I have these weird unwritten rules when buying plants. For example, $30 is usually deemed way too much to spend on one plant. It’s not a conscious rule, it’s just after checking the price, unless it’s spectacularly, once-in-a-lifetime rare, I always walk away if it’s $30ish and up. And then I’ll sometimes go on to browse and select assorted odds and ends that, in total, end up costing as much as $40, if not more. Unwritten rules sometimes make the least sense of all. Here’s a recent example to show how this works, or doesn’t, in practice.
Last Friday work ended unexpectedly early, and there I was in Marina del Rey, which along with its yacht-filled harbor also has an excellent nursery. The succulent selection was even better than I remembered. Crassula ‘Campfire,’ for instance. Why haven’t I grown this yet? Lack of space? What a puny reason. And there’s a good salvia section too. I always pause before grey-green and felty, mouse-eared Salvia officinalis ‘Beggarten,’ but it hates my clay soil. What about those big grey leaves in pots for summer? Pots are always the answer. And some pole beans for my mom. I’ve been made weak-kneed by the incredible bromeliad selection here before. But $80 for one bromeliad? Can’t do it. I found a cardboard box and desultorily filled it with the smallest, cheapest odds and ends. Nothing like a little plant shopping to ease out of a horrid workweek and into the weekend. (Metro ran 30 minutes late, deadlines whizzed by unchecked, etc., etc.)
And then there it was, casting dramatic shadows under the shadecloth, Cussonia spicata, robust and over 4 feet tall. A group of them, actually. Some with trunks awkward and akimbo, but way in the back was a perfectly gorgeous, straight-as-a-die specimen that was selling for about half the price of that bromeliad. But in the dreaded and taboo over-$30 price range. I mentally tallied all the odds and ends accumulating in my cardboard box, and sure enough, the total amounted to more than the price of the cussonia. (And as an aside, happened to be twice what I had just paid for parking at the business offices of 4640 Admiralty Way. I’ll never understand the arbitrary value given to things.) It was obvious that the math of my unwritten rule just wasn’t adding up. My own South African “Cabbage Tree,” Cussonia gamtoosensis, just about this size too after years growing on from a 4-inch pot, is a year-round, evergreen joy. Finding C. spicata locally again in this size at a better price was a long shot. That’s the math that matters. The impulse crassulas and salvias went back to their nursery shelves, and the cussonia came home with me, where it obviously so rightfully belongs. I was up at 5 a.m. on Saturday to spend all day rearranging my little world to give it a proper welcome and find its perfectly inevitable placement, which turned out to be the small east patio, as of Friday buried in leaves I kept meaning to sweep up from the Chinese fringe tree. The $40 cussonia was just the catalyst I needed to give it a good sweep, move out the bikes and stash of firewood, and drag in a table and chairs. After the dust settled, we instantly knew that this was now the best spot for morning coffee. I’m vowing to never clutter it up again. We’ll see how that goes.
As the Dude would say, the cussonia really ties the room together, this awkward, canyonesque patio on the east side of the house that I had pretty much given up on.
And I hated being defeated by it, because I’m a firm believer that every inch I pay a mortgage on must be put to use for people and plants.
(Begrudgingly, driveways, garages, laundry sheds, etc., are allowed too of course.)
Marty worries that the cussonia looks frail, more like a “houseplant” than a potential 30-foot tree. And he’s right, it’s got the look of the apiaceae all over it, whose members include familiar houseplants like fatsia and schefflera, but there’s nothing meek or tame about a cussonia. It’s going to need a much bigger container fairly soon, but this size is all there was on hand.
And that’s how a dead space came to life for $40. Such is the incalculable value of plants.