The Lilac Hibiscus cultivar ‘Santa Cruz’ was imported from Australia by Ray Collett, the founding director of the UCSC Arboretum. This photo shows one of its blossoms peeking through the leaves of Golden Ray New Zealand Flax (Phormium ‘Golden Ray’). (Tom Karwin)
As the first day of spring nears (Monday, officially), our gardens are beginning to display new growth and, in some cases, early blossoms. While the unusual rains support plant growth, the series of atmospheric rivers has created problems for many in the Monterey Bay area. We extend sympathy and best wishes to those who are dealing with storm-related issues.
Garden centers and mail-order nurseries also are showing new energy in response to gardeners’ seasonal enthusiasm for acquiring new plants, and their particular interest in plants that are already blooming in response to the growers’ doses of chemical stimulants.
Corsican Hellebore has been self-propagating gradually under the shade of a large American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). The specific epithet comes the Latin word ‘argutus’ meaning “sharp” and ‘folius’ meaning “leafed” in reference to the sharply toothed leaves. (Tom Karwin)
Experienced gardeners will have installed their landscape additions in the fall and waited patiently for the plants to develop roots and prepare for spring growth. Savvy gardeners also expect that plants that have been pushed into early bloom often miss their nutrient enrichment and require time to adjust to normal garden soil.
My fall activities, reported recently, included propagating geophytes and hard pruning of several shrubs that are now predictably showing new growth from their bases.
Some established plants are already blooming naturally, perhaps a bit earlier than in past years because of our evolving climate. We can enjoy the early spots of color in our gardens. Here are a few examples from my garden.
• Corsican Hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius) grows well in partial shade. It has a limited life span, and self-seeds freely, creating a plant swath and seedlings to share with other gardeners. This is a larger Hellebore, reaching 3-4 feet high. Several smaller cultivars (usually about 18 inches high) are available with a range of blossom colors.
• Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia). A member of the chaparral plant community, this California native can grow quite large; my specimen is currently about 6’ x 6’. It has evergreen, leathery leaves on reddish twigs. Sticky clusters of small white flowers appear from February to May, followed by dark red, also sticky, tart-flavored fruits that are a significant food source for birds and small mammals.
The Encore Azalea, when in full bloom, has brilliant two-inch pink flowers covering the entire shrub. After blooming, the evergreen leaves provide an elegant backdrop to the landscape. (Tom Karwin)
• Lilac Hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii ‘Santa Cruz’). This shrub, an Australian native, grows to 6-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide. Pronouncing its botanical name requires practice: al-ly-oh-GY-nee hew-GEL-ee-eye. A member of the large Mallow plant family (Malvaceae), it produces very attractive flowers in abundance. While it has a long bloom period, the main flush is in late spring, after which the shrub should be pruned back quite hard and tipped back frequently and lightly. This treatment promotes new shoots from old wood, resulting in a more compact plant and more blossoms.
• Encore Azalea (Rhododendron ‘Robleu’ Autumn Jewel). This is one of three plants I installed recently in a small bed with unusual exposure: high open shade most of the day and a brief midday period of direct sunlight. This bed has been home to Weigela (needed more sun), Daphne (short life), and Haemanthus (toasted during noonday). This Azalea reportedly prefers part shade and tolerates sun-dappled exposure. So far, this trio seems to be growing nicely. We now have lots of buds and even a few open blossoms.
Advance your knowledge
Reminder (repeated): The Garden Conservancy’s series of webinars, “Sissinghurst Through the Seasons,” begins March 23 with a focus on the spring season. This four-part event brings a garden expert’s review of seasonal gardening at a highly regarded residential garden. For information, visit gardenconservancy.org.
The Garden Conservancy has also announced a series of author webinars, beginning with “Curating a New Nature” at 11 a.m. April 6. The presenters include award-winning architect Emilio Ambasz, who served for many years as the Curator of Design at the Museum of Modern Art, and art historian Barry Bergdoll, the former Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. For info and registration, visit gardenconservancy.org.
Lemonade Berry tends to grow lower and wider when grown near the coast, and more upright when grown inland. It’s closely related to the Sugar Bush, which grows better inland. (Tom Karwin)
Fine Gardening magazine has announced a free webinar, “Finding Your Garden Style,” at 4 p.m. March 29. Fine Gardening’s write-up: “How do you begin the process of designing or refining your own gardens, especially when there are so many things that you need to take into consideration? In this class, award-winning UK garden designer Annie Guilfoyle will guide you through the elements that make for a successful design and show you how to develop a garden that really suits your taste and lifestyle.
This webinar will focus on how to use sketching and observation as tools to develop your technique. The process of designing your space should be fun, according to Annie, so she’ll share insights for how to develop your style using the influences of things you really like, such as textiles, art, and architecture. There will be plenty of suggestions on how to start your design process and gather inspiration—and, of course, we will touch on those oh-so-important plants.” To register for this (again) free webinar, browse to finegardening.com/webinars.
Enrich your gardening days
A recent column in the happiness series missed mentioning community gardens as a satisfying way to garden with others. Wikipedia: “A community garden is a piece of land gardened or cultivated by a group of people individually or collectively. Normally in community gardens, the land is divided into individual plots. Each individual gardener is responsible for their own plot and the yielding or the production of which belongs to the individual.” Another definition: “shared spaces where people grow plants for food, beauty, or social benefits.”
There are several community gardens in the Monterey Bay area, including the Pacific Grove Community Garden (mentioned by a reader) and the Annette Marcum Community Garden in Scotts Valley (recently revamped). For information about community gardens, visit www.communitygarden.org/garden.
Tom Karwin is a past president of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, a past president and Lifetime Member of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). He is now a board member of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society, and active with the Pacific Horticultural Society. To view daily photos from his garden, https://www.facebook.com/ongardeningcom-566511763375123/. For garden coaching info and an archive of On Gardening columns, visit ongardening.com. Email your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.