Tag Archives: Flora Grubb Gardens

the case of the disappearing hebes

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I was in San Francisco recently for several days cat-sitting a charming fraidycat in the Mission district named Banksy.
It was during this trip that I solved the case of the disappearing hebes, those lovely little shrubs from New Zealand.
Because I just can’t seem to acquire a photojournaling habit of anything but plants, I’m borrowing some of Jessica’s wonderfully expressive photos to fill in the cast of characters.

photo from Thread and Bones

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photo from Thread and Bones

This hallway was definitely a character on the trip. Since this photo was taken a couple years ago, it has been covered, and I mean every inch of it, with throw rugs.
Because of the rugs, the apartment has taken on the personality of 221B Baker Street.
Also because of the rugs, the downstairs neighbors were spared the deafening knowledge that a corgi had taken up temporary residence and was delighting in thundering up and down that hallway.
After a quick visit with Mitch and Jessica the night before they left for some lengthy photo work, we had the “railroad” apartment to ourselves for five days.
Banksy pretty much kept to his room, the middle bedroom, and we had the front, streetside bedroom.

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So it was the four of us, me, Marty, Ein, and Banksy, and that long hallway, where the curtain billows all day just as in the photo.
Ein emptied out the kibble from the cat bowl only twice, showing amazing self-restraint…for a corgi.

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photo from Thread and Bones

Banksy and Ein, while not exactly enemies, didn’t become best friends either.

We were thrilled to be leaving the stifling heat in Los Angeles for the legendary cool summer environs of San Francisco.
Surprising both us and the mostly non-air-conditioned residents of San Francisco, the heat was stifling there as well. The Mission hit 100 degrees the day we arrived.

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While in the city, of course, there was the ritual trip to Flora Grubb Gardens

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and the required visit to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, timed nicely with fall planting.

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I also horned in on a tour of the Reid garden near Sebastopol via my very nice contact at the American Conifer Society, Sara Malone, whose own fabulous garden at Circle Oak Ranch was also on the tour.
Unfortunately, I only had time for the early morning visit to the Reid garden and had to get the car back to the city.

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Glimpse of a mature leucadendron on the upper left. I think the garden is likely in zone 9.
Penstemons, zauschnerias/epilobiums, ceratostigma and salvias were in bloom, with some roses having a late-summer flush.

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The garden has incredible atmosphere and spatial presence built up over decades of deeply informed selection and placement of beautifully appropriate plants.

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The Reid garden is not at all conifer-centric, but a wonderful mix of dry-adapted trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials.

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I believe the rose on the arbor behind the potted agave is ‘Mme Alfred Carriere,’ a creamy, very fragrant climbing noisette.

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The blue pool on the lower left is Crambe maritima. Mine have done remarkably well all summer on restricted irrigation.

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I’ve wanted to see this garden since learning of it through Pacific Horticulture.

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Back to the case of the disappearing hebes. I confess I hadn’t thought about hebes in years and hadn’t even noted their disappearance from SoCal.

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Along with traipsing through spectacular gardens, there were mundane chores to do in the city as well, like laundry.
Needing the services of a Laundromat and finding the one familiar to us in the Mission shuttered, we headed to the Marina district.
Which is where I found this majestic stand of Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’
I dropped off Marty and Ein at a nearby Laundromat and promised to bring back food. But first I needed to examine these enormous clumps of salvia.
They were admirably dense and uniform in habit, unlike the rangy specimens I grow. This planting is at the George Moscone Recreation Center.

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The shrubs surrounding the salvias were just as remarkable. Hebes! Beautiful New Zealanders. I haven’t seen hebes for ages.

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Ruddy coprosmas with pale, variegated hebes.

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There used to be hebes in Southern California. Where had they all gone? Is changing fashion ruthless enough to cause complete eradication?
Possibly, but even more ruthless is Fusarium oxysporum v. hebei. From the Monterey Bay Nursery website:

[F]ormerly important stalwarts in California landscaping, but now essentially extirpated due to the introduction of Fusarium oxysporum v. hebei. This disease persists in soils and nursery beds for years, and induces systemic, incurable stem infections which ravage landscapes and commercial crops. By the early 1990’s hebes had essentially left the commercial trade in California.”

Rather than choosing for flowers, my favorites have always been “those with tight, dense, box-like foliage in grey or green, and the whipcord types with minute, scale like leaves and stringy branches…
Some of the smaller leaved types can be more resistant, may be tested in the ground, but don’t come crying to us if they die. You have been forewarned

I have no idea what chances for longevity the hebes at the Moscone Rec Center have, but they appear for now to be in robust good health.
I personally have no problem with short-lived plants, say three to five years. I love the changeover. But public landscapes are on different timetables.

Upon returning home, awaiting me was the July issue of Gardens Illustrated with, of all things, an article on hebes by Noel Kingsbury.
Famous for championing the “new naturalism,” comprised of perennials and grasses, Mr. Kingsbury struck me as an unlikely proponent of these tidy shrubs, but the man knows his hebes.
He describes the changing fortunes of hebes as falling in and out of favor relative to garden styles, whereas in California the reason for their disappearance is not mercurial tastes but insidious pathogens.


Hebe ‘Quicksilver,’ photo from 2010

The next time I find a Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ at a nursery, I’ll know its chances for survival face much better odds in a container than in the garden.

repotting Cussonia spicata

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Cussonia spicata, June 2014. Cussonias are also known as Cabbage Trees, all from South Africa, and I want every one I’ve ever seen. In my zone 10 they can be grown outdoors, where they will fulfill their ultimate destiny as medium-sized trees. But they’re well-known rock stars for containers, in which they can live long, relatively happy lives.

(Caveat: in a big enough pot.)

On one of my early morning garden prowls in late April I discovered that the Cussonia spicata had exploded its pot. It was kind of thrilling, actually. I’ve never had a plant do this before, not even an agave. Not even an Agave americana.

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Here’s the cussonia still appearing meek and content in its pot June 2014, no hint of its future explosive tendencies. I had originally located the container in dappled shade on the east side of the house, where I should have let it remain. I didn’t realize how badly it needed some shade until I saw it for sale recently looking almost tropical, much more lush and green than mine.

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But I just loved it in this particular spot, which unfortunately is full sun, so I made the cussonia just deal with it. (Not much stands still for long here. For instance, that Agave americana var. striata on the right has been moved elsewhere this spring.)

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You can see the rupture, the dark shadow on the right. Oh, well, nothing to do now but go container shopping. Which reads rather dry and mundane but is actually one of the happiest sentences in the English language. And, coincidentally, end of April is awfully close to Mother’s Day and not that far removed from my early April birthday. Prime season for presents to self. For once, I was going to buy whatever container spoke to me, money be damned. (OK, I was ready to blow maybe $100.) And it is very weird how the crude cost of it all keeps coming up with this particular cussonia. See post here.

I searched around locally, but nothing really spoke to me, and the matter was shelved until after a brief trip to San Francisco. Oh, wait. Isn’t that where Flora Grubb keeps her nursery with its amazing plants and containers?

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Yes, she does. And there it was, a lightweight concrete fabrication. The search was over. By the time we got home, a big slab of the original pot had calved off like an iceberg. It was as simple as peeling a banana to remove the remaining pieces, the easiest repotting job I’ve ever done.

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And with all the moving and shuffling going on here, lightweight seems like a sensible idea. (That westringia in the background has been moved this month too. Euphorbia mellifera needed its spot.)

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I did eventually relent and moved the cussonia back to the shadier east side in its new lightweight pot.

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I don’t like the way the trunk of the fringe tree fights with its silhouette, but since repotting and moving back to dappled shade, it seems happy once again. Hopefully, any explosive tendencies will be suppressed for another few years.

For anyone in Northern California, it was at Flora Grubb’s where I saw the fat and happy Cussonia spicata, about the size of mine but without the leaf-tip burn.

And I found this video by the RHS on repotting plants, which covers the whys and wherefores.

notes on some spring plant sales

Is that a water pistol in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

I’ve been hearing from friends in the retail nursery business that the new water restrictions have them very worried. Indeed, I’ve been told retail sales for April were most discouraging.
Yet botanical garden plant sales this spring, which understandably bring out the most avid plant lovers, have been mobbed.
Undaunted, unbowed, we’re still in search of a new plant love, just like every spring before this momentous one, but keeping a closer eye on our latest infatuation’s potential drinking problem.
(At Fullerton Arboretum’s outdoor Green Scene, this year’s darling was Pimelia ferruginea, helpfully in full bloom. It seemed to be in everyone’s cart.)

But since the announcement, the confusion and dismay of the lawn-and-foundation-shrub crowd is palpable. There’s even panicked talk of deploying Astroturf.
A simple, reasonably easy-to-maintain, preferably inexpensive solution to the space between the sidewalk and front door is wanted now.
Local nurseries have a huge opportunity to lead the masses into a dry garden oasis, possibly by more focus on small display gardens instead of benches and benches of summer “color.”

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Now, this is a plant sale. San Francisco Botanical Garden plant sale 5/2/15. Shopping carts!

Along with Fullerton Arboretum’s Green Scene, I’ve attended the Huntington and the San Francisco Botanical Garden sales.
These photos are all from SF, a plant sale I’d never attended before. Was it worth the 6-hour drive? Absolutely, every minute of it.
(Plus, I got to stop in and give Mitch a hug for his birthday later in the week.)

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Prices were unbelievably low, the selection much more rarified than the plant sales in SoCal.
I lingered long and hard at the proteaceae table. That’s Grevillea juniperina ‘Molonglo’ in the foreground.

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Here was the Leucadendron argenteum I’ve been waiting for, but ultimately I passed. It’s a big beast.
I took a chance instead on a Protea neriifolia, which probably won’t get very big in my garden, if you take my meaning…

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A book table was a nice touch, but I didn’t spend too much time here (any!). The variety of plants was way too distracting.

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Some desirables were sitting not on sales tables anymore but in somebody else’s cart, like this bomarea. In somebody’s unattended cart.
That moral dilemma might be too much for some attendees. Fortunately, I was forearmed with the knowledge that life in Los Angeles for bomareas is a struggle for survival.
After a couple years, mine is still alive, but just barely. Sometimes it’s so hard to distinguish that fine line between still getting established and fading away entirely.

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Oh, there was plenty of juicy looking stuff, like Mukdenia rossii. Walk away, just walk away.

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Now we’re talking. There was a huge California native section too.

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Lemony flutterby poppies.

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And a big succulent selection, of course.. I think the only area SoCal has SF beat is in agaves. Not a big selection in SF.
But then that’s what the Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sales are for. I wish there had been time to stop by this trip, but there just wasn’t.

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I’ve been thinking of lavenders a lot too. Absolutely nowhere to put them at the moment.

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Plant sale haul at home. Protea neriifolia, Leucadendron laxum, Plectranthus zuluensis. The white dierama in bloom was too cheap to pass up.
(But I do apologize in advance for moving you to my garden, the renowned graveyard of dieramas.)
The dierama was planted near Eryngium pandanifolium and Rudbeckia maxima, both of which wouldn’t mind it moist but tolerate drier conditions when established.
(Rudbeckia maxima was found at the Green Scene plant sale.
I spotted the rudbeckia’s big silvery paddle leaves at a display garden at Fullerton Arboretum and tracked it down to their store, The Potting Shed.)

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And this marvelous creature came home from SF, too, a species watsonia.

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I’ve grown the garden hybrids of this South African bulb off and on, which bulk up fast and get bigger than phormiums.
I got a bit bored with the pink and white selections of those. This one’s color reminds me of Nerine sarniensis.

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With a pronounced seductive red flush on the stems and leaves.

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Coincidentally, I bumped into a Protea neriifolia in bloom that weekend at Flora Grubb Gardens.
FGG is where I found my Mother’s Day present, a new container for my Cussonia spicata, which literally busted through the old one.

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And a happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers of invention, gardens, kids and/or animals. May you find a new pot for your growing cussonia!
The skies have turned cloudy and, believe it or not, slightly rainy, so I’ve turned my attention to getting the vegetable garden sorted out, beans planted, tomatoes tied up, etc.

rhipsalis in the Bay Area

I was up in the Bay Area for two days, helping to launch a vegetable garden, which was just enough time to squeeze in a couple brief plant shopping forays at Flora Grubb Gardens and Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. At both nurseries I found rhipsalis, that filmy epiphytic cactus that was born to spill from hanging pots under my shady pergola. Unknowingly, I bought Rhipsalis burchellii from both nurseries, which is fine with me since rhipsalis has been generally not easy to find.

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Rhipsalis burchellii

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Both burchelliis were planted into this low bowl to bulk up to a substantial, hangable size.

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Flora Grubb’s also had a rhipsalis with a slightly chunkier leaf, Rhipsalis sulcata, bottom rung on the left.
Top rung, on the right, Colocasia esculenta ‘Lime Fizzy’ was found at Flora Grubb’s. Stumbling on desirable plants in small, inexpensive sizes is my kind of plant lottery.
Bottom rung, on the right, Sedum x adolphii ‘Golden Sedum’ was from Annie’s. There was an aureate, pulsating glow emanating from the table holding pots of this succulent.
Another lime-green/gold succulent, top rung on the left, Sedum treleasi, was also found at Annie’s, and about a half dozen other things I’ve been planting all morning.
More soon on them, but just wanted to give a head’s up on the rhipsalis.

(get ’em while they’re hot)

Sean Hogan at Flora Grubb Gardens

On Sunday, July 17, 2011, Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery, Portland, Oregon, gave a talk at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco, California, entitled “The Art of the Rosette.” I’ve visited Cistus Nursery twice, so I know first-hand that it’s every inch a horticultural destination, in the same league as such legendary West Coast nurseries past as Heronswood and Western Hills. To have Sean Hogan so frustratingly close, a mere 300 miles away, proselytizing about succulents and agaves, one of my favorite subjects, was maddening. Over the last couple weeks I wheedled, cajoled, and outright begged MB Maher, also in San Francisco, to attend the lecture, maybe take a few notes and grab a couple photos. Which, despite a busy weekend schedule, he kindly did.


Sean organized the talk around some fabulous rosettes:
Bromeliads, aloes, manfredas, eucomis, yuccas, and some of the smaller agaves.

Bromeliads discussed were terrestrial, such as puyas, and it was while on the subject of puyas that Sean acknowledged the masochism required to grow these spiny plants, even speculating they may have carnivore tendencies, since small rodents have been known to become impaled and trapped on their thorns. Hechtia texensis, a hardier terrestrial bromeliad similar to a dyckia from Texas/Mexico, was also given special mention.

I’m linking to photos from that excellent resource, the Plantlust site, which lists many of the Cistus plants discussed, such as Tradescantia sillamontana from the limestone mountains of Northern Mexico, where its cobwebby leaves mimic and disappear against the limestone formations. An admitted “opuntia freak,” Sean singled out for discussion Opuntia fragilis, native to a range stretching from Arizona up to Oregon and beyond, to the Peace River in Northern Alberta, Canada, as it happens also the former range of the North American buffalo, who unwittingly propagated this shy-flowering opuntia through pads hitching a ride in the beast’s shaggy coat. (I hope I’m keeping the notes straight on that anecdote. Perhaps a bit of MB Maher’s poetic license strayed in?)


The diminutive aloe hybrid ‘Brass Hat’ was singled out as particularly fine for container culture. Also cited for fabulous rosettes were the manfredas and their complicated hybrid spawn like ‘Spot’ and Mangave undulata ‘Chocolate Chips.’ Below is my photo of my Mangave ‘Bloodspot.’ Such wonderful studies in rosette architecture.


Eucomis, the pineapple lily, are to be appreciated for their tolerance of poor drainage. Their fast-growing, strappy leaves and dramatic summer flowers can enliven relatively static succulent plantings. I agree that they’re fabulous summer bulbs, in the ground or in containers. Sean feels yuccas are underused, underappreciated, and includes Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ in his top ten list of favorite plants, a spherical beauty hardy to zone 7 with almost a grassy texture. Also mentioned were Yucca nana, named just 12 years ago, from western Utah, hardy to zone 5, planted to good effect rising up out of iceplants and echeverias, as well as Yucca angustissima ‘Southside.’ A green roof project in Portland, Oregon included in its design 300 Yucca rostrata to add summer interest and structure, since vernal plants also used were summer-dormant. One-half inch of water three times during summer is all it takes to keep the yucca flourishing.


As far as agaves, there are lots of size options, since a vigorous agave poorly sited is a terrifying thing. The americanas can grow larger than a VW bug. Sean showcased some of the choice, smaller agaves, such as Agave schidigera ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Shira ito no Ohi.’

Below is my photo of another schidigera selection I’ve had at home a couple years, ‘Durango Delight,’ about 4 inches high. (Edited to correct ID. This is indeed ‘Black Widow.’)


He did stress, however, to include varying sizes and heights of agaves in the landscape, and not to be afraid of including the occasional large specimen.
Sean also emphasized that succulents are like goldfish, in that they will adapt to the size of their container, staying small when confined.


Apart from being unable to bring home an Agave funkiana ‘Fatal Attraction,’ I almost feel like I was there.
Huge thanks to MB Maher, for covering this wonderful lecture by Sean Hogan and to Flora Grubb Gardens for hosting such an exciting horticultural event.