July Bloom Day, the sequel

How could I forget the Japanese silverleaf sunflowers?

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An international effort. Native to coastal southern Texas, it is known as the Japanese Silverleaf due to that country’s renowned work in breeding sunflower varieties.
I’m not sure whether this is the straight species or an improved-upon seed strain via Japanese growers. My source was Annie’s Annuals.

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They do attract attention. (Marty this morning: How many sunflowers are open today?)
You know how the annual sunflowers always have that descriptor “coarse” used when describing the leaves?
Not with these leaves. Silvery-green, slightly furry, tidy, neat. Never coarse.

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Now residing in my humble stock tank, which barely has the depth to support its exuberant growth.
If you grow it close to a table, no vase will be required to enjoy the flowers.
I added a length of rebar for insurance, and to keep the table clear for morning coffee.
Have a great weekend.

friday clippings 6/24/16

Little Diego next-door has taken upon himself the challenge of learning drumming. In the last couple months, he’s been practicing on whatever is handy, whether it be pots, pans, buckets, gates. It was hard to tell at first how invested he was in his new-found chaotic project. I suspected it was just a goof to annoy his mom, but he has persisted for at least a few months. And today I could detect for the first time his discovery of pattern and repetition. I mean it was just the usual wild thrashing and then, boom, he was controlling the beat. A momentous day for the little guy. He lives just on the other side of the east fence, against which the three big lemon cypresses somewhat muffle his practice sessions.


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For muffling little drummer boys, privacy, beauty, bird sanctuary, the cypresses are incredibly valuable to us. But of course I couldn’t just let them be cypresses.
They’d be perfect as scaffolding for vines, right? But not at the expense of harming them, of course. And that’s a very fine line, I’ve come to find out.

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I’m still amazed that the Solanum ‘Navidad, Jalisco’ from Annie’s Annuals has become this happy.
It was planted against the fence, in the dry soil amongst the cypresses, with not enough light, and seemed to be puny and languishing for forever…until it wasn’t.
This is all so new, that a plant has actually followed orders: Get in there, don’t mind the awful conditions, and climb that cypress, will ya?
And it’s possible the solanum may be too obliging and eager to please. Because when it comes to choosing between the cypresses and a rollicking, rampageous vine, that’s an easy choice to make.
Little Diego has lots more practicing to do this summer.

Have a great weekend.


Senecio glastifolius

I posted this photo Mitch took back in April 2010 under the title “Unidentified Giant Composite.”


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Garden designer Kelly Kilpatrick (Floradora Garden Design) helpfully provided its true name.
Annie’s Annuals & Perennials has been an off-and-on source for this giant South African daisy rarely offered elsewhere in the trade.

San Francisco Botanical Garden discusses this daisy’s provenance:

“At the tip of South Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, lies the floral kingdom of the Cape Province, a tiny area of land with a dazzling assortment of endemic plants (plants found nowhere else), twice as many as are found in California! The Cape’s Mediterranean climate, mild and wet winters, dry and hot summers, helps promote this marvelous diversity, together with the Province’s isolated position at the end of the continent.

Senecio glastifolius grows in a narrow stretch along the south coast, and also appears in the fynbos, areas of evergreen shrubs of varying sizes and varieties in company with proteas, heather and restios. It is a tall, semi-woody perennial with a single layer of brilliant lavender petaled ray florets surrounding a central disk of golden florets. Its leaves are lance-shaped and coarsely toothed. It grows densely to three feet or higher. In Afrikaans, it is called, “Waterdissel” (water thistle) for its water-loving habits and thistly leaves.”

Usually a display of daisies this tall and wide comes only in fall, from other members in the asteraceae family, like the New England asters. {I won’t mention any species names because they will have changed again by the time I post this.) So a sight like this in April is quite extraordinary. Plus, I like the fact that those of us in zone 9 and 10 have a big daisy to call our own. SF Botanical Garden does reference the unwanted spread of this daisy in Australia and New Zealand “if it finds water.” So just in case, I’d be careful about planting it where it might spread into native plant communities. But if you are one of the lucky ones with a garden of a size to accommodate a shrubby daisy big enough to hide a Buick, Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is offering it right now.
I’d love to try it in one of my stock tanks and pinch it back mercilessly.


the case of the disappearing hebes

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I was in San Francisco recently for several days cat-sitting a charming fraidycat in the Mission district named Banksy.
It was during this trip that I solved the case of the disappearing hebes, those lovely little shrubs from New Zealand.
Because I just can’t seem to acquire a photojournaling habit of anything but plants, I’m borrowing some of Jessica’s wonderfully expressive photos to fill in the cast of characters.

photo from Thread and Bones

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photo from Thread and Bones

This hallway was definitely a character on the trip. Since this photo was taken a couple years ago, it has been covered, and I mean every inch of it, with throw rugs.
Because of the rugs, the apartment has taken on the personality of 221B Baker Street.
Also because of the rugs, the downstairs neighbors were spared the deafening knowledge that a corgi had taken up temporary residence and was delighting in thundering up and down that hallway.
After a quick visit with Mitch and Jessica the night before they left for some lengthy photo work, we had the “railroad” apartment to ourselves for five days.
Banksy pretty much kept to his room, the middle bedroom, and we had the front, streetside bedroom.

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So it was the four of us, me, Marty, Ein, and Banksy, and that long hallway, where the curtain billows all day just as in the photo.
Ein emptied out the kibble from the cat bowl only twice, showing amazing self-restraint…for a corgi.

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photo from Thread and Bones

Banksy and Ein, while not exactly enemies, didn’t become best friends either.

We were thrilled to be leaving the stifling heat in Los Angeles for the legendary cool summer environs of San Francisco.
Surprising both us and the mostly non-air-conditioned residents of San Francisco, the heat was stifling there as well. The Mission hit 100 degrees the day we arrived.

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While in the city, of course, there was the ritual trip to Flora Grubb Gardens

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and the required visit to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, timed nicely with fall planting.

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I also horned in on a tour of the Reid garden near Sebastopol via my very nice contact at the American Conifer Society, Sara Malone, whose own fabulous garden at Circle Oak Ranch was also on the tour.
Unfortunately, I only had time for the early morning visit to the Reid garden and had to get the car back to the city.

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Glimpse of a mature leucadendron on the upper left. I think the garden is likely in zone 9.
Penstemons, zauschnerias/epilobiums, ceratostigma and salvias were in bloom, with some roses having a late-summer flush.

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The garden has incredible atmosphere and spatial presence built up over decades of deeply informed selection and placement of beautifully appropriate plants.

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The Reid garden is not at all conifer-centric, but a wonderful mix of dry-adapted trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials.

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I believe the rose on the arbor behind the potted agave is ‘Mme Alfred Carriere,’ a creamy, very fragrant climbing noisette.

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The blue pool on the lower left is Crambe maritima. Mine have done remarkably well all summer on restricted irrigation.

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I’ve wanted to see this garden since learning of it through Pacific Horticulture.

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Back to the case of the disappearing hebes. I confess I hadn’t thought about hebes in years and hadn’t even noted their disappearance from SoCal.

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Along with traipsing through spectacular gardens, there were mundane chores to do in the city as well, like laundry.
Needing the services of a Laundromat and finding the one familiar to us in the Mission shuttered, we headed to the Marina district.
Which is where I found this majestic stand of Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’
I dropped off Marty and Ein at a nearby Laundromat and promised to bring back food. But first I needed to examine these enormous clumps of salvia.
They were admirably dense and uniform in habit, unlike the rangy specimens I grow. This planting is at the George Moscone Recreation Center.

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The shrubs surrounding the salvias were just as remarkable. Hebes! Beautiful New Zealanders. I haven’t seen hebes for ages.

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Ruddy coprosmas with pale, variegated hebes.

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There used to be hebes in Southern California. Where had they all gone? Is changing fashion ruthless enough to cause complete eradication?
Possibly, but even more ruthless is Fusarium oxysporum v. hebei. From the Monterey Bay Nursery website:

[F]ormerly important stalwarts in California landscaping, but now essentially extirpated due to the introduction of Fusarium oxysporum v. hebei. This disease persists in soils and nursery beds for years, and induces systemic, incurable stem infections which ravage landscapes and commercial crops. By the early 1990’s hebes had essentially left the commercial trade in California.”

Rather than choosing for flowers, my favorites have always been “those with tight, dense, box-like foliage in grey or green, and the whipcord types with minute, scale like leaves and stringy branches…
Some of the smaller leaved types can be more resistant, may be tested in the ground, but don’t come crying to us if they die. You have been forewarned
!”

I have no idea what chances for longevity the hebes at the Moscone Rec Center have, but they appear for now to be in robust good health.
I personally have no problem with short-lived plants, say three to five years. I love the changeover. But public landscapes are on different timetables.

Upon returning home, awaiting me was the July issue of Gardens Illustrated with, of all things, an article on hebes by Noel Kingsbury.
Famous for championing the “new naturalism,” comprised of perennials and grasses, Mr. Kingsbury struck me as an unlikely proponent of these tidy shrubs, but the man knows his hebes.
He describes the changing fortunes of hebes as falling in and out of favor relative to garden styles, whereas in California the reason for their disappearance is not mercurial tastes but insidious pathogens.

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Hebe ‘Quicksilver,’ photo from 2010

The next time I find a Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ at a nursery, I’ll know its chances for survival face much better odds in a container than in the garden.

favorite plants and an end-of-week nursery browse 5/29/15


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All the new and interesting dry garden shrubs on the smallish side seem to be coming from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.
Gnidia polystacha from South Africa is a light-limbed shrub with needle-like leaves that readily give away its Thymelaeaceae family heritage.
It’s new in my garden this year and just building size. To see more fawned-over favorites, plant-luster Loree collects them the last Friday of the month.

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I love having favorite nurseries stashed all over town, available for a quick liaison if I’m in the area.
One such regular stop is Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena, which was in fine form this morning.
Their retail plant display chops are crisp and clear, and there’s always new plants to discover, like Tradescantia cerinthoides ‘Greenlee’
aka the Thick-Leaved Wandering Jew (a “compact perennial” 10 inches X 2 feet, full sun/bright shade, hardy 20-25 F, from San Marcos Growers).
Those dark, swarthy leaves might suck in light like a foliar black hole unless paired with something bright. The nursery chose a variegated Silene uniflora.

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Coincidentally, this nursery also carries Annie’s Annuals & Perennials stock, and I was able to nab some lime green and orange zinnias to grow for vases in the veg garden.
And I found more Emilia javanica, seen above from July 2014.
Don’t let this little annual’s delicate looks fool you. It was the longest-blooming plant bar none last year. The butterflies and I are completely smitten.
There were so many volunteer seedlings this spring, I thought I’d never be without it again. But, oops, I did manage to weed them all out.

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Hot color for sun/light shade from a California native, the monkey flower.

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I’d grow it in a container to concentrate that molten color, but I’ve cut back on anything new but succulents for containers this year.

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No name tag on this volcanic mimulus variety, but Yerba Buena Nursery has a mimulus ID page here.

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Plectranthus always get my attention for their great leaves and good looks that go on and on, and these tight grey leaves drew me in for a name check.
The hummingbird-attracting blue flowers last for months, sometimes year-round in frost-free climates. Perfect for dryish gardens.
This one, the Ethiopian Spur Flower, Plectranthus coerulescens, is described as a compact subshrub.
Don’t ask me why I left it on the bench this time, because there is no rational answer.

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The best thing ever, a lipstick red “monopot” of multiple young ponytail palms, Beaucarnia recurvata.

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I don’t know — what do you think? If price makes a difference, leave a comment and I’ll tell you how much.

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The mature cacti and euphorbia selection is one of the best in town.

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I love the soft-leaved Beschorneria yuccoides. That multiples-in-rows thing nurseries do gets me every time.

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All the familiar bad boys are here

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I remember when it used to be so hard to find Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak’

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This beauty was labeled ‘Moonshine.’ I wonder who the proud parents are. The white markings remind me of Agave impressa.

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Whole lotta trunking going on. I think this is the Spanish Bayonet, a variegated Yucca aloifolia

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I just stripped the lower leaves from my Dasylirion wheeleri at home, but it’s nowhere as clean as this trunk yet. Lots more work to do.
After blooming last year it became shaggier, more disheleved, and some grooming seemed in order. The clean trunk does help.

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Well, hello, sexy. Don’t be shy.

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Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Medio Picta.’ This was available in a gallon, but where am I going to put another potential 5-footer?

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You can have complete faith in any nursery that trains a Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’ over an office doorway.

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Did you see Debra Lee Baldwin’s piece on echeverias for Pacific Horticulture?
One of the photos shows a mass planting of Echeveria pallida, in that light shade of green I find irresistible.
I found an unlabeled echeveria with that similar light green to the leaf but with a red edge, so I’m not sure if it’s E. pallida. Maybe it’s E. subrigida?
The color can be off when they’re brand-new out of the greenhouse.
The small-sized succulent selection at Lincoln is like a living plant encyclopedia. It’s that good.
A nearby shopper kept muttering to herself over and over, “It’s overwhelming…”

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The leaf color seemed a bit pale on Aloe deltoideodonta ‘Sparkler’ too, but they had my favorite size, a 4-inch pot. Available in gallons too.

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For some light weekend reading, how about a comprehensive list of plants for Mediterranean gardens?
Great for planning a new garden and just fun to go through and see how many you’ve grown (and killed).
And The New Yorker wrote a really smart review of The New York Botanical Garden’s new exhibit on Frida Kahlo’s garden “Art Garden Life.”
I could read all weekend, but this one will be the last opportunity to get the wheels out to celebrate National Bike Month.
I haven’t been on mine in ages.
This weekend is also the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society Annual Drought Tolerant Plant Festival.

streetside; rainy day house & gardens

alluding to Joni Mitchell’s Rainy Night House
I recently read that Taylor Swift wanted the part in a movie on Mitchell.
I see Swift’s photo all over the Internet, but it wasn’t until Sunday that I finally heard one of her songs on the car radio.
Yes, I do live in a pop culture-free bubble, not always by choice. All I’m going to say is, thank god Mitchell refused. (Oh, the travesty!)

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Rainy day house’s front garden in Venice; dymondia, agaves, sticks on fire, with a hedge of Acacia iteaphylla on the chimney side

I just had one of those Sunday afternoons where an absurd number of destinations are optimistically crammed into a 4-hour window.
The forecast was, again, possible showers.

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The clouds did open at Big Daddy’s

The itinerary:

1. Check out International Garden Center near LAX (done)
2. On to Culver City and Big Daddy’s (I became lost for quite some time but eventually found that weird intersection near National)
3. Cruise the streets of Mar Vista, which has an excellent garden tour coming up this spring.
(I got tired of driving aimlessly and gave up. I’ll have to wait for the tour map. See Dates to Remember for upcoming tour April 25.)
4. Stop by Big Red Sun in Venice (too much traffic on Lincoln Blvd., gave up.)

And did I mention it was raining? Los Angeles drivers, whenever challenged by the smallest drops of moisture from the sky…oh, never mind.

International Nursery had a $30 protea in a one-gallon in bloom, simply labeled “Orange Protea.” Tempting.
And not a bad price for the plant, seeing that 7 stems of proteas go for $100 as cutflowers

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Merwilla plumbea nee Scilla natalensis.
I always plant new stuff out within a couple days. I hate waking up to the rebuke of homeless plants in nursery gallons.

I eventually dropped the protea for this South African bulb, Scilla natalensis. San Marcos Growers says it’s rarely dormant. The leaves are wide, almost eucomis-like.
My problem with Scilla peruviana has been placement that allows for its dormancy needs, which means having a big gap in summer.
The peruviana have ended up against the fence under the lemon cypress, not optimal conditions for a sun-loving bulb. It’ll be exciting to watch this one’s performance.

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International’s Annie’s Annuals section is by far the best I’ve seen at SoCal nurseries.
I grabbed a couple Asphodeline luteas again, though I think I’ve established beyond doubt the asphodels will only curl up their toes for me.
I can’t remember if I’ve tried spring planting before though.
The asphodel is now rivaling dierama for number of kills in my garden.
But memory is still fresh of Asphodeline lutea in Portland, Oregon last summer, photo above.

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Pots on spiral staircase at Big Daddy’s

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Though there’s plenty of the ornate, BD has a nice selection of unadorned but aged-looking planters.

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I’ll take all three of these metal tubs, please.

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Giving up on fighting traffic enroute to Big Red Sun, I drove through a couple streets in Venice.
Thundery skies and bright orange, thunbergia-covered walls.

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And fabulous streetside succulent gardens like this one.

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Big clump of the slipper plant, Pedilanthus bracteatus

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The long parkway was dotted with multiples of the Mexican Blue Palm, Brahea armata

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I once came very close to painting my house these colors, an agave grey-blue and mossy green.

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Aloe marlothii

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The coral aloe, A. striata

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I may not have made it to every stop on the itinerary, but it was still a fine rainy day in LA.

counting euphorbias

Tis the season to celebrate euphorbias, since many of us will be living with or gifting/regifting one of its tribe over the next couple weeks, the poinsettia. Call me scrooge, but I’d much rather think about the ones planted in my garden than the holiday favorite with the flaming red bracts. Since first digging the garden 26 years ago, there’s always been at least a couple euphorbias around, and that will certainly be true again for 2015. I’m referring to the herbaceous and shrubby kinds, not the succulents, whose numbers are legion. This genus is ginormous, the largest genera of flowering plants in the plant kingdom, named after Euphorbus, physician to the Mauretanian King Juba II (first century B.C.), whose exploitation of its medicinal properties earned him a place in botanical nomenclature. But the white sap is notoriously toxic and the stinging enemy to the mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth, so I can’t imagine how and in what form Dr. Euphorbus delivered the medicine. Even getting the sap on the skin causes a strong reaction in some people, though I seem to have the hide of a rhino and haven’t had a problem so far. I’ve grown many of the different herbaceous kinds over the years, which generally tend to be short-lived for me. Many will seed around, whether lightly or alarmingly, and species do occasionally cross, like the famous Euphorbia x martinii, a naturally occurring hybrid between characias and amygdaloides. The euphorbias are standouts here in winter and spring for a sunny, dryish garden, and I’ve long been faithfully trying out any new kinds that come my way.

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First the euphorbs returning for 2015. There’s tree-like Euphorbia lambii fattening up after the recent rain, losing its scrawny summer looks.
This euphorbia seeds around like nobody’s business. But it’s tall, incredibly tough and tolerant of a dry summer, so it gets a pass.
Hardy down to 25 to 30 degrees.

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By February it will look more like this (February 2013)

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In bloom April 2013, illustrating a euphorbia’s attractions: smooth, blue-green leaves arranged in whorls with a shaggy chartreuse inflorescence

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Also fattening up is a young E. atropurpurea. After a wobbly first year, it’s exciting to see it settling in and appearing to choose life. From Tenerife, Canary Islands.

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Here it is at the Huntington Botanical Garden, flaunting its atypically fabulous wine-colored bracts.
I had never heard of such a euphorbia before and stood slack-jawed before it when first stumbling across this beauty.

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There was much gaping and sputtering, and then a frenzied search for my son Mitch, who was photographing barrel cactus elsewhere in the garden (see here).
I dragged him back by the sleeve to take this photo. And then I chased this euphorbia across a summer of plant shows, ultimately finding a source at Annie’s Annuals. Bless you, Annie!

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Also returning is Euphorbia rigida, just not this specific plant, which declined and withered away. A couple pieces were salvaged.
It also reseeds, but nowhere at the level of E. lambii. When I find these seedlings, they’re carefully potted up. Photo from February 2014

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spring 2012. So this plant lived at least three to four years. The clay here might have something to do with the shortened lifespan.

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Euphorbia mauritanica in the front garden, where the sun/shade shifts around quite a bit throughout the year.
These are probably leggier than they should be, but I’m hoping they’re in shape for a good bloom this spring.

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Here’s the ideal Euphorbia mauritanica, included in a design by Dustin Gimbel.

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My straggly Euphorbia ceratocarpa, appearing to have barely survived a recent move to clear out the compost area.

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Old photo from 2009 when the smoke tree ‘Grace’ ruled the garden and I continually wore that green robe through the winter.
Euphorbia ceratocarpa is on the left against the fence. Golden blur on the right was a duranta.

Unfortunately, this is the best photo I have to illustrate why I’ve carefully nurtured this one ratty-looking plant from a single cutting for the many years after the mother plant died.
There’s very little information available on this euphorbia for gardens. English plantsman John Raven grew it, and his daughter Sarah Raven has this to say:


This is one of the most open-growing and perhaps less elegant of the euphorbias, forming big, rangy clumps nearly 1.8m (6ft) across. But it is definitely a contender for the longest-flowering plant I know. I’ve had one that is yet to stop blooming outside the kitchen at Perch Hill since March 2006. It has not had a single week’s pause, and you can pick decent-sized stems right the way through the winter. I cut some for an arrangement at Christmas, when there is almost nothing of this brightness still surviving. E. ceratocarpa is also very easy to propagate. The cuttings that my parents collected all took extremely easily – even after several days wrapped up in damp loo roll in a plastic bag – and those few plants have created many thousand since. This euphorbia should certainly be more widely grown.” – source here.

Easy to propagate? Ha! I’ve had cuttings take a year to root. The only other person I’ve come across who grows it is garden designer/author Rebecca Sweet. It reminds me of a big, blowsy, lime-green hydrangea when in bloom.

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Euphorbia mellifera is another big shrub like E. lambii, but more lush. Fairly fast growing, this one was planted out from a 4-inch pot last year.
For zones 9 to 11 or container culture. Reseeds lightly here.

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And then there was the moment when the pale, variegated euphorbias entered our lives. ‘Tasmanian Tiger,’ discovered in a garden in Tasmania in 1993, was the first.
Because they turned up at the local nurseries, I grabbed a couple this fall to plant near Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ while it gains size. Short-lived plants have their uses too.

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I tend to try all the pale variegated ones. Some have proved to be stronger growers than ‘Tasmanian Tiger.’
A new one to me, at the nurseries this fall, under Native Sons label, E. characias ‘Glacier Blue’

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An old photo of a bloom truss from Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan,’ which I remember as a very robust grower.

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This non-variegated form of E. characias turned up at local nurseries too this fall.
Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl,’ so named because part of the flower structure has a “black eye.”

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An old photo of a blooming Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow,’ whose leaves have bright yellow variegation that flushes red with cool temps of fall/spring.

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From April 2011, Euphorbia mellifera almost out of frame at the upper left, ‘Ascot Rainbow’ blooming lower right.

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I’ll end with a photo of this incredibly weedy self-sower brought home years ago. Possibly Euphorbia nicaeensis.
A nuisance, yes, but the fresh color and meticulous arrangement of the leaves keeps me from weeding every last one from the garden.

Enjoy (or give to your mother) your Euphorbia pulcherrima (poinsettia) this holiday season, and as alway, mind the sap!


cussonia crazy


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image found here

Cussonias are a small genus from Africa and the Mascarene Islands

There are maybe 25 species in the small genus known as the Cabbage Trees, and without trying too hard I’ve already brought home five of them.
I didn’t set out to be a collector of cussonias, but spurring me on is the fact that, so far, there doesn’t seem to be an ugly duckling in the bunch.
Without hesitation, when one turns up at a local nursery, I grab it.
Cussonias are included in the araliaceae family, which contains some of the most outlandishly beautiful leaves to be found anywhere.
They have that family’s signature finely cut foliage but atop a seriously tough plant.
As mature trees they can reach 15 feet, but they flourish for years in containers, where they need about as much attention as succulents.
Their mop-headed, evergreen canopies bring the lush life to frost-free, dry-summer climates along with what I can never get enough of, that emphatic pop of verticality.

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My first Cabbage Tree, Cussonia gamtoosensis, which I recently planted in the ground.
Some plants are so beautiful that I’m willing to change the garden to accommodate them as they mature.
Found locally under Annie’s Annuals label.

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An old photo, with its leaves spangled in morning dew

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That’s a rebar tripod it’s resting against to help gently train the leaning trunk upright.

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This is where the grasshoppers hung out all summer, as many as six at a time, enjoying the simultaneous opportunities for sun and concealment.
Yes, I count grasshoppers. It’s a repulsion/attraction thing. When they become too numerous, we freeze them in peanut butter jars.

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Brought home June 2014. Cussonia spicata. The Cabbage Trees have a peculiar trunk-to-canopy ratio, with short, thickened trunks giving them their unique profile.
Some of them, like the more commonly available Cussonia paniculata, are known as pachycauls, from the Greek pachy– meaning thick or stout, and Latin caulis meaning the stem.
(How many of us can identify with pachycauls in this season of holiday feasting?)

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Cussonia natalensis, found at Xotx-Tropico in West Hollywood. This little nursery is so jam-packed with rarities that it’s easy to miss some real gems.
Fortuntely, cussonias have a distinctive outline that sets them apart even in a crowded nursery.
After I selected this one to take home, for the rest of my visit, Leon, the owner, and a true character in the best Hollywood tradition, referred to me simply as the “plant girl.”
(At his nursery, which he’s run for 25 years, Leon follows you around and tells the story of each plant, as if he runs an adoption agency instead of a plant nursery and you’re inquiring about a child temporarily under his care. The website is down, but the address is 900 No. Fairfax Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90046, (323) 654-9999.)

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Reminds me of a bright green maple leaf. Also known as the Rock Cabbage Tree.

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This is Cussonia paniculata, probably the most commonly available Cabbage Tree, whose mature leaves take on a bluish hue.
I’ve planted small ones in the ground, only to have them mush out, so this one will live indefinitely in a container.
I once stood under a mature tree on a Venice garden tour and didn’t even recognize it as a cussonia until chatting with the owner about it.
Keeping cussonias in containers retains their unique form.

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Cussonia tranvaalensis, also found locally under Annie’s Annuals label.
This cussonia brought to my attention recently that, at some undefined point in time, I’ve turned into a person who squishes aphids with their bare hands.
None of the other cussonias seem to be attacting aphids.

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Since it’s known as the Grey Cabbage Tree, these leaves will also acquire a blue-grey cast as they mature.


checking out the nurseries in August

It might seem kind of pointless to check out the local nurseries in the dog days of August. A lot of the inventory can look frazzled, but roaming the mostly customer-less aisles in August, armed with sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and smart phone for reference, is the perfect time to discover the true survivors. What shrubs are still managing to look respectable in gallon cans? (Westringia, adenanthos, ozothamnus, leucospermums are a few.) What stalwarts have I overlooked? Did anyone buy that Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ I’ve had my eye on? What’s on offer in the “color” section in August? Will Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit,’ the new seed strain, be durable or a meltaway type? August is where the rubber meets the steaming road, where all the buzz and fanfare evaporates under a punishing sun. That any inventory can still look at all presentable I find astonishing. Since these kind of retail nurseries oftentimes don’t sell plants until they are in bloom, many times it’s the only opportunity to grab August-blooming plants locally, even if it’s not the friendliest month for planting. Other than the California chain of Armstrong Nurseries, with one of their stores just a couple miles from me, most of the nurseries I check on frequently are independents. None of the nurseries on my circuit are boutique, rare plant nurseries, which don’t exist in Los Angeles, but a lot of their stock comes from solid growers like Native Sons, San Marcos Growers, Monterey Bay, Monrovia. (Northern California’s Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is available at Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach, Brita’s Old Town Gardens in Seal Beach, International Garden Center near LAX, and Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena.) Other than Roger’s Gardens, none are “destination” nurseries. Yet it always surprises me how each nursery’s unique choices from the same pool of growers sets their inventory apart from other local retail nurseries. If you visit often (and I do!), a specific taste can be discerned even in the chain nurseries. Some may subtly favor edibles or succulents or native plants, while others may have strong selections of South African and Australian plants. So I really do have to visit them all.

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For example, Crocosmia ‘Solfatare’ was recently available only at H&H Nursery on Lakewood Boulevard near the 91 Freeway, right under the power line towers. I once had a huge clump of this crocosmia in the front garden, before Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ moved into its place. It’s always described as one of the slowest-growing crocosmias, but it seemed to multiply at good clip from what I remember. The leaves strike me as more a dull olive green than bronzish, as it’s often described. The flower color is a galvanizing egg-yolk gold.

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Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Gold,’ was available at just two nurseries, Village Nurseries in Orange and their next-door neighbor Upland Nursery.
This is a great new gerbera strain, a long-blooming cross with some sturdy alpine species, and the first time I’ve seen it offered in this color.

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The pink form, ‘Drakensberg Carmine’ was an outstanding plant a couple years ago, that was almost too much of a good thing in that color. For me, anyway.

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Phygelius in the Portland garden of Bella Madrona got me pining for phygelius again. This one may possibly be ‘Salmon Leap’ or ‘Devil’s Tears.’
I have no memory of phygelius growing in this splendidly upright posture, always being somewhat of a sprawler in my garden, but this vision was enough to spur me to give ‘Diablo’ a try.

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I found ‘Diablo’ at the local Armstong, just this one gallon available. Phygelius is another plant I grew years ago, usually in its chartreuse forms like ‘Moonraker.’

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I recently extended my nursery hopping down into Orange County, where I found this small size of Agave franzosinii, just one available. Cindy McNatt at Dirt du Jour blogged that a beloved nursery, Laguna Hills Nursery, had found a new home on Tustin in the city of Orange. They had just opened and were getting settled in, but were extremely welcoming and friendly. Rare fruit trees and edibles look to be their specialty, but someone stocked this agave that’s rarely found for sale, which I think counts as a good omen. This is an enormous agave when mature, so I’ll keep it in a pot as long as possible to contain its ultimate size.

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Snow on the Mountain tucked in by the little water garden. The Sagittaria lancifolia ‘Ruminoides’ was found at the International Garden Center.

There were a couple other nurseries on that same street, Tustin, so I made an afternoon of nursery hopping in the OC, and each one had something unique to offer. At M&M Nursery, “home of the original fairy garden experts since 2001,” (who knew?) I found the annual Euphorbia marginata amongst a very good selection of out-of-the-ordinary annuals. At Village Nurseries, as mentioned above, I found the ‘Drakensberg Gold’ gerbera as well as ‘Storm Cloud’ agapanthus. Upland Nursery was literally next-door to Village, so even though the heat was way past oppressive by mid-afternoon, I stopped in at Upland before swinging home. They specialize in plumeria, which sounded interesting though not really up my alley, but I was up for a quick first-time visit.

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Variegated Swiss Cheese Plant, Monstera deliciosa, seen in an LA garden last May.

I ended up walking Upland’s entire long and narrow length, investigating each of its specialty rooms off the main path, because it became quickly apparent that Upland had some surprises up its sleeve, like the variegated swiss cheese plant tucked into a corner, the first I’ve ever seen offered locally, or an agave I’d neither heard of nor seen before, like Agave ellemetiana.
Upland is the first local nursery I’ve found to carry Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon.’

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Fatsia ‘Spider Web,’ still unavailable in Southern California.

Upland was just an extraordinary place, with a personal, mom-and-pop atmosphere, where you’d bump into such amazing sights as grevilleas grown on standard. I searched it thoroughly, because I half expected to find the ‘Spider Web’ fatsia lurking in a shady corner. There was lush hanging rhipsalis and big, mature display plants to give an idea of what the little 2-inch succulents would grow into. The entire back section was devoted to Japanese maples. I asked the owner about the possibility of getting the monstera in a smaller, more affordable size, and she said spring would be the time to check back. When I asked if there was a drinking fountain, she reached into her fridge and handed me a bottle of water. With that gesture, they made a customer for life.

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Seeing a huge display pot of Senecio haworthii at Upland Nursery sealed the deal on a succulent I’ve passed over many times.

Up in Pasadena, at Lincoln Avenue Nursery, a big, lusty Agave ‘Mateo’ had me checking the label for its identity. At a mature size, it looked nothing like my wispy-leaved ‘Mateo.’ The venerable Burkhard’s just around the corner continues its mysterious decline, with the plants in a sad neglected state, but wouldn’t you know they had the variegated vilmoriniana agave I’ve been coveting, $60 for a big specimen. Not a bad price, especially at Burkhard’s, but I passed. The nursery is a shambles but still worth a prowl. Poorly maintained plants sold at exorbitant prices is the perplexing current state of affairs, but even so there’s many gems you just can’t find anywhere else. Also somewhat of a surprise recently is finding Sunset’s line of plants, like the new ‘Amistad’ salvia, astelias, dianellas, carex, digiplexis, and the ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia, at Home Depot. International Garden Center, Village and H&H have the most extensive grounds and probably the most sophisticated inventory, and each could easily swallow an hour’s time. IGC is the place to find water plants, and their succulent selection is one of the best. At IGC plant stock past its prime isn’t thrown out but moved to a row way in the back, where it can be had for cheap. Many times unsold stock is potted on to larger sizes, such as the currently available Echium simplex. I also check in with the exceptional Marina del Rey Garden Center when I work out that way and have noticed their increasingly fine selection of bromeliads and unusual edible plants.

And that’s the August nursery report. They may not have the rarefied atmosphere of botanical gardens, but retail nurseries are the places to experience where culture, commerce, and plants collide.


planting notes 2014

Every year brings a new crop of preoccupations in the garden, such as:
Will the beschorneria choose this spring for their first bloom? How about the puya in the gravel garden? Feel like blooming this year?
Some plants really do take their sweet time. Judging by my own temperament, I’d say garden makers have a unique blend of philosophical stoicism that co-exists uneasily with a raging, barely controlled impatience.

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At Annie’s Annuals & Perennials/AAP over the weekend, impatience had the upper hand. I splurged on Puya mirabilis, a smaller puya reputed to be the one for blooming at a young age.
I don’t remember which one I planted in the gravel garden and won’t know until it blooms, which may be eons away still.

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Still waiting for blooms on this beschorneria, and I’m pretty sure we can write off 2014. AAP’s display gardens had enormous, towering bloom trusses that had to be tied to the fence for support.

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I’ve been trying to establish asphodels for some time and finally have a few clumps with potential. This morning I noticed a bloom snout in one of the clumps, which is almost unbearably exciting. I think too often I subject potentially tough plants to overly harsh conditions initially, when what they need is some babying for a good start. And I’m trying to remember to mulch like crazy, which is easy this year since there’s piles of it. These are Asphodeline lutea (syn. Asphodelus luteus). Enormous clumps were in bloom in AAP’s display beds. I knew they were tall plants in bloom but wasn’t sure about their width, so seeing them at Annie’s helped fill in the blanks on the eventual size of this ‘Jacob’s Rod.’ A medium-sized phormium is a good visual reference for girth. A white asphodel, Asphodelus albus, was also in bloom, and though I’ve always wanted the yellow I have to say the white is probably even more stunning. (No time for photos at AAP since it was the last stop before heading back down to Los Angeles.)

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Lessertia montana made the cut for the ride home.

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As did a couple Glaucium grandiflorum. I pulled out some of the annual poppies to find a home for these.

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Useful for protecting small plants and young seedlings from digging cats. And to remind my itchy digging fingers that this spot is already taken.

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A couple self-sown sideritis turned up this spring, which I greedily potted up at first sight and just planted back into the garden yesterday.
Looking at AAP’s extensive offering of sideritis, I think it’s S. oroteneriffae.

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One sunny spot happened to be available near Leucadendron ‘Ebony,’ but I’d be a fool to let the sideritis crowd the young conebush, so the sideritis may have to be moved.

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I also saw mature plants of this native thistle, Cirsium occidentale, at AAP’s last weekend. The mother plant was very short-lived in my garden, so I was surprised to find a seedling early this spring.
Knock wood, this one produces a few more seedlings. (5/9/14 edited to add that this thistle died in the recent heat wave.)

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Crambe maritima, hopefully a future depositor in my garden’s seed bank. Maintaining a choice and interesting crew of potential self-sowers is my favorite kind of garden making at the moment.
They bring elements of surprise, serendipity, adaptability, fitting in with rainfall patterns. And let’s be honest, getting beautiful things for free never loses its appeal.

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One of the surprise benefits of keeping pots near the garden proper is that occasionally plants will self-seed into the softer potting soil.
In early spring I found several seedlings of nearby Eryngium padanifolium in this container of alonsoa but nowhere else in the garden.
I noticed yesterday ballota had done the same thing in the container of Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate.’ I never find ballota seedlings in the garden.

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Only one plant of Castor Bean ‘New Zealand Purple’ was overwintered, so there’s very few volunteers this year.

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The dry-loving kangaroo paws will rule summer. A favorite for massed plantings, I like them dotted throughout the garden for their incredibly long-lasting vertical lines.
The hybrids grown for compact growth don’t have the same appeal to me.

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This chartreuse kangaroo paw’s flowers are not as flamboyant as the ‘Yellow Gem’ above, but as with all things chartreuse, they complement everything.

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Cistus ‘Snow Fire’ is a smallish-growing shrub planted last fall that hasn’t made me wait long for blooms.

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I’m envious of gardens with separate growing beds to trial plants and grow some on to a bigger size, like this Aloe marlothii x castanea hybrid, which is temporarily tucked in near the base of the ‘Yellow Gem’ kangaroo paws. But along with the endless lessons in patience the garden doles out, working with what you’ve got is another of its favorite recurring themes.