- Author: Harold McDonald
One of the first gardening books I ever purchased was Sunset magazine's book How to Grow Herbs, published in the early 1970's. Though it had great information on cultivation and harvesting, what really drew me in was the use of herbs in landscaping. In particular I remember one black and white photo (no color back then!) of so-called wall germander. Now I lived in rainy Santa Cruz at the time, and I doubt that I had ever seen germander, but there was something about that photo that always stayed with me. From the book I learned that Teucrium chamaedrys was a major component of “knot gardens”—those very formal geometric gardens that became popular during the Elizabethan Age in England—along with thyme, marjoram, rosemary, Santolina and other herbs of Mediterranean origin.
While there are hundreds of species of germander, it's not a plant that seems to get much attention or respect. The Wikipedia entry for Teucrium isn't much more than a list of some of the species, and while Teucrium chamaedrys shows up in many nurseries, I doubt if one nursery in fifty has any other representatives from the genus. That's a shame, because these workhorses can fill a number of roles in the garden and are especially well-suited for tough growing environments like we have in the Eastern Sierra.
So it's not surprising that it was more than thirty years later, when I moved to the wilds of West Chalfant, that I grew my first germander, a prostrate form of Teucrium chamaedrys that—unlike just about anything else—seemed to thrive in this strange new land! Its evergreen character and attractive pink flowers in early summer were a bonus—a real bee magnet! The downside is that creeping germander can do just that if it gets sufficient water, so accept that aspect and plant it where it will have room to fill in. It is a groundcover, after all!
A few years later I found upright Teucrium chamaedrys, the wall germander (see photo above) I had seen in photos so long ago, and planted a few of those. Again, these are not show stoppers, but they are attractive year-round, grow to a foot or so in height, and do not spread. I have come to consider wall germander one of my go-to plants. Santolina and 'Powis Castle' Artemisia are two other sub-shrubs I count on for their pleasing shape and foliage—plants that make the colors in front of them really pop. But unlike those plants, germander never gets leggy or unkempt looking, remaining neat and green throughout the year. The only upkeep required is to cut back the spent blooms in midsummer (and hope for another show in the fall). I would characterize wall germander as one of my garden's best supporting actors!
Teucrium fruticans (shrubby germander or tree germander grows 4-6 feet high and wide) is another member of the genus I tried in my yard, but it was, for me, a real heartbreaker! In my research for drought-tolerant shrubs before moving to Chalfant, this is one that really caught my eye with its fuzzy gray foliage and transcendent blue flowers. I found a beautiful specimen at a nursery somewhere on the west side of the mountains, but it died pretty quickly. Undeterred, I had a friend buy me another one when she was in Berkeley, but it met the same fate. Though I've seen it rated as hardy to 0-10 degrees, most sources list it as zone 8 (10-20 degrees). For me, that's worth a try—Salvia greggii is listed as zone 8, for example, and it is a staple in Eastern Sierra gardens. Of course, the flip side is that plenty of zone 8 plants die! Anyway, if you've got a protected area and are willing to risk the money, you might give this one a try, because it really is a beautiful shrub.
Similar in character is Teucrium aroanium, gray creeping germander. If you have a tough, dry area you want to dress up with a unique, beautiful groundcover, you should really give these two a try. Mountain Valley Growers and High Country Gardens are good online sources for germander. If you're in Southern California, look for a bricks and mortar garden store that carries plants from Native Son wholesale nursery (who kindly allowed me to use their photos).
Living where I do, I am always searching for plants like germander: hard-to-kill, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plants that look good year-round. Who isn't? I read somewhere that there are 260 species of Teucrium, and I know I'll be on the lookout for any I can find!
- Author: Vivian Patterson
Viv Patterson and Trish Schlichting, both Inyo/Mono Master Gardeners, visited the Flower Clock in Geneva, Switzerland, this past October.
Geneva is recognized all around the world for its watch-making tradition. In 1955 Geneva created the biggest clock in the world made from flowers. The flower clock is in Le Jardin Anglais (the English Garden). The garden was constructed in 1855; the Flower Clock was built at the park's centennial to pay homage to Switzerland by perfectly combining watchmaking and horticultural know-how.
The Flower Clock was renovated in May 2017. A new floral concept consisting of more than 12,000 plants was carefully installed by mosaiculture* experts (see note) from the Greenspace Department of the City of Geneva. A watering system, essential for the survival of the plants and their full-sun exposure accompanies the installation. New hands, with an elegant design close to the original one, were manufactured and offered to the City by the firm Patek Philippe. The seconds hand is 2.5 meters long and is arguably the largest in the world. The clock has an electronic time setting via satellite.
*Mosaiculture is the horticultural art of creating giant topiary-like sculptures using thousands of annual bedding plants to carpet steel armature forms.
- Author: Harold McDonald
I am a huge fan of ornamental grasses, and I've written before about their uses and a few of my perennial favorites, so I'll try not to cover the same ground in this post. It does bear repeating, though, that grasses are vastly underused in most gardens, and I think that's a shame, because they give you so much for very little investment of time and money. There is such variety in size, shape, and color that grasses can serve almost any role in the garden, and they provide year-round interest, from the brightest greens of early summer to yellows, oranges and even reds as the weather cools, colors that will brighten the winter landscape clear through until spring, when new growth starts again.
Below are a few suggestions for using grasses in your garden. Next time I'll share a few more of my favorites and some good websites for learning about and shopping for grasses.
Apply liberally No matter what their size, grasses look better when they are planted in groups of at least three, and more is generally better. Consider a mass planting, where the grasses are a beautiful stage upon which your flowers perform as the season progresses. Even when your Salvia greggii fades and your Gaillardia dies back to the ground, the subdued autumn shades and graceful forms of your grasses will provide cool-season interest.
Don't cut back until spring Winter is when the grasses really prove their worth in their landscape (as well as seeds for birds). Don't cut them back in the fall and lose out on all that beauty. Grasses are generally classified as cool-season or warm-season varieties, and cleaning them up varies a bit from species to species, but there's no reason to cut them back until the end of winter when new growth begins to appear.
There's one for every spot True grasses are in the family Poaceae, many of which are drought-tolerant, but there are plenty that like regular watering, and if that doesn't provide enough options for you, consider sedges or rushes, grass look-alikes that generally like moister, shadier conditions. And from the smallest blue fescue to our own towering Great Basin wild rye, there's a size for every purpose.
Shop around Local nurseries can provide many choices, but if, like me, you really get into grasses, you're always going to be on the lookout for something new! Love that ‘Morning Light' maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light') you bought at the nursery? There are literally dozens of varieties and cultivars of that species, so there's probably another one you'd like even better that you may not be able to find easily.
Grow your own While nearly any nursery will have a few Pennisetum and Panicum grasses, you'll probably never find plants of some of my favorites like purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea) or silver beardgrass (Bothriochloa laguroides). Fortunately, these and many other grasses are easily grown from seed. That's generally a desirable trait, but given sufficient water, some grasses will reseed aggressively in your garden. Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) is one I don't recommend for that reason. Purple three-awn isn't quite as prolific, the new seedlings are easy to remove, and sometimes they pop up in a location you didn't previously recognize as just the perfect spot.
- Author: Harold McDonald
I live at the very edge of the Volcanic Tablelands in West Chalfant. Sixteen years ago, they scraped most of our acre clean of vegetation, spread decomposed granite and hauled our house in on two trailers! My plan all along had been to plant mostly California natives and other drought-tolerant plants. I brought a few with me from my previous house in Big Pine, and some we got from the old county windbreak program, but that still left a lot of empty space! We were able to purchase some plants locally from Bishop Nursery and Sierra Gardens Nursery (which unfortunately closed several years ago), but I soon realized that much of what I was looking for wasn't even available to our nurseries from the standard wholesalers—they are only available from specialty nurseries.
I still shop locally first. During the growing season, I check at least once a week to see what's come into town. Most of the backbone of my yard has come from Bishop Nursery (e.g., mountain mahogany, fernbush, and coffeeberry); I've found Cleveland sage and other star performers at High Country Lumber; and most of our trees came from our own Chalfant Big Trees Nursery. But I'm always searching for something new, and I've never been able to drive past a nursery without stopping, so over the years I have discovered a number of other sources for xeric plants. Today I'd like to share some of those with you.
In Person Only
http://theodorepayne.org A non-profit that really works to promote the preservation and use of native plants, Theodore Payne has a retail nursery in a rural setting between I-210 and I-5 near San Fernando. They have a great selection of seeds available online, but if you want plants, you'll have to visit in person. Ten percent discount (15% for members) at their fall, winter and spring sales.
https://californianativeplants.com Tree of Life Nursery, on the Ortega Highway between Lake Elsinore and San Clemente, is a fun place to visit in person. Good catalog available online, but no online ordering.
https://www.rsabg.org/grow-native-nursery/gnn If you've never been to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont, you're missing out. Spread over 86 acres is the largest selection of our state's native flora to be found anywhere. And their Grow Native Nursery has a nice selection of CA natives for sale to the public. Discounts are available for members (10%) and for individuals working for a public or school garden project (20%). If you're both of those things, you save 25%!
https://www.cornflowerfarms.com I've looked many times, but never ordered from this place. They're primarily wholesale, but you can look at their inventory list (email them for login info), choose what you want, and then pick up your order at their nursery near Sacramento. The downside: $200 minimum order. The upside: they have flats of many plants, which is a cheap alternative if you need multiples, say for a ground cover ($2/plant, 25 minimum). A good choice for a group order, maybe?
https://plantsofthesouthwest.com My personal favorite for seeds. And if you happen to be in Santa Fe, NM, they have a retail nursery with both seeds and plants that's fun to visit. And while you're there, you could also check out Agua Fria Nursery on the same street, which has lots of 4” pots (my favorite!), but unfortunately no online ordering.
http://www.alplains.com Seeds only, but if you're looking for something obscure this is a good place to look. They also have good germination information for each species.
http://www.seedhunt.com Not one I have used a lot, but a fair selection of CA natives and other seeds, including 18 species of Salvia.
https://www.dianeseeds.com OK, this one's not really a source for CA natives, but I love their catalog, prices and speedy, friendly service.
Some of these I use more for info and dreaming, because shipping is such a killer, but it's cheaper than going and getting it in person!
https://www.laspilitas.com A huge catalog and a great resource for learning about CA natives. You can visit the nursery in Santa Margarita, which makes for a great spring trip if you combine it with a wildflower expedition to the Carrizo Plains!
https://www.highcountrygardens.com Another Santa Fe, NM, nursery, and one nearly everybody knows about, with a beautiful catalog of plants adapted for the high and dry West.
https://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com The focus of this nursery near Fresno is more on herbs than CA natives, but I always get in on the great deals at their fall sale in September. Their (all organic) plants come in 3” pots and are always beautiful, and their packaging for shipping is by far the best I have encountered anywhere.
https://www.fbts.com Again, shipping can be expensive, but if you're looking for a Salvia (and I always am!), Flowers by the Sea in tiny Elk, CA, is the place to find it. Good catalog with lots of filters and photos, and the plants themselves are reasonably priced.
Editor's Note: there can be some restrictions on bringing in plants to California from out-of-state without a certificate. Many nurseries can provide this. Most mail-order sources take care of this for you.
Mention of a business is not an endorsement, but only for informational purposes to obtain hard-to-find plants.
- Author: Alison Collin
Part I: Chartreuse and gold-leaved plants.
Why wait until fall to enjoy spectacular leaf colors? There are plenty of plants that burst forth in spring with leaves of different hues adding interest to the garden while we wait for summer blooms.
The following plants are hardy to USDA Zone 7 and perform reliably in most of the Owens Valley.
I am particularly fond of chartreuse foliage to add a cheerful splash of color to borders. One of the best shrubs is the Ninebark, Physocarpus opulofolius ‘Darts Gold' which has much to offer. Sending out arching branches covered in brilliant citric-green leaves, numerous clusters of pollinator-friendly white flowers clothe it in spring, followed by red berries. The exfoliating bark also adds interest in winter. It will tolerate dry soils but does best with regular water. It is a fast grower, and the branches can be cut and used in flower arrangements.
There are numerous cultivars of Spirea with similarly colored foliage; Golden Elf, Lime glow, or Spiraea x bumalda 'Goldflame' which grows as a compact mound of foliage, topped by clusters of fluffy dark pink flowers, eventually followed by coppery-orange fall foliage.
Berberis thunbergii ‘Golden Rocket' (Barberry) is an upright shrub with bright golden foliage that turns to more orange shades in fall.
Little Honey oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey') is a yellow leaved sport of the more common variety of this plant. For the best color it requires morning sun, but will not perform well if exposed to afternoon rays.
Sambucus racemosa Lemony Lace™ is an elderberry with bright yellow/green feathery leaves suitable for zones 4-7, so could be grown in the cooler aspects of the Sierra's Eastside.
Another effective bright chartreuse herbaceous plant is Agastache foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee'. This is a perennial which produces mounds of brilliant spring foliage from which develop stems to about 3' during the summer. These are topped with spikes of blue flowers which attract bees and hummingbirds. The foliage has a delightful licorice-odor when brushed or crushed, giving rise to its common name of Anise hyssop. It is said to be deer resistant too.
For a lower growing ground cover in the same color-range it is hard to beat Golden oregano, Oreganum vulgare 'Aureum'. This herb does double duty since it can be used as a culinary flavoring too.
Campanula "Dixon's Gold" can be used as a small scale ground cover, its typical campanula-blue flowers contrasting nicely with the foliage.
Modern plant breeding has resulted in many new varieties ofherbaceous plants and annuals with brilliant gold or lime green foliage: Hosta "Twist of lime", Heuchera "Citronelle" or "Lime Rickey" and Coleus 'Electric Lime' , as well as grasses such as the Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa macra 'All gold'.
If you are looking for a substantial tree 'Chief Joseph' Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia 'Chief Joseph') might be worth considering, although it is dull green during much of the year it becomes a brilliant gold in winter.
These plants form striking contrasts with other foliage colors such as burgundy and dark greens, or with flowers in the purple/blue hues. In a desert environment they make a welcome change from the grays and dull greens of the natural vegetation while in more wooded settings they can liven up a dark corner.
A word of warning: Don't overdo these colors or they will tend to lose their striking impact, or even worse your borders may give the impression that they are seriously deficient in nitrogen!