Butterfly Bush Replaces Scorched Oleanders

butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)

Suddenly, there it was. A fitting replacement for the leaf-scorched oleanders among us.
For the uninformed, oleanders have been dying throughout Southern California due to a bacterial infection that is transmitted by an insect known as the glassy sharpshooter. Well, just the other day, on the corner of Tyrone Avenue and Hortense Street in Sherman Oaks, I was overwhelmed by the presence of a 15-foot tall and wide butterfly bush covered with hundreds of fragrant lilac flower wands. It is true that the butterfly bush, especially during its first year or two in the ground, is a bit more water needy than the oleander but, once established, should never require more than a single weekly soaking. Butterfly bushes prefer full sun but can handle some shade and, yes, they attract every type of butterfly, from tiger swallowtails to silver-spotted skippers.
There are several species of butterfly bush or Buddleia available. Flowers are mostly in the pink to lavender to dark purple range, but yellow, orange, and white varieties are also encountered, as well as varieties with chartreuse or white and green variegated foliage. There is even a dwarf type that grows only 18inches tall. You can prune butterfly bushes without mercy or just let them grow.
Buddleia alternifolia will remind you of a flowering weeping willow and Buddleia davidii, the most commonly encountered type, is fountain shaped.
Somehow, I simply cannot stay away from the Jasmine Blue florist on Ventura Boulevard, just east of Ventura Canyon Avenue, in Sherman Oaks.
The containers in front are always overflowing with horticultural gems. The other day, I saw two pots full of one-inch trumpets known as million bells or Calibrachoa.
Almost 200 years ago, Calibrachoa was introduced to European greenhouses from South America along with the petunia, to which it is closely related. However, because of its small flowers, Calibrachoa was long neglected by plant breeders in favor of the petunia with its larger blooms. In addition, Calibrachoa’s propagation was difficult since it produces few seeds, though that problem was solved in 1997, thanks to the Japanese and their commercial utilization of new propagation techniques.
In recent years, a sudden craving for plants with small flowers has developed, a reflection of increased interest in container plants for patios and balconies.
Small-flowered plants are of limited interest in the garden because of their low visibility. A garden, after all, especially in the front yard, is not just a personal plant collection, but a community asset as well, a device for sharing horticultural beauty not only with neighbors but with strangers who are just passing by.
Where containers are concerned, the criteria for plant selection change. Here, the considerations are more private. You are going to be looking at and caring for the plants in your cotta pot, whiskey barrel or redwood box every day. You will see these plants up close and will have time to study them in fine detail. Whereas in the garden, bigger often seems to be better as you grow giant dahlias in the sun and steamy tropicals with elephant ear foliage in the shade, you will probably be equally content, when it comes to containers, to choose plants with small flowers and delicate, feathery, or pinnate leaves.
Calibrachoa has proven itself both in the garden bed and as a container plant. It likes sun but must also be kept moderately moist. And it flowers in relentless profusion for months on end. Utilizing a 10-15-10 product, fertilize it monthly if you grow it in the ground and every other week if you keep it in a container.
Blending a slow release fertilizer into your potting soil will maximize bloom.
The Matilija or fried egg poppy (Romneya coulteri) is an amorphous California native perennial that is somewhat difficult to establish. But once it gets going, it will spread without conscience throughout the garden. Its stems grow up to 8 feet in height and its flowers, resembling jumbo fried eggs with yellow centers and crepe white petals, reach nine inches in diameter.
For some reason that I do not understand, poppy sightings become especially fixed in the mind’s eye. At this moment, on the slope between the San Diego Freeway and the Getty Center, there is a large patch of blooming Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri). A more accessible Matilija planting may be inspected on the corner of Radford Avenue and Valleyheart Drive in Studio City.
No plant is better suited for erosion control than the Matilija poppy. Its ropy, rhizomatous roots grow deep and spread rapidly. The more this poppy is watered, the longer it flowers and the faster it spreads. However, it can subsist on winter rain alone.
Because of its invasiveness, the Matilija poppy is more suited to industrial than residential sites, unless it’s the only plant you want to have around the house. It has a mild fragrance and dusty, silver-blue, sharply cut leaves that stand up well in vase arrangements.
Although it is difficult to eradicate once established in the ground, the Matilija poppy is somewhat tricky to propagate. Seeds may be germinated by placing them under smoldering pine needles, but you will probably have better luck digging up rhizomes, with leaves attached. Plant the rhizomes in one-gallon containers and leave them in the shade until new growth is evident.

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