From Profusion Zinnias to Golden Xanadu Philodendrons

At West Valley Nursery in Tarzana, you will find unfamiliar versions of familiar plants, also known as cultivars.
The word “cultivar” is a combination of two words, CULTIvated and VARiety. A cultivated variety is a mutation that was discovered under cultivated conditions, whether in a garden or a nursery, or a hybrid between the original species, or a hybrid between two cultivars. Nowadays, hybrids are often achieved in the laboratory by splicing the DNA of two cultivars together.
Take the case of ‘Profusion’ zinnias. I remember just a few years ago when there were only three colors of ‘Profusion’ in the nursery trade: ordinary orange, cherry and white. Just the other day, however, at West Valley Nursery, I spotted a bright yellow and a golden yellow, and a fiery orange (‘Profusion Fire’), too. I learned that ‘Coral Pink’, ‘Apricot’, ‘Deep Apricot’ and ‘Double Cherry’ Profusion cultivars are also now available.
‘Knee High Red’ grows several inches taller than the other cultivars, which are mildly mounding to a height of about 1 foot. ‘Profusion’ zinnias flower, without interruption and with vibrating color, from spring until fall.
‘Profusion’ zinnias might be considered the sun-loving equivalent of impatiens although, owing to their greater sun exposure, ‘Profusions’ spread with greater alacrity than shade bound impatiens. Within weeks, a single ‘Profusion’ zinnia, planted from a4-inch container, will proliferate into a hemisphere 2 feet across and 1 foot high.
A bonus of growing ‘Profusion’ zinnias — as opposed to the taller and larger-flowered traditional zinnias — is their resistance to powdery mildew.
The daisy-like ‘Profusion’ flowers are about 1.5 inches in size and are excellent subjects for containers and hanging baskets. Regardless of which container you choose, however, make sure you plant ‘Profusion’ zinnias as solitary subjects since they would quickly overwhelm and smother any plants that dare to share the same small plot of container real estate with them.
Over the years, I have had wonderful experiences utilizing Philodendron ‘Xanadu’ as a large-leafed and spreading, yet whimsical, subject for gardens and patio containers exposed to limited light.
Imagine my exuberant surprise upon discovering ‘Golden Xanadu’ at West Valley Nursery. It appears to possess the same resiliency of its sea green counterpart, yet shines up at you in a rich golden hue. It will light up your shade garden and would make an excellent counterpart to black taro (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’), a shade lover with2-foot-long leaves in a deep purple, verging on black.
‘Xanadu’, in both its green and golden versions, provides a touch of personality, thanks to its significantly scalloped leaf margins, that is a pleasant departure from the funereal formality often associated with shade-loving species.
Keep in mind that shade plants require at least three hours of good ambient light to grow. Sometimes, a planter is so shady that nothing will grow in it and you are better off filling the space with ornamental stones or a small fountain.
Have you ever seen a hydrangea with blue flowers and red pedicels (flower stems)? Neither had I until my visit to West Valley Nursery.
The plant appears to be a Hydrangea macrophylla cultivar and the juxtaposition of its blue petals and red stems, a seldom seen botanical combination, stops you in your tracks.
When it comes to local growing conditions, it’s either feast or famine with hydrangeas. Several years ago, Gary Nelson passed along his “formula for hydrangea success” in Newbury Park.
“Plant them on the north side of the house (northwest quadrant is best),” he advised. “Protect them from the hot afternoon sun. In February, cut stems back to 18 inches or less and feed them heavily with acid fertilizer (as used on azaleas). Feed again when regrowth starts in March-April and again in mid-May during vigorous growth, (and then) about every 60 days after that. “Be very generous with water. You almost can’t give them too much! Do the above and they will bloom until Halloween, at least.”
Sea holly, fountain grass and bells
Variegated sea holly (Eryngium planum ‘Jade Forest’), with green and cream foliage, is a West Valley Nursery variation on the typical green leaf sea holly.
Foliage aside, this plant stands out on account of the amethyst color of its spiny bracts and gumdrop flowers. Sea holly, although prickly, is not a cactus and does require a regular weekly soaking or two in hot weather in order to thrive.
Coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) is normally encountered with brilliant orange red flowers. At West Valley Nursery, however, you can also find Russelia equisetiformis ‘Salmon Pink.’
This pendant plant spills effortlessly over block walls and is a favorite subject for containers and hanging baskets, too. In the garden, it has a pleasantly mounding growth habit. It is highly drought tolerant and withstands neglect, if not outright abandonment, quite well.
Like everyone else, I had always marveled at the flower power of million bells (Calibrachoa), a diminutive petunia relative. Yet, until visiting West Valley Nursery, it had seemed that million bells were always to be found on the pastel side of the color wheel. Thus, I was startled at the sight of a scarlet hybrid, loudly tintinnabulating from a hanging basket.

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