Cape Plumbago, botanically know as Plumbago auriculata, is a very hardy perennial shrub that does well almost on its own here in Zone 9b.
Native to South Africa, this shrub is evergreen or semi-evergreen, depending on the exposure to frost. This shrub is hardy to 20 degrees, so it should be a suitable choice for most of the gardens in Solano County. Today, it is in full bloom with light blue flowers and I expect this show will continue through another month or so, in spite of the meager water it has received this year.
I chose this plant from a strategic point of view.
I needed a tough shrub that would bridge a gap on the perimeter dividing our front garden from our neighbors. I saw that the Cape Plumbago was doing well in the street medians a couple of years ago and I figured any plant that can withstand the neglect those shrubs tolerate would be a good option for the “no man’s land” edging my garden with the neglected one next door. I also really like the light blue color of the 1½-inch flowers covering the shrub.
In a year or two, this shrub has reached a width and height of about 8 feet, just what I was looking for. In early spring, I will prune my shrub to keep it inbounds and to keep a mounding shape.
So far, I haven’t given it any fertilizer and it is growing quite happily in the unamended native Solano clay soil. When I prune in the spring, I may add some fertilizer, depending on what it looks like after winter – that is, if we have a winter this year.
This isn’t the first time I have chosen a plant for my garden from those surviving in the street medians and parking lots.
I chose Pride of Madeira, botanically known as Echium in the same way. This native to the Island of Madeira has successfully adapted to our environment and can be seen growing as informal hedges surrounding the marinas in Vallejo – surviving on what nature offers alone and putting on a stunning show of purple plumes every spring. These shrubs are at the top of my list of favorite plants.
By now, you can probably recognize that I have drought-tolerant plants that are native or have adapted to our climate very successfully. Many of the drought-tolerant plants grown locally are indigenous to South Africa or the Mediterranean region. These transplants grow in our county with little assistance.
As a gardener of these plants, I find that pruning to keep the plants inbound is the biggest gardening task. I have fertilizers on hand, but frankly most do well just left alone with an occasional watering. Now that my front garden is in its third year as a “lawn-free” space, I no longer receive those letters from the city letting me know that I am one of those 10 percenters. That wasn’t a good thing as my previous water consumption landed me on the top 10 percent for the city. Now that I have made a conscious choice to “go native,” I am very happy with the result and so is my pocketbook.
Just to let you know, many cities have “lawn removal” programs that will offer a rebate if you replace your lawn with drought-tolerant plant choices. Check your local water agency for details before you start removing your lawn so you can take advantage of this gardener-friendly program.
Trisha Rose is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.