Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All's Well That Ends Well: Summer winds down in the garden...

Summer is indeed winding down, but not without a flourish. We've had a relatively mild summer temperature-wise, interspersed with some freaky thunderstorms and a few skirmishes with wildfires. All in all though, a good season without excessive drama. At least not yet. There's still potential for those wild and wacky Santa Ana winds to materialize in October. But for now, all is calm.

On the cusp of fall, the leaves of the Sycamores are starting to crisp around the edges, and the Cottonwoods are already shedding theirs in profusion. What's not to love about this transitional season? Well, everything except for the swarms of yellow jackets that love to duke it out with the hummingbirds at their feeders (with the feisty, belligerent little hummers usually beating them out) and/or try to infiltrate our kitchen through any conceivable crack in the sliding screen door to get to the edible goodies.

Speaking of goodies, here are a few highlights from our late summer native plant garden (I'll continue adding new photos to this post through the end of summer):

8/1/10 'Burgundy' cultivar of our native Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). Photo was taken in early August, but as of today, the flowers are still in full bloom on this tree.

'Burgundy' Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis).

Regular form of Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). We've got several of these along the fenceline, and they are doing swimmingly (started off as little sprites in 1-gallon pots about 3 years ago). Native to sandy washes in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of California. 

Flowers of Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis).

Chitalpa 'White Cloud' (Chitalpa tashkentenis). A selection from Russia (of all places!) that's a cross between our Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) and the Southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides), a native of the Southeastern U.S. A fantastic landscape tree that matures to a manageable size of around 25'. Almost ever-blooming in the summer, it's also drought tolerant and attracts hummingbirds with its very showy flowers. We've got four of these planted along one side of our driveway that are about 3 years old and in full bloom. 

'Blue Flame' Giant Purple Sage (Salvia pachyphylla). A selection from High Country Gardens nursery in New Mexico.

Desert Senna (Senna covesii). Native to sandy washes and slopes in the Sonoran Desert (California, Arizona, Nevada & Baja California).

Feathery fruitheads of Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa).

9/10/10 'Eve Case' Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica). Per Las Pilitas Nursery, a lower form of our native Coffeeberry from the bluffs of Big Sur. Looks almost good enough to roast for a Sunday morning brew, no?

9/19/10 Desert Sweet/Fern Bush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium). There are beautiful stands of this shrub along Bishop Creek Canyon heading towards Lake Sabrina up in the Eastern Sierras. After 2 years and standing at about 2' tall, this one's finally put forth its first blooms.

9/19/10 Western Spirea (Spiraea douglasii). A plant that likes wet feet. I've only seen these in Northern California (off Hwy. 89 en route to Mt. Shasta, in a roadside seep just south of Forest Service Road 49).

9/19/10 Wallace's Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans). Love brushing against this plant, as it emits a great fragrance (not perfumy like roses, but a pungent scent that just totally evokes chaparral).

9/10/10 Mattole River/Humboldt County California Fuchsia (Zauschneria septentrionale). By force of habit, I'm still referring to the Cal Fuchsias as Zauschneria instead of Epilobium. Sparse blooms, but doing ok in partial shade. Native to our North Coast.

9/10/10 'Pink' form of California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica). Oddly enough, this particular one produces both pink and red blooms. 

9/10/10 'UC Hybrid' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica) growing with Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens). 

9/10/10 'Uvas Canyon' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica).

9/19/10 'Ghostly Red' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica). 

9/10/10 Catalina/Island California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica). Very tall & upright for a Cal Fuchsia (stands about 4 ft. high). 

9/19/10 'Route 66' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica). This Cal Fuchsia has a mounding habit. A selection from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

9/10/10 'Conejo' Monkeyflower (Diplacus longiflorus). A good-sized monkeyflower from the Thousand Oaks area. Mother plant was purchased from Las Pilitas nursery - it reseeded this year around our veggie beds. The extra water seems to have kept them in vigorous bloom all summer long.

9/10/10 'Conejo' Monkeyflower (Diplacus longiflorus).

9/19/10 Pink Monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis x lewisii). Lewis' Monkeyflower (M. lewisii) is a high elevation monkeyflower that does not grow well at all in our warmer climes here in SoCal. Believe me, I've tried a few times and failed to get them to take. This cross with Scarlet Monkeyflower, however, is more vigorous, with the flowers retaining the delicate pink color of M. lewisii. Pink monkeyflower has a clumping habit and will grow up to 2' tall. Mine are growing in a moist flower bed in partial shade along with Western Columbine, Yellow-Eyed Grass, Stream Lupine, Cow Parsnip, Creambush, and Western Spice Bush.

9/19/10 Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis). As long as it gets regular water, this tough monkeyflower can take full sun. They generally grow around seeps & creeks. I've only seen this wildflower once along La Jolla Valley Loop Trail (Pt. Mugu) in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

9/10/10 'Mt. Pinos' Wright's Buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii). 

9/10/10 Dried inflorescences of Saffron/Conejo Buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum).

9/10/10 Ashyleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum cinereum). 

9/19/10 Red Buckwheat/San Miguel Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens).

9/19/10 Cliff Aster (Malacothrix saxatilis ssp. implicata). A shrubby aster from the Channel Islands.

And here are some of our recent avian visitors:

A very handsome Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus) imbibing on nectar from an oriole feeder. Better than feasting on our ripe grapes! The boys are more showy than the girls, which are a uniform dullish yellow-green. They will, at times, also try to rather awkwardly commandeer the hummingbird feeders. 

9/4/10 Black-Headed Grosbeak (Pheuticus melanocephalus). 

9/4/10 Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus). Took this shot via rudimentary digiscoping (i.e., hurriedly fixed my point-and-shoot Canon Powershot to the eyepiece of a Zeiss spotting scope and took a gazillion pics of this guy before he flew away). Roadrunners are denizens of the desert southwest, but often make themselves at home in chaparral habitats. Believe it or not, I've even seen one in a grassy area near the parking lot at my workplace in Diamond Bar. Go figure.

9/18/10 Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus). These small drab-gray birds fly in mixed flocks of up to 40 or so individuals. They're pretty hyper and perform acrobatics (kinda like chickadees do) on branches and twigs as they forage for insects. Fun to watch.

8/18/10 Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

9/7/10 Hummingbirds galore on a platform feeder. Mostly Black-Chinned Hummingbirds(Archilochus alexandri). I recently started making my own nectar versus buying the commercial variety (just dissolve 1 cup sugar for every 4 cups water), and it's been a mondo hit with the hummers.  Gil is now having vivid nightmares a la Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

8/28/10 Crazy aerial assault on the hummingbird feeder. Look at the poor fellow hanging precariously off the perch to the right!

Here's a video I took late afternoon on 9/18/10 of the hummingbird brigade descending on the platform feeder. If you hear what sounds like running water in the background, it's because it is running water (from a couple small outdoor fountains we have on the back patio). At the beginning of the video you can also see a rabbit behind the feeder (around the garden hose) hopping from right to left. 


  1. What a fabulous collection of natives! I had no idea there was a pink variant of Zauschneria californica. Your monkeyflower looks amazing too. Our native species here, with the cool weather, is still eeking out an occasional bloom, but it's definitely past its peak. I love the last shot with your hummingbirds. That poor little guy tipping over backwards made me laugh. Too cute! :P

  2. WOW, I love the hummingbird pics! O_O

    I've never seen an oriole in person. We get them here according to my bird book, but I don't have a special feeder for those guys. I still thought I'd at least have SEEN one somewhere, but no cigar.

  3. Clare, the pink variant is unusual, but there's also a white variant (both available from Las Pilitas Nursery). The plant I have produces both pink and red flowers - what's up with that? As for the hummingbirds, maybe it's the homemade nectar, but they've been showing up in droves (15+) recently, especially in the morning hours and late afternoon. I took a Flip video of them yesterday, and will post a link to it here soon.

    Kyna, it took me forever to attract the orioles to my feeder. The feeders are bright orange, supposedly the fav color of these guys (they apparently like to eat citrus). I put it out in June, and it was August before a couple showed up. In fact, the orioles seemed more interested in the hummingbird feeders than in the oriole feeders! If you have orioles in your area, it's worth a shot to buy a feeder, and you don't have to use the prefab "orangeade" powder to make the nectar either - just blend 6 parts water to 1 part sugar. To kick it up a notch, some feeders also come equipped with cups or depressions for grape jelly and/or a holder for orange halves. Be patient though, cause these guys are slow learners and it may take them awhile to find your smorgasbord.

  4. Those willow blooms look just like orchid flowers and nearly every one of the flowers in your garden is so new to me except for the Mimulus. I'm surprised that you are able to grow plants that like wet feet.

    I really enjoyed watching your hummer video - I've seen so many pictures of them this year on blogs but never seen them in action. I saw that rabbit in the background aswell watching them and later towards the end I could see a wasp hopelessly trying to get to the feeders.

    We too have wasps pestering us here at this time of year.

  5. Your desert willow looks very like our Zimbabwe creeper. Podranea in the Bignonaceae. Any relation?

  6. What an amazing late summer collection you have! I've always considered this a difficult time of year for flowers, but you've proven otherwise. The chilopsis have attracted me every time I've seen them in bloom, and the burgundy selection is really impressive. It's probably just a matter of time before I end up planting one...

  7. Your photos are delicious. I'm just lacing the tennies to see what we have up here this week.

  8. Thanks, altadenahiker - as someone who used to frequent the San Gabriel Mtns & foothills, I'm also curious to see what you see up there!