By Joshua Siskin
Once upon a time, coleus and impatiens were shade garden standbys, but not anymore.
For several years, large-leafed sun coleus has been available and just this year, SunPatiens, which grows in full sun in humid climates, has become part of many retail nurseries' stock of annual plants. SunPatiens is a hybrid impatiens developed in Japan more than five years ago but only now has it become widely available in Southern California.
Cape mallow (Anisodontea spp.), from South Africa, is a highly drought-tolerant member of the mallow or hibiscus family, requiring water no more than once or twice a month during the summer. It has demure rose-colored flowers, up to 2 inches across, and is most wisely placed close to entrances and walkways where its understated beauty can be best appreciated. Given proper care, meaning a minimum of summer water and fertilizer and half of the day's sun, it may slowly grow into a robust shrub that is 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
SunPatiens is a cross between a wild impatiens species and New Guinea impatiens. SunPatiens foliage is very similar to that of the New Guinea type as are its flowers, with the long spurs characteristic of New Guineas. Although promoted as full-sun plants that can also handle shade, I would think they would probably grow best in half-day sun since Valley heat can be brutal even for sun lovers.
Roses, for example, certainly need a plentiful supply of light, yet in the Valley they do best when receiving no more than half a day's worth of direct sun. In any case, I would be interested in hearing from gardeners who have grown SunPatiens this summer. I will be glad to share your experiences with readers of this column.
Three types of SunPatiens - vigorous, spreading and compact - are in the nursery trade, although you might not find all types at your local nursery or home improvement center.
Vigorous SunPatiens are robust plants that may grow as tall and wide as 4 feet. Flowers are white, lavender, orange, magenta and red. There is also a coral color, whose foliage is variegated in New Guinea fashion - green margins surround yellow centers.
Spreading SunPatiens are either salmon or white and both have variegated leaves. They grow 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide and are fitting subjects for containers and hanging baskets.
Compact SunPatiens reach about two-thirds the size of vigorous or spreading SunPatiens, depending on whether they are planted in the ground or in containers. Colors are white, pink, coral, rose, lilac, magenta and orange, complemented by solid green foliage.
SunPatiens are thirsty plants, so it would be advisable to irrigate them with drip tubing, where both the soil surface and tubing are covered with mulch. Maximize bloom with monthly fertilization and fertilize every other week where containers are concerned. Slow-release fertilizer can substitute for more regular feeding.
Last weekend's weather, which may have been this summer's hottest, did not interrupt flowering on an abutilon I have been observing for years. Abutilon, known as Chinese lantern for its flowers and known as flowering maple for its leaf shape, is an outstanding member of the mallow or hibiscus family.
The abutilon (ab-YOU-til-on) in question is a pink flowered specimen, growing on Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood, that has reached a height of 8 feet. It is adorned with dozens of flowers at this, the hottest moment, of the year. I have never seen an abutilon of its stature and I cannot help but take pride in its development, even if I have not really had that much to do with it.
I remember when it was planted from a five-gallon container nearly a decade ago. It has received, serendipitously, the perfect combination of light, water and fertilizer. The middle to late afternoon sun shines directly over it, albeit for only two or three hours, and its flowers bloom strategically among its foliage.
It is planted on the northwest corner of a building so only some of the afternoon's sun can reach it. Finally, it is at the edge of a lawn, just getting enough, but not too much, sprinkler irrigation, and benefiting from fertilizer, frequently applied, that keeps the grass green.
Over the years, in reaching for the sun, it has nearly fallen over from time to time, due to excessive one-sided growth and has needed to be staked and pruned to bring it back to an upright position. At long last, it has developed a trunk thick enough to stand on its own, with only occasional light pruning required.
A misconception surrounds abutilon in terms of its light requirement. For some reason, it is widely reputed to be a shade plant, but it needs a strong dose of daily sun to maintain its health. Abutilons grown in the shade become hosts, sooner or later, to scales or mealybugs, and they do not bloom as well as when they receive half the day's sun. Another misconception about abutilons is that they require lots of water when, in fact, they bloom most heavily if soil is kept on the dry side and they are only watered on an as-needed basis.
One of the most glorious hot-weather plants is the rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), an abutilon relative. It is only because of our deep-seated prejudice toward deciduous plants that we do not see more of it. When making decisions about what to plant, people in Los Angeles generally ignore species that go leafless for several months of the year, no matter how exceptional their flowers may be during the growing season.
Rose of Sharon flowers may be white, rose or mauve, depending on the variety. At this moment, hundreds of blooms are visible on the plants, which grow into 8 feet tall, 5 feet wide, vase-shaped shrubs.
Each shrub should be given a separate domain in the garden. I once saw a stunning rose of Sharon collection in which each of half a dozen shrubs occupied its own distinct area of a Hollywood front yard.
Grown against a building or in a hedge, with restricted airflow on any side, rose of Sharon is highly susceptible to mildew and mealybugs.
Cold hardiness is a major virtue of rose of Sharon. It can grow in the chilliest desert and mountain regions, from Lake Los Angeles to Lake Arrowhead.