Tag Archives: ‘ Yucca pallida

notes on spring

I’ve taken some time off work while the family regroups from assorted medical issues, and since they seem to be more or less on the mend I’m sopping up spare time with plant sales and garden tours. Some nurse, huh? Living without back-to-back work deadlines is a heady, liberating experience, kind of a mini-preview of retiring from the day job, and I confess I’ve been running just a bit amok. Imagine a hummingbird’s interests and metabolism in a 5’8″ woman with a car and a smart phone making up for the lack of wings.

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There will be plenty of time for the mundane tasks indoors of cleaning out junk rooms, attending to the paint-starved main room, but right now I’m as mad about spring as any bird or six-legged creature, and hopping around gardens just as furiously. And then there’s this new camera to get the hang of, not to mention a blood-red poppy that’s greeted me the past few mornings, new to my garden, Papaver commutatum, aka ladybird poppy. Devilishly tricky to capture in portrait due to its intense color saturation.

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The morning sun effects an astonishing transformation when it touches those translucent petals, igniting them into molten chalices, and that’s the full-throated portrait of a ladybird poppy that eludes me.

Please, please reseed.

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My old standby, the Poppy of Troy, is much less shy around a camera.

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I still love everything about poppies. Crinkly buds on reedy stems carefully unpack their wrinkled folds to unfurl full-sail, silky blooms. A springtime performance that never gets old.

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More intense red is coming from the scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum rubrum. The cool spring weather has been exceptionally kind to this annual from Algeria.

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I’ve never known Yucca pallida to be recommended for its blooms, and in fact it may be somewhat shy and unreliable in flowering, but the winter rains seem to be convincing a couple of mine to throw bloom spikes. Now we’ll see firsthand what the pale yucca in flower is all about. I think Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ may be intending to bloom as well.

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The milky white ‘Jade Frost’ eryngium bloom trusses are now bluing up. This dry garden perennial has been challenging to establish in spring. It was nursery grown in nearly pure sand, so it readily wilts if overlooked for a few days. Major planting in Southern California gardens, because of our long dry summer/wet winter mediterranean climate, is strongly advised for fall. But then the drought made timing for planting a moot point, and we switched gears to survival mode. And I’ve always tended to flout the planting rules anyway, with occasional failures but some successes too.

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I did get this Leucadendron meridianum ‘More Silver’ planted late fall, so it had a wonderful time settling in throughout the drought-breaking, rainy winter.

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Leucadendron galpinii was also a candidate for the spot but didn’t make the cut, so will spend a second year in a pot, part of my ongoing Shrubs in Pots experiment.

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The acanthus hybrid ‘Morning Candle’ had most of the rainy winter to settle in too.

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For some plants, the epic winter rain was a challenge. I opted to remove a large octopus agave from the back garden when its leaves began to disfigure with black spots from the soggy ground. And I can finally stop worrying about this verbascum planted in a low-lying area.

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The Theodore Payne native plants garden tour a couple weeks ago made me realize that the lack of a flannel bush in the garden was a serious oversight. Spring is definitely not the time to plant California natives, so I made a mental note to order the compact Fremontodendron ‘Ken Taylor’ for fall planting. But you know how it goes. At my neighborhood nursery last week I noticed a couple of beautifully grown flannel bushes. No name, in 3- gallons. The difference in eventual size between ‘Ken Taylor’ and ‘California Glory’ is substantial, at least 10 feet in girth and height. A small garden needs ‘Ken Taylor.’ But California natives planted in spring risk succumbing to warm-weather soil pathogens as water is poured on hoping to revive wilting, summer-stressed plants. Still, I had to ask, so I pestered an employee: Any chance you can source the ID of that flannel bush through your database?

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The one Echium simplex was perfect this year. Last time they bloomed the spikes were deformed by fasciation, an affliction where parts of a plant fuse together and take on bizarre, unnatural shapes. I say affliction, but some people adore fasciation. I admit in some cactus it’s kind of cool.

But, yes, I did plant the flannel bush. After asking for help with the ID, a lengthy line of customers began to queue up, so I told the clerk never mind and continued wandering. What was I thinking, buying a large flannel bush in spring anyway? But who should come running up maybe 10 minutes later to tell me both were ‘Ken Taylor’ — I hadn’t even mentioned which variety I was after. I think I may have hugged him at that point. So of course I bought it and planted it in spring, which is ill-advised. But that’s how these ill-advised things happen.

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Morning glories are scary invasive plants in Southern California, but this relative, Calystegia macrostegia, is a non-invasive native of our Channel Islands off Ventura County. It outlined some impressive arabesques against a dark fence. I had never heard of it, which I mentioned to a nearby Theodore Payne tour-goer, to which she replied, “I’ve got four at home.” I clearly have some catching up to do with our native plants community.

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Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue,’ also from the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour.

Cheers to spring!

Greenlee Meadow Grass Fall Festival 2015

Fall has been stupidly busy, but I’m so glad I made it out to Pomona last Saturday for John Greenlee’s Meadow Grass Fall Festival, the second year it’s been held.
Let’s cross our grubby, fall-planting fingers and hope for another festival in 2016. The food was plentiful and tasty, as were the libations. Alas, I couldn’t stay for the evening jazz concert.
Now based in the Bay Area, Greenlee still maintains the Pomona property where his grassy ambitions first took root.
The festival was attended mainly by designers, and it was an impressively energized bunch.
The prevailing mood seems to be that in drought, there is opportunity — especially for garden designers.
All were eager to hear what’s new in grasses, what’s working, and what isn’t.
John Schoustra of Greenwood Gardens covered daylilies, irises, and pelargoniums, and made an impressive case for the bioremediation qualities of daylilies in the landscape.
I loved the tallest daylilies with the smallest, simplest flowers, like ‘Salmon Sheen,’ which is heresy to true aficionados.
Schoustra’s preference is also for daylilies that read well in a landscape and not for all the ruffles and sparkles that require close-up inspection on bended knee.

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Although I don’t know him personally, our paths have been crossing ever since our kids attended the same private school in Long Beach.

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I well remember the Greenwood van parked at the curb of the old, two-story wooden house where Mitch and Duncan attended elementary school.
Resourceful old houses can double as schools, plant nurseries, like Greenlee’s house on its enormous lot in Pomona.
I arrived late (after getting a bit lost) so missed the opportunity to wander and take some photos of his bamboo-covered garden.

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Part of the sales tables near the house


It can’t come as any surprise by now that I’m an incredibly easy mark when it comes to plants.
And for the first time in a while I actually had some empty ground due to the departure of Yucca’ Margarita.’
I brought home, in gallons:

Three Yucca pallida, Mountain States Wholesale Nursery
Two Melampodium leucanthum, Blackfoot Daisy, from MSWN (if you follow Rockrose’s Texas blog, you already know this remarkable little daisy)
Poa cita, a New Zealander that Greenlee feels might be the replacement for Mexican Feather Grass
Euphorbia antisyphilitica, from MSWN (Total non sequitur, but if you’re watching Soderbergh’s The Knick, you’ll be up to date on the gruesome ravages of syphilis.)

Most of these were selected after hearing the very persuasive Wendy Proud of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery list her go-to plants during her talk “Got Some Ground to Cover?”
Every plant in her roster carried impeccable dry/tough/gorgeous credentials, so look them up for fall planting and ask for them if you don’t see them at your local nursery:

Acacia redolens ‘Desert Carpet’
Dalea capitata ‘Sierra Gold’
Eremophila glabra ‘Mingenew Gold’
Euphorbia antisyphilitica, which at about a foot tall reminds me of a smaller Baja spurge, Euphorbia xanti
Gossypium harknessii
Melampodium leucanthum
Portulacaria afra minima
Scutellaria sp. ‘Starfire’
Yucca pallida
Yucca rupicola


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In constant motion and as animated as any meadow grass, Greenlee packed in a dense amount of information during his talk.
That’s his selection of true blue Cupressus guadalupensis in the distant background.
We were tucked into the narrow, shady former driveway at the entrance to the garden. Temps are still seesawing between upper 80s/low 90s this fall.

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As far as the ongoing search for lawn replacements, Greenlee reminded us that no grass will stay green without some summer water, but the trick is to find a grass that requires the least amount necessary. The more foot traffic is intended, the more water will be needed. For the moment, he’s wild about Leymus triticoides ‘Lagunita,’ which he feels is the closest thing to the perfect California native lawn. In creating a meadow, along with the chosen base grass, architectural accent grasses like Pennisetum spathiolatum add height and movement, and Greenlee has been experimenting with including flowering plants like gazania, tulbaghia, yarrow, gaura, evening primrose. Challenging designers to come up with their own meadow formulations, Greenlee increased the level of complexity by adding that it must all be mowable at some point to rejuvenate the grasses. A lot of people I’ve been talking with share his enthusiasm and feel that this is an exciting tipping point for creating dry gardens without the obligatory, frequently irrigated, and closely mown lawn. The Blue Grama grass selection, Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition,’ got a strong endorsement from him as well, which he sometimes mixes as an accent in plantings of the species Blue Grama. For Greenlee’s definitive advice, consult The American Meadow Garden.

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Planted at home, Euphorbia antisyphilitica to the right of Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’ recently moved here, with a few blooms from Melampodium leucanthum peeking in.
I’d like about five more of this euphorbia, which surprisingly can winter through a zone 7. Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff’ in the background has been phenomenal this very hot summer.
Grey succulent is Senecio medley-woodii which I cut back a lot to encourage bushiness.

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One of the three Yucca pallida, pending mulch.
I was determined to find spots where the slanted afternoon light picks up the leaves’ yellow margins

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Poa cita, Greenlee’s choice over Mexican Feather Grass

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My own personal “meadow,” of course, must include agaves.
Just as the taco truck was arriving, and before hearing Grant Lee Stevenson’s talk on palms, I had to leave.
Did anybody else attend the palm talk?