Monthly Archives: September 2011

Salvia macrophylla ‘Upright Form’

Large-leaved sage, Salvia macrophylla. Insistently, emphatically, imperially blue.


And since I’ve officially entered the fall season of travel lust I tumble into every year, a more sinister association also comes to mind, that of Mayan Blue, a sacrificial blue. The Maya of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico created through a ritual of fire the mysteriously enduring color Mayan Blue, which was then immediately slathered on the intended human sacrifice, an offering to Chaak in exchange for rainfall after months of seasonal drought. A layer of Mayan Blue 14 feet deep was found at the bottom of the natural sinkhole, The Sacred Cenote, at Chichen Itza when first dredged in 1904, the residue of many offerings thrown into the cenote.

So the first blue men were definitely not light-hearted comedians.


Also used on pottery and murals, it is “an important, vivid, virtually indestructible pigment. Maya Blue is resistant to age, acid, weathering, biodegradation and even modern chemical solvents. It has been called ‘one of the great technological and artistic achievements of Mesoamerica.'” Science Daily

True, the actual pigment in Mayan Blue has nothing to do with this salvia but derives from the indigo plant, an indigofera species.* This rare salvia’s home is further south in Peru, and is sometimes labeled ‘Tingo Peru,’ as it was at the Fullerton Arboretum salvia sale last year where I found it (and of course blogged about it here). This is the ‘Upright Form,’ meaning this form clumps up and won’t meander. Very reassuring, since this salvia obviously has size aspirations of gigantic proportions, with leaves large enough to scare an acanthus. Heavy fall rains on these big leaves would easily knock the plant down, as does an occasional overhead sprinkle from the hose, so it would be better to entreat the rain gods to back off during its fall bloom. It currently stands between 5 and 6 feet.


This salvia withstood a surprising amount of shade all summer under the smoke tree ‘Grace,’ who’s just been aggressively limbed up.
Even in shade this Salvia macrophylla bloomed lightly all summer in that evocative shade of blue. The species grows easily from seed. Annie’s Annuals & Perennials sometimes carries this ‘Upright Form.’

*”The Maya blue pigment is a composite of organic and inorganic constituents, primarily indigo dyes derived from the leaves of añil (Indigofera suffruticosa or Indigofera guatemalensis) plants combined with palygorskite (Sepiolite), a natural clay, cooked at 100 oC, that makes it turn from blackish to its exquisite tone. Smaller trace amounts of other mineral additives have also been identified. Due to its attractive turquoise color and light fastness, Maya blue was widely used in mural paintings, sculptures, ceramics and codices.” Authentic Maya.

Photo found here.


Pep Talk

With the light weakening as lowering sunbeams diffuse through the atmosphere, in my garden that signals the coincident scraping and dragging sounds of pots being moved to find any part of the garden still trapping the precious, goldeny stuff. Or for shade lovers like aralias, begonias, and some bromeliads, like this Vriesea seideliana, in my zone 10 these pots can be moved out of those safe, dark recesses where they’ve been hiding from harsh summer sun to take a chance on now kinder light levels. For moving some of the bigger pots, an old skateboard has always been a trusty and reliable aid.


As the temperature and light changes in September, there’ll be no collapsing in a heap just yet. And I’m talking people here. There are still a few more laps to run, so let’s have some autumn pep talk: Sow those seeds! Order those bulbs! Building the perfect garden for 2012 starts now!

Such peppy talk rarely works for me. With the exception of ordering bulbs, I’ve been mostly shrugging off and ignoring my inner garden coach the whole month of September. Yesterday I finally got around to sowing a few seeds, including some Tuscan kale and the fabulous Eryngium padanifolium, photo below from Pan Global Plants. The possibility of losing out on the window to sow this eryngo is what finally got me into gear. And then I might as well sow a few other things while all the mess is out. Do I have any hope at all that this burgundy-flowering eryngo will grace my garden in 2012 or 2013? Not much, really. But checking those seeds for germination will keep me out of trouble for a good six months. If there’s no sign of germination in a couple months, I’ll pop them in the refrigerator for another couple months. Fresh seed is essential and is now available from Derry Watkins, the source of my seeds. I really am the worst propagator of plants that ever lived so have nothing but the deepest respect for the nursery trade.


This is the second year small cat food cans have been saved and cleaned for seed-starting containers, and I’m already assembling a collection of toilet paper tooters — your terminology may vary — for starting sweet peas. And then I think I just may collapse in a heap. Until the bulbs arrive in the mail, that is.

a monday collage

A new week, slightly out of focus. Feed the cats, make the coffee, read Paul Krugman’s column.
Routines are the pitons hammered into the seams of blurry grey rock that is a Monday morning.

A quick check on the garden.


Passiflora sanguinolenta, sempervivums, Papaver rupifragum, Agave parrasana ‘Fireball,’ nerines, Callirhoe digitata.

Breakfast music, The Clash’s “Charlie Don’t Surf,” because last night’s movie “Moneyball” had posters of Joe Strummer on Billy Beane’s office wall.

A little more coffee, and I just might get a handhold on this Monday.

Hebe ‘Western Hills’

Hebes are the kind of tidy plants so perfectly composed they can be accused of conveying a touch of smugness, of rendering a garden a little too safe and suburban. I take the personal position that it’s best to resist such beautiful compositions in leaf and stem or, before you know it, the garden has become an intricately quilted coverlet, a soothing, soporific place. (Like a dwarf conifer garden. Or that period in Southern California about 15-20 years ago when the landscape was snoozing in a torpor of dwarf pittosporum. You couldn’t turn a corner without bumping into a bun of dwarf pitt. And now they’ve all vanished, no doubt to be rediscovered in 10 years.) When available at nurseries, I play a recurring game of pausing to consider Hebe pinguifolia, its celadon green intricacies, always congratulating myself for giving it another pass. Passing up beautiful plants can feel ennobling, like Galadriel passing her test. Hebe ‘Pagei’ always gets a long look too. Just see what it can do with stone here.

Still I mostly resist these New Zealanders. Their culture can be tricky even when not pushing zones to grow them. They don’t like winter cold, which my zone 10 rarely gets, and my alkaline soil is favorable, but they can be touchy and brown out in patches. But I just had to grow Hebe ‘Western Hills,’ named after the former nursery and garden where it was discovered. Aside from the pedigree its name confers and sentimental associations, there’s not a drop of smugness to it. Open and airy, branching from the base to about a foot in height and half that in width its first year planted from a 4-inch, with a potential size to 3 X 3 feet, and sailing through some tough conditions in the gravel garden this summer.


Surrounded by the spikes of agaves, yuccas, dasylirion and grasses, the little shrublet is holding its own, seen through these spears.


The flowers will be pale lavender bordering on white. I’m not that interested in the flowers.
If I wasn’t thoroughly disenchanted with keeping more containers watered, this winter I’d start a little container garden of hebes and splash the pots with yogurt to get them all lichen-encrusted. Coastal conditions are preferable but probably not essential. Hardiness ranges from zone 7 to 9.

From Oregon State University, Dept. of Horticulture, which conducted hebe trials between the years 2000 and 2009:

“In New Zealand, Hebe species can be found growing in a wide range of habitats, from sea level to alpine regions, so it is no surprise that cold hardiness of the species, and the cultivars derived from them, varies widely as well. There is truth to the old saying that hardiness of Hebe is related to leaf size. As one goes up in elevation from sea level to alpine areas in New Zealand, the leaf size of the Hebes tends to decrease, and overall plant size decreases as well…So, generally speaking, you could say that the larger the leaf of the Hebe, the less cold hardy it tends to be. As with all living things, the rule is not perfect, but the most tender Hebes are usually the largest-leaved, and the hardiest are those with the smallest leaves.”

Plant Hunting in Namibia

I didn’t need to know too much about the Crassula mesembryanthemoides I bought last week, just some elaboration of the nurseryman’s comment that the stem tips drop, root, and spread everywhere. Very few search hits available. Add its home, Namibia, Africa, to the search string, and you’re knee-deep trudging through the Namib Desert, the tallest sand dunes in the world.

This image and more found here


Richest source of diamonds on earth and home to Namib Fish River Canyon, a canyon outsized only by North America’s Grand Canyon.
A medical certificate ensuring robust health is required by the Namibian government to hike through this canyon.

Image found here.

(“Then there is the sky, compared to which all other skies seem fainthearted efforts.
Solid and luminous, it is always the focal point of the landscape
.” Paul Bowles)

I can’t get over that elegant division, that aloes and euphorbias are found in the deserts of the Old World, agaves and cactus evolved in the deserts of the New World. Such familiar plants as Aloe striata hail from Namibia, as does Cotyledon orbiculata. The 350 species of Crassula are all native to Africa and Madagascar.

Leaves and stems of Crassula mesembryanthemoides. I did laps around the garden with pot in hand for two days searching for the perfect spot.


This crassula is a winter grower, bought in bloom, and will tolerate part shade.


I ultimately decided its shrubby qualities and oregano-esque bloom stalks required siting among grasses and slipped it in amongst some blue oat grass, Helicotrichon sempervirens, at the base of the triangle palm, Neodypsis decaryi, just out of frame to the right.
I love the texture this little shrub adds to the mostly rosette succulents nearby.


Coincidentally, there is an Aloe striata in this area, just out of frame too. My own little slice of Namibia.

Map found here.


The California Look 2011

The Los Angeles Times L.A. At Home section has been asking for readers’ input in a poll to determine the “California Look” for 2011.
Results of the poll can be found here.

Offered as inspiration for the poll is this 1951 Los Angeles Times Magazine cover.
(Why, oh, why did my mother prefer early colonial imitations?)


Included in the article linked above are further links to the categories, which include patio planters, outdoor lamps, outdoor fabrics, fire features, room dividers, side tables, outdoor chairs, indoor chairs, rugs, pet beds, candle lanterns.

Here’s a fetching number in the outdoor chairs category. The Loop Chair from Downtown.
One can never have too many chairs.


The Bend Seating collection is also well worth a look.


Plug & Play

I briefly escaped the desk yesterday and checked out a couple local nurseries. Fall is when some interesting plants start to appear again in Southern California nurseries, for planting in the cooler temps, to be settled in by winter rains. (Fingers crossed, oh, please, please, winter rains, do come!) Surprised the heck out of me to bump into Teucrium hyrcanicum ‘Purple Tails’ locally, a plant I’ve killed once but have been meaning to attempt to get off on a better footing with in the future. This native of Iran is spelled both hircanicum and hyrcanicum. Someone needs to pick a spelling and stick with it.

The teucrium had only been available via mail order previously. The local teucrium were in full growth, filled with bloom spikes. Instant garden gratification. (The fly on the sporobolus bloom is an unwelcome reminder of the abysmal outdoor meal we had a few weeks back, where hordes of his kin flew in past a phalanx of citronella candles. Our guests were not amused. I think it was the lobster that attracted them in such numbers.)


As always, some reshuffling was in order first. A mossed basket of succulents had been moved into the proposed spot for the teucrium just a few days ago. Senecio anteuphorbium was breaking summer dormancy, so I helped it along by soaking the thoroughly dried-out basket in a basin for a day. Then instead of hanging it up again, to be neglected and forgotten as it had been all summer, I plopped the entire basket in the garden outside my office. Wonderful effect. Instant garden gratification. Compound, silvery leaves in the foreground are from the umbellifer Seseli gummiferum. The seedheads to the right are from Patersonia drummondii, which can be seen in bloom last April here.


But now I needed this sunny spot for the teucrium, so the basket was moved again, this time among some Libertia peregrinans, a surprisingly nice match for the yolk-colored Sedum nussbaumerianum.


The tall, naked stems are the summer-dormant Senecio anteuphorbium, showing fresh growth at the tips. I first became acquainted with this senecio as the center bulge growing in a local “living wall,” blogged about in this post. Garden designer Dustin Gimbel made the ID, bless his nomenclature-filled brain. Rosettes are silvery Echeveria elegans, red-edged Echeveria pulidonis, golden Sedum nussbaumeranium, some graptopetalum and creeping sedum.

The moss blends in unobtrusively with the surrounding plants. The basket is a half basket with a flat back to hang against a wall, the sides curving to a point at the bottom, so after excavating a slight depression, it sits upright beautifully. The elevated height will keep the succulents drier than the surrounding plants and really makes their shapes pop. The perfect solution, since I’m sick to death of trying to keep these mossed baskets moist.


More instant garden gratification, the best kind, considering it’s a Tuesday in mid-September.

On the West Coast, Digging Dog Nursery carries Teucrium hyrcanicum.

Flea Market Shuffle

A sunny day at the flea market brings its unique brand of hangover. An unfocused listlessness follows the rest of the day.
The adult equivalent of the delicious exhaustion I’d feel as a kid after spending a whole day at the beach getting pummeled by sun and waves.

Shuffle, shuffle, stare, swivel, stop, investigate. Shuffle, shuffle. Repeat.
Marty had to admonish me several times to stop bumping into people.


Table after table of the pottery I refuse to collect anymore. But so temptingly arrayed.



A dionysian atmosphere pervades the aisles. Cigar smoke wafts through the crowds at 9 a.m., along with a permissive spirit that puts a beer into many of the men’s hands before breakfast.
I stuck with coffee.


This little siren called out to Marty, who has worked on the ocean over 30 years. A mermaid “church key.”


And the mass hysteria incited by these stacks of wooden crates! Who can say why so many were mesmerized by this display and wanted to possess an agricultural artifact for $10?
And that’s for the smallest size. Every flea market has its own zeitgeist.


This tall, inexpensive fifties metal trash can looked promising as a cache pot. Sure enough, at home the square pot of Russelia equisetiformis slipped right in.

I was very tempted by some large Japanese fishing boat flags to dress up the fence or rig as impromptu shade but made an insultingly low offer.
A pair of matching iron jardinieres for tulips this spring were out of my range too. There’s a real knack to bartering I’ve yet to grasp.
I usually offer half the listed price, get rebuffed, then slink away into the crowd.
Sometimes, like today, I then send Marty back to buy the object at full price while I hide in the next aisle over.


A poor photo of a remarkable chair, a mesh steel lounger via the lever on the lower left. The man eyeing it alongside me wanted it for his living room, not outdoors.
Priced at $1,500. When I doubled back for a photo, it was guarded by prospective buyers, in the process of being purchased.

Some really interesting plant vendors too. Unusual flower bulbs from Thailand were on sale today.
I overheard a vendor say she’s giving up on flea markets and in the future selling exclusively through eBay.


Try to imagine a world without flea markets or bazaars, without the crazy juxtaposition of objects like these prayer monks and robot.

The Long Beach Veteran’s Flea Market is open the third Sunday of every month.

Anemone japonica in Southern California

A rare sight in Southern California. There’s a garden on a bluff near a popular dog walking spot that has big, established clumps of this anemone blooming in fall, along with giant stands of Romneya coulteri, the Matilija poppy, in spring and summer. I’m sure there’s got to be other plantings of this anemone around town, but no others come to mind at the moment.

These are photos MB Maher took of this great fall-blooming plant in Battery Park in New York City last September, a planting designed by Piet Oudolf.



Yesterday I was working in Beverly Hills, a city with an impossible parking situation. I scribbled myself notes to feed the meter every two hours and did manage to avoid a parking ticket. On the third and last trip to feed six quarters into the meter, a short walk further down the street to stretch the legs brought me up against the front garden of a house planted with seemingly nothing but huge, overgrown, woody roses and enormous clumps of Japanese anemones in bloom, both pink and white. Stopped me in my tracks.

Single white anemones, my favorite, in Battery Park, NYC, September 2010.


There was a friendly dog in a wicker bed leashed to the front gate, and we silently flirted, which amounts to me making Harpo Marx faces, him wagging his tail. A woman in the distance looked to be tying a vine up to the front of the house, her back to me. After a few moments I heard myself blurting out, “I love your Japanese anemones!” And then instantly cringed. What would she make of such hooliganism? But she whipped around before I had time to flee the scene, and without hesitation rushed over, unleashing the dog so we could cement our budding friendship, and then she and I chatted anemones like old friends.

No wonder there’s so many garden blogs — we’re all starved for plant talk. She said she was astonished that I knew the daisy’s name, that no one else had shouted “I love your Japanese anemones!” from the sidewalk before, impossible as that seems to believe. I asked her opinion of why they’re rarely seen locally. She was inclined to attribute their rarity to the difficulty in getting them established. (That’s certainly true, but what’s also true is that there’s very little actual gardening going on in Southern California. One-time landscaping then ongoing maintenance of it, yes; gardening, no.) And then pointing to the pink-blooming ones in her parkway, she observed that, once established, they’re impossible to eradicate. The parkway anemones were flourishing in some fairly mean and dry conditions. I told her I’ve yet to have success getting any established. She pointed to the pink blooms and asked, “Do you like that color?” I really prefer the white, but nodded yes, whereupon she nipped back to the porch, returning with roots wrapped in paper and handed them to me. At that point, I wanted to hug this woman and her little dog and spend the rest of the afternoon helping tie up vines, but I had to get back to work, so left the house of anemones and roses, stopping to deposit the package in the car. A rather nice unintended consequence of the lousy parking situation in Beverly Hills.