A trip to Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden

Specifically, the succulent garden, which was among the largest by area of the “themed” sections.  Danger Garden, this is for you.

For your well-being we ask that you keep to the paths and avoid touching the plants, especially if you have children in your care.

The entire succulent garden is in raised beds and large planters made of what appears to be Cor-Ten steel or similar. That dark rusty color of course does wonders for the lovely silvery blues of agaves and cacti as well as bright orange aloe flowers.  Sydney has a humid subtropical climate and gets probably 50 inches of rain a year, so this seems like a good idea.

Agave geminiflora on the left, the twin-flowered agave, and the tag to the right says Melocactus ernestii. Looks like two have died but there’s one back there between the agaves that looks okay.

In the above photo with the big flower spike is Agave attenuata, an extremely common sight all around Sydney, more common than Yucca is here.  They practically grow in sidewalk cracks — or they would if they could fit! Here’s a grouping of them, along with what I think is A. americana.  This is along a street behind someone’s backyard fence, in what appeared to be an untended area:

Agave attenuata and A. americana (?)

While A. attenuata dominates the Sydney agave scene, others do pop up here and there.  This next picture looks like a couple different species, the largest possibly A. flexispina?  I found this just walking around Bondi:

One more, while we’re out and about, then we’ll go back to the botanic garden.  This thing is probably 10-12 feet tall at the highest point:

Agave americana var. marginata, with A. attenuata flower spike behind it

Ok back to the garden.  Even in this less-than-amazing iPhone photo, look how all the blue stuff just glows in front of that weathered steel wall!

A. attenuata, didn’t catch the cactus, sorry

This one let me get closer:

A. attenuata again


reminds me of a giant asparagus

I love how these guys are totally falling over with the weight of all their little keikis:

Couldn’t find the tag, Opuntia, I guess?



What do you suppose was going on in my mind that prevented me from taking a picture of the tags in the photo above? I mean, in a lot of cases the tags were nowhere to be seen, but I suspect that here, I probably thought, “I can never grow that so I don’t care” or similar.  Sigh.

I DID focus on the spikey bois on the left, though!

See? I wasn’t far off with that asparagus comment!

LOTS of these here.  In fact, if you do a Google image search for Agave flexispina, I’ll bet a third of the images are of the plants here.  You can tell by that red rock, which is used throughout the succulent garden.

Isn’t this just delicious?

A. flexispina

I don’t know what this guy is:


But he gave us some pretty nice close ups:


I don’t know about you but I really trip out on those indentations.  I think, aside from color, that’s my favorite thing about agaves.


Cleistocactus strausii, the silver torch cactus.  A native of southern Bolivia to Argentina.  On the far left in this photo is Cleistocactus tupizensis.

Cleistocactus strausii

Of course I didn’t get a photo of C. tupizensis because I am enamored of this particular color combination (silver and purple/rust).

I really enjoyed this vignette and its color palette is just lovely to me.  Unfortunately, none of these plants had visible labels.


NOID Agave, but aren’t they lovely? Update: Agave macroacantha, thanks Loree! 

Here I stopped and turned around and tried to get an overview.  I had to mess with this in Photoshop as it came out quite dark.  I very rarely edit photos at all, but the failing of the iPhone camera is its limited ability to adjust exposure when there is any amount of sky in the frame, and for this pic it was worth it to try to improve it.


Oh hello!

I think when I was there I just assumed this was a cultivar of A. attenuata but now I disagree.  How ’bout those pink filaments? I like the green/yellow/pink color combination.

This Crassula was interesting in that the stems? stalks? trunks? are rough and sort of shaggy, rather than smooth like the houseplants we are used to.  Jade plants are not uncommon outdoor plants in Sydney by the way.


See what I mean?

Big ol’ Agave hanging out with Crassula ground cover, and frangipani

This was a parking area divider zone in Bondi, just about to flower and over 3′ tall.  A hedge of jade:

Good ol’ Crassula ovata

Now we come to the Aloe garden which of course I really loved.  I have a bit of a thing for aloes, have no idea why.  Unfortunately, very few were tagged.  But isn’t this pretty with its glowing spines?

NOID Aloe, at least I *think* it’s Aloe?

This next pic isn’t great because I used the zoom on my iPhone camera before I realized the birds weren’t particularly fearful.  But I’m including it because it shows some background plants and you get a sense of the drama of the scene.  The building here is the Maiden Theatre, built in 1899 and named for Joseph Henry Maiden, a previous director of the Botanic Garden.  The building was an herbarium until 1982, at which point the collection was moved to the Robert Brown Building, where it still exists.

Honeyeaters, noisy miners to be exact: Manorina melanocephala

Once I realized they weren’t afraid of me I could get closer.


So I guess these birds are the ecological-niche-equivalent of hummingbirds, which are not present in Australia at all.  As for the aloe, I really kind of like how these seem to flop at rakish angles as they open.  To me it conveys movement in an interesting way.

unlabeled Aloe. Or is that its tag on the left?

I loved this dramatic little Aloe but I couldn’t get closer to it without hopping up into the raised bed and I felt like I probably shouldn’t do that.  But now that I look at this picture again, so many questions come to mind! What is that thing that looks like it fell over (Aloe)? What is the staked trunk? It’s a palm Pachypodium but what kind? Is that a papaya in the background on the left? (yes).


Above, more NOID Aloe with some variegated Sansevieria up in with them.  I love this Aloe’s green-to-coral inflorescence coloration.

While we’re on Aloe, here’s one I found in another part of the garden and it actually had a tag! Ha!

Aloe ‘Super Red’


I wonder if my house falls under “tough landscaping conditions”?

Hey look! A whole ‘nother planting of these guys:

A. flexispina


Lots of littlies


flowering Agave attenuata.

In the above photo, the larger sign on left is the one in the very first photo in this post.  I think you’re supposed to see that when you first come in? I, of course, came in through some apparent back door and only found this sign toward the end of my tour here.

Next up is an Agave we found extremely satisfying.  I love it in the same way I love cabbage plants.


I took another picture with David for scale.  I’m not sure if that’s helpful because he’s not right next to it.  By the way I though the rock wall was quite nice, with the blues and purples. That yellow cactus looks pretty good against those colors, doesn’t it?


Were you eyeing those little perfectly neat pincushions of agave-ness right in front of David? I was too.



It’s annoying to me to think that people would intentionally put rocks in them, but I can’t imagine how else these got there.  Grr.

I’m not sure what these are but I took a photo because they were HUGE.  Some kind of Yucca? Something else entirely?  Their leaves are like 10-foot-long spears…


Oh look, another cute little pile of Agave attenuata.  Seriously these are everywhere.  It must be the best species for this climate. I appreciate their softness.

Not sure on this one, but I liked it.  It seems to allllmost have a lighter stripe down the center of each leaf.


Agave vandalism.  Incest? I find that an odd word for a tag.  This photo was taken June 16, 2017 so this carving is over a year old.

Here’s another plant I had to zoom in to photograph.  I took this pic to ID this thing just because it’s the weirdest plant ever.  Pretty sure it’s Cereus peruvianus var monstrosus.  I’m not 100% sure that’s how that name should be written, but it gets the point across well enough.

Cereus peruvianus var monstrosus

This cactus is an absolutely arresting plant and I really wish I could have gone up there and gotten closer to it.  It’s really interesting, and quite blue.  It was also the last plant I photographed in the succulent garden, and since I can’t stand ending a post with a crappy zoomed-in iPhone photo, I;ll send you off with an orchid from the glasshouse.  I’m not an orchid person at all, but I did find this rather exquisite and I think the genus name is hilarious: Epicattleya.  I can’t decide if it’s epic, or it’s bovine, or what…

Epicattleya ‘Gerardus Staal’, a cross between Epidendrum pseudepidendrum and Cattleya schilleriana.

I hope you enjoyed the succulent garden.  Thanks for reading!







We’ve all had these situations where a special plant almost dies, and then … something happens… and you get soooo very excited, it feels like falling in love again and to borrow a phrase from a favorite friend, you love the thing so much it makes your teeth hurt.

This happened years ago with my lime tree.  It completely defoliated one winter; I had a lot of shit going on in my life and we also had to move out of the apartment building we’d been living in for a decade.  It was early April; no leaves.  I put the plant outside (earlier than normal; had no choice), and left it to die, or not die.  We proceeded with the moving process and after we finished, maybe 10 days later, I came back and checked on the tree.  GUESS WHAT! It had a ton of tiny little purple baby leaves.  I was amazed, so relieved, and so happy.

Here’s the lime, a year and a half after that episode, looking wonderful:

Citrus hystrix, August 2015

So this is now (I think I hope) happening with my lemon that I just got this summer from Four Winds Growers, which is the same place I got the lime tree from maybe 10 years ago.  The lemon arrived in good shape with about 5 fruits on it.  I wasn’t thinking about what its growing conditions might have been at the nursery, so I just put it outside, middle of August, heat waves and all.  I should have hardened it off more carefully, but I didn’t even think.

Here’s the lemon on September 2, about 2 weeks after it arrived:

Meyer lemon, Sept 2, 2017

But unfortunately it really went downhill from there.  It started to get yellow leaves, here and there at first, but then more and more.  The citrus cognoscenti highly recommend a potting mix of what they call 5-1-1.  It’s 5 parts fairly coarse bark, 1 part perlite, and 1 part peat-based regular potting soil.  I made a mix that was more like 5-1-2, because I wanted a little bit more moisture-holding capacity as my citrus plants do spend the whole frost-free season outdoors.  I repotted it into this mix, and it was still looking more or less okay when I first brought it in, albeit more chlorotic.

October 10, 2017, right about when I brought them in

In the pic above, see that little poof of new leaves over on the right side of the lemon? That’s about all that was left; nearly ALL the other leaves have fallen off in the last month since the above picture was taken.


Only the new leaves remain and they do not look good, major interveinal chlorosis.

Do you see, on the branch closest to the bottom of the picture here? I’m not great at super close-ups but let me try:


Tiny beginnings of new leaves! And yes that’s an ant trap in the pot in the background.  And a scale insect on the lemon, which I only noticed after looking at this picture; that got removed along with several others.  But you guys, this little lemon is covered with tiny leafy bits like this.  Some seem like they might be flowers which I’m not thrilled about, but whatever.

I am very hopeful but also still prepared for disappointment if we have to go that way.

Meanwhile, there are other cool things happening in the indoor grow room.  The pepper I brought in is really thriving and keeps making fruit. Ha!

Pepper who won’t quit


And Hibiscus shizopetalus keeps giving me these … I’ve never been a big hibiscus fan but this just does not suck, though they only last a day:

H. schizopetalus


And there’s a caterpillar in here which is eating the leaves of the pepper, the Pelargoniums, and African violets.   I find that somehow humorous though I have no idea why.  I guess it’s just funny to me to see insect predation on African violets.  Sure, here’s a pic:


See the round holes on the Saintpaulia and the peppers? As I was taking this photo just now I was composing the last line of this post in my head, which was to read, “The pepper and the Pelargonium here are both big plants and I’m never going to find this caterpillar, but that’s okay because they’re all growing quite well and can tolerate a bit of predation.  I’ll just let the thing chew away.”

But then I found it.

Duck food! (chickens are asleep)

All for now.  Wish my little lemon tree good luck.  I’ll keep you posted.


Backyard pain points

Frankly, most of my backyard is sort of painful to me at the moment.  I’ll show you some of it and try to explain what my goals are for these areas.  Then in a couple of years or so we can come back to this post and feel like something good has happened, I hope…

First let me give you a sense of the layout.  My super awesome stepdad did a really cool thing for me when we first moved in to this house: he drew up a to-scale plan of the backyard, and gave me a roll of flimsy so I could map and re-map the garden each year.  So here’s this year’s map, more or less:


I did make a little key of existing permanent plants (at least I don’t *think* I’m going to move any of these anytime soon):

A – Eucryphia ‘Nymansay’ planted 7/2017
B – Acca sellowiana planted 10/2017
C – Clerodendrum trichotomum was there when we moved in
D – a couple of berry bushes.  One is Jostaberry which I’d like to keep there, the other is a native blackcap (Rubus leucodermis) that I’d like to keep but might not, because it’s really brambley
E – Quercus hypoleucoides planted 9/2017
F – Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’ planted 10/2017
G – Pear, red Anjou, semi-dwarf, planted 3/2017
H – Chocolate Persimmon planted 3/2017
I – Pear, Flemish Beauty, full dwarf, planted 3/2017

By the way this whole yard was just lawn grass pretty much when we got here.  There was a scraggly butterfly bush against the east/back fence, a very young and frighteningly fast-growing ponderosa pine right behind the Clerodendrum, and a pair of ailing rhododendrons right up against the back of the house to the left of the patio.  Those have all been removed.

The first thing we did was establish all those rectangular vegetable beds.  I completely or mostly ignored everything else for the first couple years.  As you can see by the planting dates above, this year has been the beginning of anything to do with trees and woody shrubs.

Here’s a photo from May of 2016.  Note all the barriers.  I hate that look but the zooming of the dog necessitates it.

May 2016

So here’s what’s painful: I have come to realize that I can’t stand looking at this fence anymore.  Photo from today:

The back fence, from the center of the yard.

So that’s why I planted that Acca there, which you can sort of make out to the right of/behind the largest cauliflower plant.  I have three or four additional plants that I want to put along this fence with it.  Those two in pots at right are up for consideration; one is a Callicarpa and the other is a Leptospermum. I’m undecided still, and there are others in the running as well.

By the way that largest cauliflower plant there? I have to take a moment to geek out over that plant. OMG I love it. It is 15 months old and has not flowered.  I think maybe it will in early spring.  I don’t care — I think it’s just a gorgeous plant.  Maybe I should plant a hedge of these! Ha! No seriously, it’s worth considering using them in the landscape if they’re going to be like this.  They can get by without supplemental water in the summer if they’re mature enough, they do like rich soil but don’t absolutely require it, and if they flower, you can just eat that and let the plant keep going.  They’ll resprout from the stem if you cut them off at ground level.  And near as I can tell they’re absolutely perennial.

15-month old cauliflower

I guess it’s not ALL painful back here.  But wait, it does get worse…

Just ugggghhh

The above picture is what it looks like when you walk out the back door onto the patio and look left, which is north.  There is just NOTHING good happening here.  The rain barrel is the most obvious eyesore and I really don’t know what I want to do with it.  Are these even useful at all in this climate? I’m doubting that.  I think at the very least, I’ll move it around to the north side of the house so it’s invisible.  We also haven’t yet finished painting the house – this is the original color.  The dark color you might have seen in other posts is the new color and we ran out of time before the rain came.  Ugh.

The white trellis thing somehow ended up there – it was one of three of these that were attached to the patio roof support posts.  We had no love for them so they got removed and this one was probably being used as a dog-fence-garden-protector over there.  This is reminding me I need to deal with it in a better way.

To the right of the rain barrel, toward the fence from the hydrangea, is Quercus hypoleucoides.  Ok, it’s the one good thing.  You can barely see it in the photo above, so here:

Quercus hypoleucoides, planted 9/2017

As you can imagine, this is going to really change this scene eventually.  Q. hypoleucoides is an evergreen oak which will eventually get to 30 feet or so (reports vary considerably).  I planted this here because I absolutely LOVE it but also because I want it to obscure my view of my neighbor’s house (and his mine, why not?), to provide afternoon shade for the part of the garden to the east of the oak, and because I love the little willow-esque brown leaves it drops on the ground year-round, and the bright shade underneath that is due to the white undersides of the leaves. There are several 10-year-old specimens around a very interesting parking lot on NW Vaughn between 19th and 20th.  Another, about 20 years old, lives at approximately 915 N Shaver, and someone has a couple more in their amazing garden on NE 11th just north of Knott.  I looked at all of these (and looked on Google maps street view over the years) before selecting this tree.  I love all of these trees in all stages of growth that I’ve seen.  This plant was recommended initially to me by James Wilson of Garden Stories.  I bought it from Xera Plants this summer.

The Hydrangea quercifolia came with the house, as did two large rhododendrons that used to be right on top of it; you can almost see where they were by the way this thing has grown – we removed them this summer because for a location so prominent, they were not the right plants.  Big, coarse, dark leaves, tons of lace bugs and aphids, messy after flowering, very short season of interest… it feels very bare without them, and I miss having plants here, but I don’t miss the rhodies themselves.  Of course, they were also hiding all these atrocities, like the AC unit and the cat shelves and the rain barrel.

Speaking of the AC unit that’s actually the hands-down worst thing going on here.  It’s LOUD and I HATE IT but Certain People really can’t tolerate heat, so I have to live with it.

The Plan, then:

  1. Plant something dense and somewhat soft right where those hostas are, to shield the eye and ear from the AC unit.  I might also put something of a wooden fence on the near side of it.
  2. Prune the hydrangea to encourage more up-ish growth which will actually be possible now that the rhodies are gone.
  3. Move that rain barrel out of sight!
  4. Wait for the oak to grow.
  5. Plant some other stuff along that fence so I don’t have to look at it either. I have a nice Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegatum’ in mind, and an Azara microphylla.

Speaking of that fence, here’s another pain point.  In the following photo I’m standing near the oak, looking east toward the Clerodendrum:

Cucurbits on fence, dog fence and (potted) Azara down in front here

For the last three years I’ve grown squashes and things on this fence, and I rather like the look of it in summer, but I’ve finally decided I’d rather give that up and have a mostly evergreen hedge-border type of thing here.  That means that eventually I’ll have to shorten these vegetable beds to make room.  I’m fine with that.  I’m actually fine with completely rethinking the whole layout of vegetable beds.  Anyway, I’ll start with a couple of Leptos along here (actually you can see them in their pots with their white tags; they came from Xera Plants as well), and go from there.  The further-away one is L. lanigerum and I’m hoping it’ll provide some afternoon shade for that Jostaberry which needs it, and at the same time be a nice focal point in that spot.

I think about focal points a lot.  And what tends to happen is I get too focused on them and end up not being able to decide how to handle them.  The result is that of all the main focal points that exist back here from the patio vantage point (a total of maybe 5), there is only ONE that has a suitable plant in it, and that’s the Acca.  So I have some decision-making to do! And please feel free to make suggestions! No really.  I need help here.

The more I think about this, the more I want to change the rectangular vegetable bed arrangement.  That’s going to be a lot of work.  But more and more I’m yearning for a garden that is nicer to be in, rather than just do the hyper-productive edible garden thing.  Let this post be the first, in what will probably be a long process… Thanks in advance for hanging in there with me.