Modernism Week with AGO 2/20/20

  • 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:

The Backyard, a Biography

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. 

 photo 45fdb767ea9f80ccaff9dfe5998afa95.jpg
Some of the images will be familiar to AGO readers, but we’re also dipping into image archives like the Getty Research Institute — “the focus of this talk will be a visual as well as psychological and cultural treatment of outdoor built spaces.” (Garden of Reuben Munoz)

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

new year resolutions are for travel plans

 photo _MG_5500.jpg
Jardin Majorelle, photo by MB Maher

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.

 photo 09well-taroudant-slide-IX8K-videoLarge.jpg
sunken garden designed by Ossart and Maurieres, photo by Simon Watson for the NY Times

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.

 photo rohuna_0514-458-house-27feb18-ngoc-minh-ngo_b.jpg
Moroccan garden of Umberto Pasti, photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo for House & Garden

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…

(Happy New Year!)

Posted in garden travel | 7 Comments

clippings, holiday edition 12/11/19

 photo P1010633.jpg

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.

 photo webimage-E28A97ED-BFCC-4D5A-8DD8EB8B82EC527F.png
Hauser & Wirth Holiday Market
Sat 14 Dec 2019, 11 am – Sun 15 Dec 2019, 6 pm
901 East 3rd Street
Los Angeles CA 90013

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.

 photo CobraHead_mini__03616.1500932741.jpeg
CobraHead® Mini Weeder & Cultivator Garden Tool

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.

 photo x3-watering-can-1.jpg
the X3 watering can by Kontextur
as seen on Gardenista

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.

 photo spinycover-web-450x450.jpg

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.

 photo Dreamscapes_cover.jpg
Read Pam Penick’s review here — and Pam’s opinion of garden photography is one worth listening to.
  • 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.
  • For greenhouse porn, it doesn’t get any better than Haarkon’s Glasshouse Greenhouse.
 photo A1UyZBk7JPL.jpg

Another book whose spine I’m eager to crack, and also the work of a photographer at the top of her game, is Daniel Nolan’s Dry Gardens: High Style for Low Water Gardens.

 photo native-plants-for-southern-california-gardens-flas.jpg
stocking stuffer for hikers, botanizers
Native Plants for Southern California Gardens Flashcards

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.

 photo 12917_L_vvs_000.jpg

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.

 photo P1010629.jpg
and nursery gift cards are always welcome

Something else to consider: Lots of nurseries offer gift cards, like Annie’s Annuals and Perennials and Plant Delights. And memberships in local botanical gardens and organizations like the Garden Conservancy are always appreciated.

Posted in books, clippings, commerce, garden ornament | 5 Comments

November now and then

 photo P1010302.jpg
a scene from November 2013 that easily stands in for November 2019
 photo P1018092.jpg
Berkheya purpurea in June 2018 also sends out a flower spike in November

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.

 photo P1010003.jpg
Ruby grass August 2017 — but the clumps that have reseeded are only starting to bloom now
 photo 1-P1013798.jpg
Also predictable for November, the flowering of Bocconia frutescens November 2016

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.

 photo P1010584.jpg
I’m really starting to appreciate small agaves like Agave potatorum ‘Ikari Raijin Nishiki
I found this one local and thought the colored tag meant it was on sale like other nearby sale plants — which didn’t mean that at all when I inquired — but I was offered it half price anyway because of my “confusion.” Confusion never paid off so well!
 photo IMG_0273.jpg
Like this ‘Royal Spine,’ the small agaves just hang out in their pot, increasing in stunning good looks if not size, requiring no intervention for years. (Although they do occasionally burst through their pots, as ‘Royal Spine’ did in 2017.)
 photo P1010593.jpg
Helenium puberulum from the Huntington’s fall sale seems to think November is a good time for flowering. Fall planting and winter rains may make the difference for this helenium, getting it firmly established before having to endure the rigors of summer
 photo P1010617.jpg
Orthophytum magalhaesii 
Bought this bromeliad in summer already in flower, which lasts forever, and now a couple new pups are forming — chartreuse flowers and bronze-flecked leaves is a delectable pairing
 photo P1010594.jpg
Senecio dendroideum is a weirdo of a succulent that I always see for sale at the summer succulent shows. Mine is multibranched and over 3 feet tall now. Now top-heavy, the 6-inch pot will topple over if not secured.
 photo IMG_0275.jpg
More from the tall and strange succulent aisle — Senecio ficoides’Mt. Everest’ is reaching 4 feet. I moved it out of a large pot to see what it can do in the open garden. A Blue Chalksticks with legs…
The brownish shrub in the background is Berzelia lanuginosa, moved back to a pot because it really craves more lush growing conditions. ‘Blue Hobbit’ eryngium have replaced the berzelia.
 photo P1010589.jpg
Eryngium planum ‘Blue Hobbit’
 photo P1010619.jpg
Alcantarea imperialis, another good deal I couldn’t pass up. This Brazilian bromeliad is one of the biggest and will take years, maybe a decade, to gain mature size (over 4 feet wide!) before blooming and dying, leaving some pups

The buzz is we’re going to get some rain for Thanksgiving — thank heavens! Have a great holiday yourself.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, Plant Portraits, pots and containers | 5 Comments

the thoroughly modern tilly

 photo i-3jW6R5q-X2.jpg
photos by MB Maher

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.

 photo i-GSmZCxw-X2.jpg

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.)

 photo i-tPpmhbK-X2.jpg

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.

 photo i-jhgM8Mj-X2.jpg
the classic Air Plant Frame

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.

 photo i-9jL4cJs-X2.jpg
En masse the spikes and tufts literally hang together thematically, but up close each tillandsia has its own unique personality, leaves and flowers.
 photo i-27H9rQk-X2.jpg
 photo i-xdNqfdw-X2.jpg
More options — Air Plant Vessels come in travertine, wood, steel, ceramic
 photo i-gFCssQR-X2.jpg
 photo i-wkSN827-X2.jpg
 photo i-6VpVKs6-X2.jpg
Felt kokedamas are some of the newest designs
 photo i-hvfX422-X2.jpg
Epiphytic plants like rhipsalis, unlike tillandsias, need a small amount of soil to thrive and are great candidates for kokedama
 photo i-rRdSfSs-X2.jpg
 photo i-5299sGm-X2.jpg
 photo i-kztf9ZD-X2.jpg
 photo i-fwKS22H-X3.jpg
heading outdoors, the Air Plant Lantern is “perfect for courtyards, terraces, and hanging from trees.”
 photo i-zH7K5j3-X3 1.jpg
the Air Plant Lantern at an outdoor summer concert at UCLA’s Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
 photo i-qNgPKbC-X2.jpg
 photo i-5FwzR2F-X2.jpg
working with tillandsias, the sky’s the limit

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.

Posted in artists, design, inspire me, MB Maher, pots and containers | 5 Comments

sweat it out

 photo P1010578.jpg

A glistening Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ in too much shade to show much of its potential red coloration

It’s great to see the garden “sweat” again. Whether glistening from morning dew or transpiration, it’s a sight for sore (dry) eyes.

 photo P1010571.jpg
“Through a process called transpiration, water and nutrients are taken up by plant roots from soil and delivered to the stem and leaves as part of photosynthesis. Some of the water drawn up through the roots exits the plant through pores – or stomata—in its leaves, hence the sweating. As this ”sweat” evaporates, heat is removed from the air, providing a cooling effect.”
Sweating Can Be Cool

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.

 photo IMG_0269.jpg
“Plants also impact Earth’s global water and carbon cycles, with plant transpiration accounting for around 10 percent of the moisture in our atmosphere.”
Sweating Can Be Cool
 photo IMG_0267.jpg
 photo IMG_0268.jpg
Walk me out in the mornin’ dew, my honey…

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.

Posted in climate, Occasional Daily Weather Report, science, succulents | 4 Comments

James Griffith @Craig Krull Gallery

Never mind Halloween, it’s been a scary week, and overnight more fires erupted, many much closer to home. Checking the Los Angeles Times for the grim wildfire updates brought some unexpected and sorely needed happy news: “La Brea tar is his paint. How one man turns ‘primordial goo’ into celestial art” — a lengthy, well-deserved article on Los Angeles artist James Griffith.

 photo The-Earth-Wilderness-Still-68x68-tar-on-canvas-2019-1-1-697x700.jpg
” The Earth – Wilderness Still” tar on canvas, 58″x58″,2019
James Griffith

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!)

 photo Dark20Wings202C20tar20and20drain20cleaner20on20aluminum2C2020112C2010x8.jpg
It would add this other dimension…this primordial goo that had this history of having trapped all these animals that are now extinct.”

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
  • When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Nov. 30
  • Info: (310) 828-6410,
 photo i-q8Tvh59-XL.jpg
James Griffith talking about his tar paintings at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles in 2015

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.

 photo 58df01272c00003c00ff1a85.jpg

(Oh, and in case you still need a scare… boo!)

Posted in artists, climate, science | 3 Comments

channeling willy guhl

 photo P1017584.jpg
Pink Coral Fountain, Russelia equisetiformis ‘Flamingo Park,’ in garden of designer/ceramicist Dustin Gimbel
July 2013

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.

firecracker plant Russelia equisetiformis

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.

 photo P1010581.jpg
the yellow form in the garden 2013 — it can be a smotherer in the ground in mixed plantings

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.

 photo 1U6A1055-X2.jpg
an abiding design crush of mine, the Spindle planter by Willy Guhl
also called the Hourglass, Bullet and Diabolo planter
photo by MB Maher

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.)

 photo IMG_0264.jpg
the clunky compromise — only fountains of growth can salvage this situation
(the new pot is sitting in a hanging birdbath)

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…

 photo Guhl-Stuhl1.jpg
Willy Guhl is probably most famous for his Loop chair
photo via Swisspearl

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.

 photo Guhl-Stuhl2.jpg
the Loop chair, fabricated from a single piece of Eternit
photo via Swisspearl

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.

 photo 1U6A1409-X2.jpg
photo by MB Maher

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.

 photo willy_guhl_toplarge-886x475.jpg
Willy Guhl (1915-2004)
photo via Swisspearl
Posted in artists, design, pots and containers | 3 Comments

low humidity, high winds, pink houses

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)

 photo i-XNJNbgh-X2.jpg
a white house has a new rosy glow
photos by MB Maher

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.

 photo i-Km6pX6K-X2.jpg

(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.[5] 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.[6] 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)

 photo 5d875bcb-4ccf-41ce-adae-7d9fa4cf62b5.jpg
Zika went to ground when wildfire threatened her home in the Pacific Palisades near Malibu this week — and her idea of going to ground was burrowing into a bedroom closet. No one knew she had found sanctuary in the house, and there had been a frantic but futile search before the firefighters ordered the home closed up entirely to begin aerial spray of Phos-chek. Happily, Zika was reunited with her family once the evacuation was lifted.
 photo i-3ZvCcfc-X2.jpg
the only thing pinker than Phos-chek in autumn might be the Pink Muhly grass

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.

 photo download.jpeg
Zika’s deck was commandeered by firefighters during this week’s Pacific Palisades fire while she hid in a bedroom closet
photo Al Seib/Los Angeles Times
 photo i-3w439Bn-X2.jpg
tiny firefighter figures in a partly ashen landscape viewed from Zika’s deck

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.

 photo i-5MxJv5J-X2.jpg
 photo i-thN8N2h-X2.jpg
 photo i-tWrzc8B-X3.jpg

(“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)

 photo i-t3ssh4B-X2.jpg
 photo i-jCdQ22V-X2.jpg
 photo i-RK9JzWc-X2.jpg
 photo i-N8GffqN-X2.jpg

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.

 photo i-ffNZWhd-X2.jpg

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.

Posted in climate, MB Maher, science | 6 Comments

Huntington’s Fall Plant Sale 10/25/19

 photo P1010527.jpg
Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’ somewhat lankier than when I brought it home
in March 2018

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…

Posted in Occasional Daily Photo, plant sales, pots and containers, succulents | 2 Comments