back on the home front


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It’s finally happening.

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Miraculously, after a couple close calls resulting in an almost fatal wilt, Musschia wollastonii has survived and begun to hoist up that much-anticipated chartreuse candelabra of blooms.
The Madeira Giant Bellflower must be an unforgettable sight in bloom on its native cliffs of Madeira. As with Aeonium tabuliforme, the cliff face is what’s shaped that remarkable architecture. Some claim to grow musschia mainly for the leaves, but I don’t find them wildly exciting, possibly because it’s been struggling to survive here. Musschia is monocarpic, meaning it will die after blooming. Which also means I can now die happy, having seen it bloom in my garden. But what vigilance to get to this point! In spring I parked this pot right by a hose bib on the north side of the house for its daily shower.

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Also newly in bloom and slightly offbeat, Emilia javanica ‘Irish Poet,’ the Tassel Flower.
A delicacy that couldn’t compete in a waist-high, full-throttle summer garden, but it stands out fine in mine, which is in the process of undergoing accommodation to the ongoing drought.

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Emilia may be small, but it packs a big orange punch in its ‘Irish Poet,’ form, seed from Nan Ondra.
Many years ago I grew the species, which is a darker, burnt orange bordering on red. I much prefer the electrifying orange of ‘Irish Poet.’

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These pots give a sense of its scale. Last agave on the left was just brought home from the recent Orange County succulent show.

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Agave ‘Tradewinds,’ a blue-green striped potatorum selection thought to be a seedling of ‘Kissho Kan.’

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Diminutive emilia is barely visible on the lower left, unlike the fountain of Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket’ in the distance.

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The plumes arch just where the Cussonia gamtoosensis canopy begins, a wonderful effect that’s unlikely to be duplicated next year as the cabbage tree continues to grow.
Today I watched for the first time as a sparrow landed in the baby cussonia, which to my mind makes it a real tree now.

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There’s also two big clumps of this grass fronting the lemon cypresses on the eastern boundary*

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And another clump growing amidst Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’ Both thrive on minimal supplemental water, which keeps them in trim, upright shape.

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The front of the cussonia border, which shows how Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ looks in its summer dormancy period here.
I can appreciate ‘Zwartkop’s’ skeletal form, as opposed to the giant ‘Cyclops,’ which was getting increasingly annoying in its off-season shabbiness, so it’s been pulled out of the garden to be grown in a container.
All the plants here are well adapted to low water use, except for a couple patrinia I foolishly included this year. Crambe maritima is doing really well, another plant I saw in several Portland gardens recently. Yucca, furcraea, gaillardia, adenanthos, coprosma, Pelargonium ‘Crocodile,’ anigozanthos, agastache, echium, Rekohu carex. A Beschorneria alba is in here somewhere too. Variegated St. Augustine grass is weaving through the legs of the aeonium and spilling onto the bricks. The iron pyramid was propping up a castor bean I recently pulled out.

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In ‘Cyclops’ place I decided to try agapanthus, something I’m as surprised to type as I was to purchase, having never brought one home before. This one is ‘Gold Strike,’ and it wasn’t easy to find. I wrongly assumed I’d have the pick of tender varieties in inky blues, even deep purples, all within a few miles’ radius of home. After all, they grow like weeds here. There must be a wonderful selection locally, right? And if not, there must be U.S. growers with extensive lists, right? Wrong on both counts. The best selection, of course, is found with UK nurseries. A couple years back I attended a lecture given by Dan Hinkley on what he’s up to at his new garden at Windcliff, and a good part of the presentation was on his new-found love of agapanthus. “How suburban!” I thought at the time, and “Dan’s going soft!” But as usual, Dan’s right. Mature stands are tolerant of drought, make a mid-summer garden look fresh again, and now I can’t wait to try them with Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket.’ The deepest blue to be found locally is ‘Storm Cloud,’ but I’m not done searching around for other kinds with names like ‘Purple Emperor’ and ‘Night Sky.’ Still can’t believe I’m shopping around for agapanthus, though.

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A large mint bush near the ‘Cyclops’ aeonium was showing its age, so that was given the heave-ho recently too.
Prostranthera never gets older than a few years in my garden and is well known to be short-lived.
Waiting in the wings, outgrowing its pot was Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon,’ which I intended on planting in the mint bush’s spot in the fall.
This is one of the mallee eucalyptus, which are more large shrubs than the towering giants Californians associate with eucalyptus.

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Never much inclined to wait, I called Jo O’Connell at Australian Native Plants Nursery, where I bought the eucalypt, to ask her opinion.
She said to absolutely go for it now, mid-summer, a woman after my own heart. And so it’s been planted.

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Speaking of suburban, how about some marigolds? (Now who’s going soft?)

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What an undeserving bad rap the bedding plants industry has given marigolds. The tall strains like this one, ‘Cinnabar’ from Derry Watkins, are so hot. If you don’t have a bias against orange, that is.

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And I don’t think there’s anything easier to grow from seed than marigolds.

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The grey shrub arching over the marigolds is Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii,’ brought home from Far Reaches Farm a few years ago.
(“If you’ve hankered for a willow but lament your dry conditions, then weep no more.”)
It was so cool to see this shrub growing against the greenhouse at Old Germantown Gardens in Portland recently, where it was tightly clipped in a more columnar form.
The Agave attenuata is ‘Boutin’s Blue,’ formerly ‘Huntington’s Blue,’ not quite happy in full sun. In a large pot, it’s the Goldilocks of agaves and gets moved around quite a bit.

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Marigolds in the distance, the new Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ in the foreground, handling its first summer beautifully so far.
The sideritis to its right wasn’t so lucky, inexplicably collapsing a couple days ago, about a day after this photo was taken.
Every so often around mid-summer, this mysterious soil-borne wilt process takes out a plant.
I know in my absence the garden was watered really well for a change, and that might have kicked it off.
The sideritis was one of two self-sown seedlings I found this spring, so it was a gimme anyway.
I’ve already planted a couple Cirsium occidentale in its place.
(Seeing the cirsium almost in bloom in Scott’s garden in Portland was a nice moment too.)

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The Berkheya purpurea I brought home from Cistus a few weeks ago can just be seen behind the leucadendron.
The oregano-like plant is Calamintha nepeta ‘Gottlieb Friedkund.’ Fabulous plant I’ve been spreading around the garden. From Digging Dog.

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Another annual growing fast in the heat, Hibiscus trionum, seed also from Nan Ondra.

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Rudbeckia triloba is everything I want in a summer daisy, except for its moderate thirst.
There’s a chance that if it self-sows, the progeny will be better situated for drier conditions. Slim chance, but you never know. And there’ll always be gaillardia.

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Eryngium padanifolium in its second year, reliably blooming again, a great relief.

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The ‘Limelight’ Miracle of Peru seed around, and a few are always welcome.

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A potted Lotus jacobaeus has filled out well this year, much more so than when planted directly into the garden.

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Aristolochia fimbriata scoffs at any neglect I throw its way. No surprise that it was included on the sales tables at a recent succulent show. It’s that tough.

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Crassula pruinosa, also brought home from Cistus

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The crassula was tucked in at the base of Euphorbia ammak. That golden-leaved shrub thrives in pot culture, even the careless kind I practice.

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Really brightens things up. Corokia virgata ‘Sunsplash’

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Also doing really well in a container is the Shaving Brush Tree, Pseudobombax ellipticum

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And that just about takes care of mid-summer 2014.


*I keep neglecting to mention that one of the best attributes of this excellent grass is that it is sterile and therefore noninvasive, unlike Pennisetum setaceum.

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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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.


Bloom Day February 2013


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I admit I’m a vulgarian, if there was any doubt left. By February I’m starved for brash and garish, even though it violates the subtle order of nature that has spring unfolding with a delicacy that builds by degrees to a late summer, over-the-top crescendo. I go straight to over-the-top, and containers of gaudy tulips are the perfect vehicle for strong, fleeting boosts of color. I wouldn’t want masses of them, but a few in a pot are visual antidepressants on long stems, my go-to designer drug for jumpstarting spring. The species don’t like the chill-free winter here anyway, so that preempts any debate about the quiet beauty of species tulips versus the gypsy caravan hybrids. These hybrids are artificially chilled for six weeks in the garage fridge then go straight to the compost heap after blooming. This is the first pot of tulips to flower, the hybrid ‘Boston.’

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Lotus jacobaeus would be wonderful draping over a low wall. I’ve clipped this one back quite a bit to keep it from smothering plants below, like the tall Aeonium ‘Cyclops.’ Its shrubby-but-lax framework is about 3 feet high now, kept upright with a rebar stake. A light background propels the velvety dark blooms. I like it against the pale leaves of the variegated Australian mint bush (prostranthera), and the lotus is thin enough in growth to weave through the shrub without harming it.

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When there’s so many amazing succulents to grow, why choose the modest Crassula multicava? Because of its supernova show in spring, when it hoists those starry bloom structures over simple, dark green leaves. It would make an elegant ground cover at the base of palms. Here it’s sharing space with a potted cussonia. The crassula has a similar foamy effect to London’s Pride (Saxifraga umbrosa) or heuchera in bloom, neither of which grow in such rugged conditions for me.

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Like the lotus, another lax member of the pea family, coronilla, has really started to bloom in the mini heat wave we’re having the past couple days. This shrub is supported and wound through a tuteur and has grown past the eaves of the garage roof. Its overall effect is that of a gigantic rue, except rue stinks and coronilla smells lovely.

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More brash. Love the moroccan toadflax, an annual that blooms well through the winter and spring here. Hasn’t self-sown yet, so I keep bringing in a few plants in fall.

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I have just a few clumps of the Corsican hellebore, which is all the space I can spare, though I could have lots, lots more.
It carpet-bombs the garden with seedlings.


Lots of emerging gardens to explore at May Dreams Garden, where Carol is to be congratulated for hosting Bloom Days for seven years this February.

Bloom Day June 2012

I got in too late yesterday for photos for a Bloom Day post, so made a head start last night on checking out the blogs linked on Carol’s May Dreams Gardens host site for Bloom Day.
I think that’s the best “issue” on June gardens I’ve seen in a long time.

Summer-blooming bulbs like crocosmia and eucomis stirring here in June.

Crocosmia and Teucrium hircanicum

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Eucomis almost buried under a daisy with fennel-like leaves, Argyranthemum haouarytheum.

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As with June Bloom Days past, white valerian seeding around at the edges. The seasons-spanning kangaroo paws, succulents and grasses.
I’ve been nibbling away at the bricks under the pergola, whose once-seamless perimeter is now as gap-toothed as a hockey player’s smile.
(how ’bout those Stanley Cup-winning LA Kings?!)

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Latest brick removal was instigated by finding a source for Eryngium pandanifolium, the Giant Sea Holly.
I sowed seed last fall of a ‘Physic Purple’ variety but didn’t get any germination, and then it popped up a month ago on Plant Delights online offerings.
Sometimes you’ve just got to scratch that plant itch. Of course I had to squeeze some Ruby Grass in while the eryngo thickens up.

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More brick removal yesterday to try out Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket,’ a sterile hybrid from the same batch as ‘Fireworks.’
I’ve been on a destructive tear lately and have started hammering off the slippery tiles in the side patio too.

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Onward and upward. This summer I’m training Passiflora sanguinolenta up the pergola. A rarity among passifloras, this one has proven to be a dainty, nonaggressive climber.
Sidling up to Aloe distans at ground level.

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Not this Bloom Day but certainly by the next, I’ll finally get to see Lobelia tupa blooming in my garden. I think the trick was thinning out plants possibly crowding it.
(Gosh, there’s a surprise, overcrowding in my garden?)

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First spikes appearing on Persicaria amplexicaulis. Salvia canariensis is more colored bracts than blooms now.

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Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ in the iron tank. Eryngium tripartitum barely visible blooming here too.

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One lone drumstick allium amidst eyebrow grass, Bouteloua gracilis.
I think the 29 other Allium sphaerocephalum may have been swamped by the burgeoning Mint Bush, Prostranthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’

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And since this post has wandered into Foliage Followup’s turf of the 16th of every month, hosted by Pam at Digging, I’ll close with a photo of a restio new to me.
Cannonmois virgata, identified by San Marcos Growers as more probably C. grandis.
SMG’s photo shows the beautiful culms.

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I was considering this restio to replace the rose I removed from the patio room, whose tile is being demolished…wonder where I left my hammer and chisel?

Foliage Followup March 2012

And then there’s the dodge of leaving projects directly underfoot so you’ll theoretically have no choice but to finish them. Does this trick ever work for anyone else? I just end up with a lot of stuff underfoot. Like these old iron cafe chairs I fished out of the mulch pile to be repainted for extra summer seating. A giant fumitory, the ever-weedy Corydalis heterocarpa, has other designs on them while I take my sweet time getting around to repainting them.

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Pam at Digging runs this show, the Foliage Followup that follows every Bloom Day. There are a core group of bloggers that have agavemania of the worst kind, and I don’t think Pam would take exception to getting tagged with that label. So this agave is for you, Pam, a new Kelly Griffin tissue-culture hybrid, Agave pygmaea ‘Dragon Toes.’ Out of a group of maybe eight agaves, I ultimately chose the slightly smaller agave with the extra pup. It’s embarrassing to admit how long this decision took. At least five solid minutes of sober and methodical deliberation. Two slow-growing agaves or a slightly larger single slow-growing agave? Hmmm….no contest, really. Agavemania in its basest form feeds on quantity.

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An agave from last summer’s cactus shows, A. parrasana ‘Fireball,’ might be my favorite for the moment.
A wrought iron stand keeps the really prized agaves out of the reach of their worst enemies, snails and slugs.

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Still haven’t found a suitable spot in the garden for Aloe peglerae, but its protected spot on a plant stand under the eaves seems to suit it fine for now.

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Prostranthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’ has just started blooming tiny lavendar bells. A shimmering shrub that always seem to die young in my garden.

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Visit Pam’s blog to discover the astonishing array of beautiful leaves March has on offer.

Spring?

Seems impossible that just two days ago I was having that tender moment about spring.

Yesterday and today heat records were broken, and now everyone is grousing that it’s hotter than Jakarta (really only mid 80’s but we’re a delicate bunch, donchaknow).

So instead of spring ephemerals, we’re grinding gears a bit to shift to singing the praises of the stoic heat lovers, fennel, Phlomis italica and Prostranthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’

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