Year Two in My Gardening Efforts

I have written of last year’s attempts to grow plants in my zone 7b where drought, deer, jack rabbits, and wind test the capacity of plants to adapt to this semi-arid region of Northern California.  I heard from locals that once upon a time this area was forested with pines and firs such as Sequoia; then it was clear-cut.  The result is nutrient poor earth compacted by lack of moisture and tree undergrowth, dessicated by harsh afternoon winds, and populated with creatures looking for moisture and edibles.  This year I need to mention the ground squirrels.  Although I had seen them previously it wasn’t until this year that I observed one in the garden picking flowers from the smaller plants, holding them between his paws and nibbling them like a delicacy.  Now I know the cause of those smaller bites I find in plants that don’t appear to be deer or jack rabbit damage.

A quick summation is that perhaps only 20% of the plants I purchased and placed in the yard survived.  I spent many hundreds of dollars on so-called drought-resistant and deer-resistant plants to lose them to many factors, some related to the animals, but also to poor soil and harsh winds and full sun.

Two of the plants that did well last year didn’t make it through the winter: the Pennisetum “Fireworks” red grass and the Bulbaghia Violacea or “Society Garlic.”  This was disappointing since they both did well under the difficult circumstances until the freezing weather. However, I surrendered the yard to the elements in the winter and deciding that whatever survived I would continue to grow the following year. On the positive side, one of the plants I wrote that I later discovered was annual (rather than perrennia)l did survive and must therefore must be a perrennial in zone 7b.  That is Erysimum (Wallflower, “Bowles Mauve”).  Therefore I purchased another; this one is spindly and I will have to gradually prune it to look as compact as the previous one which the nursery must have trained over time.  Nearby and also doing well is “Dwarf Russian Sage”, a Perovskia hybrid, also called “Little Spires.” I’m waiting to see if the plant will flower with wispy, cloud-like spires.

As to grasses, late last year I planted Miscanthus oligostachyus, “Autumn Red” “Flame Grass,” and Dracaena indivisa, “Red Sensation.” The latter I purchased as a starter and that was a mistake.  It is struggling to reach three inches tall while it should reach several feet.  Small insects and animals have been nibbling the purple grasses.  This is an example where I would have done better to purchase a quart-sized specimen.

This year I’ve added a “Blue-Eyed Grass” perennial Sisyrinchium angustifolium. So far it has been left alone. It is a native wildflower in the United States with a blue flower with a yellow eye. It is self-seeding.  Another self-seeding plant which freely donates itself to the yard is the California yellow poppy, Eschscholzia  california, also known as “Cup of Gold.”  It’s a cheerful addition to the yard and I’m pleased appears freely.

The Cana Lillies are not doing as well this year; perhaps it is the early heat.  Only one has blossomed and the others are showing small growth and their leaf tips tend to scorch.  However I did add three new Day Lillies this year as another experiment: The Hemerocallis “Anzac” with deep orange blossoms,  the Hemerocallis “Fragrant Returns” which produces soft yellow flowers with a lovely fragrance, and Hemerocallis “Swirling Water,” which produces Purple flowers.

The Blue Fescue came back through the winter and were growing nicely through May; then the jack rabbits appeared and at this time have begun shearing them again.  I had hoped since the plants were tougher from last year’s rabbit shearing that they would be left alone.  But, we are entering the time of year when the spring wild plants are beginning to die off from the heat, and the rabbits are turning to tended, watered yards to find moisture and food.

Blue Salvia do very well.  This year I added a “BLack & Blue” variety but it doesn’t take the heat or wind.  It might work in a protected place. I’ve tried orange or reddish salvia and they were completely eaten.

The Gaillardia continues to thrive; I may add other colors next year.

The Scabiosa columbaria” or “Pincushion Flower” does fair.  The animals leave it alone except for a nibble here and there; but the plants don’t show much growth. The Shasta Daisy is hardy but also slow-growing in this yard.  No flowers are appearing yet this year; and last year the deer ate the blossoms. Some animal is eating the leaves, moving it to my list of unsuccessful plants. The Stachys (“Lambs Ears”) continue to survive; two thrive (only one blossoms) and the others sit with no growth or blossoms.

The Coneflowers came back and are blossoming; I don’t know yet if the deer will take the flowers as they did the  “chocolate” flowered Cosmos,   This is the last time I will plant Cosmos. It’s too sunny & hot for them. The jack rabbits ate the Coreopsis or “Tick Seed” to the ground and all the Sedum plant varieties. These last three are now on my failure list.  I must add Lenton Rose to the failure list.  It never flowered but came back from winter and looked healthy in the spring but the jack rabbits found it in June and finished it.

Artemisia arborescens also known as “Wormwood” is doing well this year. A lacy, silvery small bush adds accent.  Last year the rabbits ate them to near loss, but they have recovered and the rabbits avoid them this year, perhaps because they may be somewhat toxic.

The Blue Star Juniper to my surprise also began to show growth this year; I thought they were a lost cause to heat. Since they are left alone by the animals I will continue to pamper them; they are slow growth.  Maybe in a few years I will see healthy bushes.  So far four or five of them need replacement. I purchased three different types of ground juniper bushes for experiments this year:  The Prince of Wales Juniper which is a low-growing ground cover, the Blue Chip Juniper which grows about a foot tall to eight inches wide, and the Broadmoor Juniper which can grow two feet high and about four to six feet wide.  Considering the difficulties plants encounter in this region I expect the results will be one-third to one-half the growth listed on the plant tags. If these survive I will replace the ailing Blue Star Junipers with  Blue Chip Junipers.  The other two juniper species are placed in other areas to help reduce soil erosion and add accents to the yard.

In addition to the Japanese Barberry bushes which I finally fenced last year after rabbit damage, I’ve added Nandina domestica “Gulf Stream,” a lovely variegated-color, lacy leaf bush which I’ve planted near the Barberries.

Fun small green grass tufts that did well last year are the Armeria Maritima “Common Thrift,”  that the animals avoid to my surprise.  They provide accents in the yard, small though they are. I like the miniature flowers that stick up from the little mounds of green grass.

I’m also experimenting with two plants I’ve noticed in local yards: Kniphofia “Fire Dance” also known as “Red-hot Poker,” and Yucca filamentos, “Ivory Tower.”   The animals ignore them and they seem to be adjusting to the soil.  Time will tell.

Three plants that I’ve tried again this year that I should have avoided are Yarrow, the Evening Primrose, and Helianthemum.  All three are being eaten the ground squirrels and the jack rabbits.  I was hoping that larger plants would survive this year, but they do not unless they are near the motion-detector irrigation spout, an animal-repelling device that begins to spray when it detects motion; it is also activated by wind.  It is good for cooling the yard during the hot, windy days.  While the Evening Primrose and Helianthemum are found the region and seem to survive the animals, the ones I plant get eaten. I also tried Verbena “Homestead Purple” (which look great next to the Blue Fescue),  Ice Plant, and Ivy Hedera, “Algerian” with moderate success. The animals have tasted them all, but some remnants remain. The Gaura plants of various species are favorites of the rabbits.  I do have two slightly larger ones this year: “Fountain Pink” and “Indian Feather” which have avoided destruction so far.

Last fall I had a nursery install thirty trees, including young specimens of Ponderosa Pine and Giant Sequoia.  Others are a Blue Colorado Spruce; two Calocedrus Cecurrens, “Incense Cedar;” Picea pungens “Fat Albert;” and several Zelkova serrata, a Japanese deciduous tree; and one bush Euonymus alatus compactus, or “Compact Burning Bush” which leaves turn orangey-red in the fall.   Fencing was required around all of these (except the Fat Albert and the Colorado Blue Spruce) due to the bucks damaging them in the fall, and the deer eating the leaves of the Burning Bush in the spring.

This year I added and fenced two small trees: Prunus incisa “CarltonLT” known as “Little Twist Flowering Cherry;” and Forsythia “Meadowlark” the hardiest of all forsythias according to the plant tag. Also under trial is Gardenia jasminoides (augusta, grandiflora) known as “Kleim’s Hardy.” It needed to be moved to partial shade.  It joins several Clematis and one Wisteria in a small shaded space running along the side of the carport.

A risk I decided to take was to purchase a red “Flower Carpet” Rose , in the ground rather than in a pot.  The deer have left it alone so far, but the rabbits have found it, and therefore I fenced it.  If it can achieve several feet tall, rabbit damage won’t keep the rose from surviving.

The winner of the yard is the Creeping Rosemary.  They are strong and healthy, attractive, and provide rosemary for cooking year around. The close second is Blue Salvia. Third would be Gaillardia. Of course I expect the various bush junipers to join the winners. Maybe next season I’ll include photos.

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