Spring is here, and the long-awaited rains are blessing the garden. By the south gate of Garden for the Environment, I can look with satisfaction at the bright bursts of color from harlequin flower and spring star flower blooming on one side of the pathway, while colorful grasses, rock roses, and irises light up the other side. But this is no time for a gardener to rest on her laurels.
Despite the good advice we get from spiritual teachers to live one day at a time, a gardener’s mind must be on this question, “What will be blooming in this border three months from now?”
The flowers that are blooming today are the result of work done in fall and early winter. And today’s work must plan for the upcoming months. Next to the south gate a lovely New Zealand tea tree is in full bloom, loaded with pinkish buds and white flowers. But what will be beautiful here in late June when the tea tree is finished? Now is the time to clear some spaces, removing plants that didn’t do well last year, pruning and shaping things that we do want to keep, and cutting back hard at things that bloomed in early winter and are now finished. Once some space is opened up, we can make some new choices.
When I think of summer blooming choices for the summer-dry garden, I think of grasses, daisies, and sages. Verbenas and lavenders are also on the list. So now it is time to take an inventory of what will be happening here in June. The answer is, not very much. This particular bed, running along Lawton Street, is full of plants which are winter and spring bloomers. By June, this bed will be full of dormant plants, resting in the dry season, and waiting for the first winter rains.
Two exceptions are a French lavender and a Copper Canyon daisy bush. Both of these could be looking good and full of flowers in June, especially if I give them a good haircut today. That way they will be gleaming with new growth and fresh flowers several months from now. I don't have to worry about cutting them back, even though they do have flowers on them right now, because so many other things are blooming at the moment. It's a small sacrifice for a big reward when it is needed later in the summer.
Now is also my chance to fill this border with some plants which will go off in June and July. I have so many purple African daisies blooming now, I could sacrifice a few of them to make room for some drought-tolerant, summer blooming grasses. Tufted hairgrass would be a good choice. It forms a neat, colorful clump followed by airy flowers in early summer. As an added bonus, these fade to buff and stay attractive until fall. Chances are, at this time of year I can find them in four-inch pots. One advantage to planning the border ahead of time like this is that it is often possible to purchase your plants in smaller, and therefore somewhat more affordable sizes. Your new plants will have a chance to get their roots in the soil and toughen up a little before they are called upon to bloom.
Here’s another important thing to keep in mind now. Our dry summer is naturally a resting time for most climate appropriate plants. To keep the border colorful and interesting during the quieter summer months, it is a good idea to include some plants in your nursery list which will rely on texture or foliage color for their beauty rather than on flowers. So along with my tufted hairgrass, I will be on the lookout for some small, colorful New Zealand flax, a neat, vigorous strappy plant that comes in a rainbow of colors. One word of advice. Check the label to see what the ultimate size of your plant will be. These flaxes are different cultivars which range from one to two feet at maturity right up to the ten-foot giants which are planted by our 7th Avenue gate. Make sure the plant you get is one you will still love several years from now, because it will not get too big for your garden.
With my new grasses and flax, and my refurbished lavender and daisy bush, I can rest in the knowledge that as the current crop of bud and blossom opens and celebrates and finally fades, something else will be waiting in the wings. The babies I plant today will step onstage when today’s stars retire, and keep up the vigor and beauty of this section of the border throughout the dry summer months.