Unhappy Lambs Ears

For the last week or so I have been really focusing on what I felt was an overwhelming challenge – keeping things alive through our long dry hot summers. It’s a struggle that I go through every summer and I have been feeling overwhelmed by it lately – not sure what to DO about it. I have been in one of those “turning point” places – open to some radical change to occur to me. Asking my “garden devas” for help and guidance!

Then this morning I woke up with a thought – and walked around the gardens at dawn cogitating on it and it just really hit me! Every summer I go through this period of misery from about mid July on and it is caused by the fact that there are a number of plants scattered throughout my gardens that are either attacked by spider mites each summer at this time – or just struggle with the heat and lack of abundant moisture – or they just can’t deal with the moles and rats who tunnel through the soil looking for worms – or whatever their problem might be. The bottom line is – these plants are not happy in my garden!

Miserable Astilbe

Every summer I have focused my attention on those few plants that are struggling – and have ignored the vast majority that do just fine and some that truly love it here and thrive! I don’t know why I have continued to baby these things along year after year when I get nothing in return for the effort! And neither do they! It finally got through to me this morning what I had been doing – and how unnecessary it is! Most of these aren’t food plants. They may be wonderful flowering plants when they are growing in their perfect conditions. But my gardens don’t offer them that.

So I decided that I am going to go through all my gardens and take out (give away if I can find takers) all those plants – that every year get taken down by spider mites and no longer even bloom or just look frizzled and droopy and unhappy the whole summer because they just don’t like it here – in this climate or this soil or for whatever reason. From now on I will focus on things that are tough and hardy and perform well year after year without me doing much of anything for them except giving them occasional water – and they don’t demand a huge amount of that!

Mite-eaten Crocosmia that no longer blooms

There’s an old old song that says “Accentuate the Positive – e-liminate the negative!” Those few plants that are miserable have been making my summers miserable every year too – because they have been my focus. They have been all I saw each summer, instead of enjoying the plants that are happy and thriving. From now on the happy plants will be my focus. Those who love this soil and this light and this heat and this amount of water. Those who LOVE being here!

I feel truly released from bondage!


  1. Yes. Survival of the fittest, for me, too. I tend to move things around to see if that helps, though. For some reason I have no spider mites, but the sun moves throughout the year and some things like my heucera are now in the hot sun too much of the day. I will be digging them in the next day or two and relocating them someplace that is shady. Publish a list. I’m probably game for some things. I have no luck with crocosmia either. They last one year and disappear. Too bad! I love them!


    • I will usually have tried putting things in different places… The crocosmia has been in three different spots… I have a sweet little yellow crocosmia that I keep trying – but no luck. It’s worse than the big vermillion one! I had to stop growing fuchsias on my deck for the hummingbirds because of the mites. Fortunately they don’t bother wax begonias. (Impatiens don’t work either…). For some reason it didn’t occur to me till now to just let go of them… ALL of the stuff that looks awful all summer – and makes me feel awful… like my garden isn’t working! It IS working… with a few exceptions! I walked around and said out loud – “the strawberries are working, the blackberries are working, the Christmas roses are working, the oregano is working.. etc. etc.. to remind myself of all the things that are very happy here! It helped… 🙂


  2. As a horticulturists, I find it annoying that so many aspiring ‘collectors’ want to collect plants that have no business in our region. They all think that ‘I’ should be so interested in such inappropriate plants. I know and appreciate what does well here, and because there is so much that does well here, I have not need for what does not do well. I suppose it would be different if I lived in a different climate. However, my garden when I lived in town was very simple and relatively easy to tend to. The main reason I dislike Japanese maples so is that they are not completely happy in the Santa Clara Valley, but everyone thinks that they need a few of them.


    • I agree, but at the same time, it is fun to push the limits. This is one problem I have with our local “arboretum”/park in town. They won’t plant natives to this area or fruit trees. They plant only exotics in the name of research and they tend to die regularly, have to be removed, and replaced. I have a small area in my yard where I’m creating a little tropical garden. Rather than planting a lot of exotics, I find plants that do well here, but that represent the same feeling as a tropical garden. I have cannas, some amazing hybridized daylilies, alstroemeria, a very large windmill palm, a potted kumquat, calla lilies, etc. I’m also trying to grow a banana, which is definitely pushing the limits in zone 8b, but I have little to lose and another local gardener has an absolute forest of bananas now. It is possible, but requires tucking them in with blankets in winter. On the other hand, my shade garden is thriving with lots of gorgeous native ferns, columbine that reseed with great abandon, native iris that also multiply like mad and are just wildly beautiful….and Japanese maples that thrive here despite clay soil and flooding in the winter. Mostly I stick with things that do well in my zone…not strictly natives…but, now and then I tuck something in that borders on the limits just to see if it can thrive. And, like I said, if something doesn’t thrive, I often move it. Many microclimates within my 1 acre, so it is possible to listen to what a plant is telling me….”More shade!” or “More sun!” and happily oblige.

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      • Nearly everyone who “gardens” does so with exotics… non-natives – especially folks who grow food plants or flowers. It’s more unusual to find someone growing only natives.. Of course growing “natives” is no guarantee that a plant will do well in our garden… unless it is endemic to your specific land. There are wonderful natives to this area that grow naturally in vernal meadows or rocky slopes in full sun…. If you don’t have those conditions to offer them a native to our “area” won’t be at all happy in your garden… So it’s a dance we do when we bring ANY plants to our gardens… sometimes the dance goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t. I have transplanted natives from one part of my land to another and had it not work well – no matter how hard I tried to make it work.


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