Monthly Archives: May 2014

Fishing with Senecio radicans

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From a recent garden tour. The fishhook senecio, Senecio radicans, doing what it does best, throwing its lines of hook-shaped leaves not from a pier but from a second-story balcony.

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Maybe I’m reading too much into this arrangement, because it wasn’t directly underneath but around a corner, screened by other plants. A perfect circle about 5 feet in diameter was dressed with oyster shells and planted with just a few blue echeveria. The casting pond? The relationship between the senecio and the circle could only have been apparent from the second-story balcony. Refreshingly lacking the emphasis so common when gardens turn playful, I didn’t notice the association until studying the photos later. All I noticed at the time was how the pearly, iridescent mulch sparkled in the strong mid-day sun. If it was meant as a private joke, I belatedly enjoyed the pun too.

driveby agave garden revisited

I’ve been thinking of Jud’s garden. Did the recent unseasonal heat waves bruise any agaves?
I didn’t memorize the address, so it took a while to find again, which seems to be a recurring theme with this garden.
Was it on Colorado or Fourth Street? East or west of Termino?
After about a half hour’s meandering, suddenly there it was again, rising up out of the suburbs like a desert oasis mirage.

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It certainly holds its corner like no other house I know.

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The driveby view is splendid enough, but seeing it on foot is the only way to appreciate the multiple shifting perspectives of rosettes and spikes.

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I’ve never seen Sticks on Fire as tall and narrow as cypresses. I wonder if they had to be pruned into these columnar shapes.

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The agaves were indeed left unblemished by the 100-degree temps.

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I’ll post a few more detailed photos of Jud’s garden this week.

a long weekend (and a local plant sale)

Name me three other words in the English language that can be strung together to produce as exciting an effect as A…Long…Weekend.

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The pergola table will have to be cleared for weekend breakfasts and dinners. (I never seem to eat lunch anymore.)

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Anticipating a long weekend, there seems time enough for anything. Maybe I’ll embroider a pillow (or learn how…)

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Or weave garden detritus into a perfect sphere

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Here’s another example of three of the most exciting words in the English language: Local…Plant…Sale.

Dustin, the mad plant propagator, is having one on June 14th. The poor man just can’t control himself, and now he’s converted the entire back garden into a plant nursery. If I give him a small bromeliad pup, the next time I see him he’s got ten more of the same. I blame the British; the training in propagation at Wisley and Great Dixter must have been brutally efficient, because he just can’t stop. It really is as much an intervention as a sale; see his garden and then help him clear some room for more garden and/or future plant nursery. Either way, we all benefit. I’ve lost a sonchus so will be on the prowl for another one.

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Giant container in Dustin Gimbel’s garden, where the plants mercilessly use him as an agent to increase their numbers.

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More news to come. For now, circle and star the 14th of June. And enjoy every minute of your long weekend.

pod love

Garden bloggers have been giving it up for flowers, for leaves. How about some pod love?
I know it’s a little early in the season for seedpods for a lot of gardens, but I happen to have dried-up, dessicated plant life on the brain after last week’s ferocious Santa Ana winds.

And I also just happen to have some nice seedpods to share.

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Courtesy of Acacia podalyrifolia

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I’ve been shaping this young shrub/tree at the front of the house, and it’s coming along beautifully.

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The long, wavy pods, silver with cinnamon-brown interiors, perform entrancing twists and spirals in the breeze.

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Sharing the pod love.

Plectranthus ‘Emerald Lace’

Loree is talking about her favorite plant of the week today, and Pam is discussing the virtues of beautiful leaves, which of course set my eye wandering critically over a heat-ravaged landscape to find a suitable entry.
Needless to say, I was coming up bupkis. I must have walked by this plectranthus a dozen times before pausing to give it serious consideration as a contender.

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Plectranthus ‘Emerald Lace,’ the only one of the “suitcase plants” brought home from Long Island, New York, last summer that’s still kicking.

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Years ago I inexplicably dragged home an enormously heavy iron pipe that I swear will never be moved again. Filled with soil, it functions as a holding area/plant hospital.
Into this wide-mouthed pipe go small cuttings, odds and ends, and sometime last year this plectranthus, which I now realize has filled it entirely. It sits against the north south fence line, which offers the best chance of shade for cuttings. If you take a right turn as you face the plectranthus, you’ll enter a narrow potting area that fills the small gap between the back of the garage and the fence. Turn left and you’ll cross the length of the garden and end up at the compost pile in the northeastern southeastern corner.

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Just a couple weeks ago I slipped some cuttings of an aeonium that had burned in the first heat wave into the “plant hospital.”

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I think I’ve found my entry. With crimped leaves that look cut by pinking shears and mimic the silvery-green patterns of Cyclamen hederifolium, this overlooked plectranthus deserves a little recognition.

Bloom Day May 2014

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Thank goodness, unlike me, some like it hot, such as Dalea purpurea. the Purple Prairie Clover.
Zoned only as far as 8* and not recommended too far south, so zone 10 was a gamble as far as lack of winter dormancy.
Might not be long-lived here, but it’s putting on a good show for a young plant.
(*to clarify, for zones 3-8. I’m always concerned about a plant’s winter chill needs and heat tolerance.)

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I duplicated how I saw it planted at the Highline, close in to the walkway to admire its outline, but I’ll probably add more amongst the phlomis and other shrubby stuff. The bees will thank me profusely.
Its deep tap root handles dry conditions beautifully. You can imagine how much water it’s getting planted amongst agaves and succulents, which is next to none.
The legume family is full of such interesting characters. There’s a white form too, Dalea candida, but I’m fine with magenta.

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A succulent I like as much for its flowers as leaves, Cotyledon orbiculata var. flanaganii

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This annual grass doesn’t reseed much, but every bit of it is a treasure. Briza maxima

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Gomphrena ‘Fireworks,’ planted last fall, exploded into growth with the heat.

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Wonderful little pelargonium whose name I’ve misplaced, gets clipped back when it encroaches on Agave schidigera ‘Shira ito no Ohi.’
(If you need cuttings, just ask. And then let me know if and when you ID it. Possibly P. trifidum?)

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More heat lovers, gazanias and gaillardias

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Various iterations of self-sowing nicotianas shrugged off temperatures over 100, a rarity here a mile from the ocean, where we’ve previously never felt the need to install air conditioning in this old drafty bungalow.

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Solanum pyracanthum wintered over and got an early start in spring.

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Most worrisome was anything spring-planted, like this Glaucium grandiflorum

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But except for some sad heat damage on the big-leaved agaves, we all limped relatively unscathed through the second record-breaking heat wave of May 2014.
My survival strategy for the next one involves researching old camping cots on craigslist. I’m planning a camping theme for the east patio. I haven’t slept outdoors in quite a while.
When life deals you heat like this, might as well have a weenie roast.

So it’s finally here, May, the month that Carol dreams of all year. Some gardens are already cooking on all burners, some just waking up, but it’s all chronicled on
May Dreams Gardens, where Carol hosts our Bloom Day reports the 15th of every month, or thereabouts.

Potted’s wind chime revival

Relax, I’m not going to talk about the astonishing heat wave we’re having but something light and buoyant.

First, remember Ned Racine’s initial, fateful meeting with two-steps-ahead Matty in the movie Body Heat?

You can stand here with me if you want, but you’ll have to agree not to talk about the heat.

(So she throws his words back at him at their second meeting, at the same time inveigling Ned into her home while the husband is away on business.)

You’re the one that doesn’t want to talk about the heat. Too bad. I’d tell you about my chimes.

What about them?

The wind chimes on my porch. They
keep ringing and I go out there
expecting a cool breeze. That’s
what they’ve always meant. But not
this summer. This summer it’s just
hot air.

(Amen, Matty.)

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So I’m not going to talk about the heat at all, but wind chimes. Wind chimes are what I’m interested in today, this very hot minute. I think wind chimes are due for a revival. They’ve been relegated to the whimsy ghetto for far too long. Procrastinating on Etsy, hoping to find something inspired by Alexander Calder maybe, I found lots of chimes made of bike gears, keys, and kitchen utensils, some of which were surprisingly appealing. But the two examples above from Potted are some of the nicest I’ve found so far, although the one on the right is technically not a wind chime but a spiral mobile.

Keeping it light and buoyant this week.

on the tour; chasing variegated chimeras

A garden I visited on Saturday decidedly belonged to a devotee of the variegated leaf. (It takes one to know one.)
The infatuation wasn’t apparent at first glance. This was a mature garden, well-treed, bambooed and shrubbed.
But after every twist and turn, in every shady nook, another splash, blotch or stripe of variegata lurked, awaiting discovery.
Variegation has multiple sources, and one of my favorite for wordplay purposes is chimeral; a plant composed of genetically different layers.

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Fallopia japonica ‘Variegata,’ the Japanese Fleece Flower

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Acanthus mollis ‘Tasmanian Angel’

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variegated monstera, the Swiss Cheese Plant

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variegated alocasia

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Even a variegated pine, growing in a large container, Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’

Rare in nature, variegated plants are lovingly preserved and propagated by lovers of the outrĂ©. Seems like everyone has an opinion on variegated plants, whether it’s a preference for white on green or yellow on green, or no blotches, please, just stripes. I personally can’t stand that Polka Dot Plant. And there will always be those that shun them as an abomination of nature. But shady town gardens just wouldn’t have that same sparkle without them.

Agave parryi ‘Cream Spike’

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This is such a sweet agave for containers. Under a foot across in ultimate size, it is nevertheless a busy little mother. Just before its photo, I had cleaned out the offsets it produces so freely, which I’ll grow on to size in the front gravel garden. I did the same thing for Agave ‘Dragon Toes’ yesterday, another beautiful agave on the wee side. I wouldn’t mind at all having sweeps of these compact beauties. San Marcos Growers discusses provenance, nomenclature controversies, and hardiness on its site here. I don’t see this agave too often in nurseries, despite its propagation by tissue culture and all those pups it produces. When it finally made the local nursery circuit last year in a small (cheaper) size, I pounced.

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It still surprises me that snails glide their delicate slipper foot over spiky, barb-leaved agaves, but they do, as seen in the damage caused to a few central leaves.

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I’d recommend a smooth-sided container that easily releases the mother plant so those pups can be nabbed as soon as they appear.

edited 2015 to note that this agave is gaining acceptance under Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike.’