Now that the Holiday Season is underway, I’m already thinking about its equally well known, but much less popular follow-up – that’s right, the Diet Season. One of the most successful diet books to hit the market recently is Eat This, Not That, which takes the approach that by regularly swapping out poor food choices for healthier ones, we can easily drop extra pounds.
This is good advice for gardeners as well. I confess I’m often just as tempted to choose plants that I know don’t really belong in my Mediterranean garden as I am to reach for a second slice of chocolate cake. Both bad decisions are easy to rationalize – the gratification is instant while the price I’ll pay for an inappropriate plant choice or an expanding waistline is somewhere off in the hazy future.
But just like I’m working hard to make it through the holidays with no extra pounds, I’m also trying to choose plants for myself and my clients that will thrive with a minimum of water, pruning and amendments. Many of my clients are transplants from high water, high humidity parts of the country, so I’m particularly interested in plants that belong here in California, but share similar characteristics to the classics they grew up with. To make my list, a plant has to tolerate harsh sun, clay soil and need minimal water. Oh yeah, and look good, too. Here are four favorites – as a bonus, the last three are California natives and deer resistant.
Instead of a Japanese Maple, try Prunus ‘Purple Pony’
It’s hard to beat the beauty of a red-leafed Japanese maple, but in our hot, dry climate, even with extra irrigation, burnt foliage is usually a summer reality. Fast growing ‘Purple Pony’ ornamental plum (Prunus cerasifera) has the same red-purple foliage and compact size of many Japanese Maples, but thrives in the sun with minimum supplemental water. And while you’re still waiting around for your Japanese Maple to sport its first leaf of the season, this small scale ornamental plum will be brightening your early spring garden with branches laden with soft pink blooms.
Instead of ‘Elijah Blue’ fescue, try Calamagrostis foliosa
Let me say it here first: I am SO over Elijah Blue fescue – or any blue fescue for that matter. Beautiful when newly planted, Festuca glauca quickly turns into a dense, half dead mess, and must be replaced regularly if you want to keep it looking its best. I first saw sweetly petite Calamagrostis foliosa in a garden designed by native garden specialist Kelly Marshall and fell hard for its compact form, fine foliage and mop-head appearance when in bloom. It’s green-with-a-hint-of-blue rather than blue, but keeps its good looks indefinitely and unlike its popular cousin ‘Karl Foerster’ is a California native.
Instead of Delphiniums, try Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita Bop’
Brilliant blue flowers with a deep pink tinge, ‘Margarita Bop’ is perfect if you want to recreate the look of a classic cottage garden in a dry climate – or if you just want a long blooming perennial that can stand up to heat and clay soil.
Instead of Lilacs, try Verbena lilacina ‘De La Mina’
I've been told the secret to successfully growing lilacs in warm weather climates is to put ice cubes around their roots in the winter, but for those of us who take a more relaxed approach to gardening, Verbena 'De La Mina' makes a delightful alternative. With a delicate, open habit, this fast growing charmer blooms practically year round. An outstanding pollinator plant, a simple shearing to maintain its shape mid-winter is all that’s required to keep it looking lovely.
That's a list of my favorites high-powered subs - what are yours?