Spring Flowers
from April 2000

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One of the great ironies of nursery life is that in spring, with flowers all around us, we seem to have no time to enjoy them. Spring Rush arrives, and our waking hours are filled with a scramble to buy and sell, launch new waves of planting, and deal with sudden hordes of pests and weeds. Sometimes sheer maintenance of sanity calls for an escape to the country, where we enter a different world. Our long, late deluge arrived just in time, at least in the North (condolences to those of you in the South) to blanket the meadows with wildflowers. In the chaparral above them, three good winters have given the shrubby natives a bumper crop of buds, now making shimmering clouds of color. There are wild pinks and purples of the redbuds, glowing yellows of the bush poppies and fremontias, whites of the lingering manzanitas, and most of all right now, vivid blues and purples of the ceanothus. See them before another California spring has passed. If your conscience demands excuses for leaving the shop, tell it that only by seeing how native shrubs blend in the wild can you understand how to use them best-and tell your customers how to do so-in the landscape.

Most Ceanothus in cultivation are either directly from the wild or one generation removed from it, as happy garden "accidents" which involve the efforts of obliging honeybees. Here are a few you may not know well. 'Joan Mirov' is an apparent natural hybrid, discovered in the wild by Roger Raiche. It forms a rather dense, deep green dome, usually 4-5' in height and 8-10' in breadth. The stems are slender and arch gracefully, bearing lacquered " leaves. The plant is covered in mid-spring by clusters of deep true-blue flowers. Another wildling is C. impressus 'Vandenberg', which I found on the Air Force base of that name. It is a dwarf form of this usually large-growing species, 2-3' high and eventually 4-6' broad. Tiny, crinkled, deep green leaves are crowded along the stems. The flowers are borne in small, bright blue clusters. Another C. impressus selection, cultivated for many years but never well-known here, is 'Puget Blue'. This is a full-sized plant (5-6' high and 10-15' broad) with more open, arching habit, similar but larger leaves and masses of beautiful lavender-blue flowers. A "volunteer" at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, selected and introduced by the late Dara Emery, is 'Wheeler Canyon'. This is an unusually tidy plant, resembling a well-pruned 'Concha' even with little pruning and growing 4-6' high, 6-8' broad. The 2" leaves are narrow and deeply textured. Bright blue flowers (not the vivid purple-blue of 'Concha' but borne in equally generous masses) cover the plant in mid-spring. Finally, those of you who enjoy the rich, glistening greens of the ground-covering ceanothus, yet despair of controlling them in smaller landscapes, should try C. hearstiorum. Discovered on the Hearst Ranch near Cambria, this is an absolutely prostrate shrub, making a symmetrical circle of generally 6-8' diameter-not the 20' plus of the Carmel creeper. It has, dark, narrow, textured leaves and rather bright blue flowers, too easily hidden from view.

Of the group just described, 'Wheeler Canyon' is truly easy to grow, and 'Joan Mirov' may be equally so (Its first few years in California landscapes are most encouraging). The two C. impressus are a little more demanding of well-drained soil, though certainly not difficult. C. hearstiorum is best on open banks and other well-drained sites.