history of my garden, part VIII

I decided last year that I needed to break up the big border that covers most of the back garden and carve a narrow, oblique path through part of it. Nothing formal and really just an access path, curving probably not more than 10 feet in length. As I’ve mentioned frequently before, this is after all a small urban garden, really just a small patch to experiment and play with plants. And the plants I wanted to grow now and walk among in summer were tough things like nepetas, yarrows and eucomis, of just the right stature for lining a little path, with bigger plants like melianthus further back. There once was a relatively broad, bricked path that arched through the whole back garden like a terracotta crescent moon, that the boys used to pull wagons and race scooters on, but I began pulling it up, small stretches at a time, when the scooters were put away for good and I had an itch to claim more ground to grow big plants that grew head-high by late summer, so the garden would undergo dramatic, seasonal transformations, just like the rest of my life seemed to constantly undergo. Lately I’ve wanted to scale most of the back garden to knee-high or no more than thigh-high by mid-summer, punctuated by tall grasses and mediumish shrubs. It’s all very vague, isn’t it, these intimations about how we want to feel in a garden/landscape? At least for me it is. But I love to see the changes in spatial character and how the different plants relate to each other with these constantly shifting strategies.

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This new little path’s progress interests me very much. Half of it was planted with foot-tolerant dymondia as an experiment, which has performed so well that now the other half has been completed with plugs of dymondia pulled from the established plantings. A couple salvaged street grates/manhole covers serve as stepping stones.
Seedlings are coming up everywhere, including the ribs/interstices of one of the grates.

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Salvia canariensis var. candissima seeded into the dymondia, where it most certainly cannot remain, as it will eventually tower over 7 feet in height and width.

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Closeup of this salvia’s bloom from May 2011

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Geranium maderense ‘Alba’ seedlings are coming up in profusion. I potted a few up for the flea market.

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And what this geranium will look like in bloom in its second year, after which it dies off but flings its progeny in all directions.
Maturing to a rotund 5 by 5 feet, only a couple seedlings of the multitudes it sends forth can be kept.

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Just barely glimpsed in the top left of the photo with the grate is one of several Echeveria agavoides I planted along the path mid summer, now almost completely overgrown. The bright red edge brought on by the cold nights betrayed their hiding place this morning, alerting me to the need to move them soon before they’re completely engulfed and forgotten.

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Also along this little path is a crassula (is it Crassula perforata?) that has taught me something interesting. In a pot, it was constantly neglected and forgotten, and I became increasingly exasperated with it, to the point that I removed it from its pot and sat the rootball on a shallow depression in an old concrete footing. I liked the way it looked at the path’s edge and at that point didn’t care that it would soon die from such treatment, or so I assumed. The succulent surprised me by actually rooting into the concrete, and now the two are one. It survived the past summer with next-to-no water. And now I’m much more interested in this heroic performance than I ever was growing it in a pot.

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Not far from the crassula, under this blanket of Plectranthus neochilus the stump of the smoke tree ‘Grace’ quietly decomposes. The stump sent out shoots all last spring, but the plectranthus eventually smothered it entirely. ‘Grace’ turned out to be way too much tree for this tiny back garden, and I think my neighbors on either side would emphatically agree.

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A couple feet more down the path, recently planted Coprosma ‘Plum Hussy’ gets even plummier as the nights grow chillier

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All those bricks that have enabled my whims concerning changing the size and scale of hardscape over the years were recently put to use at the front of the house, on the west side, dry laid on a bed of sand to fill a wide border between the house and driveway, where I used to grow, among other things, a Magnolia liliflora ‘Nigra.’ It hated the strong western exposure and dryish soil, and protested by always looking like a white-fly-infested abomination, except for February when the those exquisite eggplant-colored goblets covered the shrub. And recently banishing plants from close proximity to the crumbling foundations has become an urgent priority, so the entire border between the driveway and house has now been bricked over. Bricks aren’t my preferred color or style for paths and patios, but they’re cheap and versatile when dry laid on sand, make a permeable surface, and are about as close to hardscape Legos as one can get. I can always do these small projects myself quickly and with minimal assistance.

I was being facetious of course with the title of this post, but after proofing it, it turns out not by much. I meant to write about just the crassula but got a bit carried away with that little path’s back story…

Geranium maderense ‘Alba’


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I wasn’t sure I’d get blooms this year. Oh, there were plenty of self-sown seedlings from the one plant I brought home after it flowered, but with biennials, those plants that bloom in their second year, I always lose track of where we are in their cycle. Fortunately, they never lose track, and if there’s space enough to grow just a few of the many seedlings this plant generates, odds are there should be one in bloom every spring. It is a blueblooded mediterranean, endemic to the island of Madeira off the north coast of Africa, famous for its namesake wine and the largest new year’s fireworks display in the world. A big shaggy brute of a plant with palmate leaves, full-grown size over 3 by 3 feet, that despite its lush, tropical appearance happily shrugs off conditions on the dry side. Hardy to 23 degrees. Typical flower color is mauve, but there is this white seed strain available. Loves having its photo taken. It has its own pinwheel charm when it explodes into bloom in spring, which seems to happen all at once as soon as the buds form, like a floral fireworks display. Like true biennials, my plants decline and die after bloom, though there are reports this geranium can behave like a perennial.


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tuesday clippings 3/26/13

Nothing too thematic, just some odds and ends.

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To prove I left the plant sale tables briefly and did a lap in the show room at the recent Orange County CSSA show, here’s a Dyckia ‘Brittle Star’ hybrid that won an award. My own big clump of dyckia is starting to throw up bloom stalks, which the snails munch like asparagus spears. The slimy gourmands ate every bloom last year, and they’re on their way to doing it again this year. Some of that biodegradable snail bait was dispensed this morning, possibly too little too late.

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In the back garden, between the poppies and the anthemis, there’s scarcely any bare soil showing and it’s not even April.
I’ve started thinning out the poppies more aggressively. Diascia personata is the not-yet-blooming swathe of green behind the Agave americana var. striata in the tall green pot.

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Starting to bloom this week, though the event could easily pass unnoticed, is the Australian mintbush, Prostranthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata,’ a shimmering, aromatic shrub of medium size. I’m keeping it pruned to approximately 4 X 4 feet. Tiny, luminous, evergreen leaves, a loose, open form with contrasting dark stems. Tolerates dry but can handle regular garden irrigation. Not a specimen plant, its attractions are subtle. It brings pattern and light, not weight, to the garden. Some might find it a little nondescript. I wish I had room for more than one. In bloom its branches become studded with tiny lilac-colored bells. Not very long-lived, this is a shrub I replant over and over.

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Leaving subtle behind, I’m so excited to see some blooms on the Canary Island Foxglove, Isoplexis canariensis. These shrubby foxglove relatives may save me the trouble of throwing more money at trialing more of the rusty-colored digitalis species like ferruginea and trojana, which have yet to make it through winter. They just melt away, leaving me scratching the soil where they were planted searching for signs of life.
Not enough rainfall maybe.

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Another look at the isoplexis, a big sturdy plant. Nothing seems to bother it, knock wood.

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Geranium maderense ‘Alba’ opened some of its pure, laundry white blooms this morning.

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The back garden viewing gallery, the bricks freshly cleaned and weeded by Marty.
I think he’s got the attention to detail necessary to win prizes at plant shows. Good thing one of us does.
I insisted he leave a few poppies that had self-sown into the bricks.
I used to keep a small table here too, until I planted that Eryngium padanifolium too close. But what a stunning plant it is.

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Around the corner on the east side of the house, the pittosporum is turning into quite the tillandsia outpost.
A neighbor brought over a basketful last week. I love it when neighbors have your number.

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The battle of the compound leaves, melianthus vs. tetrapanax. The purple wash on the melianthus’ leaves is about as strong as it gets. I think it recedes a bit in summer. What an amazingly beautiful compact selection ‘Purple Haze’ is. Fantastic improvement on the species for small gardens.


sunday clippings 12/16/12

I was skimming through the design archives of the Wall Street Journal online yesterday, a wonderful trove of good reading, and recognized the pressed leaves of Macleaya cordata, the plume poppy, used by the shoe designer Christian Louboutin to decorate the walls of his “shoe archive” in France. Mr. Louboutin was mischievously photographed here in his socks.


macleaya leaveshttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443855804577601320688414072.html?mod=slideshow_overlay_mod

The shelving in the archive is decorated with botanicals from his garden that have been pressed by a local artisan.”

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Leaves of the plume poppy in my garden


Often articles like this one, “The Collector,” are as worth reading as any written specifically for a particular branch of design, landscape or otherwise, because good designers draw from a wide array of influences.

More quotes from the article:

A constant source of ideas is his garden in the French countryside.
He learned about botany during the roaming years of his youth, when he
worked as a self-taught freelance landscaper. ‘The garden allowed me
to see colors, blends of colors and materials, juxtapositions of gloss
and matte surfaces—it was highly instructive,’ he says in Christian
Louboutin, a book celebrating his 20th anniversary, published by
Rizzoli. ‘Still today, if I close my eyes I don’t see satin combined
with velvet; I see the thickness of a pansy, which is deep purple
bordered with white, set against the texture of another plant, and
this combination gives me my colors
.'”


http://www.oasishorticulture.com.au/pansy-purple-lace/prd575

Image found here


And:

Louboutin spends spring and fall weekends and the month of August at
his home in the Vendée, puttering about in his garden—it’s become his
haven, a place his mind can wander for design ideas as he pulls weeds.
‘The magnolia leaf is like patent leather,’ he notes, ‘and it always
looks beautiful with a deep purple, like prunus purple. There are few
plants that are ugly. It’s how you use them that may not be pretty
.'”


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Patent leather sheen of magnolia, image found here


What else merits a clipping? Oh, yes, that great chair at Terrain, in case Marty checks the blog before Christmas. I wonder if they do layaway.

from Terrainhttp://www.shopterrain.com/outdoor-furniture/steel-wire-chair/productOptionIDs/bd0459cc-8958-45c4-b120-330bd8a8856a

Out in the garden, it always makes me giddy to see a plant bloom for the first time, and when it happens mid-December it threatens to surpass any excitement for presents found under the tree. This morning I noted buds on the Brazilian garlic passion fruit, Passiflora loefgrenii, which should be unwrapping themselves sometime this week.

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Passiflora loefgrenii


I get seed requests now and then, but don’t necessarily save seed every year. Currently, I don’t really have to, since the garden has built up a rich storehouse of seeds, including:

Orlaya grandiflora
Crithmum maritimum, samphire
nicotiana varietes
Erodium pelargoniflorum
Papaver species, P. setigerum being most predominant
Mirabilis jalapa, the Miracle of Peru, in the lime-green leaf variety
Geranium maderense ‘Alba’
Centranthus ruber ‘Alba’
Teucrium hiranicum
Senecio stellata
Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’
Nasturtiums
Solanum pyracantha
Mina lobata

Another favorite winter/spring pursuit is to inspect the garden each day and find the ingredients for spring popping up of their own accord, like having a full pantry ready to support the next feast without having to do the grocery shopping.


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It’s always a surprise who settles in and gets really happy in the garden. Teucrium hircanicum has been in the garden just two years, but is already popping up everywhere, including between the bricks in the pathways. The pottery shards are used as cat baffles, to prevent disturbance from digging while the seedlings are small. Note the little poppy seedlings close by.

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The first leaves of Geranium maderense are as recognizable small as they are large

I can only use a few of each kind, so once the seedlings look strong enough to survive disturbance from cats and grub-seeking possums, it becomes a matter of thinning the multitudes. Some reseed in minute amounts, and the seedlings are found unexpectedly, while absent-mindedly admiring something or other, only to notice nearby two tiny leaves pushing up from the cold brown earth. I’ve found a total of two Solanum pyracantha this way recently, but no more, so these are carefully looked for and potted up. And then there’s the exuberant procreators, like poppies and castor bean, that would prefer to have the garden just to themselves. The only self-sowers not welcomed are morning glories; the seductively dark purple variety ‘Grandpa Otts’ was planted just one season, and I’ve regretted it ever since. The seeds reputedly stay viable for 100 years. I’m told colder zones don’t have this problem with them.

I do have some fresh Mina lobata seeds right now. Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is a source for some of the self-sowers mentioned above.


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Mina lobata

Some seeds currently on sale at Thompson & Morgan.

Bloom Day February 2012

February is a very exciting month. So much to take note of, I rarely make it through a hot cup of coffee on a February morning. The anigozanthos is growing in leaps, now almost chin-high. This is ‘Yellow Gem.’

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Tulips started to bloom over the past couple days. But tulips don’t impress Evie; birds impress Evie.

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Love having the pots of tulips sited next to Sedum nussbaumerianum, now blooming too, with pearly white broccoli florets.

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The six-pack of linaria was a solid winter investment. Ditto Pelargonium echinatum for intense pink.
Not as much of a craving for pink in summer as in winter, though.

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Red-flower Russelia equisetiformis continues in bloom, though a yellow variety took the winter off.

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Lots of other odds and ends in bloom, including aeoniums, euphorbias, salvias, S. macrophylla, chiapensis, karwinskii, wagneriana. This silvery-leaved Lotus jacobaeus from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials continues to impress. Its cascading habit would be seen to great advantage draped over a retaining wall. Here it leans on an aeonium.

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For spring bulbs, snowdrops and crocuses, camellias, and who knows what else this warmish winter, check Bloom Day’s host site, Carol’s blog May Dreams Gardens, for a peek at what February brings to gardens all over the world. The new hardiness map should make this Bloom Day interesting, as more gardens are carved off into alphabetical subgroups. Over and out from zone 10b.

Bloom Day April 2011

Southern California, a mile from the ocean, zone 10, spring a couple months ahead of most of the country.

With the grasses joining the frothy euphorbias in bloom, there’s now a supercharged atmosphere that animates the garden.
I love it when plants start to inhabit planes other than just ground level and do so with very little bulk. The see-through plants. Aerial fizz.

Pennisetum spathiolatum shooting skyward amongst anigozanthos.

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Luzula sylvatica ‘Aurea,’ the golden woodrush. The bluer leaves are the Tradescantia ‘Concord Grape,’ now blooming, this photo taken a couple weeks earlier.

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Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’

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Continue reading

Do It In The Garden

The couch was occupied by a lower back temporarily refusing to face another day, so the person attached to the lower back had on the TV to ease the situation.
(Not my lower back, still capable of a good dig this spring.)
Playing on the TV was the movie from which I’m paraphrasing, Scorcese’s Mean Streets:
You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the garden…The rest is bullshit and you know it.
(The movie where I fell in love with Harvey Keitel while the whole world fell in love with DeNiro.)

Segue to Geranium maderense ‘Alba,’ still standing after enduring 50 mph winds in last weekend’s storm.

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Off to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show for a couple days.

Very murky opening sequence to Mean Streets.

Bloom Day March 2011

Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts this exciting monthly event, inspired by garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence’s urging that “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” Some days are so bleak, it seems astonishing that flowers could bloom at all, but indeed they always do. Some newer things in bloom in my garden here in Southern California, zone 10, a mile from the Pacific Ocean:

Geranium maderense ‘ Alba’ opened its first flowers this Bloom Day morning.
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Variegated Solanum rantonnetii, now pruned into a standard, to cram more plants under its skirts. Amazingly long-blooming shrub.
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Euphorbia mellifera
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Shrublike Impatiens sodenii, flowers so sugary sweet they make my teeth ache. Bit of overkill by Mother Nature.
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Anigozanthos, a good winter bloomer, with new blooms still coming for spring
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Not in full bloom yet, just this one inflorescence on Echium gentianoides ‘Tajinaste.’ I shouldn’t have moved it a month ago. Oh, well.
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Self-sown Nicotiana langsdorffii, seedlings found mostly in dry paving, where I pry them up and plant in the garden.
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Ein passing by the poppies near the porch, Papaver setigerum
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Thanks again to Carol and all the bloggers participating in this Bloom Day, whose blogs I’ll gratefully read while toggling back and forth between news reports about the crisis in Japan.

Dedicating my Bloom Day post to the good people of Japan.
(Huntington Botanical Gardens, Japanese Garden, photo from HBG site)

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