Category Archives: clippings

notes on spring

I’ve taken some time off work while the family regroups from assorted medical issues, and since they seem to be more or less on the mend I’m sopping up spare time with plant sales and garden tours. Some nurse, huh? Living without back-to-back work deadlines is a heady, liberating experience, kind of a mini-preview of retiring from the day job, and I confess I’ve been running just a bit amok. Imagine a hummingbird’s interests and metabolism in a 5’8″ woman with a car and a smart phone making up for the lack of wings.

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There will be plenty of time for the mundane tasks indoors of cleaning out junk rooms, attending to the paint-starved main room, but right now I’m as mad about spring as any bird or six-legged creature, and hopping around gardens just as furiously. And then there’s this new camera to get the hang of, not to mention a blood-red poppy that’s greeted me the past few mornings, new to my garden, Papaver commutatum, aka ladybird poppy. Devilishly tricky to capture in portrait due to its intense color saturation.

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The morning sun effects an astonishing transformation when it touches those translucent petals, igniting them into molten chalices, and that’s the full-throated portrait of a ladybird poppy that eludes me.

Please, please reseed.

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My old standby, the Poppy of Troy, is much less shy around a camera.

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I still love everything about poppies. Crinkly buds on reedy stems carefully unpack their wrinkled folds to unfurl full-sail, silky blooms. A springtime performance that never gets old.

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More intense red is coming from the scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum rubrum. The cool spring weather has been exceptionally kind to this annual from Algeria.

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I’ve never known Yucca pallida to be recommended for its blooms, and in fact it may be somewhat shy and unreliable in flowering, but the winter rains seem to be convincing a couple of mine to throw bloom spikes. Now we’ll see firsthand what the pale yucca in flower is all about. I think Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ may be intending to bloom as well.

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The milky white ‘Jade Frost’ eryngium bloom trusses are now bluing up. This dry garden perennial has been challenging to establish in spring. It was nursery grown in nearly pure sand, so it readily wilts if overlooked for a few days. Major planting in Southern California gardens, because of our long dry summer/wet winter mediterranean climate, is strongly advised for fall. But then the drought made timing for planting a moot point, and we switched gears to survival mode. And I’ve always tended to flout the planting rules anyway, with occasional failures but some successes too.

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I did get this Leucadendron meridianum ‘More Silver’ planted late fall, so it had a wonderful time settling in throughout the drought-breaking, rainy winter.

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Leucadendron galpinii was also a candidate for the spot but didn’t make the cut, so will spend a second year in a pot, part of my ongoing Shrubs in Pots experiment.

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The acanthus hybrid ‘Morning Candle’ had most of the rainy winter to settle in too.

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For some plants, the epic winter rain was a challenge. I opted to remove a large octopus agave from the back garden when its leaves began to disfigure with black spots from the soggy ground. And I can finally stop worrying about this verbascum planted in a low-lying area.

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The Theodore Payne native plants garden tour a couple weeks ago made me realize that the lack of a flannel bush in the garden was a serious oversight. Spring is definitely not the time to plant California natives, so I made a mental note to order the compact Fremontodendron ‘Ken Taylor’ for fall planting. But you know how it goes. At my neighborhood nursery last week I noticed a couple of beautifully grown flannel bushes. No name, in 3- gallons. The difference in eventual size between ‘Ken Taylor’ and ‘California Glory’ is substantial, at least 10 feet in girth and height. A small garden needs ‘Ken Taylor.’ But California natives planted in spring risk succumbing to warm-weather soil pathogens as water is poured on hoping to revive wilting, summer-stressed plants. Still, I had to ask, so I pestered an employee: Any chance you can source the ID of that flannel bush through your database?

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The one Echium simplex was perfect this year. Last time they bloomed the spikes were deformed by fasciation, an affliction where parts of a plant fuse together and take on bizarre, unnatural shapes. I say affliction, but some people adore fasciation. I admit in some cactus it’s kind of cool.

But, yes, I did plant the flannel bush. After asking for help with the ID, a lengthy line of customers began to queue up, so I told the clerk never mind and continued wandering. What was I thinking, buying a large flannel bush in spring anyway? But who should come running up maybe 10 minutes later to tell me both were ‘Ken Taylor’ — I hadn’t even mentioned which variety I was after. I think I may have hugged him at that point. So of course I bought it and planted it in spring, which is ill-advised. But that’s how these ill-advised things happen.

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Morning glories are scary invasive plants in Southern California, but this relative, Calystegia macrostegia, is a non-invasive native of our Channel Islands off Ventura County. It outlined some impressive arabesques against a dark fence. I had never heard of it, which I mentioned to a nearby Theodore Payne tour-goer, to which she replied, “I’ve got four at home.” I clearly have some catching up to do with our native plants community.

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Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue,’ also from the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour.

Cheers to spring!

Friday clippings 4/7/17

The two young leucospermums in my garden have each thrown a couple blooms, which only made me greedy for a mass display. But where to find such a display outside of South Africa?

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Leucospermum ‘Blanche Ito’ in the east patio.

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Leucospermum ‘High Gold’ outside my office.

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My mileage points aren’t where they need to be yet for international travel, so I opted for a 2-hour drive up the coast to the Taft Garden. The mid-day sun was intense, so I took very few photos.

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The garden closes at 4:30, so no chance for a kinder, gentler light for photos.

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And, yes, the garden is as deserted and eerie as ever. Once again, I was the only visitor.

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Many aloes were in bloom as well, along with all the Cape daisies and bulbs. I even saw some pale pink dierama in bloom, wafting in the breeze just as their namesake implies, the Angel’s Fishing Rods.

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It was a near-blinding display.

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And many Australian plants were representing too, like isopogon.

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And the waxflowers, chamelaucium, beloved of florists.

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This weekend will be busy, with the San Diego Horticultural Society Spring Garden tour on Saturday, April 8, and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Second Annual Watershed Approach Garden Tour on Sunday, April 9, 2017. These are both self-guided tours, which means you can dip in and out of the tour for local tasty food or other diversions.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Have a great weekend.

chasing agaves


Last Saturday, while millions marched their way into the history books, I was driving south to San Diego to meet agave expert Greg Starr.
I had been looking forward to this 2-hour road trip for some time, as a beacon in an otherwise fairly bleak January. Family medical issues against the chaotic national backdrop were starting to take a toll.
My guilt was somewhat lessened by the knowledge that our family would be represented by a marcher. Definitely count me in for the next one and the one after that.
NPR covered the march for the drive south, and the recent back-to-back storms cleared to offer up a gorgeous, cloud-scudded and dry Saturday. Pardon my nativism, but California is so beautiful.

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My destination was this private home where the San Diego Horticultural Society was hosting the talk by Greg Starr and a plant sale. Greg was bringing agaves!

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The front garden was a life-affirming explosion of agaves and aloes.
A blooming cowhorn agave, A. bovicornuta, is still a commanding presence, even among show-stealing flowering aloes.

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Tree in the background is Euphorbia cotinifolia.

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A narrow footpath runs a few feet in front of the house for access.
I’d be guessing at aloe names, since the owner has access to some amazing hybrids.
The bright orange in the left foreground looks a lot like my Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’

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Agave ‘Jaws’ fronted by a marlothii-hybrid aloe in bud.

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Incredibly tight tapestry of succulents, with some self-sowing alyssum and California poppies managing to find a root-hold.

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Unfortunately, Mr. Starr was unable to attend, probably due to the recent spate of severe weather and heavy rain.
But the owner’s private collection of aloes and agaves was more than enough compensation. That’s Agave ‘Streaker’ above in one of his raised beds in the backyard.

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Agave pumila, at a size I didn’t know they achieved.

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Selection of Agave utahensis

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Aloe longistyla, touchy about drainage, prone to mites, but so beautiful, flaunting some of the largest flowers of any aloe in relation to clump size.

The San Diego Hort. Society members provided lots of interesting plants for sale, including a variegated agave I can’t find a reference for (‘Northern Lights’ — anyone?)
With the Mini already nearly full to capacity, I stopped at Solana Succulents on the way home, detouring west to its location directly on Highway 1 in sight of the Pacific.
Owner Jeff Moore manages to tuck in a stellar selection of rarities in a relatively small-size nursery. Here is where I finally found the long-coveted Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ in a gallon.

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A nice shipment from B&B Cactus Farm was on the shelves, like this Astrophytum ornatum. I also brought home a Parodia magnifica.

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And another cowhorn agave.

I don’t think I’ve had Jeff’s self-published book out of arm’s reach since I bought it last Saturday.
“Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation” is everything you’d expect from someone who knows all the growers, hybridizers, and designers in San Diego County.
He’ll be speaking closer to home, at South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes, this March.
And February’s speaker doesn’t look bad either (Panayoti Kelaidis!)

friday clippings 12/9/16


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There. How’s that for proof of some holiday spirit stirring? You can keep the poinsettias. I’ll take my holiday colors in the form of Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras.’

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And then there was that very festive plant swap meetup this past week with Gail & Kris that helped start the thawing of my holiday-averse heart.
My offering was pups of this variegated Agave bracteosa ‘Monterrey Frost.’
Gail (Piece of Eden) brought a sackload of rare plant treats, as did Kris (Late to the Garden Party).
Kris was also entrusted with the solemn duty of dispersing pups from Pam’s whale agave Moby, who passed on in her Austin, TX garden in 2016.
(That’s my very young whale agave also in the photo above, the selection ‘Frosty Blue.’)

This weekend I plan on getting some shopping done at some of the craft fairs that are popping up.
A sure bet looks like the Renegade Craft Fair, especially since it will be held at Grand Park this year. And this Sunday is perfect timing for the Rose Bowl Flea Market too.
If you’re in Long Beach, the source of my ‘Monterrey Frost’ agave was Urban Americana, a great place, btw, for some holiday shopping.
Lots of Bauer and Gainey pottery, including this lust-inducing Bauer Hanging Indian Pot. Maybe Marty will check the blog before the 25th.
Long Beach harbor’s twinkly boat parade this Saturday night always softens me up and gets me in a holiday mood.
And If I stream the semi-holiday-themed movie “About A Boy,” maybe while baking some Molasses Crinkle cookies, I should be just about there.

Have a very merry weekend!

rainy day clippings 11/27/16

I’ve been up in my rainy “fort,” the open air, half-roofed lookout over the laundry shed, piles of soggy New Yorkers and Gardens Illustrated at my side, overindulging in a reading feast this blessedly stormy weekend. A copy of conversations with Robert Irwin, “seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees” has managed to stay semi-dry, and there’s also an assortment of other stuff I alternately pick up and put down, foraging for some badly needed inspiration. I found a couple pieces on the blog from several years back that coincidentally also feature Mr. Irwin in one guise or another.


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photo of lookout/rainy day fort from sunny August 2012. Coincidentally, Amicia zygomeris has been ordered and planted again for 2017


So just a quick hello, wishing you a happy Sunday and offering a couple accounts of some local jaunts in case you’re in need of some rainy day reading as well.

Following is a repost from August 2012 “melianthus at the getty and other controversies.”

The incomparable Herb Ritts and Titian were also at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and some of Marie Antoinette’s hand-me-down furniture too. I think it can be safely said that gardeners are connoisseurs of the perfect moment, and last Sunday was that most exquisite of summer days, not too hot, just senusally warm and breezy, appreciated even more today for the fleeting rarity it was now that this week has brought the first real heat wave we’ve had this summer, along the coast at least. I’ve had such a strong itch to get to a museum lately. Must be all the press about the new *Barnes museum that’s been trickling in since its unveiling this spring in Philadelphia, which I hear includes a garden also, though there’s been little press so far about that. What few photos I’ve seen of the new Barnes’ garden depict a contemplative, austere space, the antithesis of Robert Irwin’s kinetic, kaleidoscopic maze at the Getty Center (to distinguish it from the Getty Villa in Malibu). But the controversy surrounding the new home of the Barnes Foundation reminds me of the raging controversy that Irwin’s garden for the Getty provoked at its unveiling in 1997.

And then there’s art controversies of the compound leafy kind. Here’s the melianthus in question. With those narrow leaflets, it’s definitely not M. major, and I’m inclined to think it’s M. comosus.


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One of the lazy assumptions I’m inclined to make, and unfortunately there are many, has been to assume that the other species of melianthus are not really worth growing if you can have M. major, but this one at the Getty might be changing my mind. Slimmer leaflets, not as lush but a little more succulent in feel, create an even stronger rhythmic pattern. I’m pretty sure the dense effect must have been obtained by cutting it back hard, because although it’s reputedly smaller in size than M. major, it does tend toward lankiness. (San Marcos Growers: “This plant looks best if pruned hard and is often treated more like a perennial than a shrub.”)


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The melianthus was planted at the top of the walkway leading down to the maze. This sylvan walkway flanking a tumbling stream is redolent with the fragrance of the London Plane trees lining either side, that strong scent of sycamore which to me will always be the perfume of summer and rivers.

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The stream hidden by the London Plane trees runs the entire length of the garden, ending in a dramatic spill into the azalea labyrinth.

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At the top, under the dappled shade of the sycamores, the Cor-Ten-bounded walkway plantings are filled with the strong leafy shapes of succulents, begonias, hellebores.

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Hirsute Echeveria setosa, silvery dyckias, paddle plant Kalanchoe luciae, and a few blades of ophiopogon, the Black Mondo Grass.

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Begonias and variegated ginger

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Astelia and persicaria

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That lovely sycamore scent eventually gets supplanted by the overpoweringly skunky notes of variegated tulbaghia as you descend down the walkway toward the Central Garden. The mass planting of society garlic shimmering in the shifting light amidst the slender trunks of crepe myrtle trees is an undeniably powerful effect after the complex plantings of the upper walkway.

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The improbable azalea maze in blinding full sun. Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’ on the left. Purple blur in the distant background on the left is tibouchina, the princess flower, whose leaves were burning in the strong sunlight. The maze garden started looking its best towards closing time at 5:30 p.m. During the summer, this Getty is open til 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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I can’t say the summer plantings of mostly dahlias were my favorite part of the garden, probably because I had just seen dahlias grown to perfection under the kinder skies of the Pacific Northwest. The effect was more of a shabby cutting garden, but the public seemed happy enough with the results. Irwin’s design calls for these labor-intensive, concentric borders surrounding the azalea pool to provide a triumphant and dizzying swirl of shape and color under a strong Mediterranean sun, and that’s a tall order. I think it’d be fantastic as a semi-desert garden, but the public might call foul. Art critic Christopher Knight had this to say about Irwin’s “folly” when it faced a barrage of criticism at its unveiling over a decade ago, and not for the plantings but for its very existence and the exuberant, almost comic contrast it presented to Meier’s stark, monumental architecture: “The great thing about a garden folly is that it’s, well, a folly. In a world of practical decorum, rationalism suddenly doesn’t apply. When the folly is conceived as the garden itself, rather than a discrete structure within a garden, then be prepared to suspend every expectation.” (Quote obtained here.)

On the path behind the massed society garlic, overlooking brugmansias, cannas, and a pomegranate tree to the giant bougainvillea rebar arbors.


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Always fascinating to uncover the multiple, shifting perspectives in Robert Irwin’s garden.

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This visit I was struck by the sensitive treatment of trees, whether silhouetted against Meier’s exquisite travertine limestone or weeping into clean-swept expanses of decomposed granite, like these California pepper trees.

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On the upper terraces closer to the museum, a bank of large pots massed together were planted simply and effectively with tough, scrubby stuff like helichrysum and Pelargonium sidoides.

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Museum fatigue usually hits me after an hour or so, but not this day. Even after five hours, I had to be reminded by security guards that the museum was closing and it was time to get a move on. The Herb Ritts photography exhibit closes September 2, 2012.

*Christopher Knight, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, is one of the diehard defenders of Albert Barnes’ original vision for his art collection. His review of the relocation of the collection to a new building in Philadelphia includes some helpful context for some of the timeless issues encapsulated in the debate over the Barnes collection: “Typical museums juxtapose art objects according to traditional knowledge categories like period, style or place. Not Barnes. His irreverent inventiveness used formal qualities — physical context, color, line, composition, texture, scale, space, etc. — to jump-start imagination. The result demanded that a visitor look and look hard.”

For more background on the Barnes, here’s a trailer to the controversial documentary entitled “The Art of the Steal.”

More of Robert Irwin’s work at LACMA, from August 2011 “Palms & Lawn” at this link.

Wednesday vignette 11/2/16

Ever wonder what Huntington Botanical Garden employees display on their file cabinets?

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Luisa Serrano (Crow & Raven) and I got a tiny glimpse when we visited the Huntington in early October.

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The rest of these photos come from that visit as well, mostly the desert conservatory and then the new entrance garden, part of my Wednesday vignette hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum.

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myoverplantedgarden.com

My working title for this post was overplanted.com, but I’m glad I checked before posting — that already belongs to Tom Fischer!


Yesterday seemed like a good time to check out Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach for fall planting. In this brief interval between another holiday, before Roger’s goes all in on Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, I was hoping the nursery’s focus would be single-mindedly on plants, because when it is, nobody does it better. And the plant focus was there to a certain extent. You could almost say I had the nursery to myself, since everyone else seemed to be boisterously enjoying the newly opened restaurant The Farmhouse. This fresh-built, two-day-old outdoor restaurant manages to convey the air of a venerable establishment at least a decade older. Its physical presence makes as big an impact as the Huntington’s new cafeteria. I was floored by its seemingly instantaneous Tuscan-style sumptuousness and elbow-to-elbow diners crowding its tables, like Cecil B. DeMille had barked “Action!” on a big-budget film soundstage. I called Marty on the phone to tell him about it, then quickly turned heel to search for plants. No time for photos. You can check out their website for a look.

The upside to Roger’s preoccupation with holiday retail is these display extravaganzas require vast movements of materials to make room for each holiday, which is when plants and pots really get marked down.
When it comes to holidays, I run the gamut from lukewarm to uninterested, but I suppose thanks are owed to all those holiday-themed shoppers, because no doubt their zeal bankrolls the continuing excellence of the plant nursery, not to mention the episodic shots in the arm they give to the economy. I was hoping an Agave xylonacantha ‘Frostbite’ I’ve had my eye on was marked down, but no such luck.

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Also not on sale, but I was nonetheless thrilled to find this Acanthus ‘Morning Candle,’ and with multiple bloom spikes too.
There seems to be some dispute over its lineage, hungaricus and mollis vs. spinosus and mollis.
(Tony Avent says: “most growers wouldn’t know true Acanthus spinosus if it stuck ’em in the rear.”)
But what’s agreed on is that it was bred in Holland and is very free blooming. I pray it doesn’t object to zone 10.*
(Edited 9/12/16: It may need to be moved to afternoon shade to avoid the full flaccid wiltdown it enacts every day. Currently, it has an umbrella propped overhead.)

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I’ve always preferred the species/hybrids with narrower leaves over A. mollis.
My youngest son’s middle school flanked its entire length, a couple blocks long, with A. mollis, but it doesn’t seem to be planted much anymore.
I predict, however, that it will be the new “it” plant any day. Despite my preference for other species, it is undeniably a classic. The Ancient Greeks were nobody’s fool.

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The acanthus was planted behind the agave, where Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’ reached over 5 feet this summer, but always carried as many yellow leaves as green ones.

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Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’ this summer, now no more.
I did take one cutting, but the cool summers of San Francisco would seem to be its preferred climate. Understandably so, since it used to be mine too.
I seem to be getting the rhythm of the heat after all these years, not that this summer broke any records here.
It’s been unbearingly, distractingly lovely for the most part, and I’ve spent every available minute well away from computers.

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This self-sown Echium simplex is enjoying some newfound breathing room after the anisodontea was removed.

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This unlabeled Salvia greggii/microphylla hybrid was on sale and has already been stuffed into the container with Stachys ‘Bella Grigio.’
In the post-shopping planting frenzy, I pulled out the Japanese sunflower going to seed in the stock tank to make room for dwarf Tagetes lemmonii, the Copper Canyon Daisy for fall.
And I brought home yet another grass, Miscanthus ‘Little Kitten.’

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Am I being a complete bore yet about grasses? There’s really nothing as transformative, with a relatively slim footprint and such a magnificent, seasonal surge of growth.
Without the space or water resources to support half the summer stuff I want to grow, the grasses are almost consolation enough.
Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tales’ was planted from gallons this spring, from the Huntington’s plant sale.

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Catching and playing with light, wind, they’re as mesmerizing as staring at a campfire.

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Now to the plants I didn’t buy yesterday.
Plants that spent time in my shopping basket but were ultimately removed included, among many, the chartreuse Santolina ‘Lemon Fizz’ in 4-inch pots and Ballota ‘All Hallows Green.’
The 4-inch size is so tempting, and the selection was very good, including Ceanothus ‘Diamond Heights,’ Verbascum bombyciferum.
I’m already growing ‘All Hallows Green’ in my garden, as seen in the photo above. I wish there was room for a half dozen more in 4-inch pots.

I lingered over a new echium offering from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, Echium webbii, a reputedly “dwarf version” of fatuosum.

Metapanax davidii was tempting but a bit too disheveled. I prefer M. delavayi’s much finer cut leaf.
In the herbs/veg section I found Calamintha nepetoides and grabbed three. Unlike the stellar ‘Montrose White,’ they will reseed, but it’s so rare to find calamints that I went for it. Grown by Native Sons.

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Speaking of disheveled, summer’s shabbiest award goes to Melianthus ‘Purple Haze,’ and that’s only because its weary leaves are usually cut to the ground by August.
That it made it through July/August at all was only by the grace of drip hoses, but it’s undeniably crisped and thin.
Knocking back that leaf canopy mid summer always seemed to desolate this end of the garden. New growth is already showing, and I’ll cut down old growth when it’s made more headway.

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Other than what I’ve ripped out/transplanted, there’s been no real losses this summer. If I’ve already blogged about terrible losses and forgotten, don’t remind me.
The drip hoses have resulted in some mad growth, including this solanum vine, now stretching from the top of the 18-foot cypresses down nearly to the ground.

And just to be clear, I have nothing against holidays! Especially the long Labor Day Weekend. Have a great one.

P.S. I’m going to figure out who won the little Muradian pot later this weekend.

a week in plants

Last week was a good one for plants. I finally found some Acacia ‘Cousin Itt’ in small sizes, under $10 each, to plant under the Chinese Fringe Tree.
(Chionanthus retusus, as distinguished from our native Chionanthus virginicus.)
This great, mediumish-sized tree grows in a rough square on the east side of the house, hemmed in by hardscape on all sides.


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This photo from September 2015 shows how I typically mass pots on the hardscape surrounding the tree, which casts some welcome filtered shade for summer.
Keeping the base unplanted has been the easiest way to go as far as cleaning up after the tree. (All the best things shed, i.e., trees, dogs, cats.) I just sweep the copious amounts of leaves/berries/spent flowers back under the tree and then raid the precious stuff when needed for mulch elsewhere in the garden. But then this vision of ‘Cousin Itt’ thriving in the dappled light of the fringe tree kept threatening to upend my pragmatic approach, and ultimately I just couldn’t shake it. I know, I’m weak that way. There’s too much constant debris for bromeliads to make sense under the tree, but I’m hoping I can gently rake through ‘Cousin Itt’ or give it a shake now and then.


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One of the four new Acacias ‘Cousin Itt.’ I need at least three more. I’ve been wanting to try this acacia out for ages.
It’s just not been available for under $40, so four for that price, even if in 6-inch pots, felt like the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for. Hurray for expensive plants in affordable sizes.
It’s always fabulous in a container, but my vision required its green shagginess to ring the base of the tree. And there will still be access available for the broom to do its work.
As with any planting in dry soil, you move the odds substantially in your favor by filling the planting hole several times with water before settling the plant into its new home.

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These Celosia caracas ‘Scorching’ came home the same day as the acacias.
I’ve been planting throughout summer, but wouldn’t consider putting these in the ground in August.
They prefer steady moisture and rich soil, so I planted two in a big 5-gallon nursery can, where I can easily top them off with the hose.
Oddly enough, I had just fired off an order to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, and included in that order was another celosia, ‘Cramer’s Amazon.’
The order was mainly to get ahold of Rudbeckia triloba again. August is the best time to get biennials started, either from seed or plants if you can find them.

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photo from Fernando Martos’ website. The bearded iris is ‘Syncopation’

Something else to order in August are bearded iris, a plant I’ve run hot/cold over for some years.
Noel Kingsbury wrote about garden designer Fernando Martos‘ approach to Spanish gardens for Gardens Illustrated, July 2016:
(“The typical Mediterranean garden is very static, it never changes. I want to make gardens that appear different every time you look at them.”)
I feel the same way. Summer wouldn’t be the same without transient poppies and spears and thistles surging skyward amidst the more permanent agaves and shrubs.
Seeing how Martos dotted bearded iris throughout low-growing, dry garden shrubs like lavender had me checking iris suppliers online before finishing the article.

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But be warned, it’s generally a very fleeting effect, a matter of weeks. Personally, I’m beginning to appreciate fleeting effects more and more.
I last grew them in April of 2014. My style of overplanting tends to swamp their crowns, which require full sun to build up energy for the next year.
But there’s no harm in trying again, is there?

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Fleeting effects aside, when ordering bearded iris, I always get hung up on the issue of rebloom. There are a handful of varieties that are said to reliably rebloom in Southern California.
The pink ‘Beverly Sills’ is one of them, and there’s more included in a list here.
So it seems foolish not to order a potential, if not guaranteed, rebloomer, right? But the reblooming varieties are nowhere near as exciting as, for example, ‘Syncopation’ which blooms just once.
I did find a couple bicolored varieties at Schreiner’s that supposedly rebloom. No guaranties. (‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Final Episode’)

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Something to add to your Things To Do in August list: If you care to have them next year, order bearded iris now!

friday clippings 7/22/16

What I wanted to do tonight was attend an event I’ve been hearing about on NPR as I drove the freeways this week, Summer Nights in the Garden, hosted by the Natural History Museum.
It’s free but RSVP is required, so I checked online this afternoon. No go, they’re already full up. There are a few spots set aside for walk-ins. Maybe another time. There’s a couple dates in August too.


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I was really hoping to get an early evening, soft light opportunity to photograph the NHM garden designed by landscape architect Mia Lehrer.
I stumbled into a Lehrer-led, mid-day tour of this garden at the last Natural Discourse symposium 10/17/15 and have been meaning to go back for another look.
That’s Mia Lehrer on the far left. (I only wish my hair was still this short. It’s 95 degrees as I type at 5 p.m. today. The whole house fan has been a big help with this heat wave.)
The Los Angeles Times recently announced her firm’s winning the design competition for the proposed 2-acre park downtown at 1st and Broadway.
Along with the new design approval for Pershing Square, LA seems to have gone uncharacteristically park mad lately.
It’s about time, I say. Christopher Hawthorne has done excellent reporting on the progress of both parks, see here.
(To complete the trifecta, the progress on one of LA’s biggest environmental/design challenges, our beleaguered, concrete-bottomed LA River, was recently covered by Hawthorne here.)

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Back to one of my favorite events of the year, Natural Discourse.
This year Shirley Watts has chosen Fire! as the theme for the upcoming Natural Discourse to be held at the Huntington September 30 and October 1, 2016.
Like much of the West, the foothills around LA burn regularly and fiercely, so we are no strangers to the immediate perils of uncontrolled fire.
As usual, Shirley finds the most interesting minds to weigh in on her chosen subject, so you’ll want to check your calendar early to save the date for this one.

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But that still leaves me without a plan for Friday night. Guess I’ll just hang out in the garden.
The heat has transformed the solanum into a drapery of purply bloom.

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Have a great weekend.

busy, busy

It’s spring. Feeling a little pressed for time yet? Join the club. Some of what I’ve been up to the past few weeks include:


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Cutting sweet peas from my mom’s vines. Buckets and buckets. Mine planted at the community garden withered away from lack of attention/water.
Suffering a severe case of garden-neglect guilt, I pulled out all my dead vines, along with the collapsed winter peas and fava beans, and got a few tomatoes and squash planted.
There wasn’t enough winter rain to sustain my plot, and being a bad garden gnome, I hadn’t watered in a couple months. So my mom once again saved the day.
Is it rude to call your mom a good garden gnome? I keep her little raised bed planted winter and summer, and she does the rest.
I didn’t buy her flowers for Mother’s Day because her house is filled with scent and color from vases of sweet peas in every room.
I did run over for a brief visit to bring her a card and share some cake, a two-hour window during which a thief took the opportunity to steal my bike from behind a locked gate.
Nice work, thief, stealing a girl’s bike on Mother’s Day. Couldn’t you switch your reptilian brain off for one day in honor of your mom?
(Roger’s in Newport Beach brings in the best only local selection of sweet peas in fall, award-winning types, all heavily scented, long-stemmed.)

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It’s always exciting to stumble upon new plants, like this Dichondra sericea, found at Merrihew’s Sunset Garden.
At first sight I thought it must be some new brunnera cultivar. The leaves are leathery, about the size of a silver dollar.
San Marcos Growers says:
“It has been found repeatedly in a single location in San Cruz County in Arizona but is more widespread farther to the south in the Río Mayo region of southern Sonora and Chihuahua.
It is similar to Dichondra argentea, the plant commonly called Sliver Dichondra or ‘Silver Falls’, but it is evergreen in frost free climates and has much bigger leaves.

Merrihew’s, a great little neighborhood nursery, was the first stop on last weekend’s Garden Conservancy Open Day.

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As usual, plants are perpetually on the move, sometimes out of the garden and back into a pot like this Agave macroacantha ‘Blue Ribbon’
When I sentenced it to the rigors of the outpost that is the front gravel garden, it was a mess, with leaves pitted and rolling at the edges when they should be straight.
Total neglect in the front gravel garden is apparently what it needed to mature out of its ugly phase.
I moved it back into a pot because it was getting swamped by faster-growing agaves. And because it’s so pretty now. Pups freely too.
The bloomed-out poppies have been pulled and any big openings filled with grasses, mostly pennisetum like ‘Fairy Tails’ and ‘Karley Rose.’

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Might as well take ‘Cornelius’ portrait too. He’s starting to get a nice arch to his leaves.

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Behind ‘Cornelius,’ Cotyledon orbiculata deserves a portrait of those peachy bells and long, silvery stems.

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The Huntington plant sale had a couple Rosa ‘Mutabilis,’ so I fell off the no-more-roses wagon.
In its favor, it’s a single, which means it sheds its silky petals elegantly and doesn’t need deadheading.
It’s reasonably tough and healthy, for a rose, and makes a nice shrubby shape.
This unique rose of mysterious provenance is celebrated for summer-long bloom in colors that cycle through gold, orange, deep pink.
It’s been shoehorned in among the lemon cypresses at the east fence, with drip hose laid to give it a fighting chance.

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Last Wednesday was overcast, like today, and work was reasonably under control (unlike today).
First thought under those conditions is: What do I want to get done in the garden?
There’s a chronic backburner plan to fill one of my trash can planters with blowsy summer stuff.
Cheap, deep, and roomy, metal trash cans are great for seasonal extravaganzas.
I bought them a few years ago but never really got with the program, using them more for overflow odds and ends.

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A quick trip to the local nursery yielded a Buddleia ‘Cranrazz,’ Linaria ‘Licilia Peach,’ and Achillea ‘Sunrise.’
As I prepared to stuff the plants in, it was impossible to ignore what a rusted, pitted eyesore it had become. (“Hey, Marty, you got any spraypaint?“)
30 minutes later the can was a sleek matte black, filled with compost and fresh potting soil, and the plants installed.

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Buddleias drive me a bit mad in the ground. Too big, all that deadheading. I like the idea of being able to pitch it at the end of summer.
Before I’d backfilled in soil and watered it in, the butterflies had already arrived. They don’t call it the butterfly bush for nothing.

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I was so pleased with my new, deep containers that I asked Marty to paint another one for a Mother’s Day present. I’m thinking maybe orange tithonias for this one.
The ‘Hallelujah’ bilbergia was planted up over the weekend with some aeonium and Euphorbia mauritanica. I’m testing its sun tolerance.
I was told by Marina del Rey Garden Center that the more jagged the leaf, the more sun a bromeliad can take. Sun brings out the best color.

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I usually keep a chair here on the bricks over the winter, but there’s not much room….or time…for sitting in spring.