Fall is the best time for changes in the California Native garden. Yes, in spring we see the fresh green and the new blossoms, and it's awfully tempting to run out, buy, and plant. But the long dry summer is likely to kill a lot of the freshly planted beauties. This year, with spring rains of maybe 3 inches (after a promising late fall and winter) I lost several plants that might have made it had I planted in the fall.
For example, I had planted 6 Mimulus 'Jelly Bean' (photo above from San Marcus Growers). They were small, but put on a good show in spring. However, with several hot spells and vacation, and the dry spring, all but one dried up and died. Having seen these beauties in other gardens, I'm determined to succeed with them and have put them on my shopping list - but how do I put the list together?
1. AssessmentThe first step is assessment. Fall is the time where I also do quite a bit of pruning and cleanup, so I can see which of my plants thrived, and which of them were duds. I make my assessment over time - even if a plant doesn't look great after the dry spring we've had, I might still keep it. But if I see a persistent problem, I take action.
For example, Lonicera hispedula (hairy honeysuckle) has been riddled with aphids in 3 out of 4 springs - to the point of not producing flowers or berries (the photo above is from the one exceptional spring). This year, I'm taking it out and will try something else, most likely Roger's Red.
In contrast, my beautiful little native grape has had a setback and sprouted very few leaves this year. But I'll cut her down to the healthy growth this fall, and I'll give her another year.
Assessment over the year is also important. We all know that the California Native garden looks best in spring, but paying attention to what's blooming in summer in fall results in the year-round beauty we're all interested in.
2. EnvisioningAs I see the not-so-pretty spots in the garden, I start to envision what might go in those places. I like to be general at first. For example, I'm thinking of replacing the Berberis/Mahonia (Oregon grape) that I bought a few years ago. It seemed like a good choice for this part-shade spot - fall color, yellow flowers in spring... However, it's suffered under repeated attacks of thrips, and the flowers (and berries) never materialized. What would look good here? I need something taller than wide, that doesn't require full sun but can get by with fairly little water.... Maybe a lupine? Maybe a holly-leaf cherry (Prunus ilifolius)? Maybe Holodiscus biscolor (sea spray) the native shrub with the many names?
I like to ask several questions as I consider my options:
- Is it pretty? This is a garden, I dream of a plant that looks good most of the year.
- Does it have wildlife value? All California natives have some wildlife value, but often a plant that produces seeds or berries is especially welcome.
- Can my candidate survive in this spot? Especially when I replace something that did not work, I try not to make the mistake of pushing what "sunny" or "average water" means and err on the side of caution.
- How about color? I'm a hopeless color enthusiast, and try to avoid planting a pink-blooming something in a sea of yellow. (See above, it's a garden...)
3. ResearchI try my best to thoroughly research the plants I'm planning for before I buy them. It's not just about wasting money, but much more about the heartache of watching a struggling plant, having a bare spot in the garden for months if not years, only to discover it was all a mistake.
For example, I'll want to replace two of the Ceanothus thyrsiflorus on the Mediterranean mounds with a ceanothus that tolerates more shade. I need something that will grow to 4 feet maximum. By researching several grower's websites, I've narrowed it down to a version of either Ceanothus maritimus or Ceanothus griseus, and will take it from there.
Ms Country Mouse and I have posted several times on resources that are out there, just search our blog for "Information" or "Sources", or you can go to the Las Pilitas, Yerba Buena Nursery, or San Marcos Growers website (Suncrest nursery is regrettably down for a few weeks - and just before planting season...)