garden mysteries and dilemmas

Some minor drama and quandaries in the garden recently.

The bloom stalk of possibly Tillandsia secunda leaning on Alcantarea odorata

The very large but unidentified tillandsia brought home from a sale at the private garden of the late Bill Baker (of Aloe ‘Hercules’ fame), organized by his wife Donna Baker and So Cal Hort Society, is throwing a bloom. The stalk is over 3 feet and still growing. It just might be the Giant Terrestrial Tillandsia, T. secunda. Seeing this tillandsia at the Sherman Library & Garden in full flowering regalia prompted a mad search for its identity — you can read about it here. Suffice to say that my little garden is somewhat overexcited at the prospect of seeing this tilly in bloom here. I do have a very small Tillandsia secunda I bought after seeing the Sherman’s, but it has years of growing to do before it even thinks about blooming.


I’m not sure anything tops that news, but this newly repotted Euphorbia canariensis comes close.

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Urn and euphorbia were purchased at a sale and auction of the contents of the old Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles to make way for its next iteration as a boutique hotel — photo from 2016

The urn had considerably crumbled and flaked in the four years since this photo, and making a decision on the best course of action had reached a state of paralysis. I could save the urn or the plant, but not both, and the plant was beginning to show signs of stress as the container increasingly shed water rather than absorb it. At this size, it should be flowering, but it hasn’t. I sat on this dilemma for too long and began to view what was once so beautiful to me as a troublingly unsolvable problem. This week the hammer finally came out. I opted to save the plant and smash the urn. The mental logjam was smashed to smithereens too — no regrets. Just please don’t tell me it’s ancient Minoan pottery worth millions….

Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Medio Picta’

And that’s not the only mental logjam I cleared this week. This unobstructed view of that strapping young agave was made possible by the very hard pruning of a Phylica pubescens, a South African Featherbush (photo in this post). This luminous golden shrub has not been easy to please, so when it decided to live and thrive and grow tall, I wasn’t about to grumble that it was blocking my view of the agave behind it. The young agave had lots of growing to do, and if it accomplished that mostly out of my sight, fine. But after some years, the Featherbush has grown leggy, and that finally prompted me to cut it back to a foot or so. I doubt it survives, so I’ll start over with a new one at some point. But not where it blocks the view of this maturing agave. And I don’t even want to think about the Solomonic decisions to be made when the agave’s wing span approaches the predicted 6 feet. I’ll file that under “future garden dilemmas” next to rebuilding the termite-ridden fence, calling an arborist to consult on the soaring lemon cypresses, redoing the front garden, etc., etc.

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7 Responses to garden mysteries and dilemmas

  1. Kris P says:

    I remember the great search for that Tillandsia’s identity, as well as your discovery of T. secunda at Rainflorest Flora. How exciting that your noID Tillandsia is putting up a bloom spike that looks equally magnificent. I think you did the right thing with the Euphorbia – it looks great in it’s new pot. My Phylica is looking a bit sad too but I just cut back the dead stems and hope for the best – I still remember seeing my first Phylica at Seaside Gardens with a $400 price tag…They’re much more reasonably priced now, when you can find them.

  2. I completely understand why the idea of smashing that pot was so hard to come around to, it is (it was) fabulous! But so is the plant, so there’s that. Can’t wait to see a photo of the tillandsia bloom in it’s full glory!

  3. ks says:

    The Euphobia canariensis is exquisite and looks splendid in it’s new home. I don’t blame you for your horticultural sophies choice, but smashing that LA architecture pot would have been painful for me-I’ve smashed more than one pot trying to liberate one plant or another, usually of off-shore origin. I hope you’ll update on the end result of the Phylica chop.

  4. Ed Morrow says:

    Your resolve to smash you way out of a dilemma is admirable. I would have dithered for years before doing something like that. And good luck with the Tillandsia.
    Do you feed – fertilize your succulents, and if you do, how do you do it?

  5. Denise says:

    @Kris, I started trimming my Featherbush more last year to bring out some fresh growth from the base and it just grew leggier, which is apparently what they do when they age.
    @Loree, I’m so hoping that no mishaps occur with the bloom before it opens!
    @Kathy, the base of the urn was saved, and playing around with it today I discovered that the base is hollow, so upside-down, hollow side up, it makes an ancient looking hypertufa planter!
    @Ed, I’m a first-rate ditherer too, so smashing stuff occasionally feels good. As far as succulents, no, I never fertilize them. That’s one thing zone 10 grows really well!

  6. hb says:

    That’s a very elegant Euphorbia. You did right by it. All the plants in the last photo look fabulous together, too.

    I just put my copy of that Agave out on the front slope, where it can be as six-footish as it likes.

    Best wishes!

  7. hans says:

    Euphorbia canariensis – I will add that to my list. Very elegant looking plant…. on the other hand I’ve always been a fan of ancient Minoan pottery as well…

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