Tag Archives: Echinocactus grusonii

a succulent garden in February

On the way to picking up a family member’s weekly box at the CSA Growing Experience in North Long Beach last week, I took the opportunity to drive slowly through the surrounding neighborhood of mostly Spanish-style homes. It was drizzling again, still a charming novelty after years of drought. Because of that drought, there’s very little front lawn left in these neighborhoods, and what’s filling the turf vacuum are all sorts of interesting mashups. I was ready to head for the main thoroughfare again, when I caught a peripheral flare of orange as high as a street parking sign. Could it be? Several K-turns and U-turns later, I found this gem of a garden:

 photo 1-_MG_4824.jpg

That promising orange flare was everything I hoped for. If this is Aloe marlothii, it’s the biggest one I’ve seen outside of a botanical garden.
Amidst all the post-drought, lawn-replacing, tentative start-up front gardens, here’s a garden planted long ago and simply for a love of these plants.

 photo 1-_MG_4828.jpg

Could the shaggy-headed aloe on the left be ‘Goliath’? (A tree aloe notorious for growing more leaves than the trunk can support and therefore prone to toppling over.)
Whatever its name, it’s a magnificent specimen, with no underplanting to obscure the trunks.

 photo 1-_MG_4827.jpg

Here’s a better view of that tree aloe. The experts say to grow them lean, and you’ll have a better chance of keeping them upright.

 photo 1-_MG_4820.jpg

I assumed the other trees were palo verdes, but under these overcast skies it’s hard to tell.
The architectural massing of plants builds closest to the house and lessens at the sidewalk.
With strategic positioning of plants, the house is both screened and open to the neighborhood.

 photo 1-_MG_4826.jpg

After all this rain, the d.g. still meets the sidewalk in a disciplined line. It was obviously laid down properly, with a good base, then compacted with a roller.
Having the planting on a deep setback from the sidewalk is a neighborly gesture to reassure the spiky plant phobic.

 photo 1-_MG_4830.jpg

I wonder how much editing was done before this vision emerged.
This garden struck me as the antithesis of most succulent gardens —
which focus mainly on understory, ground-cover planting that builds tapestries out of all the amazing shapes and leaf colors succulents offer.
Here the huge specimens dominate, surging skyward from an austere base of decomposed granite. A very clean, dramatic effect.

 photo 1-_MG_4817.jpg

A great example of the range of moods and styles possible when planting with succulents.

 photo 1-_MG_4821.jpg


roll out the barrel(s)

I know spiky agaves in the garden make some people nervous, but lovers of architectural plants for the dry garden can get into a lot more trouble than an agave.
The golden barrel cactus has recently gotten under my skin, figuratively speaking only, thank goodness.
Echinocactus grusonii holds the dubious distinction of being one of the most familiar yet endangered cactus planted around Southern California.
Illegal collecting and the building of the Zimapan Dam and reservoir in its native Hidalgo, Mexico, haven’t helped matters.
Indeed, Jim Folsom, Director of the Huntington Botanical Garden, believes it is probably no longer to be found in the wild.


Photobucket

Golden barrel cactus at the Ruth Bancroft Garden


Regrettably, I have only one golden barrel cactus to roll out, to test its light-splintering qualities this fall, now that light and wind have replaced heat as the big news in the garden.
I plug pots of agaves into the garden all the time as the seasons (or my itchy digging fingers) open up space for their big sculptural rosettes.
But this is a first for me, temporarily moving a potted barrel cactus into the garden, and that’s for a couple reasons.
In my experience, barrel cactus are rarely used as specimens and are almost always planted in groups. Would just one look silly?
And, secondly, Echinocactus grusonii deals with any absent-minded mishandling quickly and savagely, inflicting a “dirty wound,” prone to infection.
So why risk it, you say?

 photo 1-P1019370.jpg

The key word is “golden.” It has a wonderful solidity, but all those golden spines arrayed like hundreds of tiny propellors impart a surprising lightness too.
Doesn’t that silver pot make it look like a prickly loaf of rising bread?
Placement of cactus in the landscape does bring up valid concerns for pets and children. My little experiment is in a spot safe from wandering corgi paws.

 photo P1015988.jpg

As far as planting as a specimen versus in groups, I’m still undecided.
Here golden barrel cactus is a specimen with fiery red Crassula pubescens ssp. radicans. I am so not ashamed of wanting to steal this idea.

Photobucket

With dyckias and Echeveria agavoides at the Huntington’s Desert Garden

Photobucket

The same area stepping further back, when the Palo Verdes were in bloom, photo by Mitch.

Photobucket

A group of barrel cactus with the whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) at the Sherman Gardens

 photo _MG_5467.jpg

A small group as an accent in a complex planting at the Jardin Majorelle in Morocco, photo by Mitch Maher.

 photo 1-_MG_1852.jpg

With Dragon Trees at Lotusland.

This cactus grows readily from seed, maturing to flowering size in roughly 15 years.
The Getty in particular has a spectacular mass planting of this cactus.

driveby agave garden

I have the Long Beach Marathon to thank for finding this garden.
No, I didn’t run the marathon, more like actively avoided it. The marathon barricades cut off much of my end of Long Beach on October 6, so trying to get a few errands done was a circuitous challenge. I ended up in neighborhoods I don’t often see, such as the one where this front garden fills a corner lot. I vowed to return. Last night, 13 days later, I found it again, even though I had misremembered the street name.
Who needs street names with a garden like this? I bet locals use it for reference: “Hang a right at Little Lotusland…”


Photobucket

Continue reading driveby agave garden

Sherman Gardens & Library

I took the day off yesterday to check out some local nurseries for dahlias and eucomis in flower.
(All my eucomis were bought as bulbs, some with leaves purportedly of varieties as dark or darker than ‘Oakhurst,’ but all instead carry leaves of the brightest green.) One of the nurseries was minutes away from the Sherman Library & Gardens, so I popped in for my first visit ever to this gem of a garden tucked into the busy shops and restaurants of Corona del Mar, just off Pacific Coast Highway within sight of the Pacific Ocean. A courtyard garden had been famously redesigned by Matthew V. Maggio in 2005-2006 during his internship there as a horticultural student. Prior to the renovation, the courtyard garden had been known as the Cactus Garden and included the requisite cactus kitsch, sun-bleached steer skulls and splintered wagon wheels, which Matthew felt more rightly belonged on a Hollywood movie set than a garden. Macabre ornaments such as these, depicting death and decay, mischaracterize and obscure the true story of ingenious survival written in every succulent. In an article Matthew wrote on the making of this garden for Pacific Horticulture (Volume 71, No. 4, Oct/Nov/Dec 2010), he shares his goals to “shatter conventional views about succulent plants, engender lasting excitement over succulents, inspire design creativity,” and in the new garden each of those goals is met and surpassed. All quotes are from this article.


Photobucket

Continue reading Sherman Gardens & Library