Tag Archives: Euphorbia ammak

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.

back on the home front


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It’s finally happening.

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Miraculously, after a couple close calls resulting in an almost fatal wilt, Musschia wollastonii has survived and begun to hoist up that much-anticipated chartreuse candelabra of blooms.
The Madeira Giant Bellflower must be an unforgettable sight in bloom on its native cliffs of Madeira. As with Aeonium tabuliforme, the cliff face is what’s shaped that remarkable architecture. Some claim to grow musschia mainly for the leaves, but I don’t find them wildly exciting, possibly because it’s been struggling to survive here. Musschia is monocarpic, meaning it will die after blooming. Which also means I can now die happy, having seen it bloom in my garden. But what vigilance to get to this point! In spring I parked this pot right by a hose bib on the north side of the house for its daily shower.

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Also newly in bloom and slightly offbeat, Emilia javanica ‘Irish Poet,’ the Tassel Flower.
A delicacy that couldn’t compete in a waist-high, full-throttle summer garden, but it stands out fine in mine, which is in the process of undergoing accommodation to the ongoing drought.

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Emilia may be small, but it packs a big orange punch in its ‘Irish Poet,’ form, seed from Nan Ondra.
Many years ago I grew the species, which is a darker, burnt orange bordering on red. I much prefer the electrifying orange of ‘Irish Poet.’

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These pots give a sense of its scale. Last agave on the left was just brought home from the recent Orange County succulent show.

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Agave ‘Tradewinds,’ a blue-green striped potatorum selection thought to be a seedling of ‘Kissho Kan.’

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Diminutive emilia is barely visible on the lower left, unlike the fountain of Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket’ in the distance.

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The plumes arch just where the Cussonia gamtoosensis canopy begins, a wonderful effect that’s unlikely to be duplicated next year as the cabbage tree continues to grow.
Today I watched for the first time as a sparrow landed in the baby cussonia, which to my mind makes it a real tree now.

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There’s also two big clumps of this grass fronting the lemon cypresses on the eastern boundary*

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And another clump growing amidst Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’ Both thrive on minimal supplemental water, which keeps them in trim, upright shape.

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The front of the cussonia border, which shows how Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ looks in its summer dormancy period here.
I can appreciate ‘Zwartkop’s’ skeletal form, as opposed to the giant ‘Cyclops,’ which was getting increasingly annoying in its off-season shabbiness, so it’s been pulled out of the garden to be grown in a container.
All the plants here are well adapted to low water use, except for a couple patrinia I foolishly included this year. Crambe maritima is doing really well, another plant I saw in several Portland gardens recently. Yucca, furcraea, gaillardia, adenanthos, coprosma, Pelargonium ‘Crocodile,’ anigozanthos, agastache, echium, Rekohu carex. A Beschorneria alba is in here somewhere too. Variegated St. Augustine grass is weaving through the legs of the aeonium and spilling onto the bricks. The iron pyramid was propping up a castor bean I recently pulled out.

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In ‘Cyclops’ place I decided to try agapanthus, something I’m as surprised to type as I was to purchase, having never brought one home before. This one is ‘Gold Strike,’ and it wasn’t easy to find. I wrongly assumed I’d have the pick of tender varieties in inky blues, even deep purples, all within a few miles’ radius of home. After all, they grow like weeds here. There must be a wonderful selection locally, right? And if not, there must be U.S. growers with extensive lists, right? Wrong on both counts. The best selection, of course, is found with UK nurseries. A couple years back I attended a lecture given by Dan Hinkley on what he’s up to at his new garden at Windcliff, and a good part of the presentation was on his new-found love of agapanthus. “How suburban!” I thought at the time, and “Dan’s going soft!” But as usual, Dan’s right. Mature stands are tolerant of drought, make a mid-summer garden look fresh again, and now I can’t wait to try them with Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket.’ The deepest blue to be found locally is ‘Storm Cloud,’ but I’m not done searching around for other kinds with names like ‘Purple Emperor’ and ‘Night Sky.’ Still can’t believe I’m shopping around for agapanthus, though.

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A large mint bush near the ‘Cyclops’ aeonium was showing its age, so that was given the heave-ho recently too.
Prostranthera never gets older than a few years in my garden and is well known to be short-lived.
Waiting in the wings, outgrowing its pot was Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon,’ which I intended on planting in the mint bush’s spot in the fall.
This is one of the mallee eucalyptus, which are more large shrubs than the towering giants Californians associate with eucalyptus.

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Never much inclined to wait, I called Jo O’Connell at Australian Native Plants Nursery, where I bought the eucalypt, to ask her opinion.
She said to absolutely go for it now, mid-summer, a woman after my own heart. And so it’s been planted.

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Speaking of suburban, how about some marigolds? (Now who’s going soft?)

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What an undeserving bad rap the bedding plants industry has given marigolds. The tall strains like this one, ‘Cinnabar’ from Derry Watkins, are so hot. If you don’t have a bias against orange, that is.

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And I don’t think there’s anything easier to grow from seed than marigolds.

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The grey shrub arching over the marigolds is Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii,’ brought home from Far Reaches Farm a few years ago.
(“If you’ve hankered for a willow but lament your dry conditions, then weep no more.”)
It was so cool to see this shrub growing against the greenhouse at Old Germantown Gardens in Portland recently, where it was tightly clipped in a more columnar form.
The Agave attenuata is ‘Boutin’s Blue,’ formerly ‘Huntington’s Blue,’ not quite happy in full sun. In a large pot, it’s the Goldilocks of agaves and gets moved around quite a bit.

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Marigolds in the distance, the new Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ in the foreground, handling its first summer beautifully so far.
The sideritis to its right wasn’t so lucky, inexplicably collapsing a couple days ago, about a day after this photo was taken.
Every so often around mid-summer, this mysterious soil-borne wilt process takes out a plant.
I know in my absence the garden was watered really well for a change, and that might have kicked it off.
The sideritis was one of two self-sown seedlings I found this spring, so it was a gimme anyway.
I’ve already planted a couple Cirsium occidentale in its place.
(Seeing the cirsium almost in bloom in Scott’s garden in Portland was a nice moment too.)

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The Berkheya purpurea I brought home from Cistus a few weeks ago can just be seen behind the leucadendron.
The oregano-like plant is Calamintha nepeta ‘Gottlieb Friedkund.’ Fabulous plant I’ve been spreading around the garden. From Digging Dog.

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Another annual growing fast in the heat, Hibiscus trionum, seed also from Nan Ondra.

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Rudbeckia triloba is everything I want in a summer daisy, except for its moderate thirst.
There’s a chance that if it self-sows, the progeny will be better situated for drier conditions. Slim chance, but you never know. And there’ll always be gaillardia.

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Eryngium padanifolium in its second year, reliably blooming again, a great relief.

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The ‘Limelight’ Miracle of Peru seed around, and a few are always welcome.

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A potted Lotus jacobaeus has filled out well this year, much more so than when planted directly into the garden.

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Aristolochia fimbriata scoffs at any neglect I throw its way. No surprise that it was included on the sales tables at a recent succulent show. It’s that tough.

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Crassula pruinosa, also brought home from Cistus

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The crassula was tucked in at the base of Euphorbia ammak. That golden-leaved shrub thrives in pot culture, even the careless kind I practice.

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Really brightens things up. Corokia virgata ‘Sunsplash’

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Also doing really well in a container is the Shaving Brush Tree, Pseudobombax ellipticum

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And that just about takes care of mid-summer 2014.


*I keep neglecting to mention that one of the best attributes of this excellent grass is that it is sterile and therefore noninvasive, unlike Pennisetum setaceum.

Portland Pots It Up

There’s so many reasons for plants to spend some or even all of their lives in containers.
Aside from the practical reasons — fine-tuning sunlight, better drainage, more moisture, less moisture, special soil mixes, protection from chewing and digging creatures, the ability to shuttle plants indoors where a cold winter will be inhospitable and/or deadly — all these good and sensible reasons aside, containers provide strong graphic and framing opportunities that many of us find hard to resist. And it’s not like our infatuation with pots is new — the oldest pottery found in China dates back almost 20,000 years, so I’d argue that we’re just yielding to an age-old, irresistible impulse that impels us to seek out empty vessels brimming with so much potential. The gardens of Portland we toured exploited this graphic potential like nobody’s business.


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Euphorbia ammak would not survive the Portland winter were it not for the portability of the freckled chartreuse pots in Craig Quirk & Larry Neill’s Floramagoria garden designed by Laura Crockett.
A perfect example of the gorgeous joining hands with the practical. I love this soft color that blends so well with plants. (A year or so ago I found a pot with this same glaze at Rolling Greens in Culver City.)

Continue reading Portland Pots It Up

Euphorbia ammak’s big impact

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Despite its small and underwhelming size, I finally decided to plant this euphorbia in the ground, hoping it grows faster here than in its pot.
Surprisingly, everybody seems quite impressed, including Evie, who wrapped herself around it like a snake Sunday morning.

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She seems to be enjoying her status as the last cat standing, becoming much more sociable. I think the other ones might have bullied her a bit.
We’ve always assumed her shyness was of the kind shared by all white creatures, vulnerable because of their high visibility and in constant fear of being swooped on from above.
That’s our theory anyway. I can’t attest to its biological accuracy.
If my memory can be trusted, she was named by the boys for the fox character in Pok√©mon. “Eevee” would be the technically correct spelling.

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Behind Evie is the big iron basket Reuben gifted me, which has been turned into an ottoman/table. Marty sawed off the enormous and sturdy handle, breaking only a couple blades in the process. What a sport.

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Wish I had three more. Nestled under the wings of a beschorneria, Agave ‘Little Shark,’ also going by ‘Royal Spine,’ was planted here earlier in the year.

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As long as she doesn’t lay on top of Aloe capitata var. quartzicola, Evie’s welcome to share this little succulent garden.

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The aloe comes armed as well, so I don’t think there’s any real worry.

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Agave ‘Cornelius’ is also making good size here and capable of defending itself against loungers and diggers.

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I’d love some towering columns of this euphorbia from Saudi Arabia. I wouldn’t refuse some towering Euphorbia ingens ‘Variegata’ either.
I fantasize about knocking on doors and making offers whenever I see mature specimens of these two around town.
Evie can cozy up to E. ammak all she wants, as long as she doesn’t use it as a scratching post.


driveby agave garden revisited

I’ve been thinking of Jud’s garden. Did the recent unseasonal heat waves bruise any agaves? I didn’t memorize the address, so it took a while to find again, which seems to be a recurring theme with this garden. Was it on Colorado or Fourth Street? East or west of Termino? After about a half hour’s meandering, suddenly there it was again, rising up out of the suburbs like a desert oasis mirage.

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It certainly holds its corner like no other house I know.

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The driveby view is splendid enough, but seeing it on foot is the only way to appreciate the multiple shifting perspectives of rosettes and spikes.

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I’ve never seen Sticks on Fire as tall and narrow as cypresses. I wonder if they had to be pruned into these columnar shapes.

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The agaves were indeed left unblemished by the 100-degree temps.

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I’ll post a few more detailed photos of Jud’s garden this week.

suitcase plants

Any plant is potentially a suitcase plant as far as I’m concerned, but these agaves and the Euphorbia ammak would present especially prickly challenges. Though I suppose, like anything, where there’s a will, there’s a way. But TSA might be especially touchy about barbed, armed plants, and who knows what Euphorbia ammak might look like on an airport X-ray machine. The suitcase plant I’m talking about is the soft, peachy haze directly behind the potted agaves.


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The misery that is modern, economy-fare air travel still has one very persuasive advantage. And for me that is squeezing in a few plants amongst the dirty laundry at the end of a vacation. (And it’s perfectly legal: see article here.) Within hours after touching down on your local runway, suitcase plants can be unpacking their roots in your garden soil, even while you’re still clearing and popping your eardrums. For me this really brings home the marvels (and somewhat cancels out the indignities) of the Jet Age.

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Agastache ‘Summer Glow,’ purchased at a nursery on Long Island, New York, a few weeks ago, first seen at wholesaler Terra Nova’s display garden the previous year in the Pacific Northwest, now in bloom in my garden. Thank you, Jet Age. For some unknown reason, Terra Nova’s plants are rarely offered locally. Sharing cramped quarters with the agastache were a Plectranthus ‘Emerald Lace,’ Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess,’ and a couple begonias. Long Island grows the most amazing begonias, greenhouse after greenhouse of them.

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Begonias in the conservatory at Planting Fields.

All the plants stoically handled a few extra hours in the suitcase when it missed being loaded onto my plane and arrived a few hours after me. I chose to wait at the airport for the errant luggage, so Marty and I whittled down the hours having breakfast at the cafeteria on the bottom floor of the Encounter, LAX’s iconic George Jetsonish restaurant, until I was reunited with my little stowaways.

Long Island’s many, many nurseries were as seductive as any here in Southern California. All throughout the trip we puzzled over how this small spit of land could support so many upscale nurseries. As one tempting nursery after another whizzed by through the car windows, we cattily speculated whether they support enthusiastic, hands-on gardeners or the garden staff of summer homes. For the nurseries themselves, such distinctions are meaningless.


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Regiments of enormous, burlapped trees at Long Island nurseries, tens of thousands of dollars in inventory. The rope work was enthralling.

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Many of these nurseries were destinations in and of themselves.

To give my suitcase plants the best possible survival chances, I slipped them from their containers, swaddled them in sheets of newspaper (freely available in hotel lobbies), wrapped the bottoms in plastic bags I collected during the trip for this express purpose, and zipped them all up in a cheap, plastic blanket bag that the hotel provided. There was no soil spillage, no dampness issues. I always find bringing home a few plants does help even the score, if only psychologically, where economy air travel is concerned.

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.

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…”


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Continue reading driveby agave garden

More GC Open Days/Pasadena

More on the Pasadena gardens on the Garden Conservancy Open Days, April 25, 2010.

This was my first tour of Pasadena gardens. I knew the gardens would be large, stately, formal. What I wasn’t prepared for was their scale. The six we saw were truly estate gardens in every sense of the word. Seeing the vernacular elements of garden design on this massive scale can be disorienting; coming home later to my little garden, it felt like I was looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope. It took a couple days before the fun-house mirror effect wore off and my garden looked normal again and not so…well, so squished.

Sally and Harlan Bixby Garden. Spanish Revival architecture, 1922. One-acre garden redesigned in 1990’s by Owen Peterson/Bob Erickson.

Immediately I sensed a languor to human movement through such large spaces. You slow down, amble, drift along.


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To admire intimate details of inlaid tiles adorning doorways and arches.

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And a juggernaut of Euphorbia ammak jutting up well past the roof.
The Huntington curated this desert garden, accessed through a side gate off the main pool/pergola area.

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The wisteria on the pergolas had already bloomed, but more scented plants were arrayed in large pots around the pool, including brugmansias, roses, and plumeria. I sat down on the pool’s retaining wall covered in Delft tiles to take in the opposite matching pergolas and the flight of steps flanked in enormous Aloe plicatus leading up to the house.

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Pleasure grounds in every sense, sybaritic, Gatsby-esque.

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All photos by MB Maher.