Spice up your landscape, Mediterranean style
By Rebecca Jepsen
When it comes to plants that thrive in our area, don't overlook those from the Mediterranean or other regions with a similar climate. There are several that can spice up your native, waterwise landscape.
A Mediterranean climate, for example, features long, hot summers with little to no rainfall and a mild, rainy winters. There are very few areas in the world that share these characteristics with the Mediterranean countries of Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Among them are western and South Australia; South Africa; sections of Central Asia; parts of central Chile; and, of course, much of California.
Fall is a great time to plant. Even though most of these species are drought-tolerant, all plants need regular water until they are established; planting in the fall allows you to take advantage of the water nature provides us.
Also, many of these plants are generally labeled deer-resistant, although that is relative; very hungry deer tend to eat almost anything.
Here are some favorites to try:
Lavenders (Lavandula) are a genus of 39 species of flowering plants from the mint family. Lavenders are some of the best plants you can grow to encourage bees to hang out and thrive in your backyard. One of the standouts is Grosso, also known as Fat Spike lavender. It features flower heads that are 3 to 6 inches long by 1 inch wide and blooms primarily in June. It typically grows 8-16 inches tall by 3 feet wide. It is great choice for making bouquets and wands. Also consider planting Goodwin Creek Grey, a compact variety that grows about 2 or 3 feet tall and wide and blooms all summer long. It has beautiful gray-green foliage and is very fragrant; it is a favorite for bees.
The rock rose family (Cistaceae) consists of approximately 200 species of low-growing shrubs that sport showy flowers that range in color from white to yellow to pink to fuchsia. Rock roses cast their seeds (which have hard coatings that are impermeable to water) in the soil during their growth period. They are known to populate areas ravaged by forest fires since the heat from the fire softens and cracks their seed coatings.
New Zealand flax (Phormium) features dramatic swordlike leaves that can grow as large as 10 feet long by 5 inches wide. Leaves can be dark green to pink to deep russet brown. Rigid flower stalks can grow to 25 feet high and are usually bright red. They produce large quantities of nectar, which attract nectar-feeding birds and insects.
Kniphofia uvaria, commonly known as Red-Hot Poker or Torch Lily, is a perennial that produces flower spikes that reach 2 to 5 feet in height and are a favorite for hummingbirds. These should be planted in full sun, and although they can survive periods of drought, they prefer ample watering during the hottest summer months.
Other shrubs to try: California buckwheat, hummingbird sage, Podocarpus, rosemary, salvia and yarrow.
Flowers: African daisy, alstroemeria, daffodils, cyclamen, iris, narcissus, nasturtiums and tulips.
Trees: big leaf maple, California live oak, California flannel bush, crape myrtle, olive, Mayten, palms, red alder, and strawberry tree.
You can find these and many more options most of our local nurseries. An excellent resource for information on plants that thrive in our region is the book "Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region" by the East Bay Municipal Utility District's water conservation staff.
Master Gardener Dave Peterson contributed to this column. Have a question for the authors or other Master Gardeners? The University of California Cooperative Extension volunteer organization is dedicated to providing research-based gardening information to home gardeners. Call the hot line, 408-282-3105, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, or check the website, www.mastergardeners.org.