Milkweeds, Dragon Trees, Star Clusters

I never stop visiting the Sepulveda Garden Center since each time I visit I learn something new.  The Center is located on both sides of  Magnolia Boulevard, just east of Hayvenhurst Avenue, in Encino.  Anyone can lease a little piece of land here, but you will have to sign up on a waiting list first.  When you are eventually rewarded with a garden plot, your rent will be $120 per year.
Most recently, while strolling between the gardens, I witnessed, for the first time, some healthy white eggplant fruit that appeared to be in an almost fully ripened stage of development.  Yes, eggplant is a fruit, just like a tomato and a cucumber are fruits, botanically speaking.  If you have never seen a white eggplant fruit, you need only know that it has the appearance of a significantly oversized chicken egg or, perhaps, a somewhat undersized ostrich egg.  Its flavor is more delicate than that of a regular purple eggplant, although a white eggplant’s skin is tougher.  Thus, some people peel away and discard a white eggplant’s skin prior to cooking.

milkweed (Asclepias sp.)

One area of the Sepulveda Garden Center is devoted to plants that attract butterflies.  A charming sign, “Butterfly Crossing,” informs you that you have reached this corner of lepidopteran paradise.   No butterfly garden would be complete without a milkweed, and a yellow cultivar that I had never seen before stands out among more commonly seen butterfly attractors, such as trailing purple lantana (Lantana montevidensis).  Although I cannot say for certain, the milkweed cultivar does resemble photos of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’), but it could just as easily be a yellow cultivar of the so-called blood weed (Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Gold’).

Towards the back of the Sepulveda Garden Center, close to the freeway, there is a wonderful dragon tree specimen.  Dragon tree (Dracaena draco) gets its name from its drought tolerance, as do all the members of this genus.  The idea is that dragons, since they breathe fire, are not too concerned about their intake of water, which could put a damper on their ability to make flames.  Native to the Canary Islands, dragon tree is famous for its longevity, too, with one well known individual, which died in 1858, estimated to have lived for 6,000 years.  At the time of its demise, its trunk circumference was 45 feet.  Dragon trees are sometimes called dragon’s blood due to their red sap, which has been used as a finish for expensive furniture, wood sculptures, and Stradivarius violins.

dragon tree (Dracaena draco)

Dragon tree is extremely slow growing but supplemental watering, although it would probably accelerate growth, could have deleterious affects, too.  Never allow water, whether from sprinklers or a hose, to touch its trunk.  I have seen too many beautiful dragon trees, over the years, with trunks that were rotting away due to being continuously pelted with sprinkler spray.

Aster x frikartii

One of the best and longest blooming fall perennials, known as Frikart’s daisy, is flowering now. No gardener should be without a Frikart daisy or two. Regardless of when they stop blooming, delay cutting them back until next spring.  Felicia amelloides, the blue marguerite, a low-mounding, spreading daisy, also shows off blue flowers while Brachycome multifida, the Swan River daisy, possesses delicate, intricately patterned leaves and miniature lavender-purple daisies to match

Plants that possess blue or lavender-blue flowers are highly prized since they are less frequently encountered than plants with yellow, orange, red, pink, or purple blooms.  Many plant types, from impatiens to roses to zinnias, show off flowers in every color of the rainbow – except blue.

star clusters (Pentas lanceolata)

Star clusters (Pentas lanceolata) is another stellar performer in the fall and winter garden.  Just the other day, I saw a three-foot globe of star clusters on the north side of Chandler Boulevard between Fulton and Ethel Avenues in Valley Village.  There it was, without a care in the world, luxuriating in the morning sun.

I received the following email in response to my praise of mayten trees (Mayenus boaria), which I recommended on account of their weeping growth habit and moderate size.  I have seen a number of glorious mayten specimens over the years and, while aware of their suckering proclivites, had no idea they could create so many headaches.  Caveat emptor.
I just read your column where you suggested planting Mayten trees.  No, no, no!   I can’t say it enough times!  When my landscaper showed them to me, I loved them.  They were exactly what I wanted – lacy, delicate, not huge.  I had 11 of them planted around my beach lot – all sides except south – about twenty years ago.  The first few years, pure bliss.  Then the sprigs started becoming a nightmare.  All these little saplings kept sprouting up.  Every day I would go out and pull them, and the next day there were more.  They were unsightly.
They were worse in the spring but they are bad all times of the year.  I researched them and found out that the sprouts are not the result of seeds falling, as I had thought.  Rather they come from the roots.  I bought a product especially designed for this sort of thing which had absolutely no effect.  I have finally resorted to Round-Up which I hate to use but have been forced to.  Also, they grow very quickly. I have to have mine trimmed about every nine months. That gets expensive. As lovely as they can be, I would never recommend them to anyone. 
Lyn Fisher, Manhattan Beach

woolly butterfly bush (Buddleia marrubifolia)

Tip of the Week: When you think of buttery gardens, the first plant that comes to mind is probably butterfly bush (Buddleia species).  Butterfly bushes are known for long flower wands, each studded with dozens of pink, rose, mauve, purple, or white florets.  Just the other day, I saw a delightful cultivar that goes by the name of woolly butterfly bush (Buddleia marrubifolia).  Foliage is silvery and soft to the touch, while inflorescences are modest, marble-sized clusters of orange.

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