A year ago this week I planted a little postage-stamp of a garden for a neighbor of mine around the corner on Castro, and they recently contacted me to “freshen up” the space. I’d originally planted a succulent garden for them, tucked in under the canopy of their California natives, Ceanothus and Fremontodendron. I just met with them yesterday morning, and thought it would be interesting to report on the process and show what the year has brought.
I walk past the place frequently. It’s been exciting to watch it establish, and interesting to see what’s been languishing. Mostly, it’s been performing quite well, but some plants are not growing nearly as quickly as I would have expected of them. Talk about a study in microclimates! I mean, this garden is all of ten feet by six feet, perhaps. So to have the same plant, planted on the same day, grow differently within a stretch of five feet is really interesting. The garden is on a steep north-facing slope, and there’s the high wall of the front steps on the southern edge of it. It’s open to the north and west, but with there also being a steep hill to the west, it only gets the summertime direct sun in the afternoon, and nothing to speak of the rest of the year. Bright, just not directly sunny.
Plants like the Aeonium decorum ‘Sunburst’ do fine in shade, but better with a dash of sun. The most exposed ones are frickin’ glorious, whereas the ones that are more sheltered in the nook of the steps are quite small. There are some Aeonium ‘Pinwheel’ against the house that are not quite as tall as they could be after a year, but the clients have been hand-watering, and sparingly at that. Other plants, like Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ are just really hating it there and have mostly died. The biggest surprise for me, though, is the Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, which should have massed out and covered the whole space by now. Instead, it’s a tinier border than when I planted it, and some parts have even died off completely.
The biggest bummer of the space is that the three biggest plants – three large Agave celsii ‘Nova’ – that we planted along the back of the space to hide a concrete pad, all bloomed last summer. Pretty, but deadly. Agaves are monocarpic, meaning “one body.” When they bloom, they die. Then they typically create lots of offshoots – bulbils – at the base to replace themselves. Well, this variety of agave is apparently one of the most frequent of bloomers. Agaves are commonly called century plants because the infrequency of blooming gives (false) legend to them having a 100 year life span, but this particular species blooms in about 8 years. Well, these were 8 years old, evidently. The grower’s entire crop was, for that matter. Fortunately for the client, these were sent to them by mistake – we’d ordered Agave attenuata ‘Nova’, not celsii. Now I’ll have a chance to get what was called for in the first place.
Mostly, they’re just unhappy with how lush the garden isn’t. They’ve seen Patrick’s garden up the street, which is what prompted them to come to Flora Grubb Gardens in the first place to have him design theirs. Actually, that’s a funny story: they just came in with a pic of his garden and said they wanted that, not even knowing it was his! He’s constantly on hand to work with his, though, and keep it lush, and they want it done for them. And so they shall. :) They’ve given me carte blanche to do as I will with the space, and I’m excited to come back to do more!
Naturally, I’ll keep you posted after next month’s update…