By Danielle Neibling
Special to the Crier
Here in Oracle there are some showy flowers that a border could hardly have too much of, and ‘Here in Oracle’ is not a minor limitation. Just down the way in SaddleBrooke, the showy Bougainvilleas survive winters at worst freezing to the ground, while here we must treat them as a container plant. Happily, I’ve found flowering plants that satisfy the desire to use color in the landscape.
Since all plants flower, it might be useful to define what I have in mind when I say ‘showy flower.’ I am looking for perennials, bi-annials, bulbs, small shrubs, and ground covers of heights 36 inches and under. I want foliage and blooms to relate to one another. Staging tall plants behind shorter ones makes sense, but becomes predictable. Why be OCD? If an occasional exclamation point is needed, mix I up the heights.
Salvias have to be first on the list of ‘can’t have too many of these’; glittering red and pink Salvia greggii from Home Depot are available by the truckload. Easy to establish, and hot to the eye they seem tedious, though I forgive this completely when I see how the humming pigs come first to them. Another, Salvia chamaedryoides, with silver foliage, blooms the softest blue is easy on the eye, and as a bonus, came through this past Winter in the best shape of all the salvias. Highly recommended!
All through February, stunning Verbena gooddingii showed resilience to the neurotic weather, taking in stride early heat blasts and damp freezes- and steadily built up its show of icy violet florets. This is a cheerful plant that mounds (is wider than high), has lacy foliage, and prefers not to be over watered. I first saw this plant on Highway 77 median about two miles before the American Ave. exit and I pulled over to see up close the sun reflecting off the flowers as if off satin lingerie – maybe, not that I would know. Looking at where it’s thriving…baking sun, hard packed gravel, maybe some beneficial run-off, no big deal; anyone can find a situation that’s perfect for this one, but once you try it you are likely to keep adding more. I now have two, both from Desert Survivors. Five stars.
Gaura lindheimeri is really a native of Texas and Louisiana, yet I managed to kill off first attempts with over-zealous watering in poorly drained soil. Success with these hasn’t been easy because I’ve had to turn a 3’ wide and deep area, adding mulch and gypsum for those tap roots, but oh the results! My four are spreading their burgundy colored foliage handsome long before bloom time. I don’t expect them to grow to 6’ in Oracle, though it would be an amazing sight to stand beneath a pink and white cloud. I hope they will remain in a scale compatible with the Arizona natives. There is a super native plant that will replace these someday, more on that in the future…
Cute Baileya multiradiata is for the front row. It’s worth it to grow this just for the silver, divided foliage. Each stem offers an individual, well formed, rich yellow bloom. If this sounds a bit too Disney, well it is. It’s an annual—although mine came back from last year. Another median thriver, I am trying a sowing of this en masse. Checking my spelling in Plants of Arizona, I noted it is said to be poisonous to sheep. Could this be the famous “yellow weed” written about by Ben K. Green in his 1935 account, The Village Horse Doctor-? As a vet, Dr. Green isolated toxic chemicals from livestock gut in order to concoct an antidote, or develop a de-tox regimen. This is a super read for anyone, but especially if you are interested in post WWII Arizona.
To Penstemon, or not to Penstemon, that is the question. At Tohono Chul there are too many to choose from. “Oy vey!” These cheap dates are multitudinous, so flirtatious, you could easily obsess. I have heard complaints they are short lived (bad) and will throw all their energy into re-seeding (not bad). To each his, or her own. Here in Oracle we already see P. eatonii, or Firecracker Penstemon on oak shaded slopes. However the Pine leaf penstemon, P. pinifolius, is a great little specimen because, unlike its gawky cousins, its habit is compact and neat- nice up front!
The impact of “flowers” is greatly increased when plants are installed in drifts or massed, as most plants in nature occur and where their scale and bloom color can be complemented by the right companion plants- or sculptural features such as rocks. Good design and a show of color is something one just can’t have too much of.