Genetic Creations

New Plants for Sale at SBBG

by Virginia Hayes

There’s nothing new under the sun only if you’re referring to human perfidiousness and treachery, but plants are really good at coming up with new ideas on a regular basis. This inventiveness is built into the genetic code and is one of the main methods we have exploited to find plants that produce more colorful flowers or tastier fruits, or trees and shrubs that have more interesting foliage, colors, or shapes. This genetic variability doesn’t always confer a desirable trait, but starting with the earliest agronomists who found a way to encourage rice and wheat to hold on to their seeds long enough for them to harvest the majority of the crop and the creators of corn, a cultivated variety of a species of grass that now cannot survive without human intervention, horticulturists have been on the lookout for the next, and best, variety of plants from all over the world.

Some of these new introductions are hybrids created by devoted growers who invest the time and experience to cross-pollinate one plant with another in the hope that the new creation will have one or more of the most desirable characteristics of its parents. Others will be the result of selecting one out-of-the-ordinary plant that was a natural mutation or “sport” and multiplying it through vegetative methods. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG) has been involved in using these techniques to introduce new varieties of well-loved California native plants for many years. This year they are releasing four selections that will be sure to find a following among gardeners dedicated to designing and planting gardens that grow happily in our unique climate.

The latest offerings are all flowering plants. Two are new cultivars of the native California iris, Iris douglasii. Iris ‘Canyon Bliss’ combines the genes from one of SBBG’s early introductions that has pure white petals with central yellow zones and the clear blue of a cultivar from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens. The result is a flower with an overall blush of violet with purple veins and the telltale yellow spot that is tinged with turquoise. The late Dara Emory, a longtime SBBG horticulturist and plant breeder, created this cultivar as well as another lovely Douglas iris named ‘Canyon Sunshine.’ As its name implies, it is a sunny yellow. California irises grow well in sun or partial shade with no additional water other than our seasonal rains. They are good candidates for planting under coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia). Two more floriferous offerings this year are from the family of asters. Aster chilensis, or coast aster, is also very adaptable, growing in sun or partial shade and needing little care once it is established. Many asters bloom in the fall, making them great choices for perennial plantings that need a little color late in the season. The new selection is called ‘Purple Haze’ and its flowers are a deeper shade of purple than its progenitors. California aster, Lessingia filaginifolia, is another member of this daisy family and it, too, provides inviting flowers for butterflies and other insects and beauty in late summer and fall. The silvery foliage forms a three-foot mound topped with one-inch lavender flowers that have characteristic yellow centers.

All these new introductions as well as other drought-tolerant native and non-native plants suitable for our Mediterranean climate will be on sale at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s annual Fall Plant Sale. The sale runs for a whole month this year in celebration of the garden’s 80th birthday. Members will be admitted at 10 a.m. on Saturday, October 14, to have first pick; at 2 p.m., the public is invited to select from this wonderful collection of plants. The sale continues through Saturday, November 11. Members of SBBG are also invited to a preview party for the sale on Friday, October 13, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with a champagne reception and a 10 percent discount on purchases. David Fross, owner of Native Sons Wholesale Nursery, will present the lecture, Ceanothus: Gardening with a California Classic at 6:30 p.m. Fross is the co-author of the lovely and informative new book, Ceanothus and the essential California Native Plants for the Garden. Fross is an experienced nurseryman and also has a great eye behind the camera lens; thus, his lecture will be lavishly illustrated with his photographs. Take advantage of one or more of these events that celebrate our special climate and the plants that thrive here. Call SBBG for pricing and details at 682-4726 x102.

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