Friday, June 19, 2009

You Say Aeonium I Say Echeveria Succulent Plant; It Is Blooming For Friday Floral

Here is an update on the flowing succulent plant in my garden. My Complete Book of Cactus and Succulent volume is telling me this is an aeonium haworthii and even includes a photo. Most of the aeoniums I see have flat leaves and tend to look like a plate on the end of a stick. Their leaves tend to be flat and long.

This plant has leaves on the end of a stick, but they are fat and pointy on the ends. It has a red tint around the edges of the lime green leaves. Much more like the echeverias I've seen. This plant forms a tidy dome of green rosettes when grown in the ground. It also has aerial roots hanging down into the soil.

Either way, it is blooming now in my southern California garden. It is such a unique process I am documenting it for my succulent plant-loving readers. First, it sends up a separate stalk over the dome which at first looks like an alien growth or a cluster of baby plants on the end of a branch. Now the leaves are spreading out along the stalk as it gets longer and we can see yellow buds forming on the very ends. The buds will open to 1/2 inch yellow daisy-like flowers. The branch dies off after setting seed.

Of all the succulents I am growing this one seems to be the most susceptible to high temperatures, especially during my 120 degree summers. It gets a little bit of shade from my Baby Jade (Portulacaria Afra), but I need to rig up shade during heat waves. Next time I will plant my aeoniums in part shade. Later on this summer I'll share some of my crazy discount shade ideas with you.

Aeonium can survive light frosts and are hardy to about 35 degrees in winter. Aeonium is classified as drought tolerant and will live on rainfall alone in my garden. However, it does start to look a bit shriveled during heat waves so I sometimes sneak in a good soak every few weeks when the weather heats up. Propagation is by simply sticking a branch into the ground and keeping it watered every other week or so.

My succulent patch has an underwater theme. The Aeonium fills in the role of sea anemone. A ceramic fish I found at the dollar store adds to the theme, (although I should paint it orange to look like a Clown Fish). A Gollum Jade grows next to it and adds to the theme planting in the roll of sea coral. I think the suggestion of water in a dry garden adds a refreshing feel. Try to stay cool out there and happy gardening!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Flowering Lavender Herb Plants in My Sunny, Dry Southern California Garden

For today's Friday Floral here is one of my favorite plants; lavender. I have two French lavender plants growing in my garden. Both have been flowering for months now and both have proven to be extremely drought tolerant and beautiful. Even lavender leaves are sticky with essential oils and perfume the air. I use the flowers and leaves for filling in bouquets and let branches dry in the bathroom. They can also be used for flavoring in salads or vinegars.

Two of the more popular home garden forms are French lavender (Lavandula dentata) and English lavender (lavandula angustifolia, l. officinalis). French lavender reaches 3 to 4 tall and 4 to 6 feet wide and is more drought tolerant with more compact flowers. English Lavender plants are smaller, reaching only about 2 feet high and wide. The English variety is known to be shorter-lived (3 to 5 years), but is considered to have a more complex fragrance.

Lavender is an aromatic herb grown for centuries and appreciated for its fragrant, purplish blue flowers. These drought-tolerant shrubs take full sun to partial shade outdoors. They can take moderate water, but can also survive in low water gardens once established (usually after a year). The flowers bloom on long, square-shaped stalks and buds can be up to two inches long.

I planted my first lavender near the house where my plants may get an extra splash of water. It held up so well, I planted another one in The Back 40. As my readers may know, The Back 40 has a very laissez-faire watering schedule. Given the drought and water restrictions, that means my schedule is perhaps more lazy than fair. The second one (which basically lives off our average 7 inches of rainfall a year) has spread about 4 feet wide and is about 4 feet tall now. The flowers are heavenly.

When lavender plants mature, they have narrow green or gray green needle shaped leaves on woody branches. They are great in rock gardens, dry herb gardens or as low, informal hedges. They add structure to the landscape with their evergreen leaves and are a good height for the middle of the flower bed. Mix lavender shrubs in with other drought tolerant herbs like rosemary and sage to enjoy their fragrance mixture on hot summer nights.

After the second year or so, lavenders can develop a dry thatch, or collection of dry leaves on the inside of the shrub. The plant can develop long spindly branches. This means it is time to prune back your plants. Fall is usually the best time to do this, especially in mild winter areas. To make your lavender will grow back thick and fresh, trim the branches back to about 10 inches. I like to trim mine back in phases so the plant doesn't look so bald, and bring the branches indoors to freshen things up.

The intoxicating scent of lavender has been used in love potions, perfumes and soaps for centuries. It is also credited with the ability to promote chastity. It has been worn to elevate moods and used in aromatherapy to cure nervous depression. In Victorian times a gift of lavender flowers could mean either loyalty or mistrust. Modern science has discovered that lavender oil has antispasmodic, antidepressant and carminative properties.

An old recipe called “The 4 Thieves Vinegar” was used in 1630 to combat the Great Plague in France. It was a combination of thyme, lavender, rosemary and sage steeped in vinegar. It got the name from a group of thieves who looted the city without getting sick. Their death sentence was commuted in order to discover their secret to not catching the disease themselves.

In the past lavender was used as a 'strewing herb' in hospitals and homes to disinfect and clear the air. Dried lavender blossoms make excellent potpourri and can be tied up in cotton fabric before being tucked into drawers or linen closets. Using lavender in your closets also has a practical side; it also has insecticidal properties. I like to layer the branches into my woodpile to keep out bugs.

Lavender plants hardy to USDA Zone 6 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Mine have survived light frosts without a problem. You might be able to get them through a cold snap with an extra shovel-full of mulch or a frost blanket. These photos are all of French lavender. Close your eyes and imagine their scent. There. Feel better? Happy gardening!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hopseed Bush Or Dodonaea Viscosa, Fast Growing Drought Tolerant Screen Plants for So. California

I have been profiling a number of drought tolerant, fast growing screen plants lately and Dodonaea belongs on the list too.  These lacy shrubs are also called Hop Bush or Hopseed Bush after their seed pods that resemble hops.  Hop Seed bushes come with leaves in either bright, lime green or dark purple.  Both versions have leaves about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide and are very shiny on multiple shrubby branches.  In Los Angeles the hot sellers are purple.  I of course, am partial to the green ones. 

Some Dodonaea are native to Australia, but Dodonaea viscosa is native to the Western US and Hawaii.  The Zone breakdown for Dodonaea viscosa is: USDA Zone: 9-11, and  Sunset Zone: 7-24.  

These drought tolerant shrubs are fast growers to about 10 feet tall and almost as wide.  They take full sun to part shade.  Once established in the garden (1-2 years) they can survive on rainfall alone. 

Hopseed bushes have a growth habit that is a bit airy, with lots of small branches and the long leaves adding to the lacy feel.  They can be trimmed as hedges or espaliers for a slightly denser effect or pick one strong branch to train them as a tree.  Dodonaea are good for layering in the landscape, to create a full, lush feel in the border.  

Hopseeds are perfect for the back of the bed (where the sprinkler won't reach), along fences or as border screens.  You might try planting a few of these to wall off a secluded garden room in the back yard.  In late spring they develop large, papery seed pods, usually light brown, which hang on for weeks and rustle in the breeze.  Create a little resting spot near them so you can listen to their rushing whisper and calm down after a long day. 

Although the seed pods break down quickly in the soil, I do not recommend planting these bushes near pools or any other place where neatness counts. 

About four years ago I planted three large green Hopseeds and a smaller purple shrub.  All four were in one gallon pots.  I asked my nursery guy for the biggest one gallons he had but one of them had to be purple (I had to see what the fuss was all about).  I wound up with a small purple and three large green plants which probably weren't selling so fast.  Fine.  I was happy to get the less popular green ones because they were already big.  I wanted to screen off a big chunk of the chain link fence out back and fast.  The green Dodonaeas were  a little rootbound, but off to a good start.  

After four years the green hopseeds have grown to over eight feet tall and about six feet wide.  They can get up to 15 feet high and as wide.  My purple Hopseed is still thin; only about six feet tall and has only spread to about four feet.  The plants are growing near each other, get the same amount of water (not much) but a bit less sunlight.  Perhaps that is why the purple Dodonaea is lagging in the growth department.  My Sunset Western Garden Book tells me that the purple and bronze cultivars also need more sun to keep their color. 

The purple Hopseed sort of recedes into the back of the bed, creating a dark shadowy shape.  It would be a great effect if you want to create some mystery in your garden: what's back there? is a secret chamber hidden behind those leaves?  The green Hop Shrubs in contrast, are very lacy, willowy and stand out.  They have grown through the shrubs next to them and I like the wild effect of having bright green sprigs waving in the breeze.

Nether color Hopseed creates a solid screen the way a brush cherry can.  You can sort of see through them if you try.  But they're pretty , drought tolerant and fast growing.  Think of them as green lace curtains for your garden.  Here are a few photos for you to enjoy. Happy gardening!


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