Palm Springs, Part 2 of 3

On Thursday morning in Palm Springs, we took a tour of Moorten’s Desert Land Botanical Garden.  It was either that or Sunnyland, and after perusing a few photos online of both places, I opted for the messier and crazier botanical garden.  I can appreciate the serenity in a highly orderly formal landscape, but if you know me at all you know that my preference is a more chaotic natural garden.

Arriving at the Moorten Botanical Garden, you just park on the street; it’s not a big place, although it’s been around for some time, according to this plaque which states it was established in 1940.

Cactus Slim sounds like someone I wouldn’t mind hanging out with.  I’m sure Patricia was cool too.

Despite the smallish size of the garden (about one acre apparently), it is absolutely packed with plants.  The most memorable aspect of the garden was the emergence of many excellent vignettes that presented themselves again and again as we wound our way through garden paths. Individual plants were often quite striking, but it was the combinations of textures and forms and colors that fascinated me more than anything.

Looking through my 200 or so photos as I’m putting together this blog post, I’m thinking “how can I organize this?” I’m just going to go through the way I walked through the garden so you can have a sense of what it was like to tour the place.

At the entrance quite a few paths converge, and the cooing of doves is the dominant sound along with occasional voices talking softly.  There is a small sign that says something like “start here and go this way” but of course we went the opposite way for whatever reason, and immediately came across this collection of aloes and euphorbias and other fine things:

I mean how ’bout that.  Right out of the gate.

Euphorbia stenoclada, here as large as a small tree, appears to be considering making some flowers:

I’d never seen Aloe dichotoma before.  This also gets to be a tree! You can see the Euphorbia stenoclada above/behind it.


I didn’t see a label on the lovely aloe above.  This has been a great year for me with aloe flowers (which I adore). I got to see tons of them in Australia last June, and now this!

As mentioned this garden is full of fascinating scenes, little (or big) vignettes.  Layers upon layers.  And sticks! Dead branches, logs, and sticks  featured quite prominently in this garden.  I believe I can honestly confess that I have a bit of a thing about dead branches; they make a garden feel “real” to me.


I’m on the lookout for some kind of piece of old farm machinery, or really anything suitably rusty, for a friend.  She would have loved these mining relics!

You cannot take a 5-gallon Agave americana on the airplane.  I checked.

More plants for sale.  There were quite a few of them over in the south end of the garden, some with “Sold” tags on them.  Like a botanical art gallery.

While we’re on the subject of plants for sale, you have to see the tables of little succulents they had – such cuteness and oh so colorful! I am really starting to understand the appeal of plants like Echeverias for their waxy glowing pastel shades.

looking back toward the entrance through the tables of small plants for sale


$1 table

Considering how easy these things are to propagate this seems like a great way for the garden to make some money.

moving up – $3 table


the $5 table

See the bird coop behind the $5 table? The doves in there were cooing constantly, a lovely sound.

Cooing, “etc”

So many suggestive shapes.  Euphemisms and jokes became irresistible with some of these.  I’ll leave it to your imagination.

weird focal point, sorry


aaahhh these COLORS

Also for sale was some interesting garden art.  I rather like these peacock things, especially the mostly green one over on the left in back.

I did not locate Tank nor Boris. Hibernating for winter, maybe

More plants:

Not labeled but I think Opuntia robusta

David models for size comparison:


NOID unlabeled awesome cactus

I cannot get over this next scene.  It has everything.


Sigh.  There’s more…


It says something like “Various Echeveria hybrids”


I promise I will get IDs for all these things eventually

Tallest Opuntia I’ve ever seen on the right in the above pic.  Those agaves are labeled “Blue Agave” which should be A. tequilana and I’m sure you can guess what they are grown for.

From the other side.  These are not small plants – 6 feet tall and wide.

My friend Kate, who loves desert plants, said “I just want to be the guy who rakes this.”  CAN RELATE

Hey guess what! Found the fabled Cactarium! I know just about NONE of these plants so I’ll just let you see with minimal commentary.

if anything in the desert can be dank, it’s this.
I have no evidence to support or disprove this claim.


I can only imagine how hellishly hot this gets in the summer

OMG Welwitschia!


something var monstrosa probably… most of these were not labeled


I have no words

There’s quite a bit of this sort of snaky ground cactus around in here.

This tall thing pushing through the roof reminds me of the story of the agave that flowered and punctured the roof of the glasshouse it lived in in Kent:


No really it’s going right through


Despite admonishment I do wish I had touched this


Agave victoriae-reginae maybe ‘Golden Princess’


No idea. But oh man.

Using a finger as a “visor” for the iPhone camera lens is a trick I figured out works pretty well when the light is too bright or the sun is shining into the lens.  Sometimes I miss and photobomb with finger, as above.


Caudiciforms: not the sexiest plants IMHO.

They just seem, I don’t know, uncomfortable I guess.

Various fun cacti:


All right, that’s it for the Cactarium.  Let’s go back outside…

A particularly ribbon-y Agave americana variegata, taller than me

Another beautiful vignette:

Agave salmiana is my guess, based on a tag on another that appears to be same species.  Looks like a big lily-flowered tulip


for scale (this is the one marked as A. salmiana)

More impressive Opuntia:

Calliandra… californica?


Hey I have this plant! Mine looks much the same as this one:


Now we’re in this lava rock area.  Nice little plantings here:

It says “native to the volcanic areas of central Mexico” or something similar

Guess what my favorite part of the next picture is?

If you said, “the dead tree” I will hand you 50 cents the next time I see you.


Only hardy to about 25F, Caesalpinia cacalaco nonetheless fascinated me with its weird spine-bumps on the trunk and its thick coin-like leaves.

The internet tells me the bumpy things get much denser and larger than this.


Those leaves tho


What is Ironwood you ask? It’s Olneya tesota.  I found one over here…  Like most Eucalyptus and many desert trees, it does not cast a dense shade.


A cactus in the Petrified Ironwood area

Another plant I recognized, Dasylirion wheeleri.  There were several here (and I saw quite a few of them around town).  This isn’t a great picture but you can see how nicely they go with Opuntia for textural contrast:

Speaking of Opuntia, here we go again…

I just adore any purple Opuntia. This is labeled as O. violaceae


I never knew what Jojoba was!

Look at those leaves! Its like a dang manzanita

Bursera microphylla.  What a neato tree.  Purple twigs!

This was the only one I could reach. They are quite strikingly purple.

More vignettes…

Look at that soft-serve ice cream twist over on the left there


Cactus here is labeled as Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum


Who knew the desert could look like a jungle?


And that brings us back to the entrance of the garden.  Whew! One last plant, this gleaming vermilion Euphorbia milii, which seemed like an appropriately cheery-but-armed greeter for this spiky desert garden.


If you made it this far I salute you!  There were so many faptastic plants here that it took three siftings through my photos to finally decide on the 79 selections included this post.  Maybe this is indicative of how much I’ve been craving some color lately!

To recap my favorite things about this botanical garden:

  • Many, many beautiful vignettes with broad ranges of texture and form, with multiple layers and varying elevation.  My favorite element.
  • The use of dead branches! My second favorite element.  Might be tied for first.
  • 5 gallon Agaves for the low low price of $25! Not that it helps me any.
  • I didn’t say this yet but I found the hand-painted signs really charming
  • Overall the place has a sort of whimsical, weird, out-west-roadside-attraction sort of feel, which was unexpected but I liked it a lot.

Next up: Joshua Tree.  Previously I’ve also posted about plants I encountered in and around town in the gardens and front yards of Palm Springs.


Palm Springs, Part 1 of 3

This week I got a rare opportunity to leave my house and actually get on an airplane! I’ll confess that before we got there, I expected that I wouldn’t be all that interested in a bunch of southern California plants that I can’t grow.  I was dead wrong about that, as you will see.

The first thing I want to show you is that this really is a desert. The Coachella Valley is where dates are grown, but truth be told the only farms I saw were wind farms. What you’re seeing from the plane here is the incredibly stark difference between the natural landscape and the irrigated golf-resort-type places that are everywhere around Palm Springs.  It reminds me very much of the Phoenix area, where I lived for a few insanity-inducing months in I think 1999.  I couldn’t stand to witness this kind of resource usage.


In this post I’m going to show you some of the plants I found around town in an attempt to show what gardening is like here.


One of the first plants I saw that I freaked about was this Cercis occidentalis.  The flowers and leaves are bigger in real life than pictures online would have one think.  Just beautiful. I’m guessing a particularly mild winter has allowed them to keep their leaves but in a colder winter here, or certainly a colder climate, they’re fully deciduous, and likely bloom a bit later.  This is a crappy zoomed-in iPhone picture, but still.  The largest leaves here are as big as your hand.

Oh.  It was impossibly sunny, of course, the whole time so will just have to contend with that for this tour.

Except these next two plants.  This was just after sundown.  Of course I gravitated toward this silvery thing the minute I saw it but then I realized, it’s everywhere.  People here are probably sick of it.  I love it.

The leaves have a dense, soft indumentum and they’re a little thick.  Encelia farinosa, brittlebush.


Next up is this beauty which I had a rough time photographing.  These are just roadside plants, so far.  I love love love this color scheme.

What is it? I’ll find out eventually.


A morning walk yielded quite a few interesting scenes.  This is the street in front of the condo where we stayed.  What an alien landscape to this Portland native…

I do recognize some plants in the above scene.  Washingtonia robusta, the ubiquitous Mexican fan palm, Parkinsonia (palo verde) on the right, and those poor pollarded things are olives.  They do really crazy things to olive trees here.  This next photo is an extremely common, if horrific, sight.


Given that most of the architecture here is decidedly midcentury, that design aesthetic clearly influences horticulture as well.  The poor olive above sort of looks like one of those 60’s floor lamps .. hold on let me just get you a picture:


Sigh.. moving on.  I really appreciate the use of rock (and NOT grass) in many yards.  And the barrel cacti are so awesome! Also, I noticed that garden/yard lighting is a huge thing here.  Perhaps an indicator of the general economic status of Palm Springs.

Right around the corner from the barrel cacti planting above is this colorful joint. The tall sticks are ocotillo, and the octopus with the hot pink flowers is, I think, some kind of curious Bouganvillea.  Nice to see some non-butchered olives, although these may well have been pollarded at some point (just not recently).


This next garden is much more to my liking. A delightful mess with a broad range of texture.  I love it.

Above, Opuntia microdasys?


Olive trees in natural form are lovely.  This is a very typical plant combination: olives, with underplantings of Opuntia, Yucca, Agave.

This garden is sort of on the edge of an untended area, and sports an ocotillo, saguaros, what looks like yucca, creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) and some exceptional fake flowers in the pots, which reportedly have been there for at least a year.


This is part of the same property. In fact, those palms in the distance on the right are the same ones in the photo above.  I really liked this scene and the apparently deliberate use of native plants here.  This is mostly Encelia farinosa (brittlebush) with Agave and Larrea in the foreground.


I’m glad no one cut these Agave inflorescences down.  They look great!


One of the challenges of full-sun photography with an iPhone is that often, you can’t see the screen at all because either there’s glare, or everything else is too bright and it appears black, or whatever.  I didn’t realize this photo ended up with what look like smears, but dangit this plant is way too cool to exclude just because the photo is weird.  Of course I have no idea which Opuntia this is – rufida? A cultivar? Whatever it is, I found it very impressive.

I could have easily taken 53,000 pictures of Bougainvillea because they were absolutely everywhere, but instead I collected a sizeable handful of the hot pink ones and pressed them in a book, and photographed only this stunning orange specimen, a much less common color.

This messed with my head for a second until I realized it’s the same Bougainvillea growing into a Cercis occidentalis.


I could not get closer to this for a better pic, but this thing was stunning and I am pretty sure it’s Bryophyllum daigremontianum.

Bamboo was a surprise! Someone must water this…


This garden was great! Pretty much all cacti, from the street all the way back to the small house which was set back about 50 feet.


This pretty little Asteraceae thing was very common.  I like it a lot in front of this dark wall.  That would be a great color for a house if all your plants are silvery.


Dramatic architectural palms like this really dominate the landscape, much the way conifers do in the Northwest (although of course the palms are much smaller overall).  Lower right is Euphorbia tirucalli, also very common here.

The “other” way of going about it — some folks have rocks and sand as their ground layer, and some actually have lawns.  You saw the airplane photo.  Still, it’s palms with Agave-Yucca-cactus underneath.  Very typical.  That hedge on the right is Nerium.


This Opuntia! I need to grow it.  Or at least some similarly purple one.  “Santa Rita” seems to be a name for this or something like it.


I confess I have no idea what any of this stuff is but I absolutely adore this little vignette.

And these! Callistemon ‘Little John’ was incredibly common!  You cannot walk two blocks without seeing one.  More likely, you’d see about ten of them.  It really is a great plant for zone 9 and up xeriscapes.  It looks good all the time.  These are quite common in Sydney too, by the way, so it doesn’t actually require a low/no water biome.


Parking lot plants … I could do endless posts about parking lot plants, really.  I don’t know why but I find it a fascinating subject.  Just one photo here, of a plant that surprised me.  I don’t even know what it is but I liked everything about this scene (except for my crap photo which was again because I couldn’t see the screen at all).  Just think: it made this flower and no one broke it off, peed on it (I mean probably not), ran into it with a shopping cart or a car door, or fell down drunk onto it.  Good job, Palm Springs.


And finally, what post about garden observations in an unfamiliar place would be complete without an investigation of likely weeds that people probably pull out of their gardens all the time? This roadside Physalis was cute as a button, I thought.  But as a Physalis, I can see it as one of those things that just appears everywhere and probably grows super vigorously and annoys the hell out of people.

And from the same family here’s a big Datura wrightii I nearly tripped over.  What a beauty!


So what did I discover? That gardens here are a mix of native/xeriscape and not-native/non-xeriscape.  But if you take the lawns out of the equation, there are very few drought-intolerant plants. People seem to understand that is IS actually a desert.  Except for the lawns, which are clearly one of the most pervasive and indelible obsessions in the American landscape.

I discovered Opuntia!  I’ve noticed them before, but I’ve never been particularly interested.  Now they have my attention! You’ll see a LOT more of them in upcoming posts.

I realized I no longer hate palm trees.  I had such a bad trip living in Phoenix all those years ago and I associated palms – specifically Washingtonia – with that time and with these places I couldn’t stand to be.  But I’m over that and can certainly recognize that my psychosis isn’t the palms’ fault.  Now I can love them.  They’re like landscape exclamation points.  Or Greek columns.  Or fireworks.  Nah, not fireworks, I hate fireworks.  I never thought I’d say this but I actually wouldn’t mind having a palm or two in the garden.  Chamaerops humilis var. cerifera is on my list.

Overall plant diversity in cultivated landscapes and gardens seems low to me here.  I’m not sure if that’s accurate, or if that’s just the impression I got.  Despite that, this is a very colorful place and I love that aspect of it.

Ok, that’s it for the sidewalk tour.  Stay tuned for Part 2, the weird and wonderful Moorten Botanical Garden, and then Part 3 will be a trip to Joshua Tree National Park.


The Plants of Downtown Milwaukie

I get my coffee from the Painted Lady Coffeehouse because they carry beans roasted by my good friend Justin of Badbeard’s Microroastery, who I met years ago through music – he’s an excellent cellist and boy does he know how to roast coffee!

I went down early because I was completely out of beans (for three days! the horror!), and I’d just had a service technician come diagnose my not-working-very-well furnace (not good, recommended all-out replacement), and I really needed to just take a walk and look at plants and not think about how I’m going to come up with the money. AND my car overheated yesterday so there’s nervousness about that.

Turns out, sleepy little downtown Milwaukie has some rather interesting plantings! It’s not all boxwood and Nandina!

Although… those do exist and this has to be the most spectacular Nandina I’ve ever seen:

Nandina just falling over with berries

Just outside the door of the Painted Lady they have a sort of nice little container planting – I like how the red pot matches the violas:

Looks like Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’, a Sedum, and Violas

Down the block this sign just seems to scream admonishment about sheared boxwood with chickweed as ground cover.  They’re not all like this!

On to something more interesting.

Lavender, Berberis, Ligustrum, Sedum.. nice rocks

I rather liked this corner planting featuring a bright green Ligustrum japonicum, a Berberis in lovely fall colors, and multiple lavenders.  The simplicity here is what I think draws me.


another view of same

Right at the corner there’s a swath of Coreopsis – I remember these from summer and they were spectacular.  There are several around on street corners in this area.

Coreopsis verticillata. I like them when they’re all dead too

Another corner planting, across the street, features more coreopsis, one of several grasses you’ll see more of eventually, what I believe is Glechoma hederacea, and Nepeta, which even had a couple flowers.  I really like that rock.


Next corner features a painfully sheared Ceanothus, but wait, what’s this black thing!?


NOWAY REALLY? I’ve never seen a black Phygelius before.  I googled of course, and came up with *maybe* Phygelius x rectus ‘Devil’s Tears’, but only a couple of sites even mention dark foliage, much less black foliage.  Sorry for the out-of-focus bits there; with iPhone it’s really one or the other and I figured the leaves were more important here.

Across the sidewalk from the interesting Phygelius and the painfully pruned Ceanothus we find Oenothera lindheimerii, looking wonderfully spazzy just like mine at home, some unidentifiable ground covers (Liriope maybe, for the grassy ones) another big swath of Coreopsis, and what I figure is Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’.  Despite not noticing the Phygelius ever before, I do remember seeing this corner in summers past and thinking it looks pretty great for a low-to-no-maintenance, no-water street corner.  We’ll come back next summer so you can see what I’m on about since it’s not particularly impressive now.


What I think is impressive about all this is that, as mentioned, it’s not all Nandina/Sarcococca/Viburnum davidii/Spiraea japonica; what I think of as the standard parking lot plants.  These corners exist because of the way parking is organized at the diagonal on a lot of these streets, and I appreciate that someone took the opportunity to plant at least a few interesting things.

See what I mean here about diagonal parking:

Above, we have the same juniper, some moppy and somehow charming Chamaecyparis, the tree is a dogwood, and how about that Lobelia laxiflora right in the middle with the variegated Euphorbia?

Lobelia laxiflora blooming on December 9. Such a happening plant. I know not everyone loves it but I do.

Wouldn’t be without some member of Apiaceae… This fennel looks like it’s being quite nicely contained by those grassy clumps, and probably gets stepped on and run over too.  Natural pruning make for a nice compact little blip of a plant rather than that towering out of control thug fennel can be.

I’m 100% sure this is not an on-purpose plant.

Next up, around the corner, some unusual selections for built-in street-side planter boxes: Agaves and chickweed!

These are on the east side of this building.


It seems almost all Agaves in urban/publicly accessible spaces get abused, and this one is no exception!

Battle scars. Were its adversaries drunk people falling into it? Mindless idiots passing by and thwacking it with sticks? Shopping carts? I’d guess any and all.

Next up, a huge formless mound of Chamaecyparis! But wait, this Achillea here has super silvery leaves and if I’m going to have Achillea popping up all over my garden (I do) I’d rather have it be silvery than the plain dark green stuff I have.  I pocketed a seed head.

If it has to have yellow flowers, I can handle that.

Across the street we have some plantings that I imagine went in during the construction of the MAX Orange Line.  This is a bowl with rocks in the bottom and a bunch of plants around it, many of them native.  It’s really quite nice.  I wonder how huge those birch trees are going to get.  Did they plant them on purpose to suck up runoff water?

runoff catchment basin I presume?

Mostly natives. What I could make out was a young Thuja (plicata?), lots of Ribes sangiuneum, various grasses, lots of Juncus down in the bowl along with those birches, and some rather lovely Mahonia repens. And these tiny tiny roses with leaves smaller than Lonicera nitida.  Very cute.

Tiniest rose ever


Coffee for me, thanks

Here you can see the rocks at the bottom of the bowl.  I guess this is designed to just become a lake when necessary?

The high side under the pine tree sports mostly Mahonia repens and Polystichum munitum, but there are also Echinacea purpurea sort of sprinkled throughout.

I found myself really liking this Mahonia repens.  Interesting soft colors, matte finish, the nice roundish leaves, and low.  I think I will use this in a particularly problematic dry shade area I’ve got.

On the way home, I stopped to take that opening photo of the spectacular Nandina and because of the way I’d parked (drove into spot, then backed up) I noticed water on the ground that had obviously come from my car.  Well! Now we have a reason for yesterday’s overheating! There is a leak somewhere.

When I got home I found the source of the leak: the valve that opens and closes the intake to the heater core was broken, the little valve flap inside wasn’t connected to the lever that is supposed to open and close it via a cable.

This is broken.

But guess what! I had a spare.

Much better! And by the way this now costs $92 at Pelican Parts WHAT. No way.

Unfortunately, as with all heater-related car things, the damn thing is pretty much in the center of the car. You can’t even see but it right in front of the firewall down underneath stuff and man I was glad the engine was still warm while I was doing this because my hands wouldn’t have been able to tolerate that level of contortion when cold.  And it makes the backs of my knees hurt to have to lean way in for a spell.  I was motivated, I think, by my downtown Milwaukie plant walk.

It’s way down in there trust me, it sucked

I know this is supposed to be a plant blog but hey, a gardener’s gotta travel.  This post was brought to you by my *working* car, which now sports a non-leaky cooling system and some new coolant to boot, just in time for winter!

There, car AND plants. Better?

And because everything is rather dreary outdoors these days, I give you my indoor Pelargonium as a parting shot. How can this not cheer a person up a bit?

Pelargonium x hortorum ‘Vancouver Centennial’ is even more intense in real life.

Have a great weekend!