Not far from Van Nuys Airport on Sherman Way Boulevard, west of Rubio Avenue, one of the most brilliantly flowering plants for Valley gardens, although inexplicably absent from most of them, is thriving. This species blooms half of the year in a grandiose and rosey cherry pink, in purple or in white, and needs little water when exposed to most, if not quite all, of the day’s sun. As a bonus, you can make use of it indoors, too, since its flower-studded stems will last for a week in vase arrangements.
I am talking about Geraldton waxflower (Chamelaucium incinatum), one of those distinctive Outback beauties that, indigenous to southwestern Australia, feels so at home in this part of the world, too. Waxflower is a member of the myrtle family, a group that includes common myrtle (Myrtus communis), Eucalyptus, bottebrush (Callistemon spp.), and Melaleuca. Waxflower demands perfectly drained soil and is as drought tolerant as they come. Its lone drawback is that, although a woody perennial, it has a short lifespan. However, it does propagate readily enough from shoot tip cuttings dipped in root hormone, a powdered form of which is available at most nurseries.
To propagate nearly all shrubs, vines, and ground covers, fill shallow ground cover flats or quart size, 4″ plastic pots with fast-draining soil medium. You can use a standard potting mix to which perlite is added or, to make your own mix, combine perlite and peat moss. While most ground covers will root readily enough in a 50% perlite and 50% peat moss mix, woody plants such as waxflower will benefit from a mix that is more perlite than peat moss. You can combine 3 parts perlite with 1 part peat moss to propagate most shrubs from shoot tip cuttings, while woody cuttings from junipers and many California natives, for example, will require a mix of 9 parts perlite to 1 part peat moss. You should experiment with different perlite/peat moss ratios to find the proper combination for the shrubs in your garden. Spring and fall are the best seasons for propagation of shoot tip cuttings.
The basic procedure is as follows: as early in the morning as possible, detach 4-6 inch terminal pieces from non-flowering shoots, remove bottom leaves and, after dipping their stems in root hormone, ready them for planting by making holes in soil mix with a pencil. Then simply firm up soil around each cutting after it is placed in its hole. If you can’t propagate immediately after cuttings are taken, put them on a moist paper towel in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They should stay fresh for about a day. Within 90 days, and often much earlier than that, cuttings should take root.
When I first saw the Sherman Way waxflower, from a distance, I thought it was pink gaura (rhymes with Laura), also known as beeblossom (Oenothera lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’). Closer examination revealed my error but pink gaura is another outstanding selection that blooms in cherry pink for months on end. It, too, is not terribly long-lived but, as a clumping plant, lends itself to propagation by division. Where surrounding soil is hospitable, meaning it drains well, beeblossom will also self-sow from seeds that drop to the ground in the mother plant’s vicinity.
At about the same time I was witness to the waxflower in Van Nuys, I happened upon the most magnificent peppermint tree I had ever seen. Peppermint tree is another myrtle family member native to southwestern Australia. The uncanny specimen that I encountered appears to be somewhere near a hundred years old, at least, a testament to its durability since few trees, other than California native oaks, live for a century in this city. Peppermint tree (Agonis flexuosa) has a weeping growth habit, rough-textured and fibrous bark, as well as pungent foliage from which its name is derived.
Like everyone else, gardeners, too, are preparing for ever more stringent water rationing measures. Instead of rationing, though, here’s an alternative thought: why not take the money budgeted for the proposed bullent train, an $85 billion enterprise of questionable necessity, and use it to build waste water purification and desalination facilities? In Israel, which experienced critical water shortages for decades, there is currently a water surplus thanks to implementation of water purification and desalination technology. 80% of the country’s drinking water now comes from the ocean and nearly all waste water is recycled, with much of it used for irrigation of field crops. Similar steps could be taken in Calfifornia.
Tip of the Week: For a novelty garden selection, consider planting the ‘After dark’ peppermint tree (Agonis flexuosa ‘Jervis Bay After Dark’). Foliage is deep burgundy in color, at times appearing black. Its growth habit, which includes high arching branches, is still shrubbier than that of the regular species, and its mature height it less than 20 feet. You can plant ‘After Dark’ either as a container specimen, a stand alone accent, or in a hedge.