Monthly Archives: March 2015

Echeveria ‘Opal Moon’

I’ve been passing this echeveria around all over town (Gail, Kris), so it’s a good time to discuss what it is and what it isn’t.

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It is not one of those tight, amazingly concentric echeverias like imbricata that draw you in as though the birth of a galaxy is unfolding before your very eyes.
It is quite the opposite, asymmetrical and awkward, and it grows into a huge, gangly thing. But there is something compelling about the sheer fleshiness of this succulent.

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The original plant, grown into a 2X2 shrub.

In November I broke up the trunked shrub it had become into about a dozen pieces and planted the cuttings out along a path in the garden.
That strip of the garden had once been a brick-on-sand path, so the soil was still mostly the sand base used for the bricks.
The cuttings loved these conditions, rooted quickly over winter, and grew fat in the slightly rainy days back then.

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Cuttings in ruddy winter coloring

I moved some Stipa barbata into their spot, so I dug up all those rooted cuttings and planted them in this bowl.
Color-wise, ‘Opal Moon’ shares the grey-pink tones of Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’

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An old photo, ‘Opal Moon’ forming flower buds.

There’s not much information available on this echeveria.
It really is an anomaly among echeverias, and I wish I knew its provenance. Possibly some E. gigantea in the mix?
I never see it offered for sale. Maybe its large size and unusual growth habits make it less desirable than the smaller echeverias that multiply into dizzying, patterned carpets.
I just want to be up front that that’s not what this echeveria is going to do.

this week in plants

My Portland friend Loree at Danger Garden collects impressions of favorite plants at the end of the month, so I put together a contribution of what’s catching my eye this week.

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I’m enjoying how the Verbascum bombyciferum echoes the rosette shapes of surrounding agaves, but a softer, feltier echo against the stiff, silvery-blue agave leaves of ‘Dragon Toes’ in the foreground, A. franzosinii in the background. The verbascum is temporary, while the Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’ gains size just behind it. Annuals and biennials are perfect solutions for the temporary gaps around a growing shrub. I’d love to get some seed from the verbascum after bloom, though.

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Dark green shrub is Cistus ‘Snow Fire.’ The evanescent white flowers with maroon central blotches have disappeared by the end of the day.

The 90-degree temps the past couple days are the reason that the garden is filled with the sharp, resiny scent of cistus, something I miss when the garden is without it.
They’re generally short-lived shrubs for me, but for quite a few years the iconic sounds and scent of summer included the low hum of of busy insects coupled with that uniquely pervasive scent.
If it’s going to be this hot, at least let the air be pungent with cistus.

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If there’s any plus side to the drought, it’s much less snail damage. Crambe maritima.

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Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’ throwing a bloom spike, signaling its last year in the garden.

Even though the garden is as densely planted as ever, the changeover the last couple years to plants that will tolerate not just dry but very dry conditions and strong sun is nearly complete.
As short-lived stuff passes on and agaves bloom, I’d like to experiment with much wider spacing, which necessarily means a lot less plant collecting.
We’ll see how far I get with that plan. I can thin and prune furniture and stuff indoors no problem, but get stingy with plants? Uncertain.

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Bought unlabeled, it looks like Canna indica, the plain old “Indian shot” canna, so named for the round black seeds used in jewelry (and as makeshift ammunition).
Big green leaves, small flowers. A lush look from a tough-as-boots plant.

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For a change, I’m enjoying the restful green leaves as opposed to the splashier variegated canna varieties.
The species is such a good plant in its own right, with simple flowers, a clean outline.
Rising behind the agave tank, under the high canopy of a tetrapanax, a corner of warmth and deep orange from the canna, Abutilon venosum and Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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Echium simplex spikes are quickly filling out.

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Buds forming on the lacy, silver shrub Hymenolepis parviflora (formerly Athanasia parviflora). The flowers will be golden yellow umbels.

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Albuca maxima flowers reliably in the front gravel garden, with little if any supplemental irrigation

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Dyckia also blooming in the front gravel garden.
I need to decide whether to strip the lower leaves to expose the trunk on the dasylirion in the background, and what kind of arm protection to use when doing so.

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This self-sown Solanum pyracanthum surprisingly earns credit for being in bloom year-round.
I think it was included in every Bloom Day post of 2014, and then bloomed all winter too. Not bad for a reputed heat lover for summer gardens.

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Peeking under the canopy at an ever-expanding Sonchus congestus, a glamorous member of the dandelion tribe.

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Aeoniums don’t always come through winter this pristine. Mislabeled Aeonium tabuliforme, I’m not sure what it is. Some kind of abbreviated form of tabuliforme?

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The manihots are leafing out, prime shadow-casting plants.

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Corokia virgata ‘Sunsplash,’ moved yet again for some electrical work Marty was doing.
Seems there’s always way more seedpods than leaves of the ‘New Zealand Purple’ ricinus, just visible in the background, so seedpod prolific it reminds me of a red echinops.
And now April!

Salvia ‘Love & Wishes’ (a salvia revue)

Yes, another salvia post. (You’re looking at a person for whom the ’90s publication of Betsy Clebsch’s master work A Book of Salvias, was a life-altering event.)
The two new salvias in my garden are so far living up to their reputation for sturdiness and early bloom, the ‘Amistad’ I mentioned recently and this one, ‘Love and Wishes,’ both planted last summer.

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I love trialing new salvias because:
1) in this vast, square-stemmed genus you’ll find a gorgeous bunch of plants, some very long blooming, and many capable of *innovative inter-species hybrids; and
2) they’re incredible hubs of action for pollinators and dive-bombing hummingbirds.
Their irresistible allure to hummingbirds means a vibrant kinetic energy always surrounds these plants.
Set up a camp stool nearby and grab a cold drink for a lively acrobatics show put on by these little Flying Wallendas in their iridescent finery.
The hummers eventually become acclimated to a human sitting quietly and will go about their zippy, enchanting business sometimes just inches away.
*‘Love & Wishes’ is a darker-flowered riff on the spectacularly successful Australian hybrid ‘Wendy’s Wish,’ thought to possibly be a cross between S. buchanii and S. splendens.
‘Amistad,’ from Brazil, may be a cross of S. guaranitica with S. gesneriiflora. Kinda makes one pine for a spontaneous salvia hybrid of one’s own, doesn’t it?


Salvia africana-lutea, from 2013, fantastic color, a little too big for my garden. Highly recommended if you have the space.


Another entry in the too-big department, Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight,’ from 2010, when there were a lot more summer containers to water:

And I don’t think there’s an affordable pot in existence roomy enough for a mature plant, except maybe the humble trash can. (On my budget anyway.)

The salvia flowers well in morning sun, filtered sun the rest of the day. During winter, full sun is tolerated, which this salvia receives positioned under a deciduous cotinus. As the seasonal light changes, it’s a simple matter of grabbing a handle and shoving it around to find the best light. Pruning it back hard in spring is also a good time for root pruning, basically running a knife a couple inches from the outer edge of the root ball, in situ in the trash can, removing the old roots, and adding fresh potting soil or even pure compost. This salvia loves rich soil. Eventually, it will be best to take cuttings and start the whole process over, since these big salvias get excessively woody with age.”


Salvia chiapensis, magenta madness almost year-round for me


Salvia ‘Waverly’ from 2011. Utterly dependable. One of the best for Southern California.

The search for the perfect salvia for my very small, zone 10 garden has turned up some gems like mid-sized ‘Waverley’ and Salvia chiapensis, both capable of season-long bloom, with a toughness and tolerance for dry conditions belying their exquisite looks. Many others I’ve trialed, though always beautiful, bloom only late in the season and/or bulk up into massive shrubs that quickly outgrow the garden
(see ‘Limelight’ above).


Salvia canariensis, beautiful for its leaves alone, then add in the persistent rosy bracts after flowering. Just stunning. Big and stunning.


Bracts on Salvia canariensis


Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain,’ June 2010, blooms most of the summer

The shrubby species from Mexico and Central America are much happier here than the perennial kinds so often used as matrix plants in Oudolfian meadows. I’ve had some success with Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain,’ but it doesn’t seem to enjoy the mild winter and usually needs replanting in spring every year. I see I made a mildly enthusiastic note in 2010 that it “blooms most of the summer.” I no longer explore the herbaceous kinds, but stick to the flamboyant shrub-like species and hybrids, not too big, not too thirsty — and because they are such prolific natural hybridizers, there’s always a new salvia to chase.

Monday clippings 3/23/15

March is certainly a fast-moving month, isn’t it? Some incidents from the garden:

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Protected under the pergola, the ‘Stained Glass’ octopus agave came through an early March hailstorm without a mark.
Agaves tucked against the house, under the eaves, like Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls,’ also escaped the dreaded hail pockmarks.
The furcraea in the background was defenseless.

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Its big stripes are now stippled and pitted. Hail Monday, we’ve dubbed the event.

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In the front garden, Mr. Ripple is unscathed, though the dwarf olives are crowding him a bit. Well, it’s hard to say who’s crowding who, really.
Wonderful spring color on the Gastrolobium praemorsum, the ruddy shrub between the two Agave ‘Blue Glows.’ Not much hail damage on those agaves either.
The attenuatas took the worst of it.

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Always a thrilling juxtaposition when a cactus blooms. Rat-tail cactus.

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Poppies! Papaver rupifragum

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Papaver setigerum

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I probably pulled 90 percent of these poppies that seeded around.
I don’t mind a little editing, especially if the plants pull up as easily as these do.

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The spring shuffling of pots is well underway as sun/shade patterns change

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Salvia ‘Amistad’ is so far living up to its reputation for blooming early and long

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Echium simplex is up to all kinds of crazy fasciation with its bloom spikes.

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After three days in the 90s, Banksia ericifolia started dropping its leaves. I moved it out of the container and into less than full sun, but it doesn’t look good…

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Of all the abutilon I’ve grown, I think Abutilon venosum really nails its nickname ‘Chinese Lanterns’

Keep an eye on the Dates to Remember link at the top of the page for garden events for the end of March.
Looking forward to news of the recent San Francisco Garden Show and maybe some reports of the Theodore Payne tour too.

driveby gardens; sundown on the Miracle Mile

I worked in the “Miracle Mile” stretch of Wilshire Boulevard on Thursday, approximately the 5600 block. In the surrounding neighborhoods, the houses had gardens that looked promising and full of interest, so during a 20-minute lunch I dashed out to have a look. There have been discrete garden design phases in Southern California, and this neighborhood seemed to have examples of quite a few of them. There was a phase for a while where ‘Iceberg’ roses and ‘Silver Sheen’ pittosporum seemed to be in every garden, and then things got very serious and monochromatic and shrubby, with myoporum, westringia, and helichyrsum. (I happen to love serious, shrubby gardens too.) There were quite a few excellent, succulents-only front gardens. But most exciting for me, I encountered my first blooming beschorneria in Los Angeles, so I know there’s hope for mine, but definitely not this year and possibly not even next year. I forget how massive the rosette is at blooming size, and mine has quite a ways to go still. I couldn’t wait for work to end so I could head back out again, this time with the camera I try to always bring along. But work stretched past 6 o’clock, and it was nearly sundown by the time I set out in search of the beschorneria on the way to catching a bus then a train home.

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En route to the beschorneria, I found this leucospermum in full backlit glory, rivaling the sunset in brilliant peachy gold.
Genius or accidental, the siting was spectacular, and in a hellstrip no less.

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Of all the South African plants in wide use in Los Angeles, a mature leucospermum is still something of a rare sight.

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The spoor of a plant nut was evident in the hellstrip. That looks to be a Senecio decaryi jutting out on the left of the leucospermum.
Including a phormium, euphorbias, aeoniums, underplanted with Senecio mandraliscae.

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It was almost too dark for photos by the time I found the beschorneria again.

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These were right at the property line, overhanging the sidewalk. Beschorneria are frost-tender succulents from Mexico and Central America.
A lengthier revisit to the neighborhoods around the Miracle Mile is definitely in order, judging by the treasures on just two of its streets.
I’ve always found that interesting gardens are infectious, and where’s there’s one or two, there’s bound to be more.

CSSA 2015 Biennial Convention, June 14-19, 2015

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agave at South Coast Botanic Garden, a former open pit mine for diatomite extraction, then landfill, now botanic garden

I should probably split this glut of information into several posts, but if I don’t sit down right now and do it, the churning river of obligations that is my life at the moment will whisk me away again.
And there I’ll be, bobbing out of sight, heading for tumbling rapids and waterfalls unknown, while important, time-sensitive information goes unmentioned.

So here’s the really important news, conveniently placed at the top of what may turn into a very long post:

The Cactus and Succulent Society of America/CSSA is holding its 2015 biennial convention in Claremont, California, at Pitzer College, June 14-19.
There hasn’t been a convention in my hometown Los Angeles since 2001, so I’m looking at this as basically a gift from the CSSA to me. (Thank you so much!)
Since 2000, the grounds of Pitzer College have been in the capable hands of Joe Clements, who formerly headed the desert garden at the Huntington.
So, needless to say, the surroundings for the convention will be extraordinary. (You can read Nan Sterman’s article on Pitzer for Pacific Horticulture here.)

Continue reading CSSA 2015 Biennial Convention, June 14-19, 2015

a Shirley Watts’ garden

Monday features two long-time friends (and family) of AGO. Oldest son Mitch took these photos of a Shirley Watts-designed garden a few years back and kindly agreed to let me share them here.

The garden had a lot of formal, established features and furniture to incorporate into the new design, but nonetheless, to those who know her work, Watt’s artistic eye and hand can easily be seen throughout. Like all Watts’ gardens I’ve seen, there’s a uniquely timeless, modern/classical fusion that always lends an air of tranquility and simplicity — but with plenty of startling details, beautifully sensual plants, and bravura flourishes to discover.

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Continue reading a Shirley Watts’ garden

streetside; rainy day house & gardens

alluding to Joni Mitchell’s Rainy Night House
I recently read that Taylor Swift wanted the part in a movie on Mitchell.
I see Swift’s photo all over the Internet, but it wasn’t until Sunday that I finally heard one of her songs on the car radio.
Yes, I do live in a pop culture-free bubble, not always by choice. All I’m going to say is, thank god Mitchell refused. (Oh, the travesty!)

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Rainy day house’s front garden in Venice; dymondia, agaves, sticks on fire, with a hedge of Acacia iteaphylla on the chimney side

I just had one of those Sunday afternoons where an absurd number of destinations are optimistically crammed into a 4-hour window.
The forecast was, again, possible showers.

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The clouds did open at Big Daddy’s

The itinerary:

1. Check out International Garden Center near LAX (done)
2. On to Culver City and Big Daddy’s (I became lost for quite some time but eventually found that weird intersection near National)
3. Cruise the streets of Mar Vista, which has an excellent garden tour coming up this spring.
(I got tired of driving aimlessly and gave up. I’ll have to wait for the tour map. See Dates to Remember for upcoming tour April 25.)
4. Stop by Big Red Sun in Venice (too much traffic on Lincoln Blvd., gave up.)

And did I mention it was raining? Los Angeles drivers, whenever challenged by the smallest drops of moisture from the sky…oh, never mind.

International Nursery had a $30 protea in a one-gallon in bloom, simply labeled “Orange Protea.” Tempting.
And not a bad price for the plant, seeing that 7 stems of proteas go for $100 as cutflowers

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Merwilla plumbea nee Scilla natalensis.
I always plant new stuff out within a couple days. I hate waking up to the rebuke of homeless plants in nursery gallons.

I eventually dropped the protea for this South African bulb, Scilla natalensis. San Marcos Growers says it’s rarely dormant. The leaves are wide, almost eucomis-like.
My problem with Scilla peruviana has been placement that allows for its dormancy needs, which means having a big gap in summer.
The peruviana have ended up against the fence under the lemon cypress, not optimal conditions for a sun-loving bulb. It’ll be exciting to watch this one’s performance.

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International’s Annie’s Annuals section is by far the best I’ve seen at SoCal nurseries.
I grabbed a couple Asphodeline luteas again, though I think I’ve established beyond doubt the asphodels will only curl up their toes for me.
I can’t remember if I’ve tried spring planting before though.
The asphodel is now rivaling dierama for number of kills in my garden.
But memory is still fresh of Asphodeline lutea in Portland, Oregon last summer, photo above.

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Pots on spiral staircase at Big Daddy’s

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Though there’s plenty of the ornate, BD has a nice selection of unadorned but aged-looking planters.

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I’ll take all three of these metal tubs, please.

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Giving up on fighting traffic enroute to Big Red Sun, I drove through a couple streets in Venice.
Thundery skies and bright orange, thunbergia-covered walls.

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And fabulous streetside succulent gardens like this one.

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Big clump of the slipper plant, Pedilanthus bracteatus

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The long parkway was dotted with multiples of the Mexican Blue Palm, Brahea armata

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I once came very close to painting my house these colors, an agave grey-blue and mossy green.

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Aloe marlothii

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The coral aloe, A. striata

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I may not have made it to every stop on the itinerary, but it was still a fine rainy day in LA.

san francisco door project

Ah! There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” — Emma, Jane Austen

I can be a bit of a homebody and go days without leaving the house. The best thing about some days is coming home to the sight of our old, slightly beat-up oak door. The solidity and comfort of doors has been a lifelong preoccupation. And then there’s the built-in mystery and fascination of Other People’s Doors. Encircle a door in plants or line its entrance with pots, and I might stop and stare at your door for a length of time bordering on rudeness. Fortunately, there’s other obsessives out there doing some good door reconnaissance. I learned of Carole Isaacs’ San Francisco door project through this post on the Huffington Post, to which she left a comment referencing her door project. What admirable single-mindedness! I thought, as I scribbled off an email, to which Carole immediately and kindly responded:

“I am glad you like my doors. It is amazing to me that driving down the street doors can all look the same, but walking, what looks the same is not. There are variations large and small. Humans have a need to personalize the entrance to their homes and of course the inside too. It is ok to use some of the doors. Please mention I tweet a door a day @sfdoorproject . I have been too busy to post all of my neighborhood slide shows on FB. They are on, a work in progress. I photograph the doors for fun, and rationalize the incredible amount of time I have spent on this as marketing for my real estate business.”

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Restios and aeoniums in faux lead containers in Pacific Heights. How could you not put containers on those stairs?

Continue reading san francisco door project