Monthly Archives: June 2015

potted plants on the move

The summer containers in nondrought-stricken gardens can become quite a virtuoso display.
I’ve understandably pared things down the past few years but am always amazed at how even a relatively small group of pots can exclaim “Summer!”

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All the pots scattered through the garden become candidates for a massed summer display.
I appreciate how growing a single species to a pot means it can be a focal point at one time of year and part of a big group display at another time.
A good place for summer staging is around the Chinese Fringe Tree (Chionanthus retusus) which bisects the long, narrow patios on the east.
Now that the tree has fully leafed out and all the flowers have fallen, I’ve massed pots on either side of the tree to take advantage of its dappled light.
A chaise in dappled light isn’t a bad idea either. A Mid-Century Homecrest, it needs a touch-up of black paint but is the most comfortable lounger, like floating in zero-gravity.
(Thanks again to Shirley Watts for hauling it down from Alameda in her truck.)

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This group of pots has been gradually accumulating here the past month or so, pulled from all over the garden.
The chartreuse Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ was moved in when it gained enough size to make an impact.
Unlike so many colocasias, this tropical reliably returns from winter dormancy year after year. I turn the whole pot on its side and leave it outdoors in winter.
I have lots of small, slow-growing agaves in pots, but I like having a couple good-sized potted agaves to mass for summer.
There’s a couple pups here of ‘Blue Flame’ and ‘Boutin’s Blue,’ both of which don’t mind some shade.
The golden Schefflera ‘Amate Soleil’ was fine in full winter sun but definitely needed dappled shade by June.

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The pots of mostly foliage are easy on the water budget, and water from the shower handles all the containers.
The latest addition is a big pot of cosmos, chamomile and silver-leaved horehound/marrubium, a gift to the bees.

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Looking from the other end, Cussonia spicata in the tall grey pot is doing so much better in the dappled light after wintering in full sun.
Variegated manihot, potted succulents, and closer to the table the huge Aeonium ‘Cyclops,’ also moved here to escape full summer sun.

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The base of the fringe tree is unplanted, covered with a mulch of its own leaves year-round.
The view after August rain last year (see post here). I’ve since broken that coffee cup, a favorite from a local tugboat company.
And Mitch took those wooden planters up to his garden in San Francisco.
Before my neighbor planted palms on his side of the fence, this little patio used to be a heat trap by mid-day and went mostly unused until evening.
As a native Angeleno, it’s taken me a lifetime to appreciate the slim footprint of the ubiquitous palms and the lovely shade they cast.

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I’ve been playing around with that tall iron stand for 20 years or so. When I saw photos of Maurizio Zucchi’s home, I felt both validated and incredibly envious.
The little Euphorbia ammak at its base has a long way to grow to make an impact. I’d so love to find some more iron scaffolding for this patio.
The twisty tuteur supports a marmalade bush, Streptosolen jamesonii, I’m hoping can be trained up through its spirals.
The empty frame is part of the floor grate to the broken heater we inherited with the house.

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Last summer the vine Mina lobata grew up the iron stand’s girders, wilting in the afternoon sun.
I found a seedling of this vine that’s been potted up to try in morning sun/afternoon shade.

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Potted’s City Planter was planted up last summer and has been bullet-proof ever since.

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Hopefully this will be the last time I move this monster pot for a few months.
Showing is one of two lamps salvaged from Warehouse No. 1, the oldest warehouse in Los Angeles Harbor.
Marty kept a little workroom in the basement of the cavernous warehouse when he worked for the Port of LA, so we have a strong affection for the old relic.

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The remaining rosette of the huge clump of dyckia I just removed this week from the front garden.
Dyckias and year-round tree litter are just not a good combination. I was so sick of the mess.

I know a lot of pots of tender plants are on the move out of basements and greenhouses, where they vacationed like winter snowbirds.
Sometimes I wonder if the pots in this frost-free garden don’t have just as many miles under their rims.

the indomitable Lotusland

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Following the blue glass slag-lined path on a recent visit to Lotusland in Montecito, Calif.

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We came upon the startling sight of a greenhouse in the jungle.
Not startling in the expected, operatically flamboyant Lotusland sense, but because it was relatively humble, almost modestly functional.

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The docent made no mention of the greenhouse, and we dutifully shuffled past it at our 2-hour tour pace.

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Even so, I lingered here a bit longer, until the sounds of the docent’s practiced narration disappeared around a bend in the sparkling path.
A greenhouse is a potent and evocative structure. It’s where the magic begins.
And the intensely personal quality of a greenhouse, nurturing the seeds of garden dreams, might be why I felt such pathos here.

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Oh, yes, Mme Walska, even after all these years, your garden still casts a powerful spell.

Monday clippings 6/22/15

It’s almost the end of the month, a good time to unpack some random June impressions.

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Dustin’s potted Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrid,’ the mother of my little one I mentioned recently. See how spectacular?
Blooms nearly year-round, and Dustin says it’s much better than the similar ‘Grassy Lassie’ and especially fine for container culture.

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Detail of my favorite CMU (concrete masonry unit) hack so far, a little bench set amidst CMU stacked planters at a local Thai restaurant.
I need to go back for a thorough examination so I can get started on my unapologetic theft of this brilliant idea.

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Massed succulents around town are at their peak of beauty before the really hot days of summer begin in July. Aloe brevifolia perhaps

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Kiwi aeonium, aloes and echeverias

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Agaves as front porch sentries

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massed Queen Victoria agaves at Orange Coast College

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Tree aloe, Aloidendron barberae, at Orange Coast College

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Euphorbias tirucalli and ammak vying for supremacy. Orange Coast College

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A tiny glimpse of Joe Clements’ work at Claremont College. I need to return and take a much longer look around.

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Possibly Agave ‘Cream Spike,’ with opuntia, also seen at Claremont College

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Cotyledon orbiculata is in bloom everywhere.

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Everywhere except my garden, that is. Clumps are still too small.

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A sweet variegated ferocactus seen on a recent garden tour.

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And just a couple photos from a 100-degree visit to the elegant Rancho Reubidoux Saturday.
The stacked pots on the far left are new, most enviable acquisitions.
I had just streamed a documentary on the Catalan architect Gaudi the night before my visit and couldn’t help seeing his organic forms in a lot of Reuben’s impressive pottery.
All containers are stone and cement, which has the effect of draining the garden of random colors, clarifying line, shape and form.
Everything has been pared down, simplified, classicized, if that’s even a word, and is emphatically serene and spacious. Fresh adventures always beckon Reuben and Paul.

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The heat and strong light frustrated documentation attempts, so we mostly hung out here under the deep, shady overhang.
Reuben and Paul’s buddy, cactus purveyor Rob MacGregor, regaled us with talk of spiking barrel cactus with hot nails to spur growth of multiple heads.
Marty can’t wait to try this on mine. (No way!)
And I was able to bring home one of Vicki Perez’s creations, a planted tractor funnel, so it was an altogether fine day in the inland inferno.

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For an older look, I had forgotten all about this video Mitch made of the Rancho several years ago until Reuben mentioned it yesterday.
(Reuben, persuading the paletas vendor to loan you his popsicle cart for the day further confirms your devilishly detailed genius. The lime paleta was divine!)

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And don’t forget the big CSSA show is this week, June 26-28, 2015, at the Huntington.
Rob says he’ll be giving a lecture there, which hopefully will include more fiendish ways to propagate succulents.


Seaside Gardens, Carpinteria, Calif.

By now it’s fairly obvious that visiting plant nurseries and gardens are two of my favorite pursuits.
The ultimate in garden touring is possible when occasionally, though all too rarely, both pursuits can be accomplished at one location.
The list of West Coast nurseries with attached gardens include the fabled Western Hills and Heronswood, (both now undergoing a renaissance under new ownership), Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, the Ruth Bancroft Garden, and quite a few nurseries in the Pacific Northwest, including Cistus, Joy Creek Nursery, Far Reaches Farm, Dragonfly Farms, Dancing Oaks.
I’m sure there are local favorites near you, such as Plant Delights in North Carolina and White Flower Farms in Connecticut.
And now many botanical gardens keep a good selection of plants on sale year-round.

I spent a couple intensely enjoyable, moodily overcast days last week visiting nurseries and gardens in and around Santa Barbara, including Seaside Gardens near Carpinteria, which is one of those rare nurseries with excellent display gardens that is fast becoming a well-blogged nursery/garden destination. It has the kind of garden you dash in and out of to check stock at the nursery of a particular plant just seen in full, dazzling growth in the garden. In my case, it was Alstroemeria ‘The Third Harmonic.’ I grew it once, panicked at its gigantic ways, eradicated every tuber, and have missed it ever since.
And it’s not been easy to find again. But there it was in bloom in a garden at Seaside.

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The following photos of the growing grounds are a result of asking a nice gentleman to check if he had this alstroemeria after spotting it in the garden.
None were for sale in the retail section, so we took a stroll through the growing grounds to find if any were ready for sale.
During our walk through row after row of the seductive building blocks of future gardens, I bemoaned my experience with TTH, its enormous size and sprawling ways.
My guide said I had given it too much water, that it never tops 4 feet at the nursery and is in fact a good candidate for dry gardens.
Discussing problem plants with nursery people is the best kind of talk therapy.

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He said he began to grow these plants because nobody else would, gesturing to the many proteaceae family members.
Seeing this incredible inventory of mediterranean, dry garden plants, I mentioned that the nursery was in the catbird seat now with the advent of the recent water restrictions.
My guide shook his head and said he’s seen it all before. People begin to adapt to drier conditions, and then the rains return, causing the best water-wise intentions to wither away.

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I remember the drought in the late ’70s, and this one just feels different, like a true tipping point.

Continue reading Seaside Gardens, Carpinteria, Calif.

Bloom Day June 2015

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I documented the extent of the back garden earlier in the month. It’s pretty clear it’s a battle for inches here.
Relatively cool, overcast June means I’m still shifting plants around and planting some new stuff too.

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I’ve been playing around with the idea of a small patch of dry summer meadow the past few years, on a frustratingly small scale of course.
Threaded around all the big evergreen stuff is what’s become a rainbow sherbert meadow this year in raspberry, orange, lemon, lime.
Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ on the left, Lomandra ‘Breeze,’ euphorbias, Arctotis ‘Flame.’ Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ is perennial here, in its third year at least.

Continue reading Bloom Day June 2015

terraced Spanish Colonial Revival house & garden

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For those of you who enjoy gawking at houses and their gardens as much as I do, here’s a look at the house that belongs with this post from September 2014.
I don’t think I looked up much from the ground level in that 2014 post.

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I do have a tendency to neglect to step back and get the big picture.

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Nice to see the anigozanthos in bloom. Imagine those kangaroo paws red or orange. I think the straw yellow is perfect.
Because of this garden, I’ve been planting every sesleria I can get my hands on, including Sesleria ‘ Greenlee’ and S. autumnalis ‘Campo Verde.’

There might be a short road trip in the works for my weekend. Enjoy yours!

P.S. The Huntington Botanical Garden’s International Succulent Introductions 2015 catalogue is now available.
Just save one of the Cuban agaves for me!

traditional with a twist

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Here’s another house nearby that warrants a second look and always brings a smile.

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It’s the traditional front lawn setup with a bit of a twist. All the supporting plants are exclusively dry garden plants, some rare like the cycads.

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Every plant in the landscape is a “specimen,” like the dasylirion, cycads, potted ponytail palms.
There’s definitely a collector at work here, but a restrained collector with a conservative streak.
That’s my Sherlockian take, anyway, to explain leaving the lawn in place.
(And I mean conservative in temperament, not in a political sense.)
The front porch is given that bristly moustache from horsetail reeds grown in an unseen container.

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Potted tree aloe, palm, and more cycads. I have no idea which cycads they are.
I haven’t been bitten by that bug yet, thankfully, since cycad collecting can be an expensive habit.
And/or a habit that requires great patience while these Jurassic-era plants slowly make size.

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Foundation planting on the wild side.
Overcast skies courtesy of our “June gloom,” one of my favorite times of year.
I feel cheated when June doesn’t gloom up but instead marches straight into bright and sunny.

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I love this bungalow, but sorting and choosing these photos, with the pea-green color of the house, green roof, and the lawn, is making me a bit queasy.

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This house in the same neighborhood makes an interesting exercise in compare-and-contrast.
Do you prefer the green lawn or the buff-colored decomposed granite with dry garden plants?

Pepper Tree courtyard

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Spotted locally around dusk, a front-house courtyard with Pepper Tree (Schinus molle), stone paving “grouted” with Dymondia margaretae.

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Planting includes euphorbias, agaves, phormiums (or dianella) a small Cercis ‘Forest Pansy,’ and purple irises in bloom near the side gate.
There may possibly be bauhinias as well (pink flowers at roof height).

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Plantings are repeated the length of the entrance garden, including a cercis on either side of the front walkway, another pepper tree at the far end.
Aeonium-filled black urns flank the arched entranceway.

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It struck me as such a vibrant example of reimagining the space from the front door to the sidewalk.
Imagine how dreary and perfunctory the same images would be if replaced with lawn.
Private yet still inviting, full of interest but mindful of an overall quiet balance, showcase and shady retreat in one stroke. Nailed it!


more on the east fence

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I might as well continue with the east fence, the dark blue/black of which can be seen in the distance looking under the pergola.
The pots shown yesterday are on the brick patio to the left of the cypresses, and the fence continues on to the right, hidden behind the cypresses.
I need to decide whether that yucca stays or goes now that it’s become such a shaggy beast after blooming last year.
Oh, and it was raining this morning (!) Well, the pavement was slightly damp around 6:30 a.m.

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The back garden wraps around the pergola like a horseshoe. Tetrapanax on the left. Yes, that is yet another collection of pots at the base of the cypresses.
The cypresses are Calif. natives Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora.’ The bricks on the right once formed a terrace.
Some years back and dozens of plants later, the terrace was scaled down into this narrow walkway against the south fence.

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A couple months ago Marty was standing on a scaffold of an old door and sawhorses on that narrow walkway to clip the creeping fig that covers the south masonry fence.
The creeping fig, Ficus pumila, gives the 5-foot fence an extra 3 feet of height, which completely screens us from the south.

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Looking at the creeping fig-covered south wall through the pergola last November.
Table was much less cluttered, the potted Agave ‘Boutin’s Blue’ was still plunged in the garden for something to look at in winter.
I liked the interplay of those two attenuata agaves staggered in height but removed the pot recently as summer growth enveloped it.
The variegated attenuata is planted in the ground.

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The coprosma has grown considerably since November.
I love what this line of evergreen shrubs and trees is doing: the dark red coprosma in the foreground, grey, thin-leaved olearia, then the blue acacia.
(Coprosma ‘Plum Hussy,’ willow-like Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii,’ Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea.’)

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The famous shine on the coprosma’s leaves really leaps out against the matte quality of its neighbors.

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This is the scale I usually cover, what’s happening at ground level, like this Aloe scobinifolia about to bloom.
This summer/fall-blooming aloe also bloomed last November, not long after I acquired it.
Carex testacea reseeds, variegated St. Augustine grass spreads by runners and needs a watchful eye. Dry soil keeps it in check.

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Looking from the west at the east fence last November, which shows how the garden wraps around the pergola.
The tetrapanax blooms had yet to be cut down. The potted cussonia has been repotted and moved to afternoon shade.
The bare branches of my neighbor’s peach tree are now leafed out, filling that gap to the left of the cypresses.
Is my obsession with privacy in the back garden showing much yet?
(I can probably date that obsession to when, at 13, I discovered the neighbor boy had been spying on me through my bedroom window…
and then started inviting friends over for the show. It didn’t help that I already had a crush on him…loser!)

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Potted Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ holds the cussonia’s corner now, luminous at sunset.
Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ gets a nice glow too.

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The neighbors are, intentionally or not, working well with us on the plantings along the east boundary, which has now achieved almost total privacy.
There are some questionable choices, though.
A California Pepper Tree, Schinus molle, was planted by a neighbor just outside my southeast corner, which will eventually screen out that powder-blue building.
It’ll be nice to lose the Rear Window vibe, but when the Pepper Tree fully matures, I just might have a shade garden until mid-day.
Seeing these photos, I urgently need to decide if that yucca has become incredibly overbearing or if it’s holding it all together.
It would definitely open up the garden if we parted ways, and rather than a solitary verbascum I could plant three in its place, or a leucospermum, etc, etc.


the east fence

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In case I’ve left the impression my only collection of pots resides on that little table under the pergola, there are more. Lots more.
This group of pots lines the east fence. Morning shade, afternoon sun.

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The topmost plant in the iron stand is a ponytail palm, Beaucarnia recurvata, entangled in a climbing onion, Bowiea volubilis.
This photo was taken on a dewy February morning last winter. Both of these plants are incredibly easy in pots and take neglect in stride.

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Conserving water and keeping plants in containers might seem to be mutually exclusive aims, but I can vouch that it can be done without spiking the water meter.
These pots of mostly different kinds of succulents are doing very well on the “bucket” water from the shower.

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Rather than created especially for summer, most of these pots contain plants I rotate in and out of the garden.
For example, the aeoniums were a big part of the winter garden, dug up and potted in spring to make room as summer plants fill in.
If summer temperatures consistently top the 90s, I’ll probably move the aeoniums again to more shade.

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Last year I dug all the eucomis/pineapple lilies out of the garden and dumped them in this pot on the right, which is watered on the succulents’ schedule.
As much as I love eucomis in gardens, mine is planted too tight to allow the pineapple lilies to comfortably unfurl in summer.
Bright green Asparagus retrofractus just above the eucomis contributes that wonderful foamy texture on a miserly amount of water.

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Eucomis in bloom July 2013.

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Agave attenuata ‘Boutin’s Blue’ with Carex trifida ‘Rekohu Sunrise.’ I love using this carex in pots just for this effect. Both plants are fine in part shade, dry conditions.
I dug up the entire pot out of the garden last week, which you can tell by the darkish color to the pot about 6 inches up from the base.
The potted agave was prominent all winter but slowly became engulfed by early summer. (I wrote about parachuting potted agaves into the garden here.)
I’ve been wanting to try the Korean Feather Reed grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha, so when found locally I pounced and slipped one into that spot.

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The wrought iron stand holds a neoregelia still in pretty good shape. Other bromeliads are getting leaf burn as I figure out shifting sun/shade patterns for summer.
There’s another look at that fabulous Asparagus retrofractus again.

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Not the best photo, but it shows what a bromeliad nursery Reuben’s wrought iron orb has turned into. The light conditions under the fringe tree are ideal in summer.
Small bromeliad pups and tillandsias all seem to find their way here. Makes it easier to remember to mist them all a couple times a week.
(I’d love to find something similar at Reuben’s upcoming Open Garden on June 20.)

Yes, I do have a lot of pots, but May’s water bill nevertheless brought good news. The three of us used 97 gallons of water a day, and that includes occasional overnight guests.
The average use per person per day is estimated at 80-100 gallons, so we’re way under average.*
Yesterday I visited a couple nurseries, just to check if I felt cheated to be counting gallons, to see if I’d experience a massive horticultural FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
No, I think I’m good.

*Meaning for the entire household, indoors and outdoors, our water usage was 97 gallons a day.
If average usage is 80 gallons per person a day, the average for our household would be 240 gallons a day.