Friday, August 28, 2015

"The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses."
~Hanna Rion


Plumbago auriculata, previously known as P. capensis, is more suited for larger areas, or trellised on a wall or side of a building where it can grow and not suffer the outrage of continual clipping. The most common flower color is a periwinkle blue. Other colors are a darker shade of periwinkle, and white.

I highly recommend incorporating Plumbago into a landscape scheme for its ability to attract a variety of butterflies, especially hairstreaks, swallowtails, and one of the smallest butterflies in the world, and being the smallest butterfly in North America, our own Western Pygmy Blue.


This plant is very drought tolerant once established, but will adapt to moist conditions too. Plumbago is a big, mounding plant. A great candidate for slopes, it will form a large ball of a blooming plant that is a beacon to any self-respecting, nectar sipping butterfly.

Alta Laguna Park in Laguna Beach, California features several throughout its grounds. I have many fond summer memories as Parks Gardener there of watching hairstreaks, swallowtails, and the diminutive Western Pygmy Blue dance and flit about the tops of the plumbagos, floating from flower to flower. 

Plumbago care

Likes full sun. Will bloom --albeit sparsely-- in shadier areas.

Nothing bothers this plant. Plant it, water it, establish it, and then let it go; it will grow. Average watering the first season. After that, whenever the spirit moves you. Will flower more profusely when kept a bit on the dry side.

Fertilize regularly throughout the growing season until it reaches the size you want. After that, a feeding once or twice per year will keep it looking vibrant and perky.

As for trimming, it's best to leave it to its own devices. Let go and let it grow. Slopes and large areas are perfect for Plumbago. If planted against a wall, fence, or smaller area, refrain from routinely clipping it back. Flowers are formed on the ends of branches. If they are continually cut back during the growing season, all you'll get is a green shrub. If that's the case, then save yourself the hassle and plant a more compact grower that will give you all the green you want in a tidy package.

I cut Plumbago back hard in the late spring in areas it needs to be contained; I mean real hard. It grows back fast and fills with blooms by early summer. I would give them about three hard cuttings per year, depending on how fast they grow. Yeah, no flowers then, but Plumbago recovers fast. Really, the best place for it is where it has room to breathe, or it's not a hassle and is worth the little bit of sweat equity to prune it back on occasion.

To wrap it up, don't overlook its stellar qualities for inclusion into areas that may have plenty of room for it. And if you like to putz around the garden, feel free to grow Plumbago where you wouldn't mind clipping it back hard a few times per year. Try it: you'll like it!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"Take thy plastic spade,
It is thy pencil; take thy seeds, thy plants,
They are thy colours."

~William Mason, The English Garden, 1782

It has been over a month since the last newsletter.  Butterflies have been slow to show around the Container Butterfly Garden besides Monarchs, plus, I've been out of town for two weeks doggie and house sitting for two dear friends of mine. My son, his wife, and my grand daughter have also been living with me off and on for the past month, getting ready for their move out to Pennsylvania where he will be going to school for a teaching degree.

The concept of a container garden is a sound one, but has eventually proven the location this garden is in is not very conducive to attracting and maintaining a variety of butterfly species. Most mobile home parks situated in SoCal are generally devoid of vegetation it seems, whose landscapes are mostly made up of lots of gravel, maybe a few rocks, and inhabited by mostly grufty-looking  shrubs that offer little, if any, forage for nectar sippers. 

Quite a few butterfly species come through here (albeit in small numbers), visit for brief, fleeting moments, only to move on to other pastures. I was unknowingly quite spoiled by the order of magnitude the Alta Laguna Park Butterfly Garden in Laguna Beach, California attracted and sustained. My thoughts when thinking out and creating the container garden were, as in the iconic movie "Field of Dreams" starring Kevin Kostner, "If you build it, he will come." premise, then surely if I offer a varied and bountiful plate of nectar offerings, logic assumes that there will be an abundance of devoted, lingering butterfly guests.


Didn't work out that way. Having a bit of time away from the day to day routines of the garden recently, allowed me to reassess it with several points in mind. One large point was the sustained drought we've been experiencing and the need to conserve water. Why water plants that don't have a "point"? Climatic prognosticators are now saying that a strong El NiƱo is virtually assured for this coming winter, but that won't help much regarding the dearth of visiting butterflies here, which is another point.

As such, I've been in the process of reducing many of the nectar plants that were introduced with a mind of attracting and maintaining a wide gamut of butterfly species. I will keep the tried and true nectar plants such as Verbena bonariensis, Buddleia davidii, Lantana camara, and a few of the nectar plants that don't seem to attract very much locally, but are nice to look at and have great potential to feed nectar hunting visitors, from previous experiences I've had with them at Alta Laguna Park and info gleaned researching plants. I'm also keeping the Passion Fruit vine growing on a trellis out front 'cuz it's loaded with delicious, ripening passion fruits. YUMMY! (photos coming when they ripen)

Instead, the focus will be on Monarch butterflies and milkweed plants. Right now, the container garden is home to five species of milkweed, two of which are native to California and our U.S. western region. There is a consistent Monarch butterfly population here that regularly lay eggs. I have caterpillars in almost all stages of growth, and watching Monarchs lazily flit about the garden is so restful and serene.

Speaking of Monarch butterflies and milkweed, here is a beautiful video about Monarchs, milkweed, and their kinship to the Yosemite Valley: