Tag Archives: Aloe capitata var. quartzicola.

bug report & EOMV

None of the ants previously seen by man were more than an inch in length – most considerably under that size.
But even the most minute of them have an instinct and talent for industry, social organization, and savagery that makes man look feeble by comparison
.” — Them! (1954 movie on gigantic, killer, atomic-radiated ants)

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End of month view down the pergola looking east.
Possibly the best thing about my summer garden 2015 is Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’

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In late summer it’s putting out this chartreuse, willowy new growth, which is mesmerizing against the backdrop of its own tangled-up-in-blue leaves.
(Speaking of color, where’s your famous fiery red response to strong sun, Aloe cameronii? Not hot enough for you? It’s been plenty hot for me, thanks.)

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A very telescoped view from the west gate to show the wash of blue that’s taken over the garden.
‘Moon Lagoon’ in the foreground, Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ in the background (and blue apartment building in the distance).
Just looking at the froth of blue cools me down.

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The three that I was possibly most anxious to see make it through summer are just outside the office.
Columnar Cussonia gamtoosensis is almost fence height now. The Coast Woolybush to the right, Adenanthos sericeus, has been a peach all summer.*

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And Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ seems safely established here too.

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Impromptu birdbath, which looks an awful lot like a headstone monument to a fallen aloe.

That’s an abbreviated EOMV so we can get to the bug report. Possibly the worst thing about my summer garden 2015 has been the ants.
Apparently, if Southern California had a resident population of feisty fire ants, we wouldn’t be experiencing a scourge of Argentine ants, but we don’t, so we are.
Linepithema humile stowed away on ships bound for our ports sometime in the 1980s, and life just hasn’t been the same since. Native ants were pushovers, no contest at all.
I don’t like to dwell on this fact for long or I’d probably run away from home, but scientists tell us that the Argentine ants all belong to one giant SUPER COLONY.
Which in practical terms means, because they’re all bros, they don’t fight. They amiably cooperate in a tireless, jack-booted bid for world domination.
They are the Uruk-hai of ants. They seek out the same conditions we do, not too hot or cold, not too wet or dry, just nicely warmish and humid.
So when it’s too dry they line up around the shower with their tiny towels, circle the sinks with itty-bitty tooth brushes.
They’re everywhere. Them!

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I put together this little birdbath to take the place of an Aloe capitata that fell victim to the ants.
All summer our insect overlords have relegated us to squatter status on our own property.
This summer it seems like they’ve really stepped up their association (“mutualism”) with their nasty symbiotic playmates, scale insects and mealybugs.
Ants offer safe transit and escort the pests into the crevices and crowns of some plants. Not all, just mostly my favorites it seems.
The stemless aloes have been hit hard this summer. A perky Aloe capitata var. quartzicola went flaccid seemingly overnight.
Upon investigation, the lower crown was stuffed with scale. Them!
For weeks I enraged the ants by scraping off scale from the aloe’s leaves, pouring cinnamon onto the crown, digging in coffee around the base.
The ants supposedly hate strong smells. The aloe seemed to partially recover but lost so many leaves that I dug it up to nurse along in a pot.
Aloe cryptoflora has also succumbed, and a large fan aloe was weakened and killed by ants, though it wasn’t in great shape when I bought it.

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Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ is now taking its chances after A. capitata var. quartzicola was dragged off the battlefield.

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Aloe capitata var. quartzicola in better days. If I find one again it will live in a container.

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The ants favorite victims are stemless aloes planted close to hardscape, but they also favor beschornerias.
The hardscape of bricks laid dry, without mortar, on a layer of sand has provided perfect Ant Farm conditions.
Agave ‘Cornelius’ seems impervious so far, but ants are herding scale on some agaves like the desmettianas.

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Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ has had its lower leaves stripped away frequently due to infestations. B. albiflora is under attack too.

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This former wine stopper holding the birdbath together sums it up: we’re barely treading water against the ants.
A vinegar spray solution stops attacks indoors, and cinnamon spread on window sills has been an effective barrier.
(The glass shade was in the house when we bought it, and the concrete base was part of the chimney flue.)

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I can’t remember ever having mealybug problems with agaves. I’ve been frequently knocking them off ‘Dragon Toes.’

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Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’ still seems clean.

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Since the yucca has bloomed and become multi-headed, it seems to be attracting ants and scale too.

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The furcraea is clean and has mostly outgrown damage from hail earlier in the year.

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Aloe elgonica still looks clean from scale.

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Potted plants have to be watched too. This boophane is clean, but pots of cyrtanthus are targets for scale.

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I admit to indulging in some self-pity shopping. I’ve been wanting to try Artemisia ‘David’s Choice.’ The ants helped clear the perfect spot to try three.

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Euphorbia ‘Lime Wall.’ I’ve yet to have scale on euphorbias, but you never know.

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No more talk of bugs. Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ loves August, so I love xanthosoma.

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I was this close to composting these begonias but gave them a reprieve, daring them to grow in a very shallow container.
I thought I wanted some hot color in August, but turns out, nope, not really.
I had a bunch of rooted cuttings of Senecio medley-woodii which grow lanky in very little soil, so stuck them in with some rhipsalis to chill this begonia the hell out.

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Happy plants grouped under the light shade of the fringe tree on the east side of the house.

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This succulent is very confusing. With alba in the name, I’m thinking white flowers.
No, Crassula alba var. parvisepala reportedly has stunning trusses of deep red flowers
This is mine in bloom. I guess we’re both confused.

I have to say that there’s been a splendid show of butterflies all summer. The June bugs fizzled out, which is fine by me.
(So weird that image searches of the June bug bring up what I know as the fig beetle. My June bug is, I think, Phyllophaga crinita.)
It’s also been a banner year for the flying fig beetles, Cotinis mutabilis. The grasshoppers surprisingly haven’t been too bad.

End of month views are collected by The Patient Gardener, with or without bug reports.


*But was dead when I returned after a week’s absence, the soil bone-dry. Another has already been installed elsewhere in the garden.

Friday clippings 8/22/14


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At first sight I became enthralled by artist James Griffith’s exquisite, painterly ripostes to the “drill, baby, drill” set — my words, not his. James is much more polite.
By way of a secret alchemy, he utilizes that precious resource from our local La Brea Tar Pits in a uniquely subversive fashion, to cover canvases with delicate, etching-like portraits of species that don’t get a say in our energy politics, such as the humble and familiar crow, bat, mouse, and deer. His work reminds that all species are stuck in this moment together. I love my little tar bat that was last year’s Christmas present.

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James has a new show beginning September 6, 2014, at the Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station, where you can see the latest members of his tar pit menagerie.

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James is also co-creator with garden designer Sue Dadd of the Folly Bowl, their own personal outdoor amphitheater in which they host a summer-long series of concerts. This coming Saturday’s concert, August 23rd, is described on their Facebook page for The Folly Bowl. If you go, keep an eye out for one of the biggest Agave franzosinii south of the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

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Drawing from the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Plants at Harvard. Collection manager Jenny Brown and glass artist Christian Thornton will be two of the lecturers at Natural Discourse this October 18, 2014.

Another date to save: On October 18, 2014, impresario, artist, and garden designer Shirley Watts, is bringing Natural Discourse: Light & Image to the Los Angeles County Arboretum, which promises to be another amazing day of riveting lectures, this time here in our very own backyard. Shirley assembles together for one day the equivalent of a botanical salon filled with some of the most interesting speakers I’ve been privileged to hear. I wrote about them here and here and here — you can do a blog search for other posts too. Richard Turner, former editor of Pacific Horticulture, had this to say of earlier iterations of Natural Discourse:

The first symposia, held at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, were among the very best days I’ve ever spent sitting and listening to others speak.

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The Ruth Bancroft Garden by Marion Brenner, who will be one of the lecturers at Natural Discourse October 18th, 2014, at Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

Garden bloggers in particular won’t want to miss a single pearl of wisdom that falls from legendary landscape photographer Marion Brenner’s lips at this upcoming Natural Discourse: Light & Image.

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Sansevieria ‘Black Gold’ at California Greenhouses

If anyone is tempted to visit the Orange County nurseries I mentioned here, I hope I caught you before you made the trip. You must add to your itinerary California Greenhouses.
Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of Potted, recommended this one to me, and I checked it out earlier this week. It is worth the trip alone.

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Some nurseries, like sports teams, have a “deep bench,” and California Nurseries has one of the deepest around.
Succulents in all sizes, from enormous dragon trees, tree aloes, and Yucca rostrata, to table after table of all the wee ones we love to stuff in pots, and at nearly wholesale prices.
Fantastic section of houseplants too.

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California Greenhouses currently has a couple enormous Aloe capitata var. quartzicola for sale, at least 3-gallon size if not 5.
More than double the size of this Aloe capitata var. quartzicola, photo taken in my garden this June.

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Department of Corrections: This is one of the so-called shrub begonias ‘Paul Hernandez,’ and it’s managed to thrive despite my having the blackest thumb a begonia enthusiast can have. I wish Freud had wondered instead what a begonia wants, because I sure as heck don’t know. I’ve made some comments that reference this gunnera-sized begonia as ‘Gene Daniels,’ so I need to correct that. I don’t think I’ve ever grown ‘Gene Daniels,’ but two begonias named after guys — you can see how I made the mistake. Checking the blog, I see that ‘Paul Hernandez’ dates back to 2011 in my garden, the only begonia I’ve grown with that kind of longevity, so we need to keep his identity straight. Good plants need to be rewarded; the next big pot I buy is going to be for Paul. Judging by the mottled color, I think Paul looks a little hungry. Maybe some fish emulsion?

I’ll close with my favorite quote of the week: “‘At the end of the day,’ Dr. Richard wrote in his diary this summer, ‘the plants are still in need of a drink, and so are we.’”

At least I have that in common with the energetic couple restoring a 250-year-old house in southwest France. There were a couple more epigrammatic, Wilde-worthy quotes in The New York Times article and luscious slideshow, “A Blank Slate With Fig Trees,” including success with houseguests requires “to never see them over breakfast.”

Happy weekend!


Euphorbia ammak’s big impact

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Despite its small and underwhelming size, I finally decided to plant this euphorbia in the ground, hoping it grows faster here than in its pot.
Surprisingly, everybody seems quite impressed, including Evie, who wrapped herself around it like a snake Sunday morning.

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She seems to be enjoying her status as the last cat standing, becoming much more sociable. I think the other ones might have bullied her a bit.
We’ve always assumed her shyness was of the kind shared by all white creatures, vulnerable because of their high visibility and in constant fear of being swooped on from above.
That’s our theory anyway. I can’t attest to its biological accuracy.
If my memory can be trusted, she was named by the boys for the fox character in Pokémon. “Eevee” would be the technically correct spelling.

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Behind Evie is the big iron basket Reuben gifted me, which has been turned into an ottoman/table. Marty sawed off the enormous and sturdy handle, breaking only a couple blades in the process. What a sport.

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Wish I had three more. Nestled under the wings of a beschorneria, Agave ‘Little Shark,’ also going by ‘Royal Spine,’ was planted here earlier in the year.

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As long as she doesn’t lay on top of Aloe capitata var. quartzicola, Evie’s welcome to share this little succulent garden.

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The aloe comes armed as well, so I don’t think there’s any real worry.

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Agave ‘Cornelius’ is also making good size here and capable of defending itself against loungers and diggers.

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I’d love some towering columns of this euphorbia from Saudi Arabia. I wouldn’t refuse some towering Euphorbia ingens ‘Variegata’ either.
I fantasize about knocking on doors and making offers whenever I see mature specimens of these two around town.
Evie can cozy up to E. ammak all she wants, as long as she doesn’t use it as a scratching post.


no-burn day

On the drive to work this morning, my local public radio station advised that today is a no-burn day.
I had never heard that term before, though I’m familiar with the reasoning behind it:

A ‘no burn’ alert is in effect through midnight Wednesday for parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said this is the third time the agency has issued an alert this winter.

‘During the winter, we can get these low-level temperature inversions which trap the smoke from the fireplaces low to the ground and can contribute to unhealthy air quality,’ he said.

A ‘no burn’ alert means residents in affected areas cannot burn wood or manufactured logs in fireplaces or outdoor fire pits.”

I love to burn wood in an outdoor fireplace, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that my outdoor fires are an unnecessary indulgence, an ill-advised luxury that contributes a shocking amount of particulates to a neighborhood, a city, a county, an inversion layer. So now it’s a rare occurrence, maybe once or twice a year, burning only the driest wood to keep the smoke down. I mostly keep potted plants on our old Ben Franklin stove now.

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In late December we trialed a new flue we had built. Along with building the flue, the stove was sandblasted again, the second time since we’ve come to own it over a decade ago, after retrieving it from an outdoor dump site in Riverside County. Marty put a quick coat of silver paint on it after the sandblasting to protect it from the winter rain. Willie’s Tin Shop built the flue. Sometimes I think we invent projects just so we can work with a business that would choose a name like Willie’s Tin Shop. Plus, the original, decades-old shop had really cool signage. (Forget Yelp, we go by signage and heartfelt business names.)


We trialed the flue in a couple locations, moving the heavy monster around on a wheeled base, settling on a spot out of the wind.

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I do miss the long-ago fires we had throughout the winter before I knew better. We all love a good fire here.

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But this will most likely be the only outdoor fire I’ll enjoy this winter, the torches of aloes in bloom.

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No tag, possibly Aloe africana, growing at the entrance to the 710 Freeway on Seventh Street.

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My own Aloe capitata var. quartzicola’s bloom taking shape.

So the Ben Franklin remains dark for the foreseeable future, this no-burn winter.

porpoising (sunday clippings 11/18/12)

Surfacing briefly, like the porpoises I watched slicing the surface of the ocean on the ferry boat crossing to Catalina Island Friday.


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A visit mostly all business*, the pleasure coming mainly from the 30-minute walk to the conference room at a resort not far out of town where I would be working in the afternoon. The pleasure of walking in a small town decorated in Catalina Tile.

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An island with water scarcity issues far worse than the mainland, slightly alleviated recently by desalinization plants.
Translation: Succulents are everywhere.

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Bougainvillea lines the roads on which tourists zip around in rented golf carts, which gives the island a Jurassic Park feel.
We hitched a lift on one of the golf carts the last steep 500 feet or so to the resort.

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Back on the mainland in my own garden, Aloe capitata var. quartzicola promises to reveal its first bloom this week.
That is, if the snails don’t get it first.

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Not to be outdone by a winter-blooming aloe, Verbascum ‘Clementine’ made the ridiculous decision to send up a bloom in November.
I’m hoping this doesn’t mean she’ll be too exhausted to bloom in spring.

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I mentioned recently the salvaged tank where the Hibiscus acetosella is growing.
The leaning inflorescence crashing in on the tank belongs to the tetrapanax. Beautiful, no?

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Such beauty bears a price. Come closer:

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Closer still:

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There were a couple bees, the odd hoverfly, and the occasional wasp, but mostly just hundreds and hundreds of flies.
Sorry, but I just had to share.

(If Linda is reading, tonight’s viewing will be Ken Burn’s The Dust Bowl.)

*One day I swear to pay a visit to the Wrigley Botanical Garden.

Bloom Day July 2012

I’m taking the last few weeks of July off work, which means sitting at a computer is the last thing I want to do. But miss a Bloom Day? Never! Since I’m heading out on more adventures this week, I’m going to rush through a few photos of my garden and then add in a few from last week’s trip to the Bay Area.

Papaver rupifragum and the Broom Fern, Asparagus virgatus (zone 7-10).

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No vase required for this arrangement.

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Helenium puberulum — of all the knockout heleniums to grow, right? I do like knobby stuff, though.
I thought perhaps less petals meant less water requirements than fully petaled heleniums. Silly logic and not at all the case.
A one-summer experiment.

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Dahlia ‘Chat Noir’ — trialing a couple peachy dahlias this summer, too, and am not at all enthused. Done with dahlias. Except for this dark beauty.
Saliva canariensis and Persicaria amplexicaulis in background

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‘Monch’ asters are making a reappearance this year. Amazing long period of bloom, consorts well with grasses.

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Disclaimer: Bloom Day post effectively ends here. All photos after this point are not of my garden.

Continue reading Bloom Day July 2012

a lull between rainstorms


Two storms this week, unusual for April. February is usually our wettest month.
The first storm arrived around midnight Tuesday, the other is due later tonight.
Just before the first storm, leaves were swept, tables and chairs straightened.
Later that night I fell asleep to the sound of rain drumming on these tables, a deeply satisfying “sleep song.”

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Anticipating the rain on Tuesday, I celebrated with a late-afternoon trip to a couple nurseries.
(Aloe capitata var. quartzicola.)

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Yes, I’m silly in love with rain, but I’m not the only one.

By Langston Hughes

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—

And I love the rain.