Manly Plants

I’m a lumberjack, and I’m okay.
I sleep all night and I work all day.
(Manly chorus: He’s a lumberjack and he’s okay
He sleeps all night and he works all day)
I cut down trees. I eat my lunch.
I go to the lavatory.
On Wednesdays I go shoppin’
And have buttered scones for tea…
— Monty Python.

Mammillaria decipiens var. camptotricha and fuchsia-flowered Sulcorebutia mentosa.

Mammillaria decipiens var. camptotrichaSulcorebutia mentosa

Why these are manly plants:

“There are guy plants and chick plants,” Walkowiak said as he tended potted cactuses atop tables in his Escondido backyard. “Women leave plant sales carrying smooth-leaved rosette succulents, like aeoniums and echeverias. Men prefer spiny plants. It’s the danger factor. Cacti are edgy.”

Quoted from “Succulents Loom Large,” by Debra Lee Baldwin in her 4/15/11 article on Peter Walkowiak published in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

(Mr. Walkowiak and his astonishing plants will be attending The Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society Plant Show and Sale taking place June 11th and 12th at the Sepulveda Garden Center, Magnolia Boulevard, Encino, CA. For information email: Mr. Walkowiak found me, an obvious edgy plant neophyte wandering stunned among the sale tables at the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society Sale and Show this past weekend, and personally escorted me to the show building to see his prize specimen of Euphorbia bupleurifolia, where he enthusiastically answered my noobish questions and chatted about convergent evolution and other plant-show topics.)

Bow-tie leaves of Titanopsis calcarea and crocus-like flowers of Gymnocalycium doppianum.

Titanopsis calcareaGymnocalycium  doppianum

Manly or girly? Gymnocalycium multiflorum.
(Didn’t get the name of the lime-orange, columnar explosion in the blue-glazed pot.)

Gymnocalycium multiflorumPhotobucket

I would think the appeal of great plants is androgynous. But Mr. Walkowiak would be the one to know, having observed the buying habits of the public at countless plant shows. And he’s right, I’ve been slow to warm up to these tightly constructed, bristly confections, like xeric counterparts of alpine plants, that also seem expressly designed by extreme habitats for our doting pot culture.

Occasional Daily Photos 6/6/11

San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society Plant Show and Sale at Balboa Park (San Diego), California.
First-time visit to this amazing show in an open-air courtyard at the Casa Del Prado of Balboa Park.
I’ll stick with photos of some of the more familiar denizens, like echeverias and agaves, and leave the notocactus and mammillaria for another post.

Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony’ basking in glow (glare) from award plaque

unnamed sempervivum and Agave lophantha ‘Goshiki Bandai’
PhotobucketAgave lophantha Goshiki Bandai

Crassula capitella. I noticed a lot of visitors came just to see the pottery.

Crassula capitella

These two followed me home, Agava parrasana ‘Fireball’ and a tiny version of this several years’ old Euphorbia bupleurifolia

Another Look at the Huntington

I promise this will be the last post on my recent visit here.
Unless I get around to writing about John Frame’s exhibit, which I urge any steam punk aficionados in the LA area to get to post haste before it closes on June 27.
And there just may be one of these left in the exhibit’s gift shop. There were only three, and MB Maher and I each bought one.
An egg-shaped wire cage. Simply irresistible.


The “Huntington” to me has always meant the botanical gardens. Properly, it’s The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens. There’s never enough time in one visit to see it all. For example, when time constraints force a choice between the Desert Garden and the Japanese Garden, I skip the latter, which is for many visitors the raison d’etre of the entire trip. And, honestly, sometimes the interest just hasn’t been there for some of the loot Mr. Huntington scoured the world for. I think I’ve checked out the Gainsboroughs maybe a couple times. But an odd result I’ve noticed of getting older is, instead of my interest becoming more focused, it’s become omnivorous, voracious, wanting to devour everything in its path.

I usually skip the furniture galleries — I get my fill on the Antiques Roadshow — but wandered in this last visit on May 28 and spent so much time in front of this chair the security guard was getting nervous. A bentwood chair from 1808, this shimmered a timeless modernism amidst the heavy, ornate tallboys and chest of drawers.
But a closer look revealed odd idiosyncrasies, like goat hooves for chair feet and a peacock motif along the top rail. The security guard rightfully sensed that I seriously coveted this chair. I wanted to feel its weight in my hand. I’ll bet it’s amazingly light.

The Elastic Chair.


Back to plant photos after the jump.

Continue reading Another Look at the Huntington

Occasional Daily Photo 6/3/11

The garage was cleaned out yesterday, and I was offered four leftover glass doorknobs. Yes, of course, I need them.
I absent-mindedly stuck them in the closest thing to hand, a pot of succulents. Kinda startled me this morning, the pairing of chiseled leaves and glass.
Echeveria ciliata x nodulosa and Echeveria ‘Crinoline.’ Must search garage for more doorknobs…


Santolina ‘Lemon Fizz’

There’s no space in the garden for this wonderful santolina currently, so pots it is.
Rationale No. 1: Best to be prepared in case a plant in the garden should…die… (and open up a spot for one or both).
Rationale No. 2: Even with no space available, I couldn’t pass them up. They’re not often offered for sale.
Rationale No. 3: Wonderful used as vegetative punctuation marks, in or out of containers.


Rationale No. 4: A chartreuse, drought-tolerant subshrub is a rare thing.
Rationale No. 5: Clipping small plants, unlike hedges, is incredibly soothing, especially fragrant ones.


Rationale No. 6. They are chartreuse. Wrote that already.


Rationale No. 7. When they plump up a bit, there could conceivably be a spot available somewhere amongst these succulents and blue oat grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens. I’d love to see it against that grass. Hits the same note as the ‘Angelina’ sedum, but rotund instead of a mat.


That about sums it up.


Did I mention because they’re chartreuse?

Come Any Time

Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino (Pasadena), California. MB Maher and I visited on Saturday, May 28, 2011.

As I wrote here, one of the reasons we visited on Saturday was to catch some puyas in bloom.
But there’s always something more than you anticipated at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Much more. Tons more.

Puya venusta


Photos by MB Maher bear his watermark

Continue reading Come Any Time

A Memorable Day at the HBG

Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino (Pasadena), California.

With the Palo Verde in bloom among golden barrel cactus, I felt like I’d stumbled onto the gardens of the Lost City of Coronado.




Orange and gold. Forests of orange dyckias in bloom. Towering chartreuse plumes of Nolina interrata.


Reasons for making a visit this weekend: The Huntington’s new sustainable urban agriculture exhibit, The Ranch, was opening this weekend, only to be open to the public thereafter the fourth Saturday of every month. The exhibit “Three Fragments of a Lost Tale; Sculpture and Story,” by John Frame, was ending this month. The puyas were in bloom (more photos to come). What other reasons can one possibly need?

MB Maher was in town to finish a project and came along with his camera. These are all his photos and bear his watermark. We saw everything but The Ranch — which seems as mythical to me now as The Lost City of Coronado, (a New World city rumored to be built of gold somewhere in New Mexico, a fatally alluring myth to conquistadors who’d recently looted what the Inca had wrought in gold. Small plot point in third Indiana Jones movie.) When asked, no guide knew where it was. It was not indicated on the hand-out maps. I knew it was near the Children’s Garden, which I circled endlessly. At one point, I found a small sign at knee level lettered with “The Ranch” and an arrow which pointed towards an orange grove just beyond the Children’s Garden, a grove currently being irrigated. We wandered in said orange grove dodging sprinklers for quite a while, until frustration overtook us. MB Maher napped under a tree while I tried asking different docents, circled the Children’s Garden again, wandered off pathways past “No entry” signs, etc., until my feet could take no more. Irritating, yes, but some fourth Saturday of the month I will return and find The Lost Ranch of the Huntington. My niece graduated this weekend with a degree in sustainable agriculture, and I wanted to write her a letter with an account of what sounds like an exciting new addition.

Walk the Walk

Long Beach Water Department is leading by example to gently ease citizens out of the mindset that wants to seed or unroll mowable turf grass as the default landscape. Who else is better positioned to educate the public on alternative landscapes for those expansive lawns that just won’t cut it anymore on Southern California’s average rainfall of 15 inches a year? At their own offices, this is exactly what they’ve done. Nothing fancy, no prohibitively expensive hardscape to dash low-budget hopes, just old-fashioned, solid plantsmanship.

During some errands yesterday, I stopped by their offices on 1800 E. Wardlow in Long Beach, which are tucked quite a ways back from the road.
If it wasn’t for this Agave vilmoriniana waving at me, I might have driven right on by.


Thyme interplanted among pavers and possibly a yellow gazania. Unlike thyme, Dymondia magaretae tolerates foot traffic. Here bordered by grasses and gaura.


Dendromecon rigida with the beach aster, Erigeron glaucus, in the background, a line of newly planted dudleyas barely visible to the left.
Decomposed granite paths weave among the plantings.


C’mon, men. Don’t mow your landscape, play with it. Drop the mower, put on a loincloth and build a cairn. You know you’ve always wanted to, but cairns just look silly on lawns and need to be surrounded by something windswept. Now grab a Guinness and admire your handiwork.


In the first photo above, grasses are a blue fescue and Stipa tenuissima, the latter getting the haircut treatment my husband gives ours in the parkway. Many Southern California designers are no longer utilizing this potentially invasive stipa, but you have to give it credit for its role as a gateway grass, building further interest in bunch grasses. As far as I can tell, it is universally beloved by all who see and touch it.

Second photo above: Ocotillo, Fonquieria splendens underplanted with Sedum rubrotinctum (‘Pork and Beans’) and Graptopetalum paraguayense (‘Ghost Plant’).


The plantings were a mix of natives and exotics, including the Chilean Calandrinia grandiflora, magenta flowers in the above photo, as well as the New Zealand sedge, Carex testacea not pictured. Some native plants that were not photographed included toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia (fronted by a big planting of Lobelia laxiflora), Salvia clevelandii, Salvia spathacea, Agaves shawii and deserti.

Agave franzosinii

This photo was taken by MB Maher during a visit he made to artists Sue Dadd and James Griffith’s amazing Folly Bowl last summer.

Some agave, huh?


I’m now fairly sure that this uber-undulating creature is Agave franzosinii, which develops this distinctive kinetic energy to its luminous, silvery leaves when mature.
If there’s another agave out there that gives this shimmering, geyser-like performance, please leave a comment and correct me. The Folly Bowl agave seems to corkscrew and twist as opposed to the Lotusland agave, whose leaves are more uniformly, well, lotus-like, but even so, I still suspect the Folly Bowl agave is A. franzosinii. Lotusland seemingly has the definitive A. franzosinii against which all contenders are measured. For example, the true A. franzosinii should not offset much, and the teeth are further apart than agaves sold under the same name. San Marcos Growers sells this agave from stock obtained from Lotusland, but occasionally this agave will pop up for sale from other sources, with variations such as the teeth being closer together or upright leaves that fail to cascade.

From Agaves, Yuccas and Related Plants by Mary and Gary Irish:

No record exists of a natural distribution of Agave franzosinii. It has been known ornamentally for more than 100 years, particularly in European gardens. Whether it is an unusual form of A. americana, with which it clearly is related closely, or a one-time hybrid remains open to further work.”

I have to thank garden designer Dustin Gimbel for bringing this agave’s name to my attention. Many of us have probably looked at this agave in photos or in actual botanical gardens without knowing its name. I know I have.

Trio Nursery in Santa Barbara, California, has sold this plant recently and may have current stock.
There is a photo of this agave at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California, from their Flickr photostream here, including an inspiring image of Ms. Bancroft herself still hard at work.

Occasional Daily Photo 5/25/11

In a few weeks, the leaf margins of this flapjacks kalanchoe have flared a deep red.
Which composes quite a picture with Pelargonium ‘Splendide.’