spring surge

In what’s become a spring ritual, I thinned out a whole bunch of poppies today (my go-to poppy, Papaver setigerum, which has been reseeding for years). And yanked handfuls of branches from the bulging honeywort, Cerinthe major purpurascens, too. When what is after all a low-key succulent garden most of the year becomes inundated by the spring tidal surge of self-sowers, I’m simultaneously thrilled and alarmed. Alarmed because you can’t crowd agaves and aloes like this for long before they begin to complain. And they’ve already had their hands full coping with that wet winter after years of drought, the agaves in particular.

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Unlike a lot of gardens in cooler zones just now fattening up for spring and summer, this one will necessarily begin to slim down for the upcoming dry season. This photo was taken yesterday, before the poppies and cerinthe were thinned. (I was thrilled to find a young Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ still alive under all this growth.) Yes, it’s a crazy tightrope but so enthralling…

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The Minoan lace, Orlaya grandiflora, coming into bloom now, is a few weeks later than the poppies but does overlap with their bloom time.

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Agave pygmaea ‘Dragon Toes,’ who lost just a few leaves to winter wet, is much more prominent now that towering (mite-infested) branches of Aloe elgonica have been pruned out, and the Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ are subsequently also showing a higher profile. (Losses, gains, gardens have more ups and downs than the stock market.) Anigozanthos ‘Yellow Gem’ is pushing out blooms just behind the yucca. I’ve seen kangaroo paws in bloom around town, but my three clumps are just getting going.

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poppies sprinkled throughout the back garden are a nice sight to wake up to on an April morning

Roughly, the rectangular back garden consists of an evergreen band of succulents planted close to the house and pergola, intermittently backed by small(ish) shrubs that in winter conceal dormant summer growers like Verbena bonariensis, big grasses, kangaroo paws, eryngiums, salvias, hopefully some verbascums and giant fennel this year — scaling up to a final band of big stuff planted nearly up against the back wall (grevillea, bocconia, adenanthos, and an enormous clump of Eryngium pandanifolium).

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Aloe ‘Moonglow’ and Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ in January

As usual, for winter what’s desired is the solidity and textural interest of evergreen shrubs, (and of course winter-blooming aloes) but come spring it’s all I can do to keep from ripping out all the leucadendrons, eremophila, and coprosma to load up on spring and summer ephemerals. After seesawing for years over seasonal emphasis, a sober compromise has evolved, with the shrubby stuff like leucadendrons getting cut back fairly hard in spring so surrounding summer growers are more prominent. Small incidents light up every season, which is an acceptable compromise for a small, zone 10 garden that has to support a restless, plant-collecting habit.

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So instead of ripping up the garden every few years, I play around with containers. Much less upheaval.

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Albuca spiralis, all coiled, kinetic energy topped with chartreuse, fritillary-esque flowers, is incredibly easy in a pot. The giant Albuca maxima is thriving in the front garden which goes very dry in summer.

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With the poppies thinned, light and air circulation are gradually being restored to the succulents. Poppies engulfed the Agave gypsophila ssp. pablocarrilloi ‘Ivory Curls’ for most of March/April, and nearly concealed that first bloom on the variegated Aloe arborescens. A few clumps of Glaucium flavum will give me a needed poppy fix during summer, after the spring ephemeral poppies are gone.

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The mangaves seemed to have survived the winter wet. Almost dead center is ‘Catch a Wave.’ Carex testacea reseeds here, and I’m trying out Lychnis coronaria ‘Gardener’s World’ in this area too.

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Checking the vegetable section of Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena, I was thrilled to find Mertensia maritima — it is after all a sought-after edible known as the oyster plant, even though I wouldn’t dream of treating such a beauty as a salad crop. It seems there’s just no end of beautiful plants to bring home for a spin in the garden. And sometimes I actually deceive myself into thinking I can devise a plan to fit them all!

This entry was posted in agaves, woody lilies, shop talk, succulents. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to spring surge

  1. Alison says:

    Ah, that ‘Gardener’s World’ Lychnis is the one with the double flowers, like a tiny rose. I nearly ordered some when they were in stock at Select Seeds as plants. Did you get yours by mail order? I had no luck with the Mertensia maritima that I bought a few years ago at Far Reaches Farm here in Washington. It faded away. I hope yours thrives.

  2. Kris P says:

    I wish I had half your success with poppies, Denise. I broke down this year and added 3 ‘Lavender Feathers’ poppies to an Annie’s order last month but it’s still anyone’s guess as to whether they’ll survive to bloom. Coincidentally, I spent the late hours of this afternoon cutting back some of my own rampant self-seeders to reveal the agaves hidden beneath and also hacked away at the Leucadendron ‘Chief’ I should have cut back 6 or more weeks ago. What are you going to do when your ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ reaches its full potential?

  3. Denise says:

    @Alison, yep, mine came from Select Seeds mail order. I was shocked to see that mertensia local because it definitely likes cooler climes. Perhaps it’s being grown here as a winter vegetable? I couldn’t pass it up.
    @Kris, you’ve got carpets of springs flowers –I just don’t have that much space so these slim poppies work for me. If/when WW gets as big as yours, there will be some tough decisions to make…

  4. Elaine says:

    Those poppies are a gorgeous shade of pink. Normally not a pink lover but do love these. I don’t think it matters how big your garden is a collector never has enough space. However, never stops us from trying to squeeze more in.

  5. Denise says:

    @Elaine, I don’t plan for a lot of pink either. These poppies are on the lavendar-pink side, and then there’s dark central blotch that keeps them on the goth side πŸ˜‰
    @P.S. Kris, you are the voice of reason. Your comment scared me straight — I took out Wilson’s Wonder this morning. Everything makes much more sense with it gone πŸ˜‰

  6. Nell says:

    Is a dug-up Leucadendron replantable, something you could give to another gardener with more space? Very impressed at your steely resolve; it’s gorgeous in the January photo.

  7. Denise says:

    @Nell, there’s an ‘Ebony’ leucadendron very close by, so things were getting over-shrubbed, as they tend to do here. To replace the leuc, I’m trying instead Sphaeralcea ‘Childerley,’ a native that blooms through summer, so the seasonal emphasis shifts again! ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ is widely available — not sure how amenable it would have been to being moved elsewhere.

  8. Rebecca says:

    Your garden is beautiful. I’m jealous of your Albuca spiralis. I bought one this year and killed it. I haven’t seen another one to try since.

  9. hb says:

    I admire your adventurousness and experimentation in trying so many different plants. It has inspired me to do a little experimenting myself, and the garden/gardener is all the better for it. Thanks!

  10. Peter says:

    Gorgeous! I love the idea of playing with pots instead of ripping the garden up every few years.

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