By Bonnie Jo Manion
It is the middle of summer, and in our Mediterranean climate Southern California gardens can go dormant. For summer color in your garden, try using Mediterranean native plants, or plants that originate from hot climates such as Australia, South Africa, and the tropics. Generally these plants love the heat and sun, can be drought tolerant, and are extremely striking. One caution: You still need to pay attention to their water requirements and give them full sun.
Besides cooling down a garden by selecting plants that take the heat, don’t forget about using calming colors such as whites, blues, and greens. Water features, including ponds and water fountains, also provide a cooling effect for your garden. Many of the plants that thrive in heat are showy, and planted en masse can be particularly eye catching.
Two of my favorite natives are rock rose shrub (Cistus) and Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri). I have ‘Bennett’s White’ rock rose planted in a hedge for mass appeal. Rock rose has several varieties, and the purple ‘Orchid’ is both attractive and more commonly seen.
Matilija poppy is native to Southern California and Baja. It is similar to ‘Bennett’s White’ rock rose flower, with larger 9-in, white crepe flowers with yellow centers. You sometimes see the flowers described as resembling whimsical fried eggs. Matilija poppies start blooming in May and continue into summer. They spread by rhizomes and can be invasive. Pruning them down in summer or fall to 4–6 in helps keep them manageable.
Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos), a perennial evergreen from southwest Australia, is a great addition to a Southern California garden. Unique blooms curve at the tips, resembling kangaroo paws. A standard plant can reach 3–4 in high; the dwarf varieties 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 ft tall. Kangaroo paws are available in a rainbow of colors. They look great planted en masse, and impart an upright structural element to a garden. Pruning spent flower tips encourages them to bloom longer.
Cannas are beautiful heat-loving perennials from rhizomes. Their foliage and flowers are equally showy, and they work beautifully planted in containers or in the ground. Today cannas generally are hybrids from species native to tropical regions and lend tropical style to a garden. Pictured is ‘Tropicanna’, with vibrant orange flowers and amazing striped green, yellow, pink, and red foliage. Plant cannas as focal points in your garden, or as a backdrop border for a natural upright structure.
Lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus) is a South African native perennial you can count on for summer color and taking summer heat. Their blooms are large, and almost moplike in character and size. There are dwarf varieties, as well as standard varieties suitable for every garden. Blooms vary in color from white to shades of blue. A mass planting is a real summer delight. Two of my favorite varieties are ‘Storm Cloud’, which has deep-blue-violet flowers on 4-ft stems; and ‘Summer Gold’, a dwarf at 1 ft tall, with blue flowers and variegated foliage.
With all these heat-loving plants, Use their colors to calm down a garden, or highlight them with a punch of color.
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