I’m going to leave you this Friday with a few images from the self-guided Modern Garden Tour put on by Modernism Week in Palm Springs this past Wednesday. Leaving Long Beach at 7:30 a.m., I arrived just before 10 a.m. to attend landscape architect Steve Martino’s talk, (which was excellent, providing a fascinating nuts-and-bolts deconstruction of his Barragan-influenced “I like walls” design aesthetic and how he gets around fence height restrictions/building codes by calling the privacy barriers “sheds,” which can legally be taller than fences. Privacy is paramount.) After the talk I grabbed a quick coffee and ham croissant before walking up and down Palm Canyon Drive to take in the sights on this chilly-ish day (high 50s), returning to the MW headquarters, the Camp, for tickets a half hour before the tour. (Somewhat confusingly, the tour had been listed as sold out, and I had expected to just attend Mr. Martino’s talk and check out some other sights, but tickets were still available on Wednesday — don’t ask me why. Next time I’ll be sure to book weeks in advance.) The tour started at 1 p.m., covered eight gardens, and by the time all my gawking and looky-looing of stunning houses not on the tour was factored in, I didn’t start the two-hour drive home until 4:30. No time to visit Sunnylands or the Moorten Botanical Garden on this trip. The necklace of mountains encircling the town sparkled with lightly dusted snow and atmospheric swirls of mist along their peaks, with rich browns and velvet greens outlining their corrugated spines. A majestic backdrop for the tour. I don’t get Palms Springs in high summer but I do emphatically understand its appeal in winter.
From the tour booklet: “The modern gardens of Palm Springs can be defined by a variety of components: desert elements, low water requirements, artful placement of materials in relation to the architecture and unique features used in this climate such as boulders, rock top-dressings, fire pits and pools. These gardens include excellent examples of low-water use desert plants and other materials, designed to create delightful outdoor spaces that take advantage of Palm Springs’ relationship to living both indoors and outdoors, along with its mountain vistas and jaw-dropping views.”
A couple of small, visibility-obscuring sandstorms just before entering the city established the desert’s bonafides. What an amazing place.
Next time you’re visiting Joshua Tree National Park, take a moment from reveling in the restorative, otherworldly sights of the desert to give thanks to Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, “hailed as the first desert conservationist and called the Woman of the Joshua Trees and the Apostle of the Cacti. She even has a cactus named after her: Mammillaria hamiltonhoytea.”
While the damage done to Joshua Tree by the government shutdown was a demoralizing setback, initiated by cynics who know the price of everything but the value of nothing (thanks, Mr. Wilde!), Minerva’s story is a rare, selfless example of unwavering dedication to preservation of our fragile lands by whatever means and resources you can muster. In her case, the soft power approach was ultimately every bit as effective as John Muir’s, if much less amenable to legend making. I’d never heard of her before reading the article.
Here’s another good read. Last April I linked to an article about the black market for stolen dudleyas, and there’s been another article on the same problem published in the New Yorker this month (“Smugglers Descend On California.”) Much of the information was a retread of the article from last year, but the New Yorker’s Dana Goodyear contacted some experts familiar with the subject of succulents, Debra Lee Baldwin and Kelly Griffin, and the comments by these two storied plants people were so surprisingly fresh and revealing that I’ve quoted them at length below, augmented by some of my photos from local succulent plantings. I don’t have many photos of dudleyas to share because, as Debra Lee Baldwin explains below, they are not the easiest of succulents to domesticate. Which is especially why ripping them from their cliffside habitats is a very bad idea.
Author Dana Goodyear writes: “Debra Lee Baldwin, a garden photojournalist based in San Diego who for decades was a scout for Sunset magazine, bears some responsibility for the mainstream popularity of succulents. ‘I probably launched the whole movement,’ she told me. In the early days, she said, ‘I had to do what I call drive-by shootings. I would go down streets in high-end neighborhoods with my camera and shoot succulents out the window. They were so hard to find.'”
“No longer. Baldwin’s book, ‘Designing with Succulents,’ from 2007, was the top-selling garden book on Amazon for nineteen weeks; the second edition came out last year. ‘What attracted the gardening public to succulents in the first place was largely the Echeverias, because they looked like roses, floral and symmetrical, and they’re not spiny or treacherous,’ she said…Dudleya are the wild cousins of the Echeveria. ‘These are very beautiful plants when they’re in full, plump, post-rain glory,’ Baldwin said. ‘They look like a lotus, and some are this incredible white-silver, from the powdery coating on their leaves — the ‘farina’ or pulverulence — that is a protective mechanism for the sun. You really shouldn’t touch ’em, ’cause you’ll leave a fingerprint that never goes away. It’s like touching a butterfly.’
“They are picky about their habitat, accustomed to hanging from cliffs, and spending much of the year parched. In the summer, she said, when Dudleya look peaked, ‘Nurturing garden types think, Ooh, needs water.’ Don’t, unless you want a rotten plant; Dudleya drink only in winter. In nature, the mother plants use gravity to send their long stems downslope. As the stems wither, they remain attached to the mother, like umbilical cords, while the daughter plants nestle in rock niches far enough away not to compete with the mother for nutrients. ‘Just try to replicate that in your garden!‘ Baldwin said. ‘Dudleya can live in these very challenging conditions, and they want these challenging conditions. If you want to grow a Dudleya in a pot, you have to turn a pot on its side. When they start to look crappy, I look the other way. It’s sort of like a wild animal. You can tame it, you can have it in your home and enjoy it, but it’s never going to be as happy and integrated in your life as a pet.'”
Famous agave hybridizer Kelly (‘Blue Glow’) Griffin feels that commercial propagation can come to the rescue of endangered dudleyas.
Author Dana Goodyear continues: “Another way to fight smuggling is to destroy the market. That is the ambition of Kelly Griffin, a Dudleya specialist who works for Altman Plants, a nursery based in Southern California that is the country’s leading supplier of succulents. (They sell to Home Depot, Costco, and Lowe’s.) ‘I see myself as Johnny Cactuseed,’ Griffin told me. ‘I’m the person that spreads cactus and succulents everywhere.’ Griffin travels the world legally collecting plant material—pollen, seeds, and samples—from which he makes hybrid crosses and tissue-cultured clones, plants that people can enjoy without destroying sensitive habitats. He also stalks the Internet. A few years ago, he noticed rare and, he suspected, ill-gotten agaves being sold for thousands of dollars apiece on eBay. So he cloned thousands of them for nurseries where they sold for five dollars each. ‘I intentionally killed the market,’ he said. ‘Being an activist, you can say, ‘That looks like a collected plant, and you shouldn’t be selling collected plants.’ ”
On this very wet Valentine’s Day I’m sending a love letter to…cactus. Cactus may not be what horticultural traditionalists call lovable plants, but their sculpturally adaptive, sun-addicted ways make a landscape feel warm and inviting to me any time of year. These images of a sun-drenched Southern Californian garden in the Verdugo Hills that recently changed hands are a vivid counterpoint to the atmospheric river currently drenching Los Angeles this February.
This home and garden have a lot of historically significant moving parts, as befits any dwelling built by a modernist master. The 6-acre parcel with a small house built by Richard Neutra in the ’50s for his secretary Dorothy Serulnic and her husband attracted contemporary artists Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell when it came on the market in the mid ’90s.
Even though Richard Neutra began his career as a landscape architect, the landscape design is entirely the work of Pittman and Dowell after acquiring the property. Pittman likened the ensuing earthworks to the scale of “Haussmann redoing central Paris.” Although both artists brought with them a lifelong love of cactus, they planted the new garden as artists rather than collectors, focusing on massing shapes rather than displaying rarities, and they do admit to moments of doubt: “At one point, when the cactus were going in, the couple began questioning the wisdom of the project, worrying that it was too much, that it was becoming a folly. But the uncertainty passed as they stepped back and considered the ephemeral nature of their project as a whole.” (Garden Design “A Waterwise Cactus Garden”)
A pavillion by Roger White was added on an adjacent lot to complement the Neutra house.
Architect Michael Maltzan was brought in around 2008 to build a sprawling trapezoidal complex which became their main home, with the original Neutra structure kept as a guest house.
And then around 2014 owners Pittman and Dowell decided it was time to sell. The property remained unsold for a few years, slid a few million from the original asking price, and was ultimately acquired in 2018 by Flea, (Michael Balzary), bassist for The Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Give it away give it away give it away now“) — “Flea Snags Architectural Compound From Artist Lari Pittman“
Those bare Palo Verde trees will add their own golden warmth to the landscape once again on a sunny spring day.
Next week brings some welcome warmth to this chilly February with the start of Modernism Week in Palm Springs (February 14-24, 2019). Long Beach garden designer and ceramicist Dustin Gimbel, some of whose recent work is pictured above, will give a talk on February 19 at 10 a.m. entitled “Sculpturalism and the landscape,” which dovetails nicely with the launch of his online ceramics shop earlier this month.
On February 16, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Association of Professional Landscape Designers presents “Ask a Landscape Designer,” (“Bring your landscape design dilemmas to Modernism Week and get 30 minutes of advice from a professional landscape designer at APLD’s ‘Ask a Landscape Designer.’ This is a great opportunity to sit down with landscape professionals from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers for some simple and affordable design solutions for your own garden. Reserve a consultation for the desired time slot when you purchase your ticket.”)
And on February 21, at 10 a.m., Gardenlust author Chrisopher Woods will talk about “some of the best contemporary gardens from around the globe.”
Since the new year, I keep coming across the word “declutter.” I find the phenomenon of cultural obsessions fascinating, more so than the obsession du jour itself. How does everybody get on board with any one idea in such a fragmented time? Is it force of personality? Brilliant marketing? Is it because so many things seem out of our control that the reassuring notion of controlling our cupboards and sock drawers is having its moment? We may not be able to agree collectively to act on the pressing, momentous issues of our time, but by god we can each individually get our own houses in order and at the very least sort out the spice shelf. I doubt I’ll buy the book or stream the show — and you should see my sock drawer — but it got me thinking about my very cluttered little garden and what, if anything, should be done about it.
It’s fairly apparent you’ll get no help from me in decluttering your garden. Personally, I need all the sparks of joy I can find.
Let me just say up front, to avoid any confusion, that these are all photos from a December visit to the Desert Garden at the Huntington Botanical Garden. While I love a visit to this glorious garden any time of year, in spring 2019 I especially want to see this year’s rainfall effects on the local deserts. It doesn’t have to be a superbloom wildflower extravaganza either — I just want to see the desert landscape in better-than-drought conditions.
The flowering desert phenomenon is a rarity, occurring in only a few places in the world. Fortunately for us, the short list includes the deserts of the southwestern United States.
My hiking boots are getting a workout around town and will be primed and ready for the trails.
After all, to better appreciate formal features like rills that originated in hot, arid lands, or a mix of desert plants from all over the world perfectly grown and maintained, it’s always useful to go directly to the unmediated source. More southwest travel ideas from Sunset can be found here.
I find this brickwork for the studio of photographer Graciela Iturbide utterly mesmerizing, taking a pedestrian building unit like the brick to new heights — three-story heights, in fact. The architects Mauricio Rocha (Iturbide’s son) and Gabriela Carrillo (of the firm Taller) “sought for the project to demonstrate a repetitive and almost obsessive use of a singular material.” I think they nailed the dynamism in repetition.
Open yet cloistered, good light and air circulation — I think plants and a photographer could be equally happy here. Can you imagine the studies of shadows and light that wash over the studio throughout the day? Being a native Californian and a temblor worrywart, I do wonder about the brickwork’s resistance to earthquakes.
Our storms have left, sunny skies reign again, and the turbulence is moving east…take care and have a great weekend!
I feel like I’m posting on my little garden all the time, but that’s predominantly on Instagram these days and less so on the blog. So since the 15th of each month traditionally calls for a Bloom Day report among garden bloggers, I’ll let Aloe ‘Moonglow’ and Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ handle the duties. The two of them are battling it out this January, glow for glow.
‘Moonglow’ is a hybrid of Leo Thamm’s from Sunbird Aloes, Johannesburg, South Africa. This hybrid has been stellar in the garden, other hybrids not so much. The clumping hybrids like ‘Cynthia Giddy’ and ‘Kujo’ (a Huntington hybrid) are especially prone to aphid infestations hidden among their hybridized, tight, leafy interstices. The leaves become dessicated and then die off. For someone who hates crappy-looking leaves, it’s a big drawback. ‘Cynthia Giddy’ blooms wonderfully all summer but is inevitably attacked by aphids and their overlord ants in fall/winter, to the point where I’ve pulled all of CG from the garden. I know I’ll be bereft mid summer without her, but I was miserable watching the aphids suck the life out of her despite repeated soapy rinses. These unforeseen, anatomical drawbacks of hybrids are fascinating — natural selection knows how to deal with aphid-prone variants. So when an aloe is as good, robust, and unbothered as ‘Moonglow,’ it’s much appreciated.
The aloe and leucadendron are mid border behind the potted myrtillocactus. Roll call: the firey-leaved aloe in the foreground is A. dorotheae, blue agave is ‘Dragon Toes,’ with Aloe elgonica just behind. Potted stuff everywhere. The fernleaf acacia should be in full bloom in a week or so. The heavy bloom trusses on the tetrapanax have been cut back, but the more lightweight, diaphanous blooms on the bocconia have been allowed to hang on.* I usually prune the bocconia in spring, taking off a couple feet of growth, which keeps it dense and in a nice V shape.
Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ coloring up with its wonderfully marigold-colored flowers behind Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue.’ The lemon cypresses against the fence are loving this gift of a rainy week…as am I!
*edited 1/17/19 — two large, heavy-blooming branches of bocconia sheared off, weighted down by the rain and tossed by the wind. Pruning before storms is therefore advisable.
Oh, yes, I do keep a sharp eye on developments at the “driveby agave garden,” a local garden I stumbled on in 2012, even if I don’t blog about it. Maybe I’ve become a little squeamish about privacy concerns since 2012, when the Internet seemed wholly benign and full of promise. I know the garden owner values his privacy. But this little garden is a continuing source of inspiration. Especially regarding mature sizes, spacing.
Although this garden is at least 2 miles from my house, somehow it’s become a feature of my “casual” walks about town. (Hey, I’ll always go out of my way for gardens like this.) And it continually surprises. After all these years, recently that rust-colored shrub behind the palm, something I hadn’t registered before among the riches of agaves, came into focus as very familiar.
I’m pretty sure it’s the boxleaf acacia, A. buxifolia. I have a small, potted one at home for comparison that’s taking on those russet-tinged tones. Between our two, I haven’t seen another one locally — or indeed anywhere outside of the Australian Native Plants nursery where I purchased mine.
And it’s always lovely to experience the anchor plant in bloom again (Colletia paradoxa). However formidable to the flesh, it’s such a sparkly thing to the eye.
And I’d never noticed the Solana maxima vine topping the privacy fence before until seeing it in bloom this month. But that’s a feature of the gardens of those bitten by the obsession, that there will be sublime surprises gracing the garden for as many months as the climate allows.
For the obsessives, it’s never about getting it all “finished,” but about watching, learning, noticing and exploiting lulls, vacancies, opportunities. The driveby agave garden shows me all this and so much more — especially when I’m on foot.
In December 2018 the Los Angeles Times triumphantly announced “L.A. architects, designers named among the ‘best of the best’: The 2019 AD100 list.” How exciting to make Architectural Digest’s “list recognizing 100 top talents worldwide in the field of design, deemed the ‘best of the best’ by the editorial staff at the style-setting magazine.” A great start to the new year, with lots of beautiful landscapes to blog about! I knew landscapes wouldn’t be front and center in the photos focusing on architecture and design, they never are, but certainly there would be glimpses of what for me is always the scene stealer, even if pushed to the margins of the photos. Design bloggers only have to decide what color they want to talk about on a given day, whether to alternately extol maximalism or minimalism, and the choices are endless. Garden and landscape design bloggers? Slim pickings. (To make matters worse, landscape design credit on a project is often omitted — see here.) So I hungrily checked every portfolio listed by the LA Times but found that if any exterior shots were included at all, they disappointingly revealed that lawn and architects are still bff’s. Hey, guys, the 1960s called, and they want their landscape design back…
Soon, I hope, when building the “nests” for our species (which impacts the nests of so many other species), the landscape will never be an afterthought. Searching through the portfolios, I did find a firm that included a “landscape” category: Marmol Radziner, with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. These photos are from their portfolio, including the above Kaufman house, Palm Springs, California.
Maybe you’ll argue that it’s the client still asking for monoculture landscapes of lawn. Everyone knows what to do with lawn. Reassuringly controllable. As Marmol Radziner shows, plantings don’t have to be overly complicated. Easy maintenance upkeep and water-wise are not mutually exclusive. Bunch grasses are simple, effective, deliciously wind-driven. And the above photo reminds me of the words of landscape architect Steve Martino: “A basic garden unit is a wall, a tree, a chair, and a little water. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a garden.” (quote found here)
Let’s emphasize the “outdoor” in “indoor-outdoor” for once. Let in the light, yes, but check out the shadows plants throw against walls, the seductive rustling of the wind in the trees, the myriad inspirational shapes and forms of plants — and the air cleansing and cooling effects they bring to our homes in summer, the wildlife they nurture year-round. (And I include myself in that “wildlife.”) Here’s to a “Green New Deal,” where architecture and landscape architecture shake hands in 2019 and never let go!