Monilaria moniliformis

Monilaria moniliformis is cool enough to deserve its own transformation post as it is a bit more dramatic than Conophytums.  I posted about it last year in this thread Dormancy in Mesembs and I am happy to say that it has survived once again despite the fact that it always looks very dead while dormant.  Not only did it survive but this year it has multiplied.  Last year I had just five stems but this year each stem has branched three times.

This is a large (compared to most Conophytums) Mesemb from north-western South Africa in an area called Namaqualand that receives just a few inches of water each winter.  While in active growth the leaves are covered in pearly little water storage cells and shriveled for eight or nine months while the plant is dormant.  It is often listed as being rather difficult to grow but it has been pretty straightforward so far.  Water in October and then regularly when in active growth and then in early spring when it starts to go limp and collapse withdraw water until it shrivels up.  Then ignore it until fall.  It does need high winter light to flower so hopefully when I move I’ll be able to provide better conditions and get some blooms.

I think they look like tragic little burn victims trying to crawl away from the fire when they are dormant.

day 10. I always make sure to get water all over the bodies of the dormant plants to soften the dried sheathes.

day 13. At this stage it was obvious they were branching. Yay!

day 13 close up. The second set of leaves are emerging.

day 14. Now that they are actively growing I usually snap off any old dried leaves that look like they are obstructing the new growth.

day 14. The first set of leaves are the little rounded collar on top of the previous years growth. The second set of leaves are the little bunny ears that emerge. Sometimes a third set of leaves grows as well. Up close you can see the little water storage cells.

day 15

day 15 close up.

day 17. The growth from day to day is pretty dramatic.

day 17 close up. The water storage cells are pretty clear in this picture. I'd love to get a camera with a better macro lens so I could get even closer.

day 23. At this stage of growth they bend toward the light trying to absorb as much light as they can to aid in flower production.

If you are into weird little succulents I definitely recommend looking for these guys at your local cactus and succulent show.  I picked this one up in San Diego a few years ago.  I’ve just received some seed from Silverhill Seeds for the species Monilaria pisiformis.  I’m imagining that the seedlings are going to be super cute!

Conophytum Update

Conophytum marginatumConophytum piriformeConophytum obcordellumConophytum uviforme ssp. uviformeConophytum fraternumConophytum minium 'Witteburgense'
Conophytum ficiforme X minium 'Witteburgense'Conophytum sp.Conophytum ectypum ssp. ectypumConophytum klinghardtenseConophytum mixConophytum truncatum

Conophytum Update, a set on Flickr.

I had hoped to do photo updates of these day by day as they started greening up after receiving water on October 30th. This just wasn’t practical because A. for Conophytums the growth is often not really gradual. One day you have a shriveled lump and the next day you have perfect little green plants and B. I’ve just been way too busy.

I did promise an update though and you can see that 23 days after being watered most of them are up and growing. Out of around a dozen plants it is looking like only 3 didn’t survive through dormancy. Only one bloom so far but fingers crossed a few more may in the coming weeks.


When I am designing a garden I usually try to find a few photos for inspiration. It might be a photo of a garden I admire or even just a particular plant that I am currently excited about and want to add as a featured specimen.

My latest design for Gardens by Gabriel is a corner house just a few blocks from the bay in Morro Bay.  The homeowners saw a beautiful garden that Gabe had designed for one of their neighbors and decided they wanted their yard to look that nice as well.  The directive was simple.  They want it to have a “Wow factor!” and wanted to have a bit of a Protea/South African theme.

Proteaceae is one of Gabe’s favorite plant families so they are in good hands.  He is familiar with all the different genera and knows how to care for them (they have some tricky soil requirements but are right at home in the cool fog of the California coast).  But as the designer for the project I had my work cut out for me.  Since I learned gardening on the east coast and Protea were not mentioned in a single horticulture class I took I had a bit of homework to do.  I knew enough about them to look at a plant and say “Hey I bet that is in the Protea family”.  But that was about it.  Fortunately Gabe had recently picked up a bunch of plants at Monterey Bay Nursery so at least I had a partial plant list.

For inspiration I turned to some photos I took over a year ago at Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria.  If you are a garden lover and are visiting the Santa Barbara area you definitely want to check out this nursery.  Not only do they have a nice selection of plants but they have several acres of “botanical gardens” designed by local garden designers.  I actually think they are among the nicest gardens I have seen in California and every time I am in the area I bring my camera with me and spend a little time walking around.  They have nine display gardens but my favorites are the South African and Succulent gardens.

This particular photo was my main inspiration and the one I kept going back to while I worked on this project. The South African garden at Seaside Gardens designed by Laurence Nicklin of Ojai.

The homeowner has been to South Africa and sadly he doesn't like Aloe ferox! I guess I can understand that since in the wild they can look rather unkempt with their old dead leaves skirting the plants and they do get rather gigantic. I think they are great architectural plants though so I was a bit sad that I had to leave them out. One of these days I'll get a project where the client just loves everything.

This combination of Leucadendron, Kniphofia, and Chondropetalum is stunning and I am not embarrassed to say I stole it for my design.

I loved the pale purple heaths behind this Leucadendron 'Jester'. The right backdrop can really make a beautiful plant pop so my design features a backdrop of Erica caniculata, Chamelaucium uncinatum 'Purple Pride,' and other purple and pink flowered plants.

Leucadedron salignum 'Safari Sunset'. Most plants in the protea family need excellent drainage, a cool mediterranean climate, acidic soil and don't like to be fertilized with phosphorous.Protea 'Susara'

Aside from the Proteas the design also features other Mediterranean and native plants, succulents, and a bocce court! I hope the homeowners love the design because I had a lot of fun creating it and learned a lot.  It is in a rather prominent spot so it would be very exciting to drive past it and know that I had a hand in creating it.

A bit of the design. I think hand drawn designs have a certain charm to them but I am taking a class in AutoCAD this winter.

My First Installation

I think I have mentioned before that I have recently started my own garden design business (Propaganda Garden Design).  For the past few months I have been doing freelance work designing for my friend and former classmate and roommate Gabe.  He and his wife Maggie have a successful landscaping business in the San Luis Obispo area called Gardens by Gabriel.  I’ve done around six or seven designs for them now but the first one was recently installed so I am pretty excited about it.  I’ve designed many gardens but this is the first legit “I got paid to do this” one.

It is a small courtyard garden for a beach house in the coastal town of Cayucos.  That perfect zone 17 climate right on the ocean but somewhat sheltered by the house.  The home owner wanted lots of color and listed a bunch of bedding plants that he loved.  Now I am not such a garden snob that I dislike bedding plants but I figured since he was paying a designer he should get something a bit more special so my first thought for the space was that a garden full of Annie’s Annuals plants would be perfect for this spot.

I first experienced Annie’s plants back when I was an intern at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden when the nursery manager let me act as buyer.  This was back right before Annie started doing mail order so for me as an east coaster it was pretty exciting getting to see all these amazing plants in person.  Anyway I got to relive a bit of that nursery buying magic and buy a bunch of Annie’s plants on someone else’s dime.  Being a garden designer is pretty awesome.  So enjoy this photo tour of the process from start to finish.

The courtyard had four beds. This is bed one. Just a bit overgrown and not terribly exciting.

Bed two is not much better. My favorite part of this particular design is all the hardscaping was already taken care of. All I had to do was fill the beds with plants.

The Bougainvillea on the right in bed 3 got a reprieve. I wanted to rip it all out but it was one fo the few plants the homeowner really liked so we decided to spare a bit of it. I'm kind of notorious for wanting to start with a really blank slate.

Bed four is rather tiny but this Bougainvillea got to stay as well. Everything else came out though. Including the Solandra.

Back home in West Hollywood I poured over Annie's website deciding on a theme for the beds and picking out plants. The general method I use when designing a garden is imagine the beds in my head while pouring over websites and books and writing down a list of plants. Then I look over the plants and start moving them into combinations that I think will work well together and crossing some plants off the list (because I always go a bit overboard). Since this was a small design I decided to do it in marker. I also wanted to get across the color theme of the beds. There are two plants that are featured in all the beds (Trachelium and Anagallis) to tie the beds together and then each bed would have its own color theme while sharing at least one other plant in common with the bed across from it.

Now for the fun part! A trip up to the bay area and shopping at Annie's. On this trip I learned that you can fit nine flats of plants in a VW Golf! Now obviously taking such a monumental road trip isn't a really sensible way to run a business but I made a four day holiday of it. I figured this was a special occasion and I wanted my first garden to be incredible. But normally there are lots of other cool nurseries in the Central Coast area to shop at.

I don’t really have any cool pictures of the nursery because EVERY time I visit Annie’s it is always insanely bright out and my photos are all washed out.  But I’m sure anyone that is reading my blog already knows all about Annie’s and has read about her and seen her nursery in lots of other blogs from folks who are better photographers.  If by some chance you haven’t heard of or have never visited Annie’s be sure to check it out if you are visiting the San Francisco area.  It is probably my favorite nursery in the world.

Meanwhile back in Cayucos Gabe's crew was hard at work tearing out all those plants and preparing the beds for their new arrivals!

The next day the beds were all ready to be planted. Those Bougainvillea really got a haircut.

Hard to believe that this is the same bed that was full of tree fern and Impatiens just the day before.

So I got to work placing all the plants.

Gabe's crew got to work installing. Here David and Victor are planting bed three. The plant that Victor is removing from its clay pot in the back is a Abutilon vitifolium that I grew from seed collected at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden in 2003.

Mindy and David prepare the drip lines for the irrigation.

And here is bed number two almost finished. After the drip was installed it was mulched as well but I had a three and a half hour drive back to West Hollywood ahead of me so I left early. Hopefully this garden will be as beautiful in the spring as it is in my mind and I'll have some great photos to share then. And in the next few months I will be moving up to the San Luis Obispo area so I can be closer to my work and get involved in more projects with Gabe and his crew.

Just so you get more of an idea of the setting of this garden here is a view of their "backyard". That is Morro Rock off in the distance.

I really hope this garden is successful and the homeowners end up loving it.  About 95% of the plants are from Annie’s so it should be pretty neat.  Aside from some really colorful plants in beautiful combinations I tried to include something really interesting in each bed that the homeowners have maybe never seen before (Musschia wollastonii, Cantua buxifolia, Abutilon vitifolium).  So fingers crossed that we have a perfect winter so the plants get big and fat and burst into bloom in the spring.

Flower Test!

This post is just a test to see which WordPress templates are easiest to add photos to without having to do a lot of resizing.  But do enjoy the photo of my first Conophytum bloom this year!


500 x 375

This Conophytum piriforme is the first to bloom this season. It bloomed on November 8th just 9 days after being watered. Some of the others have been pretty slow to come out of dormancy. I think the combination of the poor conditions I am growing them in and the late start this year did some in but a few of them are returning to life even if it is slower than I had hoped. I'll post more photos as soon as I get this template thing sorted out.

640 x 480

This Conophytum piriforme is the first to bloom this season. It bloomed on November 8th just 9 days after being watered. Some of the others have been pretty slow to come out of dormancy. I think the combination of the poor conditions I am growing them in and the late start this year did some in but a few of them are returning to life even if it is slower than I had hoped. I'll post more photos as soon as I get this template thing sorted out.


1024 x 768

This Conophytum piriforme is the first to bloom this season. It bloomed on November 8th just 9 days after being watered. Some of the others have been pretty slow to come out of dormancy. I think the combination of the poor conditions I am growing them in and the late start this year did some in but a few of them are returning to life even if it is slower than I had hoped. I'll post more photos as soon as I get this template thing sorted out.


OK so which one works best?  I find that WordPress formatting for photos is very awkward but I feel like just importing a bunch of photos from Flickr means that people don’t really look at all of them.  Now I can play around with templates and see if any of these photo sizes work without needing to be modified.



More Mesembs!

Titanopsis primrosiiCheiridopsis purpureaDactylopsis digitataLithops optica var. rubraMitrophyllum dissitumFrithia pulchra
Frithia pulchraFrithia pulchraFrithia pulchraCheiridopsis cigarettiferaConophytum piriforme in mixed Conophytum potConophytum marginatum
Conophytum minium 'Witteburgense'

Mesemb Seedlings 11/4/11, a set on Flickr.

Just wanted to post a Mesemb seedling update and a few more pictures of the ones coming out of dormancy.

I planted them in two batches. Four last January and the other four in June. They really all should be potted up into their own pots by now but I just don’t have the space in my apartment. Hopefully when I move I will have more room for starting all sorts of different plants from seed.

My favorite are the Frithia and Mitrophyllum. Overall most of these have been fairly easy so I am definitely going to try more in the future. And hopefully some day I will have a little greenhouse to keep them in.

You can click each photo to bring you to Flickr and see larger versions. The macro shots of the Frithia are worth looking at larger.

A few more dormant plants are starting to wake up and one is even about to bloom already!

Day 1

Conophytum obcordellumConophytum ficiforme X minium 'Witteburgense'Conophytum truncatumMixed Conophytums

Dormant Mesembs Day 1, a set on Flickr.

Four of the Conophytums already springing to life just a day after being watered. If you compare them to my last post you can see what a difference a day makes.

Still quite a few to go but it is always a relief to learn that at least some of them survived.