In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Impatiens are a summer favorite and easy to care for. Try one of the hardy new varieties, such as 'Fusion Glow' from Simply Beautiful.
Gardening is one of those activities that allows you to focus your attention on something other than the mundane chores of life. Taxes, bills, laundry, and traffic take a back seat while your mind is otherwise occupied in the garden. It's like knitting, painting, or playing a musical instrument: you have to keep your eyes focused on the task at hand, but your mind is free to wander.
You can free your mind in the garden, and there are a few tried-and-true plants that allow you a little more breathing room, leaving space for creativity in the containers or annual beds. These plants are the backbone of the landscape, and if you look around, you will see them everywhere. They might be considered common -- too common, for some -- but there is no denying the fact that these plants are hardy and trouble free.
For example, in the past I was a marigold snob. Wouldn't have one in my garden ... too common, thank you very much. After tending season after season of picky annuals, such as schizanthus and zinnia, you can give me a marigold any day. They outperform almost any other annual and provide color throughout the summer with minimum care.
Lantana is another foolproof winner in the garden. It is a perennial that comes into color in early March, then blooms through November. It doesn't even want much water, and butterflies love it. My friend Betty had an orange one growing in her garden that her father had given to her as a cutting in 1938.
I know people who hate agapanthus, Lily of the Nile. I can't understand their aversion to this handsome perennial favorite. The flowers are magnificent, lasting well in arrangements and selling for as much as $5 per stem in eastern flower markets, plus the compact, bright green, foliage stays put and looks good all year. You rarely see a scraggly agapanthus, no matter how neglected it may be.
Mock orange (Pittosporum) is a woody, compact shrub with glossy green foliage that has sweet-scented flowers throughout the spring and summer. Why fuss with a temperamental daphne when you can have the same heavenly fragrance with much less care?
If you want to know what plants are hardy and carefree, just take a look at the freeway landscaping. Those plants have to live their lives in the worst conditions. Oleander, plumbago, Indian hawthorn (Rhapiolepis) and bottle brush (Callistemon) are all plants that thrive on neglect. They receive little or no water other than winter rain, and no pruning other than with a chain saw every few years. Add any of these hardy stars along a fence line so you can spend your precious gardening hours on your favorites.
Bulletproof trees include my personal favorite, the pistache; the liquidambar; and many types of plums. Look around at the street plantings that line the sidewalks of your town. Those trees were selected because they cause a minimum mess, require very little or no annual pruning, and they are resistant to insect pests. Who could ask for anything more?
So, if you want your garden to be a retreat from the world, make it easy for yourself by including hardy and trouble-free plants.
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