Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Plant of the week: Echeveria gigantea

It's drizzly here, and rain is on it's way.  On a day like this I look back on the photos I snapped of Echeveria gigantea a while back, with leaves blushed pink from the sun. Such a beautiful hens-and-chick. Though had I to put a barnyard reference to this plant it would be a sow's ear. The large leaves twist and turn with fleshiness that really resembles a porcine auditory organ.  This must be the largest member of this genus, at least as far as I know, the specific epithetic would seem to agree.  My plants are over  20" wide.

I discovered this unlabeled succulent maybe four years ago at a specialty "dirt" nursery under power-lines in East L.A.  I thought it was so great, and when I went back to get more some months later there were none left. Arrrgh...   Many months after the nursery visit the plant that I had access to shot up with three tall (four foot tall) flower spikes.  I was excited, as I had already tried to do a leaf cutting with no success, but here was a stem of sorts.  Little leaves ran all the way up the stalk and I thought "there is potential here".  I cut the stalk into sections and put them upright into a flat with my succulent mix.  Then I took whole stalks and laid them down into a flat with succulent mix just to see what would happen.  Well,  the stem cutting did alright, but the whole stems in horizontal position made babies for two years!  And that was with total neglect in and out of shade.  Anyhow I have given many away and still have loads for my garden.

I had been enjoying the large rosettes of foliage until about two months ago, and then the flower spikes began to grow.  Pink and nodding, the tiny towers draw oohs and ahhs from nearly every garden visitor.

Good luck finding your own!   ;-P

Monday, November 22, 2010

Progress on "Progress" update!

Wow!  Say what you like about bureaucracies but my city acts fast.  The parkway garden was finished yesterday.... this morning I sent an e-mail to let the city know it was completed... and this afternoon I got a message to say that they like the garden and will be sending payment.

Yeah... uh... wow!

Plant of the week: Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'

It's funny how we can love a plant and then somehow forget about it.  I learned about Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'  maybe 7 or 8 years ago,  and time went on and I just forgot about it.  But then this spring I pulled a sad 4" plant out of a dumpster of a local nursery. I gave it a bit of a haircut and plunked it in the ground for observation.  Within a month it had grown almost to full size and was blooming. Of course the timing was good but this plant really performed. And with that kind of growth you might think "jeeze this plant is going to take over the free world", but you would be wrong. It just sort of grew to a point and stopped. It wasn't even affected by that 100 degree heat we had.  

Because it's such a tough plant I decided to plant it in my hellstrip.  Growing about 2' wide and 3' tall,  I think it will make a lovely meadow in the end.  What I love about P. "Fairy Tails" is the charming wands of flowers it has, which like so many grasses are alive with even the slightest breeze. The flower spikes are erect so it is set apart from the common fountain grass. A good dark green foliage will fool you into thinking it takes more water than it actually does.  And then the last great thing is that it's clumping and I believe sterile so it's well behaved while pretending to be a bit wild.

I cannot wait until the parkway is a bending with thousands of creamy wands.  As the weather cools I have already come to accept that I will probably have to wait until spring for such a display.   But it is gardening after all that has taught me patience.

Progress on "Progress"

Well, as promised, I have taken some photos of the parkway AKA hellstrip.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I will have to admit I really have made the most of government programs.   I bought the house knowing that I would get 8000 buckaroos back from Uncle Sam.   Thank you very much.   Yes, that money is all spent.   Now I move on to the garden.  We have a growing water shortage, everybody knows that.  And many municipalities have incentives to take away lawn and replace with drought tolerant alternatives.  I signed up online during the FIRST FIFTEEN MINUTES that the enrollment was open.  A month later I found out I was 90th on the waiting list, of course the reason being that you can be reimbursed for up to $2500!

Time passed and I had assumed that the program had been so popular that it was all tapped out.  And then I got my second letter saying that I had 45 days to submit a design. Out it went and I got my third letter telling me that I had 90 days to complete the garden as designed.   Guess what?  That day comes Monday  (procrastinators unite!),  so sunday I will be making a garden in the large parkway in front of the house.

The parkway is often affectionately called a "Hellstrip" for the conditions can be quite hellish.  Here you have a lack of control,  possibility of theft, traffic, litter, dog and cat #$%& (possibly human too in my hood, but that is certainly another story for another time) and so on.

I live on a very wide street which I think is pretty nice to have, and the parkways are like little parks in so much as they are really deep!   My parkway is 11 feet deep and something like 45 feet long.   OK,  so this is what I'm planning:   cool overlapping circles of decomposed granite,   loads of Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails',  Salvia clevelandii 'Winifred Gilman',  Eriogonum giganteum, Cotyledon 'Long Fingers', Verbena 'De La Mina' and maybe some Eschschlolzia.   It has occured to me several times that it would be really nice to have a bench out there too.  I don't want to attract riffraff, but this neighborhood could really use a little love.  So, I think I can stick my neck out a little and set a nice example.

Here is the freshly cleared parkway with materials just waiting to be used.

Of course I will be updating.

plant of the week: Russellia equisetiformis 'Tangerine'

Here's another case of a huge improvement with just a change of color.  Already love Russellia equisetiformis? Me too,  but the red flowers are not everyone's cup of tea.  I am a huge fan of orange in the garden, and actually despite the name, R. 'Tangerine' is more a muted color, maybe a sorbet or something pastel.  I like those softer tones as they play well with others.

If you don't know Russellia equisetiformis already you've been missing out.  I often describe this plant as hummingbird crack, since once they find it that won't leave it alone.  It's not for every spot with that 3' tall and wide mop-like growth, but it is great for raised beds, hillsides and pots etc.  It fills the large pot in the garden nicely.  The foliage is reminiscent of horsetail hence the specific epithet,  so it has a soft broom-like texture that can be used to good effect.

My experience is that Russellia is very tough and drought tolerant,  but if you give it regular water and occasional feeding you can expect flowers all year round.  The big display comes in late winter and early spring usually.

Anyway, if you don't have you one yet, get one.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Non-plant non-secateur: South African Brown Widow

With all the talk these days of illegal immigrants it's hard to understand why no one seems to be talking about this guy, the South African Brown Widow (SABW).  Latrodectus geometricus, for those who care about scientific names.  This guy has venom and may be taking bugs from American spiders... talk about your anchor babies, they're having gazillions.

I don't have a real strong fear of spiders, scorpions a little more and ticks a lot. We really don't have problems with spiders in this part of Southern California.  The Brown Recluse and its nasty wound are certainly cause for alarm but they aren't in the area that I know of.  And the Black Widow is not found in great numbers and is always in predictable places.  So, I just don't worry about spiders in the garden.

The preponderance of the SABW is a little bit troubling though. This weekend I wanted to grab a pup off of an Aloe I quite like, and there was a SABW,  I lifted a brick that was in the garden, there was a SABW, and I was cleaning up some 4" pots... there was a SABW!  Once I realized what I was seeing I began to find them everywhere.  They do have that very strong crunchy web like the Black Widow so you know by touch when you are in their web. And they look a lot like the Black Widow but they tend to be dark brown still with the red-orange hourglass on the belly.  And the one thing that is very clear is the weird spiky egg sack, it looks like it's studded.

I have been killing the little lady just out of principal.   But with so many of them in the garden I decided to investigate.  I mean should I be nervous?   What I have noticed is that the SABW is very passive, more passive than the Black Widow.   In my experience, If discovered she will drop into the fetal position.   So, when I picked up that brick and thought "what the...', I decided to see what she was made of.  It took, for the record, three strong jabs with a stick to get her to lash out. Apparently she is much harder on her mate, so I have read.  But it really seems that you have to have a lot of bad luck to be bit.

For now I choose to believe that I am still safe in the garden... even though I found a SABW in my laundry room... dun dun dun!

I want to know if anyone else is seeing them, tell me if you are.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Plant of the week: Aristolochia gigantea

I guess this plant follows nicely from my last post 'Halloween all year long' as it falls easily into the category of scary.  Finding the "real" Aristolochia gigantea was quite exciting,  as it seems to me that there is a mix up in the nursery trade in California.  The plant pictured below was labeled A.  littoralis and a plant I bought many years ago was labeled A. gigantea.  The A. gigantea (not in the new garden) has a large flower,  perhaps 6-7" long, impressive but not gigantic.  A. littoralis has a 14" long flower, now that's gigantic!   So, am I crazy in thinking that the names are mixed up in the trade?  They both have heart shaped leaves... the two plants look just the same but when that flower forms there is no chance you could mix them up.

Whatever the proper name, I love this plant. The vine blooms most of the year, although being tropical it tends to preform best in warm weather.  Due to the red and veiny nature of the flower I have anatomical references;  the unopened flower looks like a liver (maybe life size) and the open flower is like a  frontal section of the lungs.  It definitely attracts attention,  people are drawn to its strangeness and sheer size. The flowers feel like latex, and the unopened flower is inflated which is fun too. The Fullerton Arboretum has a huge plant that probably spans more than 200' growing on a chain link fence.  At the moment I have only upsized the vine to a 15 gallon container but I plan to plant it soon on the wall of the garage.

Pretty cool, right?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween all year long

Am I the only one who thinks scary has a place in the garden?  Shouldn't the garden be a place for all the emotions?   Just wait until an unprepared visitor stumbles on this.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Plant of the week: Muehlenbeckia complexa

Is it a vine? A ground cover? A hanging plant? It looks like a cross between boxwood and a maidenhair fern.  What is it? Muehlenbeckia complexa,  a little vining, scrambling plant from New Zealand.  I love the way it fills in here and there. Shade or part sun is the plant's preferred home but it will grow in full sun with extra water.  I'm using it partially clothe the cliff part of Whiskey Creek.

OK so this week's plant of the week is a short one.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Plant of the week: Aloe 'Johnson's Hybrid'

Being a grass-o-phile I am always on the look out for lance linear foliage.  And in recent years I have tried to branch out (pun intended) to non-grass,  non-sedge plants that bloom to give a different effect in the garden.  Bulbine has a lot of the characteristics I like; it's succulent, tough, nearly everblooming with orange or yellow flowers.   But overall I find the texture a little bit messy.  So the search contiuned.

Then I found Aloe 'Grassy Lassie' and Aloe 'Johnson's Hybrid'.  These two Aloes are small and clumping and don't scream succulent.  I had high hopes for A. 'Grassy Lassie' since it had a little coarser and darker foliage and was thinking that A. 'Johnson's Hybrid' would be a cool filler plant. I planted them out in 4" size in the dry portion of "Whiskey Creek" to watch them perform. It's been about five months now since I originally planted them so I've had some time to evaluate them.  In all these months the A.'Grassy Lassie' has not bloomed nor has it bulked up.  Meanwhile A. 'Johnson's Hybrid' has bulked up a lot,  perhaps 3-4 times the size of when it was planted.  This little doer has not stopped blooming, it has had at least one bloom spike the whole time, and now that they have bulked up there are 4-6 spikes per clump. Aloe 'Johnson's Hybrid' has foliage to about 10" tall and with flower spikes to about 18".

I did notice the other day that a couple of the A. 'Grassy Lassie' clumps were forming some spikes. So, it will be interesting to see how they will perform as we head into the cooler months.  But it will also be interesting to see how the A. 'Johnson's Hybrid'  does as well.

Of course as is the case with all the Aloes, the hummingbirds are always around.

I would love to hear from anyone else who has had a different experience.  My soil is silty sandy by the way.

Aloe 'Johnson's Hybrid'

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tweedia saga contiunes

The Tweedia propagation disease continues. No one knows when it will stop.  But I have a deep need to plant every seed that these little plants make!  LOL  Gardeners where born to share.

Previous post:

Here is a baby photo.

Plant of the week: Colocasia 'Diamond Head'

Being a fan for many years of Colocasia 'Black Knight' I was very skeptical of a new black taro cultivar, especially since it didn't look that different. And so many times nurseries are just remarketing old cultivars. During one of my many late night net searches I found C. 'Diamond Head'  and the thing that caught my attention was that it was running, which C. 'Black Night' is not. This would mean that you would certainly get more bang for your buck.  And it would be easy to propagate and share.

When I saw it in a nursery this spring in the flesh and blood, I grabbed it immediately, actually a few.  But once in my possession and I realized that C. 'Diamond Head'  (by the way, why didn't they call it Black Diamond, so much more descriptive) was very different.  Instead of having a dull matte finish it is shiny sort of like an oil slick with that oily rainbow of color.

I have them growing in two situations, one at the edge of a pond (in the water) and one in a pot, both in full sun.  The one at the edge of Whiskey Creek is doing best though the potted specimen is no slouch.  It would also be great in a bog pot.  An excellent addition to a garden noir!

Now I wait to see how it will do or what it will do this winter.

Over and out.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

For everything there is a season

No one said the nursery business was easy.  

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a friend who works at a specialty nursery.  She wondered if I had heard that Cottage Nursery Gardens had closed.   I hadn't but of course being friendly with Jamie and Stacie I wanted to find out what had happened.  Through the grapevine and a bit of detective work it was determined that Jamie and Stacie were focusing on their fairy gardens and had closed shop in Westminster.  At least that is what I think has happened.

It seems unfortunate that there was no note or sign left to tell those of us who liked the nursery that it was over.  If not for the tight knit gardening/design/nursery community, I would have had to stumble onto the the scenes that you will see below.

I guess it's time to look on the bright side and to the future,  perhaps someone else will wade hip deep into the rough nursery business waters.   I do hope a garden and nursery will grow there again.  Time to spiff up the old chinchilla hut once more.

Best wishes to Jamie and Stacie.  Happy gardening as ever.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Building on a theme

OK,  I'll admit it...  I get obsessed with things. You know like discovering a black fruited form of pomegranate (Punica 'Eight Ball') and then finding out that it is only available by mail order and tiny.  Well, many things in the garden are like this, propagation, pruning etc.   Last summer I was in the Pacific Northwest when this last obsession was spawned. I had heard of a beach where you could find perfectly round stones, and had seen them for myself at a friends' house in a beautiful display.  I will save the long story and all the trouble and distance I went through to get the concretions, but it was a bit of work to get them.   I packed about twenty pounds of the orbs in my luggage, schlepping them all the way home. When I started to make the garden at the house,  I fantasized about collecting thousands of the concretions to adorn my garden. Of course that would be totally ridiculous.   But then I came up with an acceptable work-around.  I began the work (with a good friend)  of making hundreds of concrete balls, placing them in drifts in the garden.  Mostly they line the edges of "Whiskey Creek", the rain garden, or arroyito.   But then I started to daydream... so many ways to enjoy my knock off Whiskey Creek Beach stones...

See for yourself,  first the inspiration and then the emulation/experimentation.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Multitasking in the garden

One of the biggest mistake gardeners make is using small pots (you see what I did there?  big, small, very clever!).  But really in many cases pots placed in the garden as focal points are lost.  Using large pots is the single easiest way to bring drama and architectural interest in the garden.  And when up lit at night, well I think you are beginning to get the point.  Of course large pots present another opportunity to grow plants that may not do as well in the ground or the opposite problem... thugish-ness.  Do you have a plant that needs a little extra water? Use a large pot!  Have a plant you have been pining to plant but it has an invasive nature?  Use a large pot! Want to raise your favorite small tree to exalted status? Use a large pot?  The list goes on.  But what if your large architectural pot could have yet another purpose?  A place to hang?  I know I know sounds cool right?  Why not plant a lawn chair!?  Planted with variegated St. Augustine grass (a common turk plant in So Cal),  the large bowl shaped pot below make a bench or bed. I like to lay on it and gaze at the firmament.  What has been nice is that since it has a deep root run and no competition I have only had to water the pot about once a month. I am sure more inland area gardeners will have to water more but look how beautiful and fun!

Enjoy! And happy gardening!

Plant of the week: Gomphrena 'Fireworks'

When you are a very avid gardener and visit nurseries a lot you begin to think you have seen it all. This is of course folly since unbeknownst to you horticulturist and breeders are working around the clock, around the globe to create new cultivars and varieties.  Last spring I visited my gardener/designer friend Dalia and her garden.  In the front garden bed near her driveway was a plant that struck me.  This plant has magenta orbs!  It had long flower stems that reminded me of Verbena bonariensis, all stems and flowers with little foliage. I am pretty familiar with the Gomphrenas available,  for years they were breed to be heat resistant small bedding plants with papery flowers.  Then there is Gomphrena 'Strawberry Fields' which is a bit taller  with long stems but G. 'Fireworks' blow G. 'Strawberry Fields' out of the water.  What was also exciting to know is that it is a perennial! Dalia cut the plant down to 6" and it came back beautifully. I tried to find a 4" to plant and trial but couldn't find one.  I discovered that it was from Ball horticulture and propagated by seed.  In the end I was patient and waited until this spring to buy one (four actually).  Now I am finding the plant in many nurseries.  In less than a month the plants went from gallon plants to what I now think is its ultimate height of 4'.  It really is a stunner, makes a great cut flower and dried flower.

Now the waiting begins for all those breeders to get other colors into this line.  I can't wait for a 4' tall G. 'Strawberry Fields'!

What do you think?

Here  I mixed G. 'Fireworks' and G. 'Strawberry Fields'

You can see the effect that only four plants can make

Plant of the week: Pennisetum 'White Dwarf'

Most So Cal gardeners and even non-gardeners know Pennisetum "setaceum" 'Rubrum' . I put the setaceum part in quotes as I think that the specific epithet is wrong.  Pennisetum setaceum is the one that you will find growing in the wild, a total thug.  One that I think can look very pretty, but of course it is a very invasive invasive, you know what I mean. You can tell the difference right away, the real P. setaceum has a rolled leaf and will cut you like a knife,  the horticultural cousin has a flat leaf and is safer to the touch.  Anyway, P. 'Rubrum' is that beautiful red fountain grass, it's everywhere which means for people like me, you have to start to sigh when you see it planted again and again.  So, it gets fairly big, too big for a lot of gardens. Ah but then there is P. 'Eaton Canyon' which has been around for at least a decade, it's half the hight of P. 'Rubrum' but not as intensely colored foliage and sort of dirty colored flower spikes.

Well, one day I was driving... I drive a lot, and I saw out of the corner of my eye a sport of P. 'Eaton Canyon'. This sport was totally green with white flowers.  Exciting!  So I went back and rescued a division of the sport.  What's great is that I believe that P. 'Rubrum', P. 'Eaton Canyon' and the "sport" to be sterile or nearly sterile.

I have trailed it for a year now and am bulking up numbers. It now has a cultivar name which is fun and descriptive;  Pennisetum 'White Dwarf'.  It grows about 33" tall and 40" wide. Don't you want to have one?  I see it being used by landscape architects en masse.

Take a look!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Even succulents are melting in this heat!

After a year of incredibly mild weather we are having a little heat wave.  It must be the fact that we've been babied all year but I just can't stand the heat.   But I went out in the garden just now to see what is wilting and to my surprise one of the very few plants that seem to be suffering are the Senecio vitalis plants.  Just look at that photo below.  I've never seen a succulent wilt before.  I love this plant for many reasons, the bushy upright grass texture, the way it glows when back lit and the fact that it is so tough. But not today...  they are looking so fragile, like melting blue crayons.  Anyway I'm sure they're fine,  by this evening they'll be back up and running.

Keep cool!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Plant of the week: Tweedia caerulea

Several months ago I was given a single pod of Tweedia caerulea,  a plant which I grew and then dismissed maybe a decade ago.  From that one pod I sowed and planted out at least three flats of 4" plants,  There were even more but I eventually came to my senses.  I planted out a bunch,  my previous experience was that they were spindly plants.  I was very happy when I found them filling out nicely.  Tweedia is an Asclepias relative native to So. America, drought tolerant, small plants that you'll want to plant for their beautiful true sky blue flowers (almost immediately after planting even as immature plants).  And I don't know if you have noticed but true blue is hard to come by in this climate, also I think the bright light drowns out a lot of blues from being bluer, you can see this at sunset and sunrise. Anyway now I'm hooked, I plan to use them as filler plants since they perform with little water or care.  Another interesting aspect is that they attract the milkweed bug, which is supposed to feed on the seed (and there is a lot of seed) and doesn't hurt the plant.  They are a rich orange color with black,  and I love to see creatures in the garden.

Take a look!

Tweedia looking nice with boardwalk

Flower detail, notice cluster of milkweed bug instars on pod

Plant habit

Milkweed bug