Category Archives: agaves, woody lilies

APLD steps up

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers 2nd Annual Watershed Approach Garden Tour this past April 9th was a solid, smoothly run success and a great addition to Los Angeles garden culture. I hope they do it again next year. Most of the gardens on the tour were interesting case studies in the delicate collaboration between client and designer, with sustainable practices beautifully incorporated into residential landscapes. The after-party was held at the home of garden designer Johanna Woollcott (Wild Gardens LA) and film industry Property Master Eugene McCarthy. I’ll be getting more photos up of this garden on the blog soon. There’s just too much creative expression packed into this Hollywood Hills terraced garden for one post. Here’s a teaser of some of the exquisite planting details:

 photo 1-P1010046.jpg

 photo 1-P1010025.jpg

 photo 1-P1010026.jpg

 photo 1-P1010042.jpg

 photo 1-P1010034.jpg

 photo 1-P1010059.jpg

 photo 1-P1010078.jpg

 photo 1-P1010079.jpg

 photo 1-P1010118.jpg

 photo 1-P1010082.jpg

 photo 1-P1010102.jpg

 photo 1-P1010105.jpg

 photo 1-P1010106.jpg

 photo 1-P1010107.jpg

 photo 1-P1010023.jpg

 photo 1-P1010128.jpg

I miss Ruby the garden dog already. More on this amazing garden to come.

April don’t go

Bathed in soft light and 70ish temps, April, you’re so dreamy. But can you slow down and linger just a bit longer?

 photo 1-IMG_7088.jpg

Open gardens, plant shows. April in Southern California gets the heart of the plant obsessed beating fast. Last weekend included a visit to the superb Mallen/Vincent dry garden in Fallbrook through the San Diego Horticultural Society. Some of Debra Lee Baldwin’s book photos were taken in this garden.

Above is a specimen in the climate-controlled euphorbia greenhouse. Because Fallbrook’s average low temp is 45 degrees in January, I’m guessing the motors I heard whirring into action in the euphorbia greenhouse were for ventilation purposes, not heating. Container after container framing perfectly manicured, exquisitely grown plants fill several greenhouses and are scattered throughout the 2-acre garden as well. This was my second visit (maybe third?), and it was as disorienting as the last. Perfection is hard for me to process. In my own garden, good enough is always the enemy of perfection.

 photo 1-P1010155.jpg

 photo 1-P1010173.jpg

 photo 1-P1010043.jpg

Out in the garden, some plants are ID tagged but not all. If you ask Wanda Mallen, she knows every name, including previous superceded names and contested names. I didn’t always ask because there were lots of other visitors asking what’s this or that.

 photo 1-P1010207.jpg

But I so wish I had asked the name of this spectacular euphorb.

 photo 1-P1010229.jpg

The gorgeous variegated ponytail palm is an easy ID.
(Immutable Law of Horticulture: If you kill a plant, you never forget it.)

 photo 1-P1010140.jpg

Years of careful study and observation are the only way to uncover how to display plants to their best advantage, e.g., elevating the caput-medusae type euphorbias so their sinuous dreadlocks drape down the pot. This might be my favorite planter in the garden.

 photo 1-P1010141.jpg

 photo 1-P1010073.jpg

There’s a greenhouse devoted to rhipsalis. I’m not lying. But this one was hanging from the patio. (More photos of this patio from my previous visit here.)

 photo 1-P1010076.jpg

Bromeliads and Elephant Food/Portulacaria afra, a container to plant then do nothing much else with but admire all summer.

 photo 1-P1010041.jpg

Another favorite planter, a trio of young Euphorbia ammak.

 photo 1-P1010034.jpg

More caput-medusae euphorbia.

 photo 1-P1010050.jpg

Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’

 photo 1-P1010038.jpg

There were several strawberry jars filled with gasteria.

 photo 1-P1010015.jpg

Gasteria is a succulent that stands a lot of neglect, which is what it gets from me. I just haven’t really bonded with gasteria yet like I have aloes and agaves.

 photo 1-P1010009.jpg

Cool, stomach-shaped flowers on elegant racemes, sturdy leaves, tolerant of low light. I should treat mine with a little more respect.

 photo 1-P1010070.jpg

“Squid” pot (from Tentacle Arts) with Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras’

 photo 1-P1010062.jpg

At first glance the garden seems to favor palms, agaves, and aloes, but the owners have wide-ranging interests, like conifers, callistemon, acacia, bamboo, maples, cycads.

 photo 1-P1010250.jpg

 photo 1-P1010127.jpg

 photo 1-P1010122.jpg

 photo 1-P1010095.jpg

Another gorgeous April day in this Fallbrook plant collectors’ garden.

a garden visit with bixbybotanicals

It all started with a very sweet and generous offer of some foliage for vases. Via bixbybotanicals Instagram, I learned that his Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ was in full winter dress, and he was willing to share some of the largesse with anyone in Long Beach. The South African conebushes are prized for their long vase life, and since my leucadendrons at home are too young to pillage for vases, I jumped at the chance to pick up some ruddy-leaved branches.

 photo 1U6A3656.jpg

The Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ in question, so you’ll know in case you’re ever offered some branches. Just say yes. And you never know — not only did we leave with a bucket stuffed with cone bush branches, but also some delicious duck eggs, which were ravenously consumed for dinner that night.

Okay, great taste in shrubs and garden fowl — who is this guy anyway?

 photo 1U6A3662.jpg

The shorthand answer to that question? Just an Italian Renaissance art scholar/teacher and incredibly busy father of two with a big love of dry garden plants and a strong affinity for garden design.

 photo 1U6A3599.jpg

Of course, I immediately began pestering Jeremy for a return visit with the AGO crew (Mitch), and he graciously agreed to let us explore.

 photo 1U6A3629.jpg

And on an average suburban lot, there is an incredible amount to explore. The parkway is filled with California natives, including milkweed and self-sowing Calif. poppies, making a plant-rich corridor between the hell strip and the front garden.

 photo 1U6A3741.jpg

And here’s where Jeremy’s garden and other front-yard lawn conversions part ways. Just behind that thick band of plants bordering the sidewalk is this surprisingly private piece of serenity, just feet from the street. I don’t think I’ve seen a river of blue chalk sticks/Senecio mandralsicae used to better effect. And, yes, Jeremy says they do require a stern hand to keep them in check. A ‘Creme Brulee’ agave peeks through salvia, the red echoed by callistemon in bloom opposite.

 photo 1U6A3618.jpg

All anchored by the shiny simplicity of that lone stock tank. (There’s another one in the back garden.)

 photo 1U6A3650.jpg

 photo 1U6A3623.jpg

I love how he took featureless, flat panels of lawn and sculpted the space into a multi-faceted garden that works for the family, wildlife, and the neighborhood. A strong sense of enclosure without a fence — who knew? My own street-side (and mangy) box hedges are striking me as unnecessarily claustrophobic now.

 photo 1U6A3608.jpg

Jeremy seems to have effortlessly managed balancing the broad strokes that strongly lead the eye with the detailed planting that rewards closer inspection. I counted a total of three Yucca rostrata, but there may be more.

 photo 1U6A3641.jpg

The front garden was started in 2012, when it was nothing but a flat expanse of lawn and a couple palms. Not a trace of either is left. (Those are a neighbor’s palms in the background.)

 photo 1U6A3764.jpg

Now there’s nooks to watch the kids chase butterflies.

 photo 1U6A3728.jpg

That Salvia canariensis on the corner of the house behind the nasturtiums is going to be stunning in bloom.

 photo 1U6A3773.jpg

Mixed in amongst the nasturtiums is the charmingly nubby Helenium puberulum, a Calif. native.

 photo 1U6A3758.jpg

And opposite the chairs and table is another gorgeous bit of planting, deftly angled to screen the house on the driveway side. Obviously a collector of choice plants, nevertheless his design instincts are manifest in subtle screening and massing for privacy balanced by openness/negative space. A sentinel arbutus stands apart, with the strong afternoon sun blurring the outline of a 5-foot Leucadendron discolor ‘Pom Pom’ to the arbutus’ left, one I’ve killed a couple times. Jeremy admitted to lots of failures, too, but his successes are envy-inducing.

 photo 1U6A3736.jpg

Encircling ‘Pom Pom’ is a detailed planting of aloes, yucca, golden coleonema, senecio, Euphorbia lambii. Like me, he browses for plants at local H&H Nursery as well as flea markets.

 photo 1U6A3739.jpg

Detail of arbutus bloom.

But where are those ducks? we asked, hoping to steal a peek into the back garden. The ruse worked.

 photo 1U6A3784.jpg

To visit the ducks, we were led behind a sleek black fence at the end of the driveway guarded by Acacia cognata.

 photo 1U6A3778.jpg

And a dombeya, the highly scented Tropical Hydrangea. Jeremy said he chased this small tree’s identity for years.

 photo 1U6A3701.jpg

All was finally revealed during a visit to Disneyland, where the dombeya was growing, and labeled, in Toontown. In an instant, the silly and the sublime converged.

 photo 1U6A3687.jpg

Meet the ducks. Mural in the background was done by Jeremy’s brother.

 photo 1U6A3684.jpg

I want ducks!

 photo 1U6A3678.jpg

I asked how the gardens were handling the recent (relatively) heavy rain, and Jeremy said the front garden came through like a champ. But there has been a bit of flooding in the back garden.

 photo 1U6A3673.jpg

I’m sure I was told but can’t remember who built the duck enclosure. What duck wouldn’t obligingly lay as many eggs as possible in such cheerful digs?

 photo 1U6A3669.jpg

There’s a serious container fanatic at work here too…

 photo 1U6A3699.jpg

A termite-infested pergola attached to the house had to be knocked down when they moved in, leaving this low wall along the driveway as the perfect spot for staging containers.

 photo 1U6A3711.jpg

 photo 1U6A3695.jpg

In case you bloggers are feeling that it’s all about Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, Jeremy is a faithful reader of blogs.

 photo 1U6A3655.jpg

Melianthus major

 photo 1U6A3722.jpg

Winter-blooming Dahlia imperialis, after several moves, in a spot obviously to its liking.

 photo 1U6A3762.jpg

For the leucadendron branches, the duck eggs, and the inspiring garden visit, thank you so much, Jeremy!

All photos by MB Maher.

a succulent garden in February

On the way to picking up a family member’s weekly box at the CSA Growing Experience in North Long Beach last week, I took the opportunity to drive slowly through the surrounding neighborhood of mostly Spanish-style homes. It was drizzling again, still a charming novelty after years of drought. Because of that drought, there’s very little front lawn left in these neighborhoods, and what’s filling the turf vacuum are all sorts of interesting mashups. I was ready to head for the main thoroughfare again, when I caught a peripheral flare of orange as high as a street parking sign. Could it be? Several K-turns and U-turns later, I found this gem of a garden:

 photo 1-_MG_4824.jpg

That promising orange flare was everything I hoped for. If this is Aloe marlothii, it’s the biggest one I’ve seen outside of a botanical garden.
Amidst all the post-drought, lawn-replacing, tentative start-up front gardens, here’s a garden planted long ago and simply for a love of these plants.

 photo 1-_MG_4828.jpg

Could the shaggy-headed aloe on the left be ‘Goliath’? (A tree aloe notorious for growing more leaves than the trunk can support and therefore prone to toppling over.)
Whatever its name, it’s a magnificent specimen, with no underplanting to obscure the trunks.

 photo 1-_MG_4827.jpg

Here’s a better view of that tree aloe. The experts say to grow them lean, and you’ll have a better chance of keeping them upright.

 photo 1-_MG_4820.jpg

I assumed the other trees were palo verdes, but under these overcast skies it’s hard to tell.
The architectural massing of plants builds closest to the house and lessens at the sidewalk.
With strategic positioning of plants, the house is both screened and open to the neighborhood.

 photo 1-_MG_4826.jpg

After all this rain, the d.g. still meets the sidewalk in a disciplined line. It was obviously laid down properly, with a good base, then compacted with a roller.
Having the planting on a deep setback from the sidewalk is a neighborly gesture to reassure the spiky plant phobic.

 photo 1-_MG_4830.jpg

I wonder how much editing was done before this vision emerged.
This garden struck me as the antithesis of most succulent gardens —
which focus mainly on understory, ground-cover planting that builds tapestries out of all the amazing shapes and leaf colors succulents offer.
Here the huge specimens dominate, surging skyward from an austere base of decomposed granite. A very clean, dramatic effect.

 photo 1-_MG_4817.jpg

A great example of the range of moods and styles possible when planting with succulents.

 photo 1-_MG_4821.jpg


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.

 photo 1-_MG_4810.jpg

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!

 photo 1-_MG_4792.jpg

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.

 photo 1-_MG_4795.jpg

Tree in the background is Euphorbia cotinifolia.

 photo 1-_MG_4800.jpg

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.’

 photo 1-_MG_4801.jpg

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

 photo 1-_MG_4811.jpg

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

Agave 'Streaker' (Rick Bjorklund collection) photo 1-P1014095.jpg

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.

Agave pumila photo 1-P1014072.jpg

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

Agave utahensis photo 1-P1014084.jpg

Selection of Agave utahensis

Aloe longistyla prone to mites hard to grow photo 1-P1014074.jpg

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.

 photo 1-P1014126.jpg

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

 photo 1-P1014123.jpg

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!)

a holiday visit with Dustin Gimbel

Now that garden designer Dustin Gimbel has branched off into ceramics, I can buy a few holiday presents and visit his incredibly inspiring garden.

 photo 1-_MG_4712.jpg

Coming in the little side gate, there’s this silvery vision of Acacia pendula, faced down by a mature leucospermum loaded with flower buds. A new planting of aloes catches the light.
I still get palpitations every time I visit.

 photo 1-_MG_4705.jpg

Acacia podalyrifolia on the opposite side of the porch has replaced the Arbutus ‘Marina’ that stubbornly failed to thrive here.
It was uncharacteristically windy today, the first real “weather” we’ve had in Los Angeles, starting off with the previous night’s measurable rainfall.
Note the Acacia podalyrifolia bowing in the wind.
The totem sentinels seem to have proliferated since my last visit, accentuating a really strong, syncopated flow he’s been working on in the front garden with octagonal pavers and festuca.

 photo 1-_MG_4768.jpg

The view under Acacia pendula, trained beautifully on a rebar arbor, looking down the main path at the front of the house toward the driveway

 photo 1-_MG_4773.jpg

In this view, to the right of the main path, is where his signature totems congregate.
The small pavers allow for a “custom” journey through the garden, an intimate, immersive engagement with the plants.
Dustin uses berms to build topographical interest into the front garden. The stones to the left rim the berm containing the leucospermum.
At the far end is a berm built up with “urbanite” aka broken concrete, which abuts the driveway. Of course, drainage in the berms is excellent too.

 photo 1-_MG_4757.jpg

The berm by the driveway, planted with echium, adenanthos, centaurea, kalanchoe, and lots of other treasures.
The dark green ground cover is Frankenia thymifolia.
Luminous Yucca ‘Bright Star’ needs no introduction.

 photo 1-_MG_4743.jpg

We played around with his new “tinker toy” ceramic pieces in the front garden.

 photo 1-_MG_4751.jpg

I continually nag him about getting a shop website up for his ceramic pieces. He promised it will happen in the new year.
Wonderful shapes and texture from box balls, grasses, Agave mitis var. albidior through a scrim of dripping acacia.

 photo 1-_MG_4770.jpg

The Gaudi-esque tinker toys among pavers, grasses, small succulents.

 photo 1-_MG_4765.jpg

I’m always impressed by the captivating visual power of Dustin’s garden, the compounding effect of the pure geometric, organic shapes and forms he favors.
Just beyond that hedge, it’s almost a shock to the system when the magic quickly dissolves into ordinary sidewalk, street, cars, etc., etc.

 photo 1-_MG_4731.jpg

Everywhere you look the planting is almost unbearably gorgeous.

 photo 1-_MG_4777.jpg

In the back garden, I was able to check on the progress of the wood screen which hides the propagation tables.

 photo 1-_MG_4722.jpg

 photo 1-P1014059.jpg

I gathered my holiday purchases (which must remain a secret for now), very pleased with myself for combining business and inspiration in one visit.
You can find more of Dustin’s ceramics and garden designs on his Instagram feed.
Have a great weekend.

friday clippings 12/9/16


 photo 1-P1013937-001.jpg

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.’

 photo 1-P1013923.jpg

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!

Bloom Day November 2016

Daylight Saving Time and the electoral college. I think we can agree that these are two areas worthy of further study.
May Dreams Gardens collects Bloom Day reports the 15th of every month.
My excuse for posting on the 16th? The DST ate my report. I don’t know how you all manage with these shortened days.

 photo 1-P1013747.jpg

For November we’ll begin with N, for nerines, truly a miracle bulb. I get it that all bulbs are miraculous, but they are not, unlike my nerines, kill-proof.
But go ahead and forget nerines in a dry bowl all summer long (like I do a lot of other plants, come to think of it).

 photo 1-P1013739.jpg

In the case of nerines, you will be rewarded, not punished. They require that dry summer dormancy. Think of nerines as bulbs that actually encourage bad behavior.

 photo 1-P1013814.jpg

Okay, nobody gets excited by the drab composite flowers of a senecio, but I do like how the blooms extend the leaf-stacked lines of the stems. And November is not a bad month for a shot of yellow. (Senecio medley-woodi)

 photo 1-P1013760.jpg

More November yellow from Tagetes lemmonnii, the Copper Canyon Daisy. What a great common name, right out of a John Ford western. Some plants get stuck with unfortunate names like “lungwort.” Maybe I’m weird (ya think?) but I actually like the smell of the leaves.

 photo 1-P1013798.jpg

Bocconia is sending forth those frothy bloom panicles. Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea,’ the blue wash in the background, is also budded up with bloom. The acacia just underwent an intervention and had some Tanglefoot smeared around its trunk to stop the ants from massing cottony cushiony scale along its branches. As difficult as it is to imagine winners where climate change is concerned, there will be those who come out victorious, and I’m certain they will be bugs. Each one of those cottony, pillowy encrustations on my acacia holds over 600 eggs.

 photo 1-P1013802.jpg

I’m loving this tawny, oatsy look the garden has taken on in November. ‘Fairy Tails’ pennisetum in the foreground, oatsy-colored bloom trusses of tetrapanax in the background.

 photo 1-P1013818_1.jpg

One clump of melinus, the Ruby Grass, is still sending out rich-colored blooms. The other two clumps have only faded stalks. More oatsy theme.

 photo 1-P1013726.jpg

Once the grevilleas reach blooming size, look out. It’s just another ‘Moonlight’ mile, as far as continuity of blooms. It really does take on a lunar glow around sunrise.

 photo 1-P1013829.jpg

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ backed by the claret tones of ‘Hallelujah’ bilbergia. And since Dustin Gimbel burst into Mr. Cohen’s immortal song when he gave me these pups, that’s the gorgeous earworm I’m stuck with in their company. (I have to admit my earworm is sung by Jeff Buckley, though. I can’t help it — that’s where I heard the song first.)

 photo 1-P1013764.jpg

I don’t think I’ve given a shout-out to Plectranthus neochilus all summer. Ever stinky of leaf, but a sturdy friend to hummingbirds. The stump of the smoke tree ‘Grace,’ that improbably grew branches as thick and far-flung as a sycamore, still lies underneath. A little more decomposition of the stump, and I can dig it up and plant something more exciting. I know the hummers are going to hate me, though.

 photo 1-P1013825.jpg

And yet another entry in the category “Every Bloom Counts in November,” the little euphorbia that took containers by storm 5 or 6 years ago, now greeted mostly with yawns. Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ is perennial here and doesn’t get into much trouble. Nothing eats it and hot, dry summers don’t faze it.

 photo 1-P1013822.jpg

Another view of it wrapping around the other side of the containers, with another survivor, a climbing kalanchoe. The euphorbia loves that root run between garden and bricks.

 photo 1-P1013782.jpg

Berkheya’s feeble attempt at a weak-necked bloom this November highlights why it’s equally appreciated for those great, serrated leaves.

 photo 1-P1013792.jpg

Aloe “Kujo’ is just about spent, but the red-tipped aloe to the left, cameronii, was discovered to have two buds still tucked in close to the leaves this morning. (Woot!) The other aloe to the right is allegedly elgonica. I’ve searched the blog and find no reference to a bloom yet.

 photo 1-P1013787_1.jpg

And the little passiflora ‘Flying V’ is still displaying all those fine qualities, unstoppable, indomitable, etc. this November, on the day after Bloom Day.

Unforgettable Fire! Natural Discourse 2016


 photo fire2.jpg


I usually have at least a hazy impression of the origin lands of the plants in my garden. Drawing from the five mediterranean climate regions for low-rainfall plant inspiration and choices as well as arid and semi-arid regions keeps my garden well stocked and me endlessly entertained. Island plants will always fire my imagination, whether from our own Channel Islands or faraway Madeira and the Canary Islands. The lands of aloes, whether Somalia, Madagascar, South Africa, the home of the protaceae family, Australia and South Africa, this is the stuff road trip dreams are made of, and I indulge in such daydreams frequently. Much closer to home, however, there’s this inexplicable blackout in my mind for a desert that is the botanical font of so many plants in my garden, a region bigger than California, the “largest desert ecosystem in North America and the third most biologically diverse arid region on Earth.”

 photo 1-briggs-1_1.jpg

(all photos courtesy of Mark Briggs and Natural Discourse)

As she’s done since 2012, Shirley Watts assembled a mesmerizing group of speakers on topics related to the transformational powers of fire, including a couple other personal favorites, “Birds, Fire and the Chaparral” by Erica Newman, and William Fox on “Fire, Art, Environment” (“I basically look at how artists manifest human creative interactions with natural-built and even virtual environments, and I bring that stuff back to the museum,” which would be the Nevada Museum of Art.)


 photo fire4.jpg
Mark clarified the acronym does not allude to the WWF Superstars of Wrestling. I’d love to have this T-shirt.

Mark Briggs’ talk at Natural Discourse October 1, 2016, (“Using Fire as a Tool to Bring Back the Rio Grande/Bravo along the U.S.-Mexico Border,”) really helped flesh out this remarkable Chihuahuan Desert region for me, the land of peyote and so many agaves, dasylirion, opuntia, ferocactus, ocotillo. The U.S.’s complicated relationship with our southern neighbor and the heated political demagoguery this campaign season can color so many of our perceptions, even to the point of draining a land of its unique physicality in the popular imagination. Only recently have the border crossing restrictions put in place after 9/11 been lifted.


 photo fire7.jpg

The binational team, with Mark Briggs center, in the red ballcap


Mark Briggs, through the World Wildlife Fund, has been working with a binational team on the river that forms the boundary between the two countries, called the Rio Grande when it flows in the U.S. and the Rio Bravo when in Mexico. The specific task Briggs’ talk focused on was the eradication of Arundo donax from the riverbanks, using first fire and then herbicide on regrowth, to restore its broad and shallow optimal habitat conditions. The giant cane, with which I am regrettably personally very familiar (removed fall 2014, and I wish I’d had the use of a flame thrower), alters the river from a habitat-friendly configuration of broad and shallow to the antithetical, habitat-stifling configuration of narrow and deep.


 photo agavebriggs.jpg

‘Big Bend Century Plant,’ Agave havardiana, Big Bend National Park, to zone 7

The Chihuahuan Desert’s northern reach extends into New Mexico and Texas, but two-thirds of the desert lie in Mexico.
The Rio Conchos and the binational region of Big Bend is the geographic focus of the World Wildlife Fund’s work in the basin.

 photo fire9.jpg

The Rio Grande/Bravo basin is 607,965 sq. km, twice the area of Arizona
3,034 km from headwaters in southern Colorado and upper Rio Conchos to the Gulf of Mexico

 photo fire8.jpg

I so agree with this fellow’s opinion of the giant cane. I gave the thumb’s down to Arundo donax too for my zone 10 garden. And they say tetrapanax is difficult to contain? Ha!

 photo fire5.jpg

Hotsprings, Big Bend National Park, showing the river choking on the lush growth of giant cane.

 photo fire12.jpg

The “Los Diablos” team at work on the giant cane.

 photo fire10.jpg

 photo fire6.jpg

A portion of the river painstakingly restored.

I had already seen The Atlantic’s video on the fire-fighting team Los Diablos which Mark included in his presentation, and you may have too, but it’s worth another look.

N.B. You can catch up with more of Shirley’s work with Natural Discourse at the upcoming “Digital Nature,” which promises to be a magical evening at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden Oct. 22 & 23, 2016.

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.


 photo 1-P1013391.jpg

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.

 photo 1-P1016106-001.jpg

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.)

 photo 1-P1013448.jpg

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.

 photo 1-P1013443.jpg

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.