clippings 9/30/21


A self-sown manihot made an exquisite canopy of uniform growth to 4 feet in its first summer — consolation for the loss of a similar but shorter-lived performance from a young Schefflera taiwaniana, which unlike the manihot had a strong aversion to sustained high temperatures over 90F. (Aversion manifested by complete collapse.) Some years I get lots of manihot seedlings, but this year just the one. It will winter over here in zone 10b, losing its leaves, but I recall it being more gangly in its second and subsequent years. Right now it is simply perfection. I cut back the schefflera’s dead growth, and if it shows signs of recovery may move it to the rainy and cool zone 8b Oregon garden. The deed was recorded yesterday, and we should be checking out the little fisherman’s cottage in the next couple weeks. I call it a fisherman’s cottage — but it really looks like a tract home from the ’40s. I’m imagining a Derek Jarman/Prospect Cottage vibe with sea kale and horned poppies, but really don’t know what will thrive in all that rain. The west coast of New Zealand gets a similar amount of rainfall but is mostly a zone warmer. We’ll see….


Bay Area garden designer David Feix left a thought-provoking comment on my restless garden renovations:

I’m impressed at other gardeners willing to do so much work to constantly update how they enjoy their gardens, but would never consider such in my own garden, the bones are not going to change. It did change dramatically once at middle age some 15 years ago when the central feature arching Japanese Plum festooned with hanging baskets and epiphytes finally keeled over, and it made little sense to preserve the now rotting raised deck below it.

Good luck sorting out which plants remain/get edited, but you seem quite confident in your willingness to do so continuously! I think having other, client’s gardens to evolve puts my own garden at less risk of changes; less pressure to pull/edit/replace out of a desire for the new; I mostly do so if plants die or fail to thrive. Sometimes it can take a decade to decide, I finally pulled a decrepit 10 years old Mimetes cucculatus that should have disappeared years ago, truth be told.

Photos from early April of Peder and Marilyn's 3 year old new garden I designed for them in the Emerald Hills of Redwood City.
landscape design and photo by David Feix

I wonder, David, if when the thing you love becomes work, then might it feel like work to mess with your own garden? Or maybe you got it perfect the first time! I know what little design work I’ve done wasn’t something I wanted to develop further — but then you have amazing clients that give you basically carte blanche as far as planting. And you certainly deserve the very best clients!


The area near the east fence that was reworked in fall 2020 has filled in quickly. My long-distance worrying will be focused on the new shrubs planted here, especially the Leucospermum ‘Tango,’ which seems to appreciate lots of water while getting established. The young trevesia and metapanax in the far corner will also need extra attention from the garden caretaker. (I’m going to try really hard not to be a complete nag.) We were congratulated by our provider for our low water use this summer, so the garden is definitely trending drier, but new plants always need extra help.

Newly planted Aloe labworana throwing its first bloom in my garden

I’ve been coddling this self-sown Polygonum orientale seedling all summer, which I expected to explode into robust growth and bloom long before the last week of September. Instead, feeble and spindly growth is what it had planned. I have been using liquid seaweed on annuals, but apparently not enough.

rusty red ‘Fred Stone’ was the first mum to open

I promise, after these photos it will be mum’s the word on my chrysanthemum experiment — which I have to admit I am really enjoying. These are plants that seem to know what to do and when to do it, with very little input from me. And the flowers hang on for weeks.

‘Fine Feathers’ was next to open
‘Fine Feathers’
then ‘Cheerleader’
next to open was ‘Carousel’

There is a ‘Grape Queen’ that has yet to open. And it should be said that all these mums are bred to produce flowers up to 5 inches across if given more luxurious growing conditions than my foot-deep containers can offer. And pinching and disbudding, which I did lightly. These flowers are maybe 2 inches across.

Daubigny’s Garden by van Gogh (July 1890)

A movie I enjoyed quite a lot recently is unfortunately leaving Netflix September 30, so sorry for the late notice. Vincent van Gogh, as imagined in Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, stomps around fields, staring intently at everything that crosses his cornea — it all felt very familiar even to a nonpainter like myself, who just stomps around a garden. Even though slightly old to play 37-year-old Vincent, it had to be Willem Dafoe, who inhabits the nerve-jangling intensity of the painter consumed with sharing the holiness of everything he sees — farmland, stars, sea captains, sunflowers. There’s no time for anything else (a maid points out that he stinks), and the only respite from his work is when his nervous system occasionally capsizes completely. When asked, and I’m paraphrasing, he admits he paints so others might also look and really see the extraordinary world surrounding them. Amen! It’s an energetic performance that captures the exhausting physicality of VG’s approach to painting — walking for miles with easel and paints in tow to find the perfect light. Working with Dafoe are some of my favorite actors, Oscar Isaac and Mads Mikkelsen. It’s a slow movie that gives the actors room to stretch, which is not a drawback for me but just a head’s up. And if you haven’t kept up on the new research, you might be surprised by Schnabel’s interpretation of who fired the gun that ended van Gogh’s life. The voluminous correspondence van Gogh conducted, almost exclusively with his brother Theo, is always a fascinating read and is now archived here.

The excellent documentary on regenerative farming, Kiss the Ground, might also be something you’d like to queue up for the weekend.

You can read about Southern California’s latest affliction, how “Climate change lets mosquitoes flourish — and feast — in Los Angeleshere. I’m one of the lucky ones that they leave alone — possibly because my blood is A negative.


Something else to daydream about, if I ever visit Australia — Grevillea Park!

See you in October!

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7 Responses to clippings 9/30/21

  1. Gerhard Bock says:

    What David said makes a lot of sense. I think that I’d have far more patience with my own garden if I had another outlet for my creative energy.

    My Manihot grahamii is now 15 (?) or 20 ft. tall. I’m considering some serious pruning. I have lots of seedlings this year. They’re easy to pull, and that’s why I do with most of them. I’ve kept two so far this year because they a have particularly nice leaf form.

  2. Kris P says:

    Congratulations on your new fisherman’s cottage, Denise! I’m glad the plants you’d already purchased won’t be going to waste and I look forward to seeing photos of your new garden as it comes into existence. Seeing your Aloe labworana has me thinking I should move mine from underneath the Echium candicans that currently (mostly) hides it from view. I do love your mums but the dahlias already require all the fussing I can take. My Manihot didn’t survive but, as I love the leaves, I’m likely to try it again.

  3. Denise Maher says:

    @Gerhard, I like the manihot for a smallish, temporary burst of foliar extravagance — not sure how I’d feel about a 20-foot tree! But it loves the heat, and today we’re having another 90+ day.
    @Kris, my theory is that the increasing night temperatures are messing with dahlias. Seems I read more reports of failure than success unless they’re grown in Washington state! These mums were so much easier to get to bloom than when I tried dahlias in containers. I think they would fit in nicely with your INAVOM posts, especially since they’re just hitting their stride in October and will only improve with cooler night temps.

  4. A zone 8b garden! Maybe I missed earlier posts regarding this development, but I couldn’t be happier to hear it now. Would love to know just where, and whether you’ll now need to contend with deer. Not that I have much advice or wisdom to impart, sadly. Just know they are quite bad at reading the list of deer-resistant plants.
    I do love the leaves of that manihot.

  5. Yay! Congrats and welcome to Oregon.

    I enjoyed the parallels you drew between the Manihot and Schefflera taiwaniana. Since I can’t grow Manihot except as a summer annual I suppose my S. taiwaniana does make a good stand in.

  6. hb says:

    Congratulations on the new garden! Also convenient that there’s a house on the lot, for when it rains, which sounds like–regularly.

  7. Hans says:

    Oh – are you moving permanently – or just need more gardening space?! The Manihot is a looker – love the broad leaves – I wish I could grow that but I’m afraid I’d have to give it a lot of water (at least relative to our other plants)

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