Gardens, Here ?

Outdoor stone patio sitting area under Oaks next to modern glass hilltop home with California native plant garden, Santa Barbara,

Here in California, there have been some rumblings about gardens wasting water. Can we afford to have water for gardens in an era of limited resources?

California chaparrel and annual grasses habitat in summer at Mt. Diablo state park

California chaparrel and dry summer landscape

Isn’t our native habitat beautiful enough? Do we want to have gardens here?

Southern California spring landscape with Lupine wildflowers and oak trees. Los Padres National Forest, Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.

California spring landscape with Lupine wildflowers and oak trees.

Well of course, I am biased. I am a gardener.  And yes, we certainly do want to have gardens; indeed, we need gardens for so many reasons. Not only are gardens urban and suburban oases that provide habitats, living soil, and carbon exchange, they provide so much peace for so many.  Gardens are important.

Deck garden room under California live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) in afternoon light

Deck garden room under California live oaks in afternoon light

So yes, we do want to gardens. Not only do we want gardens, we must have them. But in this summer-dry climate how do we sustain them?  Dry summers are not drought, it’s normal.  How much water can we afford to allocate to gardens in the summers when the plants need it?

Oak trees (Quercus lobata) on Mt. Burdell State Park, Novato, California

Summer-dry, spring green – Oak trees in California hills.

Californians have been suffering through years of drought, and while this winter we have had good rains (when we typically store water in the snowpack for the reservoirs), we need to be mindful that it only rains in the winter and we cannot waste water in the hot days of summer.

Fortunately, there are many plants that are adapted to dry summers. Not just our California natives but plants native to other summer-dry regions of the world such as the Mediterranean and Western Australia. In order for these plants to look good in gardens throughout the summer, many of them do need some supplemental water but the little bit they need is a fair use of our water resources.

Summer-dry, drought tolerant Australian native plants by stone wall in California garden using Chamelaucium, Westringia, Melaleuca, Callistemon

Summer-dry, Australian native plants by stone wall in California garden

There is an entire database of photos and plant descriptions for summer dry gardens at, of all places, the Summer-Dry website.

Agriculture uses 80% of California’s stored water, and is certainly a vital and key element of the economy, but I hope no one questions the need to allocate water for gardens too.  We do want gardens here.

There are many styles of garden that can fit comfortably and aesthetically with little water, assuming we choose plants adapted to summer-dry climates. However, not all of California can be classified as summer dry.

Joshua Tree succulents, Yucca Palm (Yucca brevifolia), Walker Pass Road, Mojave Desert in Southern California

Joshua Tree, Yucca Palm (Yucca brevifolia) in Mojave Desert in Southern California

Much of southern California is desert with less than 10 inches of rain a year. There can certainly be beautiful gardens in the desert (hooray for succulents) but it is an entirely different aesthetic from the coastal regions of California where most people live.  Desert gardeners should not be using the plant palette of the summer-dry regions.

Dasylirion wheeleri (desert spoon, spoon flower, or common sotol) in succulent border backyard garden with Aeonium 'Mint Saucer' blooming yellow and Lithodora and Echinocactus (Barrel Cactus)

Dasylirion (Sotol) in succulent border in California garden

I am a member of the California Native Plant Society and advocate for using our beautiful natives in gardens. I think these are our first choice for gardening, so long as the gardener chooses a native that is actually native to their region. Redwood trees are California natives to the north coast, but while they may be technically summer-dry, they receive significant moisture from summer fog.

Oak trees are native to many native oaks throughout the entire state and I am a huge fan of these most sustainable of trees.  A well sited Oak tree can be the signature of a good garden. In this garden of native plants, the oaks were precisely planted in the garden to frame the views.

Outdoor stone patio sitting area under Oaks next to modern glass hilltop home with California native plant garden, Santa Barbara,

California outdoor stone patio sitting area under Oaks with native Carex lawn

In this garden a small pond planted with reeds and rushes creates a lush oasis under the native oak.

Lounge chairs under shady oak trees in back yard habitat California native plant garden with bog, Schino

Lounge chairs under shady oak trees in back yard habitat California native plant garden with bog, Schino

Here native shrubs are pruned in a somewhat formal fashion that provides privacy in this front yard garden in southern California.

Small patio secluded by drought tolerant shrubs in Southern California front yard native plant garden

Small patio secluded by drought tolerant shrubs in Southern California front yard native plant garden

I think the most adventuresome gardens mix plants from the summer dry regions of the world. One of my favorites is  the nurseryman David Fross’ garden who heads in advocating for summer dry adapted plants for many years. And there are plenty of bold choices to using non-native plants.

Live Oak tree (Quercus californica) in California meadow garden with wild rye (Helictotrichon sempervirens), rye (Leymus condensatus) David Fross

Live Oak tree (Quercus californica) in California meadow garden with wild rye (Helictotrichon sempervirens), rye (Leymus condensatus) David Fross

This red flowering Grevillea is from Australia, the beautiful Leucodendron against the wall is from South Africa, and the magnificent Agave is an American desert native.

Grevillea 'Bonfire' red flowering shrub in California summer-dry garden with Agave and Leucadendron salignum by stucco wall; design Jo O'Connell

Grevillea ‘Bonfire’ red flowering shrub in California summer-dry garden with Agave and Leucadendron salignum by stucco wall; design Jo O’Connell

Many wonderful Mediterranean  natives are splendid in California gardens and we could hardly do without such herbs as thyme and lavender.

Lavender 'Provence' in xeriscape drought tolerant garden with grass Stipa gigantea.

Lavender ‘Provence’ in xeriscape drought tolerant garden with grass Stipa gigantea.

And of course anyone who knows me knows I love the grasses, here next with lavenders under native oaks.

Flowering grasses, Miscanthus sinensis, Lavender, Lavatera and Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' in border garden under native oak

Flowering grasses, Lavender, and Lavatera in California summer-dry garden border

I have done two entire books about grasses, The American Meadow Garden with John Greenlee and Grasses with Nancy Ondra, so I best not to get started touting grasses for California gardens but there is no doubt they fit into the aesthetic of gardens here.

Ornamental grass Stipa arundinacea - (aka. Anemanthele lessoniana) Pheasant's Tail Grass with Stachys and Phormium in colorful drought tolerant garden

Ornamental grass with Stachys and Phormium in colorful California summer-dry garden.

So yes, gardens can certainly be adapted to California. I do think they require some supplemental water but every thing any of us do in California requires supplemental water. If we can use plants that are adapted to summer dry conditions then the gardeners share of our water resources is just as important to maintaining the beauty of nature we all need.


Gardening Gone Wild has been nominated for a prestigious garden blog award by the folks at Better Home and Gardens. I hope you will consider voting for us. You need to go to their website  to the section about garden blogs, and once you’re there you will find the smiling face of our fearless leader Fran Sorin; and you can vote every day until March 7th.  😉



from Gardening Gone Wild

Tenth Anniversary Blogging: All Beer is Local

Ten years ago, when I started this blog, the world of beer was largely local.  Five years later, it had exploded, and “craft beer” was starting to pierce the national consciousness. That was the moment I had started traipsing around the country and world, and my own experience was one of an expanding beer consciousness. The world of beer was vast and international!

But it was in the midst of all that expanding that I stumbled across a basic truth about beer. No matter how industrial and macro and global beer appears to be, it is and will always be local.

I’m not really sure how I ever missed this. Even in the pre-craft days, living in the Northwest meant breathing Blitz, Rainier, and Oly air. As late as 1977–the year after Jack McAuliffe founded New Albion–you could have a major motion picture premised on bootlegging a truckload of Colorado beer to Georgia. National brands are still, in their way, local; it’s why AB scattered 20 plants across North America. Beer is heavy (read: expensive to distribute) and perishable, and local breweries have a built-in advantage over national ones. But even more to the point; beer is local because that’s where we enjoy it.

Photo, Steve Morgan

I can’t overstate how timely the Oregon Beer Awards were–and I don’t mean that in the obvious way. There was a moment when Bud Clark stood up to introduce an award. By now, Bud’s name is lost to all but those fans of transgressive 1970s photography, but in Portland, he is a legend. A tavern owner, he ran for and became mayor in the 1980s, winning re-election after a hugely successful first term. That he was a tavern owner earned him the kind of love only Portland could give him. When he came onto the stage, he got the night’s only standing ovation. And this is for a guy who hasn’t been mayor for 26 years.

Beer is knitted into the fabric of a community that way. I’ve had the really good fortune of having been able to cover this city’s (and state’s) beer for nearly twenty years, more than half of them here at this crazy blogspot address. Local beer culture is a weird pastiche of institutions, oral history, and lived experience. We carry bubbles of reality around with us as we walk into pubs and drink beers, adding to them with every new beer we try. Twenty years of writing locally–and 29 of drinking locally–has allowed all of this to seep pretty deeply into my being. By now, my bubble is as big as a city block.

It’s been an incredible pleasure to witness Portland’s beer culture. It has mostly been composed of the activities of people who make and sell the beer but there are times–like blog anniversaries–when I allow myself the pleasure of imagining that this blog has made a tiny but perhaps visible contribution to that culture. Even if it hasn’t, the opportunity to observe it closely, these ten pretty-long years, has been pure pleasure.

Tomorrow’s the actual anniversary, but count this as the real blog marking the occasion. Thanks for the memories, everyone–

from Beervana

What’s the Half Life …

…on alcoholic sodas?

NEW YORK (February 25, 2016) – Today, Anheuser-Busch announced the upcoming launch of Best Damn Cherry Cola, the second national offering from Best Damn Brewing Co. Hitting shelves March 7, Best Damn Cherry Cola is aged on whole cherries after brewing for a flavorful, harder take on the timeless taste of cherry cola.

“Best Damn Cherry Cola continues to build our portfolio of bold, approachable and down-to earth beers,” said Rashmi Patel, vice president, share of throat, Anheuser-Busch. “We named our Cherry Cola mission, “Put a Cherry on Tap,” and our brewmasters have outdone themselves with this new brew: a delicious combination of cherry, caramel and cola notes.”

Anheuser-Busch launched Best Damn Brewing Co.—a brand platform with the mission to bring you the Best Damn thing you’ve had all day—in December 2015 with its first nationally available brew, Best Damn Root Beer. Best Damn Brewing Co. exists within the portfolio of Anheuser-Busch brands and leverages the talent of its brewmasters and its state-of-the-art brewing facilities across the U.S. to deliver great-tasting brews.

Where do you place the over/under on the Best Damn portfolio–two years? Eighteen months? I think I’d actually be surprised if this product survives to 2017. A year ago I’d never heard of Not Your Father’s Root Beer and was blissfully unaware of the tsunami of dreck that was about to overtake us. But what comes in must go out. If we bear up for a few more months, this too shall pass.

from Beervana

Oregon Beer Award Winners Tell Us A Lot

Last night the inaugural Portland Beer Awards were announced in what aspired to be an Oscars-like ceremony. Inaugural anythings are always a little tentative, and if this tradition survives it might one day be a hot ticket among even those who don’t have beers in contention. But the ceremony is the least of matters–it turns out the winning beers were he real story. As the second award was announced, I realized something rare and unusual was unfolding.

The Oregon Beer Awards were a competition solely among Beaver State breweries, judged solely by Oregonians, and assessed blind, without the hype or peer pressure about which brewery currently has the most juice. The rare and unusual element was this: the winning beers are very good examples of the way locals appreciate beer. National and international competitions have a smoothing effect; with the Oregon Beer Awards, you get a concentrating effect as the feedback of culture works its mojo. Most of the judges were brewers who drink each others’ beer, share tips and recipes with each other, and who have, over decades co-authored the Oregon palate. It’s the difference between having American beer geeks judge Belgian beers and having Belgians judge them. The winners weren’t just Oregon beers, they were the Oregonianist of beers.

I have very poor photos of all the winners. This was the least poor.

So, back to the ceremony. The second award was in the wheat category, and some obvious suspects were getting announced: Occidental’s stellar Hefeweizen for bronze, Fort George’s dry, sophisticated Quick Wit for the silver. And the gold? Widmer Hefeweizen, the wheat beer we were all weaned on. You hear a lot of talk about how this brewery or that brewery has slipped or changed, but in the quiet of a blind judging, you just have the beer. There was a kind of delicious appropriateness that Widmer’s old flagship, perhaps the most discussed beer in Oregon’s craft beer history, would steam to victory. What else so well defines what we think of as wheat beer?

When John Harris won the gold for Capella Porter at his new joint, Ecliptic, it was another echo from the past. I have no doubt he’s enjoyed winning medals at national competitions, but there’s something special about getting the nod from your friends and peers. John choked up just slightly and said, “So, I used to brew a beer called Black Butte Porter…” He let the sentence just hang there, knowing that most of us would realize that he had been the brewer who originally brewed that other, incredibly important Oregon beer (or at least adapted it). He created the palate among Oregonians for porter, and now he was back to collect a reward from people who had learned his lessons well.

As expected, the night also featured regular mention of some of the younger guys, too (Breakside, pFriem, The Commons, and Buoy had great nights). They, of course, are part of this ongoing lineage, plowing the collective wisdom and preferences back into their beers. I started drinking Oregon beer in 1987, and I’ve been drinking it ever since. I’ve never really known how to communicate to non-Oregonians what Oregon beer is–why Widmer Hefeweizen, The Commons Urban Farmhouse, and Breakside IPA are all indicative of it–but now I don’t need to: they can just look at the winners of the OBA.

I’ll post the winners below the jump, and do have a look at them all. The winning beers represent just 8% of all the beers selected–and often in these competitions, the difference between first and third amounts to the preferences of one or two judges. These are all really good, really Oregonian beers.

 Gold: Wider Brothers PDX Pils
Silver: Widmer Brothers Green and Gold
Bronze: Terminal Gravity Wallowa Lake Lager

Gold: Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen
Silver: Fort George Quick Wit
Bronze: Occidental Hefeweizen

Belgian Beers
Gold: The Commons,Urban Farmhouse Ale
Silver: Mazama Saison d’Etre
Bronze: Fat Heads Pimp My Sleigh

Dark Hoppy Beers
Gold: Buoy Cascadia
Silver: Sunriver 2nd Anniversary Imperial Red
Bronze: Ecliptic Orange Giant Barleywine

Experimental Beers
Gold: Breakside Vienna Coffee Beer
Silver: Breakside Bon Vivant
Bronze: The Labrewatory Billy the Squid

Sessionable Hoppy Beers (6% or lower)
Gold: Deschutes Hoppy Pilsner
Silver: pFriem Family Brewers Mosaic Pale Ale
Bronze: Sunriver Rippin NW Ale

Stout or Porter
Gold: Ecliptic Brewing Capella Porter
Silver: Fat Heads Battle Axe
Bronze: Arch Rock He-Man Imperial Stout

Flavored Beers
Gold: Ex Novo Nevermore
Silver: Three Creeks TenPine Chocolate Porter
Bronze: Upright Fatali Four

Fruit & Field Beers
Gold: The Commons Clarabelle
Silver: Double Mountain Peche Mode
 Bronze: 10 Barrel Cucumber Crush Sour

Wild Beers
Gold: Stickmen Kissed By Melons
 Silver: Cascade Foudre #1 2013
 Bronze: Cascade Kriek 2014

Barrel-Aged Beers 
Gold: Gigantic, Pipewrench
Silver: pFriem, Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout
Bronze: Breakside, The Pathfinder

Strong Hoppy Beers (7.5%+)
Gold: Breakside Hop Delivery Mechanism Double
IPA Silver: Breakside Safe Word Triple IPA
Bronze: pFriem Double IPA

Classic Styles
Gold: Buoy Dunkel
Silver: Golden Valley Atlas Elevator Doppelbock
Bronze: Golden Valley Red Thistle Ale

American IPA
Gold: Breakside Wanderlust IPA
Silver: 10 Barrel Joe IPA
Bronze: Golden Valley Bald Peak IPA

from Beervana

10-Year Anniversary: Blogs Then and Now

Ten years ago this week, I started writing this blog as a fun diversion. If you will excuse an old man some navel-gazing, I’m going to throw up a few posts this week observing those ten years and how they changed beer, blogging, and me. (Aware that navel-gazing is innately repellent to those not in possession of said navel, I will try to make these reminisces relevant and interesting for everyone.)

Opening day at Hopworks Urban Brewery, one of the dozens
that have opened in Portland since I started blogging.

Ten years ago, as the Bush administration’s second term was beginning to take on serious water, I was working as a researcher for Portland State University and most of my serious blogging time was spent on politics. Bloggers are far more sensitive to the attractions of their own minds than writers working for newspapers or magazines, so their interests and obsessions dot their output. Public policy was far more a feature of the early years on this blog, particularly with my focus on the beer tax and honest pints. (And I know from feedback at the time that the former was not an interest of readers.) It was almost entirely a blog about Oregon beer, and I spent most of my time talking about specific beer and breweries. Now things are … different.

Blogs Then and Now
During that first five-year bloc (2006-2010), both beer and the media were going through a substantial change. When I started blogging, American craft breweries–basically the only category I was covering–numbered 1,400 and brewed around six million barrels of beer. There are now three times as many breweries and they’re making around 25 million barrels of beer. That’s obviously a huge change, but the change in media is even more profound. Twitter was founded a month after this blog and Facebook was still a college site. Blogs were still in their brief heyday as the alternative to legacy media but also occupied a quasi social-media role as convener of discussions. Everything existed on a far smaller scale then. I was blogging about a smaller beer world for a small, almost entirely local group for whom blogs were the main source of chat and discussion.

Looking backward, we can see that blogs were a transitional medium between legacy news media and social media. In the world of beer, that was especially important. A few newspapers still kept reporters on the beer beat, but they had in large part quit covering beer. Blogs were an avenue for what we might call “regular news”: bloggers were where you went for information about events and new beer and breweries. We also provided a proto-social media function, offering opinion and discussion.

Social media changed the way beer news flows, but not entirely as I expected. It does some things far better than blogs, but–critically–it does some things far, far worse. People no longer go the blogs for discussion. They were never a great medium for that anyway; without a relationship to other commenters, the discussions were often rude or snide, and they often didn’t go anywhere. With Facebook, we select our discussion partners in advance, so the discussions are more cordial and usually lead somewhere. But social media is a terrible place to post longer pieces, especially ones that you want to have lasting valence in the conversation of beer. Something goes on Twitter or Facebook, and it’s gone in hours, lost in the miasma of words. Social media does a great job of recreating a virtual water cool; it’s crap at recreating a virtual newspaper.

So over time blog content has begun to shift. Those who are doing durable, interesting stuff (current faves are folks like Boak and Bailey, Bryan Roth, Kendall Jones, and Good Beer Hunting) are getting eyeballs because we’re not finding this on social media. (We are also enjoying a new golden age in professional media, though this time in the form of magazines like All About Beer, BeerAdvocate, and Draft Magazine.) Social media, desperate for something to discuss, devours good pieces. Three or four years ago, traffic here was nosediving, and I thought social media would destroy blogging. Now my traffic is far higher than its ever been, and it’s clear the symbiosis between blogs and social media feeds each. It has meant that content has had to change, though. Longer pieces, more thoughtful pieces, analytical pieces–these are what people now go to blogs for.

The Blogger Then and Now
Of course, even if the medium had stayed the same, the blogger would have changed. At the start of 2010, I left Portland State and began writing books. I also began writing more articles and a year and a half ago began a roughly weekly blog at All About Beer. It’s an estimate and may overstate things by 5-10%, but in this second half-decade of blogging, I wrote roughly half a million words. That’s the stuff I got paid for and excludes everything on this blog. If your only connection to my writing comes through this blog, you might consider the last couple years a serious collapse in quality and frequency. I devoted less attention and less of my best ideas to this blog. (The people paying me got my best stuff.) But overall, the changes were mostly positive and, going forward, I think they’ll start to appear here again.

A few of the specific changes:

  • I’m more knowledgeable. I joke sometimes that when I was hired to write The Beer Bible I wasn’t qualified. It’s not a joke, though–I wasn’t, really. (I’d have hired Stan Hieronymus or Randy Mosher.) Writing that book was like getting a graduate course in beerology. I lived and breathed beer for two years, studying, traveling, touring and discussing, and thinking about beer basically nonstop. If bloggers didn’t have a warts-and-all approach, I’d delete most of my archives because I’ve learned how much I didn’t know when I wrote them.
  • My palate has changed. Admittedly, this was already underway, but I was far less focused on mild, low-alcohol beers before I swam in them in (particularly) Britain, Germany, and the Czech Republic. I still drink IPAs and American sours, but far less than I used to. I write less about them, too.
  • The blog is more international. Again, as a result of travel, I got to see inside some of the world’s great breweries. It made me more Europe-focused at exactly the time Americans were moving away from imports. 
  • The audience has changed. Thanks to the two preceding bullets, I started getting readers from around the world, not just around the state. Although I am still relatively small fry as a voice in the beer world, writing books has exposed me to a larger audience. In 2008, the average reader of this blog was a Portland beer geek. He was probably a he, probably a homebrewer, and quite likely another blogger. I used shorthand a lot when I wrote because the audience wasn’t so diverse. (Indeed, that probably reinforced who came to the site.) Now people find me from all over. I’m sure the majority are still quite knowledgeable, but there’s a substantial and group who are new to beer. It means I don’t write like I’m talking to friends nor do I assume the reader knows what technical terms are.
  • I’m spread more thinly. I don’t have as much time to devote to this blog. My goal is to post 15-20 times a month, which would be a step up over the 12 I averaged over the past two years (but well below the 1.5 posts a day I averaged in 2009). I could write more if I padded the blog with fluff pieces, but I’m also hoping to improve the quality. I do think my posts are, compared to 2008, more accurate. People don’t care anymore if you’re posting two or three posts a week instead of ten, so long as they’re good and substantive. I endeavor to make them so.

Peering into the past is a misleading endeavor. The near-past looks a lot more like the present than it really was. You have to start going back two or three decades in your mind’s eye, to a time when the world looked like a quaintly odd place of giant cell phones, squarish cars, and weird fashion. There you find radical differences, like the absence of the internet. But a decade? Seems basically the same. But memories lie. The granular details of life–using our smart phones to mediate so many different experiences, staying connected through social media, unplugging from television–most of us weren’t doing these things a decade ago.

We have that same myopia when we look forward a decade. It’ll basically look the same, we figure, except for a few minor improvements here or there. That’s almost certainly wrong. I fully expect to have a car service that ferries me around in a self-driving smart car. It will take me to and from pubs, and on the way I’ll be able to use my neural implant to chat with friends via Mindbook. That will be handy, since another 327 breweries will have opened in Portland by then. The cool thing is, I’ll be able to use that time more profitably, likesay by blogging while in transit.

See you there–

from Beervana