Friday, May 22, 2009
Of all the flowering drought tolerant shrubs I have planted in my garden I count santolina, or Lavender cotton, as one of the best. This is a real tough customer when it comes to being completely drought tolerant in my hot, baking southern California garden. They tolerate full sun and summers that can reach over 100 degrees.
I freely admit to having a lasses fair attitude towards watering. Factor in our mandatory water rationing in LA and I feel less a bit lazy. I planted my santolina in a dry bed with curry plant, sage and artemisia. The plan was to water them and get them established the first year. By the second year they were on their own. The plan worked out fairly well. When the Lavendar Cotton plant blooms, those bright yellow flowers make it the star of the show!
Being a Mediterranean native, santolina was a natural choice for my climate. I also have heavy clay alkaline soil, (yes, the kind they use to make the adobe bricks).
It started out as a small 4 inch pot. I like to start my plant experiments in 4 inchers because they're cheaper and easier to find than 1 gallon containers and I feel less guilty if I wind up killing them off.
These shrubs have tiny, slightly hairy grey leaves (sort of like lavender) on woody stems. They grow to about 1 foot tall and can spread over 2 feet wide. In summer they cover themselves with small lemon yellow button-shaped flowers. This plant is Santolina chamaecyparissus. There are a few named varieties including Nana and Lemon Queen. Their zones are; Sunset 2 - 24 or USDA 6 - 9, meaning they are hardy to about 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Like real lavender, Lavender Cotton should be trimmed back in the fall. Otherwise they tend to form a woody thatch on the inside. If you don't want to trim it all at once take it off in stages. After mine blooms I cut the entire branch back to about 8 inches. There will still a few branches with leaves on them to hide the bare twigs. After the short branch starts to leaf out, I'll cut a few more long ones. Overall, the growth habit for this drought tolerant shrub is rounded and fairly neatly shaped. The whitish grey leaves make a nice contrast against greener shrubs.
This shrub would look pretty blooming with bright orange California poppies or deep blue Pacific Iris. It would have looked great with my sage, but they just missed each other by a few weeks. Let me know if you have tried this plant in your garden.
Friday, May 8, 2009
I am currently calling this an Aeonium haworthii or Pinwheel because that's how it is labeled in The Complete Book of Cactus and Succulents. Personally, I think it behaves and looks much more like an Echeveria, but what do I know? They are easy to propagate with cuttings, just poke the stem into the soil and keep it moist. My aeoniums seem to suffer the most from hot blazing sun in the summer.
Next we have a beautiful Crassula Tetragona. These are used as pine trees in bonsai. But, I like to let them grow wild in my garden. They have a nice deep bluish green color to the leaves. They grow to about 4 feet tall and about a foot wide. They flower from the tips of their branches. The blossoms are clusters of tiny creamy white flowers with a flat top. They remind me of Queen Anne's lace, but slightly smaller.
They are hardy to about 40 degrees, but I've had good luck getting them through frosts by throwing a sheet over them. I've written about crassula tetragona on the blog too. They do not seem to mind the hot, southern California sun here.
These crassulas are so easy to propagate even my dog knows how to do it. He sometimes knocks branches off when he's on patrol in the garden. I keep finding them coming up in odd places. When they are laying on the ground crassula tetragona form roots just under the leaves that reach down to the soil. Then the ends of the branches grow upwards to form new plants. The normal way to propagate these cuttings is to put a branch into the soil a few inches and keep it moist for the first few weeks.
All crassulas are drought tolerant and most will freeze if left unprotected in the garden. I love succulents because there are so many different shapes, colors and kinds. I can group different plants together since they all have similar growing requirements. I like the contrast between the light green aeonium rosettes and the dark green spiky crassula leaves. And eventually they flower. Happy gardening!
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Leyland cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii) is a very fast growing tree that grows tall and thin, making them perfect for privacy screen plants in the landscape.
These plants can grow four to five feet in one season! Their columnar shape helps them fit in along the back of the border or between houses. The top is a bit thinner than the bottom.
They are also drought tolerant once established; usually after the second year. These trees are evergreen. Their upright, long branches have flattened greenish blue leaves similar to other members of the cupressaceae family.
Their trunks are reddish brown with a pretty silvery quality. Their shape is similar to Italian Cypress, except much wider at the bottom.
A mature tree can reach up to 60 feet tall and up to 10 feet around. Older trees seem to have less foliage at the bottom.
Leyland cypress can take full, hot sun to part shade. These trees are a hybrid between Chamaecyparis nootkatensisi and Cupressus macracarpa. They grow best in USDA Zones 6 to 10A or Sunset Zones 38 - 24.
Best spacing for Leyland cypress plants is about 10 feet apart. Mature trunks can measure up to two feet in diameter, so plan accordingly. If you plant them too close together they become more susceptible to root rot. Deep, infrequent watering will also encourage deep roots.
If you cannot wait until their sides grow together, put something in between them as a screen until they grow in. If you need a thinner plant that is still a fast grower and tall screen try Italian cypress.
Friday, May 1, 2009
I have a new addition to my drought tolerant herb collection; thyme. Common Thyme or English Thyme (Latin name Thymus vulgaris) is another Mediterranean native, so it's perfect for my dry garden too. These herbs grow as small shrubs or shrublets with tiny, oval leaves measuring just 1/4 inch long. They are perennial and flower in late spring to early summer in little whorls on the tips of the stems. The flowers are shaped like tiny trumpets, usually in white or pale
Ordinary kitchen thyme is best grown in Sunset Zones 1-24 or USDA Zone 4-8. It grows up to a foot tall and can spread two feet around. Older branches take on a woody look at feel at the bottom. They make nice groundcovers or a low edging in dry areas. In the ground they can take full sun to part shade. Try them along a pathway or let them spill over a low wall or planter. Thyme is a classic ingredient in Medieval knot gardens. In pots I have trouble keeping up with enough water for them in full sun, so I've moved them to part shade and they seem to do better during hot summers in my
One of the most popular of the scented thymes is lemon scented thyme, sometimes called German Thyme (thymus x citriodorus) with a strong lemony scent. It comes in a variegated form (thymus citriodorus variegata). This enchanting herb has bright green with either silvery or creamy golden highlights around the edges. This charmer usually stays under 8 inches tall but can spread to two feet. It is excellent fresh or dried with chicken and
In the kitchen thyme can be used either fresh or dried. It goes well with poultry and eggs and adds rich flavor to soups and stews. Thyme also has a long history in the medicine cabinet. It has carminative, antiseptic and expectorant properties. It has been used as a tea for respiratory problems and gastrointestinal
The lore of thyme is also rich. It was used in Greece to give courage and energize the sprit. To say another "smelled of thyme" was a rich compliment. Thyme was burned whole as an incense to cleanse and purify temples. Sleeping with a bit of thyme under your pillow is said to prevent nightmares. Thyme is said to be a favorite plant of elves and fairies. I too am enchanted by thyme. Try some an you will be too. Happy gardening!