Monthly Archives: April 2013

tricks for the plant collector

A garden book among the many I’ve read that I’m reminded of almost daily is Pamela Harper’s “Color Echoes.” My synopsis goes like this:
The eye is lonely and craves relationships, and will wander around restlessly to seek them out, but is easily satisfied even if you provide only the barest of excuses for associations, like echoes in form and color. I can’t remember whether Ms. Harper intended to offer comfort to plant collectors, but to my way of thinking she did.

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Often — okay, almost always in plant collectors’ gardens the associations are not planned outright, like this variegated anthericum echoing the variegated pampas grass in the tank, a stripey echo that only became apparent when some tall nicotiana were pulled out. But the restless eye picked it up in a heartbeat.

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I love this little Anthericum saundersiae ‘Variegata,’ aka, per Tony Avent of Plant Delights, Chlorophytum saundersiae ‘Agristripes.’ (Pausing for breath.)
And it loves the dry shade under the tetrapanax/rice paper plant.

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Wonderfully subtle, nubby texture when in flower, as it is now.

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And then this figwort (Scrophularia aquatica ‘Variegata’) I stuck in the corner of the tank because it wants constant moisture did me the amazing favor of actually enjoying the spot I selected for it. Another unplanned echo, this time with a twist on leaf shape. I think it qualifies.

The eye seems to like a narration, a good story, a punchline, as much as the brain does, but there’s so many competing interests to consider. Within minutes after pulling out the flowering tobacco, an irate hummingbird skidded into the now empty air space and hovered there emphatically, cycling through a half minute’s worth of blurry, angry beats of his wings.

Just calm down, pal. There’s plenty more where that came from.


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I needed the space for my new mangave from Dustin.

Apart from hurting a hummingbird’s feelings, it’s incredibly painful to pull out a gorgeous, flourishing plant, especially one performing without complaint in dry soil. (Shockingly dry soil, I found out when I slipped the shovel into it, which is probably best. I hate to imagine what a well-watered tetrapanax might be capable of.)
But when I saw that beautiful mangave snug in its new home, I got over it.


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The Yucca recurvifolia, planted years ago, now echoes the ‘Golden Chain’ Arundo donax, a young plant just beginning to hit its stride.
My eye predictably ricochets from one to the other and sighs happily.

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And the plant collector in me sighs happily too, because I didn’t have to resort to using the same plant over and over to strengthen intention and association.
(Hummingbirds visited the green nicotiana last evening after the photo was taken. They seem to prefer the dark red strain but will settle for green in a pinch.)

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I’m also counting the Eryngium pandanifolium as an echo for the shape of the yucca. A photo from March.

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It’s twice as high now, with lots of offshoots from the base. Reputed to be the biggest eryngo.

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The Princess Caroline pennisetum moved to this spot last fall now echoes the burgundy phormium just about equidistant on the other side of the footpath.*

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This pennisetum was over 6 feet tall by the end of last summer, which well passes the phormium in height.
But we’re not talking mirror image in the plant collector’s garden.
Plant collectors feel the eye is easily led and becomes satisfied with the smallest gesture, quickly making the connection.

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Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’
Vavavvoom, what a leaf. (I’m warning you not to google-check my spelling on that. There will be silicone implants involved.)

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Bought last fall, the albizia in its pot on the small patio near the fence echoes the full-grown Euphorbia cotinifolia tree, a self-sown seedling on the opposite side of the garden closer to the office. It’s been warm enough the past week to trigger that familiar sound of euphorbia seed explosions as they hurl themselves into space like little astronauts, hopefully to land on suitable ground. With the onset of mid-summer heat in a couple months, it’ll sound like I’m making Jiffy Pop in the garden. Euphorbia rigida does this too. I can’t remember if E. characias does it or not. The Euphorbia cotinifolia, like the other tropicals, is late to leaf out, so no photo.

I think shape echoes work on the same principle. That I subscribe to this principle has nothing to do with my insatiable appetite for agaves.


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Big green rosettes, little green rosettes. The eye sighs.

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This one didn’t last long, since the kniphofia’s blooms were finished in a few weeks, but it was a twofer, hitting both shape and color.
Kniphofia with Isoplexis canariensis in the background.

A handy trick for plant collectors. Just stuff I’ve been thinking about during this dangerous season of spring plant sales.


*(The footpath was added last fall too, just about slicing through the exact spot where a gigantic 7X7 Salvia canariensis grew. I added a couple of its cuttings to the verge area at the community garden, where I just learned last night that, yes! there is a pipe leak under my garden plot. All last summer I was Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, pointing out that never having to water a garden during a Los Angeles summer is unusual, and it being assumed these were the rantings of a novice with a compulsion to surreptitiously overwater. If anything, I’m incredibly lazy about watering.)

monday clippings 4/29/13

I was living large with orange marmalade on my bagel this morning, after trying it on some excellent shortbread Sunday afternoon. I first tasted then bought the marmalade from the Arlington Garden in Pasadena yesterday, where it’s made from their Washington Navel orange trees. (The shortbread was said to be Ina Garten’s recipe.) The Arlington Garden was on the Pasadena Open Days Garden Conservancy Tour, the same day as the Huntington Botanical Gardens plant sale, where I spent a very warm morning. (Does Pasadena do any other temperature?) When plant sales and garden tours collide on the same day, tough choices must be made. I skipped the Pasadena Open Days. The tour of the Arlington was free, so I stopped in briefly on the way out of town to make the first of what I know will be many visits. It’s very close to the south 110 freeway onramp on the Arroyo Seco Parkway, California’s first freeway, always an exciting ride when drivers insist on taking its narrow, lazy curves at 85 mph. Like the Arroyo Seco, the Arlington is also a first, “Pasadena’s only dedicated public garden.” The wildflowers were mostly finished, but the air was heavy and pungent with all the mediterranean scrubby stuff I love so much. Three acres is enough to build up a heady concentration of layered scent that envelopes you from the moment you step off the sidewalk onto the garden’s meandering paths.


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Just behind the stone labyrinth, plein air painters set up their easels at the Arlington Garden under the shade of a California pepper tree

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Although the California poppies were over, there were stands of red corn poppies, Papaver rhoes.

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Some details from earlier in the day at the Huntington’s desert garden. Echeveria aff. potosina, Mexico (San Luis Potosi)

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So many small relevations in the desert garden, like the mass effect of Haworthia cuspidata in bloom

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Haworthia greenii

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Bromeliads in the cloud forest conservatory

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The Huntington still gets me as overexcited as a kid at Disneyland, though my brain continually sheds plant names like my corgi sheds fur. I didn’t forget the name of this conehead in the rain forest conservatory. It was tagless. The leaves reminded me of hedychium.

Oh, before I forget, from the plant sale I brought home a manfreda and a small Yucca rostrata.

fear of fava beans

I pulled the fava bean plants out yesterday and tossed them on the compost pile, after picking and filling another shopping bag full of beans that will ultimately be shelled, blanched, inner membrane peeled again, and thus be whittled down into modest-sized servings. One Saturday a couple weeks ago, at least three people took their turn in the kitchen over an afternoon shucking beans. If you haven’t already done so, get some music into the kitchen specifically for this chore. Surprisingly, after all the unexpected labor involved with eating fresh fava beans, I can truly admit to loving them. I’m glad their season is over, and we’re moving on to summer’s green beans, but being able to grow a bean this substantial during the cool months of late winter/spring is a luxury I want to repeat next year. Here in Los Angeles the seeds are sown in fall.


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At home what ground isn’t needed for shelter and related pursuits gets filled with my latest plant enthusiams, almost alway nonedible. All this fava bean action is taking place in my community garden plot, where I’m surrounded by seasoned vegetable growers, none of whom, from what I could tell, chose to grow fava beans over winter. Lots of them stopped to admire mine, though, which grew into husky plants 5 feet high. Is it fear of favism, a rare syndrome triggered by eating fava beans which affects mostly men of mediterranean ancestry? (Pythagoras wouldn’t go near them.) For one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops, uber nutritious and a great source of protein, the community garden this winter had very few takers. I grew them mainly for the soil-improving qualities and their ability to put up with my crap soil, which is why I’ve grown them in the past. But this time it seemed exceedingly foolish not to even give them a try. So I did. And that’s when I discovered all the prep that’s involved.

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They are an undeniably beautiful bean.

Once the beans are unzipped from their fuzzy sleeping bags, the work has just begun. The beans must be blanched briefly, 30 seconds to a minute, then plunged in an ice bath. And after all this, the outer membrane of each bean still has to be removed, a tricky and slippery business. And because I’ve had fava beans on the brain this spring, wouldn’t you know that one of the Saturday public radio cooking shows delivered a bombshell while I was driving out to Riverside for a plant sale: adding baking soda to the boiling water, say a tablespoon, on its own will slip the membrane off. Except not really. I’ve tried this twice, and maybe a small percentage of the beans voluntarily shed their skins after this alkaline bath, but it’s by no means the answer we’ve all been waiting for. It helps, but there’s still plenty of work left to do.

I found this little video that describes the prep process.

We’ve added the beans mostly to pasta, but here’s nine recipes to try, including the classic Italian version with pancetta.


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Fava, it’s a complicated bean, with a nutty flavor all its own, undeservedly reduced to the object of punchlines having to do with chianti. Is it worthwhile? I say yes. Just don’t forget that essential ingredient, something to listen to while you’re getting them ready.

succulents around town

I’ve been accumulating photos of the ever-present succulent arrangements I see all over town.
All over town might be an exaggeration. It’s just possible that I tend to gravitate to places where there will be succulents.
But there’s no denying that they are still the Edie Sedgwick of the horticultural world, the It plant of the moment.
And from a glass-half-full perspective, they dovetail so nicely with the warmer, drier summers we’ve been having.

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Aeoniums, Portulacaria afra, graptoverias, and the trailing Senecio radicans, the fish-hook senecio.
Rolling Greens, Culver City
This seemed to be a staging area for presold arrangements.

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Agave ‘Blue Glow,’ echeverias, Sedum ‘Angelina,’ Sedum morganianum.

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Agave americana ‘Variegata’

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I’m seeing lots of wood and natural-looking containers this spring.
Dark red aeoniums, Portulacaria afra, Aeonium ‘Kiwi,’ Senecio radicans, Euphorbia tirucalli.
These have more in common with floral arrangements, packed for maximum impact, but will have to be broken apart fairly soon.
Portulacaria afra and Euphorbia tirucalli each have potential to become shrublike in Los Angeles. .

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No ID aloe, crassulas, Senecio radicans

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Furcraea macdougalii at Inner Gardens, also on Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City
I finally got my F. macdougalii out of its pot and into the garden, not an easy thing to do with a 5-footer brandishing leaves studded with hooked barbs.
Spectacular plant.

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To give a sense of the length that Senecio radicans will grow, this is my old lamp stand, which has lost quite a bit of detail since this post. It had to be replanted a few months ago when Marty bumped it and sent it flying, rolling and bouncing, which it withstood amazingly well, considering. I patched it back together and added the trailing fish-hook senecio. Once it reaches the ground and I start trimming the ends, it loses that lovely, loose draping effect and thickens up, just like any plant that’s pinched back. Yes, for a change, I did try to style the photo a bit, which is incredibly hard to get right. Kudos to the pros for making it look effortless. After dragging benches and teapots out of the house, shifting things micromillimeters to the left then right again, I was exhausted. The “turk’s head” was a gift, brought home from the souks in Morocco, and the reason I’m asking Marty to teach me traditional seaman’s knot work. He’s always made “monkey fists” and these “turk’s heads,” but never ones this big. I want to make lots of them but in slightly smaller sizes, to hold down the canvas canopy over the pergola this summer, clip on tablecloths to keep from blowing in the wind, etc. We’ll see how many I make. Plans are always the easy part.

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These two, Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ and Echeveria prolifica, fill in incredibly fast.

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Echeveria agavoides

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Echeveria cante at the Spring Garden Show at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.
This show will be open through the weekend.
I found this opalescent beauty in a 4-inch pot.

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An unnamed dyckia hybrid going for $75. I left it at the show, waiting for the dyckiaphiles.

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Echeveria agavoides at the show

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Echeveria subsessilis ‘Variegata’ (synonymous with E. peacockii). Beautiful but pricey.


Filming James Griffith’s Tar Paintings

I just voted for tar, and I know you want to as well, which is why I’m making it easy. Click, click here and it’s done.

Your reward? Should James win the vote, our reward is getting the full story of the genesis of the tar paintings in a short documentary to be made by the Los Angeles public television station KCET. (And maybe we can twist James’ arm for an invite for all of us to their summer concert series held at the Folly Bowl. I forget how many it holds.)

Five years ago artist James Griffith uncovered the answer to a mystery at the La Brea Tar Pits that we’ve all pondered since schoolchildren visits to the site — just how exciting are the social lives of paleontologists working among the saber-toothed tiger bones on Wilshire Boulevard? And the answer turns out to be not very. Lonely and isolated in their workspace beneath the auto-infested environs of Wilshire Boulevard where it intersects the Tar Pits, these hard-working scientists responded to a knock on their lab door and an improbable request for a bucket of tar with surprising alacrity. Aside from being starved for human interaction, that’s also due to the fact that the request was made by James Griffith, who could charm a mastodon out of its tusks. As interested in science as art, James instantly made co-conspirators of the scientists in his new project, his “tar” paintings, which I’ve posted about before here and here.

“”When I thought of tar as a material, I loved it because on one hand it is this primordial goo. At the same time, it’s at the heart of the whole environmental problem. It has a contemporary quality and but also an incredibly ancient timeline quality. I just love that.”

The search for the proper fixatives, the furtive trips back to the scientists’ lair for more tar, the first paintings taking form and clinging to the canvas, I’d love to see this story and work filmed. This tar artist needs your vote now. Voting closes Monday, April 29, 2013.


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Did I mention you can vote here? Click, click…(vote for tar — pass it on!)

in love with my garden

It’s Earth Day. Or the day after, to be exact. Let’s hope being a day late is not a portent of things to come.
So this morning after, I’m sending mash notes to Earth for making my little garden possible.
I want to thank photosynthesis for everything you do. I want to give special thanks to the atmosphere, to rocks, to continental drift.
Who am I forgetting? Oceans, plankton, magma. You know who you are. I couldn’t have done it without you.
You too, moon and tides. I also want to thank my latitude, nighttime pollinators.
Oh, there’s just too many to thank, and I don’t want to forget anyone. I couldn’t have done it without you.


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Earth, I owe everything I am to you.
(title inspired by “In Love With My Planet.”)

This work is not about landscapes. It is about love.”

Rick Frausto’s Kitchen Window With Beakers

When photographer MB Maher was in town a couple days ago, I told him that I keep bumping into one of his images in my travels through blogs and Pinterest boards. It’s one he took many years ago of Los Angeles artist and set designer Rick Frausto’s delicate, high-wire, aerial ballet of beakers, flasks, corkscrew wire, roots and spider plants for a kitchen window. This photo has been bobbing around on the Internet, obviously holding some special, intimate message for lots of people in those flasks and bottles.


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I had forgotten the artist’s name and the provenance of the photo entirely, and that’s when Maher told me that years ago he had made a little video snippet on Frausto. I immediately asked could the little film be found? And so it was, a work in progress with terrible audio, but it’s only fitting to put a name to that photo at last. Maher says this video was made during a period of “long, languishing student work when he had no idea how to run sound and as a result lost a lot of tape/interview and barely cobbled together this love letter to LB artist Rick Frausto.”

Presenting Mr. Rick Frausto, creator of Kitchen Window With Beakers.




sweet peas at the community garden

Seems all I bring home from my little 10 X 10 plot lately is sweet peas and fava beans. Not exactly a practical daily diet, but nourishing enough each in their own way.
More on the mysteries of fava beans later.


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Record-keeping is not my strongest suit. That’s a paragraph on its own in the as-yet unwritten post “Why I Blog.’ But I dashed off an email to myself with the date I planted these sweet peas, 11/29/12, noting only one of the names of the three varieties I planted, ‘Nimbus.’ White petals flushed and veined in indigo.

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They were bought as small plants of named varieties. Stormy ‘Nimbus’ is quite the change-up from the loads of deep wine-colored sweet peas that have been filling Mason jars and vases since late March from a seed mix by Renee Shepherd that I direct-sowed in November. It’s called ‘Velvet Elegance,’ an early-blooming, day-length neutral strain. I like this mix for fall planting, when the plants can take advantage of a long, cool growing season and the winter rains. And ‘Velvet Elegance’ does bloom extra early in the short days of spring. It’s all about getting as long a season of cut flowers as possible before the heat of summer kicks in. I’m using “cattle panel” as trellis to support the vines.

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Much as I love the ‘Velvet Elegance’ mix as a sure-fire source of flowers, I’m really glad I took a chance on a few named varieties to shake things up in April. I wasn’t sure the soil in my garden plot could grow decent sweet peas at all yet, after construction equipment from a municipal drain project left it in such a compacted mess. Splurging on a few fancier kinds seemed a bit reckless at the time. If gambling away 10 dollars can be considered reckless.

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The gamble paid off. The moral: Sow sweet peas, lots of them. You will probably be tired of cutting them for vases before they are bloomed out. Starting plants from seeds is best, but don’t ignore an opportunity to bring in some exciting new kinds even as small plants. There must be a window in just about every climate where sweet peas can grow and bloom, however small that window may be. In Southern California fall sowing might be best, so they grow strong in cool temperatures, taking advantage of whatever winter rain we get to bloom early before the heat of summer.


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I left the bucket of sweet peas in the car yesterday while I did a few errands. When I opened the door again, the unexpected fragrance that poured out stunned me for a moment, until I remembered leaving the flowers soaking in a bucket on the floor of the car. Along with finding the smallest parking spaces in Los Angeles, now I know a Mini Cooper on a warm spring day holds scent quite well.


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Bloom Day April 2013

Spring is moving fast here in Southern California. I’ve already checked out some of the gardens on our host’s site for Bloom Day, Carol at May Dreams Gardens, and saw lots of traditional spring shrubs and bulbs and perennials like hellebores in amazing colors just coming into bloom. Slowly but surely spring is spreading across the land. Huzzah!

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Spring has had an unmistakably orange cast to it in my garden this year. A kniphofia in its current 50/50 bar coloration.

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Same kniphofia about a week ago.
I moved this one around and didn’t keep track of the name, but all my kniphofias come from Digging Dog, which has a great list.

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Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ is just starting to bloom, and hopefully the isoplexis will hang in there a little longer.
The grass Stipa gigantea was moved here last fall and hasn’t missed a beat, showing lots of bloom stalks.

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Tweedia caerulea/Oxypetalum caerulea may be a rare baby blue in color but it is a surprisingly tough plant.
This one survived forgotten and neglected in a container throughout the mostly rainless winter.
It’s climbing up a castor bean, Ricinus communis ‘New Zealand Purple.’

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The self-sowing annual Senecio stellata started bloom this week. Big leaves, tall, and likes it on the shady side.

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Another tall one, Albuca maxima.

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This South African bulb has been thriving in the front gravel garden, which gets very little summer water. Over 5 feet tall, it reminds me of a giant galanthus.

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More white blooms, Erodium pelargoniflorum, a prolific self-seeder in the front gravel garden.

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The fringe tree on the east side of the house, Chionanthus retusus, just about at maximum white-out.

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The fried egg on a long stalk near the Euphorbia cotinifolia tree trunk is Argemone munita. Hopefully better photos to come.
I wouldn’t mind about six more of these self-sown in the garden for next year.

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Self-sowing white valerian forming buds, with the lavender bells of the shrub prostranthera, the Australian mintbush.

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The mintbush with the succulent Senecio anteuphorbium.

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A gift pelargonium, no ID. The small details in the leaves and flowers of these simple pelargoniums get me every time.

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Closeup of the tiny flowers.

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The plant at its base is even more self-effacing, with a big name for such a quiet plant, Zaluzianskya capensis.

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Lots of self-sown nicotianas. The flowers are too small to be pure N. alata, so it probably has some langsdorfii in the mix.
Whatever its parentage, lime green flowers always work for me.

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Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix,’ with a potted begonia for scale. This strain of flowering tobacco has been keeping hummingbirds happy all winter.
This is the first begonia to bloom (again, no ID!), and the colocasias are just beginning to leaf out.

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The porch poppies, with lots more poppies in bloom in the garden.

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The anigozanthos might be a tad too close to the euphorbia, but I love the lime green and orange together.

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The last two photos are by MB Maher, who was in town briefly and tried to get more of the Euphorbia lambii from a higher angle.

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MB Maher’s photo of the Salvia chiapensis with a bit of purple in the center from Penstemon ‘Margarita BOP,’ planted from gallons a couple weeks ago.
I have a feeling that yucca will be in bloom for May Bloom Day. See you then!

Now that Google Reader is in the dustbin of history, I’m trying out Bloglovin for organizing blogs I want to follow.
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Rolling Greens Culver City (tillandsia porn)

A fresh shipment of tillandsias had just arrived when I visited Rolling Greens yesterday for their 75 percent-off sale, which ends today.
Almost all of these little bromeliads were in bloom or about to bloom. Lordy.

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Like agaves, most tillandsias are monocarpic. After blooming the main plant dies, but will leave behind “pups.”
The blooms do last for months though.

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Chartreuse tillandsias. Who knew? All mine are silver.
The bright leaf color on some of these might be an effect of the plant going into bloom.

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This wholesale grower of tillandsias has advice for their care.
I think I need to thoroughly drench mine more often, instead of the scattershot misting method I use.

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I tried my best to stay out of the way as she selected tillandsias and then carried them in flats to work with at the floral worktable.
But I hovered here for quite a while.

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How she could make a sober, cool-headed selection out of this stunning array, I have no idea. Guess that’s why she’s the professional.

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None of them were labeled as to species. Rainforest Flora has a helpful tillandsia identification page, but I couldn’t positively ID any of these.
I can see another reference book is needed in the library.