Categories

streetside; rainy day house & gardens

alluding to Joni Mitchell’s Rainy Night House
I recently read that Taylor Swift wanted the part in a movie on Mitchell.
I see Swift’s photo all over the Internet, but it wasn’t until Sunday that I finally heard one of her songs on the car radio.
Yes, I do live in a pop culture-free bubble, not always by choice. All I’m going to say is, thank god Mitchell refused. (Oh, the travesty!)

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Rainy day house’s front garden in Venice; dymondia, agaves, sticks on fire, with a hedge of Acacia iteaphylla on the chimney side

I just had one of those Sunday afternoons where an absurd number of destinations are optimistically crammed into a 4-hour window.
The forecast was, again, possible showers.

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The clouds did open at Big Daddy’s

The itinerary:

1. Check out International Garden Center near LAX (done)
2. On to Culver City and Big Daddy’s (I became lost for quite some time but eventually found that weird intersection near National)
3. Cruise the streets of Mar Vista, which has an excellent garden tour coming up this spring.
(I got tired of driving aimlessly and gave up. I’ll have to wait for the tour map. See Dates to Remember for upcoming tour April 25.)
4. Stop by Big Red Sun in Venice (too much traffic on Lincoln Blvd., gave up.)

And did I mention it was raining? Los Angeles drivers, whenever challenged by the smallest drops of moisture from the sky…oh, never mind.

International Nursery had a $30 protea in a one-gallon in bloom, simply labeled “Orange Protea.” Tempting.
And not a bad price for the plant, seeing that 7 stems of proteas go for $100 as cutflowers

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Merwilla plumbea nee Scilla natalensis.
I always plant new stuff out within a couple days. I hate waking up to the rebuke of homeless plants in nursery gallons.

I eventually dropped the protea for this South African bulb, Scilla natalensis. San Marcos Growers says it’s rarely dormant. The leaves are wide, almost eucomis-like.
My problem with Scilla peruviana has been placement that allows for its dormancy needs, which means having a big gap in summer.
The peruviana have ended up against the fence under the lemon cypress, not optimal conditions for a sun-loving bulb. It’ll be exciting to watch this one’s performance.

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International’s Annie’s Annuals section is by far the best I’ve seen at SoCal nurseries.
I grabbed a couple Asphodeline luteas again, though I think I’ve established beyond doubt the asphodels will only curl up their toes for me.
I can’t remember if I’ve tried spring planting before though.
The asphodel is now rivaling dierama for number of kills in my garden.
But memory is still fresh of Asphodeline lutea in Portland, Oregon last summer, photo above.

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Pots on spiral staircase at Big Daddy’s

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Though there’s plenty of the ornate, BD has a nice selection of unadorned but aged-looking planters.

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I’ll take all three of these metal tubs, please.

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Giving up on fighting traffic enroute to Big Red Sun, I drove through a couple streets in Venice.
Thundery skies and bright orange, thunbergia-covered walls.

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And fabulous streetside succulent gardens like this one.

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Big clump of the slipper plant, Pedilanthus bracteatus

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The long parkway was dotted with multiples of the Mexican Blue Palm, Brahea armata

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I once came very close to painting my house these colors, an agave grey-blue and mossy green.

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Aloe marlothii

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The coral aloe, A. striata

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I may not have made it to every stop on the itinerary, but it was still a fine rainy day in LA.

san francisco door project

Ah! There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” — Emma, Jane Austen


I can be a bit of a homebody and go days without leaving the house. The best thing about some days is coming home to the sight of our old, slightly beat-up oak door. The solidity and comfort of doors has been a lifelong preoccupation. And then there’s the built-in mystery and fascination of Other People’s Doors. Encircle a door in plants or line its entrance with pots, and I might stop and stare at your door for a length of time bordering on rudeness. Fortunately, there’s other obsessives out there doing some good door reconnaissance. I learned of Carole Isaacs’ San Francisco door project through this post on the Huffington Post, to which she left a comment referencing her door project. What admirable single-mindedness! I thought, as I scribbled off an email, to which Carole immediately and kindly responded:

“I am glad you like my doors. It is amazing to me that driving down the street doors can all look the same, but walking, what looks the same is not. There are variations large and small. Humans have a need to personalize the entrance to their homes and of course the inside too. It is ok to use some of the doors. Please mention I tweet a door a day @sfdoorproject . I have been too busy to post all of my neighborhood slide shows on FB. They are on youtube.com/sfdoorproject, a work in progress. I photograph the doors for fun, and rationalize the incredible amount of time I have spent on this as marketing for my real estate business.”

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Restios and aeoniums in faux lead containers in Pacific Heights. How could you not put containers on those stairs?

Continue reading san francisco door project

a February visit to the Huntington desert garden

I got caught in a rainstorm at the Huntington’s desert garden yesterday, which was magical.

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Storm warning

Continue reading a February visit to the Huntington desert garden

2015 Dates to Remember

I’ve been working on 2015 plants sales and plant show dates under the heading Dates to Remember, top of the page.
Please feel free to send along info on anything I’ve missed or something worthy that must not go unmentioned.
And in the spirit of anticipating 2015 road trips, I’m reprising a 2013 visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, which is having their spring sale March 20-22, 2015.

It’s pushing the concept of a day trip to its limit when it takes five hours each way, there and back, but the DBG was having their spring plant sale and, dammit, I needed to go. So the math worked out neatly in multiples of five, including five hours spent at the garden, making it a 15-hour day trip. More math: Phoenix’s average rainfall is about 8 inches a year, while Los Angeles nearly doubles that at 15 or 16 inches, though current LA rainfall totals are below average. Phoenix like Los Angeles was in the middle of a warm spell this past week, and temperatures in the garden were over 90. For whatever reason, the plant sale, the weather, the early spring season, it was a mob scene, and lots of appreciatively awestruck comments were overheard like, “Can you believe this place?!”

Believe it.

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So what five plants did I bring home? There the math broke down, and we traveled light. Most of the smaller plants had been bought, and I can’t in all conscience rip up the headliner in yet another car. Mark your calendars and do the math for a day trip/road trip to Phoenix’s DBG for their next plant sale in October. Oh, and you might want to borrow a friend’s truck.

high style, close quarters

The Australian/Canadian hybrid blog Desire to Inspire is one of my favorite sources for dependable, daily inspiration.
(Jo and Kim do take Sundays off.) DTI celebrates design front and center, sometimes minimal, sometimes maximal. I can never make up my mind on minimal/maximal either.
Except where plants are concerned; more is definitely more. But I fully understand not everyone shares that plant-centric point of view. And sometimes space just won’t permit.
Earlier in the week Jo posted just such a case study from the portfolio of Australian garden design firm Adam Robinson Design.

A serenely austere, monochromatic treatment for a Sydney balcony, with lots of good ideas to crib for small gardens. That wood block as anchor for a large umbrella, for example.
And the built-in planter/privacy wall planted with bromeliads and succulents. Alternating wooden slats and cutouts balance privacy with claustrophobia.


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I’ve never seen a plumeria displayed to greater advantage than in that large conical planter, which makes a virtue of its open, gawky structure.
Just imagine how the balcony walls trap and hold that scent on a warm summer evening. At least it looks like a plumeria to me..

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More from Adam Robinson Design’s portfolio can be found here.


Bloom Day February 2015

Bloom Day — you know the drill.
(And if you don’t and somehow stumbled here unwittingly, just calm down and see May Dreams Gardens for some helpful background by Carol.)

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I bought this Banksia ericifolia from a newish nursery in Hollywood several months ago with one bloom already fully open and several promising if smallish buds.
I ain’t superstitious, but taking photos of rare, newly acquired plants in bloom just seems an invitation for a jinx on their health and longevity.
So I’ve waited a few months before posting photos of these stunning bronze candles that seem made of chenille.

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I bumped into the nursery while in search of some craigslist planters and failed to record its name, but it’s fairly close to Sunset Boulevard and Gardner.
I should be able to find it again, since those are my old stomping grounds. I used to live basically on top of the intersection of Sunset and Gardner, about a half block away.
(The best way to get into Hollywood? Follow Bette Davis’ advice, “Take Fountain!” A little local, show-biz humor…)
The banksia is in a large wooden container that is in the semi-rapid process of falling apart, so it will have to be moved at some point. Gulp…beauty in peril!

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Old faithful, Pelargonium echinatum. Scalloped and felty grey-green leaves with firework bursts of flowers suspended mid-air.
Looks a lot like the cultivar ‘Miss Stapleton’ which is a suspected cross of two species. Summer dormant.

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The related Erodium pelargoniflorum, a spring annual here, isn’t reseeding as extravagantly in the drought, which is fine with me.

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The unnamed aloe along the driveway is looking more and more like Aloe ‘Moonglow’ — which I recently bought again for the back garden, label intact.
There was more peachy color to it in previous years, when it wasn’t smothered under the Acacia podalyrifolia.
I limbed up the offending acacia last week and promise to try harder for a less blurry photo next time.

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Abutilon venosum, found at Tropico in West Hollywood, crazy in bloom this February

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Veltheimia bracteata, a South African summer-dormant bulb. Really the easiest thing to grow, if a bit slow to bulk up and get going.
The emergence of the leaves in fall are a reminder to start watering again.

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The flower today, a bit more filled out.

I find some of the summer-dormant stuff easier to deal with in containers, which is where the veltheimia has been growing for over five years.
Unless I failed to record an earlier bloom, this would be its first year to flower.

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Aloe ‘Always Red.’ Seeing its first bloom, I did a photo search to double-check possible mislabeling. You call that red?
Yes, apparently they do. Supposedly a ferociously long-blooming aloe.

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Sometimes a succulent’s flowers can be an annoyance (hello, Senecio mandraliscae), but not with Sedum nussbaumerianum, which are nice complement to the overall plant.

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Only one plant was allowed to mature this spring from the hundreds of self-sown Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’

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Ah, those fleeting moments when everything is in balance, before one thing outgrows its spot and stifles another. Balance usually lasts about six months in my garden.

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Still waiting for the deep red color to form on the leaves of Aloe cameronii. A continued regimen of full sun, dryish soil should do the trick.

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A species canna from Tropico in West Hollywood

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Buds forming on Leucadendron ‘Safari Goldstrike’

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The ‘Little Jean’ kangaroo paws again, with phlomis, cistus, and euphorbias, self-sown poppies filling in. Maybe there’ll be poppies for March.

Saturday clippings 2/14/15

Valentine’s Day would seem to demand a quote on love, and this one by Rilke sums it up well:

Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.

No, I didn’t grab a book off the shelf and flip to exactly the right page, but noncommittally typed in a search string query, fairly confident that Rilke must have weighed in on the matter. I honestly don’t think I own a single book of poetry, though a dusty copy of Letters to a Young Poet might be around here somewhere. No Val Day plans, but weekend plans tentatively include the Long Beach Veterans flea market on Sunday (every third Sunday), which would be a firm plan if it wasn’t so god-awful hot. (Too sunny here, too snowy there — what a winter!)


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The dew will be burning off the bocconia fast this morning, with temps expected near 90 F, then hopefully cooling for Sunday.


For a blast of pure romance, check out this post on Thread & Bones, where Mitch and Jessica announce their new photo venture and launch of their site, Ritual Photo Work. I really like the idea of reinvigorating important rituals. When we were married, I couldn’t envision a ceremony that didn’t make my skin crawl, so Marty and I were married in a courtroom, me in green silk pants I had sewn myself and copper-colored sandals. And then a day trip south to Puerto Nuevo for lobster and tortillas. No regrets, no diamonds, but there’s also no photos, no tangible remains of that day. There is only the very vivid memory, one that I hope never fades, of a troop of kindergarteners on a field trip to the courtroom bursting into spontaneous applause as the judge pronounced us legally married.

And speaking of Mitch, my oldest son, perusing Gardenista today I see that this week they reprised Mitch’s photos of The French Laundry in Napa, California. You can have a look here.

I’ve had my appetite for browsing the fleas whetted by all the chair porn I’ve been consuming lately in between deadlines on the computer.


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Russell Woodard Sculptura lounge chairs at 1stdibs.

In an increasingly incomprehensible world, chairs possess an uncanny ability to soothe. Even just photos of chairs.
If a mind is consumed with building the perfect chair, what trouble can it possibly get into? Sites like 1stdibs are a design education in themselves.
And among all the Hans Wegner Papa Bear chairs, Saarinen Tulip chairs, and Jacobsen Egg chairs can be found some interesting choices for the garden, though prices are usually higher than flea market.

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I see a lot of original Russell Woodard’s spun fiberglass table and chair sets at my mom’s retirement community.
Really amazing, decades-long durability, but so far I’ve yet to warm up to it.

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Thank goodness agaves are still one of the most affordable design bargains around.
I snapped this quick photo of a Pasadena house landscaped almost exclusively with agaves, mainly medio-picta and parryi, earlier in the week.

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I love drawing the eye with the big rosettes, too, but they don’t necessarily have to be the same species or even the same genus.
One of my favorite views, with two agaves, one yucca, three big rosettes stepping up in height, yellow, green, blue.

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The mystery mangave is throwing not just one bloom spike, but in a first, the pups are spiking too.

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The giant ‘Cyclops’ aeonium feels like joining in.

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Tiny starry flowers have also erupted in the foaming nebula that is the South African Climbing Onion, Bowiea volubilis.
Dormant in fall, it stirs into life in January, and is now tumbling down 4 feet, tracing and exploring every curlicue of the old iron plant stand.
That’s the unvarnished description, a far cry from the tangled garden monologues these plants and objects unleash, which go something like:
Dustin’s bowiea is going crazy on that plant stand.
And where the heck is Dustin going to travel next? Doesn’t he stay home anymore?
And Jerry, where did he go? I really miss Jerry, but at least I have his plant stand to remember him by.
Was it $30 I gave him for it? What a wickedly fast associative mind he has, one of those ebullient, fizzy champagne people.
Incredibly supple, effervescent, improvisational mind, a lot like that bowiaea finding tendril holds,
etc, etc.
Lots of time for more garden monologues this weekend. Enjoy yours!


Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Gold’ and Elymus ‘Canyon Prince’


I’ve gradually been filling the garden with mostly shrubs, grasses and succulents.
Very few perennials, with just a couple exceptions, like kangaroo paws. And I mentioned back in August finding some of this newish gerbera hybrid in gold/orange.
The pink version, ‘Drakensberg Carmine,’ is what piqued my interest in this line of small-flowered but very garden-worthy gerberas.
But I wasn’t sure if that vigor would extend across the color range.

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It looks promising so far. (Plant Delights lists this gerbera series as hardy to zone 7b.)
Yes, there’s osteospermums and arctotis for daisies on the tough side for zone 10, if your garden is spacious enough to accommodate vast, sprawling carpets.
But I think I’ve found my daisy. Long-necked, with nodding flowers that do a charming radar-dish swivel in multiple directions simultaneously.

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And with orange of this purity and clarity, to me quantity of bloom is irrelevant. Not to mention that contrasting darker eye and ruddy brushwork on the outer petals.
And what a nice coincidence that everything else is mostly silvery and blue here. Isoplexis leans in on the right, which will have orange flowers too. Weird. You’d think I planned it.
The grass in the foreground is new to my garden this year, Elymus ‘Canyon Prince.’ It would have to develop some inexcusably bad faults to make me stop loving it.
Silvery succulent is Kalanchoe hildebrandtii, with the bluish leaves of Eucalpytus ‘Moon Lagoon’ in the background.

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I cut about a foot from the leader of the eucalyptus, since I’ll be growing it as a shrub and cutting it frequently to promote those sexy juvenile leaves.
I saw a mature ‘Moon Lagoon’ tree at Jo O’Connell’s nursery near Ojai, which is an entirely different animal in its green adult leafage.

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This series of gerberas was bred by German nurseryman Peter Ambrosius.
Mr. Ambrosius has recently donated his 45-year-old collection of hybrids to the gerbera’s place of origin in Barberton, South Africa.
The collection will be the foundation of Gerbera Park, in honor of their native flower they call the Barberton Daisy.
Mr. Ambrosius included an alpine species in the Drakensberg hybrids that conferred a tough constitution and that neat, clumping habit of growth.
Outside of South Africa, most of us know gerberas as those huge florist flowers with an incredibly long vase life.

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An old photo of ‘Drakensberg Carmine’
Anthericum saundersiae ‘Variegata’ is the grass-like plant. Obviously there’s something about grasses with these gerberas that I keep coming back to.

“The Artful Garden” featuring Shirley Watts, Portland, Oregon 2/15/15


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Detail of mural in the new reception hall at Rancho Los Alamitos.


I don’t suppose there’s the smallest chance we’ll ever see a “bullet train” built that runs to Portland, Oregon, since the voter-approved Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed train has been delayed two years and still faces an uphill political battle. Whether by train or plane, a girl can dream of buying a ticket for next weekend to hear Bay Area artist and garden designer Shirley Watts give a talk sponsored by the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon entitled “The Artful Garden” at Portland State University’s Hoffman Hall, 1 p.m., Sunday, February 15, 2015. Coincidentally, Shirley was in Los Angeles briefly last week, and we met up at Rancho Los Alamitos, where I had the benefit of her discerning perspective as we strolled the grounds. Typical for me, I see plants, plants, agaves, plants, more plants, where Shirley will remark, What an odd figure-eight amoeba shape they put the lawn into here! Must be California modernism seeping into the early rancho style. The low adobe walls, the original cement pottery, the placement of a bench, none of it escaped her quick eye, and my visit was that much richer for her comments and musings. With her deep knowledge of plants and antennae exquisitely tuned to the romance and atmosphere of a place, I couldn’t have enjoyed the visit more if it had been led by one of the Rancho’s docents.

That Saturday I arrived an hour early to wander the gardens, so I’ll leave you with my photos of plants and more plants, and the occasional horse (Preston, the two-year-old Shire).
For the full-bodied pleasure of viewing gardens through Shirley’s eyes, you’ll have to hear her speak this Sunday.

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some kangaroo paws

Anigozanthos is becoming as common as agapanthus in Southern California, but I’m still a fan.
Blooms for months, fine on the dry side, handles full sun, dramatically vertical. You’d think there’d be a huge selection available. But it’s pretty much orange, yellow, red, pink.
Ocasionally that amazing black one turns up in nurseries, which goes by Macropidia fuliginosa, but it’s notoriously touchy.

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‘Harmony’ anigozanthos, May 2013

For the longest time I steered clear of red kangaroo paws. Orange and yellow, yes. Red, no.
There really is no accounting for taste. Maybe there’s this fear that if we kept no rules at all, a vortex of chaos would swallow us up.
All I know is that I’m now suddenly fine with red anigozanthos. (But pink, um, no.)
The first red I brought home was, appropriately enough, ‘Big Red,’ whose first bloom in the garden will be this spring.
Then I recently brought home some petite red no-names in 4-inch pots that were a good price at the big box store.

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And then there was that momentous day I found ‘Little Jean’ (two days ago).
I immediately plucked her from a stand of mixed blooming kangaroo paws after one look at her rich interplay of colors.

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Compare the complexity of bloom on ‘Little Jean’ (red/green/black/yellow on bright red fuzzy stems) to the no-name red kangaroo paw above.

Now a new band of red anigozanthos is taking shape in the garden, snaking around the base of Yucca ‘Margaritaville.’
Interspersed with the kangaroo paws are some lomandra I’m trying out like ‘Breeze’ and ‘Lime Tuff.’
I’ve pulled out all the blue oat grass (Helicotrichon) to give lomandra, this startling green New Zealander, a try.

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Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff.’
I know at some point it will have an ugly phase, all grasses do, but wow, what bright clean beauty it’s shown all fall/winter.

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The now-departed blue oat grass, looking fine in April 2013 but always ratty in winter. The tree, Euphorbia cotinifolia, is gone too. Wind snapped its trunk.
That thug Arundo donax ‘Golden Chain,’ way in the back, has also unwillingly vacated the garden. In fact, except for the yucca, the garden has been completely changed up again.
The long-leaved carex on the left, Carex trifida ‘Rekohu Sunrise,’ has been moved to more shade. A really good carex with a big arching presence like hakonechloa, but for drier soil.
(And I really, really wish I could find another source for seed or plant of Argemone munita, the tall thistly looker with romneya-type flowers.)

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Anigozanthos ‘Yellow Harmony’

But getting back to kangaroo paws, just letting you nurseries know that some of us love seeing different kinds of them, like ‘Little Jean.’