The summer of my discontent (sequel)

Warning, this is a long, rambling post. Ok, you've been warned. Now read on!

If you read my last post and were wondering why I'm complaining so much about how bad the garden looks, this post should explain things. It's still not all bad. There's plenty to like. There's also a lot that needs either completely redone or heavily edited. Such is the nature of gardening. As I said before, I have long lists; lists of plants to purchase, lists of plants to propagate, lists of locations where each plant will go. These lists are saving my sanity. Without them, I'd forget what I was thinking of for a specific area by the time I moved on to evaluating the next. There are still areas where I'm not sure what to do, if anything. Those areas may well simply get a mulch of wood chips to suppress weeds and conserve moisture until the existing plants either fill in to the point where nothing else is needed, or inspiration strikes. Mulch will still be needed to keep the weeds down while the plants fill in, even in those areas where I'm adding plants.

As with the last post, it's not all bad. This photo, from near the end of the ramp at the front of the house, looks out past the original dry bed at the south end of the house toward the future evergreen oak woodland (once the oaks grow up, that is). I love the towers of Yucca filamentosa blooms currently echoing through this vignette. From here it doesn't look too bad.

Now we've gone from the southwest corner of the house to the northeast corner. This bed continues to plague me. Currently it's covered primarily in Alchemilla ellenbeckii and a species of strawberry from Afghanistan with white fruit that I got from Cistus. Both are vigorous spreaders, but especially the strawberry. The berries are about the size of a large wild strawberry but much less acidic, so I like to eat them before they get overly ripe, when they still have a bit of tartness. Anyway, where was I? Right, this bed has a downspout that empties into it, so in winter the half from the end of the house to the end of the deck can get pretty soaked, though I don't think I've ever seen standing water in there except for right below the downspout. In summer, it bakes dry, the only water being drippings from the containers on the deck. It gets sun until a little past noon. It proved too sunny and dry for Aspidistra or ferns (shaking my head that I ever even tried) but surprisingly Bletilla striata has performed well there for years on a raised mound. I now have several bronze Carex comans and a Leptospermum namadgiensis in this bed, with plans to add a Callistemon 'Wetlands Challenged Mutant' and other myrtaceous plants, as they can handle the clay soil and drought in this bed, and won't mind some winter wet. Juncus patens should do well in the center where the downspout empties. I'd like a bit more variation, but I'm not sure what else would work.

Another view that has a lot going for it, looking out over the patio "rock garden" and the hell garden beyond it. The hell garden is a bit tawny at the moment. That will improve as the evergreen shrubs grow, but I also want to try to find more plants that will bloom in summer in this extremely dry area and get a bit more green and blue foliage in there, as well. The rock garden has awful, compacted clay soil under a layer of heavily composted bark mulch, not exactly typical rock garden conditions. But I've managed to find plants that handle the soil and absolutely baking heat quite well. The Sedum fosterianum gets rather stressed in summer, but I suppose it just adds color. It perks up when the rains return in fall, though it seems to be losing ground slowly. I may need to find an alternative, or just wait for the Leptospermum humifusum at the base of the rock to spread out. It should cover that whole area. I'm hoping the Penstemon pinifolius will be able to grow with the Leptospermum. We'll see.

It paints a pretty picture, at least until the dwarf balsam firs get a bit of bleaching from the heat. Maybe I'll keep it watered enough this summer to prevent that...

Past the rock garden, the dry creek bed border has things going well and things going not so well. The photo below shows a bit of both. The Midwinter Fire dogwoods, Juncus inflexus, and chartreuse heaths are looking good, even with a bit of stress bleaching the dogwood. It even kind of works with the brown remnants of the Prunella vulgaris that bloomed in spring. However, I'd rather have something that doesn't turn brown in summer here. I'm trying to develop a drought-tolerant palette here that still looks like it belongs along a creek, of sorts. The Leucothoe davisiae I planted along this section of the creek border is also doing well, albeit slowly, and fits the western native, somewhat drought-tolerant creekside theme well. Wayne Roderick Erigeron would work well as a low plant to replace the prunella, with similarly colored foliage and flowers. I have a few other ideas, but this area is still a bit hazy in my mind. I might try a few Kniphofia sarmentosa, because who doesn't want a winter-blooming redhot poker?

Further along the creek border, this corner needs more evergreens in it and I'm struggling a bit. Heuchera 'Canyon Delight'? More Juncus? More Leucothoe? Something else?

Even more challenging is this narrow section at the far end of the creek bed. This is a horrendously dry strip. Even California fuchsias are struggling on the near end. On the far end, they're growing well enough but are still smaller than the same plants in other parts of the garden and have a lot of crispy interior foliage. Then again, all of my UC hybrid California fuchsias seem to have crispy interiors this year, much more than usual. Still, this bed is really stumping me. It's sloped and really difficult to water, or even get a hose to. It gets baking hot and dry, but I want something evergreen that won't get too wide (the strip is only about a foot wide at the narrow end and widens to 2 feet at the other) and less than 2 feet tall. Right now, Monardella villosa and a few Eriogonums are in consideration. A ground-hugging arctostaphylos could be trained to grow along the length of it, trimming back anything that goes out into the path. I'm not sure what else might work.

The first bed beyond the creek border is in need of major work. It looked awful this past winter, and doesn't look much better now. As it's so visible from the dining room, it really needs to look good, especially in winter. Some things are actually doing too well. The Lemon Queen santolina you see (cream colored flowers) grow lank in this relatively rich bed in the hell garden. They flop and look awful on closer inspection. Elsewhere in the hell garden, conditions are harsh enough to keep the santolina tidy and upright.

From the opposite side. So much empty space.

Planting Artemisia ludoviciana in this bed was kind of a mistake, for all that it makes some nice vignettes in summer.

I have been enjoying this bit, with the artemisia, Callistemon viridiflorus, Cordyline australis, and a dwarf Stipa gigantea that arose from my own seedlings.

Focusing in on the callistemon and artemisia. The textures! The colors! The contrast!

Unfortunately, the artemisia dies to the ground in winter, leaving a huge emptiness. I can't think of anything evergreen I could grow under it that would then allow it to rise up again in spring. It needs to go, and I have a list of plants to go in its place, and to fill in the rest of this bed, including Meuhlenbeckia ephedroides, Coprosma 'Black Cloud', Baeckea gunniana, Wayne Roderick erigeron, Heuchera 'Canyon Delight', and perhaps Lomatia polymorpha. Feels like something is missing, still, but I suppose I'll figure it out sometime.

Another little vignette I'm enjoying in the hell garden, in the next bed past the one we were just looking at. I was worried I had cut the purple sage at completely the wrong time and killed it, as it took a long time to return. It finally filled in again, though.

And another little Hell Garden vignette that's making me smile right now. Arctostaphylos 'John Dourley' with Stipa tenuissima and Epilobium (Zauschneria) 'Catalina' in the background.

 In the back bed of the hell garden, in the root zone of the Douglas firs, lies a magical realm where even Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp. niphophila and ssp. debeuzevillei barely grow. I have one debeuzevillei that is now in its third season and is less than a foot tall. That's partly my fault. I did an awful job planting it, managing to get the roots in an old ring of mulch from my first attempt at growing a eucalyptus (which was ripped out of the ground by an opinionated deer) instead of the soil underneath. After digging away the mulch a bit and adding more soil around those roots, it started to grow well last year. At which point I cut it back, because I had read you were supposed to cut them back to encourage root growth and avoid a top-heavy tree. It showed me by growing a few small branches and sulking. It has buds now that are swelling oh, so slowly. Oh, little Eucalyptus. I promise I won't cut you again if you just grow! The niphophila that I planted in this same area last fall seems to be clinging to life, having dropped all it's old leaves and producing a few new ones. Meanwhile, the other niphophila I planted in a bed 20 feet or so further from the Douglas firs has put on almost a foot of growth, and that's after having 6-8 inches nipped off by a rabbit (not eaten, just clipped off, the little bastard).

This bed is full of dried up clover and other weeds, with drought tolerant evergreen shrubs mixed in.

Some of those shrubs are actually doing well. I really should make more of this little white-flowered, low-growing Cistus I got a couple years ago at Fred Meyer.

It's so dry here, even the Bupleurum fruticosum seedlings are struggling. They should be fine as they mature, though. The things that seem to be fairing well enough, though they're still small, are the various Garrya, various ground-covering Arctostaphylos, a few of the Mahonia aquifolium, and some of the Frangula californica. They weren't all in good shape when I got them, and it's showing now in their second year. Hopefully they all make it through this summer and pick up steam. In the meantime, this bed needs something more going for it, especially along the front. The shrubs toward the back just need time to fill out. I'm going to test the mettle of cardoons in this hellishly dry area, and add Castilleja miniata, a few Ceanothus 'Kurt Zadnick', more Arctostaphylos 'Pacific Mist', some Arctostaphyls pajaroensis seedlings I have, various Phlomis, Diplacus (Mimulus) aurantiacus, and more of that little white Cistus. That should fill in quite a bit of space, though I think I'll still have room for more ground layer plants, like Monardella villosa.

Now another little palette cleanser, in the form of Arctostaphylos 'Pacific Mist' and Stipa tenuissima.

I just love the blue-green leaves among the tawny grass, and the textural contrast.

 Much of the Hell Garden just needs time to grow and fill in. Eventually, there will be more green as the shrubs fill in and push out the filler plants like the Stipa tenuissima and Santolina. Though a few will stay because they are nice plants. They just are visually overpowering at the moment. The balance is just a little too much in their favor. The Hell Garden is looking a bit too tawny, without enough greens or other colors. Finding room to tuck in a few of the smaller grevilleas would be nice. I'd also like to incorporate more native flowers throughout that area, as well, like Erigeron glaucus, Castilleja miniata, Salvia sonomensis, Eriogonum, and others, to give more color variation over a longer season and attract more insects and birds.

Now we move on from the Hell Garden into The Park, starting with this bed which somehow ended up as a mix of Chilean and Australian plants on one side and American Southwest/Mediterranean on the other. It was full of dried up, mildew-covered Collomia grandiflora (some quirk in the weather this spring made it a bad mildew year) that I couldn't stand to look at anymore. As another bed that is highly visible when looking out from the dining room, it's very important that this bed looks good, especially in winter. The annuals had to go. In their place will go Foxtail rosemary and more Stachys byzantina 'Helen Von Stein' along the edge, with Halimiocistus 'Merrist Wood Cream' behind that. Coprosma 'Black Cloud' and cardoons will fill the remainder of the interior. Phlomis russellianaHelleborus x sternii and Salvia spathacea will also be going in here and there, somewhere in that mix, maybe, if there's room...

I've been talking a lot about hating looking at dead brown stalks, but I don't hate them all. The dried seed heads of this native Sidalcea look wonderful against the backdrop of yucca flowers.

The southern hemisphere side of the bed looks good, in part. Things just need to fill in, and I need to work on the ground layer, especially on the outside edges.

Over on the American southwest/Mediterranean side, silvers, pale yellows, and purple predominate. I'm quite happy with this section, although that artemisia in the foreground is, unfortunately, deciduous. I need to reduce it and put in more evergreen plants.

Around the other side of the bed, you can see what I mean about that ground layer on the edges. This was covered in clover and collomia. I took that all out and now it's...empty. I think Heuchera 'Canyon Delight' would look good here, and maybe a bit more Mahonia repens or nervosa.

Yucca and Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold', with Euphorbia characias and Euphorbia cyparissias 'Fen's Ruby'. These little vignettes among the mess keep me going.

The Park is where I tried to fill in with a wildflower mix (of actual natives, not those exotic wildflower mixes). Unfortunately, most of the plants in that mix get far too tall in my conditions, and the small shrubs I have planted to take over as they mature are utterly lost. There's a Choisya 'Aztec Pearl' in there somewhere, among the yarrow and coreopsis.

This year, I allowed a few Lupinus rivularis to grow and bloom. They were absolutely gorgeous in bloom, but most dried to a lanky brown crisp by the end of June. Others kept their foliage and I allowed a few of those to stay, though I took most of them out because they were smothering more permanent plants. This is what's left when those giant lupines are removed. Ugly holes surrounded by yarrow with crispy leaves along their stalks. What a disgusting mess. I have another Choisya 'Aztec Pearl' in this bed, along with several Mahonia repens, sword ferns, a Yucca recurvifolia, a small cork oak, and a Viburnum x burkwoodii. I plan to add a Carpenteria californica, Lomatia polymorpha (I have a friend who said he'd like me to try a few here), Heuchera 'Canyon Delight', Castilleja miniata, Helleborus x sternii, Salvia spathacea, Festuca rubra 'Patrick's Point', Phlomis russelliana, Calluna vulgaris, and Xerophyllum tenax here and throughout The Park. We'll see if that's satisfactory. The goal is for a somewhat wild, partly native/partly native-looking, yet still relatively tidy palette. It doesn't have to shout with color. Texture, simple colors, a somewhat quiet, restful atmosphere with pops of greater interest here and there, is what I'm looking for. And anything that attracts birds, insects, and other non-rabbit wildlife is a plus. Hopefully nothing on my lists is too tempting to the long-eared demons. I have concerns about the heuchera and coprosma; maybe a few others.

I've also added a couple Spiraea betulifolia var. lucida to The Park. This native spiraea forms a low, spreading patchwork in open woods east of the Cascades, taking drought and full sun to dappled shade. It also blazes with brilliant fall color and pollinators love the flowers. I need a few more of these throughout this area, too. 

A young Grevillea victoria, lost among dried up Collomia stems. The grevillea will grow and won't be lost even if the collomia remains the only other thing here, but it's not exactly nice to look at. This can be so much better. with a selection of those plants listed for The Park above.

 Another part of The Park. The California fuchsia and Carex look good, though the California fuchsia is a bit crispy. It will be reduced, but not entirely eliminated, to make room for more of those plants listed above. Behind it rises The Mound, home to 3 baby Arbutus menziesii, several Arctostaphylos and Ceanothus, and a few other plants, utterly lost in a solid stand of Collomia grandiflora which is hiding some pretty nasty weeds, like birds' foot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus. It all needs to go so that the weeds can be eliminated. I'll add a few more ground cover shrubs and perennials to the mound after it's weeded.

This area looked so good a few weeks ago when everything was green and blooming. Now I can't stand it. The collomia is all dried up and obscuring plants which still look decent. The lupines mashed the Catalina California fuchsias and other plants, messing them up.

Just pushing home the point of how ugly this all is. More 4-foot tall yarrow, swamping young Quercus mexicana, Calycanthus occidentalis, Mahonia repens, and Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. I just can't look at it anymore. I'd rather have mulch and be able to see and pull the weeds than this mess.

Looking back. There are good plants in there. They just have the wrong support group.

This carex, which I originally got by weeding a few plants from the driveway at Cistus, grew much, much larger than I expected them to and have completely buried the path. I'll have to dig them and move them further from the path, or eliminate them. I may use this sedge elsewhere in The Park. It is a great, dense, evergreen ground cover. It just needs more room than I thought.

This area at the end of the mound needs to be completely cleared of everything except a couple Aesculus californica, Pacific Coast irises, Ceanothus griseus 'Horizontalis', a Ceanothus 'Henri Desfosse', Eucalyptus perinniana, Cordyline australis, and a few Penstemon serrulatus. I'd like to fill the big empty space in the middle with a Chusquea andina, but I may have to remove the Aesculus to make sure it isn't too shaded in the future.

Well, that concludes this double feature of what amounts to a lengthy tale of complaints and self-criticism. Still, I hope this peak into my thought processes concerning problem areas helps you in some way to tackle your own garden problems, whatever they may be. I know these posts were long, and I thank you for taking the time to read them.


  1. Although your climate and mine are different in many respects, your posts prompt my own thought processes. I've told myself I should be making lists now, with everything burned to a crisp by our last heatwave, but I haven't actually done that so, with this kick in the pants, I will. The idea of replacing Prunella, which never sprang back here this spring due to our lousy winter rainfall, with Erigeron 'Wayne Roderick' may work well for me too. And I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one to have problems with California fuchsias turning crispy!

    1. Well, at least I got someone motivated! I'm going to have to do another evaluation by the end of summer to see what made it through. I've been pulling a lot of Prunella, both in the drier areas and the more mesic, shaded areas. It burns to a crisp in the former and in the latter it grows so thickly that it seems to reduce air circulation and promote disease. It seems to be fine if it's just a few stems poking up here and there through the gaps in other plants, but not if it's too thick. I hope that Erigeron works well for both of us. I've unfortunately found out, after propagating and planting a bunch of it, that UC hybrid California fuchsia is not an especially drought-tolerant form.

  2. While I’m not experiencing your same frustrations I do enjoy (seems like a harsh word, but I can’t think of a better one) reading what you like/dislike/and plan to change. You are gonna be busy this fall!

    1. Ha! I don't interpret that as harsh at all. I'm glad you enjoy reading these posts. I am going to be very busy this fall, but I think the result will be much, much better.

  3. I love your long posts and save them to go back and make notes. I'm also in that despairing part of the year with the sunnier parts of the garden crisping and struggling. My cardoons are heroes, they sink their roots way down in there and just don't give a damn how hot it gets. Also loving eryngium yuccifolium. The established shrubs and grasses are great but flowering perennials are really not doing great. Even the red heucheras are dwindling away to nothing. Got two arctostaphylos ready to go but am trying to be patient and wait for cooler temps. It's hard!

    1. Thank you! I'm happy these posts can be of use to someone other than myself. I tried Eryngium yuccifolium and didn't like how it flopped flat in winter and looked ratty, but that was in a richer position. I have been considering trying it again out in harsher areas. Interesting about the heucheras. I'll have to put most of them in the dry shade areas I have and sneak a few into these sunnier spots in the shelter of other plants. I have a small nursery waiting in containers in the shade to be planted out this fall. Only 65 days until fall!

    2. On the heuchera front, I suspect Canyon Delight deals better with these conditions than the red-leaved ones I was trying. In the same bed I have a green-leafed native type and it's multiplying.

    3. Ah, that makes sense. I wasn't sure if you meant heucheras with red leaves or red flowers. I guessed wrong! Still, I won't be putting heucheras in the most baking situations.

  4. Summer has a way of showing gardeners who is boss. Your garden is still in it's infancy and going through it's growing pains. If everything had worked just as you envisioned, what will be left for you to do? Even mature gardens are constantly changing canvases, which I'm totally grateful for. I make mental notes all summer long of what I'll do in the fall, my favorite time of year. What plants need to move, what has outgrown it's usefulness and were I must have more crocus bulbs.
    Did I spotted a monkey puzzle tree in your garden? So lucky to have the space for it. It's a magnificent old tree with the best looking cones.

    1. Ha! This garden won't be the way I envisioned it until the trees have grown up, so...another twenty years, maybe? And I don't plan to garden here that long!


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