Monday, February 29, 2016


A year ago I bought an ocotillo. I planted it one day while Philip was at work and was delighted that he approved not only the purchase but the positioning of it. He has since commented that it's his favorite plant in the yard, despite looking like a bundle of dead sticks. It is not on the irrigation system but just gets a weekly watering. Anyway, after nearly a year of waiting, our plant has suddenly come into leaf.

Here in the desert ocotillos are frequently used in landscape schemes. In garden centers they are often displayed bare root and looking totally desiccated but amazingly seem to grow. When planted, the securing wires are often left on which is annoying as the plant is never allowed to spread and grow naturally. Philip and I have been known to trespass and cut them free!

Our ocotillo

the leaves appeared in a few days

Bundled up in a garden center

This is a desert plant, but to more temperate eyes, looking a little like a deciduous berberis with straggly stems and thorns. Its correct name is Fouquieria splendens. It sometimes goes by other common names such as coachwhip, candlewood, slimwood, desert coral, Jacob's staff or Jacob's cactus. It is naturally found in the Sonoran Desert,  the Chihuahuan Desert, southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico.

Mature ocotillo

Ocotillo is not a true cactus. For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks, although closer examination reveals that the stems are still alive. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small green leaves, which may remain for weeks or even months. Flowering is spasmodic but colorful with bright red flowers that are pollinated by
hummingbirds and native carpenter bees.

Flowering ocotillo

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Another surprise

A couple of weeks ago I spoke of the last minute reprieve for my Eremophila that suddenly decided to flower profusely. Well I've just had another surprise! Last year I planted a Texas Mountain laurel - it used to be Sophora secundiflora although I think it is now correctly Dermatophyllum secundiflora - same plant - new name! I had seen these adorning a local car park a few years back and finally found a plant at a good price last year. 

Surprise flower in my yard

Since planting over a year ago, it  seemed to do nothing. It has remained green and if it made any growth it was so insignificant as to remain unnoticed. As it was in a central place in my yard I had decided to move it this spring and replace with a Bismark palm.  However, the other day my eye caught a splash of blue and to my astonishment, it has produced three beautiful trusses of vivid cobalt blue flowers, not unlike short wisteria blooms. It is reprieved! I just hope that it is not attacked by genista caterpillars which are notorious for decimating it!
Mature tree in Target Car Park - what I can look forward to!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

'Allo Aloe

Forgive the terrible pun for the title of this piece which is all about aloes. Brits of a certain age will all recall the incredibly popular TV series 'Allo 'Allo, about a small French cafe and the French resistance which ran for 85 episodes from 1982 to 1992. 

Back to plants and gardens! There are some 500 species of Aloe which originate from  tropical and southern Africa and Madagascar, and have also become naturalized in other regions such as the Mediterranean, North and South America. The best known is Aloe vera, which although probably extinct in the wild is widely grown for pharmaceutical purposes. Aloes are generally succulent and have a rosette of foliage very similar to Agave spp, although some aloes form woody stems making shrubs or small trees.

At this time of the year, here in California, the many species start to flower and some of them can be quite spectacular.  I haven't managed to get to the Huntington Gardens yet this spring but here are a few pics from past visits. Apologies that there are a few names missing - do tell me if you recognize them!

Aloe vera

Aloe africana

Aloe castanea

Aloe dorothea

Aloe excelsa

Aloe labworana

Aloe polyphylla

Aloe porphyrostachys

Aloe ramoissima

Aloe sp

Aloe sp

Aloe sp
Aloe vanbalenii