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More great, reliable plants for California landscapes

Here are a few more of my favorite plants, easy, reliable, and striking, and different than the usuals out there.

Tree Dahlia

Tree Dahlias grow 10′ tall in one season and bloom late in the fall.  Sometimes an October storm will knock off the blossoms.  But you don’t have to grow this Dahlia for the flowers.  The exotic tropical looking foliage will be a show stopper.  Cut to the ground in winter, it grows fast as soon as the earth begins to warm in the spring.  Comes in white, and rarely as a double flower.  Takes full sun and low water.  Forms a fantastically large tuber.

Heuchera 'Wendy'

My favorites of plants.  Heuchera ‘Wendy’ was pioneered by Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, a cross between our native Heuchera maxima and Heuchera sanguinea.  I feel that ‘Wendy’ is the most spectacular of the cultivars (there are several out there).  Flowers are light pink-peach, very tall, and bloom endlessly and profusely.  The plant is tough like our native Heuchera, taking low water, dappled shade.  Put this in one of your more difficult dry shade spots and let it sing.

Anthriscus Ravenswing

This plant is actually a Chervil.  A low plant for shade and average water, it provides striking contrast in your combinations.  Difficult to find but very easy to grow.


Wow, I love this plant.  Obviously drought tolerant, people will gawk.  Its large, bold leaves offset pinks and purples for contrast.  The thistle purple flowers in the late summer I feel take away from what I grow this for–the leaf structure.  If you let it, it will reseed generously and you will have these as long as you want.  Just transplant the seedlings where you want them and give away the extras to friends.

Crocosmia hybrids

Crocosmias are such underused bulbs.  They are heat loving, low water, summer blooming stunning flowers.  ‘Emily McKenzie’ is one of my favorites, with the double advantage of smoky foliage.  And they multiply, like bulbs do, easily.  They bloom late summer for a long time.

Epilobium californica and hybrids

These are still Zauschnerias to me, but the splitters long ago put them into the Genus Epilobium.  A wonderful California native, they bloom in the fall and are either no water or low water.  They come in different heights (6″ to 36″), some have grey foliage, and are a magnet for hummingbirds.  Can’t be beat.

A few great (and reliable) plants for California landscapes

I’m done with my California winter installations and hoping for some spring Wyoming weather.  But right now it’s the last vestiges of planting time in California before the summer heat so get going and order up some of these fantastic plants.  These are a few of the reliable, unusual, and color interesting plants I love to use in my designs.  I have two places I mail order from.  I’ve tried many mail order companies and these are three of the best.  One is Digging Dog Nursery and another is Cistus Nursery.  They have a great selection, and best of all their plants are nice and big.  One plant I get from them that I can’t get anywhere else is Acaena purpurea.

Acaena purpurea groundcover

Acaena purpurea needs average water and sun to bring out the color.  But it also comes in a grey form which is attractive as well, but usually with slightly bigger leaves.  The grey form takes heat much better and less water.  Cercis Forest Pansy is a fantastically colored Redbud.  Average water and sun again brings out the colors.  It is a small tree.  Below with the Acaena.

Here is the acaena with Cercis Forest Pansy

Let’s continue with the purple theme.  We all know Loropetalums, but if you can find it, I highly recommend Loropetalum ‘Pippin Red’.  It is a small Loropetalum, growing only to about 4-5′ (some grow 15′ so be cautious on your choices), but has a narrower leaf and retains its color year round.

Loropetalum ‘Pippin Red’

Loropetalums usually sulk for a year or two before they take off.  If you can’t find Pippin Red, there is now a dwarf red variety.

Another mail order nursery I recommend is Plants Delight.  They have fabulous plants you can’t find anywhere else, but beware, their plants are small for the price.  I used to order in the fall or winter and pot them up for spring, or grow them in pots for a year before placing in the garden.  The one plant I always get from them that I can not find anywhere else is Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’.  It is BY FAR the BEST Dahlia ever with dark red single flowers and dark purple leaves, growing 2-3′ tall.  It will ‘wow’ everyone who comes into your garden.  Don’t be without it.  Order it once and soon you’ll be able to divide it over and over.  Just remember when you divide Dahlias, you MUST have part of the root attached, not just a bulbous end.

Another couple fantastic groundcovers, reliable and neat, that I use over and over especially to accent large plants are Dymondia and Senecio serpens.

Senecio serpens in front of young succulents and bamboo

I like the smaller serpens variety as it doesn’t get large and gross but it is a bit more tender so check your zone.  Its a great blue accent and since its a succulent, low water.

Dymondia again is a workhorse.  Its a steppable that works where others will not.  Drought tolerant, likes full sun, it accents plants like this Chrondopetalum tectorum , another fantastic plant, or Phormiums.

Dymondia highlights Chrondopetalums (in background) and Libertia grandifloras (foreground)

While we are on the subject of blue, a new Podocarpus is on the market called ‘Icee Blue’.  Its a MUST HAVE.  Podocarpus are great for narrow spots, for shade, and are drought tolerant once established.

Podocarpus (in corner) with dymondia and Hellebore

Helleborus argutifolius is another drought tolerant, sun tolerant, plant I use extensively.  It is an evergreen Hellebore with chartreuse flowers in the spring which are a knockout when massed.  Also the above plants in the photo are deer proof.

Centradenia grandiflora is a new plant on the market.  It has flowers like a Bouganvillea but grows only 2′ tall.  Great tall groundcover or accent, it is evergreen and its leaves are reddish in the winter.  Here it is with another fantastic plant Cordyline ‘Festival’.

Centradenia with Cordyline ‘Festival’

Scutellaria ‘Texas Rose’ is another unusual groundcover available from Digging Dog. Also Saponaria ‘Max Frei’ is a workhorse flowering ground cover that is actually a very old cultivar but not carried by many anymore.  Digging Dog has it.

Agave ‘sharkskin’ with armerias and succulents

I, of course, could go on and on, but one more is an agave.  It is an eyestopper because it is so neat and unusual.  Agave ‘Sharkskin’, is well worth its price.  Slow so buy it in 15 gallons.

Another view of Agave Sharkskin. WOW

If you like this post of great, unusual and reliable plants, let me know and I can post some more.  If you are interested in low water gardens that still look lush and interesting, see my new eBook on Gardening for a Dry California Future.  Good Gardening!