A Collection of Currants

Welcome to my new Area of Interest: Ribes, the currants. I won’t call it an obsession yet, because I while I do have several species, I don’t really intend to acquire any more. That could change, of course, but for now I feel like I have a really good collection, so here it is.

My first currant was something I got back in 2015 when I wanted everything to be a food-for-humans-producing plant. It’s a White Imperial currant (Ribes rubrum ‘White Imperial’?) and it’s awesome. I moved it last fall because it needed less scorching afternoon sun. Yeah, that’s a theme.

It’s not doing anything yet so here’s a pic from June 2018. These fruits are delicious and delicate and they stay on the plant for weeks – you don’t have to pick them all at once.

White Imperial currant.

I also had, until the other day, a Jostaberry which is a complex hybrid of Ribes nigrum, R. divaricatum, and R. uva-crispa, the gooseberry.

Jostaberry. Fruits ripen one by one!

I also managed to plant it in a location where it got blasting afternoon sun (GOD why did I do so much of that?!). No one liked the berries. Well, I did, but I didn’t like the little flower end that you have to remove unless you want to chew on a little piece of cardboard every time you eat one. And they ripen one by one so there’s no way to ever harvest enough to make jam or anything unless you have 16 plants. I threw in the towel and removed it. Great plant for a LARGE permaculture garden or for people who enjoy working too hard for marginal edibles.

With those two out of the way, now for more interesting Ribes species.

The first of which is, of all specific epithets, Ribes speciosum. Speciosum means beautiful or showy – this one is also called “Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry” and apparently the hummingbirds totally fall for it. Mine is forming buds:

Ribes speciosum ‘Rana Creek’

I was completely blind to this plant until I visited GardenRiots several weeks ago with my girlfriend who pointed out the flowers and asked me what it was. I knew it was a Ribes but I didn’t think much beyond until Lance made a post on Facebook about it on February 14. What timing! He said something about liking it because it upsets our aesthetic by responding to our climate directly (losing leaves midsummer) and of course I was immediately intrigued: Drought-deciduous?! Sold!

Dog pee protection unit

I ended up planting this pretty near where the Jostaberry was. I think it’ll be a fine spot given that R. speciosum can just go deciduous if it’s too much midsummer afternoon sun. I’d rather have that, than a bunch of scorched leaves. In time, it might get a little shade from the Eucalyptus but that’s a ways off.

Next up is a wee little Ribes malvaceum ‘Dancing Tassels’ from Xera.

From Paul’s description: ” Really excellent form of Chaparral Currant with 3″ soft pink flowers that appear at any point during winter well into spring. An evergreen shrub” AND WE’RE DONE. I mean he had me at “Chaparral” but then there’s all this icing on the cake with the midwinter flowering and being evergreen. It is so cute right now!

Another one from Xera: Ribes sanguineum ‘Xera’s Lime Punch’ is just about to begin its spectacular show.

Ribes sanguineum ‘Xera’s Lime Punch’

This is a spectacular plant that I really, really like. I mean, I love our plain native R. sanguineum and this is just a more interesting form of it. Very worth growing and perfectly climate-adapted. As you can see, I’m not afraid of pink.

The last is another species somewhat new to me: Ribes viburnifolium. Acquired on a whim when my friend August offered to bring me one on a recent trip to Portland. I looked it up: Evergreen, native to Catalina and Baja, dry shade ground cover, smells like wine?! Ok, so I asked him to bring three.

And look, it’s cute. Ribes viburnifolium.

I’m giving the other two to friends who have mature firs in their gardens. Guess which tree I planted mine under…

Yep. Catalina ironwood and Catalina currant. I’m a genius.

Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius, the Catalina ironwood, of course. How could I not plant them together?!

R. viburnifolium also flowers in midwinter, and the flowers are tiny and really cute. I wonder if hummingbirds will find this – or if they will feel safe that close to the ground (and cats). Perhaps when it’s bigger.

Overall I find this a really interesting group of plants: two are winter deciduous, one is (or can be) summer deciduous, one flowers midwinter and two late winter, then the other two in early to mid-spring. One gives me fruit and the rest all give hummingbirds food. And they’re all perfectly climate-adapted and cool-looking. What’s not to like about Ribes? I guess one could complain about thorns, but I don’t care. They even tolerate dog pee better than many other plants.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Two nursery visits = a LOT of work!

Part One

It all started with… well, where did this really start? Last summer I realized I needed to move my Nothofagus antarctica ‘Chillan’ because it was getting pretty badly scorched in hot afternoon sun. When I planted it right in my front yard, I was hoping for it to provide some light shade to my front door which opens west. On hot summer days, leaving the house is like entering a blast furnace and I had hoped to mitigate that. Well, I didn’t choose the best tree. Not only did the tree suffer even with ample water, but it’s a slow grower and it would have taken more years than I will live here to actually shade anything.

It’s a really lovely tree, but as you can see, not exactly a shade tree anytime soon, and this spot gave it way too much sun for those delicate variegated leaves.

Nothofagus antarctica, June 2019

So the idea of moving it, of course, means I have to decide where to put it. As a side-effect of that set of decisions, I decided I had to dig out all my Macleaya cordata/microcarpa. I adore my “broccoli poppies” as we’ve come to call them, but I had the clump right next to the patio where it just got too huge. Initially, I thought I would put the Nothofagus there, but later I reconsidered that and the tree ended up in a big pot, into which its baby tree roots fit quite easily, so hopefully it’ll live, and I can audition it for various spots until something makes sense.

Part Two

With the Macleaya out, and having decided NOT to put the Nothofagus in its spot, I immediately realized I had a trio of plants looking for homes that would actually (I think) be pretty great right off the edge of the patio.

Caveat: for most of the photos in this post, I wasn’t planning on making a blog post so they’re really just recordkeeping. I went back out for some better ones after I started writing so this won’t be a terribly ugly post.

In the above terrible photo, we have Corokia virgata ‘Sunsplash’ which I’ve kept in a pot for the last three years because I really didn’t know where to plant it. It’s a bit brittle, doesn’t want hot afternoon sun (we tried that), and does best with water. The same is true of the Fuchsia ‘Delta’s Sarah’ and the monocots you see between them are Kniphofia thomsonii. I think it’ll be a pretty smashing combination, although it runs the risk of being too chaotic for me. We’ll see. At any rate, these will at least all get a pretty cushy home here with afternoon shade and consistent soil moisture.

Part Three

With all that done, naturally I ended up going to a couple of my favorite plant nurseries, Cistus and Xera, both times ostensibly just to meet up with friends but how could I not come home with plants?!

Most of em

At Cistus I ended up with two plants that have been on my list for some time: Leptospermum grandiflorum and Ribes speciosum. You may notice also the spinning gum, Eucalyptus perriniana, whose story relates back to Part One…

So I was at Xera. Just hanging out, talking to my friends, looking at plants, etc. They have a lot of really seductive baby Eucalyptus trees. I casually mentioned how I wish I could bring myself to cut down my Cornus florida in the front yard and replace it with a Eucalyptus. DANGER TOPIC.

Greg says, “Well, you *did* just remove your Nothofagus…” and, well, the rest is history. And for about three glorious hours I was envisioning the magnificence of this spectacular and mighty Eucalyptus perriniana gracing the very front of my front yard, shading my door lightly, making messes of multicolored leaves and shedding bark at any and all times of year… oh, how glorious that could be…

Then reality set in and I realized that I cannot bring myself to take that part of my housemate’s garden away from her. Not yet, anyway. I am not a dictator. If I planted this tree there, I would have to require her to stay away from it and the surrounding area and NOT irrigate and NOT fertilize and possibly even remove highly fertile soil and replace it with unamended native soil. I could do that, but the risk of damaging our relationship is not worth it. I can grow this tree, and love the daylights out of it, but not in that spot.

So! After crying about that for exactly 23 seconds I took the tree to the backyard and stupidly planted it in a perfectly straight line with my Clerodendrum and Quercus hypoleucoides.

Lookin like a damn orchard out here

I took a pic to show my friend George what I’d done, once I realized it the next morning. I could not stand it. In the pic I’m pointing to the Eucalyptus and you can see the other two trees and how it’s in an exact straight line with them, and that this line *also* aligns with the property line/fence. What you can’t tell from the photo is that the Eucalyptus is *also* almost exactly equidistant between those other two…. it looks much closer to the Clerodendrum but it’s actually only about 2′ off from dead center. None of this is remotely okay.

Another grievance you may be able to detect in the previous photo is that the Euc is planted into what was my very last rectangular, 2×6-edged former vegetable bed. I knew I could get that wood and hardware out of there around the plant, but once I realized I had to move the plant, well, now we have the next phase.

Part Four

Welp, ok, so like before with the Nothofagus, once I decided to move the Euc I realized that the only place to put it was already occupied by somebody else. In this case, a really beautiful specimen of Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral’ – a selection of a west coast native subshrub that has performed absolutely famously in my garden since acquiring 3 little starts last spring. So, let the work begin.

The first task was to remove all the 2×6 cedar boards and the hardware holding them together. I didn’t document that but let me tell you I will never build a raised bed again. This last one (of the original 9) was the most overbuilt of all. I know what we were thinking (keep moles out) but it was erroneous. After removing the boards and hardware I had to dig down so I could cut out as much of the hardware cloth that spans the entire underside of the bed a foot or so down as possible. The ducks, of course, helped.

Finally! There are no longer any horrible right angles in my garden. What a relief!

Now I’ve moved the Euc. It was in its original spot, just past where Papi is standing, for only one day. Directly behind/above Papi in this pic, you can see the Sphaeralcea that I removed from where the Euc is now. And those are the damn boards that I will never have in my garden again.

Look how insanely cute this tree is right now. Like, what planet are YOU from??

Baby Eucaplytus perriniana, spinning gum

With that whole bed clear now, I wondered what to plant in it.

Part Five

Remember how I mentioned I picked up a Leptospermum grandiflorum at Cistus? No? It’s okay, this is way too long a post to remember that sort of thing. Anyway I put it somewhere stupid, and then some thinking set in.

Leptospermum grandiflorum

I realized I had two Callistemons along my north fence that really don’t work that well there. They want more water, less mole activity, and also I want them more “up-front” rather than relegated to the hedge. So I removed them, and put the L. grandiflorum where they were.

I love this Lepto so much I had to take a few closeups. Couldn’t decide between them so you get both. See how much more blue its leaves are compared to the L. lanigerum behind it in the above pic?

In this next pic, you can see it contrasted against the deep green of Leptospermum namadgiensis. I love all Leptos but this one is really winning my heart right now.

Leptospermum grandiflorum. Grow, baby, grow…

Ok so! Now we have two Callistemons I just dug up, and I’ve got one more that I’ve held in a pot for the last year because I planted it in a location it did not like. I put them all together where I’d originally sited the Eucalyptus.

Bottlebrushes! And a Hebe.

And I am starting to really like my garden again. Groups of sclerophlls with native forbs in between. I think that’s what I want.

Speaking of… I think this is

Part Six

Into another bed that used to house peppers or watermelons, I put Quercus vaccinifolia, a little Penstemon, a beautiful blue-leaved Callistemon, and an Olearia. I have to protect smaller plants with cages, so it does not look good.

But hopefully they will thrive and eventually look better.


Part Seven

After planting/moving/screwing around with all these lovely sclerophylls, I then sowed some seeds in all the disturbed/open ground.

  • Castilleja miniata – paintbrush (say it with me: cas-tee-YAY-ha)
  • Eschscholzia caespitosa – tufted poppy
  • Eschscholzia californica ‘Mikado’ – a red California poppy
  • Clarkia bottae – bunchbowl godetia, big success last year!
  • Clarkia concinna – redi ribbons clarkia – moderate success last year; I sowed too late so maybe better this year
  • Platystemon californicum – cream cups
  • Beach Lupine – I suspect this is Lupinus albifrons? seed collected by my wonderful girlfriend from her own garden.

I am so, so excited. I am beginning to love my garden in a way that I never have before. It is a highly motivating feeling, and I bet you can guess that all of this is not all I did. I’ll follow up with more posts. But this is enough for now.

I’ll close with something that came as a lovely surprise today – not the first egg of the season, but the first from my favorite chicken Mochuela:

It’s green, and weird-shaped, and beautiful.

The ducks have been laying on and off for months, and Misha laid a single egg a month ago, but I feel like this might be the real harbinger of spring that I’ve been awaiting.

Thanks for reading this whole post. If you got this far, kudos to you and you better go friend me on some social media channel or other. <3