Late May in the Wonder Garden


‘Jenkyn Place’ rock rose


This second half of May in the swooningly lovely Wonder Garden is all about the rock rose, Cistus, one of our favorite sun-loving evergreen shrubs. The selections we grow (at last count, five) are now covered with masses of crinkly petals so like crepe paper flowers they seem more party decoration than natural wonder.

Make no mistake, these are heartbreakingly natural blossoms, lasting only a day. Which may seem brutal, these fleeting delights, but no matter! Cistus is always fat with buds just waiting their turn. With no hot weather hurrying them along (how’s that for a silver lining?), the shrub will stay wreathed in petals well into June.

As long-flowering as a plant may be, though, let’s be real: flowers are quick diversions, hardly enough to sustain a long-term relationship. When we choose what to put in the Wonder Garden, we need the majority of our plants to offer more than the proverbial pretty face. That’s why we have so many Hebe, Callistemon and Arctostaphylos (“the shrub that spells home”), all genera that share these traits with Cistus:

1.     Fabulous year-round foliage

2.     Pest and disease resistant

3.     Low to NO water needs (some hebes like a summer drink)

4.     Thrive in full sun (we’ve little shade in the WG)

5.     Incredibly easy to grow on the coast

Here’s something else to recommend Cistus: it works on banks, slopes, both formal and wild gardens, and as a groundcover or a showy specimen. Our favorite show-off is the rock rose ‘Jenkyn Place’ (a selection of Cistus x dansereaui), though what puts it over the top is not the flowers but the foliage, deep green lustrous leaves on a densely mounded shrub that will easily reach 4’x4’. The flowers are plenty showy but if huge flowers are your game—how about 4” across?—checkout our C. ‘Bennet’s White.’

A few years ago, one of crankier WG volunteers banished pink from the garden (“a hateful color!”). That explains why all our cistus are fundamentally white, though many have fabulous burgundy markings and yellow centers. We haven’t fired her yet, but we have brought her to heel. Public gardens, we told her, are Hate-Free Zones. Look for rich pink cistus next year in The Wonder Garden.