Fuchsia-Flowering Gooseberry and Friends

fuchsia flowering gooseberryfuchsia flowering gooseberry (Ribes speciosum)If you are thinking about planting a north-facing slope and are looking for ideas, I suggest strolling along the Studio City River Walk between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Whitsett Avenue.
For some time, the River Walk, which runs along the south side of the Los Angeles River flood control channel, had been closed but its reopening was worth the wait. You will find it just north of Ventura Boulevard near Valleyheart Drive.
The dominant plant on this slope is a trailing California lilac or ceanothus that is generously covered with light blue, drumstick-shaped flower wands. It looks a lot like the popular ‘Joyce Coulter’ cultivar. I am sure you could find it, as well as the other natives mentioned here, at the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, or could order it from Las Pilitas Nursery (www.laspilitas.com).
Fuchsia-flowering gooseberry, the favorite California native of many seasoned gardeners, is also growing on this slope. Every centimeter of the fuchsia-flowering gooseberry (Ribes speciosum) is ornamental, down to its bristly red stems. Leaves are finely scalloped and dark green. Scarlet eardrop flowers are visible from January until May and are densely borne in horizontal rows. Their appearance really does resemble fuchsias although they are botanically unrelated to true fuchsias which, delightful to behold in the nursery, are lucky to survive for more than a year or two when planted in the Valley.
Fuchsia-flowering gooseberries (Ribes speciosum), on the other hand, eventually reach 6 feet in height and may even be grown as an informal hedge. Just keep them protected from hot afternoon sun.
Blue-eyed grass can be found all along the River Walk slope. This is one of the toughest California natives and has survived winter freezes down to -18 degrees. Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) is not a grass at all but an herbaceous perennial member of the iris family. It reseeds opportunistically throughout the garden, popping up in unexpected places. Here along the River Walk, it pokes up through ceanothus branches and amongst the lacy gray foliage of California poppies.
Its green stems often rise from the earth in clumps, resembling grasses except that these stems are up to 2 feet tall and are topped with deep lavender, symmetrical, six-part flower heads.
Two leguminous ornamental trees are growing on the River Walk slope, one a native and the other an import. The native is the deciduous western redbud (Cercis occidentalis), characterized by numerous trunks – some consider it a gigantic shrub – and pinkish purple, sweet pea flowers that are produced before leaves appear. The heart-shaped leaves are never without interest. They emerge kelly green and then turn bluish green as summer develops. In colder climates, autumn turns them gold and crimson before they drop, revealing attractive pale gray trunks and branches.
The non-native River Walk tree is a purple orchid tree (Bauhinia purpurea). Yet it feels so at home on the River Walk that it has produce scores of strong seedlings, creating an orchid tree thicket. All around the Valley, you can see orchid trees in bloom right now with their five-petaled, deep pink to violet flowers. Aside from their tendency to sprout like weeds, the main problem of these trees is a structural one. They have a chronically unbalanced growth habit, never stand up straight, and always seem to be on the verge of falling over, which they frequently do.
Another non-native on the River Walk is orange crocosmia. This South African bulb plant naturalizes easily. Unlike hybrid bulbs from Holland, which require cold winters and often last for only a single year in Valley gardens, bulbs from South Africa feel quite at home here and self-propagate prolifically.

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