Sunday, March 31, 2013
Chaparral in the Garden
Chaparral is the term applied to the most common type of native vegetation in California. It consists primarily of evergreen shrubs. The photo above (courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org) shows the slopes above Pasadena, California. There is a lot to be said about chaparral and I'm not going to try to repeat what others have already covered. For more info on chaparral, see the California Chaparral Institute (californiachaparral.org).
What I want to talk about today is the use of chaparral shrubs in the garden. These shrubs make great garden plants, even in a garden that is mostly non-native. They provide large scale structure around which can be planted any number of annuals or smaller perennials. They are highly drought tolerant, pest resistant and valuable for wildlife. The following photos show one of the chaparral shrubs that I have in my garden.
Above is a Fremontodendron "Pacific Sunset", a cultivated variety of the wild F. californicum which grows throughout the state. In the Spring it is covered by a profusion of yellow-gold flowers, each about 3 inches wide.
Pacific Sunset grows to about 12 ft. high and 15-20 ft. wider. There are other varieties that do not get as large. I made the mistake of planting this one very close to a path. Below is what it looked like in 2009, a year or two after I planted it.
When it started getting bigger, I had to do some major pruning to keep it from blocking the path. It tolerated the pruning well and is now shaped so that it won't be an obstacle (see below). The right side of the plant is rather sparse but new growth is starting to fill it in. It has room underneath it for some smaller, shade tolerant plants which I am now starting to put in. But if I was doing it over again I would get one of the more compact varieties so I wouldn't have to prune it.
Fremontodendrons have nicely shaped, dark green leaves that are attractive when the plant is not in flower. However, they also have fine, bristly hairs that cover the leaves and smaller stems. Some people have a dermatitis reaction to the hairs, so again use caution where you plant it.
Fremontodendrons do not like too much water, especially summer water. Mine lives on just rainfall, no supplemental water, and it seems perfectly happy that way. Overall, it is a great plant for any garden. In Spring it is a real eye catcher. Your neighbors will ask you "what is that bush with the huge yellow flowers?"