Many people are surprised to learn that large parts of Northern California are actually considered “semi-arid”. San Francisco is an anomaly with all its fog and cool summers. Here in Sonoma, we don’t see rain usually from April to October or November. Before El Niño saved us (somewhat) this past year, it felt as if we hadn’t seen rain for years. That’s one reason, I’ve decided to landscape only with California natives — specifically those native to this area. Which means they’ll be cool with loads of abuse from Mother Nature in the form of 100 degree days, 50 degree nights and annual rain that seems to come only in a few select months. Needless to say, I won’t be planting those ubiquitous “Tuscan” gardens which are everywhere in California but which you’d never see in Tuscany. Those gardens require watering because, hey, unlike Sonoma, it rains in the summer in Tuscany!

So far my natives-only strategy has worked out great. Well, with a few exceptions. It seems we’ve created some micro-climates that more closely resemble the Mojave Desert or at least have temperatures 20 degrees hotter than the surrounding ecosystem. Most of these areas are where we have a South facing adobe or concrete wall. The solution: if you’ve made a desert, plant a desert.

With Ranch Manager Louis on the case, these projects always start with rocks.

A very special rock. That we had to go out and buy. And that required large equipment to move.

A very special rock. That we have to go out and buy. And that requires large equipment to move.

But physics, a fulcrum and lots of muscle get that special rock to just the right orientation.

But physics, a fulcrum and lots of muscle get that special rock to just the right orientation.

Here’s why we have to get special rocks. We need rocks with lots of colors. And we need rocks with lots of holes. Ranch Manager Louis uses these holes as mini-planters.

rockgarden

It’s kind of his signature. You’ll see it everywhere at the Rancho.

Oh, and another reason we love rocks -- Western Fence Lizards!

Oh, and another reason we love rocks — Western Fence Lizards!

The next step is picking out plants. I’d like to say I play a big role in this. But, I’ve realized it’s best to rely on Ranch Manager Louis. Whatever I think I may want, he always finds something better. And he has a good eye for usually expensive plants that are available for an incredible deal. One thing I did ask for were cacti.

One cool cactus I got was this one with flowers that only bloom for less than a day. Guess what day one bloomed?

I got was this one with flowers that only bloom for less than a day. Guess on what day this one bloomed?

He also found me some great Milkweed -- you know the stuff that will save Monarch Butterflies. Did you ever imagine Milkweed would look this pretty?

He also found me some great Milkweed — you know the stuff that will save Monarch Butterflies. Did you ever imagine Milkweed would look this pretty?

Now I did go on some of those plant shopping trip, but I’m easily distracted.

For instance, I found this small decorative trailer. Just in case some White Trash Fairies show up in the garden.

For instance, I found this small decorative trailer. Just in case some White Trash Fairies show up in the garden. Somehow, I don’t think this will be allowed as a desertscape feature.

Another Ranch Manager Louis speciality is “prostrate” versions of familiar plants. These are plants that creep rather than grow up. You’ll see these draped over most of our walls.

But eventually it will drap itself over the wall and grow down. (We might need to stomp on it a bit to make that happen.)

This prostrate Rosemary will eventually grow down, but currently, it’s stubbornly popping up. (We might need to stomp on it a bit.)

When the desertscape was all done, I felt it was a mini-masterpiece. It’s certainly going to weather the desert conditions created by the adobe walls and the West facing location.

Here's Louis with his handywork. Note especially the tall cactus that always makes us giggle when we see it.)

Here’s Louis with his handywork. (Note especially the tall cactus that always makes us giggle when we see it.) We call it the FU Cactus, because it’s extending its very long middle finger.

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