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A Garden of Mediterraneans — Part 2

Articles: A Garden of Mediterraneans — Part 2

The author takes up again a discussion of the merits of Mediterranean plants, with a note on the value of regional grouping in the garden.

One highly satisfactory way of arranging plants in a garden is by geographical areas. This is not always possible, of course, but where it is and space allows, it can create an interest that in many ways transcends a planting in which size, form, leaf texture, and color are the only considerations, and geography is largely left out of account. For one thing it is a way of paying tribute to some of the great floristic regions of the world. A few proteas and leucospermums planted together clearly indicate a sampling of the much larger number of these marvelous plants in which the Cape flora is so rich. Also, the association allows us, as a single plant could never do, a glimpse of a distant place; this ability to transport, to transplant from one region to another, is after all, one of the great, almost miraculous, rewards horticulture has to offer. And there is a final advantage that is more dependable and difficult to define, but that is nonetheless real; and that is the help that natural associations can give us in our efforts to create better gardens. Roy Elliott once spoke of some highly sensitive plantings that nonetheless reminded him of outdoor upholstery. It is my conviction that in gardening, as in other art forms, there is a difference between the merely decorative (or ornamental, as we often say) and the more profound, and that the key to the latter lies in the success with which it points back to and subsumes one or another aspect of nature.

For us on the West Coast, the most important areas of the world are quite obviously those with a Mediterranean climate. The largest of these, and the one most comparable with our own is, of course, the Mediterranean Basin itself. In the last issue I tried to describe my idea of a garden of Mediterraneans, and now we can resume our list, alphabetically arranged, of good garden plants for this purpose.

Erodiums abound around the Mediterranean and the most frequently planted of them, Erodium chamaedryoides, comes from Corsica and the Balearic Islands. The less commonly grown E. corsicum, which forms somewhat larger, very silvery mats with the veined rose-pink flowers characteristic of the genus, is, however, better for our purposes, and some forms of E. absinthoides are said to have the best flowers of the genus.

Erysimum kotschyanum and E. pulchellum (E. rupestre) form wide-spreading low mats totally covered with vividly yellow and orange wallflowers in spring. They are, perhaps, the brightest of all carpeting plants.

Euphorbias and cistus in the ruins at Mistra, Greece.
Euphorbias and cistus in the ruins at Mistra, Greece. Photographs by the author.

Euphorbias are among the most important of all plants for our border, and the taller ones will be described later. Among the low ones are some of the greatest value for giving our path its Mediterranean look: They are Euphorbia myrsinites (and its miniature counterpart, E. capitulata), E. robbiae and E. acanthothamnos. The first is a smaller version of E. rigida with prostrate stems about a foot long. The whole plant, stems and leaves, is blue-gray and instead of flowers, bright yellow bracts shine out on cloudy days in late winter and early spring. Euphorbia robbiae is a very dark green plant with densely set, round leaves, a perfect foil for the light green bracts in spring. This plant, incidentally, is excellent for dry shade as well as for a sunny spot on our walk. E. acanthothamnos is another hedgehog that loves to creep over rocks and cover them with brilliant chartreuse-yellow bracts set among masses of tiny spines.

Genista lydia is one of the best of foreground plants. I have described it (along with other dwarf brooms) in an earlier article, but would like to take this occasion to emphasize its beauty as a pathside plant.

Helianthemums, although discussed in an earlier article on rock-roses, deserve mention for their brilliancy and ease of growth.

Hippocrepis comosa is a prostrate leguminous sub-shrub with tiny leaves divided into a dozen or so minute leaflets, looking very much like an astragalus. The foliage is dark blue-green, an ideal foil for the small bright yellow pea flowers that appear in the leaf axils. While nothing special, this plant makes a useful and colorful mat on the ground; also it is very tough and endures long droughts with, apparently, little distress.

Hypericum coris, H. olympicum and H. empetrifolium all come from warm dry hill­sides in Greece and Asia Minor. H. coris is a very small shrub of less than a foot, with tiny leaves and the usual yellow St. Johns wort flowers about three quarters of an inch across, rising well above the foliage. H. olympicum is somewhat larger, although not much, with flowers up to two inches across. It has a particularly beautiful variant with pale yellow flowers, H. empetrifolium, which is particularly drought resistant, has yellow-green, very tiny, heath-like leaves and small flowers with prominent stamens. It has both prostrate and upright forms and can be seen in the hills near Athens.

Iberia sempervirens is very commonly grown, although few of its cultivators realize what a tough and drought resistant plant they have. The shrub, as usually seen, is about a foot high and two feet across. It is dependably evergreen and covered with white flowers for a long period in spring. I. sempervirens ‘Snowflake’ is a still more floriferous cultivar. I. semperflorens is a similar shrub of twice the size. It comes from Sicily and southern Italy and blooms continuously, as its name suggests, from November to April.

Lavandula is another of the great genera for our path, but here we shall list only the few somewhat low growing plants of it. Most of these are forms of English lavender and are of garden origin. ‘Munstead Dwarf’ and ‘Hidcote’ are both compact plants, although their flowering stems rise nearly two feet. ‘Munstead Dwarf’ has the bluer flowers of the two. There is said to be a much dwarfer cultivar called ‘Nana’ with flowering stems only six inches or so above the foliage, but plants under this name are apt to prove of almost any size. Plants from reputable suppliers, of the cultivars ‘Baby White’ and ‘Baby Blue’ have proved reliably dwarf. Lavandula lanata is an attractive dwarf, gray, woolly plant, but its flower spikes, when they appear, are disappointingly long and small-flowered.

Lithodora diffusa (Lithospermum diffusum) ‘Heavenly Blue’ and ‘Grace Ward’ are widely planted in California. These prostrate shrubs, perhaps the showiest of all the borages, with sheets of brilliant blue flowers rivaling the best of our ceanothus, are natives of stony hillsides in Spain, southern France and North Africa. In nature they grow among other shrubs and sometimes climb into them. If we follow this cue and plant them in front of somewhat taller shrubs and allow them to climb into their lower branches, we shall produce a charming effect. A healthy plant will grow three or four feet across, and we should allow room for it to do so. If the less commonly grown white form can be obtained, it makes a striking contrast with the blue. Like Daphne cneorum, Lithodora diffusa grows in deep pockets of leaf mould on a limestone base. I have found it perfectly happy with a neutral soil at the base, but it prefers peaty to sandy soils. Given this condition, it is very drought resistant. Two other wide-spreading lithospermums should be introduced to California gardens, Buglossoides purpureocoeruleum (Lithospermum purpureocoeruleum) and Moltkia suffruticosa (Lithospermum graminifolium), both of which produce sweeping mats and masses of blue flowers in the wild.

The Onosmos are another group of plants, all singularly beautiful, some of which are high alpines for the rock garden and others somewhat larger lowlanders (though still dwarf) and ideal for edging our path. One of the best of these is Onosma frutescens from hillsides throughout Greece with long hanging bells with incurved openings that shade from gold at their tips to violet at their base. O. fruticosa from Crete is also shrubby and has white to yellow flowers in very large heads of a dozen or more of these unique hanging flowers.

Origanums, the dittanies and marjorams, are important foreground plants. They all send out tufts of evergreen leaves from short creeping rootstocks and make excellent, noninvasive ground covers. The dittanies have gray, often woolly foliage and in summer (sometimes very late summer) send up branching flower stems with hanging panicles of labiate flowers, usually pink, surrounded by pink or purplish bracts, the whole looking somewhat like hops. The most commonly grown is the dittany of Crete, Origanum dictamnus, a sub-shrub whose flow­ering stems rise to about a foot and carry a few rounded, gray woolly leaves and cylindrical spikes of nodding hop-like flowers, pink surrounded with rosy bracts, which remain attractive for a very long time. Perhaps even more beautiful are the two forms of O. x hybridum (O. sipyleum x O. dictamnus). One of these sends up a branched stem from which hang eight or nine heads of pink-purple hop-like flowers. This is a most graceful and airy plant. Another form of O. x hybridum, which blooms in very late summer even in the driest locations, sends out flopping lateral stems, up to eighteen inches long, in large numbers, creating, for a time, quite a sizeable mound of dark pink flowers. Origanum laevigatum, gray but not woolly as its name indicates, also blooms in late summer and fall. It makes a smaller clump with flower stems twelve inches long that arch gracefully and are, therefore, only half that high. Origanum rotundifolium from Turkey is a most picturesque prostrate, round-leaved plant at the end of whose branches in summer appear panicles of large light green bracts — looking more like hops than any. The rare and desirable form of this plant with striking pink bracts may well be a hybrid of O. rotundifolium and O. Pulchellum. There are many others, including the beautiful, very woolly O. tournefortii from the Greek island of Amorgos, and all are eminently suited to our Pacific Coast climate and worth cultivating. The wild marjoram, O. vulgare, is notable for its yellow leaved forms, which make perhaps the most effective of all golden ground covers. When the mat of roundish-ovate leaves sends up leafy flower stalks, it rises to a foot high; throughout the rest of the year, however, it is flat and very golden, especially in the spring.

Paronychias are odd and wonderful carpeting plants, the best of which put forth masses of silvery, papery bracts that glisten in the sun and last well into summer. Paronychia capitata, P. kapela, and P. argentea are three which thrive in the hottest locations and are excellent for the spaces between rocks or at the base of the smaller lavenders.

Putoria calabrica is a dwarf evergreen shrub with smallish glabrous leaves and pink trumpet-shaped flowers carried over a long period. It comes from the hills of Spain and Greece and is remarkably heat and drought resistant.

Some santolinas have green (very green) and others white leaves. They make neat almost heather-like mounds for a time, but after flowering are apt to get very leggy in a horizontal direction. There is, however, a dwarf form — ‘Weston’ — of Santolina chamaecyparissus, the species with short stubby white leaves, that requires less pruning to keep its original, elegant shape. Other santolinas are described under medium and tall plants.

Saponaria ocymoides hangs in great masses over rocks and cliffs in southern Europe and its sheets of pink flowers appear over a very long period — much longer than most plants of its type. There are far more elegant saponarias for the rock garden, but we should not despise this lowly plant which flowers for such a time just because it is so easy to cultivate.

Saturejas, the savories, are all wiry little shrubs, extremely aromatic, with tiny leaves and white to rose flowers larger than those of the thymes, to which they are closely related. The most common species is Satureja montana, one of the sources of the cooking herb: it has given rise to plants with variegated leaves and to especially desirable plants which make domes a foot or so wide rising to six inches that are sometimes listed as pygmaea. S. parnassica and S. spinosa are both spiny — more hedgehogs — from poor garigue country in Greece. There are half a dozen others, all rather alike. In nature you see an occasional plant with deeper colored flowers, but, so far as I know, no one has bothered to collect them. Since saturejas have the look of creeping thymes, but grow somewhat taller, are mounding rather than spreading, and are not — unlike thymes — apt to become invasive pests, they are of capital importance for our path. Certainly no other plants recall the Mediterranean more vividly.

Of the white felted senecios of southern Europe, Senecio cineraria in its various forms is by far the best. However, I find its very large leaves out of scale with the rest of our plantings, while its flopping habit dictates a foreground position. It is, perhaps, better suited to bedding schemes and the making of white gardens, if one goes in for that sort of thing.

Stachys byzantina (S. lanata) is not a Mediterranean native but a citizen of the Caucasus and Iran. Stachys corsica, however, makes a low shining green mat with small spikes of pink flowers.

Tanacetum haradjanii (Chrysanthemum haradjanii) from Turkey makes an unusually ferny low white mat — perhaps the whitest and best of all. Its white flowers are nothing, but, as a colored foliage plant to associate with the golden origanum or the yellow or purple variegated sages, it is unsurpassed. For the confusion of the gardener, this low plant is often sold as Chrysanthemum ptarmicaeflorum, a three foot Canary Island native with similar foliage.

The genus Thymus contains many plants necessary for our border, but its nomenclature is in such confusion that I am hesitant to write about them for fear I may be describing plants with mistaken identities. Perhaps a careful study of this genus, so important horticulturally, will soon appear in these pages as an aid to communication among gardeners. There is a highly practical reason as well: The genus is often thought to be strictly Mediterranean, but this is not so; it has members all over northern Europe and extending even to Greenland, Siberia and Japan. If we are to find the plants that will do well for us, we must know their origin in nature. During our recent great drought, many thymes in gardens suffered severely or died, a minor disaster that could have been averted by planting those, like Thymus capitatus, that we know come from hot stony Mediterranean hillsides. Basically, thymes are of two types, the spreading, mat-forming ones and those that make very small shrubs, almost always less than a foot high. Many of the former are known by gardeners as variants of Thymus serpyllum. However, T. serpyllum is, as I understand it, a northern species, abundant in Sweden and similar localities, while the name is used to cover at least seven species and innumerable hybrids derived from them. If my reading of the confusing literature is correct, most mat forming thymes come from areas with either year-round rainfall or considerable summer moisture. (The Atlantic cliffs of Portugal, the western slopes of the British Isles and parts of the Crimean Peninsula all have areas densely covered with mats of thyme.) I did see a few scattered carpets of thyme on the Athos peninsula in Greece, but these I considered to be southern outliers of species more abundant in the Balkans. It is probably for these and similar geographical reasons that the attractive-sounding thyme carpet of English books is so unsatisfactory for warm California hillsides. The plants often look very good in spring, but, as the season progresses, they show the effects of heat and drought. If they are irrigated lavishly to bring them back to health, they respond by spreading widely in all directions and become invasive pests. A notable exception is the very mossy Thymus caespititius (T. micans, T. azoricus) from the Azores. While scarcely a Mediterranean, this lovely plant does not object to heat and spreads only moderately when watered. There is another mat forming thyme from Cyprus, T. integer, which should be introduced in the hope that it will be more suitable for our climate.

The better plants for our border are not the mats, but the small shrubby thymes from known Mediterranean localities, all of which have tiny wiry stems, very small leaves, and flowers varying from white to purple. One of the best of these is Thymus capitatus, Greek thyme, a somewhat sparse, hairy shrub to ten inches high with rose flowers and whitish foliage. Thymus ciliatus is a spreading sub-shrub, almost low enough (less than six inches) to qualify as mat-forming. It has very narrow leaves half an inch long, purple flowers, and comes from Morocco and Algeria. T. cilicicus from Asia Minor is similar with mauve flowers. Thymus herba-barona, the familiar caraway thyme, is a diminutive and shrub with rose colored flowers from Corsica Sardinia. Thymus mastichina, from the Iberian Peninsula and north Africa, is a little white flowered erect bush, and T. nitidus is a sprawling, picturesque little plant with unusually tiny leaves from the island of Marittimo, near Sicily. Finally, there is the herb thyme, Thymus vulgaris, which is a widespread Mediterranean native. It is a sprawling bush to about eight inches with the tiny leaves and wiry branches typical of thymes and with lilac flowers. Closely related is T. hyemalis from Spain, with shorter leaves and purple flowers.

In coming to the end of the low-growing plants, I know I have omitted many worthy subjects, the lovely, silvery Geranium argenteum for example, but our list must be kept to reasonable length and durable serviceability has been as much a criterion as beauty. There are still other candidates known from descriptions, that would be ideal if only they were obtainable.

Medium and Tall Plants

And now we come to the larger plants that make up the better part of our border. Since we are aiming at year-round effect, I shall limit myself to evergreen perennials and shrubs. In practice, of course, this limitation need not apply; having established a basic evergreen scheme we can, if we wish, add a few deciduous plants, or biennials like the giant mulleins, or bulbs, adding greatly to the warm season effect without sacrificing cool season interest.

Anthyllis barba-jovis is a tall, upright extremely narrow and very silvery pea shrub with finely pinnate leaves (there are up to nineteen leaflets to a stalk ) and crowded heads of pale yellow flowers. At its best, it is a most handsome, glistening, silvery shrub. It is, however, usually at its best only in its upper half; the lower branches, having lost their vigor, show considerable die-back. It follows that the shrub should be placed behind other plants of about four feet and at the very back of the border, where it makes a handsome accent with just the right Mediterranean appeal.

Artemisia versicolor.
Artemisia versicolor.

Artemisias are widespread around the Mediterranean and most are well worth planting for the color or laciness of their foliage or for their fragrance on warm days. Even their flowers, which rise on tall thin stalks and are usually the same color as the foliage, I find attractive, although they are, naturally, not showy; for a time the plants change their form and become a mass of narrow, leafy, filigreed spires. Artemisia arborescens is perhaps the best of the genus; it is certainly the most monumental, forming wide bushes three feet high and four or five feet across. The foliage is light blue-gray; Graham Thomas says that it is “the most silky and lacy of all gray foliage plants.” A. abro­tanum is the herb, southernwood, famous for its sweet fragrance. It has very feathery, sage-green foliage and forms clumps two feet high, which rise to four feet when in flower. A. absinthium is at its best in the cultivar ‘Lambrook Silver’ with almost pure white deeply lobed leaflets with scalloped edges like a maidenhair fern; it grows to about two feet, above which for a time rise the airy flowers that have been likened to tiny yellow bobbies. A. nutans is a small, narrow, lacy white shrub from the Canaries, a description (so poor are words) that equally applies to A. canescens, which is more strictly Mediterranean. Both of these are a foot and a half high and could be used in the foreground. Of the same height but more substantial is A. vallesiaca. There are, of course, artemisias from other parts of the world, including our own Pacific slopes, that would do as well along our path. Our object here, again, is not to be purist but only to limit the format of our descriptions, to cut a somewhat narrow swathe through the seemingly limitless number of potential garden subjects of almost any type that the world’s flora has to offer.

Atriplex halimus is a large silvery bush to about eight feet with ovate leaves about two and a half inches long. It is a very drought and salt resistant plant, a native of the sea coasts of southern Europe. It is whiter and less apt to lose many of its leaves in winter than our native A. breweri.

Bupleurum fruticosum is a very odd shrub, one of the few woody members of the Umbelliferae (there are also some in Australia). It has bluish, more or less rounded leaves two to three and a half inches long and three quarters to one and a half inches wide, and small yellow flowers, in umbels typical of the family three to four inches across. At its best, it is a beautiful plant, the yellow flowers shining among glaucous leaves. It is extremely drought resistant and its flowers appear in late summer, a feature singly in its favor.

Centranthus ruber in a wall on the Athos peninsula.
Centranthus ruber in a wall on the Athos peninsula.

I would like to put in a good word for Centranthus ruber, which has escaped to become a weed in parts of California. If you consider how very drought resistant it is and how long it flowers, and if you have seen it festooning old walls in Greece, you must hold it in esteem. The flower color varies, however, from white, through clear pink to dingy reddish-purple. The flower spikes are deciduous, but the base of the plant forms an evergreen mass a foot or so high.

Cheiranthus sempervirens is a tall (to three feet) evergreen perennial, shrubby at the base, that puts on a magnificent display of purple wallflowers for a long period in early summer. It is a native of Morocco and the Canaries. More strictly from the Canaries and therefore somewhat outside our range is another beautiful evergreen wallflower, C. scoparius, which makes a compact mound of foliage two feet high and three feet across from which rise in season numerous spikes of flowers, also purple.

Cistus. Numerous rock roses, charming plants that any Mediterranean garden must have, are described in Pacific Horticulture, Fall 1978.

Convolvulus cneorum is undoubtedly too well known in Pacific Coast gardens to need description here. It is an indispensable Mediterranean and perhaps the very best of all low, silvery, evergreen shrubs with a bonus of white morning glories over a long season.

Coronilla glauca is a very blue evergreen bush to about seven or eight feet with rich yellow leguminous flowers in two-inch clusters. Few shrubs present a more overall blue effect than this. C. valentina is a somewhat lower evergreen shrub with smaller and more numerous leaflets but with even larger flower clusters.

Mediterranean plants at Western Hills Nursery; Euphorbia biglandulosa (E. rigida) in January.
Mediterranean plants at Western Hills Nursery; Euphorbia biglandulosa (E. rigida) in January.

Euphorbia rigida (E. biglandulosa) is one of the most beautiful of all glaucous plants with bright blue-green branches to about two feet set with rigid pointed leaves of exactly the same color. The extraordinarily cheerful bright yellow bracts begin appearing at the end of the branches by Christmas; in January and February they make the brightest spot in the entire garden.

Euphorbia characias is a variable plant that clothes whole hillsides in the Mediterranean. The handsome, tall (to four feet) variety E. wulfenii (E. veneta) has broad, almost feathery spikes of yellowish green flowers with brown centers. Its leaves are longer and more lax than those of E. rigida. The intrepid English gardener, Margery Fish, selected a brighter cultivar called ‘Lambrook Yellow’, which is said to be an improvement on this already very beautiful and statuesque plant. E. dendroides, a shrub to seven or eight feet, deserves a special place in our border. This is a much branched plant that, given room, will form an enormous, hemispherical dome and every branch tip will support a rosette of light green bracts. A good way to accommodate this plant is to place it among expendable plants — some extra rock roses, for example — which can be removed as the giant euphorbia grows and spreads.

For genistas see Pacific Horticulture, Summer 1978.

The important halimiums were discussed in Pacific Horticulture, Fall 1978.

Helichrysum angustifolium is a delicate, pure white perennial or soft woody shrub with an upright habit to three feet, narrow pointed, curry-scented leaves, and the usual knobby, papery, yellow flowers of the genus. H. sanguineum is a lower plant, also with narrow leaves but more thickly clothed; its flowers, however, are surrounded by handsome crimson bracts.

Hyssopus officinalis is one of those herbs that is also a good evergreen, flowering garden perennial. It is a deep green narrowly upright plant to two feet with terminal spikes of white, blue or red flowers in whorls.

With Lavandula we come close to the heart of the matter. When you tramp around the Mediterranean hills you see more lavenders, phlomis, euphorbias, rock roses and brooms than perhaps all other conspicuous plants put together. The lavenders are basically of two types, those like Lavendula angustifolia and L. lanata whose foliage bulk is quite low but which send up masses of tall (up to three feet) straight naked stems crowned with the usual cylindrical heads of flowers, and those like L. stoechas and L. dentata in which the leafy parts of the shrub are higher but the flower stalks shorter. L. stoechas is a compact growing gray-green shrub that I find the most handsome of all for year round effect. It is sometimes called French and sometimes Spanish lavender. Actually, it grows over wide areas around the Mediterranean and is the most common lavender met with in Greece. As you would expect from a plant with such a wide distribution, it has many variants. In one of its many attractive forms it is a low bush of only about eighteen inches, very glaucous and woolly with heads of remarkably blue flowers set down close to the body of the plant. A similar but somewhat larger plant used to be known as L. pedunculata, but this is now recognized as a subspecies of L. stoechas. Many years ago we raised a plant from seed of L. stoechas collected by Mr. Archibald in Morocco that has the largest bracts of any lavender I have ever seen; we have propagated this plant and given it the cultivar name ‘Atlas’. It differs from the forms of L. stoechas described above not only by its larger bracts but also by its longer flower stalks; the leaves are larger than those of other plants we have of L. stoechas and the plant is less compact. There is no doubt that many more distinct variants of L. stoechas could be found in nature if someone would take the trouble to ferret them out. A fernier, looser bush is Lavandula dentata, sometimes also called French lavender; it is a glabrous dark-green shrub with the usual heads of lavender flowers, but without showy bracts.

The many plants known as English lavender are now thought to be hybrids between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia, both of which were brought into cultivation in England from the Mediterranean centuries ago. The present cultivars range from the dwarfs already discussed to large plants such as ‘Grappenhall’ and Victor Reiter’s splendid selection, ‘Provence’, and from white flowered forms to pink and deep purple, and there are various combinations (‘Nana Alba’ or ‘Twickel Purple’ ). It should not be necessary to persuade any Pacific Coast gardener to grow lavenders; their virtues are obvious and a garden without them is a garden with an absence.

Phlomis fruticosa, Lavandula stoechas and Cistus sp.
Phlomis fruticosa, Lavandula stoechas and Cistus sp.

Phlomis fruticosa is ideal rising behind bushes of Lavandula stoechas. Its golden­-yellow labiate flowers in very large whorls arise in spikes; in flowering season the shrub is six feet high and perhaps as showy as it is possible for a shrub to be. When later the seed heads are trimmed off (mechanically, with a hedge-trimmer, of course) we are left with a gray-felted shrub of about three feet with handsome large leaves. Because it admits of this treatment, P. fruticosa is the best of the genus. P. viscosa is also a handsome shrub, gray again, but with smaller leaves and flowers. It is still very showy, but it blooms on shorter stalks throughout the body of the plant, leaving us with no way of getting rid of brown seed heads quickly. Phlomis samia makes great mats of large, hairy, heart-shaped leaves at ground level and from these rise flowering stems to three feet, also with large whorls of creamy yellow flowers. Here, too, the hedge shears can be used. And there are phlomises with large pink flowers: those from the Mediterranean include Phlomis purpurea, P. italica, and P. pungens. All have the great soft-felted leaves of others of the genus and all are worth a place. If there is room for one only, Phlomis fruticosa it must be.

Rosmarinus. We should use only upright rosemaries. The prostrate plants spread too far; they are excellent for draping over walls and banks, but take more space than they are worth along our path. Taller rosemaries give us a choice of white flowers, pinkish (‘Majorca Pink’ ), blues (‘Severn Sea’, ‘Tuscan Blue’) and of different textures, including the very fine-leaved Rosmarinus angustifolia. An extremely good form of middle height, with deep blue flowers is available as R. officinalis ‘Collingwood Ingram’.

Ruta graveolens, especially in its cultivar ‘Jackman’s Blue’, is the bluest of all leafy plants. A perennial to two and a half or three feet, it is dependably evergreen. The light yellow flowers, which appear in small terminal corymbs throughout summer are not unpleasant. This is the herb rue, and the leaves, when brushed, give off an odd and pungent — some say acrid — smell.

Salvia. Apart from the common sage (see foreground plants), the Mediterranean has few evergreen shrubby salvias to offer in comparison with the numbers of California natives or those of Mexico. Salvia dichroa ‘Magnifica’ from the Atlas Mountains is a spectacular perennial, but its stems are deciduous.

The santolinas are richly aromatic plants, widely grown for their feathery foliage and (with a little help) mounding habit. The most commonly grown is Santolina chamaecyparissus, whose dwarf cultivar we have already considered for our foreground. Plants of this species are prized for their whiteness and for the thick masses of tiny leaves. Equally white, but with somewhat longer, more thread-like leaves is Santolina neapolitana. S. pinnata, with tiny pinnate leaves (the segments are only about one eighth of an inch long) and S. virens with entire, very narrow leaves are both intensely green plants, as green as grass. All these shrubs will in time mound up to about two feet in height. All, unfortunately, need to be trimmed annually after flowering or masses of dead flower stems will appear among the leaves and the plants grow lank and floppy.

Such is the basic material for our Mediterranean walk. It goes without saying that we can add to this list in various ways. We can, for example, include some deciduous shrubs and perennials from the Mediterranean or even some Californian and Mexican salvias without destroying its total effect or its overall Mediterranean character. For our background, if we wish to be elegant, we can choose from a wide variety of more substantial and taller woody plants from the Mediterranean — Arbutus andrachne, Laurus nobilis, Vitex agnus-castus, Viburnum tinus, Tamarix pentandra, Cotinus coggygria and many others. However, this is not necessary. The border plan accompanying the first part of this article shows a planting on a hillside of California native shrubs which would, after a couple of years, be virtually self-maintaining. The path shown was in answer to a request for a limited area of flowers and herbs where people with little free time could enjoy some rewarding gardening. What I have outlined above is one answer to this request.




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