Tag Archives: bromeliads

where would Holly Golightly keep her tillandsias?

For the holidays, it’s okay to ditch the earnest glass orbs that imprison tillandsias the rest of the year and take a leaf from Holly Golightly’s decorating book, the one that epitomizes her insouciant glamour. The one each of us imagines Holly would have written. And of course in my book Holly writes about plants and has the savvy to know that those glass orbs are more like glass coffins than suitable digs for any respectable tillandsia. Even champagne glasses would be preferable, where they’d get more beneficial air circulation (being “air” plants and all). And Holly would want to keep things easy for moving the tillandsias around the apartment as the light and humidity changes, or to dunk in the kitchen sink once a week, or mist occasionally with water in her favorite perfume atomizer, possibly the one from Tiffany’s.

So where would Holly keep her tillandsias?

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These vintage purses with that irresistibly satisfying click and snap to close, little time capsules of the art of the alluring, are a possibility.
The handle makes it easy to carry onto the fire escape to accompany Holly and Cat when they feel like singing to the moon.

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I’ve got a shelf of old cameras, some in working order, some not, like the one above, which will certainly glam up the mantle with that tillandsia rakishly festooned in the gap where it’s missing some forgotten but vital functioning piece. And cameras simply adore Holly.

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Sometimes it’s an incredibly useful exercise to ask: What would Ms. Golightly do?

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the colors of Bilbergia nutans



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The first bloom of the common Queen’s Tears bromeliad, Bilbergia nutans, is just so very startling when it arrives, especially if you’ve only seen it in photos before. Like drop-your-coffee-cup startling. As though David Hockney was in the garden overnight manically touching up the blooms. This bilbergia’s constituent colors are impressively shocking on a small scale, but seeing them together made me realize I’ve been actively pursuing these colors elsewhere in the garden.

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The deep pink on the bilbergia just about matches the last of the nerines to bloom

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The lime green of the bilbergia can be found in Tanacetum vulgare ‘Isla Gold.’ Planted again this fall at a pathway’s edge, it’s growing well. Better air circulation and a little more moisture might be the answer. I won’t know if it gets thin and patchy again until next summer. Everything seems so much more promising in fall.

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The bilbergia’s deep blue can be found in salvias like Salvia guaranitica or ‘Indigo Spires,’ or this fern-leaf lavender, Lavandula pinnata var. buchii

I found a couple fern-leaf lavender locally, when I was out searching for some more blue agastache to plant this fall. This lavender was once a really big deal, big enough to drive all the way up to Western Hills (written about here) to fetch when it arrived on U.S. shores in the ’80s. Tender and lacking the eponymous scent, but with those amazingly deep navy blue blooms and finely cut, jade green-grey foliage. Not very long-lived, it grows woody at the base and has to be renewed frequently with cuttings, which is possibly why I stopped growing it. And then it became easily available and I moved on to other plants less easily available, as is my way. I remembered it as Lavandula multifida, but the tag indicated Lavandula pinnata var. buchii. Whatever. Somewhere along the way, its name changed, or so I thought.

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After watching it fill out and increase in bloom for a week or so, and realizing this was just the small, shrubby, blue-flowering answer I was looking for, I went back to the nurseries to find more. This time the label said Lavandula multifida. Now I was confused. At the hort.net site I found this remarkably pertinent discussion from 2002 by John MacGregor:

Not surprising that you are confused. You are not the only one. The
nursery industry in California doesn’t have a clue on this one.

First, Lavandula multifida, L. pinnata, and L. buchii are three different
species. In recent years, I have bought about everything offered in the
trade in this state under these names, trying to sort it out, and have
received the same species from the same nursery under different names as
well as different species under the same name.

Twenty-five years ago we had all three species at the Huntington Botanical
Gardens (at the time, L. buchii was classified as a variety of L. pinnata).
I shared cuttings of all three with various wholesale nurseries and
collectors, and authentic plants of each were sold at Huntington plant
sales. Apparently, along the way some of the cuttings must have been lost
or the name tags of some of the survivors were mixed up (L. pinnata and L.
buchii–both from the Canary Islands–are much more frost-tender than L.
multifida–which is from southern Europe and North Africa). Lately,
everything I have seen labeled “L. pinnata var. buchii” in nurseries
is L. multifida. L. multifida is also sold occasionally as “Lavandula
‘California'” or “California Lavender” as well as under its own name. For
instance, the lavender offered by Monterey Bay Nursery as “Lavandula pinnata
buchii” and illustrated on their web site is actually Lavandula multifida…
” and so on.

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I wish I could get the fern-leaf lavender closer to Euphorbia rigida, but without some demolition, there’s just no room. Photo from last spring.

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The lavender would be equally wonderful with Euphorbia mauritanica in the front gravel garden, which is building up good structure for spring bloom. But no room at the inn there either.

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Until I saw the bilbergia bloom, I wasn’t aware that I’d been orchestrating these colors elsewhere: deep pink, chartreuse and dark blue.

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Gomprehna ‘Fireworks,’ fern-leaf lavender, Pelargonium crispum.
(This gomphrena has almost cured me of my allium envy.)

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After some fall planting, for a brief moment the garden has taken on the colors of Bilbergia nutans. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these colors next spring too.


monday clippings 8/5/13 (bromeliads and summer camp)



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It’s August and I’m craving a summer camp experience. Unfortunately, the summer camp bus left 40 years ago. So up there is my designated summer camp 2013.

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I admit accommodations are rustic and no-frills, but a short trip up the ladder rungs turns an ordinary August day into something wildly mildy adventurous. When home I probably climb the ladder loaded with armfuls of stuff to read, with or without pistachios, several times a day. It’s this summer’s preferred punctuation to extended sentences of work and errands. Often I drop the book or magazine I’m reading mid-paragraph to sit back and revel in the lofty view. At the birds cutting diagonally through the garden like it was Beggar’s Canyon. At the truly abysmal flying skills of Japanese fig beetles. At my neighbor’s peach tree, its branches loaded with fruit, some of it hanging over my side of the fence. At the cypresses in the distance, some dying, interspersed with palms lining the street south of mine. Why are the cypresses dying? I always wonder. Yesterday the clouds were arrayed in that elaborate feathering known as “fish scales” making it a “mackerel sky,” one of my very favorite skies.

Down below, behind the sliding doors is the laundry shed; up above, bliss.

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Often there’s already a camp buddy or two up there waiting.

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The breezes are freshest up here, and the views are godlike, gazing over rooftops or looking down on my little creation. Yesterday I fell asleep up here for 20 minutes or so. Hard asleep.

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What got me so dozy late yesterday afternoon was undoubtedly the sensory overload of a bromeliad show and then some nursery hopping. A large lime green pot almost became the water garden I vowed to make this summer, but I kicked that can down the road again and instead brought home Beschorneria albiflora and Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii,’ pictured above. Managing the ecosystem of a water garden, however small, just seems too complicated for August. That’s a pretty nifty dodge I highly recommend: think up a complicated, expensive proposition, consider it carefully from all angles, wisely decide to postpone the final decision, and then reward yourself for such judicious self-control.

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The bromeliad show and sale was sponsored by South Bay Bromeliad Associates. I should have posted advance notice of the show but found out about it rather late. Shows like this are the most affordable way to acquire offsets of some very cool plants.

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Though there will always be the unattainable. Alcanterea ‘Volcano Mist’ ($150)

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An aechmea agave-like in substance and subtle coloring

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Aechmea ‘Loies Pride’

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Plenty of not-so-subtle too

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I loved the dark reds streaked with chartreuse, like the dark-thorned Aechmea nudicaulis in the center

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Exquisite dyckias

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Dyckia dawsonii

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I really gravitated to the bruised, purply bromeliads like this Hohenbergia ‘Leopoldo Hortstii,’ but prices can get scary.

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Similar coloration in Bilbergia ‘Violetta’ for $10. Deal.

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A Neoregelia concentrica hybrid

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Most of the broms are sizing up on the east side of the camp, where there’s half-day morning sun. I think Peewee the parakeet, who’s camped out in the bath house, approves of this location for them too.

Now excuse me while I pack a few more things for summer camp. (And since I’ve technically never been to a real summer camp, let me know if you have any good camp stories.)

consider the leaves

We have Pam at Digging to thank for hosting this monthly celebration of foliage. This month I’m focusing on some of the leaves that impressed me during recent garden travels as well as examples from the back pages of AGO. If July is exposing bare earth in the garden, that’s a pretty good sign to give some enduring foliage a little more consideration.

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Hostas and perilla in a Long Island, NY garden

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Boxwood and Japanese forest grass, hakonechloa, enclose an empty pot in a Long Island, NY garden

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Sasa veitchii against a low fence of rough-cut logs at Longhouse Reserve, Long Island, NY

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The golden creeping jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, in a container contest at Longhouse Reserve

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Bromeliads in the conservatory at Planting Fields Arboretum

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Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

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Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

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The parterre at the home garden of the owners of Landcraft Environments, Long Island, NY

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A row of succulent-filled urns at Landcraft, Long Island, NY

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Containers filled with Oxalis vulcanicola and succulents, garden designer Rebecca Sweet’s Bay Area garden

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Dudleyas in a container in the Bay Area Testa-Vought garden designed by Bernard Trainor

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Aloe striatula, reddish trunks of Arbutus ‘Marina’ behind a low wall in the Testa-Vought garden.

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Dark-leaved ginger, Zingiber malaysianum, garden designer Dustin Gimbel’s home, Long Beach, California

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Weeping Acacia pendula, Dustin Gimbel’s garden

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Palms underplanted with mounds of mattress vine, Muehlenbeckia axillaris, Huntington Botanical Garden

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Los Gatos, California garden designed by Jarrod Baumann

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Los Gatos, California garden designed by Jarrod Baumann


Upcoming CSSA show at the Huntington

I won’t be able to attend the Cactus and Succulent Society of America show to be held at the Huntington Botanical Gardens June 28-30, 2013. But you should definitely go, for reasons photographed below. You will very likely find many of the same vendors I pestered with questions and be able to ogle the same plants I did last weekend at the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society’s Drought Tolerant Plant Festival in Encino. If you can’t make it to the Huntington in June, don’t despair. There’s still the InterCity show and sale held at the Los Angeles Arboretum August 17th and 18th.

Reasons to attend:

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The scrolled leaves on this bromeliad drew lots of attention.

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But attention swiftly gets snagged on something else, such as the jagged leaves of a deep burgundy dyckia. And so it goes at a plant show.
Attention ricochets around the show room like protons in a Hadron collider.

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Chartreuse leaves, burgundy thorns = love

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From the bromeliad table

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The aloe tables

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A Stonehenge of lithops

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Yes, even in the plant world there are winners and losers. Well, actually, the caretakers of the plants are the winners/losers.
Plants don’t care much about contests (except in the big, Darwinian sense).

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The signage and information at this show was incredible.

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A section of the show was devoted to engaging kids, and it was beautifully done

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Kelly Griffin’s Agave ‘Snow Glow’

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I should know this agave…(fingers drumming desk). Is it a cross of ferdinand-regis with scabra like ‘Sharkskin’?

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Cactus and succulent shows have a unique pottery vernacular

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There were a couple of these agaves for sale. ‘Blue Flame’ is one of my favorite agaves, so I lingered over this one.
It is beautiful, but I think I prefer a cleaner variegation. So nice to occasionally walk away from temptation.

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A show with succulents and pelargoniums — what’s not to love?

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Here is where I got into trouble, a display in the plant sales area of dyckias and hechtias

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First off, I always mispronounce dyckia, like “dike” when it should be “dick.” You can probably imagine an easy mnemonic device for that one.

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Second, I seriously coveted a plant that was off limits, display purposes only.

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Hechtias, Mexican terrestrial bromeliads, are new to me, foreign and intriguing.

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Bromeliad of desire, Hechtia glomerata.

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Plant people understand such infatuation all too well and are more than willing to work something out.
A pup of the display-only Hechtia glomerata was removed, tagged, and bagged for a very reasonable price.

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Last look at the one that got away, Agave ‘Streaker.’ I don’t think I’d have the strength to pass this one up again.


monday clippings 4/29/13

I was living large with orange marmalade on my bagel this morning, after trying it on some excellent shortbread Sunday afternoon. I first tasted then bought the marmalade from the Arlington Garden in Pasadena yesterday, where it’s made from their Washington Navel orange trees. (The shortbread was said to be Ina Garten’s recipe.) The Arlington Garden was on the Pasadena Open Days Garden Conservancy Tour, the same day as the Huntington Botanical Gardens plant sale, where I spent a very warm morning. (Does Pasadena do any other temperature?) When plant sales and garden tours collide on the same day, tough choices must be made. I skipped the Pasadena Open Days. The tour of the Arlington was free, so I stopped in briefly on the way out of town to make the first of what I know will be many visits. It’s very close to the south 110 freeway onramp on the Arroyo Seco Parkway, California’s first freeway, always an exciting ride when drivers insist on taking its narrow, lazy curves at 85 mph. Like the Arroyo Seco, the Arlington is also a first, “Pasadena’s only dedicated public garden.” The wildflowers were mostly finished, but the air was heavy and pungent with all the mediterranean scrubby stuff I love so much. Three acres is enough to build up a heady concentration of layered scent that envelopes you from the moment you step off the sidewalk onto the garden’s meandering paths.


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Just behind the stone labyrinth, plein air painters set up their easels at the Arlington Garden under the shade of a California pepper tree

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Although the California poppies were over, there were stands of red corn poppies, Papaver rhoes.

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Some details from earlier in the day at the Huntington’s desert garden. Echeveria aff. potosina, Mexico (San Luis Potosi)

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So many small relevations in the desert garden, like the mass effect of Haworthia cuspidata in bloom

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Haworthia greenii

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Bromeliads in the cloud forest conservatory

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The Huntington still gets me as overexcited as a kid at Disneyland, though my brain continually sheds plant names like my corgi sheds fur. I didn’t forget the name of this conehead in the rain forest conservatory. It was tagless. The leaves reminded me of hedychium.

Oh, before I forget, from the plant sale I brought home a manfreda and a small Yucca rostrata.

Rolling Greens Culver City (tillandsia porn)

A fresh shipment of tillandsias had just arrived when I visited Rolling Greens yesterday for their 75 percent-off sale, which ends today.
Almost all of these little bromeliads were in bloom or about to bloom. Lordy.

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Like agaves, most tillandsias are monocarpic. After blooming the main plant dies, but will leave behind “pups.”
The blooms do last for months though.

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Chartreuse tillandsias. Who knew? All mine are silver.
The bright leaf color on some of these might be an effect of the plant going into bloom.

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This wholesale grower of tillandsias has advice for their care.
I think I need to thoroughly drench mine more often, instead of the scattershot misting method I use.

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I tried my best to stay out of the way as she selected tillandsias and then carried them in flats to work with at the floral worktable.
But I hovered here for quite a while.

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How she could make a sober, cool-headed selection out of this stunning array, I have no idea. Guess that’s why she’s the professional.

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None of them were labeled as to species. Rainforest Flora has a helpful tillandsia identification page, but I couldn’t positively ID any of these.
I can see another reference book is needed in the library.


birthday plants

My birthday took up just about every single day last week, and more days on the weekend, which is how I rationalized a trip on Saturday to find that hitherto unknown-to-me, unmet, spectacular plant that would forever after be marked as my, gollum gollum, birthday present. (Because we wants it.) At our house we always make a big deal about not making a big deal about birthdays, no presents, please, thank you very much, which has the unintended (intended?) consequence of turning birthdays into birthweeks. You don’t want any presents? You better take off work then. Can’t buy you anything? Then I’ll cook you a special dinner tonight. And tomorrow. And breakfast the day after. And bake you a cake. And why don’t you sleep in this morning, and I’ll feed the cats?

Yes, I don’t want any presents for my birthday, but I don’t mind some festive shopping around for something fabulous in the leaf and twig department during my birthday/week celebration. And on Saturday I did find my birthday plant, but it could not be had for love nor money, birthday or no birthday.


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An unknown, unnamed leucospermum looking extremely fat, happy and floriferous. Weren’t these supposed to be the malingering shrubs with soil issues? The grower is now out of business, and the retail nursery where this thrives in a sloping display border, Roger’s in Newport Beach, has been trying to find more stock for the past two years, without success. I know all this because I shouted out questions to one of their nice, extremely busy employees who was mid-stride in the process of helping another customer. Beautiful plants can cause my manners to slip occasionally.

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Research suggests it’s probably Leucospermum cordifolium ‘Yellow Bird,’ one of the pincushion protea shrubs from South Africa. A nursery in Ventura County I’ve been meaning to visit, Australian Native Plants Nursery, has it back-ordered. I see that they consider it a candidate for containers, which is wonderful news because there isn’t an inch of garden available for a shrub. I very possibly need to extend my birthday/week further to include a trip to Ventura.

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On Saturday I watched the shoppers peruse and select plants, which is endlessly fascinating. And I sniffed the sweet peas.

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And admired the new succulent plantings.

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Slipping in a tiger-striped aloe among the echeverias was a nice touch.

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This nursery leans toward an Old World, heavy-on-the-European influence, so it was nice to see some pieces made of concrete, simple and unadorned.
Or possibly a lightweight stand-in for concrete. I didn’t touch.

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And I envied the luxurious billowing of Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Flare,’ one of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials signature annuals.

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And noted the effects of the afternoon sun on a bromeliad, glowing, backlit, diffused by a screen

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More screen and shadow effects, this time with a tillandsia.


I just love birthdays, even without any presents — maybe especially without presents. I’ll take the gift of time filled with beautiful incidents over presents anyday.

kokedama for slackers


If you keep up with just a few design blogs, there’s probably no need to explain kokedama, or Japanese mossed bonsai strung up like plant puppets, which I posted about here. Those expert creations involve carefully calibrating a plant’s light and soil needs, not to mention expert wrapping, packing, and tying skills. (Design Sponge has provided a good tutorial.) The ethereal effect of tightly wound, dangling orbs bursting with plants is so compelling that I might actually get around to trying it one day.


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But if, like me, you have no tolerance, time, or the requisite fine motor skills for the expert stuff, or if your attention span this busy spring is in tatters, may I suggest joining me in an experimental alternative: Grab a small bromeliad, wrap some green moss around the roots including some of the coarse growing medium it came potted in, tie with raffia, and take advantage of the nooks of trees to wedge in the bastardized kokedama. From conception to wedging, it took me about 15 minutes since I had the green moss and raffia ribbon on hand. Being plant savvy, we know that bromeliads don’t really need a ball of soil to thrive and always appreciate the dappled light shade under a tree and the humid proximity of other growing things. This is basically how many bromeliads grow in the wild anyway, epiphytic, in the crotch of trees. The pittosporum shrub I limbed up (meaning removed its lower branches so it graduated from shrub to small tree) has become the perfect armature for hanging Spanish moss and other tillandsias, and now the little bromeliad kokedama. And the spring plant shows are the best hunting ground for small, affordable bromeliads. The trick is to know when to stop. A gaudy, Southern Gothic effect can take over really fast. Not that that’s a bad thing.

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Where bromeliads have to stay indoors for winter, this would be a nice summer vacation home. The raffia ribbon works fine for bromeliads that will be wedged into branches. Twine or cotton thread might be a better choice for strength if it is to hang. My bromeliad is Neoregelia ‘Punctatissima Rubra’ x ‘Tigrina,’ grown more for its leaves than flowers. I’ll be misting the moss when I mist the tillandsias, about once a week, and will make sure that the bromeliad’s central cups stay filled with water. If mossing a dwarf olive tree seems out of reach, try practicing kokedama on tough, forgiving bromeliads.

it’s show time

Last week I planted out in the garden the remaining plants I brought home from last summer’s travels. All winter I eyed these purchases nervously, as though they were exhibits in a trial of my weak character. I knew they were impulse buys of wonderful plants I had no business bringing home, since there wasn’t a jot of garden space available to them. And the long rainless season of daily watering of pots is almost here, and what if I missed a few days and these lovelies died on my watch? They needed to get their roots into the garden before summer or there’d be no doubt left that I sacrifice beautiful plants on the altar of thoughtless acquisition. Then the clouds parted, a huge clump of wayward blue lyme grass was removed from the front garden and the Cassinia X ozothamnus from Far Reaches Farm was planted in its place. Suddenly, I had very few plants in pots to care for and my conscience was clear. And just in time for the season of plant sales. How about that for timing!

This weekend is the Orange County Cactus and Succulent Society’s Spring Show and Sale. I had a couple free hours yesterday, the opening day. You can’t get into too much trouble at a succulent sale if you stick to the small stuff.

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Echeveria multicaulis

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But within seconds of entering the sale room, I saw a couple of the tree-like Euphorbia ammak. I grabbed one quick and placed it securely in the temporary holding area. The big specimens at local nurseries are out of my price range. About a foot and a half high for $10 was exactly what I’ve been looking for.

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And so the internal logic of plant sales takes over. I need this because…and then the next morning, when the fog of plant sale mania has lifted, you’re faced with a box filled with a very odd assortment of plants. And it’s nearly as much fun as the sale going over them again, checking out this unlikely group of plants all now sharing space in a cardboard box because of some whim of taste.

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I leaned heavily toward bromeliads this year and found a lot to like at this table, bromeliads new to me like hechtias and pitcairnias.
The tall green one on the left, a Neoregelia ‘Devroe’ came home with me.

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Neoregelia ‘Punctatissima Rubra’ x ‘Tigrina’

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A grassy-ish bromeliad, a species pitcairnia, which I was told wants constant moisture, so regular potting soil will be OK.

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Hechtia epigyna, a small bromeliad from Mexico

Two more days of this nice little show left. As I was leaving with my cardboard boxes filled, another attendee and I wondered if there would be different plants, maybe better plants on Saturday and Sunday. Maybe they held back the best for the weekend?

Yes, it’s definitely show time.