Last week I was busy wrapping up fall clean-up in the kitchen garden. The weather was warm, almost summer-like. Since then a storm rolled through, and provided some much needed rain.

Rain on Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) – click any image to enlarge

Behind the storm late last week a cold-front brought us our first frost of the season. In mid-November. A full three weeks earlier than last year.

This week, in much cooler weather, I’m turning my attention back toward the native garden areas.

This area in front of the house was planted just 6 months ago…

This bed has filled in tremendously in a very short space of time…the fountain is still back there, somewhere!

Unfortunately, the rain has still been scant this season. The little rain we’ve had though has been just enough to give me a hint as to how much weeding I’ll need to do over the coming months.

Before we can sow native flower seeds, these weeds will need to be removed

It’s not looking good is it?

Except for the explosion of weed seedlings, each fall we look forward to the return of the rain, because we usually have amassed a collection of native plants, and seeds, that need to find their way into the ground.

We’ve been holding a number of plants in the greenhouse for fall planting this season, including these young native sages

Fall is the best time for transplanting most California natives, as it’s the period of the year when we receive the most rainfall.

We have a number of native wildflower seeds to sow, including these Collinsia heterophylla seeds

Although some are forgiving, a number of California native plants resent typical garden conditions, where water is provided regularly throughout the growing season. By planting in the fall, when natural rainfall amounts are highest, the plants have an opportunity to become better established before the warm, dry months of summer, which decreases their need for any supplemental irrigation.

A number of our native sages are still producing a few blooms

This fall I have quite a large collection of native sages to get in the ground.

My new favorite ground cover, Salvia sonomensis ‘Fremont’s Carpet’. This is ONE plant! See the new plant in the orange pot at the upper left of this image…that’s how small this plant was just 6 months ago!!!

S. sonomensis ‘Fremont’s Carpet’ spilling over a low rock wall

Some of the sages I propagated through cuttings last spring, others from seed, a few found their way home with me from fall plant sales.  I’ve never met a native sage I didn’t like, but some of my favorites are Salvia leucophylla, S. mellifera, S. sonomensis, which I can’t say enough good things about, and some of the S. clevelandii hybrids that have done so well for us, including ‘Pozo Blue’, and ‘Allen Chickering’.

Salvia leucophylla x clevelandii ‘Pozo Blue’

With the exception of a white sage (Salvia apiana) the gophers seem to leave these plants alone, and the deer don’t touch them either.  As such I suspect I’ll be propagating even more of these sages over winter and spring as we still have a lot of areas to plant.

Pruning back the spent flower heads now will ensure spring bloom

However, late October through mid-November is also the time to prune back young sage plants to prevent legginess.  If we wait too long, we may sacrifice some of next spring’s blooms.

I also have a number of native buckwheat plants that I started from seed that are ready to go out, mostly Eriogonum latifolium, also known as chalk buckwheat, and Eriogonum fasciculatum, commonly known as California buckwheat.

Chalk Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium)

Chalk Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium)

If our winter turns out to be as dry as last year though, we’ll need to provide some supplemental irrigation this winter to get the plants off to a good start.

There are two dozen California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) plants waiting outside the greenhouse to be transplanted this week

In addition to the sages and buckwheats, this season we’re also planting a few of the larger cultivars of Fremontodendron, or flannel bush.

Fremontodendron californicum x mexicanum ‘California Glory’

Until now we’ve only planted the dwarf Fremontodendron ‘Ken Taylor’, which overall has been very happy in our sandy soils.

Fremontodendron ‘Ken Taylor’

Unfortunately, one has been struggling immensely with the deer, and the other keeps getting lost behind a scrubby California bay laurel that keeps trying to sprout back since we cut it down.

Fremontodendron ‘San Gabriel’ seed capsules

The two cultivars we’ve chosen are Fremontodendron ‘San Gabriel’, and Fremontodendron ‘California Glory’. We’re hoping that these larger, faster growing specimens will be more quick to get established, and will grow large enough to spare their canopies from the deer once they’re mature. In the meantime though we’ll place some temporary deer fencing around them, through at least their first season, to give them the best chance of getting established without being consumed!

There’s one new addition that we’re experimenting with this year, that’s not actually a California native.  This is a pitcher sage (Lepechinia hastata), but unlike our southern California native variety (Lepechinia fragrans), which we also grow here, this plant is actually native to Hawaii.

Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia hastata)

This was an impulse ‘I must have this plant‘ purchase at a recent plant sale.  Anything in bloom this time of year tends to attract my attention.  Don’t be fooled by its warm origins though, as this sage is hardy down to USDA zone 7, and the hummingbirds go simply berserk for the flowers, and it’s not even in the ground yet!

Hawaiian Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia hastata)

I’m looking forward to seeing how this sage does in our garden over the coming year.

Of the native plants that are already established in the garden, we actually still have a few blooms, even in mid-November.

The California fuchsias, including Epilobium canum ‘Catalina’, are still blooming, although Epilobium canum ‘Everett’s Choice’ seems to be mostly done for the season.

Epilobium canum ‘Catalina’

These plants have been so easy to care for, thriving on little supplemental water, and bloom reliably when little else does late in the season, so I’m adding two new cultivars this season. Epilobium californica ‘Calistoga’, which I’m hoping performs as well as the one in Town Mouse’s garden, and the silver-leaved variety Epilobium californica ‘Silver Select’.

Epilobium californica ‘Silver Select’

The big surprise in the garden this fall has been our native goldenrod (Solidago californica). We planted some a couple of seasons ago, and quite honestly it seemed to disappear the first season. I wasn’t even sure it had survived. This fall though it finally made its presence known, and although the flowers are fading, they’re still providing a splash of yellow on the slope.

Native goldenrod (Solidago californica)

Another surprise is our native Sticky Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus). We have one plant under more cultivated conditions in front of the house, and that plant has been blooming sporadically since its peak bloom in July.

Sticky Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus)

However, we also have a lot of wild plants in the non-irrigated areas of the property, and with just a little October rain, and plenty of sunshine, even they’ve managed to produce a few late season blossoms. This is the first time I’ve noticed them flowering in the fall months.

Just below those Monkeyflower, the Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) I posted about recently has finally set a profusion of seeds.  Literally thousands, and thousands, of seeds!

Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis)

In a light breeze the seed fluff can be seen drifting across the entire orchard slope. It’s everywhere, and I’m frequently pulling them out of my hair, or off my clothes. This is precisely why the nursery trade only tends to sell male plants of this species!  I suspect we may find more than a few volunteers sprouting around the property next spring.  Just in case though, I’ll be propagating a few cuttings in the greenhouse over winter.

Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

Because of our terrain, it’s easy for plants to get lost in our landscape, unless of course they’re either large, and/or planted in mass. Earlier this year I planted a few (then small) deer grasses (Muhlenbergia rigens). They’re no longer small, most of them in fact are at least as tall as I am, and they’ve done so well that I’m planting more this week. The deer don’t touch them, they need little care, and the resident spider populations seem to enjoy using their plumes as scaffolds for their webs.

Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) adorned with spider silk

There are strands of silk strung all over the grasses, and they really stand out after a rain

Some less welcome native plants have been volunteering in some inconvenient locations recently, including this vibrant poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum).

Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)

The fall color is beautiful, and we leave it alone in the wild areas of the property as it’s an excellent habitat plant.  However, to avoid the use of copious quantities of prescription strength anti-inflammatory lotions, this plant in the middle of the orchard is likely to be short lived.

Speaking of habitat, we do strive to make our gardens as appealing to wildlife as possible (perhaps with the exception of the gophers, and the voles).  Sometimes though there are unintended obstacles for the wildlife to contend with, as this poor Hermit Thrush discovered when it tried to fly into the front garden, straight THROUGH the window in the dining room.  In the time we’ve lived here, this is the first bird-hitting-the-window incident we’ve had.

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)

After hearing a resounding ‘thud’ against the glass,  I looked outside and found this poor bird had planted itself squarely on our deck.  There it was laying flat out, head tilted, eyes half-closed, and wings spread.  At first I feared the worst.  I scooped it up, set it in a warm covered box, in a dark room, for just over half an hour.  Fortunately this bird was just stunned, and only needed a safe place to recover.  When I went back to check on it, despite our excellent hospitality, this Hermit Thrush was more than eager to leave, without even so much as a ‘thank you’.

Once this Thrush was alert, and had a quick once over to be certain nothing was broken, we released it back outside

That’s alright though, we were just relieved that no permanent harm was done, and we can look forward to hearing its distinctive song echoing throughout our gardens next spring.