more talk about plants

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I’m blaming it on spring. A beautifully soft, mild spring. And that rainy winter certainly didn’t hurt in rebuilding confidence. New acquisitions are now unloaded from the back of the Mini at near weekly intervals. Amazingly, this little garden swallows it all up, but certain accommodations do have to be made. I won’t be tempted by behemoths like Agave franzosinii again. There’s very little room left for big, beamy, full-sun planting, but when someone thins out a cactus and leaves some branches in their parkway, the tallest the Mini can handle gets a ride home to be rooted (which is precisely why I should never drive a car bigger than the Mini.) Slim and vertical are welcome. And containers give so many options, like with Cotula ‘Big Yellow Moon’ which was planted up a couple months ago, the pot plunged into the gravel at the sunny, western end of the pergola. You know how plants are sometimes described as cheerful? Well, cotula is goofily cheerful, with those bobbing satellites straight out of a fifth-grade science project. There’s not enough sunny ground for the cotula to sprawl as it would prefer, so the container makes a small patch possible. (The anarchist in me hopes it spills over and roots into the gravel of this rapidly shrinking sitting area.) Containers do proliferate around the pergola. Potted Crassula ‘Jitters’ is just behind the cotula, a specimen a few years old, next to a newish butterfly agave bought to replace the Agave potatorum that bloomed. Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ is the variegate in the foreground, its ultimate size deliberately restrained by a container.

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Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata’ getting shaded by the lemon cypresses was dug up and potted and moved into more sun. Slim and vertical get the thumb’s up and containers help control ultimate size.
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The chocolate cosmos on the shop stool is a holdover from last August. (And, yes, I am a bit obsessed with how it has exceeded all expectations — previous attempts always produced dismal results.) Its scale is perfect for a container, and the depth and richness of color together with that scent tick off all the boxes. A great cut flower too. It bloomed most of the fall/winter, was cut back around January, and has started flowering again. Having had zero success with this Mexican cosmos in the ground, I can only conclude that it’s all about growing them in a quick-to-warm container and not an overcrowded garden, plus getting lucky with a vigorous strain. The shop stool was deployed because a brownish-red thunbergia was also planted in the pot and needed room to trail. That the succulents continue to thrive underneath and pool around the stool’s legs, I confess, makes me feel just a little bit smug about successfully exploiting the full-sun air space hovering a few feet over the garden. Making it all fit like a puzzle is the game.

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more puzzle planting around the tetrapanax

The eastern end of the pergola is for the half-day-sun lovers. (Some of the succulents here would prefer full sun but they do okay.) So many bromeliads including the big silvery Alcantarea odorata thrive at the eastern end of the garden in bright light but shaded from strong afternoon sun by the tetrapanax.

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Ursulaea tuitensis

Earlier in the week I tucked in another spring plant sale purchase, Ursulaea tuitensis, a full-sun bromeliad from Mexico found last weekend at the Huntington’s sale. I have a hard time wrapping my head around a full-sun brom, but for the reddest leaves the risk must be taken. Just to be safe, I’ll watch it in half-day sun for a few weeks.

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That same full-sun risk was taken with Aechmea recurvata var. ‘Benrathii,’ which took on these stressed-out inky tints — fun but probably not sustainable, so it’s been moved back under the tetrapanax too.

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The tetrapanax is critical in diffusing strong sunlight and sometimes offering actual physical support too — tillandsias love life tied to its branches, and a leggy Aeonium ‘Zwartkopf’ is using it like a crutch. But its main talent is in keeping bromeliads happy under its canopy.

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Aechmea recurvata ‘Aztec Gold’ happily pups away in a funnel swaying in dappled sun
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Bilbergia ‘Violetta’ pup. Mother plant brought home in 2013 bloomed this winter

Bromeliads are such lookers and so easy to keep happy, that I can’t stop bringing more home. They don’t require much soil, so are equally good in the ground or containers.

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Some of the broms are tucked into pots with summer tropicals like alocasia.
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Sustaining the collecting habit requires zoning in on where the range of plants I love to grow — from bromeliads to agaves — grow best. The eaves under the pergola are the perfect environment for tillandsias and rhipsalis.

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It’s so hard to predict which acquisitions are in it for the long haul, and it’s the surprises that keep things interesting. Aristolochia fimbriata is more a small-scale scrambler than a climber, yet it has a steady vigor I appreciate, hoisting itself up among salvias this spring to show off those gorgeous leaves. The bizarro flowers are a kick but just a little creepy, so I don’t mind that they’re often buried under the leaves. I’ve had this diminutive White-Veined Dutchman’s Pipe reseeding in the garden since at least 2014.

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‘Single Black’ carnations thrive in full sun with the succulents, scenting the air intensely of cloves — something succulents just can’t do

I think this is the second year in the garden for the tall ‘Single Black’ carnations, and I’ve already started to move offsets around whenever a rare patch of full sun opens up. Plants with scent and absorbing details that require close-up inspection were made for small gardens.

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Which I suppose is why I’ve been gravitating to the scented pelargoniums that cover themselves in nebulas of bloom and prefer the same conditions as my potted agaves. The tall “pelly” in the back is ‘Pomona,’ a hybrid bred by Jay Kapac that I brought home from Robin Parer’s booth at the recent South Coast plant fair.

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Pelargonium ‘Simple Sister’ from Robin Parer’s nursery Geraniaceae
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Pelargonium ‘Queen of Hearts’ from the Huntington’s spring plant sale, another Jay Kapac hybrid
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I haven’t grown herbaceous geraniums in years, and I’m not really a fan of the masses of bloom that ‘Rozanne’ provides, but I’ve always been a sucker for the meandering psilostemon hybrids with intense, black-eyed magenta flowers. ‘Ann Folkard’ turned up at a local nursery, and ‘Dragon Heart‘ was on Robin Parer’s table at South Coast. (‘Dragon Heart’ didn’t like full sun the last time I grew it so will be trialed in part sun.)

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Reseeding nicotianas are a fixture of spring now and come to the fore after the poppies are almost over. I sowed some ‘Tinkerbell’ nicotianas, which are so similar to this reseeding flowering tobacco that originated from ‘Nan Ondra’s Brown Mix’ that I really didn’t need to bother.

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With reseeding comes unexpected variations in color, from white to pale chartreuse through lime green to darkest red-brown — so far I haven’t met one I didn’t like.

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Pots of lily bulbs are waiting to bloom near the legs of Salvia ‘Limelight’

Bulbs of Lily ‘Night Flyer’ and ‘African Queen’ were brought home from the South Coast show, Penstemon ‘Midnight’ was grabbed from a local nursery, a great penstemon I grew years ago, etc., etc…

Have a great weekend! And just a reminder that the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day for Los Angeles gardens is tomorrow, Sunday, May 5.

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5 Responses to more talk about plants

  1. Kris P says:

    I think you’re smart to have put Cotula in a pot. Years ago I went crazy and put it in 2 beds, only to have it cover everything in its path. I pulled it out of one bed but I’ve let in meander in the other, which receives relatively little water – and I still have to get ruthless in cutting in back later in the season. I passed by Robin Parer’s booth at the South Coast show and felt the pull of her plants but, reminding myself that I had an appointment to get to, I decided not to dive down that rabbit hole. Now, seeing ‘Simple Sister’, I’m kicking myself. There was also a well-priced Pilosocereus azureus I passed on, which heavy or not, I should have adopted.

  2. So many fantabulous things! I’m especially taken with your bromeliads. And of course rather jealous you can leave them out year round. If only…

  3. Nell says:

    LOL about your self-limiting vehicle! Just think how much trouble you could get yourself into with a pickup…

    My favorites among your many appealing plants are the new ‘Queen of Hearts’ Pelargonium and the dark single carnation, whose fragrance comes right through the screen thanks to the power of memory and imagination. We do long for just the things we can’t keep, so of course on a sodden, sprinkly day on this plateau of clay my thoughts turn to lavender and Dianthus.

    The little white-veined Dutchman’s pipe is endearing as well as enduring; I don’t remember seeing it before. Every year I make a note to look for our native one to grow on an out-of-the-way fence for the pipeline swallowtail, but then the season gets ahead of me and it doesn’t happen. Yours is much cooler.

  4. Lori says:

    Oooooh, your variegated euphorbia is a beauty! Putting it on my own wishlist.

  5. hb says:

    You make excellent use of every bit of your garden space. It’s been a pretty great spring to follow a fabulous winter. I failed yet again to make it to the Huntington sale. Was it great?

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