This is a wonderful plant- generously flowering with exquisite, golden stamened, white flowers in May or June. Carpenteria californica is well worth the space in the garden. But, as Gershwin says, it ain’t neccessarily so. I fell in love with this plant only from reading about it. A rare Californian native in the wild, now confined to only two small areas of California, it is mainly a garden plant now, and very popular in the UK apparently.
So, I was thrilled to buy a small one from ebay about five years ago, and I planted it where I was sure it would be happy. Reading, I confess, mainly UK writers about the plant, I put it in a hot, dry spot against a warm South-facing wall. And then, as not a lot happened, I kind of forgot about it. And sometimes, your eye stops spotting things that aren’t doing as well as you wanted and moves rapidly on to more impressive sights. Well, mine does.
The other thing that helped me take my eye off the ball, was that I (big mistake) planted some Japanese anemones, Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, around and about the Carpenteria. Well, of course, they went mad, despite the dryness of their situation, not to mention the heat, and they totally vanquished the toiling Carpenteria.
Four years later, last Spring, I finally clocked what was going on. A toiling Carpenteria, in what I thought was the ideal spot. Amazingly, at that point, the Carpenteria staged a brief rally, and flowered. Which was really the call for action that I needed. But no, I managed to leave it there and yesterday was the point where I tried to get to the bottom of it all.
I found a really helpful article in the Los Angeles Times from 2012 by Diana Marcum. She explained that the rareness of the plant in the wild is derived from the fact that it is a relic of a wetter California in earlier times, and has been beaten back by climate and environmental change. First seen by James Fremont in 1845, a live specimen was only retrieved from the wild in 1875, and it was in Europe, particularly after successful establishing of the plant by Kew Gardens, that it became a star plant to possess. ‘Wetter California’ stuck in my mind as I read the article.
So, a bit more checking on American sites followed. An article by a Sonoma County Master Gardener, Barbara Kirbach clinched it. She is crystal clear that the Carpenteria will thrive best in dappled shade with some sun, and whilst drought tolerant once established, it is very happy with weekly deep watering in hot periods. Neither of which conditions prevail where it is living now in Tostat, and what’s more, it’s under siege from the Japanese anemones. It will go leggy and straggly if it’s not happy. Tick. Pruning post-flowering does assist it to bush out. If happy, it will be a lovely, glossy green-leaved shrub with presence all year round reaching 3m tall and wide.
So, my mission this weekend, is to make my Carpenteria happy. I am going to move it to be at the edge of my new area, which will have some afternoon light shade from trees, and will be less bone-dry than where it is. We have had quite a bit of rain in the last couple of weeks so lifting it shouldn’t be too hard. I will leave it to settle in, and maybe flower if it can, and then post-flowering, I will do some selective pruning which, over the next couple of years, will allow it to reshape itself. And, then, maybe, I will have a happy plant that can take its proper place in the garden.
And as for the anemones? Important that they don’t become the villains of the piece. I am very culpable for not acting sooner and not checking the real origins of the plant. But, often, plants are forgiving, more so than humans! So the anemones are doing a brilliant job against the odds where they are, and I am learning to go with the flow a bit more, and enjoy that when it happens. They just can’t have world domination, that’s all.