2012-04-13 / Community
In The Garden
In novels as well as nightmares, the protagonist sometimes finds herself given a harrowing choice: if you could keep just one such-and-such, what would it be?
Our heroine looks anxiously at her favorite things. It’s a tough call for anyone—but if you’re a gardener, it’s torture.
Just one plant species? An image of a denuded landscape flashes before the gardener’s eyes. The clock is running then time’s nearly up. What will she decide?
If you’re me, you awake from that desperate nightmare with the word “rockrose” on your lips. Rockrose (or cistus) is such an allaround winning shrub that one can overlook its miniscule flaws—its foliage can be maddeningly sticky, and as it matures it can give new meaning to the word “gangly.”
But here is one plant that wears many hats:
•Gorgeous prolific spring floral display.
•Low water needs.
•Drought and frost hardy.
•Covers dry rocky problem areas.
•Not fussy about soil type.
•Disease-free and not targeted by destructive insect pests.
•Roots can provide erosion control.
•Rated as an excellent choice for fire-hazard areas.
The rockrose’s frost hardiness is what led me to rely on it extensively in my garden in the Santa Monica Mountains of rural Agoura.
Located in a quirky microclimate, my property is exposed to winter night temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Upon learning rockrose was rated as hardy to 15 Fahrenheit, there was no turning back for me. The sorrowful gaps left in my planting beds by bitter nights that devastated more tender species were banished to the past.
A fast-growing shrub, rockrose will bloom the first season it is planted. If you have an unsightly fence or wall to hide or a bare slope in need of ground cover, there are varieties of rockrose to meet those needs, such as the broad, towering cultivar named Frank Birch, with large flowers that resemble Matilija poppies, and low- growing prostratus, which sprawls far afield bearing small gold-spotted white flowers.
The species’ color range is yet another virtue—pure white, soft pink, rich magenta.
Some varieties are highlighted by bold maroon splotches around an incandescent gold center. Flowers disassemble daily, yet so great are their numbers the display remains robust to the eye.
Fallen petals mean sweeping chores, but they create a pretty speckling along paths, white as a snowdrift or colorful as a crazy quilt.
Although spring is the height of the rockrose’s blooming season, occasional summer watering may produce sporadic flowers.
Don’t be afraid to prune a rockrose, for the shrub may crowd other plants.
For instance, Cistus skanbergii creates massive mounds of grayish-green foliage pinned with a constellation of small, delicate pink flowers. It’s stunning but can be a bit overwhelming.
All rockrose varieties adapt to being shaped to a gardener’s desires and grow back vigorously even after a severe shearing.
This species must also be saluted for its “volunteerism.”
If you’re watching costs it is much appreciated when a handsome, useful plant seeds itself elsewhere in your garden.
From a single planting of a 1-gallon Cistus incanus, I now have three additional self-seeded, full-sized flowering shrubs.
So for a minimal care shrub that provides maximum returns, it’s rockrose to the rescue.
Gloria Glasser is a freelance writer specializing in the natural history of the Santa Monica Mountains as well as gardeningrelated topics. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.