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The Time Is Right for Easy Plantings

Horticulture: With options ranging from A to Z, autumn is a cool season for gardeners to expand their landscapes.

September 21, 1996|KAREN DARDICK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Cooling temperatures and what passes for fall in Southern California make this one of the best planting times of the year. It is also a good time to add plants that will grow and flourish with minimal care and add beauty to the landscape.

With choices from new varieties of agapanthus to old reliables such as zantedeschia (calla), gardeners can expand with a variety of easy-care foliage and flowering plants.

Abelia is high on Wade Roberts' list of hardy and easy plants.

"It's foolproof, hardy and very graceful in the landscape," said Roberts, director of Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar. "These evergreen shrubs grow to 8 feet and arch to a spread of about 5 feet. They produce clusters of white or pink-tinged flowers summer to fall and are very effective landscape plants that don't require a lot of care."

Another plant that Roberts recommends is pittosporum tobira Wheeler's Dwarf. "It mounds up and is a pretty foliage plant with leathery, shiny dark green leaves."

The decorative fence at the main entrance to Sherman Gardens is pink powder puff (Calliandra haematocephala). Native to Brazil, this evergreen shrub adapts very well to our climate and has a natural espalier form that makes it useful for screening.

Agapanthus, long popular in Orange County landscapes, shouldn't be overlooked, especially with the recent introduction of agapanthus Storm Cloud, a mid-size variety that produces dark blue flowers. At Roberts' home, he has planted some near his pool.

"The pool has dark blue tiles, and the agapanthus continues the color theme very effectively," he said.

Anne Roth, landscape designer for Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar, also uses agapanthus Storm Cloud.

"They look very nice tucked in groups of three or five throughout a lawn area or planted in clumps of three or five in front of birch trees with Rhaphiolepsis shrubs as accents," she said.

Storm Cloud has a looser look and deeper green foliage than other varieties of agapanthus. It takes as little care as the older varieties and blooms as reliably throughout the summer.

Rhaphiolepsis indica (India hawthorn) are some of the most widely planted shrubs because they are tough, demand little care (except pruning for shape) and will flourish in full sun or light shade. Their glossy, leathery leaves make an effective backdrop for additions of annual or perennial flowering plants. Each spring, India hawthorn produces clusters of pink flowers, followed by dark blue berries.

Hines Nurseries in Irvine recently introduced a new variety, Bay Breeze, that extends its adaptability in a landscape.

"This new variety has several characteristics that make it unique," said Steve Carr, a Hines horticulturist. "Its foliage is beautiful year-round because the new bronze growth matures to deep green and then deepens to a rich purple in winter. Its growth habit is low and mounding, 2 to 3 feet in height with a spread of 4 to 6 feet."

Another shrub recommended by Carr is pyracantha mojave. One of the hardiest of the pyracantha group, mojave grows moderately to 12 feet and produces small, fragrant white blossoms that mature into orange-red berries, a favorite of many birds.

Shady spots in a landscape can be filled with easy plants such as clivia miniata, native to South Africa. These tuberous-rooted evergreen perennials thrive with little care and produce brilliant orange flowers in early spring.

"Clivia is tough, easy and very drought-tolerant," said Brad Carter, assistant director for the UC Irvine Arboretum. "There's a planting here in an area where sprinklers broke, so they haven't been irrigated since last winter, and they're thriving."

Another South African native that Carter highly recommends is watsonia. Grown from corms, they require full sun and quickly produce clumps that in spring send up flower spikes of orange, pink, red or white, depending on the species or variety. Dormant in summer, they are drought tolerant.

Specialty nurseries and the arboretum sell corms of W. aletroides, a 2-foot version of its 4-foot relations. Watsonia need little care except to lift and divide the clumps every five years or so as increasing production of corms crowd the plant. One clump can yield as many as 50 corms.

Another tough, easy shade plant recommended by Roth is philodendron selloum Winterbourne. Although philodendrons are often thought of as indoor plants, P. selloum is hardy enough for outdoor landscapes.

"This is a compact plant that always looks good and doesn't have to be pruned and shaped," Roth said. "It looks like a Sago palm."

Although it may be one of the most commonplace plants in Southern California, oleander still earns praise from Roberts, especially its dwarf varieties. "You can turn your back on them, and they still do quite well."

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