Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2004
Regional Report

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Bearded iris, watsonia, and sweet peas make a spring delight.

Combining Plants

Plant combinations that give us pleasure are as varied as the seasons and your latest thrill. I admit that I'm a "circus" gardener, one whose garden looks like a Mardi Gras parade of color, texture, and height. There is no color I'm adverse to, texture conjunctions excite me, and undulating mounds of foliage move my eye from treasure to treasure. In this world of wonder and pleasure, I do depend on some garden basics, plants that are touchstones throughout my garden, connecting seasons and annual flights of

The marvelous -- or disadvantageous -- thing about perennials and some bulbs is that they are tenacious growers. Once their root systems are well developed, they'll multiply, sometimes more energetically than you may prefer. After three or four years, most should be divided and replanted to revitalize their blooming. This is when you beg your friends to take some of the offspring of the very plants you initially struggled to find. The nice thing is that there always seem to be garden clubs or benefit sales more than pleased to take these off your hands, so they never go to waste.

Deciding where in the garden to place these vigorous growers is important, especially if you plan to let them grow unchecked for quite a few years. I loved my pink achillea until I tried to move it. In three years, one little plant from a 2-inch pot had become a 3-foot-round clump with roots a foot deep and spreading 2 feet wide. And this was in hard, clay soil! Like mint, this became a container-only plant for me, so I could enjoy it yet not have it overwhelm the space I'd allotted it.

Tried-and-True Plants That Work in Any Combination
There are some favorite plants that I group together in different places throughout the garden. I consider them my "garden bones."

Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium or C. paludosum) produces frilly, aromatic, bright green foliage, and grows quickly to 2 feet tall. The 1-inch-wide daisy flowers blossom continuously from mid-spring through fall. Feverfew is a vigorous grower, especially in well-composted soil. It spreads easily by seed and division, and also can be propagated by rooting cuttings. Constantly blooming feverfew automatically makes the whole garden a bouquet.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) produce many consecutive blooms, each beautiful for a day. Planting different varieties can extend the bloom season over several months' time. A short dormant period in the dead of winter allows time to clean out dead foliage before the new straplike leaves come up. Flower colors range from yellows through melons and pinks to reds and wines. Suitable in all soils, they prefer well-drained organic matter with some irrigation, and they do well in full sun or light shade. They can go five years between dividing and still bloom prolifically.

Shasta daisies (Chrysanthemum x superbum), with their single or double white flowers with yellow centers, bloom through summer till frost and make excellent long-stemmed cut flowers. Our appreciation goes to Luther Burbank, who developed this plant along with the russet Burbank potato, Santa Rosa Plum, and many other garden standbys. Newer varieties are more compact. They prefer moderately rich, well-drained soil, and most perform best in full sun, although double varieties often do better when planted in light shade. Clumps should be divided every second year to maintain vigorous growth and bloom.

Bearded or German Iris (Iris) bloom from late spring to early summer, with some "rebloomers" coming again in midsummer or early fall. For best blooms, set rhizomes half-in and half-out of moderately rich soil (go easy on the nitrogen fertilizer) in full sun. A tremendous array of color variations and combinations -- from white to green, yellow, pink, orange, red, purple, blue, brown, and near-black -- make collecting neverending. They can go four years before dividing and replanting.

Sage (Salvia) comes in so many varieties that you can find one suitable for every corner of the garden. Form ranges from tight-growing contained clumps to massive, long-legged blowsy wanderers. Foliage color varies from dark blue-green to chartreuse yellow, in shapes from delicate thin leaves to heavy-duty succulent ones. The flower shape is pretty consistent, and colors are mostly blues, reds and pinks.

Succulents are a large family that offers the whole gamut of leaf shape, color, height, and growth habit. From 2 inches to several feet tall, plants can spread from single specimen plants to ground-covering carpets. With their fleshy leaves and shallow root systems, they can tolerate sporatic waterings and extreme temperatures and so are excellent in rock gardens or containers. Blossoms vary from masses of tiny flowers to large single blooms several inches in diameter. Propagation is easiest from suckers and leaf and stem cuttings, as long as the cut surface is allowed to dry thoroughly before planting.

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