Monthly Archives: November 2014

thinning dyckias

If you asked me what I planned on doing when I woke up that morning a couple Saturdays ago, tackling the enormously overgrown clump of dyckias in the front garden was as remote a contender as washing the windows, which never ever cracks the top 20. To be honest, there were no ambitions at all that hot Saturday morning, the end to an even hotter week. (This week brought the Santa Ana winds, warm temperatures, not hot, but very, very dry.) I started off early Saturday morning with no real plan, so just grabbed a broom and began to sweep. Sweeping is always a good default until a plan formulates out of the post-Friday fog. I can’t remember the progression from sweeping to intimately grappling with this most dangerous of terrestrial bromeliads, but I’m sure it had something to do with being unable to sweep under the many rosettes spilling onto the bricks that catch all the duff from the jacarandas, the rachis and such. (If I didn’t have jacarandas in the parkway, there’s no way I’d be familiar with that term rachis, the main shaft of a compound leaf, in the jacaranda measuring about about a foot long.) Jacaranda detritus piles up in drifts, clogs the crowns of plants, burrows deep in the dasylirions, and is especially inaccessible in this spiny clump of dyckia. The dyckia came home as a solitary rosette from the first Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, California (now under new ownership), a very long time ago, and boy howdy has it prospered and multiplied. Whenever I see gorgeous varieties of diminutive dyckias in 4-inch pots on offer at plant sales, I have this barbed, cautionary tale at home to remind me to just walk on by.

 photo P1011955.jpg

Those stiff, barbed leaves really mean business.
So many ways to inflict pain: poke, puncture, scratch, embed, scrape, stab, infiltrate. And with the hot, dry weather, my hands were hurting before I even started.

 photo P1011960.jpg

The clump has sprawled onto the bricks, making it impossible to sweep up the prodigious jacaranda debris that accumulates year-round. Leaflets, rachis, flowers, the occasional branch.
Instead of ignoring the piled-up debris sticking out from under the dyckia like I always do, I grabbed a shovel to loosen and pull out three largish rosettes off the bricks.
Vast amounts of dead, dried leaves were then able to be tugged and pried out of the interior of the clump.

 photo P1011947.jpg

I wasn’t sure how far I would go with the shovel. Complete removal has crossed my mind many times.

 photo P1011968.jpg

While I wrestled with the dyckia, others opted to polish their rims.

 photo P1011964.jpg

Or watch the Saturday morning parade of dogs on leashes passing the gate.

 photo P1011980.jpg

Seeing how beautiful the single rosettes were, I decided not to remove the clump. For now.
The three rosettes had very little root attached but were cleaned up anyway.
Because doesn’t it just look like a plant with a will to live?

 photo P1012009.jpg

A couple were potted up in a shallow container with extra grit.
With a mature clump, you get the wands of Starburst-orange flowers, but to me dyckias are just as impressive as single rosettes.
Wonderful container plants, able to take temperatures down to 15 to 20 degrees. Here in zone 10 they grow into these massive clumps.
I really should bring more varieties home — but it will be for containers only.

 photo P1012007.jpg

The third was wrapped in moss and stuck in the opening to this pedestal I found cleaning out the garden shed.
It’s been around for so long, I forget when, where and why I brought it home. It nearly made it to the curb earlier in the week in a garage purge.
I checked this cutting today, and it hasn’t rooted yet but is still firm. If it doesn’t root, no big loss.

 photo P1011992.jpg

The trick to thinning out a dyckia clump is, first of all, obviously, wear gloves, long sleeves. And, secondly, move with slow, purposeful movements.
And not thinking about it too much beforehand helps too.


echeverias runneth over

I work at this building a lot, where there are enormous pots planted with a central Sticks on Fire surrounded by echeverias.
Lusty, thriving, insanely multiplying echeverias. They look to be Echeveria secunda.
I swear, I get the worst case of itchy fingers when I see these echeverias brimming and spilling over the rim of the pot.
Somebody needs to thin these, and leave the cuttings in a basket at the base of the pot with a sign saying “Take me.”
Because I would be more than happy to help lighten the echeveria load here.


 photo P1012205.jpg

 photo P1012189.jpg

 photo P1012191.jpg

 photo P1012190.jpg


a Mission Revival garden

I wasn’t exactly lost in Beverly Hills today, but traffic was terrible enough that I left the main arteries like San Vicente and dove into surrounding neighborhood streets, looking for a less congested way home. Around Sweetzer I found this small Mission Revival home with what looked to be a fairly new front landscape.


 photo P1012182.jpg

Although it may sometimes seem so, I’m really not stalking Mission Revival homes, but this architectural style does seem to inspire its share of spare, elegant gardens.
This one is dominated by the lacy shade of a mature California Pepper Tree, Schinus molle (from the Peruvian Andes).

 photo P1012177.jpg

 photo P1012171.jpg

A blue jar, possibly Bauer, pennisetum grasses and agaves surrounding a central area of decomposed granite
(formerly place of honor for lawns but not anymore, now that it’s drought o’clock)

 photo P1012168.jpg

The agaves are mainly the common americana and attenuata, with salmon-colored Crown of Thorns, Euphorbia milii.
The blue flowers might be the Ground Morning Glory, Convolvulus sabatius.

 photo P1012183.jpg

A form of Opuntia erinacea possibly?
Those look to be young bougainvilleas struggling up stakes against the low wall, a wall which I personally would hate to see smothered in vine. The cactus itself is presence enough.

 photo P1012174.jpg

A sweet house, with its thick walls and deep-set casement windows.
The surrounding mansions in various architectural guises, and their gardens, could learn a lot about stylishly coping with heat and drought from this modest little beauty.


Bloom Day November 2014

I’ve really had a come-to-jaysus moment, as far as my little garden. No more ambitious planning for seasonal blooms, emphasis on summer. No more planning for strictly blooms at all.
Now I’m viewing my little space as more of an outdoor conservatory, with all the freedom from seasonal concerns that concept implies. It’s getting very sharp and pointy out there, is all I’m saying for the moment. But wouldn’t you know it, what I have to show for blooms this November is that bastion of summer and fall-flowering gardens, the echinacea, a couple ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ I brought home in early summer that tucked in their horns until the heat abated somewhat.


 photo P1012099.jpg

 photo P1012105.jpg

And what’s becoming a November tradition, the big trusses of bloom on the tetrapanax. So many of the leaves burnt in summer, it’s comically mostly stems and flowers this year.
Tragicomic, that about sums up gardens in a nutshell. Carol collects all our tragicomedy the 15th of every month on her blog May Dreams Gardens.


agaves take Los Angeles

About a year ago I was told by a nurseryman that aloes have replaced agaves in popularity, because people have gotten wise to the approximate 8-year death spiral of agaves, the bloom-and-doom cycle, which isn’t the case with aloes, reliably flowering as they do year after year. That may be true of private plant-buying habits, but no doubt as a consequence of the drought, agaves are proliferating across commercial landscapes like rabbits.

Here’s just one example of the many I see driving around town, this one found in West Los Angeles last week, near Sawtelle and Olympic.


 photo P1012075.jpg

mass planting of Agave ‘Cornelius’

The Victorians would be proud of the carpet-bedding effects we’re achieving with this king of succulents.
(Remember William Robinson’s naturalism rebellion against the gawdy, tic-tac-toe patterns of the Victorian bedding-out era, floral clocks and such? Of course you do.)

 photo P1012077.jpg

But William Robinson never had to contend with the dreary, narrow, commercial planting spaces fronting buildings all over town, and in a drought no less.
In these contexts, the strong personality, pattern, and clean symmetry of agaves animates the planes of buildings and walkways.

 photo P1012081.jpg

And ‘Cornelius’ adds his own unique twist of variegated sparkle. Seen here with Senecio mandraliscae.

 photo P1012063.jpg

Agaves own this town.

 photo P1012067.jpg

What a great time to be an agave grower.
Kidding, of course. These are slow-growing plants, and tissue culture is expensive.
My ‘Cornelius’ at home needs maybe another year to look this good.

 photo P1012058.jpg

This unidentified beauty was found at The Jungle nursery on Sawtelle, which is having a moving sale, everything 20-40 percent off.
That pink tag sadly indicates “sold,” and there were none other available. Alas, even with the sale, the prices were out of my budget.
(Lots of big succulent specimens and bamboo still left for sale.)
More and more, nursery prices rightfully reflect increases in the cost of living, unlike my pay rate, which has been stagnant for over 10 years.

 photo P1012064.jpg

Maybe it’s a good time to invest in agave stock…


memorable Aloe scobinifolia

I’m terrible with aloe names. So many unnamed and/or forgotten hybrids brought home from plant shows.
But there’s one aloe I’ve recently acquired whose identity I’m betting will be unforgettable. And it happens to be in bloom, so let’s have a look, shall we?

 photo P1011899.jpg

Easy to remember because, first of all, it’s not a hybrid, so there’s just two words to its name.
Elegantly simple binomial nomenclature at work. Aloe scobinifolia, a stemless aloe from Somalia (aka Somalian Aloe)

 photo P1011870.jpg

Inflorescence in a capitate arrangement
(“capitate: of an inflorescence, with the flowers unstalked and aggregated into a dense cluster..”)

 photo P1011880.jpg

Memorable also for the pale, almost albino quality to the leaves. Doubly so because the leaves are smooth, spineless.

 photo P1011882.jpg

I love this blonde-on-blonde look with the variegated St. Augustine grass. In rainier times, I wouldn’t presume to keeping this rambunctious spreader under control.

 photo P1011891.jpg

Long-legged in bloom, about 2 and half feet

 photo P1011906.jpg

 photo P1011927.jpg

the Somalian Aloe, I have just two more words for you: simply unforgettable.

autumn sun

I tell you, since sunlight has once again become transformed from merciless enemy into the most charming and distracting friend, I can’t sit at my desk for more than five minutes without jumping up to watch it play on leaves, spines or thorns. And then I have to play, too, digging up this, moving that, any excuse to bathe in autumn sun.


 photo P1011851.jpg

And just when I think I’ve seen everything autumn light has to offer and can finally end this protracted truancy from the indoors, we get a lovely rainstorm, nearly a whole day’s worth.
And you know what havoc raindrops and light can play with one’s attention span.

 photo P1011852.jpg

The ‘Cyclops’ aeonium, shaggy in the recent rain.
Potted aeoniums are being pulled out of the shade. They also love to bask in autumn sun.

I had a Halloween post planned on one of my favorite movies from 2014. Maybe I’ll get to it later today.
I have to admit I was a little shocked at the intense Halloween celebrations this year, with many fellow Metro riders decked out in costume and makeup.
(Halloween is a holiday that really suits LA’s Metro, the one day when all the craziness actually seems appropriate.)
In contrast, our tepid festivities at home included an X-Files rerun marathon, house dark, gates locked, not even a pumpkin on the porch — yes, we’re that house on the block.
Hope by now you’ve scrubbed off the makeup, cleared up the candy wrappers, and are having a wonderful Sunday under this splendid autumn sun.