Fail Better (Summer Recap)

I admit it’s a little early for a summer recap, but there is a penultimate feel to the garden today. By this time, whatever plans I’ve laid have either happened or failed to happen.

It’s time to admit this is as lush as the little tropical terrace will get this summer. And what a lot of somber green there is, though that’s mostly an impression the back wall covered in creeping fig brings. The fig, Ficus pumila, is getting shaggy again and needs the second of its twice-a-year shearings.

The tetrapanax, pushing up behind the potted variegated agave, has made it to about 3 feet this year. In the telescoped view a photo brings, a golden-leaved coprosma is directly behind the rice paper plant, then the dark green of the wall, though in actuality there’s plenty of other things growing here too, and even a short pathway that curves inward behind the pergola. The trunks belong to the smoke tree ‘Grace.”


The little manihot tree has a full canopy, and the ‘Siam Ruby’ banana has squeezed out a few leaves. Nothing to fear from this banana; so far, it’s a slow grower. Hard to believe that this little planting area was being crushed this spring under the weight of Alstromeria ‘The Third Harmonic,’ of which every last bit of root has been dug up. There will be no more vases of this beautiful flower next spring. But do grow it if you have room enough, and judge available space carefully.


The Salvia ‘Limelight’ is the last big show of the summer, just now budding up. In the first photo, deep left, you can just barely see the glint of silver of the trash can which is the salvia’s home. It reduces the salvia’s foot print quite a bit. I could never fit its girth into the garden, but grown this way it takes up more air space than ground space. It’s easier to give it the water it wants here too. When it’s not in bloom I just shove it back into the recesses of the garden. It does need occasional root pruning to fit into even this size of a container, and then consequently lots of compost. I get such a thrill knowing that the hummingbirds will be stopping here very soon, instead of passing right through it to reach their old standby, the ‘Waverly’ salvia. The fire pit in the first photo was a cast-off from a friend and has been repurposed here into a dipping basin.


The grapevines covering this end of the pergola took to the chains like ducks to water, and I like the slim curtain effect. The fatshedera and the grapevine intertwined for a luscious wall of foliage. The house is being painted, so the pergola will get a new coat of paint this fall too. Green paint for garden structures will be no more. New color presently undecided.


Still shuffling pots, though. I moved the potted Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ from the little tropical terrace above to the opposite end of the garden, to fill a vacuum left by the explusion of the bronze fennel, which thickens up fast, to an alarming size by late summer. So glad I grow plants singly in pots for just this reason. Now the garden has taken on a shivery silver-and-gold look, absent the deep reds which failed to materialize. One castor bean plant limps into fall, barely leafed out. Three Hopi red amaranths did not bulk up at all and must be labeled a disappointment this year. The Coreopsis ‘Full Moon’ in the background has proven itself two years in a row. Even if not reliably perennial for much longer, I’d replant it in the future. A good plant but a wanderer, which I don’t mind at all for late summer.

I continue to be amazed that these big-leaved tropicals hold no attraction for snails. The drought-tolerant, small leaves of phlomis and prostranthera are greatly improved by dropping this big-leaved guy in their midst, even if it is horticultural sleight of hand to juxtapose the drought tolerant with the thirstier xanthosoma. An added bonus to plunging pots into the garden is that watering the pots also waters the garden proper rather than running off hardscape.


The Allium senescens, bought budded in a gallon in late June, still blooming. Can’t say why I chase after these modest little alliums, but chase I do. These onions have never done well in the garden, but I may try again, splitting this pot of ‘Summer Beauty’ up in fall to plant in the garden. In any case, I’ll finally discover if it’s the clay soil they hate, because they certainly can bloom in a pot. The Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons’ in the background is absolutely reliable for blooms throughout summer here, which gives all manner of insects a reason for visiting the garden. So nice to find one plant so reliable! I thought the melinus grasses just behind the allium would have been wafting numerous red blooms by now instead of just the two or three.


The Tibouchina heteromalla are everything I hoped they’d be. Big, furry leaves with lots of purple flowers in late summer. There’s two of them tucked deep along the southern boundary of the garden. These flowers are smaller than the more commonly planted princess flower, T. urvilleana, but heteromalla’s leaves are much larger and more striking.


And I have to admit I’m glad I kept one rose, the tea-noisette climber ‘Bouquet d’Or,’ freshly budded for autumn.


In such a small garden, there will be no late show from asters or japanese anenomes. The gorgeous eupatoriums would never grow here. The garden is holding up well but is rather…quiet.

Which is why annuals like Polygonum orientale are so welcome. Must have more of these next year if these fail to seed around.


I let three clumps of this new gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ overwinter last year, shown here backed by the leaves of Salvia canariensis. I was sure they would be a huge success, like another alien gomphrena I’ve grown. The ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena, a supposed mix of perennial and annual species, is just now starting to bloom very lightly. It will never achieve the bloom density of the annual globe amaranth, which I don’t want anyway, but this is a little too subtle of an effect for having taken up so much space year-round. Unless it goes absolutely berserk with blooms in fall, I won’t be growing it again. Might want more water than I’ve given it.


(And while we’re on the subject of plants with the name of ‘Fireworks,’ no photo handy, but it must be said that the new pennisetum under this name would seem to be a weak grower, and not just in my garden, for I’ve read similar reports elsewhere. A clump in the gravel garden has made more progress than the clump in the back garden, but in either case, from a distance, there’s not much difference between this grass and the usual burgundy fountain grass, except that the landscape is deprived of a deep burgundy smudge and instead gets this anemic coloration. Also painfully slow-growing, and this in zone 10 where a machete is needed to keep fountain grass in control. None of the pink/green striations are visible from a couple feet away. I won’t be holding on to this grass much longer either. The name ‘Fireworks’ really ought to wielded with a bit more care.)

Thankful for poppies in September too, the Spanish poppy, P. rupifragum, blooming on and off since early spring. Reseeds like mad in gravel.


I’ve been avoiding the solanaceous clan for a while, because they always become infested with a solanaceous keel-backed something or other (Antianthe expans), but am so glad I reinvited this Solanum rantonnetii the past two summers, even with its keel-backed little friends. Yes, they’re here in droves, ants herding them like aphis, and they supposedly spread disease, so we’ll see how far they push me toward banishing solanums again.


Agaves are and always will be sublime. Nothing new to report there.


“Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

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8 Responses to Fail Better (Summer Recap)

  1. Kathy says:

    What a nice stroll through your garden today Denise..I don’t think it’s too early for the re-cap. My garden looks bedraggled and weary at the moment-she stayed too long at the fair and the cotton candy is melting. I’ve made some major edit decisions this weekend !

    Your Solanum it ! I think the malady you have has not entered our Norcal realm yet. I look at them every year and never bite…so glad you didn’t evict Bouquet D’or, so that I can continue my horrid jealousy.

  2. I appreciate your words “it’s a little early for a summer recap”…more than you could know. And I will be getting a Manihot next year for sure. It will be my new “annual” experiment. Everything looks just gorgeous. Most gardeners would love to fail as well.

  3. Les says:

    You have a lot going on right now. Things that are tropical are also at peak here, but they will continue for a while longer. We tend to have a long summer and a long fall, unfortunately the plants usually exhaust themselves before the kiss of frost.

  4. PatioPatch says:

    If you manage all this in a small urban garden then I take my gardener’s hat off to you. I’m beginning to learn how much Sages need water as always assumed they were dry plain plants. Only you can be the critic but to me verything looks abundantly beautiful. Very impressive


    p.s. love your posts so much have made you my current featured blog 🙂

  5. Pam/Digging says:

    I so enjoyed the tour and recap. I just came from Danger Garden, who was clearly feeling the end-of-summer vibe as well. Bring it on, says this summer-weary Southerner!

    Your images are always a treat. And you’re right that plopping a big-leaved tropical amid small-leaved xeric plants is a great trick to employ in the garden.

  6. Denise says:

    Kathy, I cut back some infested branches on the solanum yesterday but will exercise restraint. I hate infested things…
    Loree, I think other bloggers will have some amazing fall gardens, and I can’t wait til the posts start rolling in. I just don’t have much of a fall garden here.
    PP, thank you, what an honor to be featured. It’s true, some sages are water hogs but there’s quite a few tough ones too.
    Pam, I bet the cool fall temps, when they finally arrive, feel like spring again in Austin. Must be a lovely time of year there.

  7. Megan says:

    I’m glad to hear you say your tetrapanax is topped out at 3 feet. Mine too, for the third year in a row. I’ve been so envious of the taller specimens I’ve seen around, I’ve bought another, hoping fresh stock in a new location will make the difference.

    Would it be to bold to ask if I could use your photo of the ‘Siam Ruby’ banana on plantlust ( ) ? I have one sorry photo I took indoors at a plant show, but a natural light garden shot would show it off much better. I would credit your name and link back to your blog if it was okay with you, but no worries if not.

  8. Paul says:

    I’m at the early stages of a love affair with Agave. They are just beautiful. But so is every shot of your garden.

    I’m just glad that winter is over in my neck of the woods and that the longer warmer days are just around the corner.

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