Friday, September 23, 2022

What thrived and what died this summer

This summer posed a number of challenges for plants in my garden.  Winter rainfall was low for the second year in a row, leaving us dry even before summer began.  Water restrictions tightened and although I've restricted use of our automated irrigation system to two days a week since 2015, I pulled back further on supplemental hand-watering this year in response to California's worsening drought.  Heatwaves were fewer in number and generally less severe than usual but the most recent one, during which we hit a peak temperature of 106F (41C), hung on for ten days, which was unusual.  Midway through that event, our water provider informed us that we were subject to a 15-day outdoor watering ban due to pipeline repairs.  I stored water for emergency use and scrambled to deep soak what plants I could before the ban took effect.  An unusual tropical rainstorm, spinning off a hurricane in the Pacific, helped significantly by dropping six-tenths of an inch of rain.  So despite my apprehensions concerning the double whammy of a heatwave and a watering ban, the garden came through the experience relatively well (even if the gardener ran herself ragged toting a watering can to and fro). 

I'll start with the plants that showed no discernible ill effects due to the stresses summer posed.

If anything, Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' responded positively to the heat.  I've had to cut it back in some areas because it's impeding on paths.

Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' has once again grown so big that it'll require severe pruning later this year

I cut all the Barleria obtusa (aka bush violet) back nearly to the ground after the shrubs bloomed late last year.  They look homely for about a month afterwards, then slowly flesh out.  The plants self-seed freely and I think I should use them more extensively in problem areas.

Three more plants that have shown stamina are: Echium handiense, Helianthemum 'The Bride', and Santolina virens.  I propagated the Echium from cuttings and they're doing well in all 4 locations I planted them.  The 2 Helianthemum, planted in early June, can't be considered well established but they handled summer conditions well anyway.  I've grown Santolina before and don't know why I don't have more of it now.

The self-seeded Polygala fruticosa (aka sweet pea shrub), sometimes sold as P. myrtifolia, has self-seeded freely.  While the seedlings are easy to pull, they're literally everywhere and Cal-IPC has the plant on its watch list.  That said, they exhibited no sign of stress when it was hotter and drier than usual.  If I can manage to keep them contained, they'll make good fillers in problem areas.

Yucca 'Bright Star' responded to the hot, dry conditions by putting up a bloom spike (left).  In addition, a second pup has appeared a couple of feet from the first one sited alongside the stump of one of the original plants.

I was surprised to see foliage of 4 bulbs pop up.  They're Hymenocallis x festalis 'Zwanenberg' (aka Peruvian daffodils), which I hadn't even remembered I'd planted last March.


I didn't even try to take photos of everything that came through summer in good shape - that'd require more space than even my longest Bloom Day posts.  But here's a general list of plants by genus that deserve mention:

  • Abelia grandiflora - 'Edward Goucher', 'Kaleidoscope', and 'Hopley's Variegated'
  • Callistemon - 'Cane's Hybrid' flowered; C. 'Hot Pink', and C. viridiflorus did not
  • Cistus - all but the newest additions flowered as usual
  • Felicia aethiopica
  • Grevillea - all varieties too numerous to name held up, although the flower production of the larger-flowered varieties was impacted by the heat
  • Hebe - 'Grace Kelly', 'Purple Shamrock' and 'Wiri Blush' did well but flowered only lightly or not at all
  • Leucadendron - all varieties, too numerous to name
  • Leucospermum - 'Brandi', 'Goldie', 'Hybrid Spider' and 'Sunrise' finished flowering prior to summer's arrival but foliage was unaffected by summer's heat
  • Lomandra - 'Breeze', 'Platinum Beauty' and 'Tropic Belle'
  • Pennisetum - 'Fireworks', 'Rubrum' and 'Sky Rocket'
  • Phormium - 'Atropurpureum', 'Apricot Queen', 'Maori Queen' and 'Yellow Wave'
  • Tulbaghia violacea
  • Xylosma congestum
  • Most succulents
  • All trees, including citrus


This isn't to suggest that all plants weathered the summer stress well.  There were losses.  It's possible that some plants that look awful right now may come back but I'm not expecting that of all of them.

Aloe 'Moonglow' (left) is twisted and looks miserable but I've seen that in other aloes at the height of summer.  The Aloe maculata x striata to the right of 'Moonglow' in the first photo and Aloe vanbalenii x striata in the photo on the right are examples of other aloes that fared well.

Unfortunately, Anemone hupehensis (now classified as Eriocapitella hupehensis) often looks like this when hit by extreme heat.  This plant's been here since we moved in 10+ years ago.  It'll survive but it's doubtful I'll see any flowers this year.

The Arctotis 'Large Marge' on the left and A. 'Pink Sugar' on the right are probably dead; however, there are other specimens elsewhere that, while looking pitiful, still have life left in them.  This has also happened in prior years - some survive and some don't.

I'm not sure what happened to the Centaurea 'Silver Feather' on the left as it was a more well-established cutting than the one on the right.  The one on the left came up without even a tug.  The 2 plants were within a few feet of one another.

These 2 Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold' shrubs were also planted within a few feet of one another on either side of the flagstone path that bisects the back garden.  Another of these plants up and died late last summer just like the plant shown on the left here.  I'm not sure it can be blamed on the heat but it's possible that minor differences in the water they received was a factor.  There's some evidence of new growth underneath the shrub on the left so I may try cutting it back rather than just pulling it out.

Erigeron glaucus 'Wayne Roderick' (aka seaside daisy and beach aster) is supposed to be drought tolerant and well-suited to coastal sites but it's not been happy in full sun in my garden.  Our recent heatwave just made it look all the more miserable.  It's moved itself around a bit, perhaps seeking more shade, which is something San Marcos Growers suggests.  I'll try moving divisions of the plant to a more hospitable location.

Summer's heat prematurely turned the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba brown but that happened last year too.  A neighbor's specimen, older and partially shaded by surrounding trees, stays green much longer.  However, as our tree leafed out this past spring with no apparent issues, I'm assuming that it'll do the same next spring.

My roses look worse than ever.  I believe that insufficient water is a bigger issue than the heat.  I'm considering pulling up at least some of them in this area as they've looked worse and worse with each passing year.  Rosa 'Pink Meidiland', in a different area of the front garden, has fared much better and those plants will stay.

Sisyrinchium 'Devon Skies' may want more water than some sellers suggest.  There's a tiny amount of green underneath the brown foliage so I may give it time  to consider if it wants to live.  Note that the Lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflorum) surrounding the blue-eyed grass are already coming back after their earlier summer flush. 

Sideritis cypria (left) looks haggard and didn't bloom at all this year but I think it'll come back.  Westringia fruticosa 'Morning Light' (right) looked burned in spots following the last heatwave but I'm counting on it to improve as temperatures decline.

These beds next to the garage in the front garden look horrible.  While many plants (Pacific Iris, hellebores, and Arctotis among them) are hanging on, nothing other than Lomandra 'Platinum Beauty', Lavandula stoechas, and Pittosporum (all outside the frame of these 2 photos) look really good.  The daylilies in this area didn't even bother to bloom this year while Polygala seedlings are popping up all over.  Insufficient water and root competition from the trees and hedge shrubs may be part of the problem but I'm unsure what'll work here.  I'm considering adding topsoil to create berms in selected areas and adding succulents and rocks in others.


Any loss is disappointing but the failures provide useful information.  Will I heed the lessons learned this summer?  That's never certain.  I've already pulled up some of the smaller ephemeral plants I'd planted in late spring and early summer to fill empty spots.  In the case of plants that have at least a chance of coming back, I'm holding off until cooler temperatures prevail before taking any action.  At present, another heatwave is geared up for this weekend and it's expected to run through early next week.

Meanwhile, another problem has emerged, or I should say reemerged.  No, I'm not referring to the water leak issue I wrote about in my last post.  The raccoons are back and their endless search for grubs is becoming a nearly nightly effort.

I found a track of 10 raccoon footprints running across the outdoor rug on the back patio the day after they first pillaged the raised planters in my cutting garden (after I'd hand-watered them of course).  They were back for another session 2 days later.

That's it for me this week.  Best wishes for a pleasant weekend, whatever your weather.

P.S. High Country Gardens is running its semi-annual photo contest and my brother is one of the finalists.  Way to go, Eric!  You can find the finalists' photos here.

All material © 2012-2022 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party


  1. Rotten but cute invaders. I used to see them all the time in my grandmothers garden going after her grapes. The wave of the future seems to be hotter and drier so identifying the plants that did or did not survive well is a good strategy to what to plant for the future.

    1. Yes, conditions have changed even in the 11 years we've had this garden. *SIGH*

  2. Here the racoons become more of an issue the drier it becomes. When they're not just looking for food, but also water, they get really destructive. As for your ginkgo, that sucks! I imagine even in SoCal you would get some of that famous fall color before the leaves drop? I know mine gets very upset in the sun and heat and many of the leaves turn crisp. I hope yours snaps back like a champ next spring.

    1. I was hoping for some fall color from the Ginkgo as the neighbor's trees across the street get some but then they're more established (deeply rooted) and shaded than my little tree, Currently, I only get real fall color from one of the 2 persimmon trees and the ornamental pear tree. Even the leaves on the second persimmon tree turn brown before they can develop the warmer colors we associate with fall.

  3. Eric has some tough competition there. Great photos by Eric and the others!

    An interesting survey of what did well for you and what did not.

    There are two small young Ginkgos in the neighborhood nearby and last fall they both appeared as yours did, but they were back this spring--though looking somewhat less robust.

    My trees except the oak all look extremely stressed. They are getting extra water this month, but will still meet water cut guidelines. All the Pittosporum tenuifolium variants except one have got to go. They are miserable. Seeing how the ones in the Dan Hinkley book grow--it is clear here is not their climate. Maybe it was 50 years ago.

    Raccoons--I sent you a NYT article from this morning about how they are evolving to be smarter in a human-dominated environment. Uh-oh!

    1. When I went out to water the cutting garden again today, I noticed that the masked monsters had had yet another go at my raised planters. Cosmos, zinnias and dahlias are now rapidly developing mildew due to the warm conditions that followed the recent rainstorm and a couple of days of heavy marine layers so I'm tempted to just pull everything up, especially as much of the surrounding area is in chaos as a result of our pipe replacement prep.

      Re the Pittosporum tenuifolium, I lost one 'Silver Magic' on the back slope last year but I'm still fighting to hang onto the other 2 down there. I've trimmed them back in an effort to get them to flesh out.

  4. Sometimes plants which you think just can't possibly survive surprise you. Hopefully some will pull through. Great photos, as always.

    1. Yes, I'm trying not to be so precipitous about clearing out the plants that look half-dead ;)

  5. How interesting; thanks for sharing your successes and things that struggled in the difficult conditions. I have to be honest. Currently, I'm envious, as we face the cooling conditions of the next few weeks...and then the cold leading into winter. It was a wonderful summer, but I struggle with the transition to fall (October is nice, though), and then the long, cold winter. I hope the "cooling" and hopefully some precipitation in your next few weeks will help your plants. :)

    1. I imagine that winters like yours would be very hard for me too, Beth unless perhaps I could have a very big greenhouse with heating ;) Summer has something of the same effect on us as your winter - sending us into retreat inside, causing us to mourn our losses - but that stretch is probably considerable shorter than winter is for you.

  6. This was a very interesting post - thanks, Kris! It is encouraging to read about all the plants which made it, and also sad to contemplate the losses. I can't even imagine living with such water restrictions imposed, and then a pipe repair to boot!!
    I will wholeheartedly support the idea that you need more Santolina. They are such great workhorse plants. Years ago, some kid on a bike ran through the S. 'Lemon Queen' in my hellstrip, which split it in half. I cut it back hard, and it recovered beautifully, as if nothing had happened at all. It's still going strong. Gotta love that! Another top performer (at least up here) is Teucrium chamaedrys. If you find it, give it a try, and please report back. It has become one of my go-tos for easy, tough groundcover/low hedge plant. Would love to know how it performs where you are.

    1. I've grown both gray and green varieties of Santolina in that same area in the past and they did well but, after it got woody, I pulled it out to try other things, none of which have proved as effective as ground covers. It isn't actually all that easy to find here, at least in small pots, but usually pops up in late fall so I'll be looking for more. I actually grow a variety of Teucrium, including T. chamaedrys. The latter survives but hasn't really thrived for me; however, I've used it only in the driest areas of my garden.

  7. Hi Kris, thanks so much for leaving a link to this post. As there are quite a few species among the plants with which I'm not familiar I have to go through it this evening when I've more time. Roses don't like the heat and drought here either and I don't think I'll plant any more, we'll see. As for Leucospermum/Leucadendron I'm just not sure about their hardiness as it can get quite cold in winter. Lots to learn and how wonderful that we can connect like this. Happy autumn days :)

    1. I'm sure your winters are substantially colder than ours, Annette, and that means a significant difference in what each of us can grow. We don't even get frost here. However, there were many plants on your list that I also grow or have grown. I remember that you listed Albizia, a tree that grows all too well here. I had one that came with the garden but it was eventually felled by pathogens introduced by shot-hole borers - it's still trying to make a comeback, though ;)

  8. Awesome to see that so many plants held up just fine in the heat. The aloes you showed will 100% bounce back now that cooler temperatures have returned.

    I think at least some of your losses are because you weren't able to water, not necessarily because of the heat.

    Some observations of mine to complement yours:

    Acacia cognata 'Cousin It': I totally agree! The heat has made it even more lush!!! A big surprise.

    Sideritis cypria: Mine did flower earlier in the summer but now looks dead. I cut it back but will leave it be otherwise.

    1. I don't expect I'll see a bounce in the aloes or anything else until the current heatwave subsides, Gerhard. Hopefully, it's the last one we'll have this year! At least our nighttime temperatures aren't running quite as high as they did during the last round.


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