24 March 2006



It has been nice to watch the wisteria gather itself and produce so many buds from such a sad-looking bundle of dormant twigs. I've never had a chance to observe the process up close before. Good thing it's finally ready to bloom while we're out of town.


Another plant east coasters might not know well is the angel's trumpet, a very fast-growing tree in the potato family that sends out tons of these 6+" flowers almost year round. Someone told me they're pollinated by bats (in S. America, not here). It seems like these got very popular here a few years ago, but that may have merely been when I started paying attention. This plant might be in poor taste, depending on the definition: the flowers are freakishly big, numerous, and short-lived. Am I shallow to love it?

22 March 2006


Fynbos is the main vegetation type of the Cape Floristic Kingdom. There are various subdivisions distinguished mostly by elevation and rainfall pattern (some fynbos occurs in summer rainfall areas, but most of it is mediterrannean climate). As you might guess from the name ("fine wood" in Afrikaans), vegetation is dominated by shrubby plants (proteaceae, ericaceae and restionaceae), nutrient poor (mostly) sand soils, and a ~15 year burn cycle.

Fynbos is analogous to Mediterrannean maquis, California chaparral, and similar vegetation types in Chile and Australia but with dramatically greater biodiversity: 8600 plant species, 5800 of them endemic, in ~90,000 km2 [vs. 3500/2100 in the entire 294,000 km2 California Floristic Province].

I've been looking into fynbos as a source of plants adapted to my climate (if not my soil), including the beautiful proteas, and 1,400 bulbs.

For more info and plant porn, see Cowling and Richardson, Fynbos: South Africa's Unique Floral Kingdom (Vlaeberg: Fernwood Press, 1995)

20 March 2006


The rain let up enough to plant most of the pots that had collected under the stairs in the last month or so:

yarrow Achillea millefoliumAsteraceae
kangaroo pawAnigozanthos “bush garnet”Haemodoraceae
pinkDianthus “fancy knickers”Carophyllaceae
blood red trumpet vineDistictis buccinatoriaBignonaceae
coral bellsHeuchera sanguinea “torch”Saxifragaceae
red hot pokerKniphofia uvaria “flamenco”Liliaceae
scarlet monkeyflowerMimulus cardinalisScrophulariaceae

Only one or two of each, because I want to see how things do -- and how much I like them. So satisfying to get something in the ground.

17 March 2006

The Show

I went to the Garden Show yesterday. I knew that it was a garden show, and not a plant show, but the absence of the latter was still striking. Aside from orchids, the Garden Show is not so much designed for people interested in plants.

The high point was undoubtedly the California Garden Clubs, inc. “flower” arrangement display. How I wished Katharine White could have been there! I could not bear to linger after I was confronted with a CD and a single anthurium dangling from some rebar, but I did take a picture to share the joy.

There was, to be fair, a small section of nurseries of varying quality, but the market areas were dominated by people selling things like garden-themed jewelry and plastic "garden caddies,” whatever those are.

Check out the Chron's pictures if you want more details. Some of the landscapes were inoffensive, and I did see a few nice Leucospermums:
leucospermum leucospermum

I should add that there were some interesting restios at the CalHort booth (also responsible for the Leucospermums above). Not something you see every day. The UCSC Arboretum also had a nice display, with many proteaceae.

I did discover one new plant that slots nicely into the question of the week: if you can grow something, does that mean you should? I ask because I can apparently grow an Amorphophallus, which is freaking me out. Anyway, behold: Crinum procerum "splendens", which is basically a five foot tall evergreen Amaryllis. Bonus lesson: one should not depend on photographs to judge a plant: it was really very attractive in person.

15 March 2006

Photography school


What could be worse than my regular pictures? My cameraphone pictures. If you squint, you can sort of make out Euphorbia "Red Martin" (which was definitely not chosen for the name). It's blooming now: clusters of little chartreuse flowers on dark red stems with olive-y leaves.


Also blooming, in the next pot over, is Callistemon viminalis "Little John". Bottlebrushes, in the form of small trees frequently "pruned" with hedge shears, are common here (almost Strelitzia-common), but they may not be familiar to east-coasters. They bloom almost all year. What I wanted to show was the striking effect of the rich golden pollen sprinkled over the deep burgundy(?) "flowers" [I have no idea what is going on, technically speaking, in these inflorescences]. This picture will give you a better idea.

I nearly killed these plants before I realized that drought tolerant + terra cotta pot = water every other day. They've recovered, but they're both looking a little leggy.

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13 March 2006

The world wide web

I am very slowly wrapping my mind around the profusion of garden blogs. No comment yet on the issue of quality, but the saving grace of the genre is the intrinsic interest (to gardeners) of climate.

For example, I was complaining to myself about about the temperature this morning when I came across TundraGarden. Holy shit! No more whining from me.

Conversely: two interesting mediterrannean-climate garden blogs from Baja and Andalucia. And true dirt is good not only for the neighbor-mockery, but because the authors live right here in zone 17. Pam Pierce, author of the indispensible Golden Gate Gardening, has her own blog.

Not sure yet how I'm going to keep track of blogs that are actually worth reading, but for the time being, this post is it, so: Sign of the shovel [NY], Casa decrepit [Alameda: extreme home improvement with a dash of garden].

Sheila Lennon keeps what appears to be a comprehensive list of garden blogs at the projo website.

As you can tell, it was far too soggy for me to do anything in my own garden this week.

10 March 2006

Hella cold

My yard is currently about 20 degrees colder than NYC. Someone said it is snowing in LA, which is obviously a lie, but the point is that it's slightly less implausible than normal. No risk of frost here (knock on wood) so the lime tree, probably my tenderest plant, will be fine. I fear for the plants in NY, though, with all this hot/cold bullshit.


As an example of how weird this climate is, I invite you to consider the picture on the left. That is a rosebud getting ready to open amidst freesias, in case you can't interpret my terrible photography. Also, the viburnum and one of the hydrangeas each sent out a single flower cluster, on bare wood, in December. Still blooming. WTF?

09 March 2006


Just when I was beginning to despair, some seeds I planted almost a month ago have finally appeared. The tiny first leaves of either Clarkia or Lobelia or both were just visible through the carpet of camellia petals (not as picturesque as it sounds: see?) this morning. And last night I spotted a single stem still struggling to unbend itself in a makeshift flat on the porch. I'm not sure what this is because I didn't label the flats, but it's either piquillo pepper from Spanish seeds or za'atar ("Syrian oregano") I got from Johnny's -- I'm a sucker for rare herbs. In fact, if anyone knows where I can score pebrella (wild Spanish thyme), let me know.

Why are seeds so hard? I actually like waiting for other things -- for plants to bloom, or to stop blooming in the case of the camellias -- but I just can't stand looking at the same bare splotch of potting soil and wondering if I fucked it up somehow. Then, of course, when the seedlings come up, the feeling is that much sweeter.


More on names: On the other hand, sometimes the name alone makes you want to grow a plant. Félicité et Perpétue is a beautiful rambling rose, but anyone who knows the sad story will find it especially hard to resist. But Tess of the d'Urbervilles might be too sad for my garden.

08 March 2006


New Yorkers in search of bad taste might want to head down to the sixth borough next week.

06 March 2006

De gustibus

My sister was taken aback, to say the least, when I tried to tell her that I too was a traditionalist in garden. “But what about all your preposterous exotic plants,” she said, thinking presumably of the puya, among others.

“Tradition” of course implies a series of value judgements for my sister and me, who both believe that taste is very much to be disputed. There is something suspicious and possibly disreputable about the exotic. But, as I pointed out at the time, a lilac (or even a rose) is a much more exotic plant to find in a California garden than a puya, which comes from a nearly identical climate. Even grass is a luxury (luxury is also suspicious) out here.

But taste cannot be merely growing what the authorities call “appropriate” plants. Gardening has always been about collecting the rare, or at least the especially beautiful, as much as the imitation of nature. Our sense of propriety may come from England, but lilacs come from China. Harmony is important, but it can’t be definitive for the same reason. The preference for plants that are called old-fashioned is a dubious criterion, as the cyclical fashions in roses demonstrate (if anything, hybrid teas are old fashioned these days).

Bad taste is easy to identify when you see it. Those roses the florists sell dipped in blue glitter: bad taste. Coleus, period. I’m going to have to put hostas in the same category. Cyclamen? On the fence.

Birds of paradise, most of us would agree, are a bit tasteless. The problem comes when you pass a relatively happy stand of them in front of some shitty apartment building and really look at them, as I sometimes do, they are astonishing things: maybe not beautiful in the conventional way of something like peonies (themselves verging on garish in their floppy abundance), but a truly spectacular marvel of nature. And let us not forget that birds of paradise are exotic not so much because they come from far away, but rather because you can’t grow them in your zone. You know you would if you could.

There is a lot more to say about taste in the garden. As I plant my own and see what happens, maybe I'll figure out what it is.

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Weather report

Between the raining and the sleeping, I didn't have much time to do anything this weekend beyond turning the soggy compost pile. The most exciting thing was a tiny red tip of lily that emerged from the ground in the middle of my nap. I tried to take a picture, but a) it sucked, and b) it looks kind of gross anyway. I'll try again when there's some leaves.

I did manage to hit a few nurseries: picked up a monkeyflower, which I admit I bought mostly for the name. Found a dwarf Euphorbia characias which I anticipate combining nicely with our existing "Red Martin".

Last week, I assiduously went to the library and checked out a book on the aloes of South Africa -- and read the whole thing -- in an earnest attempt to find the species that will be happiest in my yard. All that information flew right out the window when I saw a tiny A. cooperii, one of the grass aloes, which I'd never seen before and therefore had to have, even though it comes from kwaZulu Natal, i.e., precisely the part of South Africa that least resembles here. Oh well, I think it will look cool with the Kniphofias I bought. Plus I get to say "kwaZulu Natal." And "red hot poker."

03 March 2006

AXG's Plants

My nomenclature may well be haywire (MMW, please advise) but that aside, these are my plants. More accurately, these are the plants I have gathered from old garden journals, snapshots, a recent windblown and cold survey of the beds, and memory. I will update, annotate, and disavow as necessary when the plants actually come up, but that is for future days. The weather has softened the past few days, and the lilacs looks as if they are ready to bud, but I am not in a trusting mood.
Lady Bells Adenophora liliifolia Rosaceae
Queen Anne’s lace Anthriscus Sylvestris Apiaceae
Columbine Aquilegia McKana hybrid Ranunculaceae
Goatsbeard Astilbe hybrid Saxifragaceae
Butterfly bush Buddleia davidii (various colors) Loganiaceae
Bellflower Campanula persicifolia var. pleniflora Campanulaceae
Dusty Miller Centaurea cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ Asteraceae
Sweet Autumn Clematis> Clematis terniflora Ranunculaceae
Clematis Clematis henryi Ranunculaceae
Clematis Clematis jackmanii Ranunculaceae
Tickseed Coreopsis grandiflora 'Sunburst' Ranunculaceae
Tickseed Coreopsis Tinctoria Ranunculaceae
Cotoneaster Cotoneaster Horizontalis Rosaceae
Delphinium Delphinium 'Bellamosum’ Ranunculaceae
Delphinium Delphinium ‘Blue Shadow’ Ranunculaceae
Delphinium Delphinium ‘Summer Nights’ Ranunculaceae
Sweet William Dianthus Barbatus Caryophyllaceae
Pinks Dianthus Deltoides ‘Zing Rose’ Caryophyllaceae
Pheasant-eyed pinks Dianthus Plumarius Caryophyllaceae
Bleeding heart Dicentra Spectabilis f. alba Fumariaceae
Foxglove Digitalis Purpurea ‘Camelot’ Scrophulariaceae
Foxglove Digitalis Purpurea ‘Excelsior’ Scrophulariaceae
Foxglove Digitalis Purpurea ‘Giant Shirley’ Scrophulariaceae
Foxglove Digitalis Purpurea ‘Pam's Choice’ Scrophulariaceae
Cranesbill Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ Geraniaceae
Cranesbill Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ Geraniaceae
Daylily Hemerocallis ‘Hall’s Pink’ Liliaceae
Daylily Hemerocallis ‘Pardon Me’ Liliaceae
Dame’s Rocket Hesperis Matronalis Brassicaceae
Dame’s Rocket Hesperis Matronalis var. alba Brassicaceae
Coral Bells Heuchera Micrantha var. diversifolia ‘Palace Purple’ Saxifragaceae
Climbing Hydrangea Hydrangea petiolaris Hydrangeaceae
Oakleaf Hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia Hydrangeaceae
Hydrangea Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangeaceae
Bearded Iris Iri 'Black Knight' Iridaceae
Siberian Iris Iris'Caesar’s Brother’ Iridaceae
Siberian Iris Iris unknown—from my mom Iridaceae
Creeping juniper Juniperus horizontalis Cupressaceae
Lamium Lamium maculatum 'Anne Greenaway’ Lamiaceae
Lavander Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ Lamiaceae
Lavander Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ Lamiaceae
Turkscap Lily Lilium martagon Liliaceae
Lily Lilium regale Liliaceae
Lily Lilium ‘Black Beauty’ Liliaceae
Lily Lilium speciosum var. rubrum Liliaceae
Lily Lilium random Orientals from the Depot Liliaceae
Lilyturf Liriope muscari Liliaceae
Lobelia Lobelia siphilitica 'Great blue' Campanulaceae
Bluebonnet Lupinus Russell hybrid Fabiaceae
Rose Campion Lychnis Coronaria Caryophyllaceae
Musk Mallow Malva moschata Malvaceae
Daffodil Narcissus ‘Arkle’ Amaryllidaceae
Daffodil Narcissus ‘Marieke’ Amaryllidaceae
Sicilian honey garlic Nectaroscordum Siculum Liliaceae
Catmint Nepeta x faasenii Lamiaceae
Peony Paeonia ‘Adolphe Rousseau’ Paeoniaceae
Peony Paeonia ‘Felix Crousse’ Paeoniaceae
Peony Paeonia ‘Karl Rosenfield’ Paeoniaceae
Peony Paeonia ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ Paeoniaceae
Poppy Papaver Orientale ‘Great Red’ Papaveraceae
Poppy Papaver Orientale ‘Pizzicato’ Papaveraceae
Mockorange Philadelphus ‘Virginal’ Hydrangeaceae
Obediant Plant Phystostegia virginiana ‘Alba’ Lamiaceae
Balloon flower Platycodon ‘Grandiflora Blue’ Campanulaceae
Primose Primula the common, squat kind (no comment, please) Campanulaceae
Rose (Hybrid tea) Rosa Red cop rose Rosaceae
Rose (Moschata) Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk ‘ Rosaceae
Rose (Modern climber) Rosa ‘Eden’ or ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ Rosaceae
Rose (Hybrid wichuriana) Rosa ‘New Dawn’ Rosaceae
Rose (English) Rosa ‘Bibi Maizoon’ Rosaceae
Rose (Bourbon) Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ Rosaceae
Rose (Hybrid tea) Rosa Lost the tag, but it is hot pink and cream and strongly scented Rosaceae
Rose (???) Rosa Lost the tag – very thorny, shallow-cup, and unscented Rosaceae
Rose (Floribunda) Rosa ‘Iceberg’ Rosaceae
Rose (Floribunda) Rosa ‘Iceberg’ Rosaceae
Rose (Hybrid multiflora) Rosa ‘Abigail Adams’ Rosaceae
Rose (Floribunda) Rosa ‘Altissimo’ Rosaceae
Rose (Floribunda) Rosa ‘Dublin Bay’ Rosaceae
Rose (Hybrid bracteata) Rosa ‘Mermaid’ Rosaceae
Rose (Hybrid musk) Rosa ‘Lyda Rose’ Rosaceae
Rose (Bourbon) Rosa ‘Gloire des Rosomanes’ Rosaceae
Rose (Hybrid perpetual) Rosa ‘Barbara Worl’ Rosaceae
Rose (Polyantha) Rosa ‘The Fairy’ Rosaceae
Rose (Hybrid musk) Rosa ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ Rosaceae
Clary Sage Salvia Sclarea Lamiaceae
Salvia Salvia ‘Blue Cloud’ Lamiaceae
Mealy-cup sage Salvia farinacea Lamiaceae
Sedum Sedum Spectabile or maybe spurium? Crassulaceae
Lamb’s ears Stachys Byzantina Lamiaceae
Lilac Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’ Oleaceae
Veronica Veronica Spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue Scrophulariaceae
Johnny-jump-up Viola tricolor Violaceae

02 March 2006

On the other hand

I've always disdained the American need to sanitize rape (Brassica spp.) as "canola." But a few weeks ago I encountered Orobanche uniflora out of the the corner of my eye at the botanic garden, along with its common name:

Naked Broom Rape

Jesus Christ people, can't you think of something else to call it? I'll take Strawberry Latte.

01 March 2006

The horror, pt. 2

I have been pulling together my list of plants in the ground, and so using the American Horticultural Society A-Z to look up names proper or common. Under Lilium, there is this listing: L. Strawberry Vanilla Latte. Why, why, why would someone go to all the effort to develop a lily, only to inflict that misery of a name on it?

The season's first

The ominously mild weather we've had here for most of the winter is predictably gone. We are all freezing our fannies off and cursing, and I am very worried about the foolhardy roses who thought to begin leafing out. That said, I got the truest sign of the beginning of the growing season: This afternoon while I was taking a few pictures of the carnage, two cops came out to pay a visit. Ahh, Miss? Umm... Don't worry about me, I smile, I'm just your gardener, taking pictures to send to a friend who knows about this sort of stuff. You know, mild winter and all, I'm worried that these roses broke dormancy too... Uh huh, yeah, ok... He's reassured, clearly had more than enough horticultural chitchat, and perhaps been forewarned that this girl comes by to work on the plants now and then. She's fine, you'll get used to her. It's just that Sarge asked us to come out, you know, the photographs, I mean, security and all, ok. He nods, looks at me one last time, and goes back into the parking lot. Forget snowdrops: for me, sceptical cops mean that it's on.

The horror

Disturbingly, 20% of Martha Stewart's 15 favorite plants is in my yard. It could easily get worse if I add some annuals.

I hear that the garden issue of the magazine is actually good, but I don't think I can bring myself to buy it.

© 2006