Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fountain Bed Re-examined

In March of this year, we finished an extension of the small bed that surrounded our backyard fountain, linking it to the border we'd created along the southeast side patio last fall.  I did the bulk of my planting in early spring, although there were small additions here and there later on.  As the cooler weather of fall is (hopefully) just around the corner, it's time to evaluate what I have and identify the changes I'd like to make during the prime fall planting period.

As context, here's a wide shot of the extended fountain border from early July when there was still a lot in bloom:

The fountain border in July, looking south

The border looking north

The red-orange daylilies, still blooming in early July, are finished now, as is the Anagallis 'Wildcat Mandarin' that added the splash of orange color in the second picture above.  I recently pulled the burned-out remnants of the Borage I grew from seed, and I'm not sure I'll grow it again next year (although I'll probably be pulling seedlings for years to come).  In August, the border is looking more subdued with little floral color beyond that provided by Coreopsis 'Redshift' but Phormium 'Amazing Red,' Uncinia uncinata 'Rubra,' and Carex testacea continue to add bright spots of foliage color.

Current photo of the bed, again looking south

Recent photo of the south segment of the fountain border where it merges with the side garden

Overall, I'm pleased with what I planted.  Notable exceptions include:

Mecardonia 'Magic Carpet Yellow,' a pretty groundcover described as very heat tolerant, must need a lot more water than I gave it - my 3 plants fried and turned black

Nicotiana 'Hot Chocolate' did better than its lime-colored cousin but, even in full flower, it looked scraggly to me - I cut it back but I'm too unhappy with it to extend its stay into fall

Only half the Scorzonera hispanica plants bloomed and the foliage has nothing to distinguish it (I think there's a weed hiding behind what's left of this one)

There are also a few ratty-looking Nepeta I didn't bother to photograph, which I will pull - the neighborhood cats have left only traces of it.  In addition, I've got some plants on my watch list.  I'm not quite ready to pull them out but they have yet to prove their value.

Acorus gramineus 'Ogon': I was wary of this plant as I'd understood it needs ample water but the tag said otherwise and I decided to give it a try.  Was I misled?  It's already looking a little sorry, despite the fact that I've continued to give it what I think is ample water to get it started.

Rosmarinus 'GoldDust': I thought this dwarf might make a good, drought tolerant edging plant but it already looks too woody to me

Salvia Mystic Spires': I like the blue flowers but it has a scruffy look about it despite regular dead-heading

There are a couple of plants I may move elsewhere:

Lupinus chamissionis: The plant seems happy enough here but it looks out of proportion with the nearby Japanese maple so I may move it elsewhere if I can find another spot that will support its needs

Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Warrior': My cuttings have taken but I think they're getting too much sun in this spot

Plants I'm especially happy with include:

Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope' and Lomandra 'Breeze'

Bulbine frutescens

Coreopsis 'Redshift' and Stipa tenuissima

Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame,' Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum' and Anagallis 'Wildcat Mandarin' - I've cut the Anagallis back in the hope that it will act as a perennial here in zone 10

Euphorbia 'Blue Lagoon'

Liriope spicata (although I hope it doesn't spread like crazy)

Phormium 'Amazing Red,' Leucadendron 'Rising Sun" (sited just behind the Phormium), and Grevillea alpinia x rosmarinifolia (which is blending into the plants around it in this picture)

Uncinia uncinata 'Rubra'

There's admittedly a LOT of yellow and chartreuse in this border.  I think it needs more blue/lavender, burgundy and orange touches.  Plants I'm considering adding this fall to replace those I pull or relocate include:

  • Agastache - blue and/or orange varieties
  • Aloe - perhaps 'Blue Elf' or nobilis
  • Aster x frikartii 'Monch'
  • Calendula officinalis 'Bronzed Beauty'
  • Crocosmia - perhaps the 'Emily McKenzie' described by Alison of Bonny Lassie
  • Erigeron glaucus
  • Phormium 'Amazing Red' or another smaller-sized variety

Do you have any suggestions for me?  Ideally, the plants should be drought tolerant and not too tall.  (My husband gets annoyed if my garden blocks "his" view from the house.)

All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party


  1. Yay for plants doing so well! What about adding more Aloes? As for blue what about Eryngiums?

    1. Thanks for the suggestions! I should try Eryngium again - it was short-lived in my old garden but this one has a lot more sun to offer.

  2. I think your new bed has filled out well and looks great! But...that plant tag gave you bunk advice, I'm sure. I have Acorus panted in a virtual swamp and I think it likes it there.

    1. I thought about your recent post on the difficulty of finding accurate information on plants as I considered the contents of this bed, Emily. "Drought tolerant" is an especially attractive label for buyers here right now and I think some sellers exaggerate just how drought tolerant some plants are in the interest of making sales - or it may be that drought tolerant in an area like yours and an area like mine are fundamentally different but growers/sellers don't address drought in terms of degrees. Last night, I came across a post on-line showing the "drought tolerant" plans a California gardener used in her front yard and found the Acorus on that list. Another list showed Zinnias as drought tolerant annuals Not here!). Looking more deeply into a plant's origins is certainly helpful, as you pointed out, but it means a lot more planning and a lot less impulse buying.

  3. What Emily said, all of my Acorus love wet conditions. Some orange suggestions that I have growing in my dry sunny bed: Kniphofia 'Mango Popsicle" stays small and blooms later than my enormous Kniphofia caulescens, and would look good in your bed, I think; and Asclepias tuberosa, which also stays short in my conditions. Both have gotten very little water this summer and still bloomed and look great. I'm not sure how they would like southern California, though. I also grew Calendula 'Solar Flashback' from seed this year, and got lots of bronzey flowers. How do ornamental grasses do in your area? I planted a handful of Schizachyrium 'Blue Heaven' this year and they are doing well and are very blue. Thanks for the link, also.

    1. Thanks for the list, Alison! I'll look for the Knipfofia. The Asclepias is a great idea. Calendula 'Solar Flashback' looks a little like 'Bronzed Beauty' - they'd probably be nice mixed together if I can find seeds for the former in my local nursery. I'm not sure about adding more grass - I've got Stipa tenuissima and Carex testacea now.

  4. Your borders are filling out well. I'm impresses at how well things are doing considering the drought you are dealing with.

    1. Thanks Deanne. I still irrigate regularly but I'm trying to trim my water use wherever I can and changing my plant choices is part of the process. Based on recent conversations with neighbors, it appears I'm doing better than some but I think the water restrictions implemented this month are just the beginning - unless, of course, we get a really wet El Nino this year.

  5. I wouldn't even know what to recommend except for a cactus. I can't believe your plants actually turned black! That's insane! The weather guessers are calling for another brutal winter on the East coast and rain for CA. I'd gladly take a cold winter if it meant the west got much needed moisture.

    1. That's so kind, Tammy! Wouldn't it be wonderful if Mother Nature took a more measured approach all around? The El Nino projections keep changing - at first forecasters predicted a wet El Nino (good for California but not so good for the west coast of South America) but they've been back-stepping on that projection. We should prepare for the worst and hope for the best, I guess.

  6. The overall sweep of your garden is magnificent! Your attention to detail shows. I love the 'Blue Lagoon' Euphorbia.

    1. The Euphorbia is still small but it looks like a keeper, Deb.

  7. I think your plants had a poor chance of success being planted in spring before an unexpected heatwave! But you have seen the ones that will cope so perhaps you should look at other members of their families.

    1. The first May heatwave (unusual so early in the year) was unexpected and the second was just plain mean. But planting in spring here is always a bit of a crap shoot; however, sometimes it's the only time you can get the plants you want. Nurseries here have a bad habit of offering plants only when they're headed into their bloom cycles. I am putting more and more emphasis on drought tolerance, however.

  8. Lovely borders! Your plants are so exotic that it would be a great challenge for me to grow them in here. The grasses are my point of interest at the moment.


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