Goldenrod, feverfew, olive, and eucalyptus.
Goldenrod, feverfew, olive, and eucalyptus.
When I planted this slipper plant (Pedilanthus bracteatus, from Mexico) into the back garden last October, I knew that it would necessarily change the character of the plantings surrrounding it. Everything would have to become even more dry tolerant. For that reason I hesitated, because the back garden is where I like to experiment with new plants. Experiments sometimes need additional water. With the slipper plant’s sensitivity to over-irrigation, I knew there’d be no turning back. But the surprising thing about a dry garden is, once you commit to it, you’re likely to find that you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to filling your dry garden with beautiful plants. And if you’re inclined toward the kookily eccentric, then the dry garden has your number too. I don’t consider it an insult to call the slipper plant a bit of a kook. In my opinion, it’s a beautiful kook.
Its first year in the ground it had to acclimatize from its previous position of afternoon shade to full-day sun.
Like this Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ after a 106-degree day.
This little kook was giving me the hairy eyeball as I took photos of plants, as if to say What am I, chopped liver?
Plants give rebukes in more subtle ways than corgis.
Closeup of one of its bracts last October.
It was bare-stemmed all summer, and just recently burst forth with this flush of new leaves.
After planting, it comically splayed out in all directions, but seems to have found its equilibrium now.
It was from this clump of Agave ‘Blue Flame’ that I removed that pup I brought indoors. Lots more thinning to do here.
You done with plants yet?
Hardly. This Island Bristleweed has impressed me mightily. From our Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura, Hazardia detonsa.
I love its crimped silver leaves. There’s a chance that blooming could turn it into a ghastly mess, so it’s too soon to give it an unequivocal recommendation.
Bored with me focused solely on plants, Ein heads for the house.
Silly creature. Who could possibly get bored with plants, with Berkheya purpurea throwing a surprising bloom stalk in November?
I love thistly, bristly plants and have tried dozens. Very few thistles like my garden. I could grow an artichoke, I suppose, but they’re massive plants.
Berkheya couldn’t be further from exhausted. Its snaky stems exude rambunctious energy.
Brought home from Cistus Nursery summer 2014, it’s spread into several clumps.
Okay, something tells me it’s time to put down the camera and grab some kibble.
A couple of loose ideas came together this morning in a slowburn, sleepy kind of way. I’ve been envious of large stands of Agave attenuata around town, wishing I could grab a crown for dramatic inclusion in a large vase, but that would be stealing. Even though the plantings are congested and no one would miss one of dozens of rosettes from a neglected parkway. That is still, by definition, taking without permission. The second idea was the long-delayed matter of thinning a congested planting of Agave ‘Blue Flame’ of my own that was encroaching on a nearby aloe. I tackled that project this morning. I admit there were a few blank seconds where I failed to recognize the real-time intersection of these two ideas as I sawed away at the agave, which is after all an attenuata hybrid. I stared at the rather nice-looking rosette severed from the main plant for a few seconds and thought what a shame it was to waste — oh, wait a minute. Right! Now, which pot would be heavy enough to support it?
There was a tiny bit of root attached to the stem, so I filled the pot with water. My agave-as-sweet-potato experiment.
Daytime temperatures dropping out of the 80s have forced the realization that summer is truly over.
Yesterday we cleaned the house top to bottom, wiping away a summer’s worth of dust and grime from months of open doors and windows.
Furniture was tipped up and floors underneath scrubbed, curtains bundled off to the cleaners.
That right there is capitulation to the new seasonal reality of spending more time indoors than outdoors.
But the short days ahead will have their interesting moments, apart from the holidays looming, especially with the winter aloes waking up.
Yesterday I watched a hummingbird dart in and out among the flowers, finally choosing to rest on a stem to take a long sip.
The surrounding St. Augustine grass doesn’t seem to be inhibiting its vigor, and it may be foiling the ants and aphids.
The little hybrids are starting to bloom too. This one came unlabeled, but it might be ‘Christmas Cheer’
I’m hoping full winter sun will darken the leaves on Aloe ‘Sparkler’
Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’
Gomphrena ‘Balboa’ made it through a difficult summer. We’ll see if it has a chance of becoming a staple like ‘Fireworks.’
Lotus jacobaeus is glad summer is over, judging by its newly enthusiastic bloom cycle
Crithum maritimum is also responding to the cooler weather with another bloom cycle.
Ricinus communis ‘New Zealand Purple’ with its tiny white blooms and spiky seedheads, brings the crimson-rich color of fall in a tropical form.
Planted this fall, Eremophila glabra ‘Kalgoorlie.’
A silver shrub with creme brulee-colored trumpets. I’m very excited to observe this one’s habits of growth next spring/summer.
More dessert analogies spring to mind with Mina lobata’s candy corn blooms.
I know spiky agaves in the garden make some people nervous, but lovers of architectural plants for the dry garden can get into a lot more trouble than an agave.
Golden barrel cactus at the Ruth Bancroft Garden
Regrettably, I have only one golden barrel cactus to roll out, to test its light-splintering qualities this fall, now that light and wind have replaced heat as the big news in the garden.
I plug pots of agaves into the garden all the time as the seasons (or my itchy digging fingers) open up space for their big sculptural rosettes.
But this is a first for me, temporarily moving a potted barrel cactus into the garden, and that’s for a couple reasons.
In my experience, barrel cactus are rarely used as specimens and are almost always planted in groups. Would just one look silly?
And, secondly, Echinocactus grusonii deals with any absent-minded mishandling quickly and savagely, inflicting a “dirty wound,” prone to infection.
So why risk it, you say?
The key word is “golden.” It has a wonderful solidity, but all those golden spines arrayed like hundreds of tiny propellors impart a surprising lightness too.
As far as planting as a specimen versus in groups, I’m still undecided.
With dyckias and Echeveria agavoides at the Huntington’s Desert Garden
The same area stepping further back, when the Palo Verdes were in bloom, photo by Mitch.
A group of barrel cactus with the whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) at the Sherman Gardens
A small group as an accent in a complex planting at the Jardin Majorelle in Morocco, photo by Mitch Maher.
With Dragon Trees at Lotusland.
This cactus grows readily from seed, maturing to flowering size in roughly 15 years.
I treated myself yesterday to San Gabriel Valley’s Cactus & Succulent Society‘s show and sale at the Los Angeles Arboretum.
This Aloe melanacantha with a flower bud was the first show plant to stop me in my tracks.
I always find the boophanes so expressive. I really need to repot mine to elevate the bulb.
Urginea maritima, the gigantic Sea Squill in a tiny pot. Who knew?
I didn’t always snap the names of the cacti. In the past I’ve been known to rush by these tables but am starting to find them so absorbing visually.
I had to check the name on this wild thing: Astrophytum capricorne var. niveum
From the melocactus table
I’m on firmer ground with the agaves. Agave ‘Snow Glow’
Agave xylonacantha ‘Frost Bite’
And so ends the plant show and sale season of 2015. Thanks to all who’ve shared their beautiful obsessions.
I could only remember that Heather had blogged about it blooming in her zone 7 Portland garden in spring, which turns out is all I needed to remember.
Othonna cheirifolia, native to South Africa, chalky blue, spatulate leaves, going by the piratical-sounding common name of Barbary Ragwort.
To get a sense of just how blue othonna is, see its chalky blueness growing next to bright green Grevillea ‘Mt. Tamboritha.’ White felty leaves of ballota in the background.
Growing at the base of a young Octopus agave (A. vilmoriniana), it’s had as much sun and irrigation as the agave — scorching in regards to the former, spotty with the latter.
Leaf color just about matches the agave too.
A subtle but remarkably durable plant with a tricky name to remember.
Fall has been stupidly busy, but I’m so glad I made it out to Pomona last Saturday for John Greenlee’s Meadow Grass Fall Festival, the second year it’s been held.
Although I don’t know him personally, our paths have been crossing ever since our kids attended the same private school in Long Beach.
I well remember the Greenwood van parked at the curb of the old, two-story wooden house where Mitch and Duncan attended elementary school.
Part of the sales tables near the house
It can’t come as any surprise by now that I’m an incredibly easy mark when it comes to plants.
And for the first time in a while I actually had some empty ground due to the departure of Yucca’ Margarita.’
I brought home, in gallons:
Three Yucca pallida, Mountain States Wholesale Nursery
Most of these were selected after hearing the very persuasive Wendy Proud of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery list her go-to plants during her talk “Got Some Ground to Cover?”
Acacia redolens ‘Desert Carpet’
In constant motion and as animated as any meadow grass, Greenlee packed in a dense amount of information during his talk.
As far as the ongoing search for lawn replacements, Greenlee reminded us that no grass will stay green without some summer water, but the trick is to find a grass that requires the least amount necessary. The more foot traffic is intended, the more water will be needed. For the moment, he’s wild about Leymus triticoides ‘Lagunita,’ which he feels is the closest thing to the perfect California native lawn. In creating a meadow, along with the chosen base grass, architectural accent grasses like Pennisetum spathiolatum add height and movement, and Greenlee has been experimenting with including flowering plants like gazania, tulbaghia, yarrow, gaura, evening primrose. Challenging designers to come up with their own meadow formulations, Greenlee increased the level of complexity by adding that it must all be mowable at some point to rejuvenate the grasses. A lot of people I’ve been talking with share his enthusiasm and feel that this is an exciting tipping point for creating dry gardens without the obligatory, frequently irrigated, and closely mown lawn. The Blue Grama grass selection, Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition,’ got a strong endorsement from him as well, which he sometimes mixes as an accent in plantings of the species Blue Grama. For Greenlee’s definitive advice, consult The American Meadow Garden.
Planted at home, Euphorbia antisyphilitica to the right of Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’ recently moved here, with a few blooms from Melampodium leucanthum peeking in.
One of the three Yucca pallida, pending mulch.
Poa cita, Greenlee’s choice over Mexican Feather Grass
My own personal “meadow,” of course, must include agaves.
It’s been such a pleasure to see what shape and expression each successive Natural Discourse has taken. Developed by Shirley Watts and Mary Anne Friel for the Berkeley Botanic Garden, a group of artists were invited to make site-specific work for the garden and then give talks about that work. (‘Natural Discourse: Artists, Architects, Scientists & Poets in the Garden.’) Shirley Watts has continued this series of talks and brought it to other venues and arboreta. I’ve loved them all.
Shirley’s household as a child blended both art and science, with parents working in music and medicine.
The physical collections of herbaria and natural history museums were a theme of this year’s Natural Discourse.
Shirley Watts on opening night at the La Brea Tar Pits
photo found here
And congratulations as well to Dr. Tu, who solved the problem of increasingly drug-resistant malaria with artemisinin extracted from Artemisia annua.
Plants and people, what a team!
Plants matter. Dr. Tu proved again that they are literally the emergency prescriptions kept up our sleeves.
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