Santolina as a Mediterranean native, is virtually a “must” plant for a dry, Mediterranean-style garden. It is a sub-shrub or woody perennial, growing to about 70cm (2ft) in height and a meter (1ft) in width. The best-known species is Santolina chamaecyparissus, or Lavender Cotton, with its grey colored, finely toothed foliage. Species with green leaves include S. pinnata and S. rosmarinifolia (virens).
Santolinas also flower profusely through the summer with their small, button, daisy-like blooms. The plants are best chosen however for their foliage and small-scale landscaping properties than for their flower color. They can serve as a stable element in a flowerbed; holding the border while perennials have been cut down, and annuals replaced, and are particularly effective as niche plants between rocks or flagstones.
Santolina, especially the grey-leaved Lavender Cotton, is not suitable for tropical gardens, looking singularly out of place with the lush, large leaves and course foliage texture typical of tropical plants. However, it combines excellently with the finely toothed foliage of Chrysanthemum, (some) Achillea, or Rosemary, and with flowering plants that have small blooms.
Its leaves are fragrant when bruised or clipped, and so it is a valuable addition to a herb garden, at least from a stylistic point of view. For most herbal plants, like Lavender, Sage, and Thyme, are also Mediterranean natives, and have similar leaf shapes and texture. A herb garden edged with a foot-high Santolina hedge, is perfect for more formal compositions.
Thought should also be given as to how the bedding plants associate with the trees and shrubs in the garden composition. In order to create as much unity as possible, the ground plane, i.e. the bedding plants, should link with the “walls and ceiling” of the garden, i.e. the trees and shrubs. Therefore, Santolina combines well with shrubs like Juniper, Melaleuca, and Grevillea, as well as with coniferous and Mediterranean trees such as Pomegranate and Olive.
Care and Maintenance
The most important thing is to clip them frequently in order to prevent them coming too woody and top – heavy. The clipping will reduce the number of flowers, but the plants will grow more densely and compactly as a result. Santolinas are not fussy plants, but they do need good drainage. Other than that, they perform perfectly well under a low watering regime, and so are ideal bedding plants for dry climate gardens.