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SHARING SECRETS: What’s Your Favorite?

Edited by Cathy Tylka, for Let’s Talk Plants! April 2024.

WiX stock photo.

This month’s question:

What is your favorite plant, fruit, tree, flower, etc., that occurs at this time of year? Do you have any growing? Can you share pictures and stories about these “favs” of yours?

Knife leaf acacia is a common favorite!

Don’t forget, each person who has answered each month's question is entered to win a FREE SD Hort Hat each quarter. Answer all three months' Sharing Secrets questions in a quarter and you have three chances to win! Choose from two styles and several colors of hats if you win.


Elizabeth Nash of 92014, sends warm regards and responded…

… Nothing says spring more strongly than the Western Redbud. I know the season is here when I see the pop of their brilliant magenta.


Gerald D. Stewart of 92084 says …

… Two of my plant collections shine at this time of year: Pelargoniums and Clivia.

I've grown "geraniums" since I was three. I have had as many as 4200 (yep, over four thousand) cultivars and species of Geraniaceae. Now I have a very modest collection of pelargoniums, largely zonals and ivy-leaf. My focus on clivias is those with variegated leaves, and with flower colors other than orange. It's a little early for them to be in bloom, but the variegated foliage is stunning year-round. If nothing gets in the way, I hope to add a clivia with green flowers, and one with variegated leaves and yellow flowers, this season, from a nursery in Castroville. Here's hoping. I have already arranged to acquire one with red flowers, and another with pink flowers. I don't have pictures to include.


Joan Herskowitz of 92024 says…

…Hi - This time of the year the freesias in my garden are always in bloom. Planted some time ago, they pop up in all parts of the garden. Their colors, along with other flowers, light up the garden which is particularly green this year from all the rain.


Tynan Wyatt simply replies…

Gazania, Freesia, and Ceanothus. Loquats are almost, but not quite ripe, so I don't know if they qualify.


Ida Rigby responded…

Enjoy this spring!

 And added…

… Invasive Ipheion, is NOT a recommended bulb! Beautiful, if you have space, like the Mexican evening primrose.

(Sharing Secrets editor, Cathy, is undeterred by Ida’s warning saying after seeing this picture, “I want this invasive wonderful plant; I’ve got the room!”)

Ida finishes with this …

… Everyone: I hope some of these capture the brilliance of the spring garden. Enjoy. Ida


Cathy Tylka of 92026 shares…

… Ceanothus.

Per Wikipedia: “The Californian species of Ceanothus are commonly known collectively as California lilacs, with individual species having more descriptive common names.

There are two subgenera within this genus: Ceanothus and Cerastes. The former clade is less drought-resistant, having bigger leaves. The evolution of these two clades likely started with a divergence in the niches filled in local communities, rather than a divergence on the basis of geography.

Native Americans used the dried leaves of this plant as an herbal tea, and early pioneers used the plant as a substitute for black tea. Miwok Indians of California make baskets from Ceanothus branches. Ceanothus integerrimus has been used by North American tribes to ease childbirth.”

And look, it has a friend, not sure what this is, but obviously they are in love!


Your fearless leader, Karen England of 92084, is hard pressed to pick a favorite but since you asked…

Leptospermum var., Australian and New Zealand Tea Trees.

Late March 2024, tea trees in full glory at Karen England's Vista, California garden. Planted in 2001. Photo credit: Karen England.

Leptospermum is an herb that I have grown for over twenty-three years and yet I have never used it herbally. I have always intended to make tea from the “Tea Trees” I grow and until now have not done so. I think that should change here and now.

I served the very first tea tree tea I ever made from my plants to my business partner while we were working in the office in late March 2024 and we both agreed that this herb tea is delightful.

I found a YouTube video of how to make it, Manuka Tea Tree - Making Herbal Tea at Home - Brett Elliott, but his plant was not blooming like mine. Still, I proceeded as instructed using blossoms and leaves both and, wow! Really delicious. I regret not trying this sooner. I served the tea to my business partner while we were working in the office and we both agreed that this herb tea is delightful.

According to New Zealand herbalist Brett Elliot, “Tea Tree is the common name given to the native Manuka tree of New Zealand and Australia. It was named by Captain Cook because he used it as an herbal tea.

Be careful when selecting the tree and make sure you’re getting the right thing. Look closely at the photos and see the pointy leaves and flaky bark.

Simply pick a couple of smaller branches and remember to thank the tree. It can be used at any time of year, but I prefer to use it when it’s dry and not flowering.

Wash thoroughly or soak out any bugs. Strip the leaves off and add to a teapot with boiling water. After 10 minutes you should have a beautiful herbal tea. Sweeten it with a little honey or stevia.

This tea is great for general health and vitality but is particularly good at supporting the immune system, as it has natural antiseptic, antibacterial and antiviral properties.”

The tea tree tea steeping atop a stack of potential SD Hort Book Club selections. Photo credit: Karen England.

How to Grow Leptospermum - Tea Tree ( Steven Albert of Harvest to Table recommends these varieties to grow and I believe I am growing several on his list.

1.      Leptospermum laevigatum. Australian tea tree. Grows multi-trunked to 30 feet tall and wide with a rounded but irregular shape and drooping branchlets; shaggy-barked; gray green to matte green, 1-inch leaves; single white flowers in spring. 

2.      L. scoparium. New Zealand tea tree. Dense, erect shrub grows 6 to 12 feet tall and wide, with tiny needlelike green leaves; profuse white (rarely pink or red) ½-inch flowers in spring or summer. True species is rarely seen, but there are several cultivars single or double pink, red, or white blossoms that are showy. Popular cultivars include: ‘Helene Strybing’ has deep pink spring flowers; somewhat silver leaves with a graceful, more open habit; ‘Nanum Tui’ 2-foot dwarf with a cushion shape and pale pink single flowers, darker in the middle; ‘Pink Pearl’ grows 6 to 10 feet tall with pink buds that open to double white or pink flowers; ‘Red Damask’ has large, double cherry red flowers from midwinter to spring with leaves tinged reddish purple; ‘Ruby Glow’ grows 6 to 8 feet tall with profuse double red flowers in winter and spring; ‘Snow White’ grows 2 to 4 feet tall and spreading with double white, dark-green-centered flowers winter to spring.” 

And with this last bit of information, I will get off my herbal soap box . . .

“The ‘Leptospermum Alliance’ is a group of plants in the myrtle family (Myrtaceae). It includes many well-known and widely cultivated plants including Leptospermum itself (tea trees), Callistemon (bottlebrushes), and Melaleuca (paperbarks).”

Myrtus communis, the herb called common Myrtle, is not listed by the Australian Native Plant Society as being in the Leptospermum Alliance, because myrtle is native to Northern Africa, southwestern Asia, southern Europe. (I am currently growing not only myrtle but also the full Leptospermum Alliance of tea trees, bottlebrushes and paperbarks.)


Question for next month:

What are you doing new in your garden? It could be planting, stonework, gravel, mulch, etc. And why??? Help us understand and we might want to do it too.

Answer and be entered to win a SD Hort Hat!


 Cathy Tylka, RN, retired Emergency Nurse, found her love of plants and the SDHS merge many years ago. Cathy acted as Treasurer for the organization and volunteers for many activities. Now, she is more than happy to assist in gathering questions to ask you in the Sharing Secrets area of the Newsletter.



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