The garden looks okay at first glance, doesn't it? But a closer look reveals that many plants are suffering and a few are probably dying. The white sage, just across the drainage ditch from Boston, is almost certainly going to die before this winter is over. The bush mallow a little in front of Boston has lost all its flowers and buds to the frost, without ever going to seed. The serviceberry in front of that has lost almost all of its leaves. And although the aster in the foreground is the only plant left in the back yard that still has flowers, more than half of it has gone to seed and shriveled into dry brown twigs.
I planted the white sage in the middle of summer, which is a terrible time to inflict transplant stress on most plants. I was delighted when it instantly took off and grew rapidly, thriving in the dry heat that kills so many other species. But as soon as the fall rains arrived, the sage began slowly rotting away - first the leaves near the ground, then working up to the point that entire stems are wilting. This is not a deciduous plant; it's an evergreen plant that is feeling ill. White sage is native to southern California, not to my area, and it doesn't seem to be able to handle the wet winters and heavy clay of the Sacramento Valley.
Much the same thing is happening to my silver bush lupine - another evergreen plant whose leaves are gradually rotting away from the ground up. This one is native to my immediate geographic area, though, so you'd think it'd be more able to handle the conditions. It doesn't look nearly as bad as the sage, so I'm still hoping it pulls through. If it doesn't, I should probably give up on growing this species. This is the fifth one I've purchased, and the longest that any of them has survived so far is eight months.
All my deergrasses are also suddenly sickly lately. These are also evergreen plants, but one at a time, they've turned brown on one side, and the brown has gradually spread. This is the only one left that's still more than half green. I don't know what's bothering the deergrasses, though - these are wetland plants, so surely there's no way that too much water and poor drainage could be killing them like it's killing the sage and lupine. The likeliest thing to kill deergrasses would be an insufficient supply of water, but if that's the problem, it's very strange that they did fine all summer and only started turning brown in November, after the fall rainstorms had begun arriving. I don't understand why they're dying; I just know that all of them have taken a definite turn for the worse lately, and one of them looks like it may already be totally dead.
The big green leaves on the left side of the deergrass in the picture above are blue elderberry leaves. In the picture below, the elderberry is the plant that's slightly taller than the fence. It's actually doing fantastically well right now. It was two feet tall when I put it in the ground at the end of July. Now, a mere four months later, it's taller than me and taller than every other plant in the yard. It's been growing a foot every month!
Here's an actual deciduous plant - the pink currant I bought last spring and promptly stepped on, breaking it off at ground level. It recovered nicely and grew two feet tall. Now it's losing all its leaves for the winter. Not terribly pretty right now, but it should be gorgeous when it gets its spring flowers in a few more months.
My Utah serviceberry is also deciduous. It put on a brief but brilliant display of fall color - the most impressive such display in the garden so far. It's now entirely leafless, but luckily I got pictures of it while the leaves were still on.
My Western chokecherry is still clinging to its last few yellow leaves.
The California aster is still producing new green buds, but more than half of it has turned into dry brown sticks with fluffy white seedheads. I hope the seeds produce some new aster plants in the yard, because I've grown rather fond of this plant. Recently I had to dig out some Bermuda grass that had intertwined deeply with the aster's root system. In the process, I accidentally removed a six-inch-long section of aster root. I was afraid the plant might suffer as a result, but it doesn't look any worse now than it did then. I replanted the severed root a few feet away in hopes of starting a new plant, but I don't know yet whether that effort succeeded.
While so many of my plants are dying or going to sleep for the winter, I've been putting more energy into non-plant-related activities in the garden. I moved the drainage ditch a foot or so farther from the house to make room for a better path, and I've been meaning for months to arrange these footprint-shaped stepping stones (left lying around by our landlady) at the edge of the patio to create more of a visual entrance to the garden. I hadn't done it before because some plants in the garden need rocks laid near them for protection, and I had no rocks to use but the stepping stones. But recently I replaced the broken board on the garden gate, which freed me to use the rocks that had previously been blocking the hole in the broken board. Now I finally have the stepping stones where I want them. I also created (a few months ago) a curving border of pebbles at the entrance to the garden, which you can see to the left of the stepping stones. This pebble border was a not-entirely-successful experiment; quite a few of the pebbles I used in it have since washed away during rainstorms. I do kind of like the look of it, though, so I may try again but turn the pebbles vertically to try to lodge them more firmly in the ground. If I eventually get a durable border this way, I may try putting a pebble border in the middle of the garden as well. And do you see the puddle in the bottom left corner of the picture? There's a very young deergrass in that puddle, which I'm hoping will grow large and fill up most of the space between the pebble border and the house. The dogs trample this area constantly, so grasses are the only thing I can think of that might stand a decent chance of surviving the trampling. If only this deergrass doesn't die of whatever mysterious ailment is troubling them all lately!