The only photos I'm posting, however, are of the back yard. Notice anything different? All those branches sticking out of the ditch weren't there before. I recently learned a technique for propagating willows - supposedly, you can just clip any branch off any dormant willow and stick it in very waterlogged soil all winter, and in the spring it will sprout roots and grow into a new willow tree. So on New Year's Day, Susan drove the dogs and me to a spot on the Yuba River, a little upstream from here, where I had photographed some willows in bloom last spring. I wasn't certain I could identify a willow in winter when they're leafless, but since I remembered exactly where I had seen two of them last spring, all I needed to do was go back to those same two willows again. I clipped branches of a wide variety of sizes (only the very biggest of which is particularly noticeable in the photo below), since I didn't know which sizes would work best. I put them all in a little pot I had brought with me, and I shoveled in a bit of wet soil just to make sure the branches didn't dry out during the brief trip home. When we got home, I immediately took all the branches out of the pot and stuck them as deep into the mud in the back yard as I could shove them with my hands. I stuck them in various levels of moisture, from the deepest part of the ditch to the low spots a foot or two away from the ditch, because I didn't know what location would work best. If all of them grow, I will have way more willows than I will ever be able to figure out what to do with. But at least this way I should have an excellent chance of getting at least one good willow out of the batch.
Based on my photograph from last spring, I believe the willows I took cuttings from are arroyo willows (Salix lasiolepis). At least one of them was female; I'm not sure about the other. It seems like for most plant species in which male and female flowers appear on separate plants, gardeners generally prefer male plants, so as to avoid the unwanted seedlings produced by female plants. Also, I know that at least in cottonwood trees - which are members of the willow family - female plants are considered a nuisance just because they produce vast quantities of cotton-like seeds that get all over everything. Female willows produce similar cotton-like seeds, so they're probably considered a nuisance as well. But I like the look of the cotton-like seeds, so I'm happy to have female plants.
Many of the plants blooming right now are from the aster family, such as this hairy gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula). You can also see a bit of blooming rosilla (Helenium puberulum) leaning into the picture from the right. I planted the rosilla too close to the hairy gumplant last winter, and they've been fighting for space for a while now. One of my first gardening acts of 2011, after planting the willow cuttings, was to transplant the rosilla to the back corner. (You can see it there in the photograph above.) I'm not sure how well it's going to hold up there, though; the dogs may trample it to death in its new location. But I'm going to wait and see what happens.
Leaning into the picture above from the left are the seedheads of California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense). That plant also has some lingering actual flowers still on it, although they're looking a bit the worse for wear. I'm amazed that they're still around at all; last year this plant stopped blooming in early December.
My solid yellow meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii ssp. sulphurea) was blooming like mad in December, quite unexpectedly, but in January only one of the three plants has a single flower on it anymore. My yellow-and-white meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii ssp. douglasii), planted a month and a half later, still hasn't bloomed at all yet.
Two of my foothill beardtongue plants (Penstemon heterophyllus 'Blue Springs') haven't bloomed since July, but this third plant has been just blooming and blooming the whole year round, and still is. This one gets more water than the other two. This plant really isn't supposed to like water, though; I'm abusing it by planting it in such a wet spot, and it's done nothing but reward me.
Also in bloom but not pictured: wood strawberry (Fragaria vesca 'Improved Rugen') and scarlet mallow (Sphaeralcea philippiana). Both of these bloom at least pretty nearly year-round. The mallow currently has only one flower, which is the fewest I've ever seen on it since I planted it.
Here's a more appropriately wintry-looking picture: the bare-branched buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) with a new scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis) in front of it and an old Santa Barbara sedge (Carex barbarae) behind it. Behind that, you can see where I spread some compost in an effort to prevent the neighbors' flood from flowing into our yard. I have since transplanted the rosilla into the compost-covered are in the very corner.
Here's an angle I don't show you very often: the view from under the redbud tree (or next to it, really; the redbud isn't yet any taller than I am).
And because I've been doing a ton of work pumping water out of the yard every weekend (except for last weekend - the first one since I bought the pump when the water level has been low enough that I saw no immediate risk of overflow!) I'm going to show you two more pictures of the pumping process. Here's a shot of a late December flood.
The overflow from the ditch was drowning my seedlings in the low areas of the yard, so I bought about ten bags of cheap composted steer manure and spread it over the drowned seedlings to build up the soil level. Then I replanted with seeds of different species. I figure that January is still early enough in the season for planting a few more seeds to fill in the gaps. On top of that I scattered a very thin layer of Western Red Cedar mulch, mainly in an attempt to make the seeds a little less accessible to any birds that might like to eat them. Here is how the freshly pumped, seeded, and mulched yard looked on New Year's Eve.
And the next day, of course, I planted the willow branches. I really expected the dogs to knock all the willow branches over in no time; I thought I'd have to spend the entire winter picking up willow branches and shoving them back into the mud five time a day. But I guess I must have shoved them into the mud pretty well, because only one branch fell over the very first day, and none have fallen over since. So I'm looking forward to seeing what becomes of my new willow forest in spring 2011.