Category Archives: Plant profile

Growing Agave in My Maritime NW Garden

My picture, but not my plant. Alas! I just potted my start up to a 1gal purchased from Sean at Cistus. Agave ovatifolia 'Vanzie'. Several of these big beautiful cultivars are growing in the Bancroft Garden. It is distinguished from the species by its undulating longitudinal waves across the wide guttered leaves.

My picture, but not my plant. Alas! I just potted my start up to a 1gal purchased from Sean at Cistus. Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’. Several of these big beautiful cultivars are growing in the Ruth Bancroft Garden, in Walnut Creek, CA.  We visited on a nice 80F+ day last October.  It is distinguished from the species by its undulating longitudinal waves across the wide guttered leaves.  Each leaf can be over 10″ across.

When we garden in the public view, and most of us do, at least where we front along the street, or even when we invite others into its more private and inner sanctum, and we grow plants successfully, people are going to ask you: ‘What’s that?’  ‘I didn’t know you could grow those here!’ and, ‘What did you do? they always die for me!’  In short, if you’re successful, people will regard you with respect and assign to you the attributes and position of ‘expert’…when all you did was try to follow the gardening maxim of ‘Right Plant, Right Place!’  In short, you tried not to kill it.  Genuine expertise requires broader experience, study even, that the simple buying and planting of one particular plant cannot earn you.  If you’re like me such easy success and adulation, can be embarrassing and often serves as a prompt, to look through books, search the internet and ask others, that you know who have way more practical growing experience than you yourself do, and gradually, the assignation of ‘expert’ feels a bit less flimsy, maybe even ‘earned’.  I often tell gardening friends that I consider myself to be more of a dilettante, flitting from one plant or group of plants to the next.  Inquisitiveness has always been a part of me and growing one Penstemon, one Banana or one Agave, never adequately ‘grounds’ me.  Grow a few more and I feel a little more comfortable with it.  Look into some of its ‘cousins’ and the particulars of where something grows, its climate and soils particularly, and I feel ‘better’, much like I did when I was preparing for mid-terms at school.  And then I move on, my interest sated for the time being, somewhat comfortable in what I know and curious about the next group.  Over time they all start forming a bigger picture out of what once seemed like a massive, unknowable puzzle and I enjoy solving puzzles.  Having said this, I still don’t consider myself to be an expert, just an avid and focused gardener. Continue reading

Iris x pacifica: Hybrids & Jewels of the West Coast

PCH Native Warrior w: Stachys Primrose Heron DSCN2479

Iris x pacifica ‘Native Warrior’ next to Stachys byzantina ‘Primrose Heron’  These Iris are very garden worthy and can combine beautifully with plants  with similar cultural requirements

(I wrote this several years ago for the HPSO Bulletin, when it was actually printed on paper, and thought re-issuing it today, edited and expanded, might be helpful to some as we are about to enter their flowering season.  The iris pictured on my Blog’s masthead is Iris x pacifica ‘Simply Wild’ poking out from the base of the Chilean shrub Fabiana imbricata ‘Violacea’)

Gardening is no more or less subject to the vagaries of fad and fashion than the other activities we dabble in.  Marketers prey on us luring us with plants possessing new and alluring characteristics, promises of larger flowers, more disease resistant, floriferous, more exotic or environmentally responsible, less maintenance intensive… the list goes on.  Gardening is a very personal endeavor and as such we will always be subject to such Siren calls.  There will be the righteous amongst us convinced of their own focused vision who seem to be immune (but what, we might ask, are they missing?) and there will be those who simply surrender completely to the beauty and bounty around them making themselves easy prey.  In the long run, who is to say who is right?   Our knowledge is imperfect and we are weak…. The act of gardening strengthens us, provides us with the opportunity to learn and in so doing puts us into relationship with the living world around us.  We become better gardeners capable of making better, though still imperfect, decisions.  Whether we garden to augment our own diets with what we grow or are trying our hand at healing a small piece of a damaged earth, or building a place of respite for ourselves and friends or trying to model ‘right’ behavior for our children and neighbors, we are out in our gardens and landscapes learning something of how incredibly complex this earth is…and that is all good. Continue reading

Eucomis: Pineapple Lilies– Exotic Looks/Common Tastes

This posting was first published in the HPSO Bulletin Spring 2010 and is here revised

Eucomis bicolor

Eucomis bicolor

South Africa is one of the most botanically rich regions of the world. Within its boundaries is the Cape Floristic Region (with 0.08% of the world’s land and 3% of all plant species), containing some 8,700 species, two-thirds of which are endemic, existing nowhere else in the world. It is one of only six such regions in the world. By comparison, the Boreal Floristic Region includes all of North America, Europe, and the northern portions of Asia and Africa, and is thus considerably larger. Each region has a distinctive “suite” of plants with particular families that are endemic to them. One would feel a familiarity when exploring anywhere within one’s own region. Outside it, you might feel the world was populated with the alien plants of other star systems. For example, forests are not to be found in the Cape (though nonnative species have been introduced and have spread); instead, these areas are characterized by heaths, proteas, and restios. Included in the region are 2,700 species of bulbs in 15 different families. These include gladioli, freesias, amaryllis, agapanthus, and many others, most of which would be unrecognizable to the average temperate area gardener. One such genus of bulbs is Eucomis. Continue reading

Erythrina x bidwillii: Coral Bean Shrub

 

Erythrina x bidwillii from Piece of Eden

Erythrina x bidwillii from Piece of Eden

Every gardener makes decisions about which plants to buy, which to increase, limit or get rid of. It’s part of gardening. We each have our biases that cause us to tolerate plant ‘behavior’ that an otherwise ‘rational’ person would never choose. A ‘rational’ gardener would not knowingly acquire plants they knew to be tender in their zone nor would they collect plants with growing requirements they cannot provide. Who said gardeners were rational?  Much of our lives as gardeners we spend learning just these things about ourselves and our little plats of earth. Most gardeners are hopeless optimists and find themselves constantly tempering their runaway excitement for a never ending parade of plants, after all we have limited budgets for replacements and only so much energy to deal with too much attrition. Besides, all of that plant death can get kind of depressing.

The reality is that we each draw this line differently. Continue reading