Friday, January 25, 2013

A Winter's Tale in a Southern California Garden

Every season for the Southern California gardener has its special allure, but winter happens to be my favorite time of the year. Natives are generally best planted in the winter, at least in our neck of the woods, when cooler temps and more precipitation seem to prevail (in contrast to our Indian summerish falls which are, weather-wise, far less predictable). And, of course, there's no shortage of unexpected color from a plethora of winter-flowering shrubs and whatever  remains in late December to January of the vividly-hued senescent fall foliage on the sycamores, cottonwoods, Roger's Red California grape, non-native sweet gums (Liquidamber), and the two Japanese maples (Acer palmatum 'Shindeshojo' and 'Emperor One') that are still hanging on for dear life after six years in our semi-sheltered kitchen herb garden, having endured and survived perennial beatings from our hot, dry summers and oftentimes gale-forced Santa Ana winds.

12/28/12 Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii) in all its leafless winter splendor.

The bare-naked stems of any deciduous tree, especially when adorned with pendulous ornamental seed pods, are also quite enchanting: the winter garden would not be the same without the visage of the burgundy pea pods of Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis), the dangly dingleberries of sycamores (Racemosa wrightii), and the dagger-like seed capsules of desert willows (Chilopsis linearis) in the backdrop.

The grounds have been starting to green up with velvety patches of forest green moss and supple carpets of verdant grasses that have just emerged after our recent rains. Sounds more like Ireland than California's coastal sage scrub, no? The show will be short-lived, though, so I'll enjoy it while I can, especially before the invasive mustards and yellow star thistle make their unwelcome appearance. It's taken quite an effort to get these weeds under control in the graded areas of our property - and they are becoming sparser every year - but they have not been completely eradicated, so diligence, patience, and persistence are needed.

Lastly, a number of our native shrubs are in full bud. Soon, the garden will be resplendent with the lilac to white blossoms of Ceanothus, the pretty-in-pink urn-shaped blooms of Manzanitas, and the blazing, glossy buttercup-yellow flowers of the Fremontias.

12/28/12 View of the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains from the kitchen garden.

12/28/12 Engelmann Oak (Quercus engelmannii) and a shrubby Mission Manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor) in the understory. 

12/28/12 Mission Manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor). We have two of these native on our site - this one's under the Engelmann Oak (which happens to be on the other side of the fence on our neighbor's property), and the other is an 8' tree in the chaparral stand just off of the driveway.

12/28/12 Raised bed with assorted monkey flowers (Mimulus spp.), Large-leaved Avens (Geum macrophyllum), and annuals including Sticky Phacelia (Phacelia viscida), Wind Poppy (Stylomecon heterophylla), Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila menziesii), and Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla).

12/28/12 Sticky Phacelia (Phacelia viscida).

12/28/12 Another raised bed with Orange-Flowered Yerba Buena (Satureja mimuloides), Douglas' Meadowfoam ( Limnanthes douglasii), Sierra Columbine (Aquilegia pubescens), San Francisco Wallflower (Erysimum franciscanum var. crassifolium), Idllywild Rockflower (Heuchera hirsutissima), Cream Cups (Platystemon californicus), Fringe Cups (Tellima grandiflora), and Beautiful Rockcress (Arabis pulchra gracilis).

12/28/12 Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa). A tough native mint that seems to bloom year-round.

12/28/12 Giant Coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea), emerging from summer dormancy.

12/28/12 Meadow Rue (Thalictrum fendleri var. polycarpum), also emerging from summer dormancy. This one likes shade to part shade and regular water.

12/28/12 Padre's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon clevelandii). I planted 3 of these in the native grassland/meadow garden. Very cool that they've survived and are resurfacing.

12/28/12 Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata). I propagated these Cal desert natives from seed in the desert garden, and am surprised that they've been flowering almost all year round. They're generally known to be annuals or short-lived perennials. I'm sure that caging them with chicken wire saved them from inevitable rabbit browsing and kept them alive and kicking for more than one season.

12/28/12 Baja Rose (Rosa minutifolia).

12/28/12 Native grassland (Nasella pulchra, Festuca californica, Sisyrinchium bellum), enclosed by a fence of 1" gauge chicken wire to keep those dastardly wabbits out. I had sowed a bunch of wildflower seeds here earlier in the fall (Clarkia bottae, Nemophila menziesii, Gilia tricolor, Collinsia heterophylla, Layia platyglossa, Lupinus bicolor, etc.) in hopes that there will be a riot of spring color.

12/28/12 Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa).

12/28/12 Cliff Spurge (Euphorbia misera).

12/28/12 'San Gabriel' Fremontodendron. Only two blooms on this ginormous 12' shrub so far, but more will follow.

12/28/12 Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata).

12/28/12 Hana Banana, making her rounds.

1/5/13 A youngish looking bobcat near the fenceline with one of our neighbors. Didn't seem too concerned that I was ogling him with my camera lens. Pretty kitty.

1/5/13 Sharp-shinned hawk on one of the bird feeders, waiting for dinner. Ya think the hapless little birdies are gonna come around now? If so, Darwin award!

1/11/13 'Cape Sebastian' Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus).

1/11/13 Island Ceanothus (Ceanothus arboreus). Native to the chaparral slopes on several of the Channel Islands off of the California coast. This 4' shrub is growing along the fenceline next to a Cal Sycamore. There are a ton of buds setting, so can't wait for the burst of lilac color sure to happen in the next few weeks.

1/11/13 Rose garden, in its nascent stage. I planted about 40 roses (mostly own root from Heirloom Roses in Oregon) in November-December, and had to cage them to protect them from bunny predation. But if all goes well, there will be blooms galore and heady fragrances come late spring.

1/20/13 Bush Anemone (Carpinteria californica). A Cal native that likes dappled shade. This one is growing under a 10' Monterey Cypress at our front entry.


  1. Came by to see what you and your sherpa have been up to. I want that apache plume, and some of those purple numbers in your previous post. I've planted Calif wildflower seeds in my raised beds, too. I'm sure they'll be much prettier than last year's lettuce.

    1. Alas, Karin, the sherpa has been shirking his duties recently...Hope you'll post photos of your wildflowers when they bloom. My seedlings are still pretty tiny, so I don't expect them to bloom until spring.

  2. Such an exciting time of year, isn't it? All those things coming out of dormancy and all those young plants that are about to launch into spring bloom... And as usual you have a nice, broad selection of natives, including lots that you don't' see everywhere else.

    I enjoyed seeing our local cliff spurge getting in your garden, as well as the mission manzanita that we have so many places around here in the wilds. I'll be curious to see how well they do for you. I haven't yet made room for either of them in my own garden.

    1. I love this time of year, James - especially when we have a little extra precipitation to help things along. Since I photographed the cliff spurge, we've had some frost, so it's looking a little worse for wear. Hopefully, it will survive through the winter until better established.

      The two mission manzanitas happen to be native to our site: one is a 4' shrub, and the other an 8' tree - not sure how old they are, but they were already here when we moved out here in 2006. Beautiful bark, just like the Arctostaphylos.

  3. My roses are getting elbowed aside by the indigenous plants I mixed them in with. I'm rather enjoying watching Paradise and Roses develop into my own vision, no longer just another rose garden. I'll miss watching it in future, once we sell. But the next garden will go step by step to fynbos!

    1. Diana, you're selling? I must catch up on your posts to see what's been going on in your corner of the world.