Monday, August 12, 2013

More Late Summer Observations

As I mentioned in my last post, late summer is the quiet season in native California gardens. Most of these plants are completely adapted to going without any rain from roughly May to November. But that doesn't mean that nothing is happening. Some plants will be killed by supplement water while others respond by blooming again. It's important to know the difference and treat them accordingly.

For example, Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) should not be given any surface water in the summer because there are soil pathogens that will be invigorated by the combination of warmth and water, and they will attack the roots of oaks. By contrast, the succulent shown below, Oregon Stonecrop (Sedum oreganum) requires regular summer water. I'm very pleased that this one if flowering right now.

There are lots of Sedum species, many from Mecixo. But this one is native to far northern California and Oregon where summer temperatures are somewhat cooler and there is more fog/dew to keep them hydrated. Another Sedum from NorCal is S. spathulifolium. Mine is a variety called 'Cape Blanco'.

I keep both of these in containers for several reason.  I can give them a bit more water, they don't get hidden underneath taller plants, and their sprawling growth habit makes them spill over the edge of a container in a pleasing way.

Other plants in my garden have virtually constant water - namely the pond and the bog area. The pond has been naturalizing well and now has a good cover of water lilies with periodic blooms.

These water lilies are not native to California, but it has been extremely difficult for me to find native aquatic plants. So the water lilies will stay unless I find something better. One native wetland plant that I just recently discovered is Giant Arrowhead (Sagittaria montevidensis). I has broad, arrowhead-shaped leaves and a lovely white flower with burgundy markings.

Speaking of wetland plants, the bog area is really filling in now. The Stream Orchid and the two mimulus species have gone into dormancy which I assume is typical of them in the wild. The other bog plants are growing large, especially the San Diego Sedge (Carex spissa).

Some of the smaller bog plants are holding their own, particularly the Lobelia Cardinalis which is blooming now. In the photo below the flowers are from the Lobelia but the foliage is an adjacent plant.

In the drier parts of the garden there are still some plants blooming. There is a small Elderberry tree (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea). I used to have a very large tree but it was becoming problematic in several ways, so I cut it down a few years ago. Now I get sprouts coming up from the stump every Spring. This year I decided to let one of the sprouts get a bit larger. It got big enough to bloom and produce fruit. The berries are popular with a number of birds.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Late Summer - The Quiet Season

Late summer and early fall are the quiet season in a native California garden. There are exceptions, but for the most part my plants have gone into dormancy. There has been no rain here in Encinitas since May, as is normal for coastal San Diego County. There is not likely to be any rain until November. These native plants are adapted to the long drought, in part by going to sleep for several months.

Some visibly go to sleep, such as the Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri). Mine finished blooming a short time ago, and now the leaves are drying up.

I like to use the dried leaves and stems as mulch, so I cut them down to the ground at this time. When the leaves are fully brown and dried, they crumble easily. I cut up the stems with a hand pruner. Cutting back this poppy is generally recommended because it triggers new growth. It also opens up the area to more sunlight which is good for the other plants.

Another genus that goes into quite visible dormancy is the Dudleyas. The one below is D. pulverulenta. It bloomed in June and July with tall flower stalks that put its blossoms up where hummingbirds can get at them. Now it's work for the year is done, and the leaves shrivel to become papery flakes. Though dead-looking at this time, these Dudleyas are quite alive. They can wait patiently another 3 or 4 months until the rains arrive. Note that the Dudleya is the background looks less dessicated because it is in the shade of the oak tree.

Other plants go dormant without looking quite as dead. In the photo below, the Yucca Shidigera looks much the same as always, while the cream-colored flowers of the buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) become cinnamon-colored seed heads.

Then there are the late bloomers, those plants that for whatever reasons produce their flowers in late summer. One of the best of these for the garden is California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum) in the Onagraceae (Primrose) family. There are several species and subspecies of this plant, but in general they have silvery foliage with tubular red flowers that are well used by hummingbirds.

Another late bloomer, at least in my garden, is Eriogonum grande var. rubescens. It's a Channel Islands species that can bloom as early as April or as late as October (according to I'm using it as one of the understory plants beneath a large Santa Cruz Island Ironwood.

Still another late bloomer is Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostemma lanatum), a member of the Mint family.

Last but not least is an agave that I've had in a container for around 10-12 years. I believe it is A. parryi, but it may be a hybrid or variety. I just don't remember. Anyway, it decided to bloom this year. Like all other members of the agave genus, it will die when it's done flowering. For now it is spectacular. The 3 photos below show the full inflorescence, the unopened flower buds, and the open flowers which are loaded with so much nectar that they drip onto the ground. Note also the huge anthers and filaments. It will be interesting to see if any seeds are produced.

I was recently reading an excellent article in Fremontia (the journal of the California Native Plant Society). The article was written by Mark Bourne who spent 4 years in Japan learning their traditional approach to landscape design. He focused on the philosophical concept of Wabi. To quote Mr. Bourne, "Wabi is an aesthetic of emotions, expressed in the atmosphere of unadorned fulfillment that can be found in Japanese poetry. Wabi conveys a feeling of rusticity, simplicity, soberness..." The Wabi approach to both poetry and gardening involves references to the seasons and to specific natural locations, especially in the off-seasons. In Japan the off-season is late winter. In California it is late summer. Anyone can fall in love with a garden in Spring, but it takes more study and reflection to love a garden in late summer. Learning about Wabi has helped me to better appreciate my garden in this quiet season when there is as much brown as green, and the flowers are few and a far between. The plants are merely at rest, waiting, conserving water and energy to be ready for whatever comes next.