There is something so lovely about a hillside garden that emulates the natural scene so much so that it provides tranquility and beauty in all seasons, and absolute vibrancy when flowers peak to create sweeps of color.
Late winter might not seem like the best time to go and visit a collection of plants from this region (at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens),
but to my earlier point, beauty is year round: if not just to enjoy the calm presented in the patterning of gently mounding forms or varying shades of grays and greens.
But don’t let the tranquility fool you…
These plants are tough and rugged and can play an important role in your dry summer landscape if you let them!
Tough, Rugged and Attractive
1. Jerusalem Sage – (Phlomis)
2. Rockrose – (Cistus)
3. Rosemary – (Rosmarinus)
4. Spurge – (Euphorbia)
5. Lavender Cotton – (Santolina)
Consider planting one of the above in an open and sunny site or just plain old full sun. Spurge (Euphorbia) may be the exception here, where you can push the exposure to part sun/sun, and a general rule of good drainage applies to all.
Now for some photos and some info…
1. Jerusalem Sage – Phlomis
The ever popular Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage) and a couple of other Phlomis varieties listed here hail from Europe’s Mediterranean Basin. If you love traveling in Europe – as I do, getting familiar with some of the flora that grows there, like this one which says: “plant me in the sun on a wild hillside or among other dry garden perennials and I’ll be happy as pie,” is exciting. The intense yellow flowers of shrubby Phlomis fruticosa bloom profusely in full sun during spring and summer. You’ll notice photo below was taken late winter, and still, with open exposure it’s blooming a bit in late February. These shrubby mint family plants tend to have woolly, or felted leaves, and are drought tolerant requiring only moderate to occasional deep water. They are also adapted to poor soils and dry slopes. Hardy 0 – 10 degrees F.
Phlomis lanata– flowers abundantly most of summer and into fall carrying several small clusters of deep orange and gold blossoms along each stem. This shrub is round to about 2 feet tall. Hardy to 15 degrees F.
Phlomis purpurea – a more open shrub with 2 -4 foot woolly stems. Leaves are gray-green. Lavender flowers. (photo coming soon)
2. Rockrose – Cistus
Now here’s a tough plant whose flower resembles a ‘single rose.’ Difference being that each flower lasts only a day; but worry not, because in the right environment rockrose tends to be a prolific bloomer. Flower colors range from whites to pinks to purples and the foliage is interestingly textured, often fuzzy, with varying shades of green and resembling sage. Types – From low growing bank and ground covers (Cistus salviifolius ‘Prostratus’ and Cistus x skanbergii) to medium sized (Cistus ‘Sunset’) and larger shrubs (Cistus x hybridus). What a rockrose wants? Sun, well drained soil and little to no supplemental watering once established. Hardiness varies.
3. Rosemary – Rosmarinus
Rosemary – Grows wild along the coast of the Mediterranean sea; and interestingly, its Latin name, Rosmarinus, means “dew of the sea.” For the garden you’ll find this evergreen must-have ranging in a forms, from prostrate ground covers to sweeping upright shrubs, plus most importantly, it’s an awesome cooking herb. What Rosemary wants? Sun, reasonably drained soil, moderate to occasional watering. Rosemary can tolerate hot sun and poor soil. Flowers profusely in winter and spring, with some blooms in fall. Flowers attract bees and birds. Hardy to 15 degrees F, or less.
4. Spurge – Euphorbia
Spurge grows nearly worldwide and some hail from Europe. I love using Euphorbias for the unusually long lasting and unique spring flowers, and foliage that stands outs from the crowd – creating a specimen, an anchor or groupings for mass delight. Every resource will tell you the same thing: Avoid using this plant in a ‘Kid Friendly Garden Design.’ The cautionary note comes from the milky juice which is poisonous within many. As far as handling these plants, particularly pruning, avoid issues by wearing gloves and protect your skin. The milky juice can irritate your skin, discolor your clothing and make a little mess, but other than that, I personally find working with this plant a non-event. 🙂 The following photos are some of those that hail from the Mediterranean region of Europe.
Learn more about Euphorbias here.
5. Lavander Cotton – Santolina
Santolina – Compact from the Mediterranean region. Excellent tough long lived bushy shrublets that respond well to pruning. Use not only as ground cover but enjoy in borders and use as a low hedge for that sunny spot. Drought tolerant. Hardy to 0 degrees or less.
Santolina chamaecyparissus – Gray Lavender Cotton is the best known species. Use this very durable plant from the Mediterranean area as a specimen, bank or ground cover, one which will be largely ignored by deer, but not by you with a lovely dense shrublet growing only 1 to 2 feet tall, and forms a dense grey mass. (Try ‘Compacta’ for a shorter variety.) In the summer flower stalks arise well above the foliage with cute yellow button heads. Resinous fragrance is reminding of our California chaparral, nice!
Plant Job Description: Must be Tough and Thrive on a Camels Share of Water
Being a tough plant in a tough climate is no small feat. I can’t imagine thriving on a camels share of water and still playing for keeps, but that is what plants like these adapted to dry summer Mediterranean climates do. They are truly amazing. I hope you enjoyed taking a look at a slice of the plant palette growing natively in Europe’s Mediterranean Basin. We will include more from this region in a series called, Drought Gardening: Increasing your Plant Palette with Plants from Similar Mediterranean Regions Around the World. The series is designed for you if you live and garden in California or a similar dry summer Mediterranean climate. 🙂
ps: If you are a lover of Mediterranean plants, Lavender is probably high on your list. Check out our post on the Lavender Fields of Matanzas Creek Winery – tons of great photos!