ITS BOLD, frond-like leaves are an icy green, and its 18-inch spires of burgundy flowers lure swarms of hummingbirds in search of sweet nectar. The honey bush, a soft-stemmed perennial shrub from South Africa, makes a striking centerpiece for a low-water California garden.
Those huge, serrated-edged leaves are the first things that draw garden lovers to the honey bush. Multiple stems rise from a central point. Allow them all to develop, and you'll have an 8- to 10-foot-wide shrub of 6-foot tall stems. For a more architectural shape, cut all but three of the strongest stems to the ground; they will grow more upright. Wide or tall, the shrub will bloom from late winter into spring.
Honey bush (Melianthus major) prefers well-draining soil, in full sun or light shade. Like all plants, it requires frequent watering the first year in the ground. After that, it is drought-tolerant in California's coastal gardens, though it will tolerate more frequent watering.
In hotter inland gardens, honey bush takes a bit more water. Even so, you can grow it with lower-water perennials, trees and shrubs from South Africa, Australia and other regions with a similar Mediterranean climate. Try honey bush with aloe, bougainvillea, kangaroo paw, agave, spreading Arctotis, melaleuca, native fescue or perennial spurge.