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.
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…
The Minoan lace, Orlaya grandiflora, coming into bloom now, is a few weeks later than the poppies but does overlap with their bloom time.
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.
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).
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.
So instead of ripping up the garden every few years, I play around with containers. Much less upheaval.
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.
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.
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.
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!