succulents make us do the strangest things

I had to laugh when I saw Reuben’s latest project on this post, planting the frame to an old television monitor, which I think is incredibly classy and wish he’d sell to me. (Look at those aeonium knobs!) I completely understand the impulse. Where we differ is, I suspect Reuben starts with the concept first. Most of my projects start with a desperate need to thin out overcrowded plantings.


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The mind and eye wander into the garage, the garden shed, rummaging for something, anything to contain the prodigious amount of offsets these plants produce. I don’t want every pot I own filled with thinnings of Aeonium ‘Kiwi.’ Something with a broad, shallow surface is needed to absorb their numbers — like the base to this old wrought iron table. At first I resisted, because I really wanted to make a functional table of it again, with a usable surface, but the tyranny of the procreating abilities of these plants won the argument. At least I haven’t started planting old boots…yet.


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The table was planted in early summer and was kept in light shade until strong roots formed. Prior to planting, a lot of these thinnings had been dumped into buckets, destined for the compost pile, which had the beneficial effect of drying out the ends to form a callus. Callusing is often recommended and probably the safest practice to prevent the stem from rotting away. But when the planting frenzy started, I also grabbed fresh cuttings from the garden, and these did fine as well.

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In the design equivalent of convergent evolution, the materials and method used were pretty much identical to what Reuben details in his post; stretching and affixing wire mesh hardware cloth, lining it with moss, filling in with potting soil. I moved the table into full sun just yesterday while we’re being graced with an amazing stretch of mild weather in the mid-70s. The sun will bring out the strongest coloring, but I’ll move it back into light shade when high temperatures return. Aeoniums, dark red and ‘Kiwi,’ Echeveria glauca, Sedum nussbaumerianum, Graptopetalum paraguayense. The planting depth is thinnest at the exposed table edges, which should be covered in another couple weeks as the plants enlarge and mature. The mossed screen might be 4 inches at its greatest depth.

Following Reuben’s example, I’m going to try starting with the concept first. Now I’m on the lookout for old tv monitors to accommodate an elaborate staging of the visual pun “Watching grass grow.” But I doubt I’ll have the discipline to see it through and use something as pedestrian as turf. I’d much rather plant it with a bright green screen of sedum. Or maybe I could plant the Indian Head Test Pattern in succulents? (I’m joking…I think.) But the possibilities rival the number of channels on cable. Thanks for pointing the way, Reuben.

comparative aeoniums

One of the perks of winter in a Mediterranean climate is stooping over plants, cup of coffee in hand, hair spangled and frizzed with rain, inspecting the beneficent aftermath of the previous night’s rainfall on the garden. Which are some of the loveliest effects to be had anywhere. Growth, succulence, life. A dry summer is guaranteed in a Mediterranean climate, but winter rainfall can often be disappointingly less than our average of 15 inches.


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Aeonium arboreum hybrid


Last fall I gathered up a bunch of aeoniums in my garden, five different kinds, most of them sporting their shriveled, end-of-summer, traumatized look, and plopped them into a bed right off the back porch steps in anticipation of their winter show. Though many aeoniums will continue to grow and hold it together in summer, the cool temperatures of a zone 10 winter are what really make them fat and happy. (I don’t know about happier, but I can identify with the effects of winter relative to the former.) Since they’re already overcrowded, I’ll dig them up for summer again and probably move them back into pots, but for the winter, their best season, I wanted to keep these hypnotic rosettes close at hand.

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Aeonium arboreum hybrid, less red to the leaf except for a thin edge

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For comparison, a different Aeonium arboreum hybrid with red smearing out from the margins and suffusing the leaves

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100 percent positive this is Aeonium balsamiferum

There’s not a dramatic dark red one in the bunch, just subtle differences in the leaf shapes, edging, and shades of green. I often buy them unnamed.


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But now that they’re plump and gorgeous, it’s bugging me that I don’t know their names. As opposed to when they were shriveled and gaunt in summer, when I didn’t care.

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Aeonium percarneum? Aeonium lancerottense?

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It definitely has a bluer cast to the narrow leaf, with a delicate pink edge. The color of the flower will help with identification.

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This one is bright green with a carmine edge extending in a faint stripe down the middle. Possibly the common Aeonium haworthii?
I bought it as Aeonium rubrinoleatum but can’t confirm the name.

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And I suppose the name isn’t really all that important anyway, because there’s no such thing as an ugly aeonium.


Tuesday’s children

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

I don’t even know on which day of the week I was born, but just guessing, I think I must be a Thursday’s child.
There must be a way to check…and of course there is. Seems I was born on a Sunday. Well, how about that!
You can find out whether you’re full of woe, hard-working, etc., here.

Checking what’s stirring this bright Tuesday morning after a full day of rain.

Tulips and dutch iris

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Cape Hyacinth, Lachenalia ‘Romaud’ (Brent and Becky’s Bulbs).
Clusterhead pinks, Dianthus carthusianorum (from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials).
A tall dianthus, reputedly to 2 feet, but still best planted with good circulation at pathway edges. Trust me on this.

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First bloom on Salvia karwinskii, from the 2010 Fullerton Arboretum salvia sale. Flower color is notoriously variable, ranging from brick red through orange to rosy pink.
Haloragis’ January leaves are the bronziest of the year. Flowers insignificant to invisible. An enthusiastic reseeder, Digging Dog Nursery has plants in stock to get the ball rolling.

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Variegated Sisyrinchium striatum ‘Aunt May,’ a favorite plant I haven’t grown in a while. Its flowers are nice but not essential.
And new this year, showing its first bloom, also from Annie’s, the exquisite Black-Flowered Lotus, Lotus jacobaeus. Finely dissected, silvery leaves, deep maroon-black flowers. Usually it takes two plants to bring silver and burgundy together. Pelargonium sidoides comes close to the same performance. (Geraniaceae carries P. sidoides.)

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I think that lotus deserves one more look.
I hereby nominate it for Tuesday’s child (“Tuesday’s child is full of grace.”)

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Closing with a sweet little echeveria from Guerrero, Mexico, that I’d never seen offered locally before, but which has supposedly been around for a long while. Echeveria multicaulis ‘Copper Roses.’

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The long-awaited winter rainstorms now routinely bring a buzz-killing advisory:

The Interim City Health Officer, Dr. Mauro Torno, has issued an advisory for the beaches in the City of Long Beach following today’s rain. After any significant rainfall (0.10″ or more) high levels of bacteria from storm drains, rivers, and polluted runoff enter into our ocean. It is recommended to avoid all ocean water contact for at least 72 hours after rainfall, especially at storm drain outlets, river mouths, streams, and lagoons. People should always pay particular attention to any warning signs posted at the beach for their safety.”

Onward with Tuesday…

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“The god Týr or Tiw, identified with Mars, after whom Tuesday is named.”

Beer & Art

I’m not arguing that these are the twin pillars of civilization or anything.
Just pointing out that there is a surreal alliance between the two that has been taking place for years in a local abandoned brewery.
The old Pabst Brewery in Los Angeles that I drive by at least once a week is billed as the world’s largest artists’ colony and has been housing working artists since 1982. A peek into the artists’ live/work lofts and sale of their work is held every spring and fall.
One of the great, free, looky-loo adventures to be had in Los Angeles, held again this past weekend.

Pabst is one of the iconic 19th century German-American brewing dynasties along with Miller, Schlitz, Busch.
(Anyone else watching Ken Burns’ documentary Prohibition? Part 2 airs tonight.)
An aerial photo of the Brewery from an old 2008 invite.

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What’s really fascinating to me is what the artists do with the little outdoor spaces just outside their studios.

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All manner of detritus is dragooned into the making of these private gardens. A privacy screen of soup cans.

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Succulents are clearly the artists’ plant of choice. Sculptural plus sturdy enough to ride out prolonged bouts of inattention when the muse calls.

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Though there are exceptions. Wooly pockets and florist’s cyclamen. Rosemary too.

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A meeting of disarmament specialists.

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Kids had a tough time keeping their hands off the creations, like these broken eggshells spiked with jacaranda seeds, props in a fanciful narrative.

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Free admission, free parking, free inspiration. You can sign up for email ArtWalk notifications here.

Succulent Experiments: A Tutorial

What a surprise that Apartment Therapy liked the hanging planters for succulents I blogged about recently. The ones made from…um…car jack stands. Which we just happen to have in abundance here at home because there’s a couple 1970’s Volkswagen vans in the driveway that require frequent maintenance up on the jack stands. All work supervised by the VW engineer in chief.

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Here’s one of the planters with Crassula expansa subsp. fragilis, with the photo from the original post.

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Apartment Therapy said they “would love to see a tutorial.”
That’s all the encouragement MB Maher needed to create a little video on the improbable subject of turning car jack stands into succulent planters.

There’s very little useful instruction happening and really just a lot of silliness but, hey, it’s my first how-to. And, yes, I forgot there were eyeglasses on top of my head. A couple important points I neglected to mention: The excess window screen is eventually cut off, leaving maybe an inch to roll and fold down and tuck in about even with the top of the jack stand. And if you use smaller plants, they can be arranged around the central hanger. The method depicted in the video was chosen because I wanted to start with a bigger, fuller plant.

Car Jack Stand with Succulent, an Anti How-to from MB Maher on Vimeo.

Warm thanks to Apartment Therapy and MB Maher.

Venice Garden & Home Tour 2011

Buy tickets and a map at the Las Doradas Children’s Center, apply the lime-green wrist band, and we’re off on the VGHT 2011 (Last year’s post here.)

Under overcast skies, thirty houses, covering several miles. Bikes would be the preferred mode of travel, but, like last year, sore feet will have to suffice.


Come in and warm yourself by the fire.

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The Porch Steps Up

As garden space shrinks, the focus becomes ever more minute, with no strip of soil too narrow to remain unexploited.
For example, I’m really starting to work the back porch. Every inch, as in the crevice between porch and brick path.

Poppies on March 19. Astonishing how lush plants can grow in so constrained a space.
The insect life on these half dozen plants was a joy to wake up to for the couple months the poppies bloomed.
Busy, noisy little back porch.

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A previous owner redid the old, circa 1919 back porch and added the brick pathway.
The wood form for the concrete porch gradually rotted away, and over the years opportunistic poppies have begun to self-sow in the cool root run between porch and path. Facing south, by May the sunlight is too intense for the potted plants that sat on the porch all winter, and the poppies have gone to seed.
Now little succulents are tucked in where the poppies previously stretched their long tap roots.

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I love how the whole character has changed and become more austere. Hunkered down and ready for the long summer.
Most of these succulents were pups from garden plants, with some cuttings of Aeonium sedifolium tucked in.
I’ll probably pull up the succulents in fall, fattened up for pots or elsewhere in the garden. The poppies will return next winter.

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Despite a few friendly questions (“How long are these poppies going to be here exactly?”) everyone seems to be adapting to the porch doing double-duty.
The door still swings wide. Watch out for and minimize tripping hazards, of course.

Free-Range Succulents

At Lotusland (USDA zone 10), it was thrilling to see succulents set free from ceramic pots to creep and spill over rocks. Increasingly, even in frost-free gardens, succulents have become the darlings of container designs, but where they can overwinter outdoors it’s great to be reminded of the incredible synergy of succulents and stone.


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Succulents in the Landscape

The camera battery charger has been annoyingly misplaced and a new one finally ordered, but it was several l-o-n-g days in coming, at last arriving late afternoon yesterday. At first light I was up, camera in hand, heading straight across the street to take some photos of Holly’s front garden. Her garden intrigues me, for so many reasons. The fact that I encouraged her to do it, just ditch the lawn and go for it, initially had me feeling a little queasy should it end in failure. But what Holly has accomplished has me now regularly gazing over her fence, analyzing the amazing textural drifts she’s achieved. Now we’ve come full circle, and I’m the one begging for cuttings from her garden.

Yesterday I swooned over this Crassula multicava, the blurry foaming sprays of pink-white flowers in the center, and took home a rooted cutting. Yes, swooning does get you cuttings. The little crassula in bloom reminds me of a rare saxifrage:


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Some of my plants have ended up in Holly’s garden, but she also has a mysterious source from her workplace. It’s all a little vague, but cuttings and plants seem to be coming from a healing garden made on the grounds of a hospital. The elderly gardener has taken a shine to our darling Holly (who wouldn’t?) and given her some amazing plants, some kept as specimens in pots in her back garden — (not really a garden yet.)

It occurred to me yesterday that the brilliant success Holly has made of her almost 2-year-old, lawn-to-succulents front garden can be attributed to a couple things besides her great design eye and strong work ethic, though those two traits are certainly handy, if not indispensable.


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As a result of Holly’s innate frugality, and probably because the garden started out as an experiment, the succulents in her garden have pretty much all been gifts. She can’t tell you their names and hasn’t been hit yet, mercifully, by collector-mania, so hasn’t succumbed to dotting in one of this and that. Where she spent the money was on tough littlle shrubs, like lavenders, osmanthus, and westringias, that protected the tiny succulent cuttings while they gained size, but these shrubs also really calm and unify the plantings. There’s a couple clumps of a rambunctious plectranthus that have outlived their usefulness in this regard and really need to be yanked, but their early and strong evergreen presence was a great addition while the garden grew in, and she made sure it didn’t overrun other plants. The plectranthus can be seen in this photo fronting westringia, with the red leaves of the African Milk Bush, Euphorbia bicompacta var. rubra, leaning on the birdbath. Holly has no cats, so this little birdbath is strictly standing-room only, with birds pushing each other off the edge for water rights.

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Bella, her enormous and devoted German shepherd, carefully follows the simple large paths around the planting beds while Holly meticulously weeds and cares for the garden. In contrast to the old days of romping on the lawn, Bella has transitioned to the paths beautifully, and since Bella is walked frequently she doesn’t lack for exercise. (As is often the case, the former patches of lawn, though thirsty, were tiny, merely token gestures to a greensward.) Fragile succulents are tucked safely in amongst larger plants. I admired Holly’s huge green aeoniums yesterday. “What are they again?” she asked. A-e-o-n-i-u-m-s. I so admire Holly’s fearlessness, her spirit of trial-and-error, learning as she goes.

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What really got my attention were the swathes of blooms from the Crassula multicava mentioned above and this Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi shown in flower below backed by blue-green Senecio vitalis. So often succulent plantings focus on the geometric leaf patterns at ground level, but the textural drifts from the kalanchoe’s flower sprays had a filmy effect similar to that of small grasses, with flowers dangling like the lockets of Job’s tears/Coix lacryma-jobi. I didn’t get closeups of the blooms, taking photos at a distance over the fence, but I think that’s another strength of Holly’s garden, the use of simple succulents planted en masse. A lot of us were introduced to succulents via Thomas Hobb’s intricate “pizza” concept, fun and useful for containers, but for landscapes large swathes are where the drama is.

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Holly offered, so I grabbed a cutting of the Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi. I’ve grown this succulent in containers, but seeing it blooming in generous sweeps in the landscape was a revelation, courtesy of Holly’s fabulous little garden. These two succulents in bloom gave the plantings a looser, more relaxed quality not often achieved with succulents.

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That she’s smitten with the little garden and has moved far beyond the original impetus to just replace the lawn is thrilling to behold. And now I get to cop the occasional cutting from Holly’s garden. I wish my neighborhood had six more Hollies.

Living Walls: Meet the Fedge

More detailed information on living walls keeps trickling in, this piece from today’s LA Times, where Emily Green takes a contrarian stance. I have to admit, I’ve been silently skeptical but nevertheless reading all I can on this trend. The jury is still out on how resource intensive these creations will ultimately be or their efficacy in performing carbon sequestration, whether they will be the cure for “sick” building syndrome, but I think we can all agree that, visually, they’re simply irresistible.

Amidst all the hubbub, some intrepid souls have been quietly doing their own experimenting with the basic concept of growing plants vertically.

In September 2007 the LA Times reported on a living fence in an article entitled “Fence As Living Mural.” Using the definitions from the ASLA Sustainable Design and Development blog link that Ms. Green provides in today’s LA Times piece, this would fall under the category of a “fedge,” which “consist[s] of a framework structure that keeps the system upright, vegetation layers and an internal growing medium such as soil.”

I don’t live far from this home, so have been keeping on eye on the fence’s progress. Here’s photos I took of this living fence/fedge this morning.


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The framework structure is run-of-the-mill chain link fence, the soil held in place by shade cloth, almost a steam punk version compared to the cutting-edge technologies employed by the progenitor Patrick Blanc for true living walls. In the three years since the article was written, this fedge has nearly swallowed up its infrastructure. There are gaps mostly at the top, which could easily be tinkered with and filled in, but I had the impression that this living fence is not fussed over. Old flowers weren’t clipped off. I picked off some fast-food trash tossed by passersby for a clean photo. (Barbarians!) Shade from a fig tree at one end was causing the most gaposis in the plant growth. Festuca grass grows along the bottom and is obviously struggling in the dry soil. I checked the soil at the top of the fedge, and I’d be surprised if it’s been irrigated since the last winter rains.

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The vigorous Senecio mandraliscae dominates the planting. In my own garden, this succulent responds to trimming by growing back more dense, just as it is doing on the fedge. This is not the project to show off your dainty succulent treasures but to muster only the burliest and the toughest. Note the fedge’s slim profile. Only the festuca slightly encroaches on the sidewalk.

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Kalanchoe daigremontiana, the mother of thousands, should only be unleashed with the utmost care. The MOT has met its competitive match on this fedge.

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This is a closeup of that glorious bulge in the center of the fence, seen best in the first photo. I’m guessing it’s a plant that proved too large for the fedge, that’s now being topped to keep it in scale, resulting in this incredible textural explosion. I need a name! (Edited to add: Senecio anteuphorbium)

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Whatever the form, whether the fedge or the “green facade wall,” I wholly sympathize with the impulse to live up close with these plants. Playing with succulents gratifies the hunger for order, pattern, and texture in a discrete space. The rest of the garden can teeter on the brink of chaos, especially in high summer, but these plants never lose their structural cool. It must be this eminent composure and containability that plays a big part in their appeal.

A closeup of sedum on one of my mossed creations, which puts their intricate patterns at eye level.


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I’ve got to admit, though, that I’m not a fan of the aesthetics of the Woolly Pockets, even knowing that their green credentials are impeccable.
I get enough eye rolling at home over my outre mossed creations. Still, the more experimentation, the sooner we’ll figure out what works.

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