Monday, August 2, 2010

Plant List: Dreamy Cottage Gardens

 English-style cottage gardens seem to be a popular style amongst many gardeners and who can blame them?  The British transcend garden geeky-ness to a level not seen elsewhere.  However, many of the plants that thrive across the pond take way too much water and fertilizer in these parts.  But us Californians are in luck- we've got an army of gorgeous flowery natives that not only run rampant in our meager garden conditions, but provide just as much flower power as the old garden standbys.  In fact for the last few centuries, many of our natives have gone abroad to fulfill the envies of British plant geeks.  A list for your amusement:

Penstemon palmeri (above) sends a rocket of soft pink, fragrant flowers into the mix.  The shape of the flowers look like a snapdragon that takes its vitamins, yet still creates a romantic ambiance in the garden.  What a wonderful contrast it would make with Monardella villosa!

Instead of surrounding the garden with the traditional yew hedge, consider a Calycanthus occidentalis.  The broad leaves provide a contrasting backdrop to the water lily-like crimson flowers, which smell like a barrel of red wine.  It goes deciduous in the winter and typically will require more water than the more drought-tolerant natives.  Takes shade! 

Platystemon californicus is a tiny-flowered annual that creates a pool of cream-colored flowers, puddled amongst the bases of larger flowering plants.  Pair with annual Phacelia or perrenial Penstemon heterophyllus for a shot of blue/white contrast.

Ceanothus became popular in the English garden in the mid 1800s and has become a staple for British gardeners.  A Ceanothus going from the dry, arid Californian landscape to the cold, drizzly British one attests to its stiff upper lip of adaptability.  Just remember, however that they're not overly fond of water.  Prune one into a small tree as a focal point or have a shrub in the background, waiting for the bevy of bees to visit in early Spring.

We can't neglect the old British garden favorite lavender, right?  While not native, lavender adapts well to our Mediterranean climate and does give the bees a run for their money.  Have you considered, however replacing the lavender with Salvia clevelandii?  The photo was the best I could do- I'm enjoying the scent so much whenever I run into her that I forget to snap a decent picture!  She's in the upper portion of the photo, floating above the Eriogonum grande rubescens, Erigeron karvinskianus and a lovely pink Echevaria (note:  last of these two not native).  The hummingbirds flip out over this one, but I plant this one for me more than anything else.  Yum!


  1. Lovely!

    You don't have the Ceanothus book, do you? I'm trying to learn all the differences, and feel overwhelmed by choices.

  2. Yay with the Cleveland sage. As I'm writing this there's a light breeze from the direction of my plant and the scent is amazing! I wouldn't plant it just outside my bedroom window, however. It's interesting to read UK sites about all our plants that they covet. Robin's Salvias' ( for instance complains about how the sages we take for granted (Cleveland, black, white...) are so tough for UK gardeners to enjoy.

  3. Calycanthus duly added to this English Geek's research list, thank you!

  4. Hey Lisa,
    I don't have the Ceanothus book (although Clare might). I always cruise Las Pilitas as they even have a handy chart of when and for how long each variety blooms.

    Hi James, I agree about the salvia- more of an invigorating scent than one to fall asleep to. But wow, so amazing!

    Hey Marian, so glad I could introduce you to a new friend! I'm sure it would do great over there as it tends to grow near streams over this way and would probably flourish with the extra water.

  5. I'm going to have to hunt down Calycanthus occidentalis. You had me at the flowers smelling like a barrel of red wine ;) We have quite a bit of lavender here from the previous owner, the bees like it, but it's the Spanish lavender, and not my favorite appearance-wise. I'm currently test-driving a Salvia clevelandii 'Winifred Gilman' that I purchased recently. The fragrance from the leaves is amazing...but I haven't yet seen it bloom.