Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Planting Trees

I've finally made progress planting some trees. Some of them, like this Silk Floss, have been in pots for years. I originally got this tree at Sunset Nursery about 10 years ago.
Ceiba speciosa
I've bumped it up to successively bigger pots but it has always limped along. It also seems to struggle in the heat of the summer.

When I pulled it out of the pot I was surprised at how small the root ball was. Most of the space was taken up by the roots of some narcissus bulbs that were growing in the pot.

I'm not sure why there were narcissus in there. I can't stand the smell of the blooms and they don't flower dependably in our climate anyway.
I chose a spot on the side of the yard up the hill. Fancy Face became very interested as soon as I started digging the hole. I'm not sure what he expected to find.

I wanted to give it a big trench around it so that I can really soak it and encourage the roots to grow down. I think I need to be a little more deliberate in my fertilization efforts as well. Most plants in the yard get a little chicken dirt now and then but I could be more aggressive about improving the soil.

This tree has a bit of a wonky trunk due to an injury it received as a young tree. During a wind storm at my studio in Echo Park a piece of corrugated metal roofing flew of and stuck into the the tree like a knife. It caused so much damage that a new trunk sprouted under the injury and the original one withered.

A couple days later it already seemed happier with new leaves sprouting.
Cinnamomum camphora
Another tree I was eager to get in the ground was this volunteer Camphor that grew from a seed from the trees in my yard in Eagle Rock. I love the dappled shade cast by Camphor trees and their perfect arching branches and textured bark.

Camphor trees are known for their aggressive roots and the parents of this one did attack the sewer pipe at my old house. Not fun.

I'm hoping that planting this one 60 feet above the house will keep it from causing any damage, and that one day I'll have that wonderful shade to lounge under.
The hole got a protective cage to protect the roots from gophers. I'm not sure what all gophers will eat but I've been surprised by the damage they can do. I lost my Tipu tree to a gopher that basically ate all of the tree that was below the ground. I didn't know what killed it until I pulled on it realized it was just a rootless stick resting on the ground.
This little sapling has already put a lot of energy into growing roots, so I don't want anything to eat them.

Camphor trees are evergreen here but they still put out new leaves in spring and drop the old ones. I planted this early in the spring so that it could hopefully establish itself before it got too hot.

You can see the new growth that is lighter green.

For now it's barely visible above the jade but it's already grown about a foot this Summer.

I planted a larger one at my old job at the Natural History Museum in the Butterfly Pavilion that grew about 4  feet a year once it became established, so I'm hoping that this one will be happy here.

The other trees I had to plant were these bare root fruit trees from Dave Wilson Nursery. There's 8 in there, mostly plum x apricot hybrids. I'm a little mad for pluots and apriums. Dave Wilson does a great job of describing when various trees will fruit and advocates backyard growers to plant multiple trees in one hole to get a wider variety of fruit over a longer period of the year. It makes sense that most people wouldn't be able to eat 400 pounds of plums that all ripened in 2 weeks.

I also like the idea of a more compact orchard. Despite feeling that I have such a large yard, there's not a lot of space that I feel I could devote to an orchard.

I'd like to fence in the top 20 feet of my property for the chickens, and one day goats (!), so I don't want to plant the fruit trees there where they would make good goat fodder.

I chose the next area down the hill which is a steep sliver between the Sapote tree and the pepper trees.

I  made mesh cages again to keep out the varmints that also serve as temporary retaining walls to hold in the dirt. One day I'll build an actual retaining wall to level out this area and fill in more dirt, but for now the trees will have to make due with the dirt held in the cage.
This is why they are called bare root trees. They've had most of their branches pruned and their roots trimmed for shipping.

You can also see where the tree has been grafted to the root stock. Dave Wilson has a number of different root stocks that perform differently in various conditions. I tried to choose stock that grow fast and do well with less water.
Following the nursery's suggestion, I planted four in a hole, 18" apart. Each of the four will ripen at a different time of the years.

I put in 8, but there are at least 8 more that I would love to have.

The last one I got in the ground was another Silk Floss that was one of three given to me by a friend of a friend. She and her son grew them from seed and were more successful than they expected and were looking for good homes for their trees.

It's a little hard to see in this photo but the tree is about 4' high and has new spring leaves growing.
Fancy was again very interested in the goings on.
Holes fascinate him.
Another mesh cage.
This one is on the opposite side of the yard, right on the edge of where I ended up planting the squash.
The squash threatened to take over but, the little tree did some good growing and is holding it's own.

All of these photos are a few months old, so I'll try to take some more to compare.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Huntington Plant Sale

I'm playing catch up a bit with posts so I'm going to make this fast. I went to the Huntington Plant Sale a few weeks ago. This was the first time I went as a member so we could go a day early. I wasn't sure if that would make a difference but I was still excited.

Agave desmettiana "Joe Hoaks"
I felt like the membership might have paid off when I saw this plant. A. desmettiana "Joe Hoaks." This plant has been on my wish list since I saw a beautiful specimen at the Inter City show last year.

Unfortunately this one seemed a bit fried on the ends. I'm sure I could have nursed it back to health but I wasn't keen on spending a lot of money on a plant that was clearly distressed. "Joe" is gaining popularity so I figured I'd run into him again. I took a pass.

These are the plants I ended up getting. Not a bad haul.

Agave "Blue Flame"
These A. "Blue Flame" are small, but some day I think they will make a nice contrast against my attenuatas. I'm still hoping to find some nice variegated attenuatas as well to make a nice varied clump. Hopefully it will come together in the next ten years or so.

Agave gueingola

I've been interested in the A gueingola since seeing it at the LA Arboretum. Maybe these are available all over the place now but I was still surprised to see them so quickly after they went on my wish list.

Dyckia marnier-lapostollei
I love the hard spikiness of dyckias but the big ones are always so expensive. I've been starting out small like with this one on that is only about 3.5" accross. The tag says that it will form clumps but not how big it will get.

Agave dasyliroides
The A. Dasyliroides will also form clumps. I've seen some mature ones in the Huntington's succulent garden that were almost 4' high and 3' across.

Agave parrasana

Agave scabra

The last plant I got was the most exciting for me because it was on the top of my wish list. When I first wrote about it I didn't think I would ever find it but maybe it's been available to members all this time. It's hard to tell from this tiny offset, but one day this plant could be 20-30 feet across. Agave mapisaga var. lisa All of the big plants at the Huntington have bloomed but I guess they have enough offsets to offer them for sale.
Agave mapisaga var. lisa

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Independence and Community

The 4th of July always makes me think of being a kid. All of the neighbors would gather to combine everyone’s fireworks into one show and it ended up being a somewhat exhilarating and fun communal event. 

The fireworks that we set off 30 years ago were mild in comparison to what people have access to today. The last couple of years our little valley has been filled with flashing lights and smoke and terrifying explosions on a level to compete with nearby Dodger Stadium

The video above shows a little of the Dodger Stadium show in the distance and then the stuff being set off just down the hill from the house. 

Earlier in the week our neighbors had invited us to come down on the 4th to a party at their mother's house. They said that there was going to be lots of food and drink and even more fireworks than last year (gulp). We came home early from another party to stop by and to keep an eye on the hill. Alex thought that we should be home just in case anything happened. Last year's fireworks seemed pretty intense and the thought that this year was supposed to be more impressive was a little alarming. 

I was also looking forward to the opportunity to get to know everyone a little better. I've lived here for almost 5 years now and I only know a few of the people that live around us. The neighborhood has been through a lot of change in the time I've been here, and a fare amount of struggle. The neighbors next door and across the street have been foreclosed on. Other neighbors have retired and moved away and new families have moved in and started to fix things up. From our vantage point up on the hill I've watched new roofs go on but can also see where blue tarps serve as the only waterproofing for stalled projects. My own renovation has been on hold for years, first while I decided if I could afford to stay, then as I went through the painstaking mortgage modification process, then as I slowly tried to save money to finish the work. 

The party was fun and the fireworks were exhilarating. The neighbor and his friends put on a pretty impressive show. They had actually moved further down the hill away from our house, in part because it was closer to his mom's house but also to get away from the dry grass on the open hill. It's unfortunate that the 4th takes place in July when everything is brown and we haven't had rain for months. 

There were many other people setting off fireworks in the valley and it seems that not all of them were as careful as they could have been. It was at the point when it felt the night was winding down that someone pointed up the hill and shouted.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Siningia leucotrichia

Most people have pictures of their kids on their phone. I have this.

I got it at a Huntington sale years ago and the tag says $8. I've gotten so much more than $8 worth of pleasure out of it. Every year the leaves get bigger and the flowers more prolific.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Uphill Vegetable Bed

I'm trying squash again this year. Last year I got some mildew resistant seeds and grew them in self-watering-containers but they didn't perform very well. I didn't get near as many as I got the first year growing them in the vegetable bed. That year I was just about buried in butternut.

I started all the seeds about a week before these pictures were taken, along with some corn and beans. I'm trying for the "Three Sisters" companion planting. It's always exciting to see the first leaves spring out of the dirt.

I decided to use the dirt that Alex and I dug out of the chicken cook a few months ago. I never got around to moving it so it's been sitting next to the coop composting for the better part of a year.

 I raked it into stacked tiers that march up the hill.
 I can fill them with water so they look like little rice paddies and the water doesn't just wash down the hill.
 The seedlings were growing fast so I was eager to get them in the ground







I planted them closer than I normally would because of how they grew last year. the squash seemed more bushy than viney, so I thought they wouldn't spread as much.

I alternated squash, beans and corn.

 Once in the ground they really took off. I was concerned that there may have been too much nitrogen from the chicken droppings but it didn't seem to bother the plants. Maybe it had long enough to decompose.

It quickly became clear that I planted too much. Maybe because they were in the ground they were able to really take root and grow big. I removed half of the squash and the remaining plants filled in the extra space the next day.

Little young squash formed at the base of the female flowers, perfect miniatures of their future selves.


Just two months after the seeds were planted I got a pretty good haul of summer squash. I planted green zucchini, grey zucchini and golden glory.  The winter squash are coming along pretty well too. I planted three different kinds of acorn and a lot of Betternut 401. Last year I was disappointed in the 401's yield but this year each plant has more squash on it than I got all last summer.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

LA Arboretum-Part 1

I recently had a hearing with the Assessment Appeals Board to review my property tax. The meeting was scheduled to take place at the LA Arboretum. I guess it's a county facility so they can use it for free. The hearings are held in the same building as the LA Inter-city Cactus and Succulent Show.

I've been to the show a few times but I'm embarrassed to admit I'd never walked through the gardens. I'm usually too intent on filling a box with little agaves.

This time I arrived early to sign in for my meeting which left me an hour before hand to check out the garden. It was mid day so the sun was intense.

The first plant that caught my eye was this Agave guiengola.

My photo doesn't come close to capturing the presence of this plant. It's big and has a torpid weightiness to it. I think it was the proportion of the leaves that struck me as unique. The plant seems neotenic, like a juvenile grown to adult size, few only a few leaves that are fat and short. The color and appearance remind me a little of A attenuata, but the guiengola lacks the gracefulness and delicacy of the attenuata. It seems monstrous by comparison, which makes me like it.

I'd never heard of this agave before but was able to learn more about it at San Marcos Growers. They describe it as being susceptible to low temperatures and over watering, which can cause edema. That could explain the discoloration and pits on a few of the plants. They had general look of being harassed. The Arboretum is further inland and at a higher altitude than me, so it's possible that they experience periodic drops in temperature that damage the guiengolas.

One agave that the Arboretum does really well is A. vilmorinianna. They have several large plantings that make the most of the sinuous leaves.

I was drawn the the dark green of this agave that was identified as marmorata.

Research describes marmorata as glaucous and scabrous, which this plant definitely isn't. Maybe there are different varieties.

The Bismarckia nobilis looks like it would fit nicely into a succulent garden. It comes from Madagascar which is home to some of my other favorite plants.

Coming from the Midwest I experience some conflict about palm trees. The conflict is that I love them all, even the ones I'm not supposed to. They still seem so precarious and exotic to my deciduous eye. The Mexican Fan Palm is considered an invasive here and when you see baby palms prying themselves out of the cracks in sidewalks you can understand why. But I still love them. I actually have a volunteer Mexican growing in a pot right now. I tuck it in the back of the yard like a dirty secret.

Maybe with the Bismarckia Palm I could indulge without shame. Supposedly it is not invasive and is drought tolerant and can make it in zone 10. The internet also tells me that it is only recently introduced to the states which could explain why most of the photos I can find of it show young trees. describes a "handsome giant" with a 40-70 foot trunk and a 20 foot canopy. I guess I'll have to wait to see one of those giants in person.

The Bismarckias at the Arboretum must be fairly new since they are barely topping out at 10 feet. Maybe I can find some seeds somewhere and start a couple in my yard.

The Arboretum also has an impressive selection of aloes. I had just been to the Huntington to see their aloes in bloom and although the Arboretum didn't have as many I think the show they put on was just as spectacular.

Aloe vryheidensis

Aloe ferox maybe?

The label on this one says A. vahombre which I couldn't find anywhere else. San Marcos Growers comes to the rescue again, explaining that vahombre is the indigenous name of the vaombe. Yowza.

Even the Aloes that weren't blooming looked good. Aloe Hercules, a hybrid of A barberae (which I still usually call bainesii) x A. dichotoma. I've been seeing a lot of these pop up in new landscapes in LA. John and I got a couple little ones at the last Inter-City Show.

Aloe tomentosa

Aloe porphyrostachys

Crosby's Prolific (A. nobilis x A. humilis)

Aloe suzannae (even bigger than the ones at the Huntington)

These A. vaombe were almost done blooming but were still amazing to see. The tallest were probably 20 feet tall.

Like the Huntington, the Arboretum suffered from the strong winds we had a few weeks ago. I saw a number of plants like this one that still lay where they had toppled.

Many trees showed signs where a chainsaw cleaned up splintered branches. Even once new growth sprouts here, this tree will probably never achieve the symmetry it once had.

Some agaves were also blooming. This was a mature clump of "Blue Glow." I got a tiny one at the Inter-City show and almost had to fight a lady who was eye balling it in my box.

I don't blamer her though, they have such a beautiful shape and color.

Even the bloom spike was impressive.

There were a couple at different stages.

Pachypodiums are one of my favorite plants but I'm not convinced that LA is the best place to grow them.

They prefer to stay dry in the winter and that is when we get all of our rain. Even established specimens like this show signs of distress.

Others have entirely given up the ghost.

I've been slowly acquiring a little forest of Pachypodium lamerii, but they have stayed in plastic pots where I can move them out of the rain during the Winter. I think they are going to finally go in the ground this Summer, somewhere on a hill that has good drainage so their toes won't stay wet.

Sometimes Euphorbia rigida reminds me of a golden retriever that has just flopped down on the couch after a romp outside. It sort of belies the name rigida.

Wow this post is long, and this is only part one.

I stumbled onto a little forest of bottle trees, Braychichiton rupestris. I fell in love with this tree at Lotus Land. They have a really portly one in the parking lot.

I'm not sure how long it takes for the truck to form the bulbous bottle shape. These were all nice and round.

I have a young one that I got at World Wide Exotics and planted by the front stairs. It's been growing well for a few years but still seems positively svelt next to these.

There was a bed covered with giant Mangave "Macho Mochas." I had no idea that they got this big. These are 5 or 6 feet across, and it full sun so they were a deep purple.

I got a Macho Mocha at a Huntington sale a couple years ago. I must have really wanted it cuz the tag says $20. That's a lot more than I normally spend on a plant. After seeing the Arboretum's I took mine out of the pot and planted in a conspicuous part of the Scavenger's Garden. Hopefully it will be as big as these one day. I separated about 8 pups from it before putting it in the ground.

I'm going to finish Part 1 of this post with this nice grouping of A. bovicornuta and A. parryi. I never really thought about them together but they are a similar size and their hot and cold coloring complements each other. My bovicornuta is planted close to a few parryis but they are so small that you barely notice them.