rainy day schedule and its effects on big, jagged leaves

That makes two drizzly Mondays in a row. Did our collective obsession with California winter rain last year have the unintended and adverse effect of scaring it away? Drought does bring out magical thinking in me. I’ve given up on rain, don’t watch the forecasts anymore, which is clearly the preferred method for success. So I will continue my cunning campaign of giving no thought at all to winter rainfall, because this stealth approach seems to bring out the clouds. When it does drizzle in autumn, I reflexively greet the rain with my old elementary school advisory, those profoundly impactful words “rainy day schedule.” Which meant we remained in classrooms waiting for final dismissal rather than playing dodgeball out on the tarmac. Instead of our hooligan jubilations at being relatively unsupervised outdoors, the swishing sounds from the heavy cotton layers of the nuns’ habit, the rattle of the long rosary at their sides as they prowled the aisles, pencils dutifully scribbling at homework, and rain spattering at the casement windows would continue to be the hushed soundtrack to our desk-bound lives until the clock struck three. (I’ve checked out those huge rosaries at flea markets recently and was shocked at the hefty price.) Now at the sign of even modest drizzle, I say the words aloud ironically, “rainy day schedule,” because unlike my dodgeball days, they’ve become the happiest words I know. Not that I’m thinking about rain anymore or anything. What I am thinking about are big, jagged leaves.


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The bocconia came through summer beautifully on a semi-attentive regimen of drip hoses once a week, maybe every two weeks. Okay, sometimes I was reminded by its declining appearance to get the soaker hose going pronto, admittedly not the most rigorous irrigation schedule. But the soaker hoses sure beat carrying watering cans and moving the garden hose all summer (or, more often, failing to do so).
And in the spirit of full disclosure, these photos were taken after some surprise light rainfall on October 17, and what plant doesn’t look good glistening wet?

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In my garden big, jagged leaves come from melianthus, tetrapanax, and bocconia.
Two out of three are in the process of pulling themselves together after a couple recent heat waves. The third, bocconia, is resplendent this fall.

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In full sun with lax summer irrigation, Bocconia frutescens starts to look a little puckered by August, and seems to drop leaves more freely than usual. Adding drip hoses this summer and more reliable irrigation was obviously the preference of all three. The bocconia and tetrapanax bloom in fall, the melianthus in spring.
(Although San Marcos Growers has the Tree Poppy as a spring/summer bloomer.)

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Melianthus ‘Purple Haze,’ February 2016

The cultivar from Roger Raiche, ‘Purple Haze,’ doesn’t try to bloom at all, which is fine with me, and it has lived up to its reputation as a compact melianthus, becoming no larger than a robust Jerusalem sage or phlomis, an important consideration for me because the species is a lanky giant here. I do think ‘Purple Haze,’ because it is less vigorous than the species, requires more summer irrigation than the species to look its best, and of the three plants discussed here the melianthus is most reliant on irrigation.

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cycads at the Los Angeles County Arboretum October 2016

I’ve been mulling over a list of similar contenders for a semi-dry, full sun summer garden in mediterranean climates. I’m thinking more on a herbaceous scale or smallish shrubs. Acanthus is a classic contender, of course, but A. mollis needs afternoon shade, and I’m just becoming familiar with other acanthus species for hopefully full sun. Macleaya, the bocconia’s herbaceous relative, has fabulous leaves, bigger, less jagged, more scalloped. Ricinus communis, the castor bean plant, especially in its darkest form ‘New Zealand Purple’ makes the list. The cabbage palms, cussonias, do eventually grow into trees here, as do the manihots and loquats. I’m hours away from ordering a fig, Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre,’ from Cistus Nursery, if I don’t talk myself out of it again for the umpteenth time. Ultimate size will be an issue with the fig as well. The dandelion relative, sonchus, is an intriguing possibility. I’m trying out a new one, Sonchus palmensis, in a stock tank. I suspect if I had provided more reliable summer irrigation to other sonchus I’ve grown, like S. congestus and canariensis, I might have had better results. Cycads are a possibility, and you won’t need to worry about summer irrigation when they’re established, but you will need to set up a cycad investment fund right this moment if you hope to procure a nice specimen one day. Same advice for adding some specimen palms, like the Blue Hesper Palm, Brahea armata.
Bixbybotanicals suggested artichoke, which I’ve never tried in the ornamental garden, nor cardoons.
Any other suggestions are most welcome.

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Bocconia bloom panicle January 2015

There might come a time when I have to forego such charismatic plants, those with idiosyncratically jagged leaves that sculpt the garden with their exotic presence and need just a little help getting through summer, sometimes what seems like an endless summer now, rain-wise. You’ve got to be light on your feet these days in keeping a garden.

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Tetrapanax, December 2014.
The tetrapanax is budding up some enormous flower buds surrounded by crisped new leaf growth that was burned in the heat wave a couple weeks back, when we reached 106 (September 26).
Can’t we have a brief intermission from setting records all the time?

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Despite the welcome drizzle, hot and dry is predicted for the overarching, foreseeable future.
Still, it’s no time to throw in the trowel. The right plants are out there.

I hope you enjoy our rainy day schedule the next couple days.

Bloom Day July 2016

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I’m going to try a systematic approach, so bear with me.
Right outside the office, the planting is getting some height from the bog sage, kangaroo paws, and Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket’ showing a few blooms way in the back.

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Using the bocconia as a reference point, swinging east, away from the office, the Crithmum maritimum, an almost succulent-like umbellifer, is in bloom at the base of the bocconia.
The grass in front of the crithmum, Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails,’ is just getting started.

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Silvery plant to the right of P. ‘Fairy Tails’ is the Island Bristleweed, Hazardia detonsa, endemic to the Channel Islands off Ventura, Calif.
The tiny golden paint brush blooms are only interesting insofar as they elongate and further develop the plant’s architecture. I love the overall effect.

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Closeup of the crithmum

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Before leaving the office planting, I want to give a shout out to Calamintha ‘Montrose White.’ Frustratingly difficult to get a decent photo of the clouds of tiny white flowers.
But so cool and Grace Kelly elegant. The bees and I are wholly smitten. It is by far the best bee plant in the garden.

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A second clump of Glaucium grandiflorum has just started blooming behind the calamint.

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In the foreground of the first photo is this amazing, silver-leaved mat-grower whose name I never committed to memory. It may have once been known as a helichrysum. Hasn’t every silver plant?
Sold as a summer annual, it would be perennial here in zone 10. Even though planted spring/early summer during some easy-going temperatures, this one gave me the same trouble as Stachys ‘Bella Grigio.’
Both collapsed after a couple days in the ground. I pulled them out, set them in the shade, where they surprised me by fully recovering.
In both cases, the soil mix was incredibly fast draining. The heavier garden soil was wicking away all the moisture.
After recovery, the mat grower was moved back into the garden. Some careful hand watering has helped to reveal its true and sturdy dry garden temperament.
(edited to add mat grower’s identity: Chrysocephalum aplicata. thanks, Hoov!)

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The stachys will reside in a container for summer, and if it makes it to fall I’ll reappraise options for a spot in the garden.
I asked the nurseryman if this stachys was the real deal, as in is it trustworthy enough for use in landscaping projects? He assured me that it was. I remain unconvinced.

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Still near the office, Agave ‘Mateo’ with the Crambe maritima (that never blooms), orange arctotis, Ricinus ‘New Zealand Purple,’ succulents, sideritis.

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Verbena bonariensis finds support among aloes and agaves — as do I!
(Okay, I’m officially ditching that impossible systematic approach now.)

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Penstemon ‘Enor’ had the usual problems with budworms blasting the flower buds before opening, but the wasps seem to have sorted it all out now.
My theory is whatever insecticide suppressant is in use at nurseries wears off soon after planting. As ever, I’m always thankful for parasitizing wasps and hungry birds.

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Origanum ‘Rosenkuppel’ in the center, with yarrow and agastache.

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Yesterday I took out the largest planting of this oregano to try out Sedum ‘Blue Pearl.’
The oregano is a demure evergreen mat all winter but leaps into alarmingly expansive growth in summer. It suffocated a grevillea and threatened to do the same to other neighbors.
Like first world problems, similarly, these issues get filed under small garden problems.

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Calamagrostis brachytricha has about five bloom stalks. Prefers moist soil, but okay on the drier side.

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Ruby grass, Melinus nerviglumis, was recently added to fill gaps where I took out a couple clumps of Elymus ‘Canyon Prince.’
I love the elymus, but it also needs a bigger garden to develop and play out its rhythms. And possibly a more wind-exposed site.
One clump of elymus tentatively remains.

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And yes, Margaret, there is a fast-blooming puya. Not the sexiest, but the quickest to bloom.
And Puya laxa’s very prickly leaves are like silvery tillandsias for full sun. It’s a notorious spreader, so it remains in a pot.
Since this photo, a navy-blue flower has opened, barely discernible in the overall scheme of things.
Even though it’s not one of the flamboyant turquoise beauties, I do appreciate the quickness to bloom, tall, stemmy structure, and the gorgeous leaves.

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Bulbine ‘Athena Compact Orange’ blooming through a carpet of horehound, Marrubium supinum.

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A second clump of bog sage mid garden with Verbena bonariensis. The black bumblebees and hummingbirds go for the bog sage, the butterflies favor the verbena.
The bog sage, Salvia uliginosa, has elbowed out Crocosmia ‘Solfatarre’ this summer, so there will be some shifting around this fall.

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Just giddy about summer-blooming Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’

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Possibly Aloe ‘Christmas Cheer’ giving off some July cheer too.

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Mid garden crescendo with Agastache ‘Blue Blazes,’ Achillea ‘Terra Cotta,’ eryngium, glaucium, oregano, verbena, anthemis, bog sage, melianthus.

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Indefatigable Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ bulwarked by Senecio medley-woodii. Anthemis ‘Susannah Mitchell, kangaroo paws.
Berkheya purpurea obligingly keeps sending up one bloom truss after another.

And that, give or take, is a wrap on July’s Bloom Day.
Check out our host’s site May Dreams Gardens for more blog contributions to July Bloom Day.

Occasional Daily Weather Report 2/11/16

While it seems everyone else is diligently topping off their water table with generous rainfall and/or snowfall, there’s no use denying it’s already chair cushion season here.
Los Angeles in February decided to go high 80s, tipping into the 90s. It feels like a Peanuts/Charles Schultz setup, with Charlie Brown (me) trusting Lucy (weather people) not to pull the football (El Nino) away again as he winds up for a mighty kick of faith, only to fall on his ass for the umpteenth time. But it’s hard to be grumpy about the lack of rainfall when it’s so gosh-darn beautiful outside. When the drought-driven apocalypse comes to Southern California, we will all be wearing flip-flops and T-shirts and sipping the latest artisinal cocktail. Like the last days of Pompeii, we won’t know what hit us.


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Aloe ‘Safari Sunrise’

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Aloe conifera

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Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’

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Euphorbia atropurpurea

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Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’

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Glaucium grandiflorum

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Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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Helleborus argutifolius

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Bocconia frutescens

N.B. This seems like such a sensible idea. Maybe it’s been around for a while and I just haven’t noticed.
It goes like this: We get the special-order plants we want while avoiding the heavy shipping costs that mail order often entails, sometimes costing more than the plants themselves.
I just noticed that Monrovia is accepting online orders of their plants, which are delivered to a nursery near you for pickup.
However, since I haven’t tried it out yet, I’m not sure if there is a handling charge involved.
Now, if other wholesale growers like San Marcos Growers, Annie’s Annuals, and Native Sons jumped on this train, my plant budget would grow by leaps and bounds.

N.B.B. For spring plant orders, Chanticleer’s gravel garden plant list 2015.

Bloom Day January 2015

It wouldn’t do to start the new year off skipping the first Bloom Day, which is technically the 15th of every month, but our host Carol (May Dreams Gardens) doesn’t seem to mind slackers.

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Helleborus argutifolius, the last plant remaining, sown into the bricks against the back wall. I pulled the others in the garden to make room for new stuff.
That’s me, the savage gardener. It reseeds like crazy, so there’s no danger in losing it entirely.

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Subtle, jewelry-like flower buds from a climbing kalanchoe that was a gift.

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The flowers’ little bells are the exact same slatey-grey color as the buds. I think it’s Kalanchoe beauverdii

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Aloe capitata a couple days ago. The bloom was just about finished today

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Bocconia frutescens, the Tree Poppy, keeps sending out flowers

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Bloom truss from Bocconia frutescens

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I just planted these osteospermum last week, a variety called ‘Zion Orange’ (the name was inspired by the colors of Zion National Park)

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Phlomis lanata is getting woolly with new growth, at the same time sending out occasional flowers

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Lavandula multifida is rarely without flowers

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Euphorbia milii appreciated the recent rain. Planted in September 2014

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Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ just planted in December

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Mangave bloom spike, technically no flowers yet

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I’ll close it out with Kalanchoe beauverdii again, threading its way along the pipe rack/junk collector .
The hanging pot was a Christmas present, temporarily filled with Pachypodium namaquanum, the “Halfmens.”

Lastly, we had the great pleasure of a visit in December by Andrew and Loree, who blogs at Danger Garden. Loree wrote a wonderfully kind account of her visit here.