the blue garden

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As of today, March 30, 2020, in Southern California we can still walk our neighborhoods, if not the parks, trails, and beaches, and that is no small comfort. Mitch’s base during this “safer at home” period has been Hollywood, and he took some photos of a garden that he visits regularly on daily walks, one the locals know as the Blue Garden. Poppies, native and somniferum varieties, irises, scarlet flax, larkspur, phlomis, brugmansia, and dozens and dozens of blue bottles can easily turn a short walk into the highlight of the day, even if done solo or keeping a distance of 6 feet apart. Can gardens be heroes too? I think so.

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Mitch sent along this note: There are “secret” public steps that run along the vertical length of this garden, so everyone in the neighborhood has a relationship with it.  The garden is experienced on those steps, in the rhythm and timing that it takes a human to climb stairs, and at that speed the frequency and composition of blue glass is a knockout

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Everyone knows the place as the Blue Garden.  But the speed & isolating frames of
photography run opposite to the human experience in this case — in my images, it looks like there are a few blue items sprinkled across terraces lackadaisically, when in reality as you experience the installation on foot, the piercing blue is overwhelming. 

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There’s a couple of Ty Nant imported mineral waters, more than a few Sky Vodka liters, swanky olive oil, Absolut Vodka for sure, but no Sapphire gin — it’s the wrong hue

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There’s a resolute carpet of dymondia, poppies reseeding through railroad ties, rebar arbors, a few pendulous daturas — it’s a rich detonation of spring

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Someone has been generous with color and seed catalog purchases for years. 

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We photographed with Velvia 50 because that’s what’s necessary under quarantine.  Bombastic saturation, irresponsible color fidelity, wild drunken cangiantismo.
We need this. 

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The delight of walking through a landscape with a camera at magic hour after so many days indoors simmering beans cannot be overstated.

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photos and italicized notes by MB Maher

Posted in driveby gardens, garden visit, MB Maher | 6 Comments

front garden retrospective

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Agave ‘Jaws’ needs careful handling. I sawed off a couple leaves from the base this week that were crushing Yucca rostrata and now type with bandaided fingers.

Since I greedily planted the long, narrow front garden smack up against the fence that separates us from legions of parked cars and noisy, fast-moving traffic, it’s difficult to maneuver around for photos (and maintenance). Also, a lot of toothy customers are packed in these close quarters, like the fearsome ‘Jaws,’ and Furcraea macdougalii. I constantly vacillate between privacy and a more streamlined garden that’s visually open to my neighbors. The west end closer to the driveway is unhedged, but this eastern end is like a little green cloister.

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Looking east at a hedge of ‘Little Ollie’ “dwarf” olives (now upwards of 9 feet!) Curving pathway leads to east patio. The driveway is behind us to the west, past Acacia podalyrifolia.

The cotyledon I wrote about earlier in the week is in the front garden, and a young tree aloe ‘Hercules,’ and a manzanita ‘Louis Edmonds,’ and a Nolina nelsonii, various agaves, Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ — it’s a mishmash of a garden. The main criteria for a plant’s inclusion is, once established, the ability to go completely summer dry.

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trunk of the triangle palm and its proximity to the house from 2010

And towering 20 feet over it all, fairly close to the house, is the triangle palm, Dypsis decaryi. I’ve noticed that when there isn’t a clear viewpoint or sightline into a space, planting is less about design than a collector’s free-for-all.

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In March reseeding Erodium pelargoniflorum carpets the ground around the succulents — you can see the little white flowers cozying up to ‘Jaws’ in the first photo. This annual erodium completely dies out when the soil dries out in summer.

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From April 2014 — a bulb with tall white flowers like a giant snowdrop, Albuca maxima, has also lightly seeded among the erodium and a few stalks are budding up for bloom this year

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Aloe ‘Hercules’ and Furcraea macdougallii
This northern boundary is fence and boxwood. Eastern boundary is a hedge of ‘Little Ollies’ Even though the garden is loaded with spikes, I draw the line at planting opuntias in the ground.

The 3-foot wooden fence is backed on the sidewalk side by a 7-foot high box hedge — a dodge to get around fence height ordinances. I’ve always hated this fence/hedge arrangement, and as of a month ago I desperately wanted it gone — but a month of sheltering in place has changed my mind again. For one thing, so many birds and small mammals love these hedges — to nest in, to duck into when danger threatens. And both the boxwood and olives are fantastic for what turns into a very dry summer garden — the olives being far more attractive than the box, which gets patchy and thin but usually recovers with winter rain. And then there’s that investment in time to grow the hedges and their abilities as sound buffers, carbon sinks, and particulate sponges to consider. And lately I can re-appreciate the psychological distance they provide too. For now, I think the hedges are winning this very old argument.

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In 2010 the street was more visible — as was the smoke tree in the corner!
The drought-tolerant boxwood hedge was a useful means of ‘greening’ up the front of the house to hide the minor revolutionary act of taking out the lawn we inherited with the house many years ago, when such an act drew lots of raised eyebrows.”
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From 2010 — notice how I always photograph low to avoid the choppy fence/hedge backdrop.
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In April 2010 with Papaver rupifragrum in bloom before the big agaves moved in
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Agave guadalajarana in 2011
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April 2012 — poppies with Mr. Ripple looming in the distance
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From 2013 with phormiums, gastrolobium and ‘Blue Glow’ agaves
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In 2015 with Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ whose increasing bulk was making a nightmare out of clipping the dwarf olives and even using the path. (Mr. Ripple was removed in July 2015)

But planting and experimenting with even an awkward bit of ground is enormous fun — a leucospermum and Acanthus spinosus were planted just yesterday.

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Acanthus spinosus planted 3/27/20 near the pearl acacia
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Pearl Acacia January 2016 (Acacia podalyrifolia)
This tree draws a lot of comments and questions as to its identity

For more garden tours, both front and back, although the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour had to be canceled this weekend, they had the genius idea to share it online — and you can check it out here.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, succulents | 4 Comments

monday’s plants 3/23/20

Leaving the bizarro world aside for the moment, and desperately clinging to the bright side, at least this unusual March has been a good month for rain in Los Angeles. We’re just about an inch below average, which is great for the spring garden tours (if they hadn’t been cancelled…)

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Cotyledon orbiculata var. flanaganii

In the front garden, this brawny, chunky succulent has taken over a big swath of ground. For now I like having more of the same plant as opposed to an intricate tapestry, but that could change. When it’s in bloom, like now, I especially appreciate the multiple statuesque stems with mop-topped apricot bells.

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Cotyledon orbicuata, Pig’s Ear, with rounded leaves for comparison, a great plant in its own right.

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Also in the front garden, Agave oteroi ‘Lanky Wanky.’ I buried the long, lanky stem, kind of defeating the purpose, but I didn’t care for the snaky growth habit. Weird little thing. Love the blonde teeth that whiten as they age.
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the blue barrel Ferocactus glaucescens looks like a different cactus after a rainwash
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This might be my favorite phase of the purple-leaved acacia, when the yellow pompom blooms turn into twisting purple pods.
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Pelargonium ‘Queen of Hearts’
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I lost the label, so this is one of my ongoing plant ID projects.
Similar to Senecio stapeliiformis except for the flowers and thorns. Also similar to Euphorbia aeruginosa except for lacking typical lime green flowers
Edited to add ID by Jeremy: Euphorbia greenwayi
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Albuca….wait, wait, I know this one!
Albuca corkscrewalis?
No, silly! Albuca spiralis — nice when the name describes the plant.
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Anigozanthos ‘Red Velvet,’ a small-in-stature kangaroo paw planted last spring.

For more plant portraits, a lot of the arboreta and public gardens include What’s in Bloom on their websites — for example, here’s Descanso Gardens.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, Occasional Daily Weather Report, Plant Portraits, succulents | 3 Comments

some plants that got away

Continuing in a reflective, “safer at home” mood, from the AGO archives, these would be plants that got away for various reasons — grew too large, grew too slow, grew in a spot I needed for something new, but all of which are fabulous constructs and sorely missed. And now I find they are difficult to replace. Yes, seed might be available somewhere in the world, but I’ve often found that when plants are rare and scarce it’s for a simple reason — they are difficult to propagate. I can get some annuals to grow from seed, but difficult stuff? My patience and skills aren’t really up to the task. If you find any of these plants along your zone 10 plant acquisition routes, I can assure you they are interesting characters to grow and observe.

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Solanum marginatum, the extremely poisonous White-Margined Nightshade from northeast Africa. Grew to a beamy 4X4′ — and has thorns. Dangerous beauty.
(3/25/20 Edited to add that after an office purge, seeds were found in a cork-stoppered glass tube, labeled 2012, sown in sterile potting soil, and something has germinated!)
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Argemone munita — a CA native with matilija poppy-like flowers, this one got away when a nearby Euphorbia cotinifolia tree crashed down on it
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Limonium peregrinum — a South African sea lavender that’s very, very slow and was presumably overwhelmed by nearby plants — or my impatience
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Buddleia ‘Silver Anniversary’ — I think this smallish, sterile hybrid is still available. It too had its moment like other trendy silver plants Stachys ‘Bello Grigio’ and Senecio candidans ‘Angel Wings.’ Wonderful felted, silvery presence. With Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’ which Robin Parer pointed out recently used to have chartreuse leaves and now is more often sold with medium green leaves. What’s up with that?
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Geranium maderense ‘Alba’ – biennials can be tricky to fit into a small garden’s schedule, especially those that grow as big as large tumbleweeds. There were seedlings from this blooming event for years that I could never quite find the room to grow…and then there were no more.
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Bought as Brachysema praemorsum ‘Bronze Butterfly,’ now filed under gastrolobium. A shrubby Australian that flourished in the front gravel garden for over a decade, including during a lengthy drought. I know I must have deliberately removed it when reworking the planting — but what a good plant!

And then there was that unnamed chartreuse, crinkly-leaved verbascum, and the willowy Euphorbia ceratocarpa…

I’m convinced that plant and garden people have deep inner resources, but even so, please take care…and don’t stop planting!

Posted in Plant Portraits | 5 Comments

what’s new…and what isn’t

Burrowing into plant and seed catalogues isn’t a bad idea at the moment. Mail ordering plants and seeds is eminently doable even in a pandemic crisis, and if you’re hanging out a lot at home, so much the better for keeping track of fragile new seedlings and transplants. I sowed a few zinnia and cosmos this gloriously drizzly morning (‘Queen Lime Orange’ and ‘Xanthos,’ respectively), ordered from Chiltern’s in the UK because a) the UK is still a plant mecca, and b) they also had a more heat-tolerant dill I’ve been interested in trying, ‘Tetra.’ These will be for pots. I wouldn’t plant zinnias in my dryish summer garden anyway, even if there was a patch of unoccupied soil. Somehow sowing seeds, even ornamentals, is as reassuring to me as a well-stocked pantry. Beans, pasta, and a few summer flowers — the essentials!

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As agaves and succulents mature and spread, the space for self-sown spring annuals retreats.
There’s barely an inch of ground left in the garden, even for self-sowing annuals like my go-to poppies, Papaver setigerum, lacy umbel Orlaya grandiflora, nicotianas, and honeywort Cerinthe major purpurascens.
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That Agave titanota really needs to go in the ground, but where?

I love my winter garden and all my spiky, shrubby friends. It is not lost on me that, in a weird reversal of intentions and aspirations, my zone 10 winter garden is filled with the tender plants and succulents that are temporary stars of summer gardens in colder climates. And then those summer gardens will be filled with all the perennials I wish I could grow here in zone 10. I love how these different visions of a summer garden — movement vs. statism, softness vs. solidity, pointillist vs. architectural — nourish garden imaginations everywhere and expand the sense of what’s possible.

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Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak’ deserves every bit of ground he needs
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In the space vacated by Grevillea ‘King’s Fire,’ just behind this Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor,’ a few annual coreopsis were planted along with Sideritis oroteneriffae, Yucca aloifolia ‘Magenta Magic’ — and a division of March-blooming Aloe camperi.

Whether the emphasis is on cactus and succulents, a dream of wildflower-filled meadows or scrubby chapparal, the idea of a garden is broad and malleable enough to encompass anything we can imagine. (As a simple baseline in making a garden I’d say 1) do no harm, 2) work with your climate’s rainfall patterns or you’ll be miserable, and 3) allow as many local wildlife species to thrive with you there as possible.)

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upside/downside: so glad Leucadendron ‘Jester’ looks like it’s going to make it, but the downside is there will be less room for spring poppies. Similarly iffy Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ also is slowly gaining size.
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Just March and already the garden is full. But whose fault is that? A new Tulbaghia ‘Himba’ lounges behind Yucca ‘Blue Boy’…
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Clever reseeders like nicotiana do manage to find a scrap of ground
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there will be poppies, just not a lot
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Established Verbascum olympicum should be ready to bloom this season. Other verbascum planted this month, ‘Violetta,’ Sixteen Candles,’, ‘Wedding Candles,’ may or may not bloom this summer. (see Digging Dog’s list of verbascum.) That’s a newly potted biennial Rudbeckia triloba that I desperately wish would self-sow.
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Just two pots of Nicotiana mutabilis, a spectacular flowering tobacco that builds up an impressive scaffolding for hundreds of tiny dangling trumpets. They’re going to eventually need bigger pots.
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There are no rules in combining plants other than what will thrive together. Established and spreading Dianthus ‘Single Black’ nestled into aloes and Carex testacea, a sedge that self-seeds wonderfully

By early spring, I’m ready for some wind-tossed, out-of-control exuberance in the garden, something that perennials do so well. But here in the mild winter, mediterranean climate of zone 10, many perennials don’t return a second year, refusing to break dormancy and wake up again for another spring. A nice surprise this winter was the return of the lacy leaves of the giant fennel, Ferula communis, I planted almost a year ago, which completely disappeared last summer. And I’m trying another phlomis, this one herbaceous, unlike recently trialed shrubby Phlomis lanata (a great phlomis for a larger dry garden.) Phlomis tuberosa ‘Bronze Flamingo’ will most likely be unsuccessful here, just like related Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone,’ but for now it’s showing new basal growth. And the old maxim of killing a plant three times is a useful guideline, because hopefully in those three times you’ll have experimented with different exposures and growing conditions. And because I’ve watched them bloom spectacularly all winter in a small garden near my mom’s house, I’m trying a few plants of the tall, wispy annual Coreopsis tinctoria, an heirloom variety Annie’s Annuals carries called ‘Tiger Stripes.’

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a table of spiky friends with silvery Salvia discolor in the background
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Salvia discolor ‘Purple Bracts’ is subtly distinct from the species. And, in general, this is a very subtle salvia, grown more for foliage effect because the flowers don’t read well at a distance.

Trying out new plants is a thrill that never gets old, even if it’s from a genus I’ve repeatedly grown. Phygelius are hardly newcomers to this garden. I’ve run hot/cold for years with the so-called cape figwort aka cape fuschia. (See here and here and here.) From South Africa, they would seem to be ideal plants for zone 10 summers. Gardens colder than zone 7 often grow these heavy-blooming, hummingbird-friendly plants as annuals.

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They are big, lanky, shrubby perennials, and I’ve always had a problem getting a semblance of uniform growth and bloom out of them. Flowers invariably appear at the end of long, wayward branches that fall to the ground and smother surrounding plants. (And blooms on the ground, let’s face it, is the garden equivalent of “burying the lead.” Or is it “lede”?)

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But I keep an open mind and continually trial the new phygelius on the block because they seem bursting with good summer garden potential for zone 10. In local nurseries now is ‘Colorburst Orange,’ and a couple came home with me, squeezed in at the base of a phormium among Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty.’

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The uniformly upright phygelius of my dreams, seen in an Oregon garden

If you can’t find phygelius varieties local, Digging Dog always carries a nice selection. So much to grow!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, Plant Portraits, pots and containers, succulents | 4 Comments

sunday clippings 3/8/20 (save Prospect Cottage)

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Prospect Cottage, image from CNN Style

Artist, filmmaker, and gardener Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, England, needs some crowd-sourcing love. If it’s one of those places you dream of one day visiting, you might want to consider helping to secure its future by donating what you can by the end of this month. I’ve always wanted to experience sweeps of sea kale, Crambe maritima, growing in shingle at Prospect Cottage in the shadow of nuclear reactors. (What romantic visions I conjure!) Tilda Swinton is one of a group of artists lending their support to the Art Fund campaign: “My excitement about this vision for Prospect Cottage lies in its projected future as an open, inclusive and encouraging machine for the inspiration and practical working lives of those who might come and share in its special qualities, qualities that, as a young artist, I was lucky enough to benefit from alongside Derek and so many of our friends and fellow travellers.”

A few more odds and ends from my garden, some hopefully less fleeting than others:

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Hoping it’s less fleeting than tulips, the latest banksia acquisition, the Red Lantern B. caleyi. A dwarf version of Banksia ashbyi seemingly flourished for a year in a container then precipitously died. Banksia repens in the front garden must be going on two years now, and next time I squeeze in amongst the agaves I’ll grab a photo. And if it blooms, you can believe I’ll draw blood to get a photo!
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Pale, pale pink of Veltheimia bracteata, the bowl moved into the bathroom. Seems to be a wide variation in the shade of pink, running from hot to pale. The original bulb has offset to this extent over ten years.
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More bathroom beauties — eastern light, always on the cool side so flowers last. These ‘Gavota’ and other varieties were grown in bowls outdoors, where curious raccoons routinely dig them up out of the pots. Charming! Yes, a bunch of tulips is easily bought, but chilling these in the fridge, planting them up, and cutting precious individual stems salvaged from raccoon predations somehow keeps it real…for me anyway.
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The funnel of pitcher plants is easy to move, trialing different locations. Sarracenia ‘Tarnok’ has a few buds. What looks like a tillandsia lower right is a small piece of Puya laxa, the surviving remnant of an impenetrable barbed thicket. I won’t be planting it in the ground again.
And that’s Agave pygmaea ‘Dragon Toes’ — definitely not a pygmy here at over 3′ across.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Posted in artists, Bulbs, clippings | 5 Comments

Wednesday’s plants

In the interest of keeping a better garden record…

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Seeing red — Passiflora vitifolia ‘Scarlet Flame’
I’ve been counting buds, expecting blooms, but even so a fully open flower is a startling sight around 6:30 a.m.
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Floating above Sonchus palmensis.
The vine is trained up and horizontally across the pergola and may eventually be allowed to grab support from the tetrapanax too.
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Still on the eastern end of the pergola.
A very leggy ‘Zwartkop’ aeonium has been using the tetrapanax for support all winter as well as using the Alcantarea odorata as a silvery foil (Vriesea odorata)
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Senecio ficoides ‘Mount Everest’ at upwards of 4 feet.
A small plant was grown rough, stuck into a large potted Euphorbia ingens and then carefully removed once it was 3 feet high. This could be a sensational addition to succulent gardens, especially if it doesn’t topple over.
It’s managed to remain vertical, knock wood. Can’t have too many verticals. The passiflora is background left.
(Edited to add that, unfortunately, the senecio branches do become too heavy to remain vertical. 3-4 feet is about as tall as they can manage before toppling — in good garden soil. Maybe if grown full-sun, dry-garden lean, results would be different.)
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Southwest corner of the house. I’m thinking this plectranthus is P. parviflorus ‘Blue Spires.’
It sent out intensely sky blue, foot-long, salvia-like spires this winter. Agave ‘Rumrunner’ on the table and a flowering schlumbergera cutting, a recent gift.
Potted pelargoniums were cleaned up, cut back.
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Agave ‘Boutin’s Blue’ is finally happy on the north side of the house with shady friends like fatsia and fatshedera and has outgrown all those nasty burnt leaf tips.
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East patio. A recent gift, the
Snowflake Aralia, Trevesia palmata — thank you, Dustin. I’m thinning out potted plants because of the ball and chain they turn into every summer but couldn’t resist this one. I’m hoping to set up areas with timed misters for potted plants this summer (i.e. have asked Marty if this is doable and he seems to think so.)
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Parahebe perfoliata in the past has been a sprawler that snakes along the ground. I’m hoping growing it in harsh conditions keeps it dense and upright — but doesn’t kill it outright!
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Against the south wall of the house, site of another pot purge. Some were moved elsewhere or given away. There were dozens of pots under the chairs. Agave ‘Blue Embers’ is on the ground, center, caged.
An Aloe pluridens cutting rises tall in the middle — thank you, Carlos, for this cutting along with Aloe nyeriensis aka kedongensis and Aloe fibrosa — gotta keep better records!
Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, journal, Plant Portraits | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Palm Springs flyby (and a glimpse of Sunnylands)

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We arrived at the Palm Springs V Hotel after dark, around 9 p.m., and left early the next morning, Thursday, for our talk at 9 a.m. “The Backyard; A Biography.” No chaise lounge time for us. Mitch grabbed this photo of the V Palm Springs Hotel on Friday. Thanks to Modernism Week/Paul Ortega for the swank digs!
Unless otherwise noted, all photos by MB Maher

Notwithstanding the recent visit to Palm Springs for Modernism Week, I still have yet to visit nearby Sunnylands, the so-called Camp David of the West in its heyday, when it was the private residence of the Annenbergs, Ambassador Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore — these are Mitch’s photos. He was able to saunter over for a quick look since the condo a friend loaned him for the talk overlooked the Sunnylands golf course. The Annenbergs’ house was designed by MCM architect A. Quincy Jones in 1963, but Sunnylands, to my mind, is all about the fairly new desert garden and its spectacular mass plantings of palo verde trees, succulents and cacti. In 2006 the Annenberg Foundation Trust commissioned the Office of James Burnett landscape architecture firm to create a 9-acre garden on the 200-acre site which was the Annenbergs’ desert retreat. OJB’s work earned the Honor Award in 2012 from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

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“This is all about the plants and they are spectacular, adding texture and color to the desert and lawns. This shows a real knowledge of plants. The feeling is lush and the colors are fabulous.”
2012 Professional Awards Jury, ASLA

I knew the Annenberg name only from seeing it scroll across my tv screen when watching my local PBS station. In reading up on Sunnylands, I impatiently swiped aside accounts of the international summits, diplomatic triumphs, and art collection donated to the Metropolitan to indulge an admittedly crass curiosity: Where did the Annenberg fortune come from? Like Hearst, the source of Annenberg’s wealth was print media, which he later expanded into radio and television. Annenberg grew his father’s publishing acquisitions into the company Triangle Publications, which ultimately included a lucrative roster of publications like TV Guide, Seventeen, the Daily Racing Form. Annenberg’s fortune was also channeled into heroic-scale philanthropy and supported an abiding sense of public service.

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Barack Obama and Xi Jinping at Sunnylands 2013, photo found here
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“I believe in social responsibility. A man’s service to others must be at least in ratio to the character of his own success in life. When one is fortunate enough to gain a measure of material well being, however small, service to others should be uppermost in his mind.” – Walter H. Annenberg (1951)
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OJB’s work has been LEED Gold Certified

From OJB’s website:

  • The project utilizes just 20% of the water allocation from Coachella Valley Water District.
  • The project uses 100% on-site stormwater retention.
  • High-efficiency capillary irrigation zones are independently controlled by soil and moisture censored monitors to reduce water use.
  • The user experiences stormwater features through garden paths which integrate grading, planting, water capture, and water storage.

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Sunnyland’s signature mass plantings of succulents like Euphorbia resinifera and agaves
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“Working closely with owner, the landscape architect developed a scheme that begins as an orderly, geometric composition adjacent to the Center and becomes progressively more free flowing as it moves to the desert meadows. The landscape architect sculpted the earth and used plants in a painterly fashion across the 15 acre site. Trees were carefully positioned throughout the site to ensure that ample shade was provided and great care was given to the visual composition of understory plantings. Plantings were designed “in mass” much like one experiences a large nursery. Therefore, dozens of aloe, agave and barrel cactus were used to great large sweeps of color and texture.” — ASLA
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impressionistic sweeps — photo from Timeout

Still on my must-see list: Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage, California.  

Posted in garden travel, garden visit, MB Maher | 3 Comments

(in anticipation of spring) cleanup

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where to put all those potted plants? A recurring quandary

I asked Marty to drill drainage holes in this metal cart yesterday. Without drainage it was fairly useless, accumulating water and leaves and making a slimy brew of them all winter. When I returned home late in the afternoon, Marty was gone, the drainage holes had been drilled, and I was in a mood to tear into something. So I spent the next four hours or so ignoring phone calls, moving tables and chairs, transferring pots to the metal cart, repotting where needed, sweeping and raking until it was too dark to work.

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A Biergarten table and benches fit this narrow space perfectly.
On the right, the yellow ceramic piece is by Dustin Gimbel — although made to hang, I like it as much on the ground. Wouldn’t it be cool to pull up maybe a 2-foot wide swath of bricks next to the fence and plant Mexican fence post cactus? Something to consider if/when a new fence goes in.

This narrow eastern side of the house has always been problematic. Mostly hardscape, all awkward angles and fences, yet it’s by far the largest, friendliest space for people — if only I didn’t collect so damned many potted plants. And as it is the summer hangout, I need to be careful about cluttering it up. With spring around the corner, and knowing my weakness for pretty new plants, now is the time for a clean sweep and regaining some control.

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good thing the ‘Stained Glass’ octopus agave Marty calls Ursula has soft leaves. The dutch door and fences are full of termites and will be replaced with expanded-metal panels. The two galvanized metal tables laid end to end were formerly display tables at Smith & Hawken, bought when they closed.
Tall potted plant on the far right against the fence is Cussonia natalensis.

About all that hardscape. Tempted as I am to hide that fence with plants, the space is really too narrow and too root-infested from the neighbor’s plantings. And I have to admit, with the rest of the garden so densely planted, this open area does provide some breathing room. The bricks are laid on sand up to the tree, where beyond is a patio of stained concrete. The leaded glass salvage windows are part of the dutch gate and fencing leading to the front garden. I’m hoping to replace everything soon with expanded-metal panels. Anything but wood again.

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Splitting costs with the neighbor, we planned on replacing the termite-infested wood fence (stained dark blue) with CMU masonry, but the historical district says no to masonry, keep it wood. With voracious termites working against us, we might as well put the wood fences into a chipper every couple years. This difference of opinion on fencing material and waste of resources is definitely not resolved…

All winter-long I continually sweep the leaf litter into that little square surrounding the trunk of the Chinese fringe tree, then in spring I use most of the leaves for mulch elsewhere. The pile was twice as high up the trunk yesterday. Thankfully, the tree seems to have finally dropped its last leaf, another reason to take on a spring cleanup. This little square of leaf mulch is also a prime grub-digging spot for raccoons and possums, and they’re welcome to it. (At one time I actually contemplated planting under the fringe tree — see here.)

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same area prior to cleanup, photo taken last February
Small pots were moved to the metal cart.

New spring rules: all small potted plants on the eastern patio must fit on the metal cart with wheels.

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the basics — plants, chairs, tables, people. Making it all fit is an absorbing preoccupation

Now I feel ready to tackle those mail-ordered plants which should be arriving any day…

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, journal, pots and containers, succulents | 5 Comments

bloomday February 2020

I could describe February as the Month of Tiny Flowers in my garden except, honestly, that pretty much describes it year-round. You’ll have to narrow your focus (and expectations!) just a bit for a gander at the offbeat odds and ends blooming in my zone 10 Southern Californian garden this February.

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Pelargonium echinatum

The pot of winter-flowering Cactus Geranium that’s at least as old as the blog keeps company this year with rhipsalis and other trailing succulents and small bromeliads in pots lined up atop the eastern edge of the laundry shed.

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trailing habit of the Cactus Geranium
Pelargonium echinatum
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ever so tiny air plant flowers — Tillandsia ionantha?
The bromeliad Billbergia ‘Hallelujah’ is in bloom too but missed the window for photos
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Budding up, pot-grown South African bulb
Veltheimia bracteata — I’m fairly negligent with this bulb and let it go very dry. But it can take year-round water if provided good drainage. Fabulous leaves
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The flowers (“branched terminal inflorescences”) of the shrubby Silver Teaspoons, Kalanchoe bracteata, surge upright as well as spill onto the ground
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Pruning Bocconia frutescens down to a 10-foot vase shape earlier this week took off a lot of the older panicles but a few fresh ones remain, always swarmed with bees as the day warms up. It’s about the same size as adjacent Grevillea ‘Moonlight,’ also in bloom
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Gooseneck flower stalks of Echeveria agavoides. This succulent has spread by both offsetting and seeding in the front garden. Other echeverias and aeoniums are also in bloom.
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Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’
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I’m blanking on the name of this weedy, tradescantia relative which is having a good-looking moment this month but otherwise looks mostly miserable, especially in summer. I rip out scads of it the rest of the year — just came to me, Tinantia pringlei
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One of the big pennisetums with the darkest leaves, ‘First Knight’ is throwing a few blooms but will need to be cut back to the base by the end of February
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Arctostaphylos ‘Louis Edmunds’
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The garden’s newest anigozanthos, a tall, dark red variety that’s supposedly a standout for its exceptionally good leaves – ‘Regal Velvet’
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Aloe conifera — though not its leaves, which are basal and bluish-red. It hated life in the garden and was moved to a pot. These leaves belong to an arborescens hybrid.

The genera I’m currently relying on most for tall, architectural blooms all happen to begin with the letter A: aloe, agapanthus, anigozanthos. They have similar water needs, with aloes being the most dry-tolerant, and they all appreciate generous spacing with good air flow at their bases. All three generally are low, clumpish growers that won’t obscure other plants when out of bloom — but you have to choose carefully with aloes as many can get quite large and shrublike. All three together can provide blooms year-round in zone 10. (And I’d love to add in another letter A plant, Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ too — somewhere.)

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Another view of Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder’
Some of the splashiest blooms here in the garden any month of the year are the aloes — and there’s species and varieties that bloom winter, spring, summer, fall. Oh, for another acre…

Even though a lifelong So. Californian, I’ve only recently become a convert to the agapanthus camp. (Unbearably omnipresent bordering on municipal, I reasoned, why include them in a personal garden? Because (1) they add excitement to that difficult time in summer when new growth in the garden mostly shuts down except for the big grasses; and (2) I want to see if they can mix it up on the drier side with agaves, aloes, kangaroo paws, grasses. I’m betting they can. We’ll see…) I’m hoping the clumps will be big enough to become a presence this summer. But overall, what the garden lacks in traditional floral ambitions it makes up for with fascinating structural intricacies that keep the pollinators satiated and me continually intrigued.

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Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is a substantial 20-footer now and throwing shade (and debris) on lots of formerly sunny growing space. But trees are so essential in countless ways — heck, even the current administration recognizes the indisputable importance of trees and is vowing to join the One Trillion Trees Initiative
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Euphorbia rigida — just one clump this year, but there’s always potential for more from this generous reseeder
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Erodium ‘Whitwell Superb’ — I really need a better lens to capture all these tiny, tiny blooms.

(Some garden blogs follow the tradition of showing what’s in bloom on the 15th of every month, established by May Dreams Gardens. Some of us are irregular contributors and/or occasionally a day late — ahem!)

Have a great Sunday.

Posted in Bloom Day | 5 Comments