spring-blooming Aloe camperi

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from a single rosette, just budding up, flowers still unopened

There are so many, many great aloes. A collector’s garden of aloes in zone 10 is a serious temptation. As are agaves. My desire skips like a stone across both these great groups of succulents, trying not to sink into a single-minded connoisseurship that this small but insatiably eclectic garden can’t support. Blissfully ignorant is sometimes a useful state of mind when it comes to the wealth of aloes I could be growing. The few I do know are astonishing enough, like Aloe camperi, which comes into bloom late spring. The dead-of-winter blooming aloes are a miraculous sight, but an aloe that joins in with the freshness of spring growth, like Aloe camperi, has its own virtue of good timing.

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Aloe camperi ‘Cornuta’ 3/16/18 at Huntington Botanical Garden

The Huntington has a March-blooming form known as Aloe camperi ‘Cornuta,’ which along with blooming a couple months earlier, has a strikingly different effect from the species.

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Aloe camperi 5/31/19 photo by MB Maher

Aloe camperi is featured prominently in Ray Valentine’s Atwater Village garden, and it holds up its end of the design bargain beautifully, used in a variety of ways.

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Aloe camperi 5/31/19 photo by MB Maher

I think it works beautifully whether blazing away en masse…

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Aloe camperi 5/31/19 photo by MB Maher

or painting its torches into evocative vignettes.

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Aloe camperi 5/31/19 photo by MB Maher
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Aloe camperi 5/31/19 photo by MB Maher

Aloe camperi is one good aloe I’m getting to know (among the hundreds I don’t!)

Posted in Plant Portraits, succulents | 3 Comments

April garden journal

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Because the Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ I had previously tried to establish here had failed to thrive, I assumed that it was dead, not dormant, when I replanted this rocky area in November. Which was fine, because I was going in a completely different direction with the new plantings in November 2020. The new plantings along the rocks were meant to be kept tight and lean, almost rock gardenish. The emergence of surprisingly lush spring growth from this Peruvian lily was therefore not a cause for celebration, especially as it proceeded to bully Agave ‘Arizona Star.’ And I’m sure as summer progresses its sprawl will have to be dealt with, but right now it is a rewarding eyeful of fresh, plummy leaves.

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And now this week, with the flowers coloring up, backed by the frothy spikes of the heuchera, it’s become my favorite mistake. That the Heuchera maxima would mesh so well with the alstroemeria was also unexpected. I’d grown this heuchera years ago but only remember the massive, zucchini-like leaves, not the prodigious flowering wands.

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I planted three heuchera in June 2020, one of which failed to establish, so this wonderfully fizzy, textural explosion comes from just two plants.

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Grown from seed last fall/winter, the biennial/short-lived perennial Silene fabaria ssp. domokina looks like it’s budding up already in just its first season in the garden. I’m hoping for lots of reseeding from this beauty. Stellata Plants has a photo of it here. Lucky are those who live close enough to patronize this fabulous British Columbia nursery.

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Four gallon plants of Salvia ‘Savannah Blue’ were planted July 2020. About a quarter of growth was trimmed back in winter — even so, it’s been a solid 3X2 evergreen presence since first planting. I know I always rush to judgment with plants, but I just feel in my bones that this salvia is the one for my little experiments in summer chaparral plantings. Low and shrubby, heat tolerant, tapering luminous blooms, with tough, intricately cut leaves similar to a scented pelargonium, it’s got all the hallmarks of a “martrix” plant. A hybrid of two South African species, Salvia repens and Salvia namaensis, for zones 8 to 11.

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The salvia started lightly blooming this week.

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The small white flowers weaving among the salvia are seed-grown Omphalodes linifolia, a spring annual I’m hoping will reseed.

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Also from seed, but not the linaria I expected, a white form of Linaria purpurea.

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Salvia ‘Big Pink’ continues to build up growth and bloom.

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The Tree Daisy, Montanoa grandiflora, from Worldwide Exotics, continues its rampageous growth. With leaves like that, grow away! It supposedly makes 10 feet of growth in a season, producing white fragrant daisies in fall/winter. I have no idea what to expect in its first year in the garden, which after all is one of the most exciting reasons to grow the unfamiliar.

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And then the California poppies joined Leucospermum ‘Tango’ in bloom…tangy!

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Planted over the winter, Westringia ‘Blue Gem’ jumped into bloom last week.

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Nicotiana mutabilis continues to astonish with its cloud-like performance.

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Looking from any direction, the nicotiana is now a dominating presence.

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The ixias are just about finished blooming. (Ixia ‘Venus’)

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A blogging friend came to town last week and made the rounds of nurseries and gardens, Gerhard of Succulents and More. When I heard that one of the nurseries he visited, Plant Depot in San Juan Capistrano, carried Aloe labworana, I hastened southward to snatch up this aloe for my own garden.

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Plant World didn’t disappoint, a huge enterprise with some smart, inquisitive people in charge of buying in plants. I also picked up a couple of Verbascum phlomoides ‘Wega,’ a biennial. Only a 40-minute trip, it still astonishes me how I rarely think of exploring Orange County, a byproduct of growing up with the idea of the “Orange Curtain.”

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Another freshman in the 2021 garden, Salvia ‘Amante’ has a complex raspberry presentation with dark calyces. It’s a big, subtropical salvia from Argentine salvia grower Ronaldo Uria, who gave us the instant-classic Salvia ‘Amistad.’

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Here in zone 10, Southern California, spring such as it is comes early. I hope your gardens are springing to life as well!

Posted in journal, plant nurseries, Plant Portraits, succulents | 10 Comments

Yucca ‘Magenta Magic’

Seems like only yesterday we were all very excited about Yucca aloifolia ‘Blue Boy,’ with enticing photos whizzing by with some regularity on blogs and public garden websites. So much exciting potential for dry gardens!

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Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ at Cornerstone, Sonoma, Calif., 2013

In my garden, they never looked liked these photos taken in Sonoma, California in 2013. For me, the yucca snaked prostrate on the ground, slithering its ropy stems for several feet, to not much discernible effect. When surrounding plantings were revised, the yuccas were pulled. So long ‘Blue Boy.’

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Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ 2013, Sonoma Calif.
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Yucca ‘Magenta Magic’ planted 2021, Long Beach, Calif.

But that’s not the end of the story of the purply-leaved Yucca aloifolia in my garden. A sport of ‘Blue Boy’ was discovered by Briggs Nursery and named ‘Magenta Magic’ which has started to circulate in nurseries, reputed to be a dwarf form, estimated size about 2 feet. Already I can tell its leaves are slimmer, and I’m hoping they remain upright in a spiky spherical rosette. We ask so much of plants, don’t we? And it’s gratifying to know that nursery people are on our wavelength too, as far as what we’re looking for in garden plants. Onward with Yucca ‘Magenta Magic’! For zones 7ish to 9ish, native to southeast U.S.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, succulents | 5 Comments

introducing Nicotiana mutabilis

The back of the garden is a bit crazy right now, what with the miscanthus, the flowering tobacco, Eryngium pandanifolium, Roldana petasites, kangaroo paws and others jostling to claim their allotment of soil and sun. And if that wasn’t enough, just to keep things really interesting, I threw a big restio Rhodocoma capensis into the mix. But if my garden isn’t occasionally making me a little nervous, well, that just means I’m losing my nerve. But let’s have a look first at what’s happening that causes me no worry at all, just pure delight. Like this bloom on Meconopsis cambrica today.

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Hunnemania fumarifolia, ferny grey-green leaves, flower stems reaching 1-1/2 to 2 feet in height

Ha! Made you Google! The Welsh poppy is actually one of the easier meconopsis to grow, but I’m fairly certain it would prefer to spontaneously combust before deigning to grow in my dry zone 10 garden. No, this short-lived perennial poppy relative from Mexico is Hunnemania fumarifolia, from seed given to me from the blogger Piece of Eden. It is a stalwart compatriot for my dryish garden and insinuates itself among the gaggle of plants I’m growing with true team spirit.

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Hunnemania, the Tulip Poppy, squeezing in among lomandra and gerbera
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A new Cactus Geranium, so good in pot culture whatever your zone, this little Pelargonium echinatum ‘Julie Scheller’ was part of a recent order from Geraniaceae. The color is mutable, changeable from white to pink, which is also a trait of one of the plants I’m going to talk about in the back of the garden, Nicotiana mutabilis. The nicotiana also started out in a pot, but unlike the Cactus Geranium, the nicotiana would require arduous effort to keep watered in a pot for months on end. (Deborah Silver accomplishes pot culture for the nicotiana beautifully in the shorter growing season of Detroit, so it is doable in less dry climates.)

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Under that table a spring tide of Salvia ‘Big Pink’ pools. I watched a hummingbird duck and dive under the pergola yesterday for a quick nip. Did I plan for so much pink? Not at all. For a small, dry zone 10 garden, color planning, even if I were so inclined (and I’m not) is out the window — because odds are there won’t be a lot of flowers in bloom at any one time, for any length of time, to cause much of a controversy in any case. If the plant will thrive in the same conditions as my aloes and agaves, I’m effectively color-blind. And for me it’s not so much about color anyway, as performance, movement, bearing.

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Ad hoc support was added to the nicotiana when the March winds threatened several times to topple it completely. Yellow flowers belong to Roldana petasites, another bruiser that needed support to withstand afternoon winds

In the back of the garden is where I keep open ground to try out new plants, and treatment here is much richer than for the succulents closer to the house. Nicotiana mutabilis from Brazil bloomed lightly in a pot its first year, but since it also grows as a short-lived perennial in zone 10, after planting it in the ground for its second spring it has transformed into a huge, multi-stemmed, cabbagey-leaved bruiser — a bruiser that dangles delicate bells for me to examine head-height and for hummingbirds to plunder for nectar. It’s a muscular yet delicate performance that would win the admiration of Twyla Tharp.

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At 5X4′ and with many side shoots still developing, I’m just not sure that this performance is sustainable for much longer as the weather heats up. Which is why I’m taking its portrait now. If as I expect, the heat produces epic wilt, I’ll cut it to the base and see what happens when the weather cools in fall.

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Nicotiana mutabilis — delighted to finally meet you! I’ve heard so much about you! Make yourself comfortable. Feel free to put your feet up, throw some seed around…

Posted in journal, plant nurseries, Plant Portraits, pots and containers, succulents | 5 Comments

the White Agave is in bloom again

Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’? Agave mitis var. albidior? The nomenclature continues to be shifty with this agave, so let’s just call it the White Agave. I can’t think of another agave that can also claim that common name, but feel free to correct me if you know of one. We do want to avoid any confusion! There’s a clump-forming White Agave and a non-clump-forming White Agave. Mine is apparently the latter. It definitely has the wide leaves that author Jeff Moore ascribes to Agave celsii v. nova. Thank god for experts. I’m just a humble gardener.

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Emerging bloom spike today March 27, 2021. The leaves have no margin teeth, just a single terminal spine

My original agave was found around 2012-2013 at now-closed Burkhard’s Nursery in Pasadena and was a good size when planted in 2013, blooming in 2015. It never formed offsets like the ‘UCB’ form, and just one pup was discovered after bloom. No bulbils. And here it is in bloom again, March 2021. Will it squeeze out just a single pup this time around too? Sheesh…

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clump-forming A. celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’ at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
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White Agave bloom spike May 2015, my garden
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bloom spike May 2015

So it’s bloomed every six years in my garden. Does that make its bloom cycle sextennial? The spike is a fluffy shaving brush of maroon and apricot filaments, a lovely sight to behold for the months it hangs on.

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The City of Long Beach announced no-appointment vaccines this week, and I was able to get my first today — woohoo! The new puppy Billie is on her second course of antibiotics for an as-yet undiagnosed cough, that is not kennel cough. We await X-ray diagnosis…

Hope you’re having a lovely weekend!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies | 5 Comments

Coachella Valley Desert X Exhibition Extended to 5/16/21

Fantasizing about road trips is starting to move closer and closer to actually planning road trips. Here’s a possibility, a visit to the Desert X exhibition to coincide with California desert wildflower bloom.

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Never Forget by Nicholas Galanin, photos by MB Maher

From Desert X’s website: “For Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit and Unangax̂ artist and musician, memory and land are inevitably entwined. The 45-foot letters of Never Forget reference the Hollywood sign, which initially spelled out HOLLYWOODLAND and was erected to promote a whites-only development. Its timing coincided with a development in Palm Springs that also connected to the film industry: Studio contracts limited actors’ travel, contributing to the city’s rise as playground and refuge of the stars. Meanwhile, the white settler mythology of America as the land of the free, home of the brave was promoted in the West, and the landscape was cinematized through the same lens. Never Forget asks settler landowners to participate in the work by transferring land titles and management to local Indigenous communities. The work is a call to action and a reminder that land acknowledgments become only performative when they do not explicitly support the land back movement. Not only does the work transmit a shockwave of historical correction, but also promises to do so globally through social media.”

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road trip through Joshua Trees
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Having spent over a year preoccupied with boundaries and measurable distances, it’s such a comfort to be reminded that somewhere out there is a world without walls…

Posted in artists, garden travel, MB Maher | 2 Comments

clippings 3/23/21

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The poppies self-sown into the new gravel area have grown so tall I wasn’t sure if they were my old standbys, the smaller statured Papaver setigerum. Blooms opening this week confirmed that indeed they are, but just gaining a bit more size in this slightly mounded area topped with crushed rock. There seem to be some true somniferum seedlings here too, which are much larger plants with “leafier” leaves. I’m hoping it’s ‘Lauren’s Grape.’ If not I’ll probably pull the plant and let the Poppies of Troy/P. setigerum have reseeding honors here. This gravel area has been a hotbed of seed activity — Geranium maderense* seedlings have turned up, a plant that hasn’t flowered here for years, the annual variegated Polygonum orientalis, and a single ballota seedling has appeared which I’m hoping will thrive and reintroduce this great plant to the new gravel area.

(*Now that the first set of true leaves has grown in, I can see these are not Geranium maderense but most likely seedlings of a mediterranean brassica, Brassica cretica subsp. aegaea whose seed I threw in this area.)

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Passiflora vitifolia opened its first blooms this week as well — and I’ve already found a seedling from this vine in its second (third?) year in the garden. Finding seedlings is my kind of treasure hunt — unless I’m overrun with sheets of them from plants like labrador violets or Tinantia pringlei. Erodium triflorum (formerly pelargoniflorum) reseeds fairly lustily too, and is confined to the very dry front garden to bite the ankles of the big succulents there like Aloe ‘Hercules,’ Agave ‘Jaws,’ Fucraea macdougalii…(ankle biters are on my mind now with the arrival of a new puppy Billie…sshhh, mercifully she’s sleeping now. I’ll properly introduce her very soon.)

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With the March winds unabating, I decided to stake the sonchus. Having produced a second year of blooms, and even thrown a few seedlings, I don’t want to take any chances now that it looks to have a reasonable chance of becoming a garden mainstay. A couple of seedlings were potted and a few left in situ. I’d like more this year, please! The sonchus was moved against the back wall, in the assumption that its appearance would deteriorate as summer progresses like its brethren S. canariensis, which is strongly summer dormant and loses its leaves. Such a shabby performance is hard on the eyes in a small garden. S. palmensis thins out leaves as well but last summer managed to keep enough leaves to remain presentable. I’m glad I moved it in any case, because it seems to love the alternating strong and dappled sunlight at the edge of the canopy of the fernleaf acacia. (No photos taken yet, but I also staked the enormous flowering tobacco, Nicotiana mutabilis, and the groundsel Roldana petasites, which were battered and leaning from the winds. The roldana’s inflorescence is very similar in appearance to the sonchus.)

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Sonchus palmensis in the distance, Alcantarea odorata in the foreground
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New echeverias are still finding their way into the rock spur area. Above is E. ‘Burgundy Pearl.’ The dudleya hasn’t bloomed yet so I’m unsure of its identity. The leaves look like Dudleya brittonii, but we’ll see what the blooms show.

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Another recent addition, I like how this crassula extends the dudleya vibe with linear leaves. Nice burgundy stems and foaming flowers — Crassula orbicularis var. rosularis.

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The large-leaved Stachys ‘Big Ears’ appeared locally, so I grabbed a couple because I was thinking of mail-ordering some anyway, along with compact Dianella ‘Baby Bliss’ to flank Mangave ‘Lavendar Lady’ — filling the ground vacated by moving out the blooming Agave ‘Dragon Toes.’ The now uprooted agave’s flowers buds are swelling and, fingers crossed, getting ready to open.

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Fall/winter/spring is such a great time for aeoniums, but through renovations and plant shuffling and just taking my eye off the ball, the garden has a very light aeonium presence this year. I’d forgotten about this clump in a mix of succulents just off the back porch, which has been quietly building size until finally making its spring presence dramatically known by illumination. An Aloe ‘David Verity’ is in danger of being crushed by the saucers, so their days basking in the sunshine here may be numbered as well.

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Many of the lily bulbs I planted in fall are already nosing up!

And I want to thank John Palmer for his comment regarding the giant fennel: “It is Ferula communis and it most certainly is not monocarpic in Cyprus.  I have been here for 15 years now and witnessed them at the roadside in abundance, getting bigger and bigger each year in the same locations.  I collected and sowed seeds 3 years ago and raised over 30 young plants some of which are flowering for the first time right now at about 2′ (600mm) high.  I only recently discovered that it was not a wild form of Foeniculum (real Fennel) which is just as well as we were considering drying the foliage and feeding it to our horses – turns out it can be toxic!

My two plants are alive and leafing out — whether they ever flower here is still an open question.

Did you catch the NYT remarking on the surge in popularity of Gardener’s World? (“How a British Gardening Show Got People Through the Pandemic.) I’d read one of host Monty Don’s books years ago (“The Jewel Garden”?) that covered his early jewelry making venture and subsequent depression when that business was upended by a UK financial crisis, but I’d never sought out the show. I’m still a recovering anglophile when it comes to plants and gardens, so I usually opt to save myself the heartache of viewing enormous drifts of complicated seasonal planting rinsed in rain in summer, with the off seasons spent puttering in the greenhouse and planning fresh challenges for the acreage. Spring ephemerals, thalictrum, sanguisorba — that orderly, predictable progression of genera throughout the seasons backed by centuries of plant exploration and experimentation and intense garden culture, I admit I have envied these things so I stayed away from Gardener’s World. But like all those other pandemic viewers, finally I succumbed. Just in the past few weeks, right before the article appeared, I streamed some episodes. And while I think my garden anglophilia recovery is still on solid ground, I completely get this series’ popularity. Plants, bird song, dogs (Nigel!), the mesmerizing sound of shovels sinking into soil, visits to extraordinary gardens — no matter where or how big your garden, or whatever your prejudices (!), it’s a strong antidote to what ails us now. The readers’ rapturous comments, many by non-gardeners and those lacking even a balcony, are as the Brits say, just lovely.

Margaret Roach’s report on specialty nurseries in the NYT is likewise a treat: “Why Shop at a Specialty Nursery?” Here’s to more intelligent garden journalism in U.S. publications! That’s how a garden culture grows…

Posted in Cinema Botanica, clippings, journal, succulents | 8 Comments

recent garden distractions

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Does the world distract me from my garden or the garden distract me from the world? The balance has been different at various times in my life, so I like that the relationship is flexible. Spending most of my days in the garden now, I’ve recently had a minor epiphany concerning potted plants. This is probably not news to lots of you, but I can be slow at times to break old habits.

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Othonna capensis with echeveria at base of Pseudobombax ellipcticum

With rare exceptions, I’ve always grown potted plants as single specimens, usually mulched with gravel. Last year, without much of a plan, I began filling in the larger containers with excess echeverias from the garden. They multiplied fast and grew pristine and unblemished, and when I was planting up the new gravel garden area, I had a ready supply at hand.

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Not sure if this is Echeveria imbricata or what (E. pulidonis), but I had 11 of them to plant among the rocks.

That was all the encouragement I needed. I’ve now become an enthusiastic convert to the idea of filling the base of slow-growing potted plants with small succulents (duh!) — so I’ll have a luxurious amount to spread around the garden in large drifts, an effect I love in mature gardens.

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Myrtillocactus geometrizans with Agave x leopoldii

And it’s funny, once an old bias dissolves, all kinds of possibilities open up. Like combining small, slow-growing agaves with cactus, which I did recently when repotting a large myrtillocactus.

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I still can’t believe I repotted this beast without injury — to me or the cactus!
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My little potted agave treasures? They’re getting the same treatment, like this ‘Rum Runner’ planted at the base of Cussonia spicata. Small, profusely pupping — why not treat them like echeverias when they behave like echeverias?

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fresh new growth on Cussonia spicata in the past few weeks
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Those terrestrial bromeliads like dyckias and hechtias I’ve banished from the garden because of their blood-drawing, expansive colony-forming ways? I’ve kept a few individually potted, and they struggle from the neglect that comes when I’m conflicted about a plant. With the new approach, I can appreciate how well this dyckia works with Pilocereus azureus (also neglected) — a juxtaposition I’d include in the garden if I planted such spiny things in the ground, which I generally do not in this very small garden. Who knows, one day there may be puppies roaming the garden again…

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With my ‘Gold Star’ beaucarnia needing repotting to a larger size, and having shed the prejudice about keeping the base of the plant covered in only gravel, I indulged in some purposeful plant shopping.

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Echeveria ‘Blue Prince’

Echeverias ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘New Black’ spoke to me out of dozens of succulents I considered. I want lots more of these propagating in this little nursery at the base of the beaucarnia, away from foot traffic, slugs etc.

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Echeveria ‘New Black’
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Surplus pups of Echeveria agavoides fill the base of a cussonia

So that counts for excitement around here. Of course I’ve been prowling the local nurseries in general, hoping to find the ones that carry stock from Annie’s Annuals flush with new arrivals. Nope — in fact, as far as I can tell, Annie’s Annuals doesn’t appear to be available anywhere locally this year.

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I did find one of her plants at International Nursery, this Dombeya burgessiae, because International has the habit of potting up unsold plants and offering them again in bigger sizes the next season. This dombeya has fremontodendron-like leaves, with flowers and bracts that present some interesting brownish-pink tones. It’s a small South African tree that reputedly is fine indefinitely in a container. Maybe I’ll slip in some succulents at its base once I get to know the dombeya a little better.

More scenes from the garden this March:

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Agave pumila backed by some ‘Copper Pot’ California poppies
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Doryanthes palmeri and giant purple crinum

I’ve been astonished to discover what a good strong vertical presence the giant purple crinum has turned into, like having a year-round, gigantic Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy.’ I guess I assumed it would splay out and lounge and misbehave, but this flea market purchase has turned into gold. I almost prefer it to a dark phormium. Unfortunately, it’s rarely offered at local nurseries and always on the expensive side when it is.

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The winter blooms of the Silver Spoons, Kalanchoe bracteata, are a hummingbird favorite
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Sideritis oroteneriffae is elongating into bloom
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The leaning trunk of the giant dandelion, Sonchus palmensis, is unseen in this photo, but it’s getting near parallel to the ground. With all the wind we’ve been having this March, every morning I expect to wake up to it toppled over — incredibly, it remains upright. It can grow on cliffs and among rocks, so the taproot must be able to handle strong winds. I’ve placed some rocks at its base as insurance, but I’m wondering if I shouldn’t stake it as well.

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Romneya in its first year in the garden — but will there be blooms?
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New growth on Trevesia palmta, freshly clean from a day of rain
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Leucospermum ‘Tango’ is one of those slow flowers that takes its time to unfold into bloom, a mesmerizing performance. And the flowers last and last in the cool winter temperatures. Quite the contrast to growing flowers in summer, like my cosmos experiment last summer that I doubt I’ll be repeating.

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Behind the leucospermum, Banksia repens seems to have survived being moved here recently
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Albuca namaquensis in the middle, spiralis on the left.

The albucas continue to delight in small containers — they’d get lost in the garden.

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And that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to — getting lost in the garden!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, journal, Plant Portraits, pots and containers, succulents | 9 Comments

pandemic garden project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crassula multicava grown in Woolly Pockets for the green wall at the Smog Shoppe in Culver City, Calif.
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With the sheltering cypress gone, this funnel of rhipsalis and other potted rhipsalis were overnight exposed to drying winds, and I could tell the epiphytic cacti were struggling in the changed conditions. With the funnel moved to hang from the base of the frame, the resurgent health of this rhipsalis has been dramatic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloom Day 2/15/21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Bloom Day, Bulbs | 5 Comments