Tag Archives: Olea europaea ‘Little Ollie’

Toyon, California Holly

This sturdy evergreen shrub native to California, Heteromeles arbutifolia, is also known as the Christmas Berry or California Holly. Here’s why:

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There’s an old urban legend that early European settlers in Los Angeles, where this holly lookalike grew especially abundant, named their new home in its honor.
Hollywoodland. Ultimately shortened to Hollywood.

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At a neighbor’s holiday party over the weekend, I discovered it in full-on berriment growing on the west side of their bungalow.
Of course, today I just had to beg for a few sprigs of berries to bring home.
(As far as I can tell, I’ve now coined that word “berriment,” and it just might stand as my lasting contribution to humankind.)
The foamy mass in the background is a native buckwheat, but not, because I asked, the giant St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum).

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Irresistible impulses, like mine, to bring indoors the toyon’s bright red berries began to threaten its very existence until a law was passed in the 1920s prohibiting picking the berries in the wild.
A ban local birds wildly celebrated. There’s a complicated bit of science and tanins and whatnot involved in the question of toxicity to humans, but the short, safe version is don’t.
Just don’t eat the fresh berries. Notwithstanding the fact that local Indians did all manner of clever things with the flowers, berries and bark, for food and medicine.
Usual size is 8 to 15 feet, but it can and does grow bigger. My neighbor’s toyon is trained as a small tree, but it can also be grown as a hedge.
Easy and forgiving, sun or even part shade, tolerant of regular irrigation or, once established, summer drought.

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Other plants in the vase are sprigs of lemon cypress and olive from our garden, very familiar to Evie, but the toyon from just a dozen houses away might as well have been from another country.
Evie immediately leapt onto the table to investigate. Bears and coyotes are known to eat the berries, but I have no idea what the digestive tract of Felis catus would make of them.

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Evie never sampled, but did make a thorough, full-vase investigation.

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I filled a couple urns for the mantle too, mostly with lemon cypress and olive branches, with just a few sprigs of toyon berries, which manage to communicate holiday merriment even in very small quantities.

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Toyon became the official native plant of Los Angeles on April 17, 2012.

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For berries of your own to bring indoors during the winter holidays as much as you please, toyon is carried in local nurseries, usually at fall planting time.
Los Pilitas Nursery is also a source, as well as the Theodore Payne Nursery and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’s Grow Native Nurseries.
Any of the above resources will patiently and knowledgeably explain how toyon can be an essential evergreen in your summer-dry garden.


It happened one night; August rain

I bought my first water plant Saturday, and it rained all that night. Not a downpour, but a steady drizzle. I’m not saying there’s any causal link between the two, just that they’re both rare events that happened to coincide one day in August when I finally made good on an old, wilted promise to start a water garden. Nobody is immune to a little magical thinking, especially gardeners and other anxious weather watchers. And I don’t mind at all buying more water plants in the offchance it pleases the drought gods that I do so. After the overnight rain, it was so nice waking up Sunday morning to the clean world.

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My first water plant. Ruby-stemmed Sagittaria lancifolia ‘Ruminoides’
The fiberglass/concrete container was not intended to hold water and may be a temporary arrangement. Marty sealed it with waterproofing, so we’ll see.

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I don’t think that whitish mottling is a good sign, however.
It clouded up like that before the waterproofing, too, when it held just a few glass fishing floats.

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What’s submerged and rendered invisible by dark waterproofing is the desperate need for repotting, with the gallon container split open by bulging roots.
For repotting, it will need muck, won’t it? I asked the kind nurseryman, trying out the one word I know that has something to do with bogs and ponds.
Have you got muck? he queried me with a strange expression.
No, have you? I’m muckless, I rejoined, matching his strange expression with one of my own at the bizarreness of it all.
It’s not often that “muckless” gets incorporated into daily conversation, but given the chance, I’m going for it.

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Tiny romneya-like flowers bloomed Sunday morning.

The nice nurseryman said a cheap solution for a suitable potting soil is a 50/50 mix of decomposed granite and pure compost.
Compost I’ve got. I just need to beg some d.g. off of Holly across the street.

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Inspired by the garden rejuvenation wrought by a single pot of the common arrowhead, a container of Salvia guaranitica was plunged into the garden near the tank.
This salvia has been hanging around for years in the garden, deprived of the care it needs as I’ve moved on to other salvias, but still it lingers.
I noticed it growing near the fence under the cypress and potted up some straggly shoots a month or so ago.
No sense in taking a survivor like that for granted.

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Welcome to the clean world.
Not glistening from the hose but from that holy of holies, August rainfall. That cussonia has already been moved elsewhere.
I’m on fire with pot shuffling lately, motivated by this shiny, new world.

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The cussonia will get more sun here. Naturally, table and chairs had to be moved nearby to admire the cussonia.
The rain’s shiny polish doesn’t last long, does it?

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The tall burgundy line in the background is drawn by a gawky Pseuderanthemum atropurpureum ‘Black Varnish,’ a plant that never loses its polish.
A tender tropical, there’s no problem overwintering it here, just that crazy legginess it gets the second season.

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Pinching it back doesn’t seem to help.

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More news on dark plants. Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’ is faithfully performing her job of hiding the compost pile behind her massive girth.

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Since it’s clean, let’s take a walk on the east side.
Pots reshuffled against the fence that separates the front and back gardens on the east side, which has always been problematic for me.
Too many fences, gates, awkward angles, the canyon effect. Seen through the window behind the leggy pittosporum is the blurred shape of the east boundary hedge of dwarf olives.

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It’s such a great “breathing” space despite all the harsh angles, so I’m working on making it more inviting somehow. (On the cheap, of course.)
I’d love a long table and chairs and some great hanging lamps, so will keep it mostly empty until that fine day miraculously arrives. Until then, nothing terrifyingly big and spiky will be allowed here.
This entire east side was covered in overgrown oleanders when we bought the house, which made the house’s interior dark and gloomy.
The dark woodwork indoors gives the interior more than enough gravitas already. (Marty and I have the typical seesawing argument that takes place in old houses such as this:
Paint the interior woodwork white to brighten things up or leave it original? I always argue for keeping it original, but then I’m an impractical softie.)

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Speaking of terrifyingly big and spiky, Agave ‘Mr Ripple’ greets you through the Dutch door, usually left open during the day.

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Mr. Ripple’s lower spines near the walkway have been clipped back, but he still has his uppers.
Marty cannot wait for the day Mr. Ripple blooms (and dies).

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The copper pot is filled with rhipsalis and other hanging cactus. A Mina lobata is climbing up the iron scaffolding.
Apart from the pittosporum, now tree height, there’s currently not much planted in the narrow strip against the blue fence other than some succulents.
I’m enjoying the starkness of it all, but old habits die hard.

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I can’t stop adding stuff, like the giant tree aloe ‘Hercules’ to the right of the potted agave. But that’s it, I swear.

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The newly planted City Planter just moved in, the first attempt at planting anyway. It may need revision. (Too stark against the blue fence?)

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Currently planted with rhipsalis, Echeveria multicaulis, and the trailing blue echeveria, whose name I’ve forgotten. A couple sprigs of Sticks on Fire may or may not root.

At the Portland Garden Bloggers Fling, Lisa Calle, the raven-haired bloggess from Spain, was the rightful winner but graciously threw it back into the raffle since it didn’t fit inside her suitcase.
(Thank you so much, Lisa ! Thank you, Potted !)

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And that concludes the mini-tour of the rain-fresh east side. Mind Mr. Ripple on your way out!


my, how they grow

Looking at the front fence, in back of which, planted along the sidewalk, is a row of box hedging, now over 7 feet tall. Height restrictions of course limit privacy options for fences along the sidewalk, but as far as augmenting fence height with hedges, the sky’s the limit. At least that’s my interpretation of city fence height ordinances. Knock wood, no code enforcement complaints so far. Sounds and tantalizing scents of Labor Day festivities wafted over the hedge all weekend. The local Cambodian temple in particular was in full swing. Just the tops of the heads of tall boys on skateboards whizzing by, sometimes being pulled by their dogs, can be seen over the hedges now. If, like Ein, you are inclined to see some street action, the front porch still affords prime views. Ein’s little corgi heart beats fast for boys on skateboards, so imagine the palpitations when dogs are pulling those boys on skateboards.


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Looking the other way, the box hedge blocks this view into the back garden. Total privacy has been achieved here, (she said, barely concealing a smug note of triumph). Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ has sentry duty along the pathway to the east gate, which is in a local shop being repaired at the moment. He’s been repelling the soccer balls that have been sailing over the dwarf olive hedges all summer from the east boundary. Gardens are an awful lot about boundaries, aren’t they?

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The dwarf olives on the east boundary, ‘Little Ollie’s, are over 5 feet in height now, growing much faster than I hoped for, but the height is most welcome. Growth of hedges is easy to handle, and the dwarf olives should max out at around 6 feet. As far as the other plants, growth can be a bit more problematic. Mr. Ripple, for instance, grabbed the hem of my neighbor’s dress yesterday. And now I’m clipping and shaping the olives around him. ‘Mr. Ripple’ seems to have had a fair-sized growth spurt this summer. He hopefully has achieved his maximum height at about 4 feet but may still grow wider. The Agave potatorum to his left is about a foot in diameter.

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August was a month of cutting back, moving, thinning, all the predictable outcome of a zeal for plants that knows no bounds.
The agave ‘Jaws’ was moved last week too, which was terrifying, like defusing a bomb, but it did go smoothly.

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But what a thorny dilemma: Save Mr. Ripple or the dwarf olive privacy hedge? I’ll defer that decision for now.
I’d rather think about my lovely new variegated (thornless) beschornaria, predicted height and width between 4 to 6 feet. I wonder how big it will really get?

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Foliage Follow-Up August 2011

Thank goodness Pam at Digging hosts a Foliage Follow-Up to May Dreams Gardens Bloom Day. The blooming lineup in my July Bloom Day post can stand in with very little revision for August. Holding down the fort and keeping the hummingbirds and insects happy in August is the same bunch of long-blooming salvias, gaura, knautia, echium, verbascum, euphorbia, Persicaria amplexicaule, kangaroo paws, valerian in bloom since early summer. I throttled back on annuals, so not much new is erupting into blossom this August. Gardens for me are still all about the eruptions, not the staid, unchanging formalities, but this year August looks a lot like July and even June. Would I take a couple lines of track from the High Line, including every last grass and perennial, and plunk it down in my garden? Oh, hell, yeah. I’m a wannabe prairie garden companion. But that would leave me with nine months in a very small garden staring at nubby perennial crowns when there can be evergreen grevilleas in bloom in winter. (Why must the garden be such a heavy-handed teacher of compromise? Work with what you’ve got. Bloom where you live. Know thyself. I get it already!) With the last rainfall over four months ago, arid zone 10 can sometimes turn planning for flowering herbaceous plants in August into a dogged military campaign, but planning for gorgeous leaves is a walk in the park.

Arundo donax ‘Golden Chain,’ Phormium ‘Alison Black,’ Aralia cordata ‘Sun King.’

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