Late Summer and Fall Colors with a California Native Garden

The Cheerful Gardener says...

I didn't write this newsletter last month due to family committments, so it has been a long time since you heard from me. Sometimes my family and my gardening overlap when I am tasting berries in the garden with my 8 year old daughter or we all visit an arboretum together, or just sit and talk in the backyard by the pond. As we get older many pleasant memories from our childhood starts to fade. But some memories that still remain strong for me are those of my wandering around the banana plantation in my parents backyard, rooting around in the soil like the chickens in the out-house, and sneaking handfuls of wheat from the kitchen to plant in the soil to see what would happen.

We made a family trip to Santa Barbara on Labor Day weekend and visited the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden (SBBG). Seen here is the lovely meadow at the garden, with late summer blooms glowing red and yellow. The meadow at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden on Labor Day weekend, alight with color from the Epilobium (Zauschneria or California Fuchsia), Solidago californica (California Goldenrod), and Mahonia leaves turning red.

September is often considered the worst month for California native plants, everything is brown and dry, and it is the end of the dormant season for plants adapted to our dry summers. But, with just a small change in perspective, you can see golden where others see brown, and you can see glistening gemstones where others see grasses gone to seed. There are a few plants that flower in the late summer time. The meadow at SBBG was gorgeous as you see in the photograph. The main article in this newsletter is about a few of the native plants that you can use in your garden for a splash of color during late summer and early fall.

I will soon finalize a slide-show of the Labor Day weekend visit to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Visit the website soon to watch this slide-show. I am also on a mission to write a few e-booklets on subjects like "Lawn Alternatives" with different and appropriate recommendations for Northern and Southern California. I hope to sell these online for a nominal amount of money that will go to support the upkeep of my website. Please support the upkeep of the website and recommend it to your friends to increase reader-ship.

And guess what, I was on the radio with a small panel discussing sustainable native gardening and worm composting. This was on a South Asian Community station KLOK 1170AM local to the Bay Area. You can listen to a recorded version of the one-hour show on their website The Indian Angle.

Planting season for California natives is just starting, so the next 2-3 months are the ideal time to plant or move native plants. Check out the CNPS webpage for the Santa Clara Valley Chapter, or your local CNPS chapter to find the different native plant sales in your area. Try to visit at least one of these sales because you get good prices on plants, and you get to hobnob with the experts.

Have a great October and write to me if you have questions on planting natives or if you would like a design for your front or back yard.

Founder--Native Again Landscape LLC

Fall Flowers in Your Garden

Many California natives are summer-dormant since they are adapted to the dry summer and will not start growing again until the first rains. But not all plants are like this and still blooming in my garden in October are three with red flowers and provide food to hummingbirds: Zauschneria species (new scientific name is Epilobium and common name is California fuchsia), Galvezia speciosa (Island Snapdragon), and Mimulus cardinalis (Scarlet Monkeyflower).

The unusually-shaped red flowers of Mimulus cardinalis (Scarlet Monkeyflower) The Monkeyflower is in the pond, so it doesn't quite qualify as drought-tolerant, although in a way it is, because I don't use any extra water for it! If you have a wet area near a hose-bib, or if you have a small water feature, then you can plant Mimulus cardinalis along the edge with its roots constantly moist. My plant is just starting to look a little tired although it is still flowering. Cut the plant back in winter to prepare for the next season. This plant is short-lived, but the flowers are worth it and it should reseed itself, without becoming invasive. Here is a photo of the flower, specially adapted to feed hummingbirds. The plant has been flowering since May.

Zauschneria or Epilobium (California Fuchsia) The Zauschneria started blooming in August. The California fuchsias come in all sizes and shapes, low ones, higher ones, grey-silver leaves, and beautiful red blooms. Combine them with a grass like Calamagrostis foliosa (Cape Mendocino Reedgrass) or Festuca californica (California Fescue) for a nice display in the Fall. The Reedgrass will not do well if you live in the interior valleys, high mountains, or desert. After flowering, cut the fuchsia plant back for new spring growth. Water them weekly in the summer months for the first two seasons to establish them and then they are completely drought tolerant.

Galvezia speciosa (Channel Island Snapdragon) One of my favorite plants is the Island SnapDragon (Galvezia speciosa). I love the elegantly arching branches. The blooms are not profuse, but provide red tips to each branch. The leaves look green, fleshy, and healthy at the end of a long dry summer and this should be a great evergreen addition to a native garden almost anywhere in California except the high mountains and the desert. It is in partial shade in my garden, but I have seen it thrive in full sun. It has a sprawling habit and can get about 5-7 feet wide and 3-4 feet tall. The flowers are most abundant in late winter and spring. It can be pruned and pinched to maintain a tighter look and to control sprawling.

 (California Fuchsia) Another plant that started blooming in August and is still in bloom are the Eriogonums. I particularly like the Eriogonum grande var rubescens (Red-flowered Buckwheat) and the Eriogonum fasciculatum (California buckwheat). These are tough plants that are ever-present in the wild and offer profuse blooms at a time of year when all else is going to seed.

Other species of Buckwheats are also great for late summer and fall bloom. Take a look at what varieties are native to your county and use those in your garden.

In all cases, combine these plants with grasses that also bloom in the fall and provide a spectacular background for the red-flowering plants. It is easy to create an all-season flower garden with California natives. And it only takes one year before you can create interesting indoor flower arrangements with buckwheats and grasses from your garden.

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The Cheerful Iris Issue#004: October 6th, 2009

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