Stalwarts in the sun-loving, water-efficient garden must include plants such as rosemary and lavender. But there are hundreds more plants that perform admirably in our climate, many of which offer year-around interest.
Generally, best bets are plants with silver or gray foliage since they are uniquely adapted to dealing with heat and sunshine. Many silver-leaved plants have a downy or hairy appearance, which lets them reflect light and conserve water so they can easily survive hot, dry conditions. Plants with small, needle-like leaves – English lavender, for example – are also suitable for low-water gardens. Unless it is a plant intended as a focal point, avoid planting just one of many different plants because it makes the garden look choppy.
Instead, plant in groups of odd numbers, because this looks more natural. Choose at least three of one plant. This gives the garden continuity and cohesion.
Here are a few of my favorites. I’ve chosen plants for each month of the year sometimes because of beautiful foliage, sometimes for their flowers, sometimes for autumn color or striking berries. Most provide year-round interest, although a few are herbaceous and die back when the weather turns cold. Include plenty of these plants in your garden, and you’ll have flowers to pick, foliage to enjoy and beauty in the garden all seasons of the year.
Jerusalem sage ( Phlomis fruticosa): Jerusalem sage ( Phlomis fruticosa) is a stately plant that grows upwards of 3 feet tall and spreads its woody branches as wide as 6 feet. The plant is well worth growing, even though it takes up a lot of real estate. Come summer, it sends up flower stems that tower above the foliage. Each stems has several whorls of yellow, hooded flowers. Once the flowers fall away, the seedpods make interesting dried arrangements.
The felt-like leaves are gray green, with whitish undersides. The tips of the leaves are pointed, and hang down slightly. Plants like full sun and occasional water, although will thrive in a mixed border alongside dahlias and other plants that demand more regular watering. P. lanata is smaller, just 2 feet tall and 3 feet across.
The plant is found in dry rocky places throughout the Mediterranean. Give it full sun, and occasional water once established. The deer leave this one alone. Other than cutting away the old flowering stems, it doesn’t need much pruning.
All Phlomis varieties looks great planted with ornamental grasses. They also mix well with the tall purple flowering stems of Verbena bonariensis.
Yarrow ( Achillea sp.): Yarrow is not native to California, but certainly has found a home in our gardens.
With about 85 species from which to choose, there is a yarrow for every Mediterranean-style garden: low, creeping varieties that cover the ground, clumping sorts that send up tall flowering stalks, ones with gray foliage, others with green foliage, some that are evergreen, and still others that die back each fall. My favorites are the tall yellow flowered sorts like “Moonshine” or “Coronation Gold.”
No matter the growth habit, the foliage is similar for all cultivars. They all have deeply divided, fernlike foliage, which ranges from deep green to gray green to silvery gray.
The grayer foliage types are more sun-loving and drought-resistant than the green-leaved varieties. The flowers are large, flattened, tightly packed clusters. Cut them back after bloom and the plant will produce another crop of flowers. The plant will continue blooming sporadically through November. The big yellow types of yarrow keep their color for a long time, and are great in dried arrangements. Cut them while the flowers are still yellow, and hang them upside down to dry so stems stay straight.
There are cultivars with pink and red flowers. These types are mainly creeping or ground covering in growth habit and have deep green foliage. Their flowers are small.
Yarrows thrive in most soils, don’t mind full sun, and take little to moderate water. When plants get crowded, dig them up and divide them. They aren’t deeply rooted, so it’s an easy project.
My favorites: A. Coronation Gold and A. Moonshine. Both produce tall, stiff stems with large yellow/gold flowers. Moonshine is lighter in color.
What's in season in June
It wouldn't be June, July, August or September without summer squash. The plants are so dependable and prolific they practically grow themselves. But there are a few things you should know before you take the seeds into the garden.
There are three types of summer squash: zucchini (mostly green-skinned, straight and cylindrical); yellow (straight-neck and crookneck varieties); and patty pan (scalloped edges, looks like a flying saucer).
Summer squash starter plants are always available each spring at local nurseries, but it is easily grown from seed. Make a slight mound in the vegetable garden, and put two or three seeds about 2 inches deep into the soil. Keep soil moist until seeds sprout. I like to take the trowel and put a circular "well" around the plants so the water stays near the root system. Water plants regularly.
Give plants plenty of space, about 4 square feet apiece. Harvest them as young as you like, or let them get big enough to stuff, but the key is constant harvesting and consistent watering. Otherwise the plant ceases to produce. They will keep producing until early fall. By then the leaves will start to mildew and plants will begin to fall apart. You can plant a second crop of summer squash in July (protect young seedlings from the sun) to extend the harvest.
Squash are heavy feeders, so it's a good idea to add plenty of compost to the garden before you plant and after you pull the plants out. It's also good to plant the squash in a different part of the garden each year.
- Pat Rubin
Fresh: Summer squash has thin, edible skin and soft seeds. They take very little cooking and can be eaten raw. All varieties are interchangeable in recipes. Refrigerate after harvest and use within three days. Blossoms are edible, but perishable.
Preserving: Freezing changes the texture. For use later for baked recipes, grate it raw and store it in freezer bags in the freezer. To use later in casseroles, wash and slice it, then blanch it for three minutes in boiling water. Once cool, pack it into air-tight containers and freeze. Not recommended canning because the texture is so soft it will turn mushy. Blanching helps preserve color but isn't necessary. Cut squash into 1/4-inch pieces. Place pieces on dehydrator trays, leaving space for air circulation. Dehydrate at 135 degrees until crisp, about six hours. Store in airtight containers.
- Gwen Schoen
Summer garden casserole
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
This casserole makes good use of the garden's production. You can use zucchini or any other summer squash. It is better if made a day ahead and reheated because the flavors blend. Don't skimp on the tomatoes. If you have more than two, you can add them as well.
1 pound of sliced zucchini, crookneck, scallop or patty pan squash, or a combination
1/4 cup butter
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup diced bell pepper
2 fresh tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons marjoram
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cup grated cheese, jack, cheddar or a blend
1/4 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add sliced squash and cook until tender, but still crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain squash and rinse with cold water. Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place the drained squash in the casserole.
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper and tomatoes and stir-fry until the onion and pepper are tender. Sprinkle salt, pepper and marjoram over the tomato mixture and blend gently. Pour the tomato mixture into the casserole dish with the squash. Add the eggs and cheese and gently mix all ingredients. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the eggs are cooked.
Per serving: 192 cal.; 10 g pro.; 9 g carb.; 13 g fat (6 sat.); 72 mg chol.; 590 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 63 percent calories from fat.
Success in the June garden
Keep tomato plants caged or staked. The vines can get quite large and top heavy. Make sure they are staked before they fall over.
Be vigilant: Walk through all of the garden every few days and look for weeds, pest damage, plants that aren’t getting enough water, anything out of the ordinary. It’s easier to correct problems before they get too big.
There’s still time to plant pumpkins, winter squash, radishes and beans.
Set lawnmower blades to high to reduce turf stress and conserve water during the summer.
Water the lawn in the morning.
Cut Shasta daisies to the ground after bloom to promote a second bloom in the fall.
Mulch strawberries with grass clippings, straw or leaves to conserve moisture and keep the soil from drying out. Strawberries need at least an inch of water each week during the growing season.
Thin fruit trees. Be ruthless. If you can’t thin fruit to 6 inches apart, try thinning just a few, then come back the next day and thin a few more. Always thin away the smallest ones. You’ll end up with a smaller crop of larger fruit. And it will be easier on the tree.
Prune hedges now after spring growth has slowed.
Watch for powdery mildew. Our dry conditions are perfect for powdery mildew to grow. You’ll see it on crepe myrtles, grapevines and more. Overhead watering helps wash it away. Or treat plants with neem oil or jojoba oil. There is also a biological fungicide, Serenade, that controls it.
Shop for daylilies while they are in bloom.
Mow the lawn in the morning to reduce chance of brown spot.
Prune oleanders after they have finished blooming. You can cut them almost to the ground. In fact, you’ll be doing the plant a favor if you do. They can get quite messy and overgrown if not kept trimmed.