You may not know its name, but it is all around town and a handsome addition it is to many a landscape. It is Pittosporum undulatum (variously pronounced pit-AH-spoh-rum or pit-oh-SPOH-rum, go ahead try them both out), and it is an excellent hedge plant (although left to its own devices, it would be an impressive tree to 40 feet high) with glossy green leaves and deliciously fragrant flowers that perfume the air on early spring evenings. It does have one bad habit, that of dropping sticky seeds that germinate readily in our climate. It can become a nuisance in less-manicured areas, where it may take hold before you even know it.
Fortunately, it has some better-behaved relatives that are good candidates for our gardens. Both of them grow into interesting small- to medium-sized trees. The first is Pittosporum phillyreoides, the willow pittosporum. This graceful species grows to a moderate size of 20 feet or less and has a nice open shape. The leaves, as the name suggests, are long and narrow and hang from the branches. As a native to Australia, it is fairly drought-tolerant and tolerates heat, as well. The small ivory flowers are fragrant, but fairly insignificant. If pollinated, they do make a showy orange-yellow fruit that can be rather startling in contrast to the general fineness of the foliage.
The theme of fragrant flowers is continued in sweet shade, Hymenosporum flavum. This time, the flowers also have a visual presence. The flowers are only an inch or so across, but they are carried in profusion at the ends of the branchlets in spring and summer (although you can find a few flowers almost all year round). Deep-green, glossy foliage complements them well. The trees can grow to 40 feet in their native Australian habitat, but are unlikely to do that here. They are graceful and narrow, often spreading only 10 feet or so. They are great subjects as a focal point near a structure or in the forefront of an urban forest. Definitely drought-tolerant, this species requires excellent drainage to thrive.
• Soil is warm enough now to transplant tropical plants. Palms are good candidates.
• Check your pond water temperature. If it is above 65° (70° is even better), it is safe to put our tropical water lilies.
• Make sure mulch layers are 3- or 4-inches thick to conserve water now that the rains have ended.
• Pick roses and other flowers to enjoy inside. It will also encourage more flower production.
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.