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the sun king redux

With cabinet selection still underway, previous hiring decisions during the president’s business career can provide some illumination into his selection criteria.
And if a 24-year-old kid with no horticultural experience can end up working as Trump’s landscape architect, you might want to start polishing up your resume. Truly, anything is possible.
Judging by his well-known, gold-plated desires, it’s no surprise that Trump’s taste in garden design leans toward the opulently formal.
At his Trump National Golf Club, where “members pay an initiation fee of $350,000,” a $7.50-an-hour summer employee named Andy Sick was tapped to perform landscape architect duties.

“A few days after the boss was fired, one of Trump’s golf-course architects, Tom Fazio, Jr., spotted Sick planting petunias.
‘He asked me if I was the landscape architect,’ Sick said. ‘I told him yeah. My only gardening experience was mowing my parents’ lawn.’
Fazio told Sick to get to work, so he went home that night and Googled ‘French formal gardens.'”

Trump’s fans are thrilled by his low-information, shoot-from-the-hip management style, which seems to have worked out fairly well so far as one of his eponymous golf courses is concerned.
Andy Sick turned out to be a natural at intuiting his employer’s taste in landscape design:

“I knew Trump liked ostentatious stuff, so the gardens of Versailles were a perfect fit. I wasn’t even looking at other golf courses. I was just looking at grandiosity.”


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“Early on in Sick’s planting, Trump paid a surprise visit. He loved what he saw. ‘Once that happened, I was given an unlimited budget,’ Sick said.

After spending between two and three hundred thousand dollars of Trump’s money, Sick got nervous.
‘I was worried the plants were going to die,’ he said, so he e-mailed a high-school friend who had studied landscape architecture for guidance.”

Sick turned out to be a quick study in economics as well:

“A few months went by, and Sick, who was still earning $7.50 an hour, decided to ask for a raise.
‘The new boss asked me how much I was making. I told him it didn’t matter — I wanted $75 to $100 an hour.
He agreed to $100.’ At the end of the summer, Sick had to quit to start his first year of law school, at Syracuse.”

“Trump ended up liking the golf club so much that, in 2007, he filed plans with Somerset County to build a family mausoleum there…”


From The New Yorker 10/24/16 “Where Trump Wants To Be Buried – How an untrained gardener created a Versailles-inspired landscape at the Trump National Golf Club.

a garden visit with bixbybotanicals

It all started with a very sweet and generous offer of some foliage for vases. Via bixbybotanicals Instagram, I learned that his Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ was in full winter dress, and he was willing to share some of the largesse with anyone in Long Beach. The South African conebushes are prized for their long vase life, and since my leucadendrons at home are too young to pillage for vases, I jumped at the chance to pick up some ruddy-leaved branches.


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The Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ in question, so you’ll know in case you’re ever offered some branches. Just say yes.
And you never know — not only did we leave with a bucket stuffed with cone bush branches, but also some delicious duck eggs, which were ravenously consumed for dinner that night.
Okay, great taste in shrubs and garden fowl — who is this guy anyway?

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The shorthand answer to that question?
Just an Italian Renaissance art scholar/teacher and incredibly busy father of two with a big love of dry garden plants and a strong affinity for garden design.

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Of course, I immediately began pestering Jeremy for a return visit with the AGO crew (Mitch), and he graciously agreed to let us explore.

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And on an average suburban lot, there is an incredible amount to explore.
The parkway is filled with California natives, including milkweed and self-sowing Calif. poppies, making a plant-rich corridor between the hell strip and the front garden.

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And here’s where Jeremy’s garden and other front-yard lawn conversions part ways.
Just behind that thick band of plants bordering the sidewalk is this surprisingly private piece of serenity, just feet from the street.
I don’t think I’ve seen a river of blue chalk sticks/Senecio mandralsicae used to better effect. And, yes, Jeremy says they do require a stern hand to keep them in check.
A ‘Creme Brulee’ agave peeks through salvia, the red echoed by callistemon in bloom opposite.

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All anchored by the shiny simplicity of that lone stock tank. (There’s another one in the back garden.)

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I love how he took featureless, flat panels of lawn and sculpted the space into a multi-faceted garden that works for the family, wildlife, and the neighborhood.
A strong sense of enclosure without a fence — who knew? My own street-side (and mangy) box hedges are striking me as unnecessarily claustrophobic now.

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Jeremy seems to have effortlessly managed balancing the broad strokes that strongly lead the eye with the detailed planting that rewards closer inspection.
I counted a total of three Yucca rostrata, but there may be more.

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The front garden was started in 2012, when it was nothing but a flat expanse of lawn and a couple palms. Not a trace of either is left.
(Those are a neighbor’s palms in the background.)

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Now there’s nooks to watch the kids chase butterflies.

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That Salvia canariensis on the corner of the house behind the nasturtiums is going to be stunning in bloom.

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Mixed in amongst the nasturtiums is the charmingly nubby Helenium puberulum, a Calif. native.

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And opposite the chairs and table is another gorgeous bit of planting, deftly angled to screen the house on the driveway side.
Obviously a collector of choice plants, nevertheless his design instincts are manifest in subtle screening and massing for privacy balanced by openness/negative space.
A sentinel arbutus stands apart, with the strong afternoon sun blurring the outline of a 5-foot Leucadendron discolor ‘Pom Pom’ to the arbutus’ left, one I’ve killed a couple times.
Jeremy admitted to lots of failures, too, but his successes are envy-inducing.

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Encircling ‘Pom Pom’ is a detailed planting of aloes, yucca, golden coleonema, senecio, Euphorbia lambii.
Like me, he browses for plants at local H&H Nursery as well as flea markets.

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Detail of arbutus bloom.

But where are those ducks? we asked, hoping to steal a peek into the back garden. The ruse worked.

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To visit the ducks, we were led behind a sleek black fence at the end of the driveway guarded by Acacia cognata.

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And a dombeya, the highly scented Tropical Hydrangea. Jeremy said he chased this small tree’s identity for years.

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All was finally revealed during a visit to Disneyland, where the dombeya was growing, and labeled, in Toontown. In an instant, the silly and the sublime converged.

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Meet the ducks.
Mural in the background was done by Jeremy’s brother.

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I want ducks!

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I asked how the gardens were handling the recent (relatively) heavy rain, and Jeremy said the front garden came through like a champ.
But there has been a bit of flooding in the back garden.

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I’m sure I was told but can’t remember who built the duck enclosure.
What duck wouldn’t obligingly lay as many eggs as possible in such cheerful digs?

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There’s a serious container fanatic at work here too…

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A termite-infested pergola attached to the house had to be knocked down when they moved in, leaving this low wall along the driveway as the perfect spot for staging containers.

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In case you bloggers are feeling that it’s all about Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, Jeremy is a faithful reader of blogs.

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Melianthus major

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Winter-blooming Dahlia imperialis, after several moves, in a spot obviously to its liking.

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For the leucadendron branches, the duck eggs, and the inspiring garden visit, thank you so much, Jeremy!

All photos by MB Maher.

a succulent garden in February

On the way to picking up a family member’s weekly box at the CSA Growing Experience in North Long Beach last week, I took the opportunity to drive slowly through the surrounding neighborhood of mostly Spanish-style homes. It was drizzling again, still a charming novelty after years of drought. Because of that drought, there’s very little front lawn left in these neighborhoods, and what’s filling the turf vacuum are all sorts of interesting mashups. I was ready to head for the main thoroughfare again, when I caught a peripheral flare of orange as high as a street parking sign. Could it be? Several K-turns and U-turns later, I found this gem of a garden:

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That promising orange flare was everything I hoped for. If this is Aloe marlothii, it’s the biggest one I’ve seen outside of a botanical garden.
Amidst all the post-drought, lawn-replacing, tentative start-up front gardens, here’s a garden planted long ago and simply for a love of these plants.

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Could the shaggy-headed aloe on the left be ‘Goliath’? (A tree aloe notorious for growing more leaves than the trunk can support and therefore prone to toppling over.)
Whatever its name, it’s a magnificent specimen, with no underplanting to obscure the trunks.

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Here’s a better view of that tree aloe. The experts say to grow them lean, and you’ll have a better chance of keeping them upright.

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I assumed the other trees were palo verdes, but under these overcast skies it’s hard to tell.
The architectural massing of plants builds closest to the house and lessens at the sidewalk.
With strategic positioning of plants, the house is both screened and open to the neighborhood.

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After all this rain, the d.g. still meets the sidewalk in a disciplined line. It was obviously laid down properly, with a good base, then compacted with a roller.
Having the planting on a deep setback from the sidewalk is a neighborly gesture to reassure the spiky plant phobic.

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I wonder how much editing was done before this vision emerged.
This garden struck me as the antithesis of most succulent gardens —
which focus mainly on understory, ground-cover planting that builds tapestries out of all the amazing shapes and leaf colors succulents offer.
Here the huge specimens dominate, surging skyward from an austere base of decomposed granite. A very clean, dramatic effect.

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A great example of the range of moods and styles possible when planting with succulents.

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Tillandsia Tuesday

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* Tillandsia duratii has the most fragrant flower over the longest period of time. There is currently more demand than supply.
* Tillandsia xerographica’s inflorescence can last up to a year. It has been overcollected in its home of Guatemala.
* Tillandsia aernanthos is the most common, the least expensive, and comes in lots of forms.
* Tillandsia brachycaulos’ deep leaf color lends that trait to colorful hybrids.
* Tillandsia tectorum was used as a model by James Cameron for jellyfish-like creatures in his movie “Avatar.”
* Tillandsia hybrid ‘Curly Slim’ is too beautiful to keep in stock.

I’m a mistress of tillandsia facts after listening to the recording of Paul Isley’s lecture given at our local Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific last year, link here.

Tillandsias, the so-called air plants, have a leaf structure and surface evolved to handle a drenching amount of moisture without rotting.
The most common mistake made growing them indoors is insufficient moisture. (Care instructions here.)

I felt immediate kinship with Mr. Isley upon learning that he inaugurated his adventure in tillandsias 40 years ago in a Jeep Wagoneer which he drove to Guatemala, bringing back seeds and plants to sell at the Pasadena Rose Bowl flea market. We never drove our used Jeep Wagoneer anything close to that distance, but it carried all four of us plus two Newfs for quite some time before the sagging headliner became too irritating to endure. (Next time you see a vintage Jeep Wagoneer check it out — I bet its headliner is sagging. We never could get ours to remain attached.)

Mr. Isley’s nursery in Torrance, Rainforest Flora, is now the largest grower of tillandsias in North America. No longer based on collecting, since 1993 the company has become entirely self-sufficient in producing this notoriously slow-growing bromeliad. A large part of their growing is done in Northern San Diego County.

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Tillandsia Tuesday — today’s micro-meme. Grab a drink and a comfy blanket and settle in. The lecture is a soothing 40 minutes’ long.

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Again, the link to the lecture can be found link here.
There’s an intro of about 2 minutes, where the word “bromeliad” is mispronounced more times than I would have presumed possible, so you can skip that and go straight to the lecture.


The Point Pot

If you’re an Instagram fan of garden designer/ceramicist Dustin Gimbel and/or Potted, LA’s premiere source for stylish plant containers and garden furniture, you’ll know that they’ve been collaborating for some time on the first mass-produced offering of one of Dustin’s ceramic designs called “The Point Pot.” Tantalizing peeks, projections, and promises that have kept me “en pointe” for months have now become actionable, and just in time to brighten a dreary February. The Point Pot has gone live, available in three colorways, Pacific Blue, Vanilla Bean and Sea Spray Green.


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Potted dubs The Point Pot “A Modern Planter for Modern Times.”
“Sleek and geometric, this elegant planter offers versatility as well as good looks with the ability to be used table top or hung from a stainless steel cable.”

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I simply cannot overstate how proud I am of these collaborators, each of them dedicated to strong, modern design for our gardens. Potted is of course justifiably famous for their own exclusive designs, such as the Circle Pot, City Planter, and Orbit Planter, so The Point Pot joins some seriously strong company. (And each of these planters complements the others incredibly well, btw. I’m thinking about hanging a Point Pot next to an Orbit Planter.) But gorgeous design aside, what really gets me just a little verklempt about this homegrown, Los Angeles venture is their resolute determination to have their creations made in the U.S. — pottery may have once been king in California, but that heyday has long since passed, so I know making good on that commitment hasn’t always been easy. Bravo, you guys.


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The Point Pot’s strong lines can be appreciated from many angles — dangling as a pendant or brandishing its multi-faceted planes singly or in multiples across tabletops and bookshelves.

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Order info right here.

chasing agaves


Last Saturday, while millions marched their way into the history books, I was driving south to San Diego to meet agave expert Greg Starr.
I had been looking forward to this 2-hour road trip for some time, as a beacon in an otherwise fairly bleak January. Family medical issues against the chaotic national backdrop were starting to take a toll.
My guilt was somewhat lessened by the knowledge that our family would be represented by a marcher. Definitely count me in for the next one and the one after that.
NPR covered the march for the drive south, and the recent back-to-back storms cleared to offer up a gorgeous, cloud-scudded and dry Saturday. Pardon my nativism, but California is so beautiful.

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My destination was this private home where the San Diego Horticultural Society was hosting the talk by Greg Starr and a plant sale. Greg was bringing agaves!

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The front garden was a life-affirming explosion of agaves and aloes.
A blooming cowhorn agave, A. bovicornuta, is still a commanding presence, even among show-stealing flowering aloes.

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Tree in the background is Euphorbia cotinifolia.

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A narrow footpath runs a few feet in front of the house for access.
I’d be guessing at aloe names, since the owner has access to some amazing hybrids.
The bright orange in the left foreground looks a lot like my Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’

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Agave ‘Jaws’ fronted by a marlothii-hybrid aloe in bud.

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Incredibly tight tapestry of succulents, with some self-sowing alyssum and California poppies managing to find a root-hold.

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Unfortunately, Mr. Starr was unable to attend, probably due to the recent spate of severe weather and heavy rain.
But the owner’s private collection of aloes and agaves was more than enough compensation. That’s Agave ‘Streaker’ above in one of his raised beds in the backyard.

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Agave pumila, at a size I didn’t know they achieved.

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Selection of Agave utahensis

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Aloe longistyla, touchy about drainage, prone to mites, but so beautiful, flaunting some of the largest flowers of any aloe in relation to clump size.

The San Diego Hort. Society members provided lots of interesting plants for sale, including a variegated agave I can’t find a reference for (‘Northern Lights’ — anyone?)
With the Mini already nearly full to capacity, I stopped at Solana Succulents on the way home, detouring west to its location directly on Highway 1 in sight of the Pacific.
Owner Jeff Moore manages to tuck in a stellar selection of rarities in a relatively small-size nursery. Here is where I finally found the long-coveted Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ in a gallon.

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A nice shipment from B&B Cactus Farm was on the shelves, like this Astrophytum ornatum. I also brought home a Parodia magnifica.

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And another cowhorn agave.

I don’t think I’ve had Jeff’s self-published book out of arm’s reach since I bought it last Saturday.
“Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation” is everything you’d expect from someone who knows all the growers, hybridizers, and designers in San Diego County.
He’ll be speaking closer to home, at South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes, this March.
And February’s speaker doesn’t look bad either (Panayoti Kelaidis!)

Long Beach’s illustrious architect Edward Killingsworth

New Year’s Resolution No. 22: Check my hometown newspaper out more often. Included in the Los Angeles Times end-of-year roundup on “The 11 most popular home and garden stories of 2016,” was a piece I had missed that contained some intriguing back story on a house and garden that has been casually mentioned on the blog a couple times. That cool little house I’ve been admiring on countless dog walks happens to have been built by Long Beach’s most famous architect Edward Killingsworth (1917-2004). Never heard of him? I hadn’t either. Unlike other MCM Case Study architects like Eames, Neutra, and Saarinen, Killingsworh hasn’t become a household name. From what little reading I’ve done so far, I get the sense that branding just wasn’t where he focused his energies.


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(photo Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Not that this is a Case Study house, that experiment in residential architecture sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine in the post-war years.
The Frank House in nearby Naples holds that enduring honor.
Strangely enough, my dog-walk house wasn’t meant to survive at all, but was hastily constructed in the 1950s to function as a temporary design model for a proposed project, the 12-story “Marina Towers.”
The Marina Towers condo project was ultimately abandoned, but Killingsworth couldn’t bear to tear down the little model house, so it was rented for a time then ultimately sold.
Apparently, subsequent rehab attempts were not kind to the architect’s vision.

The above photo shows the view of the house I’m familiar with from the vantage point of dog walks on the park across the street. That Yucca rostrata always catches my eye.

From a December 2013 post:

What they say about good bones for faces and houses applies to gardens too. Good bones will see you through some tough times. I’ve posted just a couple photos on this sweet little house and garden before. The front facade is entirely of glass, so one can’t be too obnoxious with the camera under such circumstances. But walking Ein on the park across the street from this house a couple days ago, I noticed that the landscape was being worked on, and heaps of aloes and agaves were strewn on the walkways. I gave the leash to Marty and looked closer. The house was empty. No more George Nelson bubble lamps or butterfly chairs on the balcony. The house had sold! And what on earth were the new owners doing to the garden? Did they have a deep-seated aversion to desert plants? If so, I needed to talk to them about those enormous Yucca rostrata ASAP.”

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(photo Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

View through the front of house to the offshore oil islands and Bluff Park, where we used to walk the corgi. (Now 14, Ein sticks pretty close to home.)

More from the December 2013 post:

I am normally not an overly bold person, but I found myself striding across the street and up to a couple of surprised men standing amongst masses of discarded Agave attenuata. It was the new owner and the gardener, who wasn’t removing the plants but merely thinning them. The owner was an architect and loved the house and garden but said both were in terrible shape. He told me he had been seduced by the furniture seen through the glass wall, too, but when it was all removed and he gained ownership of the house, his heart sank. The magic was gone. Now he wondered if he hadn’t made a terrible mistake. The place was a mess and had not been well cared for. Amazing what a spell all the classic mid century modern furnishings had cast, and how well even a neglected desert garden looks after itself. I told him it had always been my favorite house among the much bigger mansions that lined the street opposite the park, and this seemed to brighten him up considerably. He even showed me into the backyard, which was graveled and already had mature privacy screens of clumping bamboo. It was a gem, even if the interior’s cork floors were in terrible shape. The new owner was knowledgeable about plants (clumping vs. running bamboo) and energetic. There might be a few more dragons to slay than he bargained for, but the house and garden would no doubt surpass what was here before.”

(Check out the Los Angeles Times’ slide show on the stressful but ultimately happy renovation here.)

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(photo Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

The backyard in 2016.

The new owner/architect I interrupted that day in 2013 was Ted Hyman, a partner in the firm Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects.
He and his wife Kelly found out the house was for sale in 2013. At that point, conventional waterfront real estate wisdom was in favor of a teardown.
But the Hymans resisted the teardown route and embarked on an arduous restoration.
So I have the Hymans to thank for my continued enjoyment of this lovely house and garden on future walks (with me pushing the corgi strapped into his dog walker).

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(photo Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

And how does one accomplish a faithful restoration of a home that was never meant to last?
Lots of love and respect for the spirit of the design along with copious research, including a road trip to Santa Barbara to consult the original 7-page plans.
And everything has turned out splendidly. A daughter’s wedding has been held here, and Killingsworth’s widow Laura paid an approving visit, her first since 1958.

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Killingsworth’s Opdahl house via Dwell

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Killingsworth’s Spalding House via SFCurbed

It is so good to be in a space where the spirit can soar, and, with all of this, it must soar with the sense of balance and proportion set up by the spaces we create.”
Edward Killingsworth, “Contemporary Architects.”


eat your dahlias

I’m halfway convinced to fill my vegetable garden this summer with dahlias.
Beans and tomatoes were an epic fail last summer, and though zucchini were OK, I can find them cheap and local.
But these beauties, however, will never be found at the local market. And their cultural needs are perfectly amenable to the vegetable plot:

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Floret Dahlia ‘Labyrinth’

Yes, winter marches on, but it will most assuredly end one day. And there you’ll be on a summer day, bitterly regretting the lack of foresight that separated you from armfuls of dahlias.
Dahlias in the kitchen, bedroom, dining room, overflowing from bookshelves. It’s a nice winter’s daydream anyway, isn’t it?
Floret Farm’s dahlias will be available to order in January, so get your pencils sharpened!

a holiday visit with Dustin Gimbel

Now that garden designer Dustin Gimbel has branched off into ceramics, I can buy a few holiday presents and visit his incredibly inspiring garden.

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Coming in the little side gate, there’s this silvery vision of Acacia pendula, faced down by a mature leucospermum loaded with flower buds. A new planting of aloes catches the light.
I still get palpitations every time I visit.

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Acacia podalyrifolia on the opposite side of the porch has replaced the Arbutus ‘Marina’ that stubbornly failed to thrive here.
It was uncharacteristically windy today, the first real “weather” we’ve had in Los Angeles, starting off with the previous night’s measurable rainfall.
Note the Acacia podalyrifolia bowing in the wind.
The totem sentinels seem to have proliferated since my last visit, accentuating a really strong, syncopated flow he’s been working on in the front garden with octagonal pavers and festuca.

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The view under Acacia pendula, trained beautifully on a rebar arbor, looking down the main path at the front of the house toward the driveway

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In this view, to the right of the main path, is where his signature totems congregate.
The small pavers allow for a “custom” journey through the garden, an intimate, immersive engagement with the plants.
Dustin uses berms to build topographical interest into the front garden. The stones to the left rim the berm containing the leucospermum.
At the far end is a berm built up with “urbanite” aka broken concrete, which abuts the driveway. Of course, drainage in the berms is excellent too.

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The berm by the driveway, planted with echium, adenanthos, centaurea, kalanchoe, and lots of other treasures.
The dark green ground cover is Frankenia thymifolia.
Luminous Yucca ‘Bright Star’ needs no introduction.

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We played around with his new “tinker toy” ceramic pieces in the front garden.

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I continually nag him about getting a shop website up for his ceramic pieces. He promised it will happen in the new year.
Wonderful shapes and texture from box balls, grasses, Agave mitis var. albidior through a scrim of dripping acacia.

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The Gaudi-esque tinker toys among pavers, grasses, small succulents.

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I’m always impressed by the captivating visual power of Dustin’s garden, the compounding effect of the pure geometric, organic shapes and forms he favors.
Just beyond that hedge, it’s almost a shock to the system when the magic quickly dissolves into ordinary sidewalk, street, cars, etc., etc.

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Everywhere you look the planting is almost unbearably gorgeous.

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In the back garden, I was able to check on the progress of the wood screen which hides the propagation tables.

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I gathered my holiday purchases (which must remain a secret for now), very pleased with myself for combining business and inspiration in one visit.
You can find more of Dustin’s ceramics and garden designs on his Instagram feed.
Have a great weekend.

friday clippings 12/9/16


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There. How’s that for proof of some holiday spirit stirring? You can keep the poinsettias. I’ll take my holiday colors in the form of Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras.’

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And then there was that very festive plant swap meetup this past week with Gail & Kris that helped start the thawing of my holiday-averse heart.
My offering was pups of this variegated Agave bracteosa ‘Monterrey Frost.’
Gail (Piece of Eden) brought a sackload of rare plant treats, as did Kris (Late to the Garden Party).
Kris was also entrusted with the solemn duty of dispersing pups from Pam’s whale agave Moby, who passed on in her Austin, TX garden in 2016.
(That’s my very young whale agave also in the photo above, the selection ‘Frosty Blue.’)

This weekend I plan on getting some shopping done at some of the craft fairs that are popping up.
A sure bet looks like the Renegade Craft Fair, especially since it will be held at Grand Park this year. And this Sunday is perfect timing for the Rose Bowl Flea Market too.
If you’re in Long Beach, the source of my ‘Monterrey Frost’ agave was Urban Americana, a great place, btw, for some holiday shopping.
Lots of Bauer and Gainey pottery, including this lust-inducing Bauer Hanging Indian Pot. Maybe Marty will check the blog before the 25th.
Long Beach harbor’s twinkly boat parade this Saturday night always softens me up and gets me in a holiday mood.
And If I stream the semi-holiday-themed movie “About A Boy,” maybe while baking some Molasses Crinkle cookies, I should be just about there.

Have a very merry weekend!