Tag Archives: Aeonium ‘Sunburst’

a garden visit with bixbybotanicals

It all started with a very sweet and generous offer of some foliage for vases. Via bixbybotanicals Instagram, I learned that his Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ was in full winter dress, and he was willing to share some of the largesse with anyone in Long Beach. The South African conebushes are prized for their long vase life, and since my leucadendrons at home are too young to pillage for vases, I jumped at the chance to pick up some ruddy-leaved branches.

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The Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ in question, so you’ll know in case you’re ever offered some branches. Just say yes. And you never know — not only did we leave with a bucket stuffed with cone bush branches, but also some delicious duck eggs, which were ravenously consumed for dinner that night.

Okay, great taste in shrubs and garden fowl — who is this guy anyway?

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The shorthand answer to that question? Just an Italian Renaissance art scholar/teacher and incredibly busy father of two with a big love of dry garden plants and a strong affinity for garden design.

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Of course, I immediately began pestering Jeremy for a return visit with the AGO crew (Mitch), and he graciously agreed to let us explore.

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And on an average suburban lot, there is an incredible amount to explore. The parkway is filled with California natives, including milkweed and self-sowing Calif. poppies, making a plant-rich corridor between the hell strip and the front garden.

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And here’s where Jeremy’s garden and other front-yard lawn conversions part ways. Just behind that thick band of plants bordering the sidewalk is this surprisingly private piece of serenity, just feet from the street. I don’t think I’ve seen a river of blue chalk sticks/Senecio mandralsicae used to better effect. And, yes, Jeremy says they do require a stern hand to keep them in check. A ‘Creme Brulee’ agave peeks through salvia, the red echoed by callistemon in bloom opposite.

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All anchored by the shiny simplicity of that lone stock tank. (There’s another one in the back garden.)

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I love how he took featureless, flat panels of lawn and sculpted the space into a multi-faceted garden that works for the family, wildlife, and the neighborhood. A strong sense of enclosure without a fence — who knew? My own street-side (and mangy) box hedges are striking me as unnecessarily claustrophobic now.

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Jeremy seems to have effortlessly managed balancing the broad strokes that strongly lead the eye with the detailed planting that rewards closer inspection. I counted a total of three Yucca rostrata, but there may be more.

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The front garden was started in 2012, when it was nothing but a flat expanse of lawn and a couple palms. Not a trace of either is left. (Those are a neighbor’s palms in the background.)

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Now there’s nooks to watch the kids chase butterflies.

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That Salvia canariensis on the corner of the house behind the nasturtiums is going to be stunning in bloom.

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Mixed in amongst the nasturtiums is the charmingly nubby Helenium puberulum, a Calif. native.

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And opposite the chairs and table is another gorgeous bit of planting, deftly angled to screen the house on the driveway side. Obviously a collector of choice plants, nevertheless his design instincts are manifest in subtle screening and massing for privacy balanced by openness/negative space. A sentinel arbutus stands apart, with the strong afternoon sun blurring the outline of a 5-foot Leucadendron discolor ‘Pom Pom’ to the arbutus’ left, one I’ve killed a couple times. Jeremy admitted to lots of failures, too, but his successes are envy-inducing.

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Encircling ‘Pom Pom’ is a detailed planting of aloes, yucca, golden coleonema, senecio, Euphorbia lambii. Like me, he browses for plants at local H&H Nursery as well as flea markets.

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Detail of arbutus bloom.

But where are those ducks? we asked, hoping to steal a peek into the back garden. The ruse worked.

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To visit the ducks, we were led behind a sleek black fence at the end of the driveway guarded by Acacia cognata.

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And a dombeya, the highly scented Tropical Hydrangea. Jeremy said he chased this small tree’s identity for years.

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All was finally revealed during a visit to Disneyland, where the dombeya was growing, and labeled, in Toontown. In an instant, the silly and the sublime converged.

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Meet the ducks. Mural in the background was done by Jeremy’s brother.

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I want ducks!

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I asked how the gardens were handling the recent (relatively) heavy rain, and Jeremy said the front garden came through like a champ. But there has been a bit of flooding in the back garden.

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I’m sure I was told but can’t remember who built the duck enclosure. What duck wouldn’t obligingly lay as many eggs as possible in such cheerful digs?

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There’s a serious container fanatic at work here too…

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A termite-infested pergola attached to the house had to be knocked down when they moved in, leaving this low wall along the driveway as the perfect spot for staging containers.

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In case you bloggers are feeling that it’s all about Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, Jeremy is a faithful reader of blogs.

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Melianthus major

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Winter-blooming Dahlia imperialis, after several moves, in a spot obviously to its liking.

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For the leucadendron branches, the duck eggs, and the inspiring garden visit, thank you so much, Jeremy!

All photos by MB Maher.

Rediscovering Agave guadalajarana

My memory of the name of this agave planted years ago in the front garden went as far as guada-something.
Easy enough to plug in a partial search string, right?
Yet searches always narrowed down to the most likely suspect, Agave guadalajarana, with the images never quite matching when compared to my agave, so it remained a mystery.
This morning’s search brought up the fact that the mature agave looks vastly different from the juvenile, something I’d never read before.
The online photos were of the juvenile form, which lacked the slim, blue leaves of mine.

Distinction noted. Now we’re talking. (Thanks for the ID, Cactus Art Nursery.)


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I really need to splurge on a good reference for agaves and the woody lily family in general.
I counted the agaves in the front garden this morning. 18 in the ground, a few more in pots. Some of them still remain mysteries to me.
Most of the agaves in the ground started out years ago as specimens for pots, became too large, then were planted out in the garden.
A. guadalajarana probably looked like a different agave when first planted in the garden years ago. Has never suckered or produced pups either.

Identifying A. guadalajarana this morning had a peculiarly energizing effect on me. He’s been swamped by a ‘Sunburst’ aeonium…

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and an Agave geminiflora planted too close, both leaning in on him, deforming his silhouette.
The A. geminiflora’s wonderful sea-urchin symmetry was being ruined as well, and something needed to be done — but remained undone, oh, for about the past year.

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All of these photos were taken after the plants were moved this morning.
I was too ashamed to take “before” photos, but this photo I had previously posted on the blog (seventh from the top) shows a happier time, before the throttling and deformation began.
Planting close is a terrible, shameful habit of mine, stemming partly from sheer plant greed, of course.
But also from a disbelief that anything will thrive and increase to an unmanageable size. Kind of foolish considering I was born and raised in zone 10.

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Also shown in the archive photo is the bank of Senecio vitalis behind A. guadalajarana that was removed this morning, which brings up a handy rule of thumb:
Consider yourself warned when any plant carries the word “vital” in its name.
A large clump of Senecio vitalis was left at the far end as a buttress to protect less vigorous plants from foot and paw traffic
It’s seen in the foreground in this photo protecting the barely visible Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata.’
I still love this shrubby senecio and wish I had much more room to give it.

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The agave against the fence is A. celsii ‘Multicolor.’

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The A. geminiflora was a bear to move, and for a moment it seemed I’d been bested by its roots and that one agave would have to be sacrificed to save the other.
The realization caused a pang — typically, only briefly. There was a large reserve A. geminiflora in a pot in the back garden.
A pot I’d rather not water so frequently anyway, which could be tucked into the spot I had in mind, just a few feet from where this one was being violently wrenched out of the ground.
I like to place the slim-needled agaves next to chunkier-leaved kinds, so intended to shift the A. geminiflora just a few feet over.
In the end, the A. geminiflora was pried out with a good rootball, the final tug requiring an extra pair of hands
The force when it let go threw me into Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives,’ the pink succulent shown below with Senecio mandraliscae. (Not too much damage.)

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The agaves are probably still planted too close by most gardeners’ standards, but at least they are no longer crossing swords, as it were.

And it feels like there’s a brand-new agave in the garden.

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Tending the Front Garden

Couple weekends ago I worked in the front garden. Removed a few bricks for Sempervivum ‘Spring Beauty.’

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Then weeded the Spanish poppies from the bricks and cleaned out this agave of pups and old leaves.

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Why’s it such a big deal to work in the front garden? Possibly because, for me, a garden is synonymous with privacy and enclosure. Over and over, I find Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden cited by gardeners as a prime influence, and I’m sure reading that book multiple times as a kid formed my ideas, for good or ill, on gardens. A garden must have a gate to push open, it must be enclosed, and it must be your secret (for as long as you want to keep it).

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So it’s safe to say that the front garden has been low on the list of gardening priorities. It’s actually taken me a while to even consider it as a garden rather than a holding area for plants overflowing from the back garden. And you’d never know there wasn’t a monoculture of grass behind my boxwood hedge in the front yard if you didn’t stop to peer around it. The drought-tolerant boxwood hedge was a useful means of “greening” up the front of the house to hide the minor revolutionary act of taking out the lawn we inherited with the house many years ago, when such an act drew lots of raised eyebrows. Meadows, vegetable gardens, all manner of revolutionary acts can be insinuated into a neighborhood if the eye, like in a magic act, is tricked to look elsewhere.

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Where and how people place plants can be so revealing. For example, where’s my civic spirit, to neglect the front and focus on my private garden in back? A friend used to argue with me that a boring front landscape didn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t a jardin des paradis in the backyard. I try to remember that when I pass miles and miles of boring front landscapes. And I’ve been on enough garden tours to note that the front garden often sleeps while the back garden parties, so it’s not just my own garden freak flag flying with this arrangement.

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And I haven’t been exactly neglecting the front. It’s been through loads of incarnations, but it just doesn’t draw me in like the back garden. The front is a challenge, the back a refuge.

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The front garden was enclosed long ago, to safely contain kids and dogs, but because of city ordinances the fences can be no higher than three feet. In effect, no privacy. So the private courtyard I intended for the front garden, an enduring design feature of mediterranean climates, was not to be. I can probably trace my renewed interest in the front garden to when the box hedges planted along the sidewalk reached over six feet in height, topping the fence. Unlike fences, the height of hedges is given a pass by the city (knock wood). Box comes and goes into fashion, with Piet Oudolf’s fantastically undulating boxwood hedges probably single-handedly nudging it back into current favor. It’s all I can do to remember to shear mine in a straight line twice a year, probably the only gardening “chore” I perform. I hate dragging the extension cord and inflicting all that racket on the neighborhood for 10 or so minutes, but I do love the refinement of box. And myrtle, for that matter, though it’s much slower growing. Here’s a peek of the hedge and fence, the cars and neighbors’ houses.

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I love hearing the voices of passersby walking unseen behind the hedge, the voices’ owners popping into sight just as they pass. What this says about me psychologically, it’s probably best not to know. Observer, separate and apart, would be a guess. Gardens really do inhabit psychological as well as physical space.

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The front garden was graveled over long ago, then became a kind of testing ground for the toughest plants grown in the back garden. A simple, DIY, dry-laid brick path gets you where you need to go. Gravel is scraped away for new additions. When I decided I needed a larger border here a couple years ago, I sifted the gravel out of the soil for the border. L-a-b-o-r-i-o-u-s. The back garden is where I cosset and pamper plants, so when a plant has proven its worthiness it gets to move to the front, where care and irrigation is minimal. This has been a slow process, with no clear plan in mind other than to keep to mostly low-growing plants for a chapparal effect, so the little community of plants that have formed in the front garden seems to be guided by a hand other than mine. Which is probably why this garden has the ability to surprise me when I pull into the driveway (another big drawback visually to the front garden). Photographic opportunities are always hampered, even with the hedges, with passing cars, our cars, power lines, neighbors’ houses, and all this has the effect of quickly puncturing that blissful state so easily attained in the back garden. I day-dream more in the garden than the house:

If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” Gaston Bachelard

Aloe brevifolia

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‘Sunburst’ aeonium, living up to its name, facing the western setting sun.

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While I surreptitiously made a garden in the front yard, my neighbor across the street surreptitiously monitored its progress. Last summer she dug up her lawn and planted a mix of succulents and shrubs. Quite a few of my plants have found a new home across the street. I can’t claim all the credit; the civic water supplies are tightening due to a lengthy drought. Many of the front yards on my street have replaced the lawn with tough, drought-tolerant plants, native or otherwise. This ripple effect a front garden can have is something I never considered when planting it. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the city wouldn’t allow me to build an 8-foot wall around the front garden so many years ago.

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