Developing a Chilean Garden

Gardening can be made interesting by implementing a thematic plan for part or all of the site. There are many possible themes to choose from: a favorite color or color combination; a plant genus (e.g., roses, irises, dahlias, etc.); a design style (e.g., desert, tropical, etc.); or whatever interests you.

My garden has beds dedicated to each of the five summer-dry climate regions: Mediterranean Basin, South Africa, Australia, California, and Chile.

The world’s summer-dry regions occur within two bands: between 30°and 45° north, and between 30°and 45° south. Chile is a very narrow, very long country, extending from a latitude of 17° south to Cape Horn at 56°. The country extends well beyond the summer-dry region,

The county’s flora have been described in terms of three zones, the desert provinces of the north, central Chile, and the humid regions of the south. Central Chile’s summer-dry region extends from about 30°to about 36° south, making that region comparable in size to that of California, which extends from about 32°to about 42° north.

With only a little searching, a gardener can find good plants from the first four of these regions; finding Chilean plants can be challenging. That search can be motivated by the potential of discovering unusual botanical treasures. 

A few Chilean plants are readily available in garden centers. The most familiar example, perhaps, is the so-called Peruvian Lily (Alstromeria sp.). There are some 122 species within this South American genus, and only four are native to Peru, while at least thirty-three are native to central Chile, which is the center of distribution for this genus. We’re told that Chileans take offense at having their plant called Peruvian Lily!

Other Chilean plants that are not hard to find include (in no particular order): Chilean Jasmine (Mandevilla laxa), Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae), Chilean Puya (Puya chilensis), Shining Pink Rock Purslane (Calendrina spectabilis), Maiden’s Wreath (Francoa sonchifolia), Hummingbird Fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica), Purpletop Vervain (Verbena bonariensis), Chilean Potato Vine (Solanum Crispum), and others.

Interested gardeners can find descriptions of these plants by searching the Internet for their botanical names.

A less common Chilean plant that is particularly attractive in early spring, is the Sacred Flower of the Andes (Cantua buxifolia). This is an upright shrub that produces “a profusion of orange to magenta-pink flowers that have a long tube with a flaring mouth held on thin pedicels so the flowers dangle beneath” (quoting San Marcos Growers). The blossoms are “outrageous,” but the plant sprawls in a way that calls for staking. The older stems can be pruned to improve the plant’s overall form, but because blossoms are produced on the previous season’s growth, pruning should be done only after flowering.

Chilean blossoms
Blossom of Cantua buxifolia (Sacred Flower of the Incas)
Chilean shrub
An unruly shrub: Cantua buxifolia

My continuing quest for interesting these plants focuses currently on the Chilean Bellflower (Lapageria rosea), a beautiful flowering vine that is Chile’s national flower. A few nurseries list this plant on their websites, but it’s generally out of stock.

Persistence should produce results!

Adopting a theme of your choice could provide an alternative to the usual spontaneous approach to gardening in favor of the satisfaction of design coherence and the appeal of an ongoing hunt for botanical treasures.

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