I’m still debating whether to include this grass in next year’s garden, but it’s occurred to me that what I consider its vices might be virtues for someone else.
Say you can’t grow phormiums and you want a dark-leaved one really bad. (And this NOID phormium pictured above is nowhere near as dark as it gets, such as in ‘Black Adder.’)
The Princess might make you forget all about phormium envy.
The leaf blades are as wide as some phormiums and fairly stiff, keeping a vase-shaped form. Grass on the left, phormium on the right.
And because it doesn’t bloom, it retains that dark-leaved, phormium-like presence the entire summer. Seen here behind the plumes of Chloris virgata.
The above photo coincidentally brings up what are for me its vices. All the stats available on this grass list it as topping out at 3-4 feet. Here in zone 10 this is a monster of a grass. That clump, 6 feet tall by 5 feet wide, was split off from last year’s main clump and moved here last fall. Because it thickens up so fast, it needs frequent splitting.
This division was so small and thin this spring I didn’t think it could possibly thrive. Oh, yes, it could.
Darker than any phormium I’ve grown so far, it’s been bred not to flower, though it throws an occasional bloom here, so dark as to mostly go unnoticed.
Hardy to zone 8. In a colder-zoned garden, maybe this kind of vigor would be a virtue, achieving good size in just one season.
Keeping it on the very dry side in my garden does nothing to inhibit its vitality.
And if you tire of that inky blackness and want to lighten things up a bit, think of it as a disposable phormium that reaches full size in one season. Pass it on or compost.
(I’m linking this post to Loree’s favorite plant of the week on her blog Danger Garden.)
It’s August and I’m craving a summer camp experience. Unfortunately, the summer camp bus left 40 years ago. So up there is my designated summer camp 2013.
I admit accommodations are rustic and no-frills, but a short trip up the ladder rungs turns an ordinary August day into something
wildly mildy adventurous. When home I probably climb the ladder loaded with armfuls of stuff to read, with or without pistachios, several times a day. It’s this summer’s preferred punctuation to extended sentences of work and errands. Often I drop the book or magazine I’m reading mid-paragraph to sit back and revel in the lofty view. At the birds cutting diagonally through the garden like it was Beggar’s Canyon. At the truly abysmal flying skills of Japanese fig beetles. At my neighbor’s peach tree, its branches loaded with fruit, some of it hanging over my side of the fence. At the cypresses in the distance, some dying, interspersed with palms lining the street south of mine. Why are the cypresses dying? I always wonder. Yesterday the clouds were arrayed in that elaborate feathering known as “fish scales” making it a “mackerel sky,” one of my very favorite skies.
Down below, behind the sliding doors is the laundry shed; up above, bliss.
Often there’s already a camp buddy or two up there waiting.
The breezes are freshest up here, and the views are godlike, gazing over rooftops or looking down on my little creation. Yesterday I fell asleep up here for 20 minutes or so. Hard asleep.
What got me so dozy late yesterday afternoon was undoubtedly the sensory overload of a bromeliad show and then some nursery hopping. A large lime green pot almost became the water garden I vowed to make this summer, but I kicked that can down the road again and instead brought home Beschorneria albiflora and Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii,’ pictured above. Managing the ecosystem of a water garden, however small, just seems too complicated for August. That’s a pretty nifty dodge I highly recommend: think up a complicated, expensive proposition, consider it carefully from all angles, wisely decide to postpone the final decision, and then reward yourself for such judicious self-control.
The bromeliad show and sale was sponsored by South Bay Bromeliad Associates. I should have posted advance notice of the show but found out about it rather late. Shows like this are the most affordable way to acquire offsets of some very cool plants.
Though there will always be the unattainable. Alcanterea ‘Volcano Mist’ ($150)
An aechmea agave-like in substance and subtle coloring
Aechmea ‘Loies Pride’
Plenty of not-so-subtle too
I loved the dark reds streaked with chartreuse, like the dark-thorned Aechmea nudicaulis in the center
I really gravitated to the bruised, purply bromeliads like this Hohenbergia ‘Leopoldo Hortstii,’ but prices can get scary.
Similar coloration in Bilbergia ‘Violetta’ for $10. Deal.
A Neoregelia concentrica hybrid
Most of the broms are sizing up on the east side of the camp, where there’s half-day morning sun. I think Peewee the parakeet, who’s camped out in the bath house, approves of this location for them too.
Now excuse me while I pack a few more things for summer camp. (And since I’ve technically never been to a real summer camp, let me know if you have any good camp stories.)
I had to laugh when I saw Reuben’s latest project on this post, planting the frame to an old television monitor, which I think is incredibly classy and wish he’d sell to me. (Look at those aeonium knobs!) I completely understand the impulse. Where we differ is, I suspect Reuben starts with the concept first. Most of my projects start with a desperate need to thin out overcrowded plantings.
The mind and eye wander into the garage, the garden shed, rummaging for something, anything to contain the prodigious amount of offsets these plants produce. I don’t want every pot I own filled with thinnings of Aeonium ‘Kiwi.’ Something with a broad, shallow surface is needed to absorb their numbers — like the base to this old wrought iron table. At first I resisted, because I really wanted to make a functional table of it again, with a usable surface, but the tyranny of the procreating abilities of these plants won the argument. At least I haven’t started planting old boots…yet.
The table was planted in early summer and was kept in light shade until strong roots formed. Prior to planting, a lot of these thinnings had been dumped into buckets, destined for the compost pile, which had the beneficial effect of drying out the ends to form a callus. Callusing is often recommended and probably the safest practice to prevent the stem from rotting away. But when the planting frenzy started, I also grabbed fresh cuttings from the garden, and these did fine as well.
In the design equivalent of convergent evolution, the materials and method used were pretty much identical to what Reuben details in his post; stretching and affixing wire mesh hardware cloth, lining it with moss, filling in with potting soil. I moved the table into full sun just yesterday while we’re being graced with an amazing stretch of mild weather in the mid-70s. The sun will bring out the strongest coloring, but I’ll move it back into light shade when high temperatures return. Aeoniums, dark red and ‘Kiwi,’ Echeveria glauca, Sedum nussbaumerianum, Graptopetalum paraguayense. The planting depth is thinnest at the exposed table edges, which should be covered in another couple weeks as the plants enlarge and mature. The mossed screen might be 4 inches at its greatest depth.
Following Reuben’s example, I’m going to try starting with the concept first. Now I’m on the lookout for old tv monitors to accommodate an elaborate staging of the visual pun “Watching grass grow.” But I doubt I’ll have the discipline to see it through and use something as pedestrian as turf. I’d much rather plant it with a bright green screen of sedum. Or maybe I could plant the Indian Head Test Pattern in succulents? (I’m joking…I think.) But the possibilities rival the number of channels on cable. Thanks for pointing the way, Reuben.
I’m tying this ODP in with Loree’s favorite plant of the week thread at Danger Garden.
Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’
I’ve noticed a theme to favorite plants. They’re the ones that beat zonal odds or some foolish mishandling on the gardener’s part. It’s the latter case with this agave. I moved it roughly and hurriedly, in the wrong season, because I suddenly needed it right there. The lower leaves tell that story. But the luscious new growth it’s since been putting out this summer is what makes it my favorite plant of the week. Even the anti-variegation crowd can’t possibly begrudge what slim stripes do for agaves, right?
From the San Marcos Growers website: “This plant was discovered in 2003 by Graeme John Burton of Ohaupo, New Zealand as a vegetative sport of Agave attenuata ‘Tandarra’s Tiger’ in a greenhouse in Hamilton, New Zealand. It received US Plant Patent 21,854 in April 2011.”
Every summer eventually develops its own indelible rhythms. For instance, I generally don’t like heading into the house until the last rays of light are drained from the sky. Darkness, just as in a hushed theater, is the cue here at home for the movie to begin. About 8:30ish. Instead of popcorn, the movie is accompanied by dinner. (Lately that invariably consists of something with kale in it, since my garden plot is still producing buckets of it.) After the requisite skirmish over what to watch, it’s show time. Tolerance for movie violence is a common theme when discussing a selection. I seem to have less and less. But we all love sci-fi movies. And Minority Report’s themes of the state abridging civil liberties in the interests of security are undeniably and unfortunately as relevant now as when it was released in 2002.
This movie is a particular favorite of mine, and not just because of the incredible greenhouse scene, although that does play a big part in my affection. Samantha Morton, Max Von Sydow, Colin Farrell all give riveting performances. Tom Cruise is…well, Tom Cruise. And even if that would normally put you off, this movie has so much going for it that the star’s likability factor isn’t a make-or-break proposition. His stolid performance is arguably just what this movie needs to hold the center. The cinematography by Janusz Kamiński is unspeakably lush and gorgeous. Shot on Kodak film, using the “bleach bypass” technique for any interested film geeks. These scenes in the greenhouse are almost a gothic, over-the-top contrast to the film’s denatured vision of the future.
Gathering these screen shots, I was impressed with the complexity of filming the greenhouse scene, with the actors hitting their marks among hanging plants, waist-high tables and benches overflowing with more potted plants, the camera dipping into deep blue shadows at one end of the greenhouse and piercing sunbursts at the other. Kaminski and Spielberg really capture the wonderful choreography of light found in all greenhouses. I have absolutely no need for one at all, but that doesn’t lessen my desire for a greenhouse in the least, where the fundamentals of light and warmth and the primacy of plants are on heightened display.
The actress in these scenes is Lois Smith. Based on the short story by Philip K. Dick. Directed by Steven Spielberg, an Amblin Entertainment
and Cruise /Wagner production, distributed by 20th Century Fox DreamWorks Pictures.
Garden designer Dustin Gimbel hosted another of those fabulous mid-summer rave-ups that he calls “Cross-Pollination” at his home and garden, where “hikers, nursery professionals, beekeepers, home brewers, crazy plant people, artists, architects and designers” gather for food and conversation, slipping away occasionally from the outdoor tables for periodic forays into the surrounding garden that nourishes as much as the food and conversation. A trifecta of sensory input. Think a slightly more design-centric Roman bacchanalia and you’ve got the basic idea. (And in case there’s any doubt, I fall into the “crazy plant people” category on the invitation.)
photo by Dustin Gimbel
Maybe another attendee will post photos of the tables groaning under bowl after bowl of fresh, summery food and the friendly group that assembled to partake of the potlucked largesse.* This will be my typically monomaniacal plant reportage. For me one of the stars of the party was the Aristolochia gigantea vine in full, jaw-dropping bloom against the mauve wall of the garage. Various parts of the human anatomy were offered up as visual analogies for these bizarre, fleshily gorgeous flowers. (A non-profane example would be lungs.) The colors here in this corner of the back garden make up a tangily delicious concoction. The golden, feathery shrub is Coleonema pulchellum ‘Sunset Gold.’ On the left is Dodonaea viscosa. Euphorbia cotinifolia is directly behind the central variegated number, which is either a ponytail palm or a cordyline. Or something else entirely. In Dustin’s garden, always expect to be confounded and surprised.
This is Dustin’s photo and description: “Giant dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia gigantea) is reveling in heat AND humidity. Usually if it gets hot and dry these comically large blooms get seared by the heat and often don’t even open, burnt crisp by the sun.”
A horticultural event of immense drama — but then that pretty much describes Dustin’s garden any time you visit.
Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ and Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’
Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ with Dustin’s hand-made totem towers
Cotyledon orbiculata var. flanaganii with mattress vine
Peachy Russellia equisetiformis and a golden Agave attenuata, possibly ‘Raea’s Gold,” with I think Sedum rubrotinctum
Dustin was way too busy hosting the soiree to be coralled into extended plant ID sessions like I normally do. So I’m hazarding that the shaggy beast in the far left container is Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt,’ with firesticks, Euphorbia tirucalli, and bowls of echeveria. A visit to Dustin’s garden always reminds one to go large. No itty-bitty gestures, please.
The Acacia pendula arbor over the main diagonal path in the front garden, seen from the front porch, to which the path runs roughly parallel.
The golden, glowing strip in the background lining another path to the back gate is variegated St. Augustine grass. Dustin recently pulled out assorted plants here to go for a bigger impact with this grass. A wise man, that Dustin.
Silvery ribbons of tillandsias and Spanish moss have been tied to delicately drape from the rebar arch.
The Acacia pendula, an Agave ‘Blue Glow’ surrounded by Frankenia thymifolia, a walkable ground cover Dustin uses to such good effect in creating quiet pools of visual rest. Possibly Leucadendron argenteum and burgundy dyckias in the background. The privet hedges enclosing the front garden are maturing and filling in, screening the garden from the busy street.
I have to admit I wasn’t too excited about the Gainey ceramic pots on pipes when I first saw them, but with the simplified planting underneath of Myer’s asparagus fern and variegated St. Augustine grass, I’ve become an enthusiastic convert.
The Crested Ligularia, Farfugium japonicum ‘Crispatum,’ and an equally crested ivy, pairing the frilly with the frillier.
Agave gypsophila and the Woolly Bush, Adenanthos sericeus. The silver trailer might be Lessingia filanginifolia.
Bocconia and Frankenia thymifolia engulfing circular stepping stones
Thanks to Dustin, after such a magical evening one can’t help but leave feeling…well, pollinated and fertile with new-found energy and ideas. And just a little hung over the next morning.
*And Annette’s marvelous post can be read on Potted’s blog.
You’d be surprised how many “Angelenos” have never visited Downtown Los Angeles, even now that it is surging with vitality again. For decades it was right up there in ignominious competition as one of the most superfluous, neglected downtowns of any major city. Working here in my twenties, lunch breaks always included long walks into the historic core, among the faded movie palaces turned dollar stores and block after block of wonderful buildings I daydreamed of owning and restoring. Well, I couldn’t afford to rent here now. Most of those buildings have gone or are going loft, and the revitalization pushes ever deeper into previous no-go areas like the South Park neighborhood I worked in yesterday, which also holds Julia Morgan’s Mission Revival gem, the still-shuttered Herald Examiner building. The former insurance high-rise I worked in yesterday was built in 1965 and has been given a new facade, LEED certification, and rechristened the AT&T Center. What struck me yesterday were these plantings in steel containers rimming the building. Most of the planters were elegantly and simply planted in low clipped boxwood hedges underplanted with silver ponyfoot, Dichondra argentea, but the designer got a little frisky and kicked up his heels with one stretch of planters.
This isn’t the frisky business I’m referring to, but Agave villmoriniana and rosemary, very appropriate for hot and dry urban container plantings and frequently seen. The olive trees in the distance are underplanted with sedum, kept neatly within the boundaries of the polygonal cutouts in the sidewalk.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Ornamental oreganos? Also suitable but rarely seen outside of private gardens, and certainly not large-scale commercial plantings.
So much of the ground previously given to mediterranean sympaticos like Convolvulus sabatius (Convolvulus mauritanicus) is now given to succulents when new commercial projects are undertaken.
So it’s a bit of a surprise to find herbaceous stuff in sleek, steel planters.
Looks like a mint in the foreground and Dorycnium hirsutum in the background
One of the dark-leaved Geranium x antipodeum varieties like ‘Stanhoe’ or ‘Chocolate Candy’
Lavender and a few magenta blooms from the “bloody” cranesbill in the foreground, Geranium sanguineum. Very odd sight these days, especially in a modern commercial design. Someone is definitely giving their plant chops some play time.
And then there was this (crooked) view down into the atrium which I couldn’t access. a Mondrian painting with pebbles, grasses, succulents and bamboo.
The variegated plant looked from a distance to be hoyas, the silver band in the center I’m pretty sure were hebes, and the maroon bands were succulents, either dyckias or a dark echeveria. There was at least twice again this length of bamboo and geometric shapes. Someone seems to be having an awfully good time with this commercial project.
The upgrade including landscaping was done by the Gensler firm.
We have Pam at Digging to thank for hosting this monthly celebration of foliage. This month I’m focusing on some of the leaves that impressed me during recent garden travels as well as examples from the back pages of AGO. If July is exposing bare earth in the garden, that’s a pretty good sign to give some enduring foliage a little more consideration.
Hostas and perilla in a Long Island, NY garden
Boxwood and Japanese forest grass, hakonechloa, enclose an empty pot in a Long Island, NY garden
Sasa veitchii against a low fence of rough-cut logs at Longhouse Reserve, Long Island, NY
The golden creeping jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, in a container contest at Longhouse Reserve
Bromeliads in the conservatory at Planting Fields Arboretum
Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California
Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California
The parterre at the home garden of the owners of Landcraft Environments, Long Island, NY
A row of succulent-filled urns at Landcraft, Long Island, NY
Containers filled with Oxalis vulcanicola and succulents, garden designer Rebecca Sweet’s Bay Area garden
Dudleyas in a container in the Bay Area Testa-Vought garden designed by Bernard Trainor
Aloe striatula, reddish trunks of Arbutus ‘Marina’ behind a low wall in the Testa-Vought garden.
Dark-leaved ginger, Zingiber malaysianum, garden designer Dustin Gimbel’s home, Long Beach, California
Weeping Acacia pendula, Dustin Gimbel’s garden
Palms underplanted with mounds of mattress vine, Muehlenbeckia axillaris, Huntington Botanical Garden
Los Gatos, California garden designed by Jarrod Baumann
Los Gatos, California garden designed by Jarrod Baumann
An extravagant display of blooms isn’t the overwhelming impression the garden is making this July, which is pretty typical.
Though the Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket’ grasses are technically blooming.
In the dimming twilight, the ferny leaves of Selinum wallichianum can just be made out leaning onto Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’ in the foreground.
And the sideritis is also technically in bloom.
Solanum marginatum’s white blooms are for all floral intents and purposes invisible.
And there are blooms you have to move leaves aside to see, like with this little Aristolochia fimbriata. Since it reminds me of a tick, I don’t mind if the flowers stay hidden behind those very cool leaves.
In the foreground lean in the bleached-out plumes of Chloris virgata. Eryngium pandanifolium tops the pergola in the background
‘Monch’ asters are responsible for some of that blue.
And ‘Hidalgo’ penstemon is the tower of lilac blue. So far this is a beautifully erect penstemon that I’d absolutely include in next-year’s garden if it decides to return or maybe seeds around. From Mexico, zoned 9-10, reputedly long-lived and not touchy about drainage issues. On that count, one of the first casualties this summer is the lovely shrub Phylica pubescens, pulled out yesterday. I pruned it lightly when I returned from being away a couple weeks. Immediate decline followed. Never, never prune touchy shrubs mid-summer. Will I ever learn?
Peachy yarrows like ‘Terracotta’ line the path cutting through the border behind the pergola, now not more than a dog track.
Salvia chiapensis flowering at the base of the eryngium.
More closeups of Eryngium pandanifolium, the undisputed rock star of the garden this summer.
Persicaria amplexicaulis will pretty much own the garden in August.
In July I’m glad for every Verbena bonariensis I pulled out of the paving and planted into the garden in spring
One of the “suitcase plants,” Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess.’
Crithmum maritimum weaving into Senecio viravira. The senecio is starting to throw some more of its creamy blooms after being thoroughly deadheaded about a month ago.
So far the crithmum has been the most reliable umbellifer to flower through summer. (Selinum wallichianum is struggling. to put it mildly.)
Crithmum with yarrow and Eryngium planum.
Crithmum, yarrow, leaves of persicaria, calamint, anthemis, agastaches, anigozanthos in the background
Some peachy Salvia greggii are building size for a late summer show with the grasses.
I carved off some bits of the ‘Skyrocket’ pennisetum in spring to replace Diascia personata which I found disappointing, and the grass bulked up fast. Its slim tapers move quickly from burgundy to beige.
Tall, sticky-leaved Cuphea viscosissima seems to love the heat.
Plectranthus neochilus is starting to bloom heavily, just as nearby Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ slows down after being cut back
Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ lightly reblooming
In a border closest to the garage/office, early spring-blooming annuals and flopping penstemons were replaced with Gomphrena ‘Strawberry Fields’
and Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons.’
Russelia reminds me of a blooming restio, great for texture tumbling around nearby containers. It’s planted in the garden and does well with minimal irrigation.
There’s odds and ends I left out, such as eucomis and the passion flower vine which has been wonderful all summer, but that’s the sketch for July. Sending out solidarity to those suffering in excessive heat, or too little heat if that’s possible, unseasonal drought, too much rain. It’s always something in July! Thanks as always to Carol at May Dreams Gardens
for hosting Bloom Day on the 15th of every month (and not minding those straggling in a day late).
Any plant is potentially a suitcase plant as far as I’m concerned, but these agaves and the Euphorbia ammak would present especially prickly challenges. Though I suppose, like anything, where there’s a will, there’s a way. But TSA might be especially touchy about barbed, armed plants, and who knows what Euphorbia ammak might look like on an airport X-ray machine. The suitcase plant I’m talking about is the soft, peachy haze directly behind the potted agaves.
The misery that is modern, economy-fare air travel still has one very persuasive advantage. And for me that is squeezing in a few plants amongst the dirty laundry at the end of a vacation. (And it’s perfectly legal: see article here.) Within hours after touching down on your local runway, suitcase plants can be unpacking their roots in your garden soil, even while you’re still clearing and popping your eardrums. For me this really brings home the marvels (and somewhat cancels out the indignities) of the Jet Age.
Agastache ‘Summer Glow,’ purchased at a nursery on Long Island, New York, a few weeks ago, first seen at wholesaler Terra Nova’s display garden the previous year in the Pacific Northwest, now in bloom in my garden. Thank you, Jet Age. For some unknown reason, Terra Nova’s plants are rarely offered locally. Sharing cramped quarters with the agastache were a Plectranthus ‘Emerald Lace,’ Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess,’ and a couple begonias. Long Island grows the most amazing begonias, greenhouse after greenhouse of them.
Begonias in the conservatory at Planting Fields.
All the plants stoically handled a few extra hours in the suitcase when it missed being loaded onto my plane and arrived a few hours after me. I chose to wait at the airport for the errant luggage, so Marty and I whittled down the hours having breakfast at the cafeteria on the bottom floor of the Encounter, LAX’s iconic George Jetsonish restaurant, until I was reunited with my little stowaways.
Long Island’s many, many nurseries were as seductive as any here in Southern California. All throughout the trip we puzzled over how this small spit of land could support so many upscale nurseries. As one tempting nursery after another whizzed by through the car windows, we cattily speculated whether they support enthusiastic, hands-on gardeners or the garden staff of summer homes. For the nurseries themselves, such distinctions are meaningless.
Regiments of enormous, burlapped trees at Long Island nurseries, tens of thousands of dollars in inventory. The rope work was enthralling.
Many of these nurseries were destinations in and of themselves.
To give my suitcase plants the best possible survival chances, I slipped them from their containers, swaddled them in sheets of newspaper (freely available in hotel lobbies), wrapped the bottoms in plastic bags I collected during the trip for this express purpose, and zipped them all up in a cheap, plastic blanket bag that the hotel provided. There was no soil spillage, no dampness issues. I always find bringing home a few plants does help even the score, if only psychologically, where economy air travel is concerned.