Friday, July 27, 2012

Desert Garden ~ Balboa Park

Whether a visitor or resident of San Diego, you will probably visit Balboa Park.  It is one of the gems of our city.  There are several notable gardens within the park, one of which is a cactus/succulent garden or Desert Garden, established about 70 years ago.  As a plant enthusiast and succulent collector, I find myself walking through here many times a year. Here are a few photos from a recent visit.  Notice the number of very large, old specimens.

Western end of garden

Old, very tall Yucca

Euphorbia ingens

Aloe barbarae


Huge clump of Agave attenuata, growing in shade.

Below:  Although disturbing, I thought I would add a few photos of what tends to occur in public gardens ~ vandalism by graffiti.  Fortunately, most plants either cannot be carved or they have enough spines to protect themselves.  Opuntias and agaves are the primary victims.  Such a shame!

Back to the more natural....

Blooming Crassula falcata growing under cactus

Unknown Opuntia with very large pads.  Some were over 12" in diameter.
This clump of aloes looked like flames of fire

Aloes and euphorbias

 Aloe dichotoma
Loved this combination!

The Opuntias were all forming fruit.  Guess I'll have to visit again when they ripen!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Seed Determination

Faucaria kingiae Grahamstown
Batch 5 sowed 6/11/2012

A couple of years ago I was introduced to the art of growing succulents from seed.  I never considered the possibility until an online succulent enthusiast and friend, posted photos of plants he germinated from seed.  You may know him through his blog Little Treasures of Life (LT).  I was in awe of his "babies".  LT had an amazing collection of seed sown mesembs, aloes, and other succulents.  I couldn't wait to take up this new venture!! Armed with an online order of seeds and detailed instructions, I sowed my first batch.  I will never forget how excited I was to see tiny green specs peeking out from between granules of sand. I did it! How difficult can this be?

That was two years and about five batches ago.  I've had amazing successes, and even more failures:  Too dry, damping off, too cold, too leggy, low/no germination, mildew, etc.  I teetered between discouragement and determination but in the end, the reward of owning succulent plants from far regions of the world, that I planted myself, made it all worth it.  

This is a documentary of my most recent seed starts.  I am still on the low end of the learning curve, so this will be at least interesting and at most....I will have lots of new babies!

Batch 6 sowed 07/24/2012
Lithops - Faucaria - Cephalophyllum - Aloinopsis - Odontophorus - Argyroderma
Sclerocactus - Echinocereus - Ferocactus - Gymnocalycium
Watered and topped by plastic wrap.  Placed in bright shade.

The Medium
2/3 equal amounts of perlite and course sand; 1/3 cactus mix potting soil (all sterile).
Seeds are covered by a layer of course sand topped by fine sand.

Next post....germination!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Surprisingly drought tolerant

Most of my plants are succulents, perfectly suited to my arid gardens.  However, Mother Nature devised a diverse landscape for many reasons and with what my ability, experience, and environment will allow, I try to observe her principles.  Besides, there are so many other plants I love!  One prerequisite though...they must be able to thrive, not just survive, with little water.  Over the years, I have been astonished at the drought tolerance of many plants I previously assumed were water thirsty.  Many are indigenous to the semi-arid or subtropical regions of the world, but not all.  Sometimes, it just comes down to soil and microclimates. Here are a few I recommend for the frost-free, semi-arid garden.  Keep in mind they are mature plants and more capable of handling dry periods. I omitted the obviously well suited California Native plants, as that will be a future post!

Gazania rigens
This low growing perennial is tough as nails. It is tolerant of many soil, light, and water situations. I've seen Gazanias grow in the hot desert sun as beautifully as a semi shaded cottage garden.  The flowers, which occur in many colors, are large, bright, and gorgeous!  My Gazanias wilt when not watered enough during hot months, but they easily spring back with the next drink.

Echium candicans, "Pride of Madeira"
Beautiful, strappy, blue-gray leaves throughout the year with conical towers of purple flowers in spring.  Although it will tolerate year round irrigation in sandy soils, I never water my plants.  In summer, many of the leaves drop, exposing the dark, twisted branches/trunk. 

Platycerium superbum
A drought tolerant fern?  Technically no, but this one gets honorable mention because it can go a relatively long time in summer without water.  Pictured is a 30 year old plant that has built up several layers of moisture retentive dead fronds and decaying material behind 
the growing point.  As you can see by the sparse growth on the ground under this fern, I don't water often!

Adiantum pedatum "Maiden Hair Fern"
This is another fern that is surprisingly drought tolerant.  It is growing in bright shade, in a raised planter filled with amended soil.  I try to water this garden about every ten days in summer but it has gone without for much longer.  A great choice for dry shade.

Vitex agnus-castus "Chaste Tree"
This beautifully spicy scented shrub/small tree produces spikes of lavender colored flowers in spring.   It is also known to have valuable medicinal properties.  My husband thinks it's Marijuana!  Vitex is winter dormant in my area, losing all of its leaves by late fall. It's growing in almost pure clay, and get's only a few soakings in summer.

Grevillea lanigera 'Mt. Tamboritha'
Most grevilleas do well in my area but they seem to enjoy sweeter soil, which mine is not.  This grevillea has grown superbly in my garden, among succulents, hanging over the edge of block planters which radiate a lot of heat in summer.  I water here and there, but this plant has gone weeks without water.   Hummingbirds love it!

Plumeria rubra
Plumeria, the quintessential Hawaiian plant.   Tropical in look and culture, right?  Gladly, they do very well here, tolerating low water and lots of sun and heat.  They look like succulents, with thick, fleshy branches/trunks.  Mine go quite a while without water.  They are all in pots so I can move them during winter.  They do not like to be cold and soggy.  Plumeria are in landscapes all over San Diego.

Crinum powelii(?)
A large bulb with fallen, strappy leaves and beautiful fragrant flowers in spring, growing in sandy loam in full sun.  Another plant that I rarely water, although the lower leaves dry up during mid summer leaving the plant a little disheveled.  It recovers quickly with the first rains in Autumn.  The bulbs are poisonous so I don't have to worry about critters!
Coleonema pulchellum "Sweet Breath of Heaven"
This plant emits a sweet, herby scent that is, well, a "Sweet Breath of Heaven."  I love this plant.  I have five; two growing in heavy soil/full sun; two growing in semi-shade in garden soil; and the last growing in almost full shade (pictured), in sandy loam.  I rarely water, even in the hottest part of summer, yet this plant stays wispy and delicate.
Oxypetalum caeruleum "Tweedia"
One of the truest blue flowers you will see in nature.  It is extremely tough, tolerating heat, full sun, even compacted soil.  I water about once a month in summer.   This member of the Milkweed family stays compact and is a good companion to full sun cacti/succulents.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I can't remember exactly when I saw my first Conophytum, or "Cono", but it was love at first sight!  They are wonderfully adapted, and interestingly shaped succulents that remind me of little candies.  I just HAD to add a few to my growing collection of Mesembs but they proved to be elusive.  I had never come across conos online or locally, until recently when I spotted two small potted Conos sitting demurely among other succulents at a C/S Society sale.  I snatched those babies up in a heartbeat!  I was hooked.

My assumption that cultural requirements of Conos was akin to that of Lithops, proved to be a bit off, but after a little research (see links below), I was set straight.  The seasonal phases of Conos are fascinating.  They are winter growers.  As summer approaches, growth slows and they prepare for domancy by developing a sheath, taking on a brownish, shriveled look.  An unsuspecting gardener may think their plants were dying!  With the onset of cooler temps of fall/winter, the sheaths break open to reveal new growth and brilliant color.  This is also bloom time!  Colorful little flowers pop up from the center of each plant.  They last for a few days, staying open when temps are warm and the sky is bright.  The cycle begins again as Conos fatten up and grow over winter, which is in perfect sync with the cool/rainy season in my area.  We are buddies now!

Here are photos of a few of my Conos.  I hope I labeled them correctly?!...

Conophytum minimum 'wittebergense'  Klipfontein'
in late spring
Same plant, in too much sun!
Summer dormancy
Fall ~ Sheaths breaking open.  Notice some plants have begun to divide.

Conophytum marnierianum 'Secret of Suzanne'

Conophytum loeschianum

Conophytum elisae

Conophytum obcordellum?

Conophytum blandum

Conophytum verrucosum

Conophytum uviforme

Conophytum hians (developing sheaths)

Conophytum minutum
Helpful Links:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Garden

This is my garden space!
I am envious of gardens you can walk through.  Mine is more of the "walk up to" type, with most of my plants located in 15' - 20' deep raised planters surrounding a large pool, deck, patio space.  I have more than enough earth to dig, so no complaints.  Half of my collection are in pots (that will be another post).  My gardens contain a combination of very old subtropical trees, my favorite being a 60 year old Dracaena draco; Mediterranean and California native shrubs; and succulents.  

We live in the foot hills of San Diego, about 12 miles from the coast in a transition zone between the Pacific Ocean and inland mesas/valleys.  We benefit from the marine influence with continuous coastal breezes and moderate temps, without the challenges that go with living on the ocean.  Similarly, we aren't as hot/dry/stagnant as areas east of us.  I have grown to appreciate the climate here as I just don't consider the weather when choosing plants.  I do wish however, that I could grow stone fruit!  

Here are a few photos of my gardens

A mixed planting

Dracaena draco tree underplanted with aeoniums.
Echium candicans and Yucca aloifolia, right background

New Cactus/succulent garden
Potted Agave desmettiana surrounded by
drought tolerant shrubs

A few of my potted plants

Love this combination!
Agave attenuata, Aloe dawei, and Felicia amelloides

Potted Euphorbia bupleurifolia,
Senecio mandraliscae, and salvia