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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

Romneya coulteri

Some deer-resistant plants for your landscape!

Many more plants are detailed and illustrated in Carolyn's books,

Deer in My Garden

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

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Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) is a tough but delicately beautiful perennial
by Carolyn Singer
July 4, 2009

Note: Information has been added to the original article.

If you have been in your car or on your bike on Sierra College Drive in Grass Valley, California these past few weeks, hopefully you have been able to concentrate on traffic. The spectacular display of fried-egg plant on the hillside has turned many heads. Walkers definitely have an advantage.

It must be the cooler temperatures in June that contributed to the prolonged show of this beautiful perennial. And of course it is also because this stand of native flowers has once again been allowed to spread unchecked.

I remember when Sierra College Drive was under construction and many of us were concerned that the Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) growing on Litton Hill would be destroyed with a few sweeps of the backhoe.

While many valuable roots were damaged during construction, fortunately this tough perennial spread from just a few roots left in the ground. And amazingly, year after year with only natural rainfall, but the plants continue to spread in rocky foothill soil.

The flowers are exquisite, white crepe-paper petals with huge golden centers that are very attractive to honeybees. Each blossom becomes a gathering place for pollinating insects of all sizes. After picking a flower this morning, I had to nudge a bumblebee on to another flower. Intoxicated with the pollen, he literally fell into the blossom I offered as an alternative.

Romneya coulteri Attractive blue-green foliage adds even more beauty to a stand of fried-egg plant. Leaves have an interesting shape, and with plentiful foliage on four to five-foot stalks, this perennial is beautiful before bloom and after flowers fade. I do not deadhead (removal of faded flowers) my plants but you might want to do that if your plant is young, so that all energy goes into growth.

As tough as Romneya looks, and as strongly as it spreads, it is not easy to introduce into your landscape. I bought my first plant in midsummer, added rock phosphate and a little aged compost to the planting hole, watered deeply, and did not look back. I was afraid that I might be tempted to water again. After all, it was July, with a long dry season ahead. Fortunately, I had been warned that overwatering would likely kill the plant.

Seven years later, my stand of poppies covers at least 300 square feet of a dry, rocky hillside with very poor shallow soil. I can see it from my porch where I watch the sunrise, and from the window seat in my living room where I might be caught reading a good book on a hot summer afternoon. Breathtaking!

Achillea filipendulina 'Coronation Gold'If you are looking for a companion plant to grow nearby, Achillea filipendulina'Coronation Gold' (fernleaf yarrow) has similar cultural requirements. The two perennials bloom at the same time, and the gold of the yarrow echoes the golden centers of the poppy. Both plants are deer-resistant!

Happily, I never water or fertilize my stand of poppies (or yarrow). Some gardeners water to prolong the bloom.This works if you have excellent drainage.

In late winter, I cut the stalks of the Romneya back to the ground with loppers. The first new growth in spring is quite lovely, and the stalks remain more upright when new growth is not sprouting from the old stems.

Locally, plants are usually available at the California Native Plant Society (Redbud) fall plant sale held in September at Sierra College in Grass Valley. But now is the time to select a spot on your property in full sun where this native perennial can establish and spread with abandon.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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