Monthly Archives: August 2015

Wanda Mallen & Gary Vincent’s Fallbrook garden

The CSSA’s tour of private gardens for their 2015 Biennial Convention in June also included the 2-acre garden of Wanda Mallen and Gary Vincent in Fallbrook, Calif. This superb collector’s garden, started from scratch in approximately 1999-2000, is occasionally open for tours through local garden societies. Areas of interest include cactus and succulents, tropicals, palms, conifers, and Australian plants. I know very little about the garden other than what I learned on foot, but I can provide some scant information on Fallbrook.

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Continue reading Wanda Mallen & Gary Vincent’s Fallbrook garden

Wednesday clippings 8/26/15

So what’s shakin’ this muggy end of August? As little as possible, you say?
There’s been all manner of weird stuff going on, including a recurring problem with street-parked neighborhood cars getting their gas siphoned.
This on the heels of the rash of catalytic converter thefts a couple months ago.
And then there’s that wobble and/or meltdown in the stock market that’s got Marty cursing like the sailor he is.
Lots of plant losses, of course. I could go on, but instead I’ll just paraphrase Annie Hall, that summer is full of misery and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.

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For vigor so unstoppable all summer it borders on downright rudeness, you can’t beat a yucca.

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Yucca ‘Margaritaville’ has two bloom spikes, just this one showing for now, but there’s another spear gaining size.

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Proof that it’s not just a pleasure garden, but a working garden. With some reading and occasional napping too on muggy days…

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Knock wood, Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ seems to have survived its first summer.
I am basically a gadget-free gardener, but this summer has sparked an interest in researching soil moisture sensors like they use in viticulture.
There’s a lot of root competition from neighboring gardens, trees, hedges, and just when I think things are well-watered for a couple weeks, there’s signs of stress.
Unlike all the stuff I’m asked to review that I’m either (a) uninterested in or (b) unqualified to comment upon, a moisture gauge would get my thoughtful appraisal.

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This bocconia in particular has been a problem child in that regard.
Supposedly drought tolerant when established, it’s a few years old now and still shouldn’t be getting the vapors if it misses a drink now and then.

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Well, here’s something cheerful. Max Parker kindly sent this photo to verify my Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak’ had arrived safely at his new home.
The trade was this agave for a couple passifloras, ‘Sunburst’ and ‘Flying V.’ What a deal! Both of these passifloras are smaller vines, not house-eaters.
I’ve tentatively placed the potted ‘Sunburst’ at the base of one of the lemon cypresses, which will provide a good amount of sun but hopefully not too strong.
The theory is the vine will seek out the shade/sun exposure it prefers as it threads through the cypress. There’s nothing to photograph yet. Maybe in a couple weeks.

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I got the idea to use the cypresses because it seems to be working for Mina lobata, self-sown from last year. No blooms yet but, unlike last summer, the leaves stay in good shape all day.
I’m trying to find that sweet spot, where there’s enough sun for blooming but not too much that the vines are wilted by the end of the day.

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I’ll close with this nice planting of Agave ‘Cornelius’ I spotted recently in Downtown Los Angeles.
Gotta go put some clothes in the dryer.

Bloom Day August 2015

There’s not much difference between July and August, or even June Bloom Day posts, but I suppose it’s useful to see what has survived, who’s stalwart and who’s a wimp.
And I have been dropping some new stuff into the garden all summer.

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New to me is this Begonia ‘Unstoppable Upright Big Fire.’ Sounds like the title to a U2 album. I was looking local for Begonia boliviensis but it was unavailable.
This UUBF hybrid has dark leaves and large, non-pendulous flowers. I’m not convinced that’s an improvement over boliviensis, which has such an elegant, cascading habit.

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Begonia ‘Unbelievable Lucky Strike,’ another boliviensis hybrid. I guess we’re way beyond the peaches-and-cream kind of names now.

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In light bloom all summer and now having a good bloom flush is Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon,’ an old cultivar dating back to 1968, from Grevillea banksii and G. bipinnatifida.

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Obviously crushing on Agave ‘Blue Flame.’ Me too.

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The potted Abutilon venosum is enjoying dappled morning sun after emergency transport to this more protected spot due to the current protracted heat wave.

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Lotus jacobaeus is a lot tougher than it looks, very long blooming. It seems to prefer container life to the garden.

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Here it rests against an adjacent potted agave.

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Crassula ovata, probably ‘Hummel’s Sunset,’ in a low bowl on a table, where it makes this great draping effect.

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I dropped these Bulbine ‘Athena Compact Orange’ into the garden sometime in July.

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Bog sage, Salvia uliginosa, is never too venturesome in my heavy clay, dryish soil. The rugose, crinkly leaves are always clean from disease or insect damage.
These are mid-summer additions from gallon sizes.

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Crocosmia ‘Solfatare’ is about as shy a spreader as a crocosmia can be. Slow to build into a sizeable clump.

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Not a bloom but Tradescantia ‘Greenlee,’ new this summer. It already seems destined to be one of those plants that knits together beautifully with its neighbors.
Shown here with Plectranthus zuluensis. I have a bloom to show of that.

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Plectranthus zuluensis loves the dappled sun under the tetrapanax.
By July I usually cut back Melianthus ‘Purple Haze,’ in full sun just behind, and the plectranthus does a nice job of filling the gap while the melianthus bulks up again.

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Not a flower but one of my favorite colors in the garden, Euphorbia ammak. It’s almost doubled in size this summer.
Behind the row of pots are two clumps of Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket,’ the mother plants of the other, bigger clumps in the garden.
These are much smaller, having to deal with competing roots from the lemon cypresses.
Everything else in front of the grasses is in containers, including the Leycesteria “Jealousy’ and some taros out of frame at the far end.

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Glaucium grandiflorum is still sending up bloom trusses.

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Eryngium pandanifolium has never attained the height it did the first season in the garden. This one was grown from seed of the original plant from Plant Delights.

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Dark brown nicotiana seeded into a pot of yellow Russelia equisetiformis

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Gomphrena ‘Balboa’ in its first summer here. It lets you know when it’s thirsty so you have to keep an eye on it, but still a fairly tough plant for full sun.

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I’m already a big fan of Peruvian Feather Grass, Stipa ichu, after just one season in the garden. Nicely upright, columnar habit.

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The Bloom Day summer mainstay, Gomphrena ‘Fireworks,’ with Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket.’ Not surprisingly, this grass grows into a much bigger clump than the two in front of the cypresses.

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The Desert Mallow, Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral, has also won me over in its first summer in the garden.

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A nameless gift aloe.

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Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ always wakes up in the heat of August. I’ve pulled out handfuls but a few roots always remain.

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I’m assuming this is Asarina scandens, a self-sown seedling of the mother plant grown in 2011.

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The furry leaves are always in good shape, and nothing seems to bother it or chew on it. From Mexico.
I’m not in love with the light pink flowers, but it’s healthy and robust, and all that counts heavily in a drought.
Excitement is building as the predictions of a wet El Nino winter look more and more solid. Visit May Dreams Gardens for more August Bloom Day reports.

DIY therapy

One of my boys is experiencing some painful romantic complications, which is frustrating for both of us because in grappling with the problem I necessarily have to accept the fact that my boys are now men. But he hurts, therefore I hurt, which in my case involves wanting to fix it, talk us through it and out of it, when what’s needed is for me to back the hell off. Backing off is such a difficult maneuver to master. To practice backing off, and still being fairly new at it, all I could think of was there needed to be some plants involved. Am I right? But it’s 7 o’clock at night. The only plants not locked up for the night would be found at the local big box store. That’ll do. Because of the late hour, there’s nobody else in the nursery department. Perfect. I slowly browse the aisles, marveling at the big banner declaring “Palms are drought tolerant! (when established).” That’s exactly the clear kind of communication that’s needed in the drought. And then I inspect the palms, hoping to discover a variegated Caryota mitis perhaps. No such luck tonight. Yucca ‘Bright Star’ in gallon sizes? Dream on. Still not ready to go home, I head into the building supplies section and meander my way over to the lighting. There it is on the shelf, still $15, a price I had previously deemed a little high for an experiment with a very uncertain outcome. I hovered, hand outstretched then snatched back a couple times, until in one quick move I made the grab for the light shade, paid for it, and headed home.

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Before heading off to work this morning, Marty helped me rig the chain.
This squid agave pup needed to be repotted anyway, so I found a black plastic pot that looked roughly the right size and slipped it in.
If only all our troubles could be fixed this easily. I may need to go back and get another one or two before things quiet down.

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And while we’re at the pergola, I might as well take a portrait of the cool plant lurking just outside the brick patio while it’s still alive.
Dustin Gimbel brought Strobilanthes gossypinus back from a visit to Windcliff. It’s got an unusual copper overlay to its furry, silvery leaves.
So far it’s weathering the 90+ degree temps beautifully, knock wood, with some shade from the hottest afternoon sun.
Like bamboo, it’s a “mast” plant, which basically means they are on timers set to flower and die out simultaneously wherever they exist in the world.

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More cheerful stuff, found at The Style-Files.

Now I’m out of cheerful. Oh, wait! This is totally digressing, but it made me laugh, so I’ll share.
Maybe because of the heat, Ein threw up this morning, poor pup. I know that’s not funny, just hear me out.
Marty immediately recited “Headache, fever, upset stomach, diarrhea,” and I laughed, as he knew I would. Let me explain.
We both knew that was the tersely worded contents of the sick-day note his mom routinely sent whenever he missed a day of school.
Absences that were usually the result of sheer orneriness, not sickness.
His mom liked to cover all the bases. I’ve no doubt the school was wise to the situation, but who would dare argue with those symptoms?
What Marty remembers about his mom truly scares me sometimes. I can’t imagine what stories mine will tell about me. I suspect there will be plants involved, though.

Have a great weekend. May I suggest some DIY therapy perhaps?

Lotusland’s abalone shell pond

More from my Lotusland visit this past June. In my guided tour group was a friendly couple with a serious selfie habit, expressed at every turn in a path, at every new feature.
We ended up exploring the garden at the same pace, always at the back of the pack due to our respective documentation proclivities.

In the aloe garden can be found possibly one of Lotusland’s most theatrical features, the abalone shell-rimmed pool.
Never mind taking a selfie, all I could think about was her, the woman who dreamed this up.
The woman who had as many spouses as Henry VIII, at a time when a single divorce would have marked her as a notorious woman
And then after the husbands, after the opera career, she settles in to make a garden like no one had ever seen before, selling her jewelry to buy cycads.
I find it reassuring to know that Lotusland still outweirds us all. You just can’t top it.
It is Madame Walska’s enduring “selfie” writ large. Be brave, be fearless, is the caption. And if you are a woman in 1941 with outsized dreams, it doesn’t hurt to be very, very rich.

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aftermath of the Inter-City Show & Sale

As a kid, sneaking with my best friend into the unoccupied bedroom of her older sister and marveling at her sophisticated possessions, I still vividly remember finding the Rolling Stones’ album “Aftermath.”
The older sister immediately rose several degrees cooler in my estimation. In my naivete, though, I assumed that you were meant to play the album only after you did your math homework.
What a strange universe I inhabited, where the Rolling Stones cared about your report card. I’ve had a fondness for that word ever since.

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And my usage here is not quite correct, since it refers to “the consequences or aftereffects of a significant unpleasant event,” and the show and sale were anything but unpleasant.
I was at the show early on Friday before setup was complete, and this entry didn’t have a tag yet.
Reminds me a lot of my (now deceased) Agave guadalajarana.

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There’s been a lot of posts on the show on Facebook, where I saw more of this same Stenocactus tricuspidatus.

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I didn’t get the name on this astrophytum, just liked the pale silver against the matte red glaze.

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There’s a distinctive look to the pottery sold at the succulent shows.

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I finally broke down and bought a very small pot, not exactly in this style.

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Isn’t this as appealing as a box of cupcakes?

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This ceramicist’s pots were very distinctive, reminding me of vertical basalt outcroppings.
*I got his card and promptly lost it. Potted at one time carried his line of pots.

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Unlike the specimens at the show, most of my potted succulents are generally biding their time and making size until they’re planted in the garden.
They don’t stay specimens for long, unlike these beauties which will spend their lives in pots. I tend to think of landscape first, not collecting.
But something about this monochromatic confection called out to me. Gymnocalycium ragonesei.
I usually try to resist, because I really don’t need a collecting habit and a zillion small pots to look after. But then “need” has nothing to do with it, right?

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Aeonium tabuliforme in a very cool, multi-faceted pot.

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Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony.’ This time there were quite a few for sale too. It’s very slow to offset, hence the rarity and high price.
I was told that these dark edges were obtained at the expense of the overall plant, which was showing fading from the sun. Looked fine to me.

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So what did I bring home? Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras’ from Altman Plants is supposedly going to be unleashed at big box stores everywhere this year.
I couldn’t wait. This was the only one I saw at the show.

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Here’s the little pot I brought home, with Echinocereus rigidissimus var. rubrispinus

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My first opuntia, O. microdasys. The cashier tried to warn me against bringing it home.
You know about the glochids, right? I’m from Tucson and can handle anything spiky, but those glochids are the worst.”
It was intended for the front gravel garden, but I don’t think I can risk harming the corgi. So it stays in a pot or becomes trade bait.

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The Gymnocalycium ragonesei I couldn’t resist on the left. I’m trying very hard to remember their names without looking at the tags.

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All three together for their group portrait. That’s Mr. Opuntia waving in the back on the left right.
A variegated Agave parryi var. truncata came home too but has already been planted in the front garden.

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Might as well pull back from the kitchen doorway to include the lamp Marty just rigged. It’s a Smoot-Holman, known as the “Gas Station Lamp.”
Based locally, out of Inglewood, Calif., the Smoot-Holman Company started in 1922 and sold to Sunbeam in 1972, dates which probably approximate the heyday of local manufacturing.
I’ve gotten a little summertime crazy with lights under the pergola. But I’ll be needing them to take care of all these little pots when the days shorten.

*I found his business card today. This pot reminded me of his work, but I don’t think it’s necessarily his.
Check out Jonathan Cross’ work at

Inter-City Cactus Show & Sale August 8 & 9, 2015

Thank goodness there’s a big plant sale to look forward to in August.

30th Annual Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show and Sale
The LA County Arboretum in Ayres Hall
301 North Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
Saturday, August 8, 2015, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Sunday, August 9, 2015, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

From the Inter-City Show Committee:

“The 30th Annual Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show is this weekend, Saturday, Aug 8th and Sunday, August 9th.
This is one of the stellar events in the Cactus and Succulent World, with a worldwide reputation for the quality and quantity of entries.
The show is so well known that people are coming from as far away as India and Korea to see the show, visit the Arboretum and attend the sale.
The Inter-City Show pioneered the concept of Walks and Talks, adding an important educational component to the show. There will be great talks on both days.”

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“The Inter-City Show has a well-deserved reputation for the place to see one-of-a-kind plants;
but more importantly, it has the reputation as the place where plants are grown to standards of excellence that are impossible to exceed.”


The sale is one of the highlights of the Show. It will be open from 1 PM on Friday.
We have dealers from Northern California, San Diego, Tucson, Phoenix, New Mexico as well as local specialists.
There will be an amazing selection of wonderful plants for sale as well as on the show tables


I’ve attended this show the past several years, and it never disappoints.

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Having the show and sale at the Arboretum makes it a not-to-be-missed event.

Rules for entering plants in the show can be found here.

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And talk about perfect timing, Rolling Greens just received a shipment of containers, including these square, lightweight concrete fabrications that are so hard to find.

The landscape at Pitzer College

We have Joe Clements to thank for the unique pleasure it is to stroll the grounds of Pitzer College in Claremont, California, at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Twenty-five years managing the Desert Garden at the Huntington Botanical Garden more than prepared him for his current position* as Arboretum and Grounds Manager at Pitzer.
The site of a former quarry, this liberal arts campus dating to 1963 covers about 35 acres.
I tried my best to photograph as much as possible on a hot, blindingly bright afternoon this weekend.
For a comprehensive pictorial, at least a half dozen more trips would be needed, and preferably in the even light of early morning or sunset.
This post will be quick and dirty, no plant IDs, just an introductory overview.
I missed the chance to explore the campus when attending a field trip sponsored by CSSA during their recent Biennial Convention held at Pitzer and vowed to return.

From “Guidelines for the Pitzer College Landscape“:

Geologically, Pitzer is situated on an alluvial fan at the foot of some of the steepest mountains in the world.
Biologically, we are at the intersection of the mountainous chaparral community with the
coastal sage scrub of the valley. In a broader sense, we are part of the arid and semi-arid
American Southwest that embraces New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Utah and Nevada, as
well as southern California and Baja. Climatically, we live in one example of a
“Mediterranean” climate (mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers), which we share with the
countries of the Mediterranean rim and parts of southern Africa, Australia, and Chile

For me what sets Pitzer apart is its unusual hybrid status as both residence and commercial site.
Both uses have been melded together in a landscape that succeeds as a temporary home for students while they attend the college.

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Continue reading The landscape at Pitzer College