Sidewalk plants have to be tough. It’s no plant spa out there – they have to be able to survive drought, compacted soil, dogs, careless feet and potentially toxic trash. The corners of the 20th Street Corridor have particularly difficult conditions: all-day sun exposure, reflected heat from pavement on two sides, and heavy foot traffic. Here is a list of plants that have shown grace under pressure for the past 2 years:
- Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’) This European native produces bell-shaped flowers and edible, though not tasty, fruit. The Portuguese make a brandy from this fruit called madronho. Italian professor Luigi Ballerini reveals the obscene Italian name for this tree in his entertaining book A Feast of Weeds about wild edibles. (Hint: something to do with round hanging fruits…).
- African daisy (Arctotis spp.) The wild version of this flower grows on dry stony slopes in South Africa, with the flower opening in sunny weather and closing when overcast or at the end of the day. The African daisies on 20th Street are cultivated hybrids which are bred to stay open longer, though you may see a sleepy flower now and then.
- California fuschia (Epilobium canum) This California native is very attractive to hummingbirds. The tubular flowers are the perfect shape for hummingbird beaks and the neon red color lets birds know they are open for business. After the flowers fall off, narrow seedpods open up, releasing seeds attached to fluffy “parachutes” carrying them elsewhere in the garden to germinate.
- Lantana (Lantana ‘Spreading Sunset’) Lantana is native to South America and Africa but has been introduced to warm climates everywhere. Once it gets going, it is a star performer for hot, dry areas. You can see it growing by the freeway in Southern California. Alas, it can be too successful (read: invasive) in tropical places such as Hawaii, Florida, Southern Asia and Australia. It’s pretty well-behaved here.
- Sea Lavender (Limonium perezii) This Canary Island native blooms nearly year-round in seacoast areas. They do pretty well in hot weather but will not survive below 25 degrees in winter. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that! It seems to be constantly growing new shoots even as older leaves are dying. Cut flowers still look good even after being dried.
Bear in mind that all plants, even drought-tolerant ones, require regular watering to get established. The establishment period can range from 6 to 24 months or even longer depending on the time of year you plant and what size you start with. Larger plants, especially trees have a longer establishment period. Plants in containers, even drought-tolerant ones, will perpetually need supplemental water because there is so little soil volume for roots to spread, and potting medium dries out quickly.
Ellyn Shea is a gardener and garden consultant in San Francisco. Visit her at www.garden-guidance.com California fuschia pictures courtesy of Ojai Valley Land Conservancy – ovlc.org