Scotch Heather: Long Lasting Delight

Scotch heather (Erica canaliculata 'Rosea')

Scotch heather (Erica canaliculata ‘Rosea’)

Imagine a plant covered in tiny, pendulous pink pearls at this time of year.
This plant can live for decades, growing into a bush that is 6 feet tall and nearly as wide. It actually thrives in heavy soil and takes full sun or light shade. It requires monthly watering, if that, during the summer, and never needs to be fertilized or pruned. Cut flower stems endure for several weeks, whether they are placed in a vase of water or used in a waterless, dry flower arrangement.
This dream of a plant is sometimes referred to as Scotch heather (Erica canaliculata/melanthera ‘Rosea’), even though it comes from South Africa, because of its resemblance, in needlelike leaf and mini-campanulate flower, to classic heathers from the Scottish Highlands.
Scotch heather nearly always dies in local gardens because of excess watering and fertilization. Although this plant has a delicate look, it should come with a warning label: “Just let me be or I will die.”
Make a point of not watering your Scotch heather any more than you would water other drought-tolerant ornamentals and it may persist for years.
In Joan Citron’s “Selected Plants for Southern California Gardens” (2000) the entry under Scotch heather – also called Christmas heather or tree heather – mentions a specimen growing in the Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden at UCLA. This Scotch heather was first observed in 1959 and it was still thriving 40 years later.
By the way, Citron’s classic work on exotic garden ornamentals for our area, a fascinating collection of cultural requirements for more than 2,000 species, is available through the Southern California Horticultural Society, a group of gardening enthusiasts that meets once a month near Griffith Park. The book includes personal comments and rare anecdotal information about common and, in much greater number, seldom seen species that are appropriate for our gardens.
You can purchase Citron’s book and learn about the Horticultural Society’s meetings by visiting www.socalhort.org.
You might also want to visit the Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden and see for yourself if the Scotch heather is still there. This special garden is on the UCLA campus in Westwood. Many plants seen nowhere else in Southern California are growing there. It is a special venue for plant lovers and admission is free. Details on visiting hours and tours are available at www.botgard.ucla.edu.
The most long-flowering iceplant (Lampranthus productus), with vivid reddish-purple flowers, is also in bloom. Iceplant gets its name from certain prostrate, Mediterranean succulent species that have glittering crystalline excretions on their leaves, even though the iceplants that we have in our gardens, including Lampranthus productus, do not exhibit such crystals.
Most iceplants bloom in late winter or early spring and the rest of the year offer nothing more than a green to gray mat that covers the ground and keeps out weeds. Lampranthus productus, on the other hand, while most heavily in bloom during winter and spring, puts forth some flowers in all four seasons. It is sometimes referred to simply as productus iceplant, a tribute to its productivity.
The sweet pea shrub, Polygala dalmaisiana, has uniquely colored flowers, somewhere in a spectrum that would include mauve, lavender and violet, with a dash of magenta or fuchsia. It, too, may bloom at any time, but does so most heavily in midwinter. It shows up well against a backdrop of the reliable yellow shrub daisy (Euryops species).
Lavender, whose habitats include the French Alps and Atlas Mountains of Morocco, prefers a sloping terrain or, failing that, well-drained soil. Lavender and Scotch heather have a common bond in abhorring over-irrigation, which quickly leads to their untimely demise.
The floriferous French lavender (Lavandula dentata), sometimes referred to as woolly lavender because of its flower texture, is blooming now and exceeds all other lavenders in flower size and duration of bloom period. It is easy to remember the botanical species name (dentata) of French lavender because foliage is dentate, meaning daintily toothed, and dainty French cuisine is masticated with your teeth.
Lavender grows well surrounded by a gravelly mulch, in which its fallen seeds may germinate.
Tip of the week
The most floriferous winter flowering hedge for Valley gardens, comfortably reaching a height of 5 feet, consists of none other than common jade plants (Crassula ovata/argentea) grown side by side.
As a garden ornamental, jade plant is considered prosaic by some, especially when used as a hedge. Yet individual jade plants actually have sculptural qualities and, using their deep green foliage for contrast, may be used as arborescent accents in drought-tolerant gardens of more colorful, ground-hugging succulents. Jade plants are also excellent, carefree subjects for containers. Variegated jade cultivars, though not as tall as the species, are also worthy of consideration. At this time of year, no hedge other than jade gives you an uninterrupted sheet of flowers, in white or pale pink, from top to bottom.
Jade grows best in partial sun locations. In full Valley sun, especially as you head toward the West Valley, it is susceptible to leaf scorch. Having said that, jade is highly drought tolerant and should not need summer watering more than once a month.

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