- Author: Alison Collin
Those plots on the south side, nearest the house, are in full shade for all of the winter months when the ground is also frequently frozen. Then as the sun gets higher and clears the house roof it becomes subject to ferocious afternoon sun for several hours a day, rendering it unsuitable for shade-loving plants, but at the same time not ideal for the sun lovers either. Since these were being solarized I did no planting here in 2019.
The plots on the north side of the area get full sun in winter, but after trees have leafed out they get varying amounts of shade during the day which is welcomed by some species but renders them unsuitable for many of the sun-loving desert plants.
The irrigation is turned off for much of the winter so plants that like a Mediterranean type climate which rely on winter rains for their main growth are not likely to do very well, furthermore since the area is very exposed to the north it is subject to some pretty cold temperatures.
I wanted the garden to look equally good from all directions – the road, the house and the patio. For best effect visuall,y and in order to entice insects such as butterflies, conventional design wisdom encourages one to plant in groups of three, to limit the different number of species, and to repeat a theme several times across the planting area. I did not keep to this since some individual plants make substantial clumps on their own, and in order to keep costs down and try out several different plants I frequently only purchased one specimen with a view to adding to them later if they did well. I had several large clumps of perennials such as coreopsis, agastache, and rudbeckia which I dug up from other areas of the garden. I had taken cuttings of sedums, which together with numerous volunteer seedlings such as gaura, echinops, and eryngiums, formed a foundation for planting.
It is all too easy to end up with a prevalence of mounding plants so I was careful to have a variety of shapes – upright (Berberis “Salmon Rocket”), spikey (pink muhley grass) and ground-hugging (Callirhoe involucrate) and mounding (Nepeta “Walkers Low”). Leaf color adds interest so I looked for plants with red (border penstemon), yellow (Agastache “Royal jubilee” and ninebark “Darts Gold”) , gray (Artemesia “Powis Castle”), blue (Festuca “Siskiyou Blue”), and lush green leaves (annual Mirabilis). And of course I wanted lots of flowers for the pollinators to enjoy throughout a long season.
In spring clumps of blue muscari and Euphorbia myrsinites with its gray foliage and chartreuse flowers are some of the earliest attractions, followed by mats of Phlox subulata, blue flax, and catmint, after which the summer flowers come into their own: Salvias, Centanthus, Cistus, Scabiosa, Echinops and Buckwheat. In fall the humming bird mints (Agastaches) and mats of California fuchsia (Zauschneria “Everett's Choice”) round off the year. Any bare patches between plants are filled with such things as spring bulbs, California poppies, four o'clocks, or red annual buckwheat.
Of course, I have made some mistakes. The yellow leaved ninebark got scorched by the sun just as it was leafing out, and I had placed two artemesias in one of the plots but by the end of the first year they had become very large and were threatening to take over. I really need more white flowers of different shapes and textures. The yarrow that I bought as an unlabeled cell pack and planted close to the front has turned out to be yarrow on steroids and will definitely be moved at the end of the year!
My decision to not use mulch has not been a problem. So far I have only had to do a minimal amount of weeding and the sandy soil is quick and easy to hoe. I also get a lot of satisfaction watching ground-nesting black wasps or native bees making use of the bare soil. However, I have seen some velvet ants which like the bare sand, a reminder that it is prudent to wear gloves when tending low-lying plants.
It became apparent that the winter season needs some attention since most of the plants became very dormant and we were back to bare soil again! I need a few more evergreen plants or grasses to add interest.
Many square feet of irrigated lawn have been replaced with decomposed granite using no water at all. The planting areas are irrigated far less often than the previous grass covering, and I hope to reduce the amount even further once the plants are more established.
It is so gratifying to see tattered painted lady butterflies finding plentiful supplies of nectar after their long migration, or seeing the many different bees – Ceratinas, sweat, cuckoo, carpenter and domestic as well as several different wasps and lots of different flies! Lizards have moved in for the feast, and it is only now that I realize how sterile our old lawn was!
- Author: Alison Collin
The topsoil that had been delivered for our makeover project was not the rich loam that I had imagined it would be, but was the local desert sand. I amended it by digging in three cubic feet of commercial compost to each plot in order to add a modicum of organic matter. This action was also beneficial since it exposed the large roots from my neighbor's mulberry tree that had grown right across our front yard almost to the front door, some 50' from the trunk!
I decided to solarize the two plots on the south side since that area had been particularly weedy and infested with Bermudagrass. These plots were watered thoroughly, and a clear plastic sheet, well anchored with rocks all around, was laid over them. The sheet would be left until the following spring.
Luckily we were able to key into the old lawn irrigation system and put a riser in each plot and also one beside the hard standing which we were planning to use as a patio.
I had thought long and hard about irrigation and wanted something as trouble-free as possible. I decided to use only drip irrigation but considered the usual 17mm tubing too rigid so that I would have to use a lot of joints in order to get satisfactory coverage, on the other hand I did not want the surface to be covered with a spaghetti of ¼ inch black drip lines since in my experience they look messy, often split, and can get kicked out of place unless pegged down in numerous places.
Even low water use plants vary considerably in the amount of water that they need, so those few with the highest requirements are planted where two tubes are in close approximation, while those with xeriscape preferences are planted where the tubing is much further apart.
Netafim Irrigation Info: https://www.netafimusa.com/landscape/products/product-offering/driplines/techline-ez/
(No UC endorsement implied; only relating information about the material used in this project.)
Part 3 will cover plant choices and planting.
- 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.