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more articles like this

Daisy-Induced Laryngitis
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.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 ROGER DODGER agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-28 10:19 AM

Doug Knapp nursery saved my....A few times I never had the touch for gardening but I am touched. I used to do building maintence years ago and Doug Knapps kept me in work even though I had no idea what I was doing. The proptery I live on many years ago had a resident that worked at Lotasland and there a few old cuttings still hanging around. I'm also told that the Solstice parade was born on this proptery as the the man who's birthday was celebrated lived here. My neighbor the Balistic one is pretty knowledgable with plants and flowers also. Thanks


 COMMENT 101174 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-28 10:39 AM

There must be a special rung in Dante's Hell for the ubiquitous "Freeway Lily" which when trimmed loosely and in bloom is quite nice for its all too short duration but the rest of the time it just heavily clumps, looks weedy and takes up a huge space as it propagates ad infinitum. Doesn't need much water- yeehaw. It does have a virtue.


 COMMENT 101182 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-28 11:14 AM

The plants I really loath are fortnight lilies. They are everywhere Because they spread seeds far and wide and the seeds stay viable for years ! 2 years ago I planted a red penta. If you need a large shrub that blooms all the time with no care, It's the plant for you ! A little pruning of the dead blooms helps, but it seems to do without. It's in morning shade with afternoon sun, and gets along just fine ! I don't know about the other colors.


 COMMENT 101249 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-29 07:20 AM

Great picks this week Billy--though I'm not in the Euryops camp; too short-lived. In the best scenario, it would get replaced after 5 years, but often people hang on to them far too long.Same goes for the woody lavenders. After 4-5 years, replace them, I beg you.

Clivias are SO attractive with their strap-like leaves, but deserve a chelated mineral mix application to keep a rich vibrant green rather than the burned-out yellow often observed. If you can find 'Citrus Growers Mix' by True Green, it's a good one for most garden yellowing problems, from bleached-out Queen Palms to peaked gardenias.

For years K&M nursery in Goleta was the only supplier of the gorgeous and stately 'Royal Princess' Nandina. Now other appreciative growers are offering it and it's easier to find. It can elevate Nandinas to "specimen" status. Feathery, open and tall--topping 6'. flower clusters .

Plants I'd nominate: 'Gold Mound' is a favorite Lantana variety; it keeps a compact shape and doesn't take over the world as montevidensis does ultimately. Rich yellow gold color.

Another begonia deserving of 'hackneyed' status is the stunning 'Irene Nuss' with it's chocolatey brown and green angel wing foliage, upright stems and dangling light pink Originally introduced locally by HiMark Growers in the late 80's, I think. Now produced locally by San Marcos growers. Stem cuttings root easily for sharing. Likes partial shade and grows well in porch containers. Sort of the Vegas Showgirl of begonias with it's long legs and large...blossoms.

Daylilys, for ease and beauty; they bloom over a long period, the varieties are endless, and they are tough!
They are a light chore to keep tidy, and may need some snail control, but a glass of wine and a bed of daylilies to clean is a good Zen activity after a hard day out there amongst the English!


 COMMENT 101263 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-29 09:00 AM

Great info seedlady, thanks very much!!


 COMMENT 101337 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-29 02:39 PM

very interesting, billy, as always. thanks for your great columns. the only thing i didn't see you mention about the purple lantana is that it also has a lovely fragrance--at least i like it. there's also another kind of lantana that comes in different colors mixed together (pink, yellow, orange) & it smells very different...


 COMMENT 101351 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-29 03:33 PM

As far as the statement "Icebergs are as close to bulletproof as a rose can be." I would definitely second that.

I had them around a fountain in my driveway, planted by the former owner. My house was totally destroyed in the Tea Fire. After the fire they looked like goners, then the builders dumped dirt, debris, wood, drove over them, etc.

But after the driveway was torn out and rebuilt, guess what - all of the roses came back with a vengeance. They are as prolific as they were pre-fire.

And the deer still love to stop by to eat them... :-))


 COMMENT 101402 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-29 07:25 PM

Oh ho ho. The plantings are so beautiful. Oh ho ho.

The planing designers should be more highly respected, but most people don't understand their endeavors. Green is good, brown is bad. But many planting designers are so arrogant and stuffy. They treat you like you are an idiot. Some are good though. The quieter ones who are not female.


 COMMENT 101473 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-30 09:00 AM

Billy ... loved the column as usual! Also fun to see you with the band up at Cold Springs Tavern on Saturday evening. Go King Bees!


 COMMENT 101489 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-30 09:20 AM

why, thanks grammy, it's always fun to talk plants. I envy you SB'ans and your clubs and plant exchanges.

Sorry 101402 that you've run into designers/plantspeople who intimidate. A good designer not only knows plants, soils, pests, irrigation and design principles, but can impart that knowlegde in an easily digestible form that makes a client feel part, rather than an observer, of the process.

It can be too easy to get carried away with 'plantspeak'; after all, gardening is a set of skills and knowledge that takes some time to accumulate, so it's easy to lapse into the accompanying jargon and not keep the conversation more relaxed.

Try to engage your designer in a bit small talk about plants. Tell them right off the bat what your aims are, what you like (cite concrete examples), what you hope to avoid, and ask what you can do to make sure the process is going in directions that makes you comfortable. If the designer uses too many foreign terms, ask them to explain as they go. You can dictate how the sessions go. You can 'fire' them at any time. It's your $$$ after all.

Good luck. If you like your designer and the outcome, make sure others (your nursery, friends, neighbors, garden clubbers, plant exchange participants, edhatters) know!


 BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-30 10:13 AM

SEEDLADY: Come out, come out, wherever you are. Who are you? Where are you? Maybe we should link up and co-write an article one of these day? I'd love to collaborate. You know where to find me. E-mail me, wouldja?

BWRIGHT: Glad you enjoyed King Bee. We were buzzing Saturday, weren't we? As much as I love designing gardens, I always say that drumming with King Bee is the most fun I have without disrobing.

Billy G


 COMMENT 101626 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-30 03:08 PM

Well, I like to have some Dusty Miller in my gardens, either as a border, or a few huge clumps. The are so lacy, especially when young. And they will continue after flowering and old stems cut back.


 COMMENT 101780 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-31 10:08 AM

Re: Clivia. Could you be thinking of the Belgium hybrids? Reliable bloom in shady areas. I tried to tissue culture the really good hybrids back at the dawn of plant tissue culture. While I could do Gerberas practically in my sleep the Clivias eluded me.

On Marguerites, I grew tip cuttings on into 4's then gallons and eventually 5's. Bring them out from the growing area in full bloom put them into a larger decorative container, shear them once and take them away to be replaced on the patio.

Rudolf Ziesenhenne, was Mr Begonia back in the day. Does anybody know what happened to his lath house in front of the Bowl?

Some of the fortnightly lilliy hybrids are spectacular. Best planted along winding pathways for slow speed enjoyment.


 BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

2010-08-31 10:45 PM

101780: My oooops. Indeed, BELGIAN, not French. Getting my chocolates and wines mixed up. Thank you.


 COMMENT 102501P agree helpful negative off topic

2010-09-03 07:13 AM

101780--I remember that greenhouse! It had some HUGE staghorn ferns in suspended baskets. I visited with my boss who owned a cool little nursery in downtown SLO (where Takken's is now) way back in the *gulp* 70's.

I believe that Mr. Z was the reason Hi-Mark Growers got into begonias in the late 80's. San Marcos Growers of SB and Suncrest Growers in Watsonville also grow these and others. Such striking and easy plants for the shade garden.


 COMMENT 102503 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-09-03 07:18 AM


Have you ever seen or grown any of the English hybrid Agapanthus? They seem from photos to be superior in size and color to those sold here.

Why are our commercial growers still growing the same stock they did 80 to 100 years ago?? Other mild climate areas of the world have superior cultivars but we are stuck with older, less reliable ones. Where are our modern Luther Burbanks? (--Billy?)


 COMMENT 121412 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-11-14 05:40 PM

I've had a Clivia in Cambria for years, with no bloom. Finally dug her up and put her in a pot so I can control feeding, watering and exposure. Loved seeing them in Santa Barbara. Maybe now...


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