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.
Fried Egg Flower ( Romneya coulteri): “Fried egg flower” is a dreadful, yet apt, name for a striking California native that stands up to heat, sun and drought. In bloom this big California native, also called Matilija poppy for the Southern California canyon where it grows, will mesmerize you and then lure you into wanting it for the yard.
Everything about the matilija poppy is big and showy. Bright white and fragrant, the flowers can be up to 8 inches across, and are crowned with a mass of butter yellow stamens in the center. The crinkly, crepe paper-like petals, six of them, overlap slightly, and seem to float above the foliage. Its blue-green stems can shoot up to 6 feet or more in a single season. The jagged foliage has a softly colored blue green cast to it. Leave the flowers to go to seed and use the seedpods in dried arrangements.
Like many natives, it’s a bit pricey, and hard to get started. Once it gets going, it’s hard to stop. In fact, in polite company it is considered a greedy thug. It can form large thickets from underground rhizomes. Luckily, it needs to be cut to the ground each year after it blooms, and if plants come up in unwanted places, you can cut them away.
Love-in-a-Mist ( Nigella damascena): Love-in-a-Mist ( Nigella damascena) is a sweet little annual that blooms from spring to late summer. An old-fashioned flower found in old homesteads and cottage gardens, it grows 8 to 12 inches tall, and flowers come in shades of pink, blue and purple. The gray green, thread-like leaves resemble dill, and the frilly flowers look like they have green threads coming out of them. They’re small and almost inconspicuous, and make a nice surprise in the mixed border. The seedpods are also decorative. They will self-sow throughout the garden, but are easily pulled out if they come up where you don’t want them.
Love-in-a-Mist comes from the Mediterranean, but will settle well in a California garden any day. Scatter seed in the garden in fall. They dislike being transplanted. The plants sprout in spring and grow to blooming size very quickly. As far as care, once you have it in the garden, don’t give it a thought, just go on with your typical gardening habits and it will find its way around your garden after its first year of flowering setting seed.
What's in season in September: Grapes
The idea of planting a grape arbor is alluring, even romantic, but also very practical. What a treat to sit under the shade of the big, lobed leaves, and watch long clusters of grapes fatten and ripen as the season unfolds.
Grapevines, whether for wine or for the table, are tough customers. They respond well to tender, loving care, but can survive, even thrive, on neglect. They provide multiseason interest: Spring growth is shiny and green, summer leaves add bold touches to the garden and provide shade when grown on arbors, fall leaves turn shades of gold and purple, then drop away to reveal gnarled trunks and vines with curly tendrils. Use the pruned vines to make wreaths for fall holidays.
Grapes are classified by color (white and red) as well as by their use (wine, table, jams). Some grow better along the coast, while others need plenty of heat to produce good crops. So before you plant, you'll need to do your homework and decide what kind of grapes you want, then find the varieties that will thrive in our climate.
It generally takes a year before vines begin to produce, and there are explicit instructions on how they should be trained and pruned if you are growing for production. If you simply want the vine to cover an arbor, let one strong vine start to climb, and trim away weak or spindly growth each year.
The Sunset Western Garden Book is a great place to start, and a book you should have in your garden library. Check out local bookstores, your local Cooperative Extension Office or online sources for more information. The more you know before you plant, the more likely you'll succeed.
- Pat Rubin
Fresh: Store them in the refrigerator, wrapped in a paper towel in a vented plastic bag and use within a week. Grapes pair well with poultry, especially in salads, blue cheese, tree nuts and other fruit.
Preserving: Seedless grapes, when frozen whole, make a great snack. When made into jam or jelly they can be water-bath canned. Seedless varieties can also be dehydrated.
- Gwen Schoen
Chicken salad with grapes
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves 4 as a main dish
This salad can be served in a scoop on top of whole lettuce leaves or used as a sandwich filling. Prep time does not include cooling time for the chicken.
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or chicken tenders
5 cups water
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, optional
1/4 teaspoon curry powder, optional
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 cup seedless grapes, cut crosswise into halves
1 cup walnut pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring water and broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Add chicken, lower heat to a slow simmer. Cook uncovered about 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth, drain it and cool to room temperature. Dice chicken into 1-inch pieces.
Combine yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard and curry powder. Add the diced chicken, minced onion, celery, grapes and walnut pieces to the yogurt mixture and toss to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve as a main dish on large lettuce leaves or use as a sandwich filling.
Success in the September garden
Plant chrysanthemums. When they’re done blooming, cut them back and chances are you’ll get another flush of growth and bloom. They get better every year.
Harvest broccoli when heads are bright green and tight. Don’t let them bloom.
Keep deadheading hybrid tea roses. Stop feeding them. Leave flowers on old-fashioned roses so they develop hips.
If you didn’t get your irises trimmed back or divided in July, do it now. Cut foliage almost completely to the ground. Clean up and discard any dead foliage.
Don’t cut ornamental grasses to the ground just yet. They are on the verge of taking on their golden fall hues and will give the late fall garden substance and interest.
Sow seeds of winter vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. Also this is the time to plant onion sets.
Try some less common bulbs in the garden: ranunculus, allium, muscari and watsonia.
Scatter California poppy seeds, but remember they prefer to grow along the distressed verges of gardens and roads and don’t like competition from other plants.
Don’t let cool mornings and evenings lull you into thinking plants don’t need to be watered. They do, although not quite as often as in August. Continue to pay attention to water needs.
Plant seeds for bok choy, carrots, peas, radishes and spinach in vegetable garden. Flowers to plant by seed include hollyhocks, foxglove and larkspur.
For bigger flowers, thin buds on camellias. Pinch away the smallest one in each cluster.
Check winter squash. Pick ones that are ripe and store in a cool, dark place.