I love California after the rain when the hills turn fluorescent green. This is one of the farms along Los Osos Valley Road.

Los Osos Valley Road after the rain.

Fall Blooms

Fall was always my least favorite season when I lived back in the north-east. I dreaded the short days and the bitter cold and the thought that winter snow storms were just around the corner.  Luckily the change of seasons isn’t quite so bad here in California.

Late summer and fall are perhaps not the best times for a mediterranean climate garden but I have put in a few new gardens with plants that have a longer bloom season and I’ve paid more attention to watering this year so the garden is looking pretty spectacular at the moment.

Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’ started out pretty wimpy in my garden. But then I realized I wasn’t watering it enough. Even some drought tolerant plants need a little extra care when they are first getting established. A more consistent watering schedule had this plant covered in bloom spikes for months.

Calliandra californica is a native of southern California and Baja. Mine was trod upon during the sewer construction and looked pretty bleak. I potted it up and nursed it in my plant ghetto and it is slowly bouncing back. It rewarded me this fall with a single bloom that looks like an explosion of red fireworks.

Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’ is a short-lived perennial and Tithonia rotundifolia (Mexican sunflower) is a true annual. I could prolong the blooms on both if I carefully deadhead spent flowers but the birds love the seeds. Flocks of false gold finches and pine siskins are always fluttering between the bird feeders and the plants and the first of the winter visiting white crowned sparrows have started to arrive. The Tithonia has also been the number one favorite of monarch butterflies.

All the extra water to establish the new gardens gave me a second crop of annuals. These Layia platyglossa look just as nice as the ones last spring.

A few Convolvulus tricolor have popped up too.

I think this bee likes my Mentzelia lindleyi as much as I do.

I have read a few accounts that Mentzelia is  tricky to grow. In that case I am thankful that it seems happy in my sandy soil. The house across the street was refreshed with a new bed of gravel in place of the lawn (I am not sure it is much of an improvement).

A perfect Layia platyglossa bloom.

And a few fasciated ones as well.

My driveway Nicotiana mutabilis.

Rudbeckia ‘Marmalade’ and Salvia ‘Rhea’.

Seedlings of my Geranium maderense are abundant. Perhaps a bit too abundant.

Even my Yucca gigantea is blooming this year.

Glaucium grandiflorum is looking a worn out after six months of blooms.

It still had a few flowers left…

But I decided to cut it back and give it a rest.

Self sown Nicotiana mutabilis and Moluccella laevis join new plantings of Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and Salvia‘ Victoria Blue’.

The old flowers of my Eriogonum parvifolium turn from white to rusty-brown.

Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ got huge when I wasn’t looking. It has white and red and white bicolor blooms. Over its shoulder you can also make out the bright red blooms of Salvia darcyi.

My deranged looking Echium ‘Mr. Happy’ continues to bloom into fall.

Up close the little flowers are beautiful but you can also see that this plant is covered in sharp hairs. They are almost as bad as cactus spines and they are the reason I will not be collecting any seeds from this plant even though it is covered in them at the moment.

Gaillardia ‘Mesa Yellow’ would benefit from deadheading the old spherical spent blooms but at some point I just get overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. When the plant starts to get tired I can just cut the whole thing back to a few inches and it should come back nicely.

Gaillardia ‘Gallo Peach’ being visited by a bee. Gaillardia is a great plant for California gardens but you have to be careful with water. Too much and they are prone to fungal infections or may rot but too little and the plants will whither away.

So now I’ve brought us up to date with three seasons of blooms. Hopefully now I will make more of an attempt to keep up with the blog.

Spring Blooms

I know what you are thinking. Spring Blooms? It is fall! What the hell is wrong with this guy? Well I  have been pretty busy this year but basically there is no excuse. I’m just a lazy blogger. I promise I’ll try to be better in the future and to start I figured I would give you all a little update on how the garden worked out this year. I’ll start with Spring and Summer and eventually (unless I get lazy again) I’ll post some current fall stuff.

Back in April Echium gentianoides ‘Tajinaste’ was looking pretty impressive.

Sadly the entire plant pretty much collapsed after blooming. It looked so wretched that I pulled it out. I did see some seedlings during the summer but now the entire area is so overrun with other seedlings that I am not sure if any of them made it. I’ll have to start thinning out seedlings a bit more. The garden is getting a bit wild and unruly.

Speaking of self-sown plants this Moluccella laevis is a seedling from the plants I grew last year. There is nothing better than free plants. Especially free plants that look like this.

Lavandula stoechas ‘Blue Star’

Dorycnium hirsutum needs very little water. If you put it on drip and water it weekly it will probably get all leggy and split apart. Hand water once every few weeks at most and you will have happy compact plants. This will self sow a bit too.

Clianthus puniceus

Thymus X citriodorus ‘Green Lemon’

Thymus juniperifolius and Thymus serpyllum ‘Coccineus’ with Dianthus ‘Shooting Star’ and Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’.

Dianthus ‘Shooting Star’ is day glo pank. No not pink. This color is called pank.

Lavatera trimestris, Helipterum roseum, and Consolida regalis are all self-sown seedlings from last years plants.

You can’t really tell from this picture but I think these Consolida regalis wanted a bit more water than I was giving them. The foliage was pretty ratty. But once they started blooming they were stunning. They were kind of difficult to get in focus for a good photo but you get the idea.

Sweet peas blooming on my ugly chain link fence. I should probably be starting seeds for sweet peas now. In mild climates like mine they are best started in fall for late winter and early spring blooms.

I really grow Helichrysum thianschanicum for the bright white foliage but the sulfur yellow blooms are pretty too.

Natives like this Eriogonum latifolium were an excellent choice for the sandy soil that got turned up when my old garden got demolished by the sewer construction. I’m not going to lie though. They look pretty awful in late summer and fall. California natives require the right type of garden or smart placement. The garden will look beautiful again next winter and spring. The great thing was they all survived in my pure sand and didn’t need much water to get established.

This Halimium lasianthum ‘Farrall’ is sort of an odd plant. It sort of halfheartedly blooms on and off all year but finally got this nice flush of blooms all at once in June.

Tanacetum niveum

I posted this backyard garden earlier in the year but figured it was worth showing off some more. That Glaucium grandiflorum got 8 feet across, started blooming in May, and is still throwing out some blooms now in October (although it isn’t looking nearly this nice now).

Schizanthus grahamii is an annual from Chile that I bought from Annie’s. Sorry for the poor quality of this photo. It was another one that was tricky to get into focus. I’m hoping that I’ll get a lot of seedlings from this plant in the spring.

Clarkia rubicunda ssp. blasdalei is another one that came up by the hundreds from just three plants last year.

Last year I had about a dozen Santolina. This year I lost most of them to a big excavator during sewer construction. Luckily this one beautiful Santolina pinata was out of its path of destruction.

So that is a nice little recap of my garden in spring. I promise I’ll post a summer update shortly so we can get all caught up and I can start posting more regularly.

Who says California doesn’t have seasons?

One of the characteristics of a mediterranean climate is a cool wet winter and a hot dry summer. On the central coast of California the rainy and dry seasons of California each take up about half of the year. The rains come to an end in April or May and usually resume again in October or November. The landscape changes dramatically during this time and it happens very quickly. Shortly after the rains begin in fall seasonal grasses (many of which are invasive exotics from Europe) burst into life and dormant plants leaf out. The hills turn such a bright green they almost seems fluorescent against the bright blue sky.

And then a short time after the last drops of rain have fallen in late winter or early spring the annual grasses die off and many plants start to go dormant and the hills turn from lush green to golds and browns.

I’ve been told that California is called “the golden state” not because of the gold rush in the 1800’s but because of the color of the hills in the summer. Some people hate how parched and dry California is during the dry season but I love it.  To me it is no different from the leaves changing and falling from the trees back east in fall and winter.

Mentzelia lindleyi

One of my great central California native annuals that reseeded is Mentzelia lindleyi. This clump has been blooming non stop for about two months and looks like it will still keep going for a while longer.

Mixes pretty nicely with Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’

And perfectly contrasting with the purple flowers of the European Consolida regalis.


Up close the showy stamens look like little fireworks. The plants are a little course and weedy looking (at least according to one of my neighbors who thought it was a dandelion or something) but I don’t think they are so bad and when they are covered in blooms you don’t really notice the foliage at all.

My first clump of these to start blooming began way back at the end of January but they were right by the road and  got demolished by the construction guys. But how tough is this plant?


So tough that this snapped off stem of that planting lay on the soil without any water and stayed blooming like this for an entire week before it wilted!


Coastal Fog

It isn’t just the San Francisco Bay Area that is subject to foggy days. Fog is typical up and down the coast from Crescent City in the north (/shudder) to San Diego in the south, particularly in summer when the temperature difference is the greatest between coastal and inland California.

Since Los Osos borders the coast and the bay, and is also set in a valley, fog is a fairly common occurrence. There is something almost magical about coastal fog.  It looks almost alive as it creeps along.  It is particularly enchanting on warm sunny afternoons as a thick fog slowly inches its way inland.  I love being by the bay and watching and seeing the fog over Morro Bay to the north or if I am in Morro Bay sometimes Los Osos is completely obscured by a wall of fog.

Some days it blows in quickly and when it a heavy wet fog hangs around for days it can be a bit oppressive.  Particularly up north where the fog can be so heavy and wet that it feels like rain and actually contributes to yearly rainfall totals.  We have had a few foggy days here in Los Osos as you can see by the view of the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve from my house in the photo above.

Even though I don’t really understand the exact scientific weather conditions that bring the fog, two years living by the beach in Santa Monica taught me that when you have an unusually warm sunny morning you are almost guaranteed fog later in the afternoon or the next day.  And here in Los Osos just like in Santa Monica if the fog is too much to handle you can just drive a few miles inland and it will be warm and sunny.

The good thing about the fog is it keeps things cool along the coast which allows us to grow some wonderful things.

There are many plants that are perfectly hardy and tough but despise heat and would melt away in a hot, humid, east coast garden.  The Aloe polyphylla above is not even a coastal plant in its native home of the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa.  In fact it is perfectly capable of withstanding winter snow.  It just can’t take heat and thus is perfectly adapted to the California coast. In fact the one above is growing practically on the beach in Cayucos.

I’ve seen such great specimens growing in Los Osos, Morro Bay, and Cayucos that it seems like it would be a crime for me not to grow them.  So I picked up a few specimens in gallon pots.

Three to be exact.  I found them for a reasonable price and couldn’t resist.  I needed to replace the Nemophila maculata I had in the border along the path garden and I also removed an orange poppy that was supposed to be red.  This part of the path happens to be succulents so I think the two areas will flow into each other nicely.

I think they are still supposed to be fairly tricky plants to grow so if anyone has any tips or advice feel free to leave a comment. And if anyone hears me complaining about how cold and foggy it is this summer remind me about all the great plants I can grow.

California Poppies!

Did you know that April 6th was California Poppy Day?  Me either.  So I’m about a week late but just in time for my Aunt Barbara’s birthday.  Happy birthday Aunt Barbara!

I planted about two dozen California poppies in the garden and most of them are starting to bloom now.  I thought it would be fun to compare them.

Eschscholzia caespitosa and Nemophila menziesii

This little yellow poppy is an annual and is less than a foot across and tall.  They have been blooming their little heads off since early March.  In the future I’ll definitely plant a lot more of them and plant them closer together. I’ve decided that all my annuals will be smooshed together in the future for more dramatic “instant gratification” results.

Eschscholzia californica ‘Mahogany’

Mahogany is supposed to be deep red-orange like this

Not like this

California poppies are all various seed strains so you have to expect some variability.  Sadly of the three Mahogany I planted two ended up to be the orange above. Pretty much just like the common species.  Not that there is anything wrong with them. But the orange ones are all over town. I wanted something a bit different.  Still I will probably keep them.  I’m glad at least one turned out red.

Eschscholzia california ‘Apricot Chiffon’

Normally I am not that into double and ruffled flowers but there is something about Apricot Chiffon that I love.  This is the first of eight plants to bloom. I’m hoping they all look like this and none of them turn out to just be the straight species.

Cool right?

‘Moonglow’ has a visitor.

What do you think is it a bee or a fly?  I can’t tell.  I only see one pair of wings but the other pair might just be hidden.  Are those pollen baskets on the back legs? They are kind of hidden. It was pretty tiny. Does anyone know their little bees?  Whatever it is it seems pretty happy.

Last is ‘Buttermilk’.  It looks like ‘Moonglow’ but is much more yellow and the flowers are larger and a bit ruffled.  I believe it might also have some double or semi-double flowers in the future as well.

Check in tomorrow for another English garden visit.