Finding new plants at Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks

34-gardensoftheworldI had never been to Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks but was glad, last Sunday, that I visited.

It doesn’t take much to make a garden columnist happy. A glimpse of a plant previously unseen is enough to make my day and, at Gardens of the World, I encountered several that I had never seen before.

Silene armeria is a fascinating plant introduced to me courtesy of the English Garden at Gardens of the World.

With the curious common name of sweet William flycatcher, Silene is not really a carnivorous plant although you will occasionally see flies or other insects stuck to its viscous stems.

Silene (sye-LEE-nee) is cognate with saliva (sialon in Greek) and connotes stickiness. Silene could also be derived from Silenus, father to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, who is supposedly covered in foam and is commemorated in the foamy excretions found on Silene stems. Silene is a close botanical relative of classic sweet Williams or pinks (Dianthus) and carnation. Another common name is campion, akin to champion, as Silene flowers were woven into soldiers’ victory garlands.

Beech trees are seldom seen in Southern California but there is a beautiful specimen on the edge of the Japanese Garden at Gardens of the World.

European copper beech (Fagus sylvatica `Atropurpurea’) has a naturally symmetrical form and requires little, if any, pruning. Although `Atropurpurea’ refers to the purple foliage of many plants of this cultivar, there is also a sub-cultivar with lighter and more coppery foliage, such as the one in Gardens of the World.

Beech is a relative of oak and chestnut. It does not flower until it reaches at least 30 years old. Flowers are followed by beechnuts which, like acorns, may be pounded into flour. Before being made into flour, however, in the manner of acorns, beechnuts must be leached of toxic tannins.

Most of us are familiar with Iceberg roses, especially the white but also the pink varieties. There is `Blushing Pink,’ which is a white Iceberg sport or mutation, and `Brilliant Pink,’ which has a stronger, if still frosty, pink color. There is also a `Burgundy’ Iceberg of little renown; the color is sort of a muddy purple, insufficiently vivid or defined to make a lasting impression.

Icebergs are the best-known roses of a class known as floribunda. But there are many, many other floribunda varieties and two of them that I had never seen before are blooming at Gardens of the World.

One of them is `Sunsprite,’ a very friendly bright yellow, and the other is `Marmalade Skies,’ an orange blend. I could not help thinking that an informal hedge that combined `Sunsprite’ and `Marmalade’ Skies would be a most pleasant garden feature.

Floribundas are among the easiest roses to grow since they bloom heavily with minimal deadheading and tend to be disease resistant.

In perfect military timing for Veterans Day, a hybrid tea known as `Veterans’ Honor’ was showing off some deep red blooms that have no equal. `Veterans’ Honor’ has a raspberry fragrance and lasts up to two weeks in a vase.

At Gardens of the World, Southern sword fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia) and leather fern (Rumohra adiantiformis) have been planted as ground cover under European white birch (Betula pendula) trees.

Birch trees are known to suffer when ivy is planted under them due to root competition. However, in the case of these ferns, whose roots are shallow, this does not appear to be a problem as the birch trees are thriving.

The advantage of planting sword fern and leather fern is their resiliency. With age, their fronds begin to brown out and lose vigor, at which point you can cut them to the ground with confidence that they will regrow thanks to sword fern’s tubers and leather fern’s rhizomes. These starchy underground structures allow the ferns to endure periods of dryness, in addition to serving as vehicles for vegetative reproduction.

I was intrigued by an interesting feature in the French Garden at Gardens of the World. Patterned double hedges of Japanese boxwood were planted with tall perennials – scarlet sage (Salvia splendens) and dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) – growing between them.

Japanese boxwood (Buxus microphylla japonica) thrives in full sun at Gardens of the World, although it requires sun protection in the San Fernando Valley. On hot days, Thousand Oaks gardens benefit from ocean breezes that mitigate the sort of heat that is stressful for plants grown just a few miles away in the San Fernando Valley, unreachable by these breezes.

A sturdier hedge for Valley sun, growing to the approximate stature of Japanese boxwood, is rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster microphyllus), on display at Gardens of the World. Its tiny leaves are complemented by nearly constant red berries.

Finally, at Gardens of the World, two fall bloomers in the English Garden caught my eye: a black-leafed dahlia with lemon chiffon flowers and a pompon chrysanthemum cultivar known as `Kelvin Tattoo Yellow.’

Gardens of the World is at 2001 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; admission is free. For information, call 805-557-1135 or go to

Tip of the week

Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria), so-called because its leaves appear to be covered in flour dust, just as a miller who grinds wheat into flour would be, is a Mediterranean plant well-suited to our climate.Foliage is intricately lobed and silvery white.

Many relatives of the classic dusty miller, which grows to about 3 feet tall with yellow flowers, are encountered. Some growup to 5 feet tall with purple flowers, and other dwarf, mounding types, such as the California native Artemisia pycnocephala `David’s Choice,’ growing no more than 1foot in height.

Common wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is one of my favorites.It grows into a strong, if delicately leaved, perennial, 4 feet tall by 4feet wide, and makes a wonderful informal hedge.

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