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tetrapanax in bloom

I know a lot of Tetrapanax papyrifer in zones colder than my zone 10 have their blooms regrettably cut short by winter.
Let me just ease your zonal envy a bit, as you gaze on these bodacious panicles, and fully disclose that they are the worst fly-attracting blooms I have ever encountered.
An evil amount of flies pockmark the wheat-colored panicles. Buzzing clouds of them lift off and swarm the air every time I pass. Only late in the day do they finally disperse.

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Another surprise, and a much nicer one, has been that despite its fearsome reputation for expansionism, it’s so far proven relatively benign.
Relative, that is, in comparison to the ‘Golden Chain’ Arundo donax we tore out in the fall, which was terrifyingly vigorous.
Those bright gold, bamboo-like spears were infiltrating far more valuable trees and shrubs.

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And for a garden first, I used Marty’s shop vac to blow out the pollen that accumulates like drifts of snow in the agaves and succulents at the base of the tetrapanax.
With the first heavy rainfall in years, the thick pollen snow was becoming paste-like and overwhelming the crowns of plants growing under those enormous shaggy leaves.
Which do provide valuable high shade for the understory plants mid-summer.

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It’s always something, isn’t it?

you had me at aloe

And now you’ve lost me with aloiampelos, aloidendron, aristaloe, gonialoe, kumara. The genus aloe has just become slightly more complicated.
Memory work for 2015 will include absorbing the fan aloe’s new name Kumara plicatilis. (See Gerhard’s very helpful post here.)

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Meanwhile, I keep bringing home aloes with no tag, no name at all, as with this unlabeled hybrid. Sometimes it’s a good thing that I don’t have that meticulous collector mindset…

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Aloes are in bloom all over town. Aloe ferox

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My Aloe cameronii with its first flower bud.

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It’s right outside the office, where we had a shade tarp rigged all summer, so the Red Aloe didn’t get that deep coppery color to the leaves.
Next summer we’ll have to choose between that lovely ruddy coloration on the aloe or working in a sweatbox. I know which I’d prefer. (sorry, aloe!)

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Aloe conifera, a name that promises an interesting flower shape

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I’m guessing ‘Goliath’ will have just a very short stay in this pot.
A Tree Aloe, with one parent Aloe vaombe, I’m not sure if this gets reclassified as aloidendron or not with only one parent, A. barberae, from aloidendron.

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Aloe ‘Kujo,’ thought to be a hybrid found at the Huntington Botanical Garden. There will always be plenty of mysteries left to defy the most ardent taxonomist.

(Pam at Digging chats about favorite foliage on the 16th of every month.)


Toyon, California Holly

This sturdy evergreen shrub native to California, Heteromeles arbutifolia, is also known as the Christmas Berry or California Holly. Here’s why:

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There’s an old urban legend that early European settlers in Los Angeles, where this holly lookalike grew especially abundant, named their new home in its honor.
Hollywoodland. Ultimately shortened to Hollywood.

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At a neighbor’s holiday party over the weekend, I discovered it in full-on berriment growing on the west side of their bungalow.
Of course, today I just had to beg for a few sprigs of berries to bring home.
(As far as I can tell, I’ve now coined that word “berriment,” and it just might stand as my lasting contribution to humankind.)
The foamy mass in the background is a native buckwheat, but not, because I asked, the giant St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum).

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Irresistible impulses, like mine, to bring indoors the toyon’s bright red berries began to threaten its very existence until a law was passed in the 1920s prohibiting picking the berries in the wild.
A ban local birds wildly celebrated. There’s a complicated bit of science and tanins and whatnot involved in the question of toxicity to humans, but the short, safe version is don’t.
Just don’t eat the fresh berries. Notwithstanding the fact that local Indians did all manner of clever things with the flowers, berries and bark, for food and medicine.
Usual size is 8 to 15 feet, but it can and does grow bigger. My neighbor’s toyon is trained as a small tree, but it can also be grown as a hedge.
Easy and forgiving, sun or even part shade, tolerant of regular irrigation or, once established, summer drought.

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Other plants in the vase are sprigs of lemon cypress and olive from our garden, very familiar to Evie, but the toyon from just a dozen houses away might as well have been from another country.
Evie immediately leapt onto the table to investigate. Bears and coyotes are known to eat the berries, but I have no idea what the digestive tract of Felis catus would make of them.

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Evie never sampled, but did make a thorough, full-vase investigation.

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I filled a couple urns for the mantle too, mostly with lemon cypress and olive branches, with just a few sprigs of toyon berries, which manage to communicate holiday merriment even in very small quantities.

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Toyon became the official native plant of Los Angeles on April 17, 2012.

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For berries of your own to bring indoors during the winter holidays as much as you please, toyon is carried in local nurseries, usually at fall planting time.
Los Pilitas Nursery is also a source, as well as the Theodore Payne Nursery and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’s Grow Native Nurseries.
Any of the above resources will patiently and knowledgeably explain how toyon can be an essential evergreen in your summer-dry garden.


counting euphorbias

Tis the season to celebrate euphorbias, since many of us will be living with or gifting/regifting one of its tribe over the next couple weeks, the poinsettia. Call me scrooge, but I’d much rather think about the ones planted in my garden than the holiday favorite with the flaming red bracts. Since first digging the garden 26 years ago, there’s always been at least a couple euphorbias around, and that will certainly be true again for 2015. I’m referring to the herbaceous and shrubby kinds, not the succulents, whose numbers are legion. This genus is ginormous, the largest genera of flowering plants in the plant kingdom, named after Euphorbus, physician to the Mauretanian King Juba II (first century B.C.), whose exploitation of its medicinal properties earned him a place in botanical nomenclature. But the white sap is notoriously toxic and the stinging enemy to the mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth, so I can’t imagine how and in what form Dr. Euphorbus delivered the medicine. Even getting the sap on the skin causes a strong reaction in some people, though I seem to have the hide of a rhino and haven’t had a problem so far. I’ve grown many of the different herbaceous kinds over the years, which generally tend to be short-lived for me. Many will seed around, whether lightly or alarmingly, and species do occasionally cross, like the famous Euphorbia x martinii, a naturally occurring hybrid between characias and amygdaloides. The euphorbias are standouts here in winter and spring for a sunny, dryish garden, and I’ve long been faithfully trying out any new kinds that come my way.

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First the euphorbs returning for 2015. There’s tree-like Euphorbia lambii fattening up after the recent rain, losing its scrawny summer looks.
This euphorbia seeds around like nobody’s business. But it’s tall, incredibly tough and tolerant of a dry summer, so it gets a pass.
Hardy down to 25 to 30 degrees.

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By February it will look more like this (February 2013)

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In bloom April 2013, illustrating a euphorbia’s attractions: smooth, blue-green leaves arranged in whorls with a shaggy chartreuse inflorescence

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Also fattening up is a young E. atropurpurea. After a wobbly first year, it’s exciting to see it settling in and appearing to choose life. From Tenerife, Canary Islands.

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Here it is at the Huntington Botanical Garden, flaunting its atypically fabulous wine-colored bracts.
I had never heard of such a euphorbia before and stood slack-jawed before it when first stumbling across this beauty.

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There was much gaping and sputtering, and then a frenzied search for my son Mitch, who was photographing barrel cactus elsewhere in the garden (see here).
I dragged him back by the sleeve to take this photo. And then I chased this euphorbia across a summer of plant shows, ultimately finding a source at Annie’s Annuals. Bless you, Annie!

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Also returning is Euphorbia rigida, just not this specific plant, which declined and withered away. A couple pieces were salvaged.
It also reseeds, but nowhere at the level of E. lambii. When I find these seedlings, they’re carefully potted up. Photo from February 2014

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spring 2012. So this plant lived at least three to four years. The clay here might have something to do with the shortened lifespan.

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Euphorbia mauritanica in the front garden, where the sun/shade shifts around quite a bit throughout the year.
These are probably leggier than they should be, but I’m hoping they’re in shape for a good bloom this spring.

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Here’s the ideal Euphorbia mauritanica, included in a design by Dustin Gimbel.

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My straggly Euphorbia ceratocarpa, appearing to have barely survived a recent move to clear out the compost area.

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Old photo from 2009 when the smoke tree ‘Grace’ ruled the garden and I continually wore that green robe through the winter.
Euphorbia ceratocarpa is on the left against the fence. Golden blur on the right was a duranta.

Unfortunately, this is the best photo I have to illustrate why I’ve carefully nurtured this one ratty-looking plant from a single cutting for the many years after the mother plant died.
There’s very little information available on this euphorbia for gardens. English plantsman John Raven grew it, and his daughter Sarah Raven has this to say:


This is one of the most open-growing and perhaps less elegant of the euphorbias, forming big, rangy clumps nearly 1.8m (6ft) across. But it is definitely a contender for the longest-flowering plant I know. I’ve had one that is yet to stop blooming outside the kitchen at Perch Hill since March 2006. It has not had a single week’s pause, and you can pick decent-sized stems right the way through the winter. I cut some for an arrangement at Christmas, when there is almost nothing of this brightness still surviving. E. ceratocarpa is also very easy to propagate. The cuttings that my parents collected all took extremely easily – even after several days wrapped up in damp loo roll in a plastic bag – and those few plants have created many thousand since. This euphorbia should certainly be more widely grown.” – source here.

Easy to propagate? Ha! I’ve had cuttings take a year to root. The only other person I’ve come across who grows it is garden designer/author Rebecca Sweet. It reminds me of a big, blowsy, lime-green hydrangea when in bloom.

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Euphorbia mellifera is another big shrub like E. lambii, but more lush. Fairly fast growing, this one was planted out from a 4-inch pot last year.
For zones 9 to 11 or container culture. Reseeds lightly here.

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And then there was the moment when the pale, variegated euphorbias entered our lives. ‘Tasmanian Tiger,’ discovered in a garden in Tasmania in 1993, was the first.
Because they turned up at the local nurseries, I grabbed a couple this fall to plant near Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ while it gains size. Short-lived plants have their uses too.

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I tend to try all the pale variegated ones. Some have proved to be stronger growers than ‘Tasmanian Tiger.’
A new one to me, at the nurseries this fall, under Native Sons label, E. characias ‘Glacier Blue’

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An old photo of a bloom truss from Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan,’ which I remember as a very robust grower.

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This non-variegated form of E. characias turned up at local nurseries too this fall.
Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl,’ so named because part of the flower structure has a “black eye.”

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An old photo of a blooming Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow,’ whose leaves have bright yellow variegation that flushes red with cool temps of fall/spring.

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From April 2011, Euphorbia mellifera almost out of frame at the upper left, ‘Ascot Rainbow’ blooming lower right.

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I’ll end with a photo of this incredibly weedy self-sower brought home years ago. Possibly Euphorbia nicaeensis.
A nuisance, yes, but the fresh color and meticulous arrangement of the leaves keeps me from weeding every last one from the garden.

Enjoy (or give to your mother) your Euphorbia pulcherrima (poinsettia) this holiday season, and as alway, mind the sap!


weekend nursery browse

On the way to dropping off a holiday wreath at my mom’s on Sunday, I stopped for a walkabout at H&H nursery, located on Lakewood Blvd. in a power line easement near the 91 freeway.
I was hoping to find a Correa ‘Ivory Bells,’ or Australian fuchsia, which blooms all winter, a kind of holiday treat for the hummingbirds. The small grey leaves are somewhat similar to Pittosporum crassifolium or Feijoa sellowiana. I’m always attracted to the correas when I see them, but they’re usually in the pink form at nurseries. I can’t say when pink began to wear on me, but I’m still not ready to let much of it into the garden again. I foolishly passed up ‘Ivory Bells’ earlier in the week and was hoping it had been shipped widely to multiple nurseries (it hadn’t). With all garden space currently spoken for, it would have to go in a container, which is fine because I’ve been on a binge trying out shrubby characters like ozothamnus and westringia in containers and want to experiment with more. As with the latter two shrubs, these experiments usually do end up in the garden but are surprisingly easy to care for during extended periods in containers and are much less bother than, say, annuals or tender perennials. (If anyone is interested in correas, Joy Creek Nursery in Oregon has a nice list of them, including ‘Ivory Bells.’)

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This photo from JJ De Sousa’s Portland garden shows how stunning shrubs can be in containers. I think this may be an ozothamnus with trailing Dichondra argentea.
I’ve grown the Ozothamnus ‘Sussex Silver’ variety.

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At the nursery, no correas were to be found. Still in the C’s, though, I found some corokias, which I love, and very nearly brought home the wiry Corokia cotoneaster.
Another photo from a Portland, Oregon garden showing what looks to be this corokia.

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Mostly I wanted to stretch my legs a bit, and this large nursery/grower is great for a stroll. And I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate the coming rainstorm.
The tree aloes seem to be flooding the nurseries lately. These are ‘Hercules.’ In the last month or so I’ve found Aloe ‘Goliath’ and Aloe dichotoma.
My ‘Hercules’ came in a gallon. These big boys go for over $200.

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Twice the Hercules, double-trunked.

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The Agave ‘Blue Glows’ in gallons go for about $25.

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A sea of aeoniums and agaves.

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I didn’t check the price on the titanotas. Such a variable agave. These are much whiter than mine.

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Every time I see a tree-like Kalanchoe beharensis I feel a pang for the loss of mine, a single-trunked plant that became too top heavy and snapped.

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Lovely bowl of Notocactus magnificus. I still have vague plans to build a cactus bench/growing frame but it’s way too early to start collecting plants.
When I say “build,” what I really mean is transmit my vision to the builder, Marty, and convince him that the project is desperately important.

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The Little Red Riding Hood aloe, ‘Rooikappie,’ bred by the South African plantswoman the late Cynthia Giddy.
Coincidentally, I recently brought an aloe home named for her.

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Euphorbia pseudocactus. I really need to get busy planning that cactus bench. It’s becoming desperately important.


cussonia crazy


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image found here

Cussonias are a small genus from Africa and the Mascarene Islands

There are maybe 25 species in the small genus known as the Cabbage Trees, and without trying too hard I’ve already brought home five of them.
I didn’t set out to be a collector of cussonias, but spurring me on is the fact that, so far, there doesn’t seem to be an ugly duckling in the bunch.
Without hesitation, when one turns up at a local nursery, I grab it.
Cussonias are included in the araliaceae family, which contains some of the most outlandishly beautiful leaves to be found anywhere.
They have that family’s signature finely cut foliage but atop a seriously tough plant.
As mature trees they can reach 15 feet, but they flourish for years in containers, where they need about as much attention as succulents.
Their mop-headed, evergreen canopies bring the lush life to frost-free, dry-summer climates along with what I can never get enough of, that emphatic pop of verticality.

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My first Cabbage Tree, Cussonia gamtoosensis, which I recently planted in the ground.
Some plants are so beautiful that I’m willing to change the garden to accommodate them as they mature.
Found locally under Annie’s Annuals label.

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An old photo, with its leaves spangled in morning dew

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That’s a rebar tripod it’s resting against to help gently train the leaning trunk upright.

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This is where the grasshoppers hung out all summer, as many as six at a time, enjoying the simultaneous opportunities for sun and concealment.
Yes, I count grasshoppers. It’s a repulsion/attraction thing. When they become too numerous, we freeze them in peanut butter jars.

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Brought home June 2014. Cussonia spicata. The Cabbage Trees have a peculiar trunk-to-canopy ratio, with short, thickened trunks giving them their unique profile.
Some of them, like the more commonly available Cussonia paniculata, are known as pachycauls, from the Greek pachy- meaning thick or stout, and Latin caulis meaning the stem.
(How many of us can identify with pachycauls in this season of holiday feasting?)

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Cussonia natalensis, found at Xotx-Tropico in West Hollywood. This little nursery is so jam-packed with rarities that it’s easy to miss some real gems.
Fortuntely, cussonias have a distinctive outline that sets them apart even in a crowded nursery.
After I selected this one to take home, for the rest of my visit, Leon, the owner, and a true character in the best Hollywood tradition, referred to me simply as the “plant girl.”
(At his nursery, which he’s run for 25 years, Leon follows you around and tells the story of each plant, as if he runs an adoption agency instead of a plant nursery and you’re inquiring about a child temporarily under his care. The website is down, but the address is 900 No. Fairfax Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90046, (323) 654-9999.)

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Reminds me of a bright green maple leaf. Also known as the Rock Cabbage Tree.

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This is Cussonia paniculata, probably the most commonly available Cabbage Tree, whose mature leaves take on a bluish hue.
I’ve planted small ones in the ground, only to have them mush out, so this one will live indefinitely in a container.
I once stood under a mature tree on a Venice garden tour and didn’t even recognize it as a cussonia until chatting with the owner about it.
Keeping cussonias in containers retains their unique form.

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Cussonia tranvaalensis, also found locally under Annie’s Annuals label.
This cussonia brought to my attention recently that, at some undefined point in time, I’ve turned into a person who squishes aphids with their bare hands.
None of the other cussonias seem to be attacting aphids.

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Since it’s known as the Grey Cabbage Tree, these leaves will also acquire a blue-grey cast as they mature.


thinning dyckias

If you asked me what I planned on doing when I woke up that morning a couple Saturdays ago, tackling the enormously overgrown clump of dyckias in the front garden was as remote a contender as washing the windows, which never ever cracks the top 20. To be honest, there were no ambitions at all that hot Saturday morning, the end to an even hotter week. (This week brought the Santa Ana winds, warm temperatures, not hot, but very, very dry.) I started off early Saturday morning with no real plan, so just grabbed a broom and began to sweep. Sweeping is always a good default until a plan formulates out of the post-Friday fog. I can’t remember the progression from sweeping to intimately grappling with this most dangerous of terrestrial bromeliads, but I’m sure it had something to do with being unable to sweep under the many rosettes spilling onto the bricks that catch all the duff from the jacarandas, the rachis and such. (If I didn’t have jacarandas in the parkway, there’s no way I’d be familiar with that term rachis, the main shaft of a compound leaf, in the jacaranda measuring about about a foot long.) Jacaranda detritus piles up in drifts, clogs the crowns of plants, burrows deep in the dasylirions, and is especially inaccessible in this spiny clump of dyckia. The dyckia came home as a solitary rosette from the first Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, California (now under new ownership), a very long time ago, and boy howdy has it prospered and multiplied. Whenever I see gorgeous varieties of diminutive dyckias in 4-inch pots on offer at plant sales, I have this barbed, cautionary tale at home to remind me to just walk on by.

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Those stiff, barbed leaves really mean business.
So many ways to inflict pain: poke, puncture, scratch, embed, scrape, stab, infiltrate. And with the hot, dry weather, my hands were hurting before I even started.

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The clump has sprawled onto the bricks, making it impossible to sweep up the prodigious jacaranda debris that accumulates year-round. Leaflets, rachis, flowers, the occasional branch.
Instead of ignoring the piled-up debris sticking out from under the dyckia like I always do, I grabbed a shovel to loosen and pull out three largish rosettes off the bricks.
Vast amounts of dead, dried leaves were then able to be tugged and pried out of the interior of the clump.

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I wasn’t sure how far I would go with the shovel. Complete removal has crossed my mind many times.

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While I wrestled with the dyckia, others opted to polish their rims.

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Or watch the Saturday morning parade of dogs on leashes passing the gate.

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Seeing how beautiful the single rosettes were, I decided not to remove the clump. For now.
The three rosettes had very little root attached but were cleaned up anyway.
Because doesn’t it just look like a plant with a will to live?

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A couple were potted up in a shallow container with extra grit.
With a mature clump, you get the wands of Starburst-orange flowers, but to me dyckias are just as impressive as single rosettes.
Wonderful container plants, able to take temperatures down to 15 to 20 degrees. Here in zone 10 they grow into these massive clumps.
I really should bring more varieties home — but it will be for containers only.

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The third was wrapped in moss and stuck in the opening to this pedestal I found cleaning out the garden shed.
It’s been around for so long, I forget when, where and why I brought it home. It nearly made it to the curb earlier in the week in a garage purge.
I checked this cutting today, and it hasn’t rooted yet but is still firm. If it doesn’t root, no big loss.

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The trick to thinning out a dyckia clump is, first of all, obviously, wear gloves, long sleeves. And, secondly, move with slow, purposeful movements.
And not thinking about it too much beforehand helps too.


echeverias runneth over

I work at this building a lot, where there are enormous pots planted with a central Sticks on Fire surrounded by echeverias.
Lusty, thriving, insanely multiplying echeverias. They look to be Echeveria secunda.
I swear, I get the worst case of itchy fingers when I see these echeverias brimming and spilling over the rim of the pot.
Somebody needs to thin these, and leave the cuttings in a basket at the base of the pot with a sign saying “Take me.”
Because I would be more than happy to help lighten the echeveria load here.


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a Mission Revival garden

I wasn’t exactly lost in Beverly Hills today, but traffic was terrible enough that I left the main arteries like San Vicente and dove into surrounding neighborhood streets, looking for a less congested way home. Around Sweetzer I found this small Mission Revival home with what looked to be a fairly new front landscape.


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Although it may sometimes seem so, I’m really not stalking Mission Revival homes, but this architectural style does seem to inspire its share of spare, elegant gardens.
This one is dominated by the lacy shade of a mature California Pepper Tree, Schinus molle (from the Peruvian Andes).

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A blue jar, possibly Bauer, pennisetum grasses and agaves surrounding a central area of decomposed granite
(formerly place of honor for lawns but not anymore, now that it’s drought o’clock)

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The agaves are mainly the common americana and attenuata, with salmon-colored Crown of Thorns, Euphorbia milii.
The blue flowers might be the Ground Morning Glory, Convolvulus sabatius.

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A form of Opuntia erinacea possibly?
Those look to be young bougainvilleas struggling up stakes against the low wall, a wall which I personally would hate to see smothered in vine. The cactus itself is presence enough.

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A sweet house, with its thick walls and deep-set casement windows.
The surrounding mansions in various architectural guises, and their gardens, could learn a lot about stylishly coping with heat and drought from this modest little beauty.


Bloom Day November 2014

I’ve really had a come-to-jaysus moment, as far as my little garden. No more ambitious planning for seasonal blooms, emphasis on summer. No more planning for strictly blooms at all.
Now I’m viewing my little space as more of an outdoor conservatory, with all the freedom from seasonal concerns that concept implies. It’s getting very sharp and pointy out there, is all I’m saying for the moment. But wouldn’t you know it, what I have to show for blooms this November is that bastion of summer and fall-flowering gardens, the echinacea, a couple ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ I brought home in early summer that tucked in their horns until the heat abated somewhat.


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And what’s becoming a November tradition, the big trusses of bloom on the tetrapanax. So many of the leaves burnt in summer, it’s comically mostly stems and flowers this year.
Tragicomic, that about sums up gardens in a nutshell. Carol collects all our tragicomedy the 15th of every month on her blog May Dreams Gardens.