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notes from the CSSA plant sale at the Huntington June 28-29, 2014

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Aloe cameronii from the Cactus & Succulent Society of America show and sale at the Huntington this weekend.
An aloe famous for the deep coloring of is leaves, which requires harsh treatment to maintain, full sun and minimal water. I can do harsh no problem.
A variegated Agave leopoldii and Hechtia glauca also made the cut.

The sale is a small affair this year, possibly due to the fact that the Huntington itself is in a state of major upheaval as it works on the new Education and Visitor Center and other projects. The main entry and plaza is shrouded in construction fencing, and an ad hoc, tented entry has been fashioned. Something else new was the requirement to purchase admission to the Huntington to attend the plant sale. In the past, the parking lot plant sale could be attended free. I usually spring for the admission ticket anyway, and today I was grateful for the nudge because the desert garden conservatory was open. I unfailingly visit on the days it’s closed, which is more often than not. I think the sign said it’s only open on Saturdays now, but call to check if it’s a make-or-break reason for visiting.


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In the desert garden, there was lots of Agave bracteosa in bloom.

For the cactus lovers, join me in the steamy conservatory after the jump.

Continue reading notes from the CSSA plant sale at the Huntington June 28-29, 2014

Old California Style

Yeah, the architecture is really consistent, isn’t it? French next to Spanish, next to Tudor, next to Japanese.” Alvy Singer musing on Los Angeles architecture in “Annie Hall.”

Adobe-style house in a polyglot landscape. California pepper tree, Schinus molle (from Peru), acacia, and pale Variegated Pride of Madeira, agaves and cactus, feather grass.
Next-door to homes in the Tudor style, mediterranean villa, Cape Cod. I have to say I do prefer this adobe dream to the others.

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streetside: succulent garden 6/24/14

Another gem of a garden found via a traffic shortcut.* I’ve been admiring it for some time and stopped by last night for photos. Driving by, the tall succulents, a Furcraea macdougalii about the size of mine, Euphorbia ammak and ocotillo, were the first striking outlines to capture my attention traveling at the speed of a car, all three plants being good enough reasons to later investigate on foot. Maybe I’m biased, but from a purely aesthetic point of view, to me some of the most successful lawn-free front gardens I’ve seen locally have featured succulents. Their strong outlines are perfectly suited to conform to that tyrannical template we all inherit with these small houses — the path slicing through the middle of a geometric grid enroute to the front door. Succulents have an inherent formalism of structure that suit the rigidity of these ubiquitous layouts that were designed to be horizontally dominated by smooth turf, but their diversity, supercharged dynamism, strong colors and shapes subvert the traditional notion of a staid front garden. All while still managing to be neat and tidy 365 days a year (here in zone 10) and incredibly easy on the monthly water bill. A love of beautiful plants and a strong eye for design can produce startling effects even within this typical suburban design framework. I’ve tagged most of the agaves but leave the ID of the opuntia and other cacti up for discussion.


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Agaves included are ‘Blue Glow,’ desmettiana ‘Variegata,’ macroacantha, parryi, stricta, bracteosa.

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My own Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ bloomed this year, its space already taken by smaller, if less dramatic agaves.

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I’m blanking on this writhing, silvery mass with serrated leaves. Dasylirion? Puya? Nolina? Silvery shrub in the background is a westringia.

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Along with the Pelargonium sidoides, pollinators can find something of interest in flowering ground covers and a big native buckwheat near the front window, St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum).

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The pencil stems with orange flowers on the far left looks like a pedilanthus.

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Small-scale ground covers eloquently underplant the rosettes including this Agave potatorum.

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Aptly named squid agave, A. bracteosa. The strewn leaves are from a neighbor’s parkway magnolia.

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Agaves nestled snugly into the well-placed rocks.

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Ocotillo and a pencil euphorbia, possibly E. leucodendron.

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I mostly avoided taking photos of the house, but the Furcraea macdougalii was smack in the middle of a front window, backed by eriogonum.

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Wreathed in aloes at its base.

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The parkway/hell strip was all helichrysum silver.

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Except for this one, which I’m pretty sure is a sideritis, the first I’ve seen locally outside my own garden.

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Front gardens like this always beg the tantalizing question: What on earth did they save for the back?


*Once again a traffic jam forced me into taking a lesser-traveled route. So I’ve been admiring this newly found garden since spring, during the recent Stanley Cup playoffs and final series, driving en route to watch the games with my mom. After my dad died, we all took up the one sport he never followed, initially as a means to get together frequently during the week. I’d never been a fan of any sport before but knew that televised sports had been an important part of their marriage. I caught an Olympic hockey game in 2010 and admired the speed and athleticism, and thus we started following the fortunes of our beleaguered, star-crossed local team. At first we were unable to even keep an eye trained on the whizzing puck and found the unspoken rules mystifying. But then the Los Angeles Kings did the unimaginable, winning their first Stanley Cup not long after we became fans, keeping their diehard fans waiting over 40 years. In 2012 we still barely understood the concept of icing the puck. This last season, stretching from October to June, was an endurance test for the fans, too, but astonishingly ended in another Stanley Cup. Unlike me, my mom can recite the jersey number and stats on every team member, and she now finds golf and baseball unbearably slow to watch. Go Mom! Go Kings!

sunday clippings 6/22/14

Future shock for me has arrived in the guise of an orange wristband.

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Congratulations! You moved 24,995 steps, 12.07 miles, 249% of goal!Jawbone’s UP pedometer calculates all that aimless garden puttering and tallies up some surprising stats. My orange UP came as a side benefit to Father’s Day, when Marty was presented with a twin set of wristbands, black for him, orange for me. As someone with zero interest in gizmos and in constant war with remote controls, someone who still hasn’t learned all the intricacies of a smart phone, the pedometer function of the wristband has already become addictive. Every day feels so much more productive, and there’s no more remorse for not “getting out and exercising.” It also knows how many times you woke up in the night (last night only once, but I don’t remember doing so), and it logged that near all-nighter I had at the computer last week when I clocked under 3 hours’ sleep on Tuesday. After wearing it only a few days and already finding its data stream astonishing, a real Star Trek moment come true, I checked out some Internet reviews. Quite a few claim it isn’t long-lived and breaks down after a few months. We’ll see if there’s some merit to these reviews or if it’s just trolling from competitors. By the way, those stats were yesterday’s, which included a 4-mile walk to dinner and a movie, but the bulk of those steps were logged at home, in the “compound.” I call that power puttering.

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A lot of those steps were logged checking on the progress of Musschia wollastonii, which at last looks to be thinking about blooming. The perfect exposure in summer turned out to be on the north side of the house, under the triangle palm, morning dappled sun, afternoon shade. This spot was no good in winter, being in deep shade until spring. Speaking of the triangle palm, Dypsis decaryi, I’ve been thinking about attempting to climb a Philodendron melanochrysum up its trunk, image here, with that amazingly elongated “drip tip.” So far Logee’s is the only source, and shipping would be crazy expensive. Cissus discolor is another possibility, also only available via mail order.

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Lots of steps were logged to and from the watering basin, where I can quickly dip pitchers without having to wait for them to be filled up by the hose and there’s less waste. Containers are scattered throughout, with seedlings and cuttings way in the back. It’s basically a hand-watered operation here, with containers and plantings under a year old needing frequent attention. And since I change things up all the time, there’s lots in the year-old category. I’m hoping the seedlings of Hibiscus trionum for planting out late summer will survive the visit to Portland this coming July 11. Nothing makes me feel more like an obsessive lunatic than explaining how to care for the garden during a summer absence. This solar-powered soil sensor I read about in The New York Times (“Planting for Profit, and Greater Good,” June 7, 2014) would make things a lot easier on anyone volunteering for the thankless job of vacation garden duty.

Other plants I’ll be worried about while at the bloggers’ meetup are newly potted cuttings of Brillantaisia subulugurica, a plant I’d never heard of until a couple weeks ago. I was handing out fliers on Dustin’s plant sale at the local community college horticultural department, which was a debacle since it had already closed for summer. But heading back to the car, hoping the fruitless mission wouldn’t be further compounded by a parking ticket, I noticed a mass of blue climbing the chain link fence at the end of the parking lot. Too late for sweet peas, too early for late-season salvias, what could it be? In dusty dry soil, full sun, covered in enormous, comically exaggerated, salvia-esque blooms, with the distinctive lower lip pout, opposite leaves, square stems, but unlike any salvia I’d ever read about or seen. I grabbed some cuttings jutting through the fence and did some Internet research when I got home. Voila, Brillantaisia subulugurica. All the excitement of a plant hunting expedition without the bad food and sore feet. It rooted amazingly fast in water. I need to go back for photos.


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Commelina coelestis

More new things to water. I took a flying leap at this little powerhouse factory of deepest blue, Commelina coelestis, hoping it makes a big clump here with the gold-leaved tansy ‘Isla Gold.’
Locally from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. And then I wonder why there’s so much blue in the garden this summer.

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Jennifer van der Fluit waters the succulent fence in the front yard of her Long Beach home.”

An update on the “fedge,” a living fence I blogged about here in 2010, appeared recently in The Los Angeles Times in this click-through photo gallery “DIY succulents: Tips for decorating with drought-tolerant plants.” (I’d get current photos myself but I’ve lost the address.) I’ve found that articles from paywall-protected sites can be read if the title of the article is copy-and-pasted into a search engine.

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Jennifer and Appie van der Fluit plant succulents in their 30-foot-long, 4-foot-tall chain-link fence, with a 1-foot-wide channel in between filled with soil.”

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If you’re looking for some weekend reading, The New Yorker did some great reporting on the new direction The Nature Conservancy is taking, such as partnering with corporations like Dow Chemical in an “eco-pragmatic” spirit (“Green is Good” by D.T. Max, full article available to subscribers.) Featured in the piece was Mark Tercek, formerly of Goldman Sachs and now heading up TNC. He writes about the article in a blog post here, which I haven’t fully read yet but the comment section looks explosive. As long-time donors to the TNC, we’ve been arguing over discussing this article at home. Somehow a photo of Ein seems appropriate here, who does such a good job taking care of us.

And lastly, there’s a Cactus & Succulent Sale and Show at the Huntington beginning this coming weekend, June 28, 2014.

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Such sales are where I pick up succulents like this one about to bloom. I lost the tag, but it’s possibly Senecio scaposus v. addoensis

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I’ll end with a photo of Ganna Walska in a Gatsby getup, cradling a crazed-looking cat. I bet she’d drive down from Lotusland for the Huntington’s upcoming plant sale this weekend.

(P.S. Timber Press is running a Hellstrip Contest to celebrate the release of “Hellstrip Gardening” by Evelyn Hadden. $250 is up for grabs. Contest ends July 6, 2014.)

summer in Judy Horton’s garden

A couple weekends ago, the Southern California Horticultural Society hosted another “Coffee in the Garden,” and included was a garden that I had been advised not to miss should it come up for tour. (Thank you, Shirley Watts!) For her own home, Los Angeles garden designer Judy Horton has made a plant-rich garden that is inextricably linked to its little house in Beechwood Canyon, Hollywood, behind tall hedges on a winding, busy street. Small urban gardens interest me perhaps more than any other type, the intimate, personal kind that enfold a home and are capable of a mood-altering effect when one returns from, for example, brutal freeway traffic. The kinds that are made as though your very life and sanity depend on it. I’ve never thought of a garden as a luxury but, rather, a necessity, and these are the kind I also love to visit. A brief description will have to take the place of the layout photos I always neglect to take when touring gardens, because I generally talk too much and become far too absorbed in details. In my defense, only an aerial photo could do justice to the layout of this garden, which managed to be both densely planted and quietly spacious. It is a relatively young garden, started in 2005, but already full of mature trees and shrubs. Tall ficus hedges ensure complete privacy from the street, and Judy planted hedges of silvery, fast-growing germander, Teucrium fruticans, to enclose and separate the front garden from the driveway, as seen in an old photo below from SCHS.


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Decomposed granite paths encircle the house in the front garden, where lawn would traditionally be planted. One of our natives, a large toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia, was in bloom in the corner of the hedges. A deep blue chaste tree also was in bloom here (Vitex agnus-castus). Pictured in this old photo to the left of the cypress is Arbutus x marina. Judy’s love of woody plants was everywhere in evidence. Not pictured but just beyond the Aloe plicatilis an enormous Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ flanked the entry steps to the front door.

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I admit a big reason I tour gardens is a plant-specific form of FOMO, a fear of missing out on a beautiful, worthy plant that I’ve somehow overlooked. Judy’s garden was filled with FOMO rarities like this South African bulb (possibly a haemanthus) alongside classic mediterranean plants like grape, acanthus, olives, citrus, hellebores, and mediterranean-adaptive succulents, aloes and agaves. (The plant list she handed out was nine pages.)
I loved her catholic taste in plants.

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photo from The Los Angeles Times

Her driveway hidden behind the teucrium hedge was repurposed into a staging area for the countless pots now parked along its length.

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I was especially taken by the many woody things she grows in large containers (even a Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’).
Being a designer’s garden, it’s also a laboratory for trying out plants before using them in clients’ gardens.

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Alongside the driveway, in a bed against the house, an orange tree is underplanted with aloes, maculata and striata hybrids.

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photo from The Los Angeles Times

If Judy’s garden had one overriding lesson, it would be to always keep in mind the relationship between house and garden.
Every window and doorway frames an iconic view, for every season, whether of camellias, citrus, grapes, bougainvillea.

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Steps to the back patio, massed with aeoniums.

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In the background is another potted tree, Acacia boormanii, underplanted with Kalanchoe thyrsiflora. A cane of the single scarlet climber ‘Altissimo’ arches into the frame.

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Pots of hydrangeas on the back patio, blued with aluminum sulfate. A portion of the fence is painted deep Moroccan blue.

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Every exposure is exploited, whether sun, dappled shade, or even the deeper shade that gathers in the narrow spaces that run alongside neighbor fences. Perfect for begonias.

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photo from The Los Angeles Times

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And ferns. Blechnum brasiliense, the Red Brazilian Tree Fern

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More of the innumerable potted plants, another reason I instantly admired this garden.

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I asked Judy one “interview” question, something that’s been on my mind. How much does she plan for summer in her garden? Without the marked contrast of an extended winter and the mad race against a short growing season, not to mention continuing record drought, what is a summer garden in Southern California? Summer is “quiet,” was her word.
Stunningly beautiful, full of interest and intricate plays of texture would be my words.

Bloom Day June 2014

Bloom Day on Father’s Day? Really? I figured this out about 7 o’clock last night, but by then I was too sun-blasted to muster a post. Marty wanted his day spent at a local Irish fair. Guinness and “trad” music for him, Irish wolfhounds and sheep herding displays for me. Running late, on to my experiments with herbaceous stuff for a dryish zone 10 Southern California garden. A counter-intuitive direction in the land of palms, agapanthus, and bougainvillea but for now my idea of summer.

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June brought the agastaches. Dark blue in the background is Lavandula multifida.

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Agastache ‘Blue Blazes’ planted last fall 2013

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So now the blue spikes of Plectranthus neochilus have been joined by agastache to make quite an unplanned wash of blue in the corner under the Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea.’

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No complaint from me. A corner of blue isn’t a bad thing on a warm day.
The lavender and catmint ‘Walker’s Low’ is here too.

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Self-sown nicotiana with the plectranthus, leaves of Echium simplex in the foreground.

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Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ is a pale, milky blue. Maybe a little insipid compared to some of the darker blues like Agastache ‘Purple Haze,’ which I neglected to photograph.
But BF has an admirable chunky structure and wonderful leaves. Umbels of Baltic parsley in the lower right.

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Cenolophium denudatum, the Baltic parsley, was started from seed a couple years ago. I think it would be happier in a wetter garden. Stays green and lush but not many flowers.
Maybe I should try it in soups.

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I lifted and split the enormous clump of the grass Chloris virgata and started with smaller divisions last fall. It thickens up fast and does self-sow so no danger in losing it.

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In a small garden, a large pot of cosmos makes for a summer full of daisies. This one has a faint halo of yellow. Cosmos ‘Yellow Garden’

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Pot of cosmos in the background. Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ and digiplexis. There’s some white cleome in here too I didn’t photograph.
For animating a dry summer garden with just two kinds of plants, it’d be hard to beat this gomphrena with grasses.

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Purple orach on the left.

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Seedheads of purple orach, Atriplex hortensis. Wish it did more than very lightly self-sow. The edible orach would no doubt be happier in the rich, moist soil of a vegetable garden.
I once grew a fantastic chartreuse form too but couldn’t get it to reseed. The lower leaves are fed to the parakeets.

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The best umbellifer I’ve found for dry zone 10 is Crithmum maritimum.

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I love the crithmum growing among Eryngium planum

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Dalea purpurea’s first year has been very impressive.

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Tiny blooms on the grass-like Anthericum saundersiae ‘Variegata’ which thrives in the morning sun/afternoon shade in very dry soil under the tetrapanax with bromeliads and aeoniums.

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The kangaroo paws don’t seem as tall this year. Not long-lived anyway, the lack of winter rain may have contributed to smaller size. (‘Yellow Gem’)
More fern-leaf lavender, with Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons’ in the background.

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My garden is really too small for big clumps of rudbeckias, too dry for heleniums. Gaillardias are just right. This one is sunshine on stems.

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Out of three pots of lilies, only the white returned in spring, supported here by the trunk of Euphorbia lambii.

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Pelargonium echinatum has started a new flush of bloom in the mild June weather.

Catch up with other June gardens at May Dreams Gardens.


Dustin’s June 14 Plant Fair

Coming this Saturday at Dustin’s house and garden.

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Saturday, June 14, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. or thereabouts
1750 Sherman Place
Long Beach, CA 90804

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Nicely coinciding with the bloom of the giant Dutchman’s pipe vine, Aristolochia gigantea.

Saturday, June 14, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. or thereabouts
1750 Sherman Place
Long Beach, CA 90804

I would love to see the plant sale become a June institution like Dustin’s Cross-Pollination parties, where the most botanically interesting cocktails are dreamed up.
(My favorite last Saturday was a concoction of St. Germain, rosemary, lemons…and was it rum?) If you can’t make it, maybe some of your Facebook friends can, so pass it on.

Aeonium ‘ Copper Penny’

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The potted manihot doesn’t seem to need great gulps of water so works well with these succulents sharing container space.
The main stalk became two when a nearby Euphorbia cotinifolia tree snapped, crashed, and sprawled over the garden last summer.
I think I prefer the manihot this way, multi-trunked, but was afraid to prune it myself. Calamity to the rescue.

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Aeonium ‘Copper Penny’ with Sedum confusum, the Mexican stonecrop.

It’s rare that I throw a lot of different plants into one container anymore, but a tree does need underplanting.
And I like how fast colonies of plants thicken up in the large pot, so I can break off pieces and use elsewhere.
Which is exactly what Aeonium ‘Copper Penny’ is doing here. I couldn’t get it to build up as fast in the garden.
I’ve become very attached to this little aeonium as it mounds into a coppery, red-flecked presence at the base of the tree.
The thin edge of Sedum rubrotinctum peeking out betrays its losing status in the power struggle.

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There’s an agave here, too, waiting for a permanent home. So far Agave titanota ‘Lanky Wanky’ is managing to stay aloft of the aeonium and sedum.
I’ll immediately come to its rescue if and when it becomes seriously threatened by sedum and aeonium.


museum Sunday

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Frida Kahlo in the Sun by Leo Matiz


In what now seems like the dim past, the family photo album was a holy book, kept on prominent display in the sitting room, perhaps atop the piano draped in a fringe shawl. You have only this weekend this Sunday left to view Frida Kahlo’s family snapshots, including childhood photos of her taken by her photographer father Guillermo Kahlo, but also photos of her many famous friends like Tino Modotti and Leon Trotsky. Of course, Diego Rivera is here too. Some of the photos bear her lipstick smudge, which reveals the totemic power these images had for her. This intimate exhibit at the Museum of Latin American Art/MOLAA ends June 8 (today!), so now’s your last chance. I finally walked over Friday night after vowing to see it since it opened in March. This is the first exhibition of these personal photos which had previously been inaccessible due to restrictions placed on Frida’s estate. Enjoy the agave garden after the exhibit.

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Frida’s garden Casa Azul, photo found here

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LACMA opens its new exhibit “Expressionism in Germany and France; From Van Gogh to Kandinsky.”
Seeing Robert Irwin’s ancient palm and cycad garden after the exhibit was even more bracing than usual.

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Lepidozamia peroffskyana, an Australian palm-like cycad.

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Macrozamia moorei, another Australian palm-like cycad


Robert Irwin describing his choice of palms and cycads: “The site itself is very unique—the La Brea Tar Pits, this primordial ooze that is coughing up bones of saber-toothed cats and mammoths. So you take that as a place to begin, and marry that with this primordial kind of tree. Certain types of palm, cycads, like the ones in front of BCAM, are actually the first plants on earth, as far as anybody knows.” Irwin also noted the status of the palm as an icon of Southern California, making it a logical place to create what he calls “an important collection of these primordial plants.” – The LACMA Blog

better know an agave

A rogue’s gallery of agaves from Jud’s garden. Some of these I know, some I’m guessing at, and some have really stumped me.
If you have an idea, I’m all ears.

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Agave potatorum?

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With Agave macroacantha in the background

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Agave macroacantha

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Agave macroacantha, possibly a selection of Agave titanota in the foreground (Agave horrida?)

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This looks more like the Agave titanota I know.

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Agave ferdinandi-regis

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Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’

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And Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’ with the anchor plant, Colletia paradoxa

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Agave lophantha

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with Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’

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Agave shawii?

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with Agave havardiana in the background.

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Definitely Agave havardiana (see comments for ID discussion)

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Agave americana var. medio-picta ‘Alba’

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Mark commented on the first post back in 2012 identifying this agave as A. isthmensis

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Agave parrasana, the Cabbage Head Agave, also ID’d by Mark in the 2012 post

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Agave victoriae-reginae

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Agave celsii ‘Nova’? Or plain old Agave parryi minus the truncata?

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Agave schidigera

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Agave celsii ‘Multicolor’

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Agave bovicornuta in the foreground