Why this can be the colorful, drought-tolerant plant your garden needs – Pasadena Star News


Q. “We just moved to Riverside County, near Lake Mathews. The weather is very hot in the summer (three months of 95-103 degrees of heat) and can become freezing in the winter. It is a rural area with a lot of rabbits who like to snack. Can you recommend a ground cover for the entrance to the house as a replacement for the sod? It should not be greedy in water and able to withstand the summer heat. – Nancy Tétreault

Dwarf yarrow (Achillea millefolium ‘Rosea’) comes to mind as a grass or lawn substitute for your situation. Native to the Channel Islands, it can withstand some foot traffic and is heat and drought tolerant. In general, fragrant plants, including all Achillea species, are not palatable to rabbits. Seeds of this variety of Achillea or something similar can be ordered from seedcorner.com. You can find dwarf yarrow at Theodore Payne Nursery in Sun Valley and Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. Six varieties of slow growing achillea are available from anniesannuals.com. Another slow-growing, rabbit-resistant ground cover is prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’) although it is not possible to walk on like dwarf yarrow.

  • Narrow leaf chalk (L), mother flower stem of thousands (R). (Photo courtesy of Barbara Starr)

  • Purslane calandrinia spectabilis (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

  • Achillea millefolium Achillea Moonshine (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

Yarrow flowers are produced from spring to fall and mowing can be done three or four times a year to keep it low to the ground. Water it once or twice a week during the growing season and once every few weeks during the winter.

Even if you don’t turn your front yard into a yarrow meadow, you might consider planting yarrow in this walkway strip between the sidewalk and the street.

There are many different ornamental yarrow – from dwarf cultivars to giants several feet tall – and they can be found with white, yellow, pink, red, or salmon flowers growing in flat, plate-like clusters called umbels. The foliage is soft and finely cut.

The word “yarrow” is believed to be derived from yellow, and some species have brilliant golden yellow flowers. Achillea ‘Moonshine’ is a very popular cultivar that grows in a two-foot clump with long-lasting yellow flowers that rise two feet from the ground. Yarrow’s botanical name, Achillea, is linked to Achilles, the war hero in Greek mythology whose soldiers allegedly used him to heal wounds on the battlefield. The habitat of Yarrow extends across northern Europe, Asia and North America, including extremely cold regions where winter temperatures regularly reach 20 degrees below zero.

Some herbalists consider yarrow to be the most medicinal plant in the world, with healing properties that extend to every organ in the body. Those who know how to prepare and use its infusions, decoctions and teas, swear by yarrow to treat headaches, flu, gastric disorders and many other ailments.

The young leaves are edible and can be mixed into a salad. All yarrow are attractive to carnivorous and beneficial insects that do a great job of controlling pest insects throughout the garden.

Choosing the right plant in the right place is all about art, science, experience and luck. As someone once said, you are always a beginner in the garden, and no matter how many years you have been digging in the ground, every garden is different, every exposure and microclimate is different, and there is an aspect of unpredictability in each plant selection.

On top of that, a garden changes from year to year as the trees grow and the sunny exposures turn to dappled shade, or a large tree branch breaks and the cool shade suddenly gives way to the sun. burning.

In the early 1990s, dwarf yarrow was planted as a lawn substitute at Lummis House, home of the Historical Society of Southern California, in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles. I couldn’t help but wonder if it would stand the test of time.

Twenty years later I made a return visit and was impressed with the thick blanket of yarrow that had settled in. Much of the yarrow lawn, or “yarrow meadow” to quote the on-site explanatory panel at the time, was growing in considerably dappled shade, produced by mature trees. The shade was much shaded than when planting yarrow, so it turned out that sunny and partially sunny exposures were suitable for the growth of dwarf yarrow.

If anyone has had success with a ground cover planted as a lawn substitute, please let me know so that I can share your success with the readers of this column.

In addition to the disappearance of lawns in general, their elimination from boardwalks, in particular, presents a conundrum. Some replace the lawns of the boardwalks with gravel, smooth stones or bricks, as these materials offer a permanent and virtually labor-free solution to the maintenance of this area. This option, however, can present a rather dark face, especially at the entrance of a house, so that some live specimens, in the form of succulents, can be inserted into the inert hardscape.

Yet another solution is to plant most of the promenade strip with drought tolerant or succulent, slow growing but flowering species, and lay pavers in two or three places so that the walk through. the walk is carried out, but not to the detriment of the abandonment of the walk. lush, floriferous greenery in this area.

Ideally, plants installed in your walk, once established, will rarely need watering, and there are a number of selections to consider in this regard, in addition to the rosemary and yarrow already mentioned.

Hanging Lantana is one of those possibilities. Available in purple and white, it does not require water once established and does not grow tall. The lemon yellow lantana is a more shrubby form and the orange lantana is even more robust. However, all lantanas are suitable for mowing once or twice a year, so don’t hesitate to cut them down to one foot or less if you want to keep them under control.

Blue chalk (Senecio serpens) is another reliable candidate for planting walks. It is a succulent ground cover with powder blue cylindrical leaves that was very popular until a few years ago when it started to die off everywhere.

The reason for the premature death of blue chalks is summer irrigation, poorly drained soil, or both. It is originally from South Africa where the climate is similar to ours, which means that summer precipitation is absent. The habitat of the blue chalks is formed by the crevices of the sandstone slopes, where they sleep during the summer. Thus, irrigation in hot weather, which activates the aquatic molds in the soil to which it is very sensitive, can be dangerous for its health.

Rock purslane (Calandrinia spectabilis) is another succulent that does well in parkland plantings. He is originally from Chile, whose climate is also Mediterranean. Rock purslane bears its magenta-pink flowers on two-foot stems from spring to fall. Its succulent foliage trails along the ground and has a lovely pale blue-green color. Once established, it rarely needs water.

Purple verbena (Verbena bonariensis) is the perfect complement to the above succulents. Growing up to four feet tall, purple verbena blooms from spring through fall. It has a distinctly light and airy structure and is really nothing more than stems and flowers, with the foliage an afterthought of no consequence.

Tip of the week: Barbara Starr, who gardens in Encino, sent me a photo of two succulents that she grows, but whose names she did not know. One of them is the narrow-leaved chalk (Senecio vitalis). If you’re looking for a factory to occupy a boardwalk, this is it. The slender, curved, finger-like foliage grows upright on the stems to about two feet, then collapses to the ground. Wherever it touches the earth, it takes root, so that it can spread over a considerable area in a short time. It also experiences dormancy in the summer, so don’t water it during this season. To propagate this and the aforementioned blue chalks, peel off the leaves and let their cut ends dry in the shade for a week before placing them in quick-draining sand.

The other succulent in Starr’s photo is the mother of thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana). It is a plant which has lost the ability to produce seeds but which more than makes up for this deficiency by producing literally thousands of young seedlings, borne on the edges of the leaves, once mature. These seedlings take root tirelessly wherever they fall and become a bit annoying although their roots are shallow, so they are easily removed from the surface of the soil.

Please send your questions, comments and photos to joshua@perfectplants.com


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