The first specie to be imported to North America from Europe were utilitarian plants that produced fruits, vegetables or other horticultural products. English hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata, was likely one of the first ornamental specie to be imported merely because those who were familiar with it appreciated the delightful white spring bloom and the rich red berries in autumn and winter.
The biggest trees should not get much higher than second story eaves, but the handsomely coarse texture of the bark, furrowed trunks and almost oaken foliar texture make these relatively small trees seem rather grand. Unfortunately, the stems, particularly the most vigorous, are quite thorny. The lobed leaves are about one or two inches long and wide, and might turn orange in autumn.
The trusses of small white flowers that bloom in spring resemble those of pear, and like pear bloom, produce a musky fragrance that some might find objectionable. Some cultivars and hybrids bloom with less fragrant pink, double pink or double red flowers. Some produce orange or yellow berries. If birds to not take them too quickly, the pendulous trusses of berries can last into winter.
Where it has space to grow, classic lemon bottlebrush that was so popular in the 1960’s is still a practical and resilient large shrub, and is happy to bloom with bright scarlet flowers as long as the weather is warm. It is resistant to most diseases and pests, and once established, survives on annual rainfall. Its main problem is that it simply gets too big for many situations.
Dwarf bottlebrush, Callistemon ‘Little John’, is more often a better fit, although it has a very different personality. It is short and dense, and spreads more laterally than upright. Mature plants are only about three or four feet tall, and maybe twice as wide. The smaller leaves are somewhat grayish. The distinctive bottlebrush flowers are a slightly darker shade of purplish red.
Even though established plants do not need much water at all, regular (but not necessarily generous) watering promotes bloom and growth. However, excessive watering can be lethal. Full sun exposure is best. A bit of light shade should be no problem. Dwarf bottlebrush makes a nice low informal (unshorn) hedge. Flowers attract bees and hummingbirds.
Some might say it blooms very late. Others might say it blooms very early. Regardless, sasanqua camellia, Camellia sasanqua, blooms in autumn or early winter when not much else is blooming. The abundant two inch wide flowers can be pale pink, rich pink, white or red, all with prominent yellow stamens. Some are fluffy with many petals. Others have only a few. Alas, fragrance is rare.
Each cultivar of sasanqua camellia has a distinct personality. Some are strictly upright, and can eventually get somewhat higher than downstairs eaves. Others are too limber to stand upright on their own; so they grow as low mounds, or espaliered onto trellises. With proper pruning that does not compromise bloom too much, some can be pruned as hedges, or as foundations plantings.
Sasanqua camellia has been in cultivation for many centuries. Prior to breeding for bloom in the past few centuries, it was grown for tea and tea seed oil, which is extracted from the seeds. This oil is used for culinary purposes and cosmetics. The finely serrate elliptical ‘tea’ leaves are about one to two and a half inches long. The glossy evergreen foliage is appealing throughout the year.
The softest and laciest of the asparagus is the asparagus fern, Asparagus setaceus. The extremely small ‘leaves’ (or ‘cladodes’) are less than a quarter of an inch long. The tiny and mostly unnoticed pale white flowers that bloom sporadically in warm weather make it obvious that asparagus fern is not really a fern. (Ferns do not bloom.) If any green berries develop, they are toxic.
The wiry perennial stems can climb like vines to almost reach upstairs eaves, although most get less than half as high. Individual plants produce only a few stems, rarely more than ten. Pruning out old deteriorating stems stimulates new growth. Potted asparagus fern eventually gets crowded with swollen roots, so needs to graduate to larger pots. As a houseplant, it needs regular watering.
It seems like not so long ago when the only African daisy that was commonly available was the trailing African daisy that makes such a nice relaxed ground cover for small spaces. The simple white flowers have navy blue centers, and are occasionally joined by mutant light purple flowers. The cultivar that blooms only in light purple was not as popular. Things have certainly changed!
African daisies, Osteospermum, have been bred and hybridized so extensively that most of the modern cultivars are not categorized by specie, so are known by their cultivar names. Most are likely related to Osteospermum ecklonis, which was the first of the shrubby specie to become popular. Although often grown as cool season annuals, African daisies are short term perennials.
Flowers can be various pastel hues of purple, pink, orange, yellow or white. Bloom can be profuse in random phases, and sporadic bloom is almost continuous between early spring and late autumn. It is only postponed by the coolest winter weather and the warmest summer weather. Mature plants can get a bit more than two feet high and wide. They want full sun and regular watering.
Boston ivy is not really ivy at all; but is more closely related to grape. Along with creeping fig, it is one of the two best vines for freeway sound-walls. It protects the walls from graffiti and muffles sound. Unlike creeping fig, which is evergreen, Boston ivy is surprisingly colorful through autumn. Unfortunately, it clings to whatever it climbs with holdfast discs, so ruins paint, stucco, and any other surface it gets a hold of.
Then there is ornamental grape, Vitis vinifera. It is about as colorful as Boston ivy, and can climb almost as aggressively to thirty feet, but lacks the damaging holdfast discs. It is nearly fruitless, which may seem like a waste of an otherwise perfectly good grape vine; but it will not make much of a mess until it defoliates. If any of the tiny fruit actually matures, it will almost certainly get eaten by birds before anyone notices.
Since it does not grip so tightly to what it climbs, ornamental grape can get rather shrubby. Outer growth can overwhelm and shade out inner growth, and can eventually produce a thicket of dead canes. Pruning back superfluous shrubby growth while bare in winter promotes more vigorous new growth the following spring and summer. Ornamental grape likes full sun exposure.
Some of us may remember deodar cedar, Cedrus deodara, from the opening scene of the Andy Griffith Show. They were in the background as Andy Taylor and his son Opie skipped stones on Myers Lake near Mayberry in North Carolina. Those well established and naturalized trees and the pond are actually in Franklin Canyon Park in the Santa Monica Mountains above Beverly Hills.
If only it did not get big enough to shade most of a compact home garden, deodar cedar would be better than most other evergreen coniferous trees used in California landscapes. It enjoys the warmth and sunshine here, and does not require any more water than what most regions that are not desert get from rain. It eventually gets fifty feet tall and thirty feet wide, and might get bigger.
The glaucous grayish needle leaves are about an inch or two long, and are arranged either in tight terminal clusters on the tips of short and stout stems, or singly on longer and pendulous shoots. Ideally, trees develop conical canopies with horizontal limbs that droop at the tips. Some trees develop a few main trunks down low, or big structurally deficient limbs that curve irregularly upward.
Of all the colorful berries that ripen in autumn, firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea, is the most colorful, and also the most familiar. The berries are almost always bright red, deep red or reddish orange. Cultivars with orange berries have become rare. Those with yellow berries are even more rare, and are weaker plants anyway. The berries can linger through winter, but typically get eaten by birds half way through.
Firethorn earns its name with formidable thorns. A hedge of firethorn is more impenetrable than a fence topped with barbed wire, but much more appealing with glossy evergreen foliage. The only problem is that no one wants to prune such a nasty hedge! The arching stems can get taller than ten feet, and without adequate pruning, can easily get as broad. Young plants are limber enough to be espaliered.
The fragrance of the profuse clusters of tiny white flowers that bloom in spring and summer may be objectionable to some. Shade inhibits bloom and subsequent development of berries. Feral seedlings sometimes appear, but they are wimpier, thornier, and less prolific with berries than their modern cultivar parents are.
Here it is, three quarters of the way through November, and this Japanese anemone, Anemone hupehensis or Anemone X hybrida, is finally finishing bloom. It should have finished a month ago, but does not always stay on schedule here. Each cultivar exhibits a distinct responsiveness to the seasons, so others finished a while ago. The deciduous foliage will eventually succumb to frost.
Once they get going in a spot that they like, Japanese anemone slowly spread. Although not considered to be invasive, they can be difficult to get rid of if they creep into spots where they are not wanted. Because they bloom so late in summer and autumn, they get divided in spring. Even old colonies may never need to be divided, but can be divided if more plants are desired elsewhere.
The elegance of the foot high foliage seems contrary to its woodsy and unrefined compatibility with taller shrubbery and small trees, like rhododendrons, Japanese maples and hydrangeas. It is an excellent seasonal understory. The limber stems of the white or pale pink flowers get about twice as high as the foliage. The one and a half to two inch wide flowers are either single or double.
Japanese anemone wants rich soil, partial shade and regular watering. It can be happy in full sun exposure if it does not get too warm and dry.
It may not bloom profusely, but cape honeysuckle, Tecoma capensis, blooms sporadically at random times throughout the year, and often while not much else is blooming. The bright reddish orange flowers contrast nicely against glossy evergreen foliage. Some blooms are slightly more reddish, while others are slightly more orangeish. A somewhat more compact cultivar blooms with light yellow flowers.
The long and limber stems of cape honeysuckle can not decide if they want to grow as vines or as shrubbery. They can be tied back and espaliered against a fence or trellis, or pruned and left to stand on their own. Large plants can get higher than the eaves. Overgrown thickets of stems can be cut down to the ground at the end of winter. They can regenerate and resume blooming before summer.
The narrow tubular flowers are about two inches long. They develop in terminal trusses, but only a few within a truss bloom at the same time. Shade inhibits bloom. Fertilizer seems to inhibit bloom by promoting vigorous vegetative growth. Fortunately, these vigorous shoots eventually bloom as vigorously as the grew. The four or five inch long leaves are pinnately compound, with five to seven small serrate leaflets.