the White Agave is in bloom again

Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’? Agave mitis var. albidior? The nomenclature continues to be shifty with this agave, so let’s just call it the White Agave. I can’t think of another agave that can also claim that common name, but feel free to correct me if you know of one. We do want to avoid any confusion! There’s a clump-forming White Agave and a non-clump-forming White Agave. Mine is apparently the latter. It definitely has the wide leaves that author Jeff Moore ascribes to Agave celsii v. nova. Thank god for experts. I’m just a humble gardener.

Emerging bloom spike today March 27, 2021. The leaves have no margin teeth, just a single terminal spine

My original agave was found around 2012-2013 at now-closed Burkhard’s Nursery in Pasadena and was a good size when planted in 2013, blooming in 2015. It never formed offsets like the ‘UCB’ form, and just one pup was discovered after bloom. No bulbils. And here it is in bloom again, March 2021. Will it squeeze out just a single pup this time around too? Sheesh…

clump-forming A. celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’ at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
White Agave bloom spike May 2015, my garden
bloom spike May 2015

So it’s bloomed every six years in my garden. Does that make its bloom cycle sextennial? The spike is a fluffy shaving brush of maroon and apricot filaments, a lovely sight to behold for the months it hangs on.


The City of Long Beach announced no-appointment vaccines this week, and I was able to get my first today — woohoo! The new puppy Billie is on her second course of antibiotics for an as-yet undiagnosed cough, that is not kennel cough. We await X-ray diagnosis…

Hope you’re having a lovely weekend!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies | 5 Comments

Coachella Valley Desert X Exhibition Extended to 5/16/21

Fantasizing about road trips is starting to move closer and closer to actually planning road trips. Here’s a possibility, a visit to the Desert X exhibition to coincide with California desert wildflower bloom.

Never Forget by Nicholas Galanin, photos by MB Maher

From Desert X’s website: “For Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit and Unangax̂ artist and musician, memory and land are inevitably entwined. The 45-foot letters of Never Forget reference the Hollywood sign, which initially spelled out HOLLYWOODLAND and was erected to promote a whites-only development. Its timing coincided with a development in Palm Springs that also connected to the film industry: Studio contracts limited actors’ travel, contributing to the city’s rise as playground and refuge of the stars. Meanwhile, the white settler mythology of America as the land of the free, home of the brave was promoted in the West, and the landscape was cinematized through the same lens. Never Forget asks settler landowners to participate in the work by transferring land titles and management to local Indigenous communities. The work is a call to action and a reminder that land acknowledgments become only performative when they do not explicitly support the land back movement. Not only does the work transmit a shockwave of historical correction, but also promises to do so globally through social media.”

road trip through Joshua Trees

Having spent over a year preoccupied with boundaries and measurable distances, it’s such a comfort to be reminded that somewhere out there is a world without walls…

Posted in artists, garden travel, MB Maher | 2 Comments

clippings 3/23/21


The poppies self-sown into the new gravel area have grown so tall I wasn’t sure if they were my old standbys, the smaller statured Papaver setigerum. Blooms opening this week confirmed that indeed they are, but just gaining a bit more size in this slightly mounded area topped with crushed rock. There seem to be some true somniferum seedlings here too, which are much larger plants with “leafier” leaves. I’m hoping it’s ‘Lauren’s Grape.’ If not I’ll probably pull the plant and let the Poppies of Troy/P. setigerum have reseeding honors here. This gravel area has been a hotbed of seed activity — Geranium maderense* seedlings have turned up, a plant that hasn’t flowered here for years, the annual variegated Polygonum orientalis, and a single ballota seedling has appeared which I’m hoping will thrive and reintroduce this great plant to the new gravel area.

(*Now that the first set of true leaves has grown in, I can see these are not Geranium maderense but most likely seedlings of a mediterranean brassica, Brassica cretica subsp. aegaea whose seed I threw in this area.)


Passiflora vitifolia opened its first blooms this week as well — and I’ve already found a seedling from this vine in its second (third?) year in the garden. Finding seedlings is my kind of treasure hunt — unless I’m overrun with sheets of them from plants like labrador violets or Tinantia pringlei. Erodium triflorum (formerly pelargoniflorum) reseeds fairly lustily too, and is confined to the very dry front garden to bite the ankles of the big succulents there like Aloe ‘Hercules,’ Agave ‘Jaws,’ Fucraea macdougalii…(ankle biters are on my mind now with the arrival of a new puppy Billie…sshhh, mercifully she’s sleeping now. I’ll properly introduce her very soon.)


With the March winds unabating, I decided to stake the sonchus. Having produced a second year of blooms, and even thrown a few seedlings, I don’t want to take any chances now that it looks to have a reasonable chance of becoming a garden mainstay. A couple of seedlings were potted and a few left in situ. I’d like more this year, please! The sonchus was moved against the back wall, in the assumption that its appearance would deteriorate as summer progresses like its brethren S. canariensis, which is strongly summer dormant and loses its leaves. Such a shabby performance is hard on the eyes in a small garden. S. palmensis thins out leaves as well but last summer managed to keep enough leaves to remain presentable. I’m glad I moved it in any case, because it seems to love the alternating strong and dappled sunlight at the edge of the canopy of the fernleaf acacia. (No photos taken yet, but I also staked the enormous flowering tobacco, Nicotiana mutabilis, and the groundsel Roldana petasites, which were battered and leaning from the winds. The roldana’s inflorescence is very similar in appearance to the sonchus.)

Sonchus palmensis in the distance, Alcantarea odorata in the foreground

New echeverias are still finding their way into the rock spur area. Above is E. ‘Burgundy Pearl.’ The dudleya hasn’t bloomed yet so I’m unsure of its identity. The leaves look like Dudleya brittonii, but we’ll see what the blooms show.


Another recent addition, I like how this crassula extends the dudleya vibe with linear leaves. Nice burgundy stems and foaming flowers — Crassula orbicularis var. rosularis.


The large-leaved Stachys ‘Big Ears’ appeared locally, so I grabbed a couple because I was thinking of mail-ordering some anyway, along with compact Dianella ‘Baby Bliss’ to flank Mangave ‘Lavendar Lady’ — filling the ground vacated by moving out the blooming Agave ‘Dragon Toes.’ The now uprooted agave’s flowers buds are swelling and, fingers crossed, getting ready to open.


Fall/winter/spring is such a great time for aeoniums, but through renovations and plant shuffling and just taking my eye off the ball, the garden has a very light aeonium presence this year. I’d forgotten about this clump in a mix of succulents just off the back porch, which has been quietly building size until finally making its spring presence dramatically known by illumination. An Aloe ‘David Verity’ is in danger of being crushed by the saucers, so their days basking in the sunshine here may be numbered as well.

Many of the lily bulbs I planted in fall are already nosing up!

And I want to thank John Palmer for his comment regarding the giant fennel: “It is Ferula communis and it most certainly is not monocarpic in Cyprus.  I have been here for 15 years now and witnessed them at the roadside in abundance, getting bigger and bigger each year in the same locations.  I collected and sowed seeds 3 years ago and raised over 30 young plants some of which are flowering for the first time right now at about 2′ (600mm) high.  I only recently discovered that it was not a wild form of Foeniculum (real Fennel) which is just as well as we were considering drying the foliage and feeding it to our horses – turns out it can be toxic!

My two plants are alive and leafing out — whether they ever flower here is still an open question.

Did you catch the NYT remarking on the surge in popularity of Gardener’s World? (“How a British Gardening Show Got People Through the Pandemic.) I’d read one of host Monty Don’s books years ago (“The Jewel Garden”?) that covered his early jewelry making venture and subsequent depression when that business was upended by a UK financial crisis, but I’d never sought out the show. I’m still a recovering anglophile when it comes to plants and gardens, so I usually opt to save myself the heartache of viewing enormous drifts of complicated seasonal planting rinsed in rain in summer, with the off seasons spent puttering in the greenhouse and planning fresh challenges for the acreage. Spring ephemerals, thalictrum, sanguisorba — that orderly, predictable progression of genera throughout the seasons backed by centuries of plant exploration and experimentation and intense garden culture, I admit I have envied these things so I stayed away from Gardener’s World. But like all those other pandemic viewers, finally I succumbed. Just in the past few weeks, right before the article appeared, I streamed some episodes. And while I think my garden anglophilia recovery is still on solid ground, I completely get this series’ popularity. Plants, bird song, dogs (Nigel!), the mesmerizing sound of shovels sinking into soil, visits to extraordinary gardens — no matter where or how big your garden, or whatever your prejudices (!), it’s a strong antidote to what ails us now. The readers’ rapturous comments, many by non-gardeners and those lacking even a balcony, are as the Brits say, just lovely.

Margaret Roach’s report on specialty nurseries in the NYT is likewise a treat: “Why Shop at a Specialty Nursery?” Here’s to more intelligent garden journalism in U.S. publications! That’s how a garden culture grows…

Posted in Cinema Botanica, clippings, journal, succulents | 8 Comments

recent garden distractions


Does the world distract me from my garden or the garden distract me from the world? The balance has been different at various times in my life, so I like that the relationship is flexible. Spending most of my days in the garden now, I’ve recently had a minor epiphany concerning potted plants. This is probably not news to lots of you, but I can be slow at times to break old habits.

Othonna capensis with echeveria at base of Pseudobombax ellipcticum

With rare exceptions, I’ve always grown potted plants as single specimens, usually mulched with gravel. Last year, without much of a plan, I began filling in the larger containers with excess echeverias from the garden. They multiplied fast and grew pristine and unblemished, and when I was planting up the new gravel garden area, I had a ready supply at hand.

Not sure if this is Echeveria imbricata or what (E. pulidonis), but I had 11 of them to plant among the rocks.

That was all the encouragement I needed. I’ve now become an enthusiastic convert to the idea of filling the base of slow-growing potted plants with small succulents (duh!) — so I’ll have a luxurious amount to spread around the garden in large drifts, an effect I love in mature gardens.

Myrtillocactus geometrizans with Agave x leopoldii

And it’s funny, once an old bias dissolves, all kinds of possibilities open up. Like combining small, slow-growing agaves with cactus, which I did recently when repotting a large myrtillocactus.

I still can’t believe I repotted this beast without injury — to me or the cactus!

My little potted agave treasures? They’re getting the same treatment, like this ‘Rum Runner’ planted at the base of Cussonia spicata. Small, profusely pupping — why not treat them like echeverias when they behave like echeverias?

fresh new growth on Cussonia spicata in the past few weeks

Those terrestrial bromeliads like dyckias and hechtias I’ve banished from the garden because of their blood-drawing, expansive colony-forming ways? I’ve kept a few individually potted, and they struggle from the neglect that comes when I’m conflicted about a plant. With the new approach, I can appreciate how well this dyckia works with Pilocereus azureus (also neglected) — a juxtaposition I’d include in the garden if I planted such spiny things in the ground, which I generally do not in this very small garden. Who knows, one day there may be puppies roaming the garden again…


With my ‘Gold Star’ beaucarnia needing repotting to a larger size, and having shed the prejudice about keeping the base of the plant covered in only gravel, I indulged in some purposeful plant shopping.

Echeveria ‘Blue Prince’

Echeverias ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘New Black’ spoke to me out of dozens of succulents I considered. I want lots more of these propagating in this little nursery at the base of the beaucarnia, away from foot traffic, slugs etc.

Echeveria ‘New Black’
Surplus pups of Echeveria agavoides fill the base of a cussonia

So that counts for excitement around here. Of course I’ve been prowling the local nurseries in general, hoping to find the ones that carry stock from Annie’s Annuals flush with new arrivals. Nope — in fact, as far as I can tell, Annie’s Annuals doesn’t appear to be available anywhere locally this year.


I did find one of her plants at International Nursery, this Dombeya burgessiae, because International has the habit of potting up unsold plants and offering them again in bigger sizes the next season. This dombeya has fremontodendron-like leaves, with flowers and bracts that present some interesting brownish-pink tones. It’s a small South African tree that reputedly is fine indefinitely in a container. Maybe I’ll slip in some succulents at its base once I get to know the dombeya a little better.

More scenes from the garden this March:

Agave pumila backed by some ‘Copper Pot’ California poppies
Doryanthes palmeri and giant purple crinum

I’ve been astonished to discover what a good strong vertical presence the giant purple crinum has turned into, like having a year-round, gigantic Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy.’ I guess I assumed it would splay out and lounge and misbehave, but this flea market purchase has turned into gold. I almost prefer it to a dark phormium. Unfortunately, it’s rarely offered at local nurseries and always on the expensive side when it is.

The winter blooms of the Silver Spoons, Kalanchoe bracteata, are a hummingbird favorite
Sideritis oroteneriffae is elongating into bloom

The leaning trunk of the giant dandelion, Sonchus palmensis, is unseen in this photo, but it’s getting near parallel to the ground. With all the wind we’ve been having this March, every morning I expect to wake up to it toppled over — incredibly, it remains upright. It can grow on cliffs and among rocks, so the taproot must be able to handle strong winds. I’ve placed some rocks at its base as insurance, but I’m wondering if I shouldn’t stake it as well.

Romneya in its first year in the garden — but will there be blooms?
New growth on Trevesia palmta, freshly clean from a day of rain

Leucospermum ‘Tango’ is one of those slow flowers that takes its time to unfold into bloom, a mesmerizing performance. And the flowers last and last in the cool winter temperatures. Quite the contrast to growing flowers in summer, like my cosmos experiment last summer that I doubt I’ll be repeating.

Behind the leucospermum, Banksia repens seems to have survived being moved here recently
Albuca namaquensis in the middle, spiralis on the left.

The albucas continue to delight in small containers — they’d get lost in the garden.


And that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to — getting lost in the garden!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, journal, Plant Portraits, pots and containers, succulents | 9 Comments

pandemic garden project

Initially I wanted to set up shelving here but didn’t have the materials (or skills) on hand…

My latest time sink and a great antidote to the pandemic fidgets. It’s a little rough and a lot rustic, part of the perpetual quest to get plants massed in one area for ease of care, especially now that warm weather isn’t far off (in the 80s today!) Along with practical considerations, which include in some cases getting pots out from underfoot, there are aesthetic ones as well to elevating plants for heightened scrutiny — looking down at plants from a height of roughly 5’8″ is an entirely different experience from having them at eye level just a few inches away.

detail of a living wall by Woolly Pockets at the Smog Shoppe, Culver City, Calif. with heavy plants llike aeoniums, Agave attenuata, Senecio mandralsicae, Senecio vitalis

My current effort is not a living wall exactly, because I chose to keep things lightweight and potted. The armature is visible rather than a sheet of solid greenery. One approach that I’ve tried in the past included kokedama-like mossy confections that basically require a permanent mister to survive outdoors in zone 10 (both sarcastic and true); and as this was a pandemic project, pots seemed the best option since I have lots of spares. And with clay pots, I can mist the pot itself and it will absorb moisture even if staged horizontally — enough moisture to keep rhipsalis and bromeliads happy. That’s the theory anyway.

I believe the spiny green rosette is a puya that’s been kicking around the garden for a while and not getting much love. Puya laxa is the spidery silver leaves overhead, a good subject for the experiment because it’s unkillable.

As a pandemic project, my unwritten rules are to use what’s at hand, without leaving the house, like the rusty mattress wired into a 2X7′ metal frame my neighbor gave me a few months ago, held up on rebar tripods. (If I hadn’t given that same neighbor a roll of cattle panel, I would have used that instead.) So a pandemic project is similar to pandemic cooking, using only what’s in the cupboard (which in our case usually involves anchovies).

Moss was used as a top dressing for the pots. Tillandsias tuck into the spirals.

A lot of zone 10, dry-tolerant odds and ends are being trialed that I feel have loads of potential for a modified green wall such as this since they don’t require heavy amounts of soil and moisture — relatively lightweight stuff like rhipsalis, tillandsias, bromeliads, Puya laxa, the climbing onion Bowiea volubilis, with a couple echeverias thrown in and even an Agave ‘Mateo’ pup. Pots are wedged between the spirals, with the heavier ones wired in for extra strength and support. Most pots are horizontal with a few staged upright. I picked up some Crassula multicava over the weekend, which has a foamy white bloom (aka the Fairy Crassula), another unkillable plant that’s a natural for vertical gardens. Other likely candidates are the False Bromeliad, Callisia fragrans, and Aechmea recurvata, so many of the smaller bromeliads like ‘Benrathii’…

Crassula multicava grown in Woolly Pockets for the green wall at the Smog Shoppe in Culver City, Calif.

With the sheltering cypress gone, this funnel of rhipsalis and other potted rhipsalis were overnight exposed to drying winds, and I could tell the epiphytic cacti were struggling in the changed conditions. With the funnel moved to hang from the base of the frame, the resurgent health of this rhipsalis has been dramatic.

Bare stems of vining shrub tecomaria visible on the right. Potted epipyllum cactus ‘French Gold’ was wired to the rebar supports

A rebar tripod was already in place at one end to support the tecomaria along the fence that’s over 12-feet high now, so a rebar tripod was added to the other end as well to support the frame. The tecomaria’s lower branches thread along the back of the frame, an effect I’d like to develop if the structure stays in place.

Of course, epiphytic plants are ideally suited for aerial life — if their preferred arboreal life is unavailable to them.

On the plus side, so many plants on hand were absorbed into the project, and this eastern exposure is ideal for them, sunny but protected from wind. The metal fence won’t mind the frequent misting for the tillandsias. And I love the narrow profile and the fact it fits into an awkward, unused area. The plants in the pots that are fully horizontal may prefer to be tipped up slightly at an angle to retain moisture, and of course bromeliads like their cups filled with water, so I may rework things a bit. And reworked or not, I’m still uncertain if I really love the result (or more importantly, if the plants will love it), and if shelving wouldn’t be preferable after all. So it may just get filed under “useful projects to kill time in a pandemic” and then torn apart when I’m not under the influence of the pandemic anymore. Which time is now surely coming, right? Lots of us in my family are partially vaccinated, and herd immunity seems more and more achievable.

For a look at what the living wall pros are up to, check out Austin-based Articulture for inspiration.

Hope you’re staying healthy and…um…keeping busy….

edited 2/23/21 to add this view, which includes all the potted tropicals I’ve since massed underneath. The horizontal pots in the frame have been wired in place a little more upright. I always count it as a win when plants can drip on each other and contribute to the general humidity of the surrounding plant community.
Posted in journal, pots and containers, succulents | 7 Comments

Bloom Day 2/15/21

We’re horrified at the predicament of friends and family across the country as the Polar Vortex busts out of the Arctic again, flooding points south with its extremely frigid air. Holy cow! How is everyone doing? We’re nervously checking power outage maps and trying to absorb the pipe-busting capabilities of these bizarro negative temperature readings in states like Wyoming. This extreme cold and the increasing ferocity of wildfires just might be two sides of the same coin, as climate change continues to upend our perception and expectation of “normal” weather patterns. Winter is usually not a “scary” season here in coastal Long Beach, unlike the dangers posed by the hot dry months, but who knows anymore?

an eruption of color — intense pink bracts on an unidenified bilbergia

My little garden chugs along in February, the soil still retaining some moisture from the slight amount of rain we’ve had. The increasing amount of sunlight in the garden is what really makes February a special month, as the winter shade band diminishes more and more every day. I’m going to keep this short and limited to plants I haven’t photographed much lately.

first blooms on small, self-sown coronilla aka scorpion vetch (!), a Mediterranean native
Madagascar native Solanum pyracanthum
burnt orange/butterscotch blooms opening on Grevillea ‘Poorinda Blondie,’ new to the garden
Also new to the garden, Leucospermum ‘Tango’ with Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ recently planted near its base
dwarf form of Scilla natalensis, a bulb I’ve tried to grow before

I have high hopes for this little scilla thriving in the garden now that there’s a bit more open area for planting small things like this. Just brought this home in bud in the past weeks.


Stay warm, drive safe, and fingers crossed the ice and snow damage to your gardens is minimal!

Posted in Bloom Day, Bulbs | 5 Comments

thank you, Annie!

All is not lost! There is a new owner, Sarah Hundley…

There were worrisome rumors, and then came the confirmation in the Spring 2021 catalogue that arrived in the mailbox this week: Annie Hayes, of Annie’s Annuals and Perennials, is retiring.

Sonchus palmensis budding up, second year of bloom in the garden. Annie says it does not self-sow, but I’m finding some interesting seedlings near where it bloomed last year…

You may need to grab a box of tissues or steady yourself with a shot of liquid courage before continuing with my garden’s tribute to this dynamo of a nurserywoman. Yes, it is a loss, but it’s one we can all bear because Annie is right here with us in our gardens. I’ve got her plants all over the place! Annie’s legacy flows from her garden philosophy, from her selection of so many plants that self-sow and return every year. Generous, exuberant, out of the ordinary — I’ve never met Annie but I imagine she’s a lot like the plants she loves and sends forth into our gardens. And the nursery she built will continue with lots of new customers paying attention in 2021 — “2020 was historically the busiest year ever for nurseries” she writes in the spring 2021 catalogue.

Roldana petasites budding up to bloom in its first year in the garden

Using my own garden, I’m going to try to quickly sketch what this nursery that began in 1989 in her Richmond, California backyard means to plant lovers everywhere. Her taste in plants, her eye for what’s cool permeates my garden now and has done so for decades. (But we’ll try to keep this brief and confined to the present day!)

Can you spot Annie’s plants? Behind the aloe, round leaves of Roldana petasites on the left, Nicotiana mutabilis on the right, Sonchus palmensis in the distance
Clianthus puniceus

It is axiomatic that gardens need plants. Your local nursery has plants. You shop there but, possibly like me, are often frustrated by the pedestrian selection. Annie offered a game-changing alternative: “We select the plants we grow not only for their beauty and/or fragrance, but most often for the natural grace and charm they add to our gardens (so often missing in modern hybrids found at “big box” garden centers).”

Never offered locally, Nicotiana mutabilis, second year top growth, with new basal growth this winter. Lacy leaves belong to Ferula communis

In addition to the adventurous inventory of rare and hard-to-source plants, I think what really made us loyal repeat customers was the fact that the plants sold were fastidiously packaged for shipping and raring to grow in our gardens. Annie’s well-grown plants are sold unapologetically “in the green” — the lush catalogue photos and descriptions and spectacular display grounds at the nursery fill in any blanks in imagining their garden potential. She resolutely resisted all the growing tricks commercially employed to rush plants into bloom to push sales: “Here at “Annie’s,” we grow most of our plants the old fashioned way – from seed – in the wind, rain and sun (no greenhouses), so your plants are already “hardened off,” healthy and strong when you take them home. All of our plants are grown in 4″ pots without the use of growth regulating hormones, commonly sprayed on almost all annuals and most perennials by large scale growers. These growth regulators slow plant growth and extend “shelf life” but can lead to disappointing results in our gardens.”

Annie’s catalogue continually changes and never disappoints, always filled with surprises often sourced from local botanical gardens and even customers. For a while she was in a cussonia phase, and I bought every one on offer. I recently reacquired locally Cussonia gamtoosensis, which Annie first introduced me to.

Annie is a self-described “flower floozie,” yet so many of her plants in my garden are all about the leaves. Under her guidance, the nursery offered a range of plants to satisfy flower floozies and foliage connoisseurs alike. I often felt like we shared the same horticultural brain as far as plant obsessions like puya, nicotiana, echium, sideritis: “Along with offering an amazing number of garden treasures, we also specialize in Mediterranean climate varieties from around the world, including wondrous South African annuals, perennials and shrubs.”

Sideritis oroteneriffae

Annie’s was the zone 10 nursery of my dreams. And now I am so spoiled. I am always caught by surprise if I happen to order from other nurseries and, at the end of the transaction, I am informed that the plant will ship in months instead of days or a few weeks. I forget that their production schedule is zones apart from Annie’s zone 10, year-round growing season. If a plant is listed as available in her catalogue, it’s ready to go, so get that planting hole ready pronto.

Sideritis cypria
calendulas, linaria and gerbera for winter, bought locally but evoking the spirit of Annie’s ethos and about as “flower floozie” as I get!

And though her nursery ships across the country, it often feels like my own private horticultural resource, tailored to the growing seasons of coastal California, including our mild winters. Cloud forest exotics and Canary Islanders that flourish in zones 9 and 10 rub elbows in her catalogue with many of our wildflowers and natives.

Tree daisy Montanoa grandiflora, a plant discovered in Annie’s catalogue although purchased locally
Yucca aloifolia ‘Magenta Magic’

Yucca ‘Sapphire Skies’ and self-sown poppies sizing up for spring

The jubilant tag “self-sows!” she adds to catalogue descriptions is a signature flourish that always grabs my attention: “I also love the old-fashioned annuals because they self-sow so easily (again, unlike modern hybrids), delighting us with lots of free plants each year, along with the serendipitous and surprising flowering combinations they provide.”

Nobody offers a list of poppies stronger than Annie. Nobody.

I grew these sweet peas from seed a few months ago, but it’s a comfort to know where to find the heavily scented varieties every spring.
Succulents are well represented too — Aeonium tabuliforme
All my glaucium are seedlings from Annie’s
Biennial from Greece, Silene fabaria ssp. domokina started from seed last summer

Annie Hayes, you have had a profound and transformational impact on my garden. And, coincidentally, inspired by your example, I’ve recently become reacquainted with growing plants from seed. You make it look so easy! (Most of my efforts that germinated suspiciously resembled nicotianas — and because of a fatal mistake of mixing in garden soil into the growing medium, they mostly were!)

from seed last summer, Geranium maderense ‘Alba’

Annie’s influence is everywhere in my garden. This winter I’m finding seedlings of the annual Coreopsis tinctoria ‘Tiger Stripes’ (“self-sows!”) — thank you, Annie! Keep us posted on your new adventures in plants and gardens.

Posted in plant nurseries | Tagged | 10 Comments

February scrapbook

Tracing the trajectory of enthusiasms on the blog since 2010, one month at a time…

photo by MB Maher

2/26/10 — a wildflower meadow was a fleeting, transitional feature of a local medical center.

Pinellia tripartita

February 25, 2011, this weird aroid had my attention. It has since disappeared from the garden.


2012 was one of the years I planned for potted tulips. Here in zone 10 tulips require chilling, so it’s not a last-minute kind of deal. And the vegetable crisper gets real crowded for 8 weeks or so. Nice cameo by little Evie! I’m fairly sure she’s standing on a potted Cussonia gamtoosensis, one of my favorites cussonias, which grew to 6 feet in the garden then toppled. Very shallow rooted! Much sorrow and regret. This week I’ve just found a source locally at Desert Creations! If all goes well, I should have it by the weekend.

Little Evie and the cussonia February 2012

February 28, 2013, I documented a conversation about the number of bees on Euphorbia rigida. Lovely to see our corgi Ein and Joseph aka Joe B. Tiger! Sedum nussbaumerianum is another succulent I haven’t grown in a while. And we are currently on the trail of another corgi, but it’s slightly complicated so no date of arrival yet…


February 2013. This scrapbook idea is helping me notice planting patterns. Every fall/winter I rediscover the annual linarias like it’s the first time ever. Obviously, it’s been a standby winter annual for years…that never reseeds!


February 2013; I want to smell Michelia doltsopa again. (Anyone reading Ken Druse’s The Scentual Garden?)


This was a lively and inviting family garden to visit back in February 2013, and Sadie was such a gracious host!


Euphorbia lambii from February 2013 which started sporting weird fasciations. But now I miss this plant! Still have the indestructible Homecrest chairs though…


February 2014 included a visit to the Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs, Calif. during Modernism Week, which is now an online experience February 1st through the 28th, 2021.


February 2015 I visited Rancho Los Alamitos with Shirley Watts — so much fun touring this historic rancho with her. I believe her brother Harvey attended the tour as well.


Also in February 2015 Banksia ericifolia briefly graced the garden. Current banksias in the garden are Banksia caleyi and Banksia repens, both very young. Say no more…


In February 2015 I was growing gerberas with Elymus ‘Canyon Prince.’ There are still gerberas in the garden but this beautiful grass is not suited for a small collector’s garden. I planted this elymus in the hellstrip of our neighborhood park, where it’s survived on just rainfall to the amazement of the neighborhood. I believe that’s an isoplexis leaning in on the right, which was an exciting plant in its own right for frost-free gardens before the digiplexis phenomenon eclipsed it. All of the “plexis,” species and crosses, have been short-lived in my garden — which is not necessarily a bad thing to my way of thinking but it might be frustrating for some.


February 2016 I had promising cushions of santolina, and then the cypresses grew and grew and this end of the garden became too shady. I actually enjoy that pungent, acrid scent when clipping and shaping it into orbs. For a similar smallish cushion effect, I’m currently growing Westringia ‘Grey Box.’


In February 2017 Mitch and I visited Jeremy Glatstein and family’s garden (#bixbybotanicals), which was covered in the Los Angeles Times in 2020 for Dustin Gimbel’s design work on their back garden.


In February 2018 I documented the discovery of Euphorbia lignosa (or maybe it’s Euphorbia stenoclada?) in a local parkway. I still have the cutting the owner gave me, which is growing into a handsome plant, and the OG mother plant is still flourishing in the parkway. Nice bit of continuity for both plants!


In February 2019 I was concerned about decluttering the garden (ha!).


February 2020, before the fence was rebuilt and the cypresses removed.

Onward with February 2021!

Posted in blog, journal, Plant Portraits | 3 Comments

Fearless Gardening book giveaway winner!

Fearless Gardening - Cover

Well, well, well, it’s February 1st, an auspicious day on AGO because it means the door has closed on the Fearless Gardening book giveaway. The names of those who left comments on the blog and Instagram were written on paper, cut out into squares, folded over, and placed in a tall, lidded, glass receptacle. I left the jar on Marty’s desk and asked him to pick one before racing off this morning. He happily complied, and the winner (from Instagram) is…

Cricket Riley!


Congratulations, Cricket! You have so much enjoyable reading ahead of you this February. Timber Press has been notified and will be sending the books to you at the address you provided.

I think February is off to a fabulous start, don’t you?

Posted in books | 1 Comment

the agave’s gambit

 What sets them apart is that they are monocarpic, they die after flowering once, and, they can take up to 30 years or better, depending on species and growing conditions, to flower…The demand for carbohydrate is high during this period.  Once flowering is initiated enzymes rapidly convert the starches to sugars and draw on available moisture to form the more dilute nectar to successfully support the rapid growth of the structure of their inflorescence…

GardenRiots: Flowering and Its Trigger in Genus Agave

The burning question: If I dig up my blooming Agave pygmae ‘Dragon Toes,’ will the ongoing flowering and potential seed-forming process be interrupted, or have enough sugars been stored in the plant already to keep the process moving forward, even if it is wrenched from the ground?*

And let me helpfully anticipate your question: Why in heck would you want to do this anyway?

Flower bud of Leucospermum ‘Tango’ already purchased, ideally planted right now, with a chance of rain in the forecast. It’s always a case of right now for me.

My answer to your question is — my answer always is there are new plants to grow and a finite amount of time and space in which to grow them. The once-in-its-lifetime blooming process of an agave can take months until completion. Maybe there will be successful pollination and seeds. Maybe there will be bulbils! And while I’m intensely interested in seeing this process through to the end, the agave happens to be growing in the perfect location for Leucospermum ‘Tango,’ the South African pincushion shrub which wants lots of air movement and full sun year round (like an agave). Shoehorning this winter-blooming shrub into a small, busy garden without seriously considering these requirements will end in tears. (Don’t ask.) This is a highly desirable location that the agave will remain rooted to while slowly giving birth to its progeny over the coming months. And perhaps somewhat callously, I would really prefer it if the agave gave birth elsewhere, maybe in the back of the garden.

So I got busy looking for answers to my question regarding moving a blooming agave. My first search string “agave bloom stalk” produced this:

Agave Americana Chandelier
The Marjorie Skouras Collection
Agave Americana Chandelier from Currey & Company

Fascinating but not strictly on point. (Designed by Marjorie Skouras who enthuses: “Let us make your real world a surreal world.” She’s obviously studied a blooming agave a time or two.) Subsequent searches produced nothing as exciting — or pertinent. And then I remembered that horticulturalist Lance Wright had thoroughly documented his blooming Agave montana (affectionately named “Monte”), a rare and celebratory event in the climate of Portland, Oregon. Lance wrote the article from which I’m quoting extensively, Flowering and Its Trigger in Genus Agave. It’s an amazing piece of writing, both authoritative yet easy to absorb. Highly recommended.

The gestating agave in question in its highly coveted full-sun location on a cloud-covered morning that may or may not end in rain. ‘Dragon Toes’ agaves were produced from tissue culture by Kelly Griffin/Rancho Tissue around 2010. Mine was purchased in 2012.

Agave have ‘chosen’ to go down the monocarpic path, putting all of their resources into one flowering…Only a few Yucca species are monocarpic.  Both Agave and Yuccas pursued different strategies and succeeded.   Agaves found success storing energy in a ‘gambit…’

(Flowering and Its Trigger in Genus Agave)

Lance cleverly uses the word “gambit” to describe the agave’s monocarpic survival strategy, and I love his vocabulary choice. (I’ve recently become enthralled with “The Queen’s Gambit” and young Elizabeth’s ferocious single-mindedness to pursue her chess obsession even though surrounded by uncomprehending, obsession-less people — don’t all childhoods feel this way?) But my specific and very narrow question remained unanswered, so I called local agave grandmasters, Rancho Soledad Nursery near San Diego, Calif., and asked them. Just like that. “I have a quick question about an agave in bloom.” Surprisingly unfazed, the gentleman answering the phone jumped right into discussing possible outcomes. Ultimately he admitted that he wasn’t sure what the agave would do if dug up — shut down or continue with flowering, that either outcome seemed possible.

One of the early candidates for this choice bit of garden real estate was Agave guiengola ‘Moto Sierra’ but I do like the idea of something shrubby and taller
A hybrid going back to the ’90s, Leucospermum linare x glabrum ‘Tango’ image from Pacific Horticulture “Protea; Cultivating a Regal Cut Flower” — the best chance for a wide selection of leucospermum in Southern Calif. is in winter when you can see them in bloom. Roger’s Gardens is where I found ‘Tango.’ Making a selection is tricky, because the flowers are all so spectacular. I liked the leaves and growth habit of ‘Tango,’ which reminds me of an oleander.
See the bloom spike? If the pincushion shrub survives and grows to maturity, this view of the office will be mostly screened from view, which isn’t a bad outcome but some plantings will also be obscured from view

Still undecided about this chess move in my little garden, at the end of the day I was inclining toward getting the pinchushion planted asap. Leucospermum checkmates agave!


And then overnight another possibility arose when late in the day Dustin Gimbel delivered “Euphorbia cooperi” ceramic towers for Mitch, which are temporarily being stored here. I hadn’t thought of growing the leucospermum in front of the grevillea until I saw the space divided by the towers this morning.


The eventual size of the pincushion shrub will take a big bite out of this open area, but wouldn’t it be cool to have both these members of the protea family, the leuceospermum and grevillea, in bloom simultaneously in close proximity? And the agave would be left alone to attend to its monocarpic gambit as planned. I think this is the right move!

These are both big shrubs, and it will be a tight fit, but with some judicious pruning…

To see leucospermum in bloom on the West Coast of Calif. check out UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Also, the Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve near Ojai has extensive plantings. Commercial protea growers, Resendiz Brothers in Fallbrook, occasionally hold events to visit their growing fields or are available by appointment.

N.B. My tag for agaves as “woody lilies” is no longer accurate. Agave has been moved out of the lily family and into the asparagus family, the Asparagaceae…

*Edited 4/4/21: The agave was uprooted and moved, and the bloom spike has continued to open!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, cut flowers, journal | Tagged | 11 Comments