Tag Archives: Yucca rostrata

a garden visit with bixbybotanicals

It all started with a very sweet and generous offer of some foliage for vases. Via bixbybotanicals Instagram, I learned that his Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ was in full winter dress, and he was willing to share some of the largesse with anyone in Long Beach. The South African conebushes are prized for their long vase life, and since my leucadendrons at home are too young to pillage for vases, I jumped at the chance to pick up some ruddy-leaved branches.


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The Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ in question, so you’ll know in case you’re ever offered some branches. Just say yes.
And you never know — not only did we leave with a bucket stuffed with cone bush branches, but also some delicious duck eggs, which were ravenously consumed for dinner that night.
Okay, great taste in shrubs and garden fowl — who is this guy anyway?

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The shorthand answer to that question?
Just an Italian Renaissance art scholar/teacher and incredibly busy father of two with a big love of dry garden plants and a strong affinity for garden design.

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Of course, I immediately began pestering Jeremy for a return visit with the AGO crew (Mitch), and he graciously agreed to let us explore.

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And on an average suburban lot, there is an incredible amount to explore.
The parkway is filled with California natives, including milkweed and self-sowing Calif. poppies, making a plant-rich corridor between the hell strip and the front garden.

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And here’s where Jeremy’s garden and other front-yard lawn conversions part ways.
Just behind that thick band of plants bordering the sidewalk is this surprisingly private piece of serenity, just feet from the street.
I don’t think I’ve seen a river of blue chalk sticks/Senecio mandralsicae used to better effect. And, yes, Jeremy says they do require a stern hand to keep them in check.
A ‘Creme Brulee’ agave peeks through salvia, the red echoed by callistemon in bloom opposite.

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All anchored by the shiny simplicity of that lone stock tank. (There’s another one in the back garden.)

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I love how he took featureless, flat panels of lawn and sculpted the space into a multi-faceted garden that works for the family, wildlife, and the neighborhood.
A strong sense of enclosure without a fence — who knew? My own street-side (and mangy) box hedges are striking me as unnecessarily claustrophobic now.

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Jeremy seems to have effortlessly managed balancing the broad strokes that strongly lead the eye with the detailed planting that rewards closer inspection.
I counted a total of three Yucca rostrata, but there may be more.

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The front garden was started in 2012, when it was nothing but a flat expanse of lawn and a couple palms. Not a trace of either is left.
(Those are a neighbor’s palms in the background.)

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Now there’s nooks to watch the kids chase butterflies.

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That Salvia canariensis on the corner of the house behind the nasturtiums is going to be stunning in bloom.

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Mixed in amongst the nasturtiums is the charmingly nubby Helenium puberulum, a Calif. native.

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And opposite the chairs and table is another gorgeous bit of planting, deftly angled to screen the house on the driveway side.
Obviously a collector of choice plants, nevertheless his design instincts are manifest in subtle screening and massing for privacy balanced by openness/negative space.
A sentinel arbutus stands apart, with the strong afternoon sun blurring the outline of a 5-foot Leucadendron discolor ‘Pom Pom’ to the arbutus’ left, one I’ve killed a couple times.
Jeremy admitted to lots of failures, too, but his successes are envy-inducing.

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Encircling ‘Pom Pom’ is a detailed planting of aloes, yucca, golden coleonema, senecio, Euphorbia lambii.
Like me, he browses for plants at local H&H Nursery as well as flea markets.

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Detail of arbutus bloom.

But where are those ducks? we asked, hoping to steal a peek into the back garden. The ruse worked.

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To visit the ducks, we were led behind a sleek black fence at the end of the driveway guarded by Acacia cognata.

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And a dombeya, the highly scented Tropical Hydrangea. Jeremy said he chased this small tree’s identity for years.

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All was finally revealed during a visit to Disneyland, where the dombeya was growing, and labeled, in Toontown. In an instant, the silly and the sublime converged.

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Meet the ducks.
Mural in the background was done by Jeremy’s brother.

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I want ducks!

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I asked how the gardens were handling the recent (relatively) heavy rain, and Jeremy said the front garden came through like a champ.
But there has been a bit of flooding in the back garden.

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I’m sure I was told but can’t remember who built the duck enclosure.
What duck wouldn’t obligingly lay as many eggs as possible in such cheerful digs?

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There’s a serious container fanatic at work here too…

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A termite-infested pergola attached to the house had to be knocked down when they moved in, leaving this low wall along the driveway as the perfect spot for staging containers.

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In case you bloggers are feeling that it’s all about Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, Jeremy is a faithful reader of blogs.

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Melianthus major

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Winter-blooming Dahlia imperialis, after several moves, in a spot obviously to its liking.

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For the leucadendron branches, the duck eggs, and the inspiring garden visit, thank you so much, Jeremy!

All photos by MB Maher.

terraced gardens and the Cow Horn agave

I love terraced gardens, with their multiple shifting perspectives from up, down, side to side. I can probably trace this appreciation to an aunt’s hilltop home in the harbor town of San Pedro, Calif. My dad’s sister had a house that overlooked Los Angeles Harbor, bought with fishing money, when there were still big local schools of sardine and albacore. The hill was buttressed by multiple terraces. The plantings were nondescript, but the idea intrigued me even as a kid, this modest example of domestic-scale geoengineering, with the land falling away beneath you, yet there always being level ground underfoot provided by the terracing. Visiting the terraced villages of the Cinque Terre in Italy many years later was a continuation of this childhood fascination. Terraced gardens still pull me in to this day, as this local one did featuring a favorite agave from western Mexico, the Cow Horn agave.


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Agave bovicornuta here being harassed by a bougainvillea. Yucca rostrata on the topmost terrace.

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Aeoniums and lavender, Kalanchoe tomentosa, Aloe striata, with an attempt to tame and train bougainvillea against a retaining wall.
A Dragon Tree holds a corner of the upper terrace.

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Another feature of terrace gardens: incredibly satisfied-looking plants in the free drainage and warmth from the stone in this eastern exposure.
This house and garden is just a couple blocks from the ocean.

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Deep green and blue again, this time the green provided by the Pencil Cactus, Euphorbia tirucalli
The blue agave looks like possibly Agave celsii ‘Nova’ (now going by A. mitis.) except that solitary agave is not known for pupping so many offsets.
It also looks a lot like my ‘Dragon Toes,’ which does offset freely.

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Seems like I gravitate for a while to the powder blue agaves or variegated agaves, but there will always be room for the deep emerald green of the Cowhorn Agave.
Mine succumbed to overwatering in the back garden a couple years ago, and I haven’t seen it on offer locally since.
The back garden is becoming almost as dry as the front gravel garden, so I’ve started planting agaves in the ground in the back again. We’ll see how they fare.

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With rosemary and Echeveria agavoides.

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What the bougainvillea really wants is the terraces all to itself.
I’d never unleash it in this situation, where keeping it in bounds will require frequent trimming, putting the succulents in danger of being trampled if not smothered first.
I do admire the horizontal line of its dark green leaves snaking across the retaining walls in the upper photos, but the amount of labor and leaf litter…
All that clipping sacrifices the flowers anyway, turning what’s normally a study in scarlet to a minor meditation on magenta.

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A glimpse of the sloping front lawn of the house next-door, which shows how the Cow Horn agave matches the depth of color of green grass.

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With the paddle plant, Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fascination.’

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Another bonus of terraces is the fact that agaves are not at shin level, which is where I frequently engaged with my Cow Horn agave —
but always in cowboy jeans, of course.


driveby agave garden revisited

I’ve been thinking of Jud’s garden. Did the recent unseasonal heat waves bruise any agaves?
I didn’t memorize the address, so it took a while to find again, which seems to be a recurring theme with this garden.
Was it on Colorado or Fourth Street? East or west of Termino?
After about a half hour’s meandering, suddenly there it was again, rising up out of the suburbs like a desert oasis mirage.

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It certainly holds its corner like no other house I know.

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The driveby view is splendid enough, but seeing it on foot is the only way to appreciate the multiple shifting perspectives of rosettes and spikes.

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I’ve never seen Sticks on Fire as tall and narrow as cypresses. I wonder if they had to be pruned into these columnar shapes.

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The agaves were indeed left unblemished by the 100-degree temps.

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I’ll post a few more detailed photos of Jud’s garden this week.


enter the dragons

What they say about good bones for faces and houses applies to gardens too. Good bones will see you through some tough times. I’ve posted just a couple photos on this sweet little house and garden before. The front facade is entirely of glass, so one can’t be too obnoxious with the camera under such circumstances. But walking Ein on the park across the street from this house a couple days ago, I noticed that the landscape was being worked on, and heaps of aloes and agaves were strewn on the walkways. I gave the leash to Marty and looked closer. The house was empty. No more George Nelson bubble lamps or butterfly chairs on the balcony. The house had sold! And what on earth were the new owners doing to the garden? Did they have a deep-seated aversion to desert plants? If so, I needed to talk to them about those enormous Yucca rostrata ASAP.


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Yucca rostrata March 2012, presale


I am normally not an overly bold person, but I found myself striding across the street and up to a couple of surprised men standing amongst masses of discarded Agave attenuata. It was the new owner and the gardener, who wasn’t removing the plants but merely thinning them. The owner was an architect and loved the house and garden but said both were in terrible shape. He told me he had been seduced by the furniture seen through the glass wall, too, but when it was all removed and he gained ownership of the house, his heart sank. The magic was gone. Now he wondered if he hadn’t made a terrible mistake. The place was a mess and had not been well cared for. Amazing what a spell all the classic mid century modern furnishings had cast, and how well even a neglected desert garden looks after itself. I told him it had always been my favorite house among the much bigger mansions that lined the street opposite the park, and this seemed to brighten him up considerably. He even showed me into the backyard, which was graveled and already had mature privacy screens of clumping bamboo. It was a gem, even if the interior’s cork floors were in terrible shape. The new owner was knowledgeable about plants (clumping vs. running bamboo) and energetic. There might be a few more dragons to slay than he bargained for, but the house and garden would no doubt surpass what was here before.


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March 2012, presale
One of my favorite houses on the street opposite our bluff walk. Yucca rostrata, butterfly chairs, and George Nelson bubble lamps. Note glimpse of baby blue piano through the window.”


As I was leaving, I stopped to admire again the work already done in the front garden. The trunks of the multiple Yucca rostrata had been cleaned of dead leaves, the underplanting thinned. It was going to be fabulous. And then I saw the dragon trees set back deep in a recess between the balcony railing and the house. I hadn’t noticed them before. The owner said the dragon trees had been completely buried, probably under the pittosporum that was still peeking through the trunks. The dragon trees had been cleaned up, too, and the burnt orange trunks gleamed against the blue leaves sunning themselves luxuriantly as the sun set over the harbor. I asked the owner’s permission to take a couple photos.

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There’s lots of work still to be done. And I think the dasylirion leaning at the base of the dragon trees needs to go. It has not fared well being buried under the pittosporum. I’d ditch the pitt too. But with the dragons set free, this little house and garden are on their way to being reborn. Walking Ein at the park across the street, it’ll be exciting to watch its progress.

driveby agave garden

I have the Long Beach Marathon to thank for finding this garden.
No, I didn’t run the marathon, more like actively avoided it. The marathon barricades cut off much of my end of Long Beach on October 6, so trying to get a few errands done was a circuitous challenge. I ended up in neighborhoods I don’t often see, such as the one where this front garden fills a corner lot. I vowed to return. Last night, 13 days later, I found it again, even though I had misremembered the street name.
Who needs street names with a garden like this? I bet locals use it for reference: “Hang a right at Little Lotusland…”


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winter walkabout

Les of A Tidewater Gardener frequently posts some of the most beautiful landscape photography to be found on garden blogs. On his blog you may be introduced, as I was, to John Irving-esque names of natural phenomena like The Great Dismal Swamp and canoe rides a la James Fenimore Cooper down local waterways. Through Les’ eye, the environs of Norfolk, Virginia, look like some of the most beautiful land and waterscapes on earth. For the second year running, Les has challenged bloggers to a Winter Walk-Off, wherein we step out our front doors carrying nothing but a camera. No car keys, just walking shoes, to document “what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home.” Les is accepting entries through March 19. And there will be prizes!

Right off the bat, I have to admit we fudged and therefore forfeit any prizes. We drove. Time constraints and all. Plus, although we have walked the mile or so to this bluff overlooking Long Beach’s commercial harbor, the corgi would have been wiped out by the time we arrived, and this morning’s walk was mainly for the corgi. (He had his teeth cleaned recently and a tooth pulled, but I digress.)


Ready?

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One of my favorite houses on the street opposite our bluff walk. Yucca rostrata, butterfly chairs, and George Nelson bubble lamps.

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Note glimpse of baby blue piano through the window.

Different house. Some of the largest furcraeas I’ve ever seen, as big as the Agave americanas further down.

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Same house, a little further down from the furcraeas are sotols, agaves, rosemary, and fiery arctotis.

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In bloom in a cutting garden in a parkway/hellstrip were these ranunculus, along with Dutch iris, stock, anemones, sweet peas.

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From the same hellstrip, Salvia spathacea.

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From the bluff, coast prickly pear, Opuntia littoralis.

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Coral aloe, A. striata, from the mid-century modern/blue piano home.

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One of a trio of urns planted with lemon trees flanking the stairway of an apartment building.

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It may not be The Great Dismal Swamp, but hey, it’s home. Thanks, Les!


Landscape Crit

A new shopping center was planted with sharp plants four years ago. Agaves, yuccas.
I was thrilled but also slightly alarmed.

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Continue reading Landscape Crit