Top Picks for the Chaparral Wildlife Garden

The class Ms. Country Mouse and I took at Tilden Botanical Garden is already a week ago! So I'd better get going with the final installment of the wildlife garden top picks, which is about chaparral plants. Mostly. Kind of. As the teacher said at the beginning, many of the plants might be found in two, or even in all three plant communities (riparian, oak woodland, chaparral). Chaparral plants characteristically like sharp drainage and sun, but might be OK without them.

Above, Garrya elliptica, Silk Tassel Bush, which offers nectar for insects and cover for birds. I'm  a Garrya against the back fence, where it is in bright shade form most of the day (a few hours of morning sun between April and September). It seems to be doing all right, though I'm still waiting for a repeat of the booms of its first year, shown in the photo above.

Next on the list is Salvia brandegii, an early nectar plant for bees and butterflies. I have a Salvia brandegii 'Pacific Blue' in the back garden, so far, very well behaved and nicely upright, but hasn't bloomed yet. But the teachers said that they use salvias, including non-native salvias, to have blooms year round. Every wildlife garden benefits from salvias.

Above a photo, California native Salvia apiana from the front garden in April. The name translates as bee sage though the common name is white sage.  Below,  Salvia cacaliifolia (Guatemalan vine sage), which blooms late in the season -- still going strong -- and is beloved by hummingbirds despite its blue color.

The next top pick, Mimulus aurantiacus (monkey flower) also has a special place in my garden and in my heart. I have both the species, with smaller flowers, and some big-flowered hybrids in different shades of yellow, from a light lemon color to a buttery almost-orange, shown below together with Salvia apiana in the background.  Monkey flower is the larval host plant of the Variable Checkerspot butterfly, an important nectar source for hummingbirds and visited by bees and other insects.

My one caveat is that this plant really does go summer dormant, and looks progressively more dead as we're moving toward the end of the dry season. It's a good idea to interplant with fall-blooming perennials and annuals (I'm hoping to add some Madia to my garden next year to distract from the sad sight of the brown-leaved mimulus).

Monardella villosa (coyote mint) is on our list as a summer-blooming nectar plant for bees and butterflies. While I love monardella, with its pleasant rounded form and profusion of flowers, mine is blooming in May, too early to take up the slack when the annuals are fading. Instead, I recommend different species of California native buckwheats, from E. grande rubescens to E. fasciculatum, E. arborescens, and E. giganteum for summer blooms. Only today, well into October, I watched several butterflies and other insects enjoying the blossoms of E. fasciculatum in the front garden. And this plant has been blooming since July.

Partly overlapping with Eriogonum, but blooming even later, we have Epilobium (California fuchsia). Different species range from ground cover to 5 feet tall, from strong red to orange to salmon. Hummingbirds love them all, and from August through December (!) I watch them fight over access to the best and brightest blossom. Some species reseed fairly readily, while others are best propagated by division. Or you can take the easy way out and buy a few -- I just got 3 for the front garden at the East Bay Wilds sale.

Before the post gets too long, let me list the last three picks:
  • Muhlenbergia rigens (Deer grass) -- cover for insects, seeds and nesting material for birds. Our handout says 3 feet by 3 feet, but I have seen this grass get 6 feet by 6 feet, so consider whether you really have room for it. In the right space, a stunner, but cannot be cut back, so consider the size issue. 
  • Eriophyllum Lanatum (Wolly sunflower) -- lat summer to fall nectar source for beneficial insects. 
  • Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed) -- summer blooming (mine blooms in May) nectar plant and the larval host for Monarch butterflies. This plant spreads by runners, you need to give it some rooms. I've read you need at least a 3 ft by 3 ft patch to attract butterflies. I'm trying to establish them in the back garden, interplanted with S. spatacea (Hummingbird sage). An interesting experiment.

After we'd soaked up all the information, asked question, shared experiences, the teacher took us outside on a short field trip of plants at Tilden, and everyone enjoyed the beautiful fall day, the stunning variety of plants, the many things to learn. As a special treat, the teachers offered each of us a plant to take home, and some of us were able to take two. I picked an Eriophyllum lanatum (wooly sunflower) to plant in the front and offer some late summer blossoms to humans and critters both.

Then we had a delicious picnic lunch with Christine from Idora Design. Christine is a real garden designer (not an amateur like us mice) and it was so much fun to hear about her ideas for her own back garden, about the work she's doing in her workshop, and of course about the bulbs she just purchased. After lunch, we strolled through the garden a bit, taking some photos and enjoying the plants from the different habitats. Around 4 p.m. we finally said good-bye, quite a few hours later than planned, but who could resist spending a day outside with friends, under the clear blue autumn sky? 


It sounds like you had some great time! I love your salvias. Salvia is getting more and more respect in my garden. I never heard about California fuchsia. It looks wonderful!
Anonymous said…
The class sounds like a lot of fun. I wish there were classes like that offered closer to where I live.

Most of my sticky monkeyflowers do go extremely dormant during the summer, but I have one that has stayed 100% green year-round. It's under the front porch roof, in the very driest but very shadiest spot in my yard. I don't know whether the evergreen trait is due to the conditions or just a genetic mutation in this particular plant, but my experience so far leads me to think that sticky monkeyflowers perform better in full shade than in the partial shade that is usually recommended for them.
Barbara said…
Sounds like a wonderful and instructive day. It is fascinating to realize over and again through reading garden blogs from throughout the world what a diversity of plants our earth offers. That fuchsia looks gorgeous.
Christine said…
You are too sweet! Keep in mind that your mouse-designed garden never ceases to inspire me- latifolium around the pond? Brilliant!
I'm trying to remember- did they mention oaks at all? Oaks provide ridiculous amounts of wildlife and are pretty underrepresented in urban areas.
Your notes about plants' bloom times varying from what you've read is good to remember. It's all about knowing what your garden does (even though researching plants obsessively is pretty darn fun, too!)
ebw-pete said…
i've got a couple pics of Town Mouse's salmon Epilobium canum: and the following one. Thank you for the tour!
Anonymous said…
I have noticed that in the Carmel-by-the-Sea area the sticky monkeyflowers never go dormant (they are quite numerous). Probably because of the cooler temps and fog drip. Thanks for the sharing those plants! :)
Our Mimulus look better this fall than they did the last two years. They seem to have appreciated our cooler weather, although they are starting to get a little parched-looking. I think I may have to move Salvias to the top of my list of favorite plants. I expect to have at least a half dozen different varieties here by next spring. It really is a diverse genus of flowering plants. Crossing my fingers my that Salvia apiana seeds sprout!
Terry Jenkins said…
Deer grass is also loved by bees while it is producing pollen! I had a "grove" of big plants that would just sing with bees during bloom.