garden notes late July 2020

The bathhouse/birdhouse, screens removed. The last of the rescued parakeets lived almost 15 years here and has been laid to rest in the front garden with his little friend, who died a few months earlier. Bird cages have been removed, and the bathhouse is getting its woodwork brightened. The parakeets had free rein and chewed up quite a bit of the woodwork, as the chewing marks on the post in the foreground shows. Chinese Fringe Tree is to the right.
slow-growing potted trees are a rewarding investment in time. Pseudobombax ellipticum with blooming echeveria, Cussonia natalensis, right. Medusa Tree Aloe far left.
The cussonia is absolutely clean at the moment — it’s a favorite for ants and their scale farms

More garden chit-chat. Let’s see, where to begin? I never know what bits of info will be useful so I’ll just meander. Working from most recent, last night I moved the potted Cussonia natalensis into this corner made by the bathhouse and laundry shed that gets morning sun. The cussonia was flourishing in the dappled light under the Chinese Fringe tree, so this move might be regretted, but the corner shows off the lush growth it’s put on this year after I tip-pruned the branches. Other pots were shifted out of the corner, including an Agave ‘Northern Lights,’ a San Diego, backyard-bred, mystery designer agave whose heritage still remains unclear to me. I’ll get a better photo, but for now it’s been moved just around the corner beyond that stressed Medusa Aloe in the black pot, Aloe tongaensis. The Medusa Aloe had to be dug up and repotted because of new fence construction and also because it was miserable in a very dry narrow strip against the east fence. I was waffling over planting it in the back garden, but even though its future size will be less than the huge Aloe bainseii, I opted to plant the smaller French Aloe instead, Aloe pluridens, another tree aloe that will allegedly mature to no more than 8ish feet. I’ll get a better photo at some point, but this one below shows where the French aloe has been planted, to the left of the wire cage:

foreground aloe is A. elgonica, which has been thinned a bit this week. Aloe pluridens can barely be seen in the background surrounded by Savannah Blue African Sage. A glaucium and clump of Pennisetum maissicum were removed for the salvias and French Aloe

Behind the tiny Aloe pluridens is a new-to-me salvia that appeared in local nurseries last week, and I was so excited by its theoretical potential that I bought and planted four one-gallons. As usual, excitement overcame reason in deciding to plant mid-summer, albeit a very mild summer so far, but better than holding them in gallons until fall, months away. ‘Savannah Blue‘ is a hybrid of two South African sages, Salvia namaensis and Salvia repens, that has a calamint-like effect in bloom. The leaves are extraordinary for a salvia, branching from low basal growth — small, leathery leaves dissected like a scented geranium. It has the sturdy look of a plant that will laugh at heat while flowering for months — I’ve been wrong before, but it’s just the kind of plant I want to grow with big succulents for summer. The sterile Calamintha ‘Montrose White’ is of course just such a plant too, and if I had more room I’d have drifts of it within hand’s reach to release its pungent scent.

Salvia x ‘Savannah Blue’
Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud,’ Cosmos sulphureus ‘Bright Lights,’ Tulbaghia ‘Cosmic’ lower right

I can’t find the post, but I’m fairly sure I blogged about the transformation the letter “A” was having on the garden: agapanthus, aloes, anigozanthos as flowering mainstays throughout the year, working well in a semi-dry garden with agaves and other succulents.

Cosmos sulphureus — tall, see-through, dynamically bobs and sways in the breeze

To that group I’d add another “A” for annuals like this Cosmos sulphureus. I don’t need wall-to-wall flowers, but summer means procreation, right? Floral sex in the garden is a hallmark of summer, along with the color, scent, and wildlife flowers bring. Finding stuff to bloom in July and August has been a challenge. Dahlias need a rich soil and lots of water, which would devastate the succulents, and it can’t be anything too beamy with a large footprint. Annuals in zone 10 generally flower longer and tolerate heat much better than perennials I’ve tried, and space doesn’t need to be permanently allocated for them as for perennials. I like how it keeps the garden light on its feet, changing year to year.

Agave mitis var. albidior on the right, caged Aloe tomentosa, Aloe ‘Moonglow’ distant right
A Yucca pallida is buried under oregano and euphorbia. Agave salmiana var. ferox on the left.
Berkheya purpurea fronting the miscanthus to the left of the agapanthus
Agapanthus ‘Indigo Frost’ with Sesleria ‘Campo Azul’ — the bright green ferny leaves to the left are an intriguing artemisia I found local called ‘Leprechaun.’ This agapanthus is finished blooming.
Coreopsis tinctoria ‘Tiger Stripes’ now cut back to the left of Sideritis oroteneriffae

The Coreopsis tinctoria ‘Tiger Stripes’ was cut back a couple weeks ago and is growing new leaves and already new flower buds. I put in another (!) order to Annie’s Annuals and may pull the coreopsis to give Echium ‘Tajinaste’ a home here. This corner gets full sun all day and is the spot that ‘Tajinaste’ was most happy when previously grown.

potted Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ and a recent find, Agave ‘Leapin’ Lizards,’ a variegated geminiflora

I also ordered more Ursinia anthemoides and Alonsoa meridonalis ‘Apricot,’ two annuals that could almost be considered signature plants of Annie’s that I have yet to grow. The ursinia has wonderful ferny leaves and floating flowers on gooseneck stems, a total charmer.


Ursinia’s ring of fire is revealed when the flowers open in the morning.

Tiny flowers of Alonsoa ‘Apricot’ at the base of Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ — three more alonsoa are on order. I like that it’s taller and more open branched than diascias.

So I’m all about the annuals now, and have loads of named Cosmos bipinnatus seedlings to nurse through warmer days, but there are good “tender perennials” that flower as hard as annuals to continually consider for summer. This Phygelius ‘Colorburst Orange’ I bought back in March has cycled around into bloom again, and it’s the same stature and habit of growth as when bought. Often growth hormones and growing techniques play tricks and present a vision of perfection that isn’t sustained for long in the garden. This Colorburst series does seem to have a compact habit of growth and uniform bloom built into it. I’m inclined to leave it in to see what it does next year too.


Another big project was thinning the enormous, congested clump of Eryngium pandanifolium. I irrigated the clump deeply after removing several rosettes. Looking at Internet photos, I don’t think this eryngo throws many blooms even in good times, but I hope to get more than two stalks next year now that it can be given a little more water and compost at its base.


And another big project! This giant rosette of Agave ‘Kara’s Stripes’ represents some crazy tomfoolery even by my standards. It had been encroaching on the front garden path for years, and at some point pivoted like a radar dish and took over the path completely. After cutting it off, Marty indulged me and carried it to the back garden. I dug a not very deep hole and winced as Marty dropped it in, fearing it would fall over and smash everything around it. As I hoped, the weight of the rosette has kept it steady, and for the first time in its life it’s upright. It’s been plopped directly over a struggling patch of Alstroemeria ‘Third Harmonic’ (so long, Peruvian lilies!) and after a few weeks still looks none the worse for wear. And it’s supporting the bronze fennel — a twofer!


Ever since a hose was hooked up to reach back here, this far corner has seen a lot of planting. The unrooted agave rosette is on the left of a Red Lantern Banksia, B. caleyi. The dark-leaved crinum is just behind, with a sphaeralcea to its right.

Heuchera maxima were planted recently under the acacia, so good in this bright shade/half sun and dry soil

With all the shuffling of pots, somehow the mangaves all ended up in the same spot so they get a group portrait. Big one on the right is ‘Mission to Mars,’ foreground is probably ‘Lavender Lady,’ and left rear in the ground is probably ‘Silver Fox.’ (Most of the mangaves anyway, except for ‘Tooth Fairy’ and ‘Kaleidoscope.’) And that leafy sprig with ‘Lavender Lady’ is a bit of Amorphophallus impressus that is showing up in quite a few pots this summer. The tubers are flat, beige, and impossible to tell right side up from upside down. Obviously, I’ve become less and less careful with them!

sneaky silveleaf ponyfoot, Dichondra sericea has sown the seam between bricks and porch
Note for recordkeeping: little agave behind Euphorbia greenwayi is a cross of nizandra with potatorum
Obligatory summer portrait of Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ that I’ve had since forever
Alocasia ‘Regal Shield’ was moved into stronger light
Three potted aloes getting some nice summer color — as am I spending all day in the garden! Clockwise, Aloe conifera, Aloe betsileensis, and a mystery aloe at the bottom. The single carnations that bloomed here in spring were cut back hard, cuttings taken. Top left is a container of Origanum dictamnus slipped in recently .

I’ll finish up with a portrait of Agave pygmaea ‘Dragon Toes’ from the back side, an angle I don’t often get of this agave.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, journal, succulents | 8 Comments

succulents and ceramics


Following the new social distancing guidelines, by the time I came to the end of the prescribed one-way route through the Sherman Gardens last month, my camera battery was dead just as I reached the last garden before the exit; the succulent garden. What a disappointment.


Fortunately, my poor planning was salvaged when MB Maher paid a visit at magic hour earlier in the week and shared the images I missed — in particular, that cobalt blue agave bloom spike! — which I believe has already been snapped up and sold.


The ceramic sculptures are part of the continuing exhibit Sculptura Botanica, ongoing through September 15, 2020 at the Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar, California. The botanical studies in ceramic by Dustin Gimbel seemed especially at home amidst the flamboyance of these leafy sculptural beauties, whether bromeliad or succulent.


So glad Mitch grabbed photos of some of my favorite seedpods, the matte, jet black eucalyptus.


And I completely missed these sinuous fern fronds.


Good to know the sculptures double as strategic lookouts for birds as well.


Mitch notes: “As Gimbel traces and also embellishes these natural forms, his work becomes that rarest of things; both a mirror and a window.”

  • what: in-situ installation showcasing botanical-themed ceramic work of Dustin Gimbel
  • where: Sherman Library & Gardens
  • when: May 15 through September 15, 2020
  • 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

photos by MB Maher.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, MB Maher, Occasional Daily Photo, succulents | 4 Comments

garden notes 7/12/20

tiny hot pink flower of Melocactus azureus, one of the many back porch plants
Opening the door and coming down the stairs first thing in the morning, the cool air emanating from the garden envelopes me even before the shapes and colors fill my eyes. The whole house fan sucks in this cool air and brings it into the house after sundown.

Pots line one side of the back porch stairs — the first year I’ve done this. Tripping hazard? Not really, not if you don’t try anything cute like taking a shortcut over the pots. Just follow the stairs straight down. No objections from Marty yet…


Take the ladder up to the lookout and climb over the cushions and cat and magazines to the far eastern end, which has a flat asphalt roof. I’ve discovered this year that this is exactly what I’ve needed for potted rhipsalis.

Slim trunk belongs to a potted Pseudobombax ellipticum, the Shaving Brush Tree, which does provide some mid-day shade for the rhipsalis — poppy seedhead from Sculptura Botanica

I hung the funnel filled with bromeliads and hanging cactus at this end too. There’s a couple full sun moments, so if the angle of the sun doesn’t change soon, there may need to be further adjustments. The terrestrial bromeliad Orthophytum magalhaesii just visible upper left was brieflly subjected to strong sun yesterday. It’s able to tolerate sun, but this much? Uncertain.

Ursulaea tuitensis is another bromeliad sun lover (aka Aechmea tuitensis)
Just opposite the end of the lookout with the hanging rhipsalis, Begonia ‘Red Fred’ is likewise in danger of too much sun — which gives the leaves a luscious ruddiness but occasionally a few singed edges too. Aloe ‘Goliath’ provides some shade but not enough
Tropicals like the vine Solanum wendlandii, the Costa Rican Nightshade, know what to do with July heat
Wish there were yards of flowering oregano like this one ‘Gentle Breeze’
After growing this daisy for many years, this is the best location by far for Anthemis ‘Susannah Mitchell’ — spilling on the bricks and in easy reach to deadhead and pinch for bushiness because it can get straggly. But it does wilt in afternoon sun so still not the optimal spot…
more potted seedlings accumulate, mostly cosmos, some tithonia, cuphea

The title of this photo could be “plants in bondage.” Euphorbia cooperi is taking its turn in the iron sphere. I moved the iron stand with pitcher plants here out of full sun just before temps hit the 90sF. The tips of the pitchers always crisp, but otherwise the plants appear healthy, increasing in size, with a couple flower buds.

plants in cages theme continues underneath
With the iron stand for the pitcher plants moved, there’s an unobstructed view of Agave ‘Dragon Toes’ from the garden office. All that Carex testacea is self-sown. Orange daisies are gerbera in the foreground and Cosmos sulphureus in background. The slim aloe in the foreground is a yellow A. cameronii — the iron stand used to be directly overhead of the aloe
Orange cosmos and Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud’
elongating blooms of Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’
Reader Ed Morrow asked if I feed the succulents. I did just buy some fish emulsion for the annuals in pots like cosmos, but with the succulents I basically stay out of their way. A pot of cuttings of the Ghost Plant, Graptopetalum paraguayense, taken from the clump spilling onto the front garden path
Aeoniums are usually their fattest and happiest winter and spring here, but ‘Copper Penny’ aeonium is one of the exceptions. It’s at its best when stressed by summer (imho)
Aeonium ‘Berry Exciting’ is another one that gets good summer color
Aloe ‘Verity Nice’ — wire trellis is one of the prototypes we’ve been experimenting with for the front garden. The mesh gauge is a little too soft so we’ll upgrade to cattle panel
Succulents are easy here, but not foolproof. Here’s an example of what utter neglect can do — a clump of aloes at my mom’s house left unwatered for months. The trough is the pedestal base of the urn that held the Euphorbia canariensis.
The traumatized aloe will be given mostly shade for now while it gets its footing. The tilly in front of the birdbath is what I’m hoping is T. secunda

Final mage from the garden last night, before heading in around 7 p.m to turn on the whole house fan, to draw in the cool evening air and vent out the heat.

Posted in clippings, journal, pots and containers, succulents | 4 Comments

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 , , | 7 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