checking in on the zone 10 garden

Under the piles of tree debris there were some exciting finds, like how well the bromeliad Alcantarea imperialis and Pyrrosia lingua get along, both tolerating extended periods of dryness in a container sitting directly under an acacia — ground zero for maximum tree litter. Cleaned up, debris pulled out by the handfuls, and the pot moved to a shady, debris-free east corner.

The Long Beach, CA zone 10 garden had a caretaker in residence for almost a year while we’ve been on the Oregon coast. I think they may have been watering the containers before decamping in July, but I’m not really sure how much consistent water the garden itself got after the 2023 winter rains, which were fortunately epic. Neighbors say this was an exceptionally cool summer here, with no temps over 100. And August brought unexpected, significant rainfall for this summer-dry climate. Overall, I’m trying to find a caretaking pattern that can be duplicated again, but maybe I just caught a lucky break because the garden has, in the main, survived very well without me.

The evergreen Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is a nice, small-sized tree, producing good light for growing bromeliads, but the steady stream of debris year-round requires constant cleanup to avoid smothering crowns of bromeliads and succulents.
This small amount of breathing room was made possible by pulling a pincushion shrub/leucospermum, two westringias and lots of grasses. Swift, command decisions needed to be made! Grevillea on the left is ‘Poorinda Blondie,’ heavily cut back this trip. The Euphorbia cotinifolia was limbed up. In the far corner, not captured in the photo, a trevesia surprisingly flourishes, along with Doryanthes palmeri, the African Spear Lily, and a Purple Giant Crinum Lily.
trunk of trevesia, doryanthes on the left, giant crinum behind on the right

The back garden greeted me with wall-to-wall growth — the drought-breaking rains worked their magic. By late September the soil was bone dry again, but the garden party raged on anyway, with roots settled and deep. Exuberant growth overwhelmed many of the smaller succulents. Fall is the best time for this kind of cleanup, allowing the newly exposed succulents to acclimate to the changing light before next year’s summer sun. (I did some spot cleanup in July, and the newly exposed cycad Encephalartos horridus and an agave were burnt and disfigured but may recover.)

Tetrapanax has never looked this lush in fall before. Yards of the Crimson Passionflower, Passiflora vitifolia, were cut off the tetrapanax, and the Skyscraper Senecio (Curio ficoides) had surged almost pergola-high then crashed down — complete removal was needed. The big aloe is ‘Goliath,’ rooted ithrough the drainhole of a pot into the ground.
the Crimson Passionflower loves to drape over and then smother anything in its wake. Trimmed back but not removed…yet. Flowers are so lovely, as are the leaves. All the salvias behind Euphorbia ammak were removed to rescue smaller succulents.
Next to the potted ‘Goliath’ is my treasured Cussonia gamtoosensis — this seems to have survived by rooting thru the pot drainhole as well
The outlines were basically familiar. Established succulents fared well, but smaller introductions were overwhelmed by the growth of grasses, shrubs and perennials
Agave kerchovei is becoming a formidable presence. Ruby grass has seeded around, here between the smaller agave and aeoniums.
Wonderful fall performance by the slipper plant, with its fabulous lime/red bracts, Pedilanthus bracteatus
The agaves were smothered by perennials like salvias and small shrubs, many of which were intended to be trained into orbs like westringia and “golfball” pittosporum — not a long-distance project! (Three golfball pitts were trained into one large orb but westringias were removed.) Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’ was uncovered after removing yards of Salvia ‘Savannah Blue.’ For now, restios work better than grasses with the succulents.
Three shaggy “golfball” pittosporum were merged into one — nice surprise to find the potted turk’s cap melocactus somewhat healthy
Salvia ‘Savannah Blue’ before removal — I’m going to try this in the Oregon garden, supposedly tolerant of zone 8 — much too vigorous among succulents but a good dry garden plant
Leucadendron ‘Jester’ in good health — alas, a large Leucadendron ‘Ebony’expired
another open area attained by removal of shrubby stuff like salvias, anisodontea. A potted Agave guiengola ‘Moto Sierra’ was moved here for more sun. The aloes here were swamped, including Aloe lukeana near the large pot containing the Skyscraper Senecio, unwatered and in full sun, an effective way to curtail its exuberant growth!
the “chainsaw” leaf margins of Agave guiengola ‘Moto Sierra’
Looks like over 2 inches of new growth on a potted Euphorbia canariensis
Through reseeding sonchus has become a permanent resident
Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ snapped a large branch. The shrub canopy was cleaned up, branches cut off the garage roof, gutters cleaned out, etc.
All the little potted cacti and succulents are probably at greater risk than those in the ground — caretakers tend to ignore them or overwater them! I was tempted to plant many of them in the ground, but with a super El Nino rainy winter forecast, ultimately opted to keep the status quo for now.
Furcraea macdougalii is trunking now, surrounded by big, weed-smothering succulents like Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ and Cotyledon orbiculata var. flanaganii. Spikes are Nolina nelsonii.

In the front garden, there wasn’t much to do other than water it in well and cut off several old palm fronds from the triangle palm, Dypsis decaryi.

Nolina underplanted with succulents, Agave ‘Mateo’
More of the planting in the front garden — especially gratifiying was the survival of Banksia repens, upper right above a form of Agave titanota
it was good to see the aeoniums coming back to liife in fall
One of the snappiest looking things to greet me was the Loll bench, a hotel castoff, bought from a consignment shop earlier in the year. A typical fall occurrence here, bird droppings, stained dark navy blue from the berries from the Chinese Fringe Tree, were ruining its looks, but it scrubbed up beautifully. It’s incredibly heavy but indestructible. Even second-hand it was pricy, but so worth it — made from recycled plastic.

I’ve been walking neighborhoods in LA the past couple weeks and noting the same problems in my garden on a broader scale. Everywhere the dry-tolerant plantings have outgrown their allotted space and impinge on sidewalks, houses. You can easily distinguish those interested in controlling the growth (very few!) from those overwhelmed by the responsibility. The city is lush and overgrown, but the birds are cacophonous, the sheets of blue plumbago and scarlet bougainvillea breath-taking. Plants in LA are both out of control and enchanting. Gardens here need constant, year-round vigilance to keep up with the effects of a year-round, frost-free climate — a very different kind of garden-making!

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6 Responses to checking in on the zone 10 garden

  1. Kris P says:

    I’ve often wondered how my garden would handle a steady diet of benign neglect. Even recognizing the hours that no doubt went into your cleanup effort, your garden dazzles despite the light level of support it received over many months. It has been a remarkable year in terms of weather conditions, and that’s helped a lot overall. I’ve already removed some of the agave “pups” that grew the size of small cars and others still need to go.

    Best wishes finding a renter interested in puttering in the garden!

  2. Elaine says:

    Always a challenge to leave a garden especially over the course of the summer. Despite it’s exuberant growth yours seems to have passed the resiliency test. I am amazed that the plants in containers did so well and look so good. What is the big yellow green variegated agave in photo 8? I hope you can find renters that appreciate such a gorgeous landscape and might be interested in keeping it looking great.

  3. So much growth! It’s even obvious to a non-resident. Reading your descriptions of all the work you tackled helped to paint a bit of a picture of what you must have found, although your photos show nothing but the glorious after. Fingers crossed your next renter is a gardener.

  4. Denise says:

    @thanks, Kris!
    @Elaine, that’s Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’
    @Loree, true, before-and-after photos would help, but so much to do! I was pulling the pincushion/leucospermum out within 15 minutes of arrival…

  5. Just found your blog thru succulentsandmore. Wow! I can only imagine how you were champing at the bit to get back there. Beautiful garden, the furcraea is so commanding. Mine seems to be in a stall. Am off to read more posts now.

  6. Jerry says:

    Gosh, things look great after being gone so long! Your quick command of the situation really worked. Happy to see that turk’s cap cactus with a top. That must have taken a while to develop.

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