Tidy/Skills/Miracle Rain Consequences

 My favorite part of the garden at the moment is the area on the west side of the driveway.  It looks, above all, tidy.  Orderly.  The Leucadendrons and Leucospermums are tidy plants, the Aloes and Agaves the solitary forms, also tidy, the Dymondia ground cover, extremely so. 

Unhappy Aloe circled:

Solitary Aloes and Agaves are favorites, because clumpers are, visually, chaotic.  The elegant symmetrical form of a single rosette is lost. 

The Lessingia is gone, a perfectly fine native plant.   I should try another in a less trafficked location. 

Better than fine, very nice, actually: 

 It has been replaced with a Rhodanthemum, which I simply like better.  Rhodanthemum fits the same functional niche of silver-foliaged low ground cover, but it's tidier.  

Even the Rhodanthemum up on the harsh west slope, trimmed back once a year, looks far more rigorously maintained than it is.

Of course the Dark Side of Tidy is the Plant-As-Green-Furniture, prevalent in non-gardener owned properties.  The original shrubs planted more than 20, 30, 40 years ago, buzzed ever since into lopsided cubes, sagging globes, top heavy rectangles.  The flowers cut off every spring, before they can open.  Mostly dead sub-shrubs, their branches mostly bare tangles, their surviving tips neatly sheared.  A dark side, indeed.  

Of course there are gaping holes in my TidyLove.  As plants in the landscape, roses are often painful to look at.  But, we love what we love.  


When you live in a very forgiving climate, gardening just isn't as difficult.  The drawback to is that  developing expertise is less necessary, so it doesn't always happen.   Lately I'm making an effort to develop more expertise.  The effort is two-fronted:  first, to give every plant in the garden what it needs to be its most beautiful, and second, to be able to grow plants from seed.   

The pandemic eliminated most shopping trips and the resulting impulse plant buys, which proved to be relief, not sadness.  Wandering the garden, new plant in hand, searching for a place for it, subsided.  That energy went instead to closer examination of plants already here.  Recent example:  an unhappy Aloe capitata, circled in photo 2 above.  Dug out, the root system proved a mess.  Decapitated, re-rooting in progress.  

It can't thrive this way: 
Very stressed, just barely photo-synthesizing by the slight green in the center:

Into the Aloe nursery for a fresh start at a new root system.  Fingers crossed.

Another thing prompted by the pandemic:  dealing with, instead of ignoring,  drought-damaged shrubs:   Boxwood and Pittosporum tenuifoliums.  After much consideration, long term, the Pittos need to go:  this is not their climate.  Boxwoods--some are beautiful and thriving.  Others, drought-damaged--can they be rehabilitated?   I've been working at it.  

Sad to say, this looks vastly better than it did two years ago.  As it sloooowwwly sprouted new undamaged growth, I've cut off more and more of the damage. 

Drought did this to the stems:  just a bit of life left at the tips, the rest of the stem dried and badly damaged:
This one recovered quite well, because it didn't get so damaged in the first place. 
This one never got much damage at all. 

As for seed-growing, skill has been difficult to acquire.  Volunteer seedlings moved and nurtured have been iffy.  Lavenders are best when left to grow where they appear.  Trachelium need rabbit protection.  Sweet peas:  success, if rabbit-protected.  Tomatoes, Cosmos, Zinnias, failures.  Dumbfounding success:  Leucospermums!   Two seedlings became mighty plants, a third appears to be headed that way (first flower buds have appeared), and now, 'Tango' seedlings.  

One to the right of that errant Freesia bulblet:

I attempted an Acacia glaucoptera for fun:  got one.

After some experimentation, specific areas to start and grow seedlings seems necessary.  I've been dithering about buying or building a potting table for years--they are expensive to buy, but building is iffy, too.  Still dithering.  


In the garden, a few delightful surprises this past week or so.   0.17" (4 mm) of rain last week, from a rip-roaring thunderstorm that shook the house. 

First flower stem ever from not overly happy Aloe speciosa.  "Speciosa" means "showy"--the flowers are gorgeous.  It's that miracle December rain we got.

The plant itself has been vulnerable to Aloe rust since planting.  I've noted a couple at the Huntington that have died in recent years. 
Another benefit of the December miracle rain, flower buds on Hippeastrum papilio.  Moved last spring at exactly the wrong time they looked simply awful all summer and fall.  Miracle December rain transformed them, and now, flower buds!
Continuing to enjoy the very early Dutch Iris flowers paired with 'Embers Wish' Salvia and Aechmea blanchtiana with more flowers to come.   Orange and purple, a perfect color combo.

Ditto enjoyment of the Magnolia stellata.  It has, to an extent, made up for the lack of Camellias in the garden. 

The area emptied a couple of weeks back is now replanted.  Moving the path will be left for now.  The two new Felicia 'Tight and Tidy', a spare Cuphea 'Vermillionaire' that will need regular cutting back to fit into the space, and a double fan of the deep indigo Agapanthus got the space.

So, that's wazzup here. 

Have you worked to develop particular garden skills during the pandemic?  Which ones? 


  1. I like your comment "looks far more rigorously maintained than it is"... Yes! That's my gardening philosophy in a nutshell. I value well behaving plants that require little and still look good. There is enough work for me without having to run after overly exuberant plants. That frog vase is great!

    1. There's something to be said for "well behaved" in every species. A few of my plants get fanatic preening, the rest are on their own. The Rhodanthemum gives so much for so little effort.

      Froggie reminds me of the koi who greet me with wide open mouths, hoping for some food!

  2. I've done more planting from seed in the past few years but that started even before the pandemic. Although I bought myself a small inexpensive seed-starting system (complete with a heat mat and lights), I don't really have the space inside for even that so I rely on seeds I can direct sow. That's worked fairly well in the well-watered cutting garden but not nearly as well elsewhere when the rain isn't there to supplement my automated irrigation schedule. During the pandemic, I've done more than ever before with cuttings but I've also had a good many failures there and I've relied more on mail order nurseries than you have ;) I'm very envious of your success with self-seeding Leucospermums!

    You got more rain than we did last week. I'd given up on getting any when we finally got a a quick, hard deluge near 6pm that delivered 0.08/inch of rain. It refilled my empty 50-gallon tank and I managed to collect some rain elsewhere too so I was pleased. Fingers are crossed for more of the same tonight.

    1. Have had the same sort of issues--tried the heat mat and light quite a few years ago and it was not at all successful. They both sat in a closet for years until given away. A dedicated place to grow seeds in the ground, a potting bench which I still don't have, etc. Little pots on the patio always get blown away in our Santa Ana wind events.

      It sure would be nice to get more rain. Sigh.

  3. Love that little frog vase! I don't know if I have gotten better at anything special during the pandemic, but I did get a lot done during the lockdown of 2020. I rebuilt a sunken patio and covered almost all walking areas in flagstone. Built some muscle, for sure. (Which has mostly turned to mush by now - LOL!) One thing I really love trying is to take cuttings of shrubs I like. It depends on what it is, of course, but I've often been surprised by how easy it can be. Some things seem to root almost without any help at all. Of course I don't have room for any of them, but they make for pretty good gifts.

  4. Now I know why I haven't seen you lately!

  5. You have a beautiful garden. I would like to know what your experience has been, if any, with aloe mite? I noticed one of my most precious aloes, Aloe Hercules, with the signs it has aloe mite (tell tale marks on leaves and edges). I am deciding whether to decapitate the affected parts now while still small and allow it to regrow and hopefully stop the mite infestation.

    1. Hello Anon, There are several recommended methods for Aloe mite. What you choose to do is up to you based on your own preferences. The simplest is: if the Aloe is not a rare or expensive one, and is readily available inexpensively, bag up the infected plant, throw it out, and buy a new one. If that's not possible, you look at the options available and choose what you think best.

      See: https://www.smgrowers.com/info/aloemite.asp and an article it refers to:


      Some people use and recommend Sevin (spray, not dust), while others say only a miticide (possibly Bayer Advanced Insect, Disease, and Mite Control, used systemically as soil drench) is effective, some claim Imidacloprid used as soil drench is effective. A grower in South Africa uses Formalin (formaldehyde), cutting off the affected areas and painting the cuts with it. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen--so....do you want to use it? I don't.

      I try to always buy Aloes grown from seed, because a seed-grown plant (as opposed to an offset) is probably going to be "clean". I've had a few Aloes develop the issue. I threw them out if they were common and easily obtainable. I've treated a couple by cutting off the affected area and treating with Imidacloprid as a soil drench not a spray. Folllowing the treatment I removed any flower stems for two years, in case the flowers contained any pesticide that might harm bees. I've read the flowers of treated plants don't contain any Imidacloprid--no idea if that is true or not. Removing the flowers for a couple years maybe is a good idea--maybe isn't. Don't know.

      I don't recommend any one thing because I'm not a licensed expert on pesticides. It's something to read up on and decide on for yourself. There's lots of info out there. If you are on FB (I'm not) there is said to be a Kelly Griffith Aloe Group with info on aloe mite control (Griffith is a well-known Aloe expert)--you may be able to find info that way. There might be other aloe groups out there, too.

    2. Thank you very much! I decided to behead the aloe today and tossed the top out in a sealed plastic bag. Fingers crossed for a healthy recovery!


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