Everyone Loves Grevilleas

Grevillea 'Robyn Gordon'

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

Every garden should have a grevillea or two. With their whimsical flowers, arching growth habit, and intriguing foliage, they are plants without compare for late fall and winter gardens.
Grevilleas are truly made for intimate gardens, but not necessarily for large-scale landscapes. In general, the difference between a landscape and a garden is that a landscape requires plants that can be appreciated from a distance, whereas a garden is meant for viewing close up. Grevilleas will not impress the drive-by garden gawker. Their flowers, which look like flattened snails with single, long antennae (that are actually male reproductive organs known as stamens), demand close scrutiny to be appreciated.
A group of grevillea flowers in a cluster may remind you of a many-tentacled sea creature. Grevilleas do not bowl you over with a massive color display, although the pink, scarlet or purple blooms of the various species do a nice job of satisfying your color appetite when few other perennials are in bloom.
There are ground cover grevilleas that grow no more than 2 or 3 feet off the ground. Many shrub species may reach a height of 6 to 10 feet.
Grevilleas are usually killed by too much kindness. They require a bare minimum of pruning, watering and fertilization. Fertilizers high in phosphorus are lethal to them. Grevilleas are the signature native flowering shrubs of Western Australia.
In terms of bloom period and easy care, grevilleas are reminiscent of our own Ceanothus or California lilac shrubs, which will soon be flowering in white and in all shades of blue. They may be seen throughout our local chaparral, on the slopes and in the canyons of the Santa Monica, Santa Susana and San Gabriel Mountains. As in the case of grevillea, there are dozens of species and hybrids of ceanothus that, in the garden, will provide a winter paradise of flowers.
This is a wonderful time of year to be a gardener in the Valley – you can plant without risk, and may comfortably forget about pruning for the next month or two.
Another project to focus on this time of year is composting. To do so, collect fallen leaves, put them in a pile, and let them slowly rot, to be used later as a layer of water-conserving mulch on the soil surface, or, eventually, as leaf mold/compost when planting. To speed up decomposition of a leaf pile, toss in some nitrogen fertilizer or mix in manure. The smaller the animal, the hotter and faster-acting the manure.
Since the ground here never freezes, you can also still plant annuals and perennials, as long as the rain stays away and the soil is relatively dry.
You can also plant wildflowers. Think of Ed Peterson when you do. Ed passed away last month at the age of 100. Collecting native wildflower seeds for the Theodore Payne Native Plant Foundation in Sun Valley was his passion, and he continued this activity into his final years, even as his vision dimmed. In Peterson’s words, “Gathering seeds for others to plant was the way to give purpose to my life.” You can procure seeds from the foundation’s nursery and access information on hundreds of California natives at www.theodorepayne.org.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Grevillea robusta, or silky oak, is the one tree species in the grevillea group, and it blooms, uncharacteristically, with orange-yellow flower combs in late winter. Its seedlings make wonderful, lacy-leafed indoor plants. Leaves are sea-green on top and silvery underneath. Seeds germinate with ease and the seedlings grow up quickly. If seedlings should become too large for their pots, discard them and simply sprout more seeds.

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