some dry garden plants

When I planted this slipper plant (Pedilanthus bracteatus, from Mexico) into the back garden last October, I knew that it would necessarily change the character of the plantings surrrounding it. Everything would have to become even more dry tolerant. For that reason I hesitated, because the back garden is where I like to experiment with new plants. Experiments sometimes need additional water. With the slipper plant’s sensitivity to over-irrigation, I knew there’d be no turning back. But the surprising thing about a dry garden is, once you commit to it, you’re likely to find that you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to filling your dry garden with beautiful plants. And if you’re inclined toward the kookily eccentric, then the dry garden has your number too. I don’t consider it an insult to call the slipper plant a bit of a kook. In my opinion, it’s a beautiful kook.

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Its first year in the ground it had to acclimatize from its previous position of afternoon shade to full-day sun. I confess, during some of the most brutally hot days, I thought it was a goner — or would become forever blemished from sunburn.

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Like this Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ after a 106-degree day. After years in this full-sun spot without sunburn, reflected heat off the pavement during that blistering day was its undoing. (And we’re not done with high temperatures yet. Today is predicted to go back up into the 90s.)

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This little kook was giving me the hairy eyeball as I took photos of plants, as if to say What am I, chopped liver?

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Plants give rebukes in more subtle ways than corgis. The move from container to the garden did seem to knock the pedilanthus out of its flowering cycle. It was in full bloom when I planted it last October.

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Closeup of one of its bracts last October.

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It was bare-stemmed all summer, and just recently burst forth with this flush of new leaves.

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After planting, it comically splayed out in all directions, but seems to have found its equilibrium now. New growth rises out of the center rigid and straight, the old leafless stems making that helix shape.

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It was from this clump of Agave ‘Blue Flame’ that I removed that pup I brought indoors. Lots more thinning to do here.

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You done with plants yet?

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Hardly. This Island Bristleweed has impressed me mightily. From our Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura, Hazardia detonsa. A beautiful reminder of one of the most harrowing sailing adventures I ever endured, nearly going aground on a rocky reef one dark and stormy night off Santa Rosa Island. The Channel Islands are notorious for storms blowing up fast and furious.

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I love its crimped silver leaves. There’s a chance that blooming could turn it into a ghastly mess, so it’s too soon to give it an unequivocal recommendation. Foolishly planted in July, along with other silvers like verbascum, it’s been thriving ever since. Which is more than I can say about the verbascums, which were done in by the unremitting muggy heat.

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Bored with me focused solely on plants, Ein heads for the house.

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Silly creature. Who could possibly get bored with plants, with Berkheya purpurea throwing a surprising bloom stalk in November?

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I love thistly, bristly plants and have tried dozens. Very few thistles like my garden. I could grow an artichoke, I suppose, but they’re massive plants. On a smaller scale, a native thistle, Cirsium occidentale, seemed briefly promising but always collapsed just as it threw its first bloom, as if exhausted by the effort.

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Berkheya couldn’t be further from exhausted. Its snaky stems exude rambunctious energy. Getting through one summer, especially a very hot and dry one like 2015, is quite the accomplishment.

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Brought home from Cistus Nursery summer 2014, it’s spread into several clumps.

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Okay, something tells me it’s time to put down the camera and grab some kibble.

This entry was posted in agaves, woody lilies, Plant Portraits, succulents and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to some dry garden plants

  1. Christina says:

    Your blog is always a good source to find interesting and beautiful “new-to-me” drought tolerant plants! This time the Island Bristleweed caught my attention. What a lovely blueish/greenish color.
    Your Corgi is just so adorable. I don’t know how you get anything done in your garden when he is around 😉
    Warm regards,

  2. hoov says:

    It takes a pair of great big brown puppy dog eyes to compete with an interesting plants. How dazzling is ‘Ivory Curls’ as a background!

    94F this afternoon. Sigh.

  3. Luisa says:

    A corgi is much more lovable than a Pedilanthus bracteatus, though I like the Pedilanthus very much. Reflected heat on my patio is hell on plants, but heaven to my pups. They love to stretch out and sun themselves on pavement too hot for me to walk across barefoot. Dogs are awesome.

  4. Les says:

    I have been able to ID one of my plants thanks to this post. A friend gave me a pot of the P. bracteatus, but could not tell me what it was. Truthfully, it has done nothing to merit my curiosity, like bloom, so I haven’t bothered to find its name. I also have a P. tithymaloides, which I do remember because of its common name, but it has yet to bloom as well.

  5. Kris P says:

    I love that Berkheya, which I’ve never tried. I wonder if its thistles would put off the raccoons and squirrels? I hope you gave Ein a treat – after all that patient waiting waiting he deserves it.

  6. Love that Pedilanthus bracteatus! Luisa sent me a cutting from Rancho Reubidoux earlier in the year. I planted it behind a palo verde and it’s thriving. Lots of new growth and leaves. No flowers yet. I think it would be more widely planted!

    Your dog is too cute!!!

  7. Tim says:

    Simply love your garden and your amazing cabinet of curiosities. Such interesting plants! Hitting the 90’s in November? Wow, how do manage in all of that heat? Cheers

  8. The Island Bristleweed is very cool. I’d love to hear more of your adventures out on the sea, it sounds as if it’s quite the story! Your garden makes me cry a little, I love it so. The Pedilanthus does too….soo cool.

  9. Lorinda says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who can’t resist planting something in mid-summer.

  10. David Feix says:

    Sounds like that Pedilanthes has charmed a lot of us into bringing one(or two) home! The two I got were pretty gawky looking at first, with but one trunk which was already in bloom, the real appeal in my opinion. They do seem slow to make growth here, waiting until August to send out more shoots. With that as my clue, I realized they’d be better on the peninsula than here in Berkeley. That Berkhaya is one I’ve grown in the past too. Unfortunately I’ve no winter sun in my own garden, so can only play with these plants in client’s gardens. The real differences between southern and northern California come out in November; you’ve got 90’s, we’ve got chance of snow tonight on Mt Diablo above 3000 feet. Rather sure we won’t be seeing any 70°F weather again for weeks or months even, if today was any indication. Cold already here! So it’s nice to see warm sunny garden shots!

  11. Denise says:

    @Christina, I’m really excited about that bristleweed too. We’ll see how it fares in the upcoming El Nino!
    @Hoov, I was talking to a total stranger because she had a dachsund with her in her plant nursery cart and we compared notes on breeds. Dachsunds, in her opinion, were the pinnacle of dog breeds. We laughed because we both knew that’s how we feel about whatever dog we have, purebreed or not. I told her that our previous Newfs were incredibly noble, with such impressive canine gravitas, whereas the corgi is pure clown with a pronounced sense of humor. Sorry about that heat! We didn’t hit 94 here, just 90ish.
    @Luisa, this year I’m just starting to become aware of the liabilities of planting near pavement. I love agaves on corners, the best way to see them in 3-D! But these spots get that reflected heat and it’s also a warm/moist perfect habitat for ants.
    @Les, even without blooms those smooth vertical stems are cool, right? A plant with nice legs!
    @Kris, I pulled a couple berkheya offsets, leaves with a bit of root, and stuck them in the ground. One seems to have taken despite such rough treatment. This definitely seems like a plant to propagate by roots, so next time I’ll try soft, well-draining potting soil to make more of them. I’ll let you know if I get a crop.
    @Gerhard, I knew you were a fan too. I thought you had the marcrocarpa as well?
    @Tim, that’s such a great phrase. I hope I never stop being curious — my garden too!
    @Tamara, Marty and I were this close to buying an old wooden, African Queen style houseboat, in which case I would have probably never had kids, a garden, etc. And we’d be spending night and day keeping her afloat! I’m so excited about your new adventure in the new house and garden!
    @Lorinda, right?!! Irresistible. And, boy, did the losses stack up. And yet garden designers here plant year-round because they have to, so it’s worth a shot sometimes.
    @David, you get such amazing winter blooms for a garden with very little sun, the tree dahlia, etc. Gardens are such great metaphors for circumstances in life — make the most of what you have!

  12. Neyon says:

    The corgis leaves are so cute 🙂

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