Jerusalem snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)Snapdragons growing in a traffic roundabout in Talpiot, a Jersualem neighborhood, are not like any I have ever seen before.
They are uniformly tall, flawless, full-blooming plants and appear to be seedlings of ‘Rocket,’ the largest snapdragon cultivar, which may reach up to 3 feet in height. I believe this Jerusalem snapdragon bonanza may be attributable to five factors: one, snapdragons are native to the Mediterranean; two, the soil they are growing in drains rapidly; three, they are watered by drip irrigation; four, significant pre-plant soil preparation and fertilization was practiced; five, plants were intially grown in dirt flats, as opposed to six-pack or quart-size plastic containers, and planted from them directly into the ground.
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are more disease-prone and more susceptible to insect infestation than any other annual flower. Snapdragons are subject to six foliar diseases, three soil-borne fungi and three viruses, in addition to attracting 10 insect pests as well as snails and slugs. As if this were not discouraging enough, snapdragons can be undone by either too much or too little water. Here, drip irrigation is useful since snapdragons have shallow roots and drip irrigation will insure that those roots stay hydrated, but not at the expense of having to flood the area. Where snapdragons are overwatered, their shallow roots cannot absorb all the moisture in their root zone and root rot occurs.
Any experienced gardener has likely seen perfectly healthy, freshly planted snapdragons suddenly wilt. Often, this occurs because plants are in a rootbound condition when brought home from the nursery. When removed from their plastic container, snapdragon roots that are growing in a tight clump are a warning sign. It is very difficult to get these roots the water they need and breaking them apart will not be beneficial, either.
You would be better off not planting snapdragons with roots of this kind. It is much wiser to plant less developed snapdragons whose roots are not growing in a dense mass inside their nursery containers.
Dirt flats are the best solution to this problem. A dirt flat is a conventional 18-by-18-inch plastic nursery flat with a tightly woven bottom so the flat can be filled with soil even as water drains through. Seeds are planted directly in the flat and seedlings develop without root restriction.
Snapdragons that come from flats of this kind, when planted out in the garden, are much less likely to wilt than those planted from plastic containers. Unfortunately, seedlings growing in dirt flats are seldom encountered in nurseries but you will see them occasionally. And then, of course, sowing snapdragon seeds — or any other annual flower seeds, for that matter — directly in your garden is the best guarantee of robust annual color in your flower bed.
Finally, no discussion of snapdragons would be complete without extolling their virtue as cut flowers. They will last for a week in a vase and, when floral preservative is added to the water, up to a week longer than that.
Flowering natives
Two popular California native plants, monkey flowers (Mimulus spp.) and beardtongues (Penstemon spp.) have flowers that resemble those of snapdragons.
Beardtongues, which are generally in the pink to red to purple color spectrum and also grow to around 3 feet tall, nicely complement the wider range of ‘Rocket’ snapdragon colors, whether in a flower bed or cut flower arrangement.
Hybrid bedding monkey flowers (Mimulus hybridus), as opposed to the native types, have large trumpet flowers that most commonly blare in vibrant reds, oranges and golds, but may also be encountered in white, pink or salmon. There are other hybrid varieties that display whimsically blotched petals.
Morning glory
The morning glory or bindweed family (Convolvulaceae) includes some heavy-blooming ground covers and vines that, since they are native to the Mediterranean, grow well in Southern California, too.
Flowering in lavender blue, ground morning glory makes a solid carpet of gramophone-shaped flowers during spring and summer. It is extremely drought tolerant once established, and I have seen patches of it growing without benefit of any irrigation whatsoever.
While ground morning glory is neither weedy nor invasive, mallow bindweed (Convolvulus althaeoides) can become a pest. It has large, irresistible pink blooms, but unless it is growing in a tub or other container in an enclosed courtyard, patio or balcony, could take take over large portions of your garden.
White flowers
I recently bumped into two trees with white flowers that are worth noting.
The first is white butterfly tree (Bauhinia vareigata ‘Candida’). At this time of year, this leguminous arboreal specimen is a fountain of wedding white flowers. It is a small ornamental tree that grows 20 feet tall with a canopy diameter of 15 feet.
Malabar nut (Justicia adhatoda) is a medicinal plant that is highly valued for a variety of therapeutic treatments. Most of its Justicia kin are low-growing shrubs, but Malabar nut grows up to 12 feet tall. Its flowers will remind you of those on bear’s breech (Acanthus mollis), to which it is related. It is well suited to a dry, semi-sunny to lightly shaded microclimate.

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