status update Rudbeckia maxima 5/2/16

Another example of the odd juxtapositions that occur in my garden from year to year, due to an unremitting curiosity about plants I just don’t get to see locally:

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Lights, laundry shed, giant coneflower!

The cabbage coneflower, Rudbeckia maxima, known for growing in moist ditches from Arkansas to Texas, bizarrely enough, is settling into my dryish garden in Los Angeles without much fuss.
It’s too early to tell still, but it unwiltingly sailed through unseasonal high temperatures into the 90s in April. Those are some tough, leathery, cabbagey leaves.
And I do appreciate such enthusiastic blooming in its first year. I’m still waiting for 3-year-old clumps of ‘Totally Tangerine’ geum and ‘Terracotta’ yarrow to bloom.
The conventional wisdom is to let the rudbeckia’s flowers turn into seedheads, sit back, and then watch the birds feast. Up above the shed, I’ve got the cushions ready.
If like me you crave height and movement from a summer garden, this rudbeckia is for you. And if you have a moist ditch, even better.

Elsewhere in the garden…

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Papaver rupifragum. No uncertainties about this poppy. It’s been reseeding here for ages and loves a dry garden.

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Glaucium grandiflorum, planted spring 2014. Another very tough customer that never gets a minute’s worry from me.
Except I do worry a bit that there’s been no seedlings, and it’s not known for longevity. There’s always something to worry about…

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Salvia uliginosa, aka the bog sage. Quite the misnomer. Another plant that wouldn’t mind moister conditions but manages fine without.
This salvia, planted fall 2015, like similarly easy ‘Waverly’ and S. chiapensis, cycles in and out of the garden. The bog sage adds wonderful swaying movement. (And hummingbirds.)
My heavy soil incites intense emotions. I hate it and I love it. I love it when its stiffness and heaviness keeps plants like the bog sage and tetrapanax from running rampant.
I love it for allowing me to grow unlikely candidates like Rudbeckia maxima and Persicaria amplexicaulis without toting buckets and buckets of water.
(I hate it for harboring pathogens that it unleashes on warm summer days to kill prized dry garden shrubs.)

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The reseeding ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’ nicotianas are still incredibly lovely, so needed their portrait included as well.

And so on with May!

Bloom Day February 2015

Bloom Day — you know the drill.
(And if you don’t and somehow stumbled here unwittingly, just calm down and see May Dreams Gardens for some helpful background by Carol.)

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I bought this Banksia ericifolia from a newish nursery in Hollywood several months ago with one bloom already fully open and several promising if smallish buds.
I ain’t superstitious, but taking photos of rare, newly acquired plants in bloom just seems an invitation for a jinx on their health and longevity.
So I’ve waited a few months before posting photos of these stunning bronze candles that seem made of chenille.

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I bumped into the nursery while in search of some craigslist planters and failed to record its name, but it’s fairly close to Sunset Boulevard and Gardner.
I should be able to find it again, since those are my old stomping grounds. I used to live basically on top of the intersection of Sunset and Gardner, about a half block away.
(The best way to get into Hollywood? Follow Bette Davis’ advice, “Take Fountain!” A little local, show-biz humor…)
The banksia is in a large wooden container that is in the semi-rapid process of falling apart, so it will have to be moved at some point. Gulp…beauty in peril!

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Old faithful, Pelargonium echinatum. Scalloped and felty grey-green leaves with firework bursts of flowers suspended mid-air.
Looks a lot like the cultivar ‘Miss Stapleton’ which is a suspected cross of two species. Summer dormant.

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The related Erodium pelargoniflorum, a spring annual here, isn’t reseeding as extravagantly in the drought, which is fine with me.

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The unnamed aloe along the driveway is looking more and more like Aloe ‘Moonglow’ — which I recently bought again for the back garden, label intact.
There was more peachy color to it in previous years, when it wasn’t smothered under the Acacia podalyrifolia.
I limbed up the offending acacia last week and promise to try harder for a less blurry photo next time.

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Abutilon venosum, found at Tropico in West Hollywood, crazy in bloom this February

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Veltheimia bracteata, a South African summer-dormant bulb. Really the easiest thing to grow, if a bit slow to bulk up and get going.
The emergence of the leaves in fall are a reminder to start watering again.

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The flower today, a bit more filled out.

I find some of the summer-dormant stuff easier to deal with in containers, which is where the veltheimia has been growing for over five years.
Unless I failed to record an earlier bloom, this would be its first year to flower.

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Aloe ‘Always Red.’ Seeing its first bloom, I did a photo search to double-check possible mislabeling. You call that red?
Yes, apparently they do. Supposedly a ferociously long-blooming aloe.

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Sometimes a succulent’s flowers can be an annoyance (hello, Senecio mandraliscae), but not with Sedum nussbaumerianum, which are nice complement to the overall plant.

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Only one plant was allowed to mature this spring from the hundreds of self-sown Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’

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Ah, those fleeting moments when everything is in balance, before one thing outgrows its spot and stifles another. Balance usually lasts about six months in my garden.

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Still waiting for the deep red color to form on the leaves of Aloe cameronii. A continued regimen of full sun, dryish soil should do the trick.

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A species canna from Tropico in West Hollywood

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Buds forming on Leucadendron ‘Safari Goldstrike’

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The ‘Little Jean’ kangaroo paws again, with phlomis, cistus, and euphorbias, self-sown poppies filling in. Maybe there’ll be poppies for March.

tuesday clippings 4/1/14



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I sat down Sunday to write about the flu, earthquakes, and plant shows, but the blog server was down, so Sunday’s clippings has become Tuesday’s. And with the building I worked at today undergoing a bomb threat, I can’t remember any of what I intended to write on Sunday evening. That’s got to be the worst kind of April Fool’s tomfoolery, requiring me and an emptied-out building to stand outside sniffling in the cold wind for an hour while firefighters search for explosives.

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Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony’ from 2013

But I see I took a photo of the ponytail palm I bought at the Orange County Cactus & Succulent Society show on Saturday, so we’ll start there. The big news is that Echeveria ‘Ebony’ is finally making the rounds at plant shows this spring. Small and expensive, about $40 in a 2-inch pot, but at least there’s been tissue culture in sufficient numbers to finally outstrip the insatiable demand of Korean collectors. I get lots of inquiries about this echeveria, so that’s your best bet for now. Get thee to a succulent show this spring. I’m going to update the Dates to Remember this week with details of upcoming shows, but for now there’s a general CSSA calendar that has upcoming dates.

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We are slightly less ramshackle now that the creeping fig-covered wall has been given its annual clipping, one of those hate-filled chores that brings so much pleasure when done. There’s certainly no pleasure in the doing, which is a dusty, spidery business in which someone always nips their fingers with the clippers instead of a branch. This year it was Marty, not me, and thankfully not very deep. At least I think the photo above is post-clip. Slightly less shaggy than normal anyway. What to do with all the wall clippings means the compost pile has to be sorted out, so three bins were filled with the lovely stuff from the bottom of the heap, and plants that love a rich life are gorging on it. The wall clippings went through the chipper first, an old steam punk Sears model that fired up on the first pull after sitting for a year. Things like that make Marty unspeakably happy. A tidy compost pile, one I’m no longer afraid to approach, does the same for me.

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The orb has been updated with another tillandsia from the show, T. fasciculata on the left

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The garden is still deep in its poppy phase, with every morning bringing more and more. So many more that I’ve had to start pulling them so summer plants like eryngiums aren’t crowded out.
There are some wild and untamed blooms not meant for vases, and that would be poppies. Sure, you can take a match to the stems of Iceland and Oriental poppies for a short vase life, but there’s nothing like a little meadow of them in spring. Papaver setigerum is still my favorite for its compact and uniform size.

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With all the bee activity on the poppies, and the butterflies and hummingbirds on the fern-leaf lavender, the newly engineered digiplexis is conspicuously of no interest to pollinators.
Instead of ‘Illumination Flame,’ a more suitable name might be ‘Rachel,’ the beautiful, memory-implanted android in Blade Runner that thinks it’s human. I will say that I’ve never seen a plant proceed from rare to available at your local big box store with such speed as digiplexis. Whether it melts away in summer’s heat remains to be seen.

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Graptopetalum superbum

One of the most stunning succulent displays I’ve seen recently was surprisingly not at the show but at my mom’s mobile home park. Succulents are a favorite in the small, tidy lots available only to the over-55 crowd, and the plants are left alone to mature into nice specimens, like the graptopetalum above, with its remarkable inflorescence, an airy branching superstructure surrounding the rosettes. If I was a plant broker, a fantasy I occasionally indulge in on annoying days like today, I’d knock on some of these doors.

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Bloom Day January 2014

Scrounging around the garden for something to report this first Bloom Day of 2014 made me realize that although nothing big and splashy was catching my eye, there’s still plenty to give bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators micro energy drinks throughout the day, especially the acacia and coronilla. But the star attraction for bees is hands down the Agave desmettiana in bloom. This morning Marty and I stood quietly a few inches from the bloom stalk just to listen to the thrum of activity. He was shocked that I had never cupped my hands around my ears to amplify sound before. Just another example of what a sheltered life I’ve led. If like me you haven’t done so, try it. The quiet thrum was instantly transformed into a buzzing, wing-beating roar.


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Helleborus argutifolius, whose fresh seed germinates as soon as it hits the ground, with the big rosettes of Echium simplex in front. I’m dying to see those cool white spikes rise up this summer.

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Bilbergia nutans with lots more blooms to come. How did this free-flowering bromeliad get by me for so many years?

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Nancy Ondra’s nicotiana selection is as charming as ever. Such a good plant for fall, winter and spring here, but dies off when the heat arrives. Seeds profusely.

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Acacia podalyrifolia. Until I decide what shape to prune it, shrub or tree, this acacia will continue to whack everybody in the face as they exit the driver’s side of their car. At least it smells nice.

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Unlike this really skunky plectranthus.

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Echeveria coccinea is managing to bloom in the very dry soil under the tetrapanax.

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I launched a massive plant hunt locally for Geranium ‘Ann Folkard,’ so it could weave through the skirts of Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ this summer. None was found, but instead of mail ordering ‘Ann Folkard’ I opted to try a magenta brethren, Geranium cinereum ‘Subcaulescens’ found at a nursery in El Segundo. This is one instance I would have preferred the trailing habit of AF, but the clumping G. cinereum has already distinguished itself by continually pumping out scads and scads of shocking magenta flowers. Quite the eye-rubbing sight before the first cup of coffee in the morning.

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I didn’t realize there was such variability with Pelargonium sidoides until I found this one with a larger leaf but smaller, darker flowers at Robin Parer’s booth at a plant show last year. Always has a few blooms on it.

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Coronilla valentina will go supernova, covered in bloom, by the end of the month.

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Budding up. Euphorbias, dyckias, and aloes.

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I was recently talked into a trial subscription to The Wall Street Journal, which has since been arriving dangerously close to Aloe capitata’s developing bloom stalk, its first ever. (Home delivery subscription cancelled today.)

Carol hosts this invaluable monthly record of blooms at her blog May Dreams Gardens.

Bloom Day November 2013

By November my garden has turned into a curiosity shop of oddities and seedpods.

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Like the racks of antler-like blooms on tetrapanax, seemingly more blooms than leaves this years after I clipped away some of the sunburnt foliage.

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Limbing it up allows for maximum shovage of other plants.
(I may have just invented that word shovage, but if you’re participating in Carol’s Bloom Day in November, I know you’ll understand the concept.)

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Such as shovage of this mangave, a gift from Dustin Gimbel, which is just about at the base of the tetrapanax near the path

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And indoors the rooms become altered in November too. The house is beginning to look like a natural history museum, with vases filled with stalks of nubby stuff like dyckia seedpods

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A tender salvia new to me, Salvia curviflora, was brought home from Annie’s Annuals this summer. Many of the Mexican salvias just grow too large, so their time in my garden is often limited to a couple seasons. And from what I read, this one won’t like very dry conditions. But when they bloom this freely at a small size, it’s worth growing as an annual.

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Besides, it’s my job to trial every hot pink salvia I come across.

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Just like last fall, Nan Ondra’s strain of chocolate-colored nicotiana is roused to life by the cooler temps.

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Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket’ and the yellow form of the firecracker plant, Russelia equisetiformis, are keeping things bouncy and fluffy outside the office.
A lot of the various succulent offsets are finding their way here, as have most of the potted agaves, which I can view from my desk. (More shovage.)
Just occasionally there’s more gazing at plants than working on the computer.

As always, profuse thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting our Bloom Days each and every month.

Bloom Day August 2013

Not too much of a change since July’s Bloom Day post, when I predicted the Persicaria amplexicaulis would own the garden in August, and the vibrant crimson spikes have done just that. This knotweed is the legacy of foolishly trialing just about every reasonably drought tolerant, classic border perennial in the early years of making the garden. A very quixotic notion in this dry-summer climate that would prefer plants just go dormant, like many of our natives do. Still, there are always surprises to be found, like the persicaria.


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It still amazes me that this persicaria thrives in my zone 10 garden, in full sun. A fabulous bee plant too.
These kinds of perennials are as rare a sight here as desert plants in a wet, zone 5 garden. It’s always about the challenge, isn’t it?

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Where the common red persicaria loves the dry, heavy clay of August, the other varieties always struggle. I’m trying the white-flowered persicaria again, so this is a new clump, and it’s just managing to squeeze out a few blooms against a backdrop of the unstoppable ‘Limelight’ Mirabilis jalapa which self-sows.

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Even though I long ago gave up on the concept of a summer garden of strictly perennials, I usually include a few stalwarts for late summer.
The ‘Monch’ aster is another surprisingly reliable perennial in zone 10. Finding perennials that can tolerate such a long, dry growing season with very little winter chill is a continual puzzle that still absorbs me. I like the seasonal “movement” they give the garden.

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But like everyone else, I have been trialing agastaches. I brought in a few kinds in spring and early summer. Planting agastaches in fall has always been problematic (they disappear by spring).
This one is the stalwart ‘Blue Fortune’ I grabbed at a local nursery.

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Agastache ‘Summer Glow’

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Other good daisies for summer here are the gaillardias, and ‘Oranges & Lemons’ citrusy colors makes it one of my favorites.

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The simple buttery goodness of anthemis is another continual favorite. This one is ‘Susanna Mitchell.’ If ‘Sauce Hollandaise’ is at all different, I haven’t noticed. I have read that ‘Cally Cream’ is considered to be more reliably perennial where this anthemis tends to disappear after a season. Not a problem here. Incredibly easy from cuttings in any case, and bulks up fast in one season.

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The anthemis with Salvia greggii

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A nice feast for insect pollinators and hummingbirds

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Speaking of summer feasts, I am in stone-fruit love with my neighbor’s peach tree. Or maybe it’s an apricot tree. (This is its first crop.) I’ve never experienced fruit-tree lust before, but now I’ve got it bad. Having to duck under its branches to sit at the table is a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Is this not the best of all possible worlds: A fruit tree taking up no space in my garden, within picking distance? Oh, hell, yes. The fruit is just starting to color up. Will they be edible? The suspense is almost unbearable. The branches were wall-to-wall with fruit, just inches apart, and some quick Internet research brought up the importance of thinning the fruits. I may have thinned my side too late. Common wisdom says to thin as soon as fruit has set after bloom to lessen the nutrient burden on the tree. Also saves the tree from weighty branches prone to wind damage. Some diehards even thin out the blooms before fruit set. The little tree was given a buzz cut, topped within an inch of its life last year, which was fairly alarming, but I’ve since read this is a technique some recommend for better fruit bearing. Possibly by next Bloom Day we’ll have sampled some fruit. My neighbor didn’t thin his side, so the fruit might turn out bland and insipid. Offering advice just seems a little too pushy for now.

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Self-sown Verbena bonariensis. The dwarf kinds actually seem like that rare good idea where dwarfism in plants is concerned, but so far they’ve been disappointing and weak growers. ‘Little One,’ ‘Lollipop,’ whatever the name, they dwindle and limp along, never very many blooms at one time. The self-sown species is robust and reliable.

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Cuphea viscosissima attracts lots of pollinators, has a lovely rich color, but some seriously ratty leaves. If it seeds around I’ll let some stay, but I won’t go out of my way to grow it again.

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Tall, knobby gomphrena in deep orange. Yes, please.

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Nicotiana are back, progeny from Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix.’ These are new plants that seeded into the bricks. The ones that bloomed all winter were pulled out in June to make room for early summer plants.

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Russelia is incredibly tough, long blooming, and beloved by hummingbirds.

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Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ is having a strong rebloom after being cut back hard in June. Eucomis were shaken out of their pots and grown in the ground this year. Much more upright in full sun and dry conditions, if just a tad singed on the leaf tips.

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The prairie clover, Dalea purpurea, just planted in July, lightly blooming.

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Lotus jacobaeus beginning to bloom again after a deep soaking in early August. I know what’s attracting flies to the garden this year.

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That would be Eryngium pandanifolium, whose blooms carry the light scent of old socks, noticeable mainly on still mornings. Possibly its one failing.

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The weight of the blooms is sending some of the stalks earthward. This stalk remains upright by leaning on a hanging caged tillandsia.

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The tillandsia has the scent of grape Sweet Tarts.

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Salvia chiapensis is rarely out of bloom.

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This little cutie was found at a local nursery this summer, the South African Crassula exilis subsp. cooperi. Very thyme-like in appearance, growing to just 2-3 inches high. To zone 8.

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A California native new to me this summer, Lessingia filaginifolia. I’ll probably move it to the gravel garden in fall.

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The garlic passionflower is blooming lightly in August and appreciates occasional deep watering.

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After wondering every summer how to prune this crazy tropical, whose new leaves push out like a mop atop a 6-foot trunk, the matter was taken out of my hands.
Here it is throwing new growth after having its trunk snapped off at the base in a garden mishap. (A tree fell on it).

Carol at May Dreams Gardens graciously hosts Bloom Days and gathers links of participating blogs there, 92 when I last checked.


Bloom Day April 2013

Spring is moving fast here in Southern California. I’ve already checked out some of the gardens on our host’s site for Bloom Day, Carol at May Dreams Gardens, and saw lots of traditional spring shrubs and bulbs and perennials like hellebores in amazing colors just coming into bloom. Slowly but surely spring is spreading across the land. Huzzah!

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Spring has had an unmistakably orange cast to it in my garden this year. A kniphofia in its current 50/50 bar coloration.

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Same kniphofia about a week ago.
I moved this one around and didn’t keep track of the name, but all my kniphofias come from Digging Dog, which has a great list.

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Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ is just starting to bloom, and hopefully the isoplexis will hang in there a little longer.
The grass Stipa gigantea was moved here last fall and hasn’t missed a beat, showing lots of bloom stalks.

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Tweedia caerulea/Oxypetalum caerulea may be a rare baby blue in color but it is a surprisingly tough plant.
This one survived forgotten and neglected in a container throughout the mostly rainless winter.
It’s climbing up a castor bean, Ricinus communis ‘New Zealand Purple.’

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The self-sowing annual Senecio stellata started bloom this week. Big leaves, tall, and likes it on the shady side.

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Another tall one, Albuca maxima.

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This South African bulb has been thriving in the front gravel garden, which gets very little summer water. Over 5 feet tall, it reminds me of a giant galanthus.

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More white blooms, Erodium pelargoniflorum, a prolific self-seeder in the front gravel garden.

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The fringe tree on the east side of the house, Chionanthus retusus, just about at maximum white-out.

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The fried egg on a long stalk near the Euphorbia cotinifolia tree trunk is Argemone munita. Hopefully better photos to come.
I wouldn’t mind about six more of these self-sown in the garden for next year.

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Self-sowing white valerian forming buds, with the lavender bells of the shrub prostranthera, the Australian mintbush.

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The mintbush with the succulent Senecio anteuphorbium.

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A gift pelargonium, no ID. The small details in the leaves and flowers of these simple pelargoniums get me every time.

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Closeup of the tiny flowers.

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The plant at its base is even more self-effacing, with a big name for such a quiet plant, Zaluzianskya capensis.

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Lots of self-sown nicotianas. The flowers are too small to be pure N. alata, so it probably has some langsdorfii in the mix.
Whatever its parentage, lime green flowers always work for me.

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Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix,’ with a potted begonia for scale. This strain of flowering tobacco has been keeping hummingbirds happy all winter.
This is the first begonia to bloom (again, no ID!), and the colocasias are just beginning to leaf out.

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The porch poppies, with lots more poppies in bloom in the garden.

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The anigozanthos might be a tad too close to the euphorbia, but I love the lime green and orange together.

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The last two photos are by MB Maher, who was in town briefly and tried to get more of the Euphorbia lambii from a higher angle.

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MB Maher’s photo of the Salvia chiapensis with a bit of purple in the center from Penstemon ‘Margarita BOP,’ planted from gallons a couple weeks ago.
I have a feeling that yucca will be in bloom for May Bloom Day. See you then!

Now that Google Reader is in the dustbin of history, I’m trying out Bloglovin for organizing blogs I want to follow.
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Bloom Day March 2013

If it weren’t for the few stems of Scilla peruviana in bloom I’d feel completely out of step this March Bloom Day, when so many participating gardens are sending forth crocus and iris and so many other traditional spring bulbs and blooms. We may have flowers every month of the year, as Carol’s Bloom Day muse Elizabeth Lawrence declares, but we won’t all necessarily have the same flowers.


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I’ve been trimming away the lower leaves from a Geranium maderense to let some sun in on this patch of scilla.
Even in perfect conditions this bulb takes some years off and refuses to bloom.

What I’m most interested in this year is a little meadow/chaparral experiment that I’m hoping will bloom through summer in full sun, fairly dry conditions. It’s really begun to fill in the past couple weeks.

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Diascia personata is part of this experiment, three plants, two planted in fall and a cutting struck from one of them that has already made good size. Thanks go to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials for being the only U.S. source, via Derry Watkins’ extraordinary nursery in England. In the 1980s I reverently brought new diascia species and varieties home from Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, California, the only source at that time. Now all the local nurseries carry them as bedding plants every spring, and of course being a plant snob I don’t grow them anymore. But diascias can be very good here along the coast in the long cool spring and early summer, dwindling off in the heat of August. This Diascia personata’s height to 4 feet is a very intriguing asset.

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Also in the little meadow is Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell,’ and self-sown poppies, probably Papaver setigerum.
I like calling it my “meadow” when in truth it covers as much ground as a large picnic blanket.

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Blue oat grass, helicotrichon on the left, borders one side of the meadow/chaparral.

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Bordering a pathway elsewhere there’s a big swathe of this silvery gazania, maybe five plants, which counts as a swathe in my garden. In full sun they’d be open and you’d see what a shockingly striped and loud harlequin variety I chose last fall. Can’t fault those beautiful leaves though.

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More beautiful leaves to shore up what few flowering plants I actually grow. Senecio leucostachys is the big silvery sprawler. Small flashes of color from the Moroccan toadflax, Linaria reticulata, and the saffron-colored blooms of Salvia africana-lutea picking up speed, especially in recent temps in the high 80s. The phormium was bought misnamed as the dwarf ‘Tom Thumb.’ Whatever it’s true name, it’s stayed fairly compact and seems to have topped off at about 3 feet.

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Closeup of the salvia bloom.

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Euphorbia lambii began to bloom this week.

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The tree euphorbia really grew into its name this year.

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Kind of amazing to write that Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’ has been in bloom all winter.
I’ve been cutting off old branches as the flowers go to seed. The brick paths are full of its seedlings.
Fresh basal leaf growth is coming in strong.

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Salvia chiapensis backed by Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’

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And a different view against a backdrop of sideritis and a big clump of Helleborus argutifolius.

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The yellow-flowered form of Russellia equisetiformis is just so very cool.

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Nasturtiums are ruthlessly thinned, but this climbing variety was allowed to fill in the bottom of a tuteur that supports the coronilla, which is still in full, aureate bloom.

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The coronilla with the nasturtium growing at the base of its support

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The seductive little species geraniums/pelargoniums are at their very best in spring

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Also beginning bloom is one of my favorite sedums. S. confusum.

Thanks again to Carol of May Dreams Gardens and all who participate in opening their gardens on Bloom Day.

flowering tobacco in December

I’m still puzzling over the winter exuberance of the nicotiana I sowed from seed early last spring.


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Now over 5 feet tall, the seed came from ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix,’ a selection made by Nan Ondra from her garden Hayefield. Annie’s Annuals sells something similar called ‘Hot Chocolate,’ which she feels has some Nicotiana langsdorfii blood in the mix. It also looks a bit like the strain sold as ‘Tinkerbelle.’

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Because I’d like to duplicate this success again, it only makes sense that I understand the reasons for that success. At this point, I haven’t a clue. These nicotianas are grown as annuals but can be perennial here in zone 10, albeit short-lived perennials, so that could account for it persisting into winter. But persisting versus thriving are poles apart. Yesterday I tried googling short-day length properties of nicotiana, also known as photoperiodism. A classic example of photoperiodism in plants is the chrysanthemum, which blooms as the days shorten in autumn. Some plants are indifferent to day length, some require long days, other short days to bloom. I found that tobacco is included in lists of short-day plants.

These four plants of ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’ were planted in part shade, and the two most robust were shielded from the summer sun under the dappled shade of a tetrapanax most of the summer. One plant in particular has the darkest coloring and is also the tallest.


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Is it the mild, semi-drizzly weather this winter? Not much rain, just drizzle and fog. I pulled out a lot of my overgrown winter-blooming salvias this year, so these flowering tobaccos are picking up their slack, drawing in hummingbirds several times a day. I never got this kind of profuse bloom from those reputed winter bloomers like Salvias wagneriana, which were invariably more leaves than flowers.

It’s possible that this could just be the fluky year that I had nicotiana in bloom for the winter solstice. Since they reseed so profusely, I’ll have plenty more plants to experiment with next year.


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The Fall Color Project 2012

Contributing to the The Fall Color Project this year, hosted by Dave at Growing the Home Garden, won’t be as easy as stepping out the back door and taking a photo of the smoke tree ‘Grace,’ now dearly departed since August, who semi-reliably colored up beautifully in fall, written about here.


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Cotinus ‘Grace’ December 2010

Finding local fall color is never easy. This is coastal Southern California after all, and the nighttime temperatures are just now dipping occasionally into the high 40’s. Frosts are rare and freakish. Evergreens probably have the edge over deciduous trees here.

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But I noticed the Gulf muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, at the Long Beach Airport, was in fine form this year.

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And liquidambars are a reasonable bet for fall color.

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As is Gingko biloba.


This “living fossil” has many fans. According to a recent article in The New York Times, designer George Nelson, of iconic Bubble Lamp fame, strongly favored the gingko:

We moved several times during those 21 years. The most interesting was the brownstone that George bought around 1960, on 22nd Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South. Back then, the block was decimated: there were no restaurants, no stores, no nothing. George had me go door to door to ask the owners of buildings on the block to get the city to plant trees. They had to be ginkgo trees. If you walk down 22nd Street now, you’ll see mature ginkgo trees.”

Though we mourn the loss of Grace, our relationship with her had deteriorated into a 1950s sci-fi movie, The Attack of the House-Eating Smoke Tree. In the early-morning sky made visible again by the departure of Grace, Marty observed the transit of the International Space Station overhead at 5:15 a.m. And the light filling the garden this fall is a color project all its own, lighting up the corollas of nicotiana like tiny flares.

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Thanks, Dave, for hosting The Fall Color Project for 2012.