Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Everyone Loves Howard

The young women working the registers at Roger’s Gardens were oohing and ahhing over my little bush at the checkout stand.  I agree.  It has an elegance and versatility you find in few plants, let alone natives.  Its dramatic red branches and small, upright leaves always look dressed up. It adds a dark forest green that we don’t often see in natives.  It is Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn,’ a cultivar of Arctostaphylos densiflora.
Howard, center, adding a rich green (with sunrise highlights in new stems) to the border.
Howard is subtle and well-behaved.  He never steals the show, but is the most reliable of supporting actors.   Like all manzanitas, Howard has a “fractal” branching growth pattern that continues year after year.  So Howard is not a stated size, but will slowly branch out taller and wider each year.   Alas, my little gem will not hide the air conditioner for several years yet.  Unlike most manzanitas, however, Howard is eminently prunable.  I have seen it as a hip-high sheared hedge in a parking lot in Los Gatos.

If you wait long enough and prune carefully,
you can expose the beautiful twisted dark red wood.
(Photo from Las Pilitas Nursery, used by permission)
If you don’t water Howard enough in a drought winter, he will lose a few leaves.  He would like a good soaking every three or four weeks.  If you spritz the dust off every 2-3 weeks in summer he will be content.  Really.  I’m not sure about overwater; he’s claimed to take lawn water but I wouldn’t push it.  Around here lawns can pass as swamps.  My landscape architect friend Cheryl Fields uses Howard successfully in mixed plantings that receive generic care and (over)watering.
Aren't those little flowers cute?
Hummingbirds love them.
Howard grows in shade or sun, but only flowers well (in January!) in sun.   Its flowers are tiny but can be abundant and last most of a month. Howard’s full history and stellar attributes can be seen at the Las Pilitas plant guide.  Howard is a great potted plant and Bonsai candidate.
Howard holding his own in a curb planting in my neighborhood,
though I'm not sure blue is his color.
Manzanita is a large genus; you will see species and hybrids of many sizes and shapes growing over coastal, foothill, and mountain ranges.  It is slow growing but long lived evergreen, and (depending on the variety) can endure harsh conditions. Manzanita branches are treasured by florists for their dramatic red color. But please don’t harvest wild manzanita “trees.” They may take 50 years to regrow.

Closeup of Howard's flowers, complete with Painted Lady Butterfly.
(Photo from Las Pilitas Nursery, used by permission)

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