I admit a temporary temptation for a post titled "Fifty Shades of Grey". And really, some plants of the California summer garden do offer a credible semblance of grey - just look at the Salvia sonomensis x clevlandii above. But with some forethought, it's actually possible to arrive at a pleasing combination of different shades of grey-green to green to almost-lime-green.
I talked in my last post about the garden slowly going summer dormant, and the flowers being smaller and less showy. But the different shades of green, the different shapes of the leaves, the combination of foliage color and texture make up for it. Above, Eriogonum arborescens and Eriogonum grande rubescens, two California native buckwheats with foilage to support the beautiful summer flowers.
But even without flowers, the combination of the almost-white leaves of Salvia leucophylla (purple sage) sets off nicely against the lacy leaves of a locally native Artemisia. . The grey leaves are usually covered with fine hairs, which serve as sun protection and also, being a lighter color, most likely reflect the sunlight ever so slightly. You're more likely to find grey in the sun and green in the shade.
But Arctostaphylos St. Helena, a manzanita that will become a small tree, proves the point that yes, you can find true green in the sun.
And this California redbud, which gets a little bit of extra water, shows off large green leaves until late in the year.
In general, plants that get extra water or that manage to reach the water table are more likely to add those spots of green we all want in our gardens.
My Sambuccus mexicana is a case in point - I'm quite sure it gets its water from way below because it's competing with the neighbor's redwood trees. But the results are pleasing.
And because the fence shades the lower part of the plant, the leaves are impressively green, almost tropical.
That extra bit of shade will go a long way toward greening your natives. Here are two Heuchera that were a gift from Ms. Country Mouse in part shade. The flowers aren't so impressive, but look at that green, look at the reddish veins in the leaves of the plant in the background.
Also in part shade, the stream orchids are hanging in there valiantly - if I were to cut off all the spent flower stalks, this would be pure green.
Sometimes we can even select the greener of two cultivars. Below, Zauschneria 'Calistoga' (I think, this was a gift), more on the grey-green side.
And right next to it, two greener Zauschneria cultivars. Clearly the two came from two different microclimates, and the gardener can select the color that harmonizes best with their design.
And, really, foilage color and texture are a much more important design decision than flower color - flowers you get for maybe 3 months, foilage you get for most of the year!
Below, a view of the decomposed granite plaza, surrounded by green (coffeeberry, 'Wayside' manzanita, and a few non-native junipers). Fairly restful to the eye, but the hardscaping offers the variation we like.
From another angle, we see the manzanita set off by a buckwheat with grey-green leaves and white flowers - just a little bit of excitement.
In the same way, I've combined native iris, a low-growing gumplant (Grindelia) and Ceanothus 'Diamond Heights'. The ceanothus is a cultivar with almost lime green leaves, and it plays well with the yellow flowers of the gumplant.
Do we have fifty shades yet? Maybe not, but it's time to go out into the garden, watch the lizards play and the birds harvest the seeds. Happy summer!