I’ve been up in my rainy “fort,” the open air, half-roofed lookout over the laundry shed, piles of soggy New Yorkers and Gardens Illustrated at my side, overindulging in a reading feast this blessedly stormy weekend. A copy of conversations with Robert Irwin, “seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees” has managed to stay semi-dry, and there’s also an assortment of other stuff I alternately pick up and put down, foraging for some badly needed inspiration. I found a couple pieces on the blog from several years back that coincidentally also feature Mr. Irwin in one guise or another.
photo of lookout/rainy day fort from sunny August 2012. Coincidentally, Amicia zygomeris has been ordered and planted again for 2017
So just a quick hello, wishing you a happy Sunday and offering a couple accounts of some local jaunts in case you’re in need of some rainy day reading as well.
Following is a repost from August 2012 “melianthus at the getty and other controversies.”
The incomparable Herb Ritts and Titian were also at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and some of Marie Antoinette’s hand-me-down furniture too. I think it can be safely said that gardeners are connoisseurs of the perfect moment, and last Sunday was that most exquisite of summer days, not too hot, just senusally warm and breezy, appreciated even more today for the fleeting rarity it was now that this week has brought the first real heat wave we’ve had this summer, along the coast at least. I’ve had such a strong itch to get to a museum lately. Must be all the press about the new *Barnes museum that’s been trickling in since its unveiling this spring in Philadelphia, which I hear includes a garden also, though there’s been little press so far about that. What few photos I’ve seen of the new Barnes’ garden depict a contemplative, austere space, the antithesis of Robert Irwin’s kinetic, kaleidoscopic maze at the Getty Center (to distinguish it from the Getty Villa in Malibu). But the controversy surrounding the new home of the Barnes Foundation reminds me of the raging controversy that Irwin’s garden for the Getty provoked at its unveiling in 1997.
And then there’s art controversies of the compound leafy kind. Here’s the melianthus in question. With those narrow leaflets, it’s definitely not M. major, and I’m inclined to think it’s M. comosus.
One of the lazy assumptions I’m inclined to make, and unfortunately there are many, has been to assume that the other species of melianthus are not really worth growing if you can have M. major, but this one at the Getty might be changing my mind. Slimmer leaflets, not as lush but a little more succulent in feel, create an even stronger rhythmic pattern. I’m pretty sure the dense effect must have been obtained by cutting it back hard, because although it’s reputedly smaller in size than M. major, it does tend toward lankiness. (San Marcos Growers
: “This plant looks best if pruned hard and is often treated more like a perennial than a shrub
The melianthus was planted at the top of the walkway leading down to the maze. This sylvan walkway flanking a tumbling stream is redolent with the fragrance of the London Plane trees lining either side, that strong scent of sycamore which to me will always be the perfume of summer and rivers.
The stream hidden by the London Plane trees runs the entire length of the garden, ending in a dramatic spill into the azalea labyrinth.
At the top, under the dappled shade of the sycamores, the Cor-Ten-bounded walkway plantings are filled with the strong leafy shapes of succulents, begonias, hellebores.
Hirsute Echeveria setosa, silvery dyckias, paddle plant Kalanchoe luciae, and a few blades of ophiopogon, the Black Mondo Grass.
Begonias and variegated ginger
Astelia and persicaria
That lovely sycamore scent eventually gets supplanted by the overpoweringly skunky notes of variegated tulbaghia as you descend down the walkway toward the Central Garden. The mass planting of society garlic shimmering in the shifting light amidst the slender trunks of crepe myrtle trees is an undeniably powerful effect after the complex plantings of the upper walkway.
The improbable azalea maze in blinding full sun. Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’ on the left. Purple blur in the distant background on the left is tibouchina, the princess flower, whose leaves were burning in the strong sunlight. The maze garden started looking its best towards closing time
at 5:30 p.m. During the summer, this Getty is open til 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
I can’t say the summer plantings of mostly dahlias were my favorite part of the garden, probably because I had just seen dahlias grown to perfection under the kinder skies of the Pacific Northwest. The effect was more of a shabby cutting garden, but the public seemed happy enough with the results. Irwin’s design calls for these labor-intensive, concentric borders surrounding the azalea pool to provide a triumphant and dizzying swirl of shape and color under a strong Mediterranean sun, and that’s a tall order. I think it’d be fantastic as a semi-desert garden, but the public might call foul. Art critic Christopher Knight had this to say about Irwin’s “folly” when it faced a barrage of criticism at its unveiling over a decade ago, and not for the plantings but for its very existence and the exuberant, almost comic contrast it presented to Meier’s stark, monumental architecture: “The great thing about a garden folly is that it’s, well, a folly. In a world of practical decorum, rationalism suddenly doesn’t apply. When the folly is conceived as the garden itself, rather than a discrete structure within a garden, then be prepared to suspend every expectation
.” (Quote obtained here
On the path behind the massed society garlic, overlooking brugmansias, cannas, and a pomegranate tree to the giant bougainvillea rebar arbors.
Always fascinating to uncover the multiple, shifting perspectives in Robert Irwin’s garden.
This visit I was struck by the sensitive treatment of trees, whether silhouetted against Meier’s exquisite travertine limestone or weeping into clean-swept expanses of decomposed granite, like these California pepper trees.
On the upper terraces closer to the museum, a bank of large pots massed together were planted simply and effectively with tough, scrubby stuff like helichrysum and Pelargonium sidoides.
Museum fatigue usually hits me after an hour or so, but not this day. Even after five hours, I had to be reminded by security guards that the museum was closing and it was time to get a move on. The Herb Ritts photography exhibit closes September 2, 2012.
*Christopher Knight, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, is one of the diehard defenders of Albert Barnes’ original vision for his art collection. His review of the relocation of the collection to a new building in Philadelphia includes some helpful context for some of the timeless issues encapsulated in the debate over the Barnes collection: “Typical museums juxtapose art objects according to traditional knowledge categories like period, style or place. Not Barnes. His irreverent inventiveness used formal qualities — physical context, color, line, composition, texture, scale, space, etc. — to jump-start imagination. The result demanded that a visitor look and look hard.”
For more background on the Barnes, here’s a trailer to the controversial documentary entitled “The Art of the Steal.”
More of Robert Irwin’s work at LACMA, from August 2011 “Palms & Lawn” at this link.
(This piece by Jack Handey, which appeared in The New Yorker January 9, 2006, made us laugh just as hard again this morning. Thank you, Mr. Handey!)
This is no game. You might think this is a game, but, trust me, this is no game.
This is not something where rock beats scissors or paper covers rock or rock wraps itself up in paper and gives itself as a present to scissors. This isn’t anything like that. Or where paper types something on itself and sues scissors.
This isn’t something where you yell “Bingo!” and then it turns out you don’t have bingo after all, and what are the rules again? This isn’t that, my friend.
This isn’t something where you roll the dice and move your battleship around a board and land on a hotel and act like your battleship is having sex with the hotel.
This isn’t tiddlywinks, where you flip your tiddly over another player’s tiddly and an old man winks at you because he thought it was a good move. This isn’t that at all.
This isn’t something where you sink a birdie or hit a badminton birdie or do anything at all with birdies. Look, just forget birdies, O.K.?
Maybe you think this is all one big joke, like the farmer with the beautiful but promiscuous daughter. But what they don’t tell you is the farmer became so depressed that he eventually took his own life.
This is not some brightly colored, sugarcoated piece of candy that you can brush the ants off of and pop in your mouth.
This is not playtime or make-believe. This is real. It’s as real as a beggar squatting by the side of the road, begging, and then you realize, Uh-oh, he’s not begging.
This is as real as a baby deer calling out for his mother. But his mother won’t be coming home anytime soon, because she is drunk in a bar somewhere.
It’s as real as a mummy who still thinks he’s inside a pyramid, but he’s actually in a museum in Ohio.
This is not something where you can dress your kid up like a hobo and send him out trick-or-treating, because, first of all, your kid’s twenty-three, and, secondly, he really is a hobo.
All of this probably sounds oldfashioned and “square” to you. But if loving your wife, your country, your cats, your girlfriend, your girlfriend’s sister, and your girlfriend’s sister’s cat is “square,” then so be it.
You go skipping and prancing through life, skipping through a field of dandelions. But what you don’t see is that on each dandelion is a bee, and on each bee is an ant, and the ant is biting the bee and the bee is biting the flower, and if that shocks you then I’m sorry.
You have never had to struggle to put food on the table, let alone put food on a plate and try to balance it on a spoon until it gets to your mouth.
You will never know what it’s like to work on a farm until your hands are raw, just so people can have fresh marijuana. Or what it’s like to go to a factory and put in eight long hours and then go home and realize that you went to the wrong factory.
I don’t hate you; I pity you. You will never appreciate the magnificent beauty of a double rainbow, or the plainness of a regular rainbow.
You will never grasp the quiet joy of holding your own baby, or the quiet comedy of handing him back to his “father.”
I used to be like you. I would put my napkin in my lap, instead of folding it into a little tent over my plate, like I do now, with a door for the fork to go in.
I would go to parties and laugh—and laugh and laugh—every time somebody said something, in case it was supposed to be funny. I would walk in someplace and slap down a five-dollar bill and say, “Give me all you got,” and not even know what they had there. And whenever I found two of anything I would hold them up to my head like antlers, and then pretend that one “antler” fell off.
I went waltzing along, not caring where I stepped or if the other person even wanted to waltz.
Food seemed to taste better back then. Potatoes were more potatoey, and turnips less turnippy.
But then something happened, something that would make me understand that this is no game. I was walking past a building and I saw a man standing high up on a ledge. “Jump! Jump!” I started yelling. What happened next would haunt me for the rest of my days: the man came down from the building and beat the living daylights out of me. Ever since then, I’ve realized that this is no game.
Maybe one day it will be a game again. Maybe you’ll be able to run up and kick a pumpkin without people asking why you did that and if you’re going to pay for it.
Perhaps one day the Indian will put down his tomahawk and the white man will put down his gun, and the white man will pick up his gun again because, Ha-ha, sucker.
One day we’ll just sit by the fire, chew some tobacky, toast some marshmackies, and maybe strum a tune on the ole guitacky.
And maybe one day we’ll tip our hats to the mockingbird, not out of fear but out of friendliness.
If there’s one single idea I’d like you to take away from this, it is: This is no game. The other thing I’d like you to think about is, could I borrow five hundred dollars?
(Author’s Note: Since finishing this article, I have been informed that this is, in fact, a game. I would like to apologize for everything I said above. But please think about the five hundred dollars.) ♦
Ever wonder what Huntington Botanical Garden employees display on their file cabinets?
Luisa Serrano (Crow & Raven) and I got a tiny glimpse when we visited the Huntington in early October.
The rest of these photos come from that visit as well, mostly the desert conservatory and then the new entrance garden, part of my Wednesday vignette hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum.
Some images from my visit to the Los Angeles County Arboretum last weekend.
I love that the botanical garden is big enough that they send jeeps out near closing to offer guests a ride back.
“Lucky” Baldwin’s Cottage emerges as if from an old home movie reel, nestled deep in the Arboretum.
I visited the geese and ducks for quite a while at Baldwin Lake (now at a perilously shallow 24 inches).
And named this palm Narcissus.
Every Wednesday I look forward to the musings of Anna at Flutter & Hum, our host for Wednesday Vignette.
That makes two drizzly Mondays in a row. Did our collective obsession with California winter rain last year have the unintended and adverse effect of scaring it away? Drought does bring out magical thinking in me. I’ve given up on rain, don’t watch the forecasts anymore, which is clearly the preferred method for success. So I will continue my cunning campaign of giving no thought at all to winter rainfall, because this stealth approach seems to bring out the clouds. When it does drizzle in autumn, I reflexively greet the rain with my old elementary school advisory, those profoundly impactful words “rainy day schedule.” Which meant we remained in classrooms waiting for final dismissal rather than playing dodgeball out on the tarmac. Instead of our hooligan jubilations at being relatively unsupervised outdoors, the swishing sounds from the heavy cotton layers of the nuns’ habit, the rattle of the long rosary at their sides as they prowled the aisles, pencils dutifully scribbling at homework, and rain spattering at the casement windows would continue to be the hushed soundtrack to our desk-bound lives until the clock struck three. (I’ve checked out those huge rosaries at flea markets recently and was shocked at the hefty price.) Now at the sign of even modest drizzle, I say the words aloud ironically, “rainy day schedule,” because unlike my dodgeball days, they’ve become the happiest words I know. Not that I’m thinking about rain anymore or anything. What I am thinking about are big, jagged leaves.
The bocconia came through summer beautifully on a semi-attentive regimen of drip hoses once a week, maybe every two weeks. Okay, sometimes I was reminded by its declining appearance to get the soaker hose going pronto, admittedly not the most rigorous irrigation schedule. But the soaker hoses sure beat carrying watering cans and moving the garden hose all summer (or, more often, failing to do so).
And in the spirit of full disclosure, these photos were taken after some surprise light rainfall on October 17, and what plant doesn’t look good glistening wet?
In my garden big, jagged leaves come from melianthus, tetrapanax, and bocconia.
Two out of three are in the process of pulling themselves together after a couple recent heat waves. The third, bocconia, is resplendent this fall.
In full sun with lax summer irrigation, Bocconia frutescens starts to look a little puckered by August, and seems to drop leaves more freely than usual. Adding drip hoses this summer and more reliable irrigation was obviously the preference of all three. The bocconia and tetrapanax bloom in fall, the melianthus in spring.
(Although San Marcos Growers has the Tree Poppy as a spring/summer bloomer.)
Melianthus ‘Purple Haze,’ February 2016
The cultivar from Roger Raiche, ‘Purple Haze,’ doesn’t try to bloom at all, which is fine with me, and it has lived up to its reputation as a compact melianthus, becoming no larger than a robust Jerusalem sage or phlomis, an important consideration for me because the species is a lanky giant here. I do think ‘Purple Haze,’ because it is less vigorous than the species, requires more summer irrigation than the species to look its best, and of the three plants discussed here the melianthus is most reliant on irrigation.
cycads at the Los Angeles County Arboretum October 2016
I’ve been mulling over a list of similar contenders for a semi-dry, full sun summer garden in mediterranean climates. I’m thinking more on a herbaceous scale or smallish shrubs. Acanthus is a classic contender, of course, but A. mollis needs afternoon shade, and I’m just becoming familiar with other acanthus species for hopefully full sun. Macleaya, the bocconia’s herbaceous relative, has fabulous leaves, bigger, less jagged, more scalloped. Ricinus communis, the castor bean plant, especially in its darkest form ‘New Zealand Purple’ makes the list. The cabbage palms, cussonias, do eventually grow into trees here, as do the manihots and loquats. I’m hours away from ordering a fig, Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre,’ from Cistus Nursery, if I don’t talk myself out of it again for the umpteenth time. Ultimate size will be an issue with the fig as well. The dandelion relative, sonchus, is an intriguing possibility. I’m trying out a new one, Sonchus palmensis, in a stock tank. I suspect if I had provided more reliable summer irrigation to other sonchus I’ve grown, like S. congestus and canariensis, I might have had better results. Cycads are a possibility, and you won’t need to worry about summer irrigation when they’re established, but you will need to set up a cycad investment fund right this moment if you hope to procure a nice specimen one day. Same advice for adding some specimen palms, like the Blue Hesper Palm, Brahea armata.
Bixbybotanicals suggested artichoke, which I’ve never tried in the ornamental garden, nor cardoons.
Any other suggestions are most welcome.
Bocconia bloom panicle January 2015
There might come a time when I have to forego such charismatic plants, those with idiosyncratically jagged leaves that sculpt the garden with their exotic presence and need just a little help getting through summer, sometimes what seems like an endless summer now, rain-wise. You’ve got to be light on your feet these days in keeping a garden.
Tetrapanax, December 2014.
The tetrapanax is budding up some enormous flower buds surrounded by crisped new leaf growth that was burned in the heat wave a couple weeks back, when we reached 106 (September 26).
Can’t we have a brief intermission from setting records all the time?
Despite the welcome drizzle, hot and dry is predicted for the overarching, foreseeable future.
Still, it’s no time to throw in the trowel. The right plants are out there.
I hope you enjoy our rainy day schedule the next couple days.
When: 6-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, 2016
Where: Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia.
Tickets: $16 adults and $14 children 5-12.
Information: 626-821-4623, www.arboretum.org.
Read more here.
Digital Nature opened last night at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, an event designed to be as sparklingly ephemeral as morning dew in Los Angeles.
It closes tonight, so you have a Saturday ahead to plan a fall afternoon at the Los Angeles Co. Arboretum and maybe stop in at their plant sale while waiting for nightfall.
If like me you tend to feel a twinge of dejection at being cast out of botanical gardens late afternoon, when things really seem to be getting interesting, today is your chance to experience the collective soft breath of the plants as they settle in for the night, the peacocks heading for their roosts, the dim rustling of leaves, the last birdcall. Though it’s been hot here all week, the Arboretum seems to be generating its own celebratory weather for this event, intriguingly chilly and moody, as if expressly ordered for the occasion by impresario Shirley Watts, known to blog readers as the curator of Natural Discourse
, the series of symposia that melds the humanities and sciences to illuminate our ever-changing relationship to the natural world.
In Digital Nature, Shirley gets to explore a favorite theme, the intersection of technology and nature, and has invited video artists and engineers to the Arboretum in a one-off installation for this special event.
That drift of mist over the aloes is probably emanating from the “Smog House,” a disused greenhouse that once held experiments on the effect of smog on plants.
Artist Kevin Cooley has brought the abandoned greenhouse back to life for Digital Nature
Other exhibits include cactus blooms opening and closing, over and over, like we’ve always wanted them to.
Interactive digital artist John Carpenter creates work that allows us all to be maestros of shape and color.
Come see what’s showing at the Arboretum under the Bismarckia nobilis tonight.
All photos by MB Maher.
This October the garden has already turned its back on summer, and all but the grasses have been cut back.
I’m curious to find out how long the summer grasses can be supporting players to the winter-blooming aloes before the grasses are cut back in late winter.
(Of course, if we get rain, the grasses might be cut back sooner, but I’m not holding my breath.
In fact, I think I’ll plan a rain vacation this fall/winter. Glasgow averages 4 inches in November, Amsterdam over 3 inches.)
The ‘New Zealand Purple’ castor bean has a thick woody trunk and should be removed, because it’s left plenty of seedlings to take its place.
But it’s playing so nicely with ‘Moonlight’ grevillea I keep putting it off.
And the Solanum vine, ‘Navidad Jalisco,’ has had a lot cut back off the lemon cypresses and out of the Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ but is still throwing new blooms.
Among other low-lying succulents, the aloes like ‘Cynthia Giddy’ shine unobstructed, but the big pennisetum grasses might have to be switched out for grasses of smaller stature.
Lomandras like ‘Breeze’ really would be preferable for size, although they lack the pennisetum’s sexy blooms.
(That ‘Ghost’ aloe on the lower left was recently added, a hybrid of Aloe striata that showed up at nurseries this fall. I love its almost agave-like chunkiness.)
Here’s a photo I took the other day of a mass planting of lomandra. The scale is perfect for interplanting aloes.
Sun and water requirements are a good fit too.
For example, Aloe ‘Topaz’ is struggling to be seen through Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ and phormium. I need to cut back that Verbena bonariensis too.
‘Topaz’ supposedly prefers/tolerates some summer irrigation so should work well among smaller grasses and shrubs.
Aloe scobinifolia has bloomed in July in the past and is much later this year. One of its record number of five scapes was lost to a mishap with a cat.
That’s Plectranthus neochilus blooming in the background, as it’s done all summer.
More and more, I find this time-share aspect to the garden so absorbing.
Every plant on its game year-round with something to contribute, or at least get out of the way.
I’m a firm believer that the emphasis on garden “style” is misplaced.
If it doesn’t make sense for your temperament, for your climate, ignore styles. (If you can even figure out what your climate is anymore.)
In zone 10 there’s no justification for the slow death and decay cycle so beloved by the New Perennial movement. (Not when there’s winter-blooming aloes!)
And it’s a safe bet here in SoCal that we’re looking at building dry gardens for the foreseeable future.
So I can stop dreaming about thalictrums and veronicastrums for summer. Sigh…that ‘Black Stockings’ thalictrum is so cool.
But Amicia zygomeris has the height and some of that purply, bruised coloration to its leaves. I should bring that back for next summer.
Aloe ‘Kujo,’ the Huntington hybrid. I lost a small plant so jumped at this big 2-gallon size already in bloom.
This plant caught my eye on a nursery bench recently too. With leaves and flower color so reminiscent of Lobelia tupa, I couldn’t pass it up. Justicia sericea ‘Inca Queen.’
Said to bloom on and off all year, heaviest in early spring maybe. Drought tolerant when established. Might have a tendency for disheveled lankiness.
We’ll see. The hummingbirds are already thanking me.
This Kelly Griffin hybrid aloe has been blooming on and off all summer too.
Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ is another year-round bloomer, heaviest in fall. My little plants are just getting going.
Carol at May Dreams Gardens collects Bloom Day posts from gardens all over the world, an invaluable learning tool for what’s working where.
October seems a little early for the Cactus Geranium to start blooming after its summer dormancy, but it is, which occasions bringing up this old post from January 2011 in its honor.
Sometime during the night, the buds of Pelargonium echinatum unfolded their cerise petals. The next morning, the intensity of the color was a shock to eyes grown accustomed to the restrained colors of winter.
Which is about the time I wondered: When did pink leave demure behind to become shocking? And when did those two words first become inseparable?
What’s amazing to me, number one, is there is an answer to be found to such idle questions of mine, and it can be unearthed in less than 10 minutes:
Pink first became shocking when the eponymous perfume Shocking was launched in 1937, the packaging designed by Leonor Fini for fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.
Surrealist-inspired Schiaparelli — pardon the crude and class-divisive shorthand which was in use at the time — was the ugly aristocrat to Coco Chanel’s pretty commoner, Chanel’s designs as sedate as Schiaparelli’s were outrageously flamboyant, and the two were supposedly intense rivals. (Perhaps flamboyance comes easier to those with trust funds? Just wondering…) Legendary photographer Horst P. Horst, interviewed by Maureen Dowd for the New York Times in 1988, remembers: “Chanel so disliked the overpowering style of the shocking pink, Dali-sketched creations of Elsa Schiaparelli…that she always pretended to forget Schiaparelli’s name, referring to her rival as ‘that Italian designer.'” Horst royally ticked off Chanel by photographing Schiaparelli first, but Chanel apparently became mollified enough to later sit for Horst. (Is life still this exciting?)
Tiny copy of Horst’s portrait of Schiaparelli:
Horst’s portrait of Coco Chanel:
The women’s choice of head gear says it all.
Horst might be better known for this corset ad, re-enacted by a famous singer in her ’90s music videoVogue directed by David Fincher:
In remembering how she came upon the name for her perfume, Schiaparelli recalls in her autobiography Shocking Life
: “The colour flashed in front of my eyes. Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a colour of China and Peru but not of the West’s shocking colour, pure and undiluted.”
Practically speaking, this little South African pelargonium is kept dry in summer, when it goes dormant, then erupts in impudent, shocking pink flowers after winter rains. Elsa would love it, a shocking color, pure and undiluted.