Monthly Archives: April 2017

weekend clippings 4/29/17

Feel like talking yourself into more plants this weekend? There’s lots of opportunities, whether at the Huntington Spring Plant Sale, the South Coast Plaza Garden Show, and/or even the Long Beach flea market on Sunday at Veterans Stadium.

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Some motherly advice: If you go to the Huntington (or the flea market), bring a hat. It’s going to be hot and you’ll be walking long distances to your car in reflected heat carrying your treasures. Even the members sale at the Huntington on Friday packed the parking lot. So many decisions to make on the fly, like finally grabbing that long-sought Agave pumila (I didn’t). The sale continues through Sunday. Their own hybrid aloe ‘Kujo’ is on sale, and mine at home has agreeably burst into bloom to model for you. The leaves in the foreground belong to cameronii. ‘Kujo’s’ are basal and spotted, which to me speaks of harlana blood, but I’m not sure of the cross parentage.

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There’s a table of kangaroo paws for sale too. In my garden ‘Tequila Sunrise’ is gaining some height but is upstaged at the moment by the crazy melianthus blooms of ‘Purple Haze.’

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The ID from my Huntington haul: In the purply foreground, on the left, Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’ (From the tag: “Hans Hansen hybrid of Agave attenuata and Mangave ‘Bloodspot.’ Grows to 1′ diameter. Soft, rubbery grey-green leaves w/lavender spots.”) On the right, Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells’ (“Brian Kemble hybrid, a. pearsonii (red) X A. distans. Erect, columnar rosettes blush red in sun. Hardy to the 20s.”)

Silver leaves is Salvia argentea. Chartreuse leaves is Crassula perfoliata v. minor ‘Lime Green’ (“Jack Catlin 12/6/91 form with vivid, lime-green foliage. Same red-orange, clove-scented flowers.”)

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I’ve been on a tear with pelargoniums, first at Robin Parer’s booth at the Fullerton Arboretum Green Scene and yesterday again at the Huntington, where I found this fascinating, succulent-leaved P. acetosum ‘Peach.’ They love a hot, dry summer like ours, whether in the ground or in pots, and make clouds of bloom, giving the plants a frothy halo I find irresistible.

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And sometimes richly scented too. The leaves of the scented pelargoniums carry oils that mimic famous scents, like the Rich Littles of the plant world. ‘Atomic Snowflake’ above, from Robin Parer at the Cal State Fullerton Arboretum Green Scene last weekend, has a lemon-rose scent. (Robin Parer will also be at South Coast Plaza this weekend selling her geraniums and pelargoniums.) And before I forget, I have to belatedly put in a good word for last weekend’s Green Scene sale. It’s big, well run, with some nice plants at good prices. I found the pure silver bromeliad Alcantarea odorata for an incredibly good price. The alcantareas attain great size before blooming, which is fine by me. At the South Coast show I didn’t buy a single plant, but I like how some of the vendors sell unrooted bromeliad pups for cheap, a great way to get ahold of these expensive plants.

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Instead of chasing plants, maybe you’d prefer to stay home and read. The New York Times did a wonderful piece on our native cactus: “As Rains Ease in the West, Cactuses Shine Brigher Than Ever,” by the great science/naturalist writer Natalie Angier. I loved her book The Beauty of the Beastly.

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However, the wild place I took these latter photos was not the desert but Pitzer College at Claremont last weekend. Maybe the graffiti clued you in.

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More interesting science writing in the NYT can be found at this link, where several articles are aggregated, including a piece on Joshua Trees by Ferris Jabr and water under the Mojave Desert by Emma Marris, who also wrote Rambunctious Garden; Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, on my list of books to read.

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What else is exciting? In a couple weeks I’ll be visiting the Denver Botanic Garden. The itinerary is already packed to the gills, but if you have any must-see suggestions, I’m all ears.

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Nice melocactus. I discovered mine was a rotting mess just yesterday.

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The Washington Post did a nice job covering the March For Science, even if t.v. news mostly opted out of in-depth coverage.

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Last week I paid a bittersweet visit to Reuben Munoz’s garden at Rancho Reubidoux, which I first visited more than five years ago (here). He’s been an enduring source of inspiration ever since. Reuben, Paul and Inky will be leaving the garden in the hands of like-minded buyers and are excited about the new co-op they’ve found nearby. I hope to have some photos up next week.

And this Sunday, the 30th, Pasadena gardens will be available to tour via Garden Conservancy Open Days. Have a great weekend.

APLD steps up

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers 2nd Annual Watershed Approach Garden Tour this past April 9th was a solid, smoothly run success and a great addition to Los Angeles garden culture. I hope they do it again next year. Most of the gardens on the tour were interesting case studies in the delicate collaboration between client and designer, with sustainable practices beautifully incorporated into residential landscapes. The after-party was held at the home of garden designer Johanna Woollcott (Wild Gardens LA) and film industry Property Master Eugene McCarthy. I’ll be getting more photos up of this garden on the blog soon. There’s just too much creative expression packed into this Hollywood Hills terraced garden for one post. Here’s a teaser of some of the exquisite planting details:

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I miss Ruby the garden dog already. More on this amazing garden to come.

Salvia ‘Desperado’

There’s an irresistible momentum that sweeps me up every time I see a great-looking but unfamiliar plant. If at all possible, it must be tracked down and brought home. And then the game begins: Where to plant it?

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Garden designer Sue Dadd recently brought this sage to my attention, a hybrid of two California native sages, Salvia apiana and Salvia leucophylla, introduced in 1999 by the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which is where I bought my gallon plant over the weekend at their Grow Native Nursery. I had just seen it planted en masse in a garden of Sue’s design and couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was one of those horticultural epiphanies, an absolutely thrilling sight, all shimmer and soft reflective shine with wands of pale lilac bloom spikes swaying around a large variegated agave.

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You can image search all day long, but there’s very few photos available and not much information either on this gorgeous plant. And that lack of anecdotal documentation is undoubtedly due to its size. It’s huge. Easily to 6 feet with some reports of 9 feet tall and maybe half that in width. How many gardens can accommodate such a bruiser? And it’s not like I’m afraid of big plants. I love how they anchor the garden and draw the eye away from the busy, busy planting underfoot.

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I didn’t even know at the time that this was a Rancho Santa Ana introduction. I was visiting to catch their wildflower show and stopped in briefly at the nursery. There were some nice Agave utahensis for sale, one of which I grabbed. As serendipity would have it, an elegant white sage sat amongst other native salvias on their benches, and the tag said ‘Desperado.’ Delicious ripples of recognition ran down my spine. Knowing its fated size from Sue (“It gets big“), I picked it up, put it back, picked it up again, carried it to the checkout kiosk, abandoned it midway, then finally resolved to buy it, if only to honor the plant scientists who dreamed up such a beautiful vision and made it real and available in a one-gallon pot. Or maybe the hybrid occurred naturally, but still a human had to recognize the potential and propagate it. Science!

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Back home in my garden I played a pretend game of “dress up” with ‘Desperado,’ trying out various sites and associations, knowing full well that, ultimately, there just isn’t room to accommodate it here. With Beschorneria albiflora, the light and water requirements would be a match. I was told at Rancho Santa Ana that this sage, unlike some natives, tolerates garden conditions and doesn’t need to be kept absolutely dry during summer.

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Nice with lime green nicotianas.

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It could easily handle some of the driest spots, too, with Yucca rostrata and euphorbias. And the hummingbird show would be epic.

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Or stir up some drama and high contrast with burgundy phormiums.

The Grow Native Nursery has demonstration gardens that are abloom with all sorts of interesting natives right now. In a border alongside the growing greenhouse was a compact version of another beautiful giant, the native buckwheat St. Catherine’s Lace, appropriately named Eriogonum giganteum. Identical in all respects except size, it was the designer plant of my dreams: Eriogonum giganteum var. compactum. I immediately inquired as to how I could get my hands on one and was told, for now, there are none to be had. That display bed was for propagation only. I’m certain I could fit that buckwheat somewhere in my garden.

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I do have someone in mind for a gift of ‘Desperado.’ This big, bodacious sage will have to be strictly catch and release for me. For zones 8-10 but can be grown as an annual too.

edited for veracity 4/25/17:

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P.S. Changed my mind again. It’s in the ground, very close to the back south wall. An Echium simplex I was letting develop seeds kindly gave up its seat on the bus.

April don’t go

Bathed in soft light and 70ish temps, April, you’re so dreamy. But can you slow down and linger just a bit longer?

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Open gardens, plant shows. April in Southern California gets the heart of the plant obsessed beating fast. Last weekend included a visit to the superb Mallen/Vincent dry garden in Fallbrook through the San Diego Horticultural Society. Some of Debra Lee Baldwin’s book photos were taken in this garden.

Above is a specimen in the climate-controlled euphorbia greenhouse. Because Fallbrook’s average low temp is 45 degrees in January, I’m guessing the motors I heard whirring into action in the euphorbia greenhouse were for ventilation purposes, not heating. Container after container framing perfectly manicured, exquisitely grown plants fill several greenhouses and are scattered throughout the 2-acre garden as well. This was my second visit (maybe third?), and it was as disorienting as the last. Perfection is hard for me to process. In my own garden, good enough is always the enemy of perfection.

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Out in the garden, some plants are ID tagged but not all. If you ask Wanda Mallen, she knows every name, including previous superceded names and contested names. I didn’t always ask because there were lots of other visitors asking what’s this or that.

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But I so wish I had asked the name of this spectacular euphorb.

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The gorgeous variegated ponytail palm is an easy ID.
(Immutable Law of Horticulture: If you kill a plant, you never forget it.)

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Years of careful study and observation are the only way to uncover how to display plants to their best advantage, e.g., elevating the caput-medusae type euphorbias so their sinuous dreadlocks drape down the pot. This might be my favorite planter in the garden.

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There’s a greenhouse devoted to rhipsalis. I’m not lying. But this one was hanging from the patio. (More photos of this patio from my previous visit here.)

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Bromeliads and Elephant Food/Portulacaria afra, a container to plant then do nothing much else with but admire all summer.

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Another favorite planter, a trio of young Euphorbia ammak.

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More caput-medusae euphorbia.

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Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’

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There were several strawberry jars filled with gasteria.

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Gasteria is a succulent that stands a lot of neglect, which is what it gets from me. I just haven’t really bonded with gasteria yet like I have aloes and agaves.

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Cool, stomach-shaped flowers on elegant racemes, sturdy leaves, tolerant of low light. I should treat mine with a little more respect.

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“Squid” pot (from Tentacle Arts) with Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras’

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At first glance the garden seems to favor palms, agaves, and aloes, but the owners have wide-ranging interests, like conifers, callistemon, acacia, bamboo, maples, cycads.

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Another gorgeous April day in this Fallbrook plant collectors’ garden.

catching up with Dustin Gimbel

This has really been Dustin’s year, and I think a recap is in order.

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Dustin Gimbel, Second Nature Garden Design

In early 2017 Dustin and Potted launched his Point Pot.

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Long Beach’s own “communal dining space,” Steelcraft, let us play around with some Point Pots at their shiny new outdoor venue, which cleverly repurposes multiple shipping containers to house food vendors. (Thank you, Kimberly!)

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After all, Long Beach is one of the biggest ports in the world, and containers stacked and stretching seemingly to the horizon is a familiar sight now. (But it wasn’t always so. I vividly remember my dad’s “On The Waterfront” cargo hook in the back of our VW bug before the harbor was fully containerized and goods still came in burlap sacks or loose piles in ships’ holds that had to be stevedored by big muscles. Malcom McLean forever changed all that.)

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The Point Pot at Steelcraft seemed like a good fit. I’m a fan of the potential of empty vessels of all kinds, whether filled with tillandsias or ramen shops. It’s all a matter of scale.

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Love the name of this microbrewery. (Los Angeles aka Smog City — might as well own it.)

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Dustin’s pace this year makes me feel like I’m moving at the speed of an old Galapagos tortoise. He’s a one-man artists’ colony. Luckily, there will be a couple opportunities for you to catch up with Dustin this spring.

The first opportunity will be April 27-30 at the Southern California Spring Garden Show, where he’s been a frequent contributor. I have no idea what he’s whipping up this year so I’ll be as surprised as you.

The second opportunity will be a tour of his private garden May 6-7 via the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour. It was at Mary Lou’s legendary, much-loved nursery many years ago that I first met teen-aged Dustin, before he apprenticed at Great Dixter, Heronswood, Greenlee’s nursery, etc, etc.

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And his private garden is currently looking exceptionally fine, having been primped and and tricked out for a photo shoot that will grace the pages sometime next year of one of the West Coast’s premiere garden/lifestyle magazines. Ferrying Mitch to the airport a couple days ago, I took a detour to Dustin’s and pushed Mitch out the door to grab some quick photos. Because everything was just so perfect.

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Fermob with matching California poppies. Perfect, right?
Dustin was hoping the Aristolochia gigantea would be in full bloom for the shoot, but alas gardens don’t always cooperate with such human timetables. But I bet it’s in bloom for the upcoming tour.

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Orange planter in back is vintage, the low white bowls in foreground are Dustin’s.

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This might be my favorite out of his new Robby the Robot/Forbidden Planet series.

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The shelving was newly built to accommodate the burgeoning number of pieces coming out of his studio just behind that wall.
The center, legged piece has been dubbed, if I remember correctly, “lambypants.” (Or maybe I just made that up.)

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Ripe lemons snuggle up to the totems now.

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The aristolochia vine just coming into bloom.

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The front garden this year is predominantly white, silver and green, with touches of orange from aloes, leucospermum, and leonotis.
Linen-white Minoan lace, the umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora, is just coming into bloom among agaves, weeping acacias, and lots of other treasures.
See for yourself this May. Check out the maps and other info on the self-guided tour here.

All photos by MB Maher

notes on spring

I’ve taken some time off work while the family regroups from assorted medical issues, and since they seem to be more or less on the mend I’m sopping up spare time with plant sales and garden tours. Some nurse, huh? Living without back-to-back work deadlines is a heady, liberating experience, kind of a mini-preview of retiring from the day job, and I confess I’ve been running just a bit amok. Imagine a hummingbird’s interests and metabolism in a 5’8″ woman with a car and a smart phone making up for the lack of wings.

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There will be plenty of time for the mundane tasks indoors of cleaning out junk rooms, attending to the paint-starved main room, but right now I’m as mad about spring as any bird or six-legged creature, and hopping around gardens just as furiously. And then there’s this new camera to get the hang of, not to mention a blood-red poppy that’s greeted me the past few mornings, new to my garden, Papaver commutatum, aka ladybird poppy. Devilishly tricky to capture in portrait due to its intense color saturation.

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The morning sun effects an astonishing transformation when it touches those translucent petals, igniting them into molten chalices, and that’s the full-throated portrait of a ladybird poppy that eludes me.

Please, please reseed.

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My old standby, the Poppy of Troy, is much less shy around a camera.

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I still love everything about poppies. Crinkly buds on reedy stems carefully unpack their wrinkled folds to unfurl full-sail, silky blooms. A springtime performance that never gets old.

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More intense red is coming from the scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum rubrum. The cool spring weather has been exceptionally kind to this annual from Algeria.

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I’ve never known Yucca pallida to be recommended for its blooms, and in fact it may be somewhat shy and unreliable in flowering, but the winter rains seem to be convincing a couple of mine to throw bloom spikes. Now we’ll see firsthand what the pale yucca in flower is all about. I think Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ may be intending to bloom as well.

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The milky white ‘Jade Frost’ eryngium bloom trusses are now bluing up. This dry garden perennial has been challenging to establish in spring. It was nursery grown in nearly pure sand, so it readily wilts if overlooked for a few days. Major planting in Southern California gardens, because of our long dry summer/wet winter mediterranean climate, is strongly advised for fall. But then the drought made timing for planting a moot point, and we switched gears to survival mode. And I’ve always tended to flout the planting rules anyway, with occasional failures but some successes too.

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I did get this Leucadendron meridianum ‘More Silver’ planted late fall, so it had a wonderful time settling in throughout the drought-breaking, rainy winter.

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Leucadendron galpinii was also a candidate for the spot but didn’t make the cut, so will spend a second year in a pot, part of my ongoing Shrubs in Pots experiment.

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The acanthus hybrid ‘Morning Candle’ had most of the rainy winter to settle in too.

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For some plants, the epic winter rain was a challenge. I opted to remove a large octopus agave from the back garden when its leaves began to disfigure with black spots from the soggy ground. And I can finally stop worrying about this verbascum planted in a low-lying area.

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The Theodore Payne native plants garden tour a couple weeks ago made me realize that the lack of a flannel bush in the garden was a serious oversight. Spring is definitely not the time to plant California natives, so I made a mental note to order the compact Fremontodendron ‘Ken Taylor’ for fall planting. But you know how it goes. At my neighborhood nursery last week I noticed a couple of beautifully grown flannel bushes. No name, in 3- gallons. The difference in eventual size between ‘Ken Taylor’ and ‘California Glory’ is substantial, at least 10 feet in girth and height. A small garden needs ‘Ken Taylor.’ But California natives planted in spring risk succumbing to warm-weather soil pathogens as water is poured on hoping to revive wilting, summer-stressed plants. Still, I had to ask, so I pestered an employee: Any chance you can source the ID of that flannel bush through your database?

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The one Echium simplex was perfect this year. Last time they bloomed the spikes were deformed by fasciation, an affliction where parts of a plant fuse together and take on bizarre, unnatural shapes. I say affliction, but some people adore fasciation. I admit in some cactus it’s kind of cool.

But, yes, I did plant the flannel bush. After asking for help with the ID, a lengthy line of customers began to queue up, so I told the clerk never mind and continued wandering. What was I thinking, buying a large flannel bush in spring anyway? But who should come running up maybe 10 minutes later to tell me both were ‘Ken Taylor’ — I hadn’t even mentioned which variety I was after. I think I may have hugged him at that point. So of course I bought it and planted it in spring, which is ill-advised. But that’s how these ill-advised things happen.

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Morning glories are scary invasive plants in Southern California, but this relative, Calystegia macrostegia, is a non-invasive native of our Channel Islands off Ventura County. It outlined some impressive arabesques against a dark fence. I had never heard of it, which I mentioned to a nearby Theodore Payne tour-goer, to which she replied, “I’ve got four at home.” I clearly have some catching up to do with our native plants community.

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Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue,’ also from the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour.

Cheers to spring!

Friday clippings 4/7/17

The two young leucospermums in my garden have each thrown a couple blooms, which only made me greedy for a mass display. But where to find such a display outside of South Africa?

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Leucospermum ‘Blanche Ito’ in the east patio.

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Leucospermum ‘High Gold’ outside my office.

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My mileage points aren’t where they need to be yet for international travel, so I opted for a 2-hour drive up the coast to the Taft Garden. The mid-day sun was intense, so I took very few photos.

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The garden closes at 4:30, so no chance for a kinder, gentler light for photos.

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And, yes, the garden is as deserted and eerie as ever. Once again, I was the only visitor.

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Many aloes were in bloom as well, along with all the Cape daisies and bulbs. I even saw some pale pink dierama in bloom, wafting in the breeze just as their namesake implies, the Angel’s Fishing Rods.

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It was a near-blinding display.

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And many Australian plants were representing too, like isopogon.

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And the waxflowers, chamelaucium, beloved of florists.

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This weekend will be busy, with the San Diego Horticultural Society Spring Garden tour on Saturday, April 8, and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Second Annual Watershed Approach Garden Tour on Sunday, April 9, 2017. These are both self-guided tours, which means you can dip in and out of the tour for local tasty food or other diversions.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Have a great weekend.