The Mountain Gardener: Christmas plants for the aunts
by Jan Nelson
Nov 29, 2012 | 2725 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Chansonette camellia (Camellia hiemalis) produces long-lasting pink flowers. Courtesy photo
The Chansonette camellia (Camellia hiemalis) produces long-lasting pink flowers. Courtesy photo
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The common snowberry, a California native, shines in a woodland garden. Courtesy photo
The common snowberry, a California native, shines in a woodland garden. Courtesy photo
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An Erysimum variety named Fragrant Star attracts butterflies with its bright yellow flowers. Courtesy photo
An Erysimum variety named Fragrant Star attracts butterflies with its bright yellow flowers. Courtesy photo
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A snow white tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium) requires little maintenance and does not attract deer. Courtesy photo
A snow white tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium) requires little maintenance and does not attract deer. Courtesy photo
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I've barely finished eating leftover turkey a dozen different ways, and already I find myself thinking of all things Christmas.

I know I should relish Thanksgiving longer and not rush it, but I can't help myself. I'm basically just a big kid at heart, and there are so many fun gifts that come from the garden.

Most of the people on my Christmas list live far from here, so I'm not giving anything away by sharing some of my gift ideas.

My Aunt Ruth is quite the gardener. I enjoy flowers of every kind whenever I visit her — there is always something in bloom. She loves her neighbors who stop, talk and admire her landscape as she prunes or weeds.

I'm going to give her a winter-flowering camellia to spice things up at this time of year. Chansonette Camellia hiemalis, a variety often classified with sasanquas, will get heads turning.

This easy-to-grow shrub is one of the most popular camellias for good reason. Rich pink double flowers stand out against the dark green foliage. Spreading 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide, these vigorous shrubs are perfect to espalier on a trellis against a wall.

They actually prefer winter sun and can tolerate more sun year-round than other types of camellias. The beautiful flowers last a long time and will make my Aunt Ruth's garden the talk of the neighborhood.

My Aunt Rosemary lives in Concord, where it gets hot in the summer. The border around her patio would be perfect for a tea tree, as it blooms for a long time and requires little or no water when established.

Tea tree is called that because Capt. James Cook, the 18th-century British explorer, brewed a tea from the leaves and gave it to his crew to prevent scurvy.

Even if deer jump her fence, they won't devour the needlelike leaves, leaving Aunt Rosemary to enjoy the small showy flowers from winter until very late spring. I especially like the double white flowers on the variety Snow White, as they really pop when combined with stronger colors.

My Aunt Alba especially likes fragrant flowers. In her garden, she grows roses, gardenias, lilacs, sweet peas and pinks, to name just a few. Fragrant Star erysimum would make the perfect addition to her perennial border.

It blooms from spring until early fall, with bright lemon yellow, highly scented flowers. Radiant variegated foliage in green and yellow will stand out among her other flowers.

As a bonus, this plant is a butterfly magnet. I've seen swallowtails visit again and again on a sunny afternoon.

For those on my Christmas list who love California natives, a common snowberry would make a great addition to a woodland garden or in the dry shade under oak trees. Seldom troubled by pests, this small shrub can be used to control erosion and is deer-resistant. Beautiful ornamental white fruits cover the plant at this time of year and are valued by varied thrush, robins and quail.

Creeping snowberry is similar and makes an excellent groundcover. Few shrubs work as well as creeping snowberry under the dense canopy of a coast live oak. Combining it with hummingbird sage, fuchsia flowering gooseberry and coffeeberry creates a woodland garden that provides nesting cover for birds and protective shelter for other wildlife.

I'm also working on some garden- and nature-inspired crafts but if I told you about them, I'd have to — well, you know.

- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at janis001@aol.com, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.

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