Posts Tagged 'pépinière filippi'

Don’t forget to remember rosemary *

Bay Trail, frontage road, and Interstate 80
My wife and I were taking a standard exercise walk along a section of the Bay Trail in Berkeley and I could not help but note the various plantings that had been done as part of creating this pathway. A number of plants had obviously not stood up to the constant wind, salt spray, and lack of irrigation or consistent care, testified by their corpses ‘decorating’ the edge of the walkway (note in the photo above, courtesy of Google Earth).

But there were several grouping that did seem to be surviving in spite of these harsh conditions. One species among the successful was Rosmarinus officinalis, the common rosemary. In one particular area, prone to blowing dust from a nearby area used to dump/store/move landfill, the rosemary look at first to be among the casualties until a closer look revealed new blue flowers opening through the caked mud coating each leaf and stem!

As long as I’ve been gardening, I’ve noticed rosemary plants would usually be among those plant remaining when a garden was left and neglected. Rosemary flower, by Manuel Ramos of Flickr Once established, this tough shrub seems more than happy to take our longer-than-the-Mediterranean summer dry period (about 6 months) and is generally unfussy about soil (except for sodden muck). A true workhorse.

Unfortunately, most of the time there are only a few cultivars planted – ubiquitously with deep blue flowers and good green foliage. As a species, Rosmarinus officinalis is one of the most variable in form, color, and eventual size. It is a real shame that we do not see more of this variety in gardens here in California, though many types are available through herb specialists and adventurous growers.

Rosemaries in Olivier's trial garden

Our friend, Olivier Filippi, in the south of France, runs a nursery devoted to all manner of Mediterranean native and mediterranean climate adapted species, and he collects rosemaries enthusiastically. The photo above is a mere handful of cultivars he grows in his trial garden. Note their compact shapes – this is only in part a characteristic of each cultivar’s habit – because he does not believe in watering (I mean, at all! ever!), all his plants grow more slowly and compact than they do in irrigated gardens, and they live longer and have better color/fragrance.

I especially like the white flowered plant in this shot (on the left; apparently from the Costa Brava in Spain). Also note the yellow-green foliage form – this is ‘Joyce de Baggio’ which I gave him from my garden in Oakland. There are many more type Olivier grows, some virtually flat growing, others enormously tall like yews! I find a grouping of various contrasting rosemary plants so interesting in a garden!

* “There’s rosemary; that’s for remembrance.
Pray, love, remember.”
~Shakespeare, Hamlet

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Phlomis species in the garden

The trial garden at Pépinière Filippi (www.jardin-sec.com), Meze, France
In the above shot of the trial garden at Pépinière Filippi, Meza, France, many different Phlomis species still wearing their spent flower stems, contrasting nicely with the various shades foliage color. Phlomis was once planted extensively in California by gardeners wishing to decrease the water footprint of their gardens. On late I note that these plants seem to be seldom used, and indeed many type we once saw in California are becoming difficult to find.

I wonder what has caused the trend away from these interesting and useful plants? Like many plants in our horticultural trade, after an initial enthusiasm for a plant they are often considered passé. Possible this group merely fell off the radar and have not yet been taken up again by growers?

Relatively speaking, these are shorter-lived plants, needing to be renewed after a time in order to keep them looking their best. This is possibly exacerbated by the fact that California soils are far richer than those in the Mediterranean homelands of most of this genus, causing these perennial shrubs to grow faster, looser, and more untidy than they would otherwise. At the inevitable time of replacement, if these plants were not available in nurseries, perhaps they’ve been replaced now by others that were.

The plantings above are on lean, stony soil, and received supplemental water only upon planting (i.e. they get only rain falls on them or what moisture they can find deep in the soil) – note their compact form. While it is true that many parts of the Mediterranean do receive occasional summer rainfall, it is clearly not in the amounts that Californians dump on their gardens year-round!

With a renewed interest in creating gardens that are not heavily irrigated, I think Phlomis species should be considered. Their foliage alone can satisfy our current trends in composing foliar contrast, and their seasonal flowering (and spent flower stems as pictured) are also an interesting and unique counterpoint to many of the plants we currently grow in our gardens.

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A blog by Seán A. O'Hara

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