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beyond the lawn; notes on 2016 LA Garden Conservancy Open Days

Since the 5/7/16 tour, Gov. Jerry Brown surprised us all by announcing that mandatory water restrictions are now suspended except for agriculture. Water use policies will revert back to the local level.
So pat yourself on the back for enduring those spartan showers, ditching the lawn, adding in more permeability to your garden, and overall diligent water use reduction efforts.
(But you still can’t hose down your driveway, so get over that.) Even so, this might be a good moment to emphasize the big picture. From The California Weather Blog:

Nearly all of California is still ‘missing’ at least 1 year’s worth of precipitation over the past 4 years, and in Southern California the numbers suggest closer to 2-3 years’ worth of ‘missing’ rain and snow.
These numbers, of course, don’t even begin to account for the effect of consecutive years of record-high temperatures, which have dramatically increased evaporation in our already drought-stressed region.”

And the bigger, possibly more sobering picture is that even in non-drought years, Los Angeles averages only 15 inches of rainfall. So the problem of too little water for too many people is not going away. Ever. And it was a problem long before the governor hit the red alert button. But you know what? Other cultures have already figured this out, this business of crowding ourselves into hot, dry lands. And there’s great examples all around town. Landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power’s garden on the recent GC Open Days tour is a case study of these principles. And while we all obsess over what to do with the lawn, her almost 20-year-old garden suggests we might also think about where outdoors to eat, nap, cook, read, chat with friends, daydream, warm by a fire, take shelter from the sun, catch an ocean breeze, inhale clouds of jasmine — the scope of possibilities extends far beyond the boundaries of that poster child for this drought, the lawn, and what replaces it.

I liked this line from that keen observer of all things Southern Californian, Joan Didion, in the 5/26/16 New York Review of Books. It easily applies to our attitudes about water in Los Angeles:

I have lived most of my life under misapprehensions of one kind or another.” Boy howdy, you said it, Ms. Didion. Don’t we all? (“California Notes” NYRB 5/26/16)

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This little table and chairs is at the front of Ms. Power’s small Santa Monica house, just off the street, entirely screened by plantings.
A short staircase zig-zags up from the sidewalk through retaining-wall beds filled with agaves and matilija poppies, depositing visitors in this shady “foyer.”
A potted cussonia at the entrance to a garden is always an auspicious sign of good things to come.

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Also in the front courtyard is the first of many small fountains and pools. Implicit is the strong affirmative that, yes, water is precious stuff.
Watch it glisten and sparkle in the sun, ripple in the wind, draw in birds. Just don’t ever take it for granted.

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Narrow passage to the back of the house, a jasmine-scented journey this time of year.

The forgotten spaces in most people’s houses — the side yards and setbacks — I look at as opportunities.”
(all quoted material from “Power of Gardens” by Nancy Goslee Power)

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Already you can sense the strong interplay between indoors and outdoors, the feeling of shelter extending beyond the house, eager to envelope and claim the outdoors as well.

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Up those distant steps leads to the banquette in the photo below.

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Ms. Power’s “napatorium.”

Walled gardens offer so many solutions still relevant in the modern world.
They give privacy and safety from the outside environment, often perceived as hostile.
The living spaces of the house open onto exterior spaces, and outdoor dining is possible in courtyards in good weather most of the year
.”

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[T]he more you define a space, the larger it becomes.”

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The view from the kitchen door.

I designed the water to be seen all the way through the house and make a strong central axis that pulls you outside.”

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A small apartment/cottage shares the wall with the rill.

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Dining area off the kitchen, where the colors warm up.

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The kitchen, windows open to the narrow, pebbled side passageway, a nook in the wall for a potted plant just visible through the window.

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More shaded seating just off the kitchen.

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Everywhere were the tell-tale signs that the outdoors were as lived in as the indoors, if not more so.

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From the street, you’d have no idea what lay up that small flight of steps off the sidewalk, so tours like this are much appreciated.
I wanted Casa Nancina to reveal herself slowly…I didn’t want my landscape to stand out.
It needed to be discreet and feel as if it belonged to the neigbhorhood
.”

Bloom Day May 2016

Welcome to the jungle. (Okay, so it’s a dry jungle.)

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This will be an abridged Bloom Day post, looking at the telescoped view through my office doorway and describing the big stuff that stands out in the frame.
Rudbeckia maxima on the left is nearly as tall as the pergola but not as tall as the tetrapanax behind it in this view. The kangaroo paws are starting to gain height.
Orange poppies on the far right are Glaucium grandiflorum,. Just one plant is at least a yard across this year.
It wouldn’t be summer without daisies, and this year there’s orange arctotis (right foreground near the sea kale, Crambe maritima).
And buttery yellow Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell’ with ferny, silvery green leaves, not pictured but at the feet of the glaucium.
The little white dots just to the right behind the dark aeoniums come from one of my favorite summer daisies, Argyranthemum foeniculaceum, a Canary Islander.
I never find it local, so this plant comes from a cutting I nabbed at a San Francisco park. Small, simple daisies with grey-green, finely cut leaves.
Purple and blues from Salvia uliginosa and Salvia leucantha. More Verbena bonariensis seedlings are coming into bloom.
In the foreground to the left of Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ I’m just stupidly excited to have the grass Stipa barbata coming into bloom.
Another grass I haven’t seen in bloom yet, Stipu ichru, way in the back under the acacia, has started flowering. I’ll be sure to grab photos for June.


the exacting requirements of pitcher plants

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Growing sarracenia in a sink, as seen at Flora Grubb Gardens, is a not-too-subtle reminder of the one thing you must never forget to grow them successfully.
Water, of course. These are bog plants after all. But there’s something else…

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Never, never give them water out of your faucet. Or water you’ve let sit in a pail outdoors, thinking you’ve leached out any impurities, which I’ve tried in the past.
They hate the minerals in our tap water and must be given distilled water. Maybe your tap water varies. Here in Long Beach, Calif., we’ve got some hard water flowing through our pipes.
I’m only bringing this up because I’m seeing these sun-loving native bog plants at sales and shows again, and I always ask about the water thing, hoping the rules maybe have changed or relaxed. Um, no. Here’s a garden fantasy: Wouldn’t it be nice to have distilled water delivered every week for your pitcher plants?
Other than the water sensitivity, these self-feeding, carnivorous plants are said to be fairly easy to grow. Acidic, peaty soil, no fertilizer.

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The pitchers are as sexy as the flowers.

Unfortunately, those of us in zone 9-10 might also have an issue with their winter dormancy needs of a cold period for 2-4 months.
I’d love to hear any success stories in zone 10.

busy, busy

It’s spring. Feeling a little pressed for time yet? Join the club. Some of what I’ve been up to the past few weeks include:


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Cutting sweet peas from my mom’s vines. Buckets and buckets. Mine planted at the community garden withered away from lack of attention/water.
Suffering a severe case of garden-neglect guilt, I pulled out all my dead vines, along with the collapsed winter peas and fava beans, and got a few tomatoes and squash planted.
There wasn’t enough winter rain to sustain my plot, and being a bad garden gnome, I hadn’t watered in a couple months. So my mom once again saved the day.
Is it rude to call your mom a good garden gnome? I keep her little raised bed planted winter and summer, and she does the rest.
I didn’t buy her flowers for Mother’s Day because her house is filled with scent and color from vases of sweet peas in every room.
I did run over for a brief visit to bring her a card and share some cake, a two-hour window during which a thief took the opportunity to steal my bike from behind a locked gate.
Nice work, thief, stealing a girl’s bike on Mother’s Day. Couldn’t you switch your reptilian brain off for one day in honor of your mom?
(Roger’s in Newport Beach brings in the best only local selection of sweet peas in fall, award-winning types, all heavily scented, long-stemmed.)

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It’s always exciting to stumble upon new plants, like this Dichondra sericea, found at Merrihew’s Sunset Garden.
At first sight I thought it must be some new brunnera cultivar. The leaves are leathery, about the size of a silver dollar.
San Marcos Growers says:
“It has been found repeatedly in a single location in San Cruz County in Arizona but is more widespread farther to the south in the Río Mayo region of southern Sonora and Chihuahua.
It is similar to Dichondra argentea, the plant commonly called Sliver Dichondra or ‘Silver Falls’, but it is evergreen in frost free climates and has much bigger leaves.

Merrihew’s, a great little neighborhood nursery, was the first stop on last weekend’s Garden Conservancy Open Day.

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As usual, plants are perpetually on the move, sometimes out of the garden and back into a pot like this Agave macroacantha ‘Blue Ribbon’
When I sentenced it to the rigors of the outpost that is the front gravel garden, it was a mess, with leaves pitted and rolling at the edges when they should be straight.
Total neglect in the front gravel garden is apparently what it needed to mature out of its ugly phase.
I moved it back into a pot because it was getting swamped by faster-growing agaves. And because it’s so pretty now. Pups freely too.
The bloomed-out poppies have been pulled and any big openings filled with grasses, mostly pennisetum like ‘Fairy Tails’ and ‘Karley Rose.’

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Might as well take ‘Cornelius’ portrait too. He’s starting to get a nice arch to his leaves.

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Behind ‘Cornelius,’ Cotyledon orbiculata deserves a portrait of those peachy bells and long, silvery stems.

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The Huntington plant sale had a couple Rosa ‘Mutabilis,’ so I fell off the no-more-roses wagon.
In its favor, it’s a single, which means it sheds its silky petals elegantly and doesn’t need deadheading.
It’s reasonably tough and healthy, for a rose, and makes a nice shrubby shape.
This unique rose of mysterious provenance is celebrated for summer-long bloom in colors that cycle through gold, orange, deep pink.
It’s been shoehorned in among the lemon cypresses at the east fence, with drip hose laid to give it a fighting chance.

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Last Wednesday was overcast, like today, and work was reasonably under control (unlike today).
First thought under those conditions is: What do I want to get done in the garden?
There’s a chronic backburner plan to fill one of my trash can planters with blowsy summer stuff.
Cheap, deep, and roomy, metal trash cans are great for seasonal extravaganzas.
I bought them a few years ago but never really got with the program, using them more for overflow odds and ends.

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A quick trip to the local nursery yielded a Buddleia ‘Cranrazz,’ Linaria ‘Licilia Peach,’ and Achillea ‘Sunrise.’
As I prepared to stuff the plants in, it was impossible to ignore what a rusted, pitted eyesore it had become. (“Hey, Marty, you got any spraypaint?“)
30 minutes later the can was a sleek matte black, filled with compost and fresh potting soil, and the plants installed.

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Buddleias drive me a bit mad in the ground. Too big, all that deadheading. I like the idea of being able to pitch it at the end of summer.
Before I’d backfilled in soil and watered it in, the butterflies had already arrived. They don’t call it the butterfly bush for nothing.

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I was so pleased with my new, deep containers that I asked Marty to paint another one for a Mother’s Day present. I’m thinking maybe orange tithonias for this one.
The ‘Hallelujah’ bilbergia was planted up over the weekend with some aeonium and Euphorbia mauritanica. I’m testing its sun tolerance.
I was told by Marina del Rey Garden Center that the more jagged the leaf, the more sun a bromeliad can take. Sun brings out the best color.

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I usually keep a chair here on the bricks over the winter, but there’s not much room….or time…for sitting in spring.

an abbreviated look at the 4/17/2016 Los Angeles APLD tour

Of the eight gardens on the tour, divided into four in the morning, four in the afternoon, I visited six and drove by all of them.
I’m including photos of just three gardens from this tour themed “The Watershed Approach to Landscape Design.” (Another garden I visited was posted on here.)
This excellent tour was well organized, with the designer and owner available for questions at each garden. Smart phones and clear maps make driving tours like this a breeze now.
The tour occurred mid-day during another record-breaking heat wave, which meant a strong sun, deep shadows. I was mostly looking and listening, with the camera idle at my side.
Marty has always said I’ve got good “radar,” a trait that renders me a sometimes silent companion when dining in a restaurant.
For example, I can suddenly seem to go catatonic, staring off into the mid distance as I focus on an interesting conversation. (Eavesdropping, some might call it.)
During the tour I eavesdropped on questions asked of the designer or garden owner, figuring it would spare them answering the same questions from me.
I noticed that the owners were often blissfully unaware of plant names, irrigation systems. They loved their gardens as a whole and didn’t obsess over the components.
Once again, that relationship of trust between designer and client was an impressive thing to behold.

And sometimes the designer and client nail it, that chimerical vision of the garden-to-be, from inception, like the first garden on the tour.
Designed by Joel Lichtenwalter & Ryan Gates/Grow Outdoor Design, “Brentwood Mid-Century Woodland Garden.”
Everything was exactly the same as when I first toured it three years ago (here).
Which speaks volumes about the powerful mind meld that is possible between client and designer.

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Continue reading an abbreviated look at the 4/17/2016 Los Angeles APLD tour

a garden by Urbafloria

It’s a rare opportunity for me to be able to provide before-after photos of a dramatic garden transformation
Garden designer Jacky Surber of Urbafloria sent me this “before” photo after touring this garden on the Greater Los Angeles APLD Garden Tour 4/17/16.

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With the kids grown and the backyard no longer needed for their activities, it lost its importance in the family universe and looked like this for a while.
(There’s a very nice desert tortoise that lives in that igloo against the fence.)

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And now, garden despair happily averted.


This tour impressed me on many levels, one of which was the amazing results possible when there is a strong bond of trust between designer and client.
Living day in and out with this barren lunarscape, the owner still managed to dream big. She asked the designer to transform it into a small piece of the Arlington Garden in Pasadena, a strolling, dry garden of seasonal sights and sounds filled with California natives and mediterranean climate-appropriate plants. And within that alchemical bond that can sometimes — not always — form between designer and client, Jacky grasped her longing and made manifest that vision. The owner said she still walks her garden in wide-eyed wonder, in a “pinch me, I’m dreaming” state.

I grabbed just this one photo before racing off to other gardens on the tour. Several seating and napping areas are tucked in throughout the garden, and a small grove of the Catalina Ironwood, Lyonothamnus floribundus, are planted beyond the rose arch. If I remember correctly, the rose is ‘Social Climber.’
Rest assured, the desert tortoise is still there, a little bleary-eyed coming off of winter hibernation, but he tore into his first meal of lettuce with gusto.

Notes on this garden from the tour:

This backyard garden was inspired by the client’s love of the Arlington Garden in Pasadena. The garden features numerous seating nooks, an informal decomposed granite bocce ball court, as well as a mix of natives and other climate-appropriate plants. The main design challenge was remediating a yard that flooded every time it rained. The design solution was to create a large rain garden that is working fabulously! Planted in late 2014, the garden is growing in nicely and a small front yard was also recently installed.”

status update Rudbeckia maxima 5/2/16

Another example of the odd juxtapositions that occur in my garden from year to year, due to an unremitting curiosity about plants I just don’t get to see locally:

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Lights, laundry shed, giant coneflower!

The cabbage coneflower, Rudbeckia maxima, known for growing in moist ditches from Arkansas to Texas, bizarrely enough, is settling into my dryish garden in Los Angeles without much fuss.
It’s too early to tell still, but it unwiltingly sailed through unseasonal high temperatures into the 90s in April. Those are some tough, leathery, cabbagey leaves.
And I do appreciate such enthusiastic blooming in its first year. I’m still waiting for 3-year-old clumps of ‘Totally Tangerine’ geum and ‘Terracotta’ yarrow to bloom.
The conventional wisdom is to let the rudbeckia’s flowers turn into seedheads, sit back, and then watch the birds feast. Up above the shed, I’ve got the cushions ready.
If like me you crave height and movement from a summer garden, this rudbeckia is for you. And if you have a moist ditch, even better.

Elsewhere in the garden…

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Papaver rupifragum. No uncertainties about this poppy. It’s been reseeding here for ages and loves a dry garden.

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Glaucium grandiflorum, planted spring 2014. Another very tough customer that never gets a minute’s worry from me.
Except I do worry a bit that there’s been no seedlings, and it’s not known for longevity. There’s always something to worry about…

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Salvia uliginosa, aka the bog sage. Quite the misnomer. Another plant that wouldn’t mind moister conditions but manages fine without.
This salvia, planted fall 2015, like similarly easy ‘Waverly’ and S. chiapensis, cycles in and out of the garden. The bog sage adds wonderful swaying movement. (And hummingbirds.)
My heavy soil incites intense emotions. I hate it and I love it. I love it when its stiffness and heaviness keeps plants like the bog sage and tetrapanax from running rampant.
I love it for allowing me to grow unlikely candidates like Rudbeckia maxima and Persicaria amplexicaulis without toting buckets and buckets of water.
(I hate it for harboring pathogens that it unleashes on warm summer days to kill prized dry garden shrubs.)

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The reseeding ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’ nicotianas are still incredibly lovely, so needed their portrait included as well.

And so on with May!

some upcoming events this weekend 4/30-5/1/16



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Tillandsias can perch just about anywhere with the right conditions, including on other plants.

This weekend brings the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden tour.
I don’t think I’ll be able to make it, so if you go, link back here maybe, so I can catch up.
(Spring has been so hectic that I actually made a dry run to one of the properties last weekend, mistaking the dates…oy!)

One of my jobs this week was located across the street from Rain Forest Flora (oh, sweet serendipity!)
I popped in just before closing and nabbed a couple tillandsias.
(T. bulbosa gigante and T. caput-medusae)

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A flier at the checkout counter of Rain Forest Flora was a handy reminder that there will be a bromeliad show this weekend
It will be presented by La Ballona Valley Bromeliad Society, held in conjunction with Sunset Cactus & Succulent Show and Sale.
Both shows and sales will be held at Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 4117 Overland Avenue, Culvery City, CA. (323) 294-9839.

Happy weekend!


N.B. My Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is producing prodigious amounts of seed this year. Let me know if you want to practice your propagation skills on some.

an hour in San Francisco Botanical Garden in April


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At the Friend Gate, Ageratum corymbosum Bartlettina sordida (thanks, Mr. Feix!)

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with a Fuchsia magellanica. Or maybe thymifolia. I didn’t check. No time!

A few weeks ago I had the rather condensed pleasure of visiting San Francisco’s Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park for an hour.
Ahead of me in line were a couple from Scotland. Just behind me the pair were from Israel. The ticket taker was therefore not that impressed by a visitor from Los Angeles.
As far as distance traveled, I was the obvious slacker.

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I chose the Friend Gate entrance because that’s where the daily plant sales are held.

Entering through the Friend Gate was a happy accident. Just steps away were the Australian and New Zealand gardens, and not much further away the Mediterranean garden.
I immediately set to work power walking, dodging dawdlers intent on constructing the perfect selfie. Compression of time made me even more singled-minded than usual.

Continue reading an hour in San Francisco Botanical Garden in April

Bloom Day hangover/Foliage followup April 2016

The distinctive measured pace of a garden this time of year, compared to the frenetic pace outside my front gate, is what I find so compelling: the syncopated intervals between birdcalls, the varying rhythms of arrival and departure of hummingbirds, butterflies, bees. Incidents on the wing gently drift in and out…but this weekend it’s all against a background roar of engines. (It’s Grand Prix time in Long Beach again.)
Bloom Day falls on the 15th, hosted by May Dreams Gardens. Foliage Followup is hosted by Digging on the 16th, so I’m straddling memes today.

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The ballota is just now enlongating with bobbles of chenille-like blooms.
The largish green-leaved plant on the right is a Teucrium betonicum I found seeded in the gravel in the front garden this winter.
Strangely enough, the mother plant was grown way back in 2012.

In the back garden, I’m loving the low scrubbiness of it all, with occasional verticals and undulating agaves piercing through the hummocks of greys and greens.
And the proportions are, at this moment, just what I’ve been trying to accomplish for the past couple years.
New stuff I’ve been planting will no doubt change the shape by next year, so it’s a fleeting effect that I’ve come to appreciate just because it is so transitory.
Stepping out the back door this morning from a quiet house into a garden humming and buzzing and flitting with life — well, just add coffee for a perfect Saturday morning.
Even the Grand Prix can’t ruin that. Thankfully, the city has restricted the number of days racecars can “practice” before the big event, so it’s squeezed into mainly a weekend now.
A fair compromise between the businesses that flourish during race time and the residents that mostly suffer through it.

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I’ll spare you repeat photos of poppies, grevilleas, salvias and whatnot. Tanacetum niveum is new to both Bloom Day and the garden this year.
I’ve always loved the simple clean blooms of plants like chamomile. This daisy is no ground-hugger like chamomile, but billows up and out, with finely cut grey leaves.
It can become shrub-like in size given enough room to develop. It’s constrained by the tight quarters here. Purported to reseed, fingers crossed.
Looks like I trialed it/killed it back in 2010.

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Marrubium supinum’s blooms are similar in structure to ballota, but with a slight wash of color.

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I wouldn’t mind several more clumps of Kniphofia thompsonii dotted throughout.

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Plectranthus neochilus still obligingly covers the stump of Cotinus ‘Grace,’ buried under there somewhere and quietly decomposing.

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Some find the strong scent/stink/skunkiness offputting. I don’t scent it on the air, just on contact, when clipping it back.

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Gerberas at the base of the plectranthus stump.

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Other daises elsewhere in bloom include orange arctotis and maroon osteospermum.

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I planted the Eriogonum crocatum a little too far from the paths for photos, so this one gives just the basic outline of the blooms which start out chartreuse and age to brown.
I can’t wait for it to bulk up some more. I really do try to stick to the never-walk-on-the-garden rule, especially with clay like mine that compacts so easily.

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The potted camellia on the front porch hasn’t gotten much play on Bloom Day though it’s been in bloom a few months.

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Erodium pelargoniflorum reseeds into the gravel amongst the agaves in the front of the house.
If kept watered, it would probably bloom into summer. I say embrace the ephemeral!

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Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’ is growing into quite a graceful presence, loose and open.
Last year the mallows were represented by Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral,’ a wonderful plant for a much bigger garden than mine.

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Potted Glory of Texas, a thelocactus just opening its blooms.

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I tossed some ixia into the garden this winter, in a few colors, ordered off ebay.

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Finishing up with the odd blooms of slipper spurge, Pedilanthus bracteatus, another one I keep forgetting to include on Bloom Days.