Quirky Quercus

WARNING: the following post is probably of no interest to anyone but myself. Now is a good time to read another blog, like 327 market. Or to turn off the computer and go outside.)

We've got a hillside that has a lovely native scrub oak, and it is in danger. I let my landlords put a bunch of annuals under it last summer, and subsequently water them deeply during our long, hot summer. This is bad. Our climate is such that we get all our rain from October to May, and then nothing. No summer showers at all. This oak is native and will not tolerate water in the summer. It is highly susceptible to oak root fungus, and so needs to be totally and utterly DRY in the summer months. So the gardening conundrum is this: what plants will do well under an oak?A.K.A. what likes dry shade? This is a common question for California gardeners. The pool of candidates is small, particularly for our zone (7). Things like arctostaphylos uva-ursi (what a name!) and some of the ceanothus genus might do the trick. Also, we've gotten rather a late start on this job. Ideally, the plants should have gone in the ground last autumn, in order to benefit from the winter rains. It will be tricky, but the plan is to put everything in the ground after the last frost but before the rains have finished, maybe in March or April? It is still a little confusing. But the oak is worth it. I am trying to keep in mind the way the moss looks on its trunk in the winter, with that particular verdant glow that I have only elsewhere seen in a Devonshire field, and how the sun is diffused through its crazed and gnarled branches. It hosts quite a number of grey squirrels as well as the occasional wood dove, and any number of jays, scrub and stellar. It is lovely.


Anonymous said...

Dear Col-
Glad you see the oak tree through different eyes. I didn't realize I have a sort of negative impression of scrub oak . It could have something to do with the trees that hung over the sidewalk near my grandmother's house in Carmel. I distinctly remember having an oak worm fall in my hair one day when I was walking to her house to visit. I've been a little squirmy around them ever since.
Must admit your tree is very beautiful and shady. (very worth saving!)

Camille said...

wow, I like the new look. Very scholarly.

As someone who has only ever tried to garden in this brown state (as, opposed to say, other, wetter states), I can say with authority that your post is very relevant. I spent an entire summer in the droughty eighties trying to keep my collection of outside potted plants alive only to have them all die on a particularly hot day. If I had only known that there are zone 7 dry shade plants, then I could have wasted a whole lot less water.

Rosa said...

Hey 'Mille,
Yes, the horrid 8o's drought, I remember it well.
You know, for a very long time I thought CA was 'The Golden State' solely because of the hills near 280 with it's dead grasses and clusters of oak. I didn't even consider the gold rush probably because of my geocentric upbringing in a highly desirable locale. I didn't realize how lovely this vista was however, until we returned from Scotland. Now I find it unrestrainedly lovely. My heart is in my mouth everytime I see a split rail fence, a golden meadow, and an old oak.

Camille said...


Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.