Saturday, August 30, 2014

Creating Chaparral Alcoves in your Landscape for personal regeneration & meditation retreats

We are also including here such other important descriptive terms such as Chaparral Tunnels, Chaparral Caves, Chaparral Hidden Glens
Image: Californtia Chaparral Institute

From the very first time I gazed at this photograph, I fell love with it. It's mesmerizing and addicting. You just want to step into this place and escape from the outside world even if it's momentarily. It's one of those poster child pictures which would have been recreated onto one of those 1970s popular wall paper murals with a Lava Lamp sitting on a rustic knotty pine end table as part of the decor. But the tangle of biological plumbing/electrical networked infrastructure of the branches above ground and rooting infrastructure below ground all working with cooperative precision and perform all manner of hydraulic life and redistribution or hydraulic descent during the  winter months is just how nature's ecosystems run. People who are clever & intuitive enough to find these old ancient Chaparral Alcoves can experience the exact same energizing natural effects which can be illustrated in a rather unusual way by the re-energizing alcoves that only a mythical Borg could appreciate. Surely you remember the Borg ? However in real life, experiencing the negative ions given off from wet vegetation along with inhaling the various plant aerosols can have exactly that same effect on a human being. It's energizing! Couple that with the informational visual content being transmitted through your eye lens taking in the surrounding beauty [which is the rule in nature & not the exception] and being processed along with all other information coming in through other sense of smell and hearing, the effect can be truly energizing in a real true sense.

Now to the point of this post. I love patterns in Nature, especially artistic natural patterns. I love how they make you feel once you discover and experience them. When I was a little kid, exploring chaparral alcoves and/or tunnels was easier, I was smaller. Gradually I experienced such features near beaches and city parks where the municipal landscapers created such decorative twisting features within their maintained landscapes, but did so with exotic plants. A fine example of this is to visit Pepper Grove at the southern end of Balboa Park in San Diego where they have maintained a twisted grove of Brazilian Pepper trees into a children's playground wonderland and picnic area. Google "Pepper Grove Balboa Park"  and you'll see what I mean. Later during the Southern California wet El Nino event period between 1978-1984 many traditionally dry washes and gulches within the chaparral plant community came alive with babbling brooks of water often running all year long. What made me explore some of these when I was out and about in the bush was the distant sound of water trickles and many times small waterfalls. What I noticed was the beauty of the tangled web or network of various chaparral branches. Often such tangle would open up within these hidden glens revealing a secret location where you could even stand. Such places gave me the idea for replicating such hidden spots by recreating them in the landscape. The twisted tree in the photo to the upper right here is at the beach at La Jolla Shores near San Diego.

Image Mine -  San Diego La Jolla Shores, California

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
One of my goals on this 2014 trip to California was to photograph such places with their twisted interesting forms from which creative ideas and plans could come to the surface on how to replicate these in the landscapes of Southern California as decorative features, but with native chaparral shrubs and small trees. The chaparral is actually a more perfect fit. They also are more adapted to the drier climate than many of the water loving exotics used instead. For me the use of Brazilian Pepper would be more of a maintenance issue because of it's habit of continual growth and trimming of suckers. True, some chaparral in the beginning may sucker a bit when attempting to recreate a multi-trunk small tree, but with age even that would taper off. When we went up to Monterey to travel south on the Cabrillo Hwy to San Luis Obispo, we did make one stop in Carmel-by-the-Sea and I photographed some examples of the twisting native oaks most people there have in their landscapes. Take note of the gallery below.

Image Mine: Carmel-by-the-Sea neighborhood

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Carmel-by-the-Sea California

Carmel-by-the-Sea Monterey Cypress
Many of the neighbourhoods up north that I have seen first hand do incorporate many more of the natives as compared to SoCal, however you will find them in older sections of towns and cities down in Southern California if go go for a Sunday drive. But this is true of most older neighbourhoods in all cities within California. These were among the first plants chosen for decor around one's personal space in the garden in the early pioneer days. But sadly, this understanding of California native plants became lost as more and more exotics were introduced and the fact that introduction often came from human beings migrating in from other lands and cultures who brought over homeland favourites from their former countries. But now with the severe drought and water crisis effecting the southwestern United States in general, many are taking a fresher look at working with the native plants in their respective regions. But more should be done than mere placement of plants along hardscaped outlines. Using such plants should be done in creating artistic & aesthetically eye appeal and senses pleasing settings. These are the same settings you stumble upon when venturing out into the wildscape. While there are many 1000s of natives, there are only a few main types of shrubs that I find  that can be turned into ideal small tree form examples. I say shrubs because as time goes on, more and more landscapes in the modern day housing tracts constructed by today's developers are forcing more and more homes onto smaller lots. There is no longer any room for those large majestic trees. As you can see from the photo of the Monterey Cypress in the above right, even when lots were larger in the past, today just a few decades later such trees have come into confrontation with Utility Giants and their precious above ground infrastructure. At this late date, these scenes have become very common place. Most of the utility right-of-ways are above ground over in the United States, unlike much of modern Europe which has chosen to put such infrastructure under the ground, which is not only aesthetically more pleasing, but also less safety hazard as in windstorms and the wildfire ignition danger potential.

Laurel Sumac, Rattlesnake Mountain, El Cajon CA

The photo above was taken this year at my friend's home who lives backed up against Rattlesnake Mountain. This large Laurel Sumac chaparral shrub has been there since the 1960s back when I remember it as a kid growing up. Under normal rainfall patterns which are now almost nonexistent, the foliage is generally much more dense and heavier. But you can see the beautiful branching pattern and structure for a potential addition into any landscape. I had the privilege to witness a volunteer Laurel Sumac at my Mum's places years back before moving here to Sweden. You can it here at the left side yard of her house here. Unfortunately the neighbour at the concrete paved property on the left hated the small chaparral shrub and insisted it was going to turn into massive tree whose roots would crack and destroy his concrete block wall and he warned there would be lawsuits if it wasn't removed. My mother caved [only after I left] and it was taken out. But even from this vantage point, you can see that it poses no problems and at best is only a small tree created by pruning for multi-trunk form. We also never once watered this Chaparral Elfin tree, it was never necessary. All water came from Seasonal rains. Still, this tree is rarely used or thought of for this purpose by even those who purchase natives. This is reflected by the fact that even native plant nurseries rarely carry it. But it's a gem of a chaparral tree when incorporated among other chaparral.

Image Mine: Ranchita California, Sugarbush (Rhus ovata)
Sugarbush is one of the favourites for people living in the backcountry. This one in the above photo is in Ranchita California on the road to my brother's place. Many of his neighbours have beautiful mature ones in and around their patio and Bar-B-Q areas where friends and family can enjoy a meal and pleasant relaxed association with each other. These also grow very well down below in the interior valleys away from the coastal areas where they can take exceptional heat as long as they have deep access to moisture in the subsoil. I've planted one in my mother's backyard along with another perfect chaparral shrub called Lemonade Berry. Both are on the southern side of her California Sycamore trees and will eventually provide a perfect privacy screen and tunnel along the pathway leading further to the back. I've also planted Toyon or California Holly which also is a perfect example of a chaparral which can be deep rooted and shaped into a multitrunk small tree. All three of these chaparral also provide good sources for food at different times of year through their flowering period and fruit berry production time which makes them wildlife magnets. 

Below is a project I am working on each year in the front yard. I'm creating more of a Native Fan Palm Oasis of sorts in the background here away from the driveway with smaller shrubs [some native - others not] to buffer the palms and add colourful border at the front. In the far background behind the palms is a lawn which is coming out and will be replaced by a secret hidden away chaparral alcove which will be slightly etched or excavated into the sloping landscape creating an oval circular arrangement of seating and relaxation under a central planter which will be installed next year and planted with some of the more high desert chaparral to match the Oasis theme better. Believe it or not, SoCal deserts do have Sugarbush, Hollyleaf Cherry and Desert Apricot in and around many of the native California Fan Palm habitats, often growing within or right next to the Fan Palms themselves. If you look to the far right in the photo below, you'll notice a dense hedge of low growing Juniper which my mother put in years ago which screens out the insanity of school traffic across the street multiple times a day. You can also use chaparral in this respect as a formal hedge if you wish, as the example above left of the Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifiolia) being shaped into formal hedge row. California Coffeeberry can also be used this was as I've written about previously. Surprise yourself by having fun experimenting with other ways of substituting some chaparral plants with unique characteristics you thought only the exotics provided.

Photo Mine: Across the street from Pepper Drive School in El Cajon California

Photo Mine
The palm here above behind the Baja Fairyduster is actually a Mexican Fan Palm. On my whole two month stay here I could find only one California Fan Palm which is mostly what I wanted, but alas, I settled for these. The California Fan Palm I did find is already planted just behind that black plastic border along the lawn in the photo at left. It may be difficult to see in the upper left of this photo, but it's there. That lawn of course will come out. I wanted California Palms because their trunks are much bigger and they are slower growing, but bigger broader palm frond canopy. The Meixcan Fan Palms are much more faster growing, but messier to me and get so high that they are very expensive to maintain because you need to hire a professional. The problem is most people want instant landscape and don't have the patience to wait, which really is not that much more time if you know how to make the California Fan Palms happy. A Mexican Fan Palm was already there in the landscape anyway since 8 years back. This one I chose deliberately because of the small pup growing on the side. Palms do this in nature just as the chaparral creates beautiful interesting twisting patterns. I wanted a more natural look anyway as opposed to smooth organized lines common with the majority of landscaping designs. The other surprising wildlife magnet which I had not known before was the Baja Fairyduster in the above photo at the right side of the picture. 

Photo Mine
I was pleasantly surprised one morning when I came out to the front yard to sit along the wall to enjoy my coffee, to hear all the various collection of humming sounds coming from the Baja Fairyduster. Every type of winged insect from Bees to Wasps, every kind of Fly, even Mosquitos and of course Hummingbirds and butterfiles. But it's all those tiny little small predatory wasps which most people mistakenly take for flies and no doubt have killed in ignorance, that I was more interested in. Attracting these guys to your yard will mean you'll have less predatory larva and caterpillars munching your landscape and garden vegetables. They lay their eggs on the caterpillars or if large enough, they capture and stun such garden enemies and take them back to nests they've created either under roof eaves or borrows dug in the ground where there they lay their eggs and seal off the entrance. Knowing such things and how an entire landscape can be both aesthetically pleasing and mechanized in a checks and balances sense will go a long way in helping educate you as to how unnecessary many of the Industrial Science products such as pesticides truly are. The problem though is that they literally own the marketing education on this subject and they've had a monopoly which is backed with massive amounts of money which even goes as far as influencing school textbooks from elementary school right up to the college level. But people can remove themselves from all of that and re-educate themselves and even do their own experimenting within the landscape. 

Sunset Gardening landscape pathways
The main idea behind this post is that you can build into your landscape these amazing Chaparral Alcoves for quiet time which can create such blissful experiences before and after work. Get into the habit of taking time out for yourself on a daily basis in your wild landscape, whether through reading a good book [please dump the electronic devices], meditative relaxation, daily prayer, or just a walk in the open air around your garden chaparral tunnel pathways if you've got the space for them. This will help you feel calmer and more at peace with yourself from the world outside. Order yourself to take a time out which will force you to see the bigger picture and can prevent you from letting the daily stressers of life get you down. Even if it's just sitting in your garden hideaway for a mere 15 minutes a day, that quiet time can help transform your state of mind and assist you in retaining control over your life. There are no cybernetic implants are required here for regeneration. You have all the natural senses of sight, sound and smell necessary for regeneration when the world outside drains you of vital energies. So go ahead and create an award winning Sunset Gardening magazine hideaway landscape alcove or pathway, just do it with Chaparral.


  1. I'm planning a gnarled and twisted wild olive, to replace the invasive Brazilian pepper tree in our next garden. Or a bergkaree (was Rhus like yours, now ours are renamed Searsia)
    I deliberately planted Paradise and Roses with indigenous plants for the formal colour theme. The whole character of the garden has changed as the original rose bushes are edged aside.

    1. That's incredible about the Brazilian Pepper Tree as they are incredibly invasive over here. Mainly it's the birds that spread them everywhere as they love the pepper seeds. They are taking over riparian areas and ruining the Florida Everglades. They are a horrible maintenance issue for the landscape and if you don't get an early handle on rooting out young seedlings, then you'll pay for it later.

      Olive trees are great multi-trunked examples. In Southern California they are grown in plantations and then shipped over to the desert areas of the southwest as landscape trees in country clubs


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