The garden in December: front yard

Winter is my least favorite season. Plants that looked great through spring, summer and fall begin to turn brown or go dormant. I know all about the circle of life (thank you, Elton John), but I still don’t like it.

It was against this frame of mind that I started to take photos of our front and back yard this morning. However, as I went along, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the many interesting things I saw. There are quite a few plants that are still blooming, while others look great in their winter “garb.” When I was done, I felt better. Winter isn’t all that bad after all!

This post is about the front yard. The back yard is covered in this post.

This raised bed next to our front porch is filled with tropical foliage plants, mostly elephant ears (both Alocasia and Colocasia) and gingers (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’, Hedychium coronarium, Hedychium gardnerianum)
The same bed seen from the street. The straggly shrub this side of the fence is a Black Lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’) that needs a severe pruning in early spring.
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The three clumping bamboos in front of the house (Bambusa oldhamii outside the fence, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ inside the fence).
To the left is a clump of golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa) that tripled in size this year and bloomed!
More photos of the golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa). On the right is what’s left of the flower.
While Musella lasiocarpa is hardy to zone 7, its leaves are frost-sensitive and they are beginning to turn brown. Soon all leaves will be dried up.
To the left of the golden lotus banana, this roseleaf sage (Salvia involucrata) still has flowers. It has been in bloom non-stop since mid-summer.
Back to the bamboos. Here are the same three clumping bamboos (Bambusa oldhamii, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) as seen from the driveway
Bambusa oldhamii on the right, and a mixture of succulents and perennials in the planting bed in front of it. My favorite here is Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge.’ The lavender all the way on the left (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’) is still blooming!
More photos of Bambusa oldhamii. I still like the way I thinned it out in late October. The focus is now on the beautiful culms instead of a mass of tangled leaves.
Another blooming lavender in the planting strip outside the front yard fence.
This Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips') is an incessant bloomer in our garden. We will give it a radical haircut soon, which in turn will stimulate another grow cycle. Read this interesting post on Paghat’s blog to find out more about this beautiful sage, including how it came into cultivation.
This Gaura lindheimeri, also known by the charming name ‘Whirling Butterflies,’ doesn’t seem to be fazed by nighttime lows around 32°F. It basks in the winter sun all day long.
Another faithful late-season bloomer is this pink autumn sage (Salvia greggii, don’t know which cultivar)
Our Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) is still going strong even though it got flattened by high winds a couple of weeks ago. I’ll trim it back tomorrow to the new growth emerging from the base.
This lamp post outside our front yard fence is a real eyesore. I’m hoping the emerald bamboo (Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’) I planted last spring will grow tall enough next year to soften the ugliness.
The pink-flowering plant on the left is the autumn sage you already saw above. The grass on the right is Stipa gigantea 'Pixie,' a dwarf form of the giant needle grass.
Stipa gigantea 'Pixie.' I bought it at the UC Davis Arboretum plant sale this past May.
Left: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland,’ the most upright of the maiden grasses we’ve grown.
Right: Elegia capensis, also known as “fountain rush,” a restio from South Africa which I recently moved.
After going to a bonsai show in October, I’ve become very interested in this ancient art form of growing miniature trees in containers. In the last few months I’ve picked up a few inexpensive shrubs that will be my first guinea pigs. I’m still deep into a stack of bonsai books I’ve checked out from the library, but I hope to go from theory to practice very soon. I think my first candidate will the Green Mound juniper (Juniperus procumbens 'Nana’) on the left.
I hope to style it like this.
While I’m saving the potted plants on the front porch (mostly succulents) for a separate post, I do want to show you this glazed strawberry pot filled with Echeveria subsessilis ‘Blue Azure’ and Aeonium ‘Kiwi’, with an unidentified Graptosedum or similar intergeneric hybrid thrown in for good measure The blue of the echeveria is almost otherworldly.
Close-up of Echeveria subsessilis ‘Blue Azure’

In this post we take a look at the back yard.


  1. There's really quite a lot still going on! Do the new culms on the tropical bamboos finish leafing out in the spring?

  2. Alan, if the culms have finished growing (i.e. are at their final height) and have had a chance to harden off, they typically leaf out just fine in the spring. Culms that emerge late often abort or suffer frost damage because they're not hardy (yet).

  3. Nice tour, it's interesting to see what winter would be like a little more southern. That echeveria is certainly photogenic! I'm also quite a fan of the salvia hotlips. It flowers 10 months of the year for me, and hummingbirds can't get enough of it. Amazing what turns up at this unlikely time of year.

  4. Nat, Hot Lips has got to be the hardest-working salvia out there. It's definitely one of my favorites. How does autumn sage (Salvia greggii) do in your climate? There are some newer greggii cultivars that are stunning, esp. 'Desert Blaze' and 'Teresa.'


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