Category Archives: plant crushes

end of month fav’s

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Plants and pottery, the twin joys of life. These are the cantaloupe bowls I’ve been coveting off Dustin Gimbel’s Instagram feed for some time.
He’s selling them today at the Artistic License show held at Estancia Park, 1900 Adams Ave., Costa Mesa CA., Oct 28-29, 10 am to 4 pm.
I know, late notice, not due to any under-handed, selfish intentions, just the week got away from me as usual.
I’m sure if you contact Dustin directly he’d be happy to ship. His Instagram feed has more photos and contact information.
And to be clear, these are food-safe pottery bowls for you, not for your plants. Or vessels for seedpods, tillandsias, and other such treasures.
But he’s also selling plenty of containers for plants, many already planted from his extremely cool and rarified collection. We need lots more shows like this.

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The cantaloupe rind pattern is a big part of their charm.

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I quickly chose pearly opalescent, bleeding into celadon, and indigo, because lingering too long over choice made me crazy. I wanted them all.

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The ‘Flying V’ hybrid passiflora is another fine piece of handiwork I’ve been enjoying this month.
Now that it’s apparent the vine enjoys my garden conditions, I need to get serious about a rebar trellis that can show it to best advantage.
A project to mull over this winter.

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Loree at Danger Garden discusses more October favorites.

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Have a great weekend.

at the Inter-City CSSA Show August 2016

The funny thing about hard-core succulent shows is there’s often non-succulent treasures on the sales tables too.

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On arrival, I made a quick circuit around the tables and immediately became fixated on these decidedly non-succulent leaves.

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And the mottling on these stems. No name tag, no price.

Continue reading at the Inter-City CSSA Show August 2016

the exacting requirements of pitcher plants

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Growing sarracenia in a sink, as seen at Flora Grubb Gardens, is a not-too-subtle reminder of the one thing you must never forget to grow them successfully.
Water, of course. These are bog plants after all. But there’s something else…

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Never, never give them water out of your faucet. Or water you’ve let sit in a pail outdoors, thinking you’ve leached out any impurities, which I’ve tried in the past.
They hate the minerals in our tap water and must be given distilled water. Maybe your tap water varies. Here in Long Beach, Calif., we’ve got some hard water flowing through our pipes.
I’m only bringing this up because I’m seeing these sun-loving native bog plants at sales and shows again, and I always ask about the water thing, hoping the rules maybe have changed or relaxed. Um, no. Here’s a garden fantasy: Wouldn’t it be nice to have distilled water delivered every week for your pitcher plants?
Other than the water sensitivity, these self-feeding, carnivorous plants are said to be fairly easy to grow. Acidic, peaty soil, no fertilizer.

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The pitchers are as sexy as the flowers.

Unfortunately, those of us in zone 9-10 might also have an issue with their winter dormancy needs of a cold period for 2-4 months.
I’d love to hear any success stories in zone 10.

cussonia crazy


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image found here

Cussonias are a small genus from Africa and the Mascarene Islands

There are maybe 25 species in the small genus known as the Cabbage Trees, and without trying too hard I’ve already brought home five of them.
I didn’t set out to be a collector of cussonias, but spurring me on is the fact that, so far, there doesn’t seem to be an ugly duckling in the bunch.
Without hesitation, when one turns up at a local nursery, I grab it.
Cussonias are included in the araliaceae family, which contains some of the most outlandishly beautiful leaves to be found anywhere.
They have that family’s signature finely cut foliage but atop a seriously tough plant.
As mature trees they can reach 15 feet, but they flourish for years in containers, where they need about as much attention as succulents.
Their mop-headed, evergreen canopies bring the lush life to frost-free, dry-summer climates along with what I can never get enough of, that emphatic pop of verticality.

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My first Cabbage Tree, Cussonia gamtoosensis, which I recently planted in the ground.
Some plants are so beautiful that I’m willing to change the garden to accommodate them as they mature.
Found locally under Annie’s Annuals label.

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An old photo, with its leaves spangled in morning dew

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That’s a rebar tripod it’s resting against to help gently train the leaning trunk upright.

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This is where the grasshoppers hung out all summer, as many as six at a time, enjoying the simultaneous opportunities for sun and concealment.
Yes, I count grasshoppers. It’s a repulsion/attraction thing. When they become too numerous, we freeze them in peanut butter jars.

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Brought home June 2014. Cussonia spicata. The Cabbage Trees have a peculiar trunk-to-canopy ratio, with short, thickened trunks giving them their unique profile.
Some of them, like the more commonly available Cussonia paniculata, are known as pachycauls, from the Greek pachy– meaning thick or stout, and Latin caulis meaning the stem.
(How many of us can identify with pachycauls in this season of holiday feasting?)

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Cussonia natalensis, found at Xotx-Tropico in West Hollywood. This little nursery is so jam-packed with rarities that it’s easy to miss some real gems.
Fortuntely, cussonias have a distinctive outline that sets them apart even in a crowded nursery.
After I selected this one to take home, for the rest of my visit, Leon, the owner, and a true character in the best Hollywood tradition, referred to me simply as the “plant girl.”
(At his nursery, which he’s run for 25 years, Leon follows you around and tells the story of each plant, as if he runs an adoption agency instead of a plant nursery and you’re inquiring about a child temporarily under his care. The website is down, but the address is 900 No. Fairfax Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90046, (323) 654-9999.)

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Reminds me of a bright green maple leaf. Also known as the Rock Cabbage Tree.

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This is Cussonia paniculata, probably the most commonly available Cabbage Tree, whose mature leaves take on a bluish hue.
I’ve planted small ones in the ground, only to have them mush out, so this one will live indefinitely in a container.
I once stood under a mature tree on a Venice garden tour and didn’t even recognize it as a cussonia until chatting with the owner about it.
Keeping cussonias in containers retains their unique form.

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Cussonia tranvaalensis, also found locally under Annie’s Annuals label.
This cussonia brought to my attention recently that, at some undefined point in time, I’ve turned into a person who squishes aphids with their bare hands.
None of the other cussonias seem to be attacting aphids.

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Since it’s known as the Grey Cabbage Tree, these leaves will also acquire a blue-grey cast as they mature.


pod love

Garden bloggers have been giving it up for flowers, for leaves. How about some pod love?
I know it’s a little early in the season for seedpods for a lot of gardens, but I happen to have dried-up, dessicated plant life on the brain after last week’s ferocious Santa Ana winds.

And I also just happen to have some nice seedpods to share.


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Courtesy of Acacia podalyrifolia

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I’ve been shaping this young shrub/tree at the front of the house, and it’s coming along beautifully.

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The long, wavy pods, silver with cinnamon-brown interiors, perform entrancing twists and spirals in the breeze.

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Sharing the pod love.


Crassula ovata ‘Undulata’ (‘Jitters’)

I get acclimated to many of the plants I once just couldn’t live without. Novelty fades. Maybe living with splashy variegation turns out to be a bad idea, or the perfect focal point turns out to be too domineering, a visual bully. The wavy leaf jade plant has a contained exuberance that never grows tiresome. It’s slowly, neatly filled out its container like a one-scoop ice cream cone. (And then there’s that growing resemblance to Sideshow Bob.) It puts some serious spin on the ubiquitous jade plant. In climates too cold to grow outside, I think its slow growth and compact form would justify giving it a berth indoors for the winter. And then there’s that indomitable will to survive that all jade plants possess. You just can’t kill them.

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What would become exhausting in human form is endlessly charming in a plant. All that busy, wavy personality really grows on you.


Kalanchoe ‘Oak Leaf’

Wonderful architectural bloom trusses on this 5-gallon kalanchoe at Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena. Was this a Kalanchoe beharensis in flower? The leaves at the base of the plant were difficult to see without disturbing the careful display. The San Marcos Growers tag identified it not as Kalanchoe beharensis but Kalanchoe ‘Oak Leaf’ or the Dwarf Velvet Plant. Thought to be a cross between Kalanchoe beharensis and K. millot, John Greenlee is credited with bringing it to the attention of San Marcos Growers. (Read SMG’s discussion here.) I’m always interested in finding good shrubby landscape succulents, and the genus kalanchoe has been offering some fine examples. This one, with its see-through, aerial scaffolding when in bloom, looks very promising. It’s easy to see the appeal for Greenlee as a textural accompaniment for grasses. With my wallet emptied out after the holidays, I’ll wait to see if smaller sizes turn up at the spring plant sales. The challenge will be in finding as dramatic a backdrop for its pallid stems as those masses of Sticks on Fire, Euphorbia tirucalli.


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ghosts of gardens past

Cleaning out old photo albums releases lots of ghosts of gardens past. Do I feel guilty and as greedy as Scrooge over all the plants that have come and gone? Not a bit.
I do notice that I’ve become more of a climate realist, following the rainfall patterns, with less emphasis on masses of summer-blooming plants during what is typically our dry season.

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Some of the ghosts are huge and come armed with hooks. The only time I bother to find some gloves and wear them is preparing to do battle with an agave. (That’s a knife in my hand.)
I doubt I’d wrestle with a monster this size again. The only way to release the kraken was to break the pot. Actually, this agave is still alive and kicking, but in my neighbor’s garden.

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The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
— T.S. Eliot was absolutely right.

The garden has lots of kitty ghosts too. Jones, our tabby, as of about a month ago, is no more. Also known as Joseph, aka Professor Joe B. Tiger.
aka Beaner. We think he made it to over 20 years’ old at least. What a cantankerous beast he was.

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More ghosts of plants past, like the beautiful but invasive feather grass, Stipa tenuissima, which has been systematically expunged from the garden.
The cats particularly loved this grass — to sleep on, to hide behind, to play in like their own personal Serengeti.

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The yucca is one of the few plants still around today. With anthemis and the ‘Bill Wallis’ geranium.

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Yucca, coronilla, agastache. I need to find that pig-ear cotyledon again.

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I probably have a tenth of the containers I once kept. Holy mole…

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A dwarf form of Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea,’ the golden-leaved Persicaria amplexicaulis, fuchsias, plectranthus, pelargoniums, etc., etc., all ghosts now.

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At some point things started getting shrubbier and grassier, more structural, but always planting so densely that the intention became buried. Did a love of plants spoil the design? Oh, heavens, yes, absolutely. There will always be other gardens to visit and admire for their strong design. I still need the plants. In the background are two “golfball” pittosporums that were clipped into spheres, a shape that they seemed to outgrow weekly. Clipped structure is such high maintenance. Definitely not for me. The dark-leaved shrubs in the foreground are Lophomyrtus x ralphii ‘Red Dragon.’

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Better view of the golfball pitts. They always stubbornly inclined more to a light bulb shape than spherical.

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The yucca engulfed by Geranium ‘Dragon Heart.’

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The summer I let white valerian take over.

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The tawny, strawberry-blonde tresses of Stipa arundinacea (Anemanthele lessoniana) have been a long-time favorite.
Sedum nussbaumerianum pushes these colors even harder.

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This grass and anything burgundy, like amaranthus or ricinus. Yum.

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Same color as the stipa but now in Libertia peregrinans. What a good year 2011 was for Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain.’

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Alstroemeria ‘The Third Harmonic,’ wonderful in vases, atrocious in the garden. Tall and unsteady, needing sturdy support (high maintenance)

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I can’t even remember the names of some of the many succulents that passed through the garden. This pom pom was rampageous.

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the many adventures in moss

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I miss the scent of the roses almost as much as their flowers. Chromatella’s was deep and complex, with notes of tobacco.

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Some things never change. The garden is as overstuffed as it ever was. 2013 will be remembered as the year the eryngiums bloomed well. Onward to 2014!

birthday plants

My birthday took up just about every single day last week, and more days on the weekend, which is how I rationalized a trip on Saturday to find that hitherto unknown-to-me, unmet, spectacular plant that would forever after be marked as my, gollum gollum, birthday present. (Because we wants it.) At our house we always make a big deal about not making a big deal about birthdays, no presents, please, thank you very much, which has the unintended (intended?) consequence of turning birthdays into birthweeks. You don’t want any presents? You better take off work then. Can’t buy you anything? Then I’ll cook you a special dinner tonight. And tomorrow. And breakfast the day after. And bake you a cake. And why don’t you sleep in this morning, and I’ll feed the cats?

Yes, I don’t want any presents for my birthday, but I don’t mind some festive shopping around for something fabulous in the leaf and twig department during my birthday/week celebration. And on Saturday I did find my birthday plant, but it could not be had for love nor money, birthday or no birthday.


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An unknown, unnamed leucospermum looking extremely fat, happy and floriferous. Weren’t these supposed to be the malingering shrubs with soil issues? The grower is now out of business, and the retail nursery where this thrives in a sloping display border, Roger’s in Newport Beach, has been trying to find more stock for the past two years, without success. I know all this because I shouted out questions to one of their nice, extremely busy employees who was mid-stride in the process of helping another customer. Beautiful plants can cause my manners to slip occasionally.

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Research suggests it’s probably Leucospermum cordifolium ‘Yellow Bird,’ one of the pincushion protea shrubs from South Africa. A nursery in Ventura County I’ve been meaning to visit, Australian Native Plants Nursery, has it back-ordered. I see that they consider it a candidate for containers, which is wonderful news because there isn’t an inch of garden available for a shrub. I very possibly need to extend my birthday/week further to include a trip to Ventura.

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On Saturday I watched the shoppers peruse and select plants, which is endlessly fascinating. And I sniffed the sweet peas.

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And admired the new succulent plantings.

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Slipping in a tiger-striped aloe among the echeverias was a nice touch.

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This nursery leans toward an Old World, heavy-on-the-European influence, so it was nice to see some pieces made of concrete, simple and unadorned.
Or possibly a lightweight stand-in for concrete. I didn’t touch.

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And I envied the luxurious billowing of Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Flare,’ one of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials signature annuals.

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And noted the effects of the afternoon sun on a bromeliad, glowing, backlit, diffused by a screen

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More screen and shadow effects, this time with a tillandsia.


I just love birthdays, even without any presents — maybe especially without presents. I’ll take the gift of time filled with beautiful incidents over presents anyday.

tuesday clippings 3/26/13

Nothing too thematic, just some odds and ends.

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To prove I left the plant sale tables briefly and did a lap in the show room at the recent Orange County CSSA show, here’s a Dyckia ‘Brittle Star’ hybrid that won an award. My own big clump of dyckia is starting to throw up bloom stalks, which the snails munch like asparagus spears. The slimy gourmands ate every bloom last year, and they’re on their way to doing it again this year. Some of that biodegradable snail bait was dispensed this morning, possibly too little too late.

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In the back garden, between the poppies and the anthemis, there’s scarcely any bare soil showing and it’s not even April.
I’ve started thinning out the poppies more aggressively. Diascia personata is the not-yet-blooming swathe of green behind the Agave americana var. striata in the tall green pot.

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Starting to bloom this week, though the event could easily pass unnoticed, is the Australian mintbush, Prostranthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata,’ a shimmering, aromatic shrub of medium size. I’m keeping it pruned to approximately 4 X 4 feet. Tiny, luminous, evergreen leaves, a loose, open form with contrasting dark stems. Tolerates dry but can handle regular garden irrigation. Not a specimen plant, its attractions are subtle. It brings pattern and light, not weight, to the garden. Some might find it a little nondescript. I wish I had room for more than one. In bloom its branches become studded with tiny lilac-colored bells. Not very long-lived, this is a shrub I replant over and over.

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Leaving subtle behind, I’m so excited to see some blooms on the Canary Island Foxglove, Isoplexis canariensis. These shrubby foxglove relatives may save me the trouble of throwing more money at trialing more of the rusty-colored digitalis species like ferruginea and trojana, which have yet to make it through winter. They just melt away, leaving me scratching the soil where they were planted searching for signs of life.
Not enough rainfall maybe.

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Another look at the isoplexis, a big sturdy plant. Nothing seems to bother it, knock wood.

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Geranium maderense ‘Alba’ opened some of its pure, laundry white blooms this morning.

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The back garden viewing gallery, the bricks freshly cleaned and weeded by Marty.
I think he’s got the attention to detail necessary to win prizes at plant shows. Good thing one of us does.
I insisted he leave a few poppies that had self-sown into the bricks.
I used to keep a small table here too, until I planted that Eryngium padanifolium too close. But what a stunning plant it is.

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Around the corner on the east side of the house, the pittosporum is turning into quite the tillandsia outpost.
A neighbor brought over a basketful last week. I love it when neighbors have your number.

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The battle of the compound leaves, melianthus vs. tetrapanax. The purple wash on the melianthus’ leaves is about as strong as it gets. I think it recedes a bit in summer. What an amazingly beautiful compact selection ‘Purple Haze’ is. Fantastic improvement on the species for small gardens.