elephant season

A few tropicals in pots can be a fine sendoff to summer. Here about a mile from the ocean, the big-leaved tropicals like colocasia, the “elephant ears,” bide their time until the temperatures start to really feel uncomfortable. By the time we’re whining about the heat in August, they’re in their element, coolly unfurling the largest leaves we’ve seen all summer. Now that the soft, angled light is what pulls me into the garden early every morning, the tropicals have achieved as much size and leaf as they will attain for me, and around November I’ll be moving the pots to dry out over winter. I’m not a tropics-mad person, per se, and keep just a few pots for what they add to a fall garden. In spring I feed them a little compost and nothing else, so they’re grown on a relatively lean diet, but they don’t like to miss a drink. I’ve pretty much stopped growing any other plants in containers, other than succulents. Even just a few big leaves make quite the impact.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’

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While the soil is still warm, I’ve been busy shifting plants around. More evergreen, year-round plants are leaving their containers and moving into the back garden, such as agaves, two cussonias, the cabbage palms, which means there will be less room for softer, herbaceous planting in the back garden for next summer.

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Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’ was moved into the garden near this summer-scorched aeonium

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A Cussonia gamtoosensis, now a little 4-foot tree, has taken a place in the garden too.

Spring will bring the usual self-sown poppies, orlaya, and whatever else turns up, and I’ve added a few bright orange bearded iris. Then the plan is mainly for grasses, yarrow, nepeta, calamint, agastache, the sturdy umbellifer crithmum, and the summer-blooming bulb eucomis to hold the fort for summer and keep local pollinators happy.

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I havn’t grown catmints for some years, but Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ sold me on them again. It still looks amazingly fresh after being cut back mid-summer, and is a wonderful bee plant. Fronting the nepeta with large rocks keeps the cats from indulging in the those catmint-rolling orgies. The rocks are quickly submerged under spring growth. I have to remind myself that the sturdy and fool-proof are a great backbone if you’re continually trying out new plants. On that note, now that I’ve pretty much ripped up the herbaceous planting in the back garden and replanted for next year, it’s always around this time in fall that I wish I had some really large pots to hold the eye. The biggest one I own is an over-the-top, two-headed elephant pot that I found at the curb amongst a bunch of other castoffs with the sign “take me.” It’s been semi-hidden in the front garden ever since. A latent minimalist streak always stays my hand when I think of moving it somewhere more prominent.

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Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii’

I’ve decided there’ll be plenty of time to explore minimalism this winter. Pachyderms of clay for leafy elephant ears. Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.

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At this point, adding a couple Mexican chocolate stirrers makes sense.

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And I couldn’t leave the pot empty. A potted Kalanchoe beharensis happened to fit snug inside the rim.

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This winter I’ll probably get all Scandinavian again and move the pot back into the shadows until it’s elephant season once more.

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6 Responses to elephant season

  1. Kris P says:

    The elephant pot is quite wonderful, especially for a curb-side find. Minimalist need not mean invisible, just selective. So speaks a Scandinavian-American…

  2. kathy says:

    I am totally impressed with your Colocasias Denise; have a C. ‘Diamond Head’ which has leaves but they are small, less than 10 inches long, 6 inches wide. A mini Colocasia.I blame our cool nighttime temps up here. It took the damn thing forever to recover from winter. That Agave celscii …oh my.

  3. Mark and Gaz says:

    I love your photography Denise, easy on the eye yet vivid. Colocasias are peaking now after having had all summer to bulk up and it’s still warm enough for them to thrive. And yours looks so good, as well as the Agave celsii!

  4. Sue says:

    Elephant season is short here but that doesn’t stop me from packing them in and moving as many to the basement that I can when colder weather threatens to cull the herd.

  5. Denise says:

    @Kris, it is a wonderful pot that deserves better than I’ve been treating it.
    @Kathy, they do well enough but never achieve the size of Sue’s, for example.
    @M&G, I’ve been struggling with lens issues all summer, so thanks for the nice words!
    @Sue, wasn’t it Tower Hill that had that gigantic xanthosoma? The tropicals love your muggy heat.

  6. Having no idea what I was doing, I cut my nepeta back in mid summer, too. It surprised me by recovering quickly and it’s pleasing the bees even now.

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