Category Archives: Occasional Daily Weather Report

rainy day schedule and its effects on big, jagged leaves

That makes two drizzly Mondays in a row. Did our collective obsession with California winter rain last year have the unintended and adverse effect of scaring it away? Drought does bring out magical thinking in me. I’ve given up on rain, don’t watch the forecasts anymore, which is clearly the preferred method for success. So I will continue my cunning campaign of giving no thought at all to winter rainfall, because this stealth approach seems to bring out the clouds. When it does drizzle in autumn, I reflexively greet the rain with my old elementary school advisory, those profoundly impactful words “rainy day schedule.” Which meant we remained in classrooms waiting for final dismissal rather than playing dodgeball out on the tarmac. Instead of our hooligan jubilations at being relatively unsupervised outdoors, the swishing sounds from the heavy cotton layers of the nuns’ habit, the rattle of the long rosary at their sides as they prowled the aisles, pencils dutifully scribbling at homework, and rain spattering at the casement windows would continue to be the hushed soundtrack to our desk-bound lives until the clock struck three. (I’ve checked out those huge rosaries at flea markets recently and was shocked at the hefty price.) Now at the sign of even modest drizzle, I say the words aloud ironically, “rainy day schedule,” because unlike my dodgeball days, they’ve become the happiest words I know. Not that I’m thinking about rain anymore or anything. What I am thinking about are big, jagged leaves.

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The bocconia came through summer beautifully on a semi-attentive regimen of drip hoses once a week, maybe every two weeks. Okay, sometimes I was reminded by its declining appearance to get the soaker hose going pronto, admittedly not the most rigorous irrigation schedule. But the soaker hoses sure beat carrying watering cans and moving the garden hose all summer (or, more often, failing to do so).
And in the spirit of full disclosure, these photos were taken after some surprise light rainfall on October 17, and what plant doesn’t look good glistening wet?

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In my garden big, jagged leaves come from melianthus, tetrapanax, and bocconia.
Two out of three are in the process of pulling themselves together after a couple recent heat waves. The third, bocconia, is resplendent this fall.

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In full sun with lax summer irrigation, Bocconia frutescens starts to look a little puckered by August, and seems to drop leaves more freely than usual. Adding drip hoses this summer and more reliable irrigation was obviously the preference of all three. The bocconia and tetrapanax bloom in fall, the melianthus in spring.
(Although San Marcos Growers has the Tree Poppy as a spring/summer bloomer.)

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Melianthus ‘Purple Haze,’ February 2016

The cultivar from Roger Raiche, ‘Purple Haze,’ doesn’t try to bloom at all, which is fine with me, and it has lived up to its reputation as a compact melianthus, becoming no larger than a robust Jerusalem sage or phlomis, an important consideration for me because the species is a lanky giant here. I do think ‘Purple Haze,’ because it is less vigorous than the species, requires more summer irrigation than the species to look its best, and of the three plants discussed here the melianthus is most reliant on irrigation.

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cycads at the Los Angeles County Arboretum October 2016

I’ve been mulling over a list of similar contenders for a semi-dry, full sun summer garden in mediterranean climates. I’m thinking more on a herbaceous scale or smallish shrubs. Acanthus is a classic contender, of course, but A. mollis needs afternoon shade, and I’m just becoming familiar with other acanthus species for hopefully full sun. Macleaya, the bocconia’s herbaceous relative, has fabulous leaves, bigger, less jagged, more scalloped. Ricinus communis, the castor bean plant, especially in its darkest form ‘New Zealand Purple’ makes the list. The cabbage palms, cussonias, do eventually grow into trees here, as do the manihots and loquats. I’m hours away from ordering a fig, Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre,’ from Cistus Nursery, if I don’t talk myself out of it again for the umpteenth time. Ultimate size will be an issue with the fig as well. The dandelion relative, sonchus, is an intriguing possibility. I’m trying out a new one, Sonchus palmensis, in a stock tank. I suspect if I had provided more reliable summer irrigation to other sonchus I’ve grown, like S. congestus and canariensis, I might have had better results. Cycads are a possibility, and you won’t need to worry about summer irrigation when they’re established, but you will need to set up a cycad investment fund right this moment if you hope to procure a nice specimen one day. Same advice for adding some specimen palms, like the Blue Hesper Palm, Brahea armata.
Bixbybotanicals suggested artichoke, which I’ve never tried in the ornamental garden, nor cardoons.
Any other suggestions are most welcome.

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Bocconia bloom panicle January 2015

There might come a time when I have to forego such charismatic plants, those with idiosyncratically jagged leaves that sculpt the garden with their exotic presence and need just a little help getting through summer, sometimes what seems like an endless summer now, rain-wise. You’ve got to be light on your feet these days in keeping a garden.

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Tetrapanax, December 2014.
The tetrapanax is budding up some enormous flower buds surrounded by crisped new leaf growth that was burned in the heat wave a couple weeks back, when we reached 106 (September 26).
Can’t we have a brief intermission from setting records all the time?

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Despite the welcome drizzle, hot and dry is predicted for the overarching, foreseeable future.
Still, it’s no time to throw in the trowel. The right plants are out there.

I hope you enjoy our rainy day schedule the next couple days.

Occasional Daily Weather Report; hot stuff

I’ve got my seed packets of scarlet flax in hand, ready to sow for spring bloom, some interesting cool season cabbages and greens on order, and I can’t stop thinking about hot soup. I’m ready.
And like waiting for the headliner at a show, I’m getting a little restless when the opening act (summer) refuses to leave the stage.
I’m ready to hand the garden over to winter (and complain about how little rainfall we’re getting.)
But heatwaves do bring undeniable benefits. There was such a glorious hush over the neighborhood yesterday, chased indoors by heat and televised sports.
Today is supposed to top 100. Yesterday was high 90s, a throwback to those lackadaisical summer days when I pile a bunch of reading in the coolest spot outdoors I can find.
But who am I kidding, September is always hot in Los Angeles and it’s foolish to expect anything else. I’ve always been out of meteorological sync with this season.
As a kid it felt bizarrely, infuriatingly arbitrary to trudge back to hot, stuffy classrooms instead of heading again for the beach.

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And I may have prematurely moved touchy Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’ into a full sun position for fall/winter.

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And he’s just outgrown the leaf burn from a previous bout of sunstroke.

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Sorry if I sound a little testy. Hot and dry in autumn is a signal to the termites to wing it, an event that always sets our teeth on edge as they flap against our little wooden bungalow.
But ain’t life grand? Autumn light, insects that eat houses, grasses that catch the wind like schools of fish work the currents — I tell you, it’s simply too wonderful. Have a great week.

Occasional Daily Weather Report 9/20/16

We’re having a spell of clammy, sultry weather, the kind that will boost passionflowers another foot in growth seemingly overnight.

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Passiflora hybrid ‘Flying V,’ was a gift from Max Parker, who blogs at Hook and Spur.
‘Flying V’ is a cross between two Jamaican passionflower vines, Passiflora penduliflora and P. perfoliata.
Jamaica’s tropical marine climate averages temperatures around 83F, so I think ‘Flying V’ has been feeling right at home in this tropical island weather we’re having.

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All summer it’s been near impossible to get any photos, as all the blooms clustered at the top of this Agave mitis ‘Multicolor’ bloom stalk, disappearing under the eaves in this photo from 2015.
(Hybridizer Mark Cooper felt the leaves bore a resemblance to his favorite guitar, the Gibson Flying V, played by Hendrix, Albert King, Lenny Kravitz, among many others.)

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The vine was planted in a large pot that’s been half buried in the ground, with the agave stalk, minus most of its bulbils, plunged in the center as an impromptu scaffold.
To be honest, using the agave stalk for support was a bit of a joke. I assumed the vine would need endless cajoling and coaxing and ultimately opt not to thrive. Call me jaded, it’s true.
But this vine immediately took off for the heights, and it’s taken all summer for it to cascade back down and bring those little pink parachutes back within camera range.

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And if I leave too early in the morning or get home too late the blooms will be closed shut, more shuttlecock than parachute.
Now I’m wondering how long it will be before that fibrous agave stalk disintegrates and the vine needs to be disentangled from its support.
But that’s a worry for mid-winter, not days like this. It’s nice to see the sky tumbled with big fluffy clouds for a change too.
‘Flying V’ is reportedly root hardy to zone 8.

Occasional Daily Weather Report 6/20/16

We thought we’d have the whole house fan installed before the long, hot days of summer, but there’s been a few hiccups.
When it finally arrived for pickup at a local big box store, it was shipped without instructions or necessary hardware, so that set us back a couple extra weeks.
The current heat wave may have won this round, but we’ll be ready for the next one (fingers crossed).
118 in Palm Springs yesterday, 100 in our own Long Beach. Hotter today.
Smoke from the Sherpa fire fills our skies, making a fire 100 miles north seem uncomfortably local.
Highway 101 around Santa Barbara is open today but has been subject to closures.
Garden lovers will also worry about Lotusland when that area burns, but as far as I can tell it is far enough south that it’s not in imminent danger.

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Buckle up. It’s the first day of summer.

Occasional Daily Weather report 3/7/16 (palms on fire!)

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from The Los Angeles Times

Marty, both parakeets, and I were jolted awake a little after 6 a.m., when the predicted storm slammed into town, escorted by raucous thunder, lightning, and high winds.
(Nothing wakes increasingly deaf Ein.) In a quintessentially LA touch, the lightning struck and fired up several palm trees across the county, some of which could be seen from that major player in all our lives, the sclerotic 405 freeway (pronounced in the local dialect as “four-oh-five.”)

I can’t leave you with that end-of-the world, palm-on-fire photo, so how about some soothing photos from the garden in the last week or so?

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My beloved ballota. I think mine is Ballota acetabulosa. I always thought the name was interchangeable with B. pseudodictamnus.
Apparently that’s not the case, and one kind is slightly superior to the other. It’s not an easy plant to track down by any name, so I’ll probably never know the distinction.
Whatever this one is, I love it. Reseeds for me. Buy it under any name if you’re in zone 7 and above and want some knobby, woolly texture for a dry garden.
And be patient, for it doesn’t look like much the first six months to a year after planting.

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This maroon osteospermum just might keep me from throwing money away at chocolate cosmos this year.
Thank goodness for the osteospermum’s unflagging, robust nature. If only it had Cosmos atrosanguineus’ extra long stems too.

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Bulbine ‘Athena Compact Orange’

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First bloom on rat-tail cactus.

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Echeveria agavoides are in bloom all over the garden. Offsets quickly make new, thick colonies of this echeveria, one of my faovorites.

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Glistening from the previous rainstorm a couple weeks back, my potted Leucadendron galpinii is going to love life in this container all summer.
Right? Are we agreed? I’ll take that as a yes.

N.B. Read here on how to check your citrus for signs of the Asian citrus psyllid.

Occasional Daily Weather Report 2/11/16

While it seems everyone else is diligently topping off their water table with generous rainfall and/or snowfall, there’s no use denying it’s already chair cushion season here.
Los Angeles in February decided to go high 80s, tipping into the 90s. It feels like a Peanuts/Charles Schultz setup, with Charlie Brown (me) trusting Lucy (weather people) not to pull the football (El Nino) away again as he winds up for a mighty kick of faith, only to fall on his ass for the umpteenth time. But it’s hard to be grumpy about the lack of rainfall when it’s so gosh-darn beautiful outside. When the drought-driven apocalypse comes to Southern California, we will all be wearing flip-flops and T-shirts and sipping the latest artisinal cocktail. Like the last days of Pompeii, we won’t know what hit us.

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Aloe ‘Safari Sunrise’

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Aloe conifera

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Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’

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Euphorbia atropurpurea

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Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’

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Glaucium grandiflorum

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Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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Helleborus argutifolius

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Bocconia frutescens

N.B. This seems like such a sensible idea. Maybe it’s been around for a while and I just haven’t noticed.
It goes like this: We get the special-order plants we want while avoiding the heavy shipping costs that mail order often entails, sometimes costing more than the plants themselves.
I just noticed that Monrovia is accepting online orders of their plants, which are delivered to a nursery near you for pickup.
However, since I haven’t tried it out yet, I’m not sure if there is a handling charge involved.
Now, if other wholesale growers like San Marcos Growers, Annie’s Annuals, and Native Sons jumped on this train, my plant budget would grow by leaps and bounds.

N.B.B. For spring plant orders, Chanticleer’s gravel garden plant list 2015.

Occasional Daily Weather Report; winter solstice

Happy Winter Solstice! Apparently, the place to be this shortest day of the year is Stonehenge.
Here’s the personal, always emotional weather report: After a drizzly Saturday, a soft rain started falling again yesterday afternoon.
All of which is the kind of gentle preparation the parched soil needs to absorb the predicted torrents of El Nino, due to arrive sometime in the new year.
For a few months, the garden will be off life support. At last the hose can be coiled up and stowed, one less tripping hazard. Not to be a jinx or anything, but hello, rainy season.
The U.S. Geological Survey noted as of October 5, 2015, that “California’s 2015 and 2014 Water Years, which ended September 30, 2015, were the warmest years on record.
2014 was the third driest year on record. On April 1, 2015, the California Department of Water Resources measured the statewide water content of Sierra snowpack at five percent of average for April 1st
.” (California’s “water year” runs from Oct. 1 to May 31.)

Looking through old December blog posts, there’s lots of photos celebrating the seasonal return of moisture.

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Cussonia gamtoosensis, December 2013


Leucadendron salignum ‘Blush,’ December 2010


Mangave ‘Bloodspot,’ December 2010


Echeverias, December 2010



Tibouchina heteromalla, December 2010


Euphorbia characias, December 2010


Canna ‘Bengal Tiger,’ December 2010


Canna ‘Intrigue,’ December 2010


Sedum nussbaumerianum, December 2010


Agave attenuata, December 2010


Musa ‘Siam Ruby,’ December 2010

winter shadow

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Winter light and winter shadows naturally fill my thoughts this time of year.
This marrubium is lucky to be in full sun all year. Some of the silvers are trapped during winter in a band of shade that descends on the back, south-facing garden.
The sun’s low position, surrounding houses, and an 8-foot tall southern garden wall are all contributors to the winter shadow that bisects the garden running its length east to west.
Sideritis, Convolvulus cneorum, ozothamnus and other sun lovers spend the short winter days in complete shade courtesy of that low-slung sun, while I anxiously await confirmation of their survival in spring. Taller plants will be grazed by the sun for short periods during the day, but plants under a foot tall are effectively in dormancy, whether they want it or not.
Not at all optimal conditions for sun-loving, dry garden plants.

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I can help potted silvers like this Puya laxa by moving them to the sunniest spots in the garden.

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But those in the ground are on their own. This silver straddles the sun/shade band.
When this kalanchoe blooms I’ll know whether it’s bracteata (chartreuse blooms) or hildebrandtii (red blooms)

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An old photo of bloom trusses on Kalanchoe ‘Oak Leaf’ (Kalanchoe beharensis x K. millotii) shows what these shrubby, winter-blooming succulents can do in January.
I have this plant crammed into a mixed pot and need to get it into the garden or I’ll never see that kind of performance — but there’s not a bit of sunny real estate available.

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That band of winter shade effectively halves available space for sun lovers.
Year-round full sun ensures Aloe cameronii gets that ruddy winter coat and throws those blooms that are now forming.

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The slanted light makes a sun pit under the pergola, so here is where some of the smaller pots are congregating.

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Last year we kept a table and chairs here. That yucca was removed this summer, along with the scratchy Eryngium padanifolium.

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Agave ‘Stained Glass,’ in that heavy tank, is immovable in any case, but gets good sun year-round here.
Now that the yucca is gone, there’s lots more light and air circulation for the plantings around the pergola.

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Even bromeliads are basking in winter’s brand of full sun, much weaker than summer’s.
This Neoregelia carolinae can be seen on the table in the photo above from 2014.

I’m counting the days to the winter solstice on December 22, when this band of shade will start to thin and then disappear until next winter.
Even after 20 years I still get a little too happy with spring planting and plonk full-sun plants into this winter shade zone.
When I used to experiment with more herbaceous stuff that died back in winter, I theorized that full winter shade enforced the dormancy they craved.
When I grew roses, many of them had to put up with this winter shade.
I’m still not sure about that theory of enforced dormancy, but there’s very little in the garden that dies back completely anymore.
Somewhat reassuring is knowing that in colder climates, lots of sun-loving, tender plants are hustled indoors into low light levels for winter and make it to spring.
Still, in a mediterranean climate like Los Angeles, winter is the time for active plant growth, not snoozing in the shade.

bromeliads for winter

Hot enough for you? It’s over 100 degrees in Los Angeles today, so hot that even the devil has left town.
(That’s the best “It’s so hot” line I’ve heard all summer, spoken by a gentleman from El Paso, Texas.)
And our winters just keeping getting warmer, too, so I’m thinking it’s probably best to face that reality with…more bromeliads. You don’t see the connection? Hear me out.
In temperate Southern California, unless your garden sits in a frost pocket, bromeliads don’t need to be hustled indoors for winter like they do in colder climates.
I’ve never been one to get really excited about pumpkins and gourd displays for fall, but I could easily adopt a tradition of filling the garden with bromeliads for winter.
Their juicy, saturated colors and starburst rosettes would be a huge boost in the shorter (but most likely still warm) days of winter.
If we’re strolling the garden in shirtsleeves and flip-flops in December, then let’s have something sexy to look at. And bromeliads are indisputably sexy.
They’re also incredibly easy to care for, needing about as much water and attention as succulents. Like agaves, they die after flowering but always leave some pups to carry on.

Here’s some glamour shots from local plant shows and sales over the years with IDs if I have them:

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Alcanterea ‘Volcano Mist’

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Aechmea nudicaulis in the center

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Aechmea ‘Loies Pride’

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Okay, so they make dramatic specimens for containers, but what about massed in the frost-free landscape?

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I’m so glad you asked.
This is what Lotusland, an estate garden in Montecito, California, does with bromeliads in an admittedly fantastical and over-the-top landscape:

Continue reading bromeliads for winter

Occasional Daily Weather Report 1/11/15 (the rainy day song)

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image found here

We all know that famous paean to a rainy day. But there’s another rainy day tribute, done by Sesame Street in the 1980s, that is every bit as much an earworm.
Decades later, everyone at our house still knows it by heart. So consider yourself warned and listen to the dated and grainy video at the end at your peril.
(It has softly rained nonstop for nearly two days now, casually, matter-of-factly, just the way I remember winter rain, pre-drought.)

It’s a rainy day;
It’s a rainy day.
It’s raining outside,
And I can’t go out and play.
Why do we need the rain anyway?

Rain falls everywhere,
Fills the rivers and streams,
Flows into the reservoirs
Purified and clean.
Water to do the wash,
Water to drink,
Water is flowing
Through the pipes into our sink.

It’s a rainy day;
It’s a rainy day.
It’s raining outside,
And I can’t go out and play.
I guess I’ll stay at home today.

Every living thing needs water;
Every living thing needs the rain.
Every living thing needs water;
I guess I really can’t complain.

It’s a rainy day;
It’s a rainy day.
It’s raining outside,
And I can’t go out and play.
Why do we need the rain anyway?

Water to do the dishes,
Water to brush your teeth,
Water to take a shower,
Water to wash the street.

Water for the forest,
Millions of thirsty roots;
Water for the garden,
Flowers, vegetables, and fruits.

It’s a rainy day;
It’s a rainy day.
It’s raining outside,
And I can’t go out and play.
Don’t you know I love the rain anyway?!

Written by Benjamin Goldstein, Michael Karp
Publisher Filmus Inc.
Michael Karp Music Inc.
Sesame Street Inc.
EKA Episode 1740