Today I’d like to talk for a minute about shrubs. Yesterday, while out walking, I saw two beauties. We had both of them when living on Melissa Street. One was called Pieris mountain fire and the other was Senecio maritimus. Most gardeners are familiar with Pieris, which has become very popular. It produces brilliant orange-red new growth which over the summer turns dark green. There is another Pieris which has pale cream new leaves, which turn dark green. They both produce trusses of white blossom, but it’s the new leaves that are most spectacular. As for Senecio, it has furry grey-green leaves, but produces sprays of yellow daisy-like flowers during the summer.
We also had two Mexican orange shrubs (Choysia ternata), one beside the path to the front door. Its clusters of small white flowers were deliciously fragrant. Its leaves also, when crushed between your fingers, had a lovely aroma. Another plus was that it flowered most years in spring and again in fall. Wonderful.
If you are tempted to purchase a shrub or two, please, for Pete’s sake (who is this Pete, anyway?) ask the nursery man to tell you how tall and how wide it will be when fully grown. Because I loved its blue blossoms I put in a Ceanothus (California lilac) against the front of the house, facing west. It loved it there and immediately decided to grow – and grow it did. It spread across the front windows, tried to lift the roof and generally attempted to take over that part of the garden. Eventually, afraid it had become too domineering we took it out, replacing it with a camellia, which was lovely and much easier to control.
Many shrubs will grow quite happily in a large pot. I have a cotoneaster (small-growing one) that I brought from Melissa Street. It was the only shrub I took and this winter I nearly killed it. I didn’t realize that it was sitting in its smaller pot in a larger one which had no drainage hole. It very nearly drowned, but fortunately I discovered the flood and removed it in time.
Helen Lang has been the Peninsula News Review’s garden columnist for more than 25 years.