When: Modernism Week extends from February 13, 2020 to February 23, 2020
Where: CAMP Theater, 575 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, California
Why: Because…Palm Springs in February! Surrounded by like-minded, design-centric people also winter-starved for gardens, desert landscapes, and some of the best MCM residential design in the country.
Escaping to Palm Springs for Modernism Week has long been a February ritual of mine. This year the experience will be a little different — we’ve been invited to give a talk on all our garden design obsessions, to be held on February 20, 2020, at 9 a.m. And we’re just ambitious/foolish enough to attempt to cover a lot of ground. From the Modernism Week website:
Meadows and xeriscapes have overrun the tiki bar in our new midcentury, but does the institution of the yard remain a thousand personal oases separated with cinderblock? Design is aspirational and surveys of the backyard are windows onto the dream life of Americans, our built spaces embedded with our values, reminding us who we would like to be.
The backyard is unexpectedly complex, political, rich with history and more American than apple pie, simultaneously built with nostalgia and ready to be the future’s laboratory. Generously illustrated with photo work from MB Maher’s own catalog of landscape projects as well as underseen images from Julius Schulman’s archive at the Getty Research Institute, the focus of this talk will be a visual as well as psychological and cultural treatment of outdoor built spaces.
And just a head’s up that the Modernism Garden Tour sold out early, but more tickets have just been added. Check the website for current availability of all the tours. We’re so excited to catch up with y0u in Palm Springs this February!
The Mediterranean Garden Society is holding its Annual General Meeting in Morocco in October 2020, with the General Assembly held in the Yves Saint Laurent Complex in Marrakech. There will be pre- and post-meeting tours, including a visit to Taroudant, “a walled Berber town lying just south of the High Atlas in the semi-desert Souss Valley. Here waterwise gardens are a necessity and we shall visit several designed by the French architects Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières which showcase their unique style and more than 900 different species of plants collected from all over the world – mainly succulents, aloes, palm trees and cacti but also mediterranean-climate plants such as euphorbias, plumbago and bougainvillea, grasses and roses. We shall see other private gardens and a palace garden in and outside the city’s walls.“
Architectural, color-soaked, dry gardens that prefer strong spines in the bones of both garden and gardener. Not to add any pressure to your leisurely New Year holiday, but bookings close January 31, 2020.
“A garden should be made with honesty and with love…For me, a garden is all about the plants and the people, more than it is about design and aesthetics. It is real.” Umberto Pasti
This piece in House & Garden on the making of Umberto Pasti’s Moroccan garden got my garden travel juices flowing. Even if the tickets don’t always get purchased, for me January is for travel plans…
The brick-red thunbergia vine that I was training up to the roof eaves was blown off its fishing line support during a Santa Ana wind event and collapsed on itself, losing about 4 feet of height in the bargain. With my original plan laid waste by the winds, I subsequently gave the failed experiment little attention and only recently noted that it now resembles…a Christmas tree. How ’bout that? That about sums up my sideways, crab-walk approach to the holidays.
As we’ve done off and on in the past, the stand-in for a live tree is a tall, rusty garden tuteur which we call the “obelisk,” and instead of loading it up with lights and all the animal and pirate ornaments I’ve stockpiled since the boys could barely stand, it will have a large white paper snowflake at the top and very little else to blur its iron outline. Endurance will be the theme this year. For a holiday defined by timeless, immutable family traditions, as usual we’re winging it. This year, due to family health issues, geographic distance, and a generalized worrisome frame of mind, this holiday seems more imperiled than most by festive indifference. Lest the Grinch gain too much sway over me, I’m planning on hitting the Hauser & Wirth Holiday Market this weekend — always a pleasure to visit H&W and check on Mia Lehrer’s landscape design handiwork.
So let’s turn our attention to gifts for friends and family, shall we? Because that’s where, I feel, the emphasis rightly falls during the winter holidays — little treats for our friends and family, homemade or otherwise. And here’s an undeniable treat: The CobraHead Mini Weeder pictured above is an unassuming-looking tool that will change your life. The CobraHead company has long been loyal supporters of garden bloggers (which is how I acquired mine), but I admit I took this little tool for granted until we decided to clear devil’s grass out of the parkway mid summer, always a thoroughly demoralizing task. I’ve never acquired a fetish for collecting garden tools. The CobraHead was still in its original packing when it was cynically recruited for the most difficult assignment imaginable of clearing hell strip weeds — which it handled with aplomb. It fits easily in the hand and bites into hard ground and recalcitrant weeds without mercy. Marty and I were both floored at its efficacy. Highly recommended.
What I really need is a small, long-necked watering can for reaching hanging plants like rhipsalis without throwing out a shoulder as I’m nearly doing every time I lift my vintage Haws. Maybe you know someone who needs one as well. Gardenista featured this one recently that I wouldn’t mind finding under the Christmas tree.
And what gardeners do during winter is of course talk, dream and read about plants and gardens, and there’s lots of great new books to pile in stacks around your favorite armchair. Jeff Moore’s Spiny Succulents is at the top of my list — you can read Gerhard’s thorough review here.
Claire Takacs is one of the best garden photographers working today, as her new book Dreamscapes amply proves.
Jimi Blake has made a name for himself as an insatiably curious and inventive plantsman at his Irish garden Hunting Brook, documented in his new book A Beautiful Obsession.
I picked up these Native Plants for Southern California Gardens Flashcards at the APLD Plant Fair last fall and love their lightweight, waterproof portability, something compact enough to keep handy in the glove box for spontaneous hikes, botanizing, and plant shopping: “Theodore Payne is proud to announce the arrival of our Native Plants for Southern California Gardens flashcards, produced in partnership with Tree of Life Nursery, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, California Native Plant Society, and National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. Boxed set of 75, 3″ x 6″, two-sided, bilingual (English/Spanish) cards in full color on UV-varnish coated stock with a screw cable loop. Price: $17.00“
If you’re still stumped as to presents for garden friends, Alta Tingle’s impeccable curatorial taste infuses all the offerings at her store The Gardener.
And for your favorite aficionado of cacti and other spiky plants, hemostats are de rigueur for cleaning debris from plants without harming plant or person.
My rapturous opinion of November hasn’t changed much over the years (the cooler days, the slanted light, the chance of rain!), but certain patterns in the garden do escape my notice. Perusing past November entries, I find that Berkheya purpurea sends out the odd flower bud in November, as it’s doing now. The tetrapanax is sending out blooms right on schedule, which was anticipated, but I didn’t remember that berkheya felt comfortable blooming in November as well. Something else I’ve noted: reseeding clumps of Ruby Grass, Melinus nerviglumis, only begin to flower in November in my garden and not before. Maybe I will stop being surprised by this fact next November.
And these posts (here and here), talking about the effect of sooty smoke on leaves and the palapable relief garden and gardener experience post another hot, dry summer, could easily have been written this November as well. So some things remain consistently the same — and like all Novembers, I indulge in quite a bit of plant shopping.
The buzz is we’re going to get some rain for Thanksgiving — thank heavens! Have a great holiday yourself.
Mitch has been tagging along with Josh Rosen (the airplantman) to check out some of his custom installation work to get a sense of how Josh’s tillandsia-specific designs work in situ. In this home in the Pacific Palisades, the classic powder-coated Air Plant Frame has been stacked four high in narrow floor-to-ceiling windows — a sleek, “airy,” translucent take on a green wall without the complicated irrigation system. The frames can be removed for once-a-week drenching or are easily handsprayed. And after talking with Josh about tillandsias’ cultural requirements (here), I know these windows either face north or east, their preferred light exposure indoors.
The ongoing renaissance in indoor plants comes with a design savvy that I’m pretty sure wasn’t there in the groovy, heavily macramed ’70s. Figuring out where and how to stage plants has become as much a design imperative as a horticultural one. (And I’m so glad that “black thumb” nonsense is getting less traction as more and more of us just dive in and see what works — see, as in pay attention. That’s really all it takes.)
Other stuff tends to accumulate to support our green habit — tables, hangers, shelves, trays to collect water. A space can easily tip from warm and eclectic into a direction that minimalists just don’t want to go. For those who love plants and sleek interior spaces too, the airplantman has an answer. Actually, lots of answers.
And of course the airplantman’s answer to living with plants indoors involves tillandsias, the epiphytic, tree-hugging bromeliads numbering over 600 species that he fell in love with over a decade ago. For Josh, their rootless, soil-less ways are an inexhaustible source of design inspiration.
As a landscape architect, by necessity Josh works from the ground up. Now, with his design work and fabrications inspired by tillandsias, I’d say he’s pretty happy that’s no longer always the case.
It’s great to see the garden “sweat” again. Whether glistening from morning dew or transpiration, it’s a sight for sore (dry) eyes.
The leaves of the tree aloe ‘Goliath’ were a grimy, sooty mess just a few days ago. Hosespray and rising humidity have restored them to good as new. The smooth-leaved succulents have had the easiest time recovering from the recent bone-dry, dirty air.
NASA is a fan of the marvels and importance of plant transpiration too. The Space Station has a new mission called ECOSTRESS (ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station) which will “study how plants sweat, providing the most detailed measurements of plant temperatures available from space and helping researchers monitor the health of Earth’s vegetation.” The little movie will tell you all about it.
We all seem to be engaged, willingly or not, in a massive, crowd-sourced project to break irony. The length of the state is studded with wildfires exacerbated by climate change, while we are simultaneously involved in a lawsuit with the federal government to settle “whether California has the right to set its own greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards.” It’s surreal enough that I feel like I’m living trapped in one of James’ tar paintings. (Happy Halloween!)
You can catch up with his most recent work at the current exhibit “Terrestrial and Celestial”:
Where: Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building B-3, Santa Monica
And if you haven’t heard James speak about his work, you’re in for a treat on Saturday, November 16, 2019, 11 a.m., at the Craig Krull Gallery. He’s a rare bird indeed, bearing witness to his time with brainy artistry and profound concern over this increasingly imperiled human project and the many species we’re hurrying to extinction — and he’s an absolute hoot to hear speak.
The firecracker plant (fountainbush, coral plant, among a plethora of common names) is an incredibly tough addition to a frost-free dry garden, attributes which also make it an excellent choice for flourishing in containers, which can be a rough life for plants. Russelia makes container life look easy. I’ve seen it planted in the hellstrips of Palm Springs, where summer temperatures routinely surpass 100F.
A native to Mexico and Guatemala, the bright red flowers of the species are what’s commonly available at local nurseries. Hummingbirds are mad for the totally tubular blooms too.
There is also a pale yellow form, but at the Huntington’s fall plant sale I was thrilled to find the much rarer peachy form under the label ‘Flamingo Park,’ Pink Coral Fountain. The next step, obviously, was to find the perfect pot to showcase its cascading, fountain-like qualities.
I didn’t seriously expect to find anything as fabulous as Willy Guhl’s Spindle planter at local nurseries, just something slim and tall. Nothing seemed suitable, so I settled for a 12-inch simple clay pot that is now hanging from the pergola…sigh. Not fabulous at all, just barely serviceable and most likely temporary. (If I could afford an original Guhl creation or a well-made re-creation, the best chance locally of finding one would be Inner Gardens.)
But I really don’t understand why shameless knockoffs of the Spindle planter aren’t routinely available at every corner nursery. That simple sculptural shape is what my plants and I want to live with, not busy neoclassical scrolls or curlicues or garlands. And because I have lots (and lots) of potted plants, I mostly prefer that matte neutral finish over highly glazed primary colors. And apart from accommodating plants that want to fountain and drape, varying heights for potted plants to me is essential to counter the tyranny of the ground plane and add in a little multidimensionality, theatricality, stagecraft, call it what you will. A tabletop or bookshelf size indoors would be amazing too (we could call it the “little willy“!) If you’re an adventurous fabricator in Los Angeles, give me a call…
With a credo of “achieving the most with the minimum of effort,” Guhl is a design hero in his native Switzerland, where for almost 40 years he taught at Zurich Kunstgewerbeschule (School for Arts and Crafts) and was an early proponent of mass-produced, flat-packed furniture.
It was the invitation of the manufacturers of the industrial product Eternit in 1951 that led him in the direction of designing containers and furniture for the outdoors. Intended for use in roofing and pipes, this concrete/asbestos formulation was offered to Guhl and his students for an experimental collaboration in designing new planters. Guhl’s subsequent innovative work with the product lent the industrial material significant credibility; Guhl felt that “no other building substance that is so thin gives so much stability.” (here) Recognition by the New York Museum of Modern Art of Guhl’s Loop chair in 2001 was short-lived; after two weeks, the chair was removed from display due to concern over the asbestos in the Eternit formula. The Loop chair is still made in Switzerland, of course now minus the asbestos.
I’ve done a lot of crazy things over the years in an attempt to bring height and drama to potted plants. Of course, nothing I’ve come up with ever looks as effortlessly cool as Willy Guhl’s Spindle planter.
“The Santa Ana winds were blasting through the streets, bristling and smelling of desert, of white sunlight, of sharp, wiry plants and white rock…A hot madness was enclosing the city.” Kate Braverman, Lithium for Medea (February 5, 1949 – October 12, 2019)
California’s wildfire season is fully upon us this week, both in Northern and Southern California. These seasonal hot, dry winds go by many names. Here in Los Angeles, I’ve always known them as the Santa Anas; in Northern California they go by the Diablos. From my personal, nonscientific vantage point, I’ve always experienced Santa Ana season as one in which our typically gentle maritime climate becomes upended by furiously destructive, dessicating devil winds that blow in hair-dryer hot from the east, carrying unfamiliar scents and often igniting wildfires. Your skin itches, your nerves get jangly, and a general feeling of unease descends on our golden la-la land. But these last three years, the unprecedented range and fury of the fires is unlike anything these winds have wrought in living memory.
(A more technical description would be: “The Santa Anas are katabatic winds—Greek for “flowing downhill,” arising in higher altitudes and blowing down towards sea level. Santa Ana winds originate from high-pressure airmasses over the Great Basin and upper Mojave Desert. Any low-pressure area over the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California, can change the stability of the Great Basin High, causing a pressure gradient that turns the synoptic scale winds southward down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and into the Southern California region. Cool, dry air flows outward in a clockwise spiral from the high pressure center. This cool, dry airmass sweeps across the deserts of eastern California toward the coast, and encounters the towering Transverse Ranges, which separate coastal Southern California from the deserts. The airmass, flowing from high pressure in the Great Basin to a low pressure center off the coast, takes the path of least resistance by channeling through the mountain passes to the lower coastal elevations, as the low pressure area off the coast pulls the airmass offshore. ” — Wikipedia)
Fighting off these wildfires in the wildland-urban interface areas like the Pacific Palisades may involve evacuations, lost pets, and possibly turning your white house pink by the fire retardant Phos-chek. And as the utilities face legal liability for their infrastructure sparking deadly wildfires, preemptive power shutoffs are a recent tactical maneuver that may become the new normal in wildfire season.
It’s quibbling to complain about houses turning pink when the alternative is too awful to contemplate. Still, Mitch’s photos of his friends’ family home recently sprayed with the fire retardant Phos-chek brought a visual specificity to the treatment that I previously hadn’t considered. It covers everything, not just “wildland fuels” but houses and gardens too. And don’t reach for the power washer for cleanup, which might force the residue into crevices that will be forever pink; rather, a gentle spray from the garden hose is advised.
(“Wildland fire retardants are generally quite water-soluble and can be removed from smooth surfaces with little effort prior to drying. Undissolved components may, however, penetrate into porous or rough surfaces and become difficult to remove. When allowed to dry, contained thickeners may form films that tend to hold the dried retardant rather tightly to that on which it lands. This is desirable when it lands on wildland fuels. It is less desirable, however, when trying to remove it from other areas. Retardant residues should be removed as soon as possible. After drying, some scrubbing or power washing of structures and equipment may be required. Care should be taken when using power washing equipment to prevent increased penetration of the dry powder components into porous or on rough surfaces. A mild surfactant, including those that contain enzymes, may assist or improve the ease of removal.” Phos-Chek® Fire Retardants For Use in Preventing & Controlling Fires in Wildland Fuels)
Zika’s deck saw a lot of action over the course of the firewatch. Los Angeles Times film crews shot headline photos from here, firefighters kept watch overnight, sleeping on patio furniture. Not being hesitant to show gratitude, Zika deposited a dead rat she hunted down in the canyon upon being freed from the bedroom closet, right at the feet of the sleeping firemen — which in case they didn’t know, translates into thank-you.
Hoping to hear more happy endings from those currently under firewatch. The winds are predicted to pick up even more fiercely on Saturday. Stay safe.
One of those quirky associations that happens when looking for the perfect autumn light for an increasingly lanky potted euphorbia. Passiflora ‘Flying V’ handles its own light needs by threading itself through a grevillea, and so an improbable relationship is formed. This mix of the potted and planted is a never-ending source of delight.
Another source of delight is fall plant sales, and this Friday, October 25, is the Huntington’s fall plant sale — I think I’m going to be needing some more potting soil. And maybe a few more pots too…