The garden in December: backyard

In yesterday’s post I showed you highlights from the front yard. Today we’ll take a walk through the backyard. With nothing in bloom right now, the foliage plants take center stage.

The “woodland” garden on the left, and a planting strip with succulents on the right. The window straight ahead is our dining room (access is to a slider on the right, which you can’t see in this photo); the wall on the right is the kitchen.
Looking the other direction. The yellow Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) is the same as in the first photo; it turns brilliant yellow in late fall and then goes dormant for a month or two. The tree is a chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) and the large plant behind it a variegated shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’). The large pot on the left is home to a black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra), a truly beautiful running bamboo that needs containment in a small yard like ours.
Looking towards the potted black bamboo and the variegated shell ginger. The sea of leaves is courtesy of our Japanese maple.
The window on the left is the kitchen. Around the corner on the left is the woodland garden you saw earlier. The potted bamboo in the foreground is a yellow buddha belly (Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei’). Its leaves got fried by the recent high winds even though the soil was moist. This seems to happen at least once a year because this bamboo has relatively large leaves that are susceptible to drying out from the wind. This doesn’t mean the plant will die; it’ll grow new leaves in the spring.
Three potted bamboos on our backyard patio (from left to right): Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei,’ Bambusa dolichomerithalla ‘Silverstripe,’ Semiarundinaria fastuosa. I love sitting on the patio surrounded by this wall of green.
We installed two stock tanks last December and I posted an update in August. I’m very happy with this stock tank. The ‘Koi’ bamboo I planted there (Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’) has settled in nicely and is providing a lacy screen from our neighbor’s house.
This is the other stock tank. I’m not so happy with this one, for reasons I mentioned in the August update. The bamboo on the left, Indocalamus tessellatus, is doing very well, but the Semiarundinaria yashadake 'Kimmei’ on the right isn’t doing much. I’ll give it until late spring, and if I’m still not happy with its progress, I will replace it with the Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Spectabilis' that is in a nursery container in the middle of the stock tank.
Variegated Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica 'Variegata') in a pot under the bay trees. The face on the fence is my favorite piece from Stockton potter Steve Pate that I picked up during a field trip with the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society.
Cordylines (Cordyline australis) in the “far” corner of the backyard—our backyard is really quite small so nothing is very “far.” Check out this post to see how much these cordylines have grown.
One of the Japanese forest grasses (Hakonechloa macra) planted near the cordylines. It’s about two years old and still very small; it definitely is a slower grower. The speckled plant is my one and only lenten rose (Helleborus argutifolius 'Janet Starnes'). I planted it less than a year ago and it hasn’t bloomed yet. May we’ll see some flowers this winter…
This variegated spurge is called ‘Tasman Tiger’ (Euphorbia characias ‘Tasmanian Tiger’). It took a little while to get established and doesn’t get much sun in this location, but it looks like it will bloom in about a month. A mature clump is a sight to see—check out this photo.
Close-up of ‘Tasman Tiger.’ The variegation is very striking.
This sad-looking thing is Manfreda ‘Spot,’ a hybrid between Manfreda virginica (false agave) and Manfreda maculosa (Texas tuberose), both of them U.S. natives and hardy to zone 7. I’m including it here not because it’s attractive in this state, but because I find this underappreciated plant to be fascinating. This agave relative is deciduous, completely losing its leaves in winter and growing new ones in early spring. The new leaves have very pronounced brown spots (see here) which fade as the year progresses. ‘Spot’ is supposed to offset heavily, but so far I’ve only found one baby.
This impressive clump of bamboo is Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr.’ Planted in the fall of 2009, it has been an impressive grower, encroaching at times on the space allocated to our clothesline.
The artichoke in the foreground is a volunteer. I have no idea where it came from. I love the spiky look of artichokes and cardoons so I’m going to leave it where it is.
Potted succulents, many of them recent cuttings, on the make-shift potting table near the vegetable beds. Considering there’s no room left on the table itself, I’m not sure it will actually ever be used for potting. In front of the table on the left are the Western redcedar saplings I brought home from my in-laws to be trained as bonsai subjects.

While there continue to be areas in the backyard I’m not happy with (no clear vision or too much clutter), I’m actually glad there is work that remains to be done. I wouldn’t want a garden where everything is finished; I wouldn’t have anything to do and would be bored to death!


  1. Lots of beautiful plants Gerhard, but all I could think when seeing all of this is "I'm glad I'm not the only one who's slow with the rake and/or broom" -- although my leaves have been on the ground longer than yours, so maybe I should just be quiet now.

  2. Alan, a garden needs to be covered with fallen leaves at this time of year; it's the nature of things :-)

  3. Hi Gerhard, both front and back gardens are still looking great at this time of the year :) Autumn has its own charm and character, with brown foliage and leaf litter here and there. Love your accessories, both the face and the metal ornament on the tree.

    I've just added the speckled lenten rose (Hellebore) to my wishlist :)


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