Bloom Day August 2016

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It must be August, because the Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ is billowing. This tender perennial becomes activated by the heat of August.
I pull it out by the handfuls when it gets too rambunctious but always leave a few roots. Any plant that likes this weather deserves a place at the table.
And I like what it’s doing with this potted agave. Remember when this euphorbia was the “it” plant several years ago?
It had a brief moment in the spotlight as a go-to annual for containers. Here it’s colonized the soil where the bricks meet the garden.

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Otherwise, it’s the grasslands of August and not much change since July Bloom Day. Same cast of characters.
Most of what’s in flower are oddball blooms only a bug would love, no real classic garden plants, so I’ll spare you the closeups. (And I got home too late.)
I’ve been cutting back, thinning the gomphrena, cutting Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell’ to the base, so more more buttery daisies this summer.
I’ve even cut back the brown eryngium flowers and Rudbeckia maxima seedheads. Everything looks fresh again.
I wanted to get some air circulation going in the jungle and deep water shrubs and stuff to get the garden through August and September and ready for winter-blooming aloes.
At least I hope there’ll be a good show from some youngish aloes this year. And there’ll be room to add the irises, which shipped today.
I think I’m cured of trialing big blue agastaches like ‘Blue Blazes.’ Coarse leaves, not bad from a distance, but not so welcome in a small garden..
Easy, stemmy, swaying bog sage, seen in the background, suits this garden fine and provides a film of blue all summer.

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One of the most startling blues in the garden comes from this Eragrostis elliottii ‘Tallahassee Sunset’ I just planted mid-summer.
Can you tell I’m seriously smitten with grasses lately? Plants’ leaves may age and yellow throughout summer, but grasses always manage to look impeccable.

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Buddleia ‘Cranrazz’ enjoying life in a deep container (trash can)

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All grevilleas are in bloom, this ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Robyn Gordon.’ An ‘Austraflora Fanfare’ bloomed lightly earlier this summer but is still a youngster.
Seen in the background, little aloe hybrids are sending out flares of orange flowers throughout the garden.
That’s the abbreviated Bloom Day report for August. More thorough chronicles can be found at Carol’s site May Dreams Gardens.

31st Annual Inter-City Cactus Show & Sale

31st Annual Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show and Sale
The LA County Arboretum in Ayres Hall
301 North Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
Saturday, August 13, 2016, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Sunday, August 14, 2016, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

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By a bit of trickery with angles, the stunning bloom of Urginea maritima seemingly belongs to a boophane at a past CSSA show.

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A year ago, August 2015. Within days after this photo, Opuntia microdasys was chewed into disfigurement by a worm I failed to notice in time.
Before the worm, it kinda looked like two parents herding a gaggle of opuntia kids, didn’t it? That’s dad pointing to the left.
But the gymnocalycium is in bloom again. Purple echinocereus looks exactly the same.
I think I’ll pass on the opuntias for now. But the best part of the Inter-City shows and sales is you never know what you’ll find that speaks to your plant-loving soul.
Hope to see you there.

more shelves

I don’t have any travel plans this summer, so July’s rhythm has been work, work, work, decompress in garden, shower, repeat. And I don’t really mind because the garden is so absorbing this time of year. At least once a day I stand as close to the center of it as possible, on a rapidly disappearing access path, like Moses parting the Red Sea, to study the fleets of winged insects that visit. They’re the perpetual fireworks of the July garden. The air space is thrumming with the familiar bees, bumblebees, wasps, lawn skippers, hoverflies, but there’s so many that are nameless to me. Like the British research ship-naming contest, they may as well be Buggy McBug Faces. I was even convinced the other day that the tiny and rare El Segundo Blue butterfly paid a visit. Since its only known remaining habitat is under the flight path of LAX, that’s unlikely. But when your identification skills are sketchy at best, anything is possible, even rare blue butterflies.


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I did get out to the CSSA show at the Huntington last week. Here’s a splendid Gymnocalycium friedrichii as proof.

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I brought home just a couple plants, an Agave colorata and Euphorbia multifolia, but like clockwork, every summer I become convinced I need more shelves.
So Marty helped me rig a new shelving system, which gets lots of the pots up off the ground.

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Not that I have anything against pots on the ground, but I like options for closer, eye-level inspection too.

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Sturdy potted plants are fine at ground level.

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Last summer I massed lots of sturdy stuff against the east (blue) fence.

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But the little treasures have a better chance of survival if they’re right under my nose.
Little side tables and shelves, a garden needs them too, right?

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I found these shelves at Building REsources in San Francisco last spring. They reminded me of old ironing boards.

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The diamond perforations looked ideal for drainage. I saw great potential, but Marty wasn’t convinced with any of my early design proposals.
This arrangement suits everybody.

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Euphorbia multifolia is temporarily cached in that lime green swirly pot.

I’ve seen this exact pot sitting on a neighbor’s porch a couple streets away, but have never seen it anywhere else, flea markets, etc.
A collecting friend gave me this one when it became chipped. What are the odds of there being two in my neighborhood?

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The shelves are hung against the bird house/bath house. I like this corner for its morning sun/afternoon shade.
The ferny plant is a young Acacia cardiophylla. I thought the parakeets would appreciate something leafy to look at.

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Now that they’re hung, I’m wondering if they shouldn’t have been painted first.

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The shelves are rigged so that unhooking them for painting would be incredibly easy.
And the spray paint has really been flying around here lately. Someone cleaned out a garage and unloaded boxes of spray cans on us.

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Marty has done all the painting. I come home from work, and there it is, the marvel of fresh paint.
For someone who has had a lifelong tolerance for rust, I’m growing alarmingly fond of fresh paint.
I can’t seem to move beyond black though. Marty had repainted this metal jardiniere in its original orange, and it was gorgeous.
But my eye kept stuttering and tripping over it. I guess that’s called a focal point, right? I needed it black, and Marty reluctantly repainted it again. What a guy.

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And this old aquarium stand with those great hairpin legs got some fresh black paint too.
The marble top also came from Building REsources a few years ago.

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Fresh paint is great, but some old finishes are too good to cover. I found this galvanized table really cheap at a great shop in San Pedro.

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This shop is so good, with such great prices, that I’m hesitant to name it.

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Okay, that would be incredibly selfish. It’s House 1002 on Pacific Avenue.

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So the question remains, to paint or not to paint? If we do repaint, I’m leaning toward repainting the shelves their original color, not black, but I’m open to suggestions.


revisiting a local succulent garden

I haven’t revisited the garden I posted about here in person, though I’d love to.
But I did find outtakes, photos that, for whatever reason, I didn’t include with the original post, mostly detailed closeups that were repetitive.
Some people have no trouble at all with intricately complex, multi-layered plantings. And they make it look so easy.

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Photos were taken in December, when autumn leaves clung to the plantings but were swept off the walkways.

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Fine jewelry, hand-made shoes, a good meal, exciting painting and sculpture, all things universally appreciated.
Yet how many appreciate the knowledge and craft that went into this?

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Among so much generalized plant blindness, there are occasionally those who can really see.

an overgrown corner

When my boys were 5 and 10, respectively, I would have gladly had that moment last about 10 more years. And I knew it at the time. Just stop the clock, please.
Gardens are all about change, too, and I love that about them. But sometimes I wish a moment would last a couple seasons or three or five.
When an area gets overgrown, rather than try to restore it, I generally rip it up and try something new. So garden scenes come and go.

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I like this little corner off the kitchen, but it’s reached critical mass and will need thinning.
Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon” was pruned fairly heavily last fall, cutting into 1-inch diameter branches. It jumps right back and keeps those gorgeous juvenile leaves.
So there are some things on which you can inflict perpetual childhood. ‘Moon Lagoon’ isn’t going anywhere because…well, just look at it. I can’t ever imagine getting tired of looking at that.
The ‘Blue Flame’ agaves are pupping furiously. A couple offsets are still in large pots on the fireplace mantle indoors.
I grow soft-leaved agaves close to the paths, a kind of sneaky way to grab more garden, but I really should stop it.
I notice some visitors get instantly wobbly on their feet when plants are nearby, like the garden is a gravity well pulling them in. Undecided whether these agaves should stay or go.
The corner aloe is ‘Cynthia Giddy’ and she’s got nowhere left to grow. I still haven’t seen a bloom yet so won’t thin this clump until that happenes.
Yes, that’a a painter’s tarp partially obscuring the door to the office. They make great tablecloths too. And cushion covers. So tough, so cheap, so useful.
The light this time of year hits us right in the eyes sitting at our desks. Awnings would be great eventually. Or another narrow pergola running along this side.
I need to raise those sinking bricks too. The mortared brick path on the right was inherited with the house, so we matched it with bricks laid on sand, which settles and sinks eventually.
Projects, projects, they multiply like aphids around here. Not enough time.

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After moving the slipper plant/pedilanthus from a large pot, some of the stems browned and dried off. There’s an example on the left.
It’s pretty much recovered, all gorgeous and green, flowering as well as it has since the move. Might need to move it again to allow the eucalyptus more room.

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The succulents at the base of the slipper plant have nowhere to go either, just when they start to look really happy.
I think I bought this aeonium under the label. A. rubrolineatum but I doubt that’s what it is.
Gardens keep time at the forefront of the brain, and that’s a good and important lesson. But it doesn’t mean I can’t grouse about it now and then.
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.

Bloom Day March 2016

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No flowers open yet, but the long-awaited beschorneria bloom stalk itself is stare-worthy. Parrot colors of vivid red with buds tipped in green.
Improbably taller every day, with new subtle twists and angles to admire

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It passed by the Euphorbia ammak a few days ago.

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The bricks in the photo above lead to the Chinese fringe tree that bisects the narrow east side of the house.
Does Chionanthus retusus leaf out and burst into bloom simultaneously everywhere or just zone 10?

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Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is finished flowering, leaving some pretty cool seedpods

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In the past, I’ve often wondered about the bocconia’s will to live. This winter’s rains have brought out its latent, robust side. I’ve even found a seedling.

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Different kinds of echeverias continue to flower in their charming crookneck style. With Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’

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Surprising color match on the blooms of Echeveria pulvinata and Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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a gift aloe, no ID

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Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’ is still looking very promising. Healthy, clean leaves with an airy, open habit of growth.
This will be its first summer, a true test. High on my to-do list is to start a glossary of all the plants I trial in the garden, with a thumb’s up or down.

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No blooms, just enjoying the view of wet pavement. We are becoming such rain fetishists here.

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Wet Agave ‘Dragon Toes’ with a flash of orange deep in the background from Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrid’

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I’ve pulled a lot of the poppies, but there’s still a few in bloom every day.

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I’d love it if Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’ stopped growing now. And bloomed like this, at this size, until November.
We don’t ask much from plants, do we?

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Lastly, Agave vilmoriniana, lord of all he surveys. He’s made good size over the winter too. Blooms from poppies, salvia, kangaroo paws.
Oh, and believe it or don’t, but that euphorbia is in bloom too. Subtle bordering on pointless. Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl.’
Now, imagine if the blooms were chartreuse up against that salvia. Taking note for next year.
Carol at May Dreams Gardens collects our Bloom Day stories the 15th of every month.

slow but steady Agave ‘Mateo’

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What a difference almost a year makes. Photo above taken May 2015. Agave ‘Mateo’ is directly in front of the varigateted agave, swamped in grass, leaf tips just visible.
Not a a nice way to treat a prize agave, but I do get impatient with bare ground. As ‘Mateo’ has been gradually bulking up, I’ve been thinning his compadres.
Gone: The variegated Agave sisalana. A small pup was potted up. This agave is a traveler.
Gone: Adenanthos sericeus, Coastal Woolybush. Perished from natural causes. I planted another one elsewhere this fall because it’s too lovable to live without.
Gone: The variegated St. Augustine grass — well, most of it anyway. We’ll see what turns up later in the year.

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Remained: Agave ‘Mateo,’ a suspected cross of bracteosa/squid agave and lophantha. When young, this agave is not much to look at.
And I’ve only seen one mature specimen before, but it was magnificent. Beautiful, airy architecture with those stacked curving leaves.
Probably from lophantha it gets that subtle coloring on the leaves, a faint central band.
I wish I’d noted when I planted it, but I’d say it’s doubled in size in the ground.

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Now that he’s finally making good size, I’m giving him some room. I think this is going to be ‘Mateo’s’ leap year.

Agave xylonacantha near 6th & Fig

I have a lot of affection for Downtown LA, our underdog of a city center that lay fallow and forgotten for so many decades, its opulent old movie palaces abandoned or turned into dollar stores. It’s a boom town now, with brands like Urban Outfitters moving into those old movie palaces. I worked in DTLA in the decades pre-boom town, when there wasn’t a single grocery store for miles, when it emptied out at 5 p.m. like the zombies were coming with nightfall, and when the city and it’s beautiful but empty buildings (the Bradbury Building!) seemed to belong to me alone. I still work there quite often, now taking the Metro Blue Line from Long Beach to LA. Yes, contrary to popular opinion, we do have public transportation here in Los Angeles — just not enough yet. The trains to Santa Monica are slated to go online in spring 2016, and I can’t wait. Santa Monica and the west side of town are the worst commutes of all for me. Sitting in freeway traffic just seems like a crazily regressive way to start the 21st century, and I avoid it whenever possible.

But back to DTLA, where on Figueroa near 6th Street there’s this large planting of succulents that showcases some less frequently seen agaves, as far as public plantings go.

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Like Agave xylonacantha, with its high contrast, zig-zaggy leaf margins

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Backing Agave parryi var. truncata are enormous Kalanchoe beharensis, the size of small buffalos.
Nice touch to include some bromeliads. LA hasn’t really woken up to the potential of bromeliads yet in public landscapes.

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And as common as Agave parryi var. truncata is in private gardens, it too is rarely seen in commercial plantings around town. Mine at home send offsets several feet away.

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Aloe striata is widely planted.

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Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’ is one of those agaves that can be hit or miss. If one of those big, asymmetric leaves becomes damaged, the effect is pretty much ruined.
These look to be in fairly good shape. With aeoniums in the foreground.

Thursday clippings 2/4/16 (love letters to trees)



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Not my street. Our parkways are a hodge-podge of palms and jacarandas, magnolias, overgrown oleanders and scheffleras.


The City recently sent out crews to work on our street trees, and the snarl of power tools and episodic rise and fall of cherry picker machines in the sky like so many feeding brontosauri was a fact of life for a few weeks. No tree was overlooked, and they tackled palms 10-stories high, finishing right before the much-anticipated rainfall event last Sunday, which to me seemed like a non-event. One-quarter inch of rain? Seriously? The real story was the wind. No prediction for wind was given, no warning to secure top-heavy pots. Blackouts dotted the power grid across LA County, as winds up to 60 mph roared down the streets, veering tightly down narrow patios to upend pots and generally cause windy havoc. High winds are my least favorite weather event, but Marty always greets them with a cheery sailor’s welcome and becomes energized by their arrival, so there was nothing for me to do but make soup and wait them out. And pick up the breakage, pots and plants, on Monday. But our street trees were ready this time, by Jove, so the timing there was serendipitous. After a wind event like that, our street is usually littered with branches, but not this time. And there will be much less jacaranda litter on the agaves in the front garden this year. Huzzah!

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This is the one I was really worried about Sunday night. Though this pot may have that battered look that comes from toppling in high wind, its weight outmatched the wind, so it was untouched. I actually bought it in that decrepit state from an everything-must-go sale at the old Hotel Figueroa, where it was esconced on a pillar near the pool. The Euphorbia canariensis was too nice to pass up. After the winds abated, I did move it to a more sheltered position against the east fence. Each move brings off more paint and stucco, and a couple more will cause total disintegration

Speaking of the snarl (and bite) of power tools, we’ve gained new appreciation for their indifference to cutting wood for attic beams or the tip off an index finger. It’s all the same to power tools. Marty has been healing up the past couple weeks and was busy yesterday stablizing one of the Monterey cypresses that developed an alarming list after those ferocious winds on Sunday. And I now realize that I missed out on a successful career as an ambulance driver. The overwhelming mood around here the past week is thankfulness that it wasn’t much worse.

And since those fierce winds on Sunday, watching the trees bend and sway and emerge victorious, we’ve also gained new-found appreciation for our trees.
I love the idea behind this piece in The Atlantic’s CityLab “When You Give A Tree An Email Address.”


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If I sent my trees love letters, a valentine to my Fernleaf Acacia just coming into bloom would look something like this:

Dear young Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’:
I didn’t think your beauty could be improved upon, but now that you’re adding this subtle wash of yellow to those blue and purple tints, I see I was wrong. Superb!
P.S. Sorry about all that wind. I must say you’ve shown incredible resilience!

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Jacaranda flowers and Agave geminiflora, May 2013