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updated: Aug 28, 2010, 10:00 AM
By: Billy Goodnick
"If I see one more #%@*?~ ________________ [insert name of overused, hackneyed, bored-to-death-with-it plant] in one more garden, I swear, I'll SCREEEEAAAAMMMM!!!!."
I'm lying. It's an empty threat. There are so many plants I'm stupefyingly weary of I'd be struck mute by chronic laryngitis.
All you'd hear is a raspy sound - like when you've waited 10,000-too-many miles to get new brake pads. So I just shake my head, weep silently and write this column to vent my frustration.
As I started to say two weeks ago (read I'm Sick of These Plants, Aug. 14, 2010), there are a lot of plants I'm truly sick of seeing in gardens, but what can I do? They're ubiquitous because they're workhorses. They show up and clock in every day. They don't ask for a raise, and they do the job you hire them to do.
It looks like my last blog was just what readers were looking for. Within a few days, the article had been read by 1111 people and received 11 comments (Bonus math fact: 111111 equals 63 in binary - a tip of my stingy to Michael Nolan, my Facebook buddy who converted binary to base 10 for me).
Before I launch into part two of my list, I want to take a moment to respond to a few reader comments:
To Edfan, who left the emoticon :) I reply…
BG: Thank you, and =0 for your thoughtful, deeply touching compliment.
To Comment 97803, whose parents showed bold imagination when they named him or her…
BG: Thanks for the shout out for Doug Knapp Nursery in Goleta. They have great plants, good selection, and competitive prices (Perhaps a story is in order?).
And finally, to dear SEEDLADY, whose comments are always welcome and often shed additional light on details I sometimes gloss over…
BG: Yes, there are ways to successfully trim bougainvillea AND have a great show of flowers, but most of the gas-fume-sucking plant janitors who blindly shear them haven't a clue about the timing or techniques needed to have it all.
So with no further delay, I'll wrap up the topic of overused, heavily maligned, but dearly loved plants…
I don't know dookie about roses, which is why I generally steer clear of them. But there's something about the purity of a white iceberg rose that makes them indispensible, especially in cottage-style gardens. One of the problems with growing many roses along the South and Central Coast is the mildew that takes its toll in humid, foggy gardens. Sure, you can don your HAZMAT suit and mount an assault with fungicides, but that's so old school.
Icebergs are as close to bulletproof as a rose can be. First, they fall into the category of floribunda roses, which are far more disease and pest resistant than hybrid tea roses. They grow about four feet tall and only ask for a little extra water, a top-dressing of mulch and a bit of fertilizer (ask your local garden center for an organic based product - the petrochemical companies can find another way to make a profit). In return, they'll pay you back with nearly continuous blooms from spring through late fall.
The picture above was taken at the Trader Joe's parking lot on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara. If they can shine under these battle zone conditions, imagine how they'll perform in your yard. Iceberg is also available as a climber, and I've seen newer varieties in pink and burgundy.
Here's a plant I use all the time, with no embarrassment or stigma. Trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), is often called "purple lantana" but it's really more of a pinkish-mauvish-lilacish hue. There's even an 'Alba' variety sporting a pure white flower.
Here's why we'll never see the end of trailing lantana: It's drought tolerant, flowers almost continually, takes full sun or partial shade, knits the soil together to reduce erosion on slopes, attracts butterflies, resists deer and is highly poisonous (Okay, the poisonous part might not be it's best feature, so keep it away from your kids and pets and out of your mouth). I like mixing the two colors, placing them in random groupings.
Shrub daisy (Eurypos pectinatus ‘Viridis') brightens any garden bed with its bright yellow blossoms. It's as close to an ideal flowering shrub as you'll find, provided you meet a few basic needs. Plant it in a sunny location (at least a half-day of direct sun), give it a 5-foot wide bed so it can achieve its natural size and form without having to be trimmed, and occasional irrigation once it becomes established in a year or two. Old flowers can be removed with a light tip shearing. There's also a grey-leaf form (Golden bush daisy - Euryops pectinatus), which adds brightness and contrast to the garden. Euryops is also well adapted to oceanfront conditions and can withstand temperatures as low at 20-degrees.
Bonus esoterica! The botanical name is derived from Greek: "eury" = large, and "ops" = eye.
It creeps! It crawls! It spills! It climbs! It's ivy geranium, aka Pelargonium peltatum, and it's brought to you by the same folks who tormented us with the vuvuzela during the World Cup soccer matches. It's another water-wise star player from South Africa and comes in a wide range of colors: pink, mauve, white, red, burgundy and lavender, plus some with splashy two-tone petals.
Left to spread, ivy geranium forms an 18-inch-high ground cover, but it also looks fabulous spilling over a wall or from a basket. It's a great plant to turn loose on a butt-ugly galvanized chain link fence, but you'll need to restrain it from time to time. I've yet to discover a pest that would pick a fight with it. If it starts to look ratty, cut it back hard in the spring and it'll be back to its former glory in a few weeks.
Another plant from South Africa? Yep, you betcha - they have a lot to offer. Kaffir lily (Clivia miniata) is indispensable in shady gardens where a splash of pale orange would be welcome in the winter. Kaffir lily is similar to Agapanthus, having broad, strap-like leaves and tall stalks with clusters of funnel-shaped flowers at the top. Though they aren't particularly demanding, picking the right spot to grow them is important. Plant them where they will be protected from all but the coolest early morning sun (dappled shade is ideal) and protect them from frost. Temperatures that fall below freezing will cause serious foliage damage and anything below 25 degrees will spell their demise. Consider growing them in pots that can be moved to a protected spot (they'll be fine indoors during the winter). Potted plants don't mind having their roots crowded, relieving you of the need to repot them frequently. Clivia also comes in French hybrids (wider, darker foliage) and a yellow-flowering variety.
My first landscape design professor told our class to always plant heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) near the back door. He said that a few cut branches in a vase make a great floral arrangement when unexpected company arrives. Though I don't have any near my door, I've used his trick a few times and he's right.
Don't let the name throw you. Nandina isn't related to real bamboo, which is known for its ninja-like ability to run undetected under the house, only to surprise you by popping up through the cushions of your Barcalounger. Heavenly bamboo grows somewhere around 6- to 8-feet tall and stays relatively narrow, making it a good choice for narrow spaces. It has small pinkish flowers and the foliage is usually flushed with varying amounts of bronzy-red leaves (the more sun it gets the more colorful the foliage). After the flowers fade, red berries appear, so there's something interesting going on for most of the year. Though it tolerates dryish conditions it looks best with an occasional deep soaking during the warm months.
This is another plant that hybridizers have had some fun with. There are fancy leaf varieties (N. d. ‘Royal Princess', slightly narrower than the species), stout, bushy types (N. d. ‘Gulf Stream', 2' tall by 18" wide) and a delicate looking ground cover (N. d. ‘Harbour Dwarf', 1' to 2' tall and spreading). All are hardy to about 10 degrees F.
Shiny green leaves with red undersides, and delicate salmon pink flowers brushed with touches of white and red, are the trademark of Richmond begonia (Begonia ‘Richmondensis'), a year-round perennial that prefers light shade or part sun. Don't let it dry out (but don't keep it sopping wet either) and feed it with frequent, diluted applications of a general organic fertilizer and you'll be rewarded for years. The undersides of the leaves are red, adding a bit more dazzle to the picture. If the plant starts looking shaggy, cut it back hard during the active growing season, and it comes zooming back for more. Richmond begonia starts easily from cuttings, just in case your neighbor has a specimen that's ready for a haircut.
The photo above was taken in front of Santa Barbara City Hall, where it's going gangbusters, thanks to the depth of the pot and the ample root system.
I can't end this article about omnipresent plants without mentioning at least one form of juniper. Unlike its spiny, flesh-poking relatives, shore juniper (Juniperus conferta), with its soft, touchable foliage, is easy to get close to. It's a true ground cover, reaching no more than 12-inches high and capable of spreading six feet wide. Among its noteworthy characteristics are drought tolerance, deer resistance, ability to grow in sun or part shade, and hardiness to zero degrees F. The foliage has a charming blue cast to it, bringing a cool appearance to the garden. The stems are flexible and look nice cascading over a wall. J. c. ‘Blue Pacific' is bluer and denser than the species. I like using it to create a Japanese feeling in the garden, and looks good scampering around the feet of heavenly bamboo.
So that about does it for my cavalcade of well-deservedly well-worn plants. If I've missed any that belong of the list, please leave a comment.
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