Country Mouse Garden in Late Fall. Part the First: Cutting Back

Madrone with berries. Did you know they're edible? Not so tasty though, according to me and my two grandkids!

Here we are in late fall!  thank Town Mouse for keeping our blog rolling along during my on-line absence. So this is a bit of a fall catch-up.

But I want to begin with a small happiness. Yesterday at Jikoji Zen Center where I do some garden work once a month, two cheerful women came offering to join in. I quickly gathered that they were newbies to the whole gardening with natives approach. And also that they were curious. I offered them the astonishing realization that they are living with - pardon my use of the term "fake seasons." By which I mean a mental overlay of seasonal knowledge that belongs to Somewhere Else. And that the actual seasons here where we actually live don't map onto their mental overlay. Not even a little bit. No, we live in a Mediterranean climate zone: mild wet winters, and hot dry summers. (At least that's the way it used to be. Lately as you may know, things have become a bit erratic.)

As proof, I pointed to the tiny seedlings sprouting up everywhere. In December! A time when in Britain, for example, everything's hunkered down and shriveled and gray.

Tis the season for tiny weedlings! The strappy ones are natives - miner's lettuce
but the rest are likely to be plants from another Mediterranean region, only too happy
to grow here unrestrained by any co-evolved ecosystem limits.

My visitors were very satisfactorily gobsmacked! One told me she is planning to re-do her garden, and loves the idea of "Bringing Nature Home" and has had all her ideas shaken up. Yay!!

In my garden, I'm playing catch-up with the dried out aftermath of summer. And it can be a lot of work. Maybe not in a small and fairly well tended suburban garden, but certainly in mine.

In area, I have the equivalent probably of six good sized suburban gardens: South Garden, Pool Garden, Upper North West Garden, Upper North East Garden, Lower North Garden, Driveway and Entrance Garden. And that's not counting the parts I keep an eye on but don't actively manage. The most aftermathy ones, though, are the South and Pool gardens.

Ah, it could all be so much easier...

A "fake garden" along the coast in Capitola. 

But where would be the fun in that?

Here are a few before and after cutting back photos, starting with the flat South Garden. Beyond the top left corner is chaparral sloping down a long way.

I love the bunch grasses in spring - and watching birds feed on the seeds in summer.
But by fall I'm ready to be done.
Besides, I like to see the green coming up...

A few weeks later, new growth. (Note photo slightly shifted compared to one above it.)
See my bit of garden whimsy in there? Her name is Blinky.

Blinky the tin cow was offered for sale at half price because she's missing an eye. I'm a sucker for a bargain. And also a sob story: The shop had posted a label pleading for someone to give Blinky a home!

BTW my "dry creek bed," which you can roughly make out I hope, has become a bit of a jumble. I keep saying I'm going to re-do it but somehow other things come up. One thing I would do is widen it, while keeping the natural river-bed-like variation in width - and also I'd weed it more thoroughly.

I'll have to revisit the pair of posts Ms. Town Mouse and I put forth, and which remain two of our most popular: my post, Creating a Dry Creek Bed, with Tips for a Natural Look, and Can You Explain This Whole Dry Creek Bed Thing to Me, by Ms. Town Mouse.

The other huge job was cutting back the two big beds in the Pool Garden, which I imaginatively call the West Bed and the North Bed.

Pool Garden, work in progress, West Bed. The annual Madia elegans gets huge, gorgeous, and then, I have to say it, hideous.
You can see the tall gray mass on the right, where I hadn't cut it back yet. The whole bed was like that. 

I leave the cutting back it to the last minute so the sparrows and finches can feast on all those nice big seeds. Also so I can put my feet up and write my novel!

In the North Bed, I have been dreading the task of cutting back the 10 year old or so Salvia leucophylla, aka purple sage. (I think I'd call it lavender sage, myself, as the blooms are light in color.) And other thicketing plants too. In fact the entire North Bed has become hopelessly overgrown.

I confess: I haven't been doing the "cut-back-by-a-third" routine every fall as is generally recommended for salvias. It's partly because this plant has looked so good for so long, untended! And also because the hairy honeysuckle growing up through it was fun and colorful especially those glowing red berries. And because I could watch birds disappear inside it, and hear them rustling about.

The S. leucophylla is on the left. It's being invaded by an unknown non-native plant (in the middle) which I put in years ago for the hummingbirds. On the right is another non-native, Hot Lips Salvia. The hummingbirds love it, and it's tough as nails. However, I fear it's nearing the end of a meaningful life.

Getting stuck in.
That non-native garden plant (forget the name now) doesn't play nicely with the others. It plant-sprawls everywhere.
What a job that was! 

Under the Salvia leucophylla's shell of loveliness lay a dry and crackling thicket.

There was no evidence of bird nests. So that was good.
Possibly some wee sleekit cowran timorous beastie was unhoused, though.

Dry and brittle -- yet still bursting with life.

The North Bed. Eventually got everything cut back in the, er, North East section of the bed.
The spiky plant next to the pot of nothing much has been here longer than we have.
Like I say, I'm a bit sentimental. I don't know what it is, but I can't turf it out.

More work remains in that part of the bed. Digging out roots of things I don't want. And planning to add things I do want! If I only knew what they were. More buckwheats maybe.

Also - cutting back the -um - North West section of this huge bed. Another day!

I - or more likely - my wonderful son-in-law - must deal with the debris next.

And what a lot of debris there was, just from that area. I forget how many barrowloads!

The Pile. With its guardian, Red Bouncy Horse.
Can't accuse me of lacking garden ornamentation now, eh!
Eventually we'll take it (the pile, not the horse) to the composting part of the dump.
We don't have a good space for burning. And anyway. Burning. Fire. Risk.

Well, I was going to go on and talk about planting and growing topics. But there's enough to talk about there for at least one more bumper post.

In the meantime:


Ryan said…
It's funny how terms like fake news start to get used ironically. I do the same thing with Shias, letting them go longer than I should before cutting them back. Hot Lips and S Leucantha are two that actually seem to still come back, even when I cut the,pm back yard after neglecting. Hopefully you'll have the same luck. I'm kind of like the look of the garden after I make a big green waste pile like you did. Makes me feel like the sheriff was in town so to speak.
Country Mouse said…
Thanks for your response, Ryan. Yes, I like the look too, not what it is! I'm a demon pruner/whacker once I get going actually. But too soon, everything sprouts up, good bad and ugly - and then it's time for Clint Eastwood to come back!

I've had the same experience with hot lips salvia - it's one of the toughest plants around. I have a row along a utility area and I've whacked them back don't know how many times. Hummingbirds adore it.
ebw-pete said…
nice job! i like the way you prune things back. it would be great to see a follow-up post in late spring to show how things grow back. you do have to know what you're doing though, because some things cannot take this kind of cutting back - but i'm sure that you know which ones. i visited a garden we did in San Jose recently. the house had been sold to two avid gardeners from Hong Kong, and they had really gone to town - shaping most of the shrubs into lollipops and coppicing a lot of things that will probably die. but luckily, they hadn't yet gotten to some of the best things like the large manzanitas and madrone and buckeye. i admire their guts in attacking the dry stuff, but wish i had gotten there just a little bit sooner to save some of the other things.
Country Mouse said…
Thanks, Pete. Yes, it would be good to add that not everything can take this approach, or finding a good link to some other page that talks about pruning natives. Maybe we've done this ourselves, we mice, at one point!

Actually I'm going to add a post soon to review of a book called Cutting Back - which I thoroughly recommend and enjoyed - about a local esthetic pruner's intense three months working with a landscaping crew in Japan. So I can add there some general points about pruning back also.
James Kempf said…
Hey CM,

Sounds like you've been busy. Love the Red Bouncy Horse.