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Friday clippings 8/22/14


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At first sight I became enthralled by artist James Griffith’s exquisite, painterly ripostes to the “drill, baby, drill” set — my words, not his. James is much more polite.
By way of a secret alchemy, he utilizes that precious resource from our local La Brea Tar Pits in a uniquely subversive fashion, to cover canvases with delicate, etching-like portraits of species that don’t get a say in our energy politics, such as the humble and familiar crow, bat, mouse, and deer. His work reminds that all species are stuck in this moment together. I love my little tar bat that was last year’s Christmas present.

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James has a new show beginning September 6, 2014, at the Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station, where you can see the latest members of his tar pit menagerie.

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James is also co-creator with garden designer Sue Dadd of the Folly Bowl, their own personal outdoor amphitheater in which they host a summer-long series of concerts. This coming Saturday’s concert, August 23rd, is described on their Facebook page for The Folly Bowl. If you go, keep an eye out for one of the biggest Agave franzosinii south of the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

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Drawing from the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Plants at Harvard. Collection manager Jenny Brown and glass artist Christian Thornton will be two of the lecturers at Natural Discourse this October 18, 2014.

Another date to save: On October 18, 2014, impresario, artist, and garden designer Shirley Watts, is bringing Natural Discourse: Light & Image to the Los Angeles County Arboretum, which promises to be another amazing day of riveting lectures, this time here in our very own backyard. Shirley assembles together for one day the equivalent of a botanical salon filled with some of the most interesting speakers I’ve been privileged to hear. I wrote about them here and here and here — you can do a blog search for other posts too. Richard Turner, former editor of Pacific Horticulture, had this to say of earlier iterations of Natural Discourse:

The first symposia, held at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, were among the very best days I’ve ever spent sitting and listening to others speak.

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The Ruth Bancroft Garden by Marion Brenner, who will be one of the lecturers at Natural Discourse October 18th, 2014, at Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

Garden bloggers in particular won’t want to miss a single pearl of wisdom that falls from legendary landscape photographer Marion Brenner’s lips at this upcoming Natural Discourse: Light & Image.

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Sansevieria ‘Black Gold’ at California Greenhouses

If anyone is tempted to visit the Orange County nurseries I mentioned here, I hope I caught you before you made the trip. You must add to your itinerary California Greenhouses.
Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of Potted, recommended this one to me, and I checked it out earlier this week. It is worth the trip alone.

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Some nurseries, like sports teams, have a “deep bench,” and California Nurseries has one of the deepest around.
Succulents in all sizes, from enormous dragon trees, tree aloes, and Yucca rostrata, to table after table of all the wee ones we love to stuff in pots, and at nearly wholesale prices.
Fantastic section of houseplants too.

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California Greenhouses currently has a couple enormous Aloe capitata var. quartzicola for sale, at least 3-gallon size if not 5.
More than double the size of this Aloe capitata var. quartzicola, photo taken in my garden this June.

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Department of Corrections: This is one of the so-called shrub begonias ‘Paul Hernandez,’ and it’s managed to thrive despite my having the blackest thumb a begonia enthusiast can have. I wish Freud had wondered instead what a begonia wants, because I sure as heck don’t know. I’ve made some comments that reference this gunnera-sized begonia as ‘Gene Daniels,’ so I need to correct that. I don’t think I’ve ever grown ‘Gene Daniels,’ but two begonias named after guys — you can see how I made the mistake. Checking the blog, I see that ‘Paul Hernandez’ dates back to 2011 in my garden, the only begonia I’ve grown with that kind of longevity, so we need to keep his identity straight. Good plants need to be rewarded; the next big pot I buy is going to be for Paul. Judging by the mottled color, I think Paul looks a little hungry. Maybe some fish emulsion?

I’ll close with my favorite quote of the week: “‘At the end of the day,’ Dr. Richard wrote in his diary this summer, ‘the plants are still in need of a drink, and so are we.’”

At least I have that in common with the energetic couple restoring a 250-year-old house in southwest France. There were a couple more epigrammatic, Wilde-worthy quotes in The New York Times article and luscious slideshow, “A Blank Slate With Fig Trees,” including success with houseguests requires “to never see them over breakfast.”

Happy weekend!


yucca in bloom


What’s most likely a Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville,’ is throwing its first bloom.
And here I was just telling the Outlaw Gardener that this yucca seems to have decided it’s not the blooming type.
Its ears must have been burning because within a couple weeks this spike showed up. I need to trash talk my plants more often.
That brings this year’s offbeat bloom tally to 1) Dasylirion wheeleri 2) Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ 3) Agave parryi.
Among the three, the dasylirion will live on, the other two expiring from the dreaded monocarpism (blooms once then dies).
While the yucca seizes the day and blooms, it’s carpe mortem for the agave and mangave.

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checking out the nurseries in August

It might seem kind of pointless to check out the local nurseries in the dog days of August. A lot of the inventory can look frazzled, but roaming the mostly customer-less aisles in August, armed with sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and smart phone for reference, is the perfect time to discover the true survivors. What shrubs are still managing to look respectable in gallon cans? (Westringia, adenanthos, ozothamnus, leucospermums are a few.) What stalwarts have I overlooked? Did anyone buy that Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ I’ve had my eye on? What’s on offer in the “color” section in August? Will Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit,’ the new seed strain, be durable or a meltaway type? August is where the rubber meets the steaming road, where all the buzz and fanfare evaporates under a punishing sun. That any inventory can still look at all presentable I find astonishing. Since these kind of retail nurseries oftentimes don’t sell plants until they are in bloom, many times it’s the only opportunity to grab August-blooming plants locally, even if it’s not the friendliest month for planting. Other than the California chain of Armstrong Nurseries, with one of their stores just a couple miles from me, most of the nurseries I check on frequently are independents. None of the nurseries on my circuit are boutique, rare plant nurseries, which don’t exist in Los Angeles, but a lot of their stock comes from solid growers like Native Sons, San Marcos Growers, Monterey Bay, Monrovia. (Northern California’s Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is available at Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach, Brita’s Old Town Gardens in Seal Beach, International Garden Center near LAX, and Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena.) Other than Roger’s Gardens, none are “destination” nurseries. Yet it always surprises me how each nursery’s unique choices from the same pool of growers sets their inventory apart from other local retail nurseries. If you visit often (and I do!), a specific taste can be discerned even in the chain nurseries. Some may subtly favor edibles or succulents or native plants, while others may have strong selections of South African and Australian plants. So I really do have to visit them all.

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For example, Crocosmia ‘Solfatare’ was recently available only at H&H Nursery on Lakewood Boulevard near the 91 Freeway, right under the power line towers. I once had a huge clump of this crocosmia in the front garden, before Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ moved into its place. It’s always described as one of the slowest-growing crocosmias, but it seemed to multiply at good clip from what I remember. The leaves strike me as more a dull olive green than bronzish, as it’s often described. The flower color is a galvanizing egg-yolk gold.

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Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Gold,’ was available at just two nurseries, Village Nurseries in Orange and their next-door neighbor Upland Nursery.
This is a great new gerbera strain, a long-blooming cross with some sturdy alpine species, and the first time I’ve seen it offered in this color.

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The pink form, ‘Drakensberg Carmine’ was an outstanding plant a couple years ago, that was almost too much of a good thing in that color. For me, anyway.

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Phygelius in the Portland garden of Bella Madrona got me pining for phygelius again. This one may possibly be ‘Salmon Leap’ or ‘Devil’s Tears.’
I have no memory of phygelius growing in this splendidly upright posture, always being somewhat of a sprawler in my garden, but this vision was enough to spur me to give ‘Diablo’ a try.

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I found ‘Diablo’ at the local Armstong, just this one gallon available. Phygelius is another plant I grew years ago, usually in its chartreuse forms like ‘Moonraker.’

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I recently extended my nursery hopping down into Orange County, where I found this small size of Agave franzosinii, just one available. Cindy McNatt at Dirt du Jour blogged that a beloved nursery, Laguna Hills Nursery, had found a new home on Tustin in the city of Orange. They had just opened and were getting settled in, but were extremely welcoming and friendly. Rare fruit trees and edibles look to be their specialty, but someone stocked this agave that’s rarely found for sale, which I think counts as a good omen. This is an enormous agave when mature, so I’ll keep it in a pot as long as possible to contain its ultimate size.

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Snow on the Mountain tucked in by the little water garden. The Sagittaria lancifolia ‘Ruminoides’ was found at the International Garden Center.

There were a couple other nurseries on that same street, Tustin, so I made an afternoon of nursery hopping in the OC, and each one had something unique to offer. At M&M Nursery, “home of the original fairy garden experts since 2001,” (who knew?) I found the annual Euphorbia marginata amongst a very good selection of out-of-the-ordinary annuals. At Village Nurseries, as mentioned above, I found the ‘Drakensberg Gold’ gerbera as well as ‘Storm Cloud’ agapanthus. Upland Nursery was literally next-door to Village, so even though the heat was way past oppressive by mid-afternoon, I stopped in at Upland before swinging home. They specialize in plumeria, which sounded interesting though not really up my alley, but I was up for a quick first-time visit.

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Variegated Swiss Cheese Plant, Monstera deliciosa, seen in an LA garden last May.

I ended up walking Upland’s entire long and narrow length, investigating each of its specialty rooms off the main path, because it became quickly apparent that Upland had some surprises up its sleeve, like the variegated swiss cheese plant tucked into a corner, the first I’ve ever seen offered locally, or an agave I’d neither heard of nor seen before, like Agave ellemetiana.
Upland is the first local nursery I’ve found to carry Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon.’

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Fatsia ‘Spider Web,’ still unavailable in Southern California.

Upland was just an extraordinary place, with a personal, mom-and-pop atmosphere, where you’d bump into such amazing sights as grevilleas grown on standard. I searched it thoroughly, because I half expected to find the ‘Spider Web’ fatsia lurking in a shady corner. There was lush hanging rhipsalis and big, mature display plants to give an idea of what the little 2-inch succulents would grow into. The entire back section was devoted to Japanese maples. I asked the owner about the possibility of getting the monstera in a smaller, more affordable size, and she said spring would be the time to check back. When I asked if there was a drinking fountain, she reached into her fridge and handed me a bottle of water. With that gesture, they made a customer for life.

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Seeing a huge display pot of Senecio haworthii at Upland Nursery sealed the deal on a succulent I’ve passed over many times.

Up in Pasadena, at Lincoln Avenue Nursery, a big, lusty Agave ‘Mateo’ had me checking the label for its identity. At a mature size, it looked nothing like my wispy-leaved ‘Mateo.’ The venerable Burkhard’s just around the corner continues its mysterious decline, with the plants in a sad neglected state, but wouldn’t you know they had the variegated vilmoriniana agave I’ve been coveting, $60 for a big specimen. Not a bad price, especially at Burkhard’s, but I passed. The nursery is a shambles but still worth a prowl. Poorly maintained plants sold at exorbitant prices is the perplexing current state of affairs, but even so there’s many gems you just can’t find anywhere else. Also somewhat of a surprise recently is finding Sunset’s line of plants, like the new ‘Amistad’ salvia, astelias, dianellas, carex, digiplexis, and the ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia, at Home Depot. International Garden Center, Village and H&H have the most extensive grounds and probably the most sophisticated inventory, and each could easily swallow an hour’s time. IGC is the place to find water plants, and their succulent selection is one of the best. At IGC plant stock past its prime isn’t thrown out but moved to a row way in the back, where it can be had for cheap. Many times unsold stock is potted on to larger sizes, such as the currently available Echium simplex. I also check in with the exceptional Marina del Rey Garden Center when I work out that way and have noticed their increasingly fine selection of bromeliads and unusual edible plants.

And that’s the August nursery report. They may not have the rarefied atmosphere of botanical gardens, but retail nurseries are the places to experience where culture, commerce, and plants collide.


Bloom Day August 2014


August? Come in, August. Ground control to August?

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August: Um, we’re in a bit of a holding pattern here. Over.

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Repetition seems to be a hallmark of my summer Bloom Day posts. It’s been the usual suspects all summer. Still, I can’t say enough nice things about Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’
The agastaches are over and showed a lot more water stress than I expected, while this gomphrena sailed through heat and dry soil beautifully.
Perennial here in zone 10 but most likely one of the “short-lived” kind, which could mean anything from one year to two years to five. Reseeds.

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With samphire, the umbellifer Crithmum maritimum.
This plant is going into my A Growing Obsession surefire collection of zone 10, drop-dead gorgeous, pollinator-beloved plants sponsored by….daydream fades to black.

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Gaura planted in pots a couple months ago is just starting to bloom. Wind-driven plants are so entertaining.

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Some August triage. Agastache were cut back, a tattered digiplexis moved elsewhere, and a potted Agave geminiflora moved in.
The lemon grass in the background has been a nice surprise this summer. Rudbeckia triloba leans in.

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More triage. A few of the annual Euphorbia marginata, Snow On The Mountain, were picked up at M&M Nursery in Orange.

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Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons’ is unstoppable.

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As are the marigolds. Tagetes ‘Cinnabar’

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Mina lobata nearly faints in full sun but so far recovers by evening

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The kangaroo paws are sending a second, shorter flush of blooms

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Seseli gummiferum…maybe there’ll be blooms next year on the Moon Carrot. With a name like that, I’m staying the course until I see some blooms.
And with those pewter-colored, lacy leaves, waiting isn’t a hardship.

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Also for next summer, there will be agapanthus. Yes, they’re common as dirt here, but has anyone tried them with grasses, agaves, etc? No, I think not.
It’s not a plant’s fault when its amiable nature is abused and taken for granted in strip mall monocultures. This is the stripey-leaved ‘Gold Strike.’

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And one of the darkest I could find locally, ‘Storm Cloud’

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Rare sighting of MB Maher in the garden, home for a couple days.
Maybe he’ll bestir himself and get over to his neighborhood San Francisco Botanical Garden for some AGO photos one of these days. (No pressure, hon!)

To see some spectacular August gardens full of seasonal variety and not at all stuck in a holding pattern, you’ll have to visit the Bloom Day host site May Dreams Gardens.


A Visual Compendium of Succulents

This chart has been making the rounds on Pinterest. I’m not too sure of it’s infallibility as a reference since Sedum morganianum, the Burrito/Donkey Tail is listed as Sedum burrito.


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Sedum morganianum famously deployed as jellyfish at Lotusland.

A Visual Compendium of Succulents

But it is handy for charting the march of succulents through my garden.
Let’s see. Lost the Cotyledon orbiculata last week, brought home Senecio haworthii just a couple days ago…


chart found here.

meeting plants in person for the first time

By now you’re probably wondering will this blog ever stop dining out on the Portland garden bloggers meetup. Just one more for now on the plants that really had my number. Which is undeniably an odd number, but the heart wants what it wants. Many times I become infatuated with plants through magazines, online catalogues, or blogs, in a process I imagine is not dissimilar to online dating. Both have in common beautiful photos, seductive descriptions, but not necessarily the whole story. When plant and gardener finally meet and a trial period of compatibility is undertaken, disappointment can ensue on both sides, but there’s always the tantalizing possibility of a lasting attachment.


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Earlier this year I finally made the acquaintance of long-time crush Crambe maritima, a European coastal plant with uncommonly beautiful leaves, thick and blue as an agave, curled and frilled at the margins. I think it was planted in my garden last fall. (Checking email records, I did purchase it last September via mail order from Oregon nursery Dancing Oaks.) Although impatient for the sea kale to thicken up, it’s exactly as I imagined it. We’re a good match, the sea kale and I, and all signs point to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the sea kale, but I discovered in Portland an unexpected twist to this plant.

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Crambe maritima, aka the sea kale, in the Floramagoria garden in Portland, Oregon this July.
I had no idea its seedheads, like tiny white button mushrooms, would be as much of an attraction as its wavy, blue-green, cabbagey leaves.
In Willy Wonka’s garden, this would be labeled the wasabi pea plant. (By the way, the plant is edible.) This unexpectedly nubby, bubbly texture endears the sea kale to me even more.

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Crambe maritima’s pearly seedheads with pitcher plants and what looks like a gold-leaf Aechmea recurvata in bloom.

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Then there’s the equivalent of meeting an intriguing plant for the first time and not getting its phone number, so to speak.
This rusty tumbleweed’s name was given as Rumex ‘Maori,’ but I’ve had no luck finding any reference or additional information.

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Here’s a plant I’ve been stalking for some time, Asphodeline lutea. Two new ones planted this spring have withered away.

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At least I’m fairly sure this is an asphodel, again, a plant with which I have little real-world experience.

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On the tour I bumped into a plant that I purchased the first day of the tour at the nursery Cistus, Berkheya purpurea. A nice coincidence.

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Fantastic stems, leaves and, when it blooms, large lavender daisies.

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(photo of berkheya in bloom found here)

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An acacia new to me in John Kuzma’s garden, Acacia covenyi.

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The same acacia seen here with a large clump of anigozanthos that overwinters in situ in the garden with protection

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Possibly my favorite plant on the tour, Acanthus sennii. I’ve noticed I’m falling more for plants that have a chance of succeeding where I garden.
I’m no longer throwing myself at every good-looking, high-maintenance type that comes along. A sign of maturity maybe?

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Also in the Kuzma garden was this stunning velvety silver potentilla. Possibly Potentilla calabra or hippiana…or something else entirely. (P. gelida. thanks, Heather.)

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A beautiful grass, new to me, Achnatherum calamagrostis ‘Silver Spike,’ at the Grass Master’s incredible garden.

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Scott was also growing the native thistle Cirsium occidentale. I’ve already killed one but found two more locally.

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A wiry, tough cushion that caught my notice at the McMenamins Kennedy School, Bupleurum spinosum. Very cool.
The admirable evergreeen shrub, Bupleurum falcatum, was also seen on the tour, which blooms in chartreuse umbels in summer.

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Eryngium maritimum in Loree’s Danger Garden. I started seeds of this in spring. Zip germination so far.

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I’ll close with the “It” plant of the moment, one of the hardy scheffleras. This visit to Portland was my first introduction to them, and they were everywhere. S. delavayi maybe.
Beautiful, but not this zone 10 garden’s type…


got flowers?

Some photos of Portland, Oregon gardens visited mid July that welcome flowers to varying degrees. Procreation is messy (to paraphrase a former secretary of defense), and zero emphasis on flowers and their disheveled aftermath is the answer for some gardens. The beauty to be found in leaves can be just as strong an attractant to people as flowers are to pollinators. Degree of sun/shade, region and climate are always considerable factors too. (Much of the native landscape of Southern California prefers to sleep through July.) But in the artificial construct of the garden, as a general rule, growing plants for their flowers (or fruit) requires more water and richer soil, though there are admittedly plenty of splendid, thirsty plants grown for their leaves (gunnera) and a wide choice of relatively drought-tolerant flowering plants. Architectural form-and-foliage gardens have probably the best chance of looking presentable for the longest period of time, but Portland’s climate is very cooperative with a vision of summer that includes the spectacle of flowers. See for yourself. And note the balance of beautiful leaves punctuated by the rich colors and equally fascinating, if fleeting, architecture of flowers.

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Floramagoria garden

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Linda Ernst’s garden

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Ernst/Fuller Gardens

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Bella Madrona

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John Kuzma’s garden

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Westwind Farm Studio

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Scott’s seductive prairie dream at Rhone Street Gardens.

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beehive and flowering Blue Grama Grass at Pomarius Nursery


It happened one night; August rain

I bought my first water plant Saturday, and it rained all that night. Not a downpour, but a steady drizzle. I’m not saying there’s any causal link between the two, just that they’re both rare events that happened to coincide one day in August when I finally made good on an old, wilted promise to start a water garden. Nobody is immune to a little magical thinking, especially gardeners and other anxious weather watchers. And I don’t mind at all buying more water plants in the offchance it pleases the drought gods that I do so. After the overnight rain, it was so nice waking up Sunday morning to the clean world.

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My first water plant. Ruby-stemmed Sagittaria lancifolia ‘Ruminoides’
The fiberglass/concrete container was not intended to hold water and may be a temporary arrangement. Marty sealed it with waterproofing, so we’ll see.

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I don’t think that whitish mottling is a good sign, however.
It clouded up like that before the waterproofing, too, when it held just a few glass fishing floats.

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What’s submerged and rendered invisible by dark waterproofing is the desperate need for repotting, with the gallon container split open by bulging roots.
For repotting, it will need muck, won’t it? I asked the kind nurseryman, trying out the one word I know that has something to do with bogs and ponds.
Have you got muck? he queried me with a strange expression.
No, have you? I’m muckless, I rejoined, matching his strange expression with one of my own at the bizarreness of it all.
It’s not often that “muckless” gets incorporated into daily conversation, but given the chance, I’m going for it.

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Tiny romneya-like flowers bloomed Sunday morning.

The nice nurseryman said a cheap solution for a suitable potting soil is a 50/50 mix of decomposed granite and pure compost.
Compost I’ve got. I just need to beg some d.g. off of Holly across the street.

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Inspired by the garden rejuvenation wrought by a single pot of the common arrowhead, a container of Salvia guaranitica was plunged into the garden near the tank.
This salvia has been hanging around for years in the garden, deprived of the care it needs as I’ve moved on to other salvias, but still it lingers.
I noticed it growing near the fence under the cypress and potted up some straggly shoots a month or so ago.
No sense in taking a survivor like that for granted.

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Welcome to the clean world.
Not glistening from the hose but from that holy of holies, August rainfall. That cussonia has already been moved elsewhere.
I’m on fire with pot shuffling lately, motivated by this shiny, new world.

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The cussonia will get more sun here. Naturally, table and chairs had to be moved nearby to admire the cussonia.
The rain’s shiny polish doesn’t last long, does it?

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The tall burgundy line in the background is drawn by a gawky Pseuderanthemum atropurpureum ‘Black Varnish,’ a plant that never loses its polish.
A tender tropical, there’s no problem overwintering it here, just that crazy legginess it gets the second season.

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Pinching it back doesn’t seem to help.

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More news on dark plants. Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’ is faithfully performing her job of hiding the compost pile behind her massive girth.

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Since it’s clean, let’s take a walk on the east side.
Pots reshuffled against the fence that separates the front and back gardens on the east side, which has always been problematic for me.
Too many fences, gates, awkward angles, the canyon effect. Seen through the window behind the leggy pittosporum is the blurred shape of the east boundary hedge of dwarf olives.

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It’s such a great “breathing” space despite all the harsh angles, so I’m working on making it more inviting somehow. (On the cheap, of course.)
I’d love a long table and chairs and some great hanging lamps, so will keep it mostly empty until that fine day miraculously arrives. Until then, nothing terrifyingly big and spiky will be allowed here.
This entire east side was covered in overgrown oleanders when we bought the house, which made the house’s interior dark and gloomy.
The dark woodwork indoors gives the interior more than enough gravitas already. (Marty and I have the typical seesawing argument that takes place in old houses such as this:
Paint the interior woodwork white to brighten things up or leave it original? I always argue for keeping it original, but then I’m an impractical softie.)

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Speaking of terrifyingly big and spiky, Agave ‘Mr Ripple’ greets you through the Dutch door, usually left open during the day.

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Mr. Ripple’s lower spines near the walkway have been clipped back, but he still has his uppers.
Marty cannot wait for the day Mr. Ripple blooms (and dies).

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The copper pot is filled with rhipsalis and other hanging cactus. A Mina lobata is climbing up the iron scaffolding.
Apart from the pittosporum, now tree height, there’s currently not much planted in the narrow strip against the blue fence other than some succulents.
I’m enjoying the starkness of it all, but old habits die hard.

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I can’t stop adding stuff, like the giant tree aloe ‘Hercules’ to the right of the potted agave. But that’s it, I swear.

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The newly planted City Planter just moved in, the first attempt at planting anyway. It may need revision. (Too stark against the blue fence?)

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Currently planted with rhipsalis, Echeveria multicaulis, and the trailing blue echeveria, whose name I’ve forgotten. A couple sprigs of Sticks on Fire may or may not root.

At the Portland Garden Bloggers Fling, Lisa Calle, the raven-haired bloggess from Spain, was the rightful winner but graciously threw it back into the raffle since it didn’t fit inside her suitcase.
(Thank you so much, Lisa ! Thank you, Potted !)

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And that concludes the mini-tour of the rain-fresh east side. Mind Mr. Ripple on your way out!


back on the home front


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It’s finally happening.

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Miraculously, after a couple close calls resulting in an almost fatal wilt, Musschia wollastonii has survived and begun to hoist up that much-anticipated chartreuse candelabra of blooms.
The Madeira Giant Bellflower must be an unforgettable sight in bloom on its native cliffs of Madeira. As with Aeonium tabuliforme, the cliff face is what’s shaped that remarkable architecture. Some claim to grow musschia mainly for the leaves, but I don’t find them wildly exciting, possibly because it’s been struggling to survive here. Musschia is monocarpic, meaning it will die after blooming. Which also means I can now die happy, having seen it bloom in my garden. But what vigilance to get to this point! In spring I parked this pot right by a hose bib on the north side of the house for its daily shower.

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Also newly in bloom and slightly offbeat, Emilia javanica ‘Irish Poet,’ the Tassel Flower.
A delicacy that couldn’t compete in a waist-high, full-throttle summer garden, but it stands out fine in mine, which is in the process of undergoing accommodation to the ongoing drought.

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Emilia may be small, but it packs a big orange punch in its ‘Irish Poet,’ form, seed from Nan Ondra.
Many years ago I grew the species, which is a darker, burnt orange bordering on red. I much prefer the electrifying orange of ‘Irish Poet.’

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These pots give a sense of its scale. Last agave on the left was just brought home from the recent Orange County succulent show.

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Agave ‘Tradewinds,’ a blue-green striped potatorum selection thought to be a seedling of ‘Kissho Kan.’

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Diminutive emilia is barely visible on the lower left, unlike the fountain of Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket’ in the distance.

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The plumes arch just where the Cussonia gamtoosensis canopy begins, a wonderful effect that’s unlikely to be duplicated next year as the cabbage tree continues to grow.
Today I watched for the first time as a sparrow landed in the baby cussonia, which to my mind makes it a real tree now.

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There’s also two big clumps of this grass fronting the lemon cypresses on the eastern boundary*

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And another clump growing amidst Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’ Both thrive on minimal supplemental water, which keeps them in trim, upright shape.

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The front of the cussonia border, which shows how Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ looks in its summer dormancy period here.
I can appreciate ‘Zwartkop’s’ skeletal form, as opposed to the giant ‘Cyclops,’ which was getting increasingly annoying in its off-season shabbiness, so it’s been pulled out of the garden to be grown in a container.
All the plants here are well adapted to low water use, except for a couple patrinia I foolishly included this year. Crambe maritima is doing really well, another plant I saw in several Portland gardens recently. Yucca, furcraea, gaillardia, adenanthos, coprosma, Pelargonium ‘Crocodile,’ anigozanthos, agastache, echium, Rekohu carex. A Beschorneria alba is in here somewhere too. Variegated St. Augustine grass is weaving through the legs of the aeonium and spilling onto the bricks. The iron pyramid was propping up a castor bean I recently pulled out.

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In ‘Cyclops’ place I decided to try agapanthus, something I’m as surprised to type as I was to purchase, having never brought one home before. This one is ‘Gold Strike,’ and it wasn’t easy to find. I wrongly assumed I’d have the pick of tender varieties in inky blues, even deep purples, all within a few miles’ radius of home. After all, they grow like weeds here. There must be a wonderful selection locally, right? And if not, there must be U.S. growers with extensive lists, right? Wrong on both counts. The best selection, of course, is found with UK nurseries. A couple years back I attended a lecture given by Dan Hinkley on what he’s up to at his new garden at Windcliff, and a good part of the presentation was on his new-found love of agapanthus. “How suburban!” I thought at the time, and “Dan’s going soft!” But as usual, Dan’s right. Mature stands are tolerant of drought, make a mid-summer garden look fresh again, and now I can’t wait to try them with Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket.’ The deepest blue to be found locally is ‘Storm Cloud,’ but I’m not done searching around for other kinds with names like ‘Purple Emperor’ and ‘Night Sky.’ Still can’t believe I’m shopping around for agapanthus, though.

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A large mint bush near the ‘Cyclops’ aeonium was showing its age, so that was given the heave-ho recently too.
Prostranthera never gets older than a few years in my garden and is well known to be short-lived.
Waiting in the wings, outgrowing its pot was Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon,’ which I intended on planting in the mint bush’s spot in the fall.
This is one of the mallee eucalyptus, which are more large shrubs than the towering giants Californians associate with eucalyptus.

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Never much inclined to wait, I called Jo O’Connell at Australian Native Plants Nursery, where I bought the eucalypt, to ask her opinion.
She said to absolutely go for it now, mid-summer, a woman after my own heart. And so it’s been planted.

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Speaking of suburban, how about some marigolds? (Now who’s going soft?)

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What an undeserving bad rap the bedding plants industry has given marigolds. The tall strains like this one, ‘Cinnabar’ from Derry Watkins, are so hot. If you don’t have a bias against orange, that is.

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And I don’t think there’s anything easier to grow from seed than marigolds.

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The grey shrub arching over the marigolds is Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii,’ brought home from Far Reaches Farm a few years ago.
(“If you’ve hankered for a willow but lament your dry conditions, then weep no more.”)
It was so cool to see this shrub growing against the greenhouse at Old Germantown Gardens in Portland recently, where it was tightly clipped in a more columnar form.
The Agave attenuata is ‘Boutin’s Blue,’ formerly ‘Huntington’s Blue,’ not quite happy in full sun. In a large pot, it’s the Goldilocks of agaves and gets moved around quite a bit.

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Marigolds in the distance, the new Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ in the foreground, handling its first summer beautifully so far.
The sideritis to its right wasn’t so lucky, inexplicably collapsing a couple days ago, about a day after this photo was taken.
Every so often around mid-summer, this mysterious soil-borne wilt process takes out a plant.
I know in my absence the garden was watered really well for a change, and that might have kicked it off.
The sideritis was one of two self-sown seedlings I found this spring, so it was a gimme anyway.
I’ve already planted a couple Cirsium occidentale in its place.
(Seeing the cirsium almost in bloom in Scott’s garden in Portland was a nice moment too.)

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The Berkheya purpurea I brought home from Cistus a few weeks ago can just be seen behind the leucadendron.
The oregano-like plant is Calamintha nepeta ‘Gottlieb Friedkund.’ Fabulous plant I’ve been spreading around the garden. From Digging Dog.

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Another annual growing fast in the heat, Hibiscus trionum, seed also from Nan Ondra.

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Rudbeckia triloba is everything I want in a summer daisy, except for its moderate thirst.
There’s a chance that if it self-sows, the progeny will be better situated for drier conditions. Slim chance, but you never know. And there’ll always be gaillardia.

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Eryngium padanifolium in its second year, reliably blooming again, a great relief.

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The ‘Limelight’ Miracle of Peru seed around, and a few are always welcome.

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A potted Lotus jacobaeus has filled out well this year, much more so than when planted directly into the garden.

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Aristolochia fimbriata scoffs at any neglect I throw its way. No surprise that it was included on the sales tables at a recent succulent show. It’s that tough.

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Crassula pruinosa, also brought home from Cistus

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The crassula was tucked in at the base of Euphorbia ammak. That golden-leaved shrub thrives in pot culture, even the careless kind I practice.

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Really brightens things up. Corokia virgata ‘Sunsplash’

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Also doing really well in a container is the Shaving Brush Tree, Pseudobombax ellipticum

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And that just about takes care of mid-summer 2014.


*I keep neglecting to mention that one of the best attributes of this excellent grass is that it is sterile and therefore noninvasive, unlike Pennisetum setaceum.

contain your enthusiasm


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Creating a small, plant-rich garden in zone 8 can be a brutal business. Faced with so many tempting choices in such an agreeable climate, a small garden runs the danger of sinking into visual chaos. Wielding the power of refusal, the ability to say no more often than yes, is probably the most useful tool in the garden shed. It’s no surprise that some of the most visually impactful gardens are made by people that put their foot down, people with strong, angular ideas and sharp-elbowed opinions. Many of us with a tinge of the collector mania gladly put up with the chaos. What’s rare is finding a garden that manages to incorporate a strong love of disparate plants into a seamless design whole. Plant collecting and its byproduct, containers, are usually the enemy of clean, uncluttered design. Pots and containers often fill the porches, stairs, and patios of a more relaxed style of garden. That they can be deployed to create a rigorous, crisp picture can come as a surprise.

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Astelia and bocconia on square concrete pavers in Loree Bohl’s Danger Garden
The pot and the ‘Red Devil’ astelia were meant to be together.


In the Portland, Oregon gardens of good friends Loree Bohl and JJ Sousa, there’s obviously a similar love of pottery, matched with a love of architectural plants, some of which cannot survive year-round outdoors, and temperaments that will not compromise on good design. I love how both these gardens turn the old design axiom, to plant in multiples, on its head. In a small garden, such advice would result in a boring monoculture and leave the collector unsatisfied. (Horrors!) Loree and JJ flip the axiom around. Instead of multiplying plants for a strong impact, make multiples of containers, use repetition in their color and shape, and the result will also be a concentrated, heady experience that confidently leads the eye and rhythmically builds into a densely rich mise-en-scène, to borrow a theatrical phrase. Both gardens riff on a timelessly effective formula: the tension of nature’s most outlandishly gorgeous patterns and textures contained within well-defined boundaries. Edges aren’t softened or hidden, they’re accentuated and celebrated. The Portland gardens of Loree Bohl and JJ Sousa organize space like neat bento boxes, with sharp lines and angles providing contrast and staging opportunities for an extravagant collection of in-ground and potted plants that becomes much more than the sum of its parts. The strong lines frame the many containers as well as the lush, in-ground plantings, and there is frequent intentional interplay between the planted and the potted. Plants are shown to wonderful advantage in this disciplined approach, which shows that minimalism isn’t the only answer for a small garden that is asked to absorb a collector’s ongoing enthusiasm for plants and also read as a coherent design.

Continue reading contain your enthusiasm