Green Fingers: 'Introducing this California dream' - James Vaughaun

James Vaughaun


James Vaughaun


Green Fingers: 'Introducing this California dream' - James Vaughaun

When choosing a site to plant take into account the Californian origins of Ceanothus and choose a spot in full sun

IT was with interest recently that I noticed masses of green fly on a lupin I had grown from seed.

This was among the seeds I had sown last year. The lupins really do look stunning this time of year. This particular plant, however, looked a bit bedraggled. On closer examination I noticed it was infested with large amounts of greenfly. My wife asked was I going to spray with some organic pesticide. I mentioned that at this time of year there would likely be young hatchlings searching for food. Then recently we noticed a clutch of young robins- only just out of the nest-looking for food. You can imagine my delight when I noticed them begin to feast on all of the greenfly. The birds love to eat greenfly as they are a great source of protein. I mention this story to show that it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice a plant here and there so the wildlife have a chance to survive. The great thing about my story is that these young robins will now travel around the garden searching out greenfly to eat. In this scenario, I would see everybody being a winner.


A shrub that looks its best in our garden this time of year is the Ceonothus. Ceanothus bear masses of gorgeous blue flowers in May and June, on otherwise fairly humble shrubs. I have recently seen the flowers being described as ‘liquorish All-sort blue’. I think this perfectly captures the colour. Ceonothus is also known as California lilacs, which tells us their country of origin. Ceanothus shrubs come in a range of sizes to suit most gardens. Evergreen varieties tend to be slightly less hardy than deciduous types but can be grown as free-standing shrubs or small trees in sheltered gardens.

The prostrate or ground covering forms of ceanothus work well as ground cover. Pollinating insects love the blue flowers as much as we do and they are great for pollinators.

When choosing a site to plant take into account the Californian origins of Ceanothus and choose a spot in full sun. Soil should be moist but well-drained. In more exposed gardens, Ceanothus will benefit from being planted near a south- or west-facing wall that will give some shelter from cold winds and winter frost. If you can’t provide shelter, choose one of the hardier, deciduous varieties.

Plant ceanothus in the autumn when the soil is still warm. Dig a generous hole and add handfuls of grit so the soil is very well drained. Trim ceanothus annually to keep plants bushy and leafy.

Cut out dead wood in spring and trim side-shoots after flowering. Other than this, they require no special treatment. If you inherit a ceanothus that has outgrown its position or become slightly unshapely, don’t try to prune it back hard as they don’t recover successfully.

Contact James