For just a two-hour drive up the coast, we ended up covering a lot of continents on Tuesday, botanically speaking, of course. Australia and especially South Africa were well represented.
This was a much-anticipated trip to Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery in Ventura County, and it did not disappoint. In fact, it flabbergasted. Local nurseries are getting fairly good selections now of some of the Mediterranean plants she carries, especially the South African shrubs like leucadendron, but you have to make the trip to Jo’s nursery to experience that peculiar, out-of-body sensation familiar to plant-mad people when surrounded by unfamiliar, intensely desirable plants. Like the gentian-blue Lechenaultia biloba. And so many kinds of banksia, grevillea, leucospermum and protea that never make it to our local nurseries.
Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’
A one-gallon rode back home with us. I’ll keep this potential 12-footer in a container. To maintain the texture and silvery-blue color to the juvenile leaves, do as the florists do and cut it back hard every few years.
Grevillea ‘Peaches and Cream’
South African bulb Scadoxus natalensis
I didn’t grab the name, but possibly Banksia cuneata
This nursery is one of my favorite kind, a grower that allows visitors to peek into propagation houses, ask questions, and drive off with new-found treasures. I limited myself this trip just to the eucalyptus and a brachysema, now known as Gastrolobium sericeum ‘Black Form,’ with flowers as dark as a Zwartkop aeonium. I’ll leave the corgi at home next time to make more room for plants.
Gastrolobium sericeum ‘Black Form’
Check the website for the most convenient days to visit and always call ahead so you won’t miss the opportunity to meet Jo, who is as nice as she is knowledgeable. Even though she was busy with the spring tasks of moving tender plants out from under covers, she always kindly hovered nearby to answer any questions. (Are all Australians this friendly and approachable?) Tucked in tight against the hillside, temps in her particular microclimate dip down into the teens, and many of these plants can’t be grown safely unprotected through winter at the nursery. I asked if there were any local gardens where I could see some of these plants grown, and Jo said there was a garden she had been supplying plants to for 20 years, the Taft garden, a few miles away. I’ll get some photos up on the Taft hopefully over the weekend.
Agave geminiflora spangled in morning dew is one of my favorite sights these mornings.
Slow growing, doesn’t offset, rare denizen of open oak woodland in Mexico, and just about everybody agrees the best thing in a container since Nutella.
The Ruth Bancroft Garden has more history and cultural information here.
Maybe you’ve already bumped into these photos on Pinterest or tumblr, which surfaced in May 2013, of some startlingly robust Verbena bonariensis bursting skyward from an enviable geodesic concrete container. The image is from the garden and blog of Svante Öquist, Svante’s World, and brings up a couple of good points. One would be that drought and water scarcity don’t mean you have to aim low for containers in summer. Choose something sturdy like this verbena, give it the cushy container life for summer, and stand back. Another point is not to be afraid of the ordinary. This verbena is so widely prescribed and grown as a slim, tough, butterfly-attracting, “see-through” plant for summer that it would never cause a collector’s heart to palpitate, and yet by simply taking it out of the ground and elevating it in a container an extraordinarily dramatic result is produced. Something else these images show is how just a single container alone can signify the flowering fecundity of summer, especially if it’s a show-stopper like this. Apart from the verbena, there’s little else in bloom. Summer doesn’t have to mean wall-to-wall flowers, an expectation that generally relies on steady amounts of water, at least here in summer-dry Southern California.
This quote from Mr. Öquist, executive director at Elle Decoration, reveals a charming self-awareness:
“Jätteverbenan, Verbena bonariensis , has become our ‘signature flower’ and is absolutely indispensable in our garden. It has become something of a sport to get it to grow bigger and bigger and I admit that I get an extra kick when passersby stop and say WOW! – More complicated than that, I’m not ”
Mr. Öquist starts his plants from seed every year, so he gets this astonishing performance in one season. Here in Southern California it is a short-lived perennial and self-sows lightly. I had noticed a few seedlings near the mother plant in the back garden, which I intended to remove and compost, but after seeing these photos I dashed out in the rain to rescue them, potting them up for a trial in containers this summer.
(Oops, I think my competitive streak is showing…)
The recent storm surprisingly coaxed a bloom from my 6-inch Euphorbia atropurpurea, whose acquaintance I first made at the Huntington in 2011. That visit prompted a frustrating summer of scouring plant sales and nurseries for this rare, ruddy-bracted Canary Islander, until Annie’s Annuals & Perennials put me out of my misery by offering it at her nursery just last year. She’s still the only source that I can name at the moment. And although the euphorbia is not currently available, it’s offered intermittently. So it does pay to keep an eye on availability which updates frequently. My image hosting site isn’t cooperating this morning, which is just as well, because now I have to rely on MB Maher’s images of the original object of my affection from May 2011. I couldn’t resist adding a few other photos from that visit too.
First, Euphorbia atropurpurea.
The wine-colored bracts are such a surprising twist on the typical chartreuse, which are fabulous enough in their own right.
After all, it’s those blowsy chartreuse mopheads, like a hydrangea for dry soil and full sun, that first turn an ordinary, respectable person into a helpless euphorbophile.
It’ll be a while before mine grows into a sight like this, but at least it blooms at a young age.
Other scenes from the Huntington in May. Dyckia, golden barrel cactus, with palo verdes in bloom.
Dyckias in bloom
Shimmering golden warmth.
Quite the contrast to a grey, rainy weekend, another rarity I’m thoroughly enjoying today.
The Garden Bloggers Fling hostess for the 2013 meetup, garden designer Shirley Watts, got a nice writeup in the Bay Area’s Curbed today. Very gratifying to see a primarily real estate magazine throw some love at landscapes and gardens too. Both Shirley and photographer MB Maher, whose photos were used, have been long-time friends of AGO. Feel free to repost and/or Like it on Facebook to encourage more of this kind of coverage.
I especially loved reading about Shirley’s 2003 installation at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show
, which I unfortunately missed out on seeing firsthand: “The installation, which had more moving parts than a Swiss clock, centered on multiple cube-shaped screens rising out of a densely planted landscape of grasses and ferns. The screens, hung at different heights and inclinations like organic objects themselves, played vintage 1950s time-lapse footage of highly saturated flowers opening and closing. “I’m mesmerized by time-lapse footage,” Watts says. “Something about it allows us to see what we don’t normally see. It teaches us things about natural systems, movement also. And in the Bay Area, the center of innovation, the idea of bringing televisions into the garden was natural
Unfortunately, the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling has already sold out, a victim of its own wild success, but it doesn’t hurt to check if there’s a waiting list. The San Francisco Garden & Flower Show is just around the corner, March 19-23, 2014.
After sowing some borlotti beans late afternoon in anticipation of rain, I tracked down all the sweet peas in bloom in neighboring plots.
The results of my sweet pea safari:
And I always stop to admire how Scarlet Flax has woven through some kale.
A reseeding annual, Linum grandiflorum ‘Rubrum.’ So is this intentional or a happy accident?
One of the things I like most about reseeders is how they constantly offer new possibilities to consider, like scarlet and blue-green. Just rip it out if it’s not your taste.
Self-sown sunflowers already in bloom. Reseeders are indifferent to planting guides and timetables.
I was going to wait until late March to start mine. (So many plans for my little 10X10 plot.)
Sweet peas don’t reseed true to their stunning varieties, so new seed must be bought fresh every season.
Some of the best growing instructions for florist-grade sweet peas can be found at Floret.
At least I think they do, because I’m forcing them to get along. It might be closer to the truth to admit that it’s me that loves the company of agaves.
Because if that’s love Mr. Ripple is showing the little powdery blue A. potatorum, it’s his own unique brand of tough love.
I had to trim a bit of Mr. Ripple recently to allow the others some breathing room.
In the background, that’s Agave schidigera giving Mr. Ripple a wide berth.
Newly planted Agave parrasana ‘Fireball’ in the land of rosettes that is the front garden, surrounded by Echeveria agavoides.
I wish I noticed that pup peeking out before I planted it. Supposedly, this agave remains solitary, without offsetting.
I hadn’t planted any new agaves in the front garden for some time. Honestly, I suspected I was overdoing it a bit. Thank goodness I’ve come to my senses.
Just lose the lawn and don’t look back.
And if and when rainfall in California ever gets back to normal levels, which isn’t much anyway, you just might realize you want your lawn back about as much as you want shag carpeting and avocado-colored appliances again.
That would be my own blunt advice, but for a little more nuance and gentle persuasion, check out Julie Chai’s recent article for The San Francisco Chronicle, “Drought landscaping: 5 inspiring lawn-free yards.”
One of the gardens under discussion in the article is this one, designed by Beth Mullins. Photo by MB Maher.
Also included are gardens designed by Rebecca Sweet, whose garden was visited in the 2013 Garden Bloggers Fling.
“The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks that can thus give back grace and delight to their neighborhoods instead of vacuity. ” ― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
I would just respectfully amend Ms. Jacobs’ wise words with the happy addition of a suffix — “well-located parklets” — because parklets are making quite the difference in street life here in Long Beach.
What is a parklet, you ask?
This is a parklet. Maybe you’ve already brunched or sipped a margarita in a parklet in your hometown, if home is New York, San Francisco, or Philadelphia. San Francisco started the parklet boom in 2009, and Seattle is including plans for parklets in 2014. This is one of the first parklets in Southern California, installed back in 2012. You’d think in the land of eternal sunshine we wouldn’t have to hack the streets to shoehorn in places for people to congregate, that it’d be understood that sunshine and blue sky are our most important local commodities. But it’s well known that Los Angeles long ago ceded the street first and foremost to cars at the expense of neighborhoods, which has always infuriated me about my hometown, so every little victory counts.
The idea is as basic as it gets. After obtaining a permit from the City, a couple of parking spaces are commandeered, a deck/platform laid down to extend the pavement grade, and the perimeter bulwarked with planters. The initial expense is covered by the business, as is the maintenance. Other than some low-key grumbling about loss of parking, they’ve been instant successes, with multiplier effects rippling through the neighborhood. More dining, more shopping, more slow feet on the street instead of fast wheels. Gossiping and laughing among agaves, phormiums, cordylines, and bamboo will always be my preference.
About a mile away from the parklets, closer to the old downtown, Marty is driving his bus past a “bulb-out,” planted with phormiums and blue chalk fingers. Unlike the parklets, which are temporary and relatively cheap to undertake, with the cost carried by the local business, this involves construction crews and a much bigger budget to widen the sidewalk and extend the curbline farther out into the street.
Whether parklet or bulb-out, it’s been so refreshing to see the needs of pedestrians considered for a change, not just cars.
Studio One Eleven is the design firm that spearheaded these local parklets and offers a downloadable parklet toolkit here.
All day long this past work- and appointment-filled Wednesday I clung to the idea of fitting in a short visit to Rancho Los Alamitos. I’d heard there were some changes with the barns, and there was a new foal, all reasons enough to go. And in late February the noisette roses just might be in early bloom. Plus this was Wednesday, one of the weekdays they’d be open, unlike Monday or Tuesday. I stubbornly held the idea in the foreground of my much-distracted brain, while repeated interruptions and crises did their best to submerge it deep into the background throughout the day. But an hour before close at 5 p.m. I found myself triumphantly slipping a $5 bill into the donation box and sprinting off to find the cactus garden while there was still light. This roughly 8-acre remnant of the huge land grant given to a loyal Spanish soldier in 1784, the genesis story for my hometown, is just 4 miles from my house, but sometimes it feels like you have to move worlds to fit in a visit. But when you do go, what you park behind the gates that insulate the rancho from the press of suburbs, freeways, and CSULB/Long Beach State University is, pardon the cliche, not so much a car but a time machine.
The 19th century adobe ranch house is thought to be the oldest domestic building still standing in Southern California
The twin Moreton Bay Figs have shaded the ranch since 1887
Staghorn ferns near the base of a palm, backlit scarlet bougainvillea in the distance
What always floors me about the rancho, gifted by its last owners, the Bixby family, to the city of Long Beach in the ’60s, is its humility. With all that oil money to spend in the ’20s (discovered a few years after a drought killed off the largest cattle ranch in the U.S. — long story), Florence Bixby (1898-1961) somehow resisted the fashion of turning the ranch into a depot for Old World antiquities. It is a place fiercely vernacular and true. She may have hired the best landscape architects in the ’20s and ’30s to shape the gardens, like Frederick Law Olmsted and Florence Yoch, but the materials were homespun simple, local. Florence Bixby, always credited as the main design influence over the house and garden as they appear today, didn’t loot temples for marble or send out legions of plant hunters for the rarest of the rare, and yet Sunset includes it among 13 of the best public gardens in the U.S. And the rancho’s simplicity can’t be explained away with an argument that Florence was a simpleton who didn’t get out much. The painter Mary Cassatt visited for years, and the home was filled with art. (To put the rancho’s embrace of all things West in context, Cassatt’s brother, Alexander Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, built New York’s magnificent but doomed Penn Station in 1910 based on the Roman baths of Caracalla. The outrage over Penn Station’s demolition in the mid ’60s pretty much launched the modern historical preservation movement, which was right around the time the rancho left private ownership and was gifted to the public.)
The front lawn. The small gate on the left leads to a secret garden adjacent to the house’s interior courtyard.
The noisettes weren’t in bloom yet, but the rambling banks rose was, seen just to the right of the clump of bird of paradise and elsewhere in the garden.
While other members of Florence’s tribe, the 1 percenters of her day, hid the working man origins of their wealth, Florence embraced them. This is the modest home of someone with a high sensitivity to the pitfalls of hubris, someone with a resolutely austere but gracious cast of mind. Above all, this is a home, not a showcase for wealth. Florence’s home. And you can still feel it in every footfall. And I so wish they’d occasionally list it for rent with airbnb. (just kidding, Florence!)
The interior courtyard that horse-shoes behind the house.
A wall and pool enclosing the courtyard
Two big evergreen vines, the Easter Lily vine, Beaumontia grandiflora, and the Cup of Gold vine, Solandra maxima, are trained along the low roofline.
For the moment, the smaller white flowers of the beaumontia are being outmaneuvered by the flamboyance of the cup of gold vine in bloom.
On the opposite side of the house is the Music Patio
Vintage pottery atop the walls of the Secret Garden
A white flash of the horse Bristol visible just behind the fence. The barn was moved, at great cost and effort, back to its original location.
The now one-year-old foal Preston and its mother Valentina were moved out during renovations. Both are snug inside the barn again.
Trees were thinned, leaving those the Bixby family planted, Schinus molle, California pepper trees, to remain.
The last of the Shire horses, the breed that powered the ranches of the 19th century
Cypress Steps and patio
The rose garden. (What else is there to say about a rose garden in winter, other than maybe “Nice box hedging”?)
A portion of the garden designed by Frederick Law Olmsted
The geranium walk designed by Florence Yoch.
“Yoch’s handiwork can at times seem so spare, so simple that viewers might wonder why clients didn’t think of certain devices themselves.”
(The New York Times)
Olmsted’s oleander walk connects the rose garden to the cypress steps. The oleanders succumbed to a pest and have since been replaced, possibly by mulberry, but I couldn’t find a reference.
The tennis court. No pool, but a tennis court. I know I’m overly reading into the landscape as psychological profile, but doesn’t that spell “Protestant work ethic” in bold letters?
An entry to the tennis court
The grape arbor runs the length of the tennis court and leads at one end to the cactus garden and the geranium and oleander walks at the other
The flagstone path leads, if I’m oriented correctly, to the south lawn and the giant Moreton bay figs
In the Cactus Garden, looking at the fencing of the tennis court
William Hertrich, the first curator of the Huntington Desert Garden, worked with Florence on the Cactus Garden
The new educational center, finished last spring, has images of the plants of the rancho on its walls, including Agave franzosinii
I’ll leave you in the cactus garden to find your way back to where you parked your time machine.
More photos and information on current events can be found on the Rancho’s Facebook page and in this article by Suzanne Muchnic for The Los Angeles Times.