Choosing the right plant for the right place is part art, part science, part experience and part luck.
As someone once said, you are always a beginner in the garden and, no matter how many years you may have dug in the earth, each garden is different, each exposure and microclimate is different, and there is an aspect of unpredictability in every plant selection.
Besides this, even the same garden changes from year to year as trees grow and sunny exposures turn to dappled shade, or a large tree branch breaks and cool shade suddenly gives way to scorching sun.
I remember more than 20 years ago when pink yarrow was planted as a lawn substitute outside the Lummis House, headquarters of the Historical Society of Southern California, in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles. I could not help wondering if it would stand the test of time.
Well, I recently made a return visit and was impressed with the thick covering of yarrow that had taken hold. Much of the yarrow lawn, or “yarrow meadow” to quote the explanatory sign on site, is growing in significantly dappled shade – a much shadier shade than two decades ago – produced by mature trees. It thus appears that both sunny and partially sunny exposures are suitable for the growth of pink yarrow (Achillea millefolium `Rosea’).
Flowers are produced in spring and summer and mowing is done three or four times a year. The pink yarrow receives water twice a week in the summer and once every two to three weeks during the winter.
Even if you don’t turn your front yard into a yarrow meadow, you might consider planting yarrow in that parkway strip between sidewalk and street.
There are many different ornamental yarrows – from several-foot-tall giants to dwarf cultivars under a foot in height – and they may be found with white-, yellow-, pink-, red- or salmon-colored flowers growing in flat, platelike clusters known as umbels. Foliage is soft and finely cut.
Yarrow’s botanical name, Achillea, is linked to Achilles, the war hero of Greek mythology whose soldiers supposedly used it for staunching battlefield wounds.
Young leaves are edible and may be tossed into a salad. All yarrows are attractive to carnivorous, beneficial insects that do an excellent job of keeping insect pests under control.
Lummis House is at 200 E. Avenue 43. The house and adjoining drought-tolerant landscape are open for public viewing noon to 4 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Admission is free. For more information, call 323-222-0546.
At Hazeltine Avenue and Huston Street in Sherman Oaks, there is a wonderful landscape that features variegated hydrangeas as accent plants. I had never really paid much attention to variegated hydrangeas but at this location their brilliance is comparable to that of large, luminescent globes.
It is clear that variegated hydrangea is really a wonderful choice for a winter garden when flowers of other perennials have disappeared and overcast skies cast a withering pall. As long as you have glowing variegated hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla `Variegata’) in the garden, you will have plenty of light and hope for weathering the darkest months of the year.
On the opposite corner, just in front of the sign reading Van Nuys–Sherman Oaks Park, is a beautiful example of an `Orange King’ pincushion zinnia. It’s a reminder of the many delights offered by this easiest of flowers to grow.
In late winter or spring, simply sprinkle some zinnia seeds in your garden’s sunniest spots. Germination is virtually assured. Zinnia flowers appear in a multitude of colors (though not blue) and in many configurations, resembling daisies, chrysanthemums or even cactus flowers, depending on the variety.
It is hard to miss the new landscaping in the Valley College parking lot at Burbank Boulevard and Fulton Avenue in Valley Village.
As I meandered through the lot, two species caught my eye. One of them I have not yet been able to conclusively identify, although its flowers resemble those of sneezeweed (Helenium spp.) and its leaves resemble those found on Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), whose tubers are edible. Could it be a hybrid between them? Flowers are vivid yellow with charming three-lobed petal margins. I don’t know if this daisy family member was planted intentionally or just grew up as a volunteer but, in any event, it is a stunning 4-by-4-foot shrub.
Dozens of yellow to orange daisy species, from Jerusalem artichoke to black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), flower in the fall.
Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) are changing color now, arrayed in gold, red and burgundy. Those prickly, spheroid sweet gum seed capsules also are falling or getting ready to do so.
In the new Valley College parking lot, the problem presented by these seed balls has been solved by the selection of a sweetgum cultivar called `Rotundiloba,’ named for its rounded foliar lobes, that is virtually fruitless. It has not yet changed color but should do so soon enough.
Sweetgum is named for its sap, which may be extracted and turned into chewing gum.
Tip of the week
Are you looking for an unorthodox ornamental tree? If you have a hankering for hanging trumpets, consider an arborescent angel’s trumpet species (Brugmansia versicolor). Just the other day in Hollywood I saw a pyramidal 20-foot specimen. The typically encountered angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia x candida) seldom exceeds 6 to 8 feet in height. However, this taller species is sometimes encountered, producing flowers in white, apricot, or pink.