Things that caught my eye in the backyard today

I rarely take photos of the backyard because I'm perennially dissatisfied with it. Granted, there are areas I like, but as a whole, it's never come together the way the front yard has. The reason is simple: dry shade. There's a lot of it because of the way the lot is oriented; our next-door neighbor's house; and four mature California bay trees (Umbellularia californica) with a canopy so dense, it sucks up all the light. How I've tried to deal with dry shade, that's a topic for a separate post. For now, suffice it to say that I haven't been very successful.

Still, here's a collection of photos I took earlier today just to prove to myself that there are things worth showing.

This is our lone contestant in the fall color contest, a Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis). The Chinese pistache is indeed related to the pistachio (Pistacia vera) as well as the turpentine tree (Pistacia terebinthus).

 This Ginkgo biloba 'Jade Butterfly' might be small, but it's trying hard to give us some fall color:

 My least favorite aspect of fall: leaf drop from our neighbor's thuggish London plane tree (Platanus × acerifolia).

 Three plants I love: Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light' (front), Kumara plicatilis (back), and Cycas debaoensis (right).

 Mahonia eurybracteata 'Cistus Silvers', a selection from Cistus Nursery in Portland:

 Silver cans, my own selection, waiting to acquire a rusty patina so they can be used for planting:

 Bought on a whim at Annie's Annuals with little expectation of success, this velvet groundsel (Roldana petasitis) has shot up to 8 feet:

 Farfugium japonicum 'Giganteum', currently flowering next to the Roldana petasitis:

 I'm forever amazed at how falling leaves manage to get stuck on the most unlikely surfaces, in this case a chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) leaf on Agave salmiana var. ferox 'Medio-picta':

 Cobwebby and dusty after a long dry summer, this NOID Hechtia still looks good, at least to me:

 Abutilon 'Victor Reiter', my all-time favorite abutilon, responding to the cooler weather with a flush of large orange flowers:

I brought this aptly named white-vein pipevine (Aristolochia fimbriata) home from Austin, TX in May 2018. I've been giving it a bit more water this year, and it's finally putting on some size. The agave under it is Agave wercklei, a fairly tender species from Costa Rica.

 This little violet (Viola odorata) seems to be a bit confused. I don't think it's supposed to be flowering now!

 The patio table is meant for use by people, but more often than not, it holds plants:

 Austin-inspired bottle tree, still three blue bottles shy of full:

 This half barrel with a pond liner has held everything from running bamboo to abutilons. Now I'm trying aloes. Front: Aloe menyharthii, top left: Aloe pluridens, top right: Aloe richaudii. Aloe pluridens is definitely going to be too large but I'll leave it in there for a while. Now if I could only think of a good-looking way to hide the rim of the plastic liner...

 Cardón (Pachycereus pringlei) in front of Agave 'Bluebells Giants', a Plant Delights creation involving Agave ×protoamericana and Agave ×pseudoferox 'Bellville' (which Plant Delights thinks is actually Agave americana × Agave asperrima × Agave gentryi). Talk about a convoluted lineage!

 Agave ovatifolia 'Vanzie' dwarfing everything else around it, including ×Mangave 'Crazy Cowlick' (left) and Agave nizandensis (right). Note to myself: Remember to cover Agave nizandensis when temperatures drop below freezing; it gets frost damage right at 30°F.

 Bougainvillea 'Bambino Baby Sophia', a dwarf with deep orange bracts. It hasn't thrived in this container and needs a better place (preferably in the ground) to shine. I do love the variegated foliage and the bract color, and I must treat it better.

 I always have a good supply of plants waiting in the wings:

 Agave utahensis var. nevadensis from seed collected at Potosi Pass south of Las Vegas by Donnie Barnett of Colorado Springs-based Ethical Desert Nursery. I've bought quite a few plants from Donnie now, and I can highly recommend him as a source of hardy succulents and cactus.

All photos taken on Wednesday, December 2, 2020

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  1. The Chinese pistache looks glorious. They really are great trees for fall color.

    1. This year is particularly good for fall color. I don't know why...

  2. It's fun to see what's in your back yard--more Aloes and Agaves!

    The Pistache looks glorious in its fall color.

    Heavy shade is hard to deal with, but it must help in the heat of summer.

    1. I'm gaining quite a bit of experience growing aloes and agaves in shady situations, and I'm beginning to realize that they are very adaptable!

  3. I think you back garden is looking pretty darn good, Gerhard! That Chinese pistache is fabulous. I even checked whether it might be a good alternative to the Gingko I've been planning to plant to fill the vacancy left by our mimosa. (I'd be pushing matters, even in terms of Sunset's zones.) As to your neighbor's leaf litter, I recommend looking into a Leaf Hog, basically a leaf vacuum. It's a little awkward to use but it does make fast work of litter like that and turns it into nicely crushed material perfect for a compost pile.

    1. I love ginkgos but I understand why people have reservation. I have two variegated cultivars but they're both in pots (not sure they'd grow much faster in the ground).

      Thanks for recommending the Leaf Hog - Ill take a look!

  4. From the number of healthy looking sun lovers in your back garden it must get get enough light for them to flourish. What about trying a low sedum or other groundcover type plant to camouflage the edge of the barrel?

  5. So you're growing that tractor seat farfugium successfully! Since this is a post about a dry shade area am I safe in assuming it needs much less water than it looks like it would? Also....LOVE that bougainvillea!!!

    1. Farfugium japonicum (both 'Giganteum' and 'Aureomaculatum' which I have growing elsewhere in the backyard) are *FAR* more drought-tolerant than I had thought. In fact, it has been one of the most long-lived plant in the backyard!

  6. I'm growing that roldana now too and had no idea it would get so tall! That little dutchman's pipe has been reseeding around for a few years, a very cool little ground cover or small vine. And that bambino boug is tempting me to try it in a container next have some great plants in your dry shade garden!

    1. Glad to hear you have that roldana, too. It should do even better in your climate, esp. in the winter.

      I got that dwarf boug at Lowe's, I believe.

  7. Looks good to me Gerhard. I agree that shade can be workable for some of the succulents I've got 3 or 4 Mangaves that are either in all day bright shade or just a couple of hours of direct sun and they seem to do fine. Neighbors trees absolutely dictate the sun exposure in my back yard-I've removed all but one of my trees or else I'd have no sun at all. I'm starting to get a little jealous of your success with Cycads ! I've killed them all. Next time I aquire one I'm going to put it in the ground.

    1. I have a bunch of mangaves in mostly shade as well. They don't color up the way they do in the sun, but if you pick varieties with silver or blue leaves, that doesn't matter.

      As for cyads, yes, ground them or put them in a large pot. I don't think they like constant moisture fluctuations.

  8. That 'Victor Reiter' is one handsome, happy-looking Abutilon. I'm looking for a pair of 'Ines' to flank the front steps in big pots next sommer, and wondering what I could do with them over the winter. Maybe my nursery-owning friend would want to use them as stock plants for cuttings...

    I love the color of that pistache, and the echo with the gingko below. It's been one of the best years ever for foliage color here, but I imagine conditions have been pretty different than in your garden. A long, flaming fall helps us eastern woodland gardeners make the transition to winter grey in a much better mood.

  9. Extreme conditions can be a curse as well as a bonus at the same time; in my property dry shade is a blessing during summers where I enjoy the beautiful flowers of "clivias" and happy deep green leaves of aspidistras, especially the variegated species look gorgeous in shady & dry parts of the garden. Even Agave Attenuatas, aeoniums and most aloes are happier under dappled shade of jacarandas' canopies, especially during summer, with weekly manual watering of course.

    Looking at the photo with the table in the middle, your back garden looks pretty good despite the fallen leaves; be happy, remember that gardening is a constant battle, if it wasn't what would we be doing, especially during this lost year of 2020 :-)

    Happy gardening!

  10. I think your back garden is very inviting, and the patio provide some shade and respite from the day's heat. I love the patterns on white-vein pipevine, the extra water is totally worth it. Both variegated foliage and stunning boom color, Bougainvillea 'Bambino Baby Sophia' is a winner!


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