Jul 19, 2010

The Clarkia Clearcut

This weekend I finally cleared out the crusty remains of annual wildflowers that make the yard so showy in the spring, occasionally causing people on their daily constitutionals to stop and point and say nice things. (Full credit goes to the flowers themselves--it's not like I can take credit for letting a few annuals go to seed.) But that breathtaking season is long over, and I worry that people who aren't familiar with the concepts of California native gardening might think the yard is just a case of another homeowner who plants a spring garden, has enormous success for a little while, only to slack off and let it fail miserably. I actually have been that person in the past. These days though, it's a case of the plants doing exactly what they are supposed to do.

This is the second summer of the post-Ivy War era, and the second time I have, let's face it, let the annuals run amok. It does make for a spectacular spring, but they end up choking other things.  I refer to the corner yard as the Clarkia Forest in the spring though it is dotted with other flowers. But during the Clarkias' heyday, I spotted a poor Allium unifolium, which had gamely reproduced itself over its first year, but it was weak and pathetic, due to smothering by annuals. I also found a Monardella villosa, which is a great plant to have, what with its compact size and relatively late flowering schedule, but it too was nearly dead because of shading by annuals. So this coming fall, I really must steal myself to cull the volunteers. I've never had the heart to before, but sparing too many annual seedlings equals sacrificing other plants.  I had planned to simply spare myself the onslaught of fall seedlings by cutting down the stalks before most of the seeds dispersed--but time gets away from a person. The seed capsules were definitely in full dispersal mode.

Here's a pictorial progression of the Clarkia Forest.

While I am loathe to show my dorky self here, this picture surreptitiously taken by my Sweetie, does show a sort of carpet of small Clarkias in front of me, just in front of my handful of weeks. This is in mid-March.

Note the taller plant on the leftmost part of the above photo, which is white sage. Below is the same spot in the yard photographed a bit over two months later. The white sage is again on the left of the photo, but all you can see of it is its white-flowered stalks; as you can see, the wildflowers grew right up too.

This is the stage where passersby stop and ask the names of various flowers.

And then this weekend, well overdue for a tidying-up. Fortunately I have very mellow, tolerant neighbors.

And finally, a shot after the clearing. I spread a little bark, which I normally don't, because I always read that one mustn't ever let the crowns of natives be covered, and I fear the bark will slump downslope and encroach on said crowns, but I couldn't resist, because it creates a more cared-for look. It also covers up the drip irrigation tubing, which became alarmingly visible after the dead-plant removal.  I'm pretty happy with the "after" look--it seems reasonably classic California.

There is some color yet to come.  There is a lot of Solidago californica (goldenrod) in there, only one stalk of which is starting to bud.

I do have a bit of trouble with this plant being leggy and floppy, unfortunately. But also, various buckwheats are blooming strong, and the pearly everlasting (Gnaphalium californicum) will keep its dry whitish flowers on for a long time. The fuchsias (Epilobium) will be in full bloom later--not highlighted in this photo shoot, but I have a couple tucked here and there, old standbys that they are.  Aster will bloom later too. So, the color continues in some measure, but even if it didn't, I'm fine with just letting the yard rest. Summer is about relaxing, after all.


  1. That is the challenge with natives. What to do when the senece late June?

  2. I have the same problem with culling! Man is it hard to get rid of pretty native plants even when they are taking over. I even find it hard to get rid of the ones that have died back because I don't like to waste the seeds! I had a field of poppies that did this and I let them go too long. I like having the seeds for the doves, though. Next year I vow to thin them. Ha!

  3. Yes, it's a conundrum with the annuals. Especially if you want for them to set seed. But your garden looks great after the culling, so it looks as if it all works out.