Lion’s Ear, Lion’s Tail, Wild Dagga

The Earl of Orange. Lion’s tail and lion’s ear. Wild dagga. Leonotis Leonurus. Strange names invariably provoke curiosity about a plant’s appearance and qualities.
As to the impact of Leonotis in the garden, veteran plant watchers point to its ability to focus the eye like few other species. It is an accent plant to end all accent plants. I have never seen it grown as a hedge; the effect of it flowering en masse would probably be too blinding for mortal man to bear.
You must see lion’s tail to appreciate it. It glows like the sun, unlike anything seen here on earth, an orange orb from outer space that came to rest in the garden. Its flower petals hang down like the fringe on a lion’s tail. Its leaves are a vivid, shining, deep emerald green.
Once established, lion’s tail does not need water more than twice a month. It combines well aesthetically with drought-tolerant plants that have violet-colored flowers, including lavender, catmint, Cleveland sage and trailing lantana.
A native to South Africa, lion’s tail will bloom continuously in the Valley from spring until fall as long as its faded flowering shoots are snipped off at regular intervals.
Like virtually all of the plants in the mint family (Lamiaceae), lion’s tail is easy to propagate from shoot cuttings. Remove flowerless shoots that are four to six inches long and, after rubbing off their bottom leaves, insert them into a mix that is half sand and half peat moss. Taken this time of year, shoot cuttings from lion’s tail that are stuck into shallow containers, kept moist and lightly shaded, begin to produce roots within a month.
The purpose of an accent plant, especially in the small gardens or landscapes that most of us have, is to soothe the eyes. This may sound like a contradiction. Accent plants stand out and shout for attention. What could be soothing about them?
The problem is seen where there is no accent plant, but instead a hodgepodge of many different species, the so-called garage sale look. Often, each plant is quite a visual experience in its own right, yet, put together with too many other interesting species, loses its interest and appeal. In fact, it becomes painful for the eye to look at too many interesting plants all at once. The eye darts desperately from one corner of the garden to the other in search of a place to rest its weary gaze.
Accent plants typically take the form of small trees such as purple-leaf plums, saucer magnolias, crepe myrtles or Japanese maples. Placed near an entry or in a corner of the yard at the end of a path, it draws the eye because of its distinctive foliage, bark, growth habit or flowers.
Accent trees are larger than the rest of the plants in a garden but not so massive, as in the case of large shade trees, that they end up being out of scale with the rest of the garden.
Rather than seek out clever garden designs that need accent plants to pull them together, you can opt for a multilayered look that is easy to do and inviting to the eyes. Take three different plants that reach different heights and plant them one in front of the other. For instance, I recently saw such a layered look achieved by planting a row of burgundy-leafed shrubs known as fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense “Burgundy”) in back, with a row of dwarf mock orange (Pittosporum Tobira “Wheeleri”) in the middle, and a row of trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) in front. Give your rows some movement, some waviness, as three straight lines of plants will impart a severe look to your garden that you probably want to avoid.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Now is the time to plant annual vinca. Its periwinkle flowers bloom in white, purple, rose, red and apricot. Considered a summer bedding plant, vinca grows best when it is planted before the end of spring. As summer progresses, new plantings are increasingly susceptible to root and stem rots that can decimate a vinca bed practically overnight.

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