Friday, December 2, 2022

The succulents are slowly taking over

Even in sunny Southern California, winter tends to tamp down activity in the garden.  The good news is that succulents provide interest year-round.  In fact, washed clean of accumulated dust and dirt by even a light amount of rain and facing less competition from flashy flowers, they shine in winter, at least in my frost-free climate.

The weather generally permits daily walks around the neighborhood and I recently took notice of a couple of interesting developments.

Walking with a neighbor, we stopped in front of the long border at the front of her house and I noticed that the flowers of her variegated Aloe arborescens had a crested form, which I've never seen before

Two Agave attenuata (foxtail agaves) in another neighbor's street-side garden have developed hefty bloom stalks


Back on my home turf, as I was cleaning up leaves in my front garden, I noticed that one of my own agaves is also preparing to bloom.

This is Agave 'Multicolor' (syn Agave mitis 'Multicolor', formerly classified as Agave celsii).  I purchased this one in 2017 and acquired 2 more somewhat later.


I was startled to find that Agave 'Multicolor' is going to bloom - and that its bloom stalk was already about six feet tall by the time I noticed that fact.  On the other hand, two agaves I check regularly for signs of a bloom event are maintaining the status quo.

The Agave ovatifolia (whale's tongue agave) shown here has been in this spot for over 10 years.  It and its companion, Agave vilmoriniana (octopus agave), planted in 2014, are both larger than this photo makes them appear.

The largest of my many 'Blue Glow' Agaves has been showing signs of its intent to bloom for several months, as evidenced by the pups sprouting from its side and the flattening of its leaves, but to date there's no bloom stalk.  The oldest 'Blue Glows' in this bed were planted 8 years ago.

Aloe blooms don't present the concerns that agave blooms do as aloes don't die after flowering.  I don't have many aloes that bloom this early in the season but I noticed a few this week.

This is one of the smaller hybrids, Aloe 'Safari Sunrise'

The centerpiece in the middle of this collection of agaves and yuccas is a hybrid Aloe vanbalenii x ferox.  This will be the second time it's bloomed in my garden since it was planted in 2016.
The plant on the left is Aloe vanbalenii x striata, which is preparing to bloom for the first time.  I picked up the unlabeled plant on the right from my local botanic garden earlier this year and guessed it might be the same hybrid despite its orange color but now I'm not so sure, although I do think it's an offspring of Aloe vanbalenii (crawling octopus).


While I had my camera out I snapped photos of various succulent beds I've been working on for some time to provide an update on their progress.

Replanting this bed on south-facing slope on the lower level of the front garden was one of my pandemic projects.  It's gradually filling in.  The Agave desmettiana 'Variegata' shown in the photo on the left in the second row were pups of 2 plants that bloomed out in my street-side border in 2019.  The plants shown in the third row are bulbils of those same plants.  The degree of variegation varies.

The bed in the foreground was replanted with a variety of succulents in late 2021 and the bed in the background was replanted with succulents this year
The succulents and bromeliads in this bed along the front property line were replanted in September following our water pipe replacement project

This is one of my oldest succulent beds, first planted in January 2016 in the front garden next to the garage after we removed the last of our lawn.  The only succulent that was in place here when we bought the property was that multi-trunked clump of Agave attenuata in the background on the left.  Despite adding and subtracting succulents for years, I'm still dissatisfied with the area overall.  I think my original error, which I repeated again and again, was relying too much on small plants.  Rather than continue to tweak it, I think a wholesale replanting may be in order.


After scrutinizing those succulent beds I decided to stop procrastinating about tweaking the bed adjacent to the back of the house.

This is what the bed looked like before I touched it this week.  A few months ago, while cleaning up the area, I added a good-sized Agave attenuata cutting (between the rainchain and the Agave 'Ray of Light') and a smaller pup (barely visible on the right).  A lot of bare spots remained.

This week, I added 3 cuttings of Aeonium 'Sunburst' and 7 pups of Agave bracteosa (squid agave), all relatively small.  You may not even be able to make them out in this wide shot.

These photos taken from inside the house show the additions more clearly.  The Aeonium cuttings should grow quickly but the squids may take their time.

There are other succulent beds I haven't shown in this post of course.  Can you believe that, when we moved in over ten years ago, the only succulent in my garden was that multi-trunked Agave attenuata in the front garden? Not only have I propagated that particular foxtail agave many times over, I've added too many other succulents to count since then.  With every passing year, more and more of my garden has been given over to succulents and, due to the pressures of climate change, I fully expect that trend to continue.

Best wishes for a wonderful start to December!  Rain is in our forecast for the weekend but the prospects are literally shifting hour-to-hour - and not in a positive direction.  One system is expected to pass through in the early morning hours, to be followed by another system on Sunday but, even if the rain materializes, it's no longer expected to amount to much here along the coast.  Fingers are crossed that we'll do better than the forecasters are currently projecting.

All material © 2012-2022 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Quick takes on succulent containers

While cleaning up and replanting the area in front of our backyard fountain a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try using one of the seashells scattered there as a plant container for succulents.  The seashells were here when we moved in over ten years ago and I left most of them where they were, mainly because I had no idea what to do with them.

This is a giant clam shell, and the largest of the shells left by the prior owner.  When I turned it open side up, it was obvious it was meant to serve as a container for something.

I'd planned to go to my local garden center to select new succulent plants but subsequently decided to use what I had on hand.

I'd picked up the 2 partridge aloes (Gonialoe variegata) in the small pots on my shopping trip to Santa Barbara several weeks ago but ultimately decided not to use them for the purpose I'd had in mind.  I collected cuttings of other plants - Cotyledon orbiculata, Oscularia deltoides, and Graptoveria 'Fred Ives' - from my garden.

I did a mock-up before filling the shell with a cactus mix and planting

When I got around to the actual planting, I added more Oscularia deltoides and several rosettes of Graptopetalum 'California Sunset'.

I filled in the remaining visible crevices with tiny blue decorative stones I had on hand from a previous project


I tried out a few different areas before placing the shell.

I didn't think the scale was right for it in some spots and in other cases I was concerned that the shell's contents might be harmed by critters or careless humans

So the shell ended up on the little cafe table on our south-side patio, out of the way of intense sun, critters, and the gardeners with their leaf blowers


That project led me to rehab two other small planters, both of which had lost their appeal in the two or more years since I'd originally planted them.  I didn't take any before shots but here are the completed containers:

The circle planter was filled with a small noID Aloe and cuttings of Crassula pubescens

I replanted this shallow ceramic container with cuttings of Aeonium 'Jack Catlin' (center), Aeonium haworthii 'Kiwi', noID orange-colored Aloe rosettes, and more Graptopetalum 'California Sunset'

Little projects like these can be so satisfying!  I'm already thinking about which of the other seashells I inherited with the garden might be transformed into succulent planters.

All material © 2012-2022 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, November 28, 2022

In a Vase on Monday: The plant that keeps on giving

When I looked over my garden on Sunday to select material for In a Vase on Monday, the delightful meme hosted by Cathy of Rambling in the Garden, one choice was obvious.  By the start of November, I'd pulled out all but one dahlia, the only one I purchased as a full-grown plant.  I'd brought it home in early July when I was afraid that all the dahlia tubers I'd planted might be duds.  It was already blooming when I bought it but, as it was apparent it'd never been pinched to promote side shoots, I cut all those blooming stems back hard.  Its first blooms appeared on IAVOM August 1st.  I subsequently got blooms from a tuber of the same variety I'd planted but it never produced the volume of flowers I got from the plant picked up at the garden center and I dug that tuber up in late October.  Meanwhile the store-bought plant just continues to flower as if it was mid-summer.

This week's blooms of Dahlia 'Lavender Ruffles' are a full 8 inches in diameter

Back view: Much as I love the dahlia's pinkish-lavender color, finding suitable companions to complement it has been surprisingly difficult.  This week I used foliage of my burgundy coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides 'Vino') and the multi-colored foliage of Hebe 'Purple Shamrock'.

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left: Dahlia 'Lavender Ruffles', Hebe 'Purple Shamrock', Persicaria capitata, and Plectranthus scutellarioides 'Vino'

Meanwhile, the noID Camellia sasanqua shrubs I inherited with the garden have been blooming for weeks.  With rain in the forecast for later this week, I decided it might be best to cut a few stems on Sunday as the delicate Camellia flowers don't always respond well to rain.

The garden came with 2 Camellia sasanqua, neither of which I can identify.  They're similar but not identical in color but the form of their flowers are different, as are their growth habits.

As is often the case with my arrangements, the back view looks less symmetrical than the front view but I couldn't bring myself to cut a 5th Camellia stem to balance things out

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left: Specimens of both Camellia sasanqua, Achillea ptarmica, Argyranthemum frutescens 'Aramis Bi-color Rose', and Coprosma repens 'Fireburst'


I'm trying not to get overly invested in the prospect of rain as an earlier forecast suggesting rain on Monday (today) failed to materialize but every local weather forecaster has mentioned the prospect of rain starting Thursday night so it's impossible to ignore.  Our rain total for the "water year" that started on October 1st stands at 1.21 inches (30.7mm) but we're on the precipice of our peak rainy season, December-March, and it'd be nice to see a break from the La Niña standard that kept us dry two years in a row.  I've also been making heavy use of the rainwater collected during the two light storms we had earlier and it'd be great to top off my collection tanks.


For more IAVOM creations, visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

All material © 2012-2022 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Friday, November 25, 2022

Fall color, Southern California style

The Santa Ana winds are blowing again and the leaves of the deciduous trees are quickly falling so I thought it'd be a good idea to share what passes for autumn color here while it lasts.  We don't get cold enough to experience the kind of foliage color that the northeastern parts of the country are famous for, although the nights feel cold to us!

My largest Japanese maple, an Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku', colored up earlier in the season and is now a mass of dry brown leaves.  I completely missed the colorful leaves of the peach tree on our back slope so I haven't included either in this post but here are the rest:

The smoke tree, Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple', had lost most of its leaves too by the time I got around to photographing it

This persimmon tree, Diospyros kaki 'Fuyu', offers the most rewarding color in my garden this time of year.  I harvested a bumper crop of the fruit this year, giving most of it away to friends and neighbors.

Not a plant known for its fall color but the foliage of Leptospermum 'Copper Glow' is darker at this time of year

This isn't foliage at all but rather the seedpods of Magnolia grandiflora, which drop in substantial numbers this time of year.  The birds and squirrels seem to have a taste for the bright red seeds embedded in the pods.

I love the bright colored leaves on this ornamental pear, Pyrus calleryana, although I could do without the small fruits that fall with them.  I've never even seen the birds eat the fruit.

My blueberry bushes are in need of pruning but this Vaccinium corymbosum 'Bountiful Blue' develops pretty pink foliage in cooler weather

I've been trying to get rid of this noID Wisteria ever since we moved in.  I haven't yet succeeded but the plant does provide a little fall color.


The Ginkgo tree we planted last year has been a disappointment.  Two late heatwaves, arriving back-to-back, burned the tree's leaves a dismal brown and caused them to drop prematurely.  Later the onset of a little rain and cooler temperatures brought out a small amount of spring-like green leaves that have continued to hang on.

The fresh leaves of Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold' haven't turned gold nor fallen yet.  I hope this flush doesn't prevent the tree from leafing out more fully come spring.


By comparison, my neighbor's front garden provides a lot of color.

My neighbor referred to these trees as sugar maples once.  While they have maple-like leaves, I'm pretty sure the majority are Liquidambars with a couple of Ginkgos in the mix.

There's another group of them on the other side of the driveway

Closeups of the leaves and, more specifically the spiky seedpods, make it clear this isn't a maple as maple seedpods, called samaras, have more delicate helicopter shapes

The only tree in the section behind the hedge I can identify is the fig tree, with its glowing yellow leaves

This noID tree has redder foliage than the rest.  I haven't seen it up close so I don't know if it has the seedpods that characterize Liquidambers.  It's possible it could be a silver maple (Acer saccharinum), which, unlike a sugar maple, is suitable to our climate, at least according to my Sunset Western Garden Book.

That's it for me this week.  The rain that was in the forecast for early next week sadly appears to have evaporated, although there's a chance of some later that week.  Fingers crossed.

All material © 2012-2022 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The nerve!



Of late, other than birds, the only critters I've seen in the garden on a regular basis have been bunnies.  Way too many bunnies.  The raccoons and the possums have paid regular visits of course but they restrict these to the dead of night so what I see is just the wreckage they leave behind.  I haven't even seen many squirrels, although the occasional sight of half-buried unripe guavas and persimmons suggests they've paid a stealthy visit or two as well.  Last week I complained to my husband that the abundance of bunnies suggested the absence of their usual predators.  The very next day he saw one of the missing predators in the middle of the day, trotting through our back garden seemingly without a care in the world as shown in the following video.



My husband said the coyote walked nonchalantly through the garden and down our back slope into the canyon.  He pulled the video off our security camera later but he advised me of the sighting immediately afterwards and, hearing the next door neighbor's Pomeranian dogs barking their heads off, I hurried to alert her.  She lost one dog to a coyote years ago and I didn't want her to lose another.

Coyotes used to be nocturnal.  We'd noticed that they'd extended their hours on both the front and back ends of their prior nighttime schedules but this was the first time I'd seen one out and about during the noon hour.  You'll note that he knew exactly where our fountain is too!

Coincidentally or not, I haven't seen a bunny in the garden since the coyote's reappearance last week.

All material © 2012-2022 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, November 21, 2022

Holiday warmth

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday called for warm colors in this week's floral arrangements, even if the temperatures in my part of the Northern Hemisphere are probably warmer than most at the moment.  During the last several days temperatures have ranged from the mid-60s to the low-70sF (18-22C) and that trend is currently expected to continue into the coming weekend.

Grevillea 'Superb' was the inspiration for this arrangement but Leucadendron 'Jester' and Anthurium 'Maine' may have stolen the show

The first powder-puff flower of Calliandra haematocephala was a last-minute addition to dress up the back view

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left: Agonis flexuosa 'Nana', Anthurium 'Maine', Calliandra haematocephala, Grevillea 'Superb', and Leucadendron 'Jester'

My second arrangement made use of the golden flowers of Tagetes lemmonii (aka Mexican marigold).  My husband doesn't care for the scent of the leaves but thus far he apparently hasn't noticed it.  Hopefully, the front entry is airy enough that its placement there won't bother him.

I used as ornamental tea pot as my vase

Back view dressed up with Cotoneaster berries

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left are: Coprosma repens 'Plum Hussey', noID Cotoneaster, Gaillardia 'Spintop Copper Sun' and Tagetes lemmonii.  The prop is another in the series of mice celebrating the seasons.  These 2 are painting green leaves orange, which is practically-speaking what I'd have to do to get much of any autumn color in my garden.

I downsized last week's arrangement featuring Leucadendron stems and a succulent rosette for placement on the kitchen island.

The plants are showing few signs of wear beyond the loss of some coleus leaves

Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating the holiday!  For more IAVOM creations, visit our host, Cathy in Rambling in the Garden.

All material © 2012-2022 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party