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the Leonotis leonurus down the street

This Lion’s Tail is thriving in the front garden of a neighbor who took advantage of the first wave of lawn removal rebates offered a few years ago by our local water department.
I”ve been personally characterizing the latest round of lawn rebates after April 2015 as the second wave, just to distinguish between the two, because I have noticed some differences.
The first wave of rebates resulted in front gardens filled with natives and other dry-adapted plants like this leonotis from South Africa designed around paths, berms and swales.
The work and planting in the first wave was mostly done and/or directed by the homeowner. This Lion’s Tail garden also includes, among others, ceanothus and the Indian Mallow, Abutilon palmeri.

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In contrast, I’ve noticed that a lot of the second-wave designs include far fewer kinds of plants, and quite often are entirely of smallish succulents.
Widely spaced succulents bedded in gravel or mulch and laid out in a horizontal grid.

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Now that actual water restrictions are in place as of April 2015, the second-wave gardens are being executed in more haste and less planning than the first wave.
Less planning and haste seem to be hallmarks of a well-known company which leaves its sign in the newly planted grid advertising free lawn removal in exchange for the rebate.
Not that there’s anything wrong with seizing an entrepreneurial opportunity.
But results from the second wave are almost a throwback to that time when a dry garden meant a kitschy collection of cacti, bleached cow skulls, and wagon wheels in white rock mulch.

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Hopefully, there will be some fine-tuning of these second-wave gardens by the owners now that the heavy lifting part of the job has been done.
The Lion’s Tail doesn’t mind pruning, dry conditions, and will roar in full-throated tawny bloom spring through fall. For full sun.

low and green

I’ve got to say it’s been a long time coming, but it’s still just a tiny bit surreal to wake up every day to more MSM coverage on lawns, and by extension, the plants that will have to replace lawns.
Suddenly, in just two months’ time, the governor has bravely steered the conversation to the generally ignored world of plants and garden design.
Now my usual solipsistic focus on what I’m planting has shifted to wondering what in the world everyone else is going to be planting.
How is the mostly plant-indifferent public going to figure this out quick and dirty, so to speak? (Hint: garden designers are your friends!)
My theory on the enduring popularity of lawns is that they’re probably the easiest garden feature to understand and control.
And in a lot of ways, human life and grasses are inextricably linked. Controlling grasses is literally in our blood.
In roughly 10,000 years, life as nervous prey in tall grass has eased into settling into Adirondacks with icy drinks on tightly mown carpets of lawn.
Emotionally, it’s hard to give up those clear, safe sight lines. And mixed plantings require far more decision making, which can quickly push people out of their plant comfort zone.
And where natural rainfall supports a small lawn, why not? A flat, green, negative space has lots of fans. Mid Century architects wouldn’t know what to do outdoors without lawn.
Here in California, the most diehard lawn fans are apparently looking into artificial turf in record numbers.
I admit I find this solution scary for any space bigger than an area rug. It’s already clear this is going to be a tricky transition away from lawns.

Sunset’s “Gotcha Covered” explains the superiority of living plants as ground cover here, in comparison with paved surfaces, but there’ll be similar issues with artificial turf:
As all plants undergo evapotranspiration—the process of releasing water through their leaves, then discharging it back into the environment—they help humidify, oxygenate and cool the air.
Paved surfaces, on the other hand, warm the air by radiating the sun’s heat back into the environment, increasing air temperatures by15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using groundcovers near, or in place of, paved and hardscaped surfaces helps reduce that air temperature and can even lower air conditioning bills
.”

And what about soil health underneath that artificial turf, or how our gardens serve as habitats for species other than ourselves?
Let’s not panic and rush to roll out the outdoor carpeting just yet.
If the prospect of replacing the lawn seems daunting, just remember the Chinese proverb:
If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk; a week, kill a pig; a month, get married; for life, be a gardener.

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Aside from natives, there’s creeping rosemaries, westringias, grevilleas, cotoneasters, helianthemum off the top of my head.
But keep your eyes open, and you’ll see examples of low and evergreen all over town.
Above is Myoporum parviflorum, a fast-growing Australian native with almost inconspicuous tiny white flowers.

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The Salvia leucantha and myoporum were filling in a parking strip at a local market. I’m trying out a red-leaved myoporum at home with succulents.

Las Pilitas Nursery has compiled a list of “Less than a foot high ground cover plants that are native to California.”

San Marcos Growers helpfully breaks up their extensive list into useful categories. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden has lists of Calif. natives by category here.

And for lawn-substitute grasses, there’s no better source of information than John Greenlee.

small garden, tough choices

I reckon there are 5 seasons.
There’s an early spring, which I call Sprinter…a Sprummer which comes after that for 2 month…There’s a long summer…a short autumn, a short winter – both just two months long, and then you’re back at Sprinter
.”

Tim Entwisie, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, Australia.

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Succulents and evergreen shrubs are mainstays year-round. Summer bloom 2015 from isoplexis, agapanthus, anigozanthos, verbascum, the annual Orlaya grandiflora.

Small garden, tough choices. Is the plan geared toward winter, spring, summer and/or fall? All of the above?
Add a collecting habit into the mix, in a summer-dry climate that blurs traditional seasonal boundaries, and it gets even more complicated.
I probably write more about my collector mania side, but believe it or not, there is a side that tries to stay mindful of the garden as a whole, with varying success year to year.
And, locally, as front lawns are changed out from lawn to garden, there’s sure to be a lot more minds focused on similar design issues for small spaces.

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‘Blue Glow’ agaves and Brachysema praemorsum in the front garden. Not much happening for summer here.

My succulent-filled front garden gets minimal dry season irrigation, so most of the experimenting takes place in the back garden.

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Courtesy of the collecting side of my brain, a NOID hechtia, a terrestrial bromeliad from Mexico

The back garden is smaller than a lot of living rooms and, to be honest, just can’t support all my ambitions for it. There have to be some compromises.
The answer to where to put the planting emphasis, whether on the “Sprinter,” the “Sprummer,” (to use Mr. Entwisie’s terminology) or the long, dry summer, changes all the time.
For me spring is simple (poppies) and by fall conditions are much too dry to expect anything grand happening in the garden. Besides, that’s when the grasses shine.
In the past I gave more ground to summer, with a higher concentration of perennials and annuals, but that can be a more water-intensive approach, and it does takes ground from the winter garden.

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The newest planting in the back garden is this section under the Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea,’ after the Arundo donax ‘Golden Chain’ was pulled out last fall.
A Leucodendron ‘Safari Goldstrike’ is making good size behind the cordyline. There are lots of aloes here, grasses, and an Agave ovatifolia.
Not much for summer unless the young asphodels take root and thrive.

Currently, the back garden this year is shrubbier, more solid, more evergreen, maybe even a bit more somber.
This year summer gets maybe 40 percent of the planting emphasis breakdown.
But a lot of new shrubs are still small and will take up considerably more room by 2016, so the focus and weight will have shifted again next year.

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Some sections of the garden don’t change much for summer.
There is a young Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ behind the Agave sisalana ‘Variegata’ that should contribute some blooms soon.
Agave ‘Mateo’ slowly makes size here too, in front of the A. sisalana, and Aloe ‘Hercules’ was moved here recently, last spikes on the right.
Year-round, there should be plenty to hold my interest here, which is key because when the eye gets bored, havoc can ensue, and the compost pile then grows by leaps and bounds.
And with the city outside my gate built strictly for commerce, I need the garden as my constant visual stimulator.
Which brings us around again to small garden, tough choices.

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I wish the summer garden was never without the stimulus of Verbascum bombyciferum and that there was space for multiple spires dotted through the garden.
Because it’s biennial, there can be gaps and off years while new plants bulk up the first year, flower and set seed in the second, then expire.
I just bought another young plant as insurance for next year until the self-sowing cycle reliably kicks in.

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It’s a big plant for a small garden but worth every inch of space you can give it.
(Long stems of the photo-bombing slipper plant, Pedilanthus bracteatus, leaning in on the left.)

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I haven’t stopped trialing intriguing, new, dry garden perennials like this Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’ from Terra Nova, tissue culture of a cross between N. tuberosa and govaniana.
Stats say this nepeta with the big bottlebrush flowers will grow low and wide. I had to bat the bees off as I made my selection at a local nursery.

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Not new but an old favorite with a new name. What I knew as Ballota ‘All Hallows Green’ is now known as Marrubium bourgaei ‘All Hallows Green.’ So glad to find this again locally.
Ballota are great little subshrubs that hold it together all summer and, if used in sufficient numbers, somehow make a disparate group of plants look like a coherent plant community.

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An old standby, Ballota pseudodictamnus, very subtly in bloom at the moment.

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Ever since moving into the house 26 years ago, I’ve been thinking of the next garden, the bigger one, and what I will plant there.
The future garden will have agaves, grasses, but rather than accents, as in this garden, there will be scads of them.
Grass-like clumps are Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff’ and ‘Breeze’

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Any future garden would include the Golden Coulter Bush, Hymenolepis parviflora, here backed by the other ‘Purple Haze’ in the garden, the melianthus.

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The mythical future garden would also include Crithmum maritimum, a fleshy, almost succulent-like umbellifer with lacy blue-green leaves.
Seeds around very lightly to slowly build up sizable clumps. Like ballota, because it has such a long season, it knits together surrounding plants into a community.

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And then there’s the agapanthus experiment this year. Mass plantings are in bloom all over town. It still feels weird to have some in the garden.

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There’s some snobbery here, for sure. If I didn’t see it everywhere, it would be considered a rare treasure, like it is in more cold-challenged gardens.
But it’s easy, takes tough conditions, and has nice lines. The bright leaves of ‘Gold Strike’ stand out against the dark green cistus just behind, ‘Snowfire’

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Cistus ‘Snowfire’

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Like agapanthus, I see kangaroo paws all over town, too, which hasn’t turned me against them yet, so it’s obviously the opinion of an inconsistent mind.
Just visible in front is a very faint wash of the grass Aristida purpurea in its second year, slow to build up, a well-behaved substitute for Mexican Feather Grass.

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The Glaucium grandiflorum is putting on a huge show this year, and I love having some poppy-like flowers for summer.
As a short-lived perennial, it may or may not return next year. Rumor has it that it’s a shy reseeder, so I’d have to bring in new plants.

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Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ has been reliably perennial for those of us with severe allium-envy. There’s just not enough winter dormancy for most alliums here.
I’m trialing another fern-leaf lavender new to me this year, Lavandula minutoli, so am not sure what to expect, but so far love how the pale flowers seem to glow.
It stays low and compact and seems a lot less vigorous in growth than Lavandula multifida, which has inky blue flowers.

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Brachysema praemorsum ‘Bronze Butterfly’

So there’s a quick sketch of the method to my madness with just enough time to head out for a picnic. Enjoy your Memorial Day!

another rainy day at the Huntington


In a bizarre bit of repetition, two recent visits to the Huntington Botanical Garden have coincided with that rarest of occurrences, a rainy day in Los Angeles during our mega drought.
April especially is late in the season for a rainstorm, even in a normal rainfall year, but nevertheless the Huntington’s annual spring plant sale 2015 was a rainy affair.
Traditionally held in the parking lot, the sale was held this year inside the Huntington, adjacent to the Children’s Garden, which means you have to buy a ticket to attend the plant sale now.
I didn’t buy much, just a couple aloes, but researched lots of unfamiliar plants on my phone, like a buddleia from Texas with felty grey leaves and orange bobbly flowers.
(See David’s photo of the Wooly Butterfly Bush, Buddleia marrubifolia.)

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The new Education and Visitor Center empty on a stormy late April day.
On arrival barely an hour previous, the Huntington’s enormous parking lot was so crowded that I had to make several loops to find a parking space.
But all those visitors scattered when the clouds opened.

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Newly planted pots, many of them filled with acacias and leucadendrons. There was what looked to be a Melaleuca thymifolia in the pot on the right.
Acacia ‘Cousin Itt’ in the pot on the left is approaching classic status as an evergreen for containers.

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Aloe camperii

After the sale, I headed straight for the desert garden to see it in the light, drizzly rain.

It really knows how to rain in the foothills. The drizzle quickly turned into a proper downpour.
Very little of this storm made it home here in Long Beach, about 30 miles south of Pasadena.
But once again, and in the space of two months, I found myself in the Huntington’s desert garden unprepared for a deluge.
As happy as I am to see, hear, and feel rain, the novelty of wet clothes wears off pretty quickly, and taking photos becomes impossible.
Rather than let the rain chase me home, I bought an umbrella from the gift shop.
(And this being the Huntington’s gift shop, my umbrella twirls a William Morris print.)

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I quickly gave up on juggling the camera and the umbrella. Besides, where better to spend a rainy day at the Huntington than in the Desert Garden Conservatory?
I left my umbrella folded under a plant bench at the door, but amazingly other rain-dodging visitors entered with their umbrellas fully deployed.
With umbrella ribs threatening to knock over rare specimens, the docents somehow managed to remain calm but firmly instructed to close all brollies.
Only in Los Angeles does rainy day/umbrella etiquette have to be spelled out.
Chatting with the docents, I learned that the Desert Garden Conservatory is to be closed for renovations within the year, to be rebuilt on site as a two-story conservatory.
They also revealed their trick for dislodging cactus spines and glochids: Spread white glue over the area in a thin film, let dry, and peel. That or electrical tape.

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Echeveria bench, ‘Afterglow’ in the middle

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Stenocereus beneckii

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Melocactus matanzanus. Of all the melos, this one forms the “Turk’s cap” at the youngest age.

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Aloe peglerae

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ghostly pale furcraea

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There’s always something in the glasshouse I hadn’t noticed before, like this collection of orthophytums, Brazilian bromeliads.

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with xylonocantha on the left photo 1-P1015746.jpg

I’m always hoping to find this elusive, variegated form of Agave attenuata at a plant sale. Maybe next year.

Plant sale haul: A NOID aloe believed to be a cross by David Verity, Aloe cryptoflora, and one umbrella.

repotting Cussonia spicata

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Cussonia spicata, June 2014. Cussonias are also known as Cabbage Trees, all from South Africa, and I want every one I’ve ever seen.
In my zone 10 they can be grown outdoors, where they will fulfill their ultimate destiny as medium-sized trees.
But they’re well-known rock stars for containers, in which they can live long, relatively happy lives. (Caveat: in a big enough pot.)

On one of my early morning garden prowls in late April I discovered that the Cussonia spicata had exploded its pot.
It was kind of thrilling, actually. I’ve never had a plant do this before, not even an agave. Not even an Agave americana.

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Here’s the cussonia still appearing meek and content in its pot June 2014, no hint of its future explosive tendencies.
I had originally located the container in dappled shade on the east side of the house, where I should have let it remain.
I didn’t realize how badly it needed some shade until I saw it for sale recently looking almost tropical, much more lush and green than mine.

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But I just loved it in this particular spot, which unfortunately is full sun, so I made the cussonia just deal with it.
(Not much stands still for long here. For instance, that Agave americana var. striata on the right has been moved elsewhere this spring.)

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You can see the rupture, the dark shadow on the right. Oh, well, nothing to do now but go container shopping.
Which reads rather dry and mundane but is actually one of the happiest sentences in the English language.
And, coincidentally, end of April is awfully close to Mother’s Day and not that far removed from my early April birthday. Prime season for presents to self.
For once, I was going to buy whatever container spoke to me, money be damned. (OK, I was ready to blow maybe $100.)
And it is very weird how the crude cost of it all keeps coming up with this particular cussonia. See post here.

I searched around locally, but nothing really spoke to me, and the matter was shelved until after a brief trip to San Francisco.
Oh, wait. Isn’t that where Flora Grubb keeps her nursery with its amazing plants and containers?

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Yes, she does. And there it was, a lightweight concrete fabrication. The search was over.
By the time we got home, a big slab of the original pot had calved off like an iceberg.
It was as simple as peeling a banana to remove the remaining pieces, the easiest repotting job I’ve ever done.

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And with all the moving and shuffling going on here, lightweight seems like a sensible idea.
(That westringia in the background has been moved this month too. Euphorbia mellifera needed its spot.)

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I did eventually relent and moved the cussonia back to the shadier east side in its new lightweight pot.

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I don’t like the way the trunk of the fringe tree fights with its silhouette, but since repotting and moving back to dappled shade, it seems happy once again.
Hopefully, any explosive tendencies will be suppressed for another few years.

For anyone in Northern California, it was at Flora Grubb’s where I saw the fat and happy Cussonia spicata, about the size of mine but without the leaf-tip burn.

And I found this video by the RHS on repotting plants, which covers the whys and wherefores.

Agave ovatifolia

Treasured for being on the short list of agaves hardy to zone 7, this imposing agave is no less desirable in warmer zones.
My recently planted ‘Frosty Blue’ has a ways to go before it looks like this:

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Photos of the Whale’s Tongue Agave in a private Central Coast garden by MB Maher.

the short but productive life of Agave mitis ‘Multicolor’

There’s something about an agave bloom that’s crazy making.
Emotions are as variegated as the leaves of this nomenclature-challenged agave. (Bought as Agave celsii ‘Multicolor,’ it might even be chiapensis*.)
I’m thrilled, sad, awestruck, and a little dumbstruck, too, at having to deal with the enormously heavy carcass.
And then there’s that bloom stalk itself, a slow-motion supernova years in the making. Agaves are called the century plant after all.
But not very many years in the making, it turns out, with Agave mitis ‘Multicolor.’
Earliest reference on the blog is 2011. To be safe, we’ll say I had it a year before that photo, 2010, which still makes it a five-year-old when it bloomed.
That’s a relatively young age for an agave to bloom (after which they die).

Photobucket

Photo from 2011, the only one I could find. Obviously not a well-documented agave on the blog.
All the leaf litter from the parkway jacarandas rendered it less than photogenic year-round.

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And I didn’t take any photos of it in bloom either, but this is where the bloom spike currently rests, tied to the pipe stand.
Sources indicate a 4 to 6 foot bloom spike, but this one is touching the eaves here at over 11 feet.

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Instinctively, I want to honor the now-deceased agave by growing on its brood of bulbils, but there’s hundreds of them. I now run a house for orphaned agave bulbils.
(If anyone would like to nurse one of these babies, be my guest. But be warned, it’s a very cold-sensitive agave.)
I’ve already got a half dozen or so rooted and started this batch earlier in the week.

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And there’s lots more where those came from.

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And now this week the Agave mitis var. albicans ‘UCB’ started to bloom.

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Notice they’re both considered forms of Agave mitis, but this one’s cinnamon-colored blooms are nothing like ‘Multicolor’ (photo here.)

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In May 2014. It was transplanted from pot to garden in 2013. I haven’t had this agave very long either. I found it close to this size at a Pasadena nursery.

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Bloom spike in March 2015

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May 11, 2015

PhotobucketAgave sp. Sonora State, Mexico UCBG 7/13/12

I first saw this agave at the UC Berkeley Botanic Garden in 2012, when it was still known as A. celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’

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I have no idea what to expect with this one as far as its reproductive abilities, maybe offsets instead of bulbils. It couldn’t possibly match the vigor of ‘Multicolor,’ right?
I think I’m going to need more pots…



*see discussion here

orange and blue

I love garden surprises. Sure, there is some planning involved, but because the garden supports a collecting habit, the big picture is usually uncertain and often a mixed bag.
What the collecting id of my psyche is up to all year is anyone’s guess, including mine, and uncertainty prevails. Excitement too. With spring comes the big reveal.

This year’s reveal shows a pronounced orange and blue theme.

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There’s a big, bold orange and blue statement with Eucalyuptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ now that Isoplexis isabelliana is in bloom.

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But there’s orange and blue everywhere.
Agave franzosinii with Phygelius ‘Diablo’ and Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral’

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Arctotis ‘Opera,’ one of about three clumps threaded through lomandra, anigozanthos, euphorbias, still a youngish planting.
The only real plan was for summer daisies to be orange, so orange varieties of arctotis and osteospermum were selected. The rest is all collector mania.
Gomphrena ‘Fireworks,’ magenta bobs on the right, has been perennial. This is its second (or third?) year.
It’s a pretty close substitute for alliums all summer long and matches clear orange in intensity.

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Osteospermum ‘Zion Orange’ was planted in January.
There was a really good color selection of the South African daisies at the nurseries this spring, making possible your own personally customized veldt.
Lower branches of this aeonium keep breaking off in winter storms then rooting, so it’s quite the undulating thicket now.

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The source for all that blue (and silver) is the plentiful number of dry garden plants with leaves in those shades.
New planting of Stachyls ‘Bella Grigio’ replaced biennial Echium simplex after it finished blooming.
From reading other blogs, it’s uncertain whether this stachys will be a durable member of the garden or just a fleeting phenom.

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I’d love to see Digitalis ferruginea bloom here, but so far they haven’t take a shine to the garden. But isoplexis is more than enough compensation.
Like the bigeneric hybrid digiplexis, the isoplexis attract scale, but overall I think I prefer the shrubbier isoplexis.
And with the warmer winters, a big ants and scale problem is the new norm.

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Purchased from Jo O’Connell’s Australian Plants Nursery last year, the eucalyptus was planted from a gallon in July 2014. As you can see, it’s fast on its feet.
I’ve already trimmed it back a bit but will ultimately give it free rein in this corner, which means shifting and moving everything in its path.
Initially I had plans to keep it in a container, a silly idea in a drought. Now I’m hoping to grow it as a large shrub, not a tree.
I noted on a recent visit that the Huntington’s new Education and Visitor Center plaza area has planted quite a few of this eucalyptus too.

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Blue Agave ‘Dragon Toes,’ with Aloe cameronii on the left and Aloe elgonica on the right, both aloes flushed orange from the recent heat waves rolling through every few weeks or so.
And then the little variegated agapanthus will bring more blue in a week or so.
I’m still apprehensive about agapanthus in my garden, the first time ever. It’s now in bloom all over town.
My gamble is that it will seem less quotidian surrounded by succulents and grasses. It’s such a good plant for dry summer gardens.
But there’s a strong chance I won’t be able to overcome lifelong prejudices and shopping center associations.

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And then silvery-blue Glaucium grandiflorum started building up some imposing bloom architecture. Photo taken May 9, 2015

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I gasped when I saw these open this morning.

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Audibly gasped. Between gasping at flowers and talking to bees, who knows what the neighbors must be thinking by now.

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This glaucium might behave as a short-lived perennial or biennial and may or may not set seed. There were no blooms last year, just those magnificent leaves.
There’s two clumps, and both plants were covered by the band of shade that lies over this part of the garden in winter, which had me worried a bit.
Maybe in a wet winter the shade might have proved fatal. Both clumps are in full sun now.
This glaucium is from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials but not listed as available now.

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Another big wash of blue (under Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ no less!) from Plectranthus neochilus.

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Mostly blues and silver here now, but a lot of aloes have found their way here under the acacia, out of frame (and Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant.’ More orange!)
I hope I don’t get orange and blue fatigue any time soon…


visiting Ms. Fish’s garden


In 1993, when my boys were 5 and 10, we took our first vacation without them. It was a big emotional deal for all of us to be apart some 10 days, but I needed to see if there really existed such gardens as those I knew of only through books. Gardens where plants were king. They certainly didn’t exist in my part of the U.S. (Back then I had very little understanding of climactic influence on garden style.) But how did one find such places pre-Internet? By running one’s finger down the indices of garden books and making copious lists cross-referenced against maps, of course. This is how our itinerary was born. The majority of destinations were in England, with a few outliers such as Powis Castle in Wales and Logan Botanic Garden in Scotland. We all know the names. Kew Gardens, Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, Barrington Court, Hidcote, Hestercombe, Mottisfont, Barnsley House, Tintinhull, Packwood House, Wakehurst Place, East Lambrook Manor and many more. We chose September because it was cheaper than spring or summer, joined the National Trust, which is an incredible deal when visiting lots of gardens, and rented a car. England is such a small country that 3 or 4 gardens can be seen in a day, and having gone vacationless for so long, both Marty and I had quite the pent-up need for an adventurous road trip. (Or as adventurous as a road trip can be in England.) The miles of immaculate hedges, Lutyens’ stonework at Great Dixter and Hestercombe, deer in the early morning Italianate mist at Powis Castle, it was all incredibly rich, in multiple senses of that word, but what mainly resonated with me was the fierce love of plants everywhere in evidence. And at East Lambrook Manor at least was a smallish garden, not too grand, with a little attached plant nursery. I’m sure I carried a few of that nursery’s plants back home in my suitcase, maybe even Astrantia ‘Margery Fish,’ when I was still trialing such SoCal-averse plants in my garden. But I took no photos so have nothing to post, and I can’t seem to locate the journal I kept of our travels, though the letters I wrote to the boys are around here somewhere. I’ve never been one to desire an “English” garden or even a “cottage garden,” but I can still point to that trip for abetting a tendency to crowd far too many plants in one garden.

What reminded me of this trip today, apart from the holiday, is a piece on Margery Fish in Slate entitled “A Gardener’s Revenge,’ by Rachel Cooke, extracted from her book “Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties.” I had no idea that Ms. Fish’s garden at East Lambrook started out as a conjugal battle of wills:

The ideological battle must commence. In the red (and yellow and orange) corner is Walter, with his Tudorbethan ideas about tidiness and color. In the green corner is Margery, all sculptural seed pods and luxuriant foliage. Walter is alarmed. He hadn’t taken his wife for a modernist. So he goes on the attack, arguing for, and winning, his much-desired lawn, a province with which he is soon quite obsessed. ‘Walter would no more have left his grass uncut or the edges untrimmed than he would have neglected to shave,’ writes Margery, who at this stage in the book is still doing her best impression of a loyal wife.”

Sounds like a great read, doesn’t it? Walter would be appalled at the annihilation of lawns currently taking place in California. Margery, on the other hand, I’m sure would be cheering us on.

notes on some spring plant sales

Is that a water pistol in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?


I’ve been hearing from friends in the retail nursery business that the new water restrictions have them very worried. Indeed, I’ve been told retail sales for April were most discouraging.
Yet botanical garden plant sales this spring, which understandably bring out the most avid plant lovers, have been mobbed.
Undaunted, unbowed, we’re still in search of a new plant love, just like every spring before this momentous one, but keeping a closer eye on our latest infatuation’s potential drinking problem.
(At Fullerton Arboretum’s outdoor Green Scene, this year’s darling was Pimelia ferruginea, helpfully in full bloom. It seemed to be in everyone’s cart.)

But since the announcement, the confusion and dismay of the lawn-and-foundation-shrub crowd is palpable. There’s even panicked talk of deploying Astroturf.
A simple, reasonably easy-to-maintain, preferably inexpensive solution to the space between the sidewalk and front door is wanted now.
Local nurseries have a huge opportunity to lead the masses into a dry garden oasis, possibly by more focus on small display gardens instead of benches and benches of summer “color.”

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Now, this is a plant sale. San Francisco Botanical Garden plant sale 5/2/15. Shopping carts!

Along with Fullerton Arboretum’s Green Scene, I’ve attended the Huntington and the San Francisco Botanical Garden sales.
These photos are all from SF, a plant sale I’d never attended before. Was it worth the 6-hour drive? Absolutely, every minute of it.
(Plus, I got to stop in and give Mitch a hug for his birthday later in the week.)

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Prices were unbelievably low, the selection much more rarified than the plant sales in SoCal.
I lingered long and hard at the proteaceae table. That’s Grevillea juniperina ‘Molonglo’ in the foreground.

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Here was the Leucadendron argenteum I’ve been waiting for, but ultimately I passed. It’s a big beast.
I took a chance instead on a Protea neriifolia, which probably won’t get very big in my garden, if you take my meaning…

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A book table was a nice touch, but I didn’t spend too much time here (any!). The variety of plants was way too distracting.

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Some desirables were sitting not on sales tables anymore but in somebody else’s cart, like this bomarea. In somebody’s unattended cart.
That moral dilemma might be too much for some attendees. Fortunately, I was forearmed with the knowledge that life in Los Angeles for bomareas is a struggle for survival.
After a couple years, mine is still alive, but just barely. Sometimes it’s so hard to distinguish that fine line between still getting established and fading away entirely.

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Oh, there was plenty of juicy looking stuff, like Mukdenia rossii. Walk away, just walk away.

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Now we’re talking. There was a huge California native section too.

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Lemony flutterby poppies.

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And a big succulent selection, of course.. I think the only area SoCal has SF beat is in agaves. Not a big selection in SF.
But then that’s what the Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sales are for. I wish there had been time to stop by this trip, but there just wasn’t.

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I’ve been thinking of lavenders a lot too. Absolutely nowhere to put them at the moment.

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Plant sale haul at home. Protea neriifolia, Leucadendron laxum, Plectranthus zuluensis. The white dierama in bloom was too cheap to pass up.
(But I do apologize in advance for moving you to my garden, the renowned graveyard of dieramas.)
The dierama was planted near Eryngium pandanifolium and Rudbeckia maxima, both of which wouldn’t mind it moist but tolerate drier conditions when established.
(Rudbeckia maxima was found at the Green Scene plant sale.
I spotted the rudbeckia’s big silvery paddle leaves at a display garden at Fullerton Arboretum and tracked it down to their store, The Potting Shed.)

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And this marvelous creature came home from SF, too, a species watsonia.

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I’ve grown the garden hybrids of this South African bulb off and on, which bulk up fast and get bigger than phormiums.
I got a bit bored with the pink and white selections of those. This one’s color reminds me of Nerine sarniensis.

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With a pronounced seductive red flush on the stems and leaves.

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Coincidentally, I bumped into a Protea neriifolia in bloom that weekend at Flora Grubb Gardens.
FGG is where I found my Mother’s Day present, a new container for my Cussonia spicata, which literally busted through the old one.

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And a happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers of invention, gardens, kids and/or animals. May you find a new pot for your growing cussonia!
The skies have turned cloudy and, believe it or not, slightly rainy, so I’ve turned my attention to getting the vegetable garden sorted out, beans planted, tomatoes tied up, etc.