Posts Tagged ‘Monkey flower’

After the Deluge

April 6, 2017

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!

 

Apocalypse

December 9, 2016

Is that too strong a word? It doesn’t feel like it.

In May, here’s what my Cleveland Sage and Apricot Mallow looked like:

may2016_clevelandsage

As of a couple of days ago, here’s what that part of the yard looked like:

dec2016_clevelandsage1

Now, the Apricot Mallow has been pruned back, and that’s not the problem. But I have lost half of my Cleveland Sage. Here’s another view:

dec2016_clevelandsage

And another:

nov2016_northeast

Note also that the Fragrant Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans) that was next to the birdbath is also gone — died. Here’s what it used to look like, only a few months ago (it’s the tall plant to the right of the birdbath):

Mar2016_PitcherSage

And on the west side, here’s what we had in May:

may2016_sagewest

may2016_westside

And here’s what we have now:

dec2016_westside

The Fuchsia in front has been coppiced, so that’s not the problem. But half the Cleveland Sage is gone, having died and been cut away.

And here is the culprit:

argentineant

This is an Argentine Ant, an invasive species that causes havoc with native California plants (and probably others as well). This ant cultivates scale insects and aphids, and milks them for their honeydew secretions. It also protects these pests from their natural enemies, ensuring that they continue to live on and do the maximum damage to their hosts. These sucking insects attach themselves to stems and roots and gradually kill the host plant if not eradicated.

This is exactly what happened to my Cleveland Sages, and also to my Pitcher Sage, and to a Ceanothus that died a couple of months ago, and which I removed, mistakenly believing that it had died of a fungus. It had been a fine specimen near my mound for several years. Here’s what it looked like just a few months ago (it’s in the middle foreground):

Feb2015_TowardWest

Now there is a blank spot there, which I filled in by extending the dry stream bed.

In retrospect, I realize now that it died from scale infestation. I have not seen aphids on my plants, but I have seen scale. Here is the evidence of scale infestation on my sages, and also on my Yankee Point Ceanothus, which is still alive, but which had several dead branches that I had to remove:

nov2016_sagewestscale

Sage

nov2016_scaleonsage

Sage

dec2016_ceanothusscale2

Ceanothus branches

dec2016_ceanothusscale1

More Ceanothus branches

The white spots and areas are scale insects — these  are insects which have lost their legs, even though they look like a fungus or something from the plant family. And they will kill your plants if you are not aware of them!

Here’s the hole in the Yankee Point Ceanothus where those removed branches used to be:

dec2016_ceanothus

Other changes have taken place that are probably not related to the ants (though I can’t be sure!). I had to remove my California Asters from the mound. Here they were in June:

jun2016_asters

But over the next couple of months they developed what looked like mildew on the leaves, and then the leaves gradually turned brown and died:

jun2016_asters1

Though the plants continued to survive and bloom, they looked so ugly that I cut them down to the ground in August. This is something I usually do in November or December, and by the spring they have come back with fresh shoots. The shoots did start to grow back with fresh-looking leaves, and I thought all was going to be well. But then the new leaves developed the same mildew and turned brown. So I finally made the decision to remove the asters from the mound. I am still not sure what did them in, but I would not be surprised to discover it had something to do with the ants!

I have replaced the asters with the following completely different plants:

dec2016_mound

(1) Three Monkeyflowers of varying colors (Diplacus), (2) two Coyote Mints (Monardella villosa), which will have lovely lavendar flowers in the spring (I hope!), and (3) four additional Seaside Daisies (Erigeron glaucus). Needless to say, the look of this area has changed profoundly. I trust it will fill in nicely and look perhaps even better than it did before!

Additionally, I finally gave up on growing milkweeds and raising Monarch butterflies. This I did with the heaviest of hearts, and only because I was losing almost all of the caterpillars to the dreaded Tachinid flies, which have apparently taken up refuge in my garden and persist from year to year. My garden did produce five or six butterflies that made it to adulthood, but many more, more than a dozen, perished either as caterpillars or chrysalises, showing the dreaded brown spots and white strings characteristic of an attack by these parasitoid insects. I felt I was doing the species a disservice by growing milkweeds when these dangers abounded. As such, I have replaced the milkweeds with a strip of succulents:

dec2016_succulents

(This picture also shows that my potted Woolly Blue Curls has, alas, reached the end of its days! Such a result is not surprising for this very hard-to-grow species.)

Dealing with the Ants

So back to the ants. How did this situation come about, after so many years of lush growth and no problems? After all, I have had ants for years in my garden — I often noticed them, and occasionally they would come into the house and cause havoc. But as long as they stayed outside, I was not the least concerned about them. There are always ants in a garden, right? The biggest problem they caused, as far as I could tell, was that they made it difficult for me to sit unmolested in my Adirondack chair. (I had to purchase a footrest to make it more difficult for the ants to crawl onto my feet.)

I have no idea why it took them this long to cause severe problems with my plants. Perhaps they have been colonizing scale for several years, and their efforts just finally reached a tipping point this summer. Or it could be that I had native ants for quite a while, and they were only recently displaced by these invasive Argentine ants.

It wasn’t until I hired a native plant specialist to prune my sages and other plants this fall that I realized what was happening. He pointed out the large amount of scale on several of my plants, and the many ants crawling on the stems and branches, including the dead Pitcher Sage.

I vaguely remembered reading warnings about invasive ants, but I had dismissed them, never believing that the ubiquitous ant could be truly dangerous. After my maintenance specialist pointed out the damage, these warnings came back to me in full force.

So what to do? I did some research and found some sources of information — the work of San Diego expert Greg Rubin was especially helpful. I immediately purchased some Advion Ant Baits from Amazon — one of the treatments recommended by Greg. As of this writing, the ants are very much under control — these baits are very good. However, I notice that there are still a few ants here and there in my front and back yards, and I think this effort will be an ongoing one for some time to come.

In the meantime, I have yet to decide what to do about the damaged Cleveland Sages and a replacement for the Pitcher Sage. I’m thinking of removing the sages entirely and planting new ones. Stay tuned.

And if you have a native California garden, please take this warning to heart: If you notice ants in your yard, check your plants very carefully!

 

 

Wildflowers Gone Wild! … and more …

April 5, 2013

This is the most exciting time of the year for Southern California gardeners! Right now is about the height of the wildflower season  — let’s take a look. First, the incomparable and very aggressive Elegant Clarkias, whose proliferation is unrivaled by any other species. I have thinned the Clarkias by at least a third, and they still dominate the garden. To wit:

Mar2013_Clarkias6

 

Mar2013_Clarkias5

 

Mar2013_Clarkias2

 

Mar2013_Clarkias1

 

But there are a few other types creeping in here and there. My Chinese Houses (Colinsia heterophylla) had appeared to almost die out last year, so this year I sowed a few handfuls of seeds, and they have managed to compete with the Clarkias here and there:

Apr2013_ChineseHouses

 

Mar2013_ChineseHouses2

 

Mar2013_ChineseHouses1

 

There are still quite a few of these beauties that have not bloomed yet — stay tuned!

Then those plants that last month I was unsure of have proven themselves to be, indeed, Gilia tricolor — Bird’s Eye Gilia:

Apr2013_Gilia1

 

Apr2013_Gilia4

 

I hope to have even more of these next year.

And, finally, of course,  the poppies!

An unusual deep orange variety appeared in a single plant.

An unusual deep orange variety appeared in a single plant.

Mar2013_Poppies

On the west side ...

On the west side …

Apr2013_SouthEast

A riot of color with poppies, clarkias, and penstemons.

A riot of color with poppies, clarkias, and penstemons.

The Royal Penstemons (Penstemon spectabilis) have started to bloom:

Mar2013_Penstemons2

Mar2013_Penstemons1

Then we have my Coral Bells (Heuchera) that have gracefully unfolded:

Mar2013_CoralBells

 

My potted Red Monkeyflower (Diplacus puniceus) has decided to extrude a couple of blossoms:

Mar2013_MonkeyFlower

 

My relatively new Fragrant Pitcher Sage (Lepichinia fragrans) has been growing steadily since I planted it in the fall, just about doubling in size:

Mar2013_PitcherSage

 

This should get quite large (perhaps 6 feet high) and I am hoping it will combine with the nearby Cleveland Sage to provide a mass of color in the area around the birdbath. I am not sure if it is going to bloom this year – we’ll see.

In other changes, I have moved the fountain and added a boulder on the west side:

The boulder, in addition to filling in a gap, provides a nice seat.

The boulder, in addition to filling in a gap, provides a nice seat.

Mar2013_WestSide2

I also added an Adirondack chair and some potted plants under the tree on the east side. I was undecided about what to do with this area, as nothing seems to want to grow under the tree. But I have longed for a place to sit in the shade, so here it is:

Apri2013_Chair1

 

(1) Chaparral Current (Ribes malvaceum) (2) Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) (3) Lanceleaf Liveforever (Dudleya lanceolata)

(1) Chaparral Currant (Ribes malvaceum) (2) Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) (3) Lanceleaf Liveforever (Dudleya lanceolata)

The Currant should get quite large if it survives in this location — at least 4 – 6 feet high.

(I hope to replace the plastic chair with a nicer version at some point!)

Of course, I can’t leave out my Douglas Iris, which just produced its first blossom!

Apr2013_Iris

 

I also have finished outlining the paths with small stones. First the bench area:

Apr2013_Bench

… and then the west side path:

Apr2013_WestSidePath

 

Both these paths will eventually be extended to continue on the sides of the house … but that’s in the future! Right now, I’m at the point of sitting back and waiting for things to grow and bloom.