The Cambrian

A Gardener's Notebook: Botanical standouts in Cambria gardens

A lavatera is a drought-tolerant garden standout.
A lavatera is a drought-tolerant garden standout. PHOTOS BY LEE OLIPHANT

The gardens of Cambria have never looked better. Rain nourished the thirsty trees and left behind moisture for the unassuming Mediterranean mainstays of our landscapes. In drought years, no plant really stands out as a star in our gardens. This year there are many that say, “Take notice!”

One of the “ botanical standouts” of my garden is

lavatera. The genus is named for the Swiss naturalist, Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801). The perennial shrub is commonly called bush or tree mallow and has hollyhock-shaped flowers on “fountain” branches growing to the height of 4 to 8 feet.

I have two species of lavatera blooming in my garden. “Barnsley” has pale pink flowers with a dark pink interior, and “Red Rum” is a rich magenta-pink heavily

flowering shrub. Both plants are fast-growing, good for filling in spaces quickly, and drought tolerant as well. My lavateras are behind fencing and would appear to be deer resistant due to their fuzzy leaves. But my neighbor, whose lavatera is exposed, says, “Not so!”

A more deer-resistant standout is tagetes, also referred to as Mexican marigold. It gives a golden blast of color to corners of my garden. The first tagetes I saw was on a roadside corner on Burton Drive. The striking shrub was covered in gold daisy-like flowers. Its leaves are ferny, finely divided and strongly scented. One might describe them as “stinky,” thus as deer proof as you can get. They need full sun and well-drained soil. I planted a few and lost one due to poor drainage. Expect flowers from early spring to fall, and cut back branches after flowering. In the right location, these shrubby perennials can grow to 8 feet in height and as wide.

The delicate Gaura lindheimeri “Whirling Butterflies” (another standout in Cambria) is a North American wildflower, highly valued for its long-flowering display in the garden. Coastal breezes gently move the sprays, making it look like a cloud of tiny butterflies. It grows wild along roadsides in the southern central and Western states. The delicate four-petal flowers open white along the sprays, then fade to pink as they age.

If deadheaded regularly, “Whirling Butterflies” will bloom for months. Guara is excellent in containers, and for cutting. Plants must have good drainage to survive the winter. It’s drought tolerant, and deer resistant.

Every garden has a “standout”, a plant that catches the eye, has good survival skills, and grows well in our climate. I wonder what your “botanical standout” is this year?

E-mail Lee Oliphant at cambriagardener@char; read her blog at