“Oh, hello there”, my octopus agave seems to be saying from its spot between the pepper trees on 14th St. Quite self-effacing coming from a large succulent with a seeming writhing base, with a central stalk that easily extends to almost 20-feet. I had been monitoring my modest friend all last week, waiting for the day the buds that bristled on its stalk’s would open; my secret hope that it might happen on the first day of spring, 2015. Well, disregarding ceremony and my wishes completely, a full 5-inches of the agave’s lowest buds opened the day before that momentous seasonal occurrence . . .
Spring is still a day or two away from its official dawning but I figure we needn’t wait. Not while there are wisterias in spectacular bloom. Part of Bill & Hal’s beautiful garden in Riverside, these lilac-colored swags trail upward on decades-old muscular vines.
. . .
Tillandsias, or “air plants” have so many things going for them it’s surprising they’re not more popular. They possess a rare beauty that reminds me more of undersea creatures — or extraterrestrial flora — than jungle plants from Central and South America, the American south or the West Indies. As epiphytes they require no soil to grow, only a friendly host for latching onto, the better to take in moisture and nutrients from the air. Some tillandsia varieties bloom but I don’t seek them out for their flowers. As with succulents I love tillandsia’s for their looks; they have a singular beauty that enhances a display or vignette like no other plant. Still, despite all their positive qualities, tillandsias are not as popular as they could be. And, ironically, I think it’s these very qualities that hold them back. Their beauty is too “exotic”, too strange for most people. And, it seems to me, the no-soil bit causes confusion as well; if no soil is required where is one supposed to place them? One idea is to reference the way they grow in the forest, attached to a host tree. A recent piece in Sunset magazine titled ’11 Secrets to the Easiest Garden Ever” showed a gorgeous example of just that by my friend, garden designer Dustin Gimbel (click here). Inspired by his design I decided to try and come up some other displays for these amazing plants using elements I already had on hand.
Tillandsia Palm Bow: Long-time readers of this blog will recognize the element at right as what I call a palm “scoop”. Dried and fallen on windy days, these curvaceous scoops are literally gifts from the sky. I’ve used them before, as a centerpiece (click here) and as a hanging succulent garden (click here). This one I found in the Evergreen Cemetery after a storm; it was just too gorgeous to leave for the gardener to discard. And, at more than 5-feet in length, it was much bigger (those previous scoops were about 2-feet long). I hung onto it for months, looking at it and others I’d salvaged, wondering what they might become. In a way it reminded me of Constantin Brancusi’s ‘The Bird’ sculpture (click here) … so I thought of adding a base to it and leaving it at that. But then I decided it could serve as a display for a large tillandsia Oaxacana. I filled a concrete tube with quick-set concrete, standing the scoop upright. My first impulse was to suspend the Oaxacana from a wire at the top of the scoop’s curve; then I decided I’d like the visual (and literal) tension a taut wire from the base to the top of the scoop would provide. This way I could hang the tillandsia from the wire and move it up and down as I pleased. A simple eye hook in the concrete, and another in the scoop’s top, did the job. I’m pleased with this tillandsia display. It’s simple but striking and a great way to elevate something natural that would otherwise be discarded.
Last night they began to move in: Clouds of every description. Sometimes dark, as if overloaded with all the dampness of the sky … other times so light and puffed they epitomized the word “flighty”. I checked through the night for the downpour the clouds promised, but there was no shine on the sidewalks, no glisten on the plants in the Rancho’s front yard. Disappointed, I returned to bed; I was certain the next time I would check there would surely be rain. Still: Nothing. And by morning there was much too much light streaming into the bedroom for rain … looking out the window there was a breeze — and still more clouds — but no rain.
It’s early afternoon now and although I’ve been monitoring them through the day the clouds have stingily held on to their watery bounty. I thought that by taking photos of the clouds they might be goaded into raining on my one man parade, but no … instead I got glances from people in passing cars, looking up to see what I might be shooting of interest. I could almost see the thought in their faces: “But it’s only clouds.”
I love Emerson’s quote, don’t you? A laughing Mother Earth is a delightful idea … but how to define her sense of humor? It’s got to be very refined, how else to explain the grace and beauty of flowers the world over. I cannot come up with a single example of a natural floral display that might be called garish, the result of a belly laugh. Garish is achieved later, with human intervention (visit your local supermarket “florist”). And, I find it hard to believe that Mother is someone who titters, squeals or snorts, and a guffaw would be unseemly. No, Mother keeps it classy, her mirth and the resulting floral output elegant. Have you ever seen a field of wildflowers in the spring? I can think of no more pure example of Mother at her most festive, her laughter ringing and joyful.
Mother’s visited her laughter on the Rancho lately, examples can be found from front to back. Here are some of my favorites:
Today’s Friday the 13th, but I couldn’t care less. It’s tomorrow, Valentine’s Day, I care about. Reading this, however, you must not be misled into thinking that I’m a romantic. I do not favor hearts chock full o’ chocolates, except as fodder for binge eating. And speaking of emetics, I have no affection for stuffed animals, pink cards or candlelit dinners either. So, if I hate all the usual Valentine tropes, just what is my interest in the day? I love V-Day because I see it as the first real sign of spring … It’s usually about February 14th that I begin to notice changes in my garden, signs of growth, renewal and lots more color. This year I received another sign of that growth when the fun guy who lives at the end of our block rolled down his car window and shouted, “Hey! Nice phallic symbol!” … I was standing next to the plant with my camera at the time so I knew what he was referring to. He didn’t hear me reply as he sped off, “Thanks, which one?!”
You may remember the post before last (click here) that featured my large agave and its brand new flower stalk? Well, that’s it in the photo above; as you can see it’s lots taller two weeks later and it’s got new bud-tipped branches. I don’t think it’s yet at its full height … but it’s not alone.