I’m vacationing next week in southern Mexico traveling east from the state of Chiapas to the Yucatan peninsula. In addition to exploring ruins, waterfalls, cenotes and flamingo breeding grounds I’ll be especially interested in the local plants which vary from hardwood forests of mahogany and cedar to tropical. I always study how people landscape around their own homes whenever I travel. You can get some great ideas this way. I’ll be sharing all that I discover in next week’s column.
Around here this is a good time to pull plants that have been struggling now that we’ve had some rain to soften the soil a bit. Pay careful attention to and which aren’t. Be realistic about plants that don’t suit the conditions you have to offer. Replace them with plants that have proven themselves adaptable and well suited to your own garden. Thoughtful editing and repetition are the key to a successful garden. Such self-sufficient plants require far less work, water, fertilizer and pruning.
Your own personal palette of good plants for your yard are the ones that look most at home planted right where they are. They do best in the soil, sun, wind and weather your garden offers and the maintenance is a snap. These plants don’t have to be the kind of dull and monotonous shrubs that you see around some freeway ramps. They might be the shade-loving native Western swordfern for year round interest. Planted in masses these ferns aren’t water hogs and look like nature planted them. Or how about the easy-peasy bergenia cordifolia which will be blooming soon planted as groundcover under the trees? Large, heart shaped leaves grow to 12 across and turn beautiful bronze color in the fall. Pink to rose-red flowers on red stalks appear in late winter.
Camellia sasanqua, with glossy evergeen leaves and showy flowers in fall and winter, can be grown as a shrub or espaliered against a wall. Camellias are easy to grow and an established shrub requires only a deep watering every 10 days or so in the growing season.
Elfin thyme is the perfect groundcover between cracks in pavers paths or other areas that get light foot traffic. And if you want any planting to look better, just pop in a black mondo grass and you’ll have instant sophistication. Not all "go-to" plants are quite so glamorous, though. Modest, fuzzy little lamb’s ears are high on my list because they grow happily in sun or shade and any kind of soil. Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’ grows only 12" tall, blooms with purple flowers and spreads to make a beautiful edging or low border
The key to preserving both our backs and the earth’s resources is to choose the right plant for the right place. Keep the plants that are thriving and replace the unhappy plants with a smaller palette of plants that have proven themselves successful in your own garden. Whether these are California natives or plants from other regions that perform well, you’ll be happy you got rid of the malingerers.