Succulents and Natives–the joys of fall gardening

One of the joys of late summer (Autumn starts again with the equinox on September 22) is planning for a fall garden. I’ll be inspired to plant a fall vegetable garden soon, but I’m waiting until I’ve built a new planting box. Since I’ve been reworking the yards around my house, I’ve been particularly excited by the serendipity of timing for planting California natives (or “native adjacent”—plants that will do well in our local climate) and succulents with a hardiness for our mild winters.


An example of the amazing selection of succulents at Harmony Farm Supply nursery.

The weather has been particularly moderate in recent weeks (yes, I missed seeing the eclipse because of the fog), and yet this area is well-known for very warm, often hot, early fall days, balanced by longer and, on average, cooler nights.  In short, ideal conditions for planting some of these very interesting plants.

Both of these broad categories offer interesting variety, allowing for a fine selection of plants that will do quite well in our local gardens.

Our Sonoma County Master Gardeners offers a nice, succinct summary article, Top Succulents for Sonoma County.

I’m particularly drawn to the look that can be achieve using Sempervivum and Dudleya as a foundation planting for color and structure.  I’m sure to include Graptopetalum as I have a pot of them making quite a vigorous display on the deck. (I often start with deck pots or single plantings to see how they’ll generally do.) Coincidentally, one of our fantastic local nurseries, Harmony Farm Supply, just announced a major offering of some spectacular succulents.

I’ve long planted natives and plants particularly suited to our Mediterranean climate, resulting in many a lovely, meandering stroll around the grounds of California Flora Nursery, a local small-business treasure dedicated to “natives and habitat gardening with an exceptional diversity of offerings.”the flowers

In addition to my typical favorites (the many varieties of both Ceanothus, our “California lilac,” and yarrows always being high on that list), I’m looking forward to a combo planting, along a semi-shady fence line, of Rhododendron occidentale (the western azalea) and Calycanthus occidentalis (western spice bush). We’re taking care to plant them in just the right area with just the right irrigation to bridge into the fall rains (assuming a year of precipitation more like last year). Their flowers should be very complimentary with overlapping bloom times.


It’s a delight to see the occasional spice bush tucked away around this part of the county—their flowers are small but amazing with a lovely deep fragrance. A nonprofit fundraiser a few years ago for the AIDS Memorial Grove auctioned off paintings of native plants, and I was (and still am) very drawn to a captivating one of a spice bush bloom.

The western azalea should do reasonably well in the area I’m choosing and bring a nice balance to the garden. It’s always very enchanting to see a plant, especially a native, that is rather demure in general, make bursts of small but showy flowers. We’d do well to take this as a life lesson.

Overall, it’s been really very nice to be thinking more about the garden. Recent months have been spent on the myriad of details related to relocating and concluding a business venture…and a host of desk and paperwork.  As I look to reinvigorate my naturalist work, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to reorient my thinking.

Now, off to place some succulents around some boulders in the garden.

DSCN0980 (1)

Succulents readied for planting…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s