With the drought tightening its grip, Californians have been asked to cut water use by 15 percent compared with last year. Even so, yesterday I let a hose trickle to deep-water parts of the garden, which was getting by on strategic spraying of mostly new plantings and containers up till now. And I’ve been continuing with new planting even into July, filling the holes repeatedly with water before settling in a couple new passifloras. (After all, the government encourages us to consider the benefits of “Using Trees and Vegetation to Reduce Heat Islands,” and I think maintaining a cooling biomass balanced with smart resource management is an important discussion to have now.) Last month’s water bill had us pegged at using 165 gallons a day. The average usage per person is roughly around 100 gallons, so we’re doing okay considering it’s a summer water bill.Continue reading
All these lilies were planted fall 2020 in my zone 10b, about a mile from the Pacific Ocean. We had very little winter rain, but the bulbs managed to grow and bloom on mostly hand watering and careful mulching. Bulbs were sited near plants that love the extra water, such as bocconia, and well apart from the agaves and other dry garden plants. IDs are based on what I ordered and notes on where the bulbs were planted, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that some IDs aren’t correct…speak up if you have a difference of opinion! And let me just say that waking up to a newly opened lily bud is not a bad way to start a July morning…
For such over-the-top floral extravagance, I gotta say growing these lilies was surprisingly easy, with only a couple no-shows, mostly the coppery colors (‘Make Peace’ and ‘Copper Crown’). Whether any return next year is an open-ended question — and if they don’t, that’s fine too. One season of thrills more than justifies the expense — keeping in mind what you’d pay per stem as cut flowers. Order the bulbs now for the best selection for fall planting.
- ‘Eurydice’ lilies opened this week, an asiatic with martagon-esque, downward-facing blooms. Zone 10 gardeners are reminded that lilies do not necessarily return every summer for us, so arborator cave (grower beware!)
2. The echeverias are blooming — the one above is a gigantea hybrid.
It has this scrumptious, stone-fruit coloration of plummy stems and apricot blooms.
3. The young Passiflora vitifolia continues to relax into the garden, this summer its first of blooming really well.
It’s escaped the pergola and is reaching out to the tetrapanax for more support. For now, I’m taking a lenient approach. Adding further to its allure, after the flowers drop, the dark, papery bracts stud the vine.
4. My apaganthus and grasses experiment continues, with no verdict as of yet. However, very few of the agapanthus planted last year rebloomed this summer — that’s a single flower of ‘Indigo Frost’ out of three plants. I added in a couple ‘Brilliant Blue’ yesterday. In a larger garden, with more generous spacing, I think this could work. The size and height of Sesleria ‘Campo Azul’ is a good fit for the agapanthus flowers. Historically, agapanthus don’t mind being crowded and do grow among grasses in their native South Africa. In the long run, if the experiment means I have to choose grass or agapanthus, I’m favoring the grass. This selection by Native Sons is that good. The sesleria responds well to irrigation but is also very tolerant of dry conditions, and aloes work well with it. The agapanthus may need to become better established to tolerate the same irrigation regimen. For a larger zone 10 garden, imagine a long sweep of big succulents like agaves in gravel, backed by rhythmic pockets and bays of this grass and agapanthus and maybe kangaroo paws for summer — try it and let me know how it works! If that sort of thing appeals to you…
5. ‘Fiesta’ aeonium is greener than ‘Mardi Gras,’ which languished then disappeared a while ago. Both are known to be weak growers. I actually prefer ‘Fiesta,’ and maybe with more green to the leaves it might have a bit more oomph in vigor.
6. The containers against the office/garage. Orange flowers are Senecio confusus, which confusedly collapsed in spring, and armfuls had to be pulled down from the trellis and under the eaves. I assumed it was dead. New lush growth resumed not long after I planted a Cobaea scandens in the same container to pick up the senecio’s slack. The cobaea has reached the eaves now and will hopefully have some flowers soon to mix it up with the orange daisies. With eucomis and Solanum pyracanthum and a bunch of other stuff. Lower right silvery plant is Didelta ‘Silver Strand.’ And, no worries, those bottle openers hanging near the clock are purely decorative….
In the U.S., enjoy your long weekend!
(Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator — this is the first week I’ve crashed the meme!)
The dwarf statice, Limonium minutum, are new this June. Planted along the spine of rocks laid down last November, their tight cushions send out slender stems that branch upward to hold aloft sparkling clouds of everlasting blooms, creating a gauzy mist over surrounding succulents. Hardy to at least zone 5 too. I love the effervescence they add from a small footprint, bringing a see-through performance that doesn’t smother other plants. So far, unless they’re terribly intrusive reseeders, we’re good.
Very new this June, as in just planted yesterday, are two rectangular planters filled with Anigozanthos ‘Tequila Sunrise,’ Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince,’ Teucrium azureum, and Cuphea micropetala. The leymus grasses will most likely be moved into the parkway in fall. I used this grass in the no-water hellstrip for a local pocket park, and its flourishing icy blueness is one of my favorite sights when walking Billie to the park. So I may break my “never planting our hell strip again, oh, hell no” rule and use it in our own parkway, where it just might be able to outcompete car doors and careless shoes and trash where other plants failed.
‘Tequila Sunrise’ is possibly my favorite paw of all, and I may add it to existing clumps in the garden in fall, replacing the red ‘Regal Velvet’ — a good grower but I dislike the way the color ages. ‘Regal Velvet’ might be good if separated from the orange paws and moved against the grey east fence.
The cuphea, aka Giant Mexican Cigar Plant, should be able to handle summer in a container. It’s too much of a sprawler to squeeze into an already packed garden, but I knew my hummingbirds would be furious if I didn’t bring it home. (I rarely see this cuphea for sale locally but found it at Village in Huntington Beach.) The back planter holds the kangaroo paws and a leymus, giving the paws sun and light at their crowns; the front planter got another leymus and the big spreaders like the cuphea and teucrium, so they can spill onto the bricks and not on the paws.
Even though I haven’t had much luck with the parrot’s beak plant, Lotus berthelotii, in the past, I added a couple among the new plantings along the rock spine, and it seems happy here, along with Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ and Marrubium bourgaei ‘All Hallows Green’ (formerly a ballota).
Planted a couple months ago from a 4-inch pot mail-ordered from Dancing Oaks Nursery, Bupleurum fruticosum surprised me with throwing a bloom. Which was intense instant gratification to see the umbels for which this evergreen shrub is justly famous and the reason why I’ve repeatedly tried to make it happy in my garden.
I’ve been reading nothing but good reports on Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’ and found three small plants locally. E. ‘Dean’s Hybrid’ is another one I’d like to try.
I was crazy happy to find this unlabeled herbaceous euphorbia locally at Green Touch Nursery. I splurged on the 3-gallon, about 3-feet tall, but gallons were available too and I’m debating whether to go back and grab a couple more.
It’s not mellifera, lambii or stygiana, all of which I have grown. Those red petioles are an insanely brilliant touch. It reminds me of Euphorbia ceratocarpa, a plant I grew and lost many years ago. It was Oscar’s day off when I found it, so I need to call him and see if he has an ID for it.
The bloom on bromeliad Alcantarea odorata is taller than me, and I’m 5’8″ — the growth seems to be slowing and the buds are fattening, so maybe flowering is imminent.
For someone who loves to change up the garden, for once that’s not the case — I’m really going to miss this big bromeliad under the tetrapanax.
At Upland Nursery in Orange I found Vriesea ‘Nova,’ which may get the alcantarea’s spot once it’s done blooming. When the alcantarea’s pups make size, though, I’d love to see that silvery rosette sidled up against the tetrapanax again.
On the northeast side of the house I finally planted my long-suffering Cussonia paniculata after seeing how well Max’s are doing in the ground in Oakland (check his Instagram feed here). Mine has been so slow, countless years, in building a rounded canopy. It will actually get good morning sun here, and some late afternoon sun as well. Adjacent Cussonia spicata, still potted, has the same problem — spindly leaf growth but atop a much longer trunk.
Deeper in the shade against the house, Sansevieria cylindrica was recently added for some height and line to balance all the big leaves.
The new scheffleras are starting to come in to local nurseries. I think I found this Schefflera taiwaniana at H&H in Los Angeles. The sheltered, northeast exposure is my best guess for giving it a decent chance. The new mystery euphorbia has a very similar foliar effect, but for sun.
I’ve had such a hankering for the palm-leaf begonia this summer and have been looking everywhere for it. Village Nursery in Huntington Beach is where to find them locally — and nowhere else because, believe me, I’ve looked.
Malabaila aurea is one of those plants in the category of you’ve got to grow it for yourself to believe it. Tiny, insignificant yellow umbels transform into the most extraordinary seedheads. A few plants are flowering, and if I want more plants next year I’ll have to resist saving the dried seedheads for vases and leave them to self-sow. Just wow.
Grevillea ‘Poorinda Blondie’ is hanging in there its first summer, which so far has been very mild and nothing to complain about here in coastal Southern California. My heart goes out to all of you currently coping with extreme weather events. And if you are considering celebrating with fireworks this upcoming holiday, please reconsider — they don’t mix well with the extreme drought conditions out West.
Billie now has many friends that stop by our gate when walking their dogs throughout the day, and everyone comments on how comically looong she’s gotten, and also how skinny! She’s definitely in a growth spurt, corgi style!
A few years ago I had the opportunity to help with a small front garden, that was designed to receive only occasional hand watering. I planted agaves and other succulents, dymondia, some bromeliads, three Hesperaloe ‘Brakelights,’ (all of which withered away — why not choose life, hesperaloe!?) and a dragon tree, Dracaena draco, the first and only time I’ve planted this succulent tree. Although slow growing, I knew its potential size might be a problem — I seem to have a fatal attraction to Canary Islanders! Right now the dragon slumbers in the form of an innocuous, leafy rosette, roughly about 4X3′. But when it flowers, which is still a long way off, but when it does, its stem will begin to branch and develop that mesmerizingly dense, umbrella-like canopy, with branches radiating outward like arterioles, that can rise over 20 feet. Now, with the house changing hands soon, I’m debating whether to dig it up or leave the botanical time bomb in place.
My smoldering moral dilemma involving a single dragon tree was recently inflamed by some amazing images by photographer Daniel Kordan. Dracaena draco is not the only dragon tree named for its red sap, which Greek myth says originates in the dragon blood spilled when Hercules vanquished Ladon in the Garden of the Hesperides. The subject of Kordan’s photos is Dracaena cinnabari, the Socotra dragon tree from Yemen, that also spills red sap when cut, a resin used not only medicinally but also in many other applications such as for dyes and varnish. The storied dragon trees have sparked imaginations for millenia, Greek, Roman, and Arab. And now I’m in a quandary over what to do with the baby one I planted in a small city garden in Los Angeles, facing a busy sidewalk, where its presence goes mostly unnoticed….for now.
I might have to go shopping for a large pot this weekend for a baby dragon tree — and happy Father’s Day to all our dads!
One of the movies on heavy VHS-cassette rotation when my boys were young was Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island. Hot air balloon escape from a Civil War-era prison, crash landing near an uncharted island to fight for survival against monster-size crabs, chickens, and bees — all exquisitely rendered by the special effects artistry of Ray Harryhausen. Riveting stuff (and the boys liked it too, ha ha…)
Now I’ve flipped the script on the bees. Watching them frenzy over my Tree Dandelion, Sonchus palmensis, I have to wonder if the local bees feel they’ve wandered into a mysterious island of their own. Up and down the street dandelions come in the garden-size variety, but buzz over our fence and the dandelion is as big as a tree. And there may be more than one soon, because it’s apparently happy enough here to self-sow. For zones 9b-11.
Coming from what are to me the ultimate mysterious islands, filled with one-off, eccentric, and just plain gorgeous flora, the Canaries, Sonchus palmensis turns the back garden into an adventure, for me and the bees.
Here in dry frost-free zone 10b, grow lilies in containers. That’s what I’ve been admonishing myself for years. And that’s what I’ve been doing, without much noticeable benefit, because the bulbs rarely return a second year whether in the ground or containers. It could be the lack of winter chill and/or me falling down on watering duties after they bloom. But in the housebound August of 2020, late summer being when the selection is best, I deliriously ordered over a dozen lilies; and upon their arrival in October/November I planted them in the ground. Potato/potatuh, right? If success in containers is minimal, it’s back to the garden for the bulbs. At the very least, there wasn’t an extra dozen containers underfoot all winter/spring.
At twilight just these two lilies in bloom wafted scent strong enough to fill the entire back garden. Even when it’s too dark to see, it’s hard to leave that scent behind and head indoors at the end of the day. I ordered my lilies from B&D Lilies and the Lily Garden, and both companies are highly recommended for selection and service. Be warned that not all lilies are scented; the colorful, earlier blooming Asiatic lilies bear no scent.
So this year I mostly skipped the tulip rigamarole but went in a big way for lilies, and there are a half dozen stalks with buds forming in pockets throughout the garden.
Treating them both as expensive annuals, I find lilies actually easier to manage than tulips. There are no pests like the lily beetle here waiting to ravage the flowers, and so far no creature disturbs or attempts to dig up the bulbs. However, the tulip rigamarole will be back for 2022 — some pandemic habits, like heavy catalogue use, will be difficult to break!
Once again I ordered early for the best selection, and the bulbs will come this fall 2021 prechilled. Incorrigible is the word that best describes this bulb habit, a peculiar form of zonal denial. And this cool spring I’m enviously reading reports of how long the tulips are lasting.
With their mysterious bulbous nature, hidden underground like Persephone for much of the year, I find them the ultimate garden tease. Delivery devices of rich, complex colors suspended on slim green stems, their appearance searingly intense but brief. In a condensed performance, bulbs enact a preview of the transformations a garden will make spring through fall.
I suppose it’s because they are so difficult here that I find them perversely irresistible. I don’t dream of large municipal plantings of tulips in spring, just a few pots on my back steps to celebrate Persephone’s triumphant reemergence as captured in the fleeting drama of ‘Gavota‘ — and maybe next year ‘Bastogne‘ and ‘Amber Glow‘ too if the prechill rigamorale is a success.
“[M]ost gardens are a three-part alchemy between the riches and constraints of the natural and/or cultural history of the place, the individual creativity and personality of the gardener, and the gardening culture in which both the garden and the gardener exist.”preface to Under Western Skies
I’ve been taking small sips of this delicious new book by Jennifer Jewel and photographer Caitlin Atkinson, rich in both words and images. So often I become fixated on what the West lacks — abundant rainfall, for instance. Under Western Skies‘ emphasis on the West’s natural beauty and the rare opportunities it affords to make unique gardens here has refreshed my appreciation for my home. This book shows that the only lack one must be wary of in making a garden in the West is imagination.
Rarely do garden images and words complement each other as effectively as they do here; the collaborative synergy between writer and photographer comes through page after page. This over 400-page book is filled with unforgettable images of brilliant planting, such as cactus spires rising up from a froth of flowering buckwheat. And the detailed discussions of both the people and plants provide insight into the process of making a garden that can be universally applied, whatever sky you’re under. In books and magazines the West is often celebrated for the outdoor culture it has pioneered and exported, its patios and swimming pools, not its Coast Live Oaks, saguaros, Joshua trees and manzanitas. This plant-driven, deeply felt love letter to Western landscapes and gardens restores plants as central to the idea of a garden in the West, and for that alone it is to be cherished. It is highly recommended as a book to to be placed within easy access on your bookshelf, to be referred to over and over again when making a garden that attempts to honestly engage with your own unique land and sky.
(My copy of Under Western Skies was kindly provided by Timber Press for review.)
In November 2020 the east side of the garden saw some major renovations. The size of the lemon cypresses on the east boundary, Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora,’ had dictated the character of the planting in its root and shade shadow. After their removal, the planting became intentional instead of reactive. A lot of the new planting was woven around original plants that were retained, such as Yucca rostrata, aloes, forms of Agave attenuata, tough plants that had managed to thrive in less-than-ideal conditions. In the far corner, a purple-leaved crinum and Doryanthes palmeri were also retained. Rarely do I think ahead about before-and-after documentation, but there are a few photos of this area that show how it’s been filling in. I am a plant-crazy person, there’s no two ways about it, so this in no way is a comprehensive plant report but more of a quick overview.
Today the planting has taken on a wedge shape, with the narrowest end meeting up with the brick patio. I initially didn’t intend to take the planting this close to the bricks but — you know how it goes when you’re weak-kneed susceptible to the stunning beauty of plants. My neighbor’s garage is the visible structure. Leucospermum ‘Tango’ and Grevillea ‘Poorinda Blondie’ are two big, shrubby, and hopefully permanent additions on either side of the totems.
Breaking this down a bit more, in the fall 2020 renovations, a sloping, roughly east/west spine of rocks was laid up to the fence. Lots of my potted succulents were planted along the rocks.
There was a lot of gravel showing early on — not so much now as the planting has absorbed new acquisitions and as spring progresses into summer. The slim trunk belongs to a young Euphorbia cotinifolia which was planted as a small understory tree to the fernleaf acacia.
Another Yucca rostrata was moved in front of the fence, transplanted from the front yard.
I’ve had a great time playing around with new plantings, keeping in mind the two categories of planting intention: plants that are hopefully permanent, such as the Trevesia palmata above right, and those that are intended for the 2021 season, like Digiplexis ‘Illumination Apricot.’ Silvery plectranthus, bronze fennel, palm-leaved geranium, gaura, verbascum, castor bean are all in the less-than-permanent category, though some will reseed or be easily renewed with cuttings.
The Euphorbia cotinifolia, even though not an especially long-lived shrub/small tree, is also intended as a permanent feature. One of it’s drawbacks is that it is a prolific reseeder here. I intend to keep it clipped to no more than 8-10 feet, which will keep the reseeding down somewhat — although this morning I noticed flowers forming.
I’m hoping to do another progress report towards the end of summer, with the aim of checking on size compatibility and seeing what’s survived the hot, dry months — “dry months” being relative terms, as this area has been hand-watered since planting last fall, with scant rainfall recorded. Oh, California! You don’t make it easy…
She’s a little sleepy right now, which is the best time to point a camera at her.
Born January 9, 2021, we picked her up on March 13. Just this morning I noticed how she’s becoming less madcap puppy and more surveyor and protector of her home and family. Positioning herself in strategic locations where she can watch two points of entry at once, for instance.
Her ankle-biting, herding instincts are practiced less on us now and channeled more into the big daily event of bringing the cat into the house before sundown. When Billie gets a little too enthusiastic, Banksy the cat has no problem setting her straight with a quick swipe. The cat has been remarkably patient and seems a natural at training rambunctious puppies.
Watching the relationship unfold between these two has been pure comedy. And very touching too. Marty still has occasional lapses and calls Billie by our first corgi’s name (“Ein”), but that’s becoming less frequent as her uniquely impish personality develops. I have my own selfish reasons for loving this breed. Compact yet sturdy, both sociable and independent, their acute spatial awareness makes them expert at navigating small spaces (i.e. gardens). Now that she’s current on all her shots, we’ve been getting out for walks at the beach and trying out the local dog parks — which gives the cat a well-earned break from all that herding practice!