Gardening: After the rains, these colorful plants are blooming this spring

This spring – as my father, of blessed memory, used to say about everything from a smorgasbord to a large library – is an embarrassment of riches.

It’s an overabundance of so many good things that it makes it difficult to choose among them. In the case of Southern California, thanks to the rain this winter, there is an abundance of flowers that has not been seen in years and the plants that bear these blooms are all crying out for a place in our gardens. Unfortunately, virtually every square inch of space in the garden or on the patio or balcony of a passionate plant person is taken, so the choices to be made about what to plant next are limited.

In my neighborhood, pink is the dominant flower color at this time. Start with the largest variety of Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica var. Springtime). It is a perfect sphere six feet in diameter that is presently a mass of flowers. On either side of Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, the pink trumpet trees (Tabebuia rosea), whose flowers precede their foliage, are at peak bloom. This is a medium-sized tree, 30 feet at maturity, with a lifespan of 50 years.

Horses teeth Haworthia truncata. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

Pachypodium brevicaule. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

Shaws agave Agave shawii. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

Pink trumpet tree Tabebuia. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)



And then there are the George Taber azaleas, growing up to eight feet tall and six feet wide. Their pastel pink flowers with magenta throats will remind you of certain orchids. This azalea makes a wonderful hedge and grows well under pine trees due to its shallow roots and the acidity provided by the decomposing pine needles in the soil. Along the edge of my front yard, a hedge of butterfly roses (Rosa mutabilis) was planted more than two decades ago. This is a China rose that is drought tolerant and never needs irrigation. It makes a nice privacy hedge growing up to 10 feet tall and six feet wide. It’s flowers are changeable or mutable, as its species name indicates, emerging yellow, transitioning to apricot and finally turning various tones of pink – which is the main color that it exhibits – before dropping off. Butterfly roses, albeit of a single layer of petals, keep coming from spring until fall. Last fall, my hedge of them had become mildewy and were growing out of bounds so I cut them back to a height of six inches. They grew right back up, healthier than before, and are already six feet tall.

While at the Sepulveda Garden Center on the corner of Hayvenhurst Avenue and Magnolia Boulevard in Encino, I spotted crimson clover in full bloom in one of the gardens. I had never seen this plant before and I don’t think I have ever seen flowers – with up to 125 florets per bloom – that were a  redder red. Like all clovers, this species will enrich your soil with nitrogen, the principal constituent of a plant’s mineral diet. It is an annual, however, so you will only enjoy its charms until the end of the growing season although you can harvest its seeds to sow another crop next year. If you choose to dig it into the earth and can wait a month of days, the soil will be significantly enriched for the growth of vegetables and herbs which will not need any supplemental fertilization. You can order a large variety of clover seeds, including those of crimson clover and white clover that serve as a lawn grass supplement or replacement, from, where you can find a variety of flower seeds as well.

I was visiting the Sepulveda Garden Center to enjoy the Drought Tolerant Plant Festival put on by members of the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society (LACSS) while strolling among the many members who had come to sell their plants. As for the succulents on display, I was most impressed by two specimens that made my jaw drop. One of them was a South African native known as Horse’s teeth (Haworthia truncata). It consists of straight-edged leaves in undulating rows that have a reptilian aspect to them. The other unforgettable succulent I espied was Pachypodium brevicaule, so uncommon that it does not have a common name. This plant has an elephant foot trunk from which butter-yellow flowers arise. If the pinwheel form of these flowers reminds you of the flowers of periwinkle (Vinca major), oleander, natal plum (Carissa spp.), and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), that is not coincidental since all of them, along with the Pachypodiums, are members of the dogbane family, so-called since they are the bane of dogs and, for that matter, people as well, due to the toxic alkaloids in their sap. Meetings of the LACSS are held on the first Thursday of the month at the ONEgeneration Senior Enrichment Center at 18255 Victory Blvd. in Reseda. Doors open at 6:15 pm and the meetings start at 7. New members are always welcome and receive a gift plant at their first meeting.

While at the Plant Festival I met Lili Costa, who represents a group of concerned tenders of garden plots at the Sepulveda Garden Center. Costa says she and her friends have been volunteering to fix up the cactus garden on site that has been neglected over the years. She wonders why the neglected plots have not been reassigned to those waiting in line to garden at the Center. To rent a garden plot costs $120 per year, which includes an unlimited supply of water and mulch.

Meeting the friendly members of the Geranium Society was a real bonus of my visit to the Garden Center. One of them was Jay Kapac, a foremost breeder of geraniums. A resident of Val Verde near Castaic, he informed me that his geraniums are especially tough because of the cold they must endure in his locale. Yet Kapac does not breed geraniums alone, but also roses. The most famous rose he has bred is known as Sweet Hips. Hips are rose fruits and Kapac’s are flavorful enough that they can be eaten like an apple. Sweet Hips is a rugosa rose cultivar and so it possesses significant cold tolerance, as large plantings in New York City, for example, demonstrate. Rugosas also tolerate inferior soil and, owing to their rough textured foliage, exhibit considerable drought tolerance too.

The Geranium Society meets on the third Tuesday of each month (except June and July) at 7 pm in the Bamboo Room of the Los Angeles County Arboretum at 301 N. Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia.

California native of the week: At the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society exhibit at the Sepulveda Garden Center, I saw a wonderful specimen of Shaw agave (Agave shawii) in a terra cotta pot. This is one of the most unapproachable agaves due to its wicked spines. it is meant for container display or a section of the garden inaccessible to playing children. Nevertheless, it has an architectonic beauty that is also unapproachable by more gentle garden denizens. It spreads in clumps but is only fully appreciated when still a single specimen with its tight rosette of curvaceous, lime-green leaves.

If you have any noteworthy cacti, succulents, or geraniums you would like to share with readers of this column, please tell me about them by writing to Questions and comments about your plants and gardening practices are always welcome.

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