We Californians understand the concept of summer dormancy: “Those hills aren’t brown, they’re beautifully golden!” We know that the cycle of seasons plays out a bit more dramatically across our hot, dry countryside than in locales where the landscape stays predictably green throughout the summer.
The dog days of summer are a muted, in-between time in the native garden. Dry-climate plants have developed strategies for coping with high summer, whether on a rocky ledge in the foothills or in your back yard. Spring-blooming species stop producing new flowers and greenery and put all their energy into seed production. Late bloomers haven’t yet hit their stride. Once-vibrant foliage looks faded and the vivid flowers of spring are a memory. Even long-blooming garden favorites such as sages, buckwheats, and sunflowers might take a breather from profuse flowering, and resume blooming when temperatures are a bit milder.
This doesn’t mean that the late summer native garden lacks beauty or interest. To a native plant lover, the architectural punch of a milkweed pod bursting with silky seed is more than a match for the pink and orange zing of a zinnia. The deep red of a manzanita branch, revealed as the dry outer bark peels away, is as rich as any rose. Our native garden selections show off their wild origins with a more natural effect than conventional garden hybrids bred for tidy flower production, but native plant enthusiasts embrace and accept a wilder aesthetic.
A visit to the Butte County Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden at the Patrick Ranch shows how various species hold up through a valley heat wave. Both the California Native garden and the Native Habitat garden are zones planted solely with natives, and natives are incorporated into several of the other garden zones, including the Mediterranean garden and the Butte All-Stars. How do they look now at the height of summer? The…