Autumn blues

This spring and summer our yard looked better than ever, maybe because many plants are now mature or maybe because we had a long spring and relatively mild summer. In fact, quite a few plants were still doing OK on as recently as last week. However, with the recent rains combined with intermittently strong winds and much lower nighttime temperatures, things are going downhill fast. Of course this doesn’t exactly come as a surprise considering the time of year but somehow I’m not mentally prepared to let go of the abundant beauty we enjoyed in 2010 and so I find myself in a bit of a funk today.

Salvias, echinaceas and coreopsis today
Same bed in July

My tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) is definitely a goner. I still have no idea why it decided to just die!

Tower of jewels not long for this world

The wind knocked over some of my favorite cannas that I’d been trying to establish in a pretty inhospitable part of our yard. They don’t really get enough sun or water there so next year I’ll try something else in that spot.

Cannas after the wind had its way with them

I love caladiums, probably because they’re so short-lived in our climate and hence so special when they’re at their peak. Well, they are not at their peak any longer! Time to dig up the tubers and store them for next year.

Caladiums not enjoying the colder nighttime temperatures

Lavender is usually a very happy plant in our area. This one has been in the ground for four years and looked glorious all year (see 2nd photo below). Now, for some reason the middle part is dying. I’ll give it a radical pruning in a week or two to see if it will recover. Sometimes lavender just decides to die. I suspect it has to do with our clay soil even though I heavily amend it to improve drainage.

Lavender dying from the inside out
Happy in the summer (plant on the left)

This is the time of year that Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) really hits its stride. However, it is no match for strong winds. Even knocked over it’s still a bee magnet so I haven’t cut it back yet but I’ll have to do that soon because it’s blocking the sidewalk.

Mexican bush sage, flattened by the wind

Just recently I wrote a rather gushing piece about my farfugiums. I mentioned that last winter some critter—a rat was my guess—was eating my variegated farfugium. Well, the critter is back. It did horrible damage to my Farfugium japonicum 'Argenteum' and even attacked the leaves of my Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’.

Don’t think you can get away with it, maleficent creature of the night! I’m not going to take this lying down!

Update: Culprit caught on 11/14/10.

Chewed leaf on Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’

The time has definitely come to say goodbye to the denizens of the tropical bed in the front yard. The hidden gingers (curcumas), are usually the first to go. (Funny, they’re also some of the last to come up in early summer!) The butterfly gingers (hedychiums) and the elephant ears (colocasias) usually hang on until the first frost.

Hidden ginger (Curcuma petiolata) getting ready to hibernate

Memories of a time gone by: our tropical bed in its mid-summer glory.

Tropical bed with caladiums, elephant ears,
and various types of ginger

OK, enough of the autumn blues for today. There are good things happening, too, in our yard. I just noticed dozens of seedlings from a nigella (commonly known as Love-in-the-Mist) which itself arrived on the wind from somewhere else.

Love-in-the-Mist seedlings

And our Washington navel oranges are beginning to turn from green to orange. Still a month or six weeks to go before they’re ripe but they're looking so good already!

Washington navel oranges


  1. I love that bed ("Happy in the summer") between the sidewalk and the redwood fence!

    If it were me, I'd try to tie up the leucantha -- it's too cool to cut back! The honeybees are still trying to feed from mine even though it got fried in our freeze.

    As for the lavender -- what species or cultivar is it? I had a large 'Grosso' die in the center, but the tips of all of the outermost branches which were lying on the ground branched out this year, making a big "donut" of lavender that eventually filled out enough to close the center hole. Lavender is really finicky here -- not very reliable.

  2. Alan, I'll do what you suggested and tie up the leucantha. It'll last until our first frost, then it'll be cut back anyway. Leucanthas are root-hardy here and always come back.

    We have three 'Grosso' in the front of the house, but this one isn't one of them. The original tag has been "eaten" by the plant, but it's some species of English lavender judging from the leaves. Half of the plant is doing just fine, putting out new growth and flowers. Odd that half of it is dead. But as you said, lavender is finicky--not just at your place, but everywhere!


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