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Species and hybrid Ceanothus native to California have been prized for many years for their fragrant, early spring blue or white flowers and for their tough and hardy nature. Widely used in large scale or home landscapes as ground and bank covers, or as specimen shrubs, these evergreen shrubs perform well with little care and put on their spring show regardless of weather variations. In general, Ceanothus require good drainage, full sun, and occasional to no summer water to thrive. Most varieties are relatively fast once established. Some varieties tend to be short-lived in generously watered gardens. Showy species and hybrids offered here bring reliable early spring color and their sweet fragrance to any sunny garden.
Occurring naturally from S. Europe to N. Africa, the genus Cistus comprises about 20 species of evergreen shrubs. General hardiness, aromatic leaves and showy spring bloom ensure their use in dry borders and as ground covers on dry banks. As a group, Rockroses require good drainage, full sun and occasional to little summer water. Pruning after bloom keeps them shapely. They bring profuse spring color and nice foliage texture to any planting, making them valuable shrubs for gardeners.
The genus Euphorbia contains many interesting plants, species considered here are useful in perennial and rock gardens, and in dry borders. Generally blooming in early spring through summer, their commonly chartreuse flowers really brighten up any plant combination. Resistant to predation by both deer and gophers, spurges contain a poisonous and irritating milky sap; caution should be used when pruning and transplanting.
From Australia, and chiefly through U.C. Santa Cruz Arboretum, come the colorful, textural and rugged Grevilleas. Their forms range from dense, widely spreading groundcovers to large, many branched shrubs that can become small trees. Leaf shapes vary greatly: some are short and needle-like while others can be laurel-shaped, some even resemble herring-bones. Flowers in a wide range of colors can be shaped like spiders, claws, toothbrushes or bottlebrushes, and are attractive to hummingbirds. In general, Grevilleas appreciate sun and good drainage although many are clay and shade tolerant. They prefer somewhat acidic conditions with little fertilizer (no phosphorus) and general winter lows above 20° F. They are very deer and drought tolerant, practically carefree, and should be used more in Bay Area and Central Coast gardens. Occasional to infrequent summer water will keep them in fine form.
Lavenders have been highly prized as herb, Mediterranean and cottage garden plants for centuries. From the frost tolerant English and Lavandin cultivars to the tender but ever-blooming Canary Island forms, Lavenders have proven to be relatively carefree and drought tolerant garden subjects. Strong fragrances, extractable oils, excellent drying properties, deer resistance, captivating hues of blue and violet flowers, and gray-green to whitish silver foliage textures are some of their many garden attributes. Providing a sunny location with good drainage, preventing soil from smothering the crown and occasional thorough waterings are the main cultural concerns of Lavenders.
From South Africa come the unique, visually appealing Leucadendrons, with many durable hybrid cultivars. Growing in mostly shrub form, they vary from upright and somewhat vase-shaped to mounding and widely spreading shrubs. The brightly colored bracts are stunning during the flowering season (usually winter into spring), and vary in color from silver to yellow to orange to ruby red. The actual flowers are cone-like structures and are borne on separate male and female plants. Depending on the cultivar, male or female flowers will be enclosed within showy, colored bracts (actually involucral leaves).
As a rule, inflorescences are produced in mass profusion by each plant, creating a show of color and contrast that also rewards the gardener with excellent, long-lasting cut flowers. Leucadendrons should be grown in mostly sunny sites with good to average drainage. Like other Protea family members, they are generally intolerant of phosphorus fertilizers. These shrubs tend to be more frost tolerant than other South African Proteas, so in a borderline region should probably be chosen over Protea or Leucospermum. They need sun, good drainage and occasional to little summer water once established.
Rosemary, originally grown in ancient herb gardens for its aromatic and medicinal oils and for its usefulness in flavoring meat, has now become a sturdy and long-lived staple in the Mediterranean xerophytic garden. Equally useful are the prostrate and semi-upright to upright forms for providing low maintenance, drought and deer tolerant ground covers, or mass plantings. Flowering time is generally early in the year, from winter into spring, and the blue flowers contrast beautifully with native Manzanita and white flowering varieties of Ceanothus. Rosemary also beckons to be used in combination with its Mediterranean neighbors, Lavenders and Rockroses. Known for its ability to thrive in poor, dry soils with little or no supplemental irrigation, Rosemary is a benchmark on the list of deer-proof plants. Culturally they prefer sun and good drainage, but will tolerate heavier soils that are not waterlogged in winter. Root rot and fungal leaf spot are the main disease concerns and are basically a sign of excessive moisture. If one had to suggest a single exotic genus to introduce into a native California garden, Rosmarinus would be hard to overlook.
Known and used by man for centuries as food and medicine, Salvias have a long history in cultivation. California gardeners have seen an explosion in the varieties and types available in the last few years. Plants offered are generally selected and prized for bright flowers, long bloom season, or ability to adapt to garden conditions. Often attractive to hummingbirds, many Sages have fragrant leaves as well as bright flowers. Sages included here may be perennial or shrubby, and have differing cultural needs depending on their origin.
The generic name Thymus is believed to be derived either from the Greek thymon, 'to fumigate', in that it was used as an incense, or possibly from the Greek thumus, 'courage', in reference to their belief that warriors would be stimulated and strengthened after bathing in thyme water. Closely related to Origanum species, Thyme is a culinary herb and an important plant for bees. Thymes have many uses. The essential oils contain thymol with antiseptic, disinfectant and deodorizing properties that have been utilized by cultures throughout history. Thymes vary in form from low, spreading groundcover types to low bushy subshrubs. They are well suited to sites in full sun with well drained soils, the sunny border, troughs, rock gardens, herb gardens and between paving stones or in gravelly places. With only occasional watering in summer and a nice clipping after flowering, these plants can be kept very tidy.
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