Tag Archives: vines

friday clippings 6/24/16

Little Diego next-door has taken upon himself the challenge of learning drumming. In the last couple months, he’s been practicing on whatever is handy, whether it be pots, pans, buckets, gates. It was hard to tell at first how invested he was in his new-found chaotic project. I suspected it was just a goof to annoy his mom, but he has persisted for at least a few months. And today I could detect for the first time his discovery of pattern and repetition. I mean it was just the usual wild thrashing and then, boom, he was controlling the beat. A momentous day for the little guy. He lives just on the other side of the east fence, against which the three big lemon cypresses somewhat muffle his practice sessions.

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For muffling little drummer boys, privacy, beauty, bird sanctuary, the cypresses are incredibly valuable to us. But of course I couldn’t just let them be cypresses.
They’d be perfect as scaffolding for vines, right? But not at the expense of harming them, of course. And that’s a very fine line, I’ve come to find out.

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I’m still amazed that the Solanum ‘Navidad, Jalisco’ from Annie’s Annuals has become this happy.
It was planted against the fence, in the dry soil amongst the cypresses, with not enough light, and seemed to be puny and languishing for forever…until it wasn’t.
This is all so new, that a plant has actually followed orders: Get in there, don’t mind the awful conditions, and climb that cypress, will ya?
And it’s possible the solanum may be too obliging and eager to please. Because when it comes to choosing between the cypresses and a rollicking, rampageous vine, that’s an easy choice to make.
Little Diego has lots more practicing to do this summer.

Have a great weekend.

gardens without borders

This corner of my small, jam-packed garden is where it gets crazy. Okay, okay. Crazier.

This east end of the garden kind of horseshoes around this collection of containers, with the main sitting area (and more containers) off to the left.

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At first glance, I realize the takeaway is That’s a lot of containers. The polite version anyway.

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Agave x leopoldii and Agave ‘Tradewinds’ among the pots stacked on the concrete core samples.

And that’s no lie. Everyone knows that potted plants have a lot in common with rabbits, right? Same proliferation capabilities.

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But there’s even more containers here than meets the eye.
Here on the east fence, this little bricked area was once a much bigger seating area, covered by a pergola for shade.
Catastrophe struck when a eucalyptus fell on the pergola (which saved the house), and I’ve since nibbled away at the bricks to plant the cypresses for privacy.
A little creative destruction, with catastrophe viewed as opportunity. Now it’s just a small bricked postage stamp perfect for staging pots.

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Planted behind the postage stamp in the ground are the cypresses, of course, and the grasses, Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket.’
I much prefer how this grass grows here, constrained by the cypresses. The expanding clumps in the main garden will need to be split this winter.

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To get our bearings, the furcraea is in the ground in the arm of the horseshoe that separates the postage stamp from the main sitting area near the house.

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Everything else, including the Salvia ‘Waverly’ and Leycesteria formosa, are in containers hidden behind the staging for the succulents.
I can’t keep this moderately thirsty and very large salvia in the garden anymore, so I’m treating it like a summer annual for a container.
And I’ve learned that the finicky leycesteria needs perfect sun/shade, so a container makes sense for it too.
I thought they’d both look great in fall against the grasses in bloom. The staging hides their large, black plastic nursery containers.
The leycesteria (aka Pheasant Berry aka Himalayan Honeysuckle) should have blooms, but mine is still all leaves at this point, which I don’t mind at all.

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The soil in this narrow strip against the fence is filled with cypress roots now, but that doesn’t mean the fun is over.
The Spanish Flag vine, Mina lobata, is growing in a container at the base of the middle cypress.
It needed a little training at first, but being a vine it knows exactly what to do and has really gotten down to business in the last month.
This annual vine, always suggested as an easy climber for summer, is day-length sensitive and will only flower when the nights grow just long enough to suit it.
I’m not sure if I’ll see flowers this fall before the seasonal Santa Ana winds off the desert whip through the garden and shred the Spanish Flag to pieces.
Who said gardens aren’t exciting? They’re full of cliff-hangers like this.

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Another vine, Passiflora ‘Sunburst,’ is in a container at the base of the first cypress, where it’s scrambled up over 12 feet in a very short period of time.
It has set loads of buds, but it may be too late in the season. I’ve read that this passion vine doesn’t mind cooler temperatures, so we’ll see.
The Batman cape-leaves are almost entertainment enough.

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I’ve got a couple more passion vines in containers, one at the base of a pittosporum and another against the back wall of the house (getting too much southern exposure at the moment).

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Just as I always do with potted agaves, I plunged this Agave geminiflora into the garden when some post-summer room became available.

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Containers give so much flexibility, there’s no limit to the amount of crazy you can stir up.
Bring a vine to the cypress. Turn up or down the water. Moving to the Canary Islands? Give them all away to a lucky bunch of friends.
Another great thing about containers is, if you go back to the top photo and cover the pots with your hand, the collector mania is instantly drained from the photo.
Take away the containers, and once again you’re a respectable citizen in a serene garden with healthy control of your impulses.

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I look at it this way: If the vine experiments fail, I’ll have empty containers ready to use next summer.

Wednesday clippings 8/26/15

So what’s shakin’ this muggy end of August? As little as possible, you say?
There’s been all manner of weird stuff going on, including a recurring problem with street-parked neighborhood cars getting their gas siphoned.
This on the heels of the rash of catalytic converter thefts a couple months ago.
And then there’s that wobble and/or meltdown in the stock market that’s got Marty cursing like the sailor he is.
Lots of plant losses, of course. I could go on, but instead I’ll just paraphrase Annie Hall, that summer is full of misery and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.

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For vigor so unstoppable all summer it borders on downright rudeness, you can’t beat a yucca.

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Yucca ‘Margaritaville’ has two bloom spikes, just this one showing for now, but there’s another spear gaining size.

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Proof that it’s not just a pleasure garden, but a working garden. With some reading and occasional napping too on muggy days…

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Knock wood, Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ seems to have survived its first summer.
I am basically a gadget-free gardener, but this summer has sparked an interest in researching soil moisture sensors like they use in viticulture.
There’s a lot of root competition from neighboring gardens, trees, hedges, and just when I think things are well-watered for a couple weeks, there’s signs of stress.
Unlike all the stuff I’m asked to review that I’m either (a) uninterested in or (b) unqualified to comment upon, a moisture gauge would get my thoughtful appraisal.

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This bocconia in particular has been a problem child in that regard.
Supposedly drought tolerant when established, it’s a few years old now and still shouldn’t be getting the vapors if it misses a drink now and then.

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Well, here’s something cheerful. Max Parker kindly sent this photo to verify my Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak’ had arrived safely at his new home.
The trade was this agave for a couple passifloras, ‘Sunburst’ and ‘Flying V.’ What a deal! Both of these passifloras are smaller vines, not house-eaters.
I’ve tentatively placed the potted ‘Sunburst’ at the base of one of the lemon cypresses, which will provide a good amount of sun but hopefully not too strong.
The theory is the vine will seek out the shade/sun exposure it prefers as it threads through the cypress. There’s nothing to photograph yet. Maybe in a couple weeks.

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I got the idea to use the cypresses because it seems to be working for Mina lobata, self-sown from last year. No blooms yet but, unlike last summer, the leaves stay in good shape all day.
I’m trying to find that sweet spot, where there’s enough sun for blooming but not too much that the vines are wilted by the end of the day.

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I’ll close with this nice planting of Agave ‘Cornelius’ I spotted recently in Downtown Los Angeles.
Gotta go put some clothes in the dryer.


Passiflora loefgrenii, also known as the garlic passionfruit vine from Brazil, is making an unlikely, late-December flowering debut in my garden. This December show is probably a one-time fluke for a summer bloomer that will settle down to a more predictable routine after its first year. Then again, it may actually prefer to bloom in a zone 10, cool, drizzly winter than during our long, hot, drought-scourged summers. It’s a rare passion flower, without much horticultural information available.


An architectural marvel, the structure of a passion flower was long ago co-opted as a kind of 3-D precursor to a theological Power Point presentation on Christianity: From Wikipedia: “In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion,” a rather funereal association for a vine that attracts and sustains so much life.


I share photographer Andrew Zuckerman’s assessment: “Then there is the purple passionflower, which is an incredibly beautiful, vibrant, flamboyant flower, but its narrative qualities are not that interesting to me.” (quoted from the Smithsonian’s blog Collage of Arts and Sciences, “Flower Power, Redefined.”)

Passiflora’s relationship with various butterflies is well known, but its attractions are manifold; the garlic passionfruit’s “Remarkable flowers…are thought to appeal to hummingbirds when first open then to bees later in the day as their shape changes.” (From Passiflora Online)

My plant is from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. Logee’s has a good selection, as does Kartuz Greenhouses. In Southern California, some passion flowers are fast, rampant growers, so keep ultimate size in mind when making a selection. (Bear in mind that they are a frequent choice to quickly cover chain link fences.) Pollination is thought to be a job for large bees, which works out nicely since our wooden fence is loaded with carpenter bees.



Asarina scandens. What a kewpie-doll mouth.

I love watching how the blooms trace along the ropey stems, scrolling intriguing outlines. See the letter “E”?


A trove of inspiration for a jewelry designer.


A galloping vine, wending its way this summer over the fence and into my neighbor’s peach tree. I hope they feel free to take appropriate action.
I’ve been gently guiding its enthusiasm away from the Monterey Cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora,’ one of three against the fence.
In frost-free areas, zone 9-10, a perennial vine, otherwise grown as an annual. This was supposed to have been the white form.
Now I try to visualize white instead of pink but can’t see how it would work. I mentally squint but see none of the details, just glare.
But that’s probably a failure of imagination. I bet the white form is beautiful against a dark background. (Like a blue fence, the original intention.)
I planted this vine in a container a couple years ago, then pushed it against the blue fence, occasionally remembering to add water.
Just Add Water. Such an important horticultural maxim, with few exceptions. This vine was no exception.
Sneaky roots found their way out of the drain hole at the bottom of the container and into the dry-laid bricks.
I pretended not to notice, and the vine found a more reliable source of moisture and a cool root run.

Sky’s The Limit

It was recently calculated (but not by me) that my little back garden is all of 882 square feet.
After 20 years of gardening here, methodically covering every inch of that 882 square feet, with moisture and light now robbed by mature trees and shrubs, this past year I became intensely interested in vines. It is a gardening cliche, but where square footage imposes horizontal limits, think vertical.


In addition to the above Dicentra scandens for shade, smaller passifloras are being trialed for sun, like this P. sanguinolenta.


Another group of vines catching my attention are the asarinas, in white, purple, pink.


Cobaea scandens, a shameless tart for the camera, like the asarina is theoretically perennial in my zone 10, and I just noted fresh buds forming in the wake of a recent downpour while I was away for a week in NYC. I really hate missing a good downpour. The bicoastal tradeoff was, while it poured at home in Southern California, NYC stayed dry and comfortable, perfect walking weather.


Thunbergias are also snagging my ever wandering attention. I have no photos of the one bloom of a new peachy Thunbergia alata I planted this summer, but I mention them here as an example of a plant that I must have somehow suppressed inquiry into way back, at a time when I was imprudently skipping over anything blooming in orangey/golden yellow. The longer I garden, the more I value the flexibility to recognize the worth of the plants that want to grow where I live, whatever their color. Thunbergia is just such a vine, so I’m planning to include lots more. (For those with an aversion to strident yellows and oranges, your time has come, with new colors appearing every year in peachier tones.) Ducking in for a haircut just before leaving town, I noted the salon’s thunbergia vines in large concrete planters were still blooming lustily, a nonstop, year-round performance of egg yolk-yellow flowers, with only haphazard care from one of the stylists. With color prejudices cast aside, thunbergia offers up some thrilling vines, including the tropical T. mysorensis.

Along with cobaea, thunbergia, and asarina are other valuable vines, annual in zones colder than mine, like Mina lobata and Dolichos lablab of the amazing purple pods and equally amazing name, like a character out of Doctor Dolittle, right alongside Gub-Gub, Dab-Dab, Chee-Chee, and Too-Too (pig, duck, monkey, owl, respectively).


No luck at all the past couple summers with Eccremocarpus scaber, which flourishes in Northern California, as does Rhodochiton atrosanguineum, which drapes and arranges its blossoms of purple parasols in the most enchanting configurations. Manettia cordifolia arrived in the fall order (from Plant Delights), along with a golden jasmine. Next summer, for pole beans, it will be ‘Trionfo Violetto.’ I may even bring back another Antigonon leptosus, the coral vine I grew years ago. No more sappy dreams of clematis though. Yes, they can be grown in zone 10, but not by me, except for my little winter-flowering C. cirrhosa. And vines don’t necessarily have to climb. They are just as happy meandering along the ground, infiltrating horizontally, or spilling out of pots, where the little firecracker vine, manettia, was planted a few weeks ago.


Lastly, the timeless grape, Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’ has been with me a long time, its curtains a brilliant backdrop for other vines and pots of summer tropicals.