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!


Winter Garden

Our weather here on the central coast has been quite cool and rainy since the fall. This past week we warmed up considerably but not before a stretch of night-time temps dipping dangerously low. Luckily in my year old garden I have not amassed much of a tender plant collection (yet).

My self-sown seedlings from last years annuals are doing remarkably well.  In fact I have had blooms already!

Mentzelia lindleyi was grown from seed last year and planted out rather late.  They didn’t bloom until June. Left to their own devices their seedlings have grown to flowering size remarkably quickly.

California native annuals are pretty cool, huh?

Another neat California native is Coreopsis gigantea, native to the southern California coast  down into Baja and on the Channel Islands.  I’ve posted pics of them before, from my trips to see them in bloom along the coast north of Malibu, but now I have one of my own.


Can you believe this three-foot tall monster was a little plant in a 4″ pot last March.

I was pretty excited to see that it is starting to form its first buds.  The bright yellow flowers should start opening by March.

Maireana sedifolia is doing  well next to the Coreopsis. It is very important that both of these plants have excellent drainage. They are planted on a raised mound of soil which helps but it makes me a bit nervous that an Artemisia frigida planted right below them completely rotted out.

Salvia africana-lutea has been bulking up and I’m finally getting to see some blooms.  Whatever nasty little caterpillar was eating the flowers last summer doesn’t seem to be active in winter.

One plant that was very unhappy with our 30 degree weather is Trichodesma scottii.  It is a borage relative from the island of Socotra. All of its buds and the ends of its leaves turned to mush. I hope it will bounce back and bloom this summer. At least now I know it isn’t cold hardy and can throw a sheet over it on freezing nights. Other plants that suffered some damage were Lotus berthelotii, Iochroma cyanea, and Pycnostachys urticifolia but they should all bounce back.

I was just looking at pictures of this garden from last spring when all the plants were brand new and it is exciting to see how much everything has filled in.

I am still not sure exactly what is going to happen with the sewers. I know the original plan was for the pipes to go right down the center of the left hand bed in the photo above.  My landlady made an appointment with someone from the town and spoke to them about it and apparently she can fill out an amendment requesting that they go through the street instead.  Unfortunately I had an appointment on the day the guy came out so I couldn’t be there and I only got to speak to her about it briefly.  So for now I am cautiously optimistic and I have decided to do a bit of work on the garden.

The garden looked OK last summer but I was not completely happy with it.  I kept adding to it bit by bit as interesting plants became available and the overall plan was a bit off.  So I dug up all the Santolinas, Scabiosa, and some of the Festuca and rearranged them. I moved my Eryngiums to the other side of the bed and replaced them with some Phlomis leucophracta that I grew from seed. I’ll be adding some inexpensive plants to empty spaces and across the front of the garden I’ve moved around some of the seedlings that are coming up.

I’m just going to move forward hoping that this garden won’t be harmed and if worse comes to worse and I have to dig everything out again at least I got some exercise.








Annual Garden Transitions

The spring annual garden is more or less over.  The California natives actually performed really well despite all my fretting that they didn’t get enough winter rain this year.

The Layia platyglossa was the last remaining California native annual last weekend.  I collected a huge envelope of seed (Not so easy to do on a windy day! As you can see in the photo above the achenes of Layia are very much like dandelion fluff).  I collected some seed from Lupinus succulentus as well.  I may do some sort of seed exchange later in the year.  Check back this fall or winter and maybe if I have collected enough seed from interesting plants I’ll set something up or have a contest or something.

I could have left a few of the Layia but decided to make a botanical garden inspired clean sweep of things.  Of the early spring bloomers only a few Ursinia and perennials remain in the front beds.  The rest was removed, weeded, and cleaned up.

Helipterum roseum ‘Pierrot’ planted in the back of the annual bed is still looking pretty good. I’ll probably grow this from seed again next year.

Clarkia amoena ‘Aurora’ is a late spring bloomer.   It is in full bloom now.

The problem with using true annuals or doing any kind of seasonal bedding is you are always going to have some down time.

Luckily there are enough perennials and a few remaining annuals so it doesn’t look too bad.  The front of the mixed border is now planted with a mix of Convolvulus, different types of annual Rudbeckia, and Ageratum.  If all goes well in a month or two all that bare soil will be filled in and we’ll be back in full bloom.

The main annual bed has newly planted Convolvulus, a few Rudbeckia, California native Mentzelia lindleyi, Ageratum, Consolida regalis, and a few Calibrachoa that aren’t really doing that well. I’m not sure if they prefer warmer weather or what the story is with them but they look sad.  There are also some Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’ and Didiscus caeruleus (aka Trachymene caeruela) that I started from seed in January and planted out in April. They both just take a really long time to bloom.

The first Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’ flower is finally starting to open. These should have really amazing ornamental seed heads.  Easy to grow from seed but a bit slow.

Convolvulus tricolor ‘Royal Ensign’ were just recently planted but some are already blooming.  I’m curious to see how these do.  I’ve used them in containers before and they are wonderful spilling out and hanging over the sides.  Now I have them planted in the ground in the fronts of the beds to sprawl about.  Hopefully I’ll like the look.

This is probably more work than a lot of people want to deal with in their gardens.  This may actually be more work than I want to deal with in the long run.  Next year I may end up sticking some low maintenance shrubs in these beds.  But for now the novelty and excitement of having a garden after 10 years of apartment living is motivating me to try as many things as I can. So a few weeks of ugly should have a nice pay off in July or August. Look for updates then!

Cool Plant of the Week!

This weeks cool plant is another native annual. Gilia tricolor is endemic to California and found in the foothills and valley as well as on the coast.  It is so easy to grow from seed that I think it is well worth giving a try even if you don’t live in California.

With its bright blue anthers and petals of lavender, maroon, and yellow perhaps “Gilia quadricolor” would have been a better name.

It is a great filler or companion, I have some growing with Orlaya and Scabiosa.  Each plant is covered with hundreds of little blooms on ferny foliage that waves and bounces in the breeze.  Kind of like a pale purple Gypsophila or Heliophila. I consider this a must for the spring garden now. My only regret is that I didn’t grow more of them.  Something I plan on remedying next year.

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.

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.