It’s been two years since Mitch visited Greece. When I first saw his photos, it was the giant fennel in its native habitat that grabbed all of my attention. With my giant fennel taking its sweet time to bloom, Mitch’s photos may be the closest I get to seeing it in flower.
Looking at his photos again, I rediscovered all the beauty I initially skimmed over, enough for a mini-travelogue this Monday. It’s so nice to have a compulsive shutterbug in the family. When I visited the Parthenon, did I shlep a camera around? Um, no.
It was that article in the Los Angeles Times sometime in the ’90s, accompanied by a photo of Gary Hammer crouched in a crevice of rock with a waterfall flowing behind him. The article that christened him the Indiana Jones of plant explorers. I can’t find the photo, but I did find another article written by Susan Heeger in 1992. Maybe I imagined the photo? I visited Gary’s Montebello retail nursery mentioned in the article and brought home an Ecuadoran polygonum that ate my parkway and climbed up the jacaranda — on no supplemental irrigation. With climate change forcing record heat and prolonged drought, I appreciate more and more Gary’s scouring the world for beautiful plants tough enough for Southern California gardens.
Gary eventually moved to Mexico, and it was while awaiting a flight back to Mexico that he was struck by a car on an Arizona highway in 2011, when he was 57. And in the intervening years since then, I somehow assumed the nursery was closed. In April of 2020 I stumbled on the fact that what is now known as Worldwide Exotics is Gary’s old nursery Glendale Paradise Nursery. I immediately made the hour-long trip and met Gary’s friends and eventual business partners, Shelley and Ken Jennings. Shelley and Ken were Gary’s neighbors, working in aerospace and finance, respectively, when they jettisoned those careers and joined forces with Gary, who seemed to be having a lot more fun. Worldwide Exotics had been running for years five days a week, but the huge operation is slowing down, now open only on Saturdays from 10-4.
In this 2013 tribute to Gary in Pacific Horticulture, some of the plants attributed to him include Dymondia margaretae, Cotula lineariloba, and he is credited with introducing lomandra, westringia, phormium, juncus, among so many others to SoCal gardens. Shelley adds ledebouria to the list. And considering its ubiquity, it’s astonishing to be reminded that Gary introduced Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ here.
For a time capsule snapshot of those heady times, this excerpt from the article in Pacific Horticulture sums it up:
“Remember the plant lust of the mid-1980s through mid-1990s? When you would drive hours out of your way to a plant sale in another county or an out-of-the-way nursery to find something you’d never grown before? And head back home with a smile on your face because your vehicle was crammed full of things your gardening cronies would never even have heard of and couldn’t help but envy? And wasn’t it glorious?…In Southern California, Gary Hammer created that fever almost single-handedly.”
I visited Worldwide Exotics maybe six months before this weekend, taking no photos, just wandering the grounds. I may have been projecting a misplaced tinge of tragedy onto the nursery, especially with loss the leitmotif of the pandemic, and I found the subject difficult to write about. But how could the nursery be written about without mentioning Gary? And this was someone I knew only from newspaper articles! Yet apart from Gary’s untimely death, it also fills me with emotion to be transported back to my younger gardening self, one of the devotees who chased down Gary’s plants in a time prepandemic that seemed filled with more physicality, more jitterbugging around, more adventures, more wonder — just more.
This trip last weekend I was determined to shake off that introspective mood, take some photos, and just enjoy this remarkable nursery, which Shelley and Ken work tirelessly to maintain. The weather was mild, having been in the 90sF just a few days before. Yet when the timed misters went off near the office, there was a shout of approval from customers as they swarmed to the hydrated air. The grounds get baking hot, especially on the open, unshaded succulent side.
Under the shade cloth you can find bromeliads, begonias, plectranthus, ferns, hardy orchid bletilla…
It started off mid-Saturday morning May 1 at Ray and Netty’s plant sale at their home in Atwater Village. There in the driveway was a 3-gallon plant beckoning me with the intriguing tag “mystery euphorbia.” Ray Valentine really knows how to get a plant collector’s attention.
I was on the hunt for textural drama for pots. And with that agenda in mind, it was a very good day!
Here’s one of the mystery euphorbias I brought home, cuttings from the tree pictured in the top photo, potted up and placed on a high stool to keep it out of the reach of an inquisitive puppy. I’ve no intention of letting it grow to tree size in the ground. As far as identification, Euphorbia drupifera seems the closest fit I’ve found so far. The plant has a pachypodium vibe, with thorny stems ending in lush leaves at the tips. Netty said it is extremely cold sensitive and will drop all its leaves when cold-challenged. E. drupifera is a Zone 11 plant, so that fits the description as well.
Another mystery euphorbia from the Valentines’ sale, one I’ve yet to identify. I was attracted to the rhipsalis-like habit of growth, hoping for another lush-appearing but dry-tolerant plant to spill out of a hanging pot. Then Netty showed me the mother plant — another enormous tree! Still, in the short term, I’ll probably grow it from a hanging pot to drape over the sides.
In the Valentines’ back garden the size of the specimen plants seems even larger now that they have cleared out most of the smaller understory succulents for ease of maintenance. All the Aloe camperi I was recently enthusing about in the front garden have been likewise cleared out and the parkway graveled over. Netty said the debris on the succulents was becoming too much maintenance, and I admitted that I took out the succulents under the Pearl Acacia in my front garden for the same reason. We both agreed that trees are priority number one, for shade, for cooling, for cleansing the air, for wildlife.
These huge specimens were the source of the plants available at the sale.
After the Valentines’ sale, I made a quick stop at Potted, about fives minutes from the Valentines, for a yellow pot, then headed to Worldwide Exotics in Lakeview Terrace, which is now only open on Saturdays. There were many mystery plants here too, which is no surprise since the nursery was started by plant explorer Gary Hammer, who passed away 10 years ago. At these extensive growing grounds, the plants are unlabeled. After you make your selections, you bring your swag to Shelley Jennings for ID and payment. Shelley consults her three-ring binder and provides names for all selections, like this Homalocladium platycladum, Ribbon Bush. The Ribbon Bush too has potential to become a large shrub, but it’ll stay in a pot for the short term.
And at Worldwide Exotics I found this treasure, which Shelley identified as Hechtia tillandsiodes, a barbless hechtia! Swoon….
I flagged down Shelley’s husband Ken after seeing this medusa-like, oddball bromeliad and asked if there were any small plants for sale. He pointed to a group of four hanging just behind me.
Silvery slim leaves spill forth studded with nubby blooms that give it the common name Pinecone Bromeliad, Acanthostachys strobilacea.
However, this fern needed no introduction. Pyrrosia lingua is epiphytic, so rather than plant it in a very crowded garden where it would be swamped, I used an old orchid box which I lined with some beech bark that I peeled off some firewood, mossed the gaps, and hung it on the east patio (Pandemic Garden Project.)
I’ll get around to more photos of WE’s growing grounds later this week. Just an incredibly fun place for a good plant prowl.
I found this photo in a 2015 folder on my old photobucket account. The photo was tagged “wildlife-road-malibu2” with no accompanying description. I don’t normally keep unidentified garden photos, but something about it obviously grabbed me in 2015, and it still grabs me today, six years later. Fortunately, a quick search for “wildlife road malibu garden” brought up the website of landscape designer Laurel Stutsman Design.
I don’t know about you, but I’m starved for touring gardens! I want to jump into this photo Mary Poppins style to hear the crunch of the decomposed granite underfoot and feel the brush of leaves against my legs. Considering the churn of Los Angeles real estate, it’s likely this garden doesn’t even exist anymore. Gardens can be as ephemeral as chalk paintings. This one to me radiates warmth and light and speaks to quiet strolls to sort out tricky moods while absorbing subtle textures, sounds and scents. Boisterous parties too. Not all gardens appear to be waiting to be animated by people. To me, this one seems poised for people and pets to enter the frame.
And just remember, if you’re trying to put a name to the low-level funk that obviously is a byproduct of living through a world-wide pandemic, remember we’re not languishing, we’re dormant. (See the wise words of Austin Kleon here.)
For Southern California gardeners: Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ was spotted at Plant Depot in San Juan Capistrano this month, a single plant. After planting, try not to move it around too much; in zone 10, placement that avoids afternoon sun is the best shot at countering the end-of-summer doldrums. This compact selection by Roger Raiche is worth trying to make happy. Right now mine continues a long, frustrating sulk after moving it one too many times.
H&H Nursery has 3-gallon Yucca rostrata for $50, which strikes me as a good price for relatively large plants (though young and nontrunking, of course) .
Far Reaches Farms is currently offering seed-grown Nolina hibernica ‘La Siberica.’ (See the plantlust page for photos and descriptions.) This selection with the wider leaves and curvy urn-like silhouette is unique. When it very infrequently becomes available, be ready to move fast. The Nolina nelsonii in my front garden has made me a big fan of the bear grass tribe. Here’s Dan Hinkley’s introduction to the bear grasses from his book Windcliff; A Story of People, Plants and Gardens, in which the incredible plantswoman Linda Cochran gently nudges him in the direction of the invaluable nolinas. This short account of humility ending in generosity brought a smile:
“That first year in my new garden presented a very steep learning curve. Accustomed to a landscape of shade, I was in shock and awe from a blustery site in blistering full sun and was in desperate need of good scaffolding. While visiting my fledgling garden for the first time, my friend Linda Cochran, a celebrated and adventurous gardener then on Bainbridge Island, suggested I try the razor grasses, as from her vantage the conditions seemed perfect. I knowingly nodded in agreement while attempting to not betray the fact that I had never once heard of razor grasses or the genus Nolina. Linda, sensing my ignorance on the matter, kindly brought two species to me the following week; I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Garden friends and I recently discussed Hinkley’s book, and while I enjoyed the opportunity for Hinkley to unfurl his elaborate prose style again, just like the old Heronswood catalogue days, some felt the vocabulary was a bit overwrought. I can see their point, but I am also reminded that he built his legend and seduced so many of us into buying his plants by prose alone, without photos, and that’s a considerable achievement. I doubt Hemingway’s terse approach would have sold many plants. I have my own struggles with writing and tending to favor compound sentences, and will only add that a book I’m currently finding useful is Several short sentences about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. (Sample from Prof. Klinkenborg, Page 13: “Most of the sentences you make will need to be killed. The rest will need to be fixed. This will be true for a long time.” Apparently good writing has a lot in common with good gardening.)
Heronswood trivia: my last order was made in June 2006 and included the now-sulking Melianthus ‘Purple Haze.’ The previous order in 2005 included Kniphofia caulescens ‘Helen Dillon,’ Crambe maritima ‘Purple Blush,’ Laurus nobilis ‘Aurea,‘ Persicaria ‘Silver Dragon,’ Dianthus ‘Chomley Farran,’ Geranium phaeum ‘Taff’s Jester,’ Francoa sonchifolia, Beschorneria yuccoides x septentrionalis. No Heronswood plants other than the melianthus are extant in the garden today.
Periodically, as in again yesterday, I investigate what’s up with getting Tropaeolum polyphylum to grow. Linda Cochran’s excellent account with ravishing photos (here) is a must-read on growing this poorly documented native of Chile. Currently, there does not appear to be a source, and Linda explains the deep-dive behavior of its tubers as the problem with propagation. I do realize documented success is only coming out of the PNW. Still, I’d like to give it a try in zone 10, as I did with so many Heronswood plants. Derry Watkins of Special Plants says fresh seed is the answer and currently has seed on offer after summer 2021 bloom.
Local Plant Sale Alert: Those images of Aloe camperi from Ray Valentine’s garden in the last post are unexpectedly timely. Ray is having a plant sale this weekend, May 1st and 2nd, 8-4pm. Contact tierra13 at sbcglobal.net for the address. Wear a mask. Bring cash. Maybe there will be divisions of Aloe camperi for sale!
Solanum pyracanthum, you would think, demands a hot summer to rouse itself to a display like this. Yet in my zone 10 winter garden, it grew to such proportions in a pot placed at an often-traveled corner of the garage (where we keep the fridge with the cold drinks), that Marty laid down an ultimatum. Arms were getting scratched; the plant had to go. As in total removal. I said I’d handle it — which in garden speak meant staking it and cutting it way back until the complaints ceased, and this approached worked. I should have been brutal with this solanum all along, because this is the best it’s ever looked for me. Thank you, Marty!
This week the fringe tree takes a bow. And a shout out to Plectranthus argentatus for handling the dry shade/patchy sun under the acacia tree so beautifully. I’ve been pinching that back as relentlessly as the Solanum pyracanthum, with equally good results. Some worthwhile goals: Practice shorter sentences. Ruthlessly pinch back plants.
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.
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.
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.
I think it works beautifully whether blazing away en masse…
or painting its torches into evocative vignettes.
Aloe camperi is one good aloe I’m getting to know (among the hundreds I don’t!)
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.
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.
I planted three heuchera in June 2020, one of which failed to establish, so this wonderfully fizzy, textural explosion comes from just two plants.
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.
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.
The salvia started lightly blooming this week.
The small white flowers weaving among the salvia are seed-grown Omphalodes linifolia, a spring annual I’m hoping will reseed.
Also from seed, but not the linaria I expected, a white form of Linaria purpurea.
Salvia ‘Big Pink’ continues to build up growth and bloom.
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.
And then the California poppies joined Leucospermum ‘Tango’ in bloom…tangy!
Planted over the winter, Westringia ‘Blue Gem’ jumped into bloom last week.
Nicotiana mutabilis continues to astonish with its cloud-like performance.
Looking from any direction, the nicotiana is now a dominating presence.
The ixias are just about finished blooming. (Ixia ‘Venus’)
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.
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.”
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.’
Here in zone 10, Southern California, spring such as it is comes early. I hope your gardens are springing to life as well!
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!
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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…