Posted by: gardenshf | November 16, 2012

Now Growing: A not-so-fussy winter bloomer

The Gardens at Heather Farm offer many inviting spots for visitors. Though benches in the main part of the garden usually are occupied, you can find others tucked away in quiet areas, such as the lower part of the EBMUD water-wise garden, a naturalistic setting that offers tranquility and beauty.

Surrounded by valley oaks, the lower EBMUD garden is devoted mostly to California natives and other plants that do not require summer irrigation. Unlike the rose garden, it is not manicured; leaves are allowed to fall and decompose, adding nutrients for the plants that thrive in these conditions. Set among the grand trees are native coral bells, columbines, currants, bush anemones and the beautiful Correa alba “Ivory Bells.”

The genus Correa, which is endemic to Australia, consists of 11 species, but Correa alba “Ivory Bells” has roots in San Francisco. In the 1940s, plant breeder Victor Reiter Jr. created this hybrid by crossing Correa alba and Correa backhousina. Correa alba “Ivory Bells,” a member of the Rutaceae (citrus) family, is a compact (4 to 5 feet high and wide), hardy strain. It can withstand temperatures as low as 20-25 degrees Fahrenheit, tolerate acidic or alkaline soils and do well in our garden under a blanket of oak leaves.

Disease-free and low maintenance, Correa alba “Ivory Bells” has beautiful copper-colored, hairy stems with oval blue-gray leaves. The creamy, star-shaped flowers light up the entire plant. The leaf’s underside contains small hairs that give it a felt look, help the plant retain moisture and protect it from insects that otherwise would eat the leaves.

The closed bud mimics the flower color, with hints of copper and ivory. Blooming begins in late fall and continues throughout winter, which is why Correa alba “Ivory Bells” combines so well with other winter-blooming natives here. Hummingbirds rely on it for nectar during the colder parts of the year, when other food sources are scarce.

Correa responds well to pruning, which can be done when it stops blooming in the spring. There aren’t any pests or diseases associated with this shrub; however, it does not like to be overwatered.

As the days continue to get shorter, Correa will keep lighting up this part of the garden with its ivory blossoms and lovely foliage.

–Patrice Hanlon


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