In our dry summer climate, it’s easy to have a garden that conserves water – bursting into color with the winter rains and then becoming considerably less dramatic as the year progresses. However, there are ecological, as well as aesthetic, reasons to include plants that bloom throughout the year.
A variety of flower shapes and colors will attract a diverse array of pollinators and other beneficial insects. Many beneficial insects, such as tiny parasitic wasps, are drawn to the tiny disc flowers of asters and other daisy-like plants, or the clusters of tiny florets of parsley family plants. Native buckwheats’ profuse sprays of tiny flowers attract a wide range of insects over a long season.
Beneficial insects patrol your garden and consume plant-eating insects, but they also benefit from pollen and nectar at different life stages. Having something in bloom in every season will encourage beneficial insects to stick around all year.
They also can flourish if you avoid using pesticides, leave some leaf litter or brush piles, provide a small water or mud source and keep a patch of bare soil.
Succession of bloom
Trees are an incredible resource for pollinators and beneficials, particularly native oaks and willows. Large shrubs with showier flowers, however, can be focal points or part of a hedgerow. For a succession of bloom, following are some ideas.
• Winter: native currants, tall manzanita varieties or barberries
• Spring: tall ceanothus varieties or holly-leaf cherry
• Summer: elderberry, toyon or ocean spray
• Fall: bush poppy or coyote brush
Different species and cultivars may have slightly different bloom times.
Calflora.org, an online database, can give you an idea of flowering times for a given species. Plants may have a shorter or longer bloom time in your garden, depending on how much sun and water they get and what soil they grow in.
Show of color
Massed plantings of small to medium shrubs or perennials can form a repeating tapestry of color each year.
• Winter: seaside daisy, low clumps covered with purple flowers; or early ceanothus varieties, low to medium shrubs densely covered with blue flowers
• Spring: lupines, rounded shrubs with spires of colorful blossoms; or shade-loving coral bells, with dainty spikes of color rising from neat clumps of foliage
• Summer: native buckwheats, from low yellow-flowered varieties to taller mounds covered with masses of creamy flowers; or sages, in a plethora of sizes and colors
• Fall: native goldenrods, with spires of yellow flowers; or California fuchsias, typically with hummingbird-attracting orange-red flowers and gray to blue foliage
Annual wildflowers offer exuberant bursts of color. Most California wildflowers flourish in the spring: pink clarkias, blue globe gilias, yellow tidy tips, baby blue eyes, cream cups and many more. California poppies can rebloom if they are cut back after they begin to set seed, and occasionally watered. An easy summer wildflower is tarweed, with red-accented yellow daisy-like flowers.
One of our wildflowers is widely used as a spring cover crop: tansy-leaf phacelia. It grows approximately 3 feet high, and bees are drawn to its lavender blue flowers.
Finally, don’t overlook native bunchgrasses. They offer pollen and overwintering sites, as well as undisturbed shelter for beneficial insects.
With their flowering stems backlit by the sun, grasses add a dramatic element to the garden.