My leaning Cussonia gamtoosensis took a serious dive earthward in late August. Like a watched pot that never boils, it’s difficult to discern when a chronically leaning tree is in imminent danger of failing, but clearly the cabbage palm was on the move earthward. Hoping drastic surgery might save the tree, one of its three branches was removed, the one leaning most northward, in an attempt to lighten the canopy. A sawhorse was positioned just forward of the trunk for insurance. In just a few days, the tree was leaning entirely on the sawhorse for support. There was no denying that the pot had finally boiled over. For a day or so I thought about leaving the sawhorse as a permanent support — this tree is so stunning that even with an ugly sawhorse holding it up it still had beauty to spare, but all the planting around it looked cheapened, and there was the safety of nearby Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ and the ‘Hercules’ aloidendron/aloe to consider. Checking the tree’s roots, a vast network of soil-less pockets was discovered, either a consequence of the tree slowly uprooting or the soil-displacing activities of ants. Whatever the cause of the tree’s failure to remain upright, it was time.
An appropriate name for the garden now might be “The Stumpery” — the massive stump of the smoke tree ‘Grace’ is still here since the tree’s removal in August 2012, now propping up a foxtail agave, Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ has not been fully cut down even though new growth from the base has long since died, and now the cussonia, all of which comes from being something of an incorrigible risk taker as far as experimenting with plants. Will I ever change? Probably not, as long as there’s strength left to deal with the consequences of an indiscriminate appetite for plants (see “ghosts of gardens past.”) Of course, the dog days of August had nothing to do with the loss of the unstable cussonia, but the heat did take out quite a few first-year introductions lacking the root system to withstand the stress, including two leucospermums.
But well-established plants have amazing resistance to extreme heat. Check out the defensive posture of Agave ‘Blue Flame.’
‘Zwartkop’ also protectively curled in on itself. (Not all aeoniums are created equal as far as summer dormancy goes. ‘Zwartkop’ doesn’t get too shabby, nor the variegated ‘Sunburst,’ whereas ‘Goliath’ is abysmal, losing most of its leaves.)
But the loss of the cussonia set in motion a day of furious digging and plant shifting. It is ever thus: first comes the heartbreak, then the cold calculation of new opportunities, the ongoing saga of creative destruction in the garden. Now I had a prime spot for Melianthus ‘Purple Haze,’ which has always hated dealing with full afternoon sun all summer. With the cussonia gone, the bog sage cut back, Rudbeckia triloba pulled, the melianthus could be settled into a dappled sun/afternoon shade location adjacent to Grevillea ‘Moonlight,’ which needed a bit of straightening after the pushing and shoving it endured from the cussonia. Time will tell if the melianthus appreciates being dug, split, and moved during the warm days of early September. All I can say is that the hot weather combined with losing the cussonia put me in a bit of a ruthless mood.
But it’s always good to shake things up and get a fresh look. Agave ‘Snow Glow’ shines even more backed by a chorus of the bromeliad Bilbergia ‘Hallelujah’ which were uprooted in the upheaval.
In the full-sun vacancy left by the melianthus was an opening to try Senecio palmeri, endemic to searingly hot and dry Guadalupe Island off Baja California. I’ve had an eye on this one at the local nursery all summer. Goats were introduced to the island by whalers not long after it was first identified, so there’s very little of it left on the island.
Looking for Senecio palmeri at the nurseries, I fell under the spell of Passiflora ‘Witchcraft.’ Reputed to bloom only in late summer/fall, with leaves that burn in too much sun but flowering poorly in too little sun, i.e., troublesome, it has The Stumpery’s name all over it. (“Wicked witchcraft, and although I know it’s strictly taboo, when you arouse the need in me, my heart says yes, indeed in me, proceed with what you’re leading me to,” etc.)
More sparkly lights seemed appropriate after the dog days of August. In this season of unusually fierce storms, wishing you a safe weekend.