garden miscellany 2/28/22

A quick garden report then we can all get back to doomscrolling. (Here’s a list of solid, experienced relief organizations that can help.)


Another atmospheric river is hitting the Oregon coast, but here in coastal Long Beach we’re climbing into the 80’sF. The plants that bloom off and on throughout the winter, like Passiflora vitifolia, know what to do with that warmth. I was trimming back straggly growth on this vine, which sounds fairly straighforward. But vines are tricky and complicated, and it can be difficult to trace what’s actually being cut. One misplaced snip, and before you know it yards of healthy vine have been severed. If this passiflora were a dainty thing, I’d be more angry with myself. But seeing as I’ve already had to cut an exploratory shoot out of the acacia tree quite a distance away, getting heavy handed with the pruners is not much cause for remorse.

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Solitary flower of non-clumping Aloe conifera
flowers opening on Aloe marlothii

I’ve been simplifying and streamlining the Long Beach garden, resolving not to add any more plants or containers. And that’s holding true with some minor exceptions, like that enormous pot of Lomandra ‘Lucky Stripe’ on the far right. It was a discounted plant I intended to bring back to the Oregon garden to pair with the one already planted there, but changed my mind when I saw how it transformed this area. (If you’re game for more info on the subject than seems reasonable, possible or necessary, it’s provided at the end of this post.)

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I’ve planted countless Lophomyrtus x ralphii here in Long Beach and none of them have “stuck.” Maybe a little too dry, a little too crowded. I grabbed a couple ‘Red Dragon’ to trial in the Oregon zone 8b garden, where they’re very borderline (to 20F), but lost my nerve at the prospect of potentially sacrificing both of these gorgeous New Zealander shrubs, and split the difference by keeping one in Long Beach. And that’s the last of any new planting in Long Beach, I swear!


Monocarpic Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’ is making plans to leave this earth, sending forth an end-of-the-line bloom stalk which will hopefully become studded with lots of bulbils for new plants. I’m not expecting most of them to be variegated but hoping for just a few with this coloring…


In determining what Long Beach plants might potentially be candidates for the Oregon garden, I’ve run into the limits of memory — which astelia is this? A handy search of this blog tells me it’s Astelia banksii (20-25F). A small piece of it is being rooted for a northern trial, possibly container only so it can be protected in winter.

In the front garden, Agave titanota ‘Lanky Wanky’ continues its spotless performance
Also in the front garden, the trunk of the triangle palm is being colonized by a fatshedera. If I used netting or some other support it would have better odds of hanging on in heavy wind. For now I’m letting the fatshedera figure it out on its own.
buttery new growth of Fatsia ‘Spider Web’
new developments on the mystery euphorbia
“flowers” forming on mystery euphorbia
Coronilla valentina ssp. glauca — I’m going to trial a seedling of this in the Oregon garden
and the ongoing reshuffling of pots continues — presumably this is a form of Agave americana labeled ‘Northern Lights’ that wants neither full sun nor too much shade
I love all stages of Leucospermum ‘Tango’ in bloom

As promised, more reading on the pot of Lomandra ‘Lucky Stripe,’ the long and short of it:

Continue reading
Posted in clippings, journal, pots and containers | 6 Comments

clippings 2/21/22

via “10 Things Not To Miss At Frieze Los Angeles 2022” — Patrick Martinez, Charlie James Gallery (words by writer Dinos Christianopoulos)

Seen on T-shirts and protest signs around the world, now multimedia artist Patrick Martinez has worked Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos’ words to electrifying effect in neon (which comes from the Greek word for “new”). A sign of and for the times, right?

(Frieze Los Angeles Art Fair, Feb 17-20, 2022)

Posted in artists, clippings | 3 Comments

Grevillea ‘Poorinda Blondie’

flowers like butterscotch hedgehogs

One of the so-called “toothbrush” grevilleas, I planted ‘Poorinda Blondie’ in November 2020, and its wingspan is now just over 6 feet. Height is roughly 4 feet, approximating a V-shape. (I can’t remember if I bought it in a gallon or 3-gallon.). It’s a big boy, reputed to attain a height of 12 feet but is amenable to pruning.

‘Poorinda Blondie’ with flowers loaded on one side, hence the moniker “toothbrush” grevillea

PB is a seedling of ‘Red Hooks,’ a grevillea I became familiar with at the Manhattan Beach nursery Deep Roots, which has a lovely, tree-like specimen of same. Deep Roots carries a good selection of Australian plants and is most likely where I found this ‘Poorinda Blondie,’ an oldish selection dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. Flowers fully opened this week and are heaviest in winter/spring but do occur year-round (see June report here). PB may prove to be less floriferous than the year-round abundance of my ‘Moonlight’ (which just got a firm pruning), but the graphic, serrated leaves won me over.

full, bottlebrush-like flowers of Grevillea ‘Moonlight’

And though I didn’t know it at the time of purchase, PB is intriguingly hardier than ‘Moonlight,’ reputedly into the mid teens, which almost makes it a candidate for the zone 8b garden, whereas ‘Moonlight’ is pegged at mid 20s. (Of course, one has to take into account the torrential rain in my zone 8b garden as well as cold tolerance.)

ferny leaves of Grevillea ‘King’s Fire’

‘Moonlight’ is a cross between G. whiteana and G. banksii and has the ferny leaves typical of the previous grevilleas I’ve grown like ‘Robyn Gordon’ and ‘King’s Fire,’ so the saw-cut leaves of this “toothbrush” Grevillea ‘Poorinda Blondie’ are a first for me. Welcome to the garden! For dryish gardens in zones 9a-11

Posted in journal, Plant Portraits | 4 Comments

catching up with the zone 10 garden

A familiar chore I don’t really mind is sweeping up the fringe tree’s leaves from the east patio and moving them to use for paths and mulch. Obviously, it’s much easier done on a daily, incremental basis instead of saving the job up for three months. But I’m actually relieved that no one had an itch to sweep and throw the leaves away.

We arrived last Friday, and other than sleeping, I don’t think a broom has left my hand since.

I missed a couple aloes in bloom like labworana, ‘David Verity’ and capitata var. quartziticola, but was just in time for ‘Moonglow’ on the left and ‘Tangerine’ on the right. A young Aloe lukeana is in the foreground left.
big surprise that my young Aloe marlothii is throwing a bloom truss too
the marigold-colored intensity of Aloe dawei ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is always a treat in January/February, Towering in the background on the left is the mother Sonchus palmensis that’s been sowing her progeny throughout the garden, and in the far distance Grevillea ‘Moonlight’

The informal team of neighbors and friends who took turns watching over the garden since we left the second week of October did an amazing job. And all this handled by a group with little or no experience (or interest) in plants and gardens. I’m not sure how much deep watering was done, if any, but there was some good rain in January.

Leucadendron ‘Jester’ put on a nice flush of cones. Fernleaf acacia in bloom in background is both a lovely sight as well as the instigator for much of the far-flung debris in the back garden. (The grevillea is a competitor in the category for Most Debris from a Single Plant, and unfortunately under its branches is where most of the bromeliads are massed.) Pink flowers are from a first-year Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty,’ probably the best performance it’s had in my garden after several trials

There’s lots of sweeping and cutting back to do but no devastating plant losses. The succulent rosettes are filled with debris, as are the bromeliads, and the big-leaved plants like trevesia and tetrapanax are absolutely filthy. Miscanthus need cutting back, and the seslerias need cleaning and raking. The prolific but invaluable self-sowers need editing. The tillandsias could use a soak but are otherwise in good shape. The pitcher plants are one of the few outright losses — I left no instructions on using distilled water only. That kind of detailed instruction seemed a bridge too far to ask of volunteers. A young Brassaiopsis hispida and Metapanax delavayi were each marked with a tall stick for attentive watering, and that was about the extent of the instructions given. Both survived. I’m tempted to bring the metapanax back with me to the Tillamook zone 8b garden but am worried about not having a truly protected, wind-free site for it.

Leucadendron ‘Jester’
Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’
Sonchus palmensis seedlings are lending a shaggy quality to the plantings, as is Geranium maderense just behind. The huge, post-flowering (dead) rosette of Alcantera odorata was removed, which was to the right of the Sonchus. No pups formed but I did save some seed. Agave ‘Snow Glow,’ self-sown Carex testacea and aeoniums
various species of kalanchoe mother of thousands are also flowering
Agave kerchovei is growing into quite a beauty and still has some growing to do — reputed to grow as wide as 4-5′
More agaves, helichrysum, and a striking rosette of. Berkheya purpurea
Berkheya purpurea
Sideritis syriaca is looking very handsome for January/February
Sideritis with westringias, Salvia ‘Savannah Blue’ and Billie
Looking east under the pergola. Euphorbia canariensis was moved where it will catch less debris
looking west under the pergola, bricks swept and cleaned
The trunks of the tetrapanax continue to be relied on for support by surrounding plants like Sedum ficoides and Clianthus puniceus — but especially the increasingly vigorous Passiflora vitifolia. Long arms of this vine snaked along the ground under the pergola and contributed to the decadent, overgrown, Grey Gardens ambience that greeted me upon returning Friday.
Sprawlers like the parrot’s beak Lotus berthelotii and cotula were pulled out by the armfuls so smaller succulents escape being smothered in the spring surge
After removing the parrot’s beak
Many of the potted succulents were bone dry, but winter is an easy time for them. I’m not sure they could stand this neglect in summer…

Now I’ve been absorbed in gently steering the garden from the state of one packed to the gills for maximal daily stimulation for a single audience (me) to one able to handle more casual observers and require less upkeep. A plan to sublet the house and garden for 30-day intervals is taking shape, preferably to the horticulturally inclined! Long Beach is well-situated for day trips to San Diego and Santa Barbara, with the Huntington and LA Arboretum close by as well as loads of nurseries.


And I’m also considering which plants to bring back north to the PNW, such as some of the zone 8-ish agaves. And what about moving some of the rhipsalis north and attempt to grow them indoors as houseplants? Or thin the herd with a small plant sale? Decisions, decisions. Much more soon!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, journal, pots and containers, succulents | 6 Comments

new garden update

about the soil: “The Tillamook Series consists of very deep, moderately well drained soils formed in mixed alluvium on stream terraces. Slopes are 0 to 15 percent. The mean annual precipitation is about 90 inches and the mean annual temperature is about 50 degrees F.” (Tillamook soil series)

The two box balls originally flanked the front porch. Planted too close to the steps, they were deforming into asymmetrical shapes. I like them better here in the backyard, trimmed into orbs. The rock area is roughly 8×24 feet, not a considerable size yet it took 2400 pounds of rock to cover and could use some more! The growing areas will be roughly the same size, 8×24 feet, with additional growing space provided by the three stock tanks.

Work has been slow and wet but steady, with the emphasis on making level, mud-free surfaces. Other than grass, there was nothing else growing in the south-facing backyard, and rather than fight the stark rectilinearity enforced by the fence and the house, we chose to roll with it, marking out the growing areas with landscape timbers — as opposed to, say, making curves with that hard plastic edging (yuck!). The backyard is roughly 1200 square feet. I never thought I’d be excited to have the first coffee of the day outdoors in 30-40F weather, but it is surprising how comfortable it can be when bundled up in a warm robe, tucked in dry against the house under the overhang, watching the fences steam in the morning air — or outlined in snow as they were on December 26.

Billie’s first snow late December 2021
A panel of grass at the east fence will most likely be left for Billie. In the gravel is a young Yucca rostrata, one of two brought from Long Beach, along with a Yucca linearifolia

Sourcing materials in this small coastal town has been challenging. The mixed size rock is a little larger than I’d like, but getting rid of the lumpy wet grass in exchange for a level, dry, non-slippery surface has been a godsend. The big box store in Salem agreed to deliver it on pallets of 40-pound bags without charge, which sealed the deal. No weed cloth was laid down, so we’ll see what weed issues come up in spring. All the removed sod and soil was saved to berm up planting areas, because this rich, earthworm-dense alluvial soil is a treasure not to be wasted.

newly planted Phlomis anatolica ‘Lloyd’s Variety’ from Dancing Oaks Nursery

Although the intent was to keep a good bit of the back garden open for dogs and the occasional outdoor fire in the copper bowl I brought with me, I couldn’t resist putting down a few stock tanks on the gravel for more plants. The gravel area gets the most sun.

All the plants in this stock tank were brought with me from Long Beach except for the Euphorbia stygiana, found at Dancing Oaks. Cassinia fulvens is on either side of the euphorbia. Chondropetalum is mid tank, and at the far end is Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’

The garden got a big boost from a string of dry days a week ago today. Not necessarily from any work I put in, though I did do some more planting, but by an inspirational road trip about 60 miles southeast to Dancing Oaks Nursery and another short road trip to the nearby coastal town of Manzanita, where I found a garden showcasing many of the plants I’ve either contemplated growing or have already planted. I’ve been itching to get to Portland but don’t yet feel up to the challenge of tackling the notorious two-lane highway 6 through the Coast Range in slick and/or icy conditions. We’re starting another string of dry days possibly until next Thursday, when we’ll be heading south again to Long Beach for a brief time.

one of the growing houses at Dancing Oaks Nursery near Monmouth, Oregon
Romeo, one of two greyhounds who worked tirelessly as the welcoming committee
Tree dandelion! Sonchus palmensis has started to reseed in my zone 10 garden

From reading PNW blogs and nursery catalogues, I came armed with a shopping list: Solidago ‘Fireworks,’ Eriophyllum lanatum, Stachyurus salicifolia, Lobelia tupa (which doesn’t like my zone 10 garden). Impulse buys included dierama and Euphorbia stygiana (both failed in zone 10), Phlomis anatolica ‘Lloyd’s Variety,’ Watsonia pillansii and Eupatorium caplillifolium. Jody bore up cheerfully under my barrage of questions and whipsaw changes in attention as I wandered the grounds with her, escorted by rambunctious greyhounds Romeo and Heidi. Not having visited a nursery since leaving Long Beach, I’m sure I was more than a handful as a customer. Jody remained serenely unflustered and had lots of good advice and plant recommendations. The nursery will be open to the public again without reservations in March.

tall sentinels of driftwood strung with lights are dotted throughout the garden — an appropriately regional vertical element that doubles as lighting for evening strolls

The next day was also predicted to be dry, so I headed north up 101 about 25 miles to Manzanita. All the little coastal towns between Tillamook and Manzanita on Highway 101 each have unique characteristics but one overriding feature in common: 101 runs straight through their main downtowns. Manzanita is the rare exception, requiring a turnoff from 101 to enter the town, and that short separation from the highway gives the town a cloistered, pedestrian-friendly vibe. On foot I noticed this sign just as you enter the main drag.

Euphorbia stygiana, cistus and Feijoa sellowiana

On the corner lot next to the library someone had created a strolling garden filed with plants on raised berms that I’ve either contemplated growing or have already planted in my little garden. Hebes, cistus, arctostaphylos, restios, Eucalyptus pauciflora, carex, Stipa gigantea, Fabiana imbricata — all given botanical garden-quality plant labels. Generous sitting areas, paths surfaced in small black rock. After staring at the same handful of species on walks in my neighborhood for months, I was flabbergasted by the unexpected plant choices in this fascinating public garden. It looked like an outpost of Cistus Nursery or Xera Plants, and later research confirmed that many of the plants were sourced from these Portland nurseries. But by who?


The town of Manzanita is a warmer zone 9a than mine on the Tillamook Bay, which is zone 8b. Yet I note our temps show identical highs and lows for the snowy week of December 27 through January 1 — the plant palette should be nearly interchangeable.

Arctostaphylos auriculata ‘Diablo’s Blush’

The streetside bed holding the Wonder Garden sign is filled with manzanitas. (Trialing many of these native shrubs inspired a garden talk by the Program Lead entitled “How to Kill A Manzanita and other Dark Tales from the Wonder Garden.”)

Arctostaphylos x media ‘Xera’s Pacific’
Arctostaphylos ‘Big Sur’ in particular was having a lovely flush of bloom
Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ — I planted this arcto from a gallon size in one of my stock tanks, though I’ve heard reports that they doh’t appreciate container life
Two nice specimens of Parahebe perfoliata in this bed
Fabiana imbricata has an ozothamnus-like quality
Silvery shrub in foreground is Lavandula ‘Silver Anouk’ — an immense variety of plants are grown in the Wonder Garden, including pittosporum, callistemon, the Chilean myrtle Luma apiculata, coprosma, grasses, sedges, and I noticed labels for dormant perennials like veronicastrum interspersed as well
Shrub on far left looked like an acacia, maybe A. cultriformis, the knife-leaf wattle. The root was exposed and it seemed slightly off balance. The watsonia on the right is an angusta hybrid
Billie waiting near the clay towers of the Kathleen Ryan Memorial

Reading the signage and following up at home with some quick research, I learned the garden is properly named The Hoffman Wonder Garden. Started in 2014, it is attached to the Hoffman Center for the Arts directly across the street, a “place for artists, writers, horticultural enthusiasts and creators of all kinds.” And its Program Lead is none other than Ketzel Levine, former broadcast journalist for NPR and renowned plants and garden enthusiast. I found some local information about the Wonder Garden here:

““We are creating a small botanic garden that is showcasing all of the different plants from around the world that thrive on the northwest coast,” Levine said. “All of our plants are labeled with beautiful arboretum-quality labels. We give weekly talks and walks through the garden and we are constantly raising money, and people have been responsive. During COVID, the garden has become the No. 1 gathering place for people who wanted to get together with masks.” — Pulling Back the Curtain on Manzanita’s Wonder Garden

View across the street of Hoffman Center for the Arts
the tall restio is Elegia capensis
Hebe buchanii ‘Fenwickii’ — some of the hebes make nice santolina-like orbs but will be much longer lasting than lavender cotton
Hebe cupressoides ‘Boughton Dome’
Hebe ‘Western Hills’ — having just planted a 4″ pot of this in the new garden, I was stoked to find a mature specimen here. The name alone was reason enough to order it from Joy Creek Nursery, knowing that it’s been admired and passed and propagated from hand to hand from the legendary Western Hills Nursery near Occidental, California. The eucalyptus is E. pauciflora aka the Snow Gum
Calluna vulgaris ‘Wickwar Flame’ — I do see a lot of Scottish heather, some in full bloom now, on my neighborhood walks
After touring Wonder Garden I walked Billie down to the beach at the end of town for a romp. One of the perks of Oregon beaches is that they all welcome dogs, unlike SoCal beaches. Watching dogs enjoy this liberty never gets old.

A rare plant nursery off the highway up a 2-mile track, a small public garden, and the blogs of my colleagues have all shone a bright light on the way forward in making a small garden here on this stunning part of the Oregon Coast. That you all continue to share what you know and discover is an incredible blessing — I’d be lost without you! Starting a little garden is as essential to me as getting the house furnished — probably more so! More soon. Affectionately, AGO

Posted in climate, garden travel, garden visit, journal, plant nurseries | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

crushed oyster shells and chanterelles

Tillamook, Oregon, population roughly 5,000 — in the neighborhoods, all grass, all the time. With 80-plus inches of annual rainfall, to peel off the sod and dig is something only an obsessed gardener would do. I couldn’t wait to get started. The neighborhoods eschew parkway trees — I’m guessing it’s to allow as much sun in as possible. Just a few miles west is the ocean, and a few miles east the forest picks up again, blanketing the coast range. The Douglas fir and Sitka spruce were removed from this five-river valley for agriculture, to grow grass to feed the dairy cows — one of the few crops that thrived in the heavy rainfall. In this 1940s-ish subdivision, possibly built to house WWII soldiers from the nearby naval base, the soil is amazing.
all photos by MB Maher taken the week before Thanksgiving

My new mantra, apparently borrowed from an old Swedish proverb, loosely translated: There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. To put it in gardener’s speak, we left frostless, drought-ridden zone 10b in early October and are attempting to become acclimated to an extremely wet zone 8b in the temperate rain forest of coastal Oregon. And though the contrast in growing conditions couldn’t be more stark, I’m consumed with getting a small garden started, which means muddy boots, muddy paws, dodging cloudbursts, piles of excavated sod to deal with — once I found the right boots at the farmer’s co-op, it’s been a muddy adventure I can’t get enough of. (The house came equipped with a very large bath tub.) The air and sky are on a perpetual rinse cycle, so different from the port air of the house in Southern California. Marty has returned briefly to Long Beach to handle some stuff and tells me the garden is covered in the grime I try to rinse off daily, but otherwise seems to be hanging on.

Munson Falls, where we foraged for chanterelles, mushrooms that peak when the rains return, approximately late August to late November

For the house, hand-me-downs and second-hand furniture works. The dirty secret about gardens is the cost of getting started. Plants are the very least of the expense. Without dry paths and a relatively level, weed-free canvas, the future will be problematic. And that means getting the hardscape right. The materials category of craigslist is my new favorite haunt. I’d love to build up a free-draining berm with all this dug-up sod and use broken reclaimed concrete aka urbanite for a low retaining wall — but that’s the thing about urbanite. It’s plentiful in cities, rare as hen’s teeth in the country. Pressure-treated landscape timbers are available, relatively cheap, and will have to suffice.

JAndy’s Oysters where I sourced the shells to be crushed for garden paths

Now when I look at gardens online or in books, for the first time I’m consumed with identifying what besides plants is covering the ground — and even for this very small garden most examples are way beyond my budget. Finding an affordable, local supply of a material for paths to use in place of chronically wet grass has been a challenge in a town where’s there’s no demand for it. My first idea was oyster shells — no problem sourcing those. Tillamook Bay is full of them. But the shells need to be finely crushed, and with just a hammer I was not doing the job nearly fast nor thorough enough. With the right machinery, it’d be a great little business. But as usual, I overestimate the garden desires of the general public, and judging by local appearances, there would seem to be very little demand. Lawn appears to be working just fine for the neighbors, front yards and back, whose free time is filled year-round with hunting, fishing, clamming, hiking, etc.

Oceanside Beach, a great dog beach for Billie, but under the epic king’s tide mid November the broad stretches of sand had completely disappeared. Such tides can be treacherous, and even billy-goating around on the rocks is to be avoided. Sneaker waves are a stealthy, fearsome enemy. The local dog park is another favorite of Billie’s.

After weeks of searching for local materials, it came down to a big-box store delivery of crushed granite very much like what I used in the Long Beach garden. The custom-built concrete planters I wanted to bookend the patio morphed into stock tanks — again, the price tag for the concrete was way out of my budget. Maybe in summer I can DIY some concrete pavers. Trying to get this all done in the brief windows of dry weather means speed and quick decisions are of the essence — because I’m dying to get planting! And we will most likely return to Long Beach after the New Year for a few months before returning here. I am purposely avoiding being a bore and mentioning our new granddaughter, the most marvelous being to ever grace the planet — but then we all start out so promising, right?

on the hunt for the elusive chanterelles — and not one of these photos is of chanterelles!

Daydreaming now about two gardens, I feel a bit like a polygamist. Marty worries that I won’t be happy with this new rainy garden, but I remind him that every garden book I read in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s described gardens filled with plants from zones colder than zone 10. This is not a climate to suit everyone, thank goodness, for the locals very much want to keep it to themselves. But after 30-plus years in the same house, and with the pummeling we’ve all had the last couple years, it’s just the sort of adventure we needed.


I’m hoping to write again before the holidays, but in case I don’t — wishing you the very best!


Posted in climate, journal, MB Maher | 11 Comments

dispatch from the Oregon coast

at the back of the house, facing south, the roofed overhang is a godsend. Turf was stripped back so the plants could be temporarily staged in a sunny strip. Lomandra ‘Lucky Stripe’ on the left from San Marcos Growers. Tillamook is zone 8b

We’ve been at the Oregon house a little over two weeks, and this Tillamook Rainforest coastal area is now settling into a comfortable steady rain. Late October and November bring some of the heaviest rainfall to the yearly total over 80 inches. Most of the rain is distributed in fall, winter, and spring, but I’m told there is occasional summer rain too here at the coast.

easy, affordable plants like Euphorbia characias will be part of the first team to test the garden conditions. I saw the enormous size these attain locally when walking Billie yesterday

There is a small, squarish, fenced-in backyard facing south. The first week it was still relatively dryish and the ground workable, so the second day after arrival I was stripping sod, trying to avoid harming the zillions of disturbed earthworms, and getting what plants I brought into the ground in the sunniest band of soil available. The backyard previously supported four kids and three dogs, so the wise parents chose half grass and half bark mulch for optimal mud-free play surfaces. The soil under the sod is beautiful loam. Under the mulch and landscape cloth was an entirely different story.


Amazing what depriving soil of oxygen will do. Pulling back the bark mulch and landscape cloth revealed slick plasticine, completely unplantable. About a 4-foot wide strip of the mulched area is in sun by noon, so the landscape cloth and mulch were pulled away and the clumps of stripped sod were piled on top, roots up, so the earthworms could wriggle their way out of the clumps and work their magic with the slick clay. I’d love to plant it in late spring but it may still be unworkable. Yet to be determined is whether the entire mulched area is in sun by summer or remains somewhat shaded. I’ll most likely remove all the grass for planting and paths and will decide on the mulched areas next year.

whatever survives the winter will be the bones of the new garden. Edging blocks were found in the little vegetable garden on the east side of the house — to keep the encroaching grass at bay while the plants settle in

A rummage sale over the weekend improbably produced, amongst the housewares and old furniture, my old buddy tetrapanax and a potful of fall-blooming kaffir lilies, schizostylis, a South African bulb for zones 7-9 that likes it really wet. I saw it flourishing this late October in a local garden, drew a blank on ID (too late for crocosmia?) and then there it was miraculously at the rummage sale, potted and labeled. My first local plant! The seller of the tetrapanax carefully explained to me how this gunnera was a hardy gunnera unlike the more familiar Gunnera manicata. After that lengthy dissertation, politeness seemed to require that I leave the plant ID unchallenged, and so I did.

On a short trip south on highway 101 I noticed growing fields of dahlias. A return trip was made over the weekend to Old House Dahlias and a handful of tubers ordered for spring after inspecting the dahlias’ performance in the muddy growing fields. I’m particularly excited about ‘Orange Pekoe,’ which looked amazingly strong and healthy for late October. The little vegetable garden will probably be at peak capacity with just the dahlias alone. (Edited to add 4/21/22: dahlias were picked up from OHD last weekend, offered as an alternative to mail delivery, about 10 minutes south from us on Hwy 101. ‘Orange Pekoe’ was the one dahlia not included in the order because of rot. Compensation was made in huge clumps of ‘Elks Lips on Fire’ and ‘Comano Sitka.’)

Banksy exploring avenues of escape. He didn’t yowl the entire car trip north, just a good half of the way

Front gardens in my neighborhood are sparsely planted with Japanese maples, hydrangeas, fuchsias, rhododendrons, pieris, hebes, and tend to be mostly lawn and foundation shrubs, with everything meticulously mulched. Lots of Lithodora diffusa, and I’ve even spotted a monkey puzzle tree. And of course conifers. A shrub I was semi-interested in, the cutleaf sumac, has taken over a nearby front yard and is in blazing autumnal color, but now I think I’ll pass. It looks like plants can really get away from you here!

previous owner left a shed/unheated greenhouse at the back of the garage

We are all busy exploring this beautiful part of the country. Marty is in love with his new granddaughter, the local oysters, the pellet stove and already has a little boat to get ready for river trips. Billie loves her walks, rainy or dry, though I still haven’t decided whether to get her a little raincoat. A washer was installed yesterday so all major appliances are now accounted for. We still run outside to check out the geese formations as they honk overhead, which the neighbors must find very amusing. But as Ms. Austen says, for what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors?

Hope you are well! Much love, AGO

Posted in climate, journal, plant sales | 7 Comments

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!

Posted in Cinema Botanica, clippings, journal, succulents | 7 Comments

APLD Plant Fair 10/2/21 at LA Arboretum


The Los Angeles chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers puts on a helluva fall plant fair, and against some impressive odds they have managed to deliver another one for 2021 on October 2nd. And hooray for autumn plant fairs! Having once planned a trip to England around Great Dixter’s October plant fair, personally I find fall plant sales much more exciting and inspiring than the spring shows and sales. And after a long, hot summer (will there ever be any other kind?) it’s just the horticultural pick-me-up I’m craving in fall. Buy your tickets via LA Arboretum here.


For their third plant fair, the APLD has assembled another great lineup of nurseries and speakers to share their knowledge and latest plant crushes. Trust me, even if you don’t spend a dime at the overflowing sales tables, you won’t go home empty-handed — the plant raffles are insane opportunities for new plants, so bring the biggest vehicle you own or can borrow! (I barely squeezed Aloe ‘Tangerine’ into my Mini one year.). You can read about their first fair I attended in 2018 here.

Coos Bay, Oregon, averaging 64 inche of annual rainfall, by Mosaic Gardens 

This year I’ll be interested in plants for zone 8b, coastal Oregon, rainfall averaging over 80 inches a year (gulp!). Long distance, we’ve undertaken the nerve-wracking process of trying to acquire a small house so we can spend lots of time with our little granddaughter Hannah, and it’s possible the plan may come to fruition the end of this month. Or not. But whatever happens, it has been fascinating to research what to plant in such conditions. And if the plan succeeds, we will have two small gardens; one incredibly dry in zone 10b, the other incredibly wet in zone 8b. For someone who likes nothing better than trialing and experimenting with plants, it’s a thrilling challenge.

assembled to travel to a very winter wet/relatively summer dry garden are lots of odds and ends, including a variegated Italian buckthorn, Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset,’ Euphorbia ‘Dean’s Hybrid,’ Phormium ‘Pink Blush,’ Kniphofia ‘Mango Popsicle,’ carex, ballota, Hebe ‘Quicksilver,’ eryngium, Rhodocoma capensis, geum, and a few others not shown above

I’ve already begun assembling plants to bring north, many from my own garden and smaller sized plants from local nurseries, but I’ll be proceeding slowly, planting smallish areas at first. I’d be happy to get hebes, nolinas, and grasses growing! Any planting suggestions are much appreciated. I’d love to mulch it all with crushed oyster shells, which are in abundance locally, but we’ll see what a tight budget allows.

Eryngium ‘Big Blue’ will make the trip along with Eryngium pandanifolium from my garden

It would be so much fun to see you at the APLD Plant Fair at the Arboretum on October 2nd — save the date!

Posted in plant nurseries, plant sales, shop talk | 9 Comments

garden clippings 9/7/21

Chrysanthemum ‘Fred Stone‘ with chocolate cosmos

Yes, that is a box full of chrysanthemums. Let me explain why such a wildly uncharacteristic flower, for me, is blooming in my otherwise mostly austere and dryish garden.


It’s part of the ongoing experiment of trying cut flowers in containers. Last year it was cosmos (mildly successful, but a much shorter bloom period than I hoped, and so much watering!) Dahlias are also intense upkeep in containers and not happy in the best conditions I can muster for them. Florist-style mums seemed like a fun experiment, so I ordered five spidery kinds from Bluestone Perennials last fall which were potted up in gallons in May. And they’ve remained in gallons all summer. Unlike dahlias, the mums are beginning to bloom on much smaller plants. The leaves are tougher and more sun resistant and overall healthier, and they don’t seem as sensitive to occasionally dryish soil. I know, mums. But dahlias and gladioli were once witheringly dismissed as déclassé too. I can honestly say that my box of mums has been less problematic than cosmos or dahlias. True, they don’t have the range of shapes and colors that dahlias do, nor the willowy elegance of cosmos, not to mention that they skip summer bloom entirely. And this doesn’t mean I want to be surrounded by grocery store foil-encased pots of dwarf flowering mums — where gaudy flowers are concerned, I’m in the less is more camp and prefer to keep pollinators happy with the tiny flowers of, say, calamint. But this experiment in pots has been fun. I would never grow them in the garden, only a cutting garden. (Floret Farms writes of their rediscovery of chrysanthemums here and links to King’s Mums growing instructions here.) Chocolate cosmos has also been easy in containers, clean leaves, cuttable stems, moderate size.


This toothy Aloe divaricata ‘Chompers’ I found plant shopping yesterday, however, will definitely get planted in the garden. Winter blooming, with a multibranched inflorescence, but it’s mostly about the leaf coloration and teeth with this one. It can get big, to 5 feet high and across, but is easily manageable by thinning out the offsets.


The ‘Chompers’ aloe was planted this morning in this newly reworked area that has seen a lot of planting action lately. Agave geminiflora, in a pot for years, was also moved here recently. It spills out beautifully from a pot but was in too much shade, and it will color up deep red here in full sun. I like the shape echo here with Agave stricta ‘Nana’ too.

Aloe divaricata ‘Chompers’ to the right of chunky Aloe marlothii. A small Agave horrida was planted just to the left of the blue glass interrupter. Other aloes in this area are classenii, camperi, aculeata, ‘David Verity,’ and labworana.

Most of my aloes are winter bloomers, but ‘Rooikappie’ is the rare repeat blooming aloe. I love how when it blooms, a small patch in the back garden becomes a little slice of the African veldt — with liberal applications of imagination! I’m amazed that these succulents in grass are still getting enough sun at their bases to bloom, but for this to continue a success the grasses will have to be thinned.


Brassaiopsis hispida was doing so well in a container that I decided to take a chance on planting it in the garden, where I don’t have to worry about missing a daily watering. Another member of the Araliaceae, Schefflera taiwaniana, was planted in morning sun on the north side of the house, carefully watered, flourished all summer, but still took a wilt dive when temps rose into the 90s. I dug it up and it seemed to be recovering, but collapsed when we hit 97 — even though it had been moved into full shade! The brassaiopsis seems unfazed by the heat so far, and the trevesia seems to revel in it.


To protect it from Billie the digger, rather than store this unused tuteur, it makes a handy plant protector.

red shrimp plant loving the heat
Billie the Digger putting on her most serious “Who me, a digger?” face. She was spayed last Wednesday but seems back up to full speed this week.

The Agave geminiflora’s empty container became home to an Alcantarea imperialis that needed a larger pot and a tongue fern (Pyrrosia lingua) I had growing in a wooden orchid basket. The fern loved life in that mossed wooden basket and was surprisingly difficult to extricate after residing in it just a few months.


One pot of coleus can make quite a statement. I like the simple strong colors versus the wildly variegated kinds.


Alternanthea ‘Purple Knight’ is another good strong single-colored tropical. This has been in the ground since last December, dying back early summer then putting out lush new growth late summer.


Another plant that makes an impact and is easy in a pot is Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Golden Arrow.’


Passiflora ‘Flying V’ produces flower buds all summer, but it’s only in late summer that they really fully open enough for a decent photo. Odd…


Hibiscus mutabilis is another heat lover. This one needs attentive watering, maybe less so after its first year.

Salvia ‘Waverly’ waking up and shaking off the summer doldrums
Echeverias are blooming in containers and in the garden

Another worthy mention for summer containers is Begonia luxurians.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, cut flowers, journal, pots and containers, succulents | 10 Comments