good riddance to July, you hot and sultry thing

And hello August! (what fresh hell do you have in store?)

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Unlike me, pedilanthus loves it when the heat and humidity are matchy-matchy numbers.

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I’ve been so worried that Yucca linearifolia would reject this container, which has already killed a dasylirion. It’s a lightweight concrete formulation that seems to retain moisture, so I’ve been careful not to overwater. I admit I get a little free-handed with the garden hose in July and August.

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Both overwatering and underwatering can prove fatal in July, so the margin for error shrinks. There’s been no big, heartbreaking losses so far and even a few surprising successes, including blooms on parodia and astrophytum.

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As summer progresses, more and more plants are congregating at the eastern end of the pergola. Everybody wants to hang out here. Cool morning sun, afternoon shade. It’s prime garden real estate. And it’s also a great spot for new acquisitions. It gives me a chance to get to know and appreciate new plants up close, and they benefit by this kinder, gentler introduction to the garden. The little bromeliad in the lime green pot is Aechmea recurvata var. benrathrii, or False Tillandsia, which is said to be one of the best terrestrial bromeliads for full sun, where it will strengthen in color. The agave is A. kershovei ‘Huajuapan Red.’ I might try to encourage some ruddy color out of both when we’re safely under full winter sun again.

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And the air space at the eastern end of the pergola is maxed out too, mostly with tillandsias and rhipsalis.

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This is where I get to indulge an unstoppable flea market/salvage habit. Propellor pot is Dustin Gimbel’s.

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Agave ‘Cornelius’ jumped out of the ground and back into container life at this end of the pergola too. I’ve gotten in the habit of giving plants a light tug now and then. Call it a root check. ‘Cornelius’ came right up out of the ground. Not a bad display of leaves for having no roots to speak of. I cleaned off the dense accumulation of old, dried leaves — so many it looked like a spit of al pastor — to expose the central trunk, which looks healthy. I’m praying it takes root again.

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Other variegated agaves gravitate to the bright light near the long, southernmost edge of the pergola. Nearest is Agave ‘Tradewinds,’ then ‘Rumrunner,’ and lastly ‘Kissho Kan.’

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‘Kissho Kan’ had a tighter, more incurved habit of growth in containers and is more relaxed in the ground under partial sun.

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The eastern end is also where the evening gin rummy games are held on the hottest nights. I cut out the furcraea’s sprawling lower leaves and moved out most of the pots except for the lone Agave xylonacantha which is doing so well here I hate to change its conditions mid-summer. I was this close to removing the furcraea entirely, but nothing else could be established in its place now that the lemon cypresses’ roots fill the area. Best to stick with the survivor. The cypresses, fern-leaf acacia, and the tetrapanax all have extensive, thieving roots that make persistent water demands, but I take heart from this quote from Saxon Holt in the spring 2018 issue of Pacific Horticulture, Adopting a Summer-Dry Garden Aesthetic:

[W]e should water, wisely and efficiently. The new aesthetic takes its cues from the summer-dry climate but that does not mean no summer watering. Our gardens are too important to be left alone, especially in their early years. We need to keep them healthy. Not only do they offer sanity to those of us who would go crazy without them, they provide habitat for critters, keep the soil alive, clear the air, and provide beauty. The new summer-dry aesthetic is rapidly evolving with increased awareness of our limited water resources and all the wonderful new plants and creative ways to use them — but water is critical.” (Hear, hear!)

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Looking west, the garden including these pots is in full sun most of the day. Hybrid ‘Little Shark’ (or ‘Royal Spine’) seems to be handling the full sun, whereas Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ might prefer some afternoon shade. An impulse buy for some warm winter color, I’m very impressed with Cordyline ‘Red Planet’ for making it through July without melting away. Also impressed by the performance of erodiums planted among the succulents. Erodium chrysanthum has made quick size, throws pale yellow blooms sporadically, and is always a tidy clump of silvery, finely dissected leaves. I’m waiting for fall to plant a recent order from Robin Parer/Geraniaceae.

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Other new plants in this area include Aloe spicata, the bottlebrush aloe.

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The golden sedum is doing that rare thing, which is following orders and making a nice-sized patch (Sedum x adolphii). Love those warm, honey-colored tones.

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I’ve always kept an assortment of hollow cement and clay pipes around, which I normally use as plinths for staging containers to get some staggered height in displays. But with planting space in the garden pretty much spoken for, lately I’ve been adapting them as planters. Not sure how long term an arrangement this is, but aloes in particular seem to love it.

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Aloe betsileensis, brought home last week from an Orange County succulent show. This has a cone-like flower in the style of Aloe conifera with similar dusky colored leaves with red teeth. All-day full sun may not be in its best interests, so this pipe may move elsewhere. Leucadendron galpinii had a fairly long life in the grey container but didn’t make it through July. It’s filled now with chocolate cosmos, such a gorgeous daisy — in theory. I’ve never been able to figure it out. This summer I’m trying free-draining potting soil in full sun, watering only when it just starts to beg for it.

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At the western end near the office, Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’ is on its fourth bloom truss, and the heat has produced a growth surge in Pennisetum ‘Cherry Sparkler.’

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It was a little too early for this photo, before sunrise, but I need it to describe what’s planted at the base of that long-legged iron stand, which has basically been the little black dress of the garden for many years. So freakin’ versatile, it’s appeared in numerous guises on these pages.

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Lots of the newer mangaves are here, like ‘Kaleidoscope.’

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And a newly planted Calocephalus ‘Silver Sand.’

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And this crazy crassula I bought last summer, ‘Garnet Lotus.’ I’m frankly surprised this oddity has had this much staying power.

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Pots are finding their way to top of the stand too. Ferocactus gracilis in Dustin’s log pot.

I’m always starved for garden talk by August, so I’m heading to Potted tomorrow to hear Nan Sterman discuss her new book “Hot Color, Dry Garden.” This notice is from the Los Angeles Times:

Dry does not mean dull
What: Gardening expert Nan Sterman, signs copies of her book “Hot Color, Dry Garden” and shows you how to have a colorful garden that’s also drought tolerant
When: 11 a.m. Aug. 4
Where: Potted, 3158 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles
Cost: The talk is free. Book is $24.95
Info:, (323) 665-3801

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6 Responses to good riddance to July, you hot and sultry thing

  1. Kris P says:

    Your post title and the introductory sentences had me chortling . Despite July’s misbehavior, your garden is looking great, Denise. Let’s hope August has better manners. Have a great weekend!

  2. This has been a devastating summer for California gardens in that the heat has taken such a toll on trees. My 60 year old, very large avocado is decimated, my only hope is that it somehow can make it through the next two months. Small plantings can easily be replaced but a mature tree is a completely different matter. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  3. Like Kris P, the title of your post made me laugh. It’s going to be a long, hot dry wait for the rainy season. I did hear there’s a 70% chance of an El Niño… I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
    I too have struggled with chocolate cosmos but your post has inspired me to maybe, just maybe, give them another try! Plus I’m desperate for some color around here.

    Stay cool!

  4. Denise says:

    @Kris, I’m an eternal optimist but still can’t shake the feeling that summers aren’t going to get any easier.
    @Adrienne, I’m crossing my fingers for your avocado too. What a struggle the trees are undergoing.
    @Amy, so it’s not only me! Since I’ve pulled the dahlias and am scratching them off the list, a small pot of chocolate cosmos seems doable and waterable.

  5. hb says:

    Yes, that July was bad. Hopefully August will have a better finish, at least.

    Lots of Agaves in your garden, more than in the past? The Little Black Dress Of The Garden–most excellent metaphor. Mine must be Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’. Easy care, goes with everything…

  6. Peter says:

    Your title made me laugh out loud! Despite the heat, your garden is looking fabulous. Fingers crossed for your Cornelius. Mine was doing a slow demise due to a mealy bug infestation. Because it was so covered by the time I noticed, I resorted to a systemic chemical treatment along with alcohol (on the bugs, not for the gardener) and it’s making a nice comeback and pupping like crazy.

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