Annual Garden

I’ve renamed my three garden beds in front of the house that I talked about in this recent post.  Basically the names were dumb.  The red, orange, purple garden will now be known as the hummingbird garden and I will try to mostly fill it with plants that attract hummingbirds.  The big border was making my friend Maggie giggle.  She said that every time I said it she kept hearing “big boner”.  So for now I’ll just call that the mixed border. And the chaos border will be chaotic no longer!  From now on the focus of that garden will be true annuals.

The garden is approximately a sixteen by sixteen foot square and it will have a few perennial plants just to give it a little structure during down times when no annuals are in bloom.

True annuals are a bit misunderstood in gardening because many gardeners live in places with freezing winters where some tender perennials can’t survive year round.  These are also common starter plants for new gardeners.  Plants like Impatiens, Pelargoniums, Begonias, Antirrhinums (snap dragons), and Petunias are all actually perennial plants from tropical or warm mediterranean climates.  They generally can’t survive long periods of freezing conditions (though many of them can withstand light frosts and I commonly had snap dragons over winter in my old zone 6 garden).

A true annual is one that has a short life cycle.  They grow, flower, form fruit and set seed, and then die. They are very common in mediterranean climates because of the prolonged drought period of summer.  Plants set seed and die before the heat of summer and those seed wait to germinate and grow when the rains begin again in fall.

Nemophila menziesii (baby blue eyes) germinates and grows with the first rains of autumn or winter and then blooms and sets seed in the spring.

So when you are talking about plants like common bedding Impatiens it is more accurate to say “tender perennials” or perennial that is “treated as an annual”.  The term to describe plants that die after flowering and setting fruit is monocarpic though this also describes biennial plants or plants that may live many years before flowering.  True annuals live for as little as a few days, for some desert ephemerals, to a few months.  You may be able to prolong the life and bloom period a bit by dead-heading and not allowing them to set seed but this isn’t always easy when a plant has hundreds of blooms at a time.

Other examples of true annuals that gardeners commonly grow are sunflowers (Helianthus), sweet peas (Lathyrus), Zinnias, and marigolds (Tagetes) though there are perennial species available of all four of those genera as well.

Platystemon californicus – cream cups

Right now most of my annuals in bloom are California natives but I have seedlings of plants from other locales newly planted in the beds to take over when these are finished. Before our last rain storm I planted out some of the plants I had started from seed this winter.  Helipterum roseum ‘Pierrot’ is a South African annual, Didiscus caeruleus (syn Trachymene caerulea) is an Australian annual, and Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’ is a Mediterranean annual.

The front half of the mixed border has some annuals too.  The yellow and white daisies in the photo above are Layia platyglossa (tidy tips) which are native to much of California and the orange Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Fire’ which is native to South Africa.

To be honest I am not really sure what I am going to do with this bed.  You can see there are a few blank spots.  For some reason there was this little area of death where I lost several plants (all different species and all from different nurseries). I’m not sure what is going on there because it is high spot in the berm with fresh compost and it should be pretty well drained.  Maybe I let that area dry out too much during one of the long periods of drought.

There are other parts of the border that are working fairly well design wise but right now I am at a bit of a loss as to which direction I want to go with the front of this border when the annuals are done.  The shady bit near the house needs some help too. Hopefully some amazing plants will start coming up on wholesalers lists and I’ll be inspired.   The reason I like to name my garden beds is I feel like it helps when you have some sort of theme.  Otherwise there are so many plant options it can be a bit overwhelming.  So right now “mixed border” is a bit vague and in need of some fine tuning.

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Quail!

I heard what sounded like a cross between a bird and a dog barking so went outside to have a look around.

Turned out it was some California quail visiting the neighborhood!

This pair went running by and scrounged a bit in the weeds in my side yard.

The “barking” was coming from this male quail who found a high vantage point where he could keep watch. He was calling to several other “watchmen” quail down the block.  I’ve heard this noise in the distance before but didn’t realize it was quail.  I’ve only heard them make a sort of cooing little bloop noise as they run around in the underbrush.

I’m pretty psyched because quail are awesomely cute and also California’s state bird.  The coolest thing about them is when they have their babies the little chicks look like walnuts with feet running along behind their parents.  The mortality rate is pretty high on these guys so they usually lay a dozen or more eggs. I’m glad to have them in the neighborhood and hope to see them some more.

In other news the first of the California poppies I planted opened today.  This color selection is called ‘Moonglow’ and is a nice creamy white.  I stuck with white poppies in the mediterranean bed and oranges and reds in the other beds.

Another lovely little cream-colored native is Platystemon californicus or cream cups.  These have been blooming for a few weeks now and not only are they adorable but they are also fragrant if you get down on the ground and stick your nose right into them.

We had a nice heavy drizzle this morning.  I’m sure a lot of non gardeners and folks with 9-5 weekday jobs are not too happy that the past 3 weekends have been rainy but I’m not complaining. I actually hope we have a late rainy season that continues right through April this year.

Building My Garden – Flower Garden Teaser

Just a little teaser update as I have been too busy planting to do much posting this week.  The plants actually look more impressive while still in their pots.  I got the plants laid out early Tuesday morning but planting them is another story.  If I could just pop them in the ground it wouldn’t take that long.  After all most of the soil is nice fresh compost that is easy to dig in and most of the pots are  4″.  Making the protective gopher cages for the roots probably quadruples the amount of time it takes to plant a garden.  In the interest of my sanity most of the California native annuals did not get protective cages.  Hopefully I won’t regret this later.  But I had about 4 flats of baby blue eyes, tidy tips, cream cups, and meadow foam.  Cages for all of them would have just taken way too long and added expense for what are temporary plants.  Annuals on the other side of the driveway along the fence where I know gophers are very active will be protected however.

About three quarters of these plants (from Annie’s Annuals and Native Sons) are now planted but I am still doing some finishing touches and moving around a few things.  I may wait on posting a big update until after the mulch has gone down and it looks a bit nicer.  The weather has been so beautiful this week that I sometimes forget that it is still February and that most of these plants have months to grow before blooming time.  Some things about California I’m not sure if I will ever get used to.