Tag Archives: Verbena bonariensis

Bloom Day July 2016

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I’m going to try a systematic approach, so bear with me.
Right outside the office, the planting is getting some height from the bog sage, kangaroo paws, and Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket’ showing a few blooms way in the back.

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Using the bocconia as a reference point, swinging east, away from the office, the Crithmum maritimum, an almost succulent-like umbellifer, is in bloom at the base of the bocconia.
The grass in front of the crithmum, Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails,’ is just getting started.

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Silvery plant to the right of P. ‘Fairy Tails’ is the Island Bristleweed, Hazardia detonsa, endemic to the Channel Islands off Ventura, Calif.
The tiny golden paint brush blooms are only interesting insofar as they elongate and further develop the plant’s architecture. I love the overall effect.

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Closeup of the crithmum

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Before leaving the office planting, I want to give a shout out to Calamintha ‘Montrose White.’ Frustratingly difficult to get a decent photo of the clouds of tiny white flowers.
But so cool and Grace Kelly elegant. The bees and I are wholly smitten. It is by far the best bee plant in the garden.

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A second clump of Glaucium grandiflorum has just started blooming behind the calamint.

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In the foreground of the first photo is this amazing, silver-leaved mat-grower whose name I never committed to memory. It may have once been known as a helichrysum. Hasn’t every silver plant?
Sold as a summer annual, it would be perennial here in zone 10. Even though planted spring/early summer during some easy-going temperatures, this one gave me the same trouble as Stachys ‘Bella Grigio.’
Both collapsed after a couple days in the ground. I pulled them out, set them in the shade, where they surprised me by fully recovering.
In both cases, the soil mix was incredibly fast draining. The heavier garden soil was wicking away all the moisture.
After recovery, the mat grower was moved back into the garden. Some careful hand watering has helped to reveal its true and sturdy dry garden temperament.
(edited to add mat grower’s identity: Chrysocephalum aplicata. thanks, Hoov!)

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The stachys will reside in a container for summer, and if it makes it to fall I’ll reappraise options for a spot in the garden.
I asked the nurseryman if this stachys was the real deal, as in is it trustworthy enough for use in landscaping projects? He assured me that it was. I remain unconvinced.

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Still near the office, Agave ‘Mateo’ with the Crambe maritima (that never blooms), orange arctotis, Ricinus ‘New Zealand Purple,’ succulents, sideritis.

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Verbena bonariensis finds support among aloes and agaves — as do I!
(Okay, I’m officially ditching that impossible systematic approach now.)

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Penstemon ‘Enor’ had the usual problems with budworms blasting the flower buds before opening, but the wasps seem to have sorted it all out now.
My theory is whatever insecticide suppressant is in use at nurseries wears off soon after planting. As ever, I’m always thankful for parasitizing wasps and hungry birds.

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Origanum ‘Rosenkuppel’ in the center, with yarrow and agastache.

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Yesterday I took out the largest planting of this oregano to try out Sedum ‘Blue Pearl.’
The oregano is a demure evergreen mat all winter but leaps into alarmingly expansive growth in summer. It suffocated a grevillea and threatened to do the same to other neighbors.
Like first world problems, similarly, these issues get filed under small garden problems.

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Calamagrostis brachytricha has about five bloom stalks. Prefers moist soil, but okay on the drier side.

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Ruby grass, Melinus nerviglumis, was recently added to fill gaps where I took out a couple clumps of Elymus ‘Canyon Prince.’
I love the elymus, but it also needs a bigger garden to develop and play out its rhythms. And possibly a more wind-exposed site.
One clump of elymus tentatively remains.

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And yes, Margaret, there is a fast-blooming puya. Not the sexiest, but the quickest to bloom.
And Puya laxa’s very prickly leaves are like silvery tillandsias for full sun. It’s a notorious spreader, so it remains in a pot.
Since this photo, a navy-blue flower has opened, barely discernible in the overall scheme of things.
Even though it’s not one of the flamboyant turquoise beauties, I do appreciate the quickness to bloom, tall, stemmy structure, and the gorgeous leaves.

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Bulbine ‘Athena Compact Orange’ blooming through a carpet of horehound, Marrubium supinum.

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A second clump of bog sage mid garden with Verbena bonariensis. The black bumblebees and hummingbirds go for the bog sage, the butterflies favor the verbena.
The bog sage, Salvia uliginosa, has elbowed out Crocosmia ‘Solfatarre’ this summer, so there will be some shifting around this fall.

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Just giddy about summer-blooming Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’

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Possibly Aloe ‘Christmas Cheer’ giving off some July cheer too.

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Mid garden crescendo with Agastache ‘Blue Blazes,’ Achillea ‘Terra Cotta,’ eryngium, glaucium, oregano, verbena, anthemis, bog sage, melianthus.

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Indefatigable Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ bulwarked by Senecio medley-woodii. Anthemis ‘Susannah Mitchell, kangaroo paws.
Berkheya purpurea obligingly keeps sending up one bloom truss after another.

And that, give or take, is a wrap on July’s Bloom Day.
Check out our host’s site May Dreams Gardens for more blog contributions to July Bloom Day.

Saturday clippings 4/9/16

The Los Angeles Festival of Books is this weekend. I haven’t been in ages. I can only imagine what the food truck scene is like now. I didn’t see any garden-themed speakers on a quick check of the roster, but long ago (1998!) I attended talks by Robert Smaus, (former LA Times garden editor) Clair Martin (Huntington rose curator) and Robert Perry (native plantsman extraordinatire). The political discussions used to be very good, and around 2004 we attended a panel discussion on the Iraq War, with the late Christopher Hitchens attempting to defend his pro-war position (mostly a position he held in sympathy for the Kurds, I think), along with Mark Danner, Samantha Power and Robert Scheer. If you go, bring an umbrella.

The past two days have brought light rain, a hockey victory for the Kings over the Ducks (ferocious Los Angeles vs. Orange County rivalry), so all in all, it’s been a pretty good week.
On the Metro yesterday, when the doors opened at a stop midway to downtown, a gust of jasmine flooded the train, causing me to look up from my reading, just in time to see the jasmine draped over a chainlink fence begin to recede as the doors shut and the train sped away. Talk about fleeting fragrance. There’s a tall, columnar, ferny-leaved tree along the freeway in bloom now too, golden flowers, whose name I’ve forgotten. The flowers almost look grevillea-like. Not knowing the name is bugging me. Any ideas? I was thinking maybe lyonothamnus but the flowers aren’t a match.

In my own little garden, this week I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite kinds of plants, those that “grow up, not out.”* Not necessarily plants that have been bred to behave and grow in tight spots, though that’s a subject in its own right. I’m talking about ordinary plants with transformative abilities. Smallish footprint, big aerial drama. Here’s a couple examples I’m enjoying this week:

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The old standby, Verbena bonariensis. This is a two-year-old plant, so it made quick growth this year.
Annual in colder zones. It’s a much better plant for me in its second year, more uniform in structure.

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The poppies will probably be over by the end of April.
Another plant that visits the garden and then leaves without causing a lot of disruption.

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I’m not sure if this is Passiflora exoniensis, but whatever it is, I think I’ve found a vine to ease the pang of being unable to grow rhodochiton.
(Ever so grateful to Max Parker for this!)

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I lost the main clumps of Aristida purpurea, which didn’t impress me hugely last year.
I love what a seedling has done with this agave, though. Much better placement than my attempt. More, please.
And I really should thin those pups out this weekend.

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Albuca maxima. I moved a couple bulbs into the back garden. This one does quite the disappearing act, dormant in summer.

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The Rudbeckia maxima experiment continues. Very entertaining so far.

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Depending on how it handles dryish conditions this summer will decide its ultimate fate.
You can’t really describe this as having a small footprint either, but I’ve removed some of the lower leaves.

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Nicotiana ‘Hot Chocolate’ easily hoists itself above the crowd, without being any trouble at all. Self-sows.

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Kniphofia thompsonii var. snowdenii is slim and elegant. I hear it can be trouble with more water, but it stays put here.

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Crambe maritima breaks the tall and slender theme, but look at those gorgeous new leaves.

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I’m getting lots of seedlings of this sideritis. I think it’s Sideritis oroteneriffae. If you feel otherwise, let me know.

And have a great weekend!

*“Sister Sue, she’s short and stout
She didn’t grow up, she grew out”
— Randy Newman, “My Old Kentucky Home”*

I’ve been reading Greil Marcus’ 1975 landmark paean to American music “Mystery Train” on the Metro to work. Any critic who up front acknowledges a debt to Pauline Kael is fine by me. If you’re short on time, just read Marcus on Robert Johnson, the musician whose skill went from so-so to prodigious in such a short period of time that he was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil. Without Johnson, The Rolling Stones couldn’t exist. Books, music, and plants — is there anything I’ve forgotten? Didn’t think so.

Bloom Day April 2014

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A day late for the Bloom Day report, with the above photo of the back garden taken this overcast morning and most of the closeups taken the past couple days. It’s all shockingly rumpled and disheveled already, but I still love waking up to it every morning. I’ll use this photo as a point of reference. Verbena bonariensis is already pushing 6 feet, almost as tall as the tetrapanax. The poppies were the first to bloom, followed this month by the self-sowing umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora, the little pops of white. All this blowsy madness will be over too soon, by May probably, and then we’ll be tidy and respectable again, refreshed and ready to dig in for a long, hot and very dry summer. Deep blue on the left is the fernleaf lavender Lavandula multifida, which will be a mainstay throughout summer. There’s about six clumps of this lavender throughout the back garden. (A couple days ago I bumped into an old 2012 article in The Telegraph in which designer Tom Stuart-Smith uses the words “exotic meadow” to describe some planting ideas he’s playing with, and those two words pretty much sum up the back garden this spring.)

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To the left of the tall verbena, the monocarpic umbellifer Melanoselinum decipiens is in bloom.
Since it’s supposed to make great size first, I’m guessing this is a hurried, premature bloom, hastened possibly by conditions not expressly to its liking.
Maybe it’s been too warm already.

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Scrolling back up to the first photo for reference, the orange spears in the background on the right are Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

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And furthest right, nearest the arundo, the Kniphofia thompsonii I moved from the front gravel garden last fall. An aloe that actually prefers nicer, cushier digs than the gravel garden.
I finally noticed all those suckering green shoots on the potted Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’ and removed them yesterday.

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Also in this area, near Stipa gigantea, Salvia curviflora has started to bloom, with more photobombing poppies.

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The salvia is surrounded by the leaves of summer-blooming Agastache ‘Blue Blazes’

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The little 4-inch pot of Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii’ I brought back from Far Reaches Farm is turning into a graceful shrub.
(Under the wire basket I’m protecting some newly planted corms of the Gladiolus papilio hybrid ‘Ruby,’ tall and graceful as a dierama.
There’s no current U.S. source, but Sue Mann of Priory Plants very kindly and graciously sent me a few corms.)
Towering Euphorbia lambii is in bloom in the background.

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This plectranthus is doing a great job as a stump-smotherer.
The stump of the smoke tree ‘Grace’ was still sending out shoots last year, not so much anymore.

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Second (or third?) year in the garden for the Baltic parsley, Cenolophium denudatum, so it’s quite tough as well as graceful. I think the seed came from Derry Watkins.
Who knew umbels could have such variation in color: the orlaya is the whitest umbel, the melanoselinum a pale pink, the Baltic parsley more green than white.

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Last year the pergola had draped canvas for shade, and this year Marty rigged up something more permanent.
It’s shady all day, except for late afternoon, when the sun slants in from the west, and is my favorite spot for viewing all the aerial pollinator activity on the garden.
I’ve been pulling most of the poppies from this area that was reworked last fall, which is now mostly grasses, calamint, phlomis, the Cistus ‘Snow Fire,’ isoplexis.
A big clump of kangaroo paws is just coming into bloom out of frame to the left.

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I doubt if the isoplexis lasts long in this strong western exposure. Everything else will be fine.

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Salvia pulchella x involucrata blooming into Senecio viravira

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The irises again, with the big leaves of the clary sage just behind.

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The little annual Linaria reticulata just happened to self-sow near the dark iris and the Coprosma ‘Plum Hussy.’ You just can’t make this stuff up.

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Closer to the house, looking down through the pergola, with the shrubby Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’ in the foreground.
The mint bushes are notoriously short-lived, and I’ve already got a replacement in mind, the smallish mallee Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ I brought back from Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery.

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Flash of pink at the far end of the pergola comes from a stand of pelargoniums, including this P. caffrum X ‘Diana’ from Robin Parer’s nursery Geraniaceae.

And that’s what April looks like in my tiny corner of Long Beach, California. More Bloom Day reports are collected by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

I’ve frontloaded my tumblr (under “Follow“) with lots of old photos and have been adding new ones too.

Verbena bonariensis unchained

Maybe you’ve already bumped into these photos on Pinterest or tumblr, which surfaced in May 2013, of some startlingly robust Verbena bonariensis bursting skyward from an enviable geodesic concrete container. The image is from the garden and blog of Svante Öquist, Svante’s World, and brings up a couple of good points. One would be that drought and water scarcity don’t mean you have to aim low for containers in summer. Choose something sturdy like this verbena, give it the cushy container life for summer, and stand back. Another point is not to be afraid of the ordinary. This verbena is so widely prescribed and grown as a slim, tough, butterfly-attracting, “see-through” plant for summer that it would never cause a collector’s heart to palpitate, and yet by simply taking it out of the ground and elevating it in a container an extraordinarily dramatic result is produced. Something else these images show is how just a single container alone can signify the flowering fecundity of summer, especially if it’s a show-stopper like this. Apart from the verbena, there’s little else in bloom. Summer doesn’t have to mean wall-to-wall flowers, an expectation that generally relies on steady amounts of water, at least here in summer-dry Southern California.

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This quote from Mr. Öquist, executive director at Elle Decoration, reveals a charming self-awareness:

Jätteverbenan, Verbena bonariensis , has become our ‘signature flower’ and is absolutely indispensable in our garden. It has become something of a sport to get it to grow bigger and bigger and I admit that I get an extra kick when passersby stop and say WOW! – More complicated than that, I’m not ;-)”

Mr. Öquist starts his plants from seed every year, so he gets this astonishing performance in one season. Here in Southern California it is a short-lived perennial and self-sows lightly. I had noticed a few seedlings near the mother plant in the back garden, which I intended to remove and compost, but after seeing these photos I dashed out in the rain to rescue them, potting them up for a trial in containers this summer.
(Oops, I think my competitive streak is showing…)

Bloom Day July 2013

An extravagant display of blooms isn’t the overwhelming impression the garden is making this July, which is pretty typical.

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Though the Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket’ grasses are technically blooming.
In the dimming twilight, the ferny leaves of Selinum wallichianum can just be made out leaning onto Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’ in the foreground.

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And the sideritis is also technically in bloom.

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Solanum marginatum’s white blooms are for all floral intents and purposes invisible.

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And there are blooms you have to move leaves aside to see, like with this little Aristolochia fimbriata. Since it reminds me of a tick, I don’t mind if the flowers stay hidden behind those very cool leaves.

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In the foreground lean in the bleached-out plumes of Chloris virgata. Eryngium pandanifolium tops the pergola in the background

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‘Monch’ asters are responsible for some of that blue.

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And ‘Hidalgo’ penstemon is the tower of lilac blue. So far this is a beautifully erect penstemon that I’d absolutely include in next-year’s garden if it decides to return or maybe seeds around. From Mexico, zoned 9-10, reputedly long-lived and not touchy about drainage issues. On that count, one of the first casualties this summer is the lovely shrub Phylica pubescens, pulled out yesterday. I pruned it lightly when I returned from being away a couple weeks. Immediate decline followed. Never, never prune touchy shrubs mid-summer. Will I ever learn?

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Peachy yarrows like ‘Terracotta’ line the path cutting through the border behind the pergola, now not more than a dog track.

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Salvia chiapensis flowering at the base of the eryngium.

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More closeups of Eryngium pandanifolium, the undisputed rock star of the garden this summer.

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Persicaria amplexicaulis will pretty much own the garden in August.

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In July I’m glad for every Verbena bonariensis I pulled out of the paving and planted into the garden in spring

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One of the “suitcase plants,” Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess.’

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Crithmum maritimum weaving into Senecio viravira. The senecio is starting to throw some more of its creamy blooms after being thoroughly deadheaded about a month ago.

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So far the crithmum has been the most reliable umbellifer to flower through summer. (Selinum wallichianum is struggling. to put it mildly.)
Crithmum with yarrow and Eryngium planum.

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Crithmum, yarrow, leaves of persicaria, calamint, anthemis, agastaches, anigozanthos in the background

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Some peachy Salvia greggii are building size for a late summer show with the grasses.

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I carved off some bits of the ‘Skyrocket’ pennisetum in spring to replace Diascia personata which I found disappointing, and the grass bulked up fast. Its slim tapers move quickly from burgundy to beige.

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Tall, sticky-leaved Cuphea viscosissima seems to love the heat.

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Plectranthus neochilus is starting to bloom heavily, just as nearby Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ slows down after being cut back

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Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ lightly reblooming

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In a border closest to the garage/office, early spring-blooming annuals and flopping penstemons were replaced with Gomphrena ‘Strawberry Fields’
and Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons.’

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Russelia reminds me of a blooming restio, great for texture tumbling around nearby containers. It’s planted in the garden and does well with minimal irrigation.

There’s odds and ends I left out, such as eucomis and the passion flower vine which has been wonderful all summer, but that’s the sketch for July. Sending out solidarity to those suffering in excessive heat, or too little heat if that’s possible, unseasonal drought, too much rain. It’s always something in July! Thanks as always to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day on the 15th of every month (and not minding those straggling in a day late).

Bloom Day June 2013

For a girl who couldn’t get an eryngium to bloom before, this is shaping up to be an exciting summer.

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Eryngium pandanifolium is supposedly the biggest eryngo of them all. I’ve been intently watching it develop this wicked candelabra of a bloom truss. Each morning the bloom stalk twisted in a different direction, as though it had been thrashing about during the night in the throes of birth, like H.R. Giger’s Alien. Today it was fully upright and looks like it means to stay that way. 5 feet tall and still growing. I planted it at the patio’s edge and have basically relinquished use of this little patio off the back door, removing chairs and most containers, so the eryngo gets lots of light and air at its base. Its barbed leaves sprawl onto the bricks, covering most of the patio, but what price love?

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But there is such a thing, believe it or not, as too much excitement

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Hmmm, something’s missing…

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Now you see it, now you don’t. Another day, another collapse of a Euphorbia cotinifolia in my garden. I think this is the third, maybe fourth time. The rope on its trunk was tied to a nearby Argemone munita to keep the argemone from falling. There’s irony there somewhere.

Last Friday, June 14, at 2:10 p.m., I heard a whoosh, peeked out the office door, and beheld the awful horizontality. But the smash wasn’t entirely unexpected. I left this comment on Hoov’s blog Piece of Eden June 11: “I was watching my Euphorbia cotinifolia sway in the breeze yesterday, swaying from the base of the trunk, as in rocking in the breeze. And it’s listing too, so I think it’s going over soon, right on top of the anigozanthos no doubt. Control is illusion. Loved Ed Norton in khaki in that movie — loved the whole movie. (P.S. I think your pups want to go camping.)” We were discussing her pups’ love of the movie Moonrise Kingdom.

Euphorbia cotinifolia, the Caribbean Copper Tree, is widely used as a summer annual for containers, but in regions without frost it reaches tree size. This tree was a seedling, meaning it was sown in situ from a previous Caribbean Copper Tree, something I thought would give this brittle tree all the advantages it would need for stability. And it had multiple trunks, another plus. A single-trunked copper tree snapped in two during high winds. This is the third time, and I am so not charmed anymore. Marty washed the saw off with soapy water this morning. He was driving tourists on a boat through Long Beach harbor when the smash came. Sunny day, 70-ish degrees, no wind, 2:10 p.m. I worked like a madwoman to remove the tree and assess damages, and the whole mess was cleaned up by 4 p.m. Amazingly little damage was done. That Argemone munita was uprooted, of course. Some broken kangaroo paws were brought in for vases. One of the two stalks of Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ was broken at the base, which I’m trying to root again. A spiral aloe was flung out of the ground. It’s an awful thing to admit, but I was at a local nursery at 4:15 to check out replacements.

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Succulents like these aeoniums were still intact after I pried the tree off of them. Onward with Bloom Day.

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I thought there’d be just two lilies in bloom this summer, this unknown white and the copper ‘African Queen,’ both growing in pots

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But then this regal lily surprised me by surviving in dryish conditions in the garden near the base of a phormium.

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Another surprise bulb, from a bunch of miniature gladiolus I ordered a few years ago. It somehow became churned up when the eryngium planum were planted.
Small but flashy.

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Penstemon ‘Hidalgo’ a shrubby 4-footer just beginnning to bloom

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Bloom puff on Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate.’ This tree, currently in a large glazed pot, is a possible candidate to replace the fallen Copper Tree. We desperately need shade on the office, so replacement discussions are ongoing. I’m leaning toward keeping it full sun and planting some Euphorbia ammak and Yucca rostrata.
We’ll see how much appeal that idea still has in August.

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This kniphofia is loving its new home near the compost pile and is continually throwing new spikes. It might be another case of giving a plant lots of sun and circulation at its base. Another thousand square feet of space and I bet I could get this garden stuff worked out.

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Phylica pubescens, just because this late Bloom Day post has spilled over into Pam’s Foliage Followup at her blog Digging.

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Wonderful Teucrium hircanicum. Blooms from seed its first summer. These plants were all pried up as seedlings from the brick paths in spring.

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The yellow form of Russelia equisetiformis robs it of its common name, the Firecracker Plant, but it’s a good plant in all its colors.

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Ethereal view of the Dittany of Crete, Origanum dictamnus

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Macleaya in bloom. This one’s wandering roots make it more trouble than tetrapanax.

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The last of the annual Coreopsis ‘Mahogany.’ I’ve replaced it elsewhere with gaillardia.

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The Garlic Passion Flower vine, Passiflora loefgrenii, is spilling over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, but then their apricot tree has spilled over into my garden.
I wonder who has the better deal.

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Garlic passionflower jelly anyone?

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I’m trialing three different peachy yarrows this summer. This one ‘Terracotta,’ as well as ‘Marmalade’ and ‘Sawa Sawa’

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At least the Monterey cypresses look stable enough and are making good size at the east fence.

I’ve already been checking out lots of Bloom Day reports via our host Carol’s site May Dreams Gardens. There’s lots of excitement, and of a less calamitous kind, in the blogs this June.

scenes from the garden 6/3/13

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Some of the cast of characters this summer. First spikes of Teucrium hircanicum. Shaggy grass is newly identified Chloris virgata (thank you, Maggie!)

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The peachy ‘Terracotta’ yarrow lining the path are beginning bloom too.
The white umbels belong to Cenolophium denudatum. I’ve already noticed a self-sown seedling.
Sown just last fall with seeds from Derry Watkins.

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Self-sown Verbena bonariensis is already up on its hind legs.

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I love me some summer daisies, and buttery yellow Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell’ just nails it for me as the quintessential daisy of summer.

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More daisies. The first blooms of the ‘Monch’ aster, a daisy often making desert-island lists, 10-best-perennials lists.
A remarkably tough plant, even in perennial-averse zone 10.

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I never thought I’d see clouds of thistly eryngiums in bloom in my garden. Give them space and sun on their basal leaves, and the clouds will come.

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I’m a chronic shuffler. Pots gets shuffled and reshuffled constantly.
Succulents like the ‘Fantastic’ flapjack plant, Kalanchoe luciae, get to summer in the ground once the leaves have toughened up and are of no more interest to snails.

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Cussonia gamtoosensis stretching towards the sun. I’ll probably plant this in the ground in fall.
Which doesn’t technically break my no-more-trees rule since it’s slim silhouette should tuck in just fine, even at 10-plus feet high.

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More daisies, burgundy ones from the annual Coreopsis tinctoria ‘Mahogany’

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Why don’t I grow more lilies?
I have a paltry two pots of lilies this summer. They have no pests here, no scourge of lily beetles.
Growing them in pots keeps them safe from slugs — and from me, since I’m constantly reworking the garden and spearing unsuspecting bulbs.
Pots also make it easy to move them from sun to shade when needed and then whisk them out of sight when they’re done blooming.

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So I repeat, Why don’t I grow more lilies?

Speaking of scourges, the penstemon is succumbing to that omnipresent budworm, possibly the tobacco worm, that always afflicts and distorts the flowers. (If it even is the tobacco budworm — it has no interest in my nicotiana, aka flowering tobaccos.) I was hoping that by not growing penstemon for a few years this nasty piece of work would have moved on. No such luck. And they’re too tiny to find and hand pick or, my favorite method, bisect with scissors. I’m considering BT, Bacillus thuringiensis, a very pest-specific biological pesticide that interrupts the digestive process of tobacco budworms and kills them, and only on the plant where it’s applied. It’s even approved for organic food crops. But as a devout sci-fi fan, I can’t shake the plot twists involving the laws of unintended consequences. Penstemon are otherwise such great plants here, long blooming, drought tolerant. BT has supposedly been cleared as a suspect in Colony Collapse Disorder, that harrowing threat to bees and life as we know it. Since I rarely keep up regimens of any sort, more than likely it’s goodbye penstemon.

Which brings me round again to the question: Why don’t I grow more lilies?

scenes from San Pedro, Calif.

I want to show you a house and garden I found earlier today, but first you’ll need to look at the Pacific Ocean, just as I did before I found the house.


No, this wasn’t a vacation. I had a couple hours between jobs in San Pedro, California, a small town just over a couple bridges from Long Beach.


San Pedro is possibly one of the oddest cities in Los Angeles County, a little harbor town in which the mighty Port of Los Angeles is located that still manages to retain the look and feel of an Italian fishing village. It is as psychologically isolated from the rest of Los Angeles as the Cinque Terre is physically cut off from the rest of Italy. A town immune to endless attempts at gentrification. Town of my father and countless relatives. I lived here in an apartment house overlooking the waterfront in my mid to late twenties. Both my sons were born here. My first community garden was here. So when I got a 2-hour break between work assignments in San Pedro this morning, it was with an insider’s knowledge that I headed to Point Fermin Park, to see if I could maybe sneak into the Sunken City, the apocalyptic remains of a 20th century neighborhood that slumped and slid on geologic waves into the sea.


But I couldn’t very well crawl underneath the security fencing surrounding the Sunken City in work clothes. That would be silly! (and coincidentally illegal but nobody cares.) So I settled for a walk amongst the huge magnolias in adjacent Point Fermin Park, the southernmost point of Los Angeles County, land’s end high up on vertiginous bluffs overlooking the seaweed-strewn tidepools of the Pacific Ocean.


This hilly little town has numerous microclimates. I left hot, clear skies at 6th Street, disappointed that at noon there’d be little chance for decent photos, and traveled less than a mile to find the park shrouded in a moody, dense fog. The cliffs smelled of anise, the fog horns blew, and I happily practiced my rusty native plant ID skills on the coastal scrub. Lemonberry (Rhus integrifolia), coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis). And the dreaded exotic invasive tamarisk (Tamarix aphylla).


Continue reading scenes from San Pedro, Calif.

June 2010 Bloom Day

A 2-year-old mossed basket with sedums, agave, and oregano ‘Kent Beauty.’ I was surprised to see the oregano return this year. Life in a mossed basket can be rough.


The urns of arctoctis. Hopefully, the next time I replant the urns will be the day after Thanksgiving, to fill them with tulips. July is not too early to get a tulip order in for the best bulbs!


Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’ and Libertia peregrinans. This libertia actually is in bloom, tiny and white, but it’s the tawny leaves I’m after.


Crocosmia just budding up, different kinds of forgotten names. Running in ribbons throughout, not in big clumps. I’m always amazed they find their way up and through at all in June.


Continue reading June 2010 Bloom Day

Mergers & Acquisitions

If nature abhors a vacuum, then I am nature’s willing handmaiden. By late May, the garden is stuffed, bursting at the seams like this potted Euphorbia tirucalli.


Echevarias and sedums tucked into every available spot. Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ filling in again after laying low over the winter.


Atriplex hortensis, the purple orach, and Verbena bonariensis dominate the air space.


Yet the plant purchases keep on coming. This summer was to be about downsizing. Fewer pots to maintain and water throughout a very long growing season. The small garden in situ would have to absorb it all. Must have let down my guard because, boy, did I fall off the wagon — fell off it hard, then loaded it up with plants.

I’m still puzzling over what switch flipped that had me racing madly through the nursery, slowing the cart down only for small children and the elderly. For one thing, I never grab a cart. That way lies madness. One must have some rules, however arbitrary, and then stick to them.

The first rule is, only what I can carry with two hands (surprisingly, a lot).

Second rule is, for those moments of extreme weak will, a small hand basket. (Nurseries tend to hide these hand baskets, for obvious reasons, so I’ve often spent up to 20 minutes searching for one.)

There is no third rule, and this just might be the weak link. For that day, there was the second-rule hand basket overflowing with pots, sitting atop the large cart, also overflowing with pots, clearly an unforeseen set of circumstances lying well outside any known rule.

What separated this trip from one of my usual composed, judicious nursery saunters was that it came at the end of Debra Lee Baldwin’s talk at Roger’s Gardens. I’m guessing it has something to do with the “compadres” effect, sitting in solidarity on those bleacher seats with my tribe. Permission to purchase electrified the air. All I know is, after Debra’s talk, the brakes on the wagon were off. I even tossed a couple heucheras on the cart, very uncharacteristic, since I’m not at all a heuchera junkie, but this one has a big, soft leaf, supposedly bred for southern climes. (The best heuchera I ever grew was our native Channel Islands Heuchera maxima, which grew to the size of a zucchini and was often mistaken for one by visitors.)

I never keep a ghetto for new plant purchases. There’s no room, for one thing, so they’d surely expire in some out-of-the-way spot awaiting planting. A planting frenzy always follows a nursery shopping frenzy the very day of, if not morning after, and this planting frenzy had to be the biggest in recent memory. You know that smug, clever feeling when you’ve managed to squeeze in the last impulse buy? Well, it’s fleeting, and there’s always a hangover the next day as you survey your lack of self-control writ large upon the garden.

The spreadsheet (AA denotes a plant from Annie’s Annuals):

Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’
See note above.

Chrysocephalum apiculatum ‘Flambe Orange’ (2 ea 4-inch pots)’

Teucrium hybrid ‘Fairy Dust’ (2 ea 4-inch pots)

Eryngium tripartitum AA (2 ea 4-inch pots)
Tap-rooted, will take up little space.

Aeonium spathulatum var. cruentum AA
Aeoniums need no justification

Arthropodium cirratum ‘Renga Lily’ AA

Neoregelia ‘Purple Stoly’

Saxifraga stolonifera
Replacing last year’s

Venidium ‘Orange Prince’

Tanacetum niveum AA (2 ea 4-inch pots)
Started this from seed last fall but missed a watering cycle(s)

Euphorbia rigida AA
Euphorbias need no justification

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’ AA
Verbascums need no justification

Nicotiana suaveolens AA (2 ea 4-inch pots)
Started N. mutabilis from seed last fall but missed a watering cycle(s).
And nicotianas need no justification

Polygonum orientale, variegated (2 ea 4-inch pots)
Hasn’t prospered for me yet. Third time’s the charm.

Sedum nussbaumerianum was trimmed back just a bit to make room for Euphorbia rigida, etc., etc., until all new acquisitions were merged into the garden.


This weekend were staying miles away from plant nurseries.


Edited spring 3/31/11: Polygonum orientale was spectacular summer 2010. Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ made the best of a poor site, showed beautiful new spring growth, and has been moved to better digs. Teucrium ‘Fairy Duster’ amazingly durable. Euphorbia rigida might be my favorite new euphorb. The neoregelia is robust and thriving. Aeonium is now in bloom. The verbascum bloomed well and a new one was brought in. All others mentioned in above list are not around to greet spring 2011 and did nothing to speak of in 2010.