Exciting, new and unusual plants

I talk a lot about some tried and true landscape favorites.  I will always love a crisp white rose, the movement of Muhly grass in the breeze, and the structure of Agaves within the landscape.  Walking around our nursery this time of year I take notice of some interesting plants that are in their prime season.  I am constantly on the hunt to bring in new plants to the nursery that are waterwise and central valley friendly.  At times I bring in something that I am fairly unfamiliar with, but I love being pleasantly surprised by the interesting features they display. 



Spice Bush (Calycanthus occidentalis)

Early spring I was sorting through some plants in the back.  On bare branches of a medium side shrub I saw large leaves unfolding.  Uncharacteristic of many native species I assumed it was some sort of Viburnum and left it be.  To my delight this elegant and lush plant began flowering a couple weeks ago.  Starting with maroon buds the petals have opened to a lotus shaped flower.  The merlot colored flowers dapple the mounding shrubs to create a pointed interest throughout the plant.

Native to mountain regions of central and northern California these large shrubs can reach 6-10 feet tall and wide.  The flowers have a spicy wine-like scent, giving the plant its name.  They have fall interest with a showy change of foliage color.  These look great paired with contrasting foliage of Jerusalem sage, Artemisia, or Little Ollie Olives. 

Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) 

Many varieties of Calamagrostis tend to become large, unruly clumps of grass blades.  ‘Karl Foerster’ is a dwarf variety with emerald green leaves bunching 2-3 feet tall and wide.  The seasonal specialty to enjoy right now are the vertical 6 foot ivory colored plumes that emerge mid-spring and last into fall.  I love incorporating multi-use plants in the landscape.  Karl Foerster fits the bill with their plumes making a great addition to cut flower arrangements for an airy effect.

Locate these where you wish to create a seasonal barrier.  Their graceful leaves pair well with mounding shrubs with gray or silvery tones.  For best maintenance practice cut the foliage to the ground to encourage soft new leaves the next year. 



Spanish Broom (Spartium juneceum)

I am a fan of interesting foliage colors and textures.  Spanish Broom caught my eye a while back because its green stems blend perfectly with the small green leaves.  Bright yellow sweet pea like flowers appear early summer adding a nice fragrance to the landscape.    

This rather large shrub reaches 6-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide.  As the plant matures the green upright stems can turn brown with age.  Native to several Mediterranean countries this is a hardy plant that can handle stressful conditions.  Because of its perseverance many counties throughout the United States have added it to their noxious weed list.  Spanish Broom propagates by seed in the wild, which they begin to produce after becoming established in their second to third year.  Unestablished hillsides and country sides have become a desirable growing ground for these plants that out compete the native flora and are not foraged by animals.  In a well maintained landscape these may add a nice textural contrast, but I would advise against them if you are in a remote location or do not weed or use pre-emergent in your landscape.  Although Spanish Broom is not banned from the Central Valley I would be cautious and considerate of how your yard can affect the greater landscape.



Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticose)

Those of you in the native plant world are already well acquainted with Phlomis.  These have been around for years and years, but I feel like they do not get the attention they deserve.  This time of year their unusual whirling yellow blossoms consolidate in nodes rising up the stem and make people stop and take a second look as they are walking around the nursery.  The green/gray stems and leaves give off the quintessential Mediterranean look and do wonderfully planted in the landscape and left alone.  This medium sized shrub gets three to four feet tall and wide, blooming off and on spring through fall.  Pair with other plants that produce warm tone flowers such as Salvia, Kniphofia or Hesperaloe.



Blue Beard (Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’)

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention this all too popular blue show stopper in the nursery.  Planted next to our pergola this herbaceous perennial is loaded with blue flowers and maintains a tidy four to six foot mound without much effort.  (Side note, for those not familiar with the term.  Herbaceous perennial simply means the plant dies down to the ground in the winter, and reemerges in the spring).  This is a bee and butterfly magnate and everyone who walks by has to know the name.  Ours were planted nearly three years ago in the dead of summer and have not required much care.  Every year we chop them down in winter, and by March they are to size and full of blossoms by the end of April.


Take note of what is delightful throughout the year and add it to your landscape for seasonal interest.  I know it’s tempting to only reach for evergreen plants or familiar species, but look at something new and exciting to introduce for some seasonal flair.     


Take note of what is delightful throughout the year and add it to your landscape for seasonal interest.  I know it’s tempting to only reach for evergreen plants or familiar species, but look at something new and exciting to introduce for some seasonal flair.     

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