Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Plant profile: Santolina (Lavender Cotton)

S. chamaecyparissus
Latin name: Santolina ("sant-oh-LEE-nah")
Common name: Lavender Cotton, Holy Herb, Ground Cypress
Originally from: the Mediterranean
Blooms: From early spring through summer, hundreds of cream to bright yellow balls appear on thin stems above the plant.
Light: Full sun
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water needed unless very dry.
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 1-2' high and wide.
USDA Zones: 5-11
Where to find in P. Garden: We have a couple on the steps, and one in the brights bed. The real stars are the many groupings of these at PRG down the street.

S . rosmarinifolia

Santolina was a genus first mentioned in 1550, and became all the rage during the Elizabethan era in their formal knot gardens. They're still a great plant for edging your herb gardens.

I didn't think too hard about for a while, but I've come to appreciate them for their truly drought tolerant nature, silvery foliage, compact form and cute little sulphur-yellow flowers. Their foliage also smells great.

Holy Herb is one of the common names for this plant, derived from sanctum linum, or holy flax - an old name for the plant.  In the past it was used to cure round worm in Scotland, thanks probably to the alkaloids it contains.  Another common name is Ground Cypress, from the species S. chamaecyparissus, from the Greek chamai (ground) and kuparissos (cypress.)

S . rosmarinifolia
The first one we got was an S . rosmarinifolia -  aka S. virens (Green Santolina) which is very happy in the brights bed. We planted 8 more at PRG and I think it prefers things slightly less xeric than PRG so far. 

We got four S. chamaecyparissus var. nana (Dwarf Lavender Cotton) from Digging Dog in Mendocino, and they are planted on the steps area. The regular S. chamaecyparissus (Gray Lavender Cotton) is one we planted a ton of down at PRG and they look amazing so far.

S. chamaecyparissus "Lemon Queen" lives down on PRG in a group of 8. So far we have lost 3 and I think they need more water in that spot.

Lastly the two S. virens "Lemon Fizz" we have on the steps aren't doing quite as well - I think they need a tiny bit more water to look good.

Santolinas need little care - a quick shear when they're done flowering to tidy them up - perhaps a shear in very early spring if they are looking scraggly too. A great plant for your dry garden!

UPDATE June 2016:
What a tough, drought-proof plant! The  S. virens "Lemon Fizz" and S. chamaecyparissus "Lemon Queen" are less rugged, but so lovely - just pick a less arid spot for them.

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