Tag Archives: Chionanthus retusus

a week in plants

Last week was a good one for plants. I finally found some Acacia ‘Cousin Itt’ in small sizes, under $10 each, to plant under the Chinese Fringe Tree.
(Chionanthus retusus, as distinguished from our native Chionanthus virginicus.)
This great, mediumish-sized tree grows in a rough square on the east side of the house, hemmed in by hardscape on all sides.

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This photo from September 2015 shows how I typically mass pots on the hardscape surrounding the tree, which casts some welcome filtered shade for summer.
Keeping the base unplanted has been the easiest way to go as far as cleaning up after the tree. (All the best things shed, i.e., trees, dogs, cats.) I just sweep the copious amounts of leaves/berries/spent flowers back under the tree and then raid the precious stuff when needed for mulch elsewhere in the garden. But then this vision of ‘Cousin Itt’ thriving in the dappled light of the fringe tree kept threatening to upend my pragmatic approach, and ultimately I just couldn’t shake it. I know, I’m weak that way. There’s too much constant debris for bromeliads to make sense under the tree, but I’m hoping I can gently rake through ‘Cousin Itt’ or give it a shake now and then.

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One of the four new Acacias ‘Cousin Itt.’ I need at least three more. I’ve been wanting to try this acacia out for ages.
It’s just not been available for under $40, so four for that price, even if in 6-inch pots, felt like the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for. Hurray for expensive plants in affordable sizes.
It’s always fabulous in a container, but my vision required its green shagginess to ring the base of the tree. And there will still be access available for the broom to do its work.
As with any planting in dry soil, you move the odds substantially in your favor by filling the planting hole several times with water before settling the plant into its new home.

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These Celosia caracas ‘Scorching’ came home the same day as the acacias.
I’ve been planting throughout summer, but wouldn’t consider putting these in the ground in August.
They prefer steady moisture and rich soil, so I planted two in a big 5-gallon nursery can, where I can easily top them off with the hose.
Oddly enough, I had just fired off an order to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, and included in that order was another celosia, ‘Cramer’s Amazon.’
The order was mainly to get ahold of Rudbeckia triloba again. August is the best time to get biennials started, either from seed or plants if you can find them.

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photo from Fernando Martos’ website. The bearded iris is ‘Syncopation’

Something else to order in August are bearded iris, a plant I’ve run hot/cold over for some years.
Noel Kingsbury wrote about garden designer Fernando Martos‘ approach to Spanish gardens for Gardens Illustrated, July 2016:
(“The typical Mediterranean garden is very static, it never changes. I want to make gardens that appear different every time you look at them.”)
I feel the same way. Summer wouldn’t be the same without transient poppies and spears and thistles surging skyward amidst the more permanent agaves and shrubs.
Seeing how Martos dotted bearded iris throughout low-growing, dry garden shrubs like lavender had me checking iris suppliers online before finishing the article.

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But be warned, it’s generally a very fleeting effect, a matter of weeks. Personally, I’m beginning to appreciate fleeting effects more and more.
I last grew them in April of 2014. My style of overplanting tends to swamp their crowns, which require full sun to build up energy for the next year.
But there’s no harm in trying again, is there?


Fleeting effects aside, when ordering bearded iris, I always get hung up on the issue of rebloom. There are a handful of varieties that are said to reliably rebloom in Southern California.
The pink ‘Beverly Sills’ is one of them, and there’s more included in a list here.
So it seems foolish not to order a potential, if not guaranteed, rebloomer, right? But the reblooming varieties are nowhere near as exciting as, for example, ‘Syncopation’ which blooms just once.
I did find a couple bicolored varieties at Schreiner’s that supposedly rebloom. No guaranties. (‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Final Episode’)

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Something to add to your Things To Do in August list: If you care to have them next year, order bearded iris now!

Bloom Day March 2016

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No flowers open yet, but the long-awaited beschorneria bloom stalk itself is stare-worthy. Parrot colors of vivid red with buds tipped in green.
Improbably taller every day, with new subtle twists and angles to admire

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It passed by the Euphorbia ammak a few days ago.

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The bricks in the photo above lead to the Chinese fringe tree that bisects the narrow east side of the house.
Does Chionanthus retusus leaf out and burst into bloom simultaneously everywhere or just zone 10?

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Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is finished flowering, leaving some pretty cool seedpods

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In the past, I’ve often wondered about the bocconia’s will to live. This winter’s rains have brought out its latent, robust side. I’ve even found a seedling.

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Different kinds of echeverias continue to flower in their charming crookneck style. With Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’

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Surprising color match on the blooms of Echeveria pulvinata and Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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a gift aloe, no ID

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Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’ is still looking very promising. Healthy, clean leaves with an airy, open habit of growth.
This will be its first summer, a true test. High on my to-do list is to start a glossary of all the plants I trial in the garden, with a thumb’s up or down.

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No blooms, just enjoying the view of wet pavement. We are becoming such rain fetishists here.

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Wet Agave ‘Dragon Toes’ with a flash of orange deep in the background from Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrid’

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I’ve pulled a lot of the poppies, but there’s still a few in bloom every day.

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I’d love it if Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’ stopped growing now. And bloomed like this, at this size, until November.
We don’t ask much from plants, do we?

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Lastly, Agave vilmoriniana, lord of all he surveys. He’s made good size over the winter too. Blooms from poppies, salvia, kangaroo paws.
Oh, and believe it or don’t, but that euphorbia is in bloom too. Subtle bordering on pointless. Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl.’
Now, imagine if the blooms were chartreuse up against that salvia. Taking note for next year.
Carol at May Dreams Gardens collects our Bloom Day stories the 15th of every month.

potted plants on the move

The summer containers in nondrought-stricken gardens can become quite a virtuoso display.
I’ve understandably pared things down the past few years but am always amazed at how even a relatively small group of pots can exclaim “Summer!”

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All the pots scattered through the garden become candidates for a massed summer display.
I appreciate how growing a single species to a pot means it can be a focal point at one time of year and part of a big group display at another time.
A good place for summer staging is around the Chinese Fringe Tree (Chionanthus retusus) which bisects the long, narrow patios on the east.
Now that the tree has fully leafed out and all the flowers have fallen, I’ve massed pots on either side of the tree to take advantage of its dappled light.
A chaise in dappled light isn’t a bad idea either. A Mid-Century Homecrest, it needs a touch-up of black paint but is the most comfortable lounger, like floating in zero-gravity.
(Thanks again to Shirley Watts for hauling it down from Alameda in her truck.)

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This group of pots has been gradually accumulating here the past month or so, pulled from all over the garden.
The chartreuse Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ was moved in when it gained enough size to make an impact.
Unlike so many colocasias, this tropical reliably returns from winter dormancy year after year. I turn the whole pot on its side and leave it outdoors in winter.
I have lots of small, slow-growing agaves in pots, but I like having a couple good-sized potted agaves to mass for summer.
There’s a couple pups here of ‘Blue Flame’ and ‘Boutin’s Blue,’ both of which don’t mind some shade.
The golden Schefflera ‘Amate Soleil’ was fine in full winter sun but definitely needed dappled shade by June.

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The pots of mostly foliage are easy on the water budget, and water from the shower handles all the containers.
The latest addition is a big pot of cosmos, chamomile and silver-leaved horehound/marrubium, a gift to the bees.

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Looking from the other end, Cussonia spicata in the tall grey pot is doing so much better in the dappled light after wintering in full sun.
Variegated manihot, potted succulents, and closer to the table the huge Aeonium ‘Cyclops,’ also moved here to escape full summer sun.

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The base of the fringe tree is unplanted, covered with a mulch of its own leaves year-round.
The view after August rain last year (see post here). I’ve since broken that coffee cup, a favorite from a local tugboat company.
And Mitch took those wooden planters up to his garden in San Francisco.
Before my neighbor planted palms on his side of the fence, this little patio used to be a heat trap by mid-day and went mostly unused until evening.
As a native Angeleno, it’s taken me a lifetime to appreciate the slim footprint of the ubiquitous palms and the lovely shade they cast.

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I’ve been playing around with that tall iron stand for 20 years or so. When I saw photos of Maurizio Zucchi’s home, I felt both validated and incredibly envious.
The little Euphorbia ammak at its base has a long way to grow to make an impact. I’d so love to find some more iron scaffolding for this patio.
The twisty tuteur supports a marmalade bush, Streptosolen jamesonii, I’m hoping can be trained up through its spirals.
The empty frame is part of the floor grate to the broken heater we inherited with the house.

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Last summer the vine Mina lobata grew up the iron stand’s girders, wilting in the afternoon sun.
I found a seedling of this vine that’s been potted up to try in morning sun/afternoon shade.

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Potted’s City Planter was planted up last summer and has been bullet-proof ever since.

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Hopefully this will be the last time I move this monster pot for a few months.
Showing is one of two lamps salvaged from Warehouse No. 1, the oldest warehouse in Los Angeles Harbor.
Marty kept a little workroom in the basement of the cavernous warehouse when he worked for the Port of LA, so we have a strong affection for the old relic.

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The remaining rosette of the huge clump of dyckia I just removed this week from the front garden.
Dyckias and year-round tree litter are just not a good combination. I was so sick of the mess.

I know a lot of pots of tender plants are on the move out of basements and greenhouses, where they vacationed like winter snowbirds.
Sometimes I wonder if the pots in this frost-free garden don’t have just as many miles under their rims.

Cussonia spicata and the value of plants

I have these weird unwritten rules when buying plants. For example, $30 is usually deemed way too much to spend on one plant. It’s not a conscious rule, it’s just after checking the price, unless it’s spectacularly, once-in-a-lifetime rare, I always walk away if it’s $30ish and up. And then I’ll sometimes go on to browse and select assorted odds and ends that, in total, end up costing as much as $40, if not more. Unwritten rules sometimes make the least sense of all. Here’s a recent example to show how this works, or doesn’t, in practice.

Last Friday work ended unexpectedly early, and there I was in Marina del Rey, which along with its yacht-filled harbor also has an excellent nursery. The succulent selection was even better than I remembered. Crassula ‘Campfire,’ for instance. Why haven’t I grown this yet? Lack of space? What a puny reason. And there’s a good salvia section too. I always pause before grey-green and felty, mouse-eared Salvia officinalis ‘Beggarten,’ but it hates my clay soil. What about those big grey leaves in pots for summer? Pots are always the answer. And some pole beans for my mom. I’ve been made weak-kneed by the incredible bromeliad selection here before. But $80 for one bromeliad? Can’t do it. I found a cardboard box and desultorily filled it with the smallest, cheapest odds and ends. Nothing like a little plant shopping to ease out of a horrid workweek and into the weekend. (Metro ran 30 minutes late, deadlines whizzed by unchecked, etc., etc.)

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And then there it was, casting dramatic shadows under the shadecloth, Cussonia spicata, robust and over 4 feet tall. A group of them, actually. Some with trunks awkward and akimbo, but way in the back was a perfectly gorgeous, straight-as-a-die specimen that was selling for about half the price of that bromeliad. But in the dreaded and taboo over-$30 price range. I mentally tallied all the odds and ends accumulating in my cardboard box, and sure enough, the total amounted to more than the price of the cussonia. (And as an aside, happened to be twice what I had just paid for parking at the business offices of 4640 Admiralty Way. I’ll never understand the arbitrary value given to things.) It was obvious that the math of my unwritten rule just wasn’t adding up. My own South African “Cabbage Tree,” Cussonia gamtoosensis, just about this size too after years growing on from a 4-inch pot, is a year-round, evergreen joy. Finding C. spicata locally again in this size at a better price was a long shot. That’s the math that matters. The impulse crassulas and salvias went back to their nursery shelves, and the cussonia came home with me, where it obviously so rightfully belongs. I was up at 5 a.m. on Saturday to spend all day rearranging my little world to give it a proper welcome and find its perfectly inevitable placement, which turned out to be the small east patio, as of Friday buried in leaves I kept meaning to sweep up from the Chinese fringe tree. The $40 cussonia was just the catalyst I needed to give it a good sweep, move out the bikes and stash of firewood, and drag in a table and chairs. After the dust settled, we instantly knew that this was now the best spot for morning coffee. I’m vowing to never clutter it up again. We’ll see how that goes.

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As the Dude would say, the cussonia really ties the room together, this awkward, canyonesque patio on the east side of the house that I had pretty much given up on.
And I hated being defeated by it, because I’m a firm believer that every inch I pay a mortgage on must be put to use for people and plants.
(Begrudgingly, driveways, garages, laundry sheds, etc., are allowed too of course.)

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Marty worries that the cussonia looks frail, more like a “houseplant” than a potential 30-foot tree. And he’s right, it’s got the look of the apiaceae all over it, whose members include familiar houseplants like fatsia and schefflera, but there’s nothing meek or tame about a cussonia. It’s going to need a much bigger container fairly soon, but this size is all there was on hand.

And that’s how a dead space came to life for $40. Such is the incalculable value of plants.

Bloom Day April 2013

Spring is moving fast here in Southern California. I’ve already checked out some of the gardens on our host’s site for Bloom Day, Carol at May Dreams Gardens, and saw lots of traditional spring shrubs and bulbs and perennials like hellebores in amazing colors just coming into bloom. Slowly but surely spring is spreading across the land. Huzzah!

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Spring has had an unmistakably orange cast to it in my garden this year. A kniphofia in its current 50/50 bar coloration.

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Same kniphofia about a week ago.
I moved this one around and didn’t keep track of the name, but all my kniphofias come from Digging Dog, which has a great list.

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Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ is just starting to bloom, and hopefully the isoplexis will hang in there a little longer.
The grass Stipa gigantea was moved here last fall and hasn’t missed a beat, showing lots of bloom stalks.

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Tweedia caerulea/Oxypetalum caerulea may be a rare baby blue in color but it is a surprisingly tough plant.
This one survived forgotten and neglected in a container throughout the mostly rainless winter.
It’s climbing up a castor bean, Ricinus communis ‘New Zealand Purple.’

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The self-sowing annual Senecio stellata started bloom this week. Big leaves, tall, and likes it on the shady side.

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Another tall one, Albuca maxima.

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This South African bulb has been thriving in the front gravel garden, which gets very little summer water. Over 5 feet tall, it reminds me of a giant galanthus.

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More white blooms, Erodium pelargoniflorum, a prolific self-seeder in the front gravel garden.

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The fringe tree on the east side of the house, Chionanthus retusus, just about at maximum white-out.

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The fried egg on a long stalk near the Euphorbia cotinifolia tree trunk is Argemone munita. Hopefully better photos to come.
I wouldn’t mind about six more of these self-sown in the garden for next year.

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Self-sowing white valerian forming buds, with the lavender bells of the shrub prostranthera, the Australian mintbush.

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The mintbush with the succulent Senecio anteuphorbium.

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A gift pelargonium, no ID. The small details in the leaves and flowers of these simple pelargoniums get me every time.

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Closeup of the tiny flowers.

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The plant at its base is even more self-effacing, with a big name for such a quiet plant, Zaluzianskya capensis.

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Lots of self-sown nicotianas. The flowers are too small to be pure N. alata, so it probably has some langsdorfii in the mix.
Whatever its parentage, lime green flowers always work for me.

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Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix,’ with a potted begonia for scale. This strain of flowering tobacco has been keeping hummingbirds happy all winter.
This is the first begonia to bloom (again, no ID!), and the colocasias are just beginning to leaf out.

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The porch poppies, with lots more poppies in bloom in the garden.

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The anigozanthos might be a tad too close to the euphorbia, but I love the lime green and orange together.

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The last two photos are by MB Maher, who was in town briefly and tried to get more of the Euphorbia lambii from a higher angle.

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MB Maher’s photo of the Salvia chiapensis with a bit of purple in the center from Penstemon ‘Margarita BOP,’ planted from gallons a couple weeks ago.
I have a feeling that yucca will be in bloom for May Bloom Day. See you then!

Now that Google Reader is in the dustbin of history, I’m trying out Bloglovin for organizing blogs I want to follow.
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Occasional Daily Weather Report 1/23/13

Eye strain has kept me away from the computer for a few days, so following butterflies around the garden has been more my speed.
I blame the eye strain mostly on the amount of political news I read online, far more than is safe for a balanced mind and clear eyes, so that’s one new year’s resolution I’ll be working on.


This little guy’s sun-fretted wings tell of the warm spell we’ve been having. Rain forecast tonight, thankfully.


The growth of the tulips surged under sunny skies.


It’s been warm and bright enough that I rigged some shade under the pergola by weaving a painter’s canvas drop cloth through the top slats, securing them with carpenter’s clamps I found in Marty’s tool shed, where all the really cool stuff is kept hidden away from prying eyes and fingers. Matter of fact, I found the canvas drop cloth there too.


It was over 80 degrees at the flea market on Sunday, where we found a pair of Homecrest chairs to match the one we inherited from a neighbor. The PBS show Market Warriors was filming, which caused some traffic jams in the aisles and a bit of generalized grumbling amongst the flea marketeers.


And I accomplished what’s probably the last major sweep of the season, on the east side at least. The fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus) has at last dropped all its leaves. Ready for rollerskating, if I had any skates. (What do you bet there’s an old pair in Marty’s tool shed?)


And just before it’s time to put away all the tools before the next round of rain, these very heavy, 100-year-old bronze cage lamps will finally be getting use again after some wiring work. A third one will need to be straightened after its fall when the old bolt gave way. They last illuminated the storm warning station atop the oldest warehouse in San Pedro at the entrance to Los Angeles Harbor, fittingly named Warehouse One. The lamps were hidden away in the tool shed too, or “rat-holed” away, to use Marty’s preferred vernacular.

I’m pestering MB Maher to shake loose some wonderful photos of his recent visit to the gardens of Versailles, including Marie Antoinette’s rustic fantasy Hameau de la Reine. Whenever I’m discouraged by the excessive rusticity of our little compound, I’ll try to remember that Marie Antoinette paid extra for that effect.

snapshot of August 2012

August is always a truth-telling time in the life of a garden and a good month to take a snapshot of it. The hoses have been deployed this week to deep water the trees and soak the now bone-dry soil. Most irrigating up to this point has focused on containers and new plantings, but the mature plants can’t be ignored any longer. As far as the actual layout, it can be tricky to get lay-of-the-land photos in such close quarters, which is why I rarely perform this photo exercise. But some minor changes are planned for fall, so now’s the only time to make a journal of the garden as it exists this summer.

Agaves and succulents at the back porch are easy on supplemental irrigation

But I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. First some context and lay-of-the-land descriptions and photos to get oriented for the August snapshot, hopefully not repeating too much from previous posts. There is no lawn or foundation plantings, in the back garden or the front. Though the garden is close to the house because the lot is small, we don’t grow plants up against this wooden bungalow. There’s trouble enough with termites and wood rot as it is. The plantings are mainly on the north and south sides of the house, and to a lesser extent the east side, which is currently getting the gate and hardscape cleaned up and is mainly dominated by a Chinese fringe tree. On the west beyond the garden gate is the business end, the driveway mess of cars, trash cans, tool sheds. The lot size is 5,750 square feet.

These photos are all of the back garden. I always describe photos at the top of the photo, which can get confusing, or so I’ve been told. From the garage and looking east at the back porch and pergola. The pergola attaches to the back of the house and also supports a roof over the back porch. A small “lookout” deck is atop the shed which houses the washer and dryer. Cushions on the lookout are just visible. We do favor a bit of multi-use, Swiss Family Robinson spirit in our projects. Amicia zygomeris in the foreground with Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline,’ a dominant presence in the garden this summer.


From the opposite side, looking roughly southwest. Ladder leads to the lookout.
Canopies of smoke tree ‘Grace’ and Caribbean Copper Plant, Euphorbia cotinifolia, nearly touch by August.

Crithmum maritimum and aeoniums with a potted bay.

The little bath house on the east side of the house, which now doubles as an aviary, potted bay in front.
A parakeet showed up exhausted and hungry in July.
More Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’ at this end too.

The wayward parakeet has been tentatively named “Wingnut. So far, no reports of a missing parakeet in the neighborhood.
Wingnut does have a cage, but the wide-spaced bars give him free range of the bath house.
The fringe tree, Chionanthus retusus, can be seen just under the shade.

The narrow east side is mainly for tables and chairs. And pots too, natch.


Hello, kitty

The iron trough at the east boundary, which is the blue-stained fence. The Verberna bonariensis was neglected and died while I was away and has been replaced with some variegated pampas grass, red-leaved Hibiscus acetosella, and a chocolate salpiglossis from Annie’s Annuals, never an easy annual to grow, for me at least.

Salpiglossis likes rich soil but seems really sensitive to overwatering (and high temps — collapsed 8/13/12)
When I’m feeling brave I grow them, but just a few and only in pots.
Annie’s Annuals carries this dark selection ‘Chocolate Royal.’
Chartreuse background is from one of the three Monterey cypresses planted at the eastern boundary.

Looking to the west under the pergola, with the office door and garage wall visible. The huge burgundy grass blocking a view of the office doorway is again the Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline,’ which just had a much-needed thinning. It badly needs splitting later this fall, at which point a blog give-away may be in order. (Hoov, Dustin, any interest?) Stipa arundinacea in the foreground with a glimpse of tetrapanax.
The pot-bellied pig corgi Ein seems to have found an errant morsel of kitty kibble, an important part of his daily to-do list.


More of the tetrapanax. Just visible is the creeping fig-covered southern boundary wall and glimpse of neighbor’s roof beyond.
The burgundy bromeliad nestled under a tetrapanax leaf seems airborne because it’s part of a mossed basket on a tripod whose legs are buried in that Stipa arundinacea.
A grapevine threads through the top of the pergola.

Again looking west. The agave sits in a tall wrought iron plant stand that was probably made in Tijuana.

Lepismium cruciforme coloring up nicely in the sun.

Looking east under the pergola from a photo taken in June, but it still looks pretty much the same, if a bit fuller.
The kangaroo paws, fresh in the June photo, have been thinned out as they age and topple over.
Plantings in the foreground are just in front of the back porch and along the walkway.

In front of the porch looking west to the garage. Agave ‘Blue Flame.’
Flowers of the kangaroo paws have lost their clean June outline by August.

Behind the anigozanthos can be seen the Australian mintbush, Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’

Slim, leaning trunk belongs to the tapioca, Manihot grahamii, in a large pot with Sedum confusum.
The intervals of yearly growth can be seen at the bends and angles to its trunk.
Wonder what happens if I cut it back hard next spring.

So many pots here under the pergola, a few hanging, but I never count.

The variegated grass is new to me this year, Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket,’ shown here with Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’

By August, plantings near the porch are starting to crowd the walkway that runs against the house.

Feather grass, centranthus, Sedum nussbaumeranium, Senecio anteuphorbium.

And this unnamed, Chrysanthemoides incana, a trailing, silvery succulent that spills onto the pavement in fascinating patterns.
A gift from garden designer Dustin Gimbel.

This Cotyledon orbiculata has really gained size this summer and also bulges onto the walkway.
The burgundy flowers of Lotus jacobaeus are threading through the Australian mintbush. Office/garage in background.

Euphorbia rigida is happy here as well.

White Centranthus ruber reseeds along the walkway too. I love the surge of plants at my feet, not to everyone’s taste, I know.

The walkway along the house heading west leads to a gate to the driveway or turns south into the patio in front of the garage/office.

This summer, in the border behind the agave in the beehive pot, grows canna, castor bean, ornamental corn, Helenium puberulum.
(Teucrium hircanicum bloomed here earlier, mostly bloomed out now. Very glad to have made this teucrium’s acquaintance this year. It’s already started to reseed into the brick patio.)

And Lysmachia ephemerum, a couple blooms its first year. Uncertain whether it will thrive here in zone 10. Scabiosa ochroleuca in the background.

Potted agaves on the office patio, house now in the background.

Burnished result from mistreating a potted jade plant.

It can be difficult to distinguish what’s growing in pots and what’s in the ground here, a feature of the garden in August.
Pots are for flexibility in changing things up. There are no hardiness issues with any of these plants.

This aeonium is in the ground. Though it came unnamed, by its furry leaves I’m guessing it’s A. canariense.

Swooping branches are Senecio anteuphorbium. Blue succulent is the Mexican Snowball, Echeveria elegans.

Sonchus and Agave attenuata ‘Kara’s Stripes,’ a pup from the front garden.

The pathway off the office patio ends abruptly now, but used to run east/west through the entire length of the border behind the pergola. I needed the space for more plants, and there’s still a bricked access path against the southern boundary wall to reach the compost bins.
Who needs redundant paths, anyway?

Self-sown Mirabilis jalapa ‘Limelight’ loves August


Looking west at the garage/office wall from deep in the border that curves around behind the pergola, through Persicaria amplexicaulis to the potted agaves on the small brick patio in front of the office. Slim trunk is the Caribbean Copper Plant, Euphorbia cotinifolia, a 15-foot tree here.
On hot summer days, you can hear the crackle of its seeds exploding, a sound I heard quite a bit last week.


Looking east through the persicaria at the trunks of the smoke tree ‘Grace’

As I’ve mentioned many times, this knotweed is an amazingly good perennial for zone 10, which puts it at the top of a very short list. Never complains when the border gets too dry, as it invariably does by July. Reliably returns every spring. The bees are all over it. Doesn’t get knocked down by summer rain because we never get any, which means I’d be able to grow the new Belgium varieties whose spectacularly dark flowers are so full and brushy they are considered fit only for cut flowers — if and when they finally make it to the States.

Looking east from the border behind the pergola and its grapevine.

Still in the border behind the pergola, looking west, sideritis in the foreground. This one may be Sideritis oroteneriffae.
I’m trying out quite a few of these Canary Island shrubs. From Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.
A nearby 6-foot Salvia canariensis and some other stuff was removed late July, and a barked access path was temporarily reinstalled to assist in the removal of the smoke tree ‘Grace.’ Either removal or a severe pruning.

Looking west past a yucca to the enormous girth of Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’

Which completes, more or less, the snapshot of the back garden in August 2012. I know I’ll be glad that I did this sometime in January 2013.

my favorite garden show

is the one taking place at any given moment in my own backyard.


be it ever so humble and jumbled, chaotic, disheveled, contrary, exasperating, etc, etc.


That the show blithely carries on while I’m away is always slightly infuriating.
More on a proper show, the 2012 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, later this week.

mid-week garden jaunt


There is a beloved, family-owned nursery in Pasadena that, over the past couple years, has become breathtakingly expensive. My now-20-foot Chinese fringe tree was bought here as a sapling they raised from seed. Many of my agaves were found here, long before succulents were superstars. A dazzling, crinkly, undulating, golden-leaved verbascum was found here and never seen again anywhere else after it died in my garden (Verbascum undulatum? This verbascum is close in color, but without the wavy leaves.) This nursery was in on so many garden secrets years before anyone else, for example, being the first to offer for sale many of the South African bulbs that thrive in our similar winter wet/summer dormant conditions like this veltheimia, almost in full bloom in the Huntington cactus garden.


Now their forbidding prices have the odd effect of making me feel like a millionaire when I window-shop, imagining similar price tags on the plants in my garden. Along with the high prices has come a general disorder. No longer is there any attempt to make tasty displays. I’ve often worried that the business is in decline. Just as plausible is that they’ve turned their back on the home gardener and are focusing their business on big-ticket projects like garden installations and landscaping, because there’s always a hustle and bustle of large deliveries, just not much attention paid anymore to the “retail experience.” I also theorize that they are quite possibly “flipping the bird” to big-box-store prices and those who’ve come to expect them.


I’m more intrigued than ever by this nursery and always stop by when business takes me up to the foothills, like yesterday. Perhaps I’m expecting a miraculous turnaround by this nursery to the old days. I pretty much had the place to myself yesterday, so was surprised to be crowded by one other shopper among the succulent benches. An elderly woman in a jaunty, striped T-shirt and a lovely blue-green scarf. Immediately I thought, That will be me very soon, shuffling through nursery aisles… when her sweet voice interrupted this self-absorbed reverie. She was astonished at the prices. She had been given a $25 gift certificate and thought a nice hanging basket would just do. We looked at a limp hanging geranium. $30. Her happy windfall was meaningless at these Tiffany prices. We chatted a bit further, but the whole situation made me so sad that I beat a cowardly retreat as soon as was politely possible. There had been a delivery of ‘Romagna Purple’ artichokes in 4-inch pots, at a fairly reasonable $6 each. I would grab two and then head over to the Huntington Botanical Gardens a couple miles down the street, see the gardens and the Sam Maloof/Pacific Standard Time exhibit.


Paying for the chokes, I could see my friend still shuffling in the background, checking prices, but after petting the shop dog I made a dash for the car, to get to the Huntington and home again before heavy, late-afternoon traffic.

Halfway to the car, artichoke in either hand, I turned back and ran up to my friend.

Me: See these lovely artichokes? They will have purple heads! Imagine that! Purple with these gorgeous, silvery leaves!
Friend: Oh, will they?!!
Me: Yes! This is what this nursery still does affordably well — unusual vegetables you can’t find anywhere else.
Friend: Can I put three in this pot? (indicating a 10-inch pot)
Me: No! Just one. They’re huge plants Do you like artichokes?
Friend: Yes, I do! Do they have flowers?
Me: Yes, it’s a thistle, on a long stalk. The flower is what we eat. California is one of the few places that can grow them well, so we should! It’s a magnificent thing. Do you have sun on your balcony? I’ll probably put mine in pots too.
Friend: Yes, I have some sun. Will it have lots of flowers?

We went on in that fashion for a little while longer, and she became increasingly excited about this strange beast, a purple artichoke, and bought at least one. Feeling less like a coward, I headed to the Huntington, and discovered it was a Free Thursday, the first Thursday of every month. I had no idea. To participate, reservations have to be made, which I hadn’t done, but the nice man at the parking kiosk handed me a ticket to get in.

One of the most gorgeous days I’ve spent at the HBG. Camera battery expired in the cactus garden, but the magnolias were in full bloom, as were many acacias, scenting the warm air. Of course, the aloes were in spectacular bloom too. Damage from the savage autumn windstorm was evident but cleaned up. The giant Montezuma cypresses near the rose garden were spared, though some limbs had to be cut. I was told the worst damage was to a massive stone pine which had to be removed.

Hybrid Agave ‘Blue Flame’ and Aloe vanbalenii

I’ve never seen the Huntington so crowded. Unfortunately, the Sam Maloof exhibit was closed, as was the Japanese Garden.

Kalanchoe and Aloe dolomitica

What a bargain! (Wish I could tell my friend about Free Thursdays.)


Occasional Daily Weather Report 12/3/11

Still very dry and breezy, but the violent Santa Ana winds have subsided. The Huntington Garden remains closed pending cleanup of fallen trees, and parts of Pasadena are still without power. The Los Angeles Times this morning has a photo gallery up of the aftermath of the 140 mph winds, including this:


I shut the door on the office Wednesday night and walked through a quiet garden into the house about 7 p.m. Marty followed me in a few minutes later and mentioned how windy it was. Wind? Are you kidding? What wind? A self-imposed news blackout is a common response here after an extended holiday like Thanksgiving, so I wasn’t keeping up on weather forecasts. (Will it rain or won’t it, is what I need to know.) I checked the back garden again, and sure enough, without any noticeable buildup, a strong howling wind was scrubbing the house, shaking the trees. French mystery writer Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret, played by Michael Gambon in an old BBC production, was a thorough distraction until bedtime, and I didn’t give the wind another thought until the next morning, when co-workers traded stories of sleepless nights, hysterical pets, power outages, trees fallen over parked cars, nightmare commute times due to debris in the roads. Though Ein & I slept through the night, Marty was up, pacing our creaky wooden bungalow out of habit, just as he paces the boats he’s captained through storms. He said the rattling windows and wind chimes kept him up. Too much turkey pot pie might have had something to do with it too.

All three trees in the back garden are accounted for: the tropical Euphorbia cotinifolia, summer bedding in colder climates, a brittle tree here best grown with several trunks to prevent a single trunk snapping in two, the smoke tree Cotinus ‘Grace,’ recently limbed up to reduce sail for just such windstorms, and the Chinese fringe tree, Chionanthus retusus, sheltered on the east side of the house, still holding on to most of its leaves.


Unfortunately, windstorms like this past week’s often indelibly link trees with disaster in the public’s mind. The Illinois-based website “Trees Are Good” offers some calming advice entitled “First Aid Procedures For Trees; Post-Storm Damages and Treatment.”