Shady Garden Success Stories

If you read my column regularly or even once in a while you’ve probably heard me lament about the difficult growing conditions here in my garden. Between the sandy soil, 5 hours of intense sun but for only 6 months of the year, gophers, squirrels, moles, deer and chipmunks I’m happy if any plant thrives. So it is with pleasure that I report to you the small successes I’ve had lately and maybe give you hope that you might also grow plants that provide some color and fragrance in your garden along with attracting hummingbirds, songbirds, bees and butterflies.

As the sun shifts lower in the sky, my garden becomes shadier each day. The soil is still warm, however, and that encourages root growth so even though I won’t see much happening above ground until late next spring hope springs eternal and I am driven to plant more natives as well as other appropriate plants that will fill in those blank spots.

Gaura l. ‘Siskiyou Pink’

This week a clump of deep pink gaura lindheimeri is blooming like crazy. If I had my druthers I wouldn’t have planted it among a stand of orange flowering California fuchsia but it still looks great against the gray foliage of the epilobium or zauschneria or whatever it’s called now days.

Gaura ’Siskiyou Pink attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and needs only occasional water. The books will tell you gaura requires full sun but mine is thriving without a lot of sun. Don’t be afraid to try a plant you like despite what the books tell you.

Zauschneria aka epilobium

Same goes for the light requirements of the California fuchsia. Mine is happily spreading and it gets only partial sun for part of the year. Las Pilitas nursery website, a great source of information, does say they will tolerate part-shade and commonly grow where there is extra moisture in the winter and spring, gradually drying through fall. Guess that 140 inches of rainfall I got up here in Bonny Doon last winter would fall into that category. As far as the renaming of plants California fuchsia apparently is now called epilobium canum but the name zauschneria may come back so call them whatever works for you.

One of these days I want to plant a few more native plants that will tolerate shade and attract wildlife. Toyon with it’s red berries is high on my list as is Pacific wax myrtle. I have a pink flowering currant which is doing well as well as sambucus mexicana which the hummingbirds, jays and chipmunks like and a Black Lace elderberry.

Sambucus ‘Black Lace’

Of course, all the different ceanothus do well in partial shade, grow fast and the birds and bees love them both in bloom and now that they are full of berries and seeds. My covey of quail find the berries irresistible. Apparently porcupine like them also but fortunately for my dog, Sherman, I don’t have any of those.

California native Pacific Coast Iris, Woodland Strawberry, Heuchera maxima, Western Columbine, Bleeding Heart, Mimulus and Wild Ginger all do well in my lean, shady, sandy soil. For some reason I don’t have any any coffeberry or any Oregon Grape but they are both on my wish list. Coffeeberry is one of the best all around native plants for wildlife and mahonia or Oregon Grape bloom in the winter and provide much needed nectar for hummingbirds.

Take advantage of the fall planting season to spruce up the problem spots in your shady garden. Email me at janis001@aol.com if you would like more suggestions.

Growing Chrysanthemums

It’s that time of year when every store I visit has mums for sale. Chrysanthemums are so common we often think of them as temporary filler plants in fall containers and borders. But mums are perennials and can play a bigger role in your garden if you let them.

Garden mums

Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as far back as the 15th century. Over 500 cultivars had been recored by the year 1630. There are records in Japan from the 8th century relating the mums.

The botanical name for the garden chrysanthemum has been changed to dendranthemum grandiflorum but I never hear anyone use this name. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Yellow or white chrysanthemum flowers of the species. C. morifolium are boiled to make tea in some parts of Asia. In Korea, a rice wine is flavored with chrysanthemum flowers. Chrysanthemum leaves are steamed or boiled and used as greens in Chinese cuisine.

Another variety of chrysanthemum- cinerariaefolium- is important as a natural source of insecticide. The pyrethrins extracted attack the nervous system of all insects. it is harmful to fish and should be used with caution but it’s not persistent in the environment and is biogradable.

Mums, black mondo grass, Blue Hokkaido squash

Grown for years to flower only in late summer and fall, chysanthemums are short day plants, setting buds when they receive light for 10 hours and darkness for the other 14 hours of the day. This is why mums bloom in the spring on leggy stems if they are not cut back. And this is how growers manipulate their blooming, adjusting the dark and light periods with shades in the greenhouse so buds will form in any month. They’re nearly constantly available in grocery stores and florists in every season.

At this time of year when garden mums abound pick a plant with lots of buds. They bloom only once and won’t set more flowers until next year. Those buds, though, last a long time if you don’t let them dry out.

The specific type of plant doesn’t matter since they all have long term growth potential. If you particularly like one color or form of chrysanthemum, plant it now to enjoy again next year. You never know what the growers might decide to grow next season.

Choose a well-drained, sunny spot to plant them. Like many members of the aster family, mums don’t tolerate soggy ground. After blooming, trim off the old flowers and cut back plants to within a 4 or 5 inches of the ground. If you started with 4 inch pots, trim back by half.

Next spring pinch them back whenever growth gets to 8 inches tall. Keep pinching until July, then allow plants to start forming buds for the traditional fall show. Mums need regular water so plant them in spots where you have other plants with the same water needs.

All parts of chrysanthemum plants are potentially toxic to dogs, cats, horses and other mammals. Ingesting the plants can cause vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivating, rashes or lack of coordination, according to the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

 

The Early Fall Garden To-Do List

The autumnal equinox happened September 22nd. It’s the official start of fall when the sun crosses the celestial equator and moves southward. The earth’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the line connecting the centers of the earth and the sun on this day. Many people believe that the earth experiences 12 hours each of day and night on the equinox. However, this is not exactly the case.

During the equinox, the length is nearly equal but not entirely because the day is slightly longer in places that are further away from the equator- like where we live. Also the sun takes longer to rise and set in these locations as it does not set straight down but in a horizontal direction.

Variegated alstroemeria

It was a hot summer and I’m ready for fall. This is the perfect time for transplanting or adding new plants to your garden. Why? Cooler air is kinder to plant foliage while soil temperatures are still warm creating an excellent environment for new root growth. In the fall many plants and trees, even broadleaf evergreens, are entering a period of dormancy. With no need to allocate resources into foliage, plants are transferring all their energy into roots and storing nutrients for the cool months ahead. By spring, the new root systems should be well established.

Now through October, divide summer blooming perennials like alstroemeria, agapanthus, coreopsis, iris, daylily, yarrow, rudbeckia, calla lily, aster and penstemon that are overgrown and not flowering well. You can also divide spring blooming perennials like candytuft, columbine, astilbe, bergenia and bleeding heart although they don’t always bloom the first spring afterwards due to the energy they use re-establishing themselves. Start perennial flowers seeds now so that they will be mature enough to bloom next year.

bergenia cordifolia

Fertilize shrubs lightly one last time with an all-purpose organic fertilizer or layer of compost. Use compost only on California natives.

Fertilizing roses now will encourage them to bloom again this fall. To keep roses blooming make a habit of pinching and pruning off old flowers. Always cut back to an outward facing branchlet with five leaves. There are hormones there that will cause a new flower bud to grow much sooner than if you cut to one with only three leaves.

Plant cool season veggie starts like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts, onions and leeks in soil enriched with 4-6″ of compost as summer vegetable crops will have used up much of your soil’s nutrients.You can sow seeds of beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, arugula, mustard and peas directly in the ground.

Cut back berry vines that have produced fruit. Canes of the current season should be trained in their place.

hemerocallis

Spider mites are especially prolific during the summer. If some of the leaves on your plants are pale with stippling, spray the undersides of infected leaves with organics like insecticidal soap switching off with neem oil as they build up a resistance to one of the pesticides. Plan to spray with a horticultural oil in the winter to kill overwintering eggs.

The weather these days is perfect for being outside. Enjoy it and this place we call home.

The World of Lavender

Everybody loves lavender in a garden. It’s one of the standard requests I get to include in a garden design. But we picture the lavender fields we seen in famous gardens not the spindly, woody plants we often end up with in our own gardens. With so many kinds to choose from and endless growing tips here is Lavender 101 from The Mountain Gardener.

Lavender farm- Whidbey Island, WA.

Lavender needs good drainage. Incorporate organic matter if necessary to make the soil loose and friable. Compost is the best amendment because it is fertile and the uneven particle sizes create better air spaces and give the roots better anchors to attach themselves to. Check the soil’s pH (potential hydrogen) to make sure it falls somewhere between 6.5 and 7.5. If the soil is too acidic the lavender will not thrive. If the soil is too alkaline, the nutrients are ‘tied’ up in the soil and the plant cannot use them. Yellowed growth can be indicative of a soil that is out of balance. Adding compost can help to balance the pH.

Mulching with a fine mulch or compost after planting helps with the weed control. Avoid mulching right up to the stem of the small plant. Instead, leave a collar about two inches wide around the plant.

If planting in pots, make sure to repot every spring into a larger container with fresh soil to allow the plant to continue to mature and to provide as many flowers as possible. A good, coarse, potting soil with organic fertilizer mixed in works best.

Grosso lavender with mixed lavender varieties

In the ground or in a pot, full sun is a must. In hot areas, some late afternoon shade can be tolerated without effecting flowering. Lavender in the field rarely needs fertilizer, especially if compost is applied as a mulch. More often, problems arise because the soil is not healthy. Avoid chemicals in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that kill or starve the beneficial organisms in the soil.

While Lavender is extremely drought resistant once established, it grows larger and produces more blooms with regular watering. This means that when it is dry, water it then let it dry out a bit before soaking again.

Plants should be pruned every year immediately after bloom. Pruning should not be confused with harvesting. Pruning is necessary to extend the life of the plant. Lavender flower wand stems are usually a bright green while lavender leaves are gray. Cut back not only the flower stem, but also about a third of the gray-leaved stems as well. If the plant has been neglected, it can be cut back further, but avoid pruning back so far that only woody stems with no leaves are showing. A plant pruned into the wood may push out latent (sleeping) buds or it may die.

It’s possible to have a lavender blooming in your garden most of the growing season. Here are my favorites.

Spanish lavenders start blooming early to mid spring. All of these do best with a good pruning about four or five weeks into the bloom cycle, which discourages these large bushes from becoming untidy and sometimes encourages a second sweep of blooms. Spanish lavender is sometimes referred to as French lavender since it grows wild in France.

lavender farm-San Juan Island, WA

French lavender has the more traditional gray leaves but with serrated edges. This large, fast growing shrub is sometimes referred to as everblooming lavender. French lavender does best when kept at no more than three feet, including blooms. The large, blocky flower heads can be dried if picked before any of the little flowers turn brown. Goodwin Creek lavender is a hybrid of French Lavender with a shorter growth habit and a darker purple flower head that is held on a longer wand. It makes a nice border or edging plant.

English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolias), like English, Munstead and Hidcote start flowering in mid to late spring and are finished by late spring or early summer. They look great when they flower, and after pruning, remain a compact ball or hedge with exotically fragrant leaves the rest of the year. Hidcote is famous for its dark purple flower. Like most of the English lavenders, Hidcote is not as drought or heat tolerant as the lavandins.

The English hybrids, sometimes referred to as lavandins, come in third in the bloom cycle, starting just as the the English lavenders are finishing, and continuing to mid summer. These are the workhorses of lavender. They do it all: bloom lots, grow just the right size, and smell wonderful. Provence and Grosso are the best known of these, but there are many others. These are the ones to line the drive or border the garden with.

Grosso lavender is cultivated for oil used mainly in the cosmetic industry. It makes great lavender bouquets and wands as the flowers stay on the stem better. It has beautiful purple calyxes instead of the normal green calyx of most lavenders. Provence has a long, slender flower wand that is useful for dried bud collecting. The buds come cleanly and easily away from the stalk.

Trees for Shade, Wildlife and the Future

We don’t plant enough trees. Everyone wants an instant garden but nature doesn’t work that way. When you look out from your windows into your landscaping what catches your eye first? I’ll bet the most majestic and inspiring sight in your garden is probably a tree that frames your house giving it a sense of permanence, welcoming you home and providing a haven for songbirds that serenade you on a summer day.

Japanese maple- Stanford campus

Large or small, trees make the world go round. They produce oxygen and act as a giant filter that cleans the air we breathe. A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.

Trees clean the soil by absorbing dangerous chemicals and other pollutants that have entered the soil. They can either store the harmful pollutants or actually change the them into a less harmful form. Trees can filter sewage and clean the water that runs off into our streams. They can absorb and lock away carbon dioxide as wood so it is not available as greenhouse gasses.

If you live near a busy street trees can muffle the noise almost as effectively as a stone wall. They also act as a windbreak during windy and cold seasons reducing the drying effect of the wind and keeping it from blowing precious topsoil away.

Gingko biloba

Trees slow storm water runoff which helps recharge our aquifers. On top of all the beneficial things trees do for us they provide shade and keep us cool in the summer. In the winter they break up the wind reducing heating costs. Trees increase property values. If you’ve been thinking about adding a few trees to your own property here are some of my favorites. Some don’t get enough recognition others are classics. All make great additions to the garden.

I like Forest Pansy redbud for its stunning red foliage, Sango Kaku Japanese maple for its year round interest, Strawberry tree, and Tristania laurina Elegant. Evergreen Dogwood, Cornus capitata, is also known as Himalayan flowering dogwood lives up to its name in every respect. This variety is slow growing reaching 20 ft tall in sun or partial shade after about 25 years. After flowering, red fruit provides a treat for the birds.

To make your garden more compelling also consider planting a Ginkgo biloba ‘Autumn gold’ or Amelanchier ‘Autumn Brilliance’. Also called Apple Serviceberry it has edible small fruits you can use in jam and grows fast. Chinese Fringe Tree has magnificent clusters of fragrant, fringe-like blooms and is a terrific accent for small yards.

Swan Hill olive

We are all familiar with the huge flowers in late winter of the Saucer magnolia. This beautiful tree also makes a good lawn tree. Oklahoma redbud takes heat and drought but can also tolerate regular garden watering. Chitalalpa ‘Pink Dawn’ grows 12 feet in three years then grows more slowly to 25 feet with a 25 foot spread. It’s pink trumpet shaped flowers are a welcome sight during the summer. Crape myrtle also blooms at the same time providing your garden with color when you’re outdoors the most.

‘Swan Hill’ olive produces no pollen or fruit, takes drought conditions and casts light shade. Chinese pistache provides brilliant fall color growing to 35 feet by 30 feet wide.

Plant a tree for yourself and for future generations.

 

Interesting Plants to Update your Garden

Tired of seeing the same plants in your garden and everywhere else? Feel like changing things up a bit? With this question in mind I’ve turned to my fellow landscape designers to see what plants they are using these days so that every garden they design doesn’t look the same. You can have too much of a good thing.

One thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to recommend a plant that hasn’t been shown to be a reliable grower in a variety of conditions. Sometimes the latest and greatest plant introduction turns out to be a dud. Other times a new cultivar of an old favorite hits a home run. Here are some oldies but goodies and new plants to add to your garden.

 

Loropetaum ‘Jazz Hands Dwarf PInk’

Loropetalum ‘Jazz Hands’ is getting the nod from everyone who’s grown it. If you love the deer tolerance, low maintenance. moderate watering and toughness of regular Chinese Fringe Flower this showy dwarf variety is even easier to grow. Staying low and tidy Jazz Hands Dwarf Pink has cool purple foliage with a cranberry undercurrent and hot pink blooms. It looks great combined with Jazz Hands Dwarf White. Local wholesale nurseries are growing it so it’s readily available.

Speaking of local sources for plants, we live in one of the prime growing areas for landscape plants. I recently learned that one of my favorite plants Canyon Snow Pacific coast iris is going through a difficult time. Seems it’s become less vigorous than the other colors in the Canyon series and the growers are working to improve their stock. We need to count on a plant’s performance. There’s enough other issues to deal with in our gardens without starting with a wimpy plant.

Cistus variegata ‘Mickie’

Rockrose have always been favorites in the low water use garden. There’s one with a low, mounding habit that hugs the ground and creates a super colorful accent to the sunny garden. With brilliant gold leaves splashed in the center with green this variegated cistus hybridus called ‘Mickie” is hardy in winter, grows only 14-18 inches tall and spreads to about 2 feet wide. Perfect for containers or smaller gardens.

If you like to include California native plants in your garden Woolly Blue Curls or trichostema lanatum has been shown to be reliable in the garden if given full sun, good drainage and little fertilizer or amendment. Group similar plants and forget about them. They bloom from late spring through summer and make a good cut flower. Another common name for this plant is Romero or California Rosemary which dates back to the Portola expedition in 1769.

If you want to make a big splash in your garden or container try growing Salvia ’Amistad’ or Friendship Sage. With fast growth in the warm months to 4 or 5 feet tall, the rich royal purple flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden. It will grow in light shade with medium water requirements and remain evergreen in warmer parts of your garden.

Cousin Itt acacia

Acacia ‘Cousin Itt’ continues to be a favorite for many of us. This lovely small plant with emerald green, feathery foliage that stays small in the garden and has low water needs. Not to be confused with the bully acacia tree seen around here, it’s one of the good guys. Plant in full sun to partial shade.

So if you’re in the mood to add a couple of interesting plants to your garden, take a tip from what landscape designers use or grow in their own gardens.

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