that one of the best things about gardening is that when I am weeding or
planting or pruning, I worry a great deal less about losing my mind. The
seeds of insanity, or at least confusion seem to lurk indoors-—in the
stuffed-full file drawers, the paper-strewn desk, and the Everest-like laundry
pile. If I do not get out into the garden for at least a few minutes every
day, those seeds tend to take root and the green shoots of chaos quickly
establish themselves in my mind.
restoring my sanity in the garden a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed the
green santolina (Santolina virens) that I planted last summer in one of my sunny
back beds. It was flourishing at a time when more timid plants were just
beginning to poke tentative shoots out of the ground.
sometimes known as lavender cotton, is an old-fashioned herb, native to the
Mediterranean. It has been used in American gardens since colonial days,
and was appreciated in Europe long before that. Many of the old herbals
tout its properties as a “vermifuge”. Fascinated by the word, I turned
to the dictionary, and found that a vermifuge is a concoction taken internally
to expel parasitic worms. It is reasonable to suppose that it is not used
much any more for this purpose.
Fortunately for the continued popularity of santolina, the plant has numerous
other sterling qualities. For one thing, the finely dissected gray leaves
of Santolina chamaecyparissus (the most common variety that is commercially
available), and the green leaves of Santolina virens are pleasantly aromatic.
You can put them in your linen closet or sweater drawer and rest secure in the
knowledge that moths find the odor unappealing. One of the santolina
species, Santolina ericoides, has been hybridized to produce a cultivar called
‘Lemon Queen”, that has citrus-scented foliage.
As we all
know, smelling good is a definite plus in social situations, but looking good is
usually what it’s all about. Santolina has attractive yellow
button-shaped flowers that add nicely to arrangements, and can be cooked into a
brilliant yellow dye. In my garden last summer, the green santolina grew
as if it had been treated with steroids, bloomed magnificently, and responded to
a mid-summer shearing by doubling in size. I might add, that even at the
height of the drought, it received no supplemental water. I know now that
santolina treats those conditions as a challenge.
to be santolinas for a host of different situations. All of them need a
sunny site with reasonably good drainage. Gray santolina (Santolina
chamaecyparissus) frequently finds its way into knot gardens as an edging plant.
Growing to a height of about 2’, it is easily sheared to whatever size fits
If you are
not ambitious enough to start a knot garden, gray santolina also is a good low
hedge. For edging, there are dwarf cultivars such as the gray leafed
Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Nana’, or the green leafed Santolina ericoides.
is one of your passions, you can obtain rosemary leafed santolina (Santolina
rosmarinifolia). The needle-like leaves of this plant make a tight
configuration when potted, trained and clipped.
santolina in my garden is already showing signs that it intends to take over the
small bed where it currently resides. To keep myself and the plant happy,
I will transplant it to a new sunny bed, where it will undoubtedly go about its
vigorous ways with no attention from me.
get santolina in small pots from many local nurseries and garden centers.
For a larger selection of cultivars, try Companion Plants, 7247 N. Coolville
Ridge Road, Athens, OH 45701; tel. 740/592-4643; or access the website at
lavender and it isn’t cotton, but lavender cotton is a plant that smells good,
looks good and takes stress off the gardener. It beats therapy.