Monthly Archives: March 2013

tuesday clippings 3/26/13

Nothing too thematic, just some odds and ends.

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To prove I left the plant sale tables briefly and did a lap in the show room at the recent Orange County CSSA show, here’s a Dyckia ‘Brittle Star’ hybrid that won an award. My own big clump of dyckia is starting to throw up bloom stalks, which the snails munch like asparagus spears. The slimy gourmands ate every bloom last year, and they’re on their way to doing it again this year. Some of that biodegradable snail bait was dispensed this morning, possibly too little too late.

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In the back garden, between the poppies and the anthemis, there’s scarcely any bare soil showing and it’s not even April.
I’ve started thinning out the poppies more aggressively. Diascia personata is the not-yet-blooming swathe of green behind the Agave americana var. striata in the tall green pot.

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Starting to bloom this week, though the event could easily pass unnoticed, is the Australian mintbush, Prostranthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata,’ a shimmering, aromatic shrub of medium size. I’m keeping it pruned to approximately 4 X 4 feet. Tiny, luminous, evergreen leaves, a loose, open form with contrasting dark stems. Tolerates dry but can handle regular garden irrigation. Not a specimen plant, its attractions are subtle. It brings pattern and light, not weight, to the garden. Some might find it a little nondescript. I wish I had room for more than one. In bloom its branches become studded with tiny lilac-colored bells. Not very long-lived, this is a shrub I replant over and over.

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Leaving subtle behind, I’m so excited to see some blooms on the Canary Island Foxglove, Isoplexis canariensis. These shrubby foxglove relatives may save me the trouble of throwing more money at trialing more of the rusty-colored digitalis species like ferruginea and trojana, which have yet to make it through winter. They just melt away, leaving me scratching the soil where they were planted searching for signs of life.
Not enough rainfall maybe.

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Another look at the isoplexis, a big sturdy plant. Nothing seems to bother it, knock wood.

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Geranium maderense ‘Alba’ opened some of its pure, laundry white blooms this morning.

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The back garden viewing gallery, the bricks freshly cleaned and weeded by Marty.
I think he’s got the attention to detail necessary to win prizes at plant shows. Good thing one of us does.
I insisted he leave a few poppies that had self-sown into the bricks.
I used to keep a small table here too, until I planted that Eryngium padanifolium too close. But what a stunning plant it is.

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Around the corner on the east side of the house, the pittosporum is turning into quite the tillandsia outpost.
A neighbor brought over a basketful last week. I love it when neighbors have your number.

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The battle of the compound leaves, melianthus vs. tetrapanax. The purple wash on the melianthus’ leaves is about as strong as it gets. I think it recedes a bit in summer. What an amazingly beautiful compact selection ‘Purple Haze’ is. Fantastic improvement on the species for small gardens.


it’s show time

Last week I planted out in the garden the remaining plants I brought home from last summer’s travels. All winter I eyed these purchases nervously, as though they were exhibits in a trial of my weak character. I knew they were impulse buys of wonderful plants I had no business bringing home, since there wasn’t a jot of garden space available to them. And the long rainless season of daily watering of pots is almost here, and what if I missed a few days and these lovelies died on my watch? They needed to get their roots into the garden before summer or there’d be no doubt left that I sacrifice beautiful plants on the altar of thoughtless acquisition. Then the clouds parted, a huge clump of wayward blue lyme grass was removed from the front garden and the Cassinia X ozothamnus from Far Reaches Farm was planted in its place. Suddenly, I had very few plants in pots to care for and my conscience was clear. And just in time for the season of plant sales. How about that for timing!

This weekend is the Orange County Cactus and Succulent Society’s Spring Show and Sale. I had a couple free hours yesterday, the opening day. You can’t get into too much trouble at a succulent sale if you stick to the small stuff.

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Echeveria multicaulis

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But within seconds of entering the sale room, I saw a couple of the tree-like Euphorbia ammak. I grabbed one quick and placed it securely in the temporary holding area. The big specimens at local nurseries are out of my price range. About a foot and a half high for $10 was exactly what I’ve been looking for.

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And so the internal logic of plant sales takes over. I need this because…and then the next morning, when the fog of plant sale mania has lifted, you’re faced with a box filled with a very odd assortment of plants. And it’s nearly as much fun as the sale going over them again, checking out this unlikely group of plants all now sharing space in a cardboard box because of some whim of taste.

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I leaned heavily toward bromeliads this year and found a lot to like at this table, bromeliads new to me like hechtias and pitcairnias.
The tall green one on the left, a Neoregelia ‘Devroe’ came home with me.

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Neoregelia ‘Punctatissima Rubra’ x ‘Tigrina’

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A grassy-ish bromeliad, a species pitcairnia, which I was told wants constant moisture, so regular potting soil will be OK.

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Hechtia epigyna, a small bromeliad from Mexico

Two more days of this nice little show left. As I was leaving with my cardboard boxes filled, another attendee and I wondered if there would be different plants, maybe better plants on Saturday and Sunday. Maybe they held back the best for the weekend?

Yes, it’s definitely show time.

what Dustin Gimbel does with gazanias

The humble gazania, that kaleidoscopic daisy from South Africa overused in years past as the go-to municipal ground cover, is undergoing a minor local revival. I included a few for this summer in my full-sun back garden, the LA Times did a brief writeup on them, and Los Angeles-based garden designer Dustin Gimbel designed an industrial business park frontage around their free-spirited contributions to the horizontal plane. Three examples hardly make a trend, but I think we’re all tapping into a retro-daisy zeitgeist. LA’s once ubiquitous, overplanted “freeway daisies” are sexy again. A tough, waterwise, vibrant daisy gets a new look when joined by a few well-chosen succulents and really brightens up a business park.

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Above photos by MB Maher

In Dustin’s gazania revival, he includes agaves like ‘Blue Glow,’ Aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf,’ Euphorbia tirucalli, and a stunning pouf of a euphorbia that breaks up and redirects the gazania’s silvery leaves like boulders in a river, Euphorbia mauritanica.

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I carefully stepped into the plantings, almost in full shade from the building by mid-afternoon, to catch the wave of silver as it undulates, pools, and swirls around the succulents.

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And to get a closer look at South Africaner Euphorbia mauritanica, also known as the Pencil Milkbush.
Dustin describes this shrubby euphorb as “cushiony, noodle-y goodness.” I so agree.

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As seen on the far right, Euphorbia mauritanica is just beginning to bloom in typical euphorb, acid-yellow style. Dustin also planted a few young Acacia stenophylla trees in this large industrial park rectangle, which measures approximately 12 feet wide by at least three times that in length, and the design can be easily tweaked over time to accommodate the growth of the trees.

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Dustin shows how gazanias, when treated with invention and respect, don’t just cover the ground but make it memorable.

For similar plantings, that other multi-colored, tough daisy with silvery leaves, arctotis, has been stealing gazania’s thunder lately, but arctotis quickly builds up and sprawls into a taller, bulkier plant. For a low, horizontal effect, gazania is the one. Perennial and evergreen here in zone 10, grown as annuals in colder zones. Choose the silver-leaved varieties, not the green-leaved, to get that glaucous base coat for other colors and shapes to play against. Some species of gazania, like G. linearis, have shown moderate potential for invasiveness and should not be planted close to wilderness areas.

hello, poppy

The first poppy opened this morning, Papaver setigerum. (Not that I was hovering nearby, waiting for the event or anything.)


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Of all the annual poppies I’ve grown, including the many varieties of the — shhh, ixnay — “opium” poppy, aka “lettuce leaf” or “breadseed” poppies, Papaver somniferum, this little species poppy is my favorite. I prefer its simple single flower to the heavy-petaled varieties. It doesn’t grow a massive amount of leaves either that might smother nearby summer growers, so it fits in the spring garden nicely. About 2 to 3 feet tall, including blooms. Brimming with the typical poppy joie de vivre. There’s probably 20 or so of these self-sown throughout the garden, just budding up. (Not that I counted plants or anything.)

ranunculus

I took this photo of ranunculus at the 2011 San Francisco Flower and Garden Show (which is coming up again this week, March 20-24.)
Who knew ranuncs came tissue-petaled in cinnamon brown and pale peach? Last fall I tried like mad to find a selection of tubers with colors similar to these with no success at all. Local sources of tubers come in primary colors: Red, dark pink, white, yellow.


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I settled for orange and cut the first flowers just yesterday from my community garden plot.

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Riddle me this: Why do cut flower growers have access to an amazing selection of colors while the home grower does not?
Colors like these need to be shared.

Willow Creek Gardens offers a couple offbeat colors like ‘Merlot’ and ‘Flamenco,’ both from the California grower Carlsbad Flower Fields, which opens its flower fields March 1 thru May 12, 2013, an event that sounds similar to the flower extravaganzas more common in the Netherlands. I’ve never attended before. I likewise haven’t ordered from Willow Creek Gardens before, but they get good reviews on davesgarden.

Ranunculus are amazing cut flowers. Please tempt us with more varied and complex colors, okay?

day trip to Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden

It’s pushing the concept of a day trip to its limit when it takes five hours each way, there and back, but the DBG was having their spring plant sale and, dammit, I needed to go. So the math worked out neatly in multiples of five, including five hours spent at the garden, making it a 15-hour day trip. More math: Phoenix’s average rainfall is about 8 inches a year, while Los Angeles nearly doubles that at 15 or 16 inches, though current LA rainfall totals are below average. Phoenix like Los Angeles was in the middle of a warm spell this past week, and temperatures in the garden were over 90. For whatever reason, the plant sale, the weather, the early spring season, it was a mob scene, and lots of appreciatively awestruck comments were overheard like, “Can you believe this place?!”

Believe it.

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So what five plants did I bring home? There the math broke down, and we traveled light. Most of the smaller plants had been bought, and I can’t in all conscience rip up the headliner in yet another car. Mark your calendars and do the math for a day trip/road trip to Phoenix’s DBG for their next plant sale in October. Oh, and you might want to borrow a friend’s truck.

Bloom Day March 2013

If it weren’t for the few stems of Scilla peruviana in bloom I’d feel completely out of step this March Bloom Day, when so many participating gardens are sending forth crocus and iris and so many other traditional spring bulbs and blooms. We may have flowers every month of the year, as Carol’s Bloom Day muse Elizabeth Lawrence declares, but we won’t all necessarily have the same flowers.


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I’ve been trimming away the lower leaves from a Geranium maderense to let some sun in on this patch of scilla.
Even in perfect conditions this bulb takes some years off and refuses to bloom.

What I’m most interested in this year is a little meadow/chaparral experiment that I’m hoping will bloom through summer in full sun, fairly dry conditions. It’s really begun to fill in the past couple weeks.

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Diascia personata is part of this experiment, three plants, two planted in fall and a cutting struck from one of them that has already made good size. Thanks go to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials for being the only U.S. source, via Derry Watkins’ extraordinary nursery in England. In the 1980s I reverently brought new diascia species and varieties home from Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, California, the only source at that time. Now all the local nurseries carry them as bedding plants every spring, and of course being a plant snob I don’t grow them anymore. But diascias can be very good here along the coast in the long cool spring and early summer, dwindling off in the heat of August. This Diascia personata’s height to 4 feet is a very intriguing asset.

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Also in the little meadow is Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell,’ and self-sown poppies, probably Papaver setigerum.
I like calling it my “meadow” when in truth it covers as much ground as a large picnic blanket.

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Blue oat grass, helicotrichon on the left, borders one side of the meadow/chaparral.

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Bordering a pathway elsewhere there’s a big swathe of this silvery gazania, maybe five plants, which counts as a swathe in my garden. In full sun they’d be open and you’d see what a shockingly striped and loud harlequin variety I chose last fall. Can’t fault those beautiful leaves though.

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More beautiful leaves to shore up what few flowering plants I actually grow. Senecio leucostachys is the big silvery sprawler. Small flashes of color from the Moroccan toadflax, Linaria reticulata, and the saffron-colored blooms of Salvia africana-lutea picking up speed, especially in recent temps in the high 80s. The phormium was bought misnamed as the dwarf ‘Tom Thumb.’ Whatever it’s true name, it’s stayed fairly compact and seems to have topped off at about 3 feet.

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Closeup of the salvia bloom.

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Euphorbia lambii began to bloom this week.

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The tree euphorbia really grew into its name this year.

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Kind of amazing to write that Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’ has been in bloom all winter.
I’ve been cutting off old branches as the flowers go to seed. The brick paths are full of its seedlings.
Fresh basal leaf growth is coming in strong.

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Salvia chiapensis backed by Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’

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And a different view against a backdrop of sideritis and a big clump of Helleborus argutifolius.

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The yellow-flowered form of Russellia equisetiformis is just so very cool.

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Nasturtiums are ruthlessly thinned, but this climbing variety was allowed to fill in the bottom of a tuteur that supports the coronilla, which is still in full, aureate bloom.

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The coronilla with the nasturtium growing at the base of its support

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The seductive little species geraniums/pelargoniums are at their very best in spring

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Also beginning bloom is one of my favorite sedums. S. confusum.

Thanks again to Carol of May Dreams Gardens and all who participate in opening their gardens on Bloom Day.

passionflower progress

The garlic passionflower, P. loefgrenii, is supposedly one of the smaller, less-rampant species, described as a 10-footer, but that’s the size it’s reached in just its first year in my garden. The vine is planted against the eastern boundary fence, facing west, soaking up strong but coastal afternoon sun. It’s new to cultivation, so not much information is available on it yet. My vine comes from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. Nice long stems for small vases, though it’s short-lived as a cut flower. The reflexive petals give the flower a wonderful dodecatheon/shooting star form. Native to coastal Brazil, the garlicky-tasting fruits are edible. If and when my vine bears any fruits, I know I will not be sober when I have my first taste.

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Outside it’s suddenly everywhere. Running along the fence, threading up into the 12-foot pittosporum pruned as a standard. As with all passifloras in a climate they approve of, this behavior is both thrilling and alarming at the same time. Some species of passiflora have become naturalized in Southern California, and chain-link fences have been known to disappear completely under the vines, which is exactly the point of a vine anyway as it relates to a chain-link fence. But I do fear for the pittosporum. For the moment, I’m loving the intensely purple UFO’s delicately weaving through the pale variegated leaves but will keep a sharp eye out for any throttling tendencies. My Sunset Western Garden Book, 40th Edition, says to “prevent buildup of dead inner tangle, prune annually after second year, cutting excess branches back to base or juncture with another branch.” In its second year, I resolve to do this faithfully.

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I’m hoping the pittosporum can handle some passiflora love.

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Echeveria ‘Opal Moon’

I always check the succulent tables at plant nurseries for something new and/or bizarre, but the offerings have been much the same so far this year. Once the eye has been well-trained on the familiar, whenever something unfamiliar pops up, like this Echeveria ‘Opal Moon’ did a year or so ago, it really stands out in the crowd. This echeveria made great size over the winter, so I slipped it out of its pot and planted it in the garden over the weekend. A pot of Echeveria secunda was thinned to add a few at the base, which gives an idea of scale. ‘Opal Moon’ has some faint breaks and streaking in the overall greyish-pink color of its leaves, a color very similar to that of Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives.’ (I’ve always called this color “puce,” but checking the dictionary I see that I’m mistaken.) I have to admit this greyish-pink color is not my first preference, but I can tolerate it if the succulent is a good one. Is ‘Opal Moon’ a good one? Still not sure. The irregular-shaped, loose rosettes build up higher and higher, and it’s formed about a 3-inch trunk, so it would be of no use tucked into nooks and crannies, making it more a specimen. It lacks the severe geometry of many echeverias, for instance, the E. secunda at its base, but I suppose that extreme fleshiness counts as a feature in its own right. It is an odd one. And wouldn’t you know, the snails never found it in its pot, but were nosing around among its leaves this morning, so this just might be the last photo in its pristine state. The snail hunt kit, a peanut butter jar, was produced and the mollusks were dispatched to the freezer and the Big Sleep.

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Echeveria ‘Opal Moon’

be afraid: Frankenstein Petunia

OK, I find an old paperback of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in the house a few days ago and haven’t been able to put it down. So maybe I’m sensitized to the book’s themes, but I really didn’t expect to find Shelley’s ideas so explicitly animated in the present day, with a slight twist:

In a promethean leap, man and plant become one, creating new life.

Meet Edunia, the “plantimal” love child of artist/biodesigner Eduardo Kac, “who doesn’t merely incorporate existing living things in his artworks—he tries to create new life-forms.”

It lives. It is real, as real as you and I,” says Kac, a Brazil native living in Chicago. “Except nature didn’t make it, I did.”

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/artscience/2013/02/the-story-of-how-an-artist-created-a-strange-genetic-hybrid-of-himself-and-a-petunia/ photo Designer-Genes-petunia-600.jpg

Kac selected the pink petunia, in large part because of the distinct red veins that hint at his own red blood. And though he refers to his creation as a “plantimal,” that may be overstating the case. The organism has only a minuscule stretch of human DNA amid many thousands of plant genes.”

“The DNA sequence was sent to Neil Olszewski, a plant biologist at the University of Minnesota…After six years of tinkering, the artist-scientist duo inserted a copy of Kac’s immunoglobulin gene fragment into a common breed of the flower Petunia hybrida.

“It’s not the first transgenic plant…’But you don’t have plants that have been made to explore ideas,’ Olszewski says. ‘Eduardo came to this with an artistic vision. That is the real novelty.'”


The tragedy and downfall of the scientist Frankenstein unfolds when he is unable to love his hideous creation. To be honest, I’d have some trouble loving a petunia. An agave, however, is another matter entirely.

Read more here.