Monthly Archives: January 2016

notes on spring planting

Though it may not be readily apparent, there really is something positive to say about the garden in January. I’ve been cutting back the grasses, and even allowing for the dozens of poppy seedlings that are emerging and staking a claim on spring, there’s still an impressive amount of vacant planting space opening up. All of which adds zest to a favorite wintertime game, a game played by a mortal pretending to be a god: What do I want spring through fall to look like in my little garden in 2016? In all honesty, a lot of it will look like a dead ringer for 2015, but January is when optimism for the new gardening year is at its zenith and anything feels possible. Astonishing, never-before-seen visions of extraordinary plant beauty are surely to come.


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Like the Catalina Silverlace, Constancea nevinii, seen recently at the Theodore Payne Nursery.


Like envisioning a delicious meal, I daydream in textures, aromas, flavors sweet and sharp. For those few planting places opening up, will it be smooth or crunchy? I have lots of smooth succulents, so let’s find something crunchy, shrubby. It can’t be anything too rich and water dependent, so no traditional, overbred, cordon bleu garden plants. And I’d like something whose flavor won’t overwhelm the rest of this mulligan’s stew, which is heavy on variegated plants and spicy agaves. What’s needed is something in a quietly textural, supporting role. Maybe something in herbs? Isn’t winter savory an attractive little shrub, or is that summer savory? Maybe dracocephalum? Or lavender again, but it’s always iffy in this clay, and I just don’t want to play those odds this year. Plus I want something that billows, smallish in stature. Nepeta has been disappointing, even the much-lauded ‘Walker’s Low.’ What about calamints? Resource lean, aromatic, shrubby. I’ve grown a few kinds before but eventually backed away from their wildly prolific reseeding tendencies. Maybe there’s something new in calamints I haven’t tried?

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Eriogonum crocatum

Some light research turns up Calamintha nepeta ‘Montrose White,’ a calamint discoverd by Nancy Godwin at her Montrose Nursery. Long-blooming, doesn’t reseed, a summer-long feast for pollinators. It’s even won top honors as Perennial of the Year in 2010. Okay, then, calamint it is. Digging Dog Nursery in Albion, California, carries it, along with an intriguing perovskia called ‘Lacey Blue,’ a dwarf form of Russian Sage. With plants like these, summer 2016 can turn up the heat all it wants. We’ll be ready.

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Aristida purpurea

An order to Digging Dog is dispatched, and that settles that. But what else? Wasn’t there an eriogonum I’ve been itching to grow? I have plant notes around here somewhere. Yes, there it is, a smallish native buckwheat with silver leaves and chartreuse flowers, tolerates clay. Eriogonum crocatum! I think I can squeeze in maybe two. Now, who carries it? Why, Theodore Payne does, a mere hour’s drive to Sun Valley, just past Glendale. So be it. (And what should be playing on the radio the whole trip, there and back, but a tribute to David Bowie. I jump in the car, turn on KCRW, and there’s the thumping bass of Panic in Detroit. An auspicious beginning for any road trip.)


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At the entrance to the nursery is an impressive stand of our native Agave shawii

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See that slender, bright green column behind the pots?

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Catalina Ironwood in a ceramic container. Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius.
I stared at this tree long enough that a nursery person approached to warn me not to try this at home.
She explained this was basically tree abuse that they practiced to obtain cuttings for the nursery.
Trees in containers always seem like such a good idea in January, long before they become a miserable chore in July.

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So I wandered the grounds near the nursery. With just an hour before closing, there wasn’t time to explore the canyon (22 acres!)

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Arctostaphylos cruzensis

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Pinus sabiniana, Grey Pine, Foothill Pine, Ghost Pine (lovely pine!)

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I was recently cleaning up this grass in my garden, Aristida purpurea, and inadvertently pulled up the whole clump.

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Not a regimented, upright grass but ethereal, wispy to the point of disorganized. There are more purple tones than the photos show.

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Dudleya densiflora

Riding in the back, serenaded by Bowie all the way home, were two Eriogonum crocatum and a Catalina Silverlace, Constancea nevinii.
2016 is really starting to take shape.


concrete containers by Dustin Gimbel

Dustin’s Facebook feed is showing lots of new work, and I just had to pop over to see what he’s been up to, even if it was almost too late in the afternoon for photos.

Invariably, whenever I post on Dustin, I get inquiries about his work, running the gamut from private individuals to public garden directors.
If there’s any questions, you can contact him at: dustingimbel@mac.com.

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If I understood correctly, the concrete is a special formulation with some kind of fibers that allows him to play with a range of shapes.

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Not made by Dustin but in keeping with the theme.

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Of course I had to check out his plants too, because there’s always something new.
For example, a client didn’t like this variegated Italian Buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), so Dustin brought it home.
Thank goodness he has lots of other creative outlets to balance out the occasional disagreeable client.

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The always envy-inducing variegated ponytail palm

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The hulk of the cherimoya tree, painted a cheery yellow, now supports a hanging garden of rhipsalis, tillandsias, bromeliads.
When the tree was alive, it rained down vast amounts of messy, fly-attractiing fruit. In its afterlife it’s become one of my favorite things in his garden.

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The fading light reflecting off the pond.

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I love how Dustin teams up extravagantly beautiful plants with containers made of simple geometric shapes.
The plain geometry of the containers is a wonderful counterpoint to the complex, exuberant geometry of plants.

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Wednesday clippings 1/6/16


One storm down, five more or so to go. For the first time in a long while, the air smells incredibly fresh.

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January is always the perfect time for the shocking pink blooms on Pelargonium echinatum to arrive.

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A “Sundiascia” I planted in early December, found at Sunset Boulevard Nursery. I expected it to immediately stop blooming, as most things planted out in December do.
Dating myself now, but I remember in the 1980s traveling eight hours up the coast to Western Hills to check out their new diascias, euphorbias, salvias, anything and everything.
And doing that at least twice a year. And now diascia hybrids are sold everywhere in the bedding sections of nurseries.
(Speaking of Western Hills, they are beginning garden docent training January 28th. It is a six-week training on Thursdays, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Call (707) 872-5463 or email Stacie at stacie@westernhillsgarden.com to sign up
.)

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Rainy day Agave ‘Blue Glow’

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First blooms on Acacia podalyrifolia. With the air sweetened by rain and now this fragrant acacia in bloom, the front garden is a little slice of heaven.
After it’s finished blooming, it will be cut back hard. Lots of complaints about its encroachment on the driveway.

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Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ enjoying a good soaking.

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Linking up with Flutter & Hum’s icy Wednesday vignette.

blogger meetup at the Huntington

I should have talked less and picked up the camera more at the meetup this past Saturday at the Huntington Botanical Garden, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun as our nonstop gabfest. The occasion for the meetup was Gerhard (Succulents & More) visiting Los Angeles at the end of a week-long winter sabbatical — a plant-centric sabbatical, of course, which he will be blogging about forthwith. Gail (Piece of Eden), Gail’s husband Alan, Luisa (Crow & Raven), and I were the Southern California welcoming committee.


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Also part of Gerhard’s welcoming committee were the winter-blooming aloes.

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With so many aloes in bloom, the desert garden absorbed all our time and attention.

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Aloe sinkatana

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Aloe rubroviolacea

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We’re all pretty fond of agaves too.

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And hechtias.

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In fact, there’s very little about the desert garden that we’re not all crazy in love with.
I hope Luisa does a post on her beloved opuntias. Alan admirably fulfilled documentary duties.


The desert garden is always jaw-droppingly amazing, but this time I wish I had more photos to substantiate my enthusiasm for the plantings in the new entrance garden. I grabbed a couple photos as I left in the early afternoon, which just hint at the large swathes of the landscape made predominantly of muhly grasses interspersed with kniphofia and aloes. The grasses carry the scene nearly year-round and are especially stunning fall and winter, at their shimmering best in the low angled light. The Huntington’s own hybrid Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ is in bloom now, and then the torch will be handed over to Aloe ‘David Verity.’ Very minimalist but strategically smart succession planting on a waterwise budget, with washes of blue supplied by the mallee shrub Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ The grasses are Muhlenbergia dubia, Muhlenbergia rigens, and Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails.’ There was also a small massed planting of Hesperaloe ‘Brakelights,’ and lots of other things like verbascum and glaucium, but the overall mood of the landscape is governed by swaying, glittering sweeps of grass.

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More like a quick watercolor sketch than a photo, but the general idea is conveyed.
The blue wash is from Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon.’ Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ is in bloom, like little signal fires dotted amongst the grasses.
After the kniphofia fires die down, Aloe ‘David Verity’ will light up the Muhlenbergia dubia. Really smart, gorgeously simple planting.

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Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ is a hybrid of Kniphofia rooperi that emerged from the Huntington in the 1970s.
From San Marcos Growers website:
John MacGregor, long-time horticulturist at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, noted that this plant is one of the best winter hummingbird plants he knew of for mild climates.”

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The new entrance garden warrants another, much more comprehensive visit.
And without my blogger friends, there’ll be less talk and more photos. But not nearly as much fun.