Looking into the future of newspapers, there’s nothing but thick fog concealing possible total shipwreck. Looking to the past can seem like a golden age, especially for garden writers. In Los Angeles, we’re lucky to have the amazing Emily Green as the Los Angeles Times garden editor, but at many newspapers that chair is empty. (Let’s face it, the chair has been entirely removed, along with the desk and the slim column of numbers in the newspaper’s annual budget for garden reporting.) In the ’90s, the LAT garden editor was the inimitable Robert Smaus, a man seemingly born curious about everything horticultural, whether ornamental or edible, and possessing the rare gift for communicating what he discovered. These photos are taken from his website, but I had the good fortune of seeing his garden in person when he taught horticulture classes through a local university extension program. I’ve got water gardens on the brain lately and have been thinking about modeling one on Smaus’ simple water tank made of cinderblocks then smoothly plastered.
I get a cheerful reminder of Smaus’ old garden now whenever I visit Jenny’s garden through her blog at Rockrose, on my blogroll, where she similarly deploys sheets of flowers among pavers in her garden.
Robert Smaus writes about leaving his garden here.
The Smausian style of garden writing: “There’s a new coreopsis named ‘Limerock Ruby’ that I planted as a little slip early last spring, and it grew and grew like credit card debt until it burst into mind-numbing bloom.” Bob’s book, “52 Weeks in the California Garden,” is still in print.
(Edited to add: I wrote in haste and incorrectly gave Emily Green the title of garden editor for the LA Times, when her own site, Chance of Rain, lists her as a garden columnist.)
Elsewhere February seems determined to be one for the record books. Added to worries for family and friends all over the country, there’s now anxiety for the gardens and their owners all over the world I’ve come to know through the Internet, through blogs. (Never another gardener to be found on our own street, we have to search the world to find each other.) Take the greatest care for your safety, please. Last night my mom described news reports of the building of enormous snowmen with traffic cones for noses, fire-breathing Godzillas made of snow. Mustering such amazing panache in the face of winter fully baring its teeth, we salute you!
Temps did drop down to 37 last night, no worry for any garden, and this Dasylirion longissimum, aka Mexican Grass Tree, Longleaf Sotol, Toothless Sotol, can handle temps to 15 F. Taxonomically, this sotol has recently left the Agavaceae and joined up with nolinas in the Ruscaceae. Taxonomists do nothing but break up families, the busy little home-wreckers. The leaves of the Desert Spoons have that widening at the base that gives them their common name. This base with the intricate cross-hatching of leaves is also where all the trash and debris builds up. (Never park a dasylirion in autumn under a deciduous tree.)
Like having a party when the house is clean, after a good vacuum, the sotol is ready for its closeup.
See the spoon-shaped swelling of the leaves where they meet the base? And notice how clean and free from debris it is?
Faster growing than a cycad, which isn’t saying much, I’ve had it for many years, though it’s never flowered. Unlike most agaves, which practice the religion of Monocarpism, this dasylirion will flower and live to tell the tale. This year I’ll begin stripping the lower leaves away from the base, allowing its distinctive caudex to shine.
Once the trunk starts to form, there’ll be less and less opportunity for debris to catch at the base. I don’t own much garden equipment, certainly nothing with a motor like a leaf blower, so had no bigger plan other than idly picking at the debris caught in the interstices with my fingers or using chopsticks, a safe if ineffective approach with this spineless sotol. Talk about futile. Yesterday a tire pump air compressor was suggested as a solution and, zut alors! the problem was solved. I also used the compressor to spritz a couple of nearby agaves suffering from the same problem. We might be incapable of building eccentric snowmen in February, but by god, we can keep the sotols vacuumed.
I’ve been in a digging mood, which probably dates back to this draft of a post I wrote but never posted on December 28, 2010. A brief shower last Sunday has been the only rain since the December storms, and I can’t help wondering if we’ve now entered the drought the experts said was in store for us this winter before that Pineapple Express upended their predictions and roared into town. My 30-gallon rain barrel from that storm is already empty.
From the AGO archives, December 28, 2010:
“As I wrote a couple days ago, the recent rains have set Oxalis vulcanicola on the move again.
Oxalis advancing towards Lobelia tupa, pictured below. If you squint really hard, you might possibly be able to make out a naked stem of the lobelia.
I’ve been squinting a lot at this lobelia. Muttering some harsh words at it too. I must’ve left the pottery shard to mark its spot so I wouldn’t plant over it.
It’s the lobelia that has been the problem child, not the oxalis. In fact, a couple mornings ago, the lobelia was destined for removal to a pot. Bought at a mature size in a gallon container, it’s occupied this sunny spot for at least a year, to the general misfortune of the garden overall. It requires a large amount of space, but refuses to take ownership of that space. Not much basal growth, just disheveled, naked stems snaking out a couple feet with a miserable poof of leaves at the end of the stems. This fall new acquisitions were planted closer and closer to the lobelia, which isn’t helping matters, but overcrowding can sometimes reflect, as in this case, a lack of respect for a plant that fails to thrive.
Researching the lobelia on the computer, I found this wonderful entry on Lobelia tupa from The Patient Gardener’s Weblog. If there’s any chance at all my lobelia might grow to resemble that beauty, I’m leaving it alone, tracing a bright Maginot line of pottery shards in the soil over which no oxalis shall be allowed to advance or new acquisitions be planted.
More encouragement comes from photos of the Lobelia tupa grown at Mesogeo Gardens, Bainbridge Island, Washington. I’m guessing the Patient Gardener and Mesogeo’s Gardens are in a much cooler, moister zone 8, and maybe the spot I’ve given this Chilean lobelia is in too much sun.
I’m granting the lobelia a one-year grace period, at which point it gets moved to a pot, where I can wheel the invalid around to wherever suits it best. Maybe somewhere deep in the garden if it persists in this ugly phase. (Making threats is a time-honored gardening technique. There is a theory among avid rose growers that simply placing a shovel near an under-performing plant will produce astonishing vigor in a weak grower essentially threatened with the dreaded “shovel pruning.”)
Later that day…
Despite that upbeat and sensible plan, as often happens when I get a shovel in my hand, the day took a different turn. I should have paid closer attention to all those military metaphors, drawing Maginot lines and such. Clearly, a destructive mood was taking hold, one I get nearly every winter when exasperation with my tendency to overplant overwhelms common sense. No sooner had I typed the last line was a shovel grabbed and the afternoon spent removing a considerable amount of biomass so the lobelia could be transplanted to a shadier spot. One removal led to another, until the final tally of victims from overplanting included: (a) a 4X4 foot Teucrium fruticans azureum, (b) 3X3 foot Ballota acetabulosa, leaving a small rooted remnant; (c) a 6-foot tall leptospermum standard; (d) a 5X3 foot mass of Cobaea scandens, piling in on itself tendril upon tendril to become a free-standing, viney column, leafy on the surface, slimy underneath.
And rather than waiting a year, as I prudently wrote earlier in the day, the Lobelia tupa was dug and moved to the newly opened, slightly shadier location. A couple clumps of languishing ruby grass/melinus were moved here as well. (The soil was still surprisingly light after all that rain, for we all know that one NEVER digs in excessively wet soil. The day of solid rain following the transplanting makes digging ill advised for at least a couple weeks.)
What started out as a few snips of oxalis turned into a full-blown demolition session, which always seems to follow the busy fizz of the holidays. I can try to talk myself out of this impulse, but when my hand touches a shovel mid-winter, anything goes. What sounds chaotic and irrational is just a continuation of the 22-year conversation I’ve had with this garden â€” overplanting then the inevitable thinning out, craving the excitement of new plants but not having the necessary space in which they can mature, the garden equivalent of yo-yo dieting. After the thinning, hellebores grown against the back wall, previously concealed by the cobaea in front, joined the garden again, along with a newly revealed phlomis and some salvias hidden behind the standard leptospermum. The garden once again looks lean and sleek with about as much winter bareness as I can tolerate.”
Today, February 2, 2011. In its new location in deeper, richer soil, the Lobelia tupa currently is budding leaf growth along its stems but otherwise looks as inert as ever. Below is a summer 2010 photo of the Teucrium fruticans azureum that was removed in late December. So pale and ghostly beautiful but grows like a tumbleweed. (Some of the purplish bloom belongs to a solanum, which was disentangled from the teucrium and pruned into a standard. Not sure if I like this formality or not, but if the ruby grass and euphorbias I’ve also moved here thrive under the solanum’s canopy, I just might leave it alone.)
The golden blur in the distance, a duranta over 8 feet tall, has also been removed this winter.
The canna and tibouchina were untouched and will be back in summer 2011.
So to those who might be inclined to believe all is luxuriant ease in a zone 10 garden, let mine be the cautionary tale. When a garden is workable nearly 12 months out of the year, there is scope for some serious mischief and yo-yo gardening. It says a lot about my patience as a gardener that, rather than worrying over the nonperforrmance of the lobelia for another year, I plopped a couple of the Agave attenuata and shawii hybrid ˜Blue Flame™ in its spot. Nothing to worry about there.
February is about the time of year when the little reminder notes really start to pile up, when sending a barrage of e-mails to myself seems an inefficient system compared to the search capabilities on my blog, a feature I use constantly. So just a warning that any future posts labeled “Journal” will most likely be scattershot to-do lists, seed orders, and garden musings of a very narrow range, applicable to my little zone 10 garden. Planting ideas I’m working out, etc. Of course, any and all input is more than welcome.
1. Ongoing investigation, no verdict yet, on pairing cannas with the big, winter-blooming salvias, like S. iodantha, wagneriana. The idea is cannas for summer, cut back in fall, when the salvias will take over for late winter/spring. Water, compost, and light needs similar. Looks like S. iodantha just might bloom in February before the Bengal Tiger canna takes off, fingers crossed. It’d be better if these two were further apart, something to consider if the salvia doesn’t bloom. (First salvia bloom noted 2/5/11.)
2. Keep an eye on interplanting kangaroo paws with sedums, grasses, and slim, tap-rooted eryngiums. Not sure if anigozanthos wants to get this chummy. Moved a couple Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’ from too much shade to this sunny spot this morning. Interplanted small cuttings of tansy ‘Isla Gold.’ No more plants here.
2a. Remove some bricks and pavers under pergola for more planting space?
3. Planted Gloriosa rothschildiana at base of grapevine yesterday. Grapevine may be too vigorous. Watch for snails.
4. Dicentra scandens climbing up fatshedera — flowers too subtle for impact here?
5. Water garden research. Would still like to corral summer tropicals in one tank. Get to Echo Park for lotus bloom this year/onion soup at Taix. (‘Michael Oâ€™Brien, landscape architect and certified arborist, says that the lotus of Echo Park Lake are not the same as the Egyptian plants and are not water lilies. â€œNelumbo nucifera,â€ he says, â€œis native to South Asia to Australia and is grown in tropical climates around the world.”)
6. Bulbs from McClure & Zimmerman:
Iris versicolor var. Gerald Darby (thank you, Nan/Hayefield!) Maybe for the water garden?
Gloriosa lily ‘Wine & Red’
Tropaelum tuberosum ‘Ken Aslet’
7. Still need seeds for Ammi visagna. J. L. HUDSON carries it and Atriplex Magenta Magic and Purple Savoyed.
(Ebay has sellers for both too). No self-sown orach coming up yet.
Also need seeds for Celosia argentea. Why does one source never carry all desired seeds?
8. More agapanthus research, maybe ‘Graskop’?
9. Start seeds of Mina lobata. Will it really climb through Verbena bonariensis here and not just for the magicians at Great Dixter?
9a. Geranium harveyi under tetrapanax? — something needed under rice plant’s skirts.
10. Watch germination of Crambe maritima sown 1/30/11.
11. Planted Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ yesterday deep in the back of the border among the cannas and grasses. Selection of Roger Raiche/Planet Horticulture, the leaves do have a lavender wash to them. Said to be more compact than the species, lower growing.
12. Clean/rake out feather grass in parkway.
13. Both Cotinus coggyria and ‘Grace’ already leafing out. Scilla peruviana under ‘Grace’ in bud by early March last year.
14. Zillions and zillions of Helleborus argutifolius seedlings coming up and not a bit of room left for another plant. In old age, make a garden of this hellebore for winter, agaves/aloes, perovskia and grasses for summer.
15. Dormant tropicals showing growth, tipped pots up and watered lightly yesterday.
16. Tulips almost here!
17. Interplant Aster divaricatus with Scilla peruviana (added 2/5/11)
18. Interplant Allium cernuum with golden carex (added 2/5/11)
19. Belamcanda or Blackberry lily (Growing With Plants 2/5/11)
20. Alliums and wood aster available from Barry Glick/Sunshine Farm & Gardens (ordered 2/12/11)
21. Iris x robusta ‘Dark Aura’ (Plant Delights/Iris City Gardens) – similar to ‘Gerald Darby.’ Best of the xrobustas with dark leaves.
The camera battery charger has been annoyingly misplaced and a new one finally ordered, but it was several l-o-n-g days in coming, at last arriving late afternoon yesterday. At first light I was up, camera in hand, heading straight across the street to take some photos of Holly’s front garden. Her garden intrigues me, for so many reasons. The fact that I encouraged her to do it, just ditch the lawn and go for it, initially had me feeling a little queasy should it end in failure. But what Holly has accomplished has me now regularly gazing over her fence, analyzing the amazing textural drifts she’s achieved. Now we’ve come full circle, and I’m the one begging for cuttings from her garden.
Yesterday I swooned over this Crassula multicava, the blurry foaming sprays of pink-white flowers in the center, and took home a rooted cutting. Yes, swooning does get you cuttings. The little crassula in bloom reminds me of a rare saxifrage:
Some of my plants have ended up in Holly’s garden, but she also has a mysterious source from her workplace. It’s all a little vague, but cuttings and plants seem to be coming from a healing garden made on the grounds of a hospital. The elderly gardener has taken a shine to our darling Holly (who wouldn’t?) and given her some amazing plants, some kept as specimens in pots in her back garden — (not really a garden yet.)
It occurred to me yesterday that the brilliant success Holly has made of her almost 2-year-old, lawn-to-succulents front garden can be attributed to a couple things besides her great design eye and strong work ethic, though those two traits are certainly handy, if not indispensable.
As a result of Holly’s innate frugality, and probably because the garden started out as an experiment, the succulents in her garden have pretty much all been gifts. She can’t tell you their names and hasn’t been hit yet, mercifully, by collector-mania, so hasn’t succumbed to dotting in one of this and that. Where she spent the money was on tough littlle shrubs, like lavenders, osmanthus, and westringias, that protected the tiny succulent cuttings while they gained size, but these shrubs also really calm and unify the plantings. There’s a couple clumps of a rambunctious plectranthus that have outlived their usefulness in this regard and really need to be yanked, but their early and strong evergreen presence was a great addition while the garden grew in, and she made sure it didn’t overrun other plants. The plectranthus can be seen in this photo fronting westringia, with the red leaves of the African Milk Bush, Euphorbia bicompacta var. rubra, leaning on the birdbath. Holly has no cats, so this little birdbath is strictly standing-room only, with birds pushing each other off the edge for water rights.
Bella, her enormous and devoted German shepherd, carefully follows the simple large paths around the planting beds while Holly meticulously weeds and cares for the garden. In contrast to the old days of romping on the lawn, Bella has transitioned to the paths beautifully, and since Bella is walked frequently she doesn’t lack for exercise. (As is often the case, the former patches of lawn, though thirsty, were tiny, merely token gestures to a greensward.) Fragile succulents are tucked safely in amongst larger plants. I admired Holly’s huge green aeoniums yesterday. “What are they again?” she asked. A-e-o-n-i-u-m-s. I so admire Holly’s fearlessness, her spirit of trial-and-error, learning as she goes.
What really got my attention were the swathes of blooms from the Crassula multicava mentioned above and this Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi shown in flower below backed by blue-green Senecio vitalis. So often succulent plantings focus on the geometric leaf patterns at ground level, but the textural drifts from the kalanchoe’s flower sprays had a filmy effect similar to that of small grasses, with flowers dangling like the lockets of Job’s tears/Coix lacryma-jobi. I didn’t get closeups of the blooms, taking photos at a distance over the fence, but I think that’s another strength of Holly’s garden, the use of simple succulents planted en masse. A lot of us were introduced to succulents via Thomas Hobb’s intricate “pizza” concept, fun and useful for containers, but for landscapes large swathes are where the drama is.
Holly offered, so I grabbed a cutting of the Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi. I’ve grown this succulent in containers, but seeing it blooming in generous sweeps in the landscape was a revelation, courtesy of Holly’s fabulous little garden. These two succulents in bloom gave the plantings a looser, more relaxed quality not often achieved with succulents.
That she’s smitten with the little garden and has moved far beyond the original impetus to just replace the lawn is thrilling to behold. And now I get to cop the occasional cutting from Holly’s garden. I wish my neighborhood had six more Hollies.
This week in the Pets Mid-Century Furniture contest held by Modernica. (But, doggone, if that skunk on the Eames rocker isn’t a scene-stealer!)
I haven’t seen the movie ‘Black Swan’ yet, but sometimes I wonder if my own search for the ideal plant isn’t reminiscent of the exacting standards of ballet.
Continue reading The Ideal
Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ is capable of an exceptionally long season in zone 10, basically year-round.
And not just spitting out a few blooms, but flourishing.
A cultivar of E. hypericifolia, it is a true perennial here in zone 10. Extremely drought tolerant and handles my heavy clay soil well. In colder zones, it has become a go-to component of summer container schemes, quite an amazing step up for a common U.S. weed known by such names as Black Purslane, Milk Purslane, Eye-Bright. (I can’t imagine how any euphorbia with its irritating sap could earn a moniker like “Eye-Bright.” unless red eyes are considered bright.)
Not much to look at up close, EDF is all about supporting the team. It has never self-sown in my garden. In fact, there is very little information available on starting it from seed. As far as I can tell, unless gardeners in colder zones take cuttings, new plants must be purchased each year (the perfect trademark plant!) Last year I trialed a new cultivar with bronzy leaves, ‘Breathless Blush, a complete nonstarter, in my garden at least.
While EDF froths and foams year-round, Euphorbia rigida is on the typical euphorbia calendar, beginning bloom late winter/early spring in zone 10.
In summer EDF’s growth is more dense, more floriferous,, but the open ground of winter provides enough elbow room for this little euphorbia to cleverly hike itself up amongst these plants to grab its share of winter sunshine. (Amicia zygomeris, phlomis, salvia, and prostrantherum.) I admire plants that show initiative like that.
All succulents can be described as fleshy to some degree, but this kalanchoe is positively indecent, a real fleshpot. A tall, upright succulent to 3 feet.
How to describe the color? There actually exists a means to describe the complex coloring of this kalanchoe’s leaves in one word: Peachblow.
“Of the delicate purplish pink color likened to that of peach blooms; – applied esp. to a Chinese porcelain, small specimens of which bring great prices in the Western countries.”
Turquoise leaves suffused with peachblow. The peachblow will most likely not be as pronounced in summer as with winter temperatures.
I circled around this kalanchoe at California Cactus Center last week, repeatedly tried to walk away, then finally plunged in, carefully stepping through the surrounding pots bristling with spines and spears, grabbed it, and headed directly to the counter before I could change my mind again. Trying to keep a top-heavy, brittle-stemmed succulent upright while driving could probably be added to the list of dangerous activities to avoid at freeway speeds, but way down the list below texting. Possibly similar to having a boisterous pet in the car, though.
San Marcos Growers says its yellow flowers are not reliably produced every spring. (With leaves like that, I think I can bear the disappointment.) SMG’s entry on this succulent includes a charming theory for the etiology of the naming of the genus kalanchoe: “The name Kalanchoe is somewhat of a mystery – there is some thought that it comes from a phonetic transcription of the Chinese words â€œKalan Chauhuyâ€ meaning that which falls and grows, likely in reference to the plantlets that drop from many of the species, but others believe it from the ancient Indian words â€œkalankaâ€ meaning spot or rust and â€œchayaâ€ meaning glossy in reference to the reddish glossy leaves of the Indian species K. laciniata.” SMG also notes that K. grandiflora is often confused with K. marmorata, another fleshpot but with maroon spots.
My Hortus Third helpfully informs that “The name is pronounced with four syllables.” Kal-an-cho-e.
Today was a day of mathematical simplicity, nothing too complex. Like an abacus, disparate elements slid in and out of place, adding in then subtracting out throughout the day. Work lined up for the day cancelled. Subtraction. But being home, I was able to catch the late afternoon sun backlighting Aeonium rubrinoleatum. Addition.
A windfall of free time usually finds me in the garden, and today was no exception. So far, I haven’t found a single plant not improved by association with libertia. So inevitable was their pairing, Agave parryi var. truncata and the gingery blades of Libertia peregrinans, that they clicked into place like the beads of an abacus. Addition.