Tag Archives: succulents

In bloom: Tender Succulents

graptoveria fred ives

Flowers of Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’

Most of us select our ‘tender” succulents by virtue of their unique forms or foliage in desert tints of sage green, blue gray, dusty rose, plum, khaki gold. A few put out flowers during our northern hemisphere summers, but many warm winter succulents bloom when the day length is shorter…mid-late fall, winter, and early spring.  These succulents add astonishing color to a windowsill display while we wait for spring to really settle in.

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A peak at some of our Aloes in bloom.

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Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’…a cross between an Aloe and Gasteria

I’ve been collecting “tender succulents” for more than 15 years, and one of the frustrating things I constantly come across are mislabeled plants. We now have an excuse to visit southern CA more frequently as one of our sons is living there, and since this is where more succulents are grown than anywhere else, I have made it my mission to visit botanical gardens and nurseries from Santa Barbara to San Diego in search of proper names. The most common succulent genera are Aloe, Crassula, Echeveria, Gasteria, Graptopetalum, Kalanchoe, Pachyphytum and Sedum.

What makes things very curious is that there’s been a lot of inter breeding going on, and by that I mean crossing one genus with another. For example, Echeveria crossed with Sedum becomes Sedeveria.  Because these genera are so closely related (many are in the Crassulaceae family) this works, and some interesting new plants have been introduced. This does however complicate identifying misnamed plants. The foliage isn’t always the tell tale sign; the flower formation can give better clues, but even then…take for example Graptoveria ‘Moonglow’, a cross between Graptopetalum and Echeveria.

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Graptoveria ‘Moonglow’

The flowers of Echeveria tend to be bell shaped with many variations: tightly closed, flared, chunky, narrow and are held on short or even tall stems that can be terminated with a few blossoms or multi branched. Graptopetalum blossoms are star shaped with prominent stamens and are held on upright stems in branches of a few to many flowers. The flowers of Sedum are held in terminating clusters of star shaped inflorescences. The intergeneric crosses display a mix of these flower formations, and here is where further research is required. I plan to continue to study the differences.

sedum limeglow

Sedum ‘Limeglow’

Photo documentation is essential in keying identity. I now have a set up for plant portrait taking, and will continue to photograph the various flower forms as  plants continue to open bud.  Here are a few photos of various succulents in flower.

echeveria dondo

Echeveria ‘Dondo’

Mystery Echeveria…purchased as 'Fleur Blanc'

Mystery Echeveria…purchased as ‘Fleur Blanc’

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Mystery Echeveria…also purchased as ‘Fleur Blanc’

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Pachyphytum oviferum…or “Moonstones”

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Echeveria ‘Lola’

Echeveria parva

Echeveria parva

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Sedeveria ‘Harry Butterfield’

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Mystery Sedeveria

sedeveria

Sedeveria blossom

I have yet to find an authoritative source, online or in print, documenting and clarifying information on succulents. It is a challenging task, for sure. Do you have a resource or guide you refer to? Please share if you do.

 

Pumpkin Succulent Arrangements

 

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I have a confession. I am obsessed with pumpkins and gourds, and can’’t drive by a farm stand without stopping and selecting a bushel full to add to my collection. To me, they are sculpture in an amazing array of forms, sizes, shapes and textures. Those of you who have followed this blog or have visited Avant Gardens know that one of my other obsessions is succulents. I wasn’’t the first arranger to think of combining these obsessions, but clearly gourds and succulents pair well.

Timing couldn’’t be better. With frost imminent, I have just dug dozens of succulents out of pots in the garden and will soon run out of space in the greenhouse. As an advocate of the “Slow Flower” movement, extolled in Debra Prinzing ‘s book by the same name, I’m always looking for ways to use plant materials in arrangements which are in season and on hand in my garden or windowsill. Thinking that  you might want to create your own succulent arrangement, I’m passing on this quick tutorial.

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Materials needed: a pumpkin or gourd, dry long fiber sphagnum moss, floral pins, spray adhesive and tacky glue, plus an assortment of succulents in an array of shapes and sizes in coordinating colors (that’s not hard..most coordinate so well with each other.)

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First, use the spray adhesive on the top of the pumpkin so that the sphagnum moss can cling to it, and loosely extend the moss over the crown. (Note: I didn’t do this here, but would recommend removing the pumpkin stem). The moss acts as the “planting medium”, and will later be sprayed with water to hold moisture. Next, using floral pins and if necessary, tacky glue, secure the trailing succulents onto the moss.

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Next begin to add the larger succulent cuttings, like the rosette forming Graptoveria shown here. Apply a little bit of the tacky glue to the base of the stem and carefully arrange in the moss, using a floral pin to secure in place. Continue with the smaller succulents to fill in the bare spots. It will take awhile for the tacky glue to securely dry, so let the arrangement rest overnight, and check the next day to see if the cuttings seem well attached. If a few stems are loose reapply glue. Carefully transfer your pumpkin to a spot where all can admire it.

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Your arrangement will look terrific for weeks. The succulents will hold up well for awhile without water, but you can mist the arrangement with water if they become a little shriveled. The sphagnum moss will hold just enough moisture to keep the arrangement fresh. Since you are not hollowing out the pumpkin, the fruit will not quickly decay (as hollowed out pumpkins tend to do).  The little pin pricks from the floral pins do minimal damage. Keep the arrangement in a bright cool spot (too much warmth and darkness will encourage decay).

You may find 6 weeks from now that your gourd or pumpkin is beginning to go bad, but the succulent cuttings are still fine. Remove them from the arrangement and try to root them in a tray of sand and perlite, if not already rooted.  Keep them in a sunny window and you just may have a collection of plants for next year’s garden.

Purchase Cuttings for Arrangements.

The before images: Containers 2014

I design containers using uncommon plants which will look great all season with a minimum of care. Here are the early summer images of  containers for sun, shade, and of course succulents, our favorites! Check back for the September report to see how well they performed.

Phormium, Dichondra, Oxalis, late June 2014

Phormium, Dichondra, Oxalis, late June 2014

Tradescantia, Pelargonium Janie, with Abutilon 'Kentish Bell' and Phormium

Tradescantia, Pelargonium Janie, with Abutilon ‘Kentish Bell’ and Phormium

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Cobalt blue pot with everblooming Lantana montevidensis

Begonia thurstonii with Fatshedera, Coprosma, Foxtail Asparagus and Ivy

Begonia thurstonii with Fatshedera, Foxtail Asparagus and Ivy

Hemizygia, Pilea Pellonia and Begonia 'Ebony', June 2014

Hemizygia, Pilea Pellonia and Begonia ‘Ebony’, June 2014

A special pot of smaller succulents

A special pot of smaller succulents

Colorful tropical succulents…they'll be even better in autumn

Colorful tropical succulents…they’ll be even better in autumn

Zen Bowl with a mix of Hardy and tender Succulents

Zen Bowl with a mix of Hardy and tender Succulents

Tall vase with Agonis, Phormium 'Ed Carmen' and choice succulents.

Tall vase with Agonis, Phormium ‘Ed Carmen’ and choice succulents.

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Succulent Wreath in a moss form

Rehabbing Succulent Planters

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A succulent planter in mid April…ready for rehab.

Those of us who live in colder climates may be thinking it’s time to rehab last year’s tender succulent containers. Over the winter, these planters have been trying to soak up as much sun as possible on windowsills and in sunrooms, but it’s a sure thing that by mid spring many of your plants have become unbecomingly leggy. You have two options: disassemble the planter, plant by plant, then cut back and replant in fresh soil, or if the planter is not overcrowded or out of proportion, you can see if just trimming back is the answer.

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3 weeks later….the plants in this pot have begun to flush with new growth

I’m encouraging you to be ruthless when you cut back. After cutting off their heads these plants won’t look happy immediately, but the alternative could become down right ugly. Any cuttings from pinching can be stuck in sand  and rooted for more plants. You may find that some of the spreading succulents have exceeded their bounds and need to be lifted and divided…. Use these little divisions to tuck in around the container where their are “plant gaps”. Fertilize your planter with a seaweed/fish emulsion. It will take a number of weeks and some warm sunny weather for your planters to start to perk up.

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After cutting back the creepers, replace with fresh cuttings to fill holes and balance the design of your vertical planter.

Vertical Succulent Gardens are often in need of cutting back and editing. We usually leave our vertical planters horizontal on benches during the winter, to minimize stretching.  Still some plants such as the rosettes of Sempervivum or Echeveria may have become overwhelmed by creeping Sedum and Delosperma, and need to be replaced. We take fresh cuttings and secure them in place with floral pins. Fertilize with seaweed/fish emulsion , keeping the wall planter flat while the new cuttings root in, and move outside as soon as nights  stay in the 50’s or above. In a few weeks, growth will begin to fill in the empty spaces, and then you can hang.

Vertical Garden ...3 weeks later

Vertical Garden 3 weeks later

 related posts…:

Wintering Over Tender Succulents

Growing Vertically

San Diego…A Busman’s Holiday

The walk to the beach…

One beach leads to another

My summer came and went with little time off for recreation and leisure. When an opportunity for a seaside escape to hang with my son Phil at his beach pad in San Diego arose, I said “Yes, Sir”! As you may have heard, San Diego weather is pretty easy to take.

Fall blooming Cactus

Podocarpus and Bird of Paradise

 Yes, New England fall color is hard to beat, but I was perfectly happy taking in the autumnal color of sunny southern CA.

Lunch with a Ruination IPA at Stone Brewery

Beautiful Persimmons aplenty

 Stops at local craft breweries… San Diego has the most!…quenched my thirst, and the farmer?s markets nourished my appetite.

Window Treatment at the Succulent Cafe

Arrangements at the Succulent Cafe

Of course I always have plants on my mind, and with some online research plus great recommendations from noted succulent author Debra Baldwin, I went off seeking new varieties and inspiration.One of the most charming little places I found was Peter Loyola’s Succulent Cafe in Oceanside. Yes…right up my alley… excellent coffee and special succulents for show and sale. His creations are some of the best I’ve seen.

Agave Dreamscape

Agave ‘Blue Glow’

Agave ‘Cream Spike’

Pilocereus pachycladys

I visited several great nurseries…Desert Theater, Waterwise Botanicals, Oasis Plants, Kartuz Greenhouse...but I was surprised that we possessed many plants in our collection here at Avant Gardens already . One group, the Agaves, beckoned to me though. Agave are used extensively in San Diego landscapes and their size and vigor compared to how we grow them in MA was humbling. Yes, I bought a second piece of luggage to haul back two special specimens: Agave ‘Blue Glow’and Agave ‘Cream Spike’. I wish I had brought home  the beautiful blue cactus Pilocereus pachycladys, but the only ones I could find were a bit too big for my suitcase.

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Container at Balboa park

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A happy collection of a plant lover

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Succulents with Asparagus Fern

It was the end of a long dry summer so it wasn’t the best time to photograph gardens in the San Diego area. Where irrigation is used plants obviously looked fresher. Most people are practicing water conservation. Succulents and planters composed of succulents held up best after such dry weather and obviously are the way to go. Foxtail Asparagus Fern was a fun addition to succulent combos which I’d like to try.

A vertical garden installation at a San Diego shopping mall

On my last morning I had a little time to kill before my flight back to MA, so I visited this vertical garden installed by Jim Mumford of Good Earth Plants. I had attended a talk he gave at Waterwise Botanicals on Saturday, and he was straight with his info. His company’s work is mostly large scale. Yes there is an irrigation system in each piece with a low fertilizer feed; yes he uses a soilless media called a Brownie; yes there is regular maintenance involved. His installations are both indoors and out, and the plant choices vary from succulents to perennials to tropicals. Jim had encouraged a visit to his Kearny Mesa Location, but my time was up.

Goodbye Summerland. San Diego, I’ll be back!

September Report: Successful Containers

New England’s weather challenges even the most experienced gardener. The summer of 2013 certainly gave this gardener a dose of humble pie. Spring arrived late but was quite lovely for several weeks. June was cool and adequately moist (some folks in western New England were deluged with rain, but we were happy here with what we received. July was tropical. Hot, humid, humid, did I say humid? And there are plants that loved the tropical weather: Colocasia, Coleus Papyrus, Canna. Unfortunatley I hadn’t planned on hot humid weather, so I didn’t plant many of them this year. No this year I couldn’t plant enough succulents; in the ground, in containers, in vertical gardens. It could have been a better summer for growing them, but they managed to carry on sullenly and perked up when August proved to be cool and dry. And now we are here, at the end of the season, to judge which of the containers held up the best over the 3 month period. (See the June article: The Before Pictures  for evidence of how containers transformed.)

The Cissus had to be cut back. Begonia ‘Concorde  has resented the recent chilly nights. Still this has been an easy shade loving combo which I would repeat.

Coleus ‘Odalisque’ dominated this planter, Begonia thurstonii has held its own, but can’t say the same for the Begonia ‘Elegance’ (there is a glimpse of what’s left of it). Our Begonia boliviensis hybrids and and most of our Fuchsia really pooped out early this year.

This partial shade planter wasn’t shown in the June post, but it has been quite lovely all summer. Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ is really starting to bloom now. Why don’t people grow more of the interesting trailing ivies?

I was a little disappointed that the Xanthosoma didn’t explode with growth, but the gentle green foliage of Pelargonium tomentosum looked fresh all summer, and I love to rub its leaves as I walk by.

Once the Eucomis bloomed, that was that, and then the Lantana montevidensis with its profusion of lavender flowers on wiry stems took over. Oxalis triangularis never disappoints, and Tradescantia ‘Blue Suefilled in nicely.

We have planted this classic stone bowl with succulents for the past few years, but this year’s growth was the least impressive. Not bad, but look what it did last year.

Only the Senecio cylindricus put on growth. I think all the other succulents just sat there. At least they didn’t melt.

This bowl was planted around the 4th of July, with a mix of hardy and tender plants. The Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’  is beginning to bloom with it’s bright orange buttons. I like the hardy Sedum ‘Turkish Delight’ but next time would leave out the Sedum ‘Xenox’.

We moved our famous River Pot to a more prominent spot. What wouldn’t look great in this pot?

The vertical garden is still looking sweet. The Crassula schmidtii has been in bloom for weeks, and the Echeveria ‘Atlantis’ continues to want to send up flowers.  I made several  versions of these vertical gardens, experimenting with just hardy plants and mixing lots of different tender succulents. Some succulents grew well despite the weather, others were more temperamental.

This container continued to inspire customers to replicate it all summer. The grouping is Echeverias ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Lola’, Phormium ‘Pink Stripe’, Saxifraga ‘Maroon Beauty’, and silvery Dichondra.

What was your summer weather like and  how did your containers fare this year?

Autumn Containers II: Using Succulents

After the lazy days of August, September can seem like the busiest month of the year. So many neglected chores, both inside and out, await attention. For a lot of us, the summer containers gracing our entryways need a makeover. You can buy a pot of mums or……

You can plant succulents.

Followers of this blog must know by now that I am a big succulent fan, and even after a wet and extremely humid spell, I can still say the succulents planters we did up earlier not only still look sweet, they are going to get better as the night temperatures become chilly. Cool night temperature bring out deep and rosy tones in the blue, olive and bronze foliage colors of the many non hardy succulents.  Many tender forms such as Echeveria ‘Black Princeand Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’, begin to bloom as do many hardy species of Sedum such as S cauticola  ‘Lidakense’ , ‘Turkish Delight’ and‘Dazzleberry’.

Succulents are mix and match plants. Of course, they all like the same sandy, well drained soil mix, and the colors all work well together. I’d like to add that the most interesting combinations include plants which have light, medium and dark tones. In this pair of planters, I’ve used Euphorbia tirucalli var rosea, commonly called ‘Sticks on Fire’ (guess how it got its common name) for height, the blue gray rosettes of Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’,  a coppery orange tinted Sedum nussbaumeranum, the soft yellow Sedum makinoi ‘Ogon’ and an olive tinted Sedum tetractinum to spill over the sides. Tucked in for added dark tones is Sedeveria ‘Jetbeads’.

Tips

1.When you group succulents together you can pack them in quite close together. They do not need a lot of nourishment nor water, and they don’t grow very fast.

2.The selections that are not hardy in your area will need protection when temperatures dip below freezing, and here we sometimes get a really cold night in late October, followed by a spell of Indian summer.  Either move the pot inside if a frost is in the forecast, or cover with a large tarp or blanket.

3. Once it becomes apparent that temperatures will be below freezing at night on a regular basis, bring your container into a frost free area that gets bright sunlight. If your container is too big to bring indoors, dig out the specimen plants you would like to keep and pot them up in a sandy quick draining soil mix. I plan to do a blog post about what to do about wintering over succulents in a month or so.

Related Blog Posts

September Container Report 2012, Summer Containers 2012Summer Containers2013, Sedum tetractinum, Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’, Sedum sieboldii 

Summer Containers…the before shots

Each year in recent history,  I have been documenting with images some of the containers I plant up here at Avant Gardens. I like to take images within a few weeks of planting, and then again in September. The September shots will show which containers still look incredible. Plant selections with minimal care requirements are used  in each of these groupings. Below, you will find combinations for shade, part shade and sun.

For shade/pt. shade:

Begonia ‘Concorde’ with Cissus discolor,  Stromanthe ‘Tricolor’ and Pilea

Begonia thurstonii, with Coleus ‘Odalisque’ and Begonia ‘MK Elegance’

Begonia ‘MK Elegance’ with Hedera ‘Little Diamond’

Coleus ‘Limon Blush’, Begonia ‘Chocolate Red’ and Oxalis ‘Copper Glow’

for part shade/sun:

For sun or part shade: Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger with Coprosma ‘Marbel Queen’Pelargonium tomentosum and a purple leaved Tradescantia 

for sun:

Eucomis ‘Sparking Rosy’ with Oxalis triangularis, Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ and Tradescantia ‘Blue Sue’

Fan favorite: Classic Bowl with Mixed Succulents

Senecio cylindricus dominates this large basalt bowl (22″)

30″ ceramic trough with Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’, Echeveria, various SedumSenecio talinodes  & Sedeveria

My favorite pot with Aeonium, Euphorbia and Echeveria

 Closeup:  Aeonium ‘Schwartkop’ with Kalanchoe, Echeveria & Sedum morganianum

The vertical garden was planted in late March, and now little  Delosperma ‘Firespinner’ is beginning to flower

Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ with Phormium ‘Pink Stripe’ and Dichondra

You can mix succulents with other plants which don’t mind dry conditions (like the combination above). Even though we have had an unusually large amount of rainfall lately in the northeast , all of our succulents and begonias are still thriving because we use a sandy well drained soil mix.  If you use a regular or rich potting soil, you chance disappointment from plants rotting away.

Check back in September, when I post the “after” shots!

Growing Vertically with Succulents

A vertical garden of tender succulents at Avant Gardens

Over the past few years there has been a lot of buzz about vertical gardens. Patrick Blanc, the French botanist, has created some amazing spaces on a large scale, using a wide variety of plants to transform whole buildings. Of course there is more to his vertical gardens than meets the eye. His crews construct huge freestanding armatures with built in irrigation systems, which is a necessity for the types of plants he uses. A big concern for me concerning his designs is plant hardiness. This is not a problem with his indoor or tropical climate gardens, but how does one sustain these plantings in northern climates without huge plant losses?

We considered how we could turn this concept of using vertical space into something more practical that most gardeners could implement on their own. What type of plantings would not need an irrigation system built in? Chris and I decided we could create sustainable vertical gardens using rot resistant wood for the boxes and plant them with drought tolerant succulents which will survive quite well without lots of water.  They hold up well the entire growing season on a sun filled south facing wall, and could be taken down for the winter. The boxes could either be brought indoors if they were planted with tender succulents, or if planted with hardy succulents, laid on the ground, covered with a winter mulch. Here?s a quick how to:

Materials:

Rot resistant wood such as cedar or mahogany.We used 1 x 4’s for the box and frame, and 1 x 8’s for the backing.

Wire mesh with 1-2″ openings

Well drained succulent potting soil and assorted low growing succulents

Prepared Box with for planting.

Decide what your dimensions will be and build your box. Fill with a well-drained succulent potting soil.

Lay a wire grid over the soil. This will help secure plants in place while they root in.

Begin by placing focal point succulents

I always start by first placing  the showiest plants. You may need to cut wider openings in the wire mesh to allow for bigger roots.

Fill in with a variety of complimentary succulents.

I then fill in around my focal point plants with other low growing succulents. Be careful not to select plants that tend to grow tall.

Your best choices are plants which are going to stay under 4″, especially ones that stay under 2″.

After the planting is done, you can attach the frame.

All filled in….hang horizontally or vertically, you decide.

Plants will establish good root systems in 6-8 weeks, or even more quickly in warm weather. Some plants may overtake their neighbors, so a little trimming back could be necessary.  You may also want to tuck in a cutting here and there to refine your “painting” as it grows out.

Watering can be done by spraying the plants with a hose early in the day (be careful not to water when the sun is strong or you will get water scars on the foliage). Or, remove the box from its mount, lie flat and give a good soak. Succulents are not plants that need a lot of fertilization, but if you think it’s necessary you can use a diluted fish emulsion to give them an occasional boost.

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Desperately Seeking Sunshine

Boronia crenulata ‘Shark Bay’…An Australian native that is never out of bloom.

I don’t feel old, and I’m not, really, ( figure I have a little less than half my life ahead.)  The thing is, I have noticed I get into an old person funk during January and February.  I sulk and grumble when I never use to, especially when the sun’s not shining. No doubt that’s why some older folks make the winter exodus to warmer and sunnier climates. They are seeking optimism, the kind that plentiful sunshine allows.

But self-pity is unbecoming…and I’m a take action kind of gal. I know the best remedy is to get out and absorb some sunlight when the winter skies allow. Today the sun is bright, and the reflection off the pre-New Year’s Eve snowfall made my eyes squint. It’s 15 degrees F outside, so perhaps I won’t plan a long walk, maybe just once around the garden, and then into the greenhouse where we overwinter all of our tender plants.

Ahhh…the the luxury of a winter greenhouse. We keep a 100′ poly house heated to 50 degrees at night, and in it are stored all of our tender succulents and stock plants. Mostly, plants are in a semi dormant state, and are not very pretty, waiting for longer days to spur growth. The greenhouse is packed to the brim. Each time I walk in, I feel the promise of spring, plus a few midwinter surprises: plants (often from the southern hemisphere) that choose to bloom in January and February.  The little Boronia above is in bloom. Here is what else presently greets me.

Mimulus sp. from Western Hills…blooms all year!

We still have this Mimulus selection brought back from the now closed Western Hills Nursery in CA. It blooms on new growth all year round, but can be a little temperamental if kept too wet or too dry. It also ships poorly, so if you ever want one,  come visit us at  the nursery.

A lovely Epiphyllum (Orchid Cactus) whose name is “?”

Anyone know the name of this orchid?

Rhipsalis capilliformis, funky and fun, soon to be in bloom

 You gotta grow everything to really appreciate funky plants like this Rhipsalis. Specifically bought one of those face pots where this can be planted as the wig, come spring.

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora (now luciae) erupting into flower.

All the succulents that we buy as little plants take on larger proportions with age. This Paddle Plant erupts into bloom in winter.

Our office needed a replacement plant for the window sill, so I brought in this BeschnorneriaBechnorneria are commonly called False Agave, and are hardy to about 15-20 degrees. We bought this unspecified selection from Cistus Nursery a good 6-7 years ago , and at last it has bloomed. It’s a shorter form with narrow tubular pink/red/green blooms.

Beschnorneria sp. from Cistus Nursery years ago, finally in bloom.

We’re not open for visits during the winter months.  Perhaps there is a little greenhouse operation near where you live, or one kept open at your local public garden. Plan a winter visit to support them, and get your sunshine fix. Your purchases and membership dues help pay the heating bills, and they offer you a retreat when you can’t make it to a southern climate.