garden mysteries and dilemmas

Some minor drama and quandaries in the garden recently.

The bloom stalk of possibly Tillandsia secunda leaning on Alcantarea odorata

The very large but unidentified tillandsia brought home from a sale at the private garden of the late Bill Baker (of Aloe ‘Hercules’ fame), organized by his wife Donna Baker and So Cal Hort Society, is throwing a bloom. The stalk is over 3 feet and still growing. It just might be the Giant Terrestrial Tillandsia, T. secunda. Seeing this tillandsia at the Sherman Library & Garden in full flowering regalia prompted a mad search for its identity — you can read about it here. Suffice to say that my little garden is somewhat overexcited at the prospect of seeing this tilly in bloom here. I do have a very small Tillandsia secunda I bought after seeing the Sherman’s, but it has years of growing to do before it even thinks about blooming.


I’m not sure anything tops that news, but this newly repotted Euphorbia canariensis comes close.

 photo 1-P1010886.jpg
Urn and euphorbia were purchased at a sale and auction of the contents of the old Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles to make way for its next iteration as a boutique hotel — photo from 2016

The urn had considerably crumbled and flaked in the four years since this photo, and making a decision on the best course of action had reached a state of paralysis. I could save the urn or the plant, but not both, and the plant was beginning to show signs of stress as the container increasingly shed water rather than absorb it. At this size, it should be flowering, but it hasn’t. I sat on this dilemma for too long and began to view what was once so beautiful to me as a troublingly unsolvable problem. This week the hammer finally came out. I opted to save the plant and smash the urn. The mental logjam was smashed to smithereens too — no regrets. Just please don’t tell me it’s ancient Minoan pottery worth millions….

Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Medio Picta’

And that’s not the only mental logjam I cleared this week. This unobstructed view of that strapping young agave was made possible by the very hard pruning of a Phylica pubescens, a South African Featherbush (photo in this post). This luminous golden shrub has not been easy to please, so when it decided to live and thrive and grow tall, I wasn’t about to grumble that it was blocking my view of the agave behind it. The young agave had lots of growing to do, and if it accomplished that mostly out of my sight, fine. But after some years, the Featherbush has grown leggy, and that finally prompted me to cut it back to a foot or so. I doubt it survives, so I’ll start over with a new one at some point. But not where it blocks the view of this maturing agave. And I don’t even want to think about the Solomonic decisions to be made when the agave’s wing span approaches the predicted 6 feet. I’ll file that under “future garden dilemmas” next to rebuilding the termite-ridden fence, calling an arborist to consult on the soaring lemon cypresses, redoing the front garden, etc., etc.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, journal, pots and containers | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

6/28/20 garden progress report


That’s gotta be a record for the fastest repurposing of a bird bath from water to plants, considering the bird bath just arrived in May. Filling it with plants is not a total admission of failure, just temporary frustration with the constant debris and prime mosquito-hatching condtions. This big clump of spiny dyckia (or hechtia — won’t know until it blooms, white for hechtia, orange for dyckia) was covered in tree debris and expanding onto a front-garden walkway, but after cleaning it up to save an offset, it seemed a shame to trash such an impressive clump. I haven’t given up on providing my bird friends water, and there’s another satellite bird bath in use now, but this one needs rethinking and possibly relocating. And I’m still limited to lifting no more than 10 pounds for another month. I could ask Marty, but I know I’ll want it moved here then there then back here and a little over to the left, maybe to the right, etc., etc. I really hate to be too much of a pest…

There’s no drainage hole in the bird bath, so this is strictly temporary. My charming neighbor Holly brought over a solar-powered pump to recirculate water, and I’ll either try it in this bird bath or figure something out by repurposing a fire bowl on a concrete pedestal…or something.
Agave kerchovei ‘Huajuapan Red,’ despite its name, has so far failed to redden. A young Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ to the left was smothered in Orlaya grandiflora in spring but seems none the worse for wear. The grass behind the beschorneria is Pennisetum massaicum, and the agave and aloe grow among sesleria.

The red, faded kangaroo paws were cut down, which freshened up this area considerably — there’s a lot of summer left to let things go shabby. For summer I love the idea of a busy, orchestral garden, with soloists taking their turn then sitting back down as others rise up to play. Deep behind the aloe blooms are three blooms budding up from Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud’ planted last year from gallons. It would be incredibly cool if ‘Storm Cloud’ opened before the aloe blooms go off. The agapanthus is semi-sandwiched between a miscanthus and a Lindheimer’s muhly but still with enough growing room — for now.

Even with the typical overcast mornings of June, Aloe elgonica is getting some good coloration on its leaves

The annual Coreopsis tinctoria has been joined by a self-sown Verbena bonariensis and Cosmos ‘Xanthos,’ and this little area off the porch continues to make me smile. So far, these thread-leaved annuals like coreopsis and cosmos have worked out well for this small garden. Long blooming, no mildew or insect problems with the leaves so far, knock wood, and because they don’t become shabby I can grow them right under my nose and among other plants, rather than reserve them for a cutting garden (which I don’t have).

More Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ bulking up in a container — if it gets shabby or overgrown, it can be whisked away…
A fairly accurate portrait of the colors of Cosmos ‘Xanthos,’ but the blooms do fade off in color as they age.
I just sowed a bunch more named varieties of cosmos last week.
Out of three 4-inch Verbascum bombyciferum, this is the healthiest clump, crowded by variegated St. Augustine grass but still getting good air flow — whatever makes you happy!

Take care out there! I’m keeping a mask handy in several places throughout the house so I don’t forget to grab one, as well as in the car, hanging on the stick shift for errands around town. As the 4th of July approaches, we’re hoping that afterwards the cherry bombs and M-whatevers will cease to erupt after nightfall, setting off car alarms and nervous dogs up and down the street. This has got to be the loudest, most explosive pre-4th of July we’ve ever experienced…

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, journal, pots and containers, succulents | 6 Comments

clippings 6/22/20

I don’t remember having miscanthus and kangaroo paws blooming in close proximity before. Wouldn’t mind this becoming a summer fixture.
Lily ‘Lavon,’ a cross with the Easter lily — a couple of the flowers were so heavy they bent where they joined the stems, so I cut them for small vases. Smells nice during the day, but there’s some trigger with night-time temperatures that sends the scent forth in such volume that Marty suggested closing the door on it. Unreal how the scent flooded the house. I checked the flower again the next morning, and it was back to the light, demure daytime scent you had to bury your nose into the flower to detect. Lilies are into some mysterious business with night-time pollinators and apparently throw aside all subtlety to attract them…
Verbascum olympicum, one of two that survived to bloom. My verbascum experiment has produced mixed results so far. I’m back again to wondering if a frostless winter is to blame for the amount of chewing on the leaves. I’m betting that the best plants will be those that self-sow — if I can bear to leave the carcasses in place that long. Even bombyciferum gets chewed, and recent memory can bitterly compare mine to the pristine rosettes in Denver, Colorado. I love the effect of growing verbascum in the foreground, but not these chewed-up, sorry-ass rosettes. It’s strictly back of the garden for them. Again, maybe a harder, insect-killing winter is preferable?
this perennial coreopsis was such a trouper in a container last year that it earned a trial in the garden. (Lil Bang Red Elf’)
Begonia ‘Red Fred’ — okay, Fred!
Blooming edifice of the the giant dandelion Sonchus palmensis just before depotting it and planting it in the garden. Spent blooms were cut off and laid in various spots in the garden — no idea if it will self-sow.
This aloe and agave have taken the sonchus’ place. Photos from its home on La Palma, one of the Canary Islands with the mildest climate, a little more moisture, and more in keeping with my coastal climate, show this sonchus trunking and then leafing out at the ends of the trunks, which I’m hoping it does here. In its place is this aloe pup that was thrown into a cement tube and made a good job of rooting, and a rosette of Agave ‘Ivory Curls’ was looking fine enough to flaunt. A chain bow tie for support was added just in case. It’s all very icy cool here now, with the Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty’
And it got even icier with Senecio candicans. They’re getting full afternoon sun here — maybe this will make them happy? stay tuned…
My flea market dark-leaved crinum surprised me with a flower spike. Nice light scent. It was a huge plant, but these plants take years to bloom so I wasn’t sure if this clump was mature enough. Yesss!

Hope you find lots of interesting and diverting things to do this week. I’m tending new seedlings and waiting for another seed order to arrive — there’s got to be more empty pots around here somewhere…

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, Bulbs, climate, clippings, Plant Portraits, pots and containers | 6 Comments

visit to Sculptura Botanica part 2

  • what: in-situ installation showcasing botanical-themed ceramic work of Dustin Gimbel
  • where: Sherman Library & Gardens
  • when: May 15 through September 15, 2020
  • lunch and lecture: June 26, 2020, 11:30 a.m. and tour of the exhibit by Dustin Gimbel
  • other venues: Dustin will be exhibiting his work in a group show at the Ruth Bancroft Garden Friday in Walnut Creek, California, July 17, 2020
  • read Sculptura Botanica part 1 here
Dustin Gimbel’s Blue Sage Towers with some of my favorite planting at the Sherman

Walking, driving, biking all over town, I probably study plants more than people. And it’s not always pretty. In fact, it rarely is. Plants are treated as the green wallpaper background to a city, awkwardly squeezed into the leftover urban spaces after capitalism gets the first pass at choice real estate. It can be dismaying to witness their rough, thoughtless treatment, but there’s some small satisfaction in knowing that gardens are where the payback happens, where plants’ central importance is acknowledged. Gardens are where plants get lifted out of the background and placed center stage, where they’re amassed in new ways to make us gasp, as if to show what just a little clever, sympathetic cooperation between people and the natural world can do.

I was explaining to Marty this morning how every few years an “It” plant comes along, and Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’ (left and right foreground) is the “It” plant of the moment. In typical TMI mode, I then went on to discuss the huge senecio tribe in general, how many times and in what exposures I’ve tried and failed with this senecio before — all prompted by his simple observation, “Hey, you planted your new plants.” Whether he likes it or not, he’s my horticultural buddy during lockdown.

And apart from their mission of collecting and preserving plants, isn’t a botanical garden’s unspoken message that if we pay a little attention to plants and the life they support, watch how they grow, bloom, and die, extraordinary things can happen? For a lot of us rabid plant fiends, that is enough. Public gardens, however, dealing with a more generalized customer, often add art into the mix to keep things interesting for visitors. Paradoxically, inserting art into public gardens often has the unintended consequence (for me) of relegating plants into the background again, as mere pleasant backdrop for the art work. I found the Sculptura Botanica exhibit currently at the Sherman Library and Gardens the rare exception.

The delphiniums will last as long as the spring/early summer stays cool. More enduring is the feathery gray shrub, the South African Gomphostigma virgatum. Summer annuals will no doubt be slipped in as the delphiniums fade. White liatris will take the summer heat.

The strength of the exhibit derives from the knowing dialogue between Dustin’s ceramics, which are inspired by a deep understanding of the structure and wonder of plants, his keen spatial sense as a garden designer, and the horticultural expertise of the staff at the Sherman. I thought it was a stunning example of how to integrate art into a public garden without giving the sense that the garden has been temporarily taken over as a display case. The ceramics and the plantings seamlessly work as a hand-in-glove collaboration.

Blue and Black Sage Towers with Whorled Cake Flower Towers. I love how the ceramic totems rise emphatically from the low-scaled, textural plantings, with columns of blooms adding to the vertical energy, creating a satisfying tug between the two planes.
Whorled Cake Flowers Towers with nude

The garden nymph is exceedingly proud of her pond
Blue lotus are also by Dustin
In the lathe houses and conservatory, it was sometimes hard to discern what was real and what was ceramic
(the hanging banana flower is ceramic)
Pretty sure it’s all potted begonias here
steps leading into the succulent garden
Last photo. The ceramics are interspersed throughout the entire garden. In the succulent garden there’s an incredible cobalt blue agave flower totem but the camera battery had run out.

Note: Everyone has to do their own risk analysis about visiting public places during these challenging times, and I can only offer my own risk calculations in that 1) I’m in the target age group for most adverse effects 2) recently post-surgery 3) and carrying the blood type that seems to have more adverse consequences too (negative). Everything I’ve read points to outdoor spaces as holding the least risk, and that has been guiding my behavior these past few months. (“We have very little evidence of outdoor transmission. It’s not zero — there are definitely cases reported — but it’s much, much lower than inside,” says Gretchen Snoeyenbos Newman, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Washington.” WaPo 6/20/20.) I visited on a Tuesday morning, and keeping a healthy distance from other visitors was no problem at all.


And with the increasing realization that, like it or not, all the world is now a garden in a “post-wild” sense, with our species’ influence felt around the globe, horticulturalists and botanists are the heroes we need. Referring to the map above, much applause is given to the following horticultural talent:

  • Carol Younger, Senior Horticulturist: Tea Garden, Sun Garden, Central Garden
  • Joel Friesen, Horticulturist: Tropical Conservatory, Specimen Shade House
  • Dawn Mones, Horticulturist: Tea Garden, Sun Garden, Central Garden
  • Tim Chadd,  Horticulturist: Formal Garden, Sensory Garden
  • Darla Miller, Orchid Curator: Orchid Collection, Tropical Conservatory
  • Erin Aguiar, Horticulture Manager: Perennial Beds, Mediterranean Climates Garden

Posted in artists, garden ornament, garden travel, garden visit, inspire me | 5 Comments

bloom day June 2020

Foreground yellow daisy is Anthemis ‘Susannah Mitchell’

Typical of my small zone 10 Southern California garden, the month of June is as much subtractive as additive. Gone are the winter-growing annuals like poppies, nicotiana, and umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora, and as the hot dry summer bears down, the outlines of succulents like agaves and aloes once again come to the fore. The kangaroo paws are still prominent verticals, though the reds can start looking a little burnt out and scruffy. Annual coreopsis and cosmos, in pots and the garden, can handle the heat to come, and they’re just about the size of summer daisy a small overplanted garden can handle (no to dahlias, rudbeckias, etc). A 20-degree jump from a short, intense heatwave seared stripes into the cuticle on a couple established agaves, but we’re back into the very tolerable high 70s/low 80s again, at least for this week.

Nicotianas were pulled to give spears of summer-blooming Aloe elgonica some room to shine
The yellow kangaroo paws hold their color much better than the dark reds (‘Harmony’)
A tall flavidus hybrid with samphire, Crithmum maritimum, lower left
Annual coreopsis ‘Tiger Stripes’ handled the heat wave fine, but a couple leaves on Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ got a bit toasty
Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’ — with their small basal footprint, the eryngos fit in nicely amongst succulents like Yucca ‘Blue Boy’
Arctotis ‘Ruby Creeper’ stays tight and low
Miscanthus ‘Silver Sceptre’ really kicked into gear after the heat wave
Agapanthus ‘Indigo Frost’ planted last year surrounded by Stipa ichu
Also with Sesleria ‘Campo Azul’ — not many flowers from the sesleria in half day sun but fat creamy brushes in full sun.
I moved Sinningia ‘Invasion Force’ just after the heat wave. A strong-growing tuberous gesneriad that managed to throw multiple blooms in very dry soil in half-day sun, I had to see what it could do in more favorable conditions.
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The Helenium puberulum has been lightly blooming since planting last fall, but those stunning leaves are of course from eucomis and are a total cheat — one of two gallons of ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ I dropped into the garden in full sun just before the heat wave. So far I haven’t had success with eucomis in the ground, and I’ve probably grown them in too much shade and/or kept them too dry. These gallons were in a nursery’s remaindered aisle, literally bursting through the pots with multiple bulbs, and since one bulb can go for $20 it was an incredible deal. I think I’ll keep them in pots, maybe divide the two gallons into four gallons in fall.

Passiflora vitifolia ‘Scarlet Flame’ had dozens of blooms open yesterday, only buds today
Miscanthus nepalensis has been slow but steadily improves every year. The grass blades so far make a thin, low clump, with the arching blooms similar to Stipa gigantea — but silky, not oatlike
Cypella herbertii’s intricate blooms come steadily, each lasting just a day
glaucium is starting to reseed a bit at the periphery near hardscape, never mid-border
Not just bred for the florists anymore, this orange gerbera is from the ‘Garvinea’ series intended for gardens and containers, planted in the last few weeks
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Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial’ was thrown in with the pot of vines Solanum wendlandii and the coyote gourd
Spadix-type flower of Piper auritum makes a contrapuntal rhythm across the wavy leaves

May Dreams Gardens collects the bloom day reports the 15th of every month.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, Bloom Day, pots and containers, succulents | 12 Comments

visit to Sculptura Botanica part 1

potted plants on the porch of the garden office at the Sherman
  • what: in-situ installation showcasing botanical-themed ceramic work of Dustin Gimbel
  • where: Sherman Library & Gardens
  • when: May 15 through September 15, 2020
  • lunch and lecture: June 26, 2020, 11:30 a.m. and tour of the exhibit by Dustin Gimbel
  • other venues: Dustin will be exhibiting his work in a group show at the Ruth Bancroft Garden Friday in Walnut Creek, California, July 17, 2020

It seems like a ridiculously short time ago that Dustin Gimbel was asking me, Hey, do you want to take a ceramics class? Was that three years ago? Four years? As a garden designer his schedule is somewhat flexible, but I was still working full time and couldn’t fit it in. From that point on, he’s been experiencing the creative equivalent of brain fever as he’s explored at a breakneck pace the possibilities of ceramics using the visual language of botanicals and in the context of garden design. He’d already done lots of work with concrete molds and other formulations to make bespoke containers and totems, so studying ceramics seemed like a great fit. But the speed at which he’s mastered the craft has been astonishing to witness, and I happily have various iterations of his increasing levels of mastery all around my garden.

About the Pollen Grain Towers Dustin says: “It’s hard to imagine something more intricately sculptural than pollen grains as seen by the electron microscope. I wanted to show pollen grains in a new light, more than just a cause of allergies, something to be seen. This series of sculptures reimagines the origin of pollen emanating from mythical towers, the pollen ever budding, growing and dispersing.
What I’ve always admired about Dustin’s garden design work is its very graphic, sculptural qualities combined with a plant-forward sensibility. In his ceramic work, he draws on and expands both these strengths.

In short order his ceramics became available online and at local design shops, and he secured his first show at the Sherman Library & Gardens this May — and then the COVID-19 virus hit and seemingly upended everything. Yet in the uncertainty over how and when to open the show safely, the work behind the scenes went on, planting, trimming and polishing until everything gleams.

All photos taken on May June 2, 2020

The extra amount of time and focus the staff had in fine-tuning the installation and plantings may have been an unintended consequence of the pandemic, but the results all that work produced are ravishing.

“anther” sculptures tucked into existing plantings.

The Sherman has done a thorough job of ensuring health and safety of attendees. Order the tickets online, follow distancing recommendations and one-way traffic flow patterns, and you’ll have a fabulous time taking in the collaboration between Dustin and the horticultural staff at the Sherman Gardens that is Sculptura Botanica. For me, the sensory deprivation imposed by COVID-19 and being homebound for months made the experience of walking through the entrance gate similar to the moment when the Wizard of Oz movie shifts from black and white to color. The scale of the Sherman is perfect for the installation, with excitement built and sustained around each new turn in the path. The horticultural talent on view at the Sherman always rewards a visit, but they really rose to this occasion with dense, detailed plantings specifically for this exhibit.

anther sculptures with leucospermum still lightly blooming in early June

The interplay between the expert plantings and Dustin’s musings on botanical anatomy in clay make for a thoroughly engrossing visit. From every vantage point, the views are enthralling.

Orange dahlias and possibly ‘Mystic Sprires’ salvia underplant the Pollen Grain Towers
Melianthus, Leucadendron ‘Jester,’ smoke tree and so much more in an established bed in the entrance garden with the Pollen Grain Towers. The sculptures were tucked into permanent plantings as well as having whole new plantings designed around them.
Always a plus when a visit coincides with the bloom of the walking iris, Neomarica caerulea

I’ll order the photos as closely as possible to the prescribed traffic flow through the garden, starting with the entrance into the central garden with the Pollen Grain Towers. There is a prodigious amount of ceramic work in the show, and this is by no means representative of all of it.

Echium wildpretii
Dark-leaved dyckia just about finished blooming
pitcher plants!

Leaving the main entrance area and Pollen Grain Towers and following the recommended path, you can either enter the tropical conservatory and count the turtles and koi or stay on the path and head into the bromeliad garden.


The next big set piece is the Equisetium Towers centering a veg-planted parterre edged in santolina and possibly a vibrant chartreuse berberis (or a gold-leaved Lonicera nitida).


And I’ll leave you here and finish up the rest of the visit to Sculptura Botanica next week. Have a fine weekend!

Posted in artists, design, garden visit | 5 Comments

Sculptura Botanica, Sherman Library & Gardens May-September 2020


I visited Dustin Gimbel’s ceramics exhibition at Sherman Library and Gardens earlier in the week and went crazy with photos. Pure pleasure. I’ll be sharing more next week.


Let’s hope for a slow news cycle this weekend!

Posted in artists, garden visit | 3 Comments

oversharing 6/4/20

This post is not about plants, though there are some nice palm trees in the photos by MB Maher. I can tend to overshare sometimes (I got my surgical staples out today!), and this is such a time, so feel free to pass. And I feel like I’ve told this story here before too, and if so, pardon the repetition.

What if it were your kid?” Through a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, one day it was my French-Irish kid’s turn to be terrified by police. Just one afternoon, and yet the toll a police officer’s gun to the head took on the emotional sturdiness of a happy-go-lucky adolescent boy was a long time in unwinding. In our very mixed neighborhood, a white kid coming home from school and climbing over our locked fence struck an out-of-state visitor across the street as suspicious. When the police responded to the call, it struck them as suspicious too. Surely he didn’t belong in this neighborhood and was up to no good. When he answered their door knocks, they hauled him out of his home and pulled a weapon on him on the back porch. He protested that he hadn’t broken in, that he lived here. They brought him back into the house to prove it with a photograph. Finally a photo was found in a bedroom, and the siege ended. Fortunately, that was our one-off encounter with the wrong side of the LBPD, but for us it blew wide open a window onto how dangerous assumptions can be about who belongs where and who doesn’t and how quickly things escalate. (Remember Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s arrest for “breaking into” his own home?) That African-American parents have to have the “talk” with their kids because over the course of their lives this will routinely happen to them, the institutionalized assumption that they’re up to no good — whether bird-watching, jogging, coming home with candy from the corner store — it’s unimaginably heartbreaking. To be told at a young age that being in the public square means different levels of risk for different skin colors can only be life-altering, confidence-destroying.

Mitch took these photos on June 2, 2020, in Hollywood, California.

Posted in journal, MB Maher | 5 Comments

garden recovery

After sulking with the same crown of tattered, leathery leaves for years, this is the best crop of new leaves I’ve ever seen on my Mountain Cabbage Tree. The container was moved onto a high metal stool that gets morning sun and late afternoon sun. Boom, lush new growth. (Cussonia paniculata)

I knew I was going to have emergency abdominal surgery for a very large but benign cyst just a few days before it was scheduled, so of course I spent those few days in a frenzy of moving pots and heavy objects, getting this personal distantia (latin for “world apart”) ready for post-op recovery. I’ve always loved shoving stuff around and would have made a great stage hand. I can think of nothing more satisfying than whirling enormous pots filled with towering, columnar euphorbias on their bases, spinning them away from the east gate to ready the space for the metal workers who were going to get busy any day on constructing the new metal gate/fence I’ve been so excited about. (I needn’t have bothered — after several prompts and reminders, the fabricator never called back with the quote. We’ll be doing it ourselves with probably corrugated panels. And just when I was ready to throw money at a project too and bring in the pros! Nice dream. Back to DIY.) It will be a long while before I’m able to muscle large pots like that around again.

Old pots reconsidered. Farfugium japonicum ‘Shishi Botan’ fills the rim of a potted bottle tree Brachychiton discolor — the two plants have been partnered and thriving together for years. Time to bring the pot off the shelf for a little more love and appreciation.

After surgery I was ordered to lift nothing heavier than 10 pounds — what a privation for someone who lives by spatial balance! (At least my own quirky sense of spatial balance and symmetry — a few inches to the left, half an inch to the right — ah, perfect! Order in my universe restored!) But the 10-pound limit allows for lots of little fiddly pots of mostly agave pups to be cleaned of debris and cleared away to the narrow, 3-foot deep potting area behind the garage/office that was also cleaned out presurgery — and where the addition of a new hose bib has been life altering. There’d be no way I could drag hoses around this summer. And to water the potting area previously, I’d have to fill a can of water and carry it back. By mid summer, any good intentions to do so daily, sometimes twice daily in heat waves, have long shriveled up along with any cuttings and seedlings.

One of my last presurgery jobs was to safeguard the leaning Sonchus palmensis bloom with fishing line, using paper as a girdle so the line didn’t cut the stalk.
By the time I was home, the sonchus was completely leaning on and supported by the line. I want seeds and seedlings, dammit!
Brodiaea californica ‘Babylon’ — first sight, first year in the garden. The idea was to grow it around and through lomandra. I’ll leave the bulbs in place to multiply, but they should have been planted further outside the perimeter of the lomandra which nearly swamped the brodiaea entirely. I think with better placement this little bulb shows promise! It opens slowly and at a quiet interval after the early spring stuff.
Not long ago I wrote about my quest for a bird bath — amazingly, a family member caught that blog post and sent me as a belated Mother’s Day present the CB2 Skinny Dip Bird Bath which arrived the day before I left for the hospital. All this activity prior to leaving for surgery during a pandemic had the desired result of keeping my mind off the chaotica outside my garden as well as worrying about my mom — who has been safe and well looked after. Her likely diagnosis is a motor neuron disease, which is thankfully painless if untreatable.
The Minoan Lace, Orlaya grandiflora, is so good this year. I think it’s possibly due to the fact that I let all these grow where they self-seeded. Often I transplant seedlings and move them around the garden. The deep roots these formed in situ have made a difference — along with the mild May weather we’re having, at least here in Long Beach a mile from the Pacific. The coyote gourd is part of the “vine medley” corner, all potted, Senecio confusus and Solanum wendlandii — hopefully the gourd will find a leg up on their stems.

A plant order did arrive after surgery, and I briefly waffled over what to do. In the end, I carefully, so very carefully planted the order myself. The ground was soft and I knew exactly where everything would go, so it was quick work. In early May Plant Delights’ catalogue unexpectedly listed the coyote gourd I was so impressed with at Red Butte last September, Cucurbita foetidissima, so I threw in a few more plants to justify the shipping fees: The moon carrot Seseli gummiferum, a spectacular umbellifer Peucedanum verticillare, and Sinningia ‘Cherries Jubilee.’ These gesneriads are surprisingly tough and work well with succulent plantings.

I think I’m done finding perennials to work with a dry, succulent-based garden other than short-lived stuff like verbascums and glaucium. Agaves grow, proportions change, perennials have to be moved and take years to settle in again. Duh! Reseeding annuals like the Coreopsis tinctoria on the left are much lighter on their feet, and bring serendipity to the plantings, which to me is the soul of a garden. That is, if this coreopsis does reseed as well as orlaya and poppies…
Glaucium just starting bloom, with the bronzy but weedy beauty haloragis in foreground, reseeding Centranthus lecoquii on the right

And when the world shrinks down to the size of the back garden, no detail is too small, no incident too trivial. This afternoon we sprayed the hose on a squirrel attempting to raid a nest of fledglings — not on our watch! And it looks like we’re going to be on watch in the back garden for the foreseeable future…onward to June!

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

tree ballet performance for one

In a view from the garden office, lying on the pink divan found at the Long Beach flea market (remember those?), which we keep covered in a painter’s tarp, this clear blustery day is orchestrating a magnificent performance out of the garden. The cypresses contribute deep, side-to-side, majestic swaying movements, while the acacia’s small leaves ripple like water until a really big gust hits, then a branch jumps out of the chorus and begins an electrifying improv solo. The tetrapanax’s leaves manically fan up and down in an obsequious bit of comedy, and the whole garden surges and shudders and shimmies, and sometimes even in unison. I don’t usually catch this wind-driven ballet because I’m rarely lying on the divan in the office mid-day. That I’m doing so today is completely due to an emergency abdominal surgery over the weekend. During several movements of the tree ballet I wanted to jump up and grab a camera, take a video, but jumping up to do anything is out of the question for now. So I’ll be lying even lower — however impossible that sounds! — for a few weeks. Take care out there!

This photo Mitch took at the Central Coast has nothing to do with this post other than I think that’s a Monterey Cypress center of the photo and I always wonder will my lemon cypresses do that too someday? Because if so, three of them is far too many…
Posted in journal, MB Maher | 4 Comments