Monthly Archives: December 2009

Grace Under Pressure


This is about as basic as it gets, squirting water out of a garden hose.
Very inefficient and ineffective, yet I grab a hose practically every day, however briefly, to at least water the pots and new plantings.
And as a quick spritzer sometimes to humidify the air. And sometimes just for the sheer goofy pleasure of it.
Hummingbirds have been known to compound the delight by flying into the spray for dazzling aerial baths. The photo was taken sometime last spring.
In that interval after the smoke tree ‘Grace’ leafs out but before the tropical Euphorbia cotinifolia, whose bare twigs are in the mid right foreground, that array of antlers over my head.
Probably sometime in late March/April. (Possibly we were lubing the weather vane cockerel and the camera was brought along for the ride.)


Back to me in the bathrobe. The goldeny blur under Grace is a duranta.
To its left is/was my beloved Euphorbia ceratocarpa (RIP) which succumbed in fall, though I may have found a seedling.
It’s too soon to tell, but there are three cuttings in sand, yet to root.
It is that rarest of euphorbs, one that does not throw its progeny into every nook and cranny.
One of the few references I’ve found to it was from the Brit Sarah Raven of Perch Hill, that her father, John Raven, brought it home from Sicily.
A very willowy euphorb with airy, sparklerish blooms.
(I have no provenance for that green wool robe either, a gift from my son off Ebay, but it looks like a robe straight out of Bessie Glass’ closet.)

No hose required today, and rain is forecast off and on for the rest of the week.
What does the coming of the rain mean to a gardener in a Mediterranean climate?

Alhambra GrandPaBruce

As a start, check out the Moorish gardens of the Alhambra in Spain for its celebration of water:
Constant moving of plants and sitting areas precludes a built-in irrigation system, though I do lay drip hose sometimes when the mood strikes, like last spring.
But drip hose just seems less useful in complicated plantings.
Why underground cisterns are not built into, at the very least, every new house here in So. Calif., to store precious rainwater, is a mystery.
Sixty gallons of rain saved in trash cans is a luxury for potted plants but really doesn’t go very far when faced with a minimum of six months of drought.

Our personal water usage consistently stays at below average for a household of four, though it could be even lower.
Grey water systems, ironically, still seem problematic, since grey water can’t be stored for lengthy periods of time.
There hasn’t been a lawn here since moving in over 20 years ago.
It’s always interesting to read the fiery exchanges on Garden Rant whenever lawns are discussed, and you can plug “lawn” into their search engine for more threads.
It’d be helpful if zones, length of growing season, and average rainfall were given as a prelude to discussion, but it’s a subject that’s been polarizing people for decades.
Delivery (some might say theft) of water from Northern California to Southern California through one of the biggest waterworks projects in human history, the California aqueduct, is straining under population growth demands and drought.

For an intro into the back-stabbing politics over water rights, one need go no further than Roman Polanski and Robert Towne’s Chinatown.


Water use, public and private, is an enduring obsession.

Alien Gomphrena

This horticultural enigma, resembling in this photo by MB Maher a wayward swarm of magenta bees, may be a native Texan gomphrena. Brought home to my zone 10 garden from a local nursery tagged as a species gomphrena, I first learned of a possible identity from Pam Penick’s blog Digging, where Pam calls the demure version in her garden ‘Grapes.’ Annie’s Annuals lists a lookalike as Gomphrena decumbens, describing it as forming a “mound about 2 1/2 feet tall by 3 feet wide.” As can be seen in the photo, mine is topping the pergola, climbing 8 feet and upwards:


Are all three gomphrenas one and the same, just different sizes due to vagaries of climate and growing conditions? An ethereal closeup:


It’s one of those lusty, flourishing plants which alternately delights and dismays. Its vigor alone is fairly alarming. Many a day has been slated for its removal, but those aerial bobbles are just too entrancing. The complication is the Lansdowne Gem winter-blooming clematis that was destined to be the rightful owner of that trellis. Twenty years ago, heck, even five years ago, there would have been no ambivalence; thumbs down with the gomph, thumbs up with the clem. Having watched countless clems linger on, choosing neither life nor death, requiring slacker growing conditions of constant, even moisture, pride of place goes to (forgive the wordplay) the ballsy interloper. And now I get to use that exquisite vernacular, that it “politely” self-sows, also doesn’t run at the root, but requires frequent clipping to keep its wands of maroon buttons out of the faces of passersby and confined to the trellis and the sky above.

Horticultural Mash Notes from the Middle of the World

 photo C26T2625-1.jpg

Zone 10, 32 degrees latitude, to be exact. Have been reading this fall many blogs of brave gardeners in cold climes putting a cheerful face on the impending winter, asserting that gardens and gardeners need a rest anyway. This may or may not be true, but such narratives consistently sustain us through adversity, and I’m all for that. But summer is when our landscape rests, and fall when it springs back to life.

What does a Southern Calif obsessive gardener do in what passes for our winter? (Besides start a blog in the 21st century.) Start seeds (lots of verbascum this year), take cuttings, move plants, shuffle pots. Same stuff as cold-climate gardeners (except no greenhouse required.) Gawk at the amazing, slanting, autumnal light. Fool around with the deciduous-versus-evergreen ratio and how much bare ground will be tolerable for three months. Going the evergreen/Italian route sacrifices available room for the ephemerals, of course, so the ratio fluctuates year to year. Lately, allowing space for ephemeral spring bloomers is winning out. Excitement vs. evergreen stasis. Each fall one negotiates whether to go the hardy annual route or just tough it out sans “color.” I usually choose the latter but made up one pot of maroon linaria, Euphorbia ‘Breathless Blush,’ and prairie dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis. What else? Oh, and wait for rain. On our knees.

Rumor is six days of rain are imminent. The garden goes off life support at last. Clouds willing, the watering cans will collect webs until April. I’m gradually adjusting my horticultural ambitions to follow the growth/rain cycles here, with emphasis on rain-driven spring displays which begin as early as Feb, then tapering off expectations for summer’s annual drought. Maybe some agastache and grasses and call it done. With possibly some tropicals thrown into the mix for late fall as long as water rationing allows. More on that later.

And I have no idea why this obsession found me, which is sort of the impetus for the blog. In all honesty, I’m not very good at practical gardening either, which in no way diminishes the pleasure gained. I’m reasonably sure that any framework that allows one to consider issues of proportion and balance, whether in gardens or any other area, is worth pursuing.

More on Los Angeles, Zone 10: Rainfall averages approximately 15 inches. In a banner year. A subtle, dry landscape, easily sculpted by man and thus easily distorted, occasionally into the grotesque. Most of my life, I’ve always wanted to live elsewhere; now I never want to leave. Yet I just read that more people are now leaving Calif for Texas and Oklahoma as arrived from those states during the Dust Bowl. Migrations ever in flux.

From Marin Independent Journal on July 15, 2000, by Diane Lynch

“Q: Why is most of California’s climate referred to as Mediterranean? Isn’t that stretching it a bit far?

A: There are five regions in the world that have so-called Mediterranean climates. They are characterized by their locations 30 to 40 degrees from the equator on the western sides of continents and by the dry summers and wet, mild winters they typically have. Interestingly, the western edges of the continents have cold offshore currents and a complex phenomenon called upwelling, which makes these ocean areas very rich and varied in life forms and also moderates the summer temperatures in coastal areas. The reason we have rain in the winter months and not in the summer months is due to the fact that we are between two major climate zones: the northwest zone brings rain to the Seattle area most of the year but affects us mostly in the winter months, and the southern California zone, which is dry and calm and dominates our summer weather. Other areas of the world that have similar climates are the southwestern tip of Africa, portions of western Australia, the central coast of Chile, as well as the Mediterranean Basin, which has the world’s largest area with this climate. The amounts of rainfall and length of dry spells vary considerably within each of these regions. Summer drought is the defining factor but it can range from 11-12 months down to 1-2 months.”

Thank you, Diane Lynch.
(photo by MB Maher)