Gastrolobium ‘Bronze Butterfly’

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Before September turns the corner into fall, when my garden plans will predictably revive and become hopeful and catalogue-driven once again, it’s a good opportunity to take a clear-eyed look at the survivors. The survivors are once-treasured plants that slowly over time become mere backdrop to the latest and newest treasures. The garden changes so often that there are few plants that date back even a decade. This plant is the rare exception, having been a survivor for donkey years, (old slang for a very long time), going back to when it was purchased sometime in the ’90s. After purchase I promptly forgot its name, only remembering ‘Bronze Butterfly,’ because it just so happened that for once the name was a true and vivid description of the plant.


Old photo showing the bright edge to the leaf margins in spring, with the leaves appearing much darker, almost black.

When the Internet became available (an event that divides my life pre and post more than anything else, with the exception of possibly marriage and kids), a Google search confirmed it as Brachysema praemorsum from Australia. Not only time and technology but taxonomy marches on as well, and currently brachysema is known as gastrolobium. What hasn’t changed is its consistently gorgeous appearance for over a decade now in the front gravel garden. In fact, it’s probably the oldest plant in the garden.* I pulled it from the California native section of a long-defunct nursery near Palos Verdes, Calif, that according to this article closed in 1997 due to the economic effects of severe drought followed by recession in that decade. So I must have brought it home sometime before ’97, at least. I’ve never seen the plant for sale again.

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It might not ever make Plant of the Year, but it has many admirable qualities. First and foremost is its ability to live among agaves and dasylirions on their irrigation schedule, which is pretty much when it rains, and you know how well that’s been going lately. It is from Australia, that continent with so many sympatico, mediterranean-adaptive plants for use in our Southern Calif. gardens. A light clipping to keep it off the agaves is probably the only attention it receives. It doesn’t build up a lot of dead growth in the interior and always looks fresh. When in bloom, the claw-like, red flowers don’t read especially well amongst the leaves and for me aren’t the main attraction.

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It’s really all about the wiry quality to the stems, upon which float the opposite, winged, richly colored leaves. Its meandering tracery makes a fine counterpoint among the solidity of agaves.
Along with durability, a big reason for its survival in the garden is that it never becomes an exasperating or annoying presence. It just never has a bad day.
(On the strength of BB’s performance, another gastrolobium was added this year, G. sericeum, from Australian Native Plants Nursery near Ojai.)

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I have a strong suspicion the two ‘Blue Glow’ agaves that bookend the gastrolobium will complete their life cycle and bloom next year, another reason to do a little portrait of this part of the garden now.

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Another old-timer is the restio behind the agaves. (It’s hard, for me anyway, to tell restios apart, but I think this is Thamnochortus insignis, about 3 feet tall after many years and sprawling to maybe 5 feet in diameter.) With ‘Bronze Butterfly,’ these two are the oldest plants in the front gravel garden, which was lawn in the pre-Internet days when we bought the house. Back then I took out the lawn because I was greedy for space to grow plants. I was actually worried for a time that neighbors would complain of our lawnless state. Now that having a green lawn has become a cause for complaint, I’m hopeful that, unlike the Palos Verdes Begonia Farm, nurseries won’t close due to drought but will instead thrive as robust gardens replace lawn as the new normal. There’s so many great plants out there just waiting to prove what beautiful survivors they can be.

*San Marcos Growers describes it as a 2002 Koala Blooms introduction, which would be after the nursery where I purchased it closed in 1997. I can’t account for the discrepancy in dates and have always believed it was purchased at the Palos Verdes Begonia Farm. In any case, it’s been in the garden at least ten years. UCSC lists it as “Brachysema praemorsa.”

gardens in flux

Whether tearing up lawn or reworking small, targeted areas, it seems like everybody on the West Coast has some part of the garden in transition in response to forces out of our control. (One of which is running out of water. If there’s an upside to this calamitous drought, it’s seeing such ill-suited landscaping choices as large lawns finally being called out for the climate anachronisms they’ve always been, even pre-drought, those glory days when we’d get a whopping 15 inches of rain a year.) I’ve been filling unexpected gaps in the little back garden with big pots of bodacious succulents like agaves, place holders until cooler fall planting temperatures prevail. And it’s why I always like to keep a few big pots ready for just such mid-summer deployment, preferably in cheap terracotta so I don’t feel guilty about plunging them directly into the soil, sometimes as much as a foot in depth. Currently, it looks like pots have parachuted into the garden on a rescue mission, like a scene out of The Agaves Have Landed. Yes, getting a garden to survive through summer and have something to look at in fall can sometimes feel like a military campaign.

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Agave recruits for midsummer gap deploment. Agave americana var. mediopicta ‘Alba’ in the foreground.
Agave attenuata ‘Boutin’s Blue’ is just across the little dog path in the background.

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It’s also a neat way to try out new shapes and plant associations, but I’ll probably lift the pots and leave the space open for self-sowing poppies and such next spring.

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Baltic parsley out, potted agave in. Two midsummer-melted lavenders out, Senecio medley-woodii in, this time planted in the ground.
This senecio had been neglected in its pot and is luxuriating in its new digs. That’s the amazing thing with succulents. So forgiving.

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Not much to look at when small, it has an almost leucadendron-like quality to the arrangement of the leaves and stems when big and shrubby.
Growing succulents on in pots to big sizes for just such a bold remedy is why I prefer to grow them as singletons rather than mixed with lots of other kinds.

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Agave geminiflora. I was this close to planting him in the ground this spring.
This spot turned out to be too dry for a digiplexis. One out of three remain in the back garden.

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The Kalanchoe grandiflora in the blue pot was grabbed for back-garden duty off the front porch.
In fall so many succulents are stirring back into life and growth. We have that much in common at least.
I have an odd tendency of shuffling plants in their off season to the front of the house and then moving them to the back garden when they’re beautiful again.
I’m too old to analyze such social tendencies anymore. It is what it is.
(I do like my neighbors. On Labor Day, when I smacked one of their side-view mirrors with mine, we immediately forgave and hugged and moved on.
Until I get the bill, that is. There is a culture in my neighborhood of cars stopping on our narrow streets to chat with friends on the sidewalk.
Cars wishing to travel through the streets must wait for the conversations to run their course, sometimes several minutes.
On Labor Day, I chose not to wait, because the guy tailgating me was obviously in a hurry, so I threaded through the narrow gap to the safety of my driveway about 50 feet away.
Unfortunately, I was in the wide-body Eurovan, not my Mini, and the sideview mirrors kissed a bit. Hey, move it or lose it. We’re done waiting.)

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Aeoniums to varying degrees pull their horns in for summer and then gradually lose that shell-shocked expression as fall approaches.
This one was temporarily moved to spend summer in the shade near the compost pile and just recently brought back into the garden.
Although generally summer dormant, not all aeoniums have such an extreme reaction to summer. If I kept track of their identities, I’d know which are more sensitive.
This one might be Aeonium balsamiferum, but don’t quote me.

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Echeveria ‘Opal Moon’ also spent most of summer near the compost pile, appearing more presentable by September.

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A potted Yucca rostrata was filling a gap for a few weeks but has since been planted in the front gravel garden to spur growth. A Grevillea lanigera ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ has taken its spot.
So I have been planting some of the (hopefully) tougher plants. We’ve been hitting about 90 degrees, with the 10-day forecast saying more of the same.

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Taking out a phormium to make room for the yucca resulted in a much nicer view of Agave ‘Jaws’ (even if its still crossing swords with Furcraea macdougalii)

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Checking nurseries yesterday for Grevillia ‘Moonlight,’ I stumbled into Bocconia frutescens.

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I think the big leaf is a better choice here than the grevillea, so home it came, planted immediately.
It’s been a bad week for phormiums. That makes two pulled out, one to make way for the Yucca rostrata and another removed for the grevillea bocconia.
The phormium here was a mid red in color, bought as the dwarf ‘Tom Thumb’ but obviously not, because it hit about 3 feet in height/width.
The bocconia can get big, tree-like even, or maintained as a cutback shrub. More shade might be desirable, so I’m keeping all options on the table.

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Cenolophium denudatum this past April 2014, pulled out August 2014.

Where do midsummer gaps come from? (Obviously a question posed on behalf of the nongardening segment of mankind.) Well, one example would be the trial of the umbellifer Cenolophium denudatum coming to an abrupt end, both plants pulled. Three years is a fair trial. Also known as “Baltic Parsley,” it never had much bloom at any one time, and better umbels can be had from many of the umbellifers usually consigned to our vegetable gardens without importing parsley from the Baltics. Evidence to the contrary, there is a method to my planting madness, but I may as well write the plans with my finger on a foggy shower door, for as long as they last. My experiments in the back garden have revolved around devising a mediterranean-adapted meadow for summer winding through evergreen shrubs and suculents for year-round structure, a plan which I’m in the process of re-evaluating, with probably greater emphasis in the future on evergreen shrubs, succulents, and grasses. The severity of the drought calls plans for a summer-centric meadow into question. Emphasis on spring, with the explosion of self-seeding poppies and other annuals in the cool weather just after winter rains, makes a lot more sense.

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An old photo showing the mediopicta getting closer to its midsummer parachute jump. This is one of many pups of the mother plant given to my next-door neighbor.
It was forgotten, neglected, and tucked out of sight on the porch near the driveway, where the overly familiar plants are banished.
But by mid-summer, its presence was required in the back garden. An agave is always ready to serve.
Quite a few of the plants in pots have since been planted too, a Hechtia glauca, a Crassula ‘Jitters,’ the trailing pachyveria and rhipsalis used in the Wall Planter, etc.

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The Eryngium padanifolium was thinned out yesterday. In hindsight, it was planted a little too close to the little patio off the kitchen.
I guess it’s a surprise when some plants actually thrive. I’ve got seedlings for insurance but still hated to move, and probably thereby destroy, a mature, flowering eryngo.
The bloom stalks were half the height of last year, topping out at about 3 feet. Last year they were as high as the pergola.

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This pot of Sticks on Fire has been all over the garden this summer, moved to the little patio yesterday.
I cut the melianthus back in the garden just beyond, so something interesting to look at was needed here.

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I love looking at my new Cussonia natalensis found at XOTX-Tropico in West Hollywood..

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And the new Manihot escuelenta ‘Variegata’ too. I had a rocky relationship with the mail-order nursery that supplied this plant, Aloha Tropicals.
Some problems with billing have been made right, but the main reason for the order, Passiflora ‘Sunburst,’ seems to be dead, and very shortly after arrival. Caveat emptor.

mangaves, water bills, and other mysteries

I’ve been going over the monthly water bills, which this year give usage in 100-cubic feet per month instead of gallons per day. Beyond exasperated with the inscrutable tables and tiers on July’s bill, I made my very first cranky call to a public utility yesterday. Why, in the name of all that’s sensible, and in the midst of this horrific drought, have you stopped listing water usage in helpful and easy-to-comprehend gallons per day? I had known exactly where I stood each month of 2013 by checking the daily gallon usage under the heading “Evaluate Your Conservation Efforts,” and it became a game to see how low we could go. (And not to boast — well, forget it, I am going to boast: Our water usage has always clocked in at well below average.) On the phone, I tried not to sound shrill, aiming for Friendly But Concerned Citizen, but I could sense the voice on the other end was taking my inquiry in the spirit of Oh, great, my first wild-eyed crazy caller of the day and it’s still two hours until lunch. I was left waiting for maybe 3-4 minutes, which pre-Internet might have been an effective ploy to tire us out. Not so much anymore. (Someone had mentioned Lawn Chair Larry earlier in the week, which drew a blank, so that was four minutes productively spent learning about the modern-day Da Vinci of San Pedro, Calif.) She eventually came back on the line and was ready to walk me through the numbers. “A cubic foot of water is 748 gallons…” She started out strong but immediately sputtered out, sounding as wobbly as I am with math. Yes, I know. That formula is in tiny print on the back of the bill, but what about this tier usage? There’s several numbers. Which do I use? At this point it was clear I was guilty of torturing an innocent bureaucrat, so I asked for the Suggestions Department. She suppressed a snicker and then gleefully kicked my can down the road to the “Suggestions Department” (probably someone she was mad at that day), where I left an impassioned voice mail to help us deal with this ferocious drought by sending a bill we can easily read, calculator not required. That’s probably been replayed several times by the “Suggestion Department” for a good laugh.

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photo of zonkey found here

Leaving the water department and on to fresh mysteries, like the mangave in my garden. Mangaves are the zonkeys of the succulent world, intergeneric hybrids between manfredas and agaves. (Save up zonkey research for your next phone complaint.) It’s an offset from a mangave Dustin Gimbel bought at a Riverside plant sale. Not ‘Macho Mocha,” which from what I can tell from photos has a wavier, almost flabby leaf and is overall a bit more relaxed in form. “Macho Mocha’ is thought to be a manfreda hybrid with Agave mitis (nee celsii) This mystery mangave has a thinner leaf and that snap-to, at-attention look of an Agave desmettiana. It might have more color in full-day sun. It gets only morning sun here, afternoon shade under the tetrapanax. At 28 inches in height and 34 inches across, it’s many times the size of Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ in bloom in the front garden, which is about as large as an Echeveria agavoides.

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For scale, shown with Agave ‘Blue Flame’ in the foreground.

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New leaves are typically spotted, which fades on the older leaves. Very small teeth on the margins.
I need to try some of its many pups in full sun, but attempting to remove a pup seems to destabilize the whole plant, so I’ve been reluctant to force the issue.

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That this mystery mangave has turned into such a big presence in the garden has been a nice surprise.

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In the front garden under the triangle palm, the Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ is in delicate bloom, which is where its manfreda/tuberose heritage becomes most apparent.
And whether expressed in teaspoons, gallons, or cubic feet, mangaves, manfredas, and agaves are all very easy on the water bill.

supergraphic Deborah Sussman

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When I visited Los Angeles’ Grand Park for the first time, I didn’t know that environmental designer Deborah Sussman, who passed away last week at age 83, was the force behind those shocking pink chairs and benches, a color Ms. Sussman energetically promoted throughout her 60-year career.


Her design firm Sussman/Prejza & Co handled “signage, wayfinding, and amenities” for Grand Park, including its color schemes.

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above photo by Jim Simmons found here

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Garden markers (designed by Sussman/Prejza & Company) resemble oversized garden stakes and indicate the region, describe the climate, and talk about the specific characteristics of a featured plant within each garden. Magenta site furnishings throughout the park invite visitors to linger, enjoying its vibrant display. The vibrant color was chosen to act as a year-round “bloom” that complements the seasonal colors of the gardens.” — World Landscape Architecture

photo from Design Boom

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photo from Design Boom

Of course, there were many more celebrated projects before and after Grand Park, beginning in her twenties, when she worked for Charles and Ray Eames.

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I also didn’t know that Sussman had collaborated on the graphics and signage work for the Eames exhibit at Pacific Standard Time when I visited that show at LACMA here.

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Perhaps most famously, Ms. Sussman was the environmental designer for Los Angeles’ 1984 Summer Olympics, the first since 1932 to make a profit. Her brilliant sleight of hand with inexpensive, temporary structures such as scaffolding, bold use of graphics and color in signage, has brought her the status of the graphic designer’s designer. Just last weekend I was chatting with an architect about her, who admitted that he had stowed some of the throwaway ’84 Olympic signage in his garage (lucky him).

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image found at Design & Architecture

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As her last show at the WUHO Gallery proclaimed, Deborah Sussman loved LA, and the bold, vibrant mark she left on this city will be something I’ll be reminded of now every time I visit Grand Park.

Friday clippings 8/22/14

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At first sight I became enthralled by artist James Griffith’s exquisite, painterly ripostes to the “drill, baby, drill” set — my words, not his. James is much more polite.
By way of a secret alchemy, he utilizes that precious resource from our local La Brea Tar Pits in a uniquely subversive fashion, to cover canvases with delicate, etching-like portraits of species that don’t get a say in our energy politics, such as the humble and familiar crow, bat, mouse, and deer. His work reminds that all species are stuck in this moment together. I love my little tar bat that was last year’s Christmas present.

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James has a new show beginning September 6, 2014, at the Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station, where you can see the latest members of his tar pit menagerie.


James is also co-creator with garden designer Sue Dadd of the Folly Bowl, their own personal outdoor amphitheater in which they host a summer-long series of concerts. This coming Saturday’s concert, August 23rd, is described on their Facebook page for The Folly Bowl. If you go, keep an eye out for one of the biggest Agave franzosinii south of the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

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Drawing from the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Plants at Harvard. Collection manager Jenny Brown and glass artist Christian Thornton will be two of the lecturers at Natural Discourse this October 18, 2014.

Another date to save: On October 18, 2014, impresario, artist, and garden designer Shirley Watts, is bringing Natural Discourse: Light & Image to the Los Angeles County Arboretum, which promises to be another amazing day of riveting lectures, this time here in our very own backyard. Shirley assembles together for one day the equivalent of a botanical salon filled with some of the most interesting speakers I’ve been privileged to hear. I wrote about them here and here and here — you can do a blog search for other posts too. Richard Turner, former editor of Pacific Horticulture, had this to say of earlier iterations of Natural Discourse:

The first symposia, held at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, were among the very best days I’ve ever spent sitting and listening to others speak.

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The Ruth Bancroft Garden by Marion Brenner, who will be one of the lecturers at Natural Discourse October 18th, 2014, at Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

Garden bloggers in particular won’t want to miss a single pearl of wisdom that falls from legendary landscape photographer Marion Brenner’s lips at this upcoming Natural Discourse: Light & Image.

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Sansevieria ‘Black Gold’ at California Greenhouses

If anyone is tempted to visit the Orange County nurseries I mentioned here, I hope I caught you before you made the trip. You must add to your itinerary California Greenhouses.
Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of Potted, recommended this one to me, and I checked it out earlier this week. It is worth the trip alone.

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Some nurseries, like sports teams, have a “deep bench,” and California Nurseries has one of the deepest around.
Succulents in all sizes, from enormous dragon trees, tree aloes, and Yucca rostrata, to table after table of all the wee ones we love to stuff in pots, and at nearly wholesale prices.
Fantastic section of houseplants too.

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California Greenhouses currently has a couple enormous Aloe capitata var. quartzicola for sale, at least 3-gallon size if not 5.
More than double the size of this Aloe capitata var. quartzicola, photo taken in my garden this June.

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Department of Corrections: This is one of the so-called shrub begonias ‘Paul Hernandez,’ and it’s managed to thrive despite my having the blackest thumb a begonia enthusiast can have. I wish Freud had wondered instead what a begonia wants, because I sure as heck don’t know. I’ve made some comments that reference this gunnera-sized begonia as ‘Gene Daniels,’ so I need to correct that. I don’t think I’ve ever grown ‘Gene Daniels,’ but two begonias named after guys — you can see how I made the mistake. Checking the blog, I see that ‘Paul Hernandez’ dates back to 2011 in my garden, the only begonia I’ve grown with that kind of longevity, so we need to keep his identity straight. Good plants need to be rewarded; the next big pot I buy is going to be for Paul. Judging by the mottled color, I think Paul looks a little hungry. Maybe some fish emulsion?

I’ll close with my favorite quote of the week: “‘At the end of the day,’ Dr. Richard wrote in his diary this summer, ‘the plants are still in need of a drink, and so are we.’”

At least I have that in common with the energetic couple restoring a 250-year-old house in southwest France. There were a couple more epigrammatic, Wilde-worthy quotes in The New York Times article and luscious slideshow, “A Blank Slate With Fig Trees,” including success with houseguests requires “to never see them over breakfast.”

Happy weekend!

yucca in bloom

What’s most likely a Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville,’ is throwing its first bloom.
And here I was just telling the Outlaw Gardener that this yucca seems to have decided it’s not the blooming type.
Its ears must have been burning because within a couple weeks this spike showed up. I need to trash talk my plants more often.
That brings this year’s offbeat bloom tally to 1) Dasylirion wheeleri 2) Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ 3) Agave parryi.
Among the three, the dasylirion will live on, the other two expiring from the dreaded monocarpism (blooms once then dies).
While the yucca seizes the day and blooms, it’s carpe mortem for the agave and mangave.

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checking out the nurseries in August

It might seem kind of pointless to check out the local nurseries in the dog days of August. A lot of the inventory can look frazzled, but roaming the mostly customer-less aisles in August, armed with sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and smart phone for reference, is the perfect time to discover the true survivors. What shrubs are still managing to look respectable in gallon cans? (Westringia, adenanthos, ozothamnus, leucospermums are a few.) What stalwarts have I overlooked? Did anyone buy that Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ I’ve had my eye on? What’s on offer in the “color” section in August? Will Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit,’ the new seed strain, be durable or a meltaway type? August is where the rubber meets the steaming road, where all the buzz and fanfare evaporates under a punishing sun. That any inventory can still look at all presentable I find astonishing. Since these kind of retail nurseries oftentimes don’t sell plants until they are in bloom, many times it’s the only opportunity to grab August-blooming plants locally, even if it’s not the friendliest month for planting. Other than the California chain of Armstrong Nurseries, with one of their stores just a couple miles from me, most of the nurseries I check on frequently are independents. None of the nurseries on my circuit are boutique, rare plant nurseries, which don’t exist in Los Angeles, but a lot of their stock comes from solid growers like Native Sons, San Marcos Growers, Monterey Bay, Monrovia. (Northern California’s Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is available at Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach, Brita’s Old Town Gardens in Seal Beach, International Garden Center near LAX, and Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena.) Other than Roger’s Gardens, none are “destination” nurseries. Yet it always surprises me how each nursery’s unique choices from the same pool of growers sets their inventory apart from other local retail nurseries. If you visit often (and I do!), a specific taste can be discerned even in the chain nurseries. Some may subtly favor edibles or succulents or native plants, while others may have strong selections of South African and Australian plants. So I really do have to visit them all.

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For example, Crocosmia ‘Solfatare’ was recently available only at H&H Nursery on Lakewood Boulevard near the 91 Freeway, right under the power line towers. I once had a huge clump of this crocosmia in the front garden, before Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ moved into its place. It’s always described as one of the slowest-growing crocosmias, but it seemed to multiply at good clip from what I remember. The leaves strike me as more a dull olive green than bronzish, as it’s often described. The flower color is a galvanizing egg-yolk gold.

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Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Gold,’ was available at just two nurseries, Village Nurseries in Orange and their next-door neighbor Upland Nursery.
This is a great new gerbera strain, a long-blooming cross with some sturdy alpine species, and the first time I’ve seen it offered in this color.


The pink form, ‘Drakensberg Carmine’ was an outstanding plant a couple years ago, that was almost too much of a good thing in that color. For me, anyway.

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Phygelius in the Portland garden of Bella Madrona got me pining for phygelius again. This one may possibly be ‘Salmon Leap’ or ‘Devil’s Tears.’
I have no memory of phygelius growing in this splendidly upright posture, always being somewhat of a sprawler in my garden, but this vision was enough to spur me to give ‘Diablo’ a try.

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I found ‘Diablo’ at the local Armstong, just this one gallon available. Phygelius is another plant I grew years ago, usually in its chartreuse forms like ‘Moonraker.’

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I recently extended my nursery hopping down into Orange County, where I found this small size of Agave franzosinii, just one available. Cindy McNatt at Dirt du Jour blogged that a beloved nursery, Laguna Hills Nursery, had found a new home on Tustin in the city of Orange. They had just opened and were getting settled in, but were extremely welcoming and friendly. Rare fruit trees and edibles look to be their specialty, but someone stocked this agave that’s rarely found for sale, which I think counts as a good omen. This is an enormous agave when mature, so I’ll keep it in a pot as long as possible to contain its ultimate size.

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Snow on the Mountain tucked in by the little water garden. The Sagittaria lancifolia ‘Ruminoides’ was found at the International Garden Center.

There were a couple other nurseries on that same street, Tustin, so I made an afternoon of nursery hopping in the OC, and each one had something unique to offer. At M&M Nursery, “home of the original fairy garden experts since 2001,” (who knew?) I found the annual Euphorbia marginata amongst a very good selection of out-of-the-ordinary annuals. At Village Nurseries, as mentioned above, I found the ‘Drakensberg Gold’ gerbera as well as ‘Storm Cloud’ agapanthus. Upland Nursery was literally next-door to Village, so even though the heat was way past oppressive by mid-afternoon, I stopped in at Upland before swinging home. They specialize in plumeria, which sounded interesting though not really up my alley, but I was up for a quick first-time visit.

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Variegated Swiss Cheese Plant, Monstera deliciosa, seen in an LA garden last May.

I ended up walking Upland’s entire long and narrow length, investigating each of its specialty rooms off the main path, because it became quickly apparent that Upland had some surprises up its sleeve, like the variegated swiss cheese plant tucked into a corner, the first I’ve ever seen offered locally, or an agave I’d neither heard of nor seen before, like Agave ellemetiana.
Upland is the first local nursery I’ve found to carry Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon.’

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Fatsia ‘Spider Web,’ still unavailable in Southern California.

Upland was just an extraordinary place, with a personal, mom-and-pop atmosphere, where you’d bump into such amazing sights as grevilleas grown on standard. I searched it thoroughly, because I half expected to find the ‘Spider Web’ fatsia lurking in a shady corner. There was lush hanging rhipsalis and big, mature display plants to give an idea of what the little 2-inch succulents would grow into. The entire back section was devoted to Japanese maples. I asked the owner about the possibility of getting the monstera in a smaller, more affordable size, and she said spring would be the time to check back. When I asked if there was a drinking fountain, she reached into her fridge and handed me a bottle of water. With that gesture, they made a customer for life.

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Seeing a huge display pot of Senecio haworthii at Upland Nursery sealed the deal on a succulent I’ve passed over many times.

Up in Pasadena, at Lincoln Avenue Nursery, a big, lusty Agave ‘Mateo’ had me checking the label for its identity. At a mature size, it looked nothing like my wispy-leaved ‘Mateo.’ The venerable Burkhard’s just around the corner continues its mysterious decline, with the plants in a sad neglected state, but wouldn’t you know they had the variegated vilmoriniana agave I’ve been coveting, $60 for a big specimen. Not a bad price, especially at Burkhard’s, but I passed. The nursery is a shambles but still worth a prowl. Poorly maintained plants sold at exorbitant prices is the perplexing current state of affairs, but even so there’s many gems you just can’t find anywhere else. Also somewhat of a surprise recently is finding Sunset’s line of plants, like the new ‘Amistad’ salvia, astelias, dianellas, carex, digiplexis, and the ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia, at Home Depot. International Garden Center, Village and H&H have the most extensive grounds and probably the most sophisticated inventory, and each could easily swallow an hour’s time. IGC is the place to find water plants, and their succulent selection is one of the best. At IGC plant stock past its prime isn’t thrown out but moved to a row way in the back, where it can be had for cheap. Many times unsold stock is potted on to larger sizes, such as the currently available Echium simplex. I also check in with the exceptional Marina del Rey Garden Center when I work out that way and have noticed their increasingly fine selection of bromeliads and unusual edible plants.

And that’s the August nursery report. They may not have the rarefied atmosphere of botanical gardens, but retail nurseries are the places to experience where culture, commerce, and plants collide.

Bloom Day August 2014

August? Come in, August. Ground control to August?

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August: Um, we’re in a bit of a holding pattern here. Over.

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Repetition seems to be a hallmark of my summer Bloom Day posts. It’s been the usual suspects all summer. Still, I can’t say enough nice things about Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’
The agastaches are over and showed a lot more water stress than I expected, while this gomphrena sailed through heat and dry soil beautifully.
Perennial here in zone 10 but most likely one of the “short-lived” kind, which could mean anything from one year to two years to five. Reseeds.

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With samphire, the umbellifer Crithmum maritimum.
This plant is going into my A Growing Obsession surefire collection of zone 10, drop-dead gorgeous, pollinator-beloved plants sponsored by….daydream fades to black.

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Gaura planted in pots a couple months ago is just starting to bloom. Wind-driven plants are so entertaining.

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Some August triage. Agastache were cut back, a tattered digiplexis moved elsewhere, and a potted Agave geminiflora moved in.
The lemon grass in the background has been a nice surprise this summer. Rudbeckia triloba leans in.

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More triage. A few of the annual Euphorbia marginata, Snow On The Mountain, were picked up at M&M Nursery in Orange.

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Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons’ is unstoppable.

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As are the marigolds. Tagetes ‘Cinnabar’

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Mina lobata nearly faints in full sun but so far recovers by evening

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The kangaroo paws are sending a second, shorter flush of blooms

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Seseli gummiferum…maybe there’ll be blooms next year on the Moon Carrot. With a name like that, I’m staying the course until I see some blooms.
And with those pewter-colored, lacy leaves, waiting isn’t a hardship.

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Also for next summer, there will be agapanthus. Yes, they’re common as dirt here, but has anyone tried them with grasses, agaves, etc? No, I think not.
It’s not a plant’s fault when its amiable nature is abused and taken for granted in strip mall monocultures. This is the stripey-leaved ‘Gold Strike.’

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And one of the darkest I could find locally, ‘Storm Cloud’

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Rare sighting of MB Maher in the garden, home for a couple days.
Maybe he’ll bestir himself and get over to his neighborhood San Francisco Botanical Garden for some AGO photos one of these days. (No pressure, hon!)

To see some spectacular August gardens full of seasonal variety and not at all stuck in a holding pattern, you’ll have to visit the Bloom Day host site May Dreams Gardens.

A Visual Compendium of Succulents

This chart has been making the rounds on Pinterest. I’m not too sure of it’s infallibility as a reference since Sedum morganianum, the Burrito/Donkey Tail is listed as Sedum burrito.

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Sedum morganianum famously deployed as jellyfish at Lotusland.

A Visual Compendium of Succulents

But it is handy for charting the march of succulents through my garden.
Let’s see. Lost the Cotyledon orbiculata last week, brought home Senecio haworthii just a couple days ago…

chart found here.

meeting plants in person for the first time

By now you’re probably wondering will this blog ever stop dining out on the Portland garden bloggers meetup. Just one more for now on the plants that really had my number. Which is undeniably an odd number, but the heart wants what it wants. Many times I become infatuated with plants through magazines, online catalogues, or blogs, in a process I imagine is not dissimilar to online dating. Both have in common beautiful photos, seductive descriptions, but not necessarily the whole story. When plant and gardener finally meet and a trial period of compatibility is undertaken, disappointment can ensue on both sides, but there’s always the tantalizing possibility of a lasting attachment.

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Earlier this year I finally made the acquaintance of long-time crush Crambe maritima, a European coastal plant with uncommonly beautiful leaves, thick and blue as an agave, curled and frilled at the margins. I think it was planted in my garden last fall. (Checking email records, I did purchase it last September via mail order from Oregon nursery Dancing Oaks.) Although impatient for the sea kale to thicken up, it’s exactly as I imagined it. We’re a good match, the sea kale and I, and all signs point to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the sea kale, but I discovered in Portland an unexpected twist to this plant.

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Crambe maritima, aka the sea kale, in the Floramagoria garden in Portland, Oregon this July.
I had no idea its seedheads, like tiny white button mushrooms, would be as much of an attraction as its wavy, blue-green, cabbagey leaves.
In Willy Wonka’s garden, this would be labeled the wasabi pea plant. (By the way, the plant is edible.) This unexpectedly nubby, bubbly texture endears the sea kale to me even more.

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Crambe maritima’s pearly seedheads with pitcher plants and what looks like a gold-leaf Aechmea recurvata in bloom.

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Then there’s the equivalent of meeting an intriguing plant for the first time and not getting its phone number, so to speak.
This rusty tumbleweed’s name was given as Rumex ‘Maori,’ but I’ve had no luck finding any reference or additional information.

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Here’s a plant I’ve been stalking for some time, Asphodeline lutea. Two new ones planted this spring have withered away.

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At least I’m fairly sure this is an asphodel, again, a plant with which I have little real-world experience.

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On the tour I bumped into a plant that I purchased the first day of the tour at the nursery Cistus, Berkheya purpurea. A nice coincidence.

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Fantastic stems, leaves and, when it blooms, large lavender daisies.

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(photo of berkheya in bloom found here)

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An acacia new to me in John Kuzma’s garden, Acacia covenyi.

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The same acacia seen here with a large clump of anigozanthos that overwinters in situ in the garden with protection

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Possibly my favorite plant on the tour, Acanthus sennii. I’ve noticed I’m falling more for plants that have a chance of succeeding where I garden.
I’m no longer throwing myself at every good-looking, high-maintenance type that comes along. A sign of maturity maybe?

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Also in the Kuzma garden was this stunning velvety silver potentilla. Possibly Potentilla calabra or hippiana…or something else entirely. (P. gelida. thanks, Heather.)

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A beautiful grass, new to me, Achnatherum calamagrostis ‘Silver Spike,’ at the Grass Master’s incredible garden.

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Scott was also growing the native thistle Cirsium occidentale. I’ve already killed one but found two more locally.

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A wiry, tough cushion that caught my notice at the McMenamins Kennedy School, Bupleurum spinosum. Very cool.
The admirable evergreeen shrub, Bupleurum falcatum, was also seen on the tour, which blooms in chartreuse umbels in summer.

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Eryngium maritimum in Loree’s Danger Garden. I started seeds of this in spring. Zip germination so far.

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I’ll close with the “It” plant of the moment, one of the hardy scheffleras. This visit to Portland was my first introduction to them, and they were everywhere. S. delavayi maybe.
Beautiful, but not this zone 10 garden’s type…