In these late, dry days of summer, my thoughts turn to the fall planting season—now not too far away—and hopes of rain. Out in the wild, most native plants are doing pretty much what’s expected of them—lemonade berries have ripened, wild clematis bear their powder puff seed heads, California sage brush is gray and withered in summer dormancy. It’s the non-native annual grasses that make our hills look dreary.

My native plant garden closely follows nature’s pattern. The late summer color palette is subtle hues of beige, gray-green, and brown. Regal St. Catherine’s lace is topped with huge, doily-like flower heads, now rust colored. Smaller buckwheats echo the color. Brilliant red trumpets of California Fuchsia poke through here and there throughout the garden, late summer’s treat. Skeletal remains of Golden Stars and Ithuriel’s Spear commemorate spring, past and to come. This late summer garden does not declare its beauty. At first glance, it looks tired and dusty. It is in the vignettes, the contrasts of color, texture, and structure that beauty is discovered.

Stepping from the unnatural green of watered turf and non-native shrubs and trees, I tend to be a little defensive about the look of my summer native garden. “Oh, you should see it in the spring!” I might say. But I have only to spend some contemplative time there to fully restore my confidence and begin plotting where to put in the plants that I will inevitably buy at the fall plant sales.

—Sarah Jayne, Native Plant Gardener