UNITED STATES—There is so much more to gardening than mere horticulture. There is so much more to horticulture than mere plant life. Plants get eaten by insects and animals, and also take advantage of insects and animals for pollination and dispersion of seed. Some of us who enjoy gardening also like to attract some types of animals and insects to our gardens because they are nice to have around.
The birds and the bees, as well as butterflies, squirrels, lizards, snakes and other small animals add color, motion and vibrancy to the garden. Destructive animals like gophers, rats and deer, and cumbersomely big animals like moose and bears, are not so popular. Mosquitoes and flies are the sorts of insects that we would like to repel with aromatic herbs. Some but not all are welcome.
‘Pollinator’ flowers have become a fad recently, not only to attract bees, but also to provide them with more of what some believe they are lacking out in the wild. There is certainly nothing wrong with attracting bees. Those who are enslaved in honey production are best! Children learn as much about nature from bees as from other wildlife. The soft hum of big herds of bees is quite nice.
Beyond that, we should think outside the box of our home gardens. The unnatural disruption of local ecology can not be repaired by throwing more unnatural resources at it. Honeybees who were imported to make honey are not native, but displaced and interbred with natives enough to interfere with their natural pollinating behavior, as well as their resistance and susceptibility to disease.
Almost all plants in urban as well as agricultural areas were imported too. They were perpetuated until they dominated the localized ecosystems. There is now much more flora in places like the Los Angeles Basin and the Santa Clara Valley than there has ever been before! There is no shortage of bloom for bees. In fact, there is an overabundance of bloom potentially distracting bees from pollinating native specie who need them. Invasive exotic eucalypti might enjoy their popularity at the expense of California poppy.
This is one of those warm season annuals that we do not hear much about. Verbena looks something like lantana, but rather than maturing into a nice shallow ground cover or low mounding shrub with a bit of staying power, verbena lasts only until frost next autumn. The blooms are a bit larger. The leaves are a bit greener. They stay lower than a foot, and get only a few inches wider than tall.
Floral color was already impressive decades ago when it was limited to white and rich hues of blue, red, purple and pink. Even more hues and shades are available now, as well as peach, rose, lavender and many bi-colored varieties. The tiny flowers are arranged in small and dense trusses, with the outer flowers opening and fading to lighter hues before the inner flowers opening darker.
Bloom is best in full sun exposure. A bit of partial shade should not be a problem for those that cascade from planter boxes up against a wall, or pots that hang from eaves. Verbena is popularly grown as a cascading component of mixed plantings in large pots, urns and elevated planters, often in conjunction with more upright plants. Verbena works nicely for small scale bedding as well.
Horticulturist Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.wordpress.com.