Baja Fairy Duster and other Delights

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica)

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica)

Maybe it’s the effect of all that late winter rain, but I cannot recall an approach to spring that was bedecked with so many plants in full bloom.
A wonderful place to view the white hanging urns of Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn’ is at the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, along with an imposing blue cloud of blossoms on a ceanothus tree, as well as the flittering scarlet wisps of Calliandra californica.  This moderately drought tolerant calliandra, commonly known as Baja fairy duster, grows into a 4- to 5-foot shrub that will flourish with a single weekly soaking and flower on and off throughout the year.
Its flowers will remind you of miniature versions of those you see on the pink mimosa or silk tree (Albizzia julibrissin). Calliandra eriophylla, another native, has pink dusters and grows only to 3 feet. Members of the pea family, fairy dusters have the characteristic feathery foliage, seed pods and leathery, easy to manage and germinate seeds, for which many of the species in this family are known. The thorns of Baja fairy duster belie its delicate flowers and foliage and qualify it for use as a low, natural barrier that could serve as a garden fence. Pink powder puff (Calliandra haematocephala), on the other hand, is a non-native shrub that will grow into a 10-foot globe with huge pink or red pompon flowers and copper to green foliage.
Although shrubby when left to grow on its own, pink powder puff is easily encouraged to clamber up a trellis or a chain-link fence.
I had never seen a pink winter currant (Ribes sanguineum) until visiting Theodore Payne last week.
I am tempted to say that, situated in the shade, its maple leaves and nodding pink flowers are unparalleled horticultural surprises. But then again, not long ago in Franklin Canyon, I saw many examples of fuchsia flowering gooseberry (Ribes speciosum), a pink currant cousin that, no matter how many times I see it, always amazes me with its neat horizontal rows of orange red eardrop flowers and lush, sea green, scalloped foliage.
My teacher wife, Lois, received a ‘Mylar’ hyacinth from one of her students. ‘Mylar’ is the brand name of a common polyester plastic film and, I suppose, you could almost mistake this hyacinth as plastic wrapped, given the shining, astral, hot pink florets that make up its prepossessing inflorescence. But when you get close to it and inhale its addicting, fresh perfume, you know this hyacinth is real.
Whenever you receive a bulb plant in a container, you wonder whether it will bloom again next year if you transplant it to the garden. If it’s an opulent amaryllis or hippeastrum, those plants with the huge trumpet flowers in white, pink, orange or red, the answer is unequivocally “yes,” as they naturalize with the greatest of ease in full to partial sun locations.
Hyacinths, especially gaudy types such as ‘Mylar,’ are not so simple. In the best-case scenario, this plant would take two years to flower after transplanting to the garden and, even then, it would produce a much less extravagant inflorescence. However, if you want your hyacinths to reappear from one year to the next, and slowly but surely expand their garden presence, select one of several blue Muscari, also known as grape hyacinth, species. Their flowers may only grow a few inches tall, but their purple color is without compare and they are highly fragrant as well. So now I am duty-bound to plant these for my wife, who insists on adding sweet-smelling hyacinths to her perfume garden.
Hyacinths, in common with most early flowering bulbs, are native to the dry lands of the eastern Mediterranean. Do not allow them much water during the summer, their period of dormancy, or they will rot.
You might also consider planting the related Spanish blue-bell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), a tough performer from North Africa, and giant squill (Urginea maritima), whose gargantuan bulbs weigh up to 10 pounds and, as long as they grow in fast-draining soil that is never watered, produce 5-foot-tall flower spikes during the summer.
Outside the parking structure that faces the Southwest Airlines terminal at LAX, I noticed two camellias in full flower that were underplanted with ivy growing right up to their trunks. I was astonished that camellias could flower under such circumstances, yet saw this as further proof of the remarkable strength of these plants. You might think that ivy would compete with water and minerals and completely squelch the camellias’ growth, but this was obviously not the case.
Camellias, as long as they are protected from hot sun, can flower for several decades with a minimum of care and, having seem them survive on no more water than certain shade loving California natives, I am tempted to put them on my list of drought tolerant plants.
Tip of the week
My appreciation for fairy crassula (Crassula multicava), a succulent ground cover, grows from year to year. This is a plant for full sun to somewhat shaded, as well as north facing, locations. It requires a pittance of water in the sun, although it will burn there in very hot weather, virtually no water in the shade, and grows well under every type of tree. One of the advantages of growing fairy crassula is the ease of propagating it. You merely break off stems and stick them in the ground. It bears copious pinkish flower sparklers this time of year, roots wherever its stems bend and touch the ground, and also drops seeds that quickly germinate in place.

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