The goals: color, year-round interest and water saving – using plants that grow naturally in the site’s alkaline clay soil. There’s been a bit of trial and error – there’s a big difference between a plant that’s supposed to grow in certain conditions and a plant that actually does grow.
Flowers of Lion’s Tail (Leonotis leonurus) attract hummingbirds
Artichoke agave (Agave parryi) remains compact, although it does send pups out to colonize the surrounding garden.
Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia)
Toyon berries brighten up the fall garden and attract birds.
The bromeliad is a hybrid Aechmaea picked up at the World Bromeliad Conference when it was in Los Angeles long ago. This plant has proven to be tough, exotic and carefree. It is a bit prickly, but if we can get it to grow up into a tree, it will be quite an interesting effect.
This partially shady section of the garden was colonized long ago by ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) and aloe.
The big plant with the fuzzy leaves is also known as elephant’s ear, for obvious reasons. For a bit of contrast, we planted Blue Chalk Sticks (Senecio mandraliscae) and Aloe ‘Blue Elf’. The aloe will add red-orange flowers later in the year.
The garden is a bit eclectic, with mixed succulents and cordyline playing with an epiphyllum cactus and a caper bush. As things grow in, the design will knit together.
This garden is on a slope facing the ocean in Monterey Park, a suburb of Los Angeles. Before developers dropped houses on the site, it was likely a mixture of coastal sage scrub and chaparral. We went native on the slopes, although not entirely – there was some existing lantana, bougainvillea and Cape honeysuckle doing well. We simply added native toyon and lemonade berry to the mix, along with some coast live oak trees in strategic locations (and one tree added by scrub jays and left to grow).
The flatter portions of the garden are a test bed for a mix of native and exotic low-water plants with year-round interest and seasonal color. Here’s a list of what worked, what didn’t and what’s hanging on, in no particular order.
A major portion of the garden is planned for renovation – mostly because of a brick wall that’s ready to fall over, built along with the house, running alongside a too-narrow path. We’re using our successful plants list to plan what will go into the new section, but we also have a wish list of very interesting succulents that will require a trip to Fallbrook when it’s time to plant.
Kalanchoe beharensis. Accent plant. Exotic succulent. Will grow larger than shown in photo to become more dominant – right now, it’s the same size as the Aloe ferox but this won’t last long since it grows much faster than the aloe.
Agave parryi. Foundation plant. Semi-native succulent.
Agave attenuata. Foundation plant and accent. No spines on this agave, and pretty much bulletproof where there’s little or no frost.
Aloe ferox. Accent plant. Exotic succulent.
Aloe ‘Blue Elf’. Exotic succulent. Form and color (red flowers), hummingbirds.
Senecio mandraliscae. Ground cover. Exotic succulent. Form, color contrast.
Cordyline ‘Burgundy Spire’. Exotic accent plant. Form, color contrast.
Graptopetalum paraguayense. Exotic succulent. Ground cover, blue foliage. Pretty much bulletproof.
Aloe hybrids – maybe ‘Pink’. Exotic succulent. Ground cover, perennial. They’re small, tough and turn pink when it’s hot. Frost wipes them out, as we found out in Sacramento: instant black mush.
Penstemon eatonii. Native perennial. Looks like this variety might put on quite a show in spring. It’s supposed to be short-lived, but short lived still gives us a few years of bloom and food for hummingbirds.
Deer weed. Native perennial, butterfly food plant (if the right species are present). Formerly known as Lotus scoparius, it was renamed Acmispon glaber (the previous name was too easy to pronounce?). Goes dormant when dry, perks up with first rains. Hopefully will reseed as time goes by.
Desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua). Flowering perennial. A desert species, this took a couple of years to become established, but has since grown and even reseeded.
Baja feather duster (Calliandra californica). Foundation shrub. Another desert species that apparently loves dry clay soil. Red flowers for color, too.
Agave salmiana. I stuck this in the ground and it’s doing very well, but we can’t keep it. Although beautiful (if you like agaves) it’s just too big. We might keep the pups and find friends with big gardens, although transplanting a large agave is difficult (heavy) and dangerous (spines for us, and the plants are fragile).
Opuntia littoralis. Native cactus. This thing has taken over a good section of the hill, with yellow flowers in spring and tasty magenta tunas in fall.
Opuntia santa-rita. Near-native cactus, accent shrub. Purple pads and some of the nastiest glochids anywhere in the the plant kingdom. Worth it for the flowers and the pad color, planted well away from any path and given lots of room to grow.
Aechmea hybrid. Bromeliad. Ground cover, if you consider something that grows about two feet tall a ground cover. It can also grow up trees, rocks, whatever by clinging on with its roots. Just fill the reservoir cups between the leaves occasionally to keep it happy.
Eriogonum fasciculatum. Native ground cover. This was an especially low-growing variety from Theodore Payne. One of the plants that would have grown here 200 years ago, along with the toyon, lemonade berry and live oak.
Epiphyllum hybrids. Flowering cactus. Although they’re epiphytic jungle cacti, they’ve proven to be happy inhabitants of the garden, requiring just enough water to keep their branches from shriveling. They’re growing in pots on clay pipes sticking out of the ground so they can cascade – their preferred growth habit since they grow on trees in nature. These are divisions of an old plant, and seem to love the pot/pipe combination. We’ll see next spring when it’s flowering time.
Just Hanging On
(so far – they could either decide they’re established and grow or curl up and die)
Capparis spinosa. Foundation shrub, edible buds (capers), flowering accent. It’s supposed to grow out and cascade over the retaining wall, but so far it’s just growing a little bit each year.
Geranium canariense. This plant does not like summer heat, even when it only gets in the 80’s. So far, it’s recovered in the winter. It’s also possible that it wants more water than we’re giving it.
Salvia canariense. This did well in the past, but the current plant is struggling.
Penstemon ‘Marguerita BOP’. Native perennial. Not happy campers, although perhaps since we’re getting rain this year they’ll perk up.
Arctostaphylos ‘Howard Mc Minn’ (manzanita). One branch turned black, then the other. Plant dead. A second plant is hanging on, barely. Perhaps with good winter rains it will recover.
Dead and gone
Dudleya hassei. Native succulent. These things were our attempt at a native alternative to the Senecio. Maybe if we had the perfect habitat they might have grown, but as it was they all went downhill and never recovered.
Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’. It looks like this thing wanted more water and possibly less heat. It grew, bloomed and died when summer arrived.