A couple of loose ideas came together this morning in a slowburn, sleepy kind of way. I’ve been envious of large stands of Agave attenuata around town, wishing I could grab a crown for dramatic inclusion in a large vase, but that would be stealing. Even though the plantings are congested and no one would miss one of dozens of rosettes from a neglected parkway. That is still, by definition, taking without permission. The second idea was the long-delayed matter of thinning a congested planting of Agave ‘Blue Flame’ of my own that was encroaching on a nearby aloe. I tackled that project this morning. I admit there were a few blank seconds where I failed to recognize the real-time intersection of these two ideas as I sawed away at the agave, which is after all an attenuata hybrid. I stared at the rather nice-looking rosette severed from the main plant for a few seconds and thought what a shame it was to waste — oh, wait a minute. Right! Now, which pot would be heavy enough to support it?
There was a tiny bit of root attached to the stem, so I filled the pot with water. My agave-as-sweet-potato experiment.
The rim supports the rosette and keeps the stem from being squashed against the bottom of the pot.
But a big glass vase, maybe even a Sparkletts bottle, where the stem and roots (if any) can be viewed would be interesting too.
More random brainstorms and Wednesday vignettes can be found at Flutter & Hum.
A blustery day for a change, this November Bloom Day. I hope it finds you safe and warm.
Daytime temperatures dropping out of the 80s have forced the realization that summer is truly over.
Yesterday we cleaned the house top to bottom, wiping away a summer’s worth of dust and grime from months of open doors and windows.
Furniture was tipped up and floors underneath scrubbed, curtains bundled off to the cleaners.
That right there is capitulation to the new seasonal reality of spending more time indoors than outdoors.
But the short days ahead will have their interesting moments, apart from the holidays looming, especially with the winter aloes waking up.
Aloe scobinifolia’s blooms are lasting much longer in the cooler November temps. It bloomed last November and then again this past June.
Yesterday I watched a hummingbird dart in and out among the flowers, finally choosing to rest on a stem to take a long sip.
A nice moment, the kind that seems to come ringed with a halo, leaving a charged atmosphere for a few minutes or so afterward.
And then the phone rings or there’s a knock on the door and, poof, the halo dissolves.
The surrounding St. Augustine grass doesn’t seem to be inhibiting its vigor, and it may be foiling the ants and aphids.
Other stemless aloes, all hybrids, not species, have been ravaged by lethal attacks from aphids, which ants tuck in tight and unseen amongst the undersides of lower leaves close to the main stem.
The giveaway comes when the plump leaves start turning into potato chips. A ‘Moonglow’ was taken out in this manner, but I managed to salvage a large cutting that has taken root.
The little hybrids are starting to bloom too. This one came unlabeled, but it might be ‘Christmas Cheer’
I’m hoping full winter sun will darken the leaves on Aloe ‘Sparkler’
Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’
Gomphrena ‘Balboa’ made it through a difficult summer. We’ll see if it has a chance of becoming a staple like ‘Fireworks.’
Lotus jacobaeus is glad summer is over, judging by its newly enthusiastic bloom cycle
Crithum maritimum is also responding to the cooler weather with another bloom cycle.
Ricinus communis ‘New Zealand Purple’ with its tiny white blooms and spiky seedheads, brings the crimson-rich color of fall in a tropical form.
Planted this fall, Eremophila glabra ‘Kalgoorlie.’
A silver shrub with creme brulee-colored trumpets. I’m very excited to observe this one’s habits of growth next spring/summer.
More dessert analogies spring to mind with Mina lobata’s candy corn blooms.
This vine can be perennial in mild climates, so I have hopes for more from the Spanish Flag next spring.
I know spiky agaves in the garden make some people nervous, but lovers of architectural plants for the dry garden can get into a lot more trouble than an agave.
The golden barrel cactus has recently gotten under my skin, figuratively speaking only, thank goodness.
Echinocactus grusonii holds the dubious distinction of being one of the most familiar yet endangered cactus planted around Southern California.
Illegal collecting and the building of the Zimapan Dam and reservoir in its native Hidalgo, Mexico, haven’t helped matters.
Indeed, Jim Folsom, Director of the Huntington Botanical Garden, believes it is probably no longer to be found in the wild.
Golden barrel cactus at the Ruth Bancroft Garden
Regrettably, I have only one golden barrel cactus to roll out, to test its light-splintering qualities this fall, now that light and wind have replaced heat as the big news in the garden.
I plug pots of agaves into the garden all the time as the seasons (or my itchy digging fingers) open up space for their big sculptural rosettes.
But this is a first for me, temporarily moving a potted barrel cactus into the garden, and that’s for a couple reasons.
In my experience, barrel cactus are rarely used as specimens and are almost always planted in groups. Would just one look silly?
And, secondly, Echinocactus grusonii deals with any absent-minded mishandling quickly and savagely, inflicting a “dirty wound,” prone to infection.
So why risk it, you say?
The key word is “golden.” It has a wonderful solidity, but all those golden spines arrayed like hundreds of tiny propellors impart a surprising lightness too.
Doesn’t that silver pot make it look like a prickly loaf of rising bread?
Placement of cactus in the landscape does bring up valid concerns for pets and children. My little experiment is in a spot safe from wandering corgi paws.
As far as planting as a specimen versus in groups, I’m still undecided.
Here golden barrel cactus is a specimen with fiery red Crassula pubescens ssp. radicans. I am so not ashamed of wanting to steal this idea.
With dyckias and Echeveria agavoides at the Huntington’s Desert Garden
The same area stepping further back, when the Palo Verdes were in bloom, photo by Mitch.
A group of barrel cactus with the whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) at the Sherman Gardens
A small group as an accent in a complex planting at the Jardin Majorelle in Morocco, photo by Mitch Maher.
With Dragon Trees at Lotusland.
This cactus grows readily from seed, maturing to flowering size in roughly 15 years.
The Getty in particular has a spectacular mass planting of this cactus.
I treated myself yesterday to San Gabriel Valley’s Cactus & Succulent Society‘s show and sale at the Los Angeles Arboretum.
I bought no plants this time, just circled the show tables over and over, sometimes because the show plant was that engrossing and other times just to get a shot after the crowd parted.
At the sales tables I did a quick phone search on Aloe castilloniae, which seemed to be everywhere for sale, the species and some hybrids. There’s not a lot of info available on it.
(Here’s an entry with a good photo I didn’t catch on my phone: Aloe castilloniae)
This Aloe melanacantha with a flower bud was the first show plant to stop me in my tracks.
I always find the boophanes so expressive. I really need to repot mine to elevate the bulb.
Urginea maritima, the gigantic Sea Squill in a tiny pot. Who knew?
I didn’t always snap the names of the cacti. In the past I’ve been known to rush by these tables but am starting to find them so absorbing visually.
It can bring quite the endorphin release to stand before a beautifully grown cactus such as this.
I had to check the name on this wild thing: Astrophytum capricorne var. niveum
From the melocactus table
I’m on firmer ground with the agaves. Agave ‘Snow Glow’
Agave xylonacantha ‘Frost Bite’
And so ends the plant show and sale season of 2015. Thanks to all who’ve shared their beautiful obsessions.
I just had a panicked moment, several of them actually, trying to recollect the name of this very good plant that has prospered through this very challenging summer.
I could only remember that Heather had blogged about it blooming in her zone 7 Portland garden in spring, which turns out is all I needed to remember.
Othonna cheirifolia, native to South Africa, chalky blue, spatulate leaves, going by the piratical-sounding common name of Barbary Ragwort.
Small yellow daisies in spring are less compelling than the carpet of glaucous leaves that remains year-round in my zone 10.
To get a sense of just how blue othonna is, see its chalky blueness growing next to bright green Grevillea ‘Mt. Tamboritha.’ White felty leaves of ballota in the background.
Together with their strikingly blue color, the slender, smooth-edged, spoon-shaped leaves effortlessly set themselves apart in a
jumble community of plants.
Growing at the base of a young Octopus agave (A. vilmoriniana), it’s had as much sun and irrigation as the agave — scorching in regards to the former, spotty with the latter.
Leaf color just about matches the agave too.
On 12/7/12 I blogged that it was “just found today,” so this is almost a three-year-old clump.
If you’re after blue at a galloping pace, there’s always Senecio mandraliscae, the Blue Chalk Fingers.
A subtle but remarkably durable plant with a tricky name to remember.
(There’s another othonna with the memorable common name of Little Pickles, a small-scale ground cover with blue succulent leaves, Othonna capensis.)
Othonna, Othonna, Othonna. There…committed to memory at last.
Fall has been stupidly busy, but I’m so glad I made it out to Pomona last Saturday for John Greenlee’s Meadow Grass Fall Festival, the second year it’s been held.
Let’s cross our grubby, fall-planting fingers and hope for another festival in 2016. The food was plentiful and tasty, as were the libations. Alas, I couldn’t stay for the evening jazz concert.
Now based in the Bay Area, Greenlee still maintains the Pomona property where his grassy ambitions first took root.
The festival was attended mainly by designers, and it was an impressively energized bunch.
The prevailing mood seems to be that in drought, there is opportunity — especially for garden designers.
All were eager to hear what’s new in grasses, what’s working, and what isn’t.
John Schoustra of Greenwood Gardens covered daylilies, irises, and pelargoniums, and made an impressive case for the bioremediation qualities of daylilies in the landscape.
I loved the tallest daylilies with the smallest, simplest flowers, like ‘Salmon Sheen,’ which is heresy to true aficionados.
Schoustra’s preference is also for daylilies that read well in a landscape and not for all the ruffles and sparkles that require close-up inspection on bended knee.
Although I don’t know him personally, our paths have been crossing ever since our kids attended the same private school in Long Beach.
I well remember the Greenwood van parked at the curb of the old, two-story wooden house where Mitch and Duncan attended elementary school.
Resourceful old houses can double as schools, plant nurseries, like Greenlee’s house on its enormous lot in Pomona.
I arrived late (after getting a bit lost) so missed the opportunity to wander and take some photos of his bamboo-covered garden.
Part of the sales tables near the house
It can’t come as any surprise by now that I’m an incredibly easy mark when it comes to plants.
And for the first time in a while I actually had some empty ground due to the departure of Yucca’ Margarita.’
I brought home, in gallons:
Three Yucca pallida, Mountain States Wholesale Nursery
Two Melampodium leucanthum, Blackfoot Daisy, from MSWN (if you follow Rockrose’s Texas blog, you already know this remarkable little daisy)
Poa cita, a New Zealander that Greenlee feels might be the replacement for Mexican Feather Grass
Euphorbia antisyphilitica, from MSWN (Total non sequitur, but if you’re watching Soderbergh’s The Knick, you’ll be up to date on the gruesome ravages of syphilis.)
Most of these were selected after hearing the very persuasive Wendy Proud of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery list her go-to plants during her talk “Got Some Ground to Cover?”
Every plant in her roster carried impeccable dry/tough/gorgeous credentials, so look them up for fall planting and ask for them if you don’t see them at your local nursery:
Acacia redolens ‘Desert Carpet’
Dalea capitata ‘Sierra Gold’
Eremophila glabra ‘Mingenew Gold’
Euphorbia antisyphilitica, which at about a foot tall reminds me of a smaller Baja spurge, Euphorbia xanti
Portulacaria afra minima
Scutellaria sp. ‘Starfire’
In constant motion and as animated as any meadow grass, Greenlee packed in a dense amount of information during his talk.
That’s his selection of true blue Cupressus guadalupensis in the distant background.
We were tucked into the narrow, shady former driveway at the entrance to the garden. Temps are still seesawing between upper 80s/low 90s this fall.
As far as the ongoing search for lawn replacements, Greenlee reminded us that no grass will stay green without some
summer water, but the trick is to find a grass that requires the least amount necessary. The more foot traffic is intended, the more water will be needed. For the moment, he’s wild about Leymus triticoides ‘Lagunita,’
which he feels is the closest thing to the perfect California native lawn. In creating a meadow, along with the chosen base grass, architectural accent grasses like Pennisetum spathiolatum
add height and movement, and Greenlee has been experimenting with including flowering plants like gazania, tulbaghia, yarrow, gaura, evening primrose. Challenging designers to come up with their own meadow formulations, Greenlee increased the level of complexity by adding that it must all be mowable at some point to rejuvenate the grasses. A lot of people I’ve been talking with share his enthusiasm and feel that this is an exciting tipping point for creating dry gardens without the obligatory, frequently irrigated, and closely mown lawn. The Blue Grama grass selection, Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition
,’ got a strong endorsement from him as well, which he sometimes mixes as an accent in plantings of the species Blue Grama. For Greenlee’s definitive advice, consult The American Meadow Garden.
Planted at home, Euphorbia antisyphilitica to the right of Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’ recently moved here, with a few blooms from Melampodium leucanthum peeking in.
I’d like about five more of this euphorbia, which surprisingly can winter through a zone 7. Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff’ in the background has been phenomenal this very hot summer.
Grey succulent is Senecio medley-woodii which I cut back a lot to encourage bushiness.
One of the three Yucca pallida, pending mulch.
I was determined to find spots where the slanted afternoon light picks up the leaves’ yellow margins
Poa cita, Greenlee’s choice over Mexican Feather Grass
My own personal “meadow,” of course, must include agaves.
Just as the taco truck was arriving, and before hearing Grant Lee Stevenson’s talk on palms, I had to leave.
Did anybody else attend the palm talk?
It’s been such a pleasure to see what shape and expression each successive Natural Discourse has taken. Developed by Shirley Watts and Mary Anne Friel for the Berkeley Botanic Garden, a group of artists were invited to make site-specific work for the garden and then give talks about that work. (‘Natural Discourse: Artists, Architects, Scientists & Poets in the Garden.’) Shirley Watts has continued this series of talks and brought it to other venues and arboreta. I’ve loved them all.
Shirley’s household as a child blended both art and science, with parents working in music and medicine.
As a result, she effortlessly moves between the two worlds and finds the intricate linkages between both, the overlap where science and art inform and enrich each other.
Working in gardens, we know how much science is involved in making that perfect moment on a warm June day.
Boundless romantic longing moderated by keen observation are what makes our gardens cause visitors to shrug, “Oh, you can grow anything. You have such a green thumb.”
Artists and scientists are both filled with longing for their subjects, and both rely on thumbs and brains in their work.
Shirley doesn’t feel the need to segregate them into separate symposia, recognizing the contributions each make to the other.
The physical collections of herbaria and natural history museums were a theme of this year’s Natural Discourse.
To talk about these collections, you need to bring in explorers, adventurers, disaster, hubris, lack of funding, lost collections, redemption. All the really juicy stuff.
And the specimen of Liatris punctata collected by Custer two years before Little Big Horn with his handwritten tag that was nearly thrown in the trash.
As always, it was a great time.
Shirley Watts on opening night at the La Brea Tar Pits
Continue reading postscript to Natural Discourse; Flora & Fauna
Congratulations, Artemisia annua (Sweet Annie, Sweet Wormwood), on your recent Nobel Prize in the sciences.
photo found here
And congratulations as well to Dr. Tu, who solved the problem of increasingly drug-resistant malaria with artemisinin extracted from Artemisia annua.
Dr. Tu poured over ancient texts of Chinese herbal remedies and “reread a particular recipe, written more than 1,600 years ago in a text titled “Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One’s Sleeve.”
The directions were to soak one bunch of wormwood in water and then drink the juice.” (“Answering an Appeal by Mao Led Tu Youyou, a Chinese Scientist, to a Nobel Prize“)
Plants and people, what a team!
Dr. Tu realized that high temperatures were compromising the active ingredient and devised an ether-based solvent, tested it on mice and monkeys, and then herself.
China has now received its long-anticipated Nobel Prize for science and the world has gained an effective antimalarial in its drug arsenal.
Plants matter. Dr. Tu proved again that they are literally the emergency prescriptions kept up our sleeves.
Bloom Days are celebrated by May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of every month, and as far as I know, latecomers are welcome.
If you’re perpetually late like me, you end up straddling Bloom Day on the 15th and the focus on leaves on the 16th that Pam at Digging hosts, so you can fudge the categories a bit.
The high temperature/humidity triggered a bloom flush from Passiflora ‘Sunburst’ that’s clambering up the cypress.
Complicated floral architecture in citrus colors on tiny, maybe quarter-size flowers. (Again, thank you, Max!)
Most of these photos were taken at zero dark thirty yesterday morning. Arctotis is flush with blooms again, but more importantly, Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ survived the summer.
I should know better than to declare survival status, since that’s usually the kiss of death but, knock wood, ‘Ebony’ made it to autumn.
I’ve cut lots of large bloom trusses from the Glaucium grandiflorum, seen in the background, to keep it from swamping its neighbors, like that small santolina.
The glaucium has been in continuous bloom all summer. The cage on the left protects a white tigridia planted this fall from wayward corgi paws.
Ein still ambles through here, even though I’ve planted up his familiar little path. That’s a mean trick for an old dog.
Another unabashed heat lover is the castor bean. Seedlings germinate spring through summer, which I continually weed out.
In late August I let a few stand, and they quickly make size, flowers and seedpods.
Unstoppable Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ was cut down to the ground in later summer but would not be denied.
This photo was taken probably hours before the 8-foot yucca in the background was removed.
Busy, busy. Yesterday I moved this Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrid’ from the container to the garden.
The spilling effect of the flowers over the lip of the container instantly became a flopping effect on the ground.
It’d be perfect at the top of a retaining wall.
I’ll probably grab a piece of it for a container again. I’m curious to see if it becomes more upstanding after a while in the ground.
A Mexican Grass Tree, Dasylirion longissimum, planted long ago, has been rescued from under the debris of the jacarandas in the front yard, cleaned up, and potted.
There’s actually been quite a bit of shuffling recently and even some wholesale demolition.
I’d been mulling over removing Yucca ‘Margarita’ for nearly a year (nee ‘Margaritaville’) and woke up yesterday with the conviction that it was time.
‘Margarita’ had a record five blooms this summer, and new rosettes of growth were coming in at increasingly bizarre angles.
A cistus was removed from where this pot now stands. The bulbine was planted a couple months ago. ‘Johnson’s Hybrid’ aloe was moved in this area as well.
‘Snowfire’ is a beautiful cistus and said to be relatively compact, but even so I was cutting it back quite a bit to keep it off Leucadendron ‘Winter Red.’
Asphodels were recently planted here as well, and from all outward appearances have opted once again to speedily meet their maker.
That makes three attempts, so we have no more to say to each other.
The silver mush on the left is a recently planted verbascum, one of three taken out by the hot, muggy weather.
Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket’ has taken over the yucca’s job of photobomber.
John Greenlee is having a Meadow Grass Festival October 24, a great opportunity to check out the best grasses for warm-winter areas.
I’ve been neglecting to get Bloom Day photos of Berlandiera lyrata. So fast into bloom from seed and loves it hot and dry.
A mahogany-colored osteospermum, planted last spring, took summer off and has just started to bloom this fall.
Xanthosoma “Lime Zinger’ appreciated being moved in deeper shade recently.
Bunch of little pots sheltering on the shadier east patio, with a small Euphorbia geroldii starting to bloom, a thornless crown-of-thorns.
Wrapping this up, grevilleas and salvias are in bloom but still waiting on the Mina lobata vine, which is just now showing flower buds.
I’ll try to be punctual if it’s in flower for November’s Bloom Day.
Hot enough for you? It’s over 100 degrees in Los Angeles today, so hot that even the devil has left town.
(That’s the best “It’s so hot” line I’ve heard all summer, spoken by a gentleman from El Paso, Texas.)
And our winters just keeping getting warmer, too, so I’m thinking it’s probably best to face that reality with…more bromeliads. You don’t see the connection? Hear me out.
In temperate Southern California, unless your garden sits in a frost pocket, bromeliads don’t need to be hustled indoors for winter like they do in colder climates.
I’ve never been one to get really excited about pumpkins and gourd displays for fall, but I could easily adopt a tradition of filling the garden with bromeliads for winter.
Their juicy, saturated colors and starburst rosettes would be a huge boost in the shorter (but most likely still warm) days of winter.
If we’re strolling the garden in shirtsleeves and flip-flops in December, then let’s have something sexy to look at. And bromeliads are indisputably sexy.
They’re also incredibly easy to care for, needing about as much water and attention as succulents. Like agaves, they die after flowering but always leave some pups to carry on.
Here’s some glamour shots from local plant shows and sales over the years with IDs if I have them:
Alcanterea ‘Volcano Mist’
Aechmea nudicaulis in the center
Aechmea ‘Loies Pride’
Okay, so they make dramatic specimens for containers, but what about massed in the frost-free landscape?
I’m so glad you asked.
This is what Lotusland, an estate garden in Montecito, California, does with bromeliads in an admittedly fantastical and over-the-top landscape:
Continue reading bromeliads for winter