Tag Archives: South African plants

Friday clippings 4/7/17

The two young leucospermums in my garden have each thrown a couple blooms, which only made me greedy for a mass display. But where to find such a display outside of South Africa?

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Leucospermum ‘Blanche Ito’ in the east patio.

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Leucospermum ‘High Gold’ outside my office.

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My mileage points aren’t where they need to be yet for international travel, so I opted for a 2-hour drive up the coast to the Taft Garden. The mid-day sun was intense, so I took very few photos.

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The garden closes at 4:30, so no chance for a kinder, gentler light for photos.

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And, yes, the garden is as deserted and eerie as ever. Once again, I was the only visitor.

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Many aloes were in bloom as well, along with all the Cape daisies and bulbs. I even saw some pale pink dierama in bloom, wafting in the breeze just as their namesake implies, the Angel’s Fishing Rods.

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It was a near-blinding display.

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And many Australian plants were representing too, like isopogon.

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And the waxflowers, chamelaucium, beloved of florists.

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This weekend will be busy, with the San Diego Horticultural Society Spring Garden tour on Saturday, April 8, and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Second Annual Watershed Approach Garden Tour on Sunday, April 9, 2017. These are both self-guided tours, which means you can dip in and out of the tour for local tasty food or other diversions.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Have a great weekend.

CSSA 2015 Biennial Convention, June 14-19, 2015

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agave at South Coast Botanic Garden, a former open pit mine for diatomite extraction, then landfill, now botanic garden

I should probably split this glut of information into several posts, but if I don’t sit down right now and do it, the churning river of obligations that is my life at the moment will whisk me away again.
And there I’ll be, bobbing out of sight, heading for tumbling rapids and waterfalls unknown, while important, time-sensitive information goes unmentioned.

So here’s the really important news, conveniently placed at the top of what may turn into a very long post:

The Cactus and Succulent Society of America/CSSA is holding its 2015 biennial convention in Claremont, California, at Pitzer College, June 14-19.
There hasn’t been a convention in my hometown Los Angeles since 2001, so I’m looking at this as basically a gift from the CSSA to me. (Thank you so much!)
Since 2000, the grounds of Pitzer College have been in the capable hands of Joe Clements, who formerly headed the desert garden at the Huntington.
So, needless to say, the surroundings for the convention will be extraordinary. (You can read Nan Sterman’s article on Pitzer for Pacific Horticulture here.)

Continue reading CSSA 2015 Biennial Convention, June 14-19, 2015

the Taft Garden


Ancient geologic forces shaped the Ojai Valley that modern-day visitors find so attractive. This part of Ventura County lies in a region geologists call the Transverse Range Province. Transverse means “lying across,” and the mountains and valleys in these parts have been moved by seismic and other forces out of California’s usual north-south orientation into an east-west configuration.” — The Los Angeles Times 2/17/90


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Late afternoon, crossing the seismic detritus of a rock-strewn stream on the entrance road to the Taft

The Taft Garden is a 265-acre botanical garden near Ojai, California, that was open to the public from 1994 to 2001, when the Ventura County Board of Supervisors closed it, citing neighbor complaints and permit use violations. A particularly toxic case of NIMBY, it seems. It can still be visited via plant and garden societies, such as the Mediterranean Garden Society, which is visiting this month, March 14 and 15, including in the tour other local gardens such as Lotusland. When I shopped at Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery last week, she invited me to have a look around this garden where so many of her nursery plants have found a home. I knew none of its turbulent history at the time, but even before arriving I was experiencing more than the usual pre-garden visit jitters. It’s a bit difficult to find, and Jo’s cheery caution to talk to no one along the long, hilly entrance road added an unexpected layer of intrigue to the visit.

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Marty dropped me off at this pavilion/visitor center then drove back through the garden to find a place to unobtrusively stow the car.
His next task was to sign the visitor book kept in one of the three “huts” at the entrance. Jo was very emphatic that we sign the book.

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Osteospermums, with Aloe striata blooming in urns. Against the pergola grows bougainvillea, with what looked to be parthenocissus overhead catching the late afternoon sun.

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The spiky outlines to the right of the fountain mark a desert garden.
Plants from all over the world fill the Taft, with special emphasis on Australian, South African, California natives.

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There was a Jurassic Park feel to the place, of an impossibly ambitious dream made real, built and then abandoned after the dinosaurs had dispatched the last of the eco-tourists.
It was a truly eerie sensation to be seemingly the only person experiencing such a dense concentration of botanical riches. The last eco-tourist standing, so to speak.

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A broad path off the pergola. All the paths were broad, deeply mulched or graveled, weed-free. Acacias were in bloom, but the proteas peak fall/winter.
The Taft reputedly has the largest collection of proteas outside of South Africa.

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The Taft is a garden where the rare becomes commonplace, like the fabulous xanthorrhoeas, the Australian grass trees, dotted throughout, with their distinctive deep brown, catkin-like blooms.

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And xanthorrhoeas again, here with bottle trees, Brachychiton rupestris.

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I had less than an hour to visit before the garden closed at 5 p.m, but still lingered quite a while with the bottle trees.

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Paths were deep with the leaf fall of grevilleas, banksias.

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I’m guessing cabbage palms/cussonias.

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Leucospermum. I just planted an orange leucospermum at home, ‘Sunrise’

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Had there been an aerial record of my visit to this garden, you would have seen me scuttling across the landscape like a demented beetle, following any turn in a path that presented itself, erratically reversing course to chase a glimpse of something remarkable in the distance. I covered about as much ground as a beetle could, too, of this vast place. After 45 minutes, I began to hear the distinctive whistle Marty and I use, which I knew signaled the end to our visit. At this point I began to jog along the paths, took a couple of wrong turns, then finally had to stop and listen for the whistle call to lead me out. I wasn’t trying to get lost. Really.

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The many rocks tumbling through this valley 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean have been collected to line paths and create low retaining walls

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Following Marty’s whistle, a glimpse of the windshield emerged just beyond some aloes.

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The car was parked near this little garden at the entrance.

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So instead of heading for the car, I lingered here while the minutes ticked closer to 5 o’clock and the whistle grew more insistent.
The sun was setting and the gates were closing on the first of what I hope to be many visits to the Taft Garden.

(Can’t thank you enough, Jo!)

For more background on the Taft, see this reprint of a 1996 article from Pacific Horticulture

Australian Native Plants Nursery

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For just a two-hour drive up the coast, we ended up covering a lot of continents on Tuesday, botanically speaking, of course. Australia and especially South Africa were well represented.
This was a much-anticipated trip to Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery in Ventura County, and it did not disappoint. In fact, it flabbergasted. Local nurseries are getting fairly good selections now of some of the Mediterranean plants she carries, especially the South African shrubs like leucadendron, but you have to make the trip to Jo’s nursery to experience that peculiar, out-of-body sensation familiar to plant-mad people when surrounded by unfamiliar, intensely desirable plants. Like the gentian-blue Lechenaultia biloba. And so many kinds of banksia, grevillea, leucospermum and protea that never make it to our local nurseries.

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Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’
A one-gallon rode back home with us. I’ll keep this potential 12-footer in a container.
To maintain the texture and silvery-blue color to the juvenile leaves, do as the florists do and cut it back hard every few years.

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Grevillea ‘Peaches and Cream’

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Xanthorrhoea.

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South African bulb Scadoxus natalensis

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I didn’t grab the name, but possibly Banksia cuneata


This nursery is one of my favorite kind, a grower that allows visitors to peek into propagation houses, ask questions, and drive off with new-found treasures.
I limited myself this trip just to the eucalyptus and a brachysema, now known as Gastrolobium sericeum ‘Black Form,’ with flowers as dark as a Zwartkop aeonium.
I’ll leave the corgi at home next time to make more room for plants.

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Gastrolobium sericeum ‘Black Form’


Check the website for the most convenient days to visit and always call ahead so you won’t miss the opportunity to meet Jo, who is as nice as she is knowledgeable. Even though she was busy with the spring tasks of moving tender plants out from under covers, she always kindly hovered nearby to answer any questions. (Are all Australians this friendly and approachable?) Tucked in tight against the hillside, temps in her particular microclimate dip down into the teens, and many of these plants can’t be grown safely unprotected through winter at the nursery. I asked if there were any local gardens where I could see some of these plants grown, and Jo said there was a garden she had been supplying plants to for 20 years, the Taft garden, a few miles away. I’ll get some photos up on the Taft hopefully over the weekend.

birthday plants

My birthday took up just about every single day last week, and more days on the weekend, which is how I rationalized a trip on Saturday to find that hitherto unknown-to-me, unmet, spectacular plant that would forever after be marked as my, gollum gollum, birthday present. (Because we wants it.) At our house we always make a big deal about not making a big deal about birthdays, no presents, please, thank you very much, which has the unintended (intended?) consequence of turning birthdays into birthweeks. You don’t want any presents? You better take off work then. Can’t buy you anything? Then I’ll cook you a special dinner tonight. And tomorrow. And breakfast the day after. And bake you a cake. And why don’t you sleep in this morning, and I’ll feed the cats?

Yes, I don’t want any presents for my birthday, but I don’t mind some festive shopping around for something fabulous in the leaf and twig department during my birthday/week celebration. And on Saturday I did find my birthday plant, but it could not be had for love nor money, birthday or no birthday.


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An unknown, unnamed leucospermum looking extremely fat, happy and floriferous. Weren’t these supposed to be the malingering shrubs with soil issues? The grower is now out of business, and the retail nursery where this thrives in a sloping display border, Roger’s in Newport Beach, has been trying to find more stock for the past two years, without success. I know all this because I shouted out questions to one of their nice, extremely busy employees who was mid-stride in the process of helping another customer. Beautiful plants can cause my manners to slip occasionally.

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Research suggests it’s probably Leucospermum cordifolium ‘Yellow Bird,’ one of the pincushion protea shrubs from South Africa. A nursery in Ventura County I’ve been meaning to visit, Australian Native Plants Nursery, has it back-ordered. I see that they consider it a candidate for containers, which is wonderful news because there isn’t an inch of garden available for a shrub. I very possibly need to extend my birthday/week further to include a trip to Ventura.

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On Saturday I watched the shoppers peruse and select plants, which is endlessly fascinating. And I sniffed the sweet peas.

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And admired the new succulent plantings.

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Slipping in a tiger-striped aloe among the echeverias was a nice touch.

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This nursery leans toward an Old World, heavy-on-the-European influence, so it was nice to see some pieces made of concrete, simple and unadorned.
Or possibly a lightweight stand-in for concrete. I didn’t touch.

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And I envied the luxurious billowing of Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Flare,’ one of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials signature annuals.

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And noted the effects of the afternoon sun on a bromeliad, glowing, backlit, diffused by a screen

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More screen and shadow effects, this time with a tillandsia.


I just love birthdays, even without any presents — maybe especially without presents. I’ll take the gift of time filled with beautiful incidents over presents anyday.

what Dustin Gimbel does with gazanias

The humble gazania, that kaleidoscopic daisy from South Africa overused in years past as the go-to municipal ground cover, is undergoing a minor local revival. I included a few for this summer in my full-sun back garden, the LA Times did a brief writeup on them, and Los Angeles-based garden designer Dustin Gimbel designed an industrial business park frontage around their free-spirited contributions to the horizontal plane. Three examples hardly make a trend, but I think we’re all tapping into a retro-daisy zeitgeist. LA’s once ubiquitous, overplanted “freeway daisies” are sexy again. A tough, waterwise, vibrant daisy gets a new look when joined by a few well-chosen succulents and really brightens up a business park.

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Above photos by MB Maher

In Dustin’s gazania revival, he includes agaves like ‘Blue Glow,’ Aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf,’ Euphorbia tirucalli, and a stunning pouf of a euphorbia that breaks up and redirects the gazania’s silvery leaves like boulders in a river, Euphorbia mauritanica.

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I carefully stepped into the plantings, almost in full shade from the building by mid-afternoon, to catch the wave of silver as it undulates, pools, and swirls around the succulents.

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And to get a closer look at South Africaner Euphorbia mauritanica, also known as the Pencil Milkbush.
Dustin describes this shrubby euphorb as “cushiony, noodle-y goodness.” I so agree.

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As seen on the far right, Euphorbia mauritanica is just beginning to bloom in typical euphorb, acid-yellow style. Dustin also planted a few young Acacia stenophylla trees in this large industrial park rectangle, which measures approximately 12 feet wide by at least three times that in length, and the design can be easily tweaked over time to accommodate the growth of the trees.

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Dustin shows how gazanias, when treated with invention and respect, don’t just cover the ground but make it memorable.

For similar plantings, that other multi-colored, tough daisy with silvery leaves, arctotis, has been stealing gazania’s thunder lately, but arctotis quickly builds up and sprawls into a taller, bulkier plant. For a low, horizontal effect, gazania is the one. Perennial and evergreen here in zone 10, grown as annuals in colder zones. Choose the silver-leaved varieties, not the green-leaved, to get that glaucous base coat for other colors and shapes to play against. Some species of gazania, like G. linearis, have shown moderate potential for invasiveness and should not be planted close to wilderness areas.