Occasional Daily Weather Report 2/11/16

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


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Aloe ‘Safari Sunrise’

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Aloe conifera

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Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’

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Euphorbia atropurpurea

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Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’

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Glaucium grandiflorum

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Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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Helleborus argutifolius

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Bocconia frutescens

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

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

counting euphorbias

Tis the season to celebrate euphorbias, since many of us will be living with or gifting/regifting one of its tribe over the next couple weeks, the poinsettia. Call me scrooge, but I’d much rather think about the ones planted in my garden than the holiday favorite with the flaming red bracts. Since first digging the garden 26 years ago, there’s always been at least a couple euphorbias around, and that will certainly be true again for 2015. I’m referring to the herbaceous and shrubby kinds, not the succulents, whose numbers are legion. This genus is ginormous, the largest genera of flowering plants in the plant kingdom, named after Euphorbus, physician to the Mauretanian King Juba II (first century B.C.), whose exploitation of its medicinal properties earned him a place in botanical nomenclature. But the white sap is notoriously toxic and the stinging enemy to the mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth, so I can’t imagine how and in what form Dr. Euphorbus delivered the medicine. Even getting the sap on the skin causes a strong reaction in some people, though I seem to have the hide of a rhino and haven’t had a problem so far. I’ve grown many of the different herbaceous kinds over the years, which generally tend to be short-lived for me. Many will seed around, whether lightly or alarmingly, and species do occasionally cross, like the famous Euphorbia x martinii, a naturally occurring hybrid between characias and amygdaloides. The euphorbias are standouts here in winter and spring for a sunny, dryish garden, and I’ve long been faithfully trying out any new kinds that come my way.

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First the euphorbs returning for 2015. There’s tree-like Euphorbia lambii fattening up after the recent rain, losing its scrawny summer looks.
This euphorbia seeds around like nobody’s business. But it’s tall, incredibly tough and tolerant of a dry summer, so it gets a pass.
Hardy down to 25 to 30 degrees.

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By February it will look more like this (February 2013)

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In bloom April 2013, illustrating a euphorbia’s attractions: smooth, blue-green leaves arranged in whorls with a shaggy chartreuse inflorescence

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Also fattening up is a young E. atropurpurea. After a wobbly first year, it’s exciting to see it settling in and appearing to choose life. From Tenerife, Canary Islands.

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Here it is at the Huntington Botanical Garden, flaunting its atypically fabulous wine-colored bracts.
I had never heard of such a euphorbia before and stood slack-jawed before it when first stumbling across this beauty.

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There was much gaping and sputtering, and then a frenzied search for my son Mitch, who was photographing barrel cactus elsewhere in the garden (see here).
I dragged him back by the sleeve to take this photo. And then I chased this euphorbia across a summer of plant shows, ultimately finding a source at Annie’s Annuals. Bless you, Annie!

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Also returning is Euphorbia rigida, just not this specific plant, which declined and withered away. A couple pieces were salvaged.
It also reseeds, but nowhere at the level of E. lambii. When I find these seedlings, they’re carefully potted up. Photo from February 2014

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spring 2012. So this plant lived at least three to four years. The clay here might have something to do with the shortened lifespan.

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Euphorbia mauritanica in the front garden, where the sun/shade shifts around quite a bit throughout the year.
These are probably leggier than they should be, but I’m hoping they’re in shape for a good bloom this spring.

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Here’s the ideal Euphorbia mauritanica, included in a design by Dustin Gimbel.

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My straggly Euphorbia ceratocarpa, appearing to have barely survived a recent move to clear out the compost area.

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Old photo from 2009 when the smoke tree ‘Grace’ ruled the garden and I continually wore that green robe through the winter.
Euphorbia ceratocarpa is on the left against the fence. Golden blur on the right was a duranta.

Unfortunately, this is the best photo I have to illustrate why I’ve carefully nurtured this one ratty-looking plant from a single cutting for the many years after the mother plant died.
There’s very little information available on this euphorbia for gardens. English plantsman John Raven grew it, and his daughter Sarah Raven has this to say:


This is one of the most open-growing and perhaps less elegant of the euphorbias, forming big, rangy clumps nearly 1.8m (6ft) across. But it is definitely a contender for the longest-flowering plant I know. I’ve had one that is yet to stop blooming outside the kitchen at Perch Hill since March 2006. It has not had a single week’s pause, and you can pick decent-sized stems right the way through the winter. I cut some for an arrangement at Christmas, when there is almost nothing of this brightness still surviving. E. ceratocarpa is also very easy to propagate. The cuttings that my parents collected all took extremely easily – even after several days wrapped up in damp loo roll in a plastic bag – and those few plants have created many thousand since. This euphorbia should certainly be more widely grown.” – source here.

Easy to propagate? Ha! I’ve had cuttings take a year to root. The only other person I’ve come across who grows it is garden designer/author Rebecca Sweet. It reminds me of a big, blowsy, lime-green hydrangea when in bloom.

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Euphorbia mellifera is another big shrub like E. lambii, but more lush. Fairly fast growing, this one was planted out from a 4-inch pot last year.
For zones 9 to 11 or container culture. Reseeds lightly here.

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And then there was the moment when the pale, variegated euphorbias entered our lives. ‘Tasmanian Tiger,’ discovered in a garden in Tasmania in 1993, was the first.
Because they turned up at the local nurseries, I grabbed a couple this fall to plant near Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ while it gains size. Short-lived plants have their uses too.

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I tend to try all the pale variegated ones. Some have proved to be stronger growers than ‘Tasmanian Tiger.’
A new one to me, at the nurseries this fall, under Native Sons label, E. characias ‘Glacier Blue’

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An old photo of a bloom truss from Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan,’ which I remember as a very robust grower.

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This non-variegated form of E. characias turned up at local nurseries too this fall.
Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl,’ so named because part of the flower structure has a “black eye.”

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An old photo of a blooming Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow,’ whose leaves have bright yellow variegation that flushes red with cool temps of fall/spring.

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From April 2011, Euphorbia mellifera almost out of frame at the upper left, ‘Ascot Rainbow’ blooming lower right.

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I’ll end with a photo of this incredibly weedy self-sower brought home years ago. Possibly Euphorbia nicaeensis.
A nuisance, yes, but the fresh color and meticulous arrangement of the leaves keeps me from weeding every last one from the garden.

Enjoy (or give to your mother) your Euphorbia pulcherrima (poinsettia) this holiday season, and as alway, mind the sap!


reprising a visit to the Huntington Desert Garden

The recent storm surprisingly coaxed a bloom from my 6-inch Euphorbia atropurpurea, whose acquaintance I first made at the Huntington in 2011. That visit prompted a frustrating summer of scouring plant sales and nurseries for this rare, ruddy-bracted Canary Islander, until Annie’s Annuals & Perennials put me out of my misery by offering it at her nursery just last year. She’s still the only source that I can name at the moment. And although the euphorbia is not currently available, it’s offered intermittently. So it does pay to keep an eye on availability which updates frequently. My image hosting site isn’t cooperating this morning, which is just as well, because now I have to rely on MB Maher’s images of the original object of my affection from May 2011. I couldn’t resist adding a few other photos from that visit too.


First, Euphorbia atropurpurea.

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The wine-colored bracts are such a surprising twist on the typical chartreuse, which are fabulous enough in their own right.
After all, it’s those blowsy chartreuse mopheads, like a hydrangea for dry soil and full sun, that first turn an ordinary, respectable person into a helpless euphorbophile.

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It’ll be a while before mine grows into a sight like this, but at least it blooms at a young age.

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Other scenes from the Huntington in May. Dyckia, golden barrel cactus, with palo verdes in bloom.

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Dyckias in bloom

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Nolina interrata

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Shimmering golden warmth.

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Quite the contrast to a grey, rainy weekend, another rarity I’m thoroughly enjoying today.


scenes from the garden 7/6/13

There’s an unspoken Upstairs/Downstairs, front garden/back garden dynamic at home, as I suspect there is with most hands-on gardens. Most of the front garden isn’t tinkered with much anymore, needs little attention, more of just keeping an eye on sizes. I rarely think to chronicle the front garden, and the dyckias bloomed this year without a single photo. But the light was especially burnished last night. Just to the right of the phormium there once grew an enormous leucadendon, something I’ve been mulling over since touring Bay Area gardens full of members of the wonderful Proteaceae family such as leucadendrons, leucospermums, banksii, proteas. There was once a large leucadendron in the back garden too. I miss them both. In the front garden the leucadendron grew much too large for its position, but in the back garden it was removed for a different reason. That reason revolves around the constant tension between the tantalizing beauty of shrubs and other big, long-term plants and wanting to retain space for the spontaneity of ephemeral self-seeders, new plant enthusiasms and acquisitions. One approach produces eventual boredom and the other always brings some regret. For now, I seem to prefer regret to boredom, but that could easily change.


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Phormium ‘Alison Blackman,’ Agaves ‘Blue Glow,’ Furcraea macdougalii, assorted sotols, aloes, dyckias, succulents. Not much work or attention is needed with the front garden. (Kind of an “empty nest” feeling here.)

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At the site where the leucadendron once grew to a size of 6X6 feet in the front garden, Echeveria agavoides and Dymondia margaretae are covering the ground on a much smaller scale and injecting some breathing room into the plantings. I did tuck in a tiny Euphorbia atropurpurea here, just brought home from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. All last summer I chased this plant locally from cactus show to cactus show after seeing it at the Huntington. I’d given up on finding it but then there it was at Annie’s, bless her exotic plant-loving heart.

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The back garden is where I change things up every year, try out new plants like this tall, sticky-leaved Cuphea viscosissima, started from seed this spring, or combine familiar plants in new ways.

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Remember that tree that toppled mid-June? This green aeonium and a couple ‘Blue Fortune’ agastaches were just moved into the vacuum.
Even aside from falling trees, the back garden is in constant flux and frequently gets churned up with new plantings.

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The small purple buds mingling with the agastaches are from Calamintha nepeta ‘Gottlieb Friedkund.’ I’ve grown calamints before, but I don’t remember them having the dark purple flower buds as on this one, Calamintha nepeta ‘Gottlieb Friedkund.’ I keep breaking off a leaf and sniffing it, expecting it to smell like a mislabeled oregano, but it’s the unmistakably minty scent of a calamint. Digging Dog is where I ordered mine last fall. I’m smitten by this one and would love a bigger swath of it.

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Eucomis have started to bloom, another plant designated for the back garden so its leaves can die back gracefully.

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Never pretend that the things you haven’t got are not worth having.” – Virginia Woolf, The Diary, Vol. 2: 1920-1924

In writing those words, Woolf was probably thinking of the children doctors advised her not to have, but I always find them useful in any situation requiring critical honesty.

I never like to pretend that things I haven’t got are not worth having. A bigger garden, for example, would be very much worth having, but I think I can hum along just fine as things stand, with very little boredom and manageable regret. Travel for me always results in turning over choices and tapping them for soundness. But coming home I’m always reminded that to have any garden at all is such an amazing gift.

Come Any Time

Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino (Pasadena), California. MB Maher and I visited on Saturday, May 28, 2011.


As I wrote here, one of the reasons we visited on Saturday was to catch some puyas in bloom.
But there’s always something more than you anticipated at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Much more. Tons more.

Puya venusta
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Photos by MB Maher bear his watermark

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