If you’re like me it’s fun to be out in the garden planting, tending and watching the garden grow. I love to add a new plant to a container or perennial bed. Planning, choosing and finally bringing home a new addition are all part of the fun and there are so many low water use colorful perennials to choose from.
Members of the sunflower family, coreopsis attract butterflies and bees and bloom all summer. In addition to the favorite Early Sunrise, try the dark-centered Tequila Sunrise with variegated cream and yellow foliage. Their foliage has touches of pinkish red in spring and deeper red in fall. Then there are types with finely divided leaves like Moonbeam and new varieties such as Mango Punch. Rusty orange flower with hints of yellow cover these low growing perennials. The color is rich and blends with many color schemes. Or try coreopsis with coral pink flowers on yellow green lacy foliage. Add one of these deer resistant perennials to your garden and make the butterflies and bees happy, too.
In celebration of Native Plant Week earlier this month, let’s talk about using . How do you pick the best ones for your situation and what do they need to grow in your garden?
California is a vast domain when it comes to natural features and different soils. From hills to mountains to deserts to valleys and ocean bluffs, there are 6000 plus plant species within our borders. Hundreds of these are showy and useful plants worthy of cultivation in our garden. Some, like ceanothus, have already been cultivated for a century or more, both here and abroad.
There are features of the California landscape that present a certain flavor and seasonal progression, quite distinct from that of the subtropics and year-round, moist forests that many traditional garden plants come from. Plants of hilly and mountainous areas are often found in rocky or sandy soils and require well-drained garden soils. Many plants of the chaparral have poor resistance to the root pathogens that thrive in a warm, moist soil and may not tolerate typical garden style irrigation in summer.
Matching or creating the right conditions is the key to success to grow California natives. Planting on a raised mound or berm, for instance, is one way to drain water away from sensitive crowns. Knowing where in California a given native plant comes from can help you make the right decisions.
That being said there are many natives with an amazing broad tolerance of different conditions. Heteromeles arbutifolia or toyon grows in both sandy and clay soils as does Achillea millifolium or yarrow which is also a good cut flower. Carex grass and Erigeron glaucus or Seaside daisy also do well in most soils.
If you garden in clay soils, good native shrubs are Western redbud, manzanita, spicebush, bush anemone, ceanothus, garrya, Pacific wax myrtle, western mock orange, blue elderberry, mahonia, California wild rose and snowberry. Native perennials for clay soil include coral bells, sticky monkeyflower ( a good cut flower ), salvias, deer grass, rubus and Dutchman’s pipe vine.
Sandy conditions require California natives that are decidedly drought tolerant. You may already grow many of our manzanitas and ceanothus. But do you also have lupine, lavatera, coffeeberry, buckwheat, fuchsia-flowering gooseberry, purple sage, wallflower or the beautiful Douglas iris?
Then there are the folks that live in the shade. Native plants from canyons and riparian areas will do well in your garden. They require some summer watering but that’s all. Native shrubs that tolerate bright shade are manzanita, spicebush, bush anemone, ceanothus, mahonia, Ca. wax myrtle, any of the ribes, wild rose, snowberry and huckleberry. Perennials for color are columbine, Western bleeding heart, Ca. fuchsia, Douglas iris and coral bells.
Where ever you garden, to provide food and nectar or berries for our winged friends be sure you have some flowering currant, sticky monkey flower, coffeeberry, salvia clevelandii, Dutchman’s pipe vine,wax myrtle, Ca. fuchsia, aster chilensis or seaside daisy.
Last year I was brave and published my New Year’s resolutions– at least those that pertain to the garden. It’s now the day of reckoning. Let’s see how I did and which ones I’ll keep for 2011. In the garden, as in life, simple changes can make a big difference over a long time. I’m adding a couple new ones that are important, too.
Learn something new every day. Whether it’s something new in the garden or elsewhere, keep learning. I’m starting to learn about local mushrooms. They come up in the most beautiful places. I’m looking forward to the Fungus Fair in January.
Enjoy the simple things. Laugh often. Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. Everyday is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.
Of the 16 gardener’s resolutions I made last year I can honestly say I achieved half of them.
I did pay more attention to the size that plants grow and believed the tag when it said "spreading habit". But I also found that pruning shears are life savers when you just have to have that new foliage plant that just came out.
I started making garden journal entries in February instead of January as I resolved. But then I tried to make up for it in March, May, June, October, November and December. I missed 5 out of 12 months. I get a "C-".
I added more pollen-producing flowering plants to attract beneficial insects which kept the good guys around longer to eat the bad bugs. And I learned what quite a few of the good guys look like. ( That counts as two resolutions )
I sat in my garden and enjoyed it, not jumping up to rearrange containers. (This one was easy)
I applied to get my little garden certified as a wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation by making sure I provided food sources, water, cover, places to raise young and used sustainable gardening techniques.
I fertilized my perennials a couple of times this year with organic compost and fertilizer instead of just once and boy were they happy. The trees and larger shrubs really only need a light dose once a year so I was good there.
I wore sunscreen everyday. (My doctor wants a hat, too. Maybe this year I’ll wear one.)
The other half of last year’s resolutions are being recycled as they’re still good ones:
I will not buy a new flower, shrub or tree until I have a plan for it in the garden.
I will sharpen and clean my garden tools so they look spiffy and work better.
I will start a worm bin with my kitchen scraps and a compost pile for leaves and plant debris. (I have so many raccoons it’s like a party out there at night but I’m going to come up with a critter-proof solution.)
I will weed regularly- not waiting until they’re so tall they swallow up my gardening tools when I lay them down.
I will accept a few holes in my plants but tour the garden regularly to identify if a problem is getting out of control and I need to break out an organic pesticide.
I will prune my maples, transplant my overgrown containers and divide my perennials when I’m supposed to.
I will plant more things to eat. Edibles anywhere in the garden feed the body and the soul. (This summer was so cold I didn’t have much luck in my partial shade.)
I will stop rationalizing my plant habit is better than gambling, clothes shopping or smoking.
I will do better to practice what I preach in this column.
I know this gardening season isn’t over yet, but I’m already . Some are already being grown on a limited basis by the wholesale growers while others won’t become available until 2011. Recently I had the opportunity to view up-close and personal some of these new unique perennials, shrubs and grasses. It’s exciting to envision these in our own gardens.
It’s no secret our weather is just about perfect here. That’s why so many of the wholesale nurseries have operations in this county. They know the growing conditions are excellent here for annuals, perennials, grasses and woody ornamentals.
Many of the plants we buy start life as small plugs and liners. Some of these are produced in tissue culture labs located in places such as India, China, Guatemala and Holland. These are then grown on to sellable size by other wholesale growers before they eventually arrive at your local nursery. If you have a Black Mondo or carex grass or a cordyline, hellebore or heuchera it may have been started from a tissue culture somewhere on another continent and has more frequent flyer miles than you do.
Plant tissue culture consists of taking a piece of a plant, such as a stem tip, and placing it in a sterile ( usually gel-based ) nutrient medium where it multiplies, It’s similar to taking a cutting of your favorite houseplant and growing it to share with a friend. The production of plants in sterile containers allows the propagator to reduce the chance of transmitting diseases, pests and pathogens.
One of the new plants that I saw that really caught my eye is the grass, Pennisetum Fireworks. The variegated pink striped blades of this grass are just as spectacular as the pink flower heads. Some gardens with clay soil and heavy frost in winter may need to grow this plant in a container but it’s worth babying this one, it’s so beautiful.
You may have bought a bright orange Begonia Bonfire this year and were impressed with the hundreds of flowers that it easily produced over the season. Well, next year you’ll be seeing the Sparkle series begonia which is similar. This tuberous begonia is nothing like the classic you are familiar with. One plant will grow to about 24" in the ground or a container and depending on which color you choose, will be covered with scarlet, white blush, rose or apricot flowers.
And don’t even get me started on all the new mimulus colors that are going to be available next year. The Jellybean series comes in classic orange and gold but also red, purple, pink, light pink, lemon and terra cotta. Remember these are deer resistant, too.
Also there are new hummingbird favorite agastache flavors out now. Picture in your garden, flower spikes in colors that look like fruit- grapefruit, apricot, grape and orange nectar.
I haven’t even touched on new introductions like Green Jewel echinacea or dwarf butterfly bushes in magenta, violet or pink. How about a bush form of the vine, Hardenbergia? Meena will grow 36" tall and have purple flowers in winter.
Look for one of these new perennials next year. It’s going to be a colorful year in the garden.
"The soil is made of butterfly wings, dinosaur teeth, pumpkin seeds, lizard skins, and fallen leaves.
Put your hands in the soil and touch yesterday, and all that will be left of tomorrow shall return
so that new life can celebrate this day." -Betty Peck
Soil is a wonderful thing. It grows our food, anchors our trees and provides a foundation under our feet. But it sure can be hard to work with if it’s not the soft, crumbly loam that many plants prefer. It’s amazing that anything grows in some of the soils here in the Santa Cruz mountains. Some folks garden in an ancient sea bed of sand and there are others who have such heavy clay in their gardens that you wonder how anything survives. Recently I helped plant in the dense clay of Garrahan Park in Boulder Creek and I dedicate this column to those of you with similar inhospitable soils.
The soil in Boulder Creek required a pick ax to break up enough to plant. Sound familiar? Although rich in nutrients it needed compost in many areas to provide the environment necessary so beneficial microbes, worms and other critters could do their work and aerate the soil. A thick layer of mulch will be spread over the soil by The Boy Scouts to preserve the structure and prevent it from packing down again.
There are many plants that are tolerant of clay soils and plant selection is half the equation. The park chose mostly California natives that won’t need fertilization or pruning, can be eventually weaned from irrigation and will provide food for the birds and visiting children. Juncus, a type of grass, red-flowering currant, redtwig dogwood, California rose and western redbud will be the stars of the park in the wet, clay soil. The drier side of the park was planted with deer grass, toyon, California rose, huckleberry, coffeeberry , ceanothus, native honeysuckle, vine maple, native iris and California fescue grass.
I’m sure the park will be the crown jewel of the area and hopefully you will come to visit and see the progress of the plants. Kinda like a local demonstration garden in the San Lorenzo Valley.
There are plants from similar environments in other parts of the world that would also do well if you garden in heavy soil. One of my favorite trees for these conditions is the strawberry tree. Also hackberry, ash, gingko and paperbark trees work well also. Shrubs to try include flowering quince, bottlebrush, Australian fuchsia, smoke tree, escallonia, pineapple guava, mahonia, osmanthus, Italian buckthorn, elderberry and vitex. Easy perennials for clay soils are yarrow, bergenia, carex grasses, fortnight lily, coreopsis, echinacea, nepeta, salvia, teucrium and verbena to name just a few.
If you’re not familiar with some of these plants it’s easy to see what they look like by Googling images. It’s what I do to see a plant full grown and not just a line drawing or a close-up of the flower.
So you see, there are plants that will be successful even in heavy, clay soil, you just have to pick the right ones.
Need more late summer perennials to extend your season? Purple coneflowers will continue to bloom until frost then go dormant for the winter. Showy 4" rosy purple daisies are lightly fragrant and make good cut flowers for bouquets. The clumps spread slowly and can be carefully divided after 3 or 4 years. There is also a beautiful white variety called White Swan. If faded flowers are left in place, the bristly seed heads provide food for finches in winter.
The herb echinacea is derived from varieties of this flower. E. angustifolia is used nowadays as a fortifier of the immunesystem, mainly to prevent flu and minor respiratory diseases by increasing the body’s production of interferon. The roots are the part of this plant used for medicinal purposes. Echinacea was used by Native Americans more than any other plant in the plains states. It’s antiseptic properties were used to treat snake and insect bites, to bathe burns and to help cure the “sweats.” They chewed the plants roots to ease the pain of toothache. It was also used by the Native Americans for purification. The leaves and the flowers can be used in teas as well.