This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
During the summer of 1877, famous as the dry year, I took a trip through the extreme lower portion of our State. The hot August sun beat down most unmercifully, making the high seat of a lumber wagon no sinecure. Especially as we of the interior, when we visit the coast have to "make a burnt offering and a sacrifice" of all the skin on our noses and lips to propitiate the spirits of the vasty deep.
As we drove into the little Spanish village of San Juan Capistrano, the row of four cracked bells were being jangled for service by a grizzly Mexicano; so old and ancient was he that he appeared coeval with the ruinous church. San Juan is one of those rare bits of old Mexican California that have slumbered through the slow years unchanged since the days of the Cortinas until now they find no place for themselves in the American California of the present - an Oriental sleepy-hollow, crowded down almost into the ocean.
Here on a little level grassy spot barely out of reach of the waves, we camped, and our horses shared their provender with the village coursers and brunos, whilst we mixed our blood with some of the best (mosquito) families of the coast. Here I saw for the first time that plant with the terrible name, Mesembrianthemum aequilaterale, hanging down in a long green mass from the steep cliff, in the full glare of the mid-summer sun, beaten by the salt spray from the ocean, tugged at and threshed by the fierce north winds, it was still green and flourishing, a living cascade of green down the barren cliff; its long, stout rope like stems, hidden by large triangular leaves that fairly glisten in the scorching sunshine. Growing where every storm must drench it with salt brine, or the hot air bake the soil around its roots, it seems must render it in cultivation an unusually hardy plant. In fact it is to a small extent in cultivation here, and I believe in Europe. As it roots as readily as all of its tribe, from cuttings, I brought home some for trial, believing that it was unusually well suited for a vase plant, from its tenacity of life, beauty hardihood and rapid growth.
I have experimented with it now for several years, to test its qualities and to see the amount of care (alias neglect) that it will stand - for I believe that plants in vases receive the maximum of neglect, and that no plants should be planted in the exposed places usually occupied by these stone and iron monstrosities, save only those that will flourish under almost any circumstances. I have grown it in all kinds of soil from heavy clay to clean sand, even in soil strongly impregnated with salt and alkali and it grew in all, but best in a rather light rich soil; "any good garden soil will do." It seems to prefer the sunshine, the hotter the better. One poor unfortunate plant was confined like St. Simeon Stylites on top of a pillar, and compelled to subsist like him on the cold charity of the world. My St. Simeon got little or no water for months, but lived and grew, though the soil was as dry as a brick. I have convinced myself that this is one of the most useful plants for large vases known. Gracefully trailing, of rapid growth, too heavy to be beaten about and destroyed by the winds, loving the sun, a constitution like the vases - of cast iron - surviving any amount of neglect, not troubled with dead leaves or disease, standing at least 6° below freezing and 120° above.
Were it only for the beauty of its habit it would be worth cultivating, but all the spring and summer it is dotted with its handsome pink fringed golden-centered flowers. As a screen for hiding the sides of a rough pine plant-box, or other unsightly object, it is most useful.
Another good quality is, that its natural inclination is to get to the edge and tumble over as soon as it possibly can; seldom or never, unless trained, covering the surface of the vase, which may be utilized for other plants. It is not a runner, but a trailer simply, and only requires to be left alone.
As it is not injured by being handled, I believe it could be used as a screen for the tables in greenhouses, etc, by being planted along the edge and allowed to trail down each side of the mass - if it was considered desirable to use the space under the tables - draw the long trailing branches back half way down, and fasten them like a curtain by a loop. I offer this for what it is worth.
Perhaps its only fault is its name, for few can trippingly repeat its sonorous title; but the astonishment its sound produces on the uninitiated is a worthy return for the labor of memorizing it.
I hope to see the time when the sound of Mesembrianthemum aequilaterale will not be so rare in the land.
[It may be remarked that our correspondent correctly spells the word "Mesembrianthemum," instead of "Mesembryanthemum," an error widely prevalent - Ed. G. M.]