Monthly Archives: June 2013

our far-flung fling

We move too quickly to keep up. There is much to say about the team at Organic Mechanics,
photos to share of a vast and wine-fueled dinner at the Conservatory of Flowers, stories to tell
of the city itself as the county clerk swings wide the doors at the marriage office, but for the
moment the only photos we have to share come from the opening cocktail reception of this wonderful
traveling circus
hosted by the uncontrollably talented Shirley Watts and husband Emmanuel Coup and cat Fifa.
MB Maher caught wind of the party from his nearby headquarters and arrived by zipcar to document. Photos his.

MB Maher also conducted a sandal survey.

gardens hate traveling

I love to travel, but my garden hates it.
But, theoretically, it really shouldn’t be that difficult, leaving the garden for a few days in late June.


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Most of the pots are filled with succulents this summer. Nothing too tricky.

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Except for maybe the Musschia wollastonii, which is always poised to collapse. Whether it’s exposure to harsh words or less-than-perfect filtered light requirements, it needs very little excuse to wilt. This is my second attempt with this musschia, and at this point I just don’t believe I’ll ever have the privilege of seeing its strange, lime green candelabra of an inflorescence erupt in my garden. (That’s a dare, musschia. I dare you to prove me wrong and thrive in my absence.)

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And then there’s Evie, who’s being left in the hands of an avowed cat hater.

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Two, actually. The hater of cats and this one will certainly conspire against the felines in my absence.

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I wonder if my share of the neighbor’s apricots will be close to ripe when I return.

[one week later]

I meant to post this before leaving for Long Island, New York, last Tuesday to tour gardens and nurseries, but with work to get out and trees falling down, it was forgotten. Upon return on Monday, all cats have been accounted for, and the garden looks in better shape than when I left from the thorough soaking Marty gave it. Temperatures were cool, the musschia didn’t collapse, and the gesneriad Moussonia elegans opened its first blooms in my absence. Ein developed a taste for unripened apricots and ate quite a few that fell on our side of the fence. I found his stash of pits in a small midden on the driveway. I have stories to tell of gardens in Long Island, all of which will have to wait until I return from the blogger meetup in San Francisco this weekend. Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

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Moussonia elegans

Bloom Day June 2013


For a girl who couldn’t get an eryngium to bloom before, this is shaping up to be an exciting summer.

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Eryngium pandanifolium is supposedly the biggest eryngo of them all. I’ve been intently watching it develop this wicked candelabra of a bloom truss. Each morning the bloom stalk twisted in a different direction, as though it had been thrashing about during the night in the throes of birth, like H.R. Giger’s Alien. Today it was fully upright and looks like it means to stay that way. 5 feet tall and still growing. I planted it at the patio’s edge and have basically relinquished use of this little patio off the back door, removing chairs and most containers, so the eryngo gets lots of light and air at its base. Its barbed leaves sprawl onto the bricks, covering most of the patio, but what price love?

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But there is such a thing, believe it or not, as too much excitement

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Hmmm, something’s missing…

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Now you see it, now you don’t. Another day, another collapse of a Euphorbia cotinifolia in my garden. I think this is the third, maybe fourth time. The rope on its trunk was tied to a nearby Argemone munita to keep the argemone from falling. There’s irony there somewhere.


Last Friday, June 14, at 2:10 p.m., I heard a whoosh, peeked out the office door, and beheld the awful horizontality. But the smash wasn’t entirely unexpected. I left this comment on Hoov’s blog Piece of Eden June 11: “I was watching my Euphorbia cotinifolia sway in the breeze yesterday, swaying from the base of the trunk, as in rocking in the breeze. And it’s listing too, so I think it’s going over soon, right on top of the anigozanthos no doubt. Control is illusion. Loved Ed Norton in khaki in that movie — loved the whole movie. (P.S. I think your pups want to go camping.)” We were discussing her pups’ love of the movie Moonrise Kingdom.

Euphorbia cotinifolia, the Caribbean Copper Tree, is widely used as a summer annual for containers, but in regions without frost it reaches tree size. This tree was a seedling, meaning it was sown in situ from a previous Caribbean Copper Tree, something I thought would give this brittle tree all the advantages it would need for stability. And it had multiple trunks, another plus. A single-trunked copper tree snapped in two during high winds. This is the third time, and I am so not charmed anymore. Marty washed the saw off with soapy water this morning. He was driving tourists on a boat through Long Beach harbor when the smash came. Sunny day, 70-ish degrees, no wind, 2:10 p.m. I worked like a madwoman to remove the tree and assess damages, and the whole mess was cleaned up by 4 p.m. Amazingly little damage was done. That Argemone munita was uprooted, of course. Some broken kangaroo paws were brought in for vases. One of the two stalks of Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ was broken at the base, which I’m trying to root again. A spiral aloe was flung out of the ground. It’s an awful thing to admit, but I was at a local nursery at 4:15 to check out replacements.


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Succulents like these aeoniums were still intact after I pried the tree off of them. Onward with Bloom Day.

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I thought there’d be just two lilies in bloom this summer, this unknown white and the copper ‘African Queen,’ both growing in pots

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But then this regal lily surprised me by surviving in dryish conditions in the garden near the base of a phormium.

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Another surprise bulb, from a bunch of miniature gladiolus I ordered a few years ago. It somehow became churned up when the eryngium planum were planted.
Small but flashy.

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Penstemon ‘Hidalgo’ a shrubby 4-footer just beginnning to bloom

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Bloom puff on Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate.’ This tree, currently in a large glazed pot, is a possible candidate to replace the fallen Copper Tree. We desperately need shade on the office, so replacement discussions are ongoing. I’m leaning toward keeping it full sun and planting some Euphorbia ammak and Yucca rostrata.
We’ll see how much appeal that idea still has in August.

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This kniphofia is loving its new home near the compost pile and is continually throwing new spikes. It might be another case of giving a plant lots of sun and circulation at its base. Another thousand square feet of space and I bet I could get this garden stuff worked out.

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Phylica pubescens, just because this late Bloom Day post has spilled over into Pam’s Foliage Followup at her blog Digging.

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Wonderful Teucrium hircanicum. Blooms from seed its first summer. These plants were all pried up as seedlings from the brick paths in spring.

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The yellow form of Russelia equisetiformis robs it of its common name, the Firecracker Plant, but it’s a good plant in all its colors.

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Ethereal view of the Dittany of Crete, Origanum dictamnus

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Macleaya in bloom. This one’s wandering roots make it more trouble than tetrapanax.

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The last of the annual Coreopsis ‘Mahogany.’ I’ve replaced it elsewhere with gaillardia.

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The Garlic Passion Flower vine, Passiflora loefgrenii, is spilling over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, but then their apricot tree has spilled over into my garden.
I wonder who has the better deal.

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Garlic passionflower jelly anyone?

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I’m trialing three different peachy yarrows this summer. This one ‘Terracotta,’ as well as ‘Marmalade’ and ‘Sawa Sawa’

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At least the Monterey cypresses look stable enough and are making good size at the east fence.

I’ve already been checking out lots of Bloom Day reports via our host Carol’s site May Dreams Gardens. There’s lots of excitement, and of a less calamitous kind, in the blogs this June.

Upcoming CSSA show at the Huntington

I won’t be able to attend the Cactus and Succulent Society of America show to be held at the Huntington Botanical Gardens June 28-30, 2013. But you should definitely go, for reasons photographed below. You will very likely find many of the same vendors I pestered with questions and be able to ogle the same plants I did last weekend at the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society’s Drought Tolerant Plant Festival in Encino. If you can’t make it to the Huntington in June, don’t despair. There’s still the InterCity show and sale held at the Los Angeles Arboretum August 17th and 18th.

Reasons to attend:

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The scrolled leaves on this bromeliad drew lots of attention.

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But attention swiftly gets snagged on something else, such as the jagged leaves of a deep burgundy dyckia. And so it goes at a plant show.
Attention ricochets around the show room like protons in a Hadron collider.

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Chartreuse leaves, burgundy thorns = love

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From the bromeliad table

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The aloe tables

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A Stonehenge of lithops

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Yes, even in the plant world there are winners and losers. Well, actually, the caretakers of the plants are the winners/losers.
Plants don’t care much about contests (except in the big, Darwinian sense).

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The signage and information at this show was incredible.

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A section of the show was devoted to engaging kids, and it was beautifully done

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Kelly Griffin’s Agave ‘Snow Glow’

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I should know this agave…(fingers drumming desk). Is it a cross of ferdinand-regis with scabra like ‘Sharkskin’?

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Cactus and succulent shows have a unique pottery vernacular

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There were a couple of these agaves for sale. ‘Blue Flame’ is one of my favorite agaves, so I lingered over this one.
It is beautiful, but I think I prefer a cleaner variegation. So nice to occasionally walk away from temptation.

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A show with succulents and pelargoniums — what’s not to love?

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Here is where I got into trouble, a display in the plant sales area of dyckias and hechtias

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First off, I always mispronounce dyckia, like “dike” when it should be “dick.” You can probably imagine an easy mnemonic device for that one.

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Second, I seriously coveted a plant that was off limits, display purposes only.

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Hechtias, Mexican terrestrial bromeliads, are new to me, foreign and intriguing.

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Bromeliad of desire, Hechtia glomerata.

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Plant people understand such infatuation all too well and are more than willing to work something out.
A pup of the display-only Hechtia glomerata was removed, tagged, and bagged for a very reasonable price.

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Last look at the one that got away, Agave ‘Streaker.’ I don’t think I’d have the strength to pass this one up again.


cage light vase

If you happen to have a marine cage light in the garage, and some lengths of chain in your garden shed, all of which came to light after a thorough cleaning and organizing marathon today, you can take a short break from all that tedium to make this. Marty wrapped some twine around the rim of the cage and hooked the chain under the twine. Done in about 15 minutes. Some pliers to open and close links on the chain were the only tool required.


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Lots of these caged lights have colored shades, so we were in luck that this shade is clear glass.
Cleaning out the garage is always equal parts delight and exasperation with all the stuff we’ve rat-holed away over the years.
Actually using some of the forgotten stuff we’ve stored feels like vindication, a kind of triumph. Triumph of the Pack Rats.

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Eryngium pandanifolium, almost to the top of the pergola, is just behind the vase, which is filled with a single bloom of Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons.’ I pulled out some annual coreopsis and tucked in a couple of this gaillardia, which like my dryish summer garden just fine and will bloom with astonishing exuberance into fall. That’s also a bromeliad hanging in the background, Aechmea recurvata ‘Aztec Gold’. This is definitely the summer of the hanging garden.

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The vase is hanging outdoors for now, from a hook on the pergola, but there’s no reason it couldn’t hang indoors too.


support your local (fill in the blank)

May I humbly make a suggestion as to filling in the blank? Your local public radio station. One of my local public radio stations, KCRW, apart from keeping me sane during commutes to different cities all over the South Bay, with news and music programming like this and this (which is what eased me through slogging traffic into Santa Monica last Thursday) proved their incalculable value to their community once again by delivering a heroic news show last Friday. In the aftermath of the most recent expression of our complicated relationship to the Second Amendment, KCRW became a refugee news show when their studio and offices on site at Santa Monica City College were shut down as police stormed the campus. KCRW hastily relocated sometime after noon and were up and streaming from who-knows-where by the time I was driving home Friday afternoon, with live reporting of eyewitness accounts. Voices were unmistakably shaky, but they held on. Bravo, KCRW.

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a Greene & Greene rebirth and other tour notes


There was a small tour of five local historical homes on Sunday presented by Long Beach Heritage. The star of the tour from a rarity perspective was this Greene & Greene, one of only three here in Long Beach. Even on such a small tour, I only managed to see three of the five houses. Must build up some tour discipline! It’s just that these old houses and gardens have so very many stories to tell…


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Some houses in my neighborhood contributed panes of the old “wavy” glass for the restoration of this “National Historic landmark…this 1904 house survived by moving three times. Designed by the Greenes as an oceanfront home for Jennie A. Reeve…the house is one of the brothers’ earliest ventures in Arts and Crafts style. Moved to its current location in 1924…Henry Greene was rehired to design a significant two-story addition and garden. The house is currently under restoration.”

I’ll say it’s under restoration. History-making, monumental, meticulous restoration undertaken by the current owner, a restoration architect, using the original Greene & Greene plans, which include not only plans for the built-ins, but the furniture, fixtures and landscape as well. There are only a few of the original decorative items and light fixtures left. The original porch light is temporarily on loan to the Huntington while the house is restored. All other decorative fixtures, and there were over 100, have long since disappeared during the house’s various moves — no one seems to know how or to whom, but someone was made very rich by the pillaging. The floors are quarter-sawn oak, the built-in cabinetry and mouldings Port Orford cedar, which due to its rarity arrives in well-spaced, restoration-prolonging shipments. With restoration still underway, the Reeve house was completely empty, lath and plaster still exposed in some rooms, which provided a fascinating look at the painstaking process of restoration. Completion of the house is estimated for the end of this year, but there’s still the furniture, fixtures and landscape to be finished.

No interior photos were allowed in any of the homes, only the exterior. I was excited that a couple homes on the tour were reputed to have extensive gardens.

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This enormous garden belonged to a home on the tour that sat on three lots, but its allure now is mostly its ghostly state of disrepair.
There were mature fruit trees, overgrown roses, daylilies, agapanthus, the garden seen through this glassed-in outdoor patio draped in jasmine.

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At one time in its past, an oil derrick was moved onto the property and pumped for one day. The docent kept repeating this story with no other explanation. Why just one day? Was it removed because of the nuisance factor, or could they tell the well was dry after one day? Many of the homes here still sell with their mineral rights.

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Other survivors were ropes of epiphytic cactus.

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And a collection of succulents on the back steps

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The kitchen garden was still in active use.

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A Spanish Revival home on the tour had a sweet courtyard, viewed here from a secret garden

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The courtyard opened off the back door and also led through a doorway to the front of the property

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Along with an armoire for storage, there was a massive brick fireplace, a small fountain, low-light plants like the fiddle-leaf fig and staghorn fern

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the arched doorway leading to an inner graveled garden

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the secret garden

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Just outside the walled courtyard on the path to the street, a chair is nearly hidden by bougainvillea
The swath of green on the left is Salvia spathacea, so it’s obviously a hummingbird-viewing station, right?

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Before heading home, a quick stop for a nearby parkway abloom in Salvia clevelandii and Salvia canariensis.

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Salvia canariensis is one of my favorite salvias and ruled the garden last summer. This parkway was double-wide, so it had all the space it needed.
With lavender, artemisia, stachys, nepeta

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A lush gift for insects, birds and the neighborhood to enjoy…and the occasional itinerant tour-goer.


scenes from the garden 6/3/13


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Some of the cast of characters this summer. First spikes of Teucrium hircanicum. Shaggy grass is newly identified Chloris virgata (thank you, Maggie!)

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The peachy ‘Terracotta’ yarrow lining the path are beginning bloom too.
The white umbels belong to Cenolophium denudatum. I’ve already noticed a self-sown seedling.
Sown just last fall with seeds from Derry Watkins.

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Self-sown Verbena bonariensis is already up on its hind legs.

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I love me some summer daisies, and buttery yellow Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell’ just nails it for me as the quintessential daisy of summer.

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More daisies. The first blooms of the ‘Monch’ aster, a daisy often making desert-island lists, 10-best-perennials lists.
A remarkably tough plant, even in perennial-averse zone 10.

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I never thought I’d see clouds of thistly eryngiums in bloom in my garden. Give them space and sun on their basal leaves, and the clouds will come.

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I’m a chronic shuffler. Pots gets shuffled and reshuffled constantly.
Succulents like the ‘Fantastic’ flapjack plant, Kalanchoe luciae, get to summer in the ground once the leaves have toughened up and are of no more interest to snails.

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Cussonia gamtoosensis stretching towards the sun. I’ll probably plant this in the ground in fall.
Which doesn’t technically break my no-more-trees rule since it’s slim silhouette should tuck in just fine, even at 10-plus feet high.

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More daisies, burgundy ones from the annual Coreopsis tinctoria ‘Mahogany’

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Why don’t I grow more lilies?
I have a paltry two pots of lilies this summer. They have no pests here, no scourge of lily beetles.
Growing them in pots keeps them safe from slugs — and from me, since I’m constantly reworking the garden and spearing unsuspecting bulbs.
Pots also make it easy to move them from sun to shade when needed and then whisk them out of sight when they’re done blooming.

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So I repeat, Why don’t I grow more lilies?


Speaking of scourges, the penstemon is succumbing to that omnipresent budworm, possibly the tobacco worm, that always afflicts and distorts the flowers. (If it even is the tobacco budworm — it has no interest in my nicotiana, aka flowering tobaccos.) I was hoping that by not growing penstemon for a few years this nasty piece of work would have moved on. No such luck. And they’re too tiny to find and hand pick or, my favorite method, bisect with scissors. I’m considering BT, Bacillus thuringiensis, a very pest-specific biological pesticide that interrupts the digestive process of tobacco budworms and kills them, and only on the plant where it’s applied. It’s even approved for organic food crops. But as a devout sci-fi fan, I can’t shake the plot twists involving the laws of unintended consequences. Penstemon are otherwise such great plants here, long blooming, drought tolerant. BT has supposedly been cleared as a suspect in Colony Collapse Disorder, that harrowing threat to bees and life as we know it. Since I rarely keep up regimens of any sort, more than likely it’s goodbye penstemon.

Which brings me round again to the question: Why don’t I grow more lilies?