CSSA road trip June 2015

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Enormous Quiver Tree, Aloidendron dichotoma, and cycads in a Fallbrook, California private garden

It’s so true that passion bestows courage on the meek. A passion for plants put me on a bus one early Wednesday last June, a bus filled with cactus and succulent writers, explorers, and growers. The professional, the erudite, the specialists…and me. And they were all the best of friends, boisterously catching up on gossipy news. Queuing up behind name tags I knew from books and articles, it was all I could do to stifle a strong urge to flee. We were boarding a field trip bus leaving Pitzer College in Claremont, California, site of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America’s week-long Biennial Convention. The convention was comprised of all-day lectures, plant sales, dinners, and each day had its own price tag, including very affordable accommodations to stay the entire week in dormitories at the college. The portion I absolutely did not want to miss was this one day of touring private gardens. Other field trip choices were the Huntington and Lotusland, but it was the rare access to private gardens that had me resolutely putting one nervous foot in front of the other down that seemingly endless bus aisle until I found an open seat at the back of the bus. Not long after, a charming cylindropuntia expert, Vonn Watkins, took the empty seat next to mine and regaled me with stories the entire trip, including an account of a recent donation to the Huntington of a priceless cycad collection (probably Loran Whitelock’s, see here) and how Debra Lee Baldwin was booed in Tucson when she dissed cholla during a lecture there. (Debra tells that story here.) Plant people are the nicest people. We had a fabulous time.

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Our itinerary was a mystery. First stop was just a few minutes away from the college, the Claremont garden of Rico Leon. Unfortunately, I neglected to take photos, but standout plants for me included Aloe secundiflora, just building up another bloom truss. Rico says it blooms three times a year for him. A young tree aloe, Aloidendron pillansii, with its curious hammerhead-like leaves, also had me pestering Rico for an ID. This tree aloe is also known as the Giant Quiver Tree or the Bastard Quiver Tree, to distinguish it from the real-deal Quiver Tree, Aloidendron dichotoma. It was a fairly quick stop before we headed back onto the bus to visit what I assumed would be another local garden. Instead the bus left Claremont and the San Gabriel Mountain foothills and headed 40 miles south, in heavy commuter traffic, to Orange Coast College. I thought heading to Orange County was a pretty bold move, considering the traffic, but that wasn’t to be as far south as we’d go that day.
After a tour of the horticultural department and lunch at the college, we headed south again, this time to San Diego, where we toured two private gardens.
Every stop on the tour was shrouded in secrecy, and the last leg to San Diego of approximately 70 miles was a slog through heavy traffic.
We didn’t get back to Claremont until 8 p.m.

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The photos on this post are from the last stop of the day, at a private garden in Fallbrook that I was later told holds the U.S.’s second largest collection of blue cycads.
(Cycads are among the most endangered plants in the world. The most commonly seen is the sago palm, Cycas revoluta.)
Whether due to the long drive, the heat, the suspense, or all three, we stumbled out of the bus somewhat shell-shocked into this remarkable garden thick with cycads and huge stands of cactus planted in the 1960s. I overheard a lot of sotto voce whispering, “Whose garden is this, anyway?” Not a lot of information was given about the owner, who was introduced to us briefly at the beginning of the tour, first name only, and then we were let loose to roam the paths at will.

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I did bump into the owner later in the tour and found him very friendly.
I’m not sure when he acquired the garden, but he did say that the mature plantings were the work of the original owner in the 1960s, and he has continued to add to them.
With such rare cycads in the collection, details are understandably kept sketchy, but at least it was open to tour on a warm day in June.

summer camp state of mind

I never attended summer camp as a kid, but family camping trips always included my grandmother, a kitchen’s worth of pots and pans, and her sturdy army cot.
Thus equipped, my formidable grandmother was ready for anything and wanted nothing more of a camping trip than to be in charge of the campfire kitchen all day. We never objected.
My single camp stool does a fine job of conjuring up memories of a child’s summer kingdom.
Add some incredibly sultry weather, a couple rare rainstorms, lots of fascinating insects winging in and out, and I won’t leave the back yard all weekend.
And, yes, my keister just barely fits, thank you very much.

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Glaucium grandiflorum is blooming like this is its last summer. And it just may be, because they are known to be short-lived.

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The orange arctotis has such a glow and shimmer to its petals, it just never gets old, which is great because it’s never out of bloom either.

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Marty found the grate on the docks at “Fish Harbor,” site of the old canneries, when he worked on the USC research boats.

Long Beach harbor was formerly home to a Navy base, and the old downtown used to have wonderful Army surplus stores to shop for cots and other cool, Foreign Legion-type stuff.
All the old thrift shops and surplus stores have long since closed. My little camp stool came from a vendor on eBay, where you can find a wide range offered.
Remodelista recently showcased a nice selection of daybed-length cots, just like my grandmother’s.

Bloom Day July 2015

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The planting under the Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is all fairly new, except for the Plectranthus neochilus. Stinky or not, it’s a great addition to a dry garden.
Gomphrena ‘Balboa’ is the clover-like flowers with silver leaves, which blends in seamlessly with all the ballota here.
Tall grass in bloom is Stipa ichu, the Peruvian Feather Grass, said to be noninvasive, unlike the fearsome Mexican Feather Grass.
California chain Armstrong Nurseries as well as Home Depot have both vowed to no longer sell the MFG, Stipa tenuissima.

Continue reading Bloom Day July 2015

CMU bench/planter at Manaow

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I finally found a moment when Manaow’s CMU bench/planter could be investigated minus the usual throngs of people.
That window of quiet was around 7 a.m. in the morning, when the only activity at this east end of Broadway was the Laundromat next-door opening for business.
I discovered this clever incursion into the parking lot when Mitch and Jessica took me out to breakfast at the The Potholder a couple doors down.
As can be seen from the parking grid and stripes, this Thai restaurant hacked the parking lot for some outdoor dining and came up with a strong graphic design to define the area.

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A hack within a hack. As far as I know, the credit for the original CMU planter hack goes to Annette Gutierrez of Potted.
The humble concrete masonry unit’s stackable, Lego-like potential has since been exploited over and over in seemingly endless planter configurations.
There hasn’t been this much fun with concrete since Frank Lloyd Wright played with the stuff.

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The bench is why I found this one so intriguing.
I’ve been mulling this over and haven’t decided if/where to build a bench of my own.

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The relative permanence and lack of mobility make it a poor fit for me, a chronic shuffler of objects.

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Marty is so ready to start in on this project.

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And the fat and happy succulents are really selling it.

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Have you noticed the unusual placement of the pavers? Gravel-filled space between the pavers gradually widens at the table and chairs area.
(Table and chairs had been brought inside overnight.)

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And then the gap closes on the pavers in front of the entrance.

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Although we haven’t decided to build it yet, this little project’s influence is already being felt.
I knew exactly what container I wanted for the Queen Victoria agave I rescued from the tree litter of the front garden.
It’s not CMU, but a concrete/fibeglass formulation, a kind of CMU lookalike, a hack of a hack…

Aeonium ‘Copper Penny’ for containers and garden

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This clump-forming, bronzy aeonium spent last summer as underplanting for a potted manihot with Sedum confusum.
The dry-tolerant manihots make a nice light canopy, which helps to prevent sun scalding on succulents, whether potted or in the ground.
The list of trees for providing light shade in summer for succulents, minus the messy debris and leaf litter, is a short one.
(In fact, yesterday I removed one of the worst offenders for chronic leaf drop onto spiky plants in my garden, Euphorbia lambii.)
The manihot’s leaves are shed occasionally throughout summer, dropped entirely, not in leaflets, and are easy to remove.
Deciduous, all leaves are shed late in the season, sometimes not until December here.
Though reputed to be prolific, the manihot is not much of a reseeder here, but I did find a couple seedlings this year which I greedily seized and potted up.
Thankfully, here on the coast, full sun is not as much of a challenge for succulents as it would be further inland.

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Back to the subject of this post, because I don’t find this succulent mentioned often.
Aeonium ‘Copper Penny’ was so good in a container that I had to see what it could do in the garden.
Slugs nipped the leaf edges in late winter/early spring, but it’s grown out of that chewed-on phase now and is a solid clump of smooth, burnished copper.

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Relatively solid. It was splaying apart slightly in the middle, so a broken piece of pottery was inserted to prop up a branch off a neighboring agave.
Its shrubby habit reminds me of a jade plant. Deepest color is brought out by full sun.
Aeoniums are also great leaf shedders in summer, which is when they stop active growth.
In contrast to many of the other aeoniums in my garden, ‘Copper Penny’ sheds very little and keeps a much neater appearance.

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Close inspection reveals curious red flecks to the leaves. A great little succulent to keep an eye out for at the nurseries.

clippings, 4th of July

My neighbors have been diligently practicing for 4th of July celebrations since May, the little darlings.
Fireworks are illegal here, a fact which obviously adds zest to surreptitious, after-dark escapades ending in window-rattling booms and blasts.
Seeing as it’s the 4th of July, it’s about time I empty out the odds and ends that have been accumulating in June.

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Top of the to-do list: My front porch is a disgrace, drab and basically a dog zone not fit for humans, so I’ve been taking notes around town.
I’d much prefer it resemble something like this porch.

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Not something I’d want for the porch (all plants are kept well away from this old wooden house), but I had no idea there was a variegated Solandra maxima.
In any case, my porch faces north, not the proper aspect for this sun-loving, house-eating vine.

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Hanging containers, lots of them, will be added to the porch. This is Vicki’s creation I bought at Reuben’s recent sale.
I added the silver ponyfoot yesterday, when Loree’s post reminded me again how much I admired JJ De Sousa’s use of it in her garden last year.

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An example of JJ De Sousa’s masterful use of silver ponyfoot, Dichondra argentea, in her 2014 garden, blogged about here.
The silver ponyfoot and the the shrub, Ozothamnus ‘Sussex Silver,’ despite their lush, sparkling appearance, are both very tolerant of dry conditions. Really inspired planting.

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This year’s santolina orb project is coming along nicely. Two can be seen in the photo, but I think there’s about four of them. Hard to tell now that it’s summer.
I’ve done clipped orbs in the past, the last attempt with ‘Golfball’ pittosporums, but I always end up feeling straitjacketed by having to keep the sight lines clear around them.
We’ll see how long this experiment lasts. I love the effect but haven’t been able to live with it for very long. Looks fantastic in winter.
I’ve recently seen this done with the ‘Sunset Gold’ coleonema and may have to try that next. Possibly in pots for the front porch?

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What else is new? Oh, yes, the ‘Zigzag’ euphorbia from the CSSA sale at the Huntington last week, waiting for a permanent home.

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I’ve been wanting this Euphorbia pseudocactus for some time, and variegated is even better.
It’s actually a hybrid of E. pseudocactus and grandicornis.

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The big box stores are stocking tons of succulents, many in large sizes, so it’s a good idea to check in regularly.
I’m seeing these plants deployed all over town, usually quick and dirty, planted too deep, etc.
I couldn’t resist this Devil’s Tongue ferocactus.

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The Pseudobombax ellipticum has been slow to get going this summer but is finally leafing out.

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Another slow-starter has been the Agave americana var. striata. It seemed to take forever before getting those pronounced striations.
I recently plunged the agave, pot and all, into the spot vacated by a verbascum, which was beginning to smother a young leucadendron. Shrubs always get priority.

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Yesterday I dug up the huge clump of Eryngium pandanifolium and planted instead some golden Pleioblastus viridistriatus ‘Chrysophyllus,’ a dwarf bamboo, and some bog sage, Salvia uliginosa.
Seedlings from this eryngo are throwing up a bloom stalk elsewhere in the garden, so it will live on.
It was planted much too close to the bricks and spilled over our feet under the table, and those leaves are ankle biters, armed with hooks and barbs.
(The table has been moved to join up with its twin for extra summer seating.) I’m betting the salvia and bamboo will survive summer planting just fine.
It’s the dry garden stuff that’s much touchier, often succumbing to water molds. It’s always essential to wait for fall planting for dry garden plants.
(Having said that, I did take a chance and just planted a Lavandula stoechas ‘Silver Anouk’ because it was so drop-dead gorgeous.)

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Eryngium pandanifolium in July 2013.

In other news of poor plant placement, I took out Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ today. Several pups have been saved for containers.
The beautiful monster agave guarding the east gate has been retired. There will be no photos. I prefer to remember Mr. Ripple in his prime.

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Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ August 2014.

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A photo from November 2013 shows the agave and the ‘Little Ollie’ hedge at cross purposes. At least now I can clip and maintain the olive hedge.

Lastly, July 4th is the final day of American Flowers Week, a celebration of local and homegrown blooms.

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And what could be more American than these treasures of the New World, dahlias and corn?

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Unfortunately, these dahlias weren’t grown by me. The dahlias at my community garden plot didn’t appreciate my lackadaisical watering schedule.

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Next year, I swear there will be dahlias even if I have to forfeit zucchini.

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Latest toy at the community garden, a wood-fired oven. I missed the work party on this one.

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I may bicycle to see some fireworks or just hang out up here atop the laundry shed until Marty gets off work around 10 p.m. Ein loves getting hoisted up the ladder too.
There’s always a breeze to catch up here, and there’s even been a little clip-on reading lamp added.
I’m hoping the neighborhood gets explosions out of its system tonight. Happy 4th!

sacred geometry of the spiral aloe

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June 2015

Dave’s spiral aloe is sporting some fine sacred geometry. He sent me these photos to show the progress his aloe has made since I photographed it in July 2012:

I came across your Bloom Day July 2012 posting and saw a photo of my Aloe polyphylla at the bottom.
I thought you’d like to see a recent picture of it, three years later and still getting bigger. It’s about 34″ diameter now

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June 2015

And a wider shot of Dave’s slice of urban horticultural heaven in the Lower Haight, San Francisco.

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The study of the recurring forms in nature, or sacred geometry, tends to attract some New Agey theories and followers, but the Vetruvian numbers don’t lie.
Whether spiraling aloes or nautilus shells, these patterns repeat over and over. We crave them in our gardens and co-opt them in our buildings.
There are Pinterest boards devoted to Things that Spiral, which is where I found this photo of the spiral staircase at Kew Gardens.
It’s the one I should have taken when I visited but was too overwhelmed to lift a camera.

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Aloe polyphylla’s home is a high rainfall area in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa. Do not, as I have done, treat it as a dry-garden aloe.
In my opinion, causing the death of a spiral aloe under your care ranks up there as one of horticulture’s biggest heartaches. I’ve killed several. Maybe half a dozen.
(I wrote about one such attempt here.)
It seemed only right to pass up the aloes for sale in very affordable one-gallons at Terra Sol Nursery in Santa Barbara recently, where the above photo was taken.
I’m just not ready yet to try again, which must be a great relief to the spiral aloes of the world.


In the meantime, it is a comfort to have Mitch’s portrait of the mythic Spiral Aloe.

(Thank you, Dave, for an update on your spectacular spiral aloe!)

potted plants on the move

The summer containers in nondrought-stricken gardens can become quite a virtuoso display.
I’ve understandably pared things down the past few years but am always amazed at how even a relatively small group of pots can exclaim “Summer!”

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All the pots scattered through the garden become candidates for a massed summer display.
I appreciate how growing a single species to a pot means it can be a focal point at one time of year and part of a big group display at another time.
A good place for summer staging is around the Chinese Fringe Tree (Chionanthus retusus) which bisects the long, narrow patios on the east.
Now that the tree has fully leafed out and all the flowers have fallen, I’ve massed pots on either side of the tree to take advantage of its dappled light.
A chaise in dappled light isn’t a bad idea either. A Mid-Century Homecrest, it needs a touch-up of black paint but is the most comfortable lounger, like floating in zero-gravity.
(Thanks again to Shirley Watts for hauling it down from Alameda in her truck.)

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This group of pots has been gradually accumulating here the past month or so, pulled from all over the garden.
The chartreuse Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ was moved in when it gained enough size to make an impact.
Unlike so many colocasias, this tropical reliably returns from winter dormancy year after year. I turn the whole pot on its side and leave it outdoors in winter.
I have lots of small, slow-growing agaves in pots, but I like having a couple good-sized potted agaves to mass for summer.
There’s a couple pups here of ‘Blue Flame’ and ‘Boutin’s Blue,’ both of which don’t mind some shade.
The golden Schefflera ‘Amate Soleil’ was fine in full winter sun but definitely needed dappled shade by June.

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The pots of mostly foliage are easy on the water budget, and water from the shower handles all the containers.
The latest addition is a big pot of cosmos, chamomile and silver-leaved horehound/marrubium, a gift to the bees.

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Looking from the other end, Cussonia spicata in the tall grey pot is doing so much better in the dappled light after wintering in full sun.
Variegated manihot, potted succulents, and closer to the table the huge Aeonium ‘Cyclops,’ also moved here to escape full summer sun.

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The base of the fringe tree is unplanted, covered with a mulch of its own leaves year-round.
The view after August rain last year (see post here). I’ve since broken that coffee cup, a favorite from a local tugboat company.
And Mitch took those wooden planters up to his garden in San Francisco.
Before my neighbor planted palms on his side of the fence, this little patio used to be a heat trap by mid-day and went mostly unused until evening.
As a native Angeleno, it’s taken me a lifetime to appreciate the slim footprint of the ubiquitous palms and the lovely shade they cast.

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I’ve been playing around with that tall iron stand for 20 years or so. When I saw photos of Maurizio Zucchi’s home, I felt both validated and incredibly envious.
The little Euphorbia ammak at its base has a long way to grow to make an impact. I’d so love to find some more iron scaffolding for this patio.
The twisty tuteur supports a marmalade bush, Streptosolen jamesonii, I’m hoping can be trained up through its spirals.
The empty frame is part of the floor grate to the broken heater we inherited with the house.

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Last summer the vine Mina lobata grew up the iron stand’s girders, wilting in the afternoon sun.
I found a seedling of this vine that’s been potted up to try in morning sun/afternoon shade.

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Potted’s City Planter was planted up last summer and has been bullet-proof ever since.

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Hopefully this will be the last time I move this monster pot for a few months.
Showing is one of two lamps salvaged from Warehouse No. 1, the oldest warehouse in Los Angeles Harbor.
Marty kept a little workroom in the basement of the cavernous warehouse when he worked for the Port of LA, so we have a strong affection for the old relic.

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The remaining rosette of the huge clump of dyckia I just removed this week from the front garden.
Dyckias and year-round tree litter are just not a good combination. I was so sick of the mess.

I know a lot of pots of tender plants are on the move out of basements and greenhouses, where they vacationed like winter snowbirds.
Sometimes I wonder if the pots in this frost-free garden don’t have just as many miles under their rims.

the indomitable Lotusland

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Following the blue glass slag-lined path on a recent visit to Lotusland in Montecito, Calif.

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We came upon the startling sight of a greenhouse in the jungle.
Not startling in the expected, operatically flamboyant Lotusland sense, but because it was relatively humble, almost modestly functional.

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The docent made no mention of the greenhouse, and we dutifully shuffled past it at our 2-hour tour pace.

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Even so, I lingered here a bit longer, until the sounds of the docent’s practiced narration disappeared around a bend in the sparkling path.
A greenhouse is a potent and evocative structure. It’s where the magic begins.
And the intensely personal quality of a greenhouse, nurturing the seeds of garden dreams, might be why I felt such pathos here.

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Oh, yes, Mme Walska, even after all these years, your garden still casts a powerful spell.

Monday clippings 6/22/15

It’s almost the end of the month, a good time to unpack some random June impressions.

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Dustin’s potted Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrid,’ the mother of my little one I mentioned recently. See how spectacular?
Blooms nearly year-round, and Dustin says it’s much better than the similar ‘Grassy Lassie’ and especially fine for container culture.

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Detail of my favorite CMU (concrete masonry unit) hack so far, a little bench set amidst CMU stacked planters at a local Thai restaurant.
I need to go back for a thorough examination so I can get started on my unapologetic theft of this brilliant idea.

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Massed succulents around town are at their peak of beauty before the really hot days of summer begin in July. Aloe brevifolia perhaps

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Kiwi aeonium, aloes and echeverias

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Agaves as front porch sentries

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massed Queen Victoria agaves at Orange Coast College

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Tree aloe, Aloidendron barberae, at Orange Coast College

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Euphorbias tirucalli and ammak vying for supremacy. Orange Coast College

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A tiny glimpse of Joe Clements’ work at Claremont College. I need to return and take a much longer look around.

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Possibly Agave ‘Cream Spike,’ with opuntia, also seen at Claremont College

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Cotyledon orbiculata is in bloom everywhere.

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Everywhere except my garden, that is. Clumps are still too small.

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A sweet variegated ferocactus seen on a recent garden tour.

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And just a couple photos from a 100-degree visit to the elegant Rancho Reubidoux Saturday.
The stacked pots on the far left are new, most enviable acquisitions.
I had just streamed a documentary on the Catalan architect Gaudi the night before my visit and couldn’t help seeing his organic forms in a lot of Reuben’s impressive pottery.
All containers are stone and cement, which has the effect of draining the garden of random colors, clarifying line, shape and form.
Everything has been pared down, simplified, classicized, if that’s even a word, and is emphatically serene and spacious. Fresh adventures always beckon Reuben and Paul.

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The heat and strong light frustrated documentation attempts, so we mostly hung out here under the deep, shady overhang.
Reuben and Paul’s buddy, cactus purveyor Rob MacGregor, regaled us with talk of spiking barrel cactus with hot nails to spur growth of multiple heads.
Marty can’t wait to try this on mine. (No way!)
And I was able to bring home one of Vicki Perez’s creations, a planted tractor funnel, so it was an altogether fine day in the inland inferno.

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For an older look, I had forgotten all about this video Mitch made of the Rancho several years ago until Reuben mentioned it yesterday.
(Reuben, persuading the paletas vendor to loan you his popsicle cart for the day further confirms your devilishly detailed genius. The lime paleta was divine!)

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And don’t forget the big CSSA show is this week, June 26-28, 2015, at the Huntington.
Rob says he’ll be giving a lecture there, which hopefully will include more fiendish ways to propagate succulents.