Late Summer Bloomers: California Fuchsias

September 19th, 2015

Late summer bloomers never fail to amaze and impress me - and perhaps this year more than most. What reserves are these plants drawing on after these many years of drought and heat? The shimmering late summer grasses, the deep purple asters, the goldenrods, the California fuchias – all catch my eye and turn my head. PHOTO: California fuchsia (Epilobium canum sp.). While there are many named cultivars of California fuchsia, even experts have a difficult time distinguishing between them and they are not reliably labeled at many nurseries. For best results choose plants by the habit and looks you are like, rather than by name.

When I first began gardening in the North State, I was happy to learn that there were native fuchias. I pretty quickly learned that the “fuchsia” part of the common name was just that - a common name. But a common name for good reason – our California fuchsias boast most of what gardeners love about species from the actual genus fuchsia: big, bright, showy blooms that sing out to gardeners and wildlife alike.

While we pronounce the name “fuschia”, the name is actually spelled Fuchsia – after the botanist for whom the true genus of flowering tropical plants was named. Both true fuchsias and California fuchsias are in the evening primrose family, but the true fuchsias are by and large too tender and thirsty for us North State gardeners to grow well. No matter, the California fuchsias more than make up for this and just when we need it most – at the end of our long hot summer dormancy.

Known as Epilobiums currently, when I first became acquainted with these dependable late summer bloomers, the group of plants was known as Zauschneria – and you can find them by both names in most nurseries or gardens.

Their foliage ranges from medium-dark to a soft pale green to an almost white silver. With their traditionally flaming orange and red trumpets they are harbingers of late summer and the transition to fall. Another common name for them is hummingbird plant. While they are hummingbird pollinated and lively with the little birds, they are also bee magnets.

According to Bart Obrien, formerly of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, depending upon your resource “there are as few as two or as many as fifteen different taxa—plus over fifty named cultivars (and counting)”. They thrive in our gardens in full sun and you can find one for almost any situation. At maturity they range in size from three inches to four feet (rarely larger). They can be small tufts, rambling groundcovers, perennial hedges, or flashy vertical punctuation.

California fuchsias need water in order to get started, but once established they are very drought tolerant spread pretty vigorously by almost succulent runners. They’re easy to keep in check and any runners pulled back are also easily transplanted elsewhere. With a few deep waterings in the summer, their foliage will look fresher, but companion plantings can also distract from any raggedy late summer foliage around their feet. I cut mine back almost to the ground in late winter for best bushy growth and bloom each summer.

If you are looking for a late summer pick me up in your North State Garden – a California fuchsia might be just the thing.PHOTO: One of the taller California fuchsias featured in the companion planting trail garden at the McConnell Arboretum and Garden at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding.

Some good North State places to look for a variety of California Fuchsias include:
Floral Native Nursery in Chico

The McConnell Arboretum Nursery at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding

Plant sales Hosted by our regional California Native Plant Society chapters. The Shasta chapter in Redding has an upcoming fall plant sale Saturday, Oct.10 8:00AM - 2:00PM at the Shasta College Farm Greenhouse.

Follow a North State Garden on Facebook

In a North State Garden is a North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, every three weeks.

The Power of A Garden that’s Open to the Public

August 29th, 2015

I’ve spent a very enjoyable portion of my life visiting gardens – small and large – rustic and elegant – casual and formal – public and private. I’ve visited as a girl, as a daughter, as a student, as a writer, and as a mother watching my own kids roll around and revel and learn in all these same kinds of gardens. PHOTO: A broad late summer sweep of the Mary Wattis Brown Native Plant Garden at UC Davis Arboretum.

When I was younger, I actually had a list of goals for my own home garden in construction. These goals ranged from the superficial to the philosophic and included having a hand built dry stack stone wall, having a small fruit tree orchard, having the willingness to open my garden to the public one day, and to be able and willing to host events in my garden for the benefit of charitable endeavors my family and I supported. Read the rest of this entry »

Late Summer Beauty of Buckwheats

August 15th, 2015

It’s August. Drought or no drought, August is hot and dry in interior northern California and in most cases, our gardens are looking a little…worn, a little worse for the wear of our long, hot, dry summers. Every gardener I know, prefaces a high or late summer visit to their garden with the warning: “You can come, but you won’t be seeing the garden at its best, you know.” PHOTO: Native buckwheat(s) on the slopes of Mt. Eddy, 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

Fortunately: A Rich Resource for Gardeners in Times of Drought

July 25th, 2015

When my children were little among the books they loved to have read to them was one entitled Fortunately, first published in 1964 and written by Remy Charlip. The story goes something like this -

“Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.”

And it continues like this in a memorable do si do of good fortune being followed by less good fortune being followed by good fortune in the journey of this young man trying to make it to a birthday party – which turns out to be his own. PHOTO: California is home to a remarkable number of climate adapted plants. Unfortunately, this can be daunting and confusing when considering which ones to try in your home garden. Fortunately, California has plants native to almost every style, exposure and soil type. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting to Know a Familiar Face: Manzanitas of North America

June 20th, 2015

Today I am joined by Michael Kauffmann co-author of the new Field Guide to the Manzanitas of California, North America and Mexico, published this year by Backcountry Press. Michael last joined me in 2012 after the publication of his first book, Conifer Country. PHOTO: A Butte County manzanita in early spring bloom.

Studying conifers - their diversity in Northern California and the “compelling story” they tell about the world around us, past and present, was in fact part of what brought manzanitas to Michael’s attention. “When I first moved to California in the late 1990s, I knew we had manzanitas, but they were all just generic manzanita. As I studied and got to know the conifers, I began to realize that there were often manzanitas associated with them, and they were often very different.” PHOTO: A. canescens. Photo courtesy of Jeff Bisbee. © 2015

So 3 years later comes the publication of “Field Guide to Manzanitas - California, North American, and Mexico”. His co-authors on the book (and the adventure of finding, studying, and photographing) are Tom Parker and Michael Vasey, the book is beautifully illustrated with photographs by Jeff Bisbee. As Dan Gluesenkamp, Executive Director of the California Native Plant Society notes in his testimonial on the back cover: “This book is more than just a field guide to manzanitas, it is a tour of California and an exploration of the diversity that makes this land wondrous and special.”PHOTO: Cover of Field Guide to Manzanitas. Photo courtesy of Backcountry Press. © 2015 Read the rest of this entry »

North American Butterfly Association Annual Butterfly Count, June 5 for Big Chico Creek Region, led by Dr. Don Miller

May 30th, 2015

On Friday June 5, nature enthusiasts will gather at 8:30 am at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve just outside of Forest Ranch to conduct the 9th Annual Butterfly Count for the Big Chico Creek Region, Dr. Don Miller tells us in an interview about the upcoming event. Dr. Miller is a Professor of Entomology in the Department of Biological Sciences at CSU, Chico, as well as being a butterfly expert and enthusiast.

For the past 40 years, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) has hosted the annual “4th of July Butterfly Counts” across the country. While many areas reach their peak butterfly populations around July 4, in our area the peak is a little earlier before extended extreme heat, so our region’s count is always the first Friday in June, explained Don. And EVERYONE IS INVITED TO JOIN IN AND HELP. Read the rest of this entry »

Giving Back: The 4th Annual Veterans’ Garden Project Memorial Day Platn Giveaway

May 2nd, 2015

This weekend, May 2nd and 3rd, 2015, Michelle Angela, Director and Rosemary Febbo, Project Manager, of the Veterans’ Garden Project of Butte, Glen and Tehama Counties, talked to us about the project and its 4th Annual Memorial Day Plant Give-away coming up on Monday May 25th, 2015.


The diverse skills and abilities, plus impressive work ethics that veterans gain from their military experience can be game-changers for our communities. Veterans face obstacles in returning to civilian life and will need our help before they can help all of us yet again. The VETERANS’ GARDEN PROJECT’s mission is to enable and encourage the act of gardening for healing of mind, soul and body to all U.S. Veterans in Butte, Tehama and Glenn counties. Read the rest of this entry »

Expanding your Gardening Awareness: Poison Oak & the North State Garden

April 18th, 2015

PHOTO: An expansive native oak in a natural oak woodland setting, just up from the banks of Chico Creek. Look closely, its trunk is encircled with a stand of poison oak, just leafing out. Some of the poison oak twines its way up the trunk of the tree. Both plants provide a lot of food and shelter for woodland creatures.

Sometimes it’s the difficult things, the things that challenge us, that help us to stretch and grow the most.

This axiom – or cliché - is as true in the garden as it is in any other area of our lives. The aspects of the garden and gardening we find challenging are what require us to really look at what we’re made of – at what intentions and hopes drive us. It is the spiders, snakes and gophers, the disease, drought and death that pose such questions for us.

PHOTO: Poison oak in flower. Some people say the flowers are magnets for pollinators and smell lightly of clove.

I am currently reading Secrets of the Oak Woodlands by California naturalist Kate Marianchild. The book’s section on poison oak as a keystone plant of our oak woodlands reminds me that at this time of year in particular, it’s poison oak - finishing up its flowering, setting seed, leafing out in all of its glossy green summer glory, and sending up tiny seedlings in my garden, that asks me directly and personally WHO AM I AS A GARDENER?

PHOTO: Poison oak’s immature fleshy seeds.

Poison oak’s botanical name is Toxicodendrun diversilobum. Although it used to be considered a member of the Rhus genus, Toxicodendron is now its own genus and consists of woody trees, shrubs and vines in the Anacardiaceae or Sumac Family, all members of the genus produce the skin-irritating oil urushiol. While some people are less susceptible, most people will develop the rash if they come in direct contact with the oil. Some say that you can develop immunity, others say that you can lose resistance or immunity with repeated exposure. The native people of the North State are thought to have eaten the berries of the plant in order to build immunity. I am highly prone to this skin irritation (as are up to 90% of people, but very few other animals) and in my first three springs gardening in the North State, I contracted poison oak so badly on my face and arms I was forced to go to the emergency room for a steroid shot in order to open my left eye.

Three springs in a row.

PHOTO: Poison oak’s immature fleshy seeds.

Take away its rash inducing nature and poison oak is in fact everything a gardener wants in a good shrub – it’s adapted to our climate, thrives in most soils, its flowers are lightly scented - some say like cloves. Its foliage is attractive in its burnt-red spring growth, in its deep summer greenery and in its fabulous range of fall color. It bears eye catching fruit which persists through winter, and is attractive in all seasons to birds and pollinators.

But IT DOES have this rash inducing nature.

PHOTO: Poison oak’s seeds as they mature and the fleshy out layer dries and becomes papery.

So while we may not want to encourage it IN our gardens, poison oak IS integral to the foothill and valley woodland and riparian ecosystems of the North State. According to research presented by Marianchild, more than 50 of our most enjoyed resident and migratory song birds, as well as pollinators, beetles and lizards depend on the poison oak – its leaves and seeds – for both food and shelter. Further, other plants of these ecosystems rely on poison oak’s ability to re-sprout after fire or clearing in order to protect (nurse plant) them as they regrow more slowly.

Once upon a time I thought seriously about attempting to eradicate a large swath of poison growing on a bank on the other side of my own garden fence where my garden interfaced with a wildland corridor.

PHOTO: Poison oak’s dried and persistent seeds.The dark red veining of the very hard seed coat is the oily resin.

“It’s a hazard to me and my family and walkers on the trail,” I thought. “I could hire a crew to remove it and then spray the young shoots with Round-Up.” (Right now you should hear emphatic BOO-ing from the listening audience). Ultimately, and thankfully, I did neither of these things. Read the rest of this entry »

April in the North State Garden & Monthly Calendar of Gardening Events

March 28th, 2015

Our very mild winter and early warm temperatures, with little precipitation, have brought us to what feels like an early burst of life and color in the garden this year some of my garden plants - roses and salvias for example seem close to a full month early. With the urban world in bloom and the wildlands already beginning to dry for summer – there is much related motion. Grasshoppers, birds and butterflies are on the move to cooler temperatures and more food in their summer territories.

PHOTO: A tiny egg casing after the new caterpillar has hatched. According to “Monarch butterfly eggs are somewhat difficult to find in the wild. Since it only takes 3-5 days for eggs to hatch, timing is crucial. The best sign is to watch for adult Monarchs stopping at milkweed plants. A female will usually lay only one egg per milkweed plant to ensure enough food for each larva.” Read the rest of this entry »

Happy (and Hungry) are the Hummingbirds

March 14th, 2015

PHOTO: A hummingbird sitting on her tiny nest. Her body literally fills the lichen, spider web, twig and fluff-constructed nest to the edges, sealing in the eggs from weather and temperature fluctuations.

Spring is here and more than a few creatures have spring fever. Daily I strip long lines of pale green aphids from the tender shoots of my young roses.

PHOTO: An Anna’s hummingbird nectaring at spring-blooming, California native Salvia spathacea - commonly known as Hummingbird Sage. Photo by J. Jewell.

While the rapid reproduction of the aphids might be less than appealing, other sights of spring are amazing and endearing to even the most non-gardening among us. Read the rest of this entry »