Every time I saw its picture, I imagined that bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) must be a highly exotic plant that would be difficult to grow. You never saw bells of Ireland in the nursery and its appearance, featuring rows of green, bell-shaped calyces neatly arranged up and down the stem, made them seem like a very high-maintenance sort of species. Besides, with a name like bells of Ireland, it must surely require lots of rain, I reasoned, the sort of rain that makes Ireland so green, resulting in the constant soil moisture that would eliminate it from consideration as a candidate for water-thrifty Southern California gardens.
Imagine my surprise when, upon a recent visit to Israel, I saw Irish bells growing half-way between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea, outside the village of Luzit, in an open field, in fast-draining soil, where the amount of annual rainfall is not much different from the 12 or so annual inches experienced here. Never bothering to read the fine print, I had assumed that bells of Ireland was Irish. Little did I know that it is actually indigenous to the Middle East and Southwest Asia, to Syria and Turkey. It has no problem with long, hot and arid summers, just the kind we are used to in this part of the world.
Bells of Ireland is an annual that grows easily from seed, as long as the seeds are refrigerated for five days prior to planting. Plants should be situated in full sun; expect them to grow as tall as three feet. The height makes them suitable as a background for a bed of annuals or mixed together with water-thrifty perennials.
A bonus to growing bells of Ireland is the pleasant straw color they assume as they age. They provide a whimsical, even quirky, addition to a customary dry bouquet or everlasting flower arrangement.
Annual statice (Limonium sinuatum) makes a fitting companion to bells of Ireland. It, too, has a minimal water requirement and lasts for months, holding its violet color, as a dried specimen in a vase, for many months. Of course, you can also plant perennial statice or sea lavender (Limonium perezii), whose violet flowers, while not as rich or as long-lasting as those of its annual cousin, will also persist in a dried-out state after being detached from the large, leathery and floppy foliage that surrounds them.
So-called water-wise plants are increasingly popular due to increased water expense and rationing of existing water supplies. In the city of Los Angeles, it is illegal to water a garden more than three days a week with conventional spray or rotary sprinklers and thus — even though you could water seven days a week with a drip system — drought-tolerant plant selections have become the norm.
Gaura lindheimeri is one of the most reliable and long-blooming drought-tolerant perennials you could plant. It is known as whirling butterflies or apple blossom grass, on account of its flower shape, and is sometimes referred to as bee blossom due to its attraction to bees, both European honeybees and bees native to California. Although individual flowers only last for two days, foamy waves of flowers are produced from now until fall.
When its flower power begins to wane, cut the mature plant back by half, from around three feet to 18 inches in height, and, soon enough, it will begin to flower again. While the original gaura species produces viable seeds that germinate in place, many of the widely planted types, such as the brilliant dark pink ‘Siskiyou’ and the dwarf cultivars, which grow only one foot tall, are sterile.
Although I had seen hundreds of white flowering potato vines over the years, and had assumed that was the only color I would ever see, I was surprised by a blue-and-white version of this plant just the other day. Research revealed that potato vine (Solanum laxum/jasminoides) sometimes appears in blue and white. It is only a matter of time before this bicolored phenomenon is clonally propagated and becomes a staple of the nursery trade.
Lemon-scented jasmine (Jasminum azoricum) is an endangered species on its Madeira Island habitat. All the more reason to plant it where a sweet-smelling vine is sought. Foliage is lush and flowers are abundant throughout spring, summer and fall.