When the poet T.S. Eliot wrote the line, “April is the cruelest month,” he wasn’t in Southern California. Here, April is the magic month in our gardens. Lengthening days with lots of sunshine, warmer nights and days that aren’t hot combine to make plants grow like no other month of the year. All that fall planting we did… didn’t we??… pays off with glorious spring flowers. If we forgot fall planting last year, let’s put a note in our calendars to remember this year. One of my landscape clients always says that the plants in her garden need to “earn their keep” meaning that they provide some special benefit. Here are some ideas about plants that fit that description.
GERANIUM MADARENSE: This is an attractive foliage plant with glossy, almost tropical-looking leaves of woodland quality. Best planted from gallon size container in sun to light shade to full sun. The plant will slowly grow bigger for about a year and then in the spring, when it has reached about a three by three size, it will produce a startlingly large cluster of small pink flowers. Later it will die off. How, then, does it “earn its keep?” As the flowers fade, they scatter seeds that very readily germinate and produce another generation of plants. These can be culled, easily transplanted to other areas of the garden or given to friends for their gardens. Be patient. They will not bloom until their second spring, but will have gorgeous foliage all the time. If you want to see this plant in action, several are thriving next to the Amphitheater at Rogers Gardens. As I write, they are just coming into bloom.
PELARGONIUM CORDIFOLIUM: Planted in the same garden with the aforementioned Geranium you can find several “heart-leaved” Pelargoniums, so named for the shape of their leaves. This is another plant with attractive year around foliage and beautiful lavender flowers in the spring and summer. This plant is also a terrific container plant.
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about Geraniums/Pelargoniums. These comprise a huge family of related plants including so-called ivy geraniums, Martha Washington’s, zonal geraniums and hardy geraniums, all of which are sub-divided into cultivars with their own names. The potential for misunderstanding that surrounds these names illustrates the importance of learning and using true botanical names to define specific plants.
The passing mention of hardy geraniums reminds me that we have good examples of several of this type of geraniums growing in the same garden to the right of the Amphitheater. Over the past several years, these hardy geraniums have gained in popularity because they are permanent, well-behaved plants that fill gaps nicely in many garden situations. Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ has become one of our favorites in landscapes as the lowest level understory plant.
One more Geranium, one of my favorites that neither looks like nor grows like what we usually think if as a Geranium is the Tomentosa and Tomentosa ‘Chocolate Mint.’ These plants have large, fuzzy leaves with a strong mint scent. They spread robustly, will climb if given support and make great additions to floral arrangements or garnishes with foods.
If you have read this column before, you know that I often mention the Euphorbia family of plants as one of my favorites and they are just now coming into bloom. In my own garden, Euphorbia wulfenii is in full bloom (see picture: the Euphorbia is the mass of chartreuse flowers in the foreground) Watch for a picture next month. Various other Euphorbia cultivars can be found around the gardens including cultivars ‘Rudolph,’ ‘Ruby Glow,’ and a small one ‘Tiny Tim.’ An important care note: by the time the flowers fade, next years new growth will have emerged beneath this years flower stems. Cut back the old stems, but protect the new ones.
Gardeners, like most hobbyists, are always watching for new products that will make the time spent on their hobby more fun. Under many gardening circumstances, gloves are a must. The best natural material gloves have always been goatskin. Impenetrable by thorns yet soft, snug and breathing, goat skin gloves are usually hard to find, but we just found a source for what are called Gloversville Goatskin gardening gloves. They have a Velcro closure at the wrist. Right now we seem to have only women’s sizes, but the extra large fit my average sized man’s hands just right.
The Dave Bush Garden, named for one of Roger’s Gardens early creative geniuses, is the first garden inside the Nursery… where the trains run at Christmas. I have been re-planting that garden for some 27 years, two or three times a year. In the spring in particular, we like to combine some tried and true plants with some newer, even experimental plants in this garden and if you are a new plant enthusiast, this is the place to look. This season on the east side of the garden I worked with plants that are primarily in the burgundy tone and in lime green/chartreuse tones. Pictures of most of these are included in this article.
Some of these are:
Sedum ‘Ogon’ – This low, spreading sedum has two unusual features: the color of its tiny leaves is startling chartreuse yellow and it will thrive in relatively damp (no, not soggy or boggy) and shady locations. A second Sedum, makinoi ‘Variegata’ can be found on the opposite side of the garden. It seems very hardy and is spreading out nicely. The variegated foliage gives a gravely texture to the plant.
Coprosma ‘Pink Splendor’ – This is a medium sized shrub with shiny leaves so colorful that its lack of flowers is forgotten. Looks great with anything
burgundy in color, then contrasted with chartreuse green. We are using this shrub a lot in our landscape projects.
The strong burgundy tones come from:
Heuchera ‘Crimson Curls’ – A curly leafed plant of about a foot in height that will later flower with delicate pink blossoms. All Heucheras need good drainage and a slightly acidic soil, much like Azaleas.
More limey tones can be found in:
Tanecetum parthenium aureum – ferny foliage and tiny white daisy flowers in cluster.
Silene dioca ‘Clifford Moore’ – catch the stripes.
Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ – one of our favorites for shady places’
Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’ – striped flax with two shades of yellow-green leaves and a fountain form… a tough plant that is also beautiful for both form and color.
Finally, if you have read these coloms before, you might remember Mandy the Australian Shepherd garden pulverizer. Mandy is now 12 and has mellowed but she still lover her garden.