Sunday, May 12, 2013

Monkey-flowering Around

White monkeyflower (Mimulus bifidus 'White')
Shrubby monkeyflowers (genus Mimulus) are a common site in the Bay Area, especially in the coastal scrub plant communities where they grow happily alongside sagebrush, chamise, coffeeberry, and others. In the spring, the plentiful orange flowers of Mimulus aurantiacus add a welcome dash of color to the greens and grays that typically dominate the landscape. Leaves have a characteristic sticky feel and plants can have a gangly, disheveled appearance in the wild.

In the garden, monkeyflowers have become very popular because they come in a wide variety of colors (orange, red, yellow, white, purple, etc.) and they bloom for a relatively long time over the spring and early summer. They are a magnet for hummingbirds and bees. Monkeyflowers in all their various forms can be found at most Bay Area nurseries, including Home Depot, where I recently saw the 'Jelly Bean Yellow' and 'Pink' varieties. Annie's Annuals and Yerba Buena Nursery probably have the best selection of monkeyflowers around, though be prepared to pay twice as much at Yerba Buena.

From my experience, monkeyflowers look best in the garden year round if they are in a part shade environment. In full sun, they will bloom well in Spring but then go completely dormant in Summer and Fall, turning an unappealing brown color. They will spring back to life with cooler temps and rain in late Fall, but most folks will be turned off by their appearance in summer. Behold the many faces of monkeyflower:

'Junipero Serra' monkeyflower grows low and has proportionally large flowers

Bush monkeyflower (M. aurantiacus), the wild form found all over the Bay Area
 'Curious Orange' monkeyflower has very large red/orange flowers
'Apricot' monkeyflower, with similar color to the wild form but better garden tolerance
'Eleanor' monkeyflower, a wonderful garden performer
Island bush monkeyflower (M. flemingii), a rare variety from the Channel Islands
'Jelly Bean Yellow' monkeyflower