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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: More Plants go in!

By Jim Bishop.

This is a continuation of columns from May and July 2016 about planting the casita gardens back in 2003. You may recall from earlier editions of this column in the newsletter that we filled in our swimming pool and replaced it with an outdoor room and several garden areas. This month’s column is about planting the east side of the casita.

The mostly Blue and Gold Garden

As I discussed in earlier columns, the inspiration for the blue and yellow tile we used throughout the Casita garden came partly from observations of commonly used colors of Talavera tile. However, there was an inspiration for blue and yellow plants that goes back much further. In 1960, my older brother was a Cub Scout. As a kindergartner in Wichita I attended the annual Cub Scouts Blue and Gold Banquet held in the local 4H hall. The banquet “is the most exciting event on the Cub Scout calendar” and gets its name from the Cub Scout colors -- blue and gold. The tables at the banquet were decorated with potted annuals with blue and gold flowers. I immediately recognized the “gold” flowers as dwarf marigolds. However, the blue flowers were soft and fuzzy that I would learn years later were ageratums. Even at age 5, I thought the combination of blue and yellow flowers was a striking combination and decided decades later to plant a garden of mostly blue and yellow flowered plants.

The casita beds in this area are raised about a foot above a gravel walkway that leads to a blue door that exits to the lower garden. There is one large bed bordered by the casita and the old stucco pool wall. There is another narrow bed that wraps around the 30-foot-tall stair tower structure. A gravel path makes a “Y” at the end of these 2 gardens, one path leads to the blue garden door, the other to a garden storage area. There is a half-moon shaped bed at the end of the walkway with a raised blue urn used as a bubbling fountain at the junction of the walkways.

Gardening in this area is a little difficult because the area gets full sun in the summer months, but is mostly in shade for about 5 months in the winter. And as with most of my gardening, the new plantings looked barren at first until everything started to fill in and then some plants slowly die from competition or lack of sun. The large plants chosen for this area were:

3 Archontophoenix purpurea, commonly called King Palm but with a more swollen lower trunk than the more commonly planted Archontophoenix cunninghamiana. These were very slow to get established and are still not large after 13 years. One of them died suddenly after several years, but I never knew the cause.

A yellow climbing mermaid rose was planted against the tower. I had liked the one planted at the front entrance to Cedros Gardens in Solana Beach. It quickly grew to 30 feet and required major rebar and ties to keep it up against the tower. However, it still blew down every winter and always had one disease or another. It has 2 types of thorns facing in different directions, so it is very easy to get tangled in it. It was quietly removed after several years.

I had always liked the yellow floribunda rose ‘Sunflare’, but I forgot the name and instead planted the similar named ‘Sunsprite’. It is still in the garden and blooms off and on all summer.

Behind the blue urn fountain, I planted a plumeria. It did very well the first summer, but rotted due to too much winter water and shade. It was replaced with 3 closely spaced Kentia Palms, Howea forsteriana. Though very slow, they have finally reached a substantial size and look great with their draping fronds. Behind them is a Star Jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, vine which has covered the wall and scents the entire garden in the late spring.

Against the larger wall behind the casita, I planted a yellow flowered Thunbergia alata 'Lemon Star'. Unlike some thunbergia, it doesn’t set seed but did quickly cover the wall. It has been cut to the ground several times, but always comes back. A cutting from the vine was planted against the tower. It did a bit too well and was home to several rat nests. It is now cut back every year to keep it in check.

A variegated yellow and green striped leaf canna that I got from my mother was also planted in the garden. I like the foliage, but not wild about the orange flowers. It has gotten out of control a few times, and had to be thinned out several times.

Added later to replace the dead king palm is a now very large Tetrapanax papyrifer (rice-paper plant). It was given to me by a neighbor. It takes a lot of maintenance to keep it looking good, but we love the large tropical looking leaves and the view looking down on it from the house. It tends to run and come up many feet away from the parent plant. However, runners are easy to remove before they get too large. It also continually drops its lower leaves and needs weekly maintenance. In November it sends up large panicles of white puffy flowers and drops most of its leaves. If we get a misty rain while it is in bloom, it can look quite droopy. Also the leaves and especially the flowers drop a lot of fine dust that can irritate your eyes and nose and if inhaled can leave you coughing for several hours.

Below all of the larger plants has been a series of perennial and annual plants. I used to refer to this as my only traditional garden since it had lots of flower color. I grew some of my favorite perennials here for several years such as rudbeckias, lobelia, nemesia, foxgloves, delphiniums, kangaroo paws, dwarf roses, alstroemeria, strawflowers, coreopsis, Calylophus drummondianus, linaria, ageratum, yellow-flowered asclepia and many others. However, with more root competition and shade, these have mostly been replaced.

Today are has many bromeliads and a few aeoniums which don’t mind competing with the palm roots. In the last remaining sunny spots, I still grow a few annual and perennials.

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