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Plant of the Month

Plant of the Month
June 2010

Our Lord's Candle or Foothill Yucca Hesperoyucca whipplei (Yucca whipplei)

Plant Type: Hmmm…A sub-shrub? A quadrennial? Typically this plant blooms once and then dies, although could be thought of as a perennial.

Light: Full sun to half sun

Soil: Can take clay but excels in good draining soils

Water: Adaptable but loves to go completely dry.

This striking plant does not usually bloom this late for us at the Garden but is such a wonderful plant I had to include as the June Plant of the Month. It is found in the Coastal Sage Scrub and Chaparral plant communities of southern California, and it’s 8-10 foot high flower stalk is easily visible from quite far away, (looking a bit like a creamy white flame in the distance).

In gardens its blue-gray foliage that stands out so beautifully against a wall, or between boulders, or contrasting with a dark green background like Coffeeberry. And if you are creating a “Moon Garden”, this is one of the plants you may wish to select with its radiant, light reflecting quality.

Although, its sharp foliage makes it an outstanding plant from an architectural point of view, we should be careful with Our Lord’s Candle’s dangerous spine tipped leaves. It should be placed carefully for safety, back away from paths or patios. If you find you have placed it too close for comfort, the very end of the spiny leaf tips can be pruned off to make them less deadly to children, pets, unsuspecting garden visitors (or clumsy gardeners).

Weeding under these sharp obstacles is a particular problem although there are ways around that. A heavy gravel mulch layer can help prevent weeds from sprouting, or carefully pruning off the lower leaves to create space for your weeding tool to fit beneath. If you don’t like the look of that, simply sliding a sharp edged shovel under the leaves will dislodge most weeds which may choose the protection of the plants leaves to grow beneath.

It is after several years of having this very decorative plant in your garden that it decides to bloom. A flower stalk pushes up from the plant like an asparagus spear on steroids-exciting! Slowly the astounding blooms open and puts on a show almost unrivaled in profusion and detail. Each cream colored flower, sometimes with intricate purple edging on the petals, is lovely enough to stare at, but when put together with hundreds of flowers on an tall flower stalk-it is breath taking. The bloom often persists for several weeks then the plant slowly dies. Even then there is a sort of vertical beauty and I leave the dead flower stalk as a bird perch.

Caution: Once your garden has had that large flower stalk blooming in springtime, you may be hooked on these impressive plants. If so, be sure you plant another one as soon as your current plant blooms or if you have the room, plant in successive years so you don’t have to be without its beauty for very long.