August in the garden and beyond

The dead of winter is my least favorite time of year, but the dog days of summer aren’t far behind.

According to National Geographic, the Greeks and Romans believed that the dog days were associated with the dog star Sirius rising alongside the sun (in 2022, from July 3 to August 11) and the “heat from the two stars combined is what made these days the hottest of the year.“ The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that the dog days “were believed to be a time of drought, bad luck, and unrest, when dogs and men alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat.”

There’s definitely a ring of truth to that, although in our family, my wife and I are more likely to be driven mad by the heat than our dog Stella. Stella doesn’t seem to be bothered all that much by hot weather. She has other things on her mind, like squirrels, her mortal enemies:

Stella looking for squirrels

August is almost behind us, and in spite of a quick trip to Los Angeles County for the 2022 Inter-City Cactus & Succulent Show, it’s been a slow and lethargic month. When it’s hot outside, my brain wants to go dormant. Even simple tasks, like hand-watering my potted succulents on Saturday morning, become a dreaded chore. While some people seem to reach their peak of activity in the summer, I reach my peak of lethargy, getting very little done beyond what’s absolutely necessary.

In a way, this post is a reflection of my state of being in August: random, haphazard, and sporadic. Also desultory, aimless, and erratic, not to mention fitful, inconstant, and rambling.

On that note, let’s dive into this assemblage of photos taken in August:

Sacred datura (Datura wrightii) blooming en masse on the campus of UC Davis earlier in August

Sacred datura (Datura wrightii)

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) in bloom on the UC Davis campus...

...and with seed pods

A few notables among the bloomers in our own garden:

Ferocactus rectispinus, three flowers this time around. The longest spines are now a full 7 inches.

Ferocactus rectispinus

Echinopsis ‘First Light’, fourth flush of the year. Sadly, the flowers only last a day.

Aechmea fasciata in a hanging basket in the back yard

I’m so thrilled Aechmea fasciata flowered. It lives outside year round.

Weirdest bloomer of the month: ribbon bush (Homalocladium platycladum) from New Guinea. Also known under the less appealing name tapeworm plant. An easy grower and bloomer in the ground. It does want to take over the world (hey, it’s in the knotweed family) but is easily kept in check through vigorous trimming.

But plants don’t need flowers to be special. Here are some examples:

Variegated form of Euphorbia poissonii, a beautiful succulent euphorbia from Nigeria where its highly irritant latex is used as a pesticide. The stacked aloe in the background is Aloe lineata var. muirii that hasn’t started to form a rosette yet.

Hechtia argentea

Hechtia epigyna (top), Dyckia marnier-lapostollei hybrid (bottom left), Dyckia marnier-lapostollei species (bottom right)

Red teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia × campii, a rare naturally occurring hybrid between C. acanthocarpa and C. bigelovii)

Silver cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)

Agave ovatifolia ‘Killer’ (top), Mangave ‘Man of Steel’ (right), Agave ‘Chisum’ (Agave colorata × pablocarrilloi f2, bottom)

Agave ovatifolia ‘Killer’ (top), Mangave ‘Man of Steel’ (bottom). ‘Man of Steel’ is one of my favorite mangaves, probably because it’s very agave-like. It’s a cross between Agave striata and Mangave ‘Bloodspot’.

Agave ‘TBG’ (Agave titanota × ‘Blue Glow’), a Jeremy Spath hybrid

Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’

Aloidendron ramosissimum and Cleistocactus strausii

The larger of the two succulent mounds in the front yard in the golden evening light

New cacti acclimating to our hot sun before they go in the ground

The bottle tree in the back yard is almost complete; two “branches” left to fill. The agave in the foreground is a massive Agave chiapensis. It’s acting like it’s getting ready to bloom.

Speaking of massive, this castor bean (Ricinus communis) has taken off this year. I received it as a small seedling from my friends Max and Justin.

There’s no better metaphor for summer in our garden than this!

Going back to what the Greeks and Romans believed—that during the dog days of summer, dogs and men alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat: It looks like we’ll be able to put this to test very shortly. The temperatures forecast for this Labor Day weekend might break historic records:

Weather forecast for 2022 Labor Day weekend

I’ll be inside, under the ceiling fan, dreaming of fall.

© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. My sympathies! So glad Stella doesn't seem to mind the heat -- I bet not much dampens her enthusiasm for squirrels! You're so good at mentioning the crosses in the mangaves -- 'Man of Steel' seems a possible candidate for zone 8, so thanks for mentioning that. Wonderful light on Agave 'Chisum' -- reminds me when my cowhorn agave used to catch the light like that. Hang in there, Gerhard!

    1. Yesterday I found Stella laying on her outside dog bed in the middle of the afternoon when it was 106°F. Talk about heat-resistant!

  2. And to think I complain about mid 80's temperature!
    Stella looks so focused and ready to go... I fear for the squirrel that dares to wage its tail in her presence.
    I know of milkweed, but never saw those impressive seed pods. Wow. I'd be attempting to dry and save them.

    1. We've never had a dog as aware of her environment as Stella. She was a street dog when she was young; maybe that's why.

      The milkweed seed pods are now bursting open. I meant to take a photo the other day at the UC Davis Arboretum. Better yet, I'll collect some seeds.

  3. The succulents look happy even if you're not! I love that new-to-me Euphorbia and I'm reminded once again that I've ignored cactus way to long. As to the tapeworm plant, it croaked in my garden.

    I entirely understand how you feel about late summer - our shades are drawn throughout the house and the AC is running continuously even though set for interior temperatures exceeding 80F. We're also experiencing a heatwave but, thus far, we're running a bit lower than your area. (My brother and friends in the SF Valley aren't as lucky - they hit 112F yesterday.) To make things worse, though, we received an email from our local water provider yesterday informing us that, like LA's Metropolitan Water district, we're going to be required to adhere to a 15-day ban on outside watering starting 9/6...I feel like throwing in the towel.

    1. UGH, I feel so bad for you! And today, when your watering ban is supposed to start, is the climax of this historic heatwave!

  4. Warm days (that is not hot to me in Phoenix!) but look at the beautiful temps at night! You are so very lucky, Gerhard!

    1. Yesterday, it was hotter here than in Phoenix. That doesn't happen very often in the summer :-).

  5. Stella is so great! What a neat dog you have.

    My brain feels like mush in summer--can't think clearly out in the heat. So I know the feeling--and it's not even that hot here. Still you have some beautiful plants to admire in your garden--hopefully from inside the house.

    1. We're supposed to reach 113°F today. All kinds of records are being broken. Fairfield, on the very edge of the Bay Area, reached 116"!

  6. Wow, I'm way behind in my blog reading, finally getting to this one. Your Aechmea fasciata is gorgeous and that Agave ovatifolia ‘Killer’ is quite photogenic. I kept expecting to come upon a shot of the fixing to bloom Agave bovicornuta but maybe you hadn't yet discovered that one when this post went up.


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