Tag Archives: Aristida purpurea

Saturday clippings 4/9/16


The Los Angeles Festival of Books is this weekend. I haven’t been in ages. I can only imagine what the food truck scene is like now. I didn’t see any garden-themed speakers on a quick check of the roster, but long ago (1998!) I attended talks by Robert Smaus, (former LA Times garden editor) Clair Martin (Huntington rose curator) and Robert Perry (native plantsman extraordinatire). The political discussions used to be very good, and around 2004 we attended a panel discussion on the Iraq War, with the late Christopher Hitchens attempting to defend his pro-war position (mostly a position he held in sympathy for the Kurds, I think), along with Mark Danner, Samantha Power and Robert Scheer. If you go, bring an umbrella.

The past two days have brought light rain, a hockey victory for the Kings over the Ducks (ferocious Los Angeles vs. Orange County rivalry), so all in all, it’s been a pretty good week.
On the Metro yesterday, when the doors opened at a stop midway to downtown, a gust of jasmine flooded the train, causing me to look up from my reading, just in time to see the jasmine draped over a chainlink fence begin to recede as the doors shut and the train sped away. Talk about fleeting fragrance. There’s a tall, columnar, ferny-leaved tree along the freeway in bloom now too, golden flowers, whose name I’ve forgotten. The flowers almost look grevillea-like. Not knowing the name is bugging me. Any ideas? I was thinking maybe lyonothamnus but the flowers aren’t a match.

In my own little garden, this week I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite kinds of plants, those that “grow up, not out.”* Not necessarily plants that have been bred to behave and grow in tight spots, though that’s a subject in its own right. I’m talking about ordinary plants with transformative abilities. Smallish footprint, big aerial drama. Here’s a couple examples I’m enjoying this week:


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The old standby, Verbena bonariensis. This is a two-year-old plant, so it made quick growth this year.
Annual in colder zones. It’s a much better plant for me in its second year, more uniform in structure.

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The poppies will probably be over by the end of April.
Another plant that visits the garden and then leaves without causing a lot of disruption.

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I’m not sure if this is Passiflora exoniensis, but whatever it is, I think I’ve found a vine to ease the pang of being unable to grow rhodochiton.
(Ever so grateful to Max Parker for this!)

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I lost the main clumps of Aristida purpurea, which didn’t impress me hugely last year.
I love what a seedling has done with this agave, though. Much better placement than my attempt. More, please.
And I really should thin those pups out this weekend.

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Albuca maxima. I moved a couple bulbs into the back garden. This one does quite the disappearing act, dormant in summer.

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The Rudbeckia maxima experiment continues. Very entertaining so far.

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Depending on how it handles dryish conditions this summer will decide its ultimate fate.
You can’t really describe this as having a small footprint either, but I’ve removed some of the lower leaves.

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Nicotiana ‘Hot Chocolate’ easily hoists itself above the crowd, without being any trouble at all. Self-sows.

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Kniphofia thompsonii var. snowdenii is slim and elegant. I hear it can be trouble with more water, but it stays put here.

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Crambe maritima breaks the tall and slender theme, but look at those gorgeous new leaves.

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I’m getting lots of seedlings of this sideritis. I think it’s Sideritis oroteneriffae. If you feel otherwise, let me know.

And have a great weekend!


*“Sister Sue, she’s short and stout
She didn’t grow up, she grew out”
— Randy Newman, “My Old Kentucky Home”*

I’ve been reading Greil Marcus’ 1975 landmark paean to American music “Mystery Train” on the Metro to work. Any critic who up front acknowledges a debt to Pauline Kael is fine by me. If you’re short on time, just read Marcus on Robert Johnson, the musician whose skill went from so-so to prodigious in such a short period of time that he was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil. Without Johnson, The Rolling Stones couldn’t exist. Books, music, and plants — is there anything I’ve forgotten? Didn’t think so.

notes on spring planting

Though it may not be readily apparent, there really is something positive to say about the garden in January. I’ve been cutting back the grasses, and even allowing for the dozens of poppy seedlings that are emerging and staking a claim on spring, there’s still an impressive amount of vacant planting space opening up. All of which adds zest to a favorite wintertime game, a game played by a mortal pretending to be a god: What do I want spring through fall to look like in my little garden in 2016? In all honesty, a lot of it will look like a dead ringer for 2015, but January is when optimism for the new gardening year is at its zenith and anything feels possible. Astonishing, never-before-seen visions of extraordinary plant beauty are surely to come.


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Like the Catalina Silverlace, Constancea nevinii, seen recently at the Theodore Payne Nursery.


Like envisioning a delicious meal, I daydream in textures, aromas, flavors sweet and sharp. For those few planting places opening up, will it be smooth or crunchy? I have lots of smooth succulents, so let’s find something crunchy, shrubby. It can’t be anything too rich and water dependent, so no traditional, overbred, cordon bleu garden plants. And I’d like something whose flavor won’t overwhelm the rest of this mulligan’s stew, which is heavy on variegated plants and spicy agaves. What’s needed is something in a quietly textural, supporting role. Maybe something in herbs? Isn’t winter savory an attractive little shrub, or is that summer savory? Maybe dracocephalum? Or lavender again, but it’s always iffy in this clay, and I just don’t want to play those odds this year. Plus I want something that billows, smallish in stature. Nepeta has been disappointing, even the much-lauded ‘Walker’s Low.’ What about calamints? Resource lean, aromatic, shrubby. I’ve grown a few kinds before but eventually backed away from their wildly prolific reseeding tendencies. Maybe there’s something new in calamints I haven’t tried?

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Eriogonum crocatum

Some light research turns up Calamintha nepeta ‘Montrose White,’ a calamint discoverd by Nancy Godwin at her Montrose Nursery. Long-blooming, doesn’t reseed, a summer-long feast for pollinators. It’s even won top honors as Perennial of the Year in 2010. Okay, then, calamint it is. Digging Dog Nursery in Albion, California, carries it, along with an intriguing perovskia called ‘Lacey Blue,’ a dwarf form of Russian Sage. With plants like these, summer 2016 can turn up the heat all it wants. We’ll be ready.

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Aristida purpurea

An order to Digging Dog is dispatched, and that settles that. But what else? Wasn’t there an eriogonum I’ve been itching to grow? I have plant notes around here somewhere. Yes, there it is, a smallish native buckwheat with silver leaves and chartreuse flowers, tolerates clay. Eriogonum crocatum! I think I can squeeze in maybe two. Now, who carries it? Why, Theodore Payne does, a mere hour’s drive to Sun Valley, just past Glendale. So be it. (And what should be playing on the radio the whole trip, there and back, but a tribute to David Bowie. I jump in the car, turn on KCRW, and there’s the thumping bass of Panic in Detroit. An auspicious beginning for any road trip.)


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At the entrance to the nursery is an impressive stand of our native Agave shawii

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See that slender, bright green column behind the pots?

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Catalina Ironwood in a ceramic container. Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius.
I stared at this tree long enough that a nursery person approached to warn me not to try this at home.
She explained this was basically tree abuse that they practiced to obtain cuttings for the nursery.
Trees in containers always seem like such a good idea in January, long before they become a miserable chore in July.

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So I wandered the grounds near the nursery. With just an hour before closing, there wasn’t time to explore the canyon (22 acres!)

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Arctostaphylos cruzensis

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Pinus sabiniana, Grey Pine, Foothill Pine, Ghost Pine (lovely pine!)

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I was recently cleaning up this grass in my garden, Aristida purpurea, and inadvertently pulled up the whole clump.

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Not a regimented, upright grass but ethereal, wispy to the point of disorganized. There are more purple tones than the photos show.

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Dudleya densiflora

Riding in the back, serenaded by Bowie all the way home, were two Eriogonum crocatum and a Catalina Silverlace, Constancea nevinii.
2016 is really starting to take shape.


Bloom Day July 2015

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The planting under the Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is all fairly new, except for the Plectranthus neochilus. Stinky or not, it’s a great addition to a dry garden.
Gomphrena ‘Balboa’ is the clover-like flowers with silver leaves, which blends in seamlessly with all the ballota here.
Tall grass in bloom is Stipa ichu, the Peruvian Feather Grass, said to be noninvasive, unlike the fearsome Mexican Feather Grass.
California chain Armstrong Nurseries as well as Home Depot have both vowed to no longer sell the MFG, Stipa tenuissima.

Continue reading Bloom Day July 2015

small garden, tough choices

I reckon there are 5 seasons.
There’s an early spring, which I call Sprinter…a Sprummer which comes after that for 2 month…There’s a long summer…a short autumn, a short winter – both just two months long, and then you’re back at Sprinter
.”

Tim Entwisie, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, Australia.

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Succulents and evergreen shrubs are mainstays year-round. Summer bloom 2015 from isoplexis, agapanthus, anigozanthos, verbascum, the annual Orlaya grandiflora.

Small garden, tough choices. Is the plan geared toward winter, spring, summer and/or fall? All of the above?
Add a collecting habit into the mix, in a summer-dry climate that blurs traditional seasonal boundaries, and it gets even more complicated.
I probably write more about my collector mania side, but believe it or not, there is a side that tries to stay mindful of the garden as a whole, with varying success year to year.
And, locally, as front lawns are changed out from lawn to garden, there’s sure to be a lot more minds focused on similar design issues for small spaces.

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‘Blue Glow’ agaves and Brachysema praemorsum in the front garden. Not much happening for summer here.

My succulent-filled front garden gets minimal dry season irrigation, so most of the experimenting takes place in the back garden.

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Courtesy of the collecting side of my brain, a NOID hechtia, a terrestrial bromeliad from Mexico

The back garden is smaller than a lot of living rooms and, to be honest, just can’t support all my ambitions for it. There have to be some compromises.
The answer to where to put the planting emphasis, whether on the “Sprinter,” the “Sprummer,” (to use Mr. Entwisie’s terminology) or the long, dry summer, changes all the time.
For me spring is simple (poppies) and by fall conditions are much too dry to expect anything grand happening in the garden. Besides, that’s when the grasses shine.
In the past I gave more ground to summer, with a higher concentration of perennials and annuals, but that can be a more water-intensive approach, and it does takes ground from the winter garden.

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The newest planting in the back garden is this section under the Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea,’ after the Arundo donax ‘Golden Chain’ was pulled out last fall.
A Leucodendron ‘Safari Goldstrike’ is making good size behind the cordyline. There are lots of aloes here, grasses, and an Agave ovatifolia.
Not much for summer unless the young asphodels take root and thrive.

Currently, the back garden this year is shrubbier, more solid, more evergreen, maybe even a bit more somber.
This year summer gets maybe 40 percent of the planting emphasis breakdown.
But a lot of new shrubs are still small and will take up considerably more room by 2016, so the focus and weight will have shifted again next year.

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Some sections of the garden don’t change much for summer.
There is a young Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ behind the Agave sisalana ‘Variegata’ that should contribute some blooms soon.
Agave ‘Mateo’ slowly makes size here too, in front of the A. sisalana, and Aloe ‘Hercules’ was moved here recently, last spikes on the right.
Year-round, there should be plenty to hold my interest here, which is key because when the eye gets bored, havoc can ensue, and the compost pile then grows by leaps and bounds.
And with the city outside my gate built strictly for commerce, I need the garden as my constant visual stimulator.
Which brings us around again to small garden, tough choices.

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I wish the summer garden was never without the stimulus of Verbascum bombyciferum and that there was space for multiple spires dotted through the garden.
Because it’s biennial, there can be gaps and off years while new plants bulk up the first year, flower and set seed in the second, then expire.
I just bought another young plant as insurance for next year until the self-sowing cycle reliably kicks in.

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It’s a big plant for a small garden but worth every inch of space you can give it.
(Long stems of the photo-bombing slipper plant, Pedilanthus bracteatus, leaning in on the left.)

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I haven’t stopped trialing intriguing, new, dry garden perennials like this Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’ from Terra Nova, tissue culture of a cross between N. tuberosa and govaniana.
Stats say this nepeta with the big bottlebrush flowers will grow low and wide. I had to bat the bees off as I made my selection at a local nursery.

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Not new but an old favorite with a new name. What I knew as Ballota ‘All Hallows Green’ is now known as Marrubium bourgaei ‘All Hallows Green.’ So glad to find this again locally.
Ballota are great little subshrubs that hold it together all summer and, if used in sufficient numbers, somehow make a disparate group of plants look like a coherent plant community.

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An old standby, Ballota pseudodictamnus, very subtly in bloom at the moment.

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Ever since moving into the house 26 years ago, I’ve been thinking of the next garden, the bigger one, and what I will plant there.
The future garden will have agaves, grasses, but rather than accents, as in this garden, there will be scads of them.
Grass-like clumps are Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff’ and ‘Breeze’

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Any future garden would include the Golden Coulter Bush, Hymenolepis parviflora, here backed by the other ‘Purple Haze’ in the garden, the melianthus.

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The mythical future garden would also include Crithmum maritimum, a fleshy, almost succulent-like umbellifer with lacy blue-green leaves.
Seeds around very lightly to slowly build up sizable clumps. Like ballota, because it has such a long season, it knits together surrounding plants into a community.

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And then there’s the agapanthus experiment this year. Mass plantings are in bloom all over town. It still feels weird to have some in the garden.

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There’s some snobbery here, for sure. If I didn’t see it everywhere, it would be considered a rare treasure, like it is in more cold-challenged gardens.
But it’s easy, takes tough conditions, and has nice lines. The bright leaves of ‘Gold Strike’ stand out against the dark green cistus just behind, ‘Snowfire’

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Cistus ‘Snowfire’

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Like agapanthus, I see kangaroo paws all over town, too, which hasn’t turned me against them yet, so it’s obviously the opinion of an inconsistent mind.
Just visible in front is a very faint wash of the grass Aristida purpurea in its second year, slow to build up, a well-behaved substitute for Mexican Feather Grass.

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The Glaucium grandiflorum is putting on a huge show this year, and I love having some poppy-like flowers for summer.
As a short-lived perennial, it may or may not return next year. Rumor has it that it’s a shy reseeder, so I’d have to bring in new plants.

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Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ has been reliably perennial for those of us with severe allium-envy. There’s just not enough winter dormancy for most alliums here.
I’m trialing another fern-leaf lavender new to me this year, Lavandula minutoli, so am not sure what to expect, but so far love how the pale flowers seem to glow.
It stays low and compact and seems a lot less vigorous in growth than Lavandula multifida, which has inky blue flowers.

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Brachysema praemorsum ‘Bronze Butterfly’

So there’s a quick sketch of the method to my madness with just enough time to head out for a picnic. Enjoy your Memorial Day!

Bloom Day July 2014

It fell from midnight skies. It drummed on the galvanized – Joni Mitchell, Paprika Plains

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Marty’s been reciting those song lyrics ever since the rain came and fell in exactly that manner Monday night.
We all raced out the kitchen door when the first drops began to dance on the corrugated roof over the pergola.
(Rain fell on the garden bloggers in Portland, too, just in one garden. It was thrilling.)
I spent most of Monday planting what I carried home in my suitcase, so to get a little rain after a midsummer planting is my kind of heaven.
My clothes and other Portland Fling swag will be arriving via UPS in a couple days…

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In other exciting news…ahem…the dasylirion outside the front door opened the flowers along its roof-topping bloom spike.
Above photo taken before I left for Portland.

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Will dasy ever get that gorgeous pre-birth shape back?

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15-foot dasylirion spike disappearing into the jacaranda tree. Unlike agaves, the dasylirion will supposedly persist after blooming.
I’ve had this plant countless years and had never seen a bloom before. We’ve dubbed this bizarre scene “Bee Town.”

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The Silver Vase bromeliad surprised me with a bloom. Aechmea fasciata.

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Spring-planted Aristida purpurea thinly blooming

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Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket’

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The pennisetum with the unstoppable Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’

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Castor bean’s mace-shaped seedpods are popping up throughout the back garden.
Since the garden looks pretty much like June, I’ll keep this abbreviated so you can move on to other July gardens at the Bloom Day hub, Carol’s blog May Dreams Gardens.