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.
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Sea Holly ( Eryngium amesthystinum): I was taking photographs in the Storer Garden at the UC Davis Arboretum when I stumbled upon sea holly ( Eryngium amesthystinum). Its silvery white foliage tinged with deep blue looks fresh and lush. The thistle-like foliage is deeply serrated, as though someone had taken a pair of snips and cut a beautiful pattern into the leaves. Blue-tinted silvery bracts surround each brilliant blue flower. The combination of white gray foliage tinged with deep steel blue is stunning.
It’s a must-have for the dry garden. They have deep, carrot-like taproots, stiff stems and a rosette of foliage. They generally grow 1 to 3 feet tall, although some cultivars can grow as tall as 6 feet. The steel blue flowers last a long time.
The biennial form, E. giganteum, is fondly known as Miss Wilmott’s Ghost. That isn’t a cultivar name, but is based on the story that Ellen Wilmott, a well-known 1900s English gardener who was fond of dropping seeds of the plant in gardens where she did not see plants already growing. Seedlings would appear the following year, grow and bloom without the gardener first realizing how the plants got there. Then they’d remember Miss Wilmott’s visit.
English garden author Beth Chatto calls sea holly “one of the loveliest things in the dry garden on dusty days.”
Red Yucca ( Hesperaloe parviflora): The red yucca ( Hesperaloe parviflora) isn’t related to the yucca at all; it is more closely related to the succulent aloes. It has stiff, strappy foliage like a yucca, except plumper and rounder, and each grass-like leaf has curling threads along the edges.
The plants send up long, arching flowering stalks mid summer. They bloom from the bottom up, and amazingly, there are still flowers blooming in October. They attract hummingbirds. Once the flowers are finished, the plant makes fat, round seedpods that also look interesting.
Hesperaloe is native to Texas and New Mexico. Give it plenty of sun, good drainage and go easy on the water. Give them a deep soaking twice a month. It also does will in pots, but will need to be watered more regularly. All you really have to do is cut away the old flower stalks.
What's in season in August: Okra
Okra is finding its way into gardens and onto dinner tables throughout California; it isn't simply a Southern favorite any more. The plant is tall and stunning with big, deeply lobed leaves and gorgeous yellow flowers produced just above the spot the leaf leaves the main stalk. The ridged, tapering seedpods produced can be green or purple, and are as decorative as the flowers. Truly, it's a plant that can do double duty in the ornamental garden, and you can leave the pods for decoration if you don't like the taste of okra.
Plant okra from seed after all danger of frost is past. In our area, that is generally around the middle to end of April.
Soak the seed between damp paper towels for a day before planting. Plant them about 1/2 inch deep, and 18 inches apart. Pick the pods when they are small and young - they are best when they are about 2 inches long. Like summer squash, you need to pick the pods regularly so the plant will keep producing. The pods are hairy, so wear gloves when harvesting them. Most nurseries carry starter plants if you don't want to bother with seeds.
- Pat Rubin
Fresh: Highly perishable so use it quickly. Refrigerate it in a paper bag or wrapped in a paper towel and use within three days. Rinse in cool water, but do not trim or peel before using. It is often dipped in a cornmeal batter and fried or added to soup or gumbo. Pairs well with lamb, cornbread and tomatoes.
Preserving: To dehydrate, wash and cut into 1/2-inch pieces or split lengthwise. Blanch 4 minutes, dehydrate 8 to 10 hours until brittle. For freezing select small pods (4 inches or less). Wash the pods, remove the stems. Blanch in boiling water 3 minutes. Cool and drain, then pack into freezer bags and freeze.
- Gwen Schoen
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes for the whole batch
Makes 28 pieces
This classic recipe is easy and tasty. To kick it up a notch we added 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the batter, but that's optional.
4 slices bacon
2/3 cup finely diced onion
1/2 pound fresh okra, trimmed and chopped
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup white cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
1 cup vegetable oil, or more if necessary
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Reserve the fat in the skillet. Finely dice the bacon when it is cool enough to handle. Turn the heat under the skillet to medium. Add the onion and okra to the skillet with the reserved bacon fat and cook, stirring constantly until the okra begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Transfer the okra to a bowl and toss it gently with the diced bacon.
In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, cornmeal, sugar, salt and cayenne until smooth. Stir in the okra mixture.
Wipe the skillet clean. Add enough oil to the skillet until it is about 1/4-inch deep. Heat the oil over medium high heat until hot. Drop rounded tablespoons of batter to the skillet, allowing space between each one. When the fritters turn brown on one side, turn them over and brown the other side. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat until all of the fritters have been cooked. Place cooked fritters into the warm oven to stay hot while you finish cooking the fritters.
Note: If the frying oil is not hot enough the fritters will be soggy.
Success in the August garden
Renew mulch in flowerbeds. Make sure you always have 2 to 4 inches of mulch. It protects the soil and conserves water.
Plant a second crop of bush beans.
When the weather is really hot, plants in containers, especially those in full sun, may need watering twice each day. Water them deeply and thoroughly.
Cut lavender back severely, almost to the ground, once it has finished blooming. Lavender only lasts about five or six years before it gets woody and needs to be replaced.
Any additions to the garden should be planted in the evening and watered well. If it’s really hot and sunny, put a piece of shade cloth or newspaper over the plant until it is acclimated to the site.
Cut flowering stems of yarrow, columbine, salvia, coreopsis and butterfly iris to the ground after they’ve finished blooming. Keep dahlias deadheaded.
Pinch back fall-blooming chrysanthemums and asters to keep them bushy.
Deeply water grapevines, fruit trees and ornamental trees.
Shop for fall blooming and winter blooming annuals at local nurseries.
Brighten up dark corners with coleus and impatiens. They’ll bloom until November.
Shear back petunias and coreopsis; they’ll respond with another crop of flowers.
Fertilize almond, nectarine, apricot, peach, cherry and walnut trees this month.
Time to plant broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, onion sets, peas, carrots, garlic and beets. Add organic matter to the soil before planting.