pandemic garden project

Initially I wanted to set up shelving here but didn’t have the materials (or skills) on hand…

My latest time sink and a great antidote to the pandemic fidgets. It’s a little rough and a lot rustic, part of the perpetual quest to get plants massed in one area for ease of care, especially now that warm weather isn’t far off (in the 80s today!) Along with practical considerations, which include in some cases getting pots out from underfoot, there are aesthetic ones as well to elevating plants for heightened scrutiny — looking down at plants from a height of roughly 5’8″ is an entirely different experience from having them at eye level just a few inches away.

detail of a living wall by Woolly Pockets at the Smog Shoppe, Culver City, Calif. with heavy plants llike aeoniums, Agave attenuata, Senecio mandralsicae, Senecio vitalis

My current effort is not a living wall exactly, because I chose to keep things lightweight and potted. The armature is visible rather than a sheet of solid greenery. One approach that I’ve tried in the past included kokedama-like mossy confections that basically require a permanent mister to survive outdoors in zone 10 (both sarcastic and true); and as this was a pandemic project, pots seemed the best option since I have lots of spares. And with clay pots, I can mist the pot itself and it will absorb moisture even if staged horizontally — enough moisture to keep rhipsalis and bromeliads happy. That’s the theory anyway.

I believe the spiny green rosette is a puya that’s been kicking around the garden for a while and not getting much love. Puya laxa is the spidery silver leaves overhead, a good subject for the experiment because it’s unkillable.

As a pandemic project, my unwritten rules are to use what’s at hand, without leaving the house, like the rusty mattress wired into a 2X7′ metal frame my neighbor gave me a few months ago, held up on rebar tripods. (If I hadn’t given that same neighbor a roll of cattle panel, I would have used that instead.) So a pandemic project is similar to pandemic cooking, using only what’s in the cupboard (which in our case usually involves anchovies).

Moss was used as a top dressing for the pots. Tillandsias tuck into the spirals.

A lot of zone 10, dry-tolerant odds and ends are being trialed that I feel have loads of potential for a modified green wall such as this since they don’t require heavy amounts of soil and moisture — relatively lightweight stuff like rhipsalis, tillandsias, bromeliads, Puya laxa, the climbing onion Bowiea volubilis, with a couple echeverias thrown in and even an Agave ‘Mateo’ pup. Pots are wedged between the spirals, with the heavier ones wired in for extra strength and support. Most pots are horizontal with a few staged upright. I picked up some Crassula multicava over the weekend, which has a foamy white bloom (aka the Fairy Crassula), another unkillable plant that’s a natural for vertical gardens. Other likely candidates are the False Bromeliad, Callisia fragrans, and Aechmea recurvata, so many of the smaller bromeliads like ‘Benrathii’…

Crassula multicava grown in Woolly Pockets for the green wall at the Smog Shoppe in Culver City, Calif.

With the sheltering cypress gone, this funnel of rhipsalis and other potted rhipsalis were overnight exposed to drying winds, and I could tell the epiphytic cacti were struggling in the changed conditions. With the funnel moved to hang from the base of the frame, the resurgent health of this rhipsalis has been dramatic.

Bare stems of vining shrub tecomaria visible on the right. Potted epipyllum cactus ‘French Gold’ was wired to the rebar supports

A rebar tripod was already in place at one end to support the tecomaria along the fence that’s over 12-feet high now, so a rebar tripod was added to the other end as well to support the frame. The tecomaria’s lower branches thread along the back of the frame, an effect I’d like to develop if the structure stays in place.

Of course, epiphytic plants are ideally suited for aerial life — if their preferred arboreal life is unavailable to them.

On the plus side, so many plants on hand were absorbed into the project, and this eastern exposure is ideal for them, sunny but protected from wind. The metal fence won’t mind the frequent misting for the tillandsias. And I love the narrow profile and the fact it fits into an awkward, unused area. The plants in the pots that are fully horizontal may prefer to be tipped up slightly at an angle to retain moisture, and of course bromeliads like their cups filled with water, so I may rework things a bit. And reworked or not, I’m still uncertain if I really love the result (or more importantly, if the plants will love it), and if shelving wouldn’t be preferable after all. So it may just get filed under “useful projects to kill time in a pandemic” and then torn apart when I’m not under the influence of the pandemic anymore. Which time is now surely coming, right? Lots of us in my family are partially vaccinated, and herd immunity seems more and more achievable.

For a look at what the living wall pros are up to, check out Austin-based Articulture for inspiration.

Hope you’re staying healthy and…um…keeping busy….

edited 2/23/21 to add this view, which includes all the potted tropicals I’ve since massed underneath. The horizontal pots in the frame have been wired in place a little more upright. I always count it as a win when plants can drip on each other and contribute to the general humidity of the surrounding plant community.
Posted in journal, pots and containers, succulents | 7 Comments

Bloom Day 2/15/21

We’re horrified at the predicament of friends and family across the country as the Polar Vortex busts out of the Arctic again, flooding points south with its extremely frigid air. Holy cow! How is everyone doing? We’re nervously checking power outage maps and trying to absorb the pipe-busting capabilities of these bizarro negative temperature readings in states like Wyoming. This extreme cold and the increasing ferocity of wildfires just might be two sides of the same coin, as climate change continues to upend our perception and expectation of “normal” weather patterns. Winter is usually not a “scary” season here in coastal Long Beach, unlike the dangers posed by the hot dry months, but who knows anymore?

an eruption of color — intense pink bracts on an unidenified bilbergia

My little garden chugs along in February, the soil still retaining some moisture from the slight amount of rain we’ve had. The increasing amount of sunlight in the garden is what really makes February a special month, as the winter shade band diminishes more and more every day. I’m going to keep this short and limited to plants I haven’t photographed much lately.

first blooms on small, self-sown coronilla aka scorpion vetch (!), a Mediterranean native
Madagascar native Solanum pyracanthum
burnt orange/butterscotch blooms opening on Grevillea ‘Poorinda Blondie,’ new to the garden
Also new to the garden, Leucospermum ‘Tango’ with Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ recently planted near its base
dwarf form of Scilla natalensis, a bulb I’ve tried to grow before

I have high hopes for this little scilla thriving in the garden now that there’s a bit more open area for planting small things like this. Just brought this home in bud in the past weeks.


Stay warm, drive safe, and fingers crossed the ice and snow damage to your gardens is minimal!

Posted in Bloom Day, Bulbs | 5 Comments

thank you, Annie!

All is not lost! There is a new owner, Sarah Hundley…

There were worrisome rumors, and then came the confirmation in the Spring 2021 catalogue that arrived in the mailbox this week: Annie Hayes, of Annie’s Annuals and Perennials, is retiring.

Sonchus palmensis budding up, second year of bloom in the garden. Annie says it does not self-sow, but I’m finding some interesting seedlings near where it bloomed last year…

You may need to grab a box of tissues or steady yourself with a shot of liquid courage before continuing with my garden’s tribute to this dynamo of a nurserywoman. Yes, it is a loss, but it’s one we can all bear because Annie is right here with us in our gardens. I’ve got her plants all over the place! Annie’s legacy flows from her garden philosophy, from her selection of so many plants that self-sow and return every year. Generous, exuberant, out of the ordinary — I’ve never met Annie but I imagine she’s a lot like the plants she loves and sends forth into our gardens. And the nursery she built will continue with lots of new customers paying attention in 2021 — “2020 was historically the busiest year ever for nurseries” she writes in the spring 2021 catalogue.

Roldana petasites budding up to bloom in its first year in the garden

Using my own garden, I’m going to try to quickly sketch what this nursery that began in 1989 in her Richmond, California backyard means to plant lovers everywhere. Her taste in plants, her eye for what’s cool permeates my garden now and has done so for decades. (But we’ll try to keep this brief and confined to the present day!)

Can you spot Annie’s plants? Behind the aloe, round leaves of Roldana petasites on the left, Nicotiana mutabilis on the right, Sonchus palmensis in the distance
Clianthus puniceus

It is axiomatic that gardens need plants. Your local nursery has plants. You shop there but, possibly like me, are often frustrated by the pedestrian selection. Annie offered a game-changing alternative: “We select the plants we grow not only for their beauty and/or fragrance, but most often for the natural grace and charm they add to our gardens (so often missing in modern hybrids found at “big box” garden centers).”

Never offered locally, Nicotiana mutabilis, second year top growth, with new basal growth this winter. Lacy leaves belong to Ferula communis

In addition to the adventurous inventory of rare and hard-to-source plants, I think what really made us loyal repeat customers was the fact that the plants sold were fastidiously packaged for shipping and raring to grow in our gardens. Annie’s well-grown plants are sold unapologetically “in the green” — the lush catalogue photos and descriptions and spectacular display grounds at the nursery fill in any blanks in imagining their garden potential. She resolutely resisted all the growing tricks commercially employed to rush plants into bloom to push sales: “Here at “Annie’s,” we grow most of our plants the old fashioned way – from seed – in the wind, rain and sun (no greenhouses), so your plants are already “hardened off,” healthy and strong when you take them home. All of our plants are grown in 4″ pots without the use of growth regulating hormones, commonly sprayed on almost all annuals and most perennials by large scale growers. These growth regulators slow plant growth and extend “shelf life” but can lead to disappointing results in our gardens.”

Annie’s catalogue continually changes and never disappoints, always filled with surprises often sourced from local botanical gardens and even customers. For a while she was in a cussonia phase, and I bought every one on offer. I recently reacquired locally Cussonia gamtoosensis, which Annie first introduced me to.

Annie is a self-described “flower floozie,” yet so many of her plants in my garden are all about the leaves. Under her guidance, the nursery offered a range of plants to satisfy flower floozies and foliage connoisseurs alike. I often felt like we shared the same horticultural brain as far as plant obsessions like puya, nicotiana, echium, sideritis: “Along with offering an amazing number of garden treasures, we also specialize in Mediterranean climate varieties from around the world, including wondrous South African annuals, perennials and shrubs.”

Sideritis oroteneriffae

Annie’s was the zone 10 nursery of my dreams. And now I am so spoiled. I am always caught by surprise if I happen to order from other nurseries and, at the end of the transaction, I am informed that the plant will ship in months instead of days or a few weeks. I forget that their production schedule is zones apart from Annie’s zone 10, year-round growing season. If a plant is listed as available in her catalogue, it’s ready to go, so get that planting hole ready pronto.

Sideritis cypria
calendulas, linaria and gerbera for winter, bought locally but evoking the spirit of Annie’s ethos and about as “flower floozie” as I get!

And though her nursery ships across the country, it often feels like my own private horticultural resource, tailored to the growing seasons of coastal California, including our mild winters. Cloud forest exotics and Canary Islanders that flourish in zones 9 and 10 rub elbows in her catalogue with many of our wildflowers and natives.

Tree daisy Montanoa grandiflora, a plant discovered in Annie’s catalogue although purchased locally
Yucca aloifolia ‘Magenta Magic’

Yucca ‘Sapphire Skies’ and self-sown poppies sizing up for spring

The jubilant tag “self-sows!” she adds to catalogue descriptions is a signature flourish that always grabs my attention: “I also love the old-fashioned annuals because they self-sow so easily (again, unlike modern hybrids), delighting us with lots of free plants each year, along with the serendipitous and surprising flowering combinations they provide.”

Nobody offers a list of poppies stronger than Annie. Nobody.

I grew these sweet peas from seed a few months ago, but it’s a comfort to know where to find the heavily scented varieties every spring.
Succulents are well represented too — Aeonium tabuliforme
All my glaucium are seedlings from Annie’s
Biennial from Greece, Silene fabaria ssp. domokina started from seed last summer

Annie Hayes, you have had a profound and transformational impact on my garden. And, coincidentally, inspired by your example, I’ve recently become reacquainted with growing plants from seed. You make it look so easy! (Most of my efforts that germinated suspiciously resembled nicotianas — and because of a fatal mistake of mixing in garden soil into the growing medium, they mostly were!)

from seed last summer, Geranium maderense ‘Alba’

Annie’s influence is everywhere in my garden. This winter I’m finding seedlings of the annual Coreopsis tinctoria ‘Tiger Stripes’ (“self-sows!”) — thank you, Annie! Keep us posted on your new adventures in plants and gardens.

Posted in plant nurseries | Tagged | 9 Comments

February scrapbook

Tracing the trajectory of enthusiasms on the blog since 2010, one month at a time…

photo by MB Maher

2/26/10 — a wildflower meadow was a fleeting, transitional feature of a local medical center.

Pinellia tripartita

February 25, 2011, this weird aroid had my attention. It has since disappeared from the garden.


2012 was one of the years I planned for potted tulips. Here in zone 10 tulips require chilling, so it’s not a last-minute kind of deal. And the vegetable crisper gets real crowded for 8 weeks or so. Nice cameo by little Evie! I’m fairly sure she’s standing on a potted Cussonia gamtoosensis, one of my favorites cussonias, which grew to 6 feet in the garden then toppled. Very shallow rooted! Much sorrow and regret. This week I’ve just found a source locally at Desert Creations! If all goes well, I should have it by the weekend.

Little Evie and the cussonia February 2012

February 28, 2013, I documented a conversation about the number of bees on Euphorbia rigida. Lovely to see our corgi Ein and Joseph aka Joe B. Tiger! Sedum nussbaumerianum is another succulent I haven’t grown in a while. And we are currently on the trail of another corgi, but it’s slightly complicated so no date of arrival yet…


February 2013. This scrapbook idea is helping me notice planting patterns. Every fall/winter I rediscover the annual linarias like it’s the first time ever. Obviously, it’s been a standby winter annual for years…that never reseeds!


February 2013; I want to smell Michelia doltsopa again. (Anyone reading Ken Druse’s The Scentual Garden?)


This was a lively and inviting family garden to visit back in February 2013, and Sadie was such a gracious host!


Euphorbia lambii from February 2013 which started sporting weird fasciations. But now I miss this plant! Still have the indestructible Homecrest chairs though…


February 2014 included a visit to the Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs, Calif. during Modernism Week, which is now an online experience February 1st through the 28th, 2021.


February 2015 I visited Rancho Los Alamitos with Shirley Watts — so much fun touring this historic rancho with her. I believe her brother Harvey attended the tour as well.


Also in February 2015 Banksia ericifolia briefly graced the garden. Current banksias in the garden are Banksia caleyi and Banksia repens, both very young. Say no more…


In February 2015 I was growing gerberas with Elymus ‘Canyon Prince.’ There are still gerberas in the garden but this beautiful grass is not suited for a small collector’s garden. I planted this elymus in the hellstrip of our neighborhood park, where it’s survived on just rainfall to the amazement of the neighborhood. I believe that’s an isoplexis leaning in on the right, which was an exciting plant in its own right for frost-free gardens before the digiplexis phenomenon eclipsed it. All of the “plexis,” species and crosses, have been short-lived in my garden — which is not necessarily a bad thing to my way of thinking but it might be frustrating for some.


February 2016 I had promising cushions of santolina, and then the cypresses grew and grew and this end of the garden became too shady. I actually enjoy that pungent, acrid scent when clipping and shaping it into orbs. For a similar smallish cushion effect, I’m currently growing Westringia ‘Grey Box.’


In February 2017 Mitch and I visited Jeremy Glatstein and family’s garden (#bixbybotanicals), which was covered in the Los Angeles Times in 2020 for Dustin Gimbel’s design work on their back garden.


In February 2018 I documented the discovery of Euphorbia lignosa in a local parkway. I still have the cutting the owner gave me, which is growing into a handsome plant, and the OG mother plant is still flourishing in the parkway. Nice bit of continuity for both plants!


In February 2019 I was concerned about decluttering the garden (ha!).


February 2020, before the fence was rebuilt and the cypresses removed.

Onward with February 2021!

Posted in blog, journal, Plant Portraits | 3 Comments

Fearless Gardening book giveaway winner!

Fearless Gardening - Cover

Well, well, well, it’s February 1st, an auspicious day on AGO because it means the door has closed on the Fearless Gardening book giveaway. The names of those who left comments on the blog and Instagram were written on paper, cut out into squares, folded over, and placed in a tall, lidded, glass receptacle. I left the jar on Marty’s desk and asked him to pick one before racing off this morning. He happily complied, and the winner (from Instagram) is…

Cricket Riley!


Congratulations, Cricket! You have so much enjoyable reading ahead of you this February. Timber Press has been notified and will be sending the books to you at the address you provided.

I think February is off to a fabulous start, don’t you?

Posted in books | 1 Comment

the agave’s gambit

 What sets them apart is that they are monocarpic, they die after flowering once, and, they can take up to 30 years or better, depending on species and growing conditions, to flower…The demand for carbohydrate is high during this period.  Once flowering is initiated enzymes rapidly convert the starches to sugars and draw on available moisture to form the more dilute nectar to successfully support the rapid growth of the structure of their inflorescence…

GardenRiots: Flowering and Its Trigger in Genus Agave

The burning question: If I dig up my blooming Agave pygmae ‘Dragon Toes,’ will the ongoing flowering and potential seed-forming process be interrupted, or have enough sugars been stored in the plant already to keep the process moving forward, even if it is wrenched from the ground?

And let me helpfully anticipate your question: Why in heck would you want to do this anyway?

Flower bud of Leucospermum ‘Tango’ already purchased, ideally planted right now, with a chance of rain in the forecast. It’s always a case of right now for me.

My answer to your question is — my answer always is there are new plants to grow and a finite amount of time and space in which to grow them. The once-in-its-lifetime blooming process of an agave can take months until completion. Maybe there will be successful pollination and seeds. Maybe there will be bulbils! And while I’m intensely interested in seeing this process through to the end, the agave happens to be growing in the perfect location for Leucospermum ‘Tango,’ the South African pincushion shrub which wants lots of air movement and full sun year round (like an agave). Shoehorning this winter-blooming shrub into a small, busy garden without seriously considering these requirements will end in tears. (Don’t ask.) This is a highly desirable location that the agave will remain rooted to while slowly giving birth to its progeny over the coming months. And perhaps somewhat callously, I would really prefer it if the agave gave birth elsewhere, maybe in the back of the garden.

So I got busy looking for answers to my question regarding moving a blooming agave. My first search string “agave bloom stalk” produced this:

Agave Americana Chandelier
The Marjorie Skouras Collection
Agave Americana Chandelier from Currey & Company

Fascinating but not strictly on point. (Designed by Marjorie Skouras who enthuses: “Let us make your real world a surreal world.” She’s obviously studied a blooming agave a time or two.) Subsequent searches produced nothing as exciting — or pertinent. And then I remembered that horticulturalist Lance Wright had thoroughly documented his blooming Agave montana (affectionately named “Monte”), a rare and celebratory event in the climate of Portland, Oregon. Lance wrote the article from which I’m quoting extensively, Flowering and Its Trigger in Genus Agave. It’s an amazing piece of writing, both authoritative yet easy to absorb. Highly recommended.

The gestating agave in question in its highly coveted full-sun location on a cloud-covered morning that may or may not end in rain. ‘Dragon Toes’ agaves were produced from tissue culture by Kelly Griffin/Rancho Tissue around 2010. Mine was purchased in 2012.

Agave have ‘chosen’ to go down the monocarpic path, putting all of their resources into one flowering…Only a few Yucca species are monocarpic.  Both Agave and Yuccas pursued different strategies and succeeded.   Agaves found success storing energy in a ‘gambit…’

(Flowering and Its Trigger in Genus Agave)

Lance cleverly uses the word “gambit” to describe the agave’s monocarpic survival strategy, and I love his vocabulary choice. (I’ve recently become enthralled with “The Queen’s Gambit” and young Elizabeth’s ferocious single-mindedness to pursue her chess obsession even though surrounded by uncomprehending, obsession-less people — don’t all childhoods feel this way?) But my specific and very narrow question remained unanswered, so I called local agave grandmasters, Rancho Soledad Nursery near San Diego, Calif., and asked them. Just like that. “I have a quick question about an agave in bloom.” Surprisingly unfazed, the gentleman answering the phone jumped right into discussing possible outcomes. Ultimately he admitted that he wasn’t sure what the agave would do if dug up — shut down or continue with flowering, that either outcome seemed possible.

One of the early candidates for this choice bit of garden real estate was Agave guiengola ‘Moto Sierra’ but I do like the idea of something shrubby and taller
A hybrid going back to the ’90s, Leucospermum linare x glabrum ‘Tango’ image from Pacific Horticulture “Protea; Cultivating a Regal Cut Flower” — the best chance for a wide selection of leucospermum in Southern Calif. is in winter when you can see them in bloom. Roger’s Gardens is where I found ‘Tango.’ Making a selection is tricky, because the flowers are all so spectacular. I liked the leaves and growth habit of ‘Tango,’ which reminds me of an oleander.
See the bloom spike? If the pincushion shrub survives and grows to maturity, this view of the office will be mostly screened from view, which isn’t a bad outcome but some plantings will also be obscured from view

Still undecided about this chess move in my little garden, at the end of the day I was inclining toward getting the pinchushion planted asap. Leucospermum checkmates agave!


And then overnight another possibility arose when late in the day Dustin Gimbel delivered “Euphorbia cooperi” ceramic towers for Mitch, which are temporarily being stored here. I hadn’t thought of growing the leucospermum in front of the grevillea until I saw the space divided by the towers this morning.


The eventual size of the pincushion shrub will take a big bite out of this open area, but wouldn’t it be cool to have both these members of the protea family, the leuceospermum and grevillea, in bloom simultaneously in close proximity? And the agave would be left alone to attend to its monocarpic gambit as planned. I think this is the right move!

These are both big shrubs, and it will be a tight fit, but with some judicious pruning…

To see leucospermum in bloom on the West Coast of Calif. check out UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Also, the Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve near Ojai has extensive plantings. Commercial protea growers, Resendiz Brothers in Fallbrook, occasionally hold events to visit their growing fields or are available by appointment.

N.B. My tag for agaves as “woody lilies” is no longer accurate. Agave has been moved out of the lily family and into the asparagus family, the Asparagaceae…

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, cut flowers, journal | Tagged | 11 Comments

absolute flower shop in Shanghai

It looks like California’s stay-at-home orders might soon be eased a bit, not that I’ll be venturing too far afield just yet. So just when I really need to step into the exotic, the unfamiliar for half a minute, a fascinating approach to florals by the Absolute Flower shop appeared on design blogs like World Architecture and designboom this week, which is where I grabbed these photos. Simultaneously denatured and hypernatured, I couldn’t stop looking at the very sophisticated selection of leaves and flowers, the use of staghorn ferns, bromeliads, driftwood — even branches of ricinus! There’s a very knowing plants person at work at play here. Located in the former French Concession neighborhood of Shanghai. I predict that lots of future travel plans are going to be based on a backlash to the overly familiar, and I won’t be the only one craving to wander in neighborhoods very different from my own…


The owner of the shop is Ms. Jing, who opened it in 2012 — I wish there was more background information available on her!

design boom: “MDO has designed a stylish flower shop in Shanghai that feels more like an art gallery than a retail space.”

ricinus, front row on the right!
World Architecture: “These works explore the boundaries between the natural and the artificial, often presenting the flowers in surreal yet magical displays.”
the sleek “secret garden” in the back of the shop throws down clean lines amid the pressing angles of the city
image via urdesign
Posted in cut flowers, design, inspire me | 6 Comments

swept away

eerie light 1/19/21. The cactus in the large pot was oh so carefully rermoved yesterday to be planted elsewhere (Myrtillocactus geometrizans). Aloe ‘Moonglow’ behind the pot. And the leucadendron is flaunting its first cones!
Aloe ‘Moonglow’ opened to hummingbirds and bees this week
cones on Leucadendron ‘Jester’!

Busy week, weather-wise, democracy-wise. There was a sweet piney scent to the air the morning of the 19th, which meant the wind had shifted and was coming from the east. I smelled it before checking the weather vane, which confirmed it, and instantly knew the Santa Anas were back in town. I’ve never been a fan of fierce winds, but it seemed right in character for Tuesday, that sweeping change was literally in the air.

Instigating the strong winds and wildfires was a wave of low pressure scooting down the Golden State coastline and intensifying offshore. Counterclockwise winds around the area of low pressure channeled cool air southwestward over the crest of the Sierra Nevada, accelerating it downhill with gusts in spots topping hurricane force, or 74 mph. Reinforcing it was high pressure over the Great Basin of Nevada, which provided a pressure gradient — or change of air pressure with distance — that boosted winds blowing from land to sea, or offshore. —

Powerful Santa Ana wind event kindles January wildfires in California

The battering wind smacked doors shut in the house. Instead of my usual Santa Ana wind jitters, the sound of doors slamming was oddly reassuring on Tuesday…

This morning the sky is rich with portents of rain. And a fairly good chance of rain too, according to forecasts.

new plantings would really appreciate some rain, like Grevillea ‘Poorinda Blondie’ and the recently moved Yucca rostrata. Very exciting to find a dozen or so poppies germinating in the gravel around the grevillea. I’d love it if they were the ladybird poppies (P. commutatum) but it’s more likely they are the old standby Papaver setigerum, the dwarf breadseed poppy.

I’ve been tinkering with the new rocky area plantings that went in on Election Day and tightening up associations. Agave geminiflora ‘Leaping Lizards’ was planted yesterday to strengthen the theme of linear and grassy leaves, hoping to avoid the plant rummage sale look (if that’s even possible for me!) I like how the thread-leaf variegated agave and Agave bracteosa ‘Monterrey Frost’ can hold a conversation on the thickness and thinness of leaves, on variegated back lighting, in a similar rosette form.

for me variegation brings the fizzy bubbles to a planting

My eye immediately wants to compare and contrast how the two agaves differ, so there’s a discerning link made with a continuity of shape — but obviously I’m making the effort to find some coherence!


Agave geminiflora was moved to the tall cylindrical pot and brought in close to strengthen associations with other spiky outlines like the two Yucca rostrata. The variegated Carex ‘Feather Falls‘ are meant to echo the variegated squid agaves. At ground level (other than calamint), I’m trying to avoid anything deciduous or winter-dormant — the newly planted and deciduous Euphorbia cotinifolia tree is another exception. Instead of winter-dormant grasses I’m planting restios and carex. But it’s all very young and frustratingly theoretical at the moment!

The no-deciduous plants rule is already broken by a clump of alstroemeria at the lower left of Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ — since it was dormant at the time I forgot it was even there.
Now probably the rarest plant in the garden, caudiciform Calibanus ‘Lotusland’ (naturally occurring cross of beaucarnia and calibanus discovered at Lotusland, where early on it fetched an exorbitant price at auction) — I was terrified of committing it to the garden but ultimately decided to free it from its pot and plant it in the ground. Good thing too because the roots were already vigorously circling the bottom of the pot.
waiting for rain, newly acquired Aloe marlothii tucked in among the Silver Teaspoons kalanchoe, sideritis and leucadendron

I just might be able to get the myrtillocactus in the ground before the rain arrives, but first must find the thickest pair of gloves we own. I don’t know about you, but I find it so invigorating to take even a brief break from doomscrolling that I’m restless to tackle something like these “floral-inspired fossils,” using bits from my own garden.

Have a great weekend!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, climate, design, journal, Occasional Daily Weather Report, succulents | 4 Comments

there’s a lot to love about aloes

multi-branched inflorescence of Aloe dawae ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ January 2021

I doubt I’ll ever be able to get my arms entirely around this name-changing, shape-shifting succulent genus. Its riches of flower and leaf can make winnowing out selections for a small garden woefully dependent on serendipity — on what’s available locally, what was last seen in bloom, which aloe was last extolled in a book or article you read or botanical garden visited. Forget about approaching this genus systematically. With a genus so vast in size, habit, color, season of bloom, it’s kind of liberating to know that any choice you make will be based on whatever information you had available at the moment and will always be subject to constant reappraisal. Be warned, this is a very intoxicating group of plants from select geographic areas of the globe like South Africa and Madagascar.

winter-blooming Aloe cameronii
summer-blooming hybrid ‘Cynthia Giddy’ on the right in a mixed planting
winter-blooming Aloe ferox
Aloe camperi, May at the Huntington
mixed aloe planting at the Taft garden, March, Ojai, California
one of the many small hybrids available
in bloom here in February, Aloe conifera
in bloom here in November, Aloe scobinifolia
Aloe polyphylla, the spiral aloe, in my garden 2010
P1010046 (1)
spiral aloe, Sherman Gardens, Corona del Mar, Calif.

Probably because of my enthusiasm for agaves, some of the first aloes I grew were selected based on their leaves, like the impossible-to-make-happy spiral aloe. But when the door on the aloe kingdom gets cracked open, even a casual grower soon becomes snared and then spoiled by choice; the spotted aloes, the stemless aloes, the shrubby aloes, the tree aloes, the hybrids grown for flowers, the hybrids grown for bizarro foliar effects, the solitary types, the clumpers.

the Quiver Tree, Aloidendron dichotomum, at the Huntington
mass planting of tree aloe, Aloidendron’Hercules’ with barrel cactus, Palm Springs, Calif.
Aloidendron ‘Hercules’ at the Huntington
Aloidendron ‘Goliath’
Aloes in bloom in February in Long Beach, California
Aloe rubroviolacea, January at the Huntington
possible arborescens hybrid, January at the Huntington

Armed with a good reference book like Jeff Moore’s Aloes & Agaves In Cultivation, it’s possible to dial in preferences based on size, flower style and season of bloom, e.g., winter-blooming, non-clumping, small rosettes with multibranched flowers. The Institute For Aloe Studies is another good source of information, as is San Marcos Growers. For seeing aloes in person, in Los Angeles it’s the Huntington, the LA Arboretum, and not too far north near Santa Barbara, Aloes in Wonderland — tickets need to be purchased in advance for all three online.

Aloe erinacea at the Huntington

Mid-winter in Southern California is as good a time as any to deepen an acquaintance with this seductive genus.

Posted in succulents | 6 Comments

Bloom Day January 2021

I may miss these reports throughout the year, but no way I’m going to skip the inaugural Bloom Day of 2021!

Lachenalia aloides var. quadricolor from the Winter Wonder Bulbs selection of “Huntington Bundles” came with a flower bud!
blooms on Echeveria agavoides
my old standby winter-blooming Pelargonium echinatum
Acacia podalyrifolia has been engulfed in bloom for well over a month and still stops sidewalk foot traffic
Potted up in December, it’s been much easier to keep calendula happy in winter than cosmos in summer, as in no trouble at all. Pure joy. I need to make this a winter habit. Nice long cuttable stems on ‘Touch of Red’ too.
I heard/read a rumor that Helichrysum bracteatum wouldn’t mind growing through a zone 10 winter, and that has indeed been borne out as I watched these strawflowers make size instead of hunkering down and waiting for spring. Unsure whether this would be true in a rainier winter — we’ve been very dry so far. (aka Xerochrysum bracteatum)
Fuchsia ‘Firecracker’ is stirring into bloom with the cooler winter temps (as is an abutilon I neglected to photograph)
The plan to termite-tent the house was shelved, so the vine clambering up the side of the office/garage, Senecio confusus, got a reprieve. I’m pretty sure the roots have escaped the pot and infiltrated through the dry-laid brick.
Aloe ‘Tangerine’ still tightly in bud as are other aloes not included this Bloom Day
Also still tightly in bud is the over 10-foot tall flower spike on Agave pygmaea ‘Dragon Toes’ — uncertain whether flowers will be open in February or whether this very unpygmy-like spike soars even further skyward…

If you’re looking for something to stream to get through this next week, I just finished and can recommend Pretend It’s A City — possibly because I’m a native, suburb-bred Angelino, I’ve always been a big city girl in spirit, which is why I found Martin Scorsese’s conversations with Fran Lebovitz so enjoyable as they rambled around New York. No one does contrarian/curmudgeon like Fran, our modern-day Oscar Wilde in jeans. And who knew anyone could talk faster than Scorsese?! Hoping you have a fabulous weekend…

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, Bloom Day, Bulbs, pots and containers, succulents | 3 Comments