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Bloom Day April 2014

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A day late for the Bloom Day report, with the above photo of the back garden taken this overcast morning and most of the closeups taken the past couple days. It’s all shockingly rumpled and disheveled already, but I still love waking up to it every morning. I’ll use this photo as a point of reference. Verbena bonariensis is already pushing 6 feet, almost as tall as the tetrapanax. The poppies were the first to bloom, followed this month by the self-sowing umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora, the little pops of white. All this blowsy madness will be over too soon, by May probably, and then we’ll be tidy and respectable again, refreshed and ready to dig in for a long, hot and very dry summer. Deep blue on the left is the fernleaf lavender Lavandula multifida, which will be a mainstay throughout summer. There’s about six clumps of this lavender throughout the back garden. (A couple days ago I bumped into an old 2012 article in The Telegraph in which designer Tom Stuart-Smith uses the words “exotic meadow” to describe some planting ideas he’s playing with, and those two words pretty much sum up the back garden this spring.)

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To the left of the tall verbena, the monocarpic umbellifer Melanoselinum decipiens is in bloom.
Since it’s supposed to make great size first, I’m guessing this is a hurried, premature bloom, hastened possibly by conditions not expressly to its liking.
Maybe it’s been too warm already.

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Scrolling back up to the first photo for reference, the orange spears in the background on the right are Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

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And furthest right, nearest the arundo, the Aloe thompsonii I moved from the front gravel garden last fall. An aloe that actually prefers nicer, cushier digs than the gravel garden.
I finally noticed all those suckering green shoots on the potted Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’ and removed them yesterday.

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Also in this area, near Stipa gigantea, Salvia curviflora has started to bloom, with more photobombing poppies.

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The salvia is surrounded by the leaves of summer-blooming Agastache ‘Blue Blazes’

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The little 4-inch pot of Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii’ I brought back from Far Reaches Farm is turning into a graceful shrub.
(Under the wire basket I’m protecting some newly planted corms of the Gladiolus papilio hybrid ‘Ruby,’ tall and graceful as a dierama.
There’s no current U.S. source, but Sue Mann of Priory Plants very kindly and graciously sent me a few corms.)
Towering Euphorbia lambii is in bloom in the background.

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This plectranthus is doing a great job as a stump-smotherer.
The stump of the smoke tree ‘Grace’ was still sending out shoots last year, not so much anymore.

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Second (or third?) year in the garden for the Baltic parsley, Cenolophium denudatum, so it’s quite tough as well as graceful. I think the seed came from Derry Watkins.
Who knew umbels could have such variation in color: the orlaya is the whitest umbel, the melanoselinum a pale pink, the Baltic parsley more green than white.

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Last year the pergola had draped canvas for shade, and this year Marty rigged up something more permanent.
It’s shady all day, except for late afternoon, when the sun slants in from the west, and is my favorite spot for viewing all the aerial pollinator activity on the garden.
I’ve been pulling most of the poppies from this area that was reworked last fall, which is now mostly grasses, calamint, phlomis, the Cistus ‘Snow Fire,’ isoplexis.
A big clump of kangaroo paws is just coming into bloom out of frame to the left.

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I doubt if the isoplexis lasts long in this strong western exposure. Everything else will be fine.

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Salvia pulchella x involucrata blooming into Senecio viravira

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The irises again, with the big leaves of the clary sage just behind.

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The little annual Linaria reticulata just happened to self-sow near the dark iris and the Coprosma ‘Plum Hussy.’ You just can’t make this stuff up.

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Closer to the house, looking down through the pergola, with the shrubby Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’ in the foreground.
The mint bushes are notoriously short-lived, and I’ve already got a replacement in mind, the smallish mallee Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ I brought back from Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery.

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Flash of pink at the far end of the pergola comes from a stand of pelargoniums, including this P. caffrum X ‘Diana’ from Robin Parer’s nursery Geraniaceae.

And that’s what April looks like in my tiny corner of Long Beach, California. More Bloom Day reports are collected by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.


I’ve frontloaded my tumblr (under “Follow“) with lots of old photos and have been adding new ones too.

Iris a l’Orange

With certain heavily hybridized plants that people have been tinkering with for centuries, like irises, dahlias, and tulips, for instance, you only have to say Let there be orange, click the keys or fill in the catalogue order with your pen, and then forget all about it until orange erupts like Vesuvius in the garden in spring. (Iris was named for the Greek word for “rainbow.”)


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Which is apparently what I did when I ordered bearded iris last fall, probably sometime around Halloween, judging by the colors. I skipped tulips this year but ordered a few bearded iris even though their bloom period amounts to a very brief if ostentatious flyby. Dahlias bloom all summer but need as much water as farm animals. Bearded iris can take the hottest and driest of conditions, which is what I’ve got in spades. Their one big drawback is how fast they multiply, needing to be divided constantly for best bloom. The only time I ever worked on my horticultural certificate for a private party was splitting up enormous clumps of bearded iris for an elderly lady. Or maybe it was elderly iris for a bearded lady? Whatever the case, it was my last job in the field, other than installing plants in offices. And I’d rather work for the bearded lady than do that again.

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The other half of the order purchased under the influence of a Halloween moon, very black in bud.

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Maturing to a deep cabernet.

(Happy, joyous, boisterous Friday to us all.)


favorites 4/10/14

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Loree at Danger Garden shares her favorite plants in the garden every week, and spring is a good time to join in, when so much is fleeting and the turnover in favorites comes at a rapid pace.
True, that’s not the case with Stipa gigantea, a clumping grass from Spain which will grace a garden from spring until late fall.

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But it is the case with ephemerals like the South African bulb Albuca maxima (also goes by Albuca canadensis) which will go dormant after flowering, when it needs to be kept dry. For this reason, it thrives in the gravel garden amongst agaves and dasylirions, where it reliably pushes up its elegant 5-foot blooms amongst all those jagged leaves every spring. (The beast directly behind this beauty is the Agave ‘Jaws.’) The blooms do last surprisingly long, and it does seem to be self-sowing too. More would be nice to cut for vases, since I hate to rob the garden of those swaying, statuesque flowers that remind me of a snowdrop crossed with a fritillary.
For zones 8 to 11.


green walls around town

The Smog Shoppe, a special event venue in Culver City owned by Woolly Pocket creator Miguel Nelson, famously deployed the pockets on its cinder-block facade in 2009, which has since been regularly reported on by local media and blogs. I’d previously only seen Woolly Pockets at garden shows, with always more pocket than plant visible, and filed the product away as a novelty for the garden deprived. Green walls have only gained momentum since 2009, and are famously curtaining the buildings in many cities around the world, with spectacular examples in the city state of Singapore, which has dubbed itself the Garden City, but these are highly engineered, soil-less, hydroponic affairs. (And why wouldn’t Singapore take advantage of their approx. 2,300 inches of rainfall a year? I’d love to some day take a “rain” vacation there.) The modular, soil-based Woolly Pockets I remembered from garden shows were targeting interiors and exteriors of homes and small offices, the DIY version of green walls. How were the Woollys faring in arid Los Angeles? With admittedly low expectations, traveling through Culver City on La Cienega Boulevard enroute to the Pacific Design Center back in March, as I drove by The Smog Shoppe, I was taken aback at the five-year-old plantings, with nary an edge of Woolly Pocket in sight, just undulating greenery.

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Above photo from the Woolly Pockets website. I didn’t dare risk stepping into La Cienega’s brutal traffic.
The linear band of plants dramatically envelopes the corner-lot building on the three street-facing sides, linked to the ground plane by many similar plants in the narrow border below.
These WPs have no reservoir, so plants in the ground benefit from the runoff.

With the plantings mature, this little corner in Culver City has the exotic air of a lost Mesoamerican jungle temple. A neatly maintained lost temple.

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And what a surprise to see the big, fleshy rosettes of Agave attenuata both in the ground and on the wall.

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The pink foamy flowers I believe are Crassula multicava, which reseeds like mad and doesn’t mind shade on the northern exposure. The blue succulent is Senecio mandraliscae

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Aeoniums, Agave attenuata, Senecio vitalis, Erigeron karvinskianus, and possibly rosemary too.
The naturalistic blue-green palette would take on an entirely different character if, for example, deep burgundy or variegated ‘Sunburst’ aeoniums were used, or the chartreuse and variegated forms of Agave attenuata. On such a broad wall, the visual flow would be jumpy and interrupted.

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Senecio vitalis is dominant in this photo. Drip irrigation is used on big projects like The Smog Shoppe.

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Even maidenhair ferns were mixing it up with the succulents

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I subsequently contacted Woolly Pockets with some basic upkeep questions regarding the plantings at The Smog Shoppe.

We have a team of professionals that maintain our gardens twice per month. Our plants our thriving which means they need a bit of maintenance to trim them back. There’s a lot of growth! Trimming them back is our biggest challenge. Also it took some trial and error initially selecting the right plants since our interior exterior living wall is over 120ft x 15ft and faces north south east and west! Basically, we had to determine different plant mixes for 4 different aspects of the wall which also shift slightly depending on the season.”

Gina Goesse, Customer Service, Woolly Pockets, also confirmed that these are the original Woollys from 2009.

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And out to dinner with my mom this week, a new restaurant on Pine Avenue in downtown Long Beach was swagging their doorway with what looked like Woolly Pockets.

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In this installation, there seems to be emphasis on the pockets themselves as living drapery, accentuating the architectural lines of the facade. Many of these plants, such as aeoniums, have no trailing capabilities, and are instead geometrically spaced at rhythmic intervals.

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Woolly Pockets were also featured recently in an interior in Apartment Therapy

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This might be my favorite, and what really has me convinced that the Woollys have left novelty behind and are all “grown up,” the “Wally One” in camel in Mad Men actor Vincent Kartheiser’s Hollywood home, as seen in Dwell.

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At Ramekin’s in Los Feliz, from Woolly Pocket’s blog.

It’s pretty obvious that my dated view of Woolly Pockets hasn’t kept pace as this business adds new products and customers continue to engage and innovate with the Woollys.
Why, if our concrete wall wasn’t already shrouded in creeping fig…

weeds find a way



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This charming children’s book I was sent to review months ago has reacquainted me with the transformative power of weeds.

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This is a wonderful subject for a children’s book. Weeds are often a child’s first gateway to the natural world. I know they were mine.

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In thinking about the symbiotic magic between kids and weeds, I think I’ve finally pinpointed the source of inspiration that led to a life absorbed in plants. There were no garden heroes, at least in human form. It was the empty field at the end of our street. (It’s now gone condo.) Every spring the winter rains transformed this stubbly pasture into the junglelands where we built forts and labyrinths, captured flags, sorted out the moral dilemmas that kids grapple with, maybe occasionally veering a little too close to Lord of the Flies adventures. My two brothers emerged as the natural leaders of this merry band of meadow gypsies, equitably settling disputes, protecting the weak, stifling the bullies, and I naturally worshipped them for it. The transformative power of that field irresistibly beckoned to us, as we burst out the front doors of a monoculture of depressingly similar, grid-precise tract homes.

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Every spring our kingdom was created anew, emerging in a matter of weeks from barren ground that surged into a wonderland of chest-high weeds and grasses that we heroically beat back and conquered with paths and mazes, enveloped on all sides by the heady creation stirring in that field and in our moral universe. And that’s how weeds shaped and transformed the springs of my childhood and even now the gardens of adulthood. I’m not happy with my garden unless I leave a little room for a surge of transformative growth in spring from opportunistic, weedy plants. Poppies currently fill this role.

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Of course, as adults, as garden makers, like everything else, the subject of weeds becomes much more complicated. Weeds are foreign, exotic pests squeezing out disappearing native plants. Childhood is more complicated too. My boys’ childhoods were very different from mine, with little unsupervised time. The winter rains of my childhood are receding into a mythical past too. But there will always be weeds, just as there will always be the freedom to be found in books. One of the things I miss most about living with small children is finding books for them. (Before you know it, they’re 13 and reading Noam Chomsky.) I’m quite certain that Weeds Find A Way would’ve have had a place on our bookshelves. And as with the best children’s books, they are springboards for embroidering tales from your own childhood, of lush fields where the most extraordinary adventures were had.

tuesday clippings 4/1/14



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I sat down Sunday to write about the flu, earthquakes, and plant shows, but the blog server was down, so Sunday’s clippings has become Tuesday’s. And with the building I worked at today undergoing a bomb threat, I can’t remember any of what I intended to write on Sunday evening. That’s got to be the worst kind of April Fool’s tomfoolery, requiring me and an emptied-out building to stand outside sniffling in the cold wind for an hour while firefighters search for explosives.

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Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony’ from 2013

But I see I took a photo of the ponytail palm I bought at the Orange County Cactus & Succulent Society show on Saturday, so we’ll start there. The big news is that Echeveria ‘Ebony’ is finally making the rounds at plant shows this spring. Small and expensive, about $40 in a 2-inch pot, but at least there’s been tissue culture in sufficient numbers to finally outstrip the insatiable demand of Korean collectors. I get lots of inquiries about this echeveria, so that’s your best bet for now. Get thee to a succulent show this spring. I’m going to update the Dates to Remember this week with details of upcoming shows, but for now there’s a general CSSA calendar that has upcoming dates.

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We are slightly less ramshackle now that the creeping fig-covered wall has been given its annual clipping, one of those hate-filled chores that brings so much pleasure when done. There’s certainly no pleasure in the doing, which is a dusty, spidery business in which someone always nips their fingers with the clippers instead of a branch. This year it was Marty, not me, and thankfully not very deep. At least I think the photo above is post-clip. Slightly less shaggy than normal anyway. What to do with all the wall clippings means the compost pile has to be sorted out, so three bins were filled with the lovely stuff from the bottom of the heap, and plants that love a rich life are gorging on it. The wall clippings went through the chipper first, an old steam punk Sears model that fired up on the first pull after sitting for a year. Things like that make Marty unspeakably happy. A tidy compost pile, one I’m no longer afraid to approach, does the same for me.

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The orb has been updated with another tillandsia from the show, T. fasciculata on the left

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The garden is still deep in its poppy phase, with every morning bringing more and more. So many more that I’ve had to start pulling them so summer plants like eryngiums aren’t crowded out.
There are some wild and untamed blooms not meant for vases, and that would be poppies. Sure, you can take a match to the stems of Iceland and Oriental poppies for a short vase life, but there’s nothing like a little meadow of them in spring. Papaver setigerum is still my favorite for its compact and uniform size.

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With all the bee activity on the poppies, and the butterflies and hummingbirds on the fern-leaf lavender, the newly engineered digiplexis is conspicuously of no interest to pollinators.
Instead of ‘Illumination Flame,’ a more suitable name might be ‘Rachel,’ the beautiful, memory-implanted android in Blade Runner that thinks it’s human. I will say that I’ve never seen a plant proceed from rare to available at your local big box store with such speed as digiplexis. Whether it melts away in summer’s heat remains to be seen.

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Graptopetalum superbum

One of the most stunning succulent displays I’ve seen recently was surprisingly not at the show but at my mom’s mobile home park. Succulents are a favorite in the small, tidy lots available only to the over-55 crowd, and the plants are left alone to mature into nice specimens, like the graptopetalum above, with its remarkable inflorescence, an airy branching superstructure surrounding the rosettes. If I was a plant broker, a fantasy I occasionally indulge in on annoying days like today, I’d knock on some of these doors.

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compound interest

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Image found here


I don’t have a lot of botanical vocabulary at my fingertips anymore, but I do know a compound leaf when I see one*, since I’ve always had a pronounced weakness for them. If you’ve got a potted Fatsia japonica tucked in against the baseboards near a south-facing window, chances are you do too. A compound leaf guarantees a lushly dramatic presence. Aralia, tetrapanax, angelica are some examples that come quickly to mind, all with great shaggy leaves that unleash heaps of transverse, horizontal energy into the garden. I’ve got some good examples at the moment, three that I’ve planted almost on top of each other.

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Palmately compound Not compound, but palmate leaves of tetrapanax with that jagged, horizontal energy I was trying to describe.
Edited to add: See Saucydog’s comment below.

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Tetrapanax overhanging melianthus, starting to invade each other’s spatial planes

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Pinnately compound, Melianthus major ‘Purple Haze’**

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And completing the compound trifecta this spring, an umbellifer from Maderia, Melanoselinum decipiens, its trial run in the garden this year.
(All those umbellifers we love to cut for vases, like Queen Anne’s Lace (Ammi majus) are characterized by compound leaves.)

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For floating, hovering, shadow-making mystery suspended mid-air, go compound.

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Dustin Gimbel brought his buddy, photographer Joshua McCullough, over recently, and as we both stood before the melanoselinum, or “Black Parsley” as it’s also known by, I mentioned, possibly a little nervously, that I hear it gets pretty big. Joshua responded that he’s seen it growing in the wild, and big might be an understatement. Huge would be getting somewhat closer to the truth. I’ve already started removing some of its lower leaves to reduce some of the congestion and crowding as it flings those great leaves wide.

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I keep the tetrapanax limbed up, too, so I can plant every square inch around its trunk.

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The filtered light is perfect for things like bromeliads.

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If I had a larger garden, I doubt I’d choose to plant this much complicated, jagged beauty in such close proximity.
But I really don’t think it’s possible for a garden to have too much compound interest.



*except not really. See Saucydog’s comment re tetrapanax’s palmate leaf, not palmately compound leaf.
**(And I just noticed another example, the golden tansy Tanacetum vulgare ‘Isla Gold’ in the lower right.)

onesies (Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’)

I had the best time nursery hopping over the weekend, looking for my mom’s summer tomato plants and gleefully indulging in a practice we’re always sternly advised against:
Never buy one of this and that. Always plant in threes and fives. Make sweeps, make waves, go big or go home, etc., etc.
Well, I had a sweep of agastache, but one plant didn’t make it through winter, leaving a hole for a onesie. That’s the excuse I’m sticking with, anyway.
Besides, somebody has to trial plants for those eventual great sweeps, right? So you’re welcome.


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And what a onesie it is. Stachys ‘Bella Grigio.’

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At the nursery it drew me in from quite a distance, the slim, tapered, silvery leaves fooling me for a moment into thinking a New Zealand celmisia like C. densiflora had wandered into a Los Angeles nursery. Fat chance. I haven’t seen a celmisia since Dunn Gardens in the Pacific Northwest and won’t likely see another until a return visit to the PNW. This stachys would seem to be a sure bet for sun and dry soil, a new tissue-culture lamb’s ears, tallish to a foot and a half. And if it’s as vigorous as its reputation, I’ll have a sweep out of this onesie in no time.

Alstroemeria ‘Rock & Roll’ (consider yourself warned)

A mind-numbing, eye-hemorrhaging, variegated alstroemeria has been unleashed at Southern California nurseries this spring.
I reached for the camera phone when I saw big displays at two nurseries over the weekend.
Alstroemeria ‘Rock & Roll.’
The tag predicts that it will be “Sure to attract attention.”
Ya think?

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But I suppose if we can’t grow those crazy, high-contrast hostas, why not a variegated alstroemeria? This one needs a frost-free winter to be happy; otherwise, container culture only.

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It’s not like I’m immune to the charms of the variegated. Alstroemeria psittacina spent some time in my garden in years past.

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Introduced by Tesselaar International of Victoria, Australia, in 2011, for sale at local nurseries under Monrovia’s label.

If you dare…


colors of Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them.” — John Ruskin

Such solemn earnestness was a hallmark of the Victorian age and much lampooned, but you won’t find me arguing with those sentiments.


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Lots of good reading on the Metro yesterday from the April issue of The New York Review of Books, including Garry Wills’ piece on a new exhibit in Ottawa of the paintings and drawings of the eminent Victorian, John Ruskin, “Ruskin: The Great Artist Emerges.” Mr. Wills describes Ruskin’s preoccupation with color, quoting from the Elements of Drawing: ‘He said there is no such thing in nature as a solid color, but colors are ‘continually passing one into the other.’”

And the slate/blue/purple/grey/pink Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ obligingly illustrated Ruskin’s observations on color just before sunset last night.


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Ruskin’s Study of a Kingfisher

There is a website devoted to Ruskin’s Elements of Drawing, for anyone itching to get their pencils and sketchbook out today. I’ve got a fishing tackle box filled with mine around here somewhere.