Recently I wrote about plans to update a neighbor’s little postage-stamp of a garden I had planted a year ago. A couple weekends ago I did the job, and am looking forward to tackling their back yard soon.
As I’d mentioned in the last post, the big bummer was the blooming of three Agave celsii ‘Nova’ along the back of the plot. Up in the front corner, I’d planted an Agave attenuata that they already had and loved. In the back, though, had been specified three Agave attenuata ‘Nova’. It’s a slightly bluer cultivar, and does better in the shadier corners than does its parent species up front. At the time I originally planted, though, the Nova wasn’t available. We subbed in with the A. celsii instead. Well, it bloomed not three months later. Turns out that species is about the fastest bloomer among agaves, and agaves die after blooming. Most will do so every 20-60 years or so, but the celsii averages 8 years. No bueno. The blooming spawned the conversation for updating the whole garden. Once the originally-requested plants became available again, we got rolling.
First step was to fix the agave issue. I didn’t want to get all cut up and stabbed by the old ones as I dug them out, so I hacked off all the leaves. The needles at the tips actually harbor bacteria that are quite the irritants, and can cause painful infections. I was being clever in removing all the leaves first. Or so I thought. Agave juice is also an irritant. I wore long sleeves, but they soaked up the agave juice. Got a nice rash on both forearms. Oh well. At least I didn’t get stabbed.
Once the agaves had been replaced, I worked on adding some new plants. They’d given me the go-ahead to do what I wanted with the space. Their only request was for fullness. Last time, I had planted a couple of “grassy-formed” plants that they liked best of everything in there: Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo Glow’. Since they like the form, I added some Cordyline ‘Design-a-Line Burgundy’ in a few spots. This plant is a lower, grassier, clump-forming version of the larger Cordyline australis. It matures at about three feet tall, on a short trunk, and mimics the form of the beschornerias and the yuccas already in the garden. Its burgundy color also picked up the tones in the Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ that I’d previously planted along the wall on the last visit.
Speaking of, that aeonium hadn’t done as nicely as I would have wanted in the spot. I have it in full shade at home, but was surprised at it’s lack of “oomph” in this spot. I put in a green variety called, ironically, Aeonium ‘Zwartkop Reverted’, meaning it was grown from cuttings of Zwartkop that had grown back in their original green color. These should do even better in the spot, and the structure is the same as the burgundy ones. They should all mesh together into an informal hedge along the wall.
There were already some Aeonium decorum ‘Sunburst’ from my previous efforts, and some had been snagged from the yard. I put in a couple more to fill spaces, and took cuttings off existing ones to add to the hedge of taller ones against the wall. I brought in another drought-tolerant plant – Euphorbia X martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ – to add some softer texture around the bed. The colors match those of the Sunburst aeoniums.
I added yet one more species of aeonium up front. The Zwartkop along the wall will reach 3-4 feet tall. The Sunburst usually top out around two feet. In the front, I planted several Aeonium canariense, which hug the ground and rarely get over a foot tall. The repeating rosette form is very soothing to the eye, and the added green helps tie in some of the other greens in the bed, like the base color of the euphorbias, for example. The whole palette is green, blue-grey, pink and burgundy, and yellow. A really nice combination!
I rearranged a few of the existing plants to make a nice composition, then I trekked up the hill a block to get some other cuttings. The clients wanted the soil surface to be covered by plants, and the original Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ weren’t doing the trick as desired. Not sunny enough. A piece of Aptinia cordifolia had found its way into the bed, and was thriving. The clients liked it, and wanted more. This iceplant-family ground cover is adept at filling a space quickly, and will need to be kept in check. It’s a darker, waxy green that’ll make a nice base for all the other colors, and repeats the color of the tall ceanothus shrub that provides a canopy for the bed. There’s a house a block up the hill where the aptinia is growing prolifically over the walls of their raised bed, and has crossed the sidewalk and into the gutter. I felt no remorse at “liberating” two sacks’ worth of cuttings from the sidewalk. I gleaned a good five dozen cuttings or more from the pile, and stuck them in the soil with even spacing throughout the garden. It won’t be long until it spreads and spills over the walls of the bed. They’re gonna love it!
I’ll post another shot of this garden come springtime. It’s a beauty already, and will only improve with age!