The wild cucumber (Marah fabaceus fabaceus) is an enthusiastic native plant that happily covers any large object it can ramble over. It will scale trees, smother sheds and carpet the ground with its fast-growing wiry stems. The plant sends out curly tendrils to attach to anything within its grasp. And after showing off its clusters of white flowers, the wild cucumber will explode into bright green porcupine like inedible cucumber fruits. Explode is a good word for this plant as these fruits can burst open and shoot out the seeds. The wild cucumber survives extreme heat and drought by growing huge underground roots often referred to as ‘man roots’ due to their size. If you want one growing in your wildflower garden, just be sure you like the location. Once established, digging out that root is a major project! The Marah fabaceus fabaceus is native only to Southern California.
The wild cucumber is not edible (though looking at the spiny fruit, I don’t suspect many people would find it tempting, anyway).
Whether you are a fan of annuals or perennials, the sunflower can find a treasured place in your garden. These fast-growing annuals offer big, bold plants that are a quick, easy way to add eye-catching flowers to almost any garden.
There are varieties of these giant daisies that grow over eight feet tall and varieties that reach only two and a half to three feet. Some are long stems topped with a big, rayed, disk of a bloom whereas others will branch up the stem offering multiple blooms. Colors are available in the traditional pure yellow, whites, lemons, mahoganies, bronzes, deep reds and rings of blended hues. There are double flowers, full and fluffy with petals, and there are single open disks outlined with just a ring of petals imitating the rays of the sun.
Sunflowers not only echo the sun in design, but actually turn to face the sun as it moves across the sky during the day. These interesting flowers are decorative, colorful, ideal for adding towering height or lollypop vertical growth to a garden bed. Use tall varieties in the back of a garden, to decorate a dull wall or fence or to add a bold accent or create a colorful focal point within a planting. Sunflowers add character to a Tuscan or other Mediterranean landscape design. They fit in perfectly with a cottage garden design and show off nicely in a Southwestern themed garden.
The sunflower (Heliantus annuus) is easily planted from seed. You can also buy started plants. It is easy to grow and because it grows quickly, is an ideal plant to help children become excited about gardening. The large seeds are convenient to handle and sprout fast. After flowering the big blooms develop seeds that invite birds into your garden, can be saved to plant next year and are edible. Give the sunflower plenty of sunshine, ample water and occasional plant food. These ponderous plants are heavy feeders.
One of the deservedly popular flowers in gardens all over America – all over the world – is the iris. These plants all grow from storage-adapted roots and tend to flower with large, showy blooms. Since there are so many different kinds of irises that have evolved in different climates, most gardens can be planted with at least one kind that will adapt well. There is a wide selection of sizes and colors – even combinations of colors — available. Irises can slip into designs for shade or sun, formal or informal landscapes, or gardens in a wide range of styles. The following are just some of the popular types of iris.
Bulb irises are usually early blooming flowers that are easily planted as dormant bulbs. These tend to be smaller types of iris that readily spread into attractive clumps. Many varieties are ideal to cluster in garden beds or even naturalize into lawn edges to give an informal look to the garden. The most common colors are blues, purples, yellows and whites. The bulb iris blooms in early spring, shows off colorful blooms then dies back down quickly to leave room for later flowering plants. Like all bulbs, foliage should remain attached to the plant until yellow or brown so the energy can settle back into the bulb to be stored for next year’s growth.
The bearded iris is well known for its big, frilly, lollypop flowers. These plants come in an assortment of colors and blends, all with fuzzy stripes (‘beards’) on the inner central part of the lower petals (falls). Bearded Irises grow from creeping rhizomes.
Water irises make up a number of irises that love to grow in wet, boggy areas. One group, the Louisiana hybrid, displays some of the showiest blooms in moisture-loving irises. It flowers in a wide range of colors. These irises are ideal for wet areas or ponds.
A less well-known iris is the Japanese iris. Flowers have a slightly unusual flattened, yet very large decorative petal arrangement. This iris likes moist soil and holds its huge bloom high on a tall, thin stalk.
The ‘Pacific Coast Hybrid’ irises are colorful hybrids of several native California species including the Iris douglasiana. A variable plant, it has short-lived blooms that open in succession to put on a colorful spring show. They prefer a little dappled shade or full shade. These irises come in an assortment of colors and are quite drought tolerant.
This is only a small selection of the wide range of garden iris plants. Some handle wet conditions whereas others like it dry. Some tolerate shade and some prefer full sun. There are more iris varieties like English Irises, Reticulata irises (bulb), Dutch and Spanish irises. There are so many colorful and decorative irises that are adapted to different climates, designs and themes that there should be a good selection to choose from for your garden, no matter where you live.
Because of their showy, scented flowers, lilacs are popular shrubs to grow in the landscape. In cold climates these shrubs can grow to the size of a small tree. They usually grow with multiple stems in a form that looks like a large shrub. Some lilacs can grow on a single thick stem that makes them look more like a tree. Lilacs (Syringa) have been a favorite for decades and are ideal for a romantic, woodland, English or old-fashioned style garden or can be integrated into many other beautiful garden themes. Many varieties offer good cut flowers that will provide a decorative indoor bouquet that will fill your home with a delightful perfume.
The most frequently grown lilac is the Syringa vulgaris. This lilac comes in purples, blues and whites. There is a group of plants developed especially for warmer climates known as the Descanso hybrids. These come in an assortment of colors including pink. Most tend to grow to only about six feet tall. These are more likely to bloom well in the south and the west of the country despite the lack of cold winter temperatures.
Grow lilacs for beauty where they can soften angles by filling corners with soft foliage. Use a lilac for a focal point or to drape over fences and arbors. The lilac will also make a fresh green backdrop in the back of a large flower border. Plan on the lilac losing leaves in the winter showing the branch framework until it leafs out in the early spring. The flowering period is relatively short but leaves form a good fill with handsome foliage. Plant them neat seating areas or by windows and entryways where the fragrance of flowering lilacs can be appreciated.
Give lilacs a rich soil and good drainage. They need full sun and room to grow. Lilacs don’t suffer from a lot of diseases and pests and are best trimmed to control size and shape. Easy to cultivate, grow lilacs for their beauty and scent, they are a welcome addition for most any garden.
A showy flower that is all too often confused with Crocosmia (Montbretia) is the Chasmanthe. It is commonly known as the African Flag, African Cornflag or Corn Lily. This plant grows from a bulb (actually a corm) and puts on a colorful show during late winter when little else is in bloom. Bright orange, yellow or red-orange narrow trumpeted flowers line up on one or both sides of the stem tips, flower heads being held just above the strap-shaped foliage. Bulbs form large clusters and make eye-catching clumps when flowering.
Let the foliage die down after flowering to store energy for next year’s growth. Originating in South Africa, these plants are tolerant of dry, poor soils and sleep through hot summers, sending up new green leaves in autumn. They love plenty of full, bright sun.
The Chasmanthe can handle light frosts and prefers well-draining soils. These plants are rarely bothered by gophers or ground squirrels (which is rare for these bulb-loving rodents), but deer will nibble on foliage.
Design the Chasmanthe around rocks and outcrops where it will look natural. Plant it to fill small areas and set them ablaze with color early in the earliest weeks of spring. Or mix groups of these bulbs with larger perennials or shrubs so you can mask the fading after-bloom foliage with neighboring plants.
If you aren’t sure whether you are growing Crocosmia or Chasmanthe, the blooming time will help you identify your plant. Not only does the Crocosmia bloom later in spring, but the Chasmanthe flowers are narrower with a longer petal arching over the top of the flower. The Crocosmia flowers are spaced slightly wider along the stem and equal-length petals flare wider at the tips.
Although this is a tough, showy plant, there are some parts of California where it has become so comfortable that it is becoming invasive. Always check to make sure whatever plants you choose for your garden are considered safe in your area.
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