Tag Archives: Far Reaches Farm

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.

Bloom Day April 2014

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A day late for the Bloom Day report, with the above photo of the back garden taken this overcast morning and most of the closeups taken the past couple days. It’s all shockingly rumpled and disheveled already, but I still love waking up to it every morning. I’ll use this photo as a point of reference. Verbena bonariensis is already pushing 6 feet, almost as tall as the tetrapanax. The poppies were the first to bloom, followed this month by the self-sowing umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora, the little pops of white. All this blowsy madness will be over too soon, by May probably, and then we’ll be tidy and respectable again, refreshed and ready to dig in for a long, hot and very dry summer. Deep blue on the left is the fernleaf lavender Lavandula multifida, which will be a mainstay throughout summer. There’s about six clumps of this lavender throughout the back garden. (A couple days ago I bumped into an old 2012 article in The Telegraph in which designer Tom Stuart-Smith uses the words “exotic meadow” to describe some planting ideas he’s playing with, and those two words pretty much sum up the back garden this spring.)

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To the left of the tall verbena, the monocarpic umbellifer Melanoselinum decipiens is in bloom.
Since it’s supposed to make great size first, I’m guessing this is a hurried, premature bloom, hastened possibly by conditions not expressly to its liking.
Maybe it’s been too warm already.

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Scrolling back up to the first photo for reference, the orange spears in the background on the right are Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

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And furthest right, nearest the arundo, the Kniphofia thompsonii I moved from the front gravel garden last fall. An aloe that actually prefers nicer, cushier digs than the gravel garden.
I finally noticed all those suckering green shoots on the potted Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’ and removed them yesterday.

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Also in this area, near Stipa gigantea, Salvia curviflora has started to bloom, with more photobombing poppies.

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The salvia is surrounded by the leaves of summer-blooming Agastache ‘Blue Blazes’

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The little 4-inch pot of Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii’ I brought back from Far Reaches Farm is turning into a graceful shrub.
(Under the wire basket I’m protecting some newly planted corms of the Gladiolus papilio hybrid ‘Ruby,’ tall and graceful as a dierama.
There’s no current U.S. source, but Sue Mann of Priory Plants very kindly and graciously sent me a few corms.)
Towering Euphorbia lambii is in bloom in the background.

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This plectranthus is doing a great job as a stump-smotherer.
The stump of the smoke tree ‘Grace’ was still sending out shoots last year, not so much anymore.

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Second (or third?) year in the garden for the Baltic parsley, Cenolophium denudatum, so it’s quite tough as well as graceful. I think the seed came from Derry Watkins.
Who knew umbels could have such variation in color: the orlaya is the whitest umbel, the melanoselinum a pale pink, the Baltic parsley more green than white.

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Last year the pergola had draped canvas for shade, and this year Marty rigged up something more permanent.
It’s shady all day, except for late afternoon, when the sun slants in from the west, and is my favorite spot for viewing all the aerial pollinator activity on the garden.
I’ve been pulling most of the poppies from this area that was reworked last fall, which is now mostly grasses, calamint, phlomis, the Cistus ‘Snow Fire,’ isoplexis.
A big clump of kangaroo paws is just coming into bloom out of frame to the left.

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I doubt if the isoplexis lasts long in this strong western exposure. Everything else will be fine.

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Salvia pulchella x involucrata blooming into Senecio viravira

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The irises again, with the big leaves of the clary sage just behind.

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The little annual Linaria reticulata just happened to self-sow near the dark iris and the Coprosma ‘Plum Hussy.’ You just can’t make this stuff up.

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Closer to the house, looking down through the pergola, with the shrubby Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’ in the foreground.
The mint bushes are notoriously short-lived, and I’ve already got a replacement in mind, the smallish mallee Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ I brought back from Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery.

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Flash of pink at the far end of the pergola comes from a stand of pelargoniums, including this P. caffrum X ‘Diana’ from Robin Parer’s nursery Geraniaceae.

And that’s what April looks like in my tiny corner of Long Beach, California. More Bloom Day reports are collected by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

I’ve frontloaded my tumblr (under “Follow“) with lots of old photos and have been adding new ones too.

favorite plant of the week: Echeveria ‘Opal Moon’

Loree at Danger Garden has been faithfully reporting on her favorite plant in the garden every week and has asked others to join in when so inspired. So many succulents dangle or trail their blooms, but these blooms are hoisted high on the elongating thick stalks of this echeveria, making it worthy of inclusion as a favorite plant. To be honest, the mauvey color of its leaves is a color I usually avoid in succulents, and one of the reasons I rid the garden of the excellent but similarly tinted Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives.’ ‘Opal Moon’ complicates the color with some grey, some blue, a blush of caramel, but it’s mainly the fleshy size of this one that makes it such a hubba-hubba attraction.

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Echeveria ‘Opal Moon’

I brought home Loree’s favorite plant this week, Alstroemeria isabellana, from Far Reaches Farm last summer, but it vanished during my zone 10 winter. It may prefer the rainier winters of Portland, Oregon. I am nursing along one of its relatives, a bomarea, in a container that’s never allowed to dry out. Maybe I’ll be able to report on it in an upcoming “favorite plants” post, fingers crossed.

K is for kniphofia

These get moved around the garden quite a bit, one of the reasons I can never keep track of their proper names. This may possibly be Kniphofia ‘Glow,’ but I wouldn’t swear to it. Currently, this remaining clump is deep in the back, near the compost pile, an out-of-the-way place for experiments, yes, but also a last-chance proving ground for the beautiful but exasperating ones like kniphofia. For a plant, being moved ever closer to the compost pile is very much like placing a shovel at the ready near the plant in question, a not-so-veiled threat to clean up your act or risk being converted to compost. Threats aside, it’s also an open, sunny site that has the added advantage of hiding their copious leaves from view, which is the main reason they get uprooted so often. Kniphofias really do claim their fair share of garden real estate, and then some.

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But when they’re in bloom, all is forgiven.
Just look at that demure, beseeching bend to their necks. “Why, we’re nothing but beautiful and no trouble at all!”
Haven’t we all tried that line before?

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Back by the compost bin, they’ll have to duke it out with bare-knuckle streetfighters like macleaya, Arundo donax, and Japanese anemones.
Mazeltov. May the best plant win.

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But just to prove I can occasionally be nice to plants and not always the severe taskmaster, here’s a kniphofia I just gave a prime location right outside my office, Kniphofia thompsonii var. snowdenii. I moved it from the front garden which is undergoing an impromptu revision as a result of planting a tree in the midst of all the sun lovers. You’ve gotta keep plants on their toes. Nobody is allowed to get complacent around here. The tree, Acacia podalyriifolia, has taken us all by surprise by growing in leaps and bounds, necessitating some reshuffling this spring as sunny conditions turn swiftly to shade under the acacia’s rapidly expanding canopy. I really should have moved this kniphofia anyway to a site with steadier moisture. It had practically none in the front garden.

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Because here’s what a happy, mature clump looks like, photographed at Mendocino Botanical Garden 8/11. It looks quite different from my Kniphofia thompsonii var. snowdenii, but I think this is the effect of good culture and conditions it likes. And doesn’t everything look different in a botanical garden anyway, versus a small home garden where space is on a stingy budget? But there may be various forms in circulation. Confusing the issue is a kniphofia also listed as K. thomsonii, whose photo looks very similar to mine on Far Reaches Farm’s website, that I’ve also seen referred to as K. thomsonii var. thomsonii. Whatever its correct name, the blooms are more open and aloe-esque, the leaves thinner and tidier. Even in the poor conditions of the front garden, it bloomed more frequently than the garden hybrids, and the leaves stay neat and low. This one now has pride of place, sited well away from the compost bins…for now at least. Any clarification on the names thomsonii/thompsonii is most welcome.

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.

friday clippings 12/7/12

The tulips are planted, and now the vegetable bin in the fridge is once again restored to its rightful purpose of chilling vegetables. I went beyond the required six weeks of prechilling this year, but overchilling is not the problem that underchilling is. I think this year is a new record, 12 pots in total, not all of them in this photo.


Waiting for the tulips to bloom, I’m noticing how the silver-leaved plants really stand out in December when so much of the garden is a subdued brown. I’ve been binging on them again, especially since there’s so many new ones available to try, like the sideritis from the Canary Islands.
I’m getting these from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials when available.


I think this one with the larger leaf is Sideritis oroteneriffae.


Judging from its blooms over the summer, I think this is Sideritis syriaca.


Glaucium is another one whose rich, silvery leaves are so appreciated this time of year.
You can bank on silver-leaved plants being tough as well as beautiful, insisting on minimal irrigation.


I was glad to find Senecio viravira again at a plant sale last spring. I grew it in the garden for years, renewing it when needed from cuttings, then became exasperated with having to continually trim it back. It is easily capable of covering 5 feet of ground in no time. It wasn’t long before I missed growing it; of course, then I couldn’t find it anywhere. Such a good plant for containers too. Incredibly easy from cuttings.


A silver new to me, found just today, Othonna cheirifolia, a South African succulent from Native Sons.
I’ve been reading about this one for years, but sometimes in print they sound too good to be true and just have to be seen in the leaf to be believed.
In person, this little one doesn’t disappoint.

Far Reaches Farm lists it to zone 7a and say they grow it outdoors unprotected:

A favorite of ours from South Africa. We have this growing in front of our greenhouse and the first winter we mulched it and covered with a tarp. No damage. The second winter we just threw a tarp over it and no damage. Then finally we didn’t protect it at all and there was no damage at 17F – even the flower buds were unscathed. Yellow daisy flowers are lovely over the glaucous succulent foliage.”

Gertrude Jekyll admired it as well, quoted from my beat-up “Gertrude Jekyll on Gardening”:
A striking and handsome plant in the upper part of the rockery is Othonna cheirifolia; its aspect is unusual and interestig, with its bunches of thick, blunt-edged leaves of blue-grey colouring and large yellow daisy flowers.”


It’s possible to overdo silver, I suppose, but it always arrives on the most tempting leaves, like puya.


Silver sliding into blue in the attenuata hybrid Agave ‘Blue Flame.’ Sometimes the plant namers really nail it.


Backlit by Libertia peregrinans.

Speaking of agaves, Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena has a 20 percent sale ongoing, and their range of succulents is very good, including
4-inch pots of the spiral aloe, Aloe polyphylla. Best to try this heartbreaker in a small, inexpensive size.


They even had gallons of one of my big agave crushes, Agave parrasana ‘Fireball,’ which I’ve never seen offered for sale outside of plant shows.


As well as another agave crush, Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor.’
I’ll have to separate these two soon (“He’s touching me!!”)


Some of the stock at Lincoln Avenue Nursery.


I was tempted by some variegated Euphorbia ammak in small sizes, but not small enough to drive home with me.

And I suppose by now all the plant geeks have heard the sad news that the source for extraordinary agastaches and all things xeric, High Country Gardens, has closed. The wonderful blog prairie break has more on HCG’s closure.

monday clippings 9/24/12

It may technically be autumn, but the high temps and torpor of summer persist. I’m feeling a bit muzzled by the heat, but stuff is still getting done.

Agave parrasana ‘Fireball’ was moved to a larger pot this weekend.


As was Agave ‘Dragon Toes’




And this little New Zealand Tree Daisy with the big name of Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii’ was potted up too. I’ve already planted an Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ in the last available spot for a tree, so for now this olearia will have to spend a good part of its young life in a container.
Far Reaches Farm’s description reads: “Intriguing ‘Shrub Daisy’ from the South Island in New Zealand. If you’ve hankered for a willow but lament your dry conditions, then weep no more. All the grace and texture of a small willow with the bonus of small white flowers.”


The black containers are from a pottery wholesaler at the southern end of the Harbor Freeway I visited a month or so ago, and the salvaged iron stand has been kicking around here for years. Its original industrial function remains a mystery. A recent purge moved it to a discard pile in the driveway, where I rescued it once again on Saturday. There’s a constant tug between clearing useless junk out and having it on hand to play with.


The shelves are vents of some kind that I picked up at a hardware store over a year ago that looked like they’d be useful for something.
Wish I’d picked up four.


something different in an alstroemeria

The Alstromeria isabellana that I brought home from Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington, opened its first bloom in my garden in Southern California a couple days ago. Sean Hogan had pointed it out to me in a display garden at his wonderful nursery Cistus on Sauvie Island outside Portland, Oregon.


From the Pacific Bulb Society website: “A lovely species with a distribution from eastern/southern Brazil to northeastern Argentina. It has striking convergence in flower morphology with many Central/South American plants like Phaedranassa and Fuchsia elegans…Seeds planted in the fall sprouted in February. Plants go dormant in winter and return in spring.”


I’m feeling really optimistic about this one. Dancing Oaks Nursery’s description is very reassuring: “Exquisite pendulous flowers of orange, green and black on 2-3′ tall stems. Stiff narrow gray blue leaves. Slowly creates a colony.”

The emphasis on stiff leaves, medium height, and a slow-growing nature is mine, attributes I’m hoping will hold true in my zone 10 garden. My last encounter with an alstromeria, ‘The Third Harmonic,’ was a tempestuous, drama-laden affair that ended unhappily. (As unhappy as these encounters can end, as in complete eradication.) I wrote about ‘The Third Harmonic’ here and here. It’s way too soon to tell, but this A. isabellana may just be the easy-going, well-mannered alstroemeria I’ve been looking for. And who knew an alstroemeria could possess such grace, character, and that rarest of attributes often lacking in hybrids, subtlety?

bringing it home

Visiting first-rate plant nurseries necessarily involves purchasing plants, or so I’ve always believed — even if the purchaser is thousands of miles from home and has to shove the pots into an already bursting suitcase and then into the cramped overhead compartment of an airplane. Even if the nursery offers the sensible alternative of mail order. This is a long-standing, deep-seated compulsion of mine, and no trip is considered a success without some newly discovered plant settling its roots into my garden the day after I return. A gardener’s equivalent to trophy refrigerator magnets with images of the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower, I suppose. During the recent visit to the Pacific Northwest, under the mistaken impression I wouldn’t be able to fly plants back into California, I fought off this compulsion and resisted many fine plants. After being repeatedly assured that it was safe/legal to fly plants home with me, I caved on the last day, at Far Reaches Farm. We had been urged everywhere we visited that we absolutely must squeeze in a trip to Port Townsend to check out Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson’s nursery Far Reaches Farm, where rare plants abound, like this very cool, black-eyed Aster souliei in their display gardens.

Aster aff. soulieu

As luck would have it, Far Reaches Farm had stock of the fabulous Alstroemeria isabellana that Sean Hogan had pointed out to me in a display garden at his nursery Cistus earlier in the week. Meeting some plants for the first time can be like making the acquaintance of that person with whom you have an instantaneous, natural rapport, and so it was with this alstroemeria: Thick, succulent, pleated leaves and dangling, aloe-esque flowers — we were instantly best friends. It’s already throwing out a bloom stalk and, knock wood, I should have a photo in a week or so. This photo was found here, the ebay plant seller Strange Wonderful Things.


Following the timeworn, axiomatic advice “In for a penny, in for a pound,” it made sense at that point to add seven more plants into the bargain, mostly shrubby stuff like corokias and olearias but also the hardy ginger Cautleya gracilis and this ruddy form of Saxifraga stolonifera named ‘Maroon Beauty.’


The description on Far Reaches Farm’s alstroemeria plant ID tag dredged up decades-old memories of stuffing our Honda Civic with loot from Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery in Occidental, California, pots sandwiched in between an always-drooling Newfoundland, two kids, two adults, and assorted other gear:

“We got this from Maggie at Western Hills some years ago as an Alstroemeria x Bomarea hybrid called ‘Fred Meyer.’ Thanks to Martin Grantham at UC Davis, we finally have the correct name. This is a rare and surprisingly hardy species from Brazil which does great outside for us. Pink corolla with green petals and yellow throat…Average to drier. July-August. Zone 7. Sun/part sun.”

(Garden Conservancy writes about the recent change in owners of Western Hills here.) Sean Hogan, who is related to one of the new owners of Western Hills, says he has high hopes for the garden now, with much work already accomplished in clearing out the overgrowth of brambles and cataloguing the garden. What an interconnected, supportive and generous world plant nursery people inhabit.

What else did I bring home? The now unshakeable conviction that a water garden must be next on the list. The Little & Lewis garden, which is not at all a large space, seamlessly incorporates many water containers and gardens. George Little described how this water garden rimmed in baby’s tears has been in existence a mere three months, starting out life as a stock tank, which was painted on the interior a dark green to minimize the shine from the new tank, then surrounded with dry-stacked rocks filled with little pockets of soil for plants to colonize, in keeping with their naturalistic approach. And plants do colonize swiftly in the advantageous growing conditions of the Pacific Northwest! Summer-dry, Mediterranean climates like mine, whether in Southern California or Greece, the source of much of Little & Lewis’ inspiration, have long relied on water gardens to convey a sense of lushness and plenty via this most precise and controlled use of water. Their book “A Garden Gallery” also gives lots of reassuring advice on starting a water garden, as well as being a photographic journal of their celebrated first garden, which is just next-door to their current garden.

The waterlily ‘Ultraviolet’ was just beginning to bloom. We were maybe only hours too early.


(Kathy at Gardenbook has a great post on our visit to the astonishing garden of these warm, generous artists.
Anyone with even a passing interest in archaeology will immediately recognize kindred souls in George Little and David Lewis.)

Some of the best souvenirs are the memories of meeting plants I’d only read about before, like this anemonopsis at the Bellevue Botanical Garden.


Or this celmisia just about to bloom at Dunn Gardens. There wasn’t a name tag, but it couldn’t be anything but a member of the tribe of New Zealand Daisies. I don’t really have an Actor’s-Studio favorite swear word, but upon seeing a huge celmisia for the first time, an involuntary eff me escaped my lips — luckily, the docent wasn’t around.


Edited to add possible ID: Pachystegia insignis

At Linda Cochran’s renowned garden on Bainbridge Island, I discovered what a 15-year-old stand of Lobelia tupa looks like.


After years of gardening for mainly foliage effects, Linda said her interest in photography is increasingly drawing her towards flowers.


Lilies were another signature plant in bloom everywhere we visited. Regal lilies at Dunn Gardens.


Melianthus was also widely planted, seen here at Linda’s garden with potted Japanese forest grass hakonechloa.


Hostas of course were everywhere.


And brilliantly planted containers, like this one at Dunn Gardens. Acid yellow, corrugated leaves of Pelargonium ‘Golden Lemon Crispum’ against the smooth blue chalk fingers of Senecio mandraliscae. I’ve outright stolen this bit of genius, no doubt the work of curators Charles Price and Glenn Withey, and have already found the pelargonium at a local nursery. Senecio mandralsicae is too rampant here, so I’m trialing the similar but more restrained Senecio serpens.


The same pelargonium, like bolts of zig-zagging, foliar electricity, used elsewhere at Dunn Gardens.


Potted lewisia at Dunn Gardens.


More potted beauties at Dunn Gardens. No idea what these are.


Linda Cochran prefers clay pots for spiky plants, which she simply shatters when it’s time to move on to a larger pot size instead of struggling to remove the plant, risking gashes and scratches.


I also discovered that all nursery dogs are unfailingly good-natured. One of the Blue Heeler cattle dogs at Dragonfly Farms.

Dragonfly's Blue Healer

I hadn’t seen perennials grown this well since visiting England. The colors gleam and remain vibrant under overcast skies. From the display garden at Dragonfly Farms.



To everyone whose nursery and/or garden we toured, the warmest thanks for the generous gifts of your time and knowledge.