Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’
I am especially captivated by plants which, water thrifty in any case, are positively drought resistant when allowed to grow out naturally in an untrimmed state, remaining more or less water deprived except for winter rain.
The key to maximizing the drought resistance of these billowing beauties is just letting them grow. Do not prune them at all unless they are blocking your front door or growing into your birdbath. Their lower shoots and branches completely cover the ground around them as their girth expands. This bottom growth serves as an effective barrier to evaporative water loss from the soil, a barrier as effective as a very thick layer of mulch. Roots are also kept cool by this ground hugging bottom growth, an important additional factor in reducing the necessity for summer irrigation.
Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’
The first plant on this list is Saliva microphylla (x jamensis) ‘Hot Lips.’ Many salvias are drought tolerant but this stalwart hybrid beauty surpasses them all. It will grow best with half to three-quarters of the day’s sun in the Valley and, in such exposures, once established, will only require watering once every two weeks, if not less, during the summer. Flowers are visible from late winter until fall, with some decline in bloom during hot, mid-summer weather. Petals are characterized by a doubly curvaceous red segment kissing a complimentary white one.
bush germander (Teucrium fruticans)
Bush germander (Teucrium fruticans)
Bush germander (Teucrium fruticans) has growth requirements similar to that of ‘Hot Lips’ and blooms virtually all year around. It has uniquely silvery white stems that contrast nicely with its mauve-lavender to bluish flowers. Flowers of the ‘Azureum’ cultivar are a deep, almost royal blue. I have seen bush germander kept low through regular pruning so it may as well be a ground cover. Yet, I have also seen it planted by a chain link fence where it grew up vertically as if it were a vine. My preference, as stated above, is to just let it grow, where it will eventually become a beautifully sprawling and self-mulching specimen, reaching as tall as eight feet in height.
You may be wondering if bush germander is related to the eponymous spice and you would be correct. Although all germander species have aromatic foliage, used medicinally and for potpourri, the most famously spicey species (Teucrium chamaedrys) grows into an attractive one foot high by two foot wide mound. It is more finicky than bush germander but should provide a year’s worth of garden satisfaction, at least, before its demise.
cape mallow (Anisodontea ‘Barely Boysenberry’)
Cape Mallow (Anisodontea)
Cape mallow (Anisodontea cultivars) is a South African gem that is seldom planted because of its reputation for being short-lived. This myth has been perpetuated because of improper care. Cape mallow must have perfectly drained soil and, even then, despises excess water in the root zone. Just as gazania, a South African compatriot, has its life regularly shortened by overwatering, so too cape mallow. I have seen both of these plants growing in virtual sand and blooming their heads off practically non-stop throughout the year.
The flowers of cape mallow resemble miniature hollyhocks, with which they have a familial relationship. The cost benefit analysis of Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) is truly staggering since the cost is zero and the benefit is vast horticultural riches. Imagine stalks tightly studded with giant mallow-esque blooms rising up to nine feet in the air from seeds that were watered by nothing more than a thimbleful of winter rain. And when your first stand of hollyhocks dies after a season of growth, they will drop seeds that will sprout reliably the following year, eventually leading to a hollyhock forest in your front yard.
Gary Eckstrom, who gardens in Long Beach, sent an email asking how long water can be left in a rain barrel. As long as you have a lid covering the top and the barrel’s color does not permit light to pass through, the water will keep just fine until it is needed. If light can pass through or if there is no lid, algae could begin to grow in the water. Even then, as long as the algae it does not clog the tap at the bottom of the barrel, the water will be eminently fit for garden use.
Peggy Morgan emailed as follows: “I love flowers that come from bulbs, but don’t like the look of the dead leaves that must remain for so long (in order to make sugar for next year’s bulbs). What do other gardeners do to cover up (the dying leaves)?” As reported at msucares.com, website of the horticulturally outstanding Mississippi State University, one strategy is to wait for the bulbs to emerge and then plant annuals or perennials around them so that, as bulb leaves turn brown, they will be hidden by the surrounding flora. Sunset Western Garden Book recommends planting dead nettles (Lamium species) around bulbs. Dead nettles, so-called because they lack or are “dead” to the prickliness of true, stinging nettles (Urtica species), despite a resemblance to them, are a non-invasive ground cover in our area grown primarily for the decorative white markings on their triangular leaves.
knife-leaf acacia (Acacia cultriformis)
Tip of the Week: Acacias come from Australia and they serve well as trees and shrubs in our area. One outstanding example is cut-leaf acacia (Acacia cultriformis), named for the sharp edges on its foliage. It is a large shrub or small tree that grows to around 15 feet tall. The shoots, which may be detached and used in vase arrangements, are covered with edible golden yellow flowers. Acacias are leguminous trees which means that they can comfortably inhabit deserts and nutrient poor soils since they manufacture their own nitrogen thanks to symbiotic bacteria that live in their roots. Like all legumes, they form their seeds in pods. To germinate acacia seeds, drop them in a cup of boiled water and let them soak there for twenty-four hours prior to planting.