by Charlene Burgi
A few weeks ago Jack and I explored the wide open rangeland behind our ranch. We admired the unique wildflowers and took in the wonderful fragrance of sage as we brushed by. Yellow poppies covered the open fields, masking the brown earth beneath. It seems odd to see yellow poppies in Lassen. Marin’s California poppies are always orange. I wondered if there is something in the volcanic soils that causes the color to deviate.
As we coursed through the wild vegetation, we noticed a circle of rocks forming a crude planter. In the midst of wild grasses and assorted weeds we saw a few sparse, stressed iris. I could see the remains of the flower stalks still carrying dried blossoms from this past spring. I was curious who planted them and how they survived with little rainwater and melted snow. The summer suns are hot and unforgiving in the high altitude.
The discovery of these iris made me think of other plants that survive the harshest elements or neglect. Recently I talked about the glorious rose that my cousin discovered in the brambles of blackberries and managed to bring back to health. I thought of the wild plums and apples down by our hundred-year-old barn. The farmer from years past left this legacy to the land that continues to bear fruit despite the lack of pruning, shaping and water. These plants hide a piece of history within.
Thinking about these plants’ survival reminded me of plants I have chosen for the garden. Prior to building our home, our visits to Lassen were infrequent; still, I couldn’t resist tucking in several dozen bulbs every year. At first I planted daffodils, and then moved on to lilies and allium. Simply put, all of those plants contain—within the bulb—a self-storage for life. I also planted iris and experienced the same effect of those found in the open range above the ranch. They were stressed by the little attention they received, but they survived and now that our attentions have multiplied, are healthy and thriving. Their fleshy roots enabled them to hold enough moisture to endure the drought years before we moved to Lassen year-round.
Where we plant, what we plant and how we plant can determine the longevity of our plants. The hundred-year-old fruit trees are located on the lowlands of the ranch and collect the runoff of seasonal creeks. The rich loam in the lowlands provides nutrients that feed the trees. While these are natural conditions found on the property, you can simulate the concept in your own garden. Be aware of how the rainwater flows on your property. Amend the soil with rich homemade compost for optimum nutrients. Choose plants that are known survivors and give them all the elements to optimize their survival.
Perhaps you, too, can leave a piece of history. Consider California native plants mixed into your garden. Pick the right plant for the right place and watch Mother Nature do her job.