Los Angeles & Jerusalem

I recently arrived in Jerusalem, whose garden plants are strongly reminiscent of those found in Los Angeles. The climate in both cities is Mediterranean, meaning precipitation is confined to winter months and summers are long, hot and dry.
The difference is that Jerusalem enjoys 24 inches of annual rain, as opposed to Los Angeles’ 15 inches, and snow in Jerusalem, due to its elevation of 2,000 feet, is not uncommon. As in Los Angeles, you can grow subtropical fruit trees in Jerusalem such as lemon and fig, but also temperate zone fruit trees, such as apple and apricot, that require a dose of winter cold to flower and fruit. During summer, Jerusalem is bit more balmy and humid than Los Angeles, proven by the presence of tropical hibiscus cultivars.
Outside Jaffa gate, the main entrance to the ancient walled city or Old City of Jerusalem, ornamental plantings include lavender, myrtle, rosemary and ground morning glory. Irrigation is provided exclusively through flexible, bronze colored tubing with invisible, laser-made holes that is manufactured in Israel, where drip irrigation was invented during the 1950s. This same tubing has been exported to California, where it may be found at many irrigation supply outlets, including local Valley branches of Ewing and Hydroscape.
Up until now, I never thought to include ground morning glory (Convolvulus mauritanicus) in the pantheon of drought-tolerant plants. Suddenly, though, it seems to have become the ground cover of choice in Jerusalem, where it is a mainstay of municipal plantings. It is taken for granted that any species that is widely planted here must be water thrifty, since in Israel water shortages are chronic.
Ground morning glory, in the manner of other trailing ground covers such as periwinkle (Vinca major), ivy geranium and prostrate rosemary, is an excellent candidate for spilling out of containers or over block walls. If any plant deserves “charming” as an adjective, ground morning glory would be it. Its mauve blue trumpet flowers, not nearly as large as those on petunias but not nearly as small as those seen on million bells (Calibrachoa), grow in profusion, heralding its universal likability. There is also something inescapably enchanting about these flowers’ understated and cooling hue of blue. Gardeners I spoke with here claim that ground morning glory is as drought-tolerant as rosemary or lavender, meaning that, once established, it should never need to be soaked more than once a week.
One of the more successful plant families in Jerusalem is Malvaceae, which includes hibiscus, abutilon, lavatera and hollyhock. Not far from the Western Wall, along one edge of the Old City, I spotted a rare hibiscus with scalloped flowers. It was growing in a small, untended plot surrounded by walls that must have protected it from winter cold and kept its roots cool, in summer, by shading them from bristling heat. Judging by the dry soil beneath, it did not appear to have been watered in many months, if watered at all, except by winter rain.
There are dozens of hibiscus varieties available, although only a handful are regularly displayed in nurseries. You can order more exotic types through Internet vendors such as www.exotic
hibiscus.com and www.fancy
hibiscus.com. Some of these, especially the tropical, multicolored, dazzling ones, require more humidity than Los Angeles affords, so do your best to create a more humid environment by planting them in close proximity to each other, protecting them from hot afternoon sun, keeping them in containers and encouraging a bushy growth habit. Hibiscus should be fertilized often, if lightly, with a formulation that is low in phosphorus but high in potassium such as 12-4-18 (12 percent nitrogen, 4 percent phosphorus, 18 percent potassium), or with a slow release Osmocote product such as 18-6-12.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea), a Jerusalem garden staple, is the easiest biennial to grow from seed. A biennial blooms in its second year of life and then dies.
Although it is a biennial in its Asian habitat, hollyhock behaves as an annual in Mediterranean climates where, sown in the fall, it blooms in the spring or, sown in the winter, it blooms in the summer. Plants reach six to eight feet in height and do not require water more than twice a month.
The hollyhock’s nemesis is rust, a fungus disease, that may be prevented by withholding water on overcast days and at night. Flowers are either single, resembling lavateras, or double, and may even be ruffled to the point of resembling roses. Colors include white, pink, salmon, red, yellow, orange and dark purple, which verges on black.
The scarlet flowers of Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus drummondii), one of Jerusalem’s more popular flowering shrubs, have the appearance of a fez hat, complete with tasseled stigmas. When you first lay eyes on these flowers, you are convinced that they are actually flower buds, primed to open. You soon discover, however, that their tightly wrapped petals stay just the way they are. Turk’s cap grows well in the Valley, blooming on and off throughout the year.
Tip of the week
Linda Stephens, who gardens in Calabasas, was kind enough to e-mail pictures of her annual mallow (Lavatera trimestris), which she grew from seed. Known as rose or royal mallow, it is native to the Mediterranean. Its silky flowers will bloom nonstop from spring until frost as long as spent blooms are removed the moment they start to fade. When faded flowers go to seed, an energy-intensive process, new flowers are reluctant to develop. It is for this reason that many types of roses, especially hybrid teas, whose faded blooms are continuously removed, flower for months on end, while those that are left unpruned and, instead, yield rose fruit (hips) and seeds, bloom only once, or twice at most, between the beginning of spring and the end of fall.

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