I’m always on the look out for a beautiful, tough, structural “living sculpture” for the garden and I think Aloe have it all. This Aloe spans out from it’s thick base and over the years adds arm by arm of reaching fans. It’s coral blooms last forever and it’s super slow growing nature make it an excellent container succulent. It’s really nice that there are no spines to worry about – so planting near a walkway or by a pool is no problem. Imagine this Aloe lit in a way to show it’s silhouette against a wall. To see more Aloes than you ever thought existed visit the Los Angeles Arboretum. The LA Arboretum has over 1/4 of the worlds species of Aloes. Aloes are tough and beautiful. Look how great this Aloe functions as both a lovely front yard focal point and a prickly security barrier near the window and house. Aloes in bloom are a sight to behold 🙂
There are few plants better suited for a spectacular, long lasting, ever tidy-looking container planting than Cotyledon orbiculata. This beauty is from South Africa and as with most succulents best suited for mild climates. C. orbiculata will form a tidy mound of fat opposing leaves. Ultimately the plant will get about 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, softly drooping over it’s container. The long lasting summer flowers will float above it in a coral and yellow display. So pretty!
Okay, I’ll admit it…sometimes when I’m designing a garden I’ll have in mind the perfect plant for the perfect spot. In fact, I’ll get so fixated that I’ll want to fudge a little on what I know that plant wants in terms of water, sun, space, etc…. There are so many ways to fudge, I’m afraid. Fortunately, I usually do snap myself back into reality and quickly get “unwedded” to my choice if it’s just not working. Thomas Hobbs calls this condition “Zonal Denial.” I love that! Pretty much anyone who has planted a citrus tree in shade or a Hydrangea in full blasting sun has fallen prey to Zonal Denial. We’ve all done it and it’s okay – after all it’s only human to want to grow something even if we don’t have the right spot for it.
I thought I’d share this photo of my California Native front yard to illustrate why we should generally listen to those experts of Sunset Western Garden Book and all those other great references. This garden went in about 4 months ago. That’s a buffalo grass lawn (not native, but very low water using) and behind it are little fluffy mounds of Artemisia pycnocephala ‘David’s Choice’. Artemisia is a sagebrush and it appreciates the sun. Due to my roof line the plants to the left get at least an hour or more of hot afternoon sun (this photo was taken at 2:30pm, late September). With each plant getting incrementally bigger as you look to the left, you can see the undeniable effects of the sun. Now I have a visual reminder right out my front door whispering “right plant in the right place.”
Camellia japonica happily hugging a partly shady wall
I’m reading a book right now called the “Paradox of Choice.” As you can probably guess, it’s premise is that we now have tremendous choice in our lives about virtually everything and this is not necessarily a good thing. In landscape design it’s no different, there is an exploding array of new plants and materials to choose from. It’s thrilling to discover a new variety of something, and instantly one thinks “hmm, where can I use this?” But time and time again, I am reminded about how some “old timers” like the Camellia are still as relevant and appropriate as ever. For some, the Camellia just seems like something out of grandma’s garden and it definitely does reside there next to the twisting juniper and overgrown jade plant. Just because the Camellia is at home in the garden’s of yore doesn’t mean it’s not a super performer in today’s garden. Let me count the ways…..Camellia’s bloom when not much else does (mainly winter), Camellia’s are generally easily espaliered saving ton’s of “floor space” and providing a nice wall of glossy green leaves and blooms, Camellia’s have limited pest problems and once established are surprisingly thrifty on water and Camellia’s can brighten up a shady area like few other plants. The right Camellia can fit in with many different garden styles…cottage, Mediterranean, Japanese, formal, etc…
For an excellent selection of Camellias check out Nuccio’s nursery in Alta Dena. They sell retail and wholesale and are very helpful in getting you the perfect Camellia for your location and design. Here are some helpful care tips for Camellias.
Like any self-respecting plant geek, hardly a day goes by when I don’t fall in love with a new plant or revisit an old favorite. In fact, for me, the challenge of designing landscapes is more what plants to leave out than which ones to put in. BUT… if you where to aim a garden hose at me and force me to decide I would say Euphorbia’s were my all time favorite. They are a huge and varied genus ranging from ground hugging Euphorbia myrsinites to striking succulent forms E. canariensis. There are euphorbia’s with very soft, textural qualities like E. dulcis ‘Chameleon’ and there are stiff, oddly beautiful forms like E. resinifera.I have placed the E. characias ‘Portuguese Velvet‘ in a cottage garden and used a E. tirucalli (sticks on fire) in a very clean-lined modern design. And as far as blooms are concerned, well few last as long as the fused bracts (which form around the true flowers) of the E. characias wulfenii. And with striking colored foliage like the blue of Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’ or the copper wine of E. continifolia, euphorbia’s look good year round.
In general euphorbia’s are tough, pest resistant, water thrifty plants. Their milky white sap is known to be irritating so take care when pruning.