By Nan Sterman
There’s no doubt that gardeners love flowers -- the more, the better. And while annuals and perennials offer flowers that come and go, flowering shrubs can deliver year-round interest.
In our climate it’s a good idea to plant water-thrifty flowering shrubs. Some are native, some are from other parts of the world. All give the garden backbone and structure, in addition to flowers.
White Australian hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii ‘White Swan’) grows 6–8 feet tall and wide. Its deeply lobed leaves are deep green. White, hibiscus-like flowers bloom year-round if plants are in full sun.
For a small space, plant Little John dwarf bottlebrush (Callistemon ‘Little John’). It’s another flowering shrub, which comes to us from Australia, where growing conditions are quite similar to Southern California’s. This diminutive shrub grows only 3–5 feet tall and slightly wider. Its red bottlebrush flowers attract beneficial bees and hummingbirds.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) comes to us from the Mediterranean. This shrub does double duty as a culinary herb, as well as a beautiful evergreen with bright-blue flowers. Upright varieties, such as ‘Tuscan Blue’, grow 5–6 feet tall. Spreading varieties, such as ‘Roman Beauty’, grow in low mounds.
Pomegranate (Punica granata) is another edible ornamental woody, yielding tall blooms with bright-orange/red flowers in early spring. From late spring to early fall, the flowers morph into round, red fruits that usually ripen around Halloween. These dry-site shrubs require plenty of sun for full production, though they produce in light shade, especially in inland valleys and desert regions.
Ceanothus is California’s native lilac. It isn’t a true lilac, but was dubbed that for its round clusters of bright-blue flowers in spring. Evergreen leaves are deep green, sometimes wavy over their surface. Ceanothus requires full sun or part shade, depending on the variety or species. Sizes vary too -- from low and spreading to 15 feet tall. No fuss, no muss. Just easy to grow.
Mediterranean pink rockrose (Cistus x purpureus) is another evergreen that blooms much of the year. Red dots at the base of each petal accent big, pink flowers with bright-yellow centers. It’s easy to love a rockrose to death. While you no doubt expect to indulge it, resist. They thrive with neglect -- and die most often from overwatering.
Pink breath of heaven (Coleonema pulchellum) sports the tiniest, pinkest flowers imaginable. Flowers form on branches clothed in bright-green leaves so small, they resemble scales. This South African evergreen blooms from winter through spring and grows 4–8 feet tall and 4–5 feet wide. It tolerates shade but needs a bit more water inland than at the coast.
One of Europe’s greatest exports is chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). More shrub than tree, this Vitex forms great sprays of purplish blue flowers in spring and summer. The flowers are butterfly magnets. Leaves fall in winter, revealing graceful branches and trunks. This fast-growing plant typically reaches 12–16 feet tall and wide.