30 June 2006


Coyote mint is an innocuous little herb until it flowers. Then it goes crazy. For the last week or so, I've been sitting on the patio just staring at it, trying to figure out why the hummingbirds haven't discovered it yet. Aren't they sick of their boring old Salvia leucantha? Aside from the drama, the flowers are surprisingly long lasting -- some of these are two weeks old.

I first learned about it from this excellent book which every California gardener needs to have. It's called Monardella villosa macrantha cv. Marion Sampson -- apparently the species plants succumb to root rot instantly in the garden, so you need to track down this cultivar if you want to grow it. And I wouldn't bother in summer rainfall areas, sorry.

Oh. Yeah. That's a grevillea in the background. I bought it last weekend at the botanic garden. Where I went to avoid spending money. Didn't work out so well.

One of the most beautiful roses at the botanic garden was a huge rambler that turned out to be Félicité et Perpétue. How I wish I had space for one. I'm half tempted to sink a 30-ft. I-beam in the front yard and train one up it instead of a tree.

26 June 2006

A certain admiration for outright vulgarity

A Canadian commentator at garden rants directs us to this amusing article on garden snobbery in the Telegraph. One can only imagine the King of the Chavs' garden.

Instead of pontificating ponderously on taste, I pose a question. What tree should I plant in front of my house? The redbud's untimely demise allowed me to rethink the problem. The considerations:

  • small: 15-25 feet is ideal
  • evergreen: the theory is to screen the street

Disease resistance and drought tolerance are both desireable. Conifers not so much. I'm actually considering a palm, because I can. My favorites all tend to be too big, though (no fan palms). I'm not quite ballsy enough for Aloe dichotoma. Nominations?

Update: Thanks for your help. Anyway, I've just been informed that we want something deciduous, if that changes anything. I fear fireblight on Rosaceae though, which limits some of the more obvious options. What about Magnolia x soulangeana? Amazing flowers, but the leaves are kind of ugly, no?

22 June 2006


I always thought the appeal of all the apocryphal meteorology witticisms attributed to Mark Twain was their unspecificy -- except the coldest winter = summer in SF equation. Just last week I was explaining how cold it is here. But wait a minute: it will change. It is hot as balls now, to use an unfortunately popular local expression. The paper is proclaiming that it's hotter than at any time in the last 2000 years. And the garden feels like fall.

I cut down the favas a week ago, except for a single stalk supporting a sweet pea that I fear is not long for this world if it stays this hot. The other stalks, some taller than 4', had toppled over. I saved the seeds for next year -- they'd been too big to eat for a month. It did not take them long to dry out.

But it's not just the favas: the Leucospermum flowers have fallen of their own accord, rolling around like tiny tumbleweeks; and the Calochortus looks dead as a doornail, seedpods threatening to dehisc (they were still blooming just last week).

It's days like this that make you appreciate the resilience of mediterranean plants, especially the ones that don't go summer-dormant. It's not going to rain for at least 3 months.

19 June 2006

Where the bees are '06

Gardening activity this weekend was limited mostly to the fabric-and- mulch operation in the front. Pretty boring stuff, although I did find a tiny Sisyrinchium bellum flower hiding under a Salvia leucantha. I finally removed the lifeless redbud stick. There's a surprising amount of space out there (20 ft.3 and counting), but the conditions are harsh, and I'm limiting activity to weed suppression until I can plan the attack.

Pretty much everything that hasn't bloomed out back is blooming right now. It's clear I'm going to need to focus on late-season flowers. One of the surprise stars of the June garden is this little cutting celery in the herb garden. I say little, but it's almost 4' tall. Normally I get annoyed when botanists change family names for no reason except to make them easier to mispronounce, but I have to admit that Apiaceae is a good name for these bee magnets. (It used to be Umbelliferae, which had the advantage of instant self-explanatoriness when presented with the flowers).

Cutting celery is awesome, because it's perennial, so you have instant celery flavor year round ("regular" celery is a perennial too, of course, but you have to kill it to harvest it). And it makes an excellent substitute for parsley in many recipes. The Romans, in fact, made no distinction between parsley and celery. They also made parsley wreathes for the winners of drinking contests.

14 June 2006


Out here on the frontier, you know it's summer when the sun disappears for days at a time and it starts to get cold. Excellent weather for gardening (though not, as we shall see, necessarily for the plants). Then, when the sun does come out, in the immortal words of The Jesus Lizard, it's a joyous occasion, baby. That is when you notice things, like the flowers forming on our happily leafing-out pomegranate.

Conversely, the bareroot redbud (Cercis occidentalis) still looks like the exact same stick we put in the ground back in Feb., a few weeks after we planted the pomegranate. Why?

Gardening spawns constant questions. The gardenia, soil dutifully acidified and chelated, appears just as chlorotic as ever. Why? Mr. Google knows: the soil needs to be 72 degrees. Now, the Gardenia nomenclature is fairly chaotic, but I'm pretty sure G. veitchii in 1938 = G. angusta var. veitchii today, which is close enough to whatever I have that I'm just going to assume my soil's too cold. Anyway, Sunset frowns on Gardenias in zone 17.

Some day I might have the fortitude to yank it. But I like it, unlike the purple bougainvillea we inherited, which must stay where it is because we will never get anything else to grow in its spot. I mean, we have a freaking Gardenia in our yard. You cannot underestimate what that means to someone who grew up in New England. Note that it's flowering just fine, however sad and/or hideous the leaves. And it would be a shame to punish a plant with such a valiant will to live.

It's time for coddling.

13 June 2006


It occurs to me as the garden starts to come together that the color scheme is perhaps a little too hot to be tasteful. Especially because of the inherited camellias (pink) and bougainvillea (purple), which interfere with the perfectly reasonable red and white plan. The plan, anyway, is falling apart as things start to flower and the variously alleged scarlets and crimsons turn out pink or orange, as in the case of this monkeyflower. Which, yes, I had to have for the name, but the flowers are very cool, nothwithstanding their orangeness. And it works well sandwiched in with the Leonotis and the marmelade bush We just put in....

Ok, I admit the "plan" had become orange-y-red and white. Still hypothetically acceptable without the pinks and purples that we can't get rid of for various reasons. I'll just have to live with it.

12 June 2006



Historically I haven't been a huge succulent fan. They seemed somehow tacky, in a Palm Springs-y kind of way. But now that Palm Springs is cool again (i.e., now that it's been cool again for so long that even I have come to accept it), I'm growing to appreciate them more as aesthetic objects (the jury is still out on their incorporation into the garden). Something about their formal starkness, particularly the plants that form rosettes, is appealing. Probably moving to a semi-arid climate has something to do with it too.

Also, appreciation for the fruit of the agave may have gradually transferred to the plants. Above right: the spineless Agave attenuata, which has the virtue of not threatening your life every time you approach it. Probably would not make great tequila though. Its companion is Dudleya brittoni, native to California considerably south of here, the chalky whitish leaves of which form a nice contrast with the blue-green agave.

Update: read this pitifully underillustrated LA Times story on succulents before it vanishes into the archives. I still find many of the named (and implied) plants disturbing or just ugly.

01 June 2006

On Taste


So I started writing a(nother) learned disquisition on taste last week, but I don't have the energy to finish it. However, I wonder what you think about this fuschia: hot or not? It is ridiculous but endearing, and I change my mind about it several times a day.

I was going to note your likely surprise at the number of yuccas in Gertrude Jekyll's gardens, and then state the obvious: taste in the classical sense absolutely requires cold hard cash, in the form of land (lots of it), and the men to work it. Taste is feudal. Of course, the problem in the nineteenth-century was how to dinstinguish oneself from the nouveaux riches eagerly aquiring these manorial trappings, complete with Jamesian ancestral lawns. But that takes us rather far afield from the problems of the contemporary suburban garden, which Michele discusses here (though she's got considerably more space to work with than I).

© 2006