Tag Archives: Hymenolepis parviflora

small garden, tough choices

I reckon there are 5 seasons.
There’s an early spring, which I call Sprinter…a Sprummer which comes after that for 2 month…There’s a long summer…a short autumn, a short winter – both just two months long, and then you’re back at Sprinter
.”

Tim Entwisie, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, Australia.

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Succulents and evergreen shrubs are mainstays year-round. Summer bloom 2015 from isoplexis, agapanthus, anigozanthos, verbascum, the annual Orlaya grandiflora.

Small garden, tough choices. Is the plan geared toward winter, spring, summer and/or fall? All of the above?
Add a collecting habit into the mix, in a summer-dry climate that blurs traditional seasonal boundaries, and it gets even more complicated.
I probably write more about my collector mania side, but believe it or not, there is a side that tries to stay mindful of the garden as a whole, with varying success year to year.
And, locally, as front lawns are changed out from lawn to garden, there’s sure to be a lot more minds focused on similar design issues for small spaces.

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‘Blue Glow’ agaves and Brachysema praemorsum in the front garden. Not much happening for summer here.

My succulent-filled front garden gets minimal dry season irrigation, so most of the experimenting takes place in the back garden.

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Courtesy of the collecting side of my brain, a NOID hechtia, a terrestrial bromeliad from Mexico

The back garden is smaller than a lot of living rooms and, to be honest, just can’t support all my ambitions for it. There have to be some compromises.
The answer to where to put the planting emphasis, whether on the “Sprinter,” the “Sprummer,” (to use Mr. Entwisie’s terminology) or the long, dry summer, changes all the time.
For me spring is simple (poppies) and by fall conditions are much too dry to expect anything grand happening in the garden. Besides, that’s when the grasses shine.
In the past I gave more ground to summer, with a higher concentration of perennials and annuals, but that can be a more water-intensive approach, and it does takes ground from the winter garden.

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The newest planting in the back garden is this section under the Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea,’ after the Arundo donax ‘Golden Chain’ was pulled out last fall.
A Leucodendron ‘Safari Goldstrike’ is making good size behind the cordyline. There are lots of aloes here, grasses, and an Agave ovatifolia.
Not much for summer unless the young asphodels take root and thrive.

Currently, the back garden this year is shrubbier, more solid, more evergreen, maybe even a bit more somber.
This year summer gets maybe 40 percent of the planting emphasis breakdown.
But a lot of new shrubs are still small and will take up considerably more room by 2016, so the focus and weight will have shifted again next year.

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Some sections of the garden don’t change much for summer.
There is a young Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ behind the Agave sisalana ‘Variegata’ that should contribute some blooms soon.
Agave ‘Mateo’ slowly makes size here too, in front of the A. sisalana, and Aloe ‘Hercules’ was moved here recently, last spikes on the right.
Year-round, there should be plenty to hold my interest here, which is key because when the eye gets bored, havoc can ensue, and the compost pile then grows by leaps and bounds.
And with the city outside my gate built strictly for commerce, I need the garden as my constant visual stimulator.
Which brings us around again to small garden, tough choices.

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I wish the summer garden was never without the stimulus of Verbascum bombyciferum and that there was space for multiple spires dotted through the garden.
Because it’s biennial, there can be gaps and off years while new plants bulk up the first year, flower and set seed in the second, then expire.
I just bought another young plant as insurance for next year until the self-sowing cycle reliably kicks in.

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It’s a big plant for a small garden but worth every inch of space you can give it.
(Long stems of the photo-bombing slipper plant, Pedilanthus bracteatus, leaning in on the left.)

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I haven’t stopped trialing intriguing, new, dry garden perennials like this Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’ from Terra Nova, tissue culture of a cross between N. tuberosa and govaniana.
Stats say this nepeta with the big bottlebrush flowers will grow low and wide. I had to bat the bees off as I made my selection at a local nursery.

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Not new but an old favorite with a new name. What I knew as Ballota ‘All Hallows Green’ is now known as Marrubium bourgaei ‘All Hallows Green.’ So glad to find this again locally.
Ballota are great little subshrubs that hold it together all summer and, if used in sufficient numbers, somehow make a disparate group of plants look like a coherent plant community.

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An old standby, Ballota pseudodictamnus, very subtly in bloom at the moment.

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Ever since moving into the house 26 years ago, I’ve been thinking of the next garden, the bigger one, and what I will plant there.
The future garden will have agaves, grasses, but rather than accents, as in this garden, there will be scads of them.
Grass-like clumps are Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff’ and ‘Breeze’

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Any future garden would include the Golden Coulter Bush, Hymenolepis parviflora, here backed by the other ‘Purple Haze’ in the garden, the melianthus.

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The mythical future garden would also include Crithmum maritimum, a fleshy, almost succulent-like umbellifer with lacy blue-green leaves.
Seeds around very lightly to slowly build up sizable clumps. Like ballota, because it has such a long season, it knits together surrounding plants into a community.

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And then there’s the agapanthus experiment this year. Mass plantings are in bloom all over town. It still feels weird to have some in the garden.

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There’s some snobbery here, for sure. If I didn’t see it everywhere, it would be considered a rare treasure, like it is in more cold-challenged gardens.
But it’s easy, takes tough conditions, and has nice lines. The bright leaves of ‘Gold Strike’ stand out against the dark green cistus just behind, ‘Snowfire’

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Cistus ‘Snowfire’

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Like agapanthus, I see kangaroo paws all over town, too, which hasn’t turned me against them yet, so it’s obviously the opinion of an inconsistent mind.
Just visible in front is a very faint wash of the grass Aristida purpurea in its second year, slow to build up, a well-behaved substitute for Mexican Feather Grass.

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The Glaucium grandiflorum is putting on a huge show this year, and I love having some poppy-like flowers for summer.
As a short-lived perennial, it may or may not return next year. Rumor has it that it’s a shy reseeder, so I’d have to bring in new plants.

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Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ has been reliably perennial for those of us with severe allium-envy. There’s just not enough winter dormancy for most alliums here.
I’m trialing another fern-leaf lavender new to me this year, Lavandula minutoli, so am not sure what to expect, but so far love how the pale flowers seem to glow.
It stays low and compact and seems a lot less vigorous in growth than Lavandula multifida, which has inky blue flowers.

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Brachysema praemorsum ‘Bronze Butterfly’

So there’s a quick sketch of the method to my madness with just enough time to head out for a picnic. Enjoy your Memorial Day!

Wednesday clippings 4/15/15 (water on the brain)

Finally, a chance to spend some time with the blog again. There’s been lots of reading to catch up on, after the guv dropped that bombshell. (Pass the almonds.*)

One of the best sources of information I’ve found was right there on my blogroll, journalist Emily Green’s Chance of Rain.
In concert with KCET, Emily is writing an amazingly detailed series bristling with helpful links and step-by-step instructions for those wondering what to do with their lawns.
Definitely read Emily’s After the Lawn series before making a call to any lawn removal company that’s eager to snap up your rebate dollars in exchange for wall-to-wall gravel.

Amidst all the finger pointing and accusations, at least we’re beginning to talk about our water situation.
Ironically, after decades of denial, we just can’t seem to shut up about it now.

This entry under the Dot Earth blog at The New York Times rounds up dozens of articles for background reading.

And here’s a great interactive map on water use across the state, city by city, courtesy of The New York Times (“How Water Cuts Could Affect Every Community in California“)

And who knew that a century-old, squatter’s rights mentality governs ground water for agricultural use? Emily Green deciphers the state’s arcane water rights here: (Whose Water Is It Anyway?)

So, yes, I’ve been reading up on the politics of the recent water restrictions. Because it’s not like we need more information on how to design dry gardens.
Reaching into my bookshelf, I can pull out Beth Chatto‘s The Dry Garden, a chronicle of the 30-year-old garden she’s made in East Anglia, England, supported on rainfall alone.
(Which if I remember correctly is, at 30 inches, at least double our 15-inch average pre-drought.)

Then there’s Bob Perry’s landmark resource Landscape Plants for California Gardens.

More recently, there’s the great California resource Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices, and Designs

Lambley Nursery in Australia is also planting display gardens sustained on mostly rainwater.

At home I’ve been tweaking the garden the past few years to accommodate drier conditions anyway, and our water bill is consistently below average.
Granted, smaller properties like ours will have an easier time adjusting to restrictions.
What lawn we inherited when buying the house was removed over 20 years ago. I’ve never been emotionally attached to closely cropped, bright green turf.
But both neighbors to the east, who cherish their front lawns, have been quietly irrigating them with grey water for years.

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Berkheya purpurea, brought home from Cistus last summer, is a riveting, prickly daisy out of South Africa.
One of countless examples, native and exotic, of gorgeous plants blithely indifferent to dry conditions.
The literature cites berkheya’s habitat as stream banks, so we’ll see how tough it really is.
Once established, anything tap-rooted has a big advantage.

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Hymenolepis parviflora, a dry-tolerant shrub with chartreuse umbels. Nature is a genius.
In the past few years a lot of perennial/biennial/annual umbels have passed through the garden, the toughest probably being cenolophium, melanoselinum, yet even they needed pampering.
This one, however, is the real deal. Hymenolepis is a short-lived shrub from So. Africa that will probably need to be renewed from cuttings in a few years. I’m cool with that.

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Lily ‘Black Charm.’ Fortunately lilies love container life. I find it makes better water sense to grow them in pots to provide the even moisture they crave than in the ground.
The bucket collecting water from the shower is a steady source for container plants now.

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Seeing the Desert Bird of Paradise in rampant bloom wedged into the heat-reflected, bone-dry parkways along Long Beach City College set off a county-wide search for a source.

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The City College’s Hort. Department sold all their stock at their recent plant sale, but one local nursery had a couple plants.
I replaced Salvia ‘Amistad’ with Caesalpinia gilliesii. I know Sunset is marketing this salvia as waterwise, but I’d planted mine far from the hose bib, and it was showing some stress.

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Verbascum in Dustin Gimbel‘s garden, seed collected on his recent trip to Italy. He gave me two of these wavy-leaved mulleins, possibly V. undulatum.
Verbascums are classic perennials for dry gardens.

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Water garden out, agave in. Formerly a small water garden, now a cache pot for Agave franzosinii.
Surrounded by the unstoppable globe mallow Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral,’ a hybrid developed at Hopley’s in the UK.
Planted last fall, I’ve cut back and thinned the globe mallow three times since mid winter.
It’s never stopped blooming and, because of its vigor, I purposely avoid adding water.

One last point, an important one to keep in mind.
It’s no big surprise that trees are a constituency without much representation at the water restriction negotiations table.
I vigorously applaud Emily Green’s emphasis on prioritizing irrigation for our trees.

Landscape reform is sweeping California more as an emergency response to drought and less as a considered piece of town planning. Representatives from three of the region’s largest water providers, a City of Los Angeles arborist, and a Los Angeles County botanist interviewed for this article all seemed surprised when asked if they had consulted one another about the impact on the region’s urban canopy before moving to dry out the lawns in which most of the trees are planted.” After the Lawn Part I

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*”[A]ccording to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person or company making money off this deal, that’s just nuts.” – “Making Sense of Water

this week in plants

My Portland friend Loree at Danger Garden collects impressions of favorite plants at the end of the month, so I put together a contribution of what’s catching my eye this week.

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I’m enjoying how the Verbascum bombyciferum echoes the rosette shapes of surrounding agaves, but a softer, feltier echo against the stiff, silvery-blue agave leaves of ‘Dragon Toes’ in the foreground, A. franzosinii in the background. The verbascum is temporary, while the Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’ gains size just behind it. Annuals and biennials are perfect solutions for the temporary gaps around a growing shrub. I’d love to get some seed from the verbascum after bloom, though.

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Dark green shrub is Cistus ‘Snow Fire.’ The evanescent white flowers with maroon central blotches have disappeared by the end of the day.

The 90-degree temps the past couple days are the reason that the garden is filled with the sharp, resiny scent of cistus, something I miss when the garden is without it.
They’re generally short-lived shrubs for me, but for quite a few years the iconic sounds and scent of summer included the low hum of of busy insects coupled with that uniquely pervasive scent.
If it’s going to be this hot, at least let the air be pungent with cistus.

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If there’s any plus side to the drought, it’s much less snail damage. Crambe maritima.

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Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’ throwing a bloom spike, signaling its last year in the garden.

Even though the garden is as densely planted as ever, the changeover the last couple years to plants that will tolerate not just dry but very dry conditions and strong sun is nearly complete.
As short-lived stuff passes on and agaves bloom, I’d like to experiment with much wider spacing, which necessarily means a lot less plant collecting.
We’ll see how far I get with that plan. I can thin and prune furniture and stuff indoors no problem, but get stingy with plants? Uncertain.

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Bought unlabeled, it looks like Canna indica, the plain old “Indian shot” canna, so named for the round black seeds used in jewelry (and as makeshift ammunition).
Big green leaves, small flowers. A lush look from a tough-as-boots plant.

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For a change, I’m enjoying the restful green leaves as opposed to the splashier variegated canna varieties.
The species is such a good plant in its own right, with simple flowers, a clean outline.
Rising behind the agave tank, under the high canopy of a tetrapanax, a corner of warmth and deep orange from the canna, Abutilon venosum and Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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Echium simplex spikes are quickly filling out.

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Buds forming on the lacy, silver shrub Hymenolepis parviflora (formerly Athanasia parviflora). The flowers will be golden yellow umbels.

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Albuca maxima flowers reliably in the front gravel garden, with little if any supplemental irrigation

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Dyckia also blooming in the front gravel garden.
I need to decide whether to strip the lower leaves to expose the trunk on the dasylirion in the background, and what kind of arm protection to use when doing so.

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This self-sown Solanum pyracanthum surprisingly earns credit for being in bloom year-round.
I think it was included in every Bloom Day post of 2014, and then bloomed all winter too. Not bad for a reputed heat lover for summer gardens.

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Peeking under the canopy at an ever-expanding Sonchus congestus, a glamorous member of the dandelion tribe.

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Aeoniums don’t always come through winter this pristine. Mislabeled Aeonium tabuliforme, I’m not sure what it is. Some kind of abbreviated form of tabuliforme?

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The manihots are leafing out, prime shadow-casting plants.

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Corokia virgata ‘Sunsplash,’ moved yet again for some electrical work Marty was doing.
Seems there’s always way more seedpods than leaves of the ‘New Zealand Purple’ ricinus, just visible in the background, so seedpod prolific it reminds me of a red echinops.
And now April!

fall planting notes 2014


The first second day of fall. Depending on who you talk to, summer was either glorious or it passed like a kidney stone. No in between.
I’d describe summer 2014 and its occasional heatwaves as a cocktail that included plenty of tangy glory mixed with a bitter chaser of slight-to-moderate discomfort.
I had epic plans for a leisurely audio narration on fall planting, but due to file size had to whittle it down to under a breathless two minutes.
I really think including the human voice will be the next big innovation. Somehow, in the future, all our Facebook comments and tweets will be spoken.
What if, instead of rousing speeches, Churchill had tweeted? Would England still have fought on?
Not that my voice has any Churchillian qualities. It always sounds kind of high-pitched to me.
When I was in the Bay Area over the weekend, I was treated to a mesmerizing, geosynchronous tour via iPhone of Fisherman’s Wharf, an app still in the beta stage.
Developed by the Groupon founder and known as Detour, narrators such as a 40-year veteran fishing boat captain lead you via earbuds and your phone through the back alleys and byways of the wharves:
Past that fishing boat, off to your left, duck through this doorway, don’t mind the baleful stares of the fish sellers, right on this spot you’re standing is where they used to shanghai sailors.

In any case, here’s my low-tech, abbreviated rundown on fall planting. The takeaway is Annie’s Annuals may have plants on site not listed as available online.

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Hymenolepis parviflora, the Golden Coulter Bush, aka Athanasia parviflora.
Yellow umbels in summer. Annie’s Annuals doesn’t list this as currently available, so possibly on-site sales only.

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The hymenolepis replaced a big clump of Erigeron ‘Wayne Roderick’ that struggled in full sun.
I’m seriously thinking of rigging a shade tarp over the garden next summer, because even reputed sun lovers like erigeron can’t hack it.

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Ferula communis ssp. glauca, a giant umbellifer that probably won’t bloom its first year in the garden. Brought home from Annie’s Annuals.
Dies after flowering, but what nice lacy leaves. The bloom stalk gets as big as a broomstick. I don’t see this listed as currently available online either.

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Leucadendron ‘Pisa,’ found local, planted in mid-summer

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Tough times call for old stalwarts like santolina.
Speaking of tough, what I really wanted from Annie’s was the ‘Ella Nelson’ yellow eriogonum, but they’ve run out. I was told more will be available soon.

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But If you can’t find what you came for at Annie’s, there always a dozen or so other plants as consolation.
I’ve never trialed the rusty foxglove, Digitalis ferruginea ‘Gigantea,’ so I may as well grow it and kill it once to get it out of my system.
This is the last-gasp manifestation of my pie-eyed inclination to try out every flowering spike under the sun. Dainty flowers just don’t last long in my garden.
Summer 2015 will definitely be shrubbier. As far as flowers, I’m thinking the malvaceae family may have some answers. Hibiscus, lavatera, sphaeralcea.
For spikes, there’s hollyhocks, and I’m trying some purple of the reputedly rust-free Halo series. Annie’s carries a good selection.

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Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral’ was found local. Cutting back hard in spring seems to be the general recommendation to avoid the flops.
A glimpse here of its color.

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Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ replaced a prostanthera in early summer

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Euphorbia mellifera is always easy and beautiful here, tender elsewhere. I really prefer it to E. lambii.
For 2015 I’m trying it in full sun, near the ‘Moon Lagoon,’ for the pairing of the bright green and blue.
Planted a little too close, I’ll move the euphorbia as soon as necessary, so this is probably just a one-summer chess move.

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Lavandula lanata. I can tell already this one is going to be tricky about drainage.

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These ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ euphorbias were found local. If there’d been a choice, I’m pretty sure ‘Silver Swan’ is the more reliable variegated euphorbia.
The ‘Fireworks’ gomphrenas were cut back and some Verbena bonariensis removed to make room for the euphorbia.

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I bet you didn’t know laundry chores are handled here amongst the agaves. The covered pergola off the kitchen also houses the outdoor laundry shed built against the house.
On top of the laundry shed is the second-story lookout, where I spend lots of quality reading/skylarking time. The corrugated roof does a great job of making every rain sound epic.
Here’s to doing laundry while vast quantities of measurable rain thunder down on the pergola roof this winter. I’m counting on you, La Nina El Nino, to come through.