It is unfortunate that most florists’ cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, are enjoyed as cool season annuals only through winter, and then discarded as they are replaced by spring annuals. They can actually survive as perennials for several years, with white, red, pink or magenta flowers hovering above their marbled rubbery foliage each winter. Foliage typically stay less than six inches deep.
Florists’ cyclamen are probably typically discarded seasonally because, after blooming through winter, they take some time to redirect their resources to adapt to their landscape situations as the weather warms through spring. During that time, they can look rather tired. Shortly after they recover, they defoliate for dormancy through the warmth of summer. Some do not survive the process.
When they regenerate through the following autumn, they are not as uniform as they were when first installed. This is probably not a problem where a few florists’ cyclamen are planted with mixed annuals or perennials that compensate for their irregularities as well as their dormancy through summer. However, it does not work well for the uniform flower beds that they are often installed into.
Even though it can get about fifty feet tall and wide, Italian stone pine, Pinus pinea, often gets planted as a small living Christmas tree into confined urban gardens. It gets so big so fast that it can get to be a serious problem, as well as expensive to remove, before anyone notices. It is really only proportionate to large public spaces such as parks or medians for big boulevards. The bulky trunks typically lean one way or another. The long limbs spread laterally to form an unusually broad and flat-topped canopy.
The paired needles are about four to six inches long. However, small living Christmas trees are still outfitted with juvenile foliage that looks nothing like adult foliage. Juvenile needles are single, very glaucous (bluish) and only about an inch or an inch and a half long. Adult foliage may not develop for a few years. The four or five inch long cones mature slowly for three years. Squirrels and birds like the big seeds, which would otherwise be known as pine-nuts if people could get them first.
(Apologies for this inadequate illustration of Italian stone pines damaged by traffic. It was the only picture of Italian stone pine I could find.)
Of all the popular pittosporums in Western landscapes nowadays, the karo, Pittosporum crassifolium, is certainly not one of the most familiar. It might have been one of the earliest to have been popularized here though. Because of its resiliency to coastal climates, it was a common hedge in San Francisco during the Victorian Period. With minimal watering, it did well farther inland too.
Karo are nice fluffy evergreen shrubs that can get fifteen feet tall. They excel both as informal screens and refined hedges, and can be staked as small trees on single straight trunks. Alternatively, lower growth of big shrubby specimens can be pruned up to expose a few delightfully sculptural trunks. ‘Compactum’ is a densely foliated mounding cultivar that might stay less than three feet tall.
The Latin name, Pittosporum crassifolium, is quite descriptive. The literal translation is “sticky-seed thick-leaf”. The two or three inch long leaves are not really thick, but their slightly grayish upper surfaces and more grayish tomentous (fuzzy) undersides make them seem almost succulent. Small and round seed pods eventually split open to reveal dark seed glued together with sticky resin.
A mature persimmon tree, Diospyros kaki, is often too much of a good thing. The fruit is both big and abundant as it ripens this time of year. Much of the fruit in taller trees is out of reach. Nearly ripened but somewhat firm fruit can be picked and shared with neighbors for a while, but must be picked immediately once completely ripe. Otherwise, it falls and makes a squishy mess that can not be raked up! Nearly ripe fruit ripens easily off the tree. Individual fruits only need to be spread out in a single layer to limit molding.
‘Fuyu’ is probably the most popular variety because the ripe fruit can be eaten while still firm, or after it has gotten soft. ‘Hachiya’ produces the largest fruit, sometimes bigger than a softball; but the fruit is too astringent to eat until completely ripe. It is actually best after it is so overly ripe that it is too squishy to handle. Persimmon fruits are very bright orange. ‘Hachiya’ fruit can be slightly reddish. The foliage gets just as colorful. Typically, the foliage colors first, and then falls to reveal the fruit. This year, the fruit seems to be coloring first.
Not to be confused with the Canadian rock band from the 1970s, this rush, Juncus patens, is native to riparian areas between western Washington and San Diego County. It is also known as the common rush because it is, obviously, the most common species of the genus on the West Coast. It is only occasionally planted intentionally, but more often sneaks into well irrigated landscapes.
Those planted intentionally are mostly cultivars with slightly bluish or grayish foliage, such as ‘Elk Blue’, ‘Occidental Blue’ and ‘Carmen’s Grey’. Those in the wild, or that sneak into landscapes from the wild, are dark green like avocado skin. The upright foliage is really very slender stems that look more like leaves than the vestigial leaves do. It forms dense clumps about one to three feet tall.
Although it is a riparian plant that survives soil saturation and inadequate drainage through winter, rush can survive as soil drains and dries somewhat through summer. It prefers somewhat regular watering in landscapes and home gardens. If cut back to the ground at the end of winter, and perhaps divided, fresh new growth regenerates through spring. Growth is sparse and floppy in shade.
Out in rural chaparral regions, where water is scarce, the big and bold California sycamore, Platanus racemosa, somehow seems to find the spots where groundwater is not too far below the surface of the soil. It is technically a riparian tree, that is just as comfortable competing with cottonwoods and willows along forested rivers and floodplains. It eventually get too big and messy for refined urban gardens, but is somewhat popular nonetheless.
The bulky trunks and limbs are just too striking to ignore, especially as trees defoliate to expose the mottled beige and gray bark. Trunks are typically leaning and irregularly sculptural. Many trees have multiple trunks. The biggest trees are a hundred feet tall. The big palmately lobed leaves can be eight inches wide, but unfortunately do not color well in autumn. The foliar tomentum (fuzz) can be irritating to the skin when leaves need to be raked. Athracnose causes much of the early spring foliage to fall, and sometimes distorts and discolors later summer foliage.
Like a flower girl scatters rose petals ahead of a wedding procession, European white birch, Betula pendula, tosses its small deltoid leaves soon after turning soft yellow with autumn chill. Color may not last long on the trees, but becomes a delightful mess for those who appreciate such assets. The primary allure though, is the slender strikingly white trunks, accented with black furrowing.
European white birch is very informal, but also elegant enough for formal landscapes. To best display their gently leaning white trunks, they are popularly planted in relaxed groups. Their canopies are neither broad nor dense, so a few fit together nicely. As lower branches get pruned away, pendulous upper branches sway softly in the breeze. Mature trees are mostly less than fifty feet tall.
Himalayan birch, Betula utilis or Betula jacquemontii, which has become more popular than European white birch since the 1990s, has a completely different personality. Its strictly vertical trunks and upright growth are appealing separately, but incompatible with European white birch. When adding trees to an established grove of any birch, it is very important to procure more of the same.
It is unfortunate that, like Easter lilies and poinsettias, most kalanches, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, are enjoyed while actively blooming, and then discarded as their blooms fade. It is so easy to simply snip out the deteriorating flowers, and grow the small perennials plants for their appealing succulent foliage until they bloom again. They do not get much more than half a foot tall, so can stay in small pots indefinitely. They seem to prefer the porosity of clay pots. Because they can rot, they should be watered when the surface of the soil seems to be getting dry, and their drainage saucers should not be allowed to hold water too long. Kalanchoes like bright but indirect sunlight. They can be acclimated to direct sun exposure, but might seem to be somewhat stunted. If brought in before frost, they can be happy out on a patio. The clustered small flowers can be white, pink, red or bright or pastel shades of orange or yellow.
Ah, something vintage! Remember Hollywood juniper, Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka’ (or ‘Torulosa’) flanking big two-car garage doors of mid century modern homes? Those that are still around after half a century are big and strikingly sculptural, like miniature Monterey cypress for home gardens. They get about fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide, but have potential to get significantly larger.
Hollywood juniper is an old classic that is still reasonably available in some nurseries. Their densely foliated stems twist and turn picturesquely upward, typically leaning one way or another toward sunlight or away from prevailing wind. Some say they look like frozen green flames. Their gnarly trunks and flaking bark can be exposed as they grow tall enough for low growth to be pruned away.
Because of their very irregular branch structure, Hollywood juniper is more adaptable to free-formed pruning than the presently trendy junipers with strictly upright or conical form. They must never be shorn, but do not mind if obtrusive limbs get pruned back to the main trunks. Therefore, they are actually more adaptable to smaller modern gardens than some modern cultivars of juniper are.
It is almost never planted in home gardens, but the native red willow, Salix laevigata, has a sneaky way of getting where it wants to be. The minute seeds go wherever the wind blows them. Because it is a riparian tree, red willow prefers well watered spots. If not detected and pulled up in the first year, it can grow rather aggressively, and overwhelm more desirable plants, although the somewhat sparse canopy makes only moderate shade.
With a bit of grooming, red willow can be a handsomely asymmetrical tree, with upright branch structure. However, even the healthiest trees rarely get more than thirty feet tall, or much more than forty years old. The leaves are a bit shorter and wider than those of the more familiar weeping willow, and do not color as well in autumn. There are actually a few other native willows that are also commonly know as red willow. Some are quite similar, while others are very different.