Mexican Heather

Mexican heather has finely textured foliage.

The minute bright pink flowers of Mexican heather, Cuphea hyssopifolia, are less than a quarter inch long, but are enough to get the attention of the hummingbirds who really dig them. Flowers can rarely be more purplish or even more rarely white. The limber stems are well foliated with finely textured and narrow leaves that are not much more than half an inch long. Mature plants are typically lower but a bit wider than two feet. Overgrown plants can be pruned severely at the end of winter to regenerate over summer.

Night Blooming Jasmine

These dinky flowers disperse grand fragrance.

The warm nights between the dog days of summer are ideal for night blooming jasmine, Cestrum nocturnum. That is when it disperses its famously sweet fragrance to attract bat and moth pollinators. A bit of humidity, although unnecessary and locally rare, enhances the permeating nature of the fragrance. Some might find such fragrance to be excessive.

Otherwise, night blooming jasmine is quite modest. Those who experience the powerful fragrance at night may be unable to identify its source while visible during the day. Small floral trusses hold several small and narrowly tubular flowers that are about an inch long. Bloom is greenish white or pallid yellow. Simple evergreen leaves are a few inches long.

Therefore, night blooming jasmine works best in the background of more colorful bloom. It will not mind if other flowers get the credit for its fragrance. With regular watering, night blooming jasmine is happy in unseen areas between buildings, and under high windows that lack views. Aggressive pruning only in early spring promotes blooming new growth. Most plants stay shorter than ten feet. Rare white berries are toxic.

Zonal Geranium

Zonal geraniums bloom colorfully through summer.

Where winters are cooler, zonal geranium, Pelargonium X hortorum, performs as a warm season annual. It is perennial only with shelter from frost. Locally, traditional cultivars are so reliably perennial that they can get congested without thorough pruning and grooming after winter. Frost occasionally ruins outer growth, but rarely kills entire plants with roots.

Modern cultivars bloom more profusely and more colorfully than old cultivars, but are not quite as resilient. They are more likely to rot during the damp and cool weather of winter. They bloom exquisitely from spring through autumn though, with bright hues of red, pink, peach, salmon and white. They stay lower and more compact, so require less grooming.

The more popular modern zonal geraniums should not get much more than two feet high and wide. Their small flowers bloom on globular floral trusses that can get as wide as six inches. Traditional zonal geraniums get bigger, with smaller floral trusses. Nearly circular and aromatic leaves generally exhibit darker halos between lighter centers and margins.

Curve Leaf Yucca

Curve leaf yucca resembles other yuccas.

Several of the fifty or so species of Yucca are difficult to distinguish from similar species. Some are varieties of species, rather than distinct species. Some are naturally occurring hybrids. Curve leaf yucca, Yucca recurvifolia, is supposedly a naturally occurring variety of mound lily, Yucca gloriosa var. recurvifolia (or tristis). Alternatively, it could be a hybrid.

As if that is not confusing enough, its physical characteristics are variable. Foliar color is typically grayish, but might be simple olive drab like that of many other species of Yucca. Its typically pliable evergreen leaves that curve downward as they mature can be almost as rigid as those of common mound lily. Stout but upright trunks may or may not develop.

Curve leaf yucca is remarkably resilient. Actually, unwanted specimens can be difficult to eradicate. Small bits of rhizome can generate pups for many years after the removal of a primary plant. Occasional watering is appreciated through the warmest summer weather, but may not be necessary. Old colonies can get ten feet tall, and occupy significant area, but quite slowly.

Silver Mountain Gum

Silver mountain gum is remarkably glaucous.

The strikingly glaucous juvenile foliage of silver mountain gum, Eucalyptus pulverulenta, is likely more familiar within floral design than in home gardens. Actually, it is uncommon within home gardens, although quite popular as cut foliage among florists. Its paired and sessile leaves are oval or bluntly cordate (‘heart shaped’), and about an inch or two long.

Adult growth is rare, even among established trees. However, small white flowers bloom from the axils of juvenile leaves that are a year old. (Juvenile growth of most species can not bloom.) Bloom might continue from spring until autumn, as blooming stems sag from the weight of younger distal growth. The aromatic and evergreen leaves stiffen with age.

Low and shrubby specimens with a few trunks may not get much higher than fifteen feet. They have potential to get twice as tall though, particularly if pruned up onto bare trunks. Lignotubers expand below the trunks. Strips of old bark shed to reveal fresh matte brown bark. Incidentally, the Latin name of this species often transposes for Eucalyptus cinerea.

Blanket Flower

Blanket flower covers a flower bed.

The bright colors and patterns of blanket flower, Gaillardia, resemble those of blankets made by native American Indians. The daisy flowers are typically two different shades of red, orange, yellow, brown or yellowish white. Not many varieties bloom with single colors. Taller varieties can get almost two feet tall, with slender but sturdy stems that are good for cutting. The narrow leaves are mostly basal, so do not crowd bloom.

The more popular varieties of blanket flower are perennial. Healthy plants can slowly get quite broad, and can self sow their seed to spread a bit farther. Annual varieties can not get as broad, but often self sow more efficiently than perennial types do. Once it gets growing, blanket flower does not need much water. However, regularly watered plants are already blooming. Modestly watered plants wait until summer.

Japanese Boxwood

Small leaves adapt well to hedging.

Strictly formal boxwood hedges are traditional components of old formal rose gardens. In California, Japanese boxwood, Buxus microphylla, had always been more popular than English boxwood, which may be more common where winter is cooler. Although it grows too slowly for high hedges, it gets high enough to obscure gnarled lower growth of roses.

Mature plants are generally less than three feet tall and wide, although they can get a bit larger if they get a chance. The oval and glossy evergreen leaves are only about half an inch or an inch long, but relatively thick, so are very conducive to formal shearing. Foliar texture is nicely dense but not too congested. Gray or pale brown bark is seldom visible.

Old fashioned Japanese boxwood, which remains the most common in old gardens, has a somewhat light or yellowish green color. Modern cultivars are darker green. A common problem with old formal hedges is the addition of modern cultivars or even other species to fill gaps. The darker foliage will not conform to the lighter foliage, so ruins the formality.

Pittosporum eugenioides

Pittosporum eugenioides leaves have distinctively wavy margins.

Large shorn hedges or informal screens are the more popular functions of Pittosporum eugenioides. It works like a modern and more relaxed option to privet. What few garden enthusiasts know is that it can alternatively be allowed grow into a small tree, either as a standard (on a single trunk) or with multiple trunks. It grows rather efficiently to more than twenty feet tall and about half as broad while young, and as it matures, can eventually get about thirty feet tall and broad.

The glossy leaves have appealingly wavy margins and distinctively pale midribs. The slightly fragrant flowers are only pale yellow, and are not abundant among young trees. Big old trees often bloom enough in autumn to be pleasantly fragrant. Stems and foliage are lemony fragrant when pruned or shorn. However, the common name of ‘lemonwood’ (or tarata) is not so common locally for Pittosporum eugenioides.

Red Willow

Red willow is a riparian native.

Of the few native species that share the same designation of ‘red willow’, Salix lasiandra, is likely the most common locally. However, it has a few other common names, including shining willow and Pacific willow. For those acquainted with it, recognition is easier than nomenclature. It is not a problem though, since red willow is rarely an intentional choice.

Red willows, including less common species, grow wild in local riparian situations. They sometimes sneak into home gardens, particularly if irrigation is generous. Their rampant growth is susceptible to spontaneous limb failure. Pruning can compensate for structural deficiency of young trees. However, trunks typically succumb to decay within thirty years.

Mature trees are mostly less than thirty feet tall, typically with low branches, and possibly with a few elegant trunks. The gray or light brown bark is finely furrowed. The deciduous foliage has a slight sheen, and then turns brownish yellow prior to autumn defoliation. Its narrow leaves are about three inches long. Twigs are yellowish or green rather than red, as it implies.

Red Passion Flower Vine

Red passion flower seems quite exotic.

Compared to the common passion flower, the three inch wide red passion flower, Passiflora manicata, is more colorful with cherry red flowers, but does not so prominently display the weirdly distended floral parts that passion flowers are known for. Bloom is not as profuse either, particularly among vigorous vines.

However, red passion flower vine has the advantages of somewhat more resilient and greener foliage, and sturdier vines that can climb almost to thirty feet high. It grows so vigorously that it can be surprisingly overwhelming, even if pruned severely or cut to the ground at the end of each winter. It is not so rampant in light shade.

Copies (new vines) are easy to propagate by layering, which involves merely burying a section of vine while still attached to the parent vine until it develops enough roots to be separated. The buried section should be at least a few inches long. At least a few inches of the tip of the vine should extend beyond the buried section.

The fruit of red passion flower vine is considered to be toxic, but often gets eaten anyway. Fortunately, fruit rarely develops.