Greenlee Meadow Grass Fall Festival 2015

Fall has been stupidly busy, but I’m so glad I made it out to Pomona last Saturday for John Greenlee’s Meadow Grass Fall Festival, the second year it’s been held.
Let’s cross our grubby, fall-planting fingers and hope for another festival in 2016. The food was plentiful and tasty, as were the libations. Alas, I couldn’t stay for the evening jazz concert.
Now based in the Bay Area, Greenlee still maintains the Pomona property where his grassy ambitions first took root.
The festival was attended mainly by designers, and it was an impressively energized bunch.
The prevailing mood seems to be that in drought, there is opportunity — especially for garden designers.
All were eager to hear what’s new in grasses, what’s working, and what isn’t.
John Schoustra of Greenwood Gardens covered daylilies, irises, and pelargoniums, and made an impressive case for the bioremediation qualities of daylilies in the landscape.
I loved the tallest daylilies with the smallest, simplest flowers, like ‘Salmon Sheen,’ which is heresy to true aficionados.
Schoustra’s preference is also for daylilies that read well in a landscape and not for all the ruffles and sparkles that require close-up inspection on bended knee.

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Although I don’t know him personally, our paths have been crossing ever since our kids attended the same private school in Long Beach.

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I well remember the Greenwood van parked at the curb of the old, two-story wooden house where Mitch and Duncan attended elementary school.
Resourceful old houses can double as schools, plant nurseries, like Greenlee’s house on its enormous lot in Pomona.
I arrived late (after getting a bit lost) so missed the opportunity to wander and take some photos of his bamboo-covered garden.

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Part of the sales tables near the house


It can’t come as any surprise by now that I’m an incredibly easy mark when it comes to plants.
And for the first time in a while I actually had some empty ground due to the departure of Yucca’ Margarita.’
I brought home, in gallons:

Three Yucca pallida, Mountain States Wholesale Nursery
Two Melampodium leucanthum, Blackfoot Daisy, from MSWN (if you follow Rockrose’s Texas blog, you already know this remarkable little daisy)
Poa cita, a New Zealander that Greenlee feels might be the replacement for Mexican Feather Grass
Euphorbia antisyphilitica, from MSWN (Total non sequitur, but if you’re watching Soderbergh’s The Knick, you’ll be up to date on the gruesome ravages of syphilis.)

Most of these were selected after hearing the very persuasive Wendy Proud of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery list her go-to plants during her talk “Got Some Ground to Cover?”
Every plant in her roster carried impeccable dry/tough/gorgeous credentials, so look them up for fall planting and ask for them if you don’t see them at your local nursery:

Acacia redolens ‘Desert Carpet’
Dalea capitata ‘Sierra Gold’
Eremophila glabra ‘Mingenew Gold’
Euphorbia antisyphilitica, which at about a foot tall reminds me of a smaller Baja spurge, Euphorbia xanti
Gossypium harknessii
Melampodium leucanthum
Portulacaria afra minima
Scutellaria sp. ‘Starfire’
Yucca pallida
Yucca rupicola


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In constant motion and as animated as any meadow grass, Greenlee packed in a dense amount of information during his talk.
That’s his selection of true blue Cupressus guadalupensis in the distant background.
We were tucked into the narrow, shady former driveway at the entrance to the garden. Temps are still seesawing between upper 80s/low 90s this fall.

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As far as the ongoing search for lawn replacements, Greenlee reminded us that no grass will stay green without some summer water, but the trick is to find a grass that requires the least amount necessary. The more foot traffic is intended, the more water will be needed. For the moment, he’s wild about Leymus triticoides ‘Lagunita,’ which he feels is the closest thing to the perfect California native lawn. In creating a meadow, along with the chosen base grass, architectural accent grasses like Pennisetum spathiolatum add height and movement, and Greenlee has been experimenting with including flowering plants like gazania, tulbaghia, yarrow, gaura, evening primrose. Challenging designers to come up with their own meadow formulations, Greenlee increased the level of complexity by adding that it must all be mowable at some point to rejuvenate the grasses. A lot of people I’ve been talking with share his enthusiasm and feel that this is an exciting tipping point for creating dry gardens without the obligatory, frequently irrigated, and closely mown lawn. The Blue Grama grass selection, Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition,’ got a strong endorsement from him as well, which he sometimes mixes as an accent in plantings of the species Blue Grama. For Greenlee’s definitive advice, consult The American Meadow Garden.

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Planted at home, Euphorbia antisyphilitica to the right of Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’ recently moved here, with a few blooms from Melampodium leucanthum peeking in.
I’d like about five more of this euphorbia, which surprisingly can winter through a zone 7. Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff’ in the background has been phenomenal this very hot summer.
Grey succulent is Senecio medley-woodii which I cut back a lot to encourage bushiness.

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One of the three Yucca pallida, pending mulch.
I was determined to find spots where the slanted afternoon light picks up the leaves’ yellow margins

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Poa cita, Greenlee’s choice over Mexican Feather Grass

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My own personal “meadow,” of course, must include agaves.
Just as the taco truck was arriving, and before hearing Grant Lee Stevenson’s talk on palms, I had to leave.
Did anybody else attend the palm talk?

postscript to Natural Discourse; Flora & Fauna

It’s been such a pleasure to see what shape and expression each successive Natural Discourse has taken. Developed by Shirley Watts and Mary Anne Friel for the Berkeley Botanic Garden, a group of artists were invited to make site-specific work for the garden and then give talks about that work. (‘Natural Discourse: Artists, Architects, Scientists & Poets in the Garden.’) Shirley Watts has continued this series of talks and brought it to other venues and arboreta. I’ve loved them all.

Shirley’s household as a child blended both art and science, with parents working in music and medicine.
As a result, she effortlessly moves between the two worlds and finds the intricate linkages between both, the overlap where science and art inform and enrich each other.
Working in gardens, we know how much science is involved in making that perfect moment on a warm June day.
Boundless romantic longing moderated by keen observation are what makes our gardens cause visitors to shrug, “Oh, you can grow anything. You have such a green thumb.”
Artists and scientists are both filled with longing for their subjects, and both rely on thumbs and brains in their work.
Shirley doesn’t feel the need to segregate them into separate symposia, recognizing the contributions each make to the other.

The physical collections of herbaria and natural history museums were a theme of this year’s Natural Discourse.
To talk about these collections, you need to bring in explorers, adventurers, disaster, hubris, lack of funding, lost collections, redemption. All the really juicy stuff.
And the specimen of Liatris punctata collected by Custer two years before Little Big Horn with his handwritten tag that was nearly thrown in the trash.
As always, it was a great time.


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Shirley Watts on opening night at the La Brea Tar Pits

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“Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One’s Sleeve.”

Congratulations, Artemisia annua (Sweet Annie, Sweet Wormwood), on your recent Nobel Prize in the sciences.

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photo found here

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And congratulations as well to Dr. Tu, who solved the problem of increasingly drug-resistant malaria with artemisinin extracted from Artemisia annua.
Dr. Tu poured over ancient texts of Chinese herbal remedies and “reread a particular recipe, written more than 1,600 years ago in a text titled “Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One’s Sleeve.”
The directions were to soak one bunch of wormwood in water and then drink the juice
.” (“Answering an Appeal by Mao Led Tu Youyou, a Chinese Scientist, to a Nobel Prize“)

Plants and people, what a team!
Dr. Tu realized that high temperatures were compromising the active ingredient and devised an ether-based solvent, tested it on mice and monkeys, and then herself.
China has now received its long-anticipated Nobel Prize for science and the world has gained an effective antimalarial in its drug arsenal.

Plants matter. Dr. Tu proved again that they are literally the emergency prescriptions kept up our sleeves.

Bloom Day October 2015

Bloom Days are celebrated by May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of every month, and as far as I know, latecomers are welcome.
If you’re perpetually late like me, you end up straddling Bloom Day on the 15th and the focus on leaves on the 16th that Pam at Digging hosts, so you can fudge the categories a bit.

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The high temperature/humidity triggered a bloom flush from Passiflora ‘Sunburst’ that’s clambering up the cypress.
Complicated floral architecture in citrus colors on tiny, maybe quarter-size flowers. (Again, thank you, Max!)

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Most of these photos were taken at zero dark thirty yesterday morning. Arctotis is flush with blooms again, but more importantly, Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ survived the summer.
I should know better than to declare survival status, since that’s usually the kiss of death but, knock wood, ‘Ebony’ made it to autumn.

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I’ve cut lots of large bloom trusses from the Glaucium grandiflorum, seen in the background, to keep it from swamping its neighbors, like that small santolina.
The glaucium has been in continuous bloom all summer. The cage on the left protects a white tigridia planted this fall from wayward corgi paws.
Ein still ambles through here, even though I’ve planted up his familiar little path. That’s a mean trick for an old dog.

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Another unabashed heat lover is the castor bean. Seedlings germinate spring through summer, which I continually weed out.
In late August I let a few stand, and they quickly make size, flowers and seedpods.

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Unstoppable Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ was cut down to the ground in later summer but would not be denied.
This photo was taken probably hours before the 8-foot yucca in the background was removed.

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Busy, busy. Yesterday I moved this Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrid’ from the container to the garden.
The spilling effect of the flowers over the lip of the container instantly became a flopping effect on the ground.
It’d be perfect at the top of a retaining wall.

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I’ll probably grab a piece of it for a container again. I’m curious to see if it becomes more upstanding after a while in the ground.

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A Mexican Grass Tree, Dasylirion longissimum, planted long ago, has been rescued from under the debris of the jacarandas in the front yard, cleaned up, and potted.
There’s actually been quite a bit of shuffling recently and even some wholesale demolition.
I’d been mulling over removing Yucca ‘Margarita’ for nearly a year (nee ‘Margaritaville’) and woke up yesterday with the conviction that it was time.
‘Margarita’ had a record five blooms this summer, and new rosettes of growth were coming in at increasingly bizarre angles.

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A cistus was removed from where this pot now stands. The bulbine was planted a couple months ago. ‘Johnson’s Hybrid’ aloe was moved in this area as well.
‘Snowfire’ is a beautiful cistus and said to be relatively compact, but even so I was cutting it back quite a bit to keep it off Leucadendron ‘Winter Red.’
Asphodels were recently planted here as well, and from all outward appearances have opted once again to speedily meet their maker.
That makes three attempts, so we have no more to say to each other.
The silver mush on the left is a recently planted verbascum, one of three taken out by the hot, muggy weather.

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Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket’ has taken over the yucca’s job of photobomber.

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John Greenlee is having a Meadow Grass Festival October 24, a great opportunity to check out the best grasses for warm-winter areas.

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I’ve been neglecting to get Bloom Day photos of Berlandiera lyrata. So fast into bloom from seed and loves it hot and dry.

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A mahogany-colored osteospermum, planted last spring, took summer off and has just started to bloom this fall.

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Xanthosoma “Lime Zinger’ appreciated being moved in deeper shade recently.

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Bunch of little pots sheltering on the shadier east patio, with a small Euphorbia geroldii starting to bloom, a thornless crown-of-thorns.

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Wrapping this up, grevilleas and salvias are in bloom but still waiting on the Mina lobata vine, which is just now showing flower buds.
I’ll try to be punctual if it’s in flower for November’s Bloom Day.

bromeliads for winter

Hot enough for you? It’s over 100 degrees in Los Angeles today, so hot that even the devil has left town.
(That’s the best “It’s so hot” line I’ve heard all summer, spoken by a gentleman from El Paso, Texas.)
And our winters just keeping getting warmer, too, so I’m thinking it’s probably best to face that reality with…more bromeliads. You don’t see the connection? Hear me out.
In temperate Southern California, unless your garden sits in a frost pocket, bromeliads don’t need to be hustled indoors for winter like they do in colder climates.
I’ve never been one to get really excited about pumpkins and gourd displays for fall, but I could easily adopt a tradition of filling the garden with bromeliads for winter.
Their juicy, saturated colors and starburst rosettes would be a huge boost in the shorter (but most likely still warm) days of winter.
If we’re strolling the garden in shirtsleeves and flip-flops in December, then let’s have something sexy to look at. And bromeliads are indisputably sexy.
They’re also incredibly easy to care for, needing about as much water and attention as succulents. Like agaves, they die after flowering but always leave some pups to carry on.

Here’s some glamour shots from local plant shows and sales over the years with IDs if I have them:

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Alcanterea ‘Volcano Mist’

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Aechmea nudicaulis in the center

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Aechmea ‘Loies Pride’

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Okay, so they make dramatic specimens for containers, but what about massed in the frost-free landscape?

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I’m so glad you asked.
This is what Lotusland, an estate garden in Montecito, California, does with bromeliads in an admittedly fantastical and over-the-top landscape:

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gardens without borders

This corner of my small, jam-packed garden is where it gets crazy. Okay, okay. Crazier.

This east end of the garden kind of horseshoes around this collection of containers, with the main sitting area (and more containers) off to the left.

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At first glance, I realize the takeaway is That’s a lot of containers. The polite version anyway.

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Agave x leopoldii and Agave ‘Tradewinds’ among the pots stacked on the concrete core samples.

And that’s no lie. Everyone knows that potted plants have a lot in common with rabbits, right? Same proliferation capabilities.

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But there’s even more containers here than meets the eye.
Here on the east fence, this little bricked area was once a much bigger seating area, covered by a pergola for shade.
Catastrophe struck when a eucalyptus fell on the pergola (which saved the house), and I’ve since nibbled away at the bricks to plant the cypresses for privacy.
A little creative destruction, with catastrophe viewed as opportunity. Now it’s just a small bricked postage stamp perfect for staging pots.

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Planted behind the postage stamp in the ground are the cypresses, of course, and the grasses, Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket.’
I much prefer how this grass grows here, constrained by the cypresses. The expanding clumps in the main garden will need to be split this winter.

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To get our bearings, the furcraea is in the ground in the arm of the horseshoe that separates the postage stamp from the main sitting area near the house.

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Everything else, including the Salvia ‘Waverly’ and Leycesteria formosa, are in containers hidden behind the staging for the succulents.
I can’t keep this moderately thirsty and very large salvia in the garden anymore, so I’m treating it like a summer annual for a container.
And I’ve learned that the finicky leycesteria needs perfect sun/shade, so a container makes sense for it too.
I thought they’d both look great in fall against the grasses in bloom. The staging hides their large, black plastic nursery containers.
The leycesteria (aka Pheasant Berry aka Himalayan Honeysuckle) should have blooms, but mine is still all leaves at this point, which I don’t mind at all.

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The soil in this narrow strip against the fence is filled with cypress roots now, but that doesn’t mean the fun is over.
The Spanish Flag vine, Mina lobata, is growing in a container at the base of the middle cypress.
It needed a little training at first, but being a vine it knows exactly what to do and has really gotten down to business in the last month.
This annual vine, always suggested as an easy climber for summer, is day-length sensitive and will only flower when the nights grow just long enough to suit it.
I’m not sure if I’ll see flowers this fall before the seasonal Santa Ana winds off the desert whip through the garden and shred the Spanish Flag to pieces.
Who said gardens aren’t exciting? They’re full of cliff-hangers like this.

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Another vine, Passiflora ‘Sunburst,’ is in a container at the base of the first cypress, where it’s scrambled up over 12 feet in a very short period of time.
It has set loads of buds, but it may be too late in the season. I’ve read that this passion vine doesn’t mind cooler temperatures, so we’ll see.
The Batman cape-leaves are almost entertainment enough.

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I’ve got a couple more passion vines in containers, one at the base of a pittosporum and another against the back wall of the house (getting too much southern exposure at the moment).

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Just as I always do with potted agaves, I plunged this Agave geminiflora into the garden when some post-summer room became available.

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Containers give so much flexibility, there’s no limit to the amount of crazy you can stir up.
Bring a vine to the cypress. Turn up or down the water. Moving to the Canary Islands? Give them all away to a lucky bunch of friends.
Another great thing about containers is, if you go back to the top photo and cover the pots with your hand, the collector mania is instantly drained from the photo.
Take away the containers, and once again you’re a respectable citizen in a serene garden with healthy control of your impulses.

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I look at it this way: If the vine experiments fail, I’ll have empty containers ready to use next summer.

the siren call of cycads

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a local Long Beach front garden, zone 10, south-facing exposure

I recently chanced upon a house and garden that I used to drive by a lot more frequently.
Habits change, errands take one in a different direction, and in that unobserved period a cycad suddenly seems to have become enormous.
And cycads, as a rule, don’t do anything suddenly.

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The most frequently seen cycad, Cycas revoluta, known by the misnomer “Sago Palm,” is probably the only cycad I can safely ID.
I think this is a Sago Palm, though I could easily be mistaken. I’ve never seen one this big.

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That little garden reminded me of the photos I’d yet to post of the cycad garden at Lotusland for you cycad lovers.
I admire cycads, though I haven’t yet come to love them. I really should make up my mind, because it requires an investment of years, decades, to grow them to these sizes.
I know I certainly wouldn’t refuse a good-sized, robin’s egg blue Encephalartos horridus for a tall container. (Like I’d ever expect to find that gift-wrapped under the Christmas tree.)

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Sorry, but I can’t help with IDs of these ancient plants. I know they are very slow growing, so size equates with value, and it’s a huge big deal when they cone.
Ceratozamia, cycas, dioon, encephalartos, lepitozamia, macrozamia — I’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart.
I do know they are one of the most endangered plants in the world.

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Of course, the best way to learn about a plant is to go to the experts.
And it just so happens that The Cycad Society is holding a “Cycad Day” on October 24, 2015.
Maybe you needed a compelling reason to finally make that trip to West Palm Beach, Florida. If so, now you have one. You’re welcome.

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A Southern California source for these plants is The Palm and Cycad Exchange in Fallbrook, California.

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Lotusland’s Rare Plant Auction would be another source.

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I imagine they turn up at the Huntington’s plant sales too.

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Lush and deep green in leaf, some are tolerant of conditions dry enough to suit our native oaks, which don’t appreciate excess summer irrigation.

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Cycads are members of that small, select group of plants dating to the Mesozoic period called gymnosperms (“naked seed”), whose exposed seed are borne in cones.
Angiosperms, relative newcomers but now 80 percent of plants today, generally develop their seeds via flowers.
Credit cycads’ good looks for making people wild enough about them to devote whole gardens to them in climates that can accommodate their needs.
They hail from tropical and subtropical places, like South and Central America.

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That improbable palminess via stiff geometric leaves on a stout trunk, plus their rarity and unique evolutionary status, are part of what turns ordinary people into devotees.

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Where to See Cycads.”