one year of native plant gardening in the Sacramento Valley
I started gardening in 2008. Technically I started in the spring, but really I just stuck two plants in the ground in April 2008 and proceeded to spend May, June, and July spraying the rest of the back yard with herbicide. It was in August 2008 that I started really trying to grow a significant number of plant species. The vast majority of the plants I've tried to grow have been natives.
A little over a year later, I've discovered the main obstacles I face. In the winter, (1) standing water that drains painfully slowly and (2) annual bluegrass that persistently overruns any small seedlings. In the summer, (3) my own limited willingness to water and (4) a horrendous infestation of bermuda grass that seems immune to all herbicides. Year round, (5) two dogs that occasionally dig up plants that haven't rooted well.
I've also discovered that there are some species I can successfully grow. Specifically, here are the plants that have now survived both a wet season and a dry season under my care:
Cercis occidentalis (Western redbud)
Mimulus aurantiacus (sticky monkeyflower)
Ribes aureum (golden currant)
Ribes sanguineum (pink currant)
Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary)
Vitis californica (California grape)
Grasses & Forbs:
Asclepias fascicularis (narrowleaf milkweed)
Carex barbarae (valley sedge)
Carex praegracilis (clustered field sedge)
Eschscholzia californica (California golden poppy)
Fragaria vesca 'Golden Alexandria' (wood strawberry)
Heuchera maxima (island alum root)
Linum lewisii (blue flax)
Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass)
Penstemon heterophyllus 'Blue Springs' (foothill beardtongue)
Sisyrinchium bellum (blue-eyed grass)
There are plenty of other plants I'm growing that I have high hopes for, but the ones listed above are the ones that have already proven themselves for at least close to a year.
However, there are some plants I've had trouble with that I'm not sure why I've had trouble with. California fuchsias (Epilobium canum), for example. I've tried the 'Calistoga' cultivar twice and the straight species twice. Three of them died, possibly from drought (though they never seemed very happy in rainy weather either), and the remaining one isn't looking too great and has refused to bloom. I've been watering it more and more since it's started declining, but that hasn't seemed to help. No one else seems to find this plant so difficult to grow; why do I?
Then there's silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons). The ones I grew from seed died of winter flooding. Then I started buying them in gallon pots. One died of transplant stress, and two more died of drought over the summer. Those last two did at least survive long enough to bloom and produce seeds, which I was thrilled about, but it would be nice if I could get one to survive an entire year. I know they're supposed to be a bit short-lived, but they're not supposed to be annuals!
And also thyme. I've tried Thymus serpyllum three times, Thymus citriodorus once, and Thymus herba-barona once. They all died, most of them seemingly from drought, although one or two seemed to suffer a bit from winter flooding as well.
Should I give up on these species? Is there some trick to them that I don't know about? Are there other species you could suggest that would be likely to do well for me?