After the Deluge

This winter we Southern Californians were told to expect a La Niña season, something that usually brings drought conditions. Given that we were in the midst of a historic drought already, we were dreading it. But no …. It rained and rained and rained. And then it rained some more. Truly, the plants thought they had died and gone to heaven!

A few scenes from the garden, to illustrate the lush growth:

My White Sage (Salvia apiana) has grown HUGE and is encroaching on the chair. I have never pruned it, but will probably do so in the fall.

This Aeonium (not sure of the species), which was one of my first plants, and which has labored long in the shadow of the Cleveland Sage and the California Fuchsia that overhung it, has responded to the rain and the absence of the sage by growing gigantic, and, from what I have been reading, this configuration means it is close to flowering, for the first time:

New Plants

When last we spoke, Argentine ants had decimated several of my plants, including my two Cleveland Sages, two Ceanothuses, and my Pitcher Sage. Here’s what the damage looked like:

I reluctantly decided that the two Cleveland Sages would probably never recover to their full glory, and I had them removed. The Pitcher Sage and one of the Ceanothuses had already been removed – when I was not yet aware that it was the ants that had done them in. Because of the gaps left with these huge plants missing, I withdrew from the California Native Plant Society garden tour, in which I had planned on participating this April. I’m hoping to join the tour next year, if the replacement plants have grown back sufficiently.

So I decided to replace the Pitcher Sage with a Lilac Verbena (Verbana lilacina), with which I have had some success. I had a hard time finding another Fragrant Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans), and anyway I felt it was too big for that spot. Now, the Verbena does also get to a large size, but it grows more slowly. And I love this plant — it flowers so beautifully.

I replaced one of the Cleveland Sages with another one:

And I replaced the other one with a Pozo Blue Sage (Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’), which is a hybrid of Cleveland Sage and Purple Sage, but does not get quite as big as the Cleveland Sage (so they say!):

This is on the west side.

Some “hardware” changes: I moved the solar fountain from the west side to the east, as it was being overtaken by the Cleveland Sage (before I knew I was going to remove it!), and also because it was in the shade of the Pacific Wax Myrtles in the afternoon.

Likewise, I moved the potted succulents to the west side, because they were beginning to be overtaken by the Allen Chickering and Winifred Gilman Sages:

If there is one cautionary tale to be taken away from my garden it’s this: be more careful to space your plants carefully! I have continually underestimated the size to which many of these plants will grow, and my garden is actually more crowded than I would like. When you plant them, they are so small, and you want to fill in that space. Have patience! If the literature says they will grow to 4-5 feet, they probably will. Leave enough space!

The potted plants above are now in danger of being overtaken by the Lilac Verbena …. so I will probably have to trim it back next fall!

I also added several plants to the area near the Adirondack chair near where the fountain is now located. The first is a Bladderpod (Peritoma arborea), with small yellow flowers which appear near the end of winter, and small fruits (edible, so I hear, though I haven’t experimented yet). I am told it adds nitrogen to the soil, instead of taking it out, and that this is a good thing.

Also new is Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis), behind and to the right of the fountain in the rear:

Coyote Brush will grow huge, and I will cut it back to fit the area. I wanted a green background for the new Saffron Buckwheats (Eriogonum crocatum) that I planted in front of the fountain, aiming to create a mass of them with their beautiful yellow flowers:

Finally, I replaced my Miniature Rose – which was one of the first plants a visitor would see, near the curb, but was not very attractive – with a slightly non-native sage (it’s one of those Mexican immigrants), “Hot Lips” Sage (Salvia gregii ‘Hot Lips’):

When this comes into full bloom, it will be gorgeous!

What’s in Bloom

Coral Bells (Heuchera):

The Bladderpod and some of my Elegant Clarkias (Clarkia unguiculata):

The Clarkias have been late in blooming this spring – perhaps because of the rain? I don’t have many this year for some reason – possibly because I refreshed my mulch, and perhaps buried some seeds too deep.

The Hot Lips sage has a few blossoms:

The Lupines (Lupinus succulentus) are at their peak:

My Monkeyflowers (Diplacus), planted last fall to partially replace my diseased Asters, are big show-offs:

The Apricot Mallows (Sphaeralcea ambigua) are blooming (they never seem to stop!):

My wildly proliferating Evening Primroses (Oenothera californica) are showing a few blossoms (only in the late afternoon, of course – by morning they are withering away):

My Royal Penstemons (Penstemon spectabilis) and Farewell to Spring Clarkias (Clarkia amoena) are starting to blossom:

A few blossoms have appeared on my Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana):

And, of course, the ubiquitous and delightful California poppy (Evening primroses in front):

Shortly: Changes and growth in the back yard, and some focus on succulents — which have really loved the rain!

Happy gardening!



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4 Responses to “After the Deluge”

  1. Bill Says:

    On May 5th, I finally planted a certain small Pozo Blue Sage. I say “finally” because I “acquired” it last summer and it spent the fall and winter in a small container. But I was doing a lot of initial general landscaping at a new (old) home in the Sierra foothills, the sage had a low priority, and there weren’t any obvious planting locations.

    There’s a boulder planter out front by the mailbox and the sage sat beside the planter during the fall and winter. The area along side the driveway is covered with crushed (road base) rock and I located the sage in a fairly narrow space between the flaring driveway and a boulder. So it’s planted under an existing “rock mulch”.

    It bloomed nicely this spring, but now there’s only a bunch of seed pods–from one-to-four on the long stems. I thought of removing the pods but first did some reading. One article recommended removing the pods in late summer, fall, or winter. Another article described the sometimes poor appearance of the plant during the summer dormant period when it becomes desiccated and can even lose it’s leaves, leaving only a bare skeleton. This information led me to believe that I should leave the pods undisturbed to provide some visual interest during the coming summer, and then remove them next winter prior to the growth period.

    I know you’re supposed to water California natives only weekly during the first one or two summers, and in later years, not at all. But I’m still getting leaf yellowing. Too much water? Too little? I don’t know, but I’d better learn pretty quick.

    I also planted four ceanothus last fall. I especially like the El Dorado hybrid with it’s dense, attractive, variegated leaves, and it is exciting to see it growing now. It’s less sun tolerant here than the others–originating on the cooler coast. I can hardly wait to see what it becomes! Last winter, it was under water when my backyard ditch flooded, but it’s doing fine.

  2. cynthiasnativegarden Says:

    Hi Bill —
    It’s normal that sages lose their blossoms and just have the seedpods — I usually leave them there during the summer, because there are birds that like to eat the seeds. I would not worry about the yellowing leaves, unless it’s excessive, because plants often lose leaves when they are first planted as they adjust to their new environment.

    It’s not true, however, that they lose their leaves completely and become desiccated — at least, not in the garden, when they are getting watered. I disagree with whoever is saying that you need to water natives once a week for a couple of years, and then not at all. You ALWAYS need to water natives if you want them to look halfway decent in the garden.

    Generally, I water natives once a week, or even more often, right after they are planted for perhaps the first 3-4 weeks, until they get established. Thereafter, I only water them about once every 3 or 4 weeks during the summer (and not at all during the winter, provided we get sufficient rain). I water them for about 2 hours, using drip irrigation, which is a very deep watering. However, a lot of native plant experts don’t like drip irrigation and think it does not replicate the natural experience of natives (though my plants have done fine for the most part). They recommend low sprinklers spread out throughout the garden. In that case, I would think you might not need to water more than an hour, because sprinklers will output more water than drip emitters.

    Even with this kind of watering, sages will look ratty during the summer! It’s part of the natural cycle in California — summer is the dormant period for most California plants, because of how dry it is.

    I would recommend this book, known as “the bible” of native gardeners:

    • Bill Says:


      Most of my CA natives information is from the Las Pilitas Nursery and the late Bert Wilson. He discovered and named the Pozo Blue Sage at Las Pilitas.

      When he planted a native in the fall, he would flood the planting and then walk away–never again providing any care or watering. But for customers, he did recommend checking weekly for soil moisture and watering as necessary, but only for the first one or two summers.

      According to Bert, the problem with summer watering is reduced plant longevity. Also, well-watered summer plants are more attractive to insects.

  3. cynthiasnativegarden Says:

    I understood that you were seeking advice on watering …. since you have already decided what to do, best of luck.

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