We’re Crazy for Clematis

12 Sep

Earl Nickel
Curious Plantsman

No shrinking violets, Clematis are some of the most beautiful, hardy and heart-stoppingly gorgeous perennial vines in the world. Boasting a wide range of flower colors and shapes, they come in 10 different forms – everything from the large, four-petaled montana hybrids and showy large-flowered peony-type double forms, to those with narrower saucer or star-shaped petals and delicate nodding tubular flowers. Throw in colors that range from pure white to shades of pink, red and purple – even yellow – and you get an idea of how there can be over 250 species or varieties found nearly worldwide.

Many of us enthusiastic gardeners tend to think of Clematis as Spring blooming plants and indeed, there are many varieties that do bloom in Spring. But some species and their hybrids bloom as early as March and as late as December in mild climates, giving us Bay Area gardeners plenty of choices for our trellises, arbors and fences. The wide-ranging bloom times are also a boon to our fine feathered and winged friends, as Clematis make an excellent nectar-source for hummingbirds and all manner of bees and other pollinators.

Now is an especially good time to get Spring blooming varieties in the ground, giving their roots a head start and resulting in a more robust plant come April. If you plant Fall blooming Clematis now, you’ll be giving them nearly a full year to establish, virtually guaranteeing an excellent bloom show next Autumn.

Fall Bloomers

With extravagant wine-red flowers, Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ blooms over a long period in Summer and Fall, with large (3”) single flowers. This heirloom selection boasts quite possibly the richest red flowers of any Clematis, putting on a spectacular show in Fall. Reaching 8’ tall and 5’ wide, the fast-growing, lacy foliage looks especially nice twining up a trellis or scrambling over a fence. This beauty performs wonderfully in warm Winter areas where many large-flowered varieties refuse to grow. A pruning Group 3 variety, it blooms on new growth, so prune to about 1’ tall in early Spring for a bigger and better display every year! 

Speaking of show stoppers, Clematis texensis ‘Duchess of Albany’ offers up the loveliest pink flowers from mid-Summer to early frost. Featuring equally large (3”) five-petaled flowers that are cotton candy pink with deeper rose-pink ribs, this hardy selection dazzles in the Fall. Adding to its charm, flowers have tapered petals, giving the impression of five hearts bound together. An heirloom from 1890, this selection reaches a modest 10-12′ in height, making it perfect for a trellis or arch. No worries this climber will take over an area! Another bonus is that this Clematis can take more sun than many varieties. 

For those “Prince-ly” lovers of purple, there’s nothing more beautiful than the velvety purple tones of Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’. This C. viticella hybrid is a later blooming variety with saucer-shaped, luminescent violet-purple petals. During Summer and early Fall these large (3-4”) blooms nearly smother the mid-green leaves, making for a spectacular show. It fills out to a nice compact 10′ x 10′ size, usually in one season and year by year it adds more flowers, especially if it’s pruned to 1-2′ in Winter. This variety is ideally suited to mild climates, where some other species may not thrive. It’s also disease resistant and one of the easiest Clematis to grow.

Blessed with a deliciously heady vanilla fragrance, the aptly named “Sweet Autumn Clematis” (C. paniculata) bursts into a cascade of starry creamy-white 1” blooms in late Summer, practically smothering the foliage thru Fall and prompting curious friends to ask “Wow, what is that?” The cornucopia of flowers are followed by silky seedheads, prolonging its appeal. Vigorous and tough as nails, it can reach 20′ by its second year. Kept in a pot, it may top out at 8-10′. This herbaceous Clematis is perfect for covering an unsightly fence, trained up the side of a house or even climbing up into a tree. You’ll want to prune it hard, back to 1′ in late Winter, so any Fall foliage obscuring taller plants will be removed. You can even prune it mid-season before the flowers arrive to keep it smaller.

Spring & Summer bloomers

Some Clematis like to get a head start on the year and that’s particularly true with eye-catching Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. This selection carries the distinction of being one of the few evergreen species in this genus, with large leathery leaves that can reach a foot long and 4” wide. Leaves begin soft and bronze on color before maturing to a deep green. Climbing quickly via twining tendrils, this sweetly fragrant bloomer can shoot up almost overnight in Spring. Volumes of rose-colored buds soon open to pink-blushed 2” white flowers, attracting a vast contingent of bees and hummers. Given its rapid growth to 15′, its dramatic floral show and sweet vanilla fragrance, this is the perfect candidate for growing along a walkway, be it over an arch or up the side of the house. No problem pruning this vine to shape; it simply grows back right away!

Charm-incarnate is one way to describe the lovely and easy-going Clematis macropetala ‘Blue Bird’. Lime-green foliage in Spring soon gives way to an abundance of nodding periwinkle-blue flowers over a long period in late Spring and Summer. These open 3” bell-shaped flowers feature contrasting cream-colored stamens, making it a one-of-a-kind beauty. Its delicate semi-double flowers belie its toughness, as ‘Blue Bird’ isn’t fazed by extreme heat, cold, humidity or seaside conditions. Once the flowers are done, large silky seedheads (great in dried arrangements!) prolong the plant’s attractiveness. Though it can take a lot of sun, this species also tolerates shade. Throw in the fact it blooms on old wood (no pruning necessary) and stays a modest 12’ tall and you pretty much have the perfect vine.

Don’t let the funny name stop you – Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ is one of the longest blooming varieties, pumping out cute nodding purple bells from late Spring well into Fall. What the flowers lack in size (1.5”), this vigorous climber makes up for in volume. Each flared bell has a stiff, almost, waxy feel and the flowers are presented facing outward, adding to its charm. Though it possesses no tendrils, once you start it on a trellis or netting, it’s off and running. One plant can easily cover a 15′ x 15′ area in record time. Prune to the ground in late Winter and keep an eye out for new stems emerging in the early Spring.

Growing Clematis

All Clematis are cold hardy, with all of the above selections classified as USDA zones 4-10, with the exception of C. armandii, which is still a champ in USDA zones 6-10. In cooler climates you can plant these Clematis in nearly full sun or, if appropriate, part sun. In hotter areas, they’ll prosper best in morning sun and afternoon shade. The two exceptions are the sun-loving Clematis ‘Blue Bird’ and C. armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. Whether planted in the ground or in a large container, it’s advisable to cover the top of the soil with bark mulch to keep the roots cool. Choose a quality soil amendment to both add nutrition and to ensure good drainage. Root rot is an occasional issue with Clematis, so drainage is vital. Follow pruning guidelines as listed for the particular variety you’re growing and top dress with a nutritional compost in late Winter. 

True Blue – The eternal search for our favorite color

21 Mar

By Earl Nickel
Curious Plantsman

Why do we love the color blue? Certainly blue skies above mean sunshine and warming rays on our faces. Blue can also mean the ‘ocean blue’, evoking great mysteries and a sense of tranquility. Pablo Picasso called blue “the color of all colors”.

We gardeners have our own love affair with the color in a way that is both similar and different. The difference is that while blue skies abound, truly blue flowers do not. They are something special in the plant world and nowhere can that be seen in full force than in the pursuit of the “blue rose”. Plant breeders have tried for centuries to achieve this goal. The quest has proven elusive because roses lack the corresponding pigment genes but it’s indicative of the power of this color that horticulturists have pursued such a dream.

Cool and bubbly “Baby Blue Eyes” combines perfectly with Aquilegia chrysantha ‘Yellow Queen’, Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Electra’, and Eschscholzia californica ‘Alba’, for a sweet Spring garden.

Today the power of blue is seen in the myriad ways that those naming new varieties of plants sneak the word “blue” into those names, with little visual evidence to support the claims.  Even with those flowers that are “consensus blue” there is an impressive range, from the pale blues of Cynoglossum amabile to the gentian blue of Phacelia viscida. So, in wanting to write about flowers that I consider “true blue” I decided to pick my “signature blue” and circle out from there like ripples in a stream. For me that plant is “Baby Blue Eyes” (Nemophila menziesii). Somehow this CA native annual has captured the very essence of blue, both physically and poetically. What follows is a Spring list of some of my favorite “true blue” flowers.

CA natives Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes” and “California Poppy” (Eschscholzia californica) ‘Red Chief’ contrast brilliantly!

Annuals

“Baby Blue Eyes” isn’t the only great blue found in California meadows in Spring. Two Phacelias lead the way. The aforementioned P. viscida grows as a 30” tall multi-branching plant and in Spring sprouts dramatic 1″ royal blue flowers. This saturated color is offset wonderfully by a highly decorative nectary. P. campanularia dials back the intensity a bit but still produces rich blue tones. This low growing, scrambling “California Bluebell” adds lovely dark-blushed scalloped foliage to the mix, making it ideal for cascading over a low wall or out of a hanging basket. Both attract bees, butterflies and the occasional hummer.

Radiantly royal blue CA native Phacelia viscida.
Vivid Phacelia campanularia “Desert Canterbury Bells” brings brilliant blue to the low-water garden alongside fragrant Freesia alba and flanked by Agaves.

Want to add a vertical element to a sunny garden plot? Consider the robin’s egg blue tones of “Chinese Forget-Me-Nots” (Cynoglossum amabile) or the gentian blue hues of “Bachelor Buttons” (Centaurea ‘Blue Diadem’). Both are 30-36” tall, multi-branching and produce an endless stream of flowers in late Spring and Summer. If you’ve only grown the small common “Forget-Me-Nots”, this Cynoglossum will be an eye-opener. It yields 100s of little star-shaped flowers, goes to seed. Then the self-seeded plants grow and flower in the same season. Give a bit of space to this charmer as it likes to spread out.

Self-sowing annuals Cynoglossum amabile ‘Blue Showers’ and Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ form a sweet, pastel-hued combo that should return reliably year after year!
Brilliant blue annual Centaurea cyanus ‘Blue Diadem’ blooms endlessly (with deadheading) from Spring well into Fall providing hundreds of blooms perfect for long-lasting bouquets.

Also called “Blue Cornflower” (owing to them self-sowing in corn fields), this blue Centaurea will self-sow, though not till next season. Papery heads filled with cobalt-blue florets rise on single stalks and wave in the Summer breeze. Deadheading will prolong the show, also making for excellent cut flowers. Drought tolerant for an annual, it combines well with other low water plants. Bees adore both these flowers and hummingbirds love the Cornflowers.

Find MORE True Blue Plants at www.anniesannuals.com!

Much bee-loved Borago officinalis is the perfect addition to an edible or pollinator garden. Self-sows reliably!

Speaking of bees, planting the herb “Borage” (Borago officinalis) is a great way to attract an endless parade of these hard-working pollen collectors. They offer the prettiest nodding blue flowers, very similar to those of “Baby Blue Eyes”. Self-sows prolifically, so you normally just need to plant once. Edible leaves can be used like salad greens and the flowers make pretty edible garnishes.

Two gentian blue annuals that get an ‘A’ for effort are Anagallis monellii and Anchusa capensis ‘Blue Angel’. The former, curiously known as “Blue Pimpernell”, forms a low mat of green foliage smothered in 1” royal blue flowers, each with a pink eye and yellow anthers. This native of the Mediterranean is ideal for flower baskets, cascading over a low wall or for lining a walkway. Contrast with the yellow flowers of Coreopsis, orange Ursinia or such CA natives as “Tidytips” and “Meadow Foam”.

Royal blue Anagallis monellii is its own perfect color combo with purpley-pink centers and brilliant yellow anthers.
The brilliant blooms of Anagallis monellii, Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Fire’, and Geum magellanicum bring bold jewel tones to this low-water garden.

Anchusa ‘Blue Angel’ offers masses of half inch cobalt blue flowers in late Spring, on plants that top out at 15” high and wide. Looking like a deeper-hued “Forget-Me-Not”, this annual blooms for 6 weeks then, if you pinch back, may bloom again later in the Summer. With or without the second bloom it is likely to self-sow. Like the Anagallis, it likes sun, rich soil and regular water to bloom its best.

Low-growing annual Anchusa capensis ‘Blue Angel’ is perfect for bringing a bajillion blue blooms to the front of a bed. Reliably self sows!

Perennials

There are no shortage of true blue perennials to be found this time of year. Count among those the lovely CA native Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Blue Springs.’ Although it has pinkish tubes, the flowers themselves are a lovely mid-blue. This smaller-sized “Beardstongue” (to 15”) is a prolific bloomer for a sun/part sun location and the 1” tubular flowers are a favorite destination for hummingbirds.

Georgeous jewel-toned Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Blue Springs’ combines beautifully with rosey-hued California poppies ‘Apricot Chiffon’ and ‘Rose Chiffon’

Do you fancy little flags that wave in the breeze? “Blue Flax” (Linum lewisii) looks delicate, its 1″ sky-blue flowers appearing at the tips of wiry 3’ tall stems, but this California native is a tough and resilient plant. A Spring bloomer that likes sun and just a little moisture, it’s the perfect plant to add height without the volume of substantial foliage. With its distinctive radiating lines against an azure blue background, it’s the perfect addition to any dry garden bed.

Airy CA native Linum lewisii adds a froth of sky blue.

Find MORE True Blue Plants at www.anniesannuals.com!

Also on the smaller size is a dwarf form of “Blue Marguerite Daisy”, Felicia aethiopica ‘Tight & Tidy’. Topping out at 16” tall and wide rather than the normal 3′, this is one tough ever-blooming evergreen. This charmer is aptly named. Featuring mid-blue petals and contrasting yellow centers, there is no doubt this belongs to the daisy family. Like other daisies, it is drought tolerant and long blooming. Perfect for a low border.

Year-round bloom and a fantastic compact habit make Felicia aethiopica ‘Tight & Tidy’ a perfect dense groundcover in hot and dry gardens. Planted here with Layia gaillardiodes “Woodland Tidytips” and Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’.

Delphiniums are a great way to add verticality to the garden and there are a host of blues to choose from. D. elatum ‘Sunny Skies’ offers scintillating sky-blue flowers on massive 6’ high stalks! They take the command “reach for the sky pardner” seriously! A repeat bloomer if cut back, this Dowdswell variety is long-lived and built for the long haul. Bees and butterflies love the nectar these long blooming beauties provide.

Sky blue blooms on MASSIVE spikes to 6′ tall are enough to melt your heart! We planted Delphinium elatum ‘Sunny Skies’ with Orlaya grandiflora and Papaver sp. “Greek Poppy”. Deer resistant, hardy USDA zone 3!

Four shrubs pack a punch in the true blue department. “Pride of Madeira” (Echium fastuosum) normally has purplish flowers but a sport called ‘Eddie’s Blue’ has vivid cerulean-blue flowers covering the familiar upward-facing flower cones. These 20” long cones smother mature plants, inviting a literal colony of bees over to collect nectar.

Find MORE True Blue Plants at www.anniesannuals.com!

The 20″ clearest sky blue spikes of Echium ‘Eddie’s Blue’ are like nectar-filled beacons for all the neighborhood hummingbirds, butterflies and bees! Tough as nails, deer resistant, and drought tolerant once established.

Another popular Echium, E. gentianoides ‘Tajinaste’, offers what can only be described as electric blue flowers. As with all Echiums, the individual flowers are small but plants make up for that in volume. Hailing from the Canary Islands (off the coast of Spain), this modest-sized (to 4’ tall and wide) evergreen shrub throws in vivid red stems and pink stamens to offset that intoxicating shade of blue. Both Echiums are drought and heat tolerant, tough as nails, need virtually no care and in the case of “Eddie’s Blue” will likely self-sow.

Rare and endangered on its home island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, Echium ‘Tajinaste’ is relatively carefree in the home garden with good drainage. Dry garden drama planted with Lampranthus ‘Pink Kaboom’ and Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo Glow’!

I mentioned an Anchusa above but there is a perennial species, A. azurea “Alkanet”, that forms a 4’ multi-branching shrub. Same forget-me-not flowers, only here a deeper and more vivid blue, dark stems and with more of an upright habit. Tough as nails, cutting it back in late Summer may spur a second bloom. Provides a good contrast when planted among roses and fits well into an herb garden.

We joke that you can drive a truck over Anchusa capensis and not kill it – it’s that tough! Pair it with sweet yellow Aquilegia chrysantha ‘Yellow Queen’ and Verbascum nigrum “Dark Mullein” for a pollinator smorgasbord!

Lastly, many people are familiar with “California Lilac” (Ceanothus). The flowers on most species are purple but there are a couple of true blue selections. One is the incredibly lovely C. ‘Joyce Coulter’. Cones of lilac-blue flowers smother the 2’ tall shrubs in late Summer and last well into Fall. Spreading out to as much as 8’ wide, although it can be pruned to shape, the fragrant flowers soon attract pollinators of every kind – bees, butterflies and hummingbirds for the nectar and later small birds for the seeds. Very drought tolerant and disease-resistant and ignored by deer. Given its width, it’s a popular choice as a low hedge or to anchor a dry slope, but individual plants are showy enough to be used as a focal point in the garden.

A superb choice for dry hillsides and anywhere you need a tough, evergreen groundcover, Ceanothus ‘Joyce Coulter’ is heat and drought tolerant, surviving upwards of 20 years so long as you don’t water!

There you have it. True blue. And isn’t it curious that if you look up the phrase in the dictionary, it yields definitions such as loyal and trustworthy. Proving you just can’t go wrong in adding these plants to your garden.

Find MORE True Blue Plants at www.anniesannuals.com!

Easy Pleasing Clarkias!

28 Feb
By Annie Hayes
Gardener-in-Chief

One Fall a large pine tree fell over into my backyard, discouraging me from going out to weed and turn over my soil as I usually do at that time of year. The tree was finally removed in the Spring, and when I went out into my garden again I was tickled to see Clarkia seedlings carpeting almost half the garden. I find it pretty surprising how rarely I see our native Clarkias growing in the Bay Area, even in native gardens. With their showy blooms over such a long season, easy-going temperament, and willingness to forego Summer water, you’d think they’d be far more popular. And being deer resistant, tolerant of heat and seaside conditions—what more could you ask? Cut flowers? Clarkias are some of the prettiest and longest lasting cut flowers you can grow.

Annie amid a blaze of late-season Clarkia amoena at Blake Gardens in Kensington, CA.

Maybe folks are put off by the sad, dwarfed version of our lovely “Farewell-to-Spring” (Clarkia amoena) you sometimes find at garden centers and box stores. Sold as “Godetia” or Godetia grandiflora, bred to bloom at an unnatural height of 6″ tall—the better to fit between delivery truck shelves—and almost always sprayed with growth regulators, this makes a poor representative for the genus. Left alone, “Farewell-to-Spring” naturally grows to at least 30″ tall. How sad to see the crowded cluster of blooms bunched awkwardly on top of stiff 6″ stems, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Since the stems cannot grow upwards, these poor plants will soon deteriorate. But then again, maybe most gardeners don’t even realize that these Godetias are California natives; with their bizarre stunted form, they surely don’t look like wildflowers.

Ruby Chalice Clarkia (Clarkia rubicunda blasdalei) and Catananche caerulea in our low-maintenance (okay, ignored) parking lot garden – they bloomed for months with almost no care.

Natural Clarkias are highly rewarding in almost any garden. True to their common name of “Farewell-to-Spring”, Clarkias deliver a mass of blooms just as most other Spring-flowering native annuals are fading away. Because of this, they are valuable for filling in that flowering lull after the peak of Spring bloom, and, in decent soil with some Summer water, they’ll continue blooming until Fall. Super easy to grow and a nice solution for adding excitement to new gardens with lots of bare earth, Clarkias are one of those plants that make you feel ever so successful with very little effort. Plus, they attract bees and butterflies. Birds love the seeds, which freely self-sow for new showy patches next year.

About that volunteer overabundance? Not to worry, they are a cinch to remove if needed, sliding right out of the soil with the slightest tug. But crowded patches of seedlings are not a bad thing in the case of Clarkias—they don’t seem to mind being crowded, and if you leave one of these spots of dense seedlings alone, they’ll provide a wild patch of brilliant color without any thinning.

Pink Ribbons (Clarkia concinna) blooming its head off in a mixed dry bed at the nursery with Felicia aethiopica ‘Tight and Tidy’ and Sisyrinchium bellum ‘North Coast’.

Got clay? Most Clarkias thrive and reseed themselves in sandy, clayish, and infertile soils, happiest when there is some drainage. I’ve watched a patch of elegant Clarkia (C. unguiculata) self-sow and return for years on someone’s partly shady, untilled and untended clay hillside by their house in Kensington in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Here at the nursery we don’t have a garden devoted to only native plants. Though Clarkias are beautiful planted in groups or even singly, free to stretch out and reach their natural form and glory, I mix our most popular species into my cottage-y gardens with great success. They make perfect long-blooming fillers that keep pumping out blooms as other nearby plants go in and out of flower. (Cut-and-bloom tip: Clarkias bloom from the bottom upward along the stem; when cutting stems for cut flowers, always cut below the lowest bloom to encourage the plant to send up a new shoot and bloom again.)

Ruby Chalice Clarkia mingling effortlessly with fellow CA natives Gilia capitata (blue) and Hemizonia congesta (yellow).

Our demonstration gardens have rich, loamy soil and are watered frequently when it’s not raining. Clarkias are so adaptable they don’t mind the luxurious soil and regular watering a bit, and they are probably more floriferous over a longer season for it. Almost all Clarkias prefer a sunny position with at least six hours of full sun along the coast and coexist happily in mixed plantings, native or otherwise. In my experience, they are most glorious when not overshadowed by taller plants. They are quite wonderful and easy in containers too, as long as the pot is large enough. I love seeing them in meadow-y situations popping their blooms up above shorter grasses as they will continue to bloom even after the grass turns golden.

Clarkia rubicunda ‘Shamini’ (a hybrid selection) blooms longer and later than the species – well into September.

We begin sowing our Clarkias in December and sow seeds every two weeks until April, but you can toss seeds out onto the ground in the Fall along the coast. Successive sowings from Winter through Spring would give you the longest season of good-looking plants and plentiful bloom. In colder zones and at high elevations, you should wait until April or May for sowing the seeds.

There are 40 species and many subspecies and varieties of Clarkia, all but one native to the western United States; nearly every species is found somewhere in California. Though we’ve offered many in the past, we usually offer about eight varieties each year. Here are some of our most popular ones:

Clarkia speciosa ssp. immaculata “Pismo Clarkia”

Absolutely stunning trailing over the edge of a raised bed. Rare, endangered, and endemic to California, “Pismo Clarkia” is native to the sandy hills east of Pismo Beach south to Santa Maria. I often plant this eye-catching Clarkia right near the entrance to the nursery to start visitors off with a thrill. Most folks have never seen it before and practically everyone asks, “What is that?” I usually plant it out in full sun from 4″ pots from February to April, grouped three together on twelve-inch centers, side dressing with an inch or less of compost after planting. By mid-May, I have a compact, bushy mound about 14″ tall and 3′ across, almost covered in beautiful 2″, sky-facing, silky magenta blooms held on short stems, each cup-shaped flower bearing a snowy white center. Full bloom lasts from mid-May through Summer and you can extend the bloom until September by deadheading. Since it’s native to sandy soils and our beds are so rich, I always plant these on the edge of a bed to ensure extra drainage and add lava rock before planting, as well. It’s also happy as a clam in a largish container, 15- to 20-gallon size, as the blooms spill beautifully over the edge and appreciate the drainage a container offers. Lovely with white California poppies and Lupinus arboreus.

Clarkia amoena aka Godetia grandiflora “Farewell-to-Spring”

Like the others, C. amoena makes a terrific cut flower; this is the species you often see in florists’ bouquets. 1.25″, cup-shaped, sometimes wavy blooms are held singly or in clusters of up to 6″ across, depending on the variety. They are the latest to bloom in our gardens, beginning in late May to June here by the San Francisco Bay, and are usually considered the showiest of all Clarkias with their vivid colors and prolific bloom. There are lots of selections in the nursery trade with flower colors ranging from pink, red, magenta, and salmon to white, many offering vivid contrasting patterns, edging, or blotches. Generally growing from 30″ to 3′ tall and wide, some of the varieties bred especially for cut flowers can look a little awkward in the garden, particularly in rich soil, with their large clusters atop long, upright, stiff stems (great for cutting). They look best when massed or mixed with other plants of the same height. Container plants are nice for providing cut flowers, though I would probably tip-pinch the main stem while young to encourage side growth and keep them from bending over under the weight of their flower clusters. A cinch to grow in sandy to clayish or good compost-enhanced garden soil, “Farewell-to-Spring” is tolerant of part-day shade, but along the foggy coast I recommend you plant it in full sun, as it can get floppy. Shorter varieties growing to about 18″ tall can be obtained from seed catalogs, but I have yet to try them with my aversion to dwarfed anything!

‘Aurora’, our most popular variety of C. amoena, bears large, gorgeous clusters of wavy peach blossoms edged in white, fantastic in flower arrangements. Up to 3′ tall and multi-branched, it can be one of those “stiff leggers” in the garden. The large terminal clusters may cause the branches to bend over, especially when grown in less than 6 hours of sun. Tip-pinch when young for better form.

Clarkia rubicunda ssp. blasdalei “Ruby Chalice Clarkia”

For sheer exuberance of bloom and usefulness in the garden, I think this is currently my favorite Clarkia. Primarily native to the Bay Area counties, with smaller populations in San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Humboldt counties, “Ruby Chalice” is another easy, beautiful, long-blooming showstopper for almost any garden. In our gardens, again with rich soil and Summer water, much-branched slender stems and linear leaves create an attractive bushy form 30″ to 3′ tall and 30″ across. From May thru Fall it’s quite a sight, brimming with countless 2″ lavender, cup-shaped, upright blooms ornamented with a central bright cherry-red blotch. I plant three or four seedlings about 15″ apart for a dazzling Mother’s Day display 4-5′ in diameter. Self-sown seedlings popping up the next season with little or no thinning produce the same effect. Adaptable to a wide range of soils and conditions including coastal salt spray, this is another Clarkia that can tolerate a bit of shade, especially further away from the coast.

Clarkia unguiculata “Elegant Clarkia”

An excellent, garden-worthy Clarkia endemic to California. It’s easy, fast-growing, and tolerant of infertile and clayish soils. If you have hardpan clay, add a bit of organic material for drainage and better performance. Although it’s available in colors from white to pink, salmon, and violet, we’ve been unable to source any colors other than salmon in the past few years. Spidery, pinwheel-shaped single blooms about two inches across are well displayed on upright branching wine-red stems from 30″ to 4′ tall. Beginning at the base, the flowers work their way up the stems, creating a mass of what looks like brightly colored orchids or butterflies that sway in the breeze. You can grow it in front or mid-bed, massed or singly—all ways are highly effective. It’s also a great choice for new gardeners as it fills in bare patches quickly, providing foliage, texture, and lots of color. “Elegant Clarkia” is possibly the most tolerant of partial shade, and some gardeners tip-pinch them while young to promote a shorter, bushier plant where there is less light. Like all Clarkias, it requires no summer water, but an occasional drink along with dead-heading certainly lengthens the bloom season. Easily grown in containers, 20-gallon size for best show, you can keep it coming at its peak with successive sowings.

In native gardens the salmon-flowered selection ‘Salmon Princess’ makes a winning partner for Salvia clevelandii ‘Winifred Gilman’ or Verbena lilacina ‘De La Mina’. In our mixed gardens, I love it combined with equally long-blooming Dahlia ‘Softie’, Petunia integrifolia, and Verbena bonariensis. Like all Clarkias, it’s incredibly long lasting as a cut flower, up to three weeks. It’s easy to find mixed color seeds, and, when sown all together, the plants make a lovely and cheery sight. Double forms are sometimes available from seed.

Clarkia concinna ‘Pink Ribbons’

‘Pink Ribbons’ is a named cultivar of “Red Ribbons”, the common name for C. concinna. Billowing over the edge of a bed or container, the flowers of ‘Pink Ribbons’ look like a mass of silky, brightest rose butterflies gathering over the bushy, slightly sprawling 12″ x 18″ mound of slender foliage and shiny red stems. Up close the 1.25″ flowers resemble flaring pinwheels or fans, with each of the four widely spaced petals trilobed in shape. Endemic almost entirely to Northern California, this delightful Clarkia is one of the earliest bloomers beginning in April and lasting thru July. I like to plant it near the front of a bed where you can enjoy the butterflies close up.

Contrasting beautifully against dark foliage like with Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’, the blooms add a bright and cheery highlight to ‘Apricot Chiffon’ “California Poppies” and “Baby Blue Eyes” (Nemophila menziesii). Tolerant of less than perfect soil, it will be showiest in loamy garden soil. I’ve used it in both part shade and full sun here in foggy Richmond, and it worked well in both situations with longer and more profuse bloom in full sun.

We have grown and offered quite a few more species that have been less popular with visitors, some with flowers too small to be loved and taken home, others, like the charming and deliciously fragrant Clarkia breweri, a bit too difficult for newer gardeners. I’m endlessly fascinated though and would love to access seed and grow so many more. The California Native Plant Society’s Calscape website has a good list of Clarkias with photos and distribution maps of each species listed. It’s a handy tool for guiding you to many species currently found only in the wild. With all the rain we’ve had here in the Bay Area, this year the show should be outstanding!

Fire-Safe Landscaping with Kate Frey

19 Apr

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

The recent fires in the Napa/Sonoma area have touched everyone in Northern California. The physical composition and appearance of our landscapes, and our relationship with them is forever changed. From wildlands, rural hillsides, to city streets, what seemed permanent and safe is vulnerable to periodic fire. Not just the built environment, but many of our trees, shrubs and gardens are gone, living elements that act to soften and aesthetically anchor houses and buildings to the earth and create a sense of place around our homes.

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Our homes and businesses are set in and adjacent to wild landscapes. In our leisure time, we walk, bike or drive through their majestic scenes. People travel from all over the world to enjoy the atmospheric and rugged Napa Valley, and the wine region set in it. Our intense engagement with these environments has created a strong urban-wildland interface that is susceptible to fire, a natural aspect of our summer-dry landscape.

The Larger Context

It helps to understand the larger context of fire in the environment our homes and businesses are set in. Due to our long dry season without rain, low relative humidity, sometimes heat and winds, and with often-abundant fuels (vegetation), California is a fire-prone landscape. Ecosystems and plant communities have developed and evolved in this environment. Periodic fires are a natural aspect of most California ecosystems. Some are fire-dependent and require fire for seeds to germinate, renew over-mature vegetation, open forests to sunlight, and to provide nutrients for certain plants. The soft, new growth of native shrubs that grow after a fire provide much nutritious browse for animals such as deer. Bare soil and the lack of competition from shrubs and trees allow annual wildflowers to grow. But too frequent fires destroy seedbanks, and young trees and shrubs before they are old enough to set seed, and set in motion a landscape’s conversion to grasslands, a highly flammable vegetation type.

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Fire in Plant Communities

Dry conditions, low relative humidity, and winds help create physical conditions conducive to fire. Vegetative fuels with low moisture levels, and structural elements like houses feed fires. The golden hills of California, a ubiquitous and inherent aspect of our state’s identity, are now composed of over 90% non-native grasses and forbs. We have both purposely and inadvertently converted our natural understory landscape of perennial grasses and ephemeral annual wildflowers to very flammable non-native grasses. These plants grow quickly with the advent of winter rains, set seed and die early in the spring. They are highly flammable (often called “flashy), and allow fires to spread extremely rapidly. Dried grasses are dangerous when they invade or are adjacent to shrub or chaparral plant communities as the grasses act as ladders into the flammable shrub overstory. These grasses also dry much earlier in the season than other vegetation, and so extend the fire season greatly.

Chaparral, the most common plant community in the state, is composed of densely growing shrubs such as manzanita, chamise, toyon, scrub oak, and Ceanothus that form a closed stand over time. It is a fire-dependent ecosystem, yet fires historically naturally occur in these systems only about once or twice a century. Fires are often severe, eliminating most standing vegetation. Many shrubs and trees of this ecosystem either sprout from the base after a fire, or their seeds are stimulated to grow by fire and the resulting bare soil. Fires rejuvenate these areas. In conifer forests, fires were more frequent, usually patchy, and lighter in intensity, mostly consuming the understory and young trees with branches that reach the ground. With the advent of effective fire suppression, forests are widely considered more dense and even-aged than they were naturally, and consequently fires are now often severe and enter and spread in tree crowns. In oak woodlands, trees and shrubs both grow singly and in clumps. Older hardwood trees such as oaks, madrone, and California bay often have no lower branches due to age. They usually grow in wide expanses of dry grasses that are highly flammable. Winds can act to move flame from ground level into tree canopies.

How do fires start?

Over 90% of fires are started by human activity. Mowing, powerlines, and sparks from cars, cigarettes, and campfires, cause fires far more frequently than do lightning strikes. As we have seen, winds have a great influence in the generation and severity of fires and the catastrophic speed at which they move, and can cause devastation in areas never considered at risk.

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We can affect how fire-safe our landscapes are. Choosing appropriate plants for a fire-prone landscape, strategically siting and pruning plants, minimizing dry fuels such as grass, and adequately watering plants can have an effect on how landscapes behave in the event of a fire. Larger landscapes need to have defensible space around structures. Defensible space is defined as space where the vegetation has been designed or modified and maintained to reduce flammability, and where firefighters can defend a structure.

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Urban and rural areas have different laws and concerns about their properties and gardens. In rural areas existing fire ordinances govern how landscapes are managed. Most break down areas of concern into defensible space zones corresponding to distance from houses or structures. In an urban or suburban setting, where houses are closely spaced, and lot sizes are small, houses themselves form the vast majority of combustible fuels. In these spaces, we can still work to minimize our gardens possible contribution to further ignition of homes. Minimizing the use of highly flammable trees such as Monterey pines, junipers and eucalyptus, irrigating our plants well, maintaining plants (trees, vines, shrubs and groundcovers) free of dead leaves and stems, and thinning dense vegetation will all contribute to a more fire safe environment. 

Defensible Space Zones for Wildfire:

Zone 1: 1-30 feet from structure.

  • Remove dead plants and dead grass/weeds.
  • Remove any overhanging tree branches over roof or touching house.
  • Trees should have a 10-foot space between them.
  • Use low flammability shrubs under windows and around decks.
  • Use gravel mulches. Compost can be placed around plants.
  • Water plants well.

Zone 2: 30-100 feet from structure.

  • Dead grasses mowed to four-inches.
  • Fallen leaves/needles/small branches and plant debris can be no more than three-inches deep.
  • Eliminate ladder fuels to trees. Limb up trees to six-foot from ground.
  • Create horizontal space between trees and shrubs. Space trees and shrubs widely. (See CalFire website for details). Create non-contiguous plantings.
  • Create vertical space in between trees and shrubs. Remove shrubs under trees that could act as ladder fuels. (See CalFire website for details).
  • Use low flammability mulches such as decomposed woodchips or composted greenwaste.

Choosing and maintaining fire-resistant plants and gardens

All plants can burn!

  • Irrigate your plants adequately. A high-moisture content acts to buffer flammability. Well-irrigated plants require more energy to ignite and sustain combustion.
  • Maintain plants free of deadwood/twigs/stems.
  • Thin dense tree and shrub canopies to reduce fuels.
  • Limb up trees 6-10 feet from ground level to minimize ‘fire ladder’ effect. Limb up shrubs so foliage does not touch ground.
  • In wildlands thin chaparral shrubs. Base-sprouting plants like coyote brush, chamise and coffeeberry can be cut down every few years in fall to reduce fuel load and keep vegetation young.
  • Chose fire-resistant plants for your garden. Fire-resistant plants are open in growth habit, don’t accumulate dead wood/leaves/stems, and are free of flammable resins/oils and turpenes.
  • Use more low-growing plants (less than two-feet in height) than upright shrubs or trees.
  • Space plants adequately for each fire zone and around structures. On large lots and properties, the immediate critical 30-foot area around houses should have just widely spaced, well-irrigated specimen trees and low plantings free of mulch. Sprinkle compost around plants for soil fertility. From 30-100 feet from houses, space trees 20-40 feet apart. Space shrubs widely. Low plantings should not be contiguous.
  • Thin or remove highly flammable plants- such as many conifers, especially near structures. Deciduous trees are less flammable.
  • Have adequate numbers of plants with deep and extensive roots (such as native plants), to hold and protect soil during winter rains- especially on slopes.
  • Use mulches with low flammability. Mulches that have large air spaces between particles or pieces are more flammable. Shredded barks can be highly combustible. A two-inch layer of woodchips, and even better, composted woodchips or composted greenwaste have low flammability and tend to smolder rather than flame. Compost has less flammability still as particles are very small and closer in composition to that of soil. Consider installing microsprinklers in mulched areas so mulch can be moistened during times of red-flag fire warnings. Red-flag warnings are when humidity is less than 19% and winds over 25 mph. Intersperse mulch with non-combustible materials such as pavers, decomposed granite, gravel or rock.
  • Mow annual grasses and weeds in a 100 feet perimeter around structures to 3 inches in height before they are completely dry to minimize any fire spread and fire ladder effect.

 

Further information:

The Napa Communities Fire Wise Foundation Defensible Space

http://www.napafirewise.org/DS%20Download/defensable-space-live/index.html

Cal Fire

http://www.fire.ca.gov

Home Landscaping for Fire UCANR Publication 8228

http://ucanr.edu/sites/cfro/files/167774.pdf

Defensible Space State Law: Public Resources Code 4291

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=4291.&lawCode=PRC

The photos are all from Brett Van Paepeghem and are of his beautiful fire-wise garden at the:

College of Western Idaho – Idaho Botanical Garden
2355 Old Penitentiary Rd.
Boise, ID 83712

The Firewise Demonstration Garden at the College of Western Idaho – Idaho Botanical Gardens (IDG) was the first of Firewise demonstration gardens developed in Idaho to show homeowners how they can live on the edge of wildlands more safely and beautifully.

This Firewise Garden was born out of the 2000 fire season, the worst at the time since 1910. Seven million acres burned and fires caused $10 billion in loses – including entire neighborhoods in Los Alamos, NM. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) botanist Roger Rosentreter, now retired, got the idea from a similar garden he saw in San Diego. Many of the plants in the San Diego garden would not grow in Idaho’s climate, so Dr. Rosentreter convinced the BLM to partner with Boise State University, the Idaho Botanical Garden and later the College of Western Idaho and Idaho Firewise, to install and manage this garden in what once was an ugly weed patch.

The garden was opened to the public in 2008 and is currently visited by over 100 thousand people a year.

The BLM Firewise Garden was developed just outside of the Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden Wetlands area. It is a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, College of Western Idaho’s Horticulture Program, and the Idaho Botanical Garden. The Garden now supports more than 300 species and cultivars of plants, both native and non-native.

Brett Van Paepeghem is a 4th generation Idaho native. He holds an AAS in Horticulture and BAS in Biology with specialization in Botany and Ecology from Boise State University. Brett has worked for the USFS on the Payette National Forest as a Range Tech with the Noxious Weed Control Team and 7 years at the Idaho State office BLM as a Plant Biological Tech. In June of 2014 he joined Idaho Firewise as the Southern Idaho Project Manager where he manages the BLM/CWI/IBG Firewise Garden and has collaborated with various agencies on the development of several new Firewise Demo Landscapes throughout Southern Idaho.

 

 

 

 

 

The Buck Stops Here: How to Outsmart Hungry Deer

9 Nov

By Earl Nickel
Special Contributor

Gardeners whose yards are often visited by deer face a perplexing problem: how to keep these normally beloved animals from munching all their vegetables and/or ornamental plants. Deer usually stay in parks or open spaces, plentiful with their native food sources. But prolonged drought has driven a greater number of deer into city gardeners’ yards in search of both food and water. Equal opportunity feeders (unlike certain other critters that only target one type of plant), deer will munch on anything they can reach that is edible. That means almost anything and everything in your garden, be it fruit or flower or a vegetable, is fair game.

So how can you keep Bambi from using your garden as a snack bar? Here are three approaches that work:

BARRIERS

The simplest and most effective way to keep your garden deer-free is to erect fencing to physically prevent deer from getting to your yard. Sometimes this is impractical, especially if there is too large of a space to cover. But where there is a narrow entrance, you can erect a temporary gate made of chicken wire, netting or bamboo stakes. Make sure it is at least 8’ tall as deer can jump anything less than that. You can roll back this temporary gate during the day, as deer mostly arrive at night. Just keep your eye out for the brazen few who are looking for a mid-day snack. You can also employ fencing around immature trees to prevent their tender trunks from being savaged.

DEER SPRAYS AND PELLETS

If you can still find it, powdered Coyote urine is the most effective olfactory deterrent. Unlike all other sprays or pellets, which work due to unpleasantly scented concentrated oils, coyote urine sends a message to invading deer that a predator is nearby. While there is a strong smell when you first open the product, it soon dissipates to human senses. If that isn’t available, I can recommend two other products. Based on customer feedback, Deer Stopper has worked quite well. You spray it on the plants, then refresh it every two weeks. Alternatively, blood meal can be used as a fine granular application. Here again, it’s the strong scent that deters adventurous deer. You can apply it next to individual plants or make a thick line or circle to protect a particular bed.

I also recommend minimizing water sources in your yard. Deer often come into yards looking for a much needed drink then hang around to snack.

DEER RESISTANT PLANTS

The first thing to know is that outside of a handful of poisonous plants, deer may at some time eat all plants. I’ve learned through direct feedback that a lot of the plants on “deer resistant” lists are not always safe to plant in deer infested gardens – in other words, they’ll eat almost anything if they are hungry enough. But all is not lost. Deer know to steer clear of poisonous plants so those are always a safe bet. Two other categories are worth trying – plants with a strong scent and plants that have tough or spiny foliage.

FEARFUL FIVE

Fast-growing “Family Jewels Tree” (Asclepias physocarpa) can easily reach 5′ in its first year!

Start with everybody’s favorite MilkweedAsclepias. Whether you’re planting the native A. speciosa or A. fascicularis or Mexican milkweed (A. curassivica), Monarch butterflies will find it, even as deer stay clear. Euphorbias, with their poisonous sap, are also a great deer-proof choice for a sunny or part shade location. Amazingly diverse in form and size, most share those fabulous heads of chartreuse flowers. E. characias ‘Dwarf’ has especially large heads while E. ‘Blue Haze’ has lovely bluish-gray foliage to add to its appeal.

Euphorbia characias ‘Dwarf’ produces exceptionally big blooming balls on a tidy, compact shrub. Great for bouquets!

Anything from the Solanum (Nightshade) family is safe and a few are appealingly exotic. S. pyracanthum features eye-catching orange spines along its stems while S. quitoense ‘Naranjilla’ offers tropical foliage and curious orange fruits. The highly ornamental S. ‘Navidad, Jalisco’ resembles a purple potato vine and that’s because it is one. Curiously, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are also nightshade members and thus deer-proof.

Massive wisteria-like clusters of glittery purple blooms cascade off vining Solanum valerianum ‘Navidad, Jalisco’.

For part shade there is the always lovely Foxglove (Digitalis), which comes in a variety of pinks, reds, purples and, of course, white. Want something taller? Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) is a fabulous and fast growing ornamental, featuring those distinctive large trumpets of nearly every color imaginable. The fragrant, peach-colored ‘Charles Grimaldi’ is a favorite of many a gardener.

Gloriously fragrant night-scented pendulous blooms cover Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’, a fast-growing small tree/shrub.

SMELLY SELECTIONS

Gardeners with lots of deer-deterring experience love Salvias and Annie’s grows a fabulous selection in every color imaginable. Richly scented natives S. clevelandii ‘Winifred Gilman’ and S. apiana (White Sage) are great additions, while fruity S. elegans (Pineapple Sage) and S. dorisiana (Fruit-Scented Sage) display brilliant red and magenta flowers respectively.

One of our favorite sages, California native Salvia clevelandii ‘Winifred Gilman’ boasts outstanding fragrance and gorgeous whorls of lavender blooms irresistible to hummers!

The delicious pineappley scent of Salvia dorisiana’s tropicalesque heart-shaped leaves make this South American sage a “must-rub”!

Yarrow (Achillea) is an excellent deer resistant selection. This California native is drought tolerant and selections such as A. ‘Red Velvet’ and Rosa Maria’ add a pop of color while A. ‘Salmon Beauty’ offers an ever changing palette of pastel colors.

Achillea millefolium ‘Salmon Beauty’s’ color-shifting rosy-hued umbels stand tall above a lush ferny mound of foliage.

Heliotropium arborescens ‘Alba’ has all the charms of the purple species but is non-dwarfed, vigorous and especially fragrant. Good for mixed sun, it blooms over a long season in Summer and Fall. Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) has become really popular, given its low water tolerance and range of colors and scents – charms that are completely lost on deer. A. rupestris dazzles with its orangish-pink flowers and delicate foliage, while A. ‘Black Adder’ forms a strong upright bush topped with spires of vivid purple flowers.

Dense clubs of luscious purple blooms appear Summer thru Fall on Agastache‘Black Adder’ – a sterile hybrid that’s aces on bloomiferousness, but nil on unwanted reseeding.

Sunset-hued Agastache aurantiaca ‘Coronado’ brings an airy brilliance to full sun gardens. It’s delightfully minty leaves release waves of fragrance when fondled and, like many Agastaches, can be used in herbal teas.

Got shade? No problem when you have literally a dozen different aromatic Plectranthus to use. Short (P. neochilus) or tall (P. barbatus ‘White Rhino’ or P. ecklonii), large-leaved or small, Plectranthus are tough as nails, clay and drought tolerant once established and just darn pretty to behold.

The trifecta of deer resistance: Geranium maderense, Echium webbii and Plectranthus neochilus.

TOUGH CUSTOMERS

Plants also employ tough or spiny foliage as a defense strategy, making them almost inedible to deer and other animals. Most Agaves certainly fit the bill, with thick rigid leaves and often deadly leaf tips. Whale’s Tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) features bluish leaves and spiny tips. The dramatic Giant Mezcal agave (A. valenciana) and the modest-sized A. titanota ‘Blue’ are worthy additions to any dry garden.

Reaching around 6′ across, brilliantly blue Agave ovatifolia “Whale’s Tongue Agave” is exceptionally hardy – down to USDA zone 7b!

California native Ceanothus such as ‘Dark Star’ and ‘Julia Phelps’, with their dense crinkled leaves, are usually a safe bet. Cordylines feature leathery leaves that deer can’t easily bite or chew, making them an excellent choice for a sunny or part shade location. Cordyline ‘Can Can’ and ‘Renegade’ are especially lively selections, brightening containers and beds with strappy and colorful leaves.

Evergreen California native Ceanothus x impressus ‘Dark Star’ produces exceptionally fragrant blue flowers bloom in earliest Spring.

Echiums are famous for three things: being tough and drought tolerant, having exceptionally pretty blue, purple or pink flowers and for being absolute bee and hummingbird magnets. Add to that list the fact that deer dislike their tough, bristly leaves and we have a winner for the dry or xeric garden. 

Brilliant cherry-red Seussian flower towers emerge from a grouping of Echium wildpretii”Tower of Jewels”.

For shade, Hellebores are an easy, long-lived and reliable choice. They’re low and the leaves are often tough. I would stick with japonica hybrids such as the “Lady”-series and “Winter Jewels” selections like ‘Peppermint Ice’ and ‘Onyx Odyssey’, all of which add eye-catching color in late Winter, just when you need it.

One of the most floriferous Hellebores we’ve ever seen! ‘Yellow Lady’ produces masses of chartreuse blooms from late Winter to early Spring.

Helleborus ‘Blue Lady’ boasts sumptuous reddish-purple outward-facing flowers. It’s easy to grow, tough as nails, drought and clay tolerant, and hardy to USDA zone 3!

WHY BOTHER?

The last category of deer resistant plants are those that are either too wispy – largely grasses – or too low for deer to take a fatal interest. Grasses like native Carex pansa or low growing ground covers like California natives Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’, Lippia repens and Satureja douglasii or Lampranthus ‘Pink Kaboom’, Fuchsia procumbens and Rubus calycinoides are all hardy and safe selections.

California native groundcover Lippia repens quickly forms a dense mat of minute foliage. The multi-hued flowers are much loved by bees!

An evergreen grass that makes a perfect low-maintenance lawn substitute. California native Carex pansa tops out at 6″ tall and can be mowed or left free-form and meadowy.

Think Like a Plant – Resisting Drought with Kate Frey!

21 Sep

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

In our summer-dry climate most of us have to water our gardens. The frequency ranges from several times a week in hot inland areas, to once a week in cool coastal areas, or even less frequently if we have planted very drought resistant plants. Plants that require little water are referred to as drought resistant, and gardens that feature them exclusively as xeriscapes. Plants vary greatly in their ability to withstand or evade drought and many from dry climates have developed a number of morphological and physiological strategies to aid in survival. Other factors influencing the drought resistant qualities of each garden depend on plant types, the garden’s location, weather, soil type, depth, exposure, soil organic matter content and mulch.MGPlants take up water through root hairs, most of which are in the top fifteen inches of soil. Plants from desert regions like cacti and succulents often have extensive, shallow, fibrous roots to capture water from light rainfalls. Leaves are reduced to spines and water is stored in swollen leaves and stems. Spines don’t just function as deterrents to predators but serve to break up air currents and minimize transpiration (evaporation of water from plants) across the leaf surface – minimizing water loss.

Spiky Agave leaves help minimize water loss.

Hairs on plant leaves perform the same function as spines to break up air currents and limit water loss across leaves. Some plants have large noticeable hairs such as “Clary Sage”, and others are covered with fine wool like Lamb’s ears, Mulliens like Verbascum olympicum and V. bomyciferum, and French lavender (Lavandula dentata).

Annual plants from summer-dry climates avoid drought by germinating, growing, flowering and setting seed during the rainy season – dying at the end of it. Seed reserves remain dormant until rains allow germination when suitable conditions return. Most California annual wildflowers are in this category and germinate and grow during cool weather when soil is moist, and finish their lifecycles as temperatures warm and the soil dries. Exceptions are the tarweeds (Hemizonia and Madia) that follow this pattern but remain small until spring annuals die, then grow and flower when this competition for space is minimized.

Summer-dormant bulbs like Daffodils and Narcissus evade drought by developing large underground storage units (we call bulbs) during the rainy season to store water and carbohydrates. They weather the dry season in a dormant state. Other examples are our many native bulbs, Freesias, Sparaxis, Ixia, Squill, Tulips, Grape Hyacinth and Crocus. “Naked Ladies” grow abundant foliage during the rainy season that dies in summer. Flower stalks are sent up in summer using the large reserves contained in the huge bulbs.

Some plants have white or silver foliage to reflect light and heat. We often grow them for their strikingly colored foliage. Artemisia, Lambsears, Calocephalus brownii, Santalina, Dusty Miller, Russian Sage, Lavender, some Milkweeds, and Teucrium fruticans have beautiful silver leaves.

Plants like Manzanitas, Olives, many Oaks, Myrtle, Italian Buckthorn, Strawberry Tree, California Buckwheats (Eriogonum sp.) and others have leathery or waxy leaves with the stomata (where respiration and water transpiration occurs) recessed in the bottom of the leaf in deep stomatic crypts. Recessing the stomata in deep crypts limits transpiration. Thick, leathery leaves help reduce water loss.

Other plants have reduced leaf size to minimize water loss. Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, Olives, Broom, Junipers and Teucrium are examples. These plants may grow slowly due to reduced leaf area for photosynthesis.

Leaves on plants like some Manzanitas turn parallel to the sun to avoid solar interception.

Resinous oils found on the foliage of plants like Sage, Lavender, and Rosemary acts not just to deter animals that eat plants, but these oils evaporate on very hot days and cool plants. These are the resinous odors so apparent to us on warm afternoons.

Some plants drop a portion of their lower leaves as the weather warms. The ground under Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) may be littered with dried leaves, though the trees themselves are lush and green. Other plants such as Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis) have juvenile leaves that are shed as the season progresses.

California buckeye (Aesculus californica) and California polypody fern (Polypodium californicum) are drought deciduous and go completely dormant in summer even with regular water.

The Olive tree and many Manzanitas combine the strategies of silver foliage, reduced leaf size, and leathery leaves to resist drought. Lavender plants combine reduced leaf size, silver, and wooly foliage plus resinous oils to resist it. What other examples do you see in your garden?

Med walk

Soil type is a big factor in developing watering schedules. As sandy soils have large pores and high porosity, water moves through these soils quickly and is not retained. Increasing the organic matter content by either incorporating compost and/or mulching with it increases the water holding capacity of sandy soils tremendously. Clay soil particles are tiny and evenly dispersed. These soils have a high water holding capacity, and poor drainage. Incorporating compost and gypsum helps these soils to aggregate so water will penetrate more easily and be held in the soil in beneficial quantities and ratios with air (oxygen), necessary for plant roots and soil micro and macroorganisms. Mulch will also increase porosity in soils over time. Make sure to use compost or composted greenwaste/manures rather than woodchips. Woodchips rob the soil of nitrogen as they break down. Loam soils generally have good water holding capacity, but this is also helped by compost. Compost is a key factor in developing soils that aid in your plants ability to resist drought.

Ch3.H1bi perimeter bed

These themes and much other practical information designed to help you create successful, healthy beautiful gardens is what we are teaching at our new garden school – The American Garden School.

The American Garden School was created to address a growing need in the U.S. for quality garden education. Many of us do not have the time or desire to commit to a formal series of horticulture-based classes at a university, yet wish to gain quality education to better our landscapes, convert our lawns, or develop a kitchen garden.

Our goal is to be the go-to garden school for comprehensive, quality, tested and fun garden education for homeowners, garden enthusiasts, landscape practitioners, school gardens and very small farmers. Our courses are designed to help you generate a successful and beautiful garden, with themes pertinent to the West such as drought tolerance, ecology, sustainable practices, and time saving. We believe in systems, efficiency, technology, science based practices, and most importantly, that a garden should bring you joy.

These intensive courses are a remarkable opportunity to learn practical and tested methods for creating successful gardens.  Two-time Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner, educator and renowned horticulturist and designer Kate Frey and local landscape manager and designer, Christa Moné, will share their expertise developed over many years in Northern California and internationally. Kate and Christa bring a wealth of information in educating people on how to create gardens that are remarkably beautiful, healthy, productive, creative and efficient to care for.

Upcoming Classes:

THE EDIBLE GARDEN-FALL/WINTER
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

SEPTEMBER 28, 2017
9:30AM-12:30PM

This ain’t your grandma’s veggie garden! We want to raise the bar on the concept of how we plan and plant our edible gardens, and show you that they can be just as beautiful as any other- and filled with delicious things to eat all year round!

Whether you like precise rows, or an impressionistic composition of verdant plants, this intensive, practical course will get you on the right track with simple principles and techniques to consistently generate a multitude of healthy, delicious vegetables (and flowers!). Seasonal focus will be fall and winter.

FALL OPEN GARDEN DAY & WORKSHOP
@ KATE FREY’S GARDEN

OCTOBER 7, 2017
HOPLAND,CA

Back by popular demand! Please join us for this great opportunity to see the principles and practices of The American Garden School expressed and demonstrated in Kate and her husband, Ben’s unique experiential and flower-filled garden in scenic Hopland, inland Mendocino county this fall.

Profusely planted, full of flowers, bees, bird song, and rustic structures created from wood Ben has resuscitated, it has many unique seating areas, and places to explore. Visitors call it an instant sanctuary. It is eight years old and is composed of native plants and habitat plants that attract and support a wide variety of insects and birds as well as delighting our senses. There is a vegetable garden, many rustic structures, a hermit’s hut, chicken palace (with the cutest chickens ever), bar, wood library, Swiss Chalet house, and whimsical gateposts. Surprises abound! Bring a lunch!

The Workshop will cover design, site preparation, building health soil, weed control, bees and wildlife in the garden, plant care, and will look at some great plant varieties. It will end with an irrigation system demonstration.

The Open Garden is available for people to wander and enjoy the unique and relaxing spaces of the garden.

PRACTICAL SOILS & IRRIGATION
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

OCTOBER 20, 2017
9:30AM-12:30PM

Why do so many plants and gardens fail to thrive despite our best efforts and intentions? Soil health and irrigation are too often overlooked in our garden planning and maintenance, and can feel overwhelming to take on.  Healthy soil creates healthy plants, yet what is healthy soil and how do we create it? Irrigation is essential to any garden or landscape, but how does it all work? Do we till, or can we choose not to? Different plant categories such as vegetables, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees each require different approaches to soil development and watering.

Design Intensive
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

November 6, 2017
10:00AM-2:30PM

Details will follow soon! Please Check website

Contact us: https://americangardenschool.com/contact/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join us in Paradise – Kate’s Frey’s Open Garden!

8 Jun

Don’t miss a fantastic opportunity to visit an incredible garden! Our beloved friend, the fabulous and outrageously talented designer Kate Frey and her master builder husband, Ben, will open their vibrant and life-filled garden in Hopland (inland Mendocino County on Hwy 101) for a workshop and tour on June 17.  The event is in conjunction with The American Garden School, Kate’s (and business partner Christa Mone’s) new garden school. Read on for details and stunning photos of Kate and Ben’s inspiring gardens below!

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

Profusely planted (and all organic), full of colorful flowers, bees, bird song, and rustic structures created from wood Ben has resuscitated, our garden has many places to explore as well as seating areas to take in the profuse beauty and delicious fragrances. Visitors call it an instant sanctuary and sometimes refuse to leave. It is a garden of life with colorful plantings that support a world of insects and birds as well as delighting our eyes and senses. There are many floral borders, a vegetable garden, unique rustic structures, a hermit’s hut, chicken palace (with the cutest chickens ever), bar, wood library, Swiss Chalet house, and whimsical massive wood columns. Surprises abound! 

Two workshops (9:30-10:45 and 11:00-12:15, see bottom of page) will cover garden design, developing healthy soils, efficient irrigation systems, plant care, and some great plant varieties. The garden is open for touring 10:30 until 2:00. We will be available to answer questions. Bring your lunch! 

What is a garden and what is it for? The answer announces itself again and again when I go into my garden, into what was just a bare, flat rectangular acre under an often-blasting sun. Now, dueling hummingbirds, the quiet melodies of goldfinches, iridescent bluebirds, courting titmice in the arbor, battling tanagers, velvet upholstered bumblebees, and Osmia bees in the Phacelias greet a garden stroll. The perfume of daphne, osmanthus, akebia, roses, coffeeberry, buckeye, honeysuckle, and mock orange follow one through the seasons and is everywhere.  Plants and flowers drape and embrace rustic structures. In the vegetable garden, brilliant chards and deep blue kales beckon in the cool mornings, and a rainbow of tomatoes decorate the hot afternoons. Everywhere is sensation, scent and life. Nature has woken up and it resides in our garden, marching forth until the frosts of November render a quiet landscape.

 I used to judge the merit, interest and beauty of a garden by the structure of the design and the composition of form. Now my goal is to create healthy, dynamic gardens that create a moving and inspirational experience for all who visit: gardens that act on our senses with the layered forms of plants, flower color, scent, and that are filled with life. 

The wildlife that visits the plants and flowers is an integral part of the beauty and vitality, a tangible aspect of it that can’t be separated from concepts of design. Pollinators are a main focus of our home garden and much of it is planted for their needs. A profusion of flowering plants offer pollen and nectar resources over a long growing season.  Pollinator gardens are necessarily flower filled gardens, delighting us while supporting bees, but also beneficial insects, butterflies, hummingbirds, and birds that fed their nestlings insects.

 Our garden is densely planted, and the plants form an impressionistic froth of form and color. Foliage intermingles and provides a profusion of ever-changing bloom.

The east side of our house, a protected space from the hot sun and full of plants that need afternoon shade. 
A green Victorian door and Millie the garden dog guard the vegetable garden and the Hermit’s Hut, and is surrounded by a haze of bronze fennel, perennial sunflowers, old-fashioned roses, crimson Salvias, mauve Teucriums, Oreganos, California Fuchsia, and the orange Kniphofia ‘Yellow Cheer”.
Vegetable gardens should be surrounded and guarded by flowers. Ours in May.
 Ben’s famous hermit’s hut.
 The arbor in summer.
The garden in September with Louie and Millie the garden dogs expecting some excitement amidst the resident hummingbirds and finches.

Please come and visit us June 17, 2017!

Session 1: 9:30- 10:45 Workshop: RSVP on website

Session 2: 11:00-12:15 Workshop: RSVP on website

10:30-2:00 Open Garden: RSVP on website 

Make it a day!

Additionally, The Garden Conservancy is having a Garden Open Day in Mendocino County on June 17th, and there are a number of unique and bucolic gardens to visit 50-55 minutes away in Anderson Valley.  The GC event is completely separate from ours, so please buy tickets on their website or at individual gardens on the tour: 

https://www.gardenconservancy.org/open-days/open-days-schedule/mendocino-county-ca-open-day-2

Wild for California Native Wildflowers!

15 Mar

By Earl Nickel
Special contributor

As some parts of the California desert are enjoying once-in-a-decade “super blooms”, it reminds me of the joys of our own native wildflowers here in the Bay Area. From “Baby Blue Eyes”, Clarkias and Gilias to “Tidy Tips” and Lupines, our local hillsides and meadows are a veritable carpet of colorful wildflowers starting in early Spring.

Native wildflowers play a valuable role in the life of pollinators, too – especially native bees and butterflies attuned to the timing of their nectar-rich flowers. This is also true when we add native annuals to our gardens. These sun-loving plants not only beautify our urban and suburban landscapes, but collectively provide a widespread source of nectar and larval foods for a bounty of native fauna.

It’s easy to fold native wildflowers into your garden. Here in the Bay Area, gardeners who got a jump on the Spring season by planting in Fall may already be enjoying the earliest blooms, but there is still plenty of time to plant and fill in bare spots with colorful, spontaneous additions. I always leave some space open as Spring approaches, knowing I’ll be adding my favorite wildflowers. Most of these plants have a 3-5 month season, so you can use that space later for another colorful annual or perhaps an exciting new perennial. Many of our native wildflowers self-sow, too, so you’ll enjoy them year after year.

I also decide ahead of time that some of my annuals will reside in pots. I put nearly all of my perennials (native and otherwise) in beds, so they can get established and spread out. Planting annuals in containers not only saves valuable ground space, but it also gives you the flexibility to move your containers around for the greatest visual appeal.

Layia glandulosa and Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes” grow beautifully in containers and can be moved around to best effect.

Maximizing Space

To maximize space you can plant early blooming Spring natives in front of deciduous shrubs like Philadelphus, Hibiscus, Oakleaf Hydrangea or Sambucus. One other space-saving tip is to plant annuals over bulbs, especially Summer bloomers like Dahlias, Lilies and Gladiolas. You’ll enjoy a burst of color in Spring, then as the flowers fade, the Summer bulbs will push through and offer their own delights.

Fast-growing natives like Lupinus succulentus ‘Rodeo Rose’ and Eschscholzia caespitosa “Tufted California Poppy” are great planted in front of larger perennials or as a Summer bulb cover.

Going for the gold 

With their wealth of yellow and blue flowers, Spring wildflowers offer two contrasting colors that look fantastic together. “Tidy Tips” (Layia platyglossa) boasts fragrant, lemon-yellow flowers tipped in white that are the epitome of cheerfulness.

If there were garden awards for “Most Cheerful CA Native” surely Layia platyglossa “Tidy Tips” would win.

Keep an eye out for the Checkerspot butterfly, which loves this flower’s nectar. There’s also “Woodland Tidy Tips” (Layia gaillardioides), valued for its solid mass of #2 pencil yellow flowers that spill over a favorite container or a low rock wall.

I like to think of Limnanthes douglasii as a kissing cousin to “Tidy Tips”. Featuring a never-ending fountain of open-faced, yellow flowers generously rimmed with white atop a dense, shiny, groundcovery mound, this aptly named “Meadow Foam” blends beautifully with all manner of blue flowers.

Lemon yellow Limnanthes douglasii is sweetly scented.

“Cream Cups” (Platystemon californicus) produce smaller, butter-yellow flowers with a central boss of flattened stamen filaments that make them look like water lilies that washed ashore. Charming and fragrant!

Fragrant Platystemon californicus sports zillions of 1″ flowers atop silver, grey-green leaves. Self-sows when happy! Looks great here with red perennial pincushion Knautia macedonica and annual Papaver rhoeas ‘Falling in Love’.

Cheerful “Cream Cups” make the cutest cut flowers ever.

Speaking of fragrant, check out Madia elegans. This hardy, drought tolerant and long-blooming sun lover is fashionably late, blooming mid-Summer to Fall. The large, daisy-like yellow flowers and the foliage have a delicious pineapple fragrance, all the more noticeable when the weather is warm.

Pineapple scented Madia elegans blooms later than most native wildflowers, bringing sunshine to the Summer garden. Shown here brightening up native perennial Eriogonums and Ribes.

Do the blues make you happy?

They will if you’re adding any of the exciting true blue wildflowers available this time of year. Start with Phacelias, a group that should be every bit as well-known as Nemophilas “Baby Blue Eyes”. Their blue tones are darker and richer, especially stately P. viscida. Showcasing 2”, electric-blue flowers with patterned centers, this 2’ tall, multi-branching native puts on quite a show.

Electric blue Phacelia viscida will have all the bumblebees going wild!

Want cascading blue? Phacelia campanularia, known as “Desert Bluebell” (but grows just fine in regular garden soil), offers an endless display of gentian-blue inch+ flowers that tumble forward like the prettiest skirt. The distinctive leaves add a dark blush to their veined green form. Their motto might well be: ‘I spill, therefore I am.’

“Blue Thimble Flower” may seem like an odd common name but one look at the wealth of inch-wide round flowers of Gilia capitata and you’ll say “Oh, yes.” This annual forms a dense, small bush comprised of lacy, ferny foliage topped by a sea of purple-blue heads. Irresistible.

Gilia capitata “Blue Thimble Flower” boasts an extra long bloom season – and couldn’t be easier to grow.

And lastly there is the justly famous “Baby Blue Eyes” (Nemophila menziesii). No need to go looking for this Nemo, the masses of robin’s egg blue blooms will be one of the first things you and passersby spot in your garden. Another terrific spiller, it combines well with just about any Spring flower (especially any of the colorful selections of Eschscholzia californica), bringing a bit of sky into the earthly delights of your garden.

Heck Yeah Hellebores!

13 Oct

By Earl Nickel
Special contributor

We gardeners are always looking for something tough and beautiful for shade. But in the never-ending search for the “latest and greatest” we sometimes lose track of the tried-and-true classics – like beautiful, dependable, shade-loving Hellebores. Fall is an excellent time to plant these long-lived beauties, giving them time to establish for their Winter and Spring bloom season.

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Helleborus ‘Peppermint Ice’

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Helleborus ‘Peppermint Ice’

Mega-tough and tolerant of neglect, Hellebores can handle quite a bit of shade but they’ll be happy in dappled light up to full morning sun. No need to hide these beauties away in a dark corner – but if a dark corner is what you have, they’ll handle it with aplomb (if fewer flowers). I find that bright, indirect light or a bit of morning or late afternoon sun is ideal for these nearly evergreen perennials.

Infinitely useful, Hellebores shine in a variety of settings. They make great understory plants in a part shade bed, planted around Camellias, Azaleas or smaller conifers. They complement part shade bulbs such as the native Iris douglasiana or late Winter blooming Snowdrops. Massing them makes for a sophisticated and virtually effortless late Winter show.

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Helleborus ‘Yellow Lady’

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Helleborus ‘Yellow Lady’

Tender, mint green shoots in late December or early January develop into a handsome mound of dark green palmate foliage, followed by the first flower buds. Blooms appear late Winter through Spring – hence their common name “Lenten Roses” – looking for all the world like dew-sparkled jewels when few other plants are up, much less in bloom. Most varieties open into 2-3” five-petaled, saucer-shaped flowers that persist for weeks – making an extended late Winter show. As plants mature, they’ll gradually colonize to fill about a 2’ foot diameter area.

The world of “Lenten Roses” has expanded greatly over the last decade, thanks to breeders who have developed a fabulous selection of colors and forms. In addition to a kaleidoscope of pinks, reds, burgundies, apricots, yellows, whites and even blacks, gardeners can choose from a host of alluringly spotted singles and frilly doubles. Blossoms generally nod, to keep the pollen from getting wet in extreme Winter weather, but some new varieties sport outward facing blooms.

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Helleborus ‘Onyx Odyssey’

Three of my favorites are the brilliant pure red H. ‘Red Lady,’ looking almost so inviting you want to eat its flowers, and H. ‘Yellow Lady,’ a  shade brightening, vivid yellow orientalis hybrid whose flowers are especially large. And the double forms of ‘Peppermint Ice’ (featuring prominently pink-veined white flowers) and breathtakingly deepest wine-black ‘Onyx Odyssey’ are simply gorgeous.

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Helleborus ‘Red Lady’

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Helleborus ‘Red Lady’

Resistant to both deer and drought, these long-lived perennials are far from a flash in the pan. Once established, they use little water and in milder zones like ours here in the Bay Area, hold on to their foliage well into Fall. I suggest cutting them to the ground in November. This removes the less attractive older leaves, allowing plants to sprout fresh new growth in a month’s time.

Problem-solving Plants for Neglected Areas and Hot and Dry Hillsides

7 Jul
By Earl Nickel
Special contributor 

As a nurseryman of over 30 years, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard just about every garden problem you can imagine. Two of the most common problems gardeners face, especially here in the drought conscious West, are choosing tough plants for neglected areas and hillsides. These are usually areas in the garden, let’s say where the hose won’t reach and/or places you just don’t want to fuss over. Often, these folks have already tried planting several things in these difficult areas with little or no success.

Seldom Attended Areas

Before sharing some great selections, I have some very important advice: Anything you plant is going to need some water to get established and some occasional moisture during the first year as it puts out new roots. Just because a plant is drought tolerant, doesn’t mean you don’t have to water it. Secondly, you’ll want to do some soil preparation and make sure the drainage is adequate (as opposed to hard-pan clay).

For a sunny, dry area, I always recommend these two EASY, neglect-proof shrubs – California native Ceanothus ‘Joyce Coulter’ and Mediterranean perennial Echium fastuosum ‘Pride of Madeira’.

ceanothus joyce coulter

Ceanothus ‘Joyce Coulter’ is perfect for dry slopes and anywhere you want a tough, evergreen groundcover.

This Ceanothus aka “California Lilac” is a fantastic, long-lived, large-scale groundcover, growing up to 2’ tall and 8’ across. It takes up a good amount of space with almost no care. Covered in fragrant vibrant blue blooms in Spring, it’s especially attractive to bees, butterflies and hummers. Evergreen, clay tolerant and fire-resistant, it also boasts good deer resistance.

ECHIUM CANDICANS ( E. FASTUOSUM)

Echium fastuosum “Pride of Madeira” – just one of several Echiums that thrive in poor, dry, well-drained soil. Photo courtesy James Gaither.

Echiums have a well-earned reputation for being incredibly tough and resilient. Whether it’s the bushy purple-flowering Echium fastuosum, the conical spires of sparkling pink Echium wildprettii, with its gorgeous rosette of silvery leaves or the electric blue flowers of Echium webbii, these plants get high-marks for thriving where other plants bite the dust. Unparalleled bee and hummingbird magnets, they’re deer resistant, too.

PHLOMIS PURPUREA SSP. PURPUREA

Need a large almost ever-blooming shrub for a HOT, DRY, DEER INFESTED location? Phlomis purpurea is your plant! Photo courtesy James Gaither.

Salvias are always a good choice but here’s an even easier, lower care alternative – Phlomis purpurea. Known as “Jerusalem Sage”, it creates a large, low clump of big, felted, textured leaves with curving, lipped lavender flowers on upright branches over a surprisingly long period – at least Summer to Fall.

eriogonum_grande_rubescens_hand_2016

Goof-proof, evergreen Eriogonums thrive on neglect and prefer dry, clay soil.

Consider another California native: Eriogonum. Known as “California Buckwheat”, these plants define resilience. Most are low and spreading, with flower colors ranging from sunny yellow ‘Ella Nelson’s Yellow’ to the pink shades of Eriogonum grande rubescens and Eriogonum latifolium or the white of Eriogonum parvifolium. One of the absolute BEST plants for local pollinators.

 

lychnis_coronaria

Easy-going Lychnis coronaria tolerates hot sun to dry shade, poor soil, clay soil AND it’s deer resistant.

Highly drought tolerant and a cottage garden classic, Lychnis coronaria, better known as “Rose Campion”, is tough as nails and produces gorgeous deep fuchsia-colored flowers in Summer, offset nicely by silvery-gray foliage. Self-sows reliably.

heuchera_maxima_carol

CA native Heuchera maxima is happy under oaks.

For shady areas, CA native Heuchera maxima is a durable and long-lived choice. If you’ve ever had problems with the colorful hybrid Heucheras (and many people have), they can’t hold a candle to the toughness of this species. Attractive upright blooms over a much longer period in Spring, too.

 

Easy, tough choices for hillsides

Here, the main challenge is that you’re usually dealing with a larger area. Ideally, you want each plant to cover up to a three-foot diameter, especially if you’re concerned with erosion control.

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Strawberries may seem like an odd choice for the job but Fragaria chiloensis, a California native often known as “Beach Strawberry”, is one tough, low growing customer. The fruits may not be that edible but it’s a great plant for erosion control.

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Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ – fast, tough and EASY, it won’t fade away if you forget to water.

Same goes for Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallace’. Fast-growing to 18” across, it blooms over a long period with a mass of single, purple flowers and self-sows reliably to fill in any empty spaces.

arctostaphylos_carmel_sur

Among the many handsome heat and drought tolerant groundcover Manzanitas, Arctostaphylos edmundsii ‘Carmel Sur’.

Three more of my favorite plants to recommend for hillsides include low growing Arctostaphylus (Manzanita) – a tough and popular choice by knowledgeable landscapers (always a good sign). Its only drawback is that it’s slower than other choices. 

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Rubus calycinoides – tough and dependable, weed suppressing, but not invasive.

How about a bramble? No, not the bramble that Brer Rabbit dove into but a low growing species called Rubus calycinoides. It sports lovely dark green crinkled leaves and even if it doesn’t flower readily, it makes a handsome, dense, spreading mat to 4” tall by at least 4’ wide. Tough doesn’t even begin to describe this guy and it can handle a shady location, too.

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Plectranthus neochilus – a smart choice for carefree edging in sun or shade and dry, difficult spots.

Another shade lover is Plectranthus neochilus. Plectranthus have a well-earned reputation for toughness and adaptability and this one doesn’t get too tall.

carex_pansa

Carex pansa – mowable lawn substitute is tolerant of traffic and diverse soil types including both sand and clay.

Grasses aren’t always the best choice for a dry garden but the California native Carex pansa is the exception. Staying low (4-6”), it spreads by rhizomes to cover a good-sized area over time. With year-round good looks, it’s evergreen and an excellent, mowable choice for dog yards.

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Photo courtesy Stan Shebs.

If you’re looking for something to provide color over a long-season, consider Convolvulus sabatius, better known as “Ground Morning Glory”. Sporting pretty single lavender flowers almost year-round along the coast, this fast-growing evergreen mounder/trailer is tenacious and stays low, to just 1’ tall by 3’ around.

Earl Nickel is a professional nurseryman, gardening writer and photographer living in Oakland CA. He’s writes a regular column for the SF Chronicle and Pacific Horticulture magazine.