichlamydium, A. haematochiton, A. peninsulare and A. praecox) are to western Los Angeles County or the Southern Channel Islands.  Fortunately for S. California gardeners, even the northern species can often succeed in local gardens – if only you can find a source for the bulbs!

Meadow onion (Allium unifolium): foliage


Like most Alliums, Meadow onion is a fairly simple perennial.  Its leaves emerge from the bulb with the winter rains.  We often see them start to emerge in February in our garden.  The leaves are the simple, strap-like leaves of the onions.  The genus name unifolium mean ‘single-leaf’; in fact, another name for this plant is the One-leaf onion.  As seen above, plants are indeed sparsely leaved (one to four leaves is typical).

Meadow onion (Allium unifolium): flower bud


The leaves often start to wither from the tips (and sometimes wither altogether) before the flowers emerge.  Meadow onion blooms in spring or early summer: usually April or May locally, but a bit later in colder climates.   The flowers grow in dense clusters (umbels) on 1-2 foot (30-45 cm) flowering stalks. If you live in a dry place like S. California, the flowering stalks may be a little shorter.  The buds are tightly packed in a membranous sheath (see above) at the tip of the growing flower stalk.   The stalks grow very quickly to their full height.

Meadow onion (Allium unifolium): flowers


Meadow onion has the star- or bell-shaped flowers typical of the onions.  The six veined ‘petals’ are actually tepals (petals and sepals look alike).  The flowers are individually small (about ½ an inch across), but with 15 or more flowers per umbel, this onion is a showy bloomer.  The flower color is most often a pale lavender or pale pink, though white-flowering forms are known. 

Meadow onion (Allium unifolium): flower, lebelled


The flowers contain both male and female parts (‘perfect’ flowers).  The pollen in this species is either gray or yellow.  The plants produce seeds in our garden, so they do attract some insect pollinators with their mildly sweet aroma.  While the literature specifies bees as pollinators, we more often see the flower flies (below).

Meadow onion (Allium unifolium): pollinator
(Syrphid (Flower) fly.


Allium unifolium is easy to grow.  It can be grown in just about any soil, although it prefers the moisture-retaining clays.  It needs a neutral to alkali soil (pH 7.0-9.0). While it grows in full sun up north, Southern California gardeners should plant this species in part shade (afternoon shade to fairly shady).  This plant does need good winter/early spring rains.  We had to supplement ours this dry winter.  Unlike some native bulbs, this species can take occasional summer water.

We let our plants go to seed, then let them self-seed naturally (or spread them where we want to start a new patch).   Patches increase both by seed and by offsets (new little bulbs).  A modest investment in bulbs will increase to a nice grouping within 4-5 years.  We like to start out by planting 8-10 bulbs within a 2 square foot area.   Don’t worry about critters digging up the bulbs – they tend to leave onions alone.

Meadow onion (Allium unifolium)


We love the flowers of this onion.  The color contrasts nicely with native grasses and wildflowers.  It’s great for brightening shady areas of the garden, for example, under trees.  The plants naturalize nicely, and can help ‘tie together’ parts of the garden with their pastel leaves and flowers. 

Bulbs are a perfect choice for bordering pathways, as an accent plant in a rock garden or along a garden wall. Meadow onion’s flowers have a light, sweet fragrance, making them a good choice for containers near seating areas and as cut flowers.  This bulb would do well around the drier edges of a vegetable garden or in an herb garden.  There is some debate about whether this species is edible.  Native Californians did not eat it; however, at least one blogger uses the stems as a flavoring agent [ref. 1, below].

Meadow onion (Allium unifolium): in garden

So why include Meadow onion in your garden?  First, it’s easy to grow and available from bulb dealers.  Second, it’s a little charmer that’s adaptable to garden challenges like clay soil and a bit of shade.  Thirdly, it provides an economical solution to providing masses of spring color – or to naturalize. 

And finally, Meadow onion has all the magic of a native perennial bulb.  It gives you something to look forward to, without much care, year after year.  It’s a seasonal treat, anticipated and enjoyed, that ties us to the land and its seasons.  We echo many previous garden mavens, in singing the praises of garden bulbs.



For a gardening information sheet see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/allium-unifolium

For plant information sheets on other native plants see: http://nativeplantscsudh.blogspot.com/p/gallery-of-native-plants_17.html


  1. http://lilliehouse.blogspot.com/2015/06/permaculture-plants-allium-unifolium.html


We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com