Monthly Archives: July 2010

Limonium peregrinum

The shrubby statice, also goes by Limonium roseum, from South Africa. I just uncovered its true identity this morning using a Google Image search.


The one and only time I’ve seen it offered at a nursery, I bought it, and that was long, long ago. This is the first year it’s flowered. It spent years in the back garden, didn’t do much other than cling to a weak semblance of plant life, then was moved to the front gravel garden, often a death sentence for non-performers. In the sun-baked gravel, watered only by 15 inches of winter rain (in a good year), it not only held on, but increased in size. I always assumed it was a California native, possibly from some dim memory of having grabbed the original gallon from the natives section of a now-closed nursery. Now that I know its name, I find its native soil is sandy. I would never have planted it in the clay of the gravel garden had I known that. A native buckwheat, Eriogonum grande rubescens, at the limonium’s feet enjoys the same growing conditions.


The statice has extremely tough, leathery leaves.


Hortus Third has this to say: “Shrub, to 3 ft., brs. leafy, covered below by persistent lf. bases; lvs. obovate, to 3 in. long, tapering to a clasping base, scabrous on 1 or both surfaces with pitted glands; fl. scapes scabrous infl. dichotomously branched, spikelets 1-fld., few to many, close-set in spikes; calyx to 1/2 in. long, funnelform, limb 5-ribbed, pink, corolla pink, longer than calyx. S. Afr.”

Say what?

Lambley Nursery & Gardens in the UK has this to say:

“One of the finest dwarf shrubs for a dry climate. This statice, to quote E.E. Lord, ‘….. will endure dry conditions and inland frosts alike.’ Limonium peregrinum forms a low rounded evergreen shrub with leathery bright leaves. For much of the year it has flat topped sprays of bright rose pink flowers held well above the leaves. These are good cut flowers and a delightful addition to posies. Difficult plant to propagate.”

And I’d add extremely slow to grow. It’s taken it close to a decade to produce flowers for me. It’s also apparently notoriously difficult to start from seed. No idea who E.E. Lord is, quoted above, and a quick search was fruitless.

So what’s to be learned from this botanical mishegoss?

a) If you neglect a plant long enough, it may surprise you and not die;
b) If you don’t grab that unfamiliar plant at the nursery, you may never see it offered again.
c) Sometimes having no information at all on a plant works out OK.
d) The dumb occasionally get lucky.

I’m going with (b).

The Rhythm of the Heat

The cannas are finally head-high, but it’s taken them a while in this very cool summer on the coast in Southern California.


California is breaking records for cool temps, while record-breaking mostly everywhere else has been going in the other direction, up the thermometer.


But the Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ and Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’ are slowly, slowly waking up.


Up On A Pedestal

Which is where I place plants, figuratively and literally, as in this plinth of glass blocks for a frosty astelia.


If something is laying around here long enough, it will eventually be recruited to combine with plants in some form or another. Kind of an adult form of playing with building blocks.
And if one morning you wake up with the overwhelming lament pounding in your brain, “What was I thinking?” it all can be knocked down and piled back into the dusty corners from whence it came.


Summer being the perfect time to “spike” the garden.

Bivouaced with Pacific Horticulture

The July/August/September 2010, Volume 71, Number 3

Up front I have to admit I’m not a current subscriber to this venerable West Coast horticulture journal. At some point in the last 20 years, I realized my copies were piling up unread, that perhaps they were a little taxonomic-intense for the harried existence and hummingbird attention span of my thirties, perhaps too plant wonkish, and I was, for good or evil, ever a generalist, interested in combining plants, making gardens. And as hard as it is to admit, knowing what this will reveal about my gardening soul, PH just wasn’t glitzy enough. So it’s been some years since I was a subscriber. Maybe PH has undergone a change, maybe I have. Whatever the case, I plan to sign up again as soon as possible.

This issue blew the doors off my musty assumptions about PH. There’s that cover (seen in the link above), a photograph by Marion Brenner of Suzanne Biaggi’s installation for 2009’s fall garden show The Late Show Gardens held in Sonoma, California, the dazzling View of Future Feast. Ms. Biaggi’s account of her process for this installation makes great reading.

But back to the cover photograph. The photographs throughout this issue are nothing short of stunning. If gardening magazines and print journals intend to compete with the vast amount of free horticultural information available from blogs, I’d guess photography is where they should put their money, right up there with the best designers and writers. It’s the rare blog that regularly accomplishes really great compositional photography.

Laurel Woodley’s Trees of South Coast Botanic Garden nearly had me falling out of the 6-foot high bivouac in excitement. A grove of banyan trees a football-field length in size! Possibly California’s most densely planted grove of Moreton Bay fig trees! (Ficus macrophylla, the banner photo of this blog.) Her description of the banyan seed germinating in the treetop of its host banyan, starting out as an epiphyte then slowly engulfing the host tree, makes for a botanic/sci-fi thriller. And I’d always thought the South Coast Botanic Garden was a sedate public garden where dahlia and begonia shows were held. Now I can’t wait to get my camera over to the SCBG, just a few miles away, and track down these giant trees. And it’s near a good supply of horse manure too. (win/win!)

PH gives the authors ample space to develop their themes. I often find magazine garden pieces are like Chinese food; as soon as you finish reading, you’re hungry for more. You can actually settle into a chair (or bivouac) with this issue and have a feast of reading for a solid 30 minutes, rather than the light browsing required by most garden magazines. Along with fabulous photos, PH has kept its focus on allowing gardeners and designers a forum to write about their creative process in great detail.

My interest in bespoke gardens was very much gratified by this edition of PH. Val Easton gives an engrossing tour of Jennifer Carlson’s Seattle garden. Puck Erickson reveals her work with the Korpinen-Erickson garden, a fire-challenged garden in Santa Barbara, California, expanding on six design concepts: Entry as oasis; prospect and refuge; definition and orientation with horizontal and vertical planes; the interplay of positive and negative space; linkage, a series of passages; and garden as repository to “hold on to objects that are expressions of our true selves.”

And a little garden whose gorgeous, stamp-cut metal gates I’ve actually peered through from the sidewalk in San Francisco is profiled, the garden of Eileen Shields, designed by Shirley Watts.
MB Maher, this blog’s occasional guest photographer, took these photos for PH, and I’ve received his permission to include a few of them here. This is a tiny urban garden full of brilliant details.



Where Shirley Watts found these sheets of industrial-grade metal stamping is the Bay Area’s best-kept secret.



Eileen Shields’ account of watching her garden unfold is a charming glimpse of a trusting client/designer relationship. One can’t help but smile at Eileen’s bemusement as Shirley would drop by to deposit yet another inscrutable rusty object for the garden. This photo is included in PH.


This submerged camel’s mate is in the seating area near the fireplace a few photographs above.


Dahlias from the garden.


This last photo is also included in PH.


I’ve gone on far too long, but that still doesn’t cover all the good things in this edition of Pacific Horticulture, a journal with much to interest gardeners across the globe.

Descanso’s Camellias are Short-Timers

From 7/27/10 New York Times on how public gardens are scrambling to keep visitors interested:

Because of environmental concerns, Descanso Gardens, near Los Angeles, is doing the once-unthinkable: it plans to uproot its historic — but nonnative — collection of camellias, some as tall as 30 feet, which were planted decades ago under the shade of natural woodlands. “It’s a fantasy forest,” says Brian Sullivan, the director of horticulture and garden operations.

But the fantasy cannot be sustained. Camellias require so much water that it is killing the trees — not to mention being wasteful. Descanso will relocate the camellias, even though some will be lost, and allow the woodlands to return to their native state. “We expect opposition and kudos both,” Mr. Sullivan said.

But Descanso still must reach out beyond its aging membership group, he added, so it is remaining open in the evening; offering cocktails (including the Pollinator) at a new Camellia Lounge; breaking ground on a $2.1 million art gallery whose exterior walls will be hung with vertical plant trays that will blend into a turf roof; and maintaining an edible garden dense with fruits, vegetables and herbs that are donated to a local food bank.”

Descanso is a public garden I rarely visit, so I can’t even visualize where the camellia grove is. I don’t make an effort to visit the camellias at the Huntington either. But it’s interesting to hear of the old guard being shaken up. I’m all for that. But I’d always thought mature camellias were somewhat drought tolerant. There’s a huge camellia on my street in a neglected, unwatered garden that flowers profusely.

I don’t grow camellias, so have no suitable archived photo for the occasion, but how about a photo of Garbo, who played Camille? Some faces almost approach the perfection of flowers.


This Plant Stinks


Plectranthus neochilus, a very nice plant, similar to the Cuban oregano, Plectranthus amboinicus. but this plectranthus really stinks.
I’m hoping it can fill nepeta’s shoes, a plant impossible to grow with cats roaming the garden. Something tough and textural, not too big.
So far, so good; everyone is avoiding this plant like the plague. Some sleepy mornings I shuffle a little too close, that scent hits the air, and then I’m wide awake.

Stink doesn’t usually bother me in a plant. For example, when I read of gardeners complaining of the stink of clary sage, Salvia sclarea, I think “If only!”
If only the snails would leave it alone, that is, I’d put up with whatever stink it has to offer. Melianthus major, the honeybush, has its own peculiar odor.
Whether it strikes you as peanut butter or old socks, it’s not a scent to delight in.

But this plectranthus is pushing even my tolerance for stink. Distinctly skunk-like.
I like its water-thrifty ways and pagoda-like structure of the flowers though, so for now it stays, but I’m dreading when it’s time to trim it back.


School Gardens

The April 2010 issue of The Atlantic, which I grabbed for haircut reading yesterday, published letters to the editor (“Grading the Gardens”) in response to their January/February article by Caitlin Flanagan entitled ‘Cultivating Failure.” Readers of Gardenrant might remember the dust-up this piece incited on January 22, 2010.

Briefly, Flanagan argued a causal link between what she deems useless school activities, like including a couple hours of gardening a week into the curriculum, foisted on schools, she feels, by misguided liberals, and a decline in student academic performance, that including gardening in the curriculum “thrust[s] thousands of schoolchildren into the grip of a giant experiment, one that is predicated on a set of assumptions that are largely unproved, even unexamined.”

For those who found the Garden Rant discussion of interest, the letters to the editor further extend that discussion. Letters to editors have become one of my favorite forms of reading, both online and in print. Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Delaine Eastin, Former California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Davis, California, both contributed letters in disagreement with Ms. Flanagan’s position. Mr. Schlosser starts his letter with “It’s good to see that The Atlantic, once the literary home of Mark Twain, is publishing satire again.”

Ms. Flanagan’s printed response to the letters hews to her assertion that it was the “complete lack of research, combined with the widespread adoption of the garden curriculum, that prompted me to write the essay,” and then urges all readers with children enrolled in such a program to visit the The California School Garden Network website and check out the curriculum for themselves.

Here’s an outline of the curriculum found on the above website.

* Getting to Know Your Garden: Garden Basics — Bed & box Preparation, Tools & Equipment
* Digging In: Soil, Weather, and Seasons
* Seeds and Planting: Propagation, Germination, Transplanting
* The Growing Plant: Botany, Reproduction, Pollination, and Life Cycles
* Garden Habitat: Critters, Beneficial Insects and Pest Control
* Garden Stewardship: Watering, Weeding, Erosion, and Crop Maintenance
* Harvest: Seed Saving, Food Storage and Processing
* Composting: Recycling, Organic Gardening, and Soil Amendment
* From Farm to Table: Food Systems at Work
* Gifts From the Earth: Plant Based Crafts
* Cooking and Eating for Healthy Living: Eat Well for Nutrition
* Food Around the World: Origins, History, and Cultural Uses of Foods

Judging by Ms. Flanagan’s outrage, you’d think the curriculum also mandates that students go barefoot, forever exchange pencils for spades, and take a vow of poverty.

The third letter, by Mary White, Los Angeles, California, pretty much was the letter I would’ve written, that the subject of gardens and gardening is as vast and all-encompassing as life itself. Ms. White writes: “Many subjects can be illustrated through a garden – biology and chemistry through study of soil and plants, as well as business through inventory, transportation, and sales of the produce.” I would have added art, history, linguistics, research and library science skills, earth sciences, resource management. Ms. White goes on to describe her work with students in a special-ed school. Ms. Flanagan’s response to Ms. White’s letter? “Mary White speaks to the essentially vocational nature of garden classes. This may be appropriate in the special-education context, but not in the instruction of kids whose goals is a rigorous academic curriculum that will bring them to college.”

It does leave you wondering if Ms. Flanagan is a satirist masquerading as a serious journalist.

(My Dolichos lablab, other than being in the plant kingdom, has nothing whatever to contribute to this discussion. But will you look at those purple pods! I need to take one of these pods to the Benjamin Moore paint store and say, “Match this.”)


July in the Front Garden

The Spanish poppies, P. ruprifagrum, are still blooming, but if I pull out the wayward stalks with their seed capsules leaning every which way, I can manage to get some photos of the other plants that live here. This narrow garden is just two planting beds flanking the main walkway to the front door (you know, where the lawn usually grows…)


The red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, has such long-lasting blooms, you’d think I’d occasionally get a photo of them.



Weeding the poppies, I noticed that agave Mr. Ripple is offsetting, throwing some pups quite a distance away from the mother plant. That’s a little scary.

This little agave, ‘Blue Glow,’ is much better behaved.


From further back, with the little Pelargoniun ionidflorum to the right, a very tough customer. The burgundy-flowered Pelargonium sidoides also thrives here in almost xeric conditions.


Another ‘Blue Glow’ agave tucked in close to phormiums and the Brachysema praemorsum ‘Bronze Butterfly,’ the nasella grass, and poppy seedpods, of course. A little more thinning might be in order.


Ornamental oreganos flourish in the bone-dry conditions.


Even though every plant in this photo is green, what different texture each brings to the garden. The Euphorbia nicaeensis, on the left, has gotten a little too happy here.



You’d think selecting plants based on leaves, flowers, bark, and berries would be more than enough criteria to consider, but occasionally the quest for plants takes in other, less tangible considerations, at least for me, and certain plants can edge out others in desirability for reasons other than their good looks.

Take samphire. Isn’t that the most gorgeous word? The hard “m” to bite into, unlike “sapphire,” which spills (or luffs, for sailors) all that air.


Continue reading Samphire

Weather Report

A couple days of over 90-degree heat woke the tropicals up.

Tibouchina heteromalla



But we’re back to overcast skies and drizzle, lovely for late July.


In the Tom Waits-inspired, emotional weather report category, we’ve been frantic about a baby mockingbird, who either jumped or fell out of his nest this morning. Evie the cat had him cornered, but the parents were unrelenting in their defense and drove Evie away. We picked up the little guy in a file folder, transferred him to an empty straw basket, and put the basket back in the fringe tree, just below the original nest. Just a few minutes ago, a mocker fed him a worm in the faux nest. What a relief! And all cats are house-bound for the next couple days while flight training proceeds.