Dog Conscious Garden Design FREE


Gardens for dogs and people satisfy the needs of both!  Nobody speaks for Fido when it comes to the backyard landscape.  Yet he spends more time there than the rest of the family.  What I call K-9 conscious garden design blends amenities for you and your dog into a harmonious space.  It also addresses the most common safety problems that can hurt your pooch and send your vet bill into the stratosphere!   Download our new FREE e-Book at Inside you’ll find: Create a summer heat flop spot to keep your flower beds safe. Design your dog house and run where Fido wants it.  Plants that repel fleas. Plants that are good for your dogs to eat. Creating adventurous spaces that keeps dogs busy! And much, much more… To create the ultimate K-9 conscious yard that looks great and works for the entire family, download the information packed free e-Book at

Esparanza Wildfire Takes Fifth Life Today


The tsuname of fire that burned through the Morongo Valley and the north end of this desert earlier this year took just one life. The fire burning last week in the pass just a few miles away from my Palm Springs home took 4 lives.  The poor surviving fifth firefighter was found in a charred fire truck with 95% of his body burned.  His chances at life were finally snuffed out today.  Burning season in California has turned into the dying season. In the late spring this year I drove through Idylwild and all along the mountains where this fire later raged at the toe of the western slope.  While crusing through the pine and fir dense communities of alpine homes I thought many times how much I would love to live there.  But just as many times I reminded myself that this decadent old forest would blow up like a volcano in a wildfire.  And all those homes would go with it.  It would be impossible to save those perched on canyon ledges that fire would see as a natural chimney, gathering the heat and sending it upward in a searing column of smoke.  Trees and homes would be hot enough to combust long before the flames arrived. I have lived thorugh many wildfires from fast moving grass blazes to kiln hot forestfires that can melt an engine block.  The people in today’s fire zone will hear the trees crack before they burn, the propane tanks explode and the freight train roar of an oncoming firestorm.  This is what those poor fire fighters heard before they were overcome with unimaginable heat.  Wildfires don’t follow rules any more, and when hot Santana winds blow across the southland in the fall, land dies, homes die, and most importantly, people die.  2006 is proving to be a landmark year in wildfire history of America.  More deaths and injuries from coast to coast than ever before is casting a new light on this perennial problem.  It is likely due to the fact that our forests everywhere have reached a decadence that is fueling increasingly erratic fires.  What was once merely a land management issue, one that touched all who live in high fire hazard zones has now grown into something more problematic to those who fight the fires.  And the ones unlucky enough not to get out in time will pay the price.

Redbud Fire and Indian Baskets

redbud native

Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) is a shrubby tree that grows at about 2000 ft. elevation on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Wild redbuds in full spring bloom on red soils of the foothills.  Native American basket weavers treasured the inner bark for its naturally reddish color that gave their baskets contrast patterns without the need to dye their materials.  These tribes traded redbud whips with valley tribes and those on the eastern slopes for obsidian, pinyon nuts, ocher paint and other treasured materials. These weavers did not harvest old wood of the redbud.  They wanted young supple first year sprouts from the ageing underground root crown.  So they would pile fuel around an old redbud, light it on fire and burn the plant to the ground.  After the winter rains they returned to that place to find the ideal material for baskets. Pea-shaped blossoms prove redbuds are related to the legume clan which fix nitrogen and thrive in poor soils. This practice of pruning using fire is an excellent example of how Native Americans changed their environment.  These tribes also burned large areas for hunting access and to make acorn gathering easier.  Hunter gatherers were not passive in their landscape but a very active part of its management. It is widely believed that the American west as the first pioneers found it was not a natural landscape but one sculpted by Native Americans. It illustrates the problems when the wildlands are referred to as pristine or natural because to truly know what that is we must go back to before Asians first crossed the Bearing Strait to populate North America.

Humboldt’s Lilies In A Field of Wildfire

tiger lilies

Another tale of native plants and wildfire.  A most remarkable event occurred one spring following a massive damaging wildfire in the High Sierras.  The disaster area that was nothing but blackened ground and the charred remnants of what had once been a beautiful forest.   All over this west facing slope bloomed a hundreds of tall Humboldt Lilies.  These huge lilies, many as tall as I stand are rarely seen any more.  Unlike moisture loving native leopard lilies, this Lillium humboldtii prefers high dry west facing slopes.  This stand of plants rising from long dormant bulbs had been literally buried alive by the dense brush and trees that had once covered the hill.  They must have sat there in the soil for decades denied sun and therefore never stimulated to bloom, or if they did it was hidden under the brush.  But after the wildfire burned away the cover, and with a healthy fertilization of ash, the lilies bloomed with a vengeance. This is a most stunning example of a species that once grew out in the open when regular fire burned through the mountains in pre-settlement times.  But with logging and fire suppression that plant community changed so radically the lilies could not thrive.  In time that whole colony might have died out entirely illustrating how many understory native species are disappearing under over-crowded forests.  For me this was a once in a lifetime experience when Nature showed me in no uncertain terms that what we consider “natural forests” today are really a quite unnatural community of plants.  And sadly, without forest management the Humboldt lily will dwindle down into a few individuals, and may someday soon disappear altogether. For more on natives and wildfire, click here to read Good Fire Bad Fire Controversy Click here to buy California Wildfire Landscaping by Mo Gilmer

Wildfires Grass and Sagebrush

wildfire landscaping

August rolled in this year with sixty wildfires raging over the western states.  This seems a good time to explore the unique relationship of western native plants to wildfire both in the past and now.  These stories of plant and fire show how vital fire is to the vitality of our natural wildlands. Grass is a plant naturally adapted to fire.  In prehistoric times, late season lightning strikes touched off blazes in the dry prairies and meadows.  This fire burned away the chaff of the previous season leaving ash to stimulate new growth from the living root crowns in the spring.  In these dry areas sagebrush, various species of Artemisia are woody plants become the dominant cover where the soils are thin.  They offer limited wildlife value but provide vital soil holding roots on dry hills and slopes.    Given the chance, sagebrush will also colonize the richer soils inhabited by grasses. Year after year the sage will creep into the edges of the grassland, infiltrating until it becomes the dominant species.  But sagebrush is oil rich and highly vulnerable to fire.  When  it is burned, unlike grasses, the entire sage plant dies.  Therefore Nature in her wisdom uses these late season fires to renew the grasses and to burn away any sagebrush seedlings that have taken hold since the last burn.  Such a system ensures the grasses remain dominant where soils are deep and rich, thereby providing plenty of cover and forage for many wildlife species.   When fire is excluded altogether from these ecosystems, the grasslands grow smaller while sage becomes more extensive.  Fire is vital to grassland survival. Click here to read more about wildfire and western natives: California Wildfire Landscaping by Maureen “Mo” Gilmer

Dot’s Concern About Wildfire


Last night the low desert was flooded with humidity and great thunderclouds formed to match those created by the high desert fires still chugging on with no end in sight. The monsoon moisture is coming into this area from Mexico, the typical summer flow that waters the pueblos at Four Corners and keeps the Arizona saguaro thriving. Dot was nervous last night as clouds hovered over Palm Springs, the sky flashing continually from cloud-to-cloud lighting.  I settled her down with hugs and kind words but knew she was worried for all the fire fighters up in the burn zone.  Lightning like this is not always followed by rain, and it was lightning that first ignited these devastating fires nearly a week ago. She is praying for rain using a Pueblo rain song because it invokes the animals of the cardinal directions: White floating clouds.  Clouds like the plains come and water the earth.  Sun embrace the earth that she may be fruitful.  Moon, lion of the north, bear of the west, badger of the south, wolf of the east, eagle of the heavens, shrew of the earth, intercede with the Cloud People for us that they may water the earth.   

A Tsunami of Wildfire

Air Tanker

A great white thunderhead is rising out of the desert a few miles north of here.  It is a mushroom cloud above a dense haze of wildfire smoke.  While I know from first hand experience as author of California Wildfire Landscaping and The Wildfire Survival Guide that wildfires create their own weather, this unusual cloud is a first for me.  Rarely are thunderheads produced by fire, which they say is the result of such an enormous amount of particulate matter rising into the upper atmosphere.  This is without question the biggest, baddest burn in the history of this state. I watched the fires begin one early morning last week.  The main fire was much further to the east where it rose above Joshua Tree National Forest, a harbinger of devastation to come.  Further west a narrow column lifted out of a canyon the San Bernardino Mountains on that same horizon, a second conflagration on that very same morning of a stifling 110 degree day. It has burned for days and is approaching 50,000 acres, consuming well over a hundred homes.  The second fire is exceeding 10,000 in the tall timber riddled with bark beetle killed pines.  This morning the two fires have merged somewhere in the smoky melee under that storm cloud, the only one in this clear hazy sky.  Today it is humid and predicted to reach 120 degrees F. in the low desert.  In the drier burning high desert it will be a mere ten degrees cooler.  This fire is one for the fire science history books.  Year before last we experienced record rains and the wildflowers in these areas were drawing thousands to see the once in a lifetime display.  The residual fine fuels of these grasses and wildflowers has presented a greater fuel load than every before, somewhat explaining the speed at which the fires grew in a typically low fuel volume ecosystem.  When two wildfires of this magnitude come together there is a chance they will slow because of lack of fuel.  But with a fire line many miles long, any slight shift in the wind can create a new fast moving front.  While it has recked hundreds of lives and devastated a slow growing ecosystem that will take a century to recover, it is the fire weather that will be studied for years to come.  This is the fire condition that led the Fire Service to develop the new Boeing 747 air tanker, converted to drop mega-loads of retardant.  Whether it is in use is hard to say.  Today they say the fire is 25% contained with no estimate of when they’ll have full containment.  The humidity will bring more afternoon thunderheads to the high desert, which are more likely to cause new lightning strikes than much needed rain. There is little good news.  There is more information on emergency procedures and informative articles on wildfires at our web site: Article:  Tips On Preparing For Wildfires This Year Article:  Basic Components of a Family Disaster Plan Book:  California Wildfire Landscaping