Monthly Archives: January 2011

Succulents in the Landscape

The camera battery charger has been annoyingly misplaced and a new one finally ordered, but it was several l-o-n-g days in coming, at last arriving late afternoon yesterday. At first light I was up, camera in hand, heading straight across the street to take some photos of Holly’s front garden. Her garden intrigues me, for so many reasons. The fact that I encouraged her to do it, just ditch the lawn and go for it, initially had me feeling a little queasy should it end in failure. But what Holly has accomplished has me now regularly gazing over her fence, analyzing the amazing textural drifts she’s achieved. Now we’ve come full circle, and I’m the one begging for cuttings from her garden.

Yesterday I swooned over this Crassula multicava, the blurry foaming sprays of pink-white flowers in the center, and took home a rooted cutting. Yes, swooning does get you cuttings. The little crassula in bloom reminds me of a rare saxifrage:


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Some of my plants have ended up in Holly’s garden, but she also has a mysterious source from her workplace. It’s all a little vague, but cuttings and plants seem to be coming from a healing garden made on the grounds of a hospital. The elderly gardener has taken a shine to our darling Holly (who wouldn’t?) and given her some amazing plants, some kept as specimens in pots in her back garden — (not really a garden yet.)

It occurred to me yesterday that the brilliant success Holly has made of her almost 2-year-old, lawn-to-succulents front garden can be attributed to a couple things besides her great design eye and strong work ethic, though those two traits are certainly handy, if not indispensable.


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As a result of Holly’s innate frugality, and probably because the garden started out as an experiment, the succulents in her garden have pretty much all been gifts. She can’t tell you their names and hasn’t been hit yet, mercifully, by collector-mania, so hasn’t succumbed to dotting in one of this and that. Where she spent the money was on tough littlle shrubs, like lavenders, osmanthus, and westringias, that protected the tiny succulent cuttings while they gained size, but these shrubs also really calm and unify the plantings. There’s a couple clumps of a rambunctious plectranthus that have outlived their usefulness in this regard and really need to be yanked, but their early and strong evergreen presence was a great addition while the garden grew in, and she made sure it didn’t overrun other plants. The plectranthus can be seen in this photo fronting westringia, with the red leaves of the African Milk Bush, Euphorbia bicompacta var. rubra, leaning on the birdbath. Holly has no cats, so this little birdbath is strictly standing-room only, with birds pushing each other off the edge for water rights.

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Bella, her enormous and devoted German shepherd, carefully follows the simple large paths around the planting beds while Holly meticulously weeds and cares for the garden. In contrast to the old days of romping on the lawn, Bella has transitioned to the paths beautifully, and since Bella is walked frequently she doesn’t lack for exercise. (As is often the case, the former patches of lawn, though thirsty, were tiny, merely token gestures to a greensward.) Fragile succulents are tucked safely in amongst larger plants. I admired Holly’s huge green aeoniums yesterday. “What are they again?” she asked. A-e-o-n-i-u-m-s. I so admire Holly’s fearlessness, her spirit of trial-and-error, learning as she goes.

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What really got my attention were the swathes of blooms from the Crassula multicava mentioned above and this Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi shown in flower below backed by blue-green Senecio vitalis. So often succulent plantings focus on the geometric leaf patterns at ground level, but the textural drifts from the kalanchoe’s flower sprays had a filmy effect similar to that of small grasses, with flowers dangling like the lockets of Job’s tears/Coix lacryma-jobi. I didn’t get closeups of the blooms, taking photos at a distance over the fence, but I think that’s another strength of Holly’s garden, the use of simple succulents planted en masse. A lot of us were introduced to succulents via Thomas Hobb’s intricate “pizza” concept, fun and useful for containers, but for landscapes large swathes are where the drama is.

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Holly offered, so I grabbed a cutting of the Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi. I’ve grown this succulent in containers, but seeing it blooming in generous sweeps in the landscape was a revelation, courtesy of Holly’s fabulous little garden. These two succulents in bloom gave the plantings a looser, more relaxed quality not often achieved with succulents.

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That she’s smitten with the little garden and has moved far beyond the original impetus to just replace the lawn is thrilling to behold. And now I get to cop the occasional cutting from Holly’s garden. I wish my neighborhood had six more Hollies.

A Year of Euphorbias

Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ is capable of an exceptionally long season in zone 10, basically year-round.
And not just spitting out a few blooms, but flourishing.

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A cultivar of E. hypericifolia, it is a true perennial here in zone 10. Extremely drought tolerant and handles my heavy clay soil well. In colder zones, it has become a go-to component of summer container schemes, quite an amazing step up for a common U.S. weed known by such names as Black Purslane, Milk Purslane, Eye-Bright. (I can’t imagine how any euphorbia with its irritating sap could earn a moniker like “Eye-Bright.” unless red eyes are considered bright.)

Not much to look at up close, EDF is all about supporting the team. It has never self-sown in my garden. In fact, there is very little information available on starting it from seed. As far as I can tell, unless gardeners in colder zones take cuttings, new plants must be purchased each year (the perfect trademark plant!) Last year I trialed a new cultivar with bronzy leaves, ‘Breathless Blush, a complete nonstarter, in my garden at least.

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While EDF froths and foams year-round, Euphorbia rigida is on the typical euphorbia calendar, beginning bloom late winter/early spring in zone 10.

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In summer EDF’s growth is more dense, more floriferous,, but the open ground of winter provides enough elbow room for this little euphorbia to cleverly hike itself up amongst these plants to grab its share of winter sunshine. (Amicia zygomeris, phlomis, salvia, and prostrantherum.) I admire plants that show initiative like that.

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Kalanchoe grandiflora

All succulents can be described as fleshy to some degree, but this kalanchoe is positively indecent, a real fleshpot. A tall, upright succulent to 3 feet.

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How to describe the color? There actually exists a means to describe the complex coloring of this kalanchoe’s leaves in one word: Peachblow.

“Of the delicate purplish pink color likened to that of peach blooms; – applied esp. to a Chinese porcelain, small specimens of which bring great prices in the Western countries.”

Turquoise leaves suffused with peachblow. The peachblow will most likely not be as pronounced in summer as with winter temperatures.

I circled around this kalanchoe at California Cactus Center last week, repeatedly tried to walk away, then finally plunged in, carefully stepping through the surrounding pots bristling with spines and spears, grabbed it, and headed directly to the counter before I could change my mind again. Trying to keep a top-heavy, brittle-stemmed succulent upright while driving could probably be added to the list of dangerous activities to avoid at freeway speeds, but way down the list below texting. Possibly similar to having a boisterous pet in the car, though.

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San Marcos Growers says its yellow flowers are not reliably produced every spring. (With leaves like that, I think I can bear the disappointment.) SMG’s entry on this succulent includes a charming theory for the etiology of the naming of the genus kalanchoe: “The name Kalanchoe is somewhat of a mystery – there is some thought that it comes from a phonetic transcription of the Chinese words “Kalan Chauhuy” meaning that which falls and grows, likely in reference to the plantlets that drop from many of the species, but others believe it from the ancient Indian words “kalanka” meaning spot or rust and “chaya” meaning glossy in reference to the reddish glossy leaves of the Indian species K. laciniata.” SMG also notes that K. grandiflora is often confused with K. marmorata, another fleshpot but with maroon spots.

My Hortus Third helpfully informs that “The name is pronounced with four syllables.” Kal-an-cho-e.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Today was a day of mathematical simplicity, nothing too complex. Like an abacus, disparate elements slid in and out of place, adding in then subtracting out throughout the day. Work lined up for the day cancelled. Subtraction. But being home, I was able to catch the late afternoon sun backlighting Aeonium rubrinoleatum. Addition.

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A windfall of free time usually finds me in the garden, and today was no exception. So far, I haven’t found a single plant not improved by association with libertia. So inevitable was their pairing, Agave parryi var. truncata and the gingery blades of Libertia peregrinans, that they clicked into place like the beads of an abacus. Addition.

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Tell The Story of Your Garden

I suppose that’s one way to describe what bloggers are busy doing, to the best of our abilities. If blogging doesn’t quite suit your style, photographer Guy Hervais will tell the story of your garden and immortalize its horticultural splendors in your very own Garden Secret Book, which he will create for you, soup to nuts.

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Browsing through the Garden Secret Books he’s already created for clients is not a bad way to spend a January evening.

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The Style Saloniste has a wonderful interview with Mr. Hervais this January, drawing out his views formed through a lifetime steeped in visiting gardens, making his own garden in Provence, and practicing his art of exquisite landscape photography.

Deja Vu Plants

In my garden, succulents are the deja vu plants extraordinaire. New acquisitions can look suspiciously familiar because, in fact, they have been brought home before. Maybe they became submerged under rampant growers, like the soft-leaved yucca I just unearthed when cleaning out some succulents, or malingered and withered away unnoticed in a pot. Whatever the case, after their disappearance or demise total amnesia sets in, just as it did with this succulent. Perhaps the amnesia is partially willful. Who can say? Not helping matters is the fact that so many succulents come without identification tags. Having a name for anything is an important step in forming a relationship. That’s my excuse, anyway.

To experience the excitement of discovery twice is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave one feeling sheepish when the buzz of acquiring something new eventually turns into a queasy flicker of recognition. Stranger, I’ve seen your face before.

Kalanchoe? Adromischus? Purchased nameless in 2010, lost and forgotten shortly thereafter. Found again at Terra Sol Garden Center this January, the first deja vu plant of 2011. No doubt there’ll be more.

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Kalanchoe humilis ‘Desert Surprise’

Reading about Far Out Flora’s recent trip to Terra Sol Garden Center in Santa Barbara was all the encouragement I needed for a 2-hour road trip to Santa Barbara. The nursery is worth every bit of FFF’s praise. Before the engine was turned off, my blood was already up. Through the parking lot fence I could see an enormous Agave americana with unusual markings, A. americana var. striata. The blurred striping gives a softer, more painterly effect than the stark striping seen in the common ‘Variegata,’ a beautiful agave in its own right. But that soft, greyish effect had my heart aflutter even before stepping through the gate. If I’d ever seen this agave before, I’ve no memory of it. And I know I’ve never grown it before.

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(Agave americana var. striata. Photo from the French palm brokers Palmaris.)

I was told it’s every bit as vigorous in habit as the species, if not more so. If it came in a size less than 10 gallons, I’d have bought it anyway. They did have a small pot of the legendary Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak,’ which came home along with the deja vu succulent.

There wasn’t a tag on this succulent, or it’s possible I lost it in transit, so I called Terra Sol about a week after purchase and was kindly given its name, Kalanchoe humilis ‘Desert Surprise.’ I made a complete fool of myself over the phone trying to describe the color striations of its scalloped leaves. Not spots exactly, but not stripes either. Blotchy stripes? Richter scale-like zig-zagging? Bruised mottling? When I mentioned it was sitting next to the pink mother-of-thousands, Kalanchoe delagoensis x daigremontiana “Pink Butterflies,” an ID was finally made.

San Marcos Growers says this plant was introduced to nurseries in 2010, which coincides with when I first found this unnamed succulent at a local nursery. Deja vu all over again.

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Foliage Follow-Up January 2011

I missed contributing to January’s Bloom Day, the 15th of every month, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens, but can’t wait to check out the participating blogs, over 100 from all over the world. In my own zone 10 garden in Southern California, there could be a huge variety of plants in bloom, but my 800-square-foot back garden has little new to report for January. There are some blooms, like Begonias luxurians and hybrid ‘Paul Hernandez,’ that made the cut for this January bloom day, but not much else. Pam’s blog Digging hosts the Foliage Follow-Up on the 16th, which seems the closest fit for this post. Warm thanks to Carol and Pam for hosting these memes, which will provide lots of good reading for the upcoming week.

(For record-keeping’s sake, Salvia ‘Waverly’ has made every bloom day post, including January’s, but another photo seems wearily gratuitous at this point.
It’s a sad truism that good, dependable plants inevitably become boring, but constantly taking a chance on the rare and untried has more than once left me with a garden with not much thriving and lots of bare ground. And the hummingbirds would never forgive me if I gave this salvia’s place to anything else.)


Begonia ‘Paul Hernandez.’

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Both of these large begonias were planted at the base of the southern boundary, a 6-foot cinder-block wall that continues to “grow,” aided and abetted by the creeping fig, Ficus pumila, previous owners planted to cover the wall. I welcome this extra privacy to an extent, but the wall has now reached an unruly height of 10 feet tall and is decidedly overdue for a winter trimming. I watched a possum snuggle into the fig’s maze of branches a couple mornings ago after a night out on the town, the urban equivalent of a hedgerow. The shade against the wall is almost too deep for the begonias, but increasingly I’m preferring to find homes for plants in the garden as opposed to keeping them in pots. Watering containers 12 months a year quickly becomes the worst kind of ball and chain. I may dig up both begonias for summer and give them seasonal cushy container quarters. The roots of the creeping fig are probably too much competition for them. Whether they stay planted or get potted again depends on how many other containers the terraces have to contend with this summer. (For reasons too tedious to untangle, I can’t bring myself to use the word “patio,” most likely because my parents had patios, but “terrace” does seem out of place for Los Angeles. What else can we call these places where people and plants sit during warm months?)

The corsican hellebores temporarily have the run of the garden. They’re all seedlings from one plant, providing ribbons of incredible acid-green coloring as if to taunt, “You want spring? I’ll give you spring! How’s that? Green enough for you?!”


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Anigozanthos ‘Yellow Gem’ and Pennisetum spatiolatum. It’s time to cut this grass back, but it has such incredible energy, like little missiles being launched, that I’m enjoying it for as long as possible.

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This young winter-blooming clematis, C. cirrhosa ‘Wisley Cream,’ threading through a coprosma, will probably sit out 2011.

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Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear,’ silver pony foot, and Lotus berthelotii are suitably chilly for winter. I wonder if I’ll enjoy this pot as much in spring.

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Pets on Mid-Century Furniture Contest

I’m probably shooting myself in the foot, contest chances-wise, by blogging about this Modernica contest. God knows, you guys are probably breakfasting, lounging, and blogging on fabulous mid-century furniture as I type, incredibly photogenic pets at your side. But along with this being a naked pitch to grab votes for Ein, it’s also encouragement to participate and add your own photos. (Whoever wins, that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise, as C.C. Baxter/Jack Lemmon wisecracks in one of my favorite movies, The Apartment, a mid-century classic.) Hopefully, Ein’s photo will be added to the Modernica blog this week for voting, which is done in weekly elimination rounds. The contest is open through the 31st of January.

Our entry is “Ein on Thonet,” regal as always.

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Winning Val Easton’s Plant Talk contest earlier in the year has me thinking I may be on a roll, luck-wise. I’m going for the George Nelson saucer lamp.
And, it goes without saying, all our pets are winners.

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