The Perennials of August

Those heady, early days of spring feel like a first date. Everything is new and full of promise. The perennials of August, however, are more like a comfortable relationship. They’re predictable, sure, but they’re easy, reliable, and strong.

When we removed the last of our lawn in 2015, we made way for a number of new perennials, most of them native to semi-arid California. From my back garden swing each day, I see bees, hummingbirds and butterflies moving between plants. They find nectar for sustenance, and pollinate as they go. They’re welcome visitors and a daily reminder of the benefits of “going native” in one’s community.

Won’t you come have a look?

garden from of house

Front garden: Yellow kangaroo paw stand tall, with swaying grasses and Salvia to the front of them.

This is the front garden, facing the house. It’s taken a few years, but the plants have matured and filled in the space nicely.

Here’s another perspective:

Magnolia tree and perennials

Pink, orange and yellow hues surround the Magnolia tree

And here are a few closeups of the plants surrounding the Magnolia:

Mouse the cat and little free library

I love this shot of Mouse the cat with the Little Free Library cat silhouette in the foreground. Tall native grasses, left, and pink Scabiosa in the curb garden.

Scabiosa, sometimes referred to as a pincushion plant, has lovely tufts of soft pink. I was in the process of dead-heading some of the plants this week, when I encountered a praying mantis. They’re otherworldly, always fascinating and good for the garden. They will, however, sometimes pray on hummingbirds, so I’m always of two minds when I see one.

Here is a view of the back garden at dusk. I’ve taken several pictures of this plant grouping but always struggle to capture the beauty. I wish you could see it in person. The sun warms the plants, releasing that wonderful sage-like scent. Most of the flowers are quite small, but beautiful closeup.

I never tire of watching the bees go about their day.

bee pollinating trichostema

Trichostema, commonly known as blue curls, visited by a bee

Trichostema trichostema

Small lizards like to sun themselves in the garden, but Tessa treats them like toys. I’ve placed over-turned saucers under several plants to offer shelter from her reaching paws.

garden swing

A nice place to read the paper on a Saturday morning

perennial plants back garden

Back garden near the swing planted with native perennial plants

I’ll always love Spring’s first blush of show-stopping bulbs and flirty annuals. They quicken the heart and remind us that we’re alive. Yet as we endure these hot, dry dog-days of summer, the August perennials are a lovely reminder of strength, endurance and love.

56 thoughts on “The Perennials of August

  1. Thanks for sharing the beauty of these native bushes and flowers. It’s heart-warming to see the bees, given that they’re disappearing everywhere.
    Let there be bees (and natural gardens)

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    • Thank you, Judith. I follow the sad demise of bees and colony die-off closely. I’m glad to have a small sanctuary for these hard-working pollinators. Twice this week I found bees sitting on a plant clearly at the end of their life and I’ve worried that something else is causing the early demise. This morning I brought some sugar water to one of the bees as it was still alive, but it showed no interest. Perhaps it just needed a long rest.

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      • I read different theories about their (global) demise – some pointed to some mysterious illness (I don’t recall the details, it was in a documentary), while most others hold pesticides (like round-up & co) responsible. Perhaps it’s a combination of factors, but the latter seem a good candidate. Sadly humans are not willing to give uo the use of pesticides because they enable intensive farming on large and industrial scale, which is what large companies make money with.
        My belief is that (sadly) ultimately the human race will most likely be responsible for the demise of the planet. But maybe I’ll be proved wrong πŸ™‚
        Thanks for offering bees a little sanctuary πŸ™‚

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  2. I was just reading yesterday about the frighteningly steep decline in insect life worldwide and the projection that, without insects, the human race couldn’t last more than a few months. We also do our best by leaving a lot of our garden to go a bit ‘wild’ but let’s hope governments and the farming industry wake up and do something about it before too long.
    I caught a glimpse of one of your neighbours manicured front lawn and wonder whether that’s the norm and, if so, what the rest of the street thinks of your more wildlife friendly front garden πŸ˜‰

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    • I love that you leave a part of your garden wild. It’s amazing when you find the right balance how most things thrive. I hope we’re not too late with our beautiful planet. I’m with you on industrial farming. It’s all about squeezing profits, often to the detriment of everything else.

      Most of our neighbors still have lawns. Some are manicured, some just let them go brown in the summer. Up and down the street I would guess that three or four houses have gone native or removed a lawn or both. I’ve had a few lovely folks tell me how much the like what we’ve done with the garden, but I also heard through the neighborhood grapevine that someone thought my garden was “ugly”. The good news is that the birds love the seeds, the bees love the flowers and and insects help keep things in check. I watch the excess water run off of our neighbors over-watered lawn and realize how much I’ve learn over these past several years of drought.

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  3. Your kangaroo paws are magnificent, Alys. You do better with them than I do in their own land! The garden looks restful and charming. Thanks for the tour.

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  4. Your gardens and yard look so different from mine. We live in the woods in Maine, and everything is green, green, green. But I really like the way you have tailored your yard and gardening to your area. That is the way to go, and how lovely everything looks.

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    • Oh how I would love all that green, Laurie. Living in the woods in Maine sounds like a dream. I was in love with the idea of a true English garden (my dad was British) or a woodland garden, but neither make any sense here in our semi-arid, and getting hotter by the year climates. It’s been an adjustment over the years, but I’ve grown fond of natives, drought tolerant plants and succulents.

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      • I have a woodland garden and yearn for a true English garden. Funny isn’t it? Anyway, to me your garden looks not only sustainable but also exotic. What a good decision you made! And I love, love, love succulents, which of course don’t do very well in my shady yard. πŸ˜‰

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  5. It feels a little like an English garden, xeriscaped. πŸ™‚ It could be nothing but restful to sit out there and just watch. Catching a photo of praying mantis is quite the feat! I’ve been seeing more dragonflies this year than ever. The weather patterns are changing so it won’t be long before we have to xeriscape here as well. Putting the overturned saucer down for the lizards is a brilliant idea. We need those guys too. Sounds like Tessa could use a wind up toy to chase. πŸ˜‰ I’m sure the smoke is worse where you are since we have so much so sitting outside could be hard right now. The heat continues unrelenting but I still think we will have an early fall as my Asters have already bloomed and they waited until Sept 1 last year for the first one. We shall see. Giant hugs and love to all.

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    • Marlene, I like that description: A xeriscaped English garden. All the beauty with a fraction of the water. We made the mistake the first year of under watering. The plants need more water till established, then you can cut back. I’m using all my rain water to fill the bird fountain and to water the succulents and other potted plants. We tried hooking it up to the planter boxes, but the tank doesn’t have any water pressure, so it never worked. I fear the lizard brain is no match for Tessa. I just brought her inside so the lizard she was toying with could get away. Don’t they know about all those hiding places!

      I’m sorry to hear you share in the unrelenting heat. I hope you’re right about an early fall. You’ll have to let me know if your Aster’s were a good indicator. Giant hugs!

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  6. Your garden looks lovely, Alys. I prefer Spring as well, it has the promise of what’s to come. But there’s something pretty about every season. I meant to tell you that while visiting my sister in Iowa this summer, I noticed that one of her neighbor’s had a free library – guess they are everywhere. Very cool.

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    • Karen, I’m delighted to hear that you spotted a Little Free Library in Iowa. Thank you for letting me know. The LFL movement has spread like crazy. I think it’s grand, especially when spotted in developing countries where improving literacy is so important. I’m glad you like the garden. It brings me so much joy.

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  7. It’s looking so lovely now Alys, very well grown. You have captured the rise up to your house from the street – for the first time I really realise how you sit above the road. Isn’t it funny what we miss out on seeing. I love that you are looking out for all your insects and the wee lizards especially – we call them skinks, I don’t know if that means they are a different species, but they are tiny lizards. They were abundant when I was a child and quite rare now, due to insecticide and pesticide and artificial fertiliser use. Every season brings it’s own beauty doesn’t it – for all you Californians, the promise of a cooler time and no fires will be a great relief I’m sure. We have more light and warmer temperatures coming along with the daffodils and blossoms and swelling buds on trees. I always feel myself respond to this season so strongly – but then I think I do the same for each turn of the wheel πŸ™‚

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    • Pauline, what an interesting observation. I never thought of our house being elevated until we installed the ramp leading to the door. There is an 18 inch difference between the curb and the door landing. The ramp has to climb one inch per foot so that the pitch isn’t too steep, so it took the full curve to get it to code. All of the driveways have a slight slope as well so that rainfall (ha!) rolls away from the house to the storm drains. I looked up skinks, as I’ve heard Mike use the term as well. Apparently lizard is generic, and skinks are a type of lizard. We most commonly see alligator lizards, so named for the longer snout. They can vary in length quite a bit. Mouse used to bring them into the house and drop them on the hard floor. I got to the point were I recognized the sound and ran for the clear shoebox. They freeze when started so I could usually catch them and then release them under the fence (where the neighbors don’t have a cat or dog). They are more scarce now, although it’s even worse for amphibians. They’re protected here, but so many are lost. They’re sensitive creatures, and I think should be looked on as the “canary in the coal mine”: an early warning that we better get our act together. The same is true for the bees. My garden is organic and pesticide free. I wish the same were true everywhere.

      I agree that every season has its own beauty. I’m pleased to hear that you have more light and blooming daffodils, the harbinger of spring. xo

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      • Thanks for that link Alys. Your little alligator lizards look a little like the skinks I knew as a child, especially the photo of one sitting in the hand. You certainly have a number to choose from in California! Though I also found this: ‘New Zealand has more 110 species of lizard. We have geckos and skinks, and none are found anywhere else in the world. All native lizards are fully protected’.

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  8. What an incredible oasis of color and beauty you have created β€” and it seems nature agrees, considering all the creatures that call your garden home. I didn’t know that praying mantises sometimes ate hummingbirds, though. Thank you in advance for the nightmares, ha ha! As others have commented, your flowers and photos are gorgeous. But I would like to compliment your prose, and especially this paragraph: “I’ll always love Spring’s first blush of show-stopping bulbs and flirty annuals. They quicken the heart and remind us that we’re alive. Yet as we endure these hot, dry dog-days of summer, the August perennials are a lovely reminder of strength, endurance and love.” So beautifully said! Thank you for sharing your slice of heaven with us.

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    • (((Heidebee))) You are a day-maker! Thank you for your gracious comment on my prose. That means so much to me, coming from a terrific writer like yourself.

      Sorry to have to break the bad news about praying mantis and hummingbirds. I found out by accident when I saw a video clip. I don’t recommend a search on the subject *ever*. The oddest thing is that sometimes hummingbirds will eat them. It probably comes down to size.

      It’s a wonderful oasis during the spring and autumn months and on those rare, smoke-free, smog-free, moderate summer days. LOL

      I wish you could pop over for a visit. xo

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      • Oh, how I wish I could pop over for a visit too! We would discuss the merits of being bigger than a mantis, and I would ask you a thousand and three questions about your garden, which seems more miraculous to me with each season. Sending you a big hug from Minnesota! xo

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        • Here I am catching that hug and sending one back your way. I thought of you this week when I heard a piece on NPR all about your state fair. It sounds like so much fun. I remember enjoying our county fair when I was just out of high school, but its a fraction of what it once was, I suppose a sign of the times. Good memories though.

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          • Don’t be deceived by those Fake News report about the Minnesota State Fair, Alys β€” it’s a miserable overcrowded place filled with mediocre food and dirty animals. Or so I would like people to believe so I can have more of it to myself, ha ha! My better half and I went on Saturday, actually. The highlight for me was petting the goats and horses, of course, but everything else you heard on NPR about the foods-on-a-stick and wholesome Midwestern entertainment came in a close second. Maybe you’ll be able to come up here for a visit some August, and we can go together? You would LOVE the “seed art,” among many other things! xx

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  9. Alys, your beautiful garden is a testament to your faith in, and perseverance with, your vision for a sustainable garden. It was made with love for your environment and those who live in it, and it shows! What an inspirational post to start my day.

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  10. Your garden is a gift in all the seasons. I like the idea of all the wildlife there, especially the little lizards. What a lovely comparison of the plants in one season to relationships. That magnolia! How does that t survive? Or is there a California magnolia too? In any event it looks sweet where it is.

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  11. Your garden is looking wonderful, Alys. All that heart-ache during the drought has helped you create a garden that is an oasis. How any one could think it is ‘ugly’ is beyond me. There is so much to see ~ different colours, shapes, textures, height ~ all those good design features that make an interesting garden. Wouldn’t your Dad be proud of you?! I was a bit disturbed by the mantis/hummingbird remark too. Although they look so alien that I can imagine it!

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  12. I really like the close-ups of the flowers and the bugs. Your plants are mostly so different from the ones in our late-summer gardens but I do love the way all of our gardens change with the season. I feel sad when one perennial fades but something else blooms to take its place, and I know they’ll all be back again, next summer. And last night, sitting outside, we had a hummingbird fly right up and hover in front of our faces, maybe 3 feet away–just made eye contact for a few moments then flitted away!

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  13. I love the look of your back garden, Alys. The blue grass looks similar to something I have – is it festuca glauca, do you know?
    Amazing to think of the wildlife your garden attracts!

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  14. I thought at first that Trichostema was a blue variant of Monarda, or bee balm, but I see it’s something completely different. If you Google Monarda, though, you’ll see the flowers are rather similar, and the bees love them, hence the common name of Bee Balm. Your garden is looking wonderful for late summer in a hot climate!

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    • Kate, it looks like they’re both in the mint family, so that explains the similarity. I’ve never looked up Bee Balm,but now it makes sense. When the sun warms up the garden, their are dozens of bees on this plant (and I have three of them). πŸ™‚

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    • Ah, the birthday parties day. They were magical when the boys were small. I remember them well. We graduated to an annual Halloween party for the neighborhood children and that lasted nine years. Then one day they were done. This will be my first Halloween with M away at school. I’m not sure how I’ll manage.

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  15. Your garden remains full of interest and textures all season. That’s great planning and planting. I’ve still got a number of pots that look great from a far. Yet some close up reveal aphids. I’ve been treating them with a non-toxic bug spray but it’s not doing much. I’ve actually removed a few plants that seemed un-able to recover and were loaded….so gross. So I’m calling this summer a bust. Gah! I especially love the hardscapes in your front and back garden. It’s all right out of a magazine really.
    I’m not sure if there’s many native plants that one could use here. There’s the ‘Alberta Rose’ with razor blade branches of thistles. and Canada Thistle. A noxious weed that burns your fingers with hairy spikes if you try to pull it out. While Canadians may be friendly, the plants sure aren’t, LOL xoxo Boomdee Petals Kelly ❀

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    • Thank you for your kind words. I must say we owe the majority of the plant selections in the native gardens to the wonderful JP Bergez. What a talent! We lost a few plants in the first year, and have had fun filling in with some new favorites. It’s also great fun to see what plants itself (birds, wind, squirrels, etc.)

      We have aphids on one of the gardenias. I’m told that a mixture of simple dish soap and water does the trick. One suggestion is to blast the plant with a hose, then follow up with the soapy water mixture. They are gross when the plant is saturated with bugs. I’ve had to seal a few in a plastic bag and toss over the years to prevent the spread.

      Thistles are brutal plants. I haven’t had weed-like thistle for many years, but I remember them well. They’re deep-rooted too.

      I’m wondering what will still be flowering when you visit next month. It’s just a month away! I can’t wait. xo

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  16. Count down ! We’re excited too. Currently trying to watch what I eat, buuuut, success is elussive πŸ˜€ Might just show up pudgy again, GAH ! Annnywho, about aphids, I did try the dish soap and water thing and then sprayed the heck out of them with a harsh hose. All that transpired was a very slippery, sudsie, somewhat dangereous deck, LOL.
    My garden has success in July and looked beautiful. The sweatpeas were very sporatic! Giant wall of green with very few flowers 😦 I think I got a package of sterile seed.
    Since we weren’t able to be outside for at least 2.5 weeks in August, it seemed like summer here was disappointing. Maybe next year will be stellar πŸ˜€ Fingers crossed. xo

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    • I hope we have summer like weather when you arrive. It was cool for about a week, but now we’re back into hot weather. I’ll keep my eye on the weather. That said, Carmel is always much cooler with the sea breeze so you’ll get a taste of coastal and inland California when you’re here. I wonder if your sweet peas were stunted by the smoke in the air? I keep meaning to look that up and forget. My tomatoes were a total bust and I can’t help but think the bad air contributed to that. xo

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