The Real Summer Bloomers of the Summer Dry Garden

OK, I admit it. When asked about summer blooming California natives, I might wax poetically about salvias, monkey flower, penstemon, yarrow, and other beauties just like the rest of the devotees of our native flora. But is it true? What can I really find in my lightly irrigated garden this first day of summer?

Let's start with monkey flower. Even this part-shade small-blooming species, a generous gift from Ms. Country Mouse, was done blooming about a month ago, after about 6 weeks of spectacular display. 

I so have one Mimulus 'Jelly Bean' left blooming in bright shade in a fairly high irrigation zone with ferns and stream orchid. It's delightful, but I'm considering it the exception, not the rule.

The real suprise this year has been Sambuccus mexicana (blue elderberry) which is covered with blossoms. I prune this beautiful shrub almost to the ground each year, and I'm rewarded by blooms in summer and fruit for the birds in fall. I think this works because the tap root has now reached the water table - an impressive feat.

Almost faded are the blue blossoms of this Gilia, which reseeded for me this year and has found its home in a medium irrigation zone. I'm happy about this tall, non-aggressive annual though I'll probably remove the spent blossoms in a week or so.

I've also been quite pleased with Isomeris arborea (bladderpod), which has been putting out a few blossoms even in a no irrigation zone (in the background, a non-native succulent that also contributes some color to the garden).

But the stars of the summer garden, even in this dry year, are the native buckwheats. In my garden, they grow in sun or part sun, and pretty much without water. They're only just starting to bloom - in fact, a few haven't even started yet. I expect 6-8 weeks of blossoms and butterflies - buckwheats are famously popular both with butterflies who like the flat area to perch on and with pollinators. For those patient enough to sit for a bit, it's a delight to watch the comings and goings.

Here's Eriogonum 'grande rubescens', which is not so grande but most certainly red. 

It only just started opening up, so the flowers are bright red. They will fade to a rosy red over time, and then to a burnt orange before they drop the seeds to attract a constant stream of birds.

Eriogonum arborescens had, for me, bloomed at erratic times but this year it's summer. Large light rose flower clusters are admired even by those with no experience with California natives.

And finally, just starting, is Eriogonum fasciculatum, a locally native buckwheat with nice green foilage and white flowers that likes just a bit of water every few weeks. Here it is, behind the new garden chair which is the perfect spot for butterfly watching.

Now, am I missing the grand colors of the penstemon, monkey flowers, and other flowers that bloomed in spring? Not really. The  summer garden is subtle and beautiful, full of life and texture, much more nuanced and so inviting for the lizards and bumble bees.

I'll leave you with a final photo, and with a link to a Piet Oudolf documentary teaser. Watch it and consider how your garden might also celebrate the passing of the seasons,  and be full color in spring, full of texture, fragrance, and life in summer, full of memories in fall, and full of new hope in winter.


Diana Studer said…
Mid-winter and our garden sings with colour, but in mid-summer it is much quieter.
Country Mouse said…
Loved the video - that meadow look is so hard to achieve - love his approach to all seasons and loving dead plants.

My garden, where the deer can't munch, has a lot of color right now - much of it from a few plants. I'm in a later zone of blooming it would appear. I'll post midweek with some photos.