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.

Final Score: Thrips 7, Gardener 0

It’s the start of American football season, so please forgive the metaphor. As far as the Viburnum tinus is concerned, the score is not in my favor. It’s time to take one for the team. Though I feel personally defeated, it’s not all bleak. I don’t have a brain concussion from brutal tackles and I’m not benched for bad behavior.

It’s time to throw in the towel. Yet who wants to admit they’ve been bamboozled by a bug, tricked by a thrip, or outmaneuvered by aphids? Certainly not me.

I garden organically which means no pesticides or poisons. This limits my options, but I’m okay with that.

For the past seven years (yes years) I’ve been doing battle with thrips. Until last week, Viburnum Tinus filled the space between our home office window and the walkway to our deck. When healthy, it’s quite lovely. You can see the plants looking their best here. Shiny, dense green leaves give way to flowers and dark purple berries. It provided cover for the lizards and made a nice green hedge under the window.

row of viburnum titus

June, 2010

Yet year after year, the thrips return and the problem seems to get worse. This year they invited aphids to the party and things looked grim.

row-of-vibernum-titus

August, 2016

damage-old-and-new-growth

Leaves coated in sooty mold, a product of the “leavings” of insects. Also, possibly scale (dark red area)

vibernum-black-soot-damage

Please…invite your friends: scale and white fly

damage-spreading-to-nearby-plants

Damage spreading to the plant below.

By mid-summer, sticky, odoriferous goo covered the plants. Some years I give the plants a hard prune, but honestly, how much can you remove before the plant is bare? We ordered lacewing eggs one year, expecting them to hatch and eat the larvae of these pests. The smell goes away in the winter so we initially thought we had solved the problem.

I don’t know if the drought plays a role in this, but this past summer the smell was akin to…how do I say this nicely…vomit. It kept us from spending time on the deck and forced us to close the window at night. When the days cooled down and we wanted to let in the breeze, the pests tickled our nostrils with that nauseating smell.

planthopper

Planthopper, another garden pest. Several of them jumped out of the bushes while I pruned away the damaged leaves.

They had to go.

While I was away one day, my husband removed one of the five shrubs, leaving a gaping hole next to the deck. We “filled in the space” with our garden cart (how pretty) and the remaining shrubs sat there smelling up the place. Then we were in for another heat wave, and then I traveled, and you know how it goes.

But that smell.

Knowing I didn’t have the strength to remove the shrubs by myself, I did the next best thing: I pruned them down to the thickest branches, using the tools I have.

I’m reluctant to plant something new right away, but the space looks barren. I raked, swept, hand-picked and hopefully removed every last offensive, pest-covered leaf. While working away, I encountered a hopping green bug, sticky aphids, and other unidentified bugs.

white-bug-carcasses

Unknown: White fly or possibly the carcass of another insect

When I reached the last of the five shrubs, I  spotted a praying mantis. They’re fascinating creatures with rotating heads and stick like bodies.  They’re also good for the garden, munching on non-beneficial bugs. Clearly these shrubs were no match for a single bug, no matter how hungry.

After running inside for my camera and attempting some video, I removed his branch and carried him to another part of the garden. They will also eat small hummingbirds, and I didn’t want to take any chances.

Three hours later I had cleared the last of the shrubs, and I had the sore back to prove it. I was also racing the clock for the yard waste pick up. Once a week, on trash day, the garbage collector takes away yard waste. I certainly didn’t want any of those leaves living in my compost pile so off they went.

Short term, I hung a string of lights between a pair of gardening trellises. I don’t want anyone inadvertently stepping off the walkway ramp.

The final score is thrips, seven years and this gardener zero. Going forward, I plan to significantly improve the odds.

A Wing and a Prayer

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

Mulling over my options in front of our infested Magnolia tree, I noticed an interesting green shape on one of the leaves.  It took a moment for my eyes to adjust before realizing I was staring at a Praying Mantis.

I squealed at my husband to please run and get the boys and the camera, while I kept my eye on our new best friend.  It was incredible the way it matched the color of the leaves.  My older son thought it was “creepy,” but my 12-year-old likes bugs  so he was excited to see one in our garden.

Mantids are beneficial for the garden, but none of my reading yesterday suggested them for scale. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this shiny green creature planned to feast in the tree?

Mantid Looks Away

Mantid Looks Away

Mantid Stretched Out

Mantid Stretched Out

Check out PrayingMantis.org to learn more about these fascinating insects.