The Language of Flowers – Designing a Peace Garden

Most would agree that there is a lot more upset, misunderstanding, violence, and war in the world than we would like. It seems like every time we tune into the news, tragedy and confrontation abound. For every story that we read there are a hundred responses. We can bury our heads in the sand, complain, get politically involved, volunteer for a charitable organization or try to spread good will and forgiveness. Most of all we want peace.

As a landscaper and plant lover I like to think about how this desire for peace could be expressed in a landscape design. I am not alone. I googled peace garden and found a website titled “156 Peace Gardens Around the World”. The one I’m most familiar with is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan. I lived and taught there for a year and cycled through the park every Wednesday on my way to my classes. I learned to avoid the Children’s’ Peace Monument because it always made me weep.

Not all of us live near a peace park. So how can we bring the contemplation of peace into our own little backyard gardens? If we have the money, space and time, we can install peace poles, erect small statues of famous people associated with peace, and start raising doves. I like those ideas. However, as a plant nerd, I am even more pleased that there are plants both big and small that are associated with peace. We can put them in our planting plans!

The book “The Language of Flowers: A Novel” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh only lists one plant, the olive, as a symbol of peace. The others I discovered in the website: www.flowermeaning.com.

Below is a peaceful plant list to consider for your garden. Next time, I’ll provide two sketches for the peaceful garden. One will suit a diminutive patio terrace. The other will pander to an expansive growing area. What fun! I love this stuff.

The peaceful plant palette:

  1. Olive (Olea europaea). Drought tolerant tree. Grey green foliage. Evergreen. Fast growing. Full sun.
  2. Apple (Malus pumula). Loves water but can be pretty tough once stabled. Bright green foliage. Deciduous. Moderate grower. Full sun. Beautiful pink blossoms that fade to white.
  3. Lavender (Lavendula sp.) There are many species, cultivars and sizes. Evergreen. Woody shrub. Grey green to medium green foliage. Full sun. Flowers may be deep purple, lavender, pink or white. Aromatic! Water-wise.
  4. Violets (Viola odorata). Violets are shade to part-sun loving annuals that reseed vigorously. Purple-blue blossoms. Great scent. About 6” tall by 12” wide. Prefer moderate water.
  5. White Poppies (Eschscholzia californica “Alba” or “White Linen” OR Amapolas blanca. All are annuals that love the sun and reseed vigorously. Low to moderate water. Blossoms vary from creamy white to pure white.
Posted in California Native Plants, Design Ideas for the Garden, Gardening Tips & Techniques, Landscape Design and Gardening, March Garden Tips | Comments Off on The Language of Flowers – Designing a Peace Garden

The Language of Flowers – Designing a Love Garden

Upon a good friend’s recommendation I recently read the book “The Language of Flowers: A Novel” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. The novel is set in San Francisco and North Bay wine country. A confused, self-sabotaging 18-year-old woman, freshly ejected from the foster care system, struggles to find her way in the world of work, responsibilities and love. She struggles with homelessness, a guilty conscience and depression. Armed with a brilliant botanical mind and a passionate interest in flower symbolism she finds self-forgiveness, meaningful relationships and a degree of financial success as a florist specializing in the language of flowers.

According to Wikipedia, The language of flowers is a cryptic communication system that utilizes flowers as the alphabet of choice. Around the globe many traditional cultures have attributed meaning to particular flowers. During the eighteen-hundreds, floral communication skyrocketed in Victorian England and the United States. “Gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements were used to send a coded message to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings which could not be spoken aloud in Victorian society.”

I was reading this book in February around Valentine’s Day and I got to thinking it might be fun to design a Love Garden. Let’s say you want a spot in your garden to meditate on love. Maybe you want to bring more love into your life. Or perhaps you want to better appreciate the relationships you have. You might just wish there was more love and less hardship in the world.

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Find a little plot of soil in full sun.
  2. Amend your soil very well with compost.
  3. Add drip irrigation.
  4. Purchase some love plants. See below. Meanings in bold face.
  5. Wait for a sunny day when you are in a good mood to install your plants. Add mulch.
  6. Find a little bench or chair and place it in front of your garden so you can watch it grow and thrive.

Loving plant palette:

  1. Pink Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus). Pure Love. I will never forget you. Evergreen. Nice scent. Low edging plant.

    By Zeynel Cebeci (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

  2. Dwarf Myrtle (Myrtis communis “Compacta”). Love. Evergreen. Maintain at 2-3’ tall, Might want to get taller. Don’t let it. White flowers.

    By Ziegler175 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

  3. Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus). Joy in Love and Life. Annual. Often self-seeds. Buy taller cultivars that grow 3-4’ tall. Pink and white flowers.

    By Love Krittaya (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  4. Red Rose. Love. Any red rose that grows 4-5’ tall. Ask at your nursery. I think a pinky-red would be best in this arrangement. Deciduous woody shrub.

    Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4259976

  5. White Rose. A Heart Acquainted with Love. Any white rose that grows 4-5’ tall. Deciduous woody shrub.

    By Jebulon (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

  6. Small Focal Point Tree – Maintain a smaller tree so it doesn’t shade out the love-fest understory.
    1. Dwarf Linden Tree (Tilia cordata “Lico Dwarf” or “Green Globe”. Conjugal Love. Deciduous OR

      By AnRo0002 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

    2. Hawthorn Tree (Crataegus sp.) Love, Protection, Hope.

      By Dominicus Johannes Bergsma (Own work)[CC BY-SA 4.0 Commons

Final Note: This is a moderate water using plant palette. Enjoy its meaning and beauty but remember to balance your water budget with low water use plants in the rest of your garden!

Posted in Design Ideas for the Garden, Gardening Tips & Techniques, Landscape Design and Gardening, March Garden Tips, Roses | Comments Off on The Language of Flowers – Designing a Love Garden

Wet Winter Garden Tips for March 2017

Standing water and slick conditions inhibit drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Heavy skies press down on us in a study of 50 shades of grey. We pass the time contemplating rain drop sizes and the angle of sheeting down pours. It is hard to imagine working in the garden this blustery winter. But the weeds thrive and prosper. Flower and leaf buds are swelling. Tangled dormant trees and shrubbery beg to be tamed. So grab any fair weather window you can and let’s get to work. Here are a few tips for the intrepid California gardener.

“Saucer Magnolia” by Famartin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

  1. If you have standing water or really boggy, mucky soil in your garden beds you can remedy that problem with compost. Be generous with the compost. Mix it thoroughly into your existing soil if possible. This will improve water retention and drainage. Do this after we have had a few days in a row of dry weather. Top dress all planting beds with mulch to increase absorbency.
  1. Weed now. The soil is soft and cooperative. If you pluck the weeds out before they set fruit, you can recycle them on site in your compost pile rather than outsourcing them in the yard waste bin.
  1. Bare roots and bulbs. We are at the tail-end of bare root season. Scurry over to your favorite nursery and see what they have left it stock. Summer blooming bulbs are available for planting now too.
  1. Prune your dormant trees and shrubs. Remove crossed, crooked, broken and over-reaching branches. Be careful though. Even after a few days of dry weather the conditions in and around your trees can be slippery. Budget conscious do-it-yourselfers who climb into their trees to reach the high branches should wear a harness, eye protection, gloves and sturdy shoes. Better yet, call a certified arborist or tree care profession to take care of your structural and aesthetic tree pruning.
  1. Get inspired. Walk the neighborhood and see what is blooming now. Maybe you can fit these plants into your own garden for a spot of late winter color for 2018 and beyond. In my part of town Viburnum, Rosemary, Saucer Magnolias, Camellias and Bergenias are spreading floral joy.
Posted in California Native Plants, Design Ideas for the Garden, Garden Chores, Garden Tips, Gardening Tips & Techniques, Great Gardens, Parks, Nurseries and Landscapes, Landscape Design and Gardening | Comments Off on Wet Winter Garden Tips for March 2017

What To Look For In A Tree Removal Arborist

tree removal

As a consulting arborist and landscape designer I periodically recommend that a diseased, damaged or high risk tree be removed from a client’s property. It is not a recommendation I take lightly. Tree removal is expensive. It can also be emotional for the tree owner. Think about it. We often design entire landscapes around existing large, old specimen trees. When we lose a big tree like this we lose the focus of the garden, the shade, the bird habitat, the history.

I recently had to take out two large old pines from my backyard. They weren’t heritage trees. In fact, many consider Monterey pines planted inland away from their native California coastal environment to be junk trees. I had become attached to my pines and all the birds they supported. The trees dictated the focus of my backyard – a woodland garden. Something I had always wanted. Now I’m left with holes in landscape. My little sanctuary is less private. Next summer all my shade happy plants are going to bake. I miss my little woodland.

Another issue with large tree removal is that it is potentially dangerous. You want to make sure your arborist knows what he or she is doing. I recommend you interview multiple arborists. Make sure the arborist is licensed and carries liability insurance. Check their Cal OSHA record for violations. Ask about how they will remove the tree, what kind of access they will need, how many workers will be there on removal day and whether the owner or employee with the actual license will be there all day. Find out whether the price includes stump grinding, chipping and removing the limbs off site. Do you want some of the wood for fire wood? Ask them if that is included or extra.

I hired Graham Charles of Second Nature Tree Service to remove my pines. I must say he and his crew did a perfect job. He said they would arrive between 8:00 and 8:15 AM. At 8:05 five very polite and organized men marched into my backyard laden with chainsaws, pulleys, a large winch, harnesses and hard hats. The crew got set up quickly. The first chainsaw started buzzing within 10 minutes of their arrival. Some crew members carefully helped me clear out the side yard of furniture, pottery and outdoor bric-a-brac as this was the best path for them to haul out the severed tree limbs. For the next seven hours a meticulous flurry of activity filled the air space. They were very safe and systematic in how they removed and lowered branch and trunk sections to the ground. It was fascinating to watch how they used a system of pulleys high up in the trees and a large powerful winch low on one trunk to accurately lower the limbs exactly where they wanted. One guy was up in the tree with the chainsaw. He was so efficient you’d think that he was born with that chainsaw in his hand. Three other attentive and efficient crew members assisted with the process. They cut up, hauled and chipped the debris. Graham diligently guided and directed the entire operation. After the trees were gone they cleaned up quickly and put everything back in place. I looked around after they left. My backyard was immaculate. If it weren’t for the fact that my two pines were gone you never would have known they had been there.

On a final note, check with your local municipality to see if you need a tree permit for your tree removal. Some species are protected and require formal justification for removal.

Posted in Arboriculture, Garden Chores | Comments Off on What To Look For In A Tree Removal Arborist

Nursery News September 2016 – Fall Gardening Tips

I stopped by Sonoma’s local retail nurseries last week to find out what is ready and in stock for your fall garden chores.

Daffodil

Daffodils

Lydia Constantini, over at Sonoma Mission Gardens (SMG) on Arnold Drive, reports that spring blooming bulbs are now on hand.  Autumn is the time to plant our beloved daffodils, tulips, narcissus, amaryllis, lilies, ranunculus, and peonies. All of SMG’s bulbs come pre-chilled. Store your bulbs in a cool, dark and dry place if you are going to wait to plant them. It is easiest to put them in the ground when the soil softens after our first good set of autumn rain showers.

Get a jump start on your holiday indoor bouquets and consider forcing paper whites, hyacinths and amaryllis. Put the bulbs in a clear vase with some pretty rocks at the bottom. Do this six weeks prior to your holiday event. Better yet, stagger your forced bulbs by planting them in multiple vases one week apart. You’ll have bounteous bulb blooms throughout the season.

SMG will be launching their bare root pre-sale in early October. You can order roses, fruit trees and berries for winter planting. Check out their list of Dave Wilson Nursery’s unique and unusual trees if you like fruit trees who hail from off the beaten track.

Primrose plant

Primrose plant

Josie Garcia and Jean Ryan over at Wine Country Garden Center on Broadway are excited about their large selection of fall flowering plants. They are gorgeous. Remember, we are lucky here in Sonoma. We can have flower power color year round. Primroses and ornamental kale will live through the winter. Pansies and violas survive temperatures into the teens. Snap dragons love the cool season and will blossom until our first hard frost. Cyclamen is a perennial. It shines during the winter, dies back in summer and returns again each fall to add sparkle to the winter garden.

Cyclamen parviflorum by Mark Griffiths - Own work, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cyclamen parviflorum by Mark Griffiths – Own work, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jean Ryan reminds us that fall is a good time to plant shrubs here. The soil is still warm and the plants can take advantage of the winter rains. However, it is not a good time for installing citrus or bougainvillea. For these frost tender plants it is best to wait until spring.

Both nurseries have a good selection of fall and winter veggies. Peas can go in the ground now. Cilantro loves the cooler weather. Fall and winter are excellent seasons to grow your own cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and other winter greens.

Posted in Design Ideas for the Garden, Garden Tips, Gardening Tips & Techniques, Landscape Design and Gardening | Comments Off on Nursery News September 2016 – Fall Gardening Tips

Three More Drought Tolerant Bunch Grasses

I love bunch grasses. They are easy to care for, natural looking and come in a huge variety of colors and sizes. One of the best things about bunch grasses is their resistance to deer. If deer browse your garden on a regular basis consider bunch grasses. Not all bunch grasses are drought tolerant though. Some prefer moist soil. Be careful when you make your choice at the nursery.

I think that most bunch grasses look best when they are clustered together in a mass planting but there are exceptions. A large bunch grass with dramatic plumes can stand alone as a focal point. Diminutive grasses look sweet scattered throughout a rock garden if they are placed in a repeating pattern.

A couple of months ago I wrote about three California native bunch grasses. These are deer grass (Mulhenbergia rigens), Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) and leafy reed grass (Calamagrostis foliosa). All are water-wise and deer resistant. I encourage you to incorporate these native gems into your landscape. Today I introduce you to three more garden-worthy specimens.

Festuca californica 'River House Blues' - Ron's California Fescue Photo by Carol Bornstein

Festuca californica ‘River House Blues’ – Ron’s California Fescue
Photo by Carol Bornstein

California fescue (Festuca californica) is native to California and Oregon. In the wild it is typically found in large swaths under native oaks. It is accustomed to partly shady conditions but can take full sun along the coast. This attractive grass grows about 2’ tall and wide. It is known for its blue-green to grey-green firm leaves that arch up and outwards. The flowering stalks emerge blue-green as they rise above the foliage. As they age they turn golden beige. California fescue is a cool season plant. New growth appears in early spring. It will fade to tan over the dry season if not irrigated. In the garden this plant looks best with some irrigation. A number of cultivars such as “River House Blues” or “Horse Mountain Green” have been developed for specific shades of blue, green or gray foliage. Consider this plant for a woodland garden.

 

 Chondropetalum elephantinum - Large Cape Rush Photo by San Marcos Growers. www.smgrowers.com

Chondropetalum elephantinum – Large Cape Rush
Photo by San Marcos Growers. www.smgrowers.com

Cape rush (Chondropetalum elephantinum) isn’t a bunch grass. In fact, it doesn’t even belong to the grass family. But it looks like a grass. It has tough, wiry, medium green, upright stems that form dense clumps. It is a large specimen growing approximately 5’ tall and wide. Cape rush creates little brown flower clusters at the tips of its branches that cause the plant to arch elegantly outward. Cape rush is versatile. It thrives in full sun or part shade. It performs well in both wet and dry soils. It is known to be a well behaved plant. Maintenance requirements include removal of the older brown stems if that look bothers you. The book Plants and Landscapes For Summer Dry Climates by East Bay MUD warns us not to cut it back as the stems will not regrow.

 

 Bouteloua gracilis - Blue Grama Grass Photo by San Marcos Growers. www.smgrowers.com

Bouteloua gracilis – Blue Grama Grass
Photo by San Marcos Growers. www.smgrowers.com

Blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) is a small, fine-textured, medium green bunch grass with multiple landscape applications. It grows 8-14“ tall. Because it spreads (slowly) it that can be grown as a natural looking turf substitute or used as the featured grass in a dryland meadow. It prefers full sun and can take most soil types. It is known for its unusual flowers that appear in spring and summer. California Native Plants for the Garden by Bornstein, Fross and O’Brian describes blue grama grass flowers as charming and shiny. They report that the “straight toothbrush-like spikes are held perpendicular to the stalk and curl gracefully as the fade to a straw color.” Yes, this is a unique plant. It is also a tough grass that takes heat, foot traffic and stands up to deer. Blue gamma grass stays green all year on the coast. It turns beige when during the dry season when planted inland.

Bouteloua grass. Photo credit: PlantRight.org

Bouteloua grass. Photo credit: PlantRight.org

Once again I wish you well incorporating bunch grasses into your water-wise garden.

Posted in California Native Plants, Design Ideas for the Garden, Gardening Tips & Techniques, Landscape Design and Gardening, Sustainability | Comments Off on Three More Drought Tolerant Bunch Grasses

Fig Trees: The Dark Side

Landscaper in love. That’s me. If you read my last article you know that I absolutely adore everything about my backyard edible fig tree (Ficus carica). It feeds me. It gives me shade. It pleases my eyes. And it attracts pretty birds to my garden. I love my fig tree.

fig-tree-166242_1920

Unfortunately there is a dark side to fig trees. Fig trees can be invasive in some parts of California. They have infested and overrun forest waterways and stream sides in California’s Central Valley and its surrounding foothills. Edible fig trees have also escaped and overtaken moist areas in the Channel Islands and along California’s southern coast. If you live in these parts of the state, and especially if you live near a natural waterway, open space, or a nature preserve, you should refrain from installing an edible fig tree. I feel the urge to insert a disappointed emoji face here. Yes, it is sad.

The problem with figs in moist areas is that they form dense thickets that are difficult to eradicate. The roots are stubborn and re-sprout even if when the trees are cut down to the ground. When the branches weep downward and touch the ground they can form roots that cause the thickets to grow and expand. Fig thickets can dominate and drive our native valley oak trees and other native plants in riparian woodlands. This is not a good thing.

The edible fig is listed on the California Invasive Plant Council’s (Cal-IPC) Invasive Plants of California’s Wildland list. We must be careful where we plant and install this tree in California. At the same time this is not an immediate call to remove your backyard fig tree. In the right place, a fig tree is a joy and an asset.

If you live in the North Bay of San Francisco, note that the Marin Municipal Water District’s invasive plant list currently allows fig trees to be planted. The Napa Watershed Information and Conservation Council does not list fig trees as an invasive plant species present in the Napa River watershed. I did not find any authoritative references about fig trees being invasive in Sonoma County either.

So enjoy your fig tree. Eat its fruit. Shade bathe under its summer canopy. Dress your salads with juicy fig dressing. Sip fig brandy.

But be careful to contain its roots if you live near a waterway. If you are concerned about fig roots becoming invasive on your property, consider planting your fig tree far away from any existing creeks. You can also place fig trees in pots or install root barriers to contain runners – like you would with bamboo.

Stay posted and I’ll tell you more about figs and fig trees in the days and weeks to come.

Posted in Fig, Landscape Design and Gardening, Why I love Sonoma | Comments Off on Fig Trees: The Dark Side

Six Reasons Why I Love My Fig Tree

“I am the OTHER girl and the fig.”

I proudly declared this nearly four years ago when I bought my little ranch-style home on Sonoma’s west-side. I like my house, although it really isn’t anything particularly special. But my fig tree – now it’s amazing.

Fig Tree

My Fig Tree

This tree typically evokes superlative responses from newcomers to my home. “Wow!” or “That is the most beautiful fig tree I’ve ever seen.” Or, “It’s so lush!” I don’t know if my fig is the most beautiful fig out there, but I adore it.

It was raining down plump, gorgeous, delicious figs when I first met my tree at a sparsely attended For Sale open house. If I’m honest with myself about what motivated me to buy this house, I would have to say that I bought a fig tree that came with a house rather than the other way around. Here are six reasons why I love my fig tree:

  1. My fig tree provides two outstanding crops of fruit each year. All told it produces a couple thousand figs each year. Honestly. We eat the figs fresh, dry them for winter consumption, make fig vinegar for salad dressings and brew fig Armagnac for our souls. Yum.
  2. Fig trees provide excellent shade in the summer. The other day I beat the heat and set up a portable desk under its canopy.
  3. I don’t have to irrigate my fig tree. It is old and wily enough to have found its own source of water somewhere deep in my soil.
  4. In summer it is a pleasure to look at my fig tree’s dense, lush, shiny, lobed leaves.
  5. In winter I enjoy my fig tree’s crazy and wild branches. Every year I consider and reject thoughts of pruning those weird branches to make my fig look tamer. But it is those wild branches that offer up the best low hanging fruit.
  6. Fig trees are terrific habitat plants. Plant a fig, feed a feathered friend. Raccoons seem to enjoy figs too.

Stay posted and I’ll tell you more about figs and fig trees in the days and weeks to come.

Posted in Design Ideas for the Garden, Fig, Landscape Design and Gardening, Why I love Sonoma | Comments Off on Six Reasons Why I Love My Fig Tree

Heat Wave – Water-Wise Tips for Droopy Plants

Heat waves are hard on both people and plants. It can be distressing to see your favorite ornamental shrub or beautiful summer squash plant wilting in the hot afternoon sun. Is the plant going to die? Will it lose all its blossoms? Will it be ugly for the rest of the growing season? If this has happened in your garden your first response may be to scurry over to the irrigation controller and run the watering cycle for an additional half-hour. The plants all obviously need water, right? Well, maybe.

Photo by Nicole Steen

“Reynolda Gardens at Dusk” by Nicole Steen

Leaf wilt is a natural coping mechanism for plants. Seemingly lifeless droopy leaves provide extra shade to the pores on the underside of leaves in order to reduce evaporation of water out of the plants. If you observe closely, plants that wilt a little on hot afternoons often perk right back up by the next morning due to cooling nighttime temperatures.

If a plant looks droopy in the morning or all day long, it is definitely time to take action. The first thing you want to do is determine whether the plant is drought stressed or water-logged. Yes, you can have water-logged plants in a heat wave. A water-logged plant may look droopy because the soil is saturated and the plant can’t get enough oxygen. To test for this situation put your finger in the soil a couple of inches deep and feel whether the soil is mucky, moist, or dry. Moist is good. Mucky is not. If your soil is mucky it may be that you have a drainage issue or that you have a cut or break in your irrigation line near this plant. Investigate and fix. If your soil is dry then you may need to add extra water to the plant(s) impacted by the drought or heat wave.

Before you increase the run frequency or run time on your controller, assess the entire area covered in the zone. Are all the plants droopy or is it just a particular species that looks distressed? If it is just one plant or a particular species, it is more water efficient to add one additional 1-gallon drip emitter to each stressed plant. If multiple plants and species are impacted, test the irrigation zone for water leaks upstream of the plants and fix any problems. Only increase the run frequency or run time for an irrigation zone if most of the plants are languishing.

If it is obvious that your plants are severely water stressed and immediate hand watering is the only option to save them, don’t just turn on the hose and walk away. You can waste so much water this way. Be measured about your supplemental water application. Give them each an extra half or full gallon and wait a few hours to see if they perk up. Only add more water if the plants really need it.

Posted in Garden Chores, Gardening Tips & Techniques, Irrigation, Landscape Design and Gardening, Protecting Your Plants | Comments Off on Heat Wave – Water-Wise Tips for Droopy Plants

Three Drought Tolerant Native Bunch Grasses

If you are looking for a pretty California native bunch grass that is fine textured, water-wise, and resistant to deer, consider Deer Grass, Idaho Fescue and Leafy Reed Grass.

What I like best about these three native bunch grasses is their lovely colors, their fine texture and their flexibility of use in the landscape. They are all easy care plants that can be planted in full sun or light shade. If you plant them in a lightly shaded micro-climate in Northern California, they need little water once established. They all prefer well-drained soil but can withstand a certain amount of clay.

“Muhlenbergia rigens” by Stan Shebs GFDL CC BY-SA 3.0

Deer Grass (Mulhenbergia rigens) is the largest on the list. Give it plenty of room. Although its foliage grows 3-feet wide and tall the plant tops out at 5’x5’ when in full bloom. If you don’t crowd this plant the flowering stalks will fan outward in a beautiful arch. The flowering stalks are lovely as they sway and bend in the breeze. This grass grows bright green in spring and fades to a golden grey-green as it ages. As long as you give it enough breathing space you never have to do anything to this plant. No fertilizing, pruning or deadheading. The only reason to cut it back is if you prefer the plant to stay a brighter green. In that case cut it in a neat, low mound in early winter and let it regenerate.

“Idaho Fescue Siskiyou Blue” by Karen Boness

Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis) is native from California up to the Canadian border. It is a small bunch grass typically topping out at 12-inches tall and wide. Its grey green foliage forms a tight mound. Pale golden-creamy flowering stalks emerge in summer. Some people prefer the look of the foliage and cut away the flowers. This is an excellent grass if you are trying to establish a meadow garden. It looks best with some summer water and really pops visually in a slightly shady environment. This grass has a number of cultivars. One cultivar called F. idahoensis “Siskiyou Blue” has striking silvery-blue foliage. Like deer grass, Idaho fescue needs virtually no maintenance. You can cut it back in early winter if you want to refresh the leaves but it isn’t necessary.

“Calamagrostis foliosa” by Karen Boness

Leafy Reed Grass (Calamagrostis foliosa) has pretty flowering heads that display a purplish tint in spring then fade to a creamy white. This grass works well mixed into a woodland garden understory or planted in a large group in a sunny ornamental planting bed. Unlike the compact Idaho Fescue, this small leafy reed grass likes to spread out wide and floppy. Its blue-green foliage reaches about 1-foot tall and 2-feet wide. I have some in my woodland garden here in Sonoma and they require no maintenance other than occasional light irrigation in the dry season. 

I hope you try these native grasses in your own garden. They can be used as a sweet accent plants or grouped together to form a natural looking focal point.

Posted in April Garden Tips, California Native Plants, Design Ideas for the Garden, Gardening Tips & Techniques, Landscape Design and Gardening, Sustainability | Comments Off on Three Drought Tolerant Native Bunch Grasses