In the above shot of the trial garden at Pépinière Filippi, Meza, France, many different Phlomis species still wearing their spent flower stems, contrasting nicely with the various shades foliage color. Phlomis was once planted extensively in California by gardeners wishing to decrease the water footprint of their gardens. On late I note that these plants seem to be seldom used, and indeed many type we once saw in California are becoming difficult to find.
I wonder what has caused the trend away from these interesting and useful plants? Like many plants in our horticultural trade, after an initial enthusiasm for a plant they are often considered passé. Possible this group merely fell off the radar and have not yet been taken up again by growers?
Relatively speaking, these are shorter-lived plants, needing to be renewed after a time in order to keep them looking their best. This is possibly exacerbated by the fact that California soils are far richer than those in the Mediterranean homelands of most of this genus, causing these perennial shrubs to grow faster, looser, and more untidy than they would otherwise. At the inevitable time of replacement, if these plants were not available in nurseries, perhaps they’ve been replaced now by others that were.
The plantings above are on lean, stony soil, and received supplemental water only upon planting (i.e. they get only rain falls on them or what moisture they can find deep in the soil) – note their compact form. While it is true that many parts of the Mediterranean do receive occasional summer rainfall, it is clearly not in the amounts that Californians dump on their gardens year-round!
With a renewed interest in creating gardens that are not heavily irrigated, I think Phlomis species should be considered. Their foliage alone can satisfy our current trends in composing foliar contrast, and their seasonal flowering (and spent flower stems as pictured) are also an interesting and unique counterpoint to many of the plants we currently grow in our gardens.