Summer garden update

This is a fair representation of what the whole garden looks like right now:


That's 'Louis Edmunds' manzanita on the left, Arctostaphylos bakeri--a California native, 'natch. I pruned it extensively a few days ago.

Arctostaphylos bakeri 'Louis Edmunds'

Some people say don't prune manzanitas at all, and others recommend it to strengthen the wood. I prune to reveal the sinuous stems that exfoliate in the summer. You know how I like that.

Arctostaphylos bakeri 'Louis Edmunds'

The leaves are nice too.

Arctostaphylos bakeri 'Louis Edmunds'

Anyway, it grows in a large pot (so it grows slowly) with a native companion plant, Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa), that just started to bloom.

Monardella villosa

On the other side is a big, black-leafed, yellow-flowering dahlia that has not started to bloom and some Clarkia bottae from Southern California (I believe) that has.

Clarkia bottae

Another thing people say: California native gardens look their best in April. I disagree with that insofar as San Francisco gardens are concerned. I don't have an all-California native garden of course, but most of my native plants look best during the summer.

Mimulus aurantiacus

Mimulus aurantiacus (above) is at its best June-August, and the red/orange, tubular hummingbird flowers on Keckiella cordiifolia's long, bending stems (below) have only just gotten started.

Keckiella cordifolia, Phormium 'Black Adder'

(Underneath it all, poor Phormium 'Black Adder' will have to hang in there for another month or two. I'll cut back the Keckiella and the phormium will have more room and sunlight.)

Stairs up

California wild grape wasn't much to blog about in April, but look at it now, taking over the deck stairs.

Verbena bonariensis

California buckeye (Aesculus californica) is a great plant in April. But I like it in summer too when the leaves die to avoid the long summer drought. I snip every single one of them off by hand to reveal the stunning silver-barked structure underneath the foliage. I know that's a little over the top, but it only takes 30 minutes since I keep the buckeye shrub-sized (a perfectly reasonable thing to do, btw). With the El NiƱo this year, the snipping time hasn't come yet.

Aesculus californica

On the other side of the buckeye, my Fremontodendron californicum has matured to the point where it flowers on and off all year. After a particularly heavy spring bloom, I like to snip off the fading flowers and let them decorate the ground.


And we'll pop out front real quick to check in with California spice bush (Calycanthus occidentailis). It was flowering in April and it's still flowering now. The flowers smell like wine. After gardening for five years, I still can't get over how cool that is.

Calycanthus occidentalis

So, there. I've had my say about summer gardening with natives. But it's not all natives in my back 40...

I bought got this cordyline the other day for half off $10.99. Let's do the math together: That's $10.99 ÷ 2 = $5.495. Ahem!


A Phormium that looks like this cordyline grows with Fuchsia fulgens in the entry garden at Strybing Arboretum. I've always liked the pairing, so I was happy to copy it. I think Stravinsky said all of the best ideas are stolen.

Fuchsia fulgens

If you back out a little bit, you can see there is actually a lot of chaos around here. I like to imagine garden designers clucking in disapproval at this. It makes me feel like a rebel.


I'm sure I first learned about Lathyrus 'Cupani' from Two Gardens, and of course Annie's Annuals sells it. I grew mine from seeds I got in the Cal Hort seed exchange. A few plants have modest displays here and there.

some yucca, 'Cupani'

Annie's says: "'Cupani' was first cultivated by a Sicilian monk, Father Francis Cupani, who found this intensely scented wild sweet pea growing near his monastery in 1695. In 1699, he sent some seeds to a teacher in England & so ‘Cupani’ is the first recorded Sweet Pea to be cultivated." How many of you already knew that?


One of the leaning leeks leans into my only garden chair.


The other one is hunting lemons.

Alderaan and the Death Star

How about an update on the squash situation? Not rocking out, but not dead yet either. I probably didn't water them as much as I should have the first week... Well, I'm watering them daily now, and I'm using a turkey baster to transfer water from the saucer back to the pot. I also pinched off some tiny flowers to help direct youthful energy to roots and shoots.


I grew all the 'Bishop's Children' dahlias from one packet of Thompson & Morgan seed. I'd hoped to get some yellows and purples, but they all came up reds and oranges. So far this one is my favorite:


This one is nice too:


I don't care for this one at all.


Germination was practically 100%. I kept only the most vigorous seedings last year, and this year I kept only the tubers with the earliest and most vigorous shoots. I ended up with about 15 plants. Maybe I'll put a few in the garden, and move the rest into larger pots next year.

We can run up to the roof-deck for a quick look, and then I'll let you go. I decided to re-re-purpose the copper fire pan that was a species tulip bulb pan with echeveria (and one aloe). The species tulips got scorched and only flowered for 2 weeks. I collected the bulbs and I'll try them in the garden next year.


I should get more small echeveria to fill gaps. Or maybe some shiny gravel or tumbled glass. I hate to see any perlite from the planting mix.

We've tried lots of things up here over the last few years, and I think (as I've always known) it will have to be mostly succulents and cacti. Some bulbs do work--like the Gladiolus callianthus from Old House Gardens whose leaves you see here--a remarkably tough plant. (I think it's also been called acidanthera.)


The best grass has been Nassella tenuissima but geez Louise it volunteers heavily in every pot and needs constant weeding. Annoying, but worth it to have some variety and movement.


We have to have some flowers too, not just all foliage or succulents that flower erratically. Agastache does just okay. Just okay is good enough. Hummers come for it and that always excites the kittens.

Agastache does okay in a pot on the roof (just okay).

No surprise--Calandrinia spectabilis is bullet-proof and flowers heavily. I need to step up my propagation of this plant. A couple more pots are in order.


And I'm trying a dwarf sunflower cultivar, 'Waooh!' from Park. (Whoops, blurry picture.) Sunflowers are tough plants. I think they'll be extra-dwarfed in a pot on the roof & that's fine. Do you remember Michael Pollan dissing the idea of dwarf sunflowers in Second Nature?


Cluck, cluck!


danger garden said...

So many fabulous things I don't even know where to start.

The Manzanita...how old is it? The bark is fabulous.

Love the chaos!

I think I've read about 3 or 4 people who have used their former fire pits to plant up succulents. I love this...so much better than all the smoke from the fire.

And what's with ignoring your beautiful agave in the final 2 pictures, no mention at all!? Love it.

chuck b. said...

Lol, I didn't mean to ignore it...just figuring I'd rambled on enough already. That's Agave gentryi 'Jaws'. I bought it on the spot a few months ago, never having seen or heard of it before. It's a particularly dark green and reminds me of painted wood. I have a feeling it's an "it plant" right now.

chuck b. said...

And the manzanita's not very old. 4 years old in my garden. The bark is fabulous and starts doing that right away.

Queer by Choice said...

You get such amazing bloom times from your plants. My Monardella villosa hasn't started blooming yet, while my Mimulus aurantiacus is nearly done. And I can't seem to keep Vitis californica alive at all - I think it may actually be drowning in my yard, although it doesn't seem like the sort of plant that ought to drown easily.

I always thought that Calycanthus occidentalis needed a lot more space than that to grow. Can you keep it at that size long-term? Maybe I would have a chance at fitting it into my yard after all.

Town Mouse said...

That looks great, though I do think how good your CA garden looks in summer depends entirely on how hot it gets and how wet it was. I visited Country Mouse this last weekend, and here garden was lush and beautiful from more rain and less heat than my peninsula garden.
Regardless, this is special and I especially loved the butterflies in your last post!

Megan said...

Dang,that's one sweet SF garden! Your natives are all looking fabulous. I bet it got sunny by you today :)

Annie in Austin said...

Excellent tour of your summer garden, Chuck -it won't do me any good to fall for the Clarkia bottai but I did it anyway.

If you're keeping count, I think the Austin gardeners learned about Cupani from reading posts by Zanthan Gardens and the Human Flower Project. A few years ago I grew it, too.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Laura Livengood said...

Love your Manzanita, I have three of the same variety in my front yard, and they've tripled in size since planting last year. I can't wait to start pruning them up into quirky little trees (I like that too!) No clucking from this designer, I think your garden is awesome!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Oooooh la la!

Everytime you feature your garden, I think "he's such a maniac." Of course, that's meant in the spirit of awe and respect.

Thanks for giving me the name of the Keckiella cordifolia. I bought some at Annie's Annuals a few years back, and totally failed to remember the name.

chuck b. said...

Gayle said: "I always thought that Calycanthus occidentalis needed a lot more space than that to grow. Can you keep it at that size long-term?"

We'll find out! A year before I ever saw a spicebush in person I read in the Bornstein, Fross, and O'Brien book "pruning is seldom necessary although it can be shaped, hedged, or even trained into a small multi-trunked tree." So that's what I did. J'adore multi-trunked trees. Shoots come up from the root crown every year. I edit those. Sometimes I think about letting it go and making it a square hedge. But I really like the multi-trunk tree aspect.

The other great thing about this plant for me is that it grows in front of a north-facing wall. It's dormant in the winter when there's no sunlight on it, and it gets sufficient sunlight all through summer.

I'm sorry about your grapes. I would not expect it to drown easily either, but I know how your garden holds water in the winter. You've done some engineering to address that. Maybe you have to do more...?

Town Mouse: you're totally right about heat and water for the native garden. In SF it's never all that hot for very long. This year was spectacularly wonderful with rain. It's a special year for sure. I think it's the year I've been waiting for since I started gardening.

Megan: I've been loving the weather. Foggy and cool until noon, five hours of sun during the day, then cool and foggy all night. I would still like to live somewhere with warmer summers some day, so I can grow more vegetables.

Annie: Maybe it was the Austin gardeners who turned me on to 'Cupani'! That seems amazing. Y'all must grow it in December/January..?

Laura: If you don't cluck, I'm not a rebel! :) Mine is a collector's garden for sure.

Lisa and Robb: Maniac is entirely 100% accurate, and it's not always a good thing. But it is what it is.

The Dirt Guy said...

Excellent as always. "Jaws" is lookin' pretty badass out there. I dig your eclectic garden.

rayvel said...

I love your garden too. Envy for the Mimulus--mine are in pots and I get one good year out of them and then they croak, or struggle along, resentfully. I see them growing out of sheer rock faces along the roads here in Sonoma County, living on what water they get naturally. So I figure that the ones I buy should do well in small pots with cactus soil mix and very little water. But nooooooo. What do you do for yours?

Unknown said...

I agree with you on the favorite child--I think because there's such a nice cool tinge to the red, and it looks lovely with the dark foliage?

Your garden does look lovely in the summertime, chuck. But that cobaea makes it look gorgeous in April, too, if I remember correctly. :)

Denise said...

What a fine tour. I thought that agave looked like 'Jaws' (which weirdly enough I unknowingly bought on the day Roy Scheider died.) The repurposed copper fire pit is a dipping pool for me for hand-watering pots. I wonder if anyone uses theirs for its intended purpose. And amazed at your treatment of the CA buckeye!

Unknown said...

Wow- I'm amazed at how much your garden seems to change day by day! Such a lovely collection of plant specimens you have chuck!

Mark said...

Thoroughly enjoyed being shown around your garden. It looks as though you've put plants up on the roof too? Looking at all your natives is making me miss my wildflower meadow.

Julie said...

WOW...what awesome gardens!!! Glad to see all your gorgeous succulents on the roof!!! I love your crazy, wild, fun, colorful gardens! They are just the best! You can never tire of such magnificence!!!