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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

STICKS ON FIRE Euphorbia tirucalli

Posted by PicasaHere's Sticks On Fire used in the landscape (devoted readers will remember Robert Dean's design in Baldwin's book Designing With Succulents.)

A blaze of color to end 2009 -STICKS ON FIRE

Euphorbia tirucallis

If your landscape was looking dour today---after all it’s raining , grey, cold--- warm your thoughts with this unlikely looking succulent. Native to the Arabian Peninsula, it’s tough as an old boot. One here lived in a forgotten wall pot for a year, surviving on fog and our scanty rainfall. Right now its being pampered with a larger pot, and water. Putting out new growth from the top of its’ head----bright coral --- Mr. Invincible.

Sticks On Fire is also called Pencil Bush, Milk Bush, and Naked Lady (why?). Used to treat warts; well,okay), rheumatism (do Not Try This At Home) toothache (God forbid)

Most euphorbia have toxic juice and this one is no exception. It grows like crazy in India, Africa, Brazil and Indonesia. So much so, that e. tirucalli has been seriously proposed as bio diesel fuel. (3 gals. per acre. ) Have they considered toxic fumes? Somehow, used cooking oil seems  less edgy but possibly less---lethal

E. tirucallis grows well and happily in so Cal, and is dazzling in a well done landscape plan like Dean’s. (See blog A Succulent Classic Perennial Border 12/16/09). You can buy it in a 15 gallon pot for around $20.00,  Enough to make a Statement.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

In style

 If you can't get enough of this year's shades of purple, violet, lilac and lavender this with it  Echeveria  Break of Day,is one to add to your life.If you plant it so it's back lighted, the colors in the leaves show to the best advantage. The other echeveria with the lavender hued leaves appears in the excellent  photo by Rob Durston , and in the a much less exciting, home made  photo. Durston  used a filter to bring up the color--au natural is a bit less lavender ( See  Echeveria links)

Echeverias come mostly from Mexico, and compared to their European cousins the sempervivae, grow larger and reproduce more slowly. Echeverias are not such a good bet for green roofs, though they might do well if watered 2 to 3 times a summer. After all, the Huntington Gardens sprinkles their famous Cactus Garden.   ( I was shocked, shocked at this procedure!)

Another lavender leaved echeveria

This one can look murky if it gets too much sun.Posted by Picasa

A kalanchoe with purple to brown leaves. Very vigorous, cold tolerant

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Lavender lovelies

photo by Rob Durston for www.Botanik.comPosted by Picasa

For plant fashionistas- lavender and lilac

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eshceverias- LILAC TONED

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Coral Aloe (stiata), aloe karasbergensis, aloe kommagasensis

Posted by PicasaAloe Striata- Coral aloe

"The genus name "Aloe" from the Arabic, "alloch",translated as "allal" in Greek and Hebrew, means       bitter sap. "Stiata" sounds like stripes, and that's what it means--  stripes on the leaves that  run length-wise.

The Coral aloe has 2 cousins, both handsome plants in their own right ---karasbergensis and a.kommagasensis.apparently the latter is harder to grow, since even sophisticated nurseries don't carry it.There are seeds available ( A challenge.

A. Striata seems to be pretty tough despite the sensitive looking leaves . It grows in the Great Karoo, in S. Africa, a most difficult environment. Parts of S. Africa are balmy and sub-tropical, but the Karoo has extremes of temperature and drought like our own SW deserts . Striata’s ability to store a lot of water in its leaves---not for nothing called “fat plants” in S. Africa ----is the key to its’ ability to  withstand drought, heat and freezing temperatures. Could  the water filled leaves buffer the plant against low temperatures like the ” wall of water” growers use extend the growing season for vegetables?

Striata It has been used successfully in road centers, and flourishes in big clumps in Central Coast parks (Alice Keck Garden). It’s a likeable plant, good-natured ,without fierce spines. The more subtle colors of the leaf appear in a little shade. So far it appears frost-proof,reported to be hardy to 20 degrees. Hummingbirdslove the flowers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

More cold notes

Aloe arborescens has got speckles of cold damage, and reddened curling leaves, but even the smallest agaves are fine. A rule of thumb for dealing with whether to cover your plants or not is: if the plant ogininated in the desert, cold won't bother it.

Most of our agaves come from either Mexican deserts or UT,NV or AR in the U.S. Temperatures in So Cal won't drop low enough to bother them.

Aloes vary. The ones from Yemen are tough, the ones from S. Africa more vulnerable, except  the one pictured.

Stonecrops seem to love the cold, as do sempervivums and lots of the sedums. If you are worried about frost damage, Debra Lee Baldwin uses a sheet. Or, you could use a floating row cover (less costly than most sheets). Henry  Field's seems to have the best price.

aloe hereroensis survives to 25 degrees

If you are fortunate enough to own a. hereoensis --- it can take temperatures of 25 degrees, despite the big, vulnerable looking leaves, contradicting what was just said about S.African aloes, because that's where it comes from.. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica this aloe is found in the Kalahari.--that's desert enough for anybody.                                                                                                                                  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sempervivums calcecareum

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Sempervivums-small but powerful (semper-always, vivum- living

This is a lively book with lots of information about sempervivums. These plants were a recent discovery for me---turns out they are the principal ingredient in green roofs. And enchanting small jewels if you look at them  closely. In So Cal this species is  not so easy to find in many varieties, but  this nursery offers 262 different kinds.

Gwen Moore Kelaidis has written a most readable,  entertaining book and the photos by Saxon Holt are.... dazzling.  /

 Keliadis  says: "I don't admit to being a collector....once when shopping at a nursery offering 2,000 varieties (of sempervivums) I only bought 120 kinds."

Sempervivums are, as my astute readers already know, called  hens and chicks. Esheverias are close relatives; we have lots of them available in So Cal.  Sempervivums,being a lot smaller, don't get much recognition around here.(This is the land of Bigger is Better.)

 The only semp available at local nurseries was  s. calcareum ( see next photo). Now that global warming  is bringing much colder weather to the Central Coast , frost proof is becoming an issue. These  liliputians  are not only frost-proof, they reproduce at the drop of--water. The one in the picture produced those chicks in a week. This means not only green roofs butgroundcovers that are cold hardy.

If you are an admitted plant addict like myself think of what  a delirious project --- plant  a parking strip with lots of varieties of groundcover semps under larger succulents. More about parking strips later.

Friday, December 18, 2009

seed packets

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Apologies to Senor Limon

The Key Lime turned out to be standing in a pool of cold air---about 7 degrees colder than anywhere else in the garden. Who knew?

The garden slopes East/South West, and since cold air flows downhill like water, cold air  usually doesn't sit  or do damage. However, a  bamboo hedge at the foot of the slope,  apparently acts as a dam, stops the air flow and creates an eddy of  low temperature.

The Key Lime was sitting in the middle of this cold pool. He is now wound around with fairy lights, looks festive at night, and----- if UCDavis is to be believed--- is protected .

The Pepperbox Breadseed  Poppies are up. Finally got it right after 3 tries,sowing after the second rain of the season. Pepperbox seed comes from Rene's Garden ( Lauren's Grape Poppy came up first, planted after the first rain. ( The  Ooh La LA  peony-flowered poppy (http://www.t&  is lagging. With a name like that, it's probably embarrassed to appear.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Succulent Classic Perennial Border

 A path wanders around the side of a house- the overall effect is more like a classic perennial border than a desert scene on the road to Palm Springs. This garden is in Rancho Santa Fe, and the designer is Robert Dean  The path appears as the cover of a fascinating book  Designing with Succulents  http:// or

The compostion is superb—the eye is drawn along the path by the corals, reds and golds, satisfied by the greens and intrigued by the moody moonlight shades of grey-green. The mastery of color is only part of the challenge, as the succulents are 3 dimensional in a way that other plants don’t replicate. Each succulent s sculptural, highly individualistic in its shape. To create a design that allows each species to be itself, yet in harmony with the totally different shapes and textures of its neighbor, demonstrates enviable plant knowledge and artistic skill. Gertrude Jekyll herself couldn't’ have  done better.( And no, I don’t know Mr. Dean but certainly admire his accomplishment)
Notice the palms in the background. Palms combine happily with succulents, giving a lush touch that further removes the design from the desert look.
Baldwin has on her website a second book devoted to container gardening. coming out in January, She’s an inspiring  writer. It's on my wish list..

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

coast aloe

Posted by Picasa                        I fudged a little on the name, as there are several sub species of coast aloe--from Madagascar, and the African coast. I'm pretty sure this is a. thraskii but not positive. All the Coast aloes grow tall, all have these blossoms once a year. They are most dramatic against a wall---the ones in the photo apparently grew up under this tree, having been planted as mid-sized aloes, surprising everyone by growing 15 feet tall.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Agave Marmarota, other agave seeds, aloe seeds, Aloe thraskii

This spectacular agave above -photo  (copyright © Julia Etter & Martin Kristen)  from - is an unpromising infant when viewed in a 4" pot, which is what  local nurseries are likely to carry. But agaves grow quickly with  water. It would be worth the time  to grow it into giant pot size.

The Rare Palms site has seeds  of all kinds of amazing agaves, yuccas, bromeliads and cyclads. This is the season for starting cactus and succulents from seed. The seeds "know" when it has rained.

There's a place for aloe seeds as well with pictures of aloes in their native heath. Aloe thraskii (South Africa) from the coastal regions grows easily along our coast as well, I've seen it planted in a group of three each 15 feet tall, lording it over the landscape.

Frost proof plant of the day- agave mamorota

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lighten up, celebrate and frost proof

Frost is not predicted along the coast of So Cal this week, it just feels like it's freezing. But if you are the proud possessor of a giant sugaro, a cereus aethiops or even a c. hildmanniansus v. montrosa 10 feet tall that only a mother could love ......
 If you wind small Christmas light  strings around the columns, the heat from the light will raise the temperature  enough to protect these tall succulents from being scarred by cold. I didn't make this up. Searching for something positive to do  about a 10 year old Key Lime growing in a pot which  has shed its leaves in a fit of pique when the temperature dropped into the 30s recently, found this link to UC Davis.
 This tree and I have a history, not all of which is good. For years it refused to bear, though it was surrounded by bearing tangerines, oranges and a grapefruit. Well, maybe it needs a hotspot?  Moved  onto a SW facing wall where it gets full afternoon sun. . Ah--that was it. The Key Lime flowered, and bore limes. Not enough limes for a favorite recipe for Key Lime Pie which calls for 6 eggs and a lot of lime juice, but 3 limes, a first. Now this.
I turned to the authorities.    If Christmas lights are good enough for UC Davis they ought to work on my surly Citrus aurantifolia.( He  ---Limón mexicano is masculine---wants it known that he is  out of his comfort zone and  Limón mexicano and Key Lime are the same sour lime.)

He's getting festooned, stay tuned.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Leaf color- Arabian Aloe- a. rubroviolacea

The bloom of a.  rubroviolacea much resembles a. aborescens-- it's red. Hummingbirds will find it. A. ruroviolacea a bit smaller than  arborescens (or appears to be). It hasn't been  frequently grown. Who knows what it will really do over time in So Cal?
 It's  an unusual aloe in that it is very cold hardy; the foliage is undamaged at 20 degrees. This is becoming important even along the So Cal coast, as global warming has intensified the climate despite the maritime influence. Here is  today"s star::

Rubroviolacea looks fabulous in a big pot as it appears on page 94 of Designing With Succulents by Debra  Lee Baldwin. The leaves have a subtle red edge,the rest of the leaf a flush of red the eye reads as lavender. This aloe hangs by its toes from cliffs in Yemen in its wild state. Good drainage ---lots of coarse sand in the planting mix---is a good idea.
More about Badlwin's book soon.

RAIN, Poppies with aloes

Blissful rain along the CA. coast today, falling gently, sprouting the grass covering the hillsides ravaged by fire--- Station,Jesusita,Tea---caressing the hills rather than burying terrified homeowners in tons of mud.

Rain has brought up Buttercrunch lettuce, and a swath of poppies---Laura's Purple, and Flemish Antique.( This year,I waited for the rain before sowing the seeds. However Breadbox and Peony Flowered, (from seed I brought back from a friend's garden in Oregon), are still holding out.

Many Poppies are very opinionated about when they'll grow in So Cal. They want it cold and wet, then warm,to sprout, then cold and wet again. This year I'm cheating with some and growing them in plantable pots, which go in the ground, pot and all, later.

California poppies are less exigent--reds,oranges and whites all do just fine if planted after the first rain. They look approriate  under aloes, especially aloe elegans, and accept the same lack of water, once sprouted.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Another color

Aloe arborescens 'Lutea' - Golden Torch Aloe
click on this link and have a look at this elegant plant.
Lutea doesn't grow quite as large as the red-flowered variety, and is  less often seen. Probably because there aren't as many available for free cuttings---most of us acquired our aloes from someone's yard.

 Mine came from the old  Goodhue  house on Pichacho Lane through the hands of a neighbor . She  grew a huge hedge of  a. aborescens . We harvested the rosettes with a machete --20 or 30 rosettes. I took them home; they thrived .Cuttings from those plants have travelled to 2 other houses.

 Today a new hummingbird found them -- a black-chinned male, making his rounds.(see him here
Hummingbirds are very methodical which isn't something you'd expect from such a fizzy  bird. Around here, the same bird visits the same flowers at the same time everyday. All he needs is a bowler hat and an umbrella. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A. aborescens blooms around Thanksgiving- quite reliably if it has rained. The flower spikes seems to wait for the first rain.The spikes coincide with the hummingbird migrations south. Hummingbirds love these aloes. Anyone who has watched hummingbirds knows how furiously territorial they are, staking claims to favorite feeders, but especially to favorite a. aborescens. There’s a resident Anna’s male who has staked a claim to the aloes . He will, clicking like a castanet, cede a few blossoms to a finch (?) that migrates around the same time. The bird may be looking for seeds, or bugs, not taking nectar. Hard to tell. Is a a nectar-eating small grey bird likely in So Cal in November? A finch seems more reasonable as we have flocks feeding on nyger seed in the back yard.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A. aborescens as a fire retardant

A. aborescens spines are soft. It’s endlessly tolerant, a friendly aloe. In the terrible rash of forest fires in 2008-09, photos showed a succulent fence of aloes could actually serve as a firebreak. The water stored in the leaves turned out to be astonishingly effective in slowing down or stopping the fires. The plants melted, released their water, looked terrible afterwards, but survived. Since a happy a. aborescens can easily top 5 -10 feet and have many spirals 5 feet across, a significant amount of water is stored in a living fence of these aloes. Planted as brakes to slow a fire, A. arborescens and opuntias can save homes. (more about opuntias later. )

Thursday, December 3, 2009

a. aborescens, continued

This aloe ---It is reported (see W) to work like Aloe vera for the treatment of burns.

A Aborescens flourishes in the maritime climate of the s. and central coast where its spectacular red flowered blue- leaved form has been endlessly photographed and painted-- notably by Santa Barbara artists, Hank Pitcher ( )and Meredith Brooks Abbott)(

Photo of Aloe aborescens.Saving the world with Succulents

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Aloe arborescens ( tree-like) This iconic plant of So Cal, like so many of the best succulents for this area, comes from S. Africa.This country is roughly the same degree from the equator as we are, so the day lengths are close, though the seasons are reversed.