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Editor's Pick for 2024

This Month's Pick + Editor's Pick Archive Index

Each month our editor, Laura Lukes, highlights an outstanding plant, interesting insect, or helpful tool.

January

Daphne odora

Daphne odora (winter daphne)

We usually focus on California natives in this space, but the beauty and scent of the winter daphne cannot be ignored. Originally from China, this evergreen low-growing shrub has glossy attractive leaves, but it is the fragrance of its gorgeous little flowers that makes it a lovely addition to the winter garden. In fact, Daphne odora’s common name in Korea (“chullihyang”) translates to “thousand-mile scent.” The flowers consist of four thick, waxy, pink-tinged lobes that are excellent for tucking into small vases to bring the fresh bracing sent indoors. While advice about successfully growing daphne runs the gamut from full sun to almost none, from moist roots to scant watering, and from a 10 to 20-year life span, personal experience says: give it plenty of shade, water it rarely, and don’t expect it to live very long. One thing for certain is that this plant thrives much better in the ground than in a pot (even if the pot is a large one). Be forewarned that the beauty of Daphne odora comes at a cost: all parts are poisonous to humans and some pets.

Photographer: Miya


February

ribes

Hillside or California Gooseberry (Ribes californicum)

This shrubby plant is a North American species of currant that is endemic to California. Its favorite habitat is chaparral, found on the lower reaches of our mountain ranges. Its most striking characteristic is its finely-sculpted leaves, but its delicate pendant flowers are a close second.

According to Calscape, this gooseberry prefers moist places, at elevations from sea level to nearly 6,000 feet. Given the right conditions, it can be quite large: 4 to 8 feet high and 2 to 6 feet wide. The dangling flowers, which appear in spring, are pink, purple, or yellow. The branches bear spines, so keep this in mind when choosing a planting location.

The flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds and the berries make it a valuable wildlife plant, especially to birds. It hosts several butterfly species, including the Tailed Copper, Hoary Comma and Oreas Comma.

Photographer: ProboscideaRubber15


March

germander

Teucrium fruticans (bush germander)

Plants in the genus Teucrium, also known as germanders, are a hardy bunch. Last fall, we featured Teucrium chamaedrys, a low growing species with dark glossy leaves. This month we highlight the species fruticans, the bush germander. This shrub is beautiful year-round, but its soft, pale gray-green leaves and velvety white stems are especially attractive in the fall and winter. And its small flowers (a lovely cornflower blue shade) can bloom well into the dead of winter.

Teucrium fruticans hails from the central and western Mediterranean, so it is well suited to our long, hot summers. Be sure to choose an area where it can spread, as it will grow up to 3 feet high by a dozen feet wide (fruticans means “shrubby” or “bushy”). But if you need to keep it in check, it responds well to pruning.

This lovely shrub has been called “a magnet for bees,” as they especially appreciate its habit of flowering in the cold months.


April

lampwick

Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage or lampwick plant)

Phlomis is a Greek word for "flame," a reference to the fact that the leaves of this plant were used as lamp wicks in ancient times. And you may remember from last month’s pick (Teucrium fruticans) that the specific epithet frutic means “shrubby.” On this particular shrub, the leaves are thick, furry, and soft to the touch. Not a true sage, despite its common name, its flowers bring to mind certain salvias, blooming in candelabra-like whorls every few inches on long, stiff stems. The bloom begins in spring and can last into the summer months, depending on conditions. The most common color is a bright yellow, but you can also find pale purple versions of Phlomis.

This plant is native to dry rocky cliffs and slopes in coastal and inland areas of the Mediterranean region; it is found in Albania, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Turkey, and adapts well to different types of soils and variations in moisture. Jerusalem Sage can grow 3 to 4 feet wide and 4 to 5 feet tall. In colder climates, Phlomis are deciduous, dying back to the ground in winter. In our area, this shrub can be evergreen, even with very little supplemental water—perhaps once to twice a month in the hottest part of the year. It also requires little care, beyond clipping the spent flower stalks as needed.

Photographers
Flower: Teddy Llovet
Plant: Robin