Occasional Daily Weather Report 2/11/16

While it seems everyone else is diligently topping off their water table with generous rainfall and/or snowfall, there’s no use denying it’s already chair cushion season here.
Los Angeles in February decided to go high 80s, tipping into the 90s. It feels like a Peanuts/Charles Schultz setup, with Charlie Brown (me) trusting Lucy (weather people) not to pull the football (El Nino) away again as he winds up for a mighty kick of faith, only to fall on his ass for the umpteenth time. But it’s hard to be grumpy about the lack of rainfall when it’s so gosh-darn beautiful outside. When the drought-driven apocalypse comes to Southern California, we will all be wearing flip-flops and T-shirts and sipping the latest artisinal cocktail. Like the last days of Pompeii, we won’t know what hit us.

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Aloe ‘Safari Sunrise’

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Aloe conifera

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Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’

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Euphorbia atropurpurea

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Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’

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Glaucium grandiflorum

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Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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Helleborus argutifolius

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Bocconia frutescens

N.B. This seems like such a sensible idea. Maybe it’s been around for a while and I just haven’t noticed.
It goes like this: We get the special-order plants we want while avoiding the heavy shipping costs that mail order often entails, sometimes costing more than the plants themselves.
I just noticed that Monrovia is accepting online orders of their plants, which are delivered to a nursery near you for pickup.
However, since I haven’t tried it out yet, I’m not sure if there is a handling charge involved.
Now, if other wholesale growers like San Marcos Growers, Annie’s Annuals, and Native Sons jumped on this train, my plant budget would grow by leaps and bounds.

N.B.B. For spring plant orders, Chanticleer’s gravel garden plant list 2015.

growing a planet

Have you noticed how plants really seem to be having their moment on design blogs? Seems like there’s not a photoshoot now without a potted plant lurking somewhere in the frame.
Well, plants are getting their due from mainstream science, too, as the carbon dioxide-chugging, oxygen-giving cornerstone of life on earth.
In between binge-watching reruns of The West Wing, (which I never saw in its first run — btw, a great antidote to today’s poisonous political climate), a Scottish BBC documentary we really liked is “How To Grow a Planet.” Geologist Iain Stewart rapels down sheer cliff faces to show us fossil evidence of one of the earliest forests, visits a nameless California garden filled with cycads (Lotusland? The Huntington?), explains why the oceans didn’t stay purple, how angiosperms outcompeted gymnosperms, and offers scientific evidence in stunning locales as to why plants are the foundation and salvation of the planet. All wrapped up in a voice reminiscent of a cheerfully brilliant, outdoorsy Simon Pegg.

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An enormous shaft of sunlight plunges into the cave like a waterfall. The hole in the ceiling through which the light cascades is unbelievably large, at least 300 feet across. The light, penetrating deep into the cave, reveals for the first time the mind-blowing proportions of Hang Son Doong. The passage is perhaps 300 feet wide, the ceiling nearly 800 feet tall: room enough for an entire New York City block of 40-story buildings. There are actually wispy clouds up near the ceiling.” – “Vietnam Cave,” National Geographic

The documentary opens with a visit to Hang Sơn Đoòng cave in Viet Nam. Just discovered in 1991, it is the largest cave in the world. What especially excites Stewart is the rain forest that sprang up from the cave floor when light pierced through following a ceiling collapse. Trekking through darkness to come upon a blinding explosion of light and life is the visual metaphor for Stewart’s three-part documentary on the primacy of plants, which has to be one of the greatest stories never told. As a geologist, Dr. Stewart admits he always thought it was all about tectonic plates and rocks. Part of the show’s appeal is his enthusiastic conversion to a deeper appreciation of the central role of plants. Trust me, you’ll never look at a potted plant in the same way again.

the junk I keep

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I’m starting to see my old friend, the pipestand, in decidedly more upscale places than the louche environs of my backyard. (e.g. West Elm here)

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I still find a pipestand endlessly useful for framing pots and hanging essential stuff that has temporarily lost its purpose.
A girl’s gotta have a place to hang her tractor lights, right?

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It’s like having a dusty barn full of block and tackle, chains, come-alongs, all manner of potentially useful stuff…without the barn or the spiderwebs.

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The only rule for inclusion is that the object be of a simple, basic shape. These make the best shadows.
The shadows all this junk casts are a big part of the attraction. I wish I had a photograph to demonstrate but I don’t.
Some days the shadows can remind me of the work of Olivia Parker.

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These tongs we found at a flea market in Oregon seem to be the only permanent member of the piperack, which changes up frequently.
They are simply the most expressive tongs I have ever seen. Almost insect-like.

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And the pipestand holds assorted eye hooks and S hooks for hanging planters that I’d never be able to find in Marty’s garage when I need them.

I mean those tractor lights could come in handy some day as … well, I have no idea at the moment.
But if I move them into deep storage, there’s not much chance that I’ll ever figure it out, is there?

Just a testimonial to the humble pipestand. It’s on my mind this time of year as I contemplate building shelving for — what else? — a few more plants.

Thursday clippings 2/4/16 (love letters to trees)

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Not my street. Our parkways are a hodge-podge of palms and jacarandas, magnolias, overgrown oleanders and scheffleras.

The City recently sent out crews to work on our street trees, and the snarl of power tools and episodic rise and fall of cherry picker machines in the sky like so many feeding brontosauri was a fact of life for a few weeks. No tree was overlooked, and they tackled palms 10-stories high, finishing right before the much-anticipated rainfall event last Sunday, which to me seemed like a non-event. One-quarter inch of rain? Seriously? The real story was the wind. No prediction for wind was given, no warning to secure top-heavy pots. Blackouts dotted the power grid across LA County, as winds up to 60 mph roared down the streets, veering tightly down narrow patios to upend pots and generally cause windy havoc. High winds are my least favorite weather event, but Marty always greets them with a cheery sailor’s welcome and becomes energized by their arrival, so there was nothing for me to do but make soup and wait them out. And pick up the breakage, pots and plants, on Monday. But our street trees were ready this time, by Jove, so the timing there was serendipitous. After a wind event like that, our street is usually littered with branches, but not this time. And there will be much less jacaranda litter on the agaves in the front garden this year. Huzzah!

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This is the one I was really worried about Sunday night. Though this pot may have that battered look that comes from toppling in high wind, its weight outmatched the wind, so it was untouched. I actually bought it in that decrepit state from an everything-must-go sale at the old Hotel Figueroa, where it was esconced on a pillar near the pool. The Euphorbia canariensis was too nice to pass up. After the winds abated, I did move it to a more sheltered position against the east fence. Each move brings off more paint and stucco, and a couple more will cause total disintegration

Speaking of the snarl (and bite) of power tools, we’ve gained new appreciation for their indifference to cutting wood for attic beams or the tip off an index finger. It’s all the same to power tools. Marty has been healing up the past couple weeks and was busy yesterday stablizing one of the Monterey cypresses that developed an alarming list after those ferocious winds on Sunday. And I now realize that I missed out on a successful career as an ambulance driver. The overwhelming mood around here the past week is thankfulness that it wasn’t much worse.

And since those fierce winds on Sunday, watching the trees bend and sway and emerge victorious, we’ve also gained new-found appreciation for our trees.
I love the idea behind this piece in The Atlantic’s CityLab “When You Give A Tree An Email Address.”

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If I sent my trees love letters, a valentine to my Fernleaf Acacia just coming into bloom would look something like this:

Dear young Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea':
I didn’t think your beauty could be improved upon, but now that you’re adding this subtle wash of yellow to those blue and purple tints, I see I was wrong. Superb!
P.S. Sorry about all that wind. I must say you’ve shown incredible resilience!

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Jacaranda flowers and Agave geminiflora, May 2013

notes on spring planting

Though it may not be readily apparent, there really is something positive to say about the garden in January. I’ve been cutting back the grasses, and even allowing for the dozens of poppy seedlings that are emerging and staking a claim on spring, there’s still an impressive amount of vacant planting space opening up. All of which adds zest to a favorite wintertime game, a game played by a mortal pretending to be a god: What do I want spring through fall to look like in my little garden in 2016? In all honesty, a lot of it will look like a dead ringer for 2015, but January is when optimism for the new gardening year is at its zenith and anything feels possible. Astonishing, never-before-seen visions of extraordinary plant beauty are surely to come.

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Like the Catalina Silverlace, Constancea nevinii, seen recently at the Theodore Payne Nursery.

Like envisioning a delicious meal, I daydream in textures, aromas, flavors sweet and sharp. For those few planting places opening up, will it be smooth or crunchy? I have lots of smooth succulents, so let’s find something crunchy, shrubby. It can’t be anything too rich and water dependent, so no traditional, overbred, cordon bleu garden plants. And I’d like something whose flavor won’t overwhelm the rest of this mulligan’s stew, which is heavy on variegated plants and spicy agaves. What’s needed is something in a quietly textural, supporting role. Maybe something in herbs? Isn’t winter savory an attractive little shrub, or is that summer savory? Maybe dracocephalum? Or lavender again, but it’s always iffy in this clay, and I just don’t want to play those odds this year. Plus I want something that billows, smallish in stature. Nepeta has been disappointing, even the much-lauded ‘Walker’s Low.’ What about calamints? Resource lean, aromatic, shrubby. I’ve grown a few kinds before but eventually backed away from their wildly prolific reseeding tendencies. Maybe there’s something new in calamints I haven’t tried?

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Eriogonum crocatum

Some light research turns up Calamintha nepeta ‘Montrose White,’ a calamint discoverd by Nancy Godwin at her Montrose Nursery. Long-blooming, doesn’t reseed, a summer-long feast for pollinators. It’s even won top honors as Perennial of the Year in 2010. Okay, then, calamint it is. Digging Dog Nursery in Albion, California, carries it, along with an intriguing perovskia called ‘Lacey Blue,’ a dwarf form of Russian Sage. With plants like these, summer 2016 can turn up the heat all it wants. We’ll be ready.

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Aristida purpurea

An order to Digging Dog is dispatched, and that settles that. But what else? Wasn’t there an eriogonum I’ve been itching to grow? I have plant notes around here somewhere. Yes, there it is, a smallish native buckwheat with silver leaves and chartreuse flowers, tolerates clay. Eriogonum crocatum! I think I can squeeze in maybe two. Now, who carries it? Why, Theodore Payne does, a mere hour’s drive to Sun Valley, just past Glendale. So be it. (And what should be playing on the radio the whole trip, there and back, but a tribute to David Bowie. I jump in the car, turn on KCRW, and there’s the thumping bass of Panic in Detroit. An auspicious beginning for any road trip.)

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At the entrance to the nursery is an impressive stand of our native Agave shawii

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See that slender, bright green column behind the pots?

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Catalina Ironwood in a ceramic container. Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius.
I stared at this tree long enough that a nursery person approached to warn me not to try this at home.
She explained this was basically tree abuse that they practiced to obtain cuttings for the nursery.
Trees in containers always seem like such a good idea in January, long before they become a miserable chore in July.

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So I wandered the grounds near the nursery. With just an hour before closing, there wasn’t time to explore the canyon (22 acres!)

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Arctostaphylos cruzensis

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Pinus sabiniana, Grey Pine, Foothill Pine, Ghost Pine (lovely pine!)

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I was recently cleaning up this grass in my garden, Aristida purpurea, and inadvertently pulled up the whole clump.

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Not a regimented, upright grass but ethereal, wispy to the point of disorganized. There are more purple tones than the photos show.

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Dudleya densiflora

Riding in the back, serenaded by Bowie all the way home, were two Eriogonum crocatum and a Catalina Silverlace, Constancea nevinii.
2016 is really starting to take shape.

concrete containers by Dustin Gimbel

Dustin’s Facebook feed is showing lots of new work, and I just had to pop over to see what he’s been up to, even if it was almost too late in the afternoon for photos.

Invariably, whenever I post on Dustin, I get inquiries about his work, running the gamut from private individuals to public garden directors.
If there’s any questions, you can contact him at:

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If I understood correctly, the concrete is a special formulation with some kind of fibers that allows him to play with a range of shapes.

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Not made by Dustin but in keeping with the theme.

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Of course I had to check out his plants too, because there’s always something new.
For example, a client didn’t like this variegated Italian Buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), so Dustin brought it home.
Thank goodness he has lots of other creative outlets to balance out the occasional disagreeable client.

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The always envy-inducing variegated ponytail palm

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The hulk of the cherimoya tree, painted a cheery yellow, now supports a hanging garden of rhipsalis, tillandsias, bromeliads.
When the tree was alive, it rained down vast amounts of messy, fly-attractiing fruit. In its afterlife it’s become one of my favorite things in his garden.

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The fading light reflecting off the pond.

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I love how Dustin teams up extravagantly beautiful plants with containers made of simple geometric shapes.
The plain geometry of the containers is a wonderful counterpoint to the complex, exuberant geometry of plants.

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Wednesday clippings 1/6/16

One storm down, five more or so to go. For the first time in a long while, the air smells incredibly fresh.

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January is always the perfect time for the shocking pink blooms on Pelargonium echinatum to arrive.

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A “Sundiascia” I planted in early December, found at Sunset Boulevard Nursery. I expected it to immediately stop blooming, as most things planted out in December do.
Dating myself now, but I remember in the 1980s traveling eight hours up the coast to Western Hills to check out their new diascias, euphorbias, salvias, anything and everything.
And doing that at least twice a year. And now diascia hybrids are sold everywhere in the bedding sections of nurseries.
(Speaking of Western Hills, they are beginning garden docent training January 28th. It is a six-week training on Thursdays, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Call (707) 872-5463 or email Stacie at to sign up

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Rainy day Agave ‘Blue Glow’

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First blooms on Acacia podalyrifolia. With the air sweetened by rain and now this fragrant acacia in bloom, the front garden is a little slice of heaven.
After it’s finished blooming, it will be cut back hard. Lots of complaints about its encroachment on the driveway.

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Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ enjoying a good soaking.

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Linking up with Flutter & Hum’s icy Wednesday vignette.

blogger meetup at the Huntington

I should have talked less and picked up the camera more at the meetup this past Saturday at the Huntington Botanical Garden, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun as our nonstop gabfest. The occasion for the meetup was Gerhard (Succulents & More) visiting Los Angeles at the end of a week-long winter sabbatical — a plant-centric sabbatical, of course, which he will be blogging about forthwith. Gail (Piece of Eden), Gail’s husband Alan, Luisa (Crow & Raven), and I were the Southern California welcoming committee.

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Also part of Gerhard’s welcoming committee were the winter-blooming aloes.

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With so many aloes in bloom, the desert garden absorbed all our time and attention.

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Aloe sinkatana

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Aloe rubroviolacea

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We’re all pretty fond of agaves too.

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And hechtias.

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In fact, there’s very little about the desert garden that we’re not all crazy in love with.
I hope Luisa does a post on her beloved opuntias. Alan admirably fulfilled documentary duties.

The desert garden is always jaw-droppingly amazing, but this time I wish I had more photos to substantiate my enthusiasm for the plantings in the new entrance garden. I grabbed a couple photos as I left in the early afternoon, which just hint at the large swathes of the landscape made predominantly of muhly grasses interspersed with kniphofia and aloes. The grasses carry the scene nearly year-round and are especially stunning fall and winter, at their shimmering best in the low angled light. The Huntington’s own hybrid Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ is in bloom now, and then the torch will be handed over to Aloe ‘David Verity.’ Very minimalist but strategically smart succession planting on a waterwise budget, with washes of blue supplied by the mallee shrub Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ The grasses are Muhlenbergia dubia, Muhlenbergia rigens, and Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails.’ There was also a small massed planting of Hesperaloe ‘Brakelights,’ and lots of other things like verbascum and glaucium, but the overall mood of the landscape is governed by swaying, glittering sweeps of grass.

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More like a quick watercolor sketch than a photo, but the general idea is conveyed.
The blue wash is from Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon.’ Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ is in bloom, like little signal fires dotted amongst the grasses.
After the kniphofia fires die down, Aloe ‘David Verity’ will light up the Muhlenbergia dubia. Really smart, gorgeously simple planting.

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Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ is a hybrid of Kniphofia rooperi that emerged from the Huntington in the 1970s.
From San Marcos Growers website:
John MacGregor, long-time horticulturist at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, noted that this plant is one of the best winter hummingbird plants he knew of for mild climates.”

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The new entrance garden warrants another, much more comprehensive visit.
And without my blogger friends, there’ll be less talk and more photos. But not nearly as much fun.

it’s oh so quiet

The house has emptied out, and I can’t help thinking how oh so quiet it’s become after the holidays.
Yes, I do have a tendency to privately editorialize on circumstances using song titles.
(I thought Bjork wrote the song, but I see now it’s a cover from 1951 by American singer Betty Hutton, written by an Austrian composer and a German lyricist. What an international effort!)
Now’s probably a good time, before 2015 ends, to thank another international effort, Wikipedia, a resource I use constantly.
It feels so good to contribute (in my case, cash, not knowledge) and thereby become a small part of this endlessly enriching project.
It’s as though the library at Alexandria is being rebuilt again, stone by stone, entry by entry. Without papyrus this time.

Taking my crazy musings out of a quiet house into the garden this morning…

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I am shocked at how lush Lotus jacobaeus becomes with cold weather. Cold weather makes me feel puckered and dry, not at all lush.
(I wrote about this lotus previously here, quoting liberally again from, you know it, Wikipedia.)
Behind the lotus, the Mexican Grass Tree (Dasylirion longissimum) seems to have survived being uprooted from the front garden for life in a container, away from all that jacaranda debris.

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On the other side of the dasylirion, buds of Aloe ‘Safari Sunrise’ are coloring up.

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Coloring up faster than the buds on Aloe cameronii. Little Aloe conifera on the left has a bud too.

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A nice, quiet lull…until the New Year celebrations, which our neighborhood takes very seriously. Ba-boom! I hope you’re enjoying the holidays.

Wallaby, the Nursery Dog

When I last visited Austalian Native Plants Nursery this past June, I had the good fortune of meeting this little one:

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Jo O’Connell, the owner of ANPN, is devoted to the Blue Heeler breed, which originated out of her homeland Australia. I’ve only encountered this breed twice, coincidentally both times at plant nurseries, and was immediately impressed with their charm and intelligence. Like my corgi, the Blue Heelers were bred to herd cattle, so I have a natural sympathy for this breed’s work ethic and single-mindedness.
Jo was over-the-moon excited the day of my visit about her brand-new puppy.

I was shocked to learn that young Wallaby went missing over the Christmas holiday. Thankfully, she’s been found but has sustained serious injuries.

In Jo’s words:

Dear Friends of Australian Native Plants Nursery,

My beloved Australian Cattle Dog pup, Wallaby, was hit by car on Christmas Day. She is my “nursery greeter,” loved by everyone who visits the Nursery.

After being taken to the Ojai Humane Society and then to a vet in Thousand Oaks, she is now at Ventura Surgery Center in critical care. We thought we had lost her, but she is breathing independently now and the vet says she could make a full recovery.

She has a fractured pelvis, fractured hip, broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Despite being in obvious pain, she was visibly relieved and happy to see me when I visited her this morning and evening.

Wallaby is a strong young dog so she will pull through. But the vet’s bills are racking up and are going to be over $12 thousand (US).

My good friends have made a GoFundMe page to help with expenses.
We would so grateful if you were able to 1) donate to Wallaby’s recovery and 2) share the fundraising campaign with your contacts.

Please click on any of the pictures of Wallaby to donate and for more information.

Thank you so much,


You can go here to help get this little nursery dog back up on her paws and greeting customers again at Australian Native Plants Nursery.