Plants and Stone for California Gardens


Archive for December, 2008

Summer Deciduous

ribes malvaceumRibes malvaceum

Summer deciduous can be a hard concept to bring into the garden. It makes perfect sense–plants go dormant during the dry summers and leaf out again during the temperate, wet winters–but it takes a fair bit of confidence to keep reassuring your clients that the plant is healthy when other plants in their garden and virtually all of the plants in their neighbors’ gardens are using summer as their time to shine. 

This Ribes malvaceum is full of brand new leaves several days after the winter solstice. Planted as a five gallon in June, the ribes sat there with tired, raggedy-looking leaves and dormant leaf buds all summer and fall, and as soon as the rains came, it put out these beautiful big green leaves and even a few token blooms. It might be in leaf a bit early because this is its first year and it’s getting regular irrigation, but it’s clearly not on the same schedule as a lot of the more traditional deciduous shrubs and trees; for instance, the Japanese maples in that same garden are just losing the last of their leaves. This Ribes has its most beautiful foliage at the same time as other plants have abandoned theirs.

ryan 12/26


calendula & geranium "bill walls"

We try pretty hard for year-round bloom to keep our beneficial insects happy, but I doubt they’re very impressed with our offering on the first day of winter. Geranium “Bill Walls,” this calendula, and Linaria pururea are the only ones in full bloom. Everything else is young or only able to muster a token bloom. Of interest probably only to me, the bloom list is below:


Meep! Meep!

cotoneaster topiary cotoneaster roadrunner

The best topiary in our neighborhood. Goofy, brilliant, makes me smile.

— Note — Anita claims the roadrunner says Beep Beep, I claim Meep Meep. According to someone on Metafilter, the voice of the roadrunner, Chuck Jones, spelled it ‘Beep-Beep,” but pronounced it ‘Meep-Meep.”

Calandrinia Spectabilis



These calandrinias sure are happy. This spot used to have bamboo in the ground, so before planting, we dug out the soil to a depth of two feet. Whenever we turnover or dig soil, we also add compost (turning soil increases the oxygen in the soil which in turn increases the population of bacterial microbes; you need to provide additional food to sustain the boom of bacterial life or else the population will go bust and leave you with worse soil than before you started), so these calandrinias are growing in two feet of loose, ammended soil, slightly raised to provide good drainage, full coastal sun, pretty much their ideal conditions. They’ve pretty much exploded, tripling in size in three months and blooming by their second or third week in the ground. 

We usually plant them in less optimal conditions where they grow well but much more cautiously. The photo shows their leggy bloom habit. They seem to look best if you can raise them a foot or two so the blooms are stretching up to just below eye level. They will bloom most or all of the winter in Berkeley and Richmond.

The aloe in the lower corner was a dark red when we planted it, but the good soil and (I’m guessing) generous hand-watering by the homeowner has turned it blue-green. Below are a couple of shots of Calandrinia in my neighbor’s garden. (more…)

Larval Host Plants

lupinus albifrons

Lupinus albifrons

Isn’t it pretty?

It’s a lot easier to do butterfly habitat as a home gardener than as a landscaper. Nectar hosts are no problem, we plant tons, but larval hosts are hard to put in a client’s garden. I understand that the world need larval host plants and caterpillars in order to have butterflies, but it’s tough to welcome them into the garden when they defoliate plants like this. I really like this lupine (Lupinus albifrons, silver bush lupine), but this happens every year, the caterpillars come and eat all of the foliage. It comes back quickly after I cut it back, but I’m afraid to put it into a client’s garden and have it end up looking like this. Otherwise, it’s a great plant, super-fast and drought tolerant with nice foliage and form and great blooms, but the client would need to be seriously committed to habitat or out of town four months of the year. We used to have a Lupinus arboreus (yellow bush lupine), also a great looking plant, but it never recovered after the caterpillars ate it.

I haven’t managed to ID the caterpillar, yet–orange back, black sides, and tiny white dots–but I know it isn’t any of the cool native butterflies. I’m pretty sure it’s a moth; all the caterpillars I find turn out to be moths. Our lupine is the host for the rare and endangered mission blue butterfly, but rare and endangered means I’m unlikely to find it in our garden. A photo of the caterpillar and a plea for a good caterpillar ID website below:


Feral Grape

wild grape  wild grape

This is the front yard of a house where I used to live. One of my roommates at the time did this little native planting; I’m still friends with the owner and occasionally help out with the maintenance, which this time of year means dealing with the Wild Grape. “Wild” doesn’t really begin to describe how this plant behaves; feral seems a little more accurate, maybe a little more pejorative. It’s not really the right plant for a space this size that rarely gets any maintenance, but my friend seems to enjoy watching it go crazy, and the plants do manage to cope. The Manzanitas sit tight, the Heucheras go dormant, the Gauras get scale, and the Ceanothus “Dark Star” is actually trying to bloom. The saddest part is that I felt obliged to cut it back before it could do its show of fall color.

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