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.
I usually have at least a hazy impression of the origin lands of the plants in my garden. Drawing from the five mediterranean climate regions for low-rainfall plant inspiration and choices as well as arid and semi-arid regions keeps my garden well stocked and me endlessly entertained. Island plants will always fire my imagination, whether from our own Channel Islands or faraway Madeira and the Canary Islands. The lands of aloes, whether Somalia, Madagascar, South Africa, the home of the protaceae family, Australia and South Africa, this is the stuff road trip dreams are made of, and I indulge in such daydreams frequently. Much closer to home, however, there’s this inexplicable blackout in my mind for a desert that is the botanical font of so many plants in my garden, a region bigger than California, the “largest desert ecosystem in North America and the third most biologically diverse arid region on Earth.”
(all photos courtesy of Mark Briggs and Natural Discourse)
As she’s done since 2012, Shirley Watts assembled a mesmerizing group of speakers on topics related to the transformational powers of fire, including a couple other personal favorites, “Birds, Fire and the Chaparral” by Erica Newman, and William Fox on “Fire, Art, Environment” (“I basically look at how artists manifest human creative interactions with natural-built and even virtual environments, and I bring that stuff back to the museum,” which would be the Nevada Museum of Art.)
Mark clarified the acronym does not allude to the WWF Superstars of Wrestling. I’d love to have this T-shirt.
Mark Briggs’ talk at Natural Discourse October 1, 2016, (“Using Fire as a Tool to Bring Back the Rio Grande/Bravo along the U.S.-Mexico Border,”) really helped flesh out this remarkable Chihuahuan Desert region for me, the land of peyote and so many agaves, dasylirion, opuntia, ferocactus, ocotillo. The U.S.’s complicated relationship with our southern neighbor and the heated political demagoguery this campaign season can color so many of our perceptions, even to the point of draining a land of its unique physicality in the popular imagination. Only recently have the border crossing restrictions put in place after 9/11 been lifted.
The binational team, with Mark Briggs center, in the red ballcap
Mark Briggs, through the World Wildlife Fund, has been working with a binational team on the river that forms the boundary between the two countries, called the Rio Grande when it flows in the U.S. and the Rio Bravo when in Mexico. The specific task Briggs’ talk focused on was the eradication of Arundo donax from the riverbanks, using first fire and then herbicide on regrowth, to restore its broad and shallow optimal habitat conditions. The giant cane, with which I am regrettably personally very familiar (removed fall 2014
, and I wish I’d had the use of a flame thrower), alters the river from a habitat-friendly configuration of broad and shallow to the antithetical, habitat-stifling configuration of narrow and deep.
‘Big Bend Century Plant,’ Agave havardiana, Big Bend National Park, to zone 7
The Chihuahuan Desert’s northern reach extends into New Mexico and Texas, but two-thirds of the desert lie in Mexico.
The Rio Conchos and the binational region of Big Bend is the geographic focus of the World Wildlife Fund’s work in the basin.
The Rio Grande/Bravo basin is 607,965 sq. km, twice the area of Arizona
3,034 km from headwaters in southern Colorado and upper Rio Conchos to the Gulf of Mexico
I so agree with this fellow’s opinion of the giant cane. I gave the thumb’s down to Arundo donax too for my zone 10 garden. And they say tetrapanax is difficult to contain? Ha!
Hotsprings, Big Bend National Park, showing the river choking on the lush growth of giant cane.
The “Los Diablos” team at work on the giant cane.
A portion of the river painstakingly restored.
I had already seen The Atlantic’s video on the fire-fighting team Los Diablos which Mark included in his presentation, and you may have too, but it’s worth another look.
N.B. You can catch up with more of Shirley’s work with Natural Discourse at the upcoming “Digital Nature,” which promises to be a magical evening at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden Oct. 22 & 23, 2016.
I’ve got my seed packets of scarlet flax in hand, ready to sow for spring bloom, some interesting cool season cabbages and greens on order, and I can’t stop thinking about hot soup. I’m ready.
And like waiting for the headliner at a show, I’m getting a little restless when the opening act (summer) refuses to leave the stage.
I’m ready to hand the garden over to winter (and complain about how little rainfall we’re getting.)
But heatwaves do bring undeniable benefits. There was such a glorious hush over the neighborhood yesterday, chased indoors by heat and televised sports.
Today is supposed to top 100. Yesterday was high 90s, a throwback to those lackadaisical summer days when I pile a bunch of reading in the coolest spot outdoors I can find.
But who am I kidding, September is always hot in Los Angeles and it’s foolish to expect anything else. I’ve always been out of meteorological sync with this season.
As a kid it felt bizarrely, infuriatingly arbitrary to trudge back to hot, stuffy classrooms instead of heading again for the beach.
And I may have prematurely moved touchy Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’ into a full sun position for fall/winter.
And he’s just outgrown the leaf burn from a previous bout of sunstroke.
Sorry if I sound a little testy. Hot and dry in autumn is a signal to the termites to wing it, an event that always sets our teeth on edge as they flap against our little wooden bungalow.
But ain’t life grand? Autumn light, insects that eat houses, grasses that catch the wind like schools of fish work the currents — I tell you, it’s simply too wonderful. Have a great week.
The aeoniums are losing that shriveled and squinty, “Anybody seen my sunglasses?” look they acquire over summer, plumping up again for their favorite season that’s just ahead.
An old post from January 2013 “comparative aeoniums” shows them at their happiest.
(Anna at Flutter & Hum collects Wednesday Vignettes.)
I recently picked up a gallon of Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Fast Forward,’ which may or may not be the answer to a pink muhly lover’s prayers. The PR is it’s more uniform and blooms earlier, possibly as early as August, depending on where you garden. It’s been beautifully grown, already carrying a half dozen blooms spikes. So I thought I’d use the occasion to tell you about the time I snuck some muhly grass into a narrow border I planted for my mom, and how she surreptitiously but methodically clipped its blades into submission to comply with a stern vision of neatness that I certainly didn’t inherit, which of course canceled out any hope of flowering — but I see I already have in a post from October 2013, which is reposted below. At my mom’s over the weekend, I noted that she “tided” an agave too that, to my eye, seemed innocent of any offense. It’s all part of a general wariness of plants that runs in my family. Boy, am I the black sheep in that regard. Or maybe that makes me the green sheep?
I’m very excited about this so-called early-blooming muhly, so we’ll see how it does. A couple months or so earlier in bloom would be a significant breeding accomplishment.
As far as seasons go, to me summer is rich, pungent, dense, where autumn is quicksilver, vaporous, light on its feet, with a tartness that is the perfect apertif to summer’s gluttony of sensation. The eaves are now dripping morning dew as the dry season comes to an end, with hopefully the return soon of prodigal rains, and the light arrives in glittering beveled sheaves. Summer and winter can each grow tiresome in their own ways, but I challenge anyone to find fault with those seasons that seem to gently swing in on quiet hinges, spring and fall. Purple muhly grass pretty much sums up how I feel about fall with its transformational buoyancy and crepuscular coloring, but it was a little trickier to find some this year. The big stands of it at the Long Beach airport were “tidied” at some point mid-summer, so no blooms this year. There are similar tidying impulses in my family, though in my case they seem to have skipped a generation. I planted one clump of muhly grass at my mom’s, in a long narrow border with agaves and other succulents, and she was surreptitiously taking scissors to the grass blades throughout summer to keep them neat. Again, the blooms were sacrificed. These big stands of muhly grass pictured below are in a hard-to-reach spot at the entrance to a freeway, safely removed from compulsive tidiers. I biked there a couple nights ago on the way to picking up some gyros for dinner. Muhly grass, pennisetum, sesleria and aloes are what I found, but at the link can be seen what will be back again in spring.
I’ve lived long enough to have experienced the dispersal of information about plants move from paper to the computer screen, and it seems I rarely have the sense anymore that I’m cut off from an essential stream of information on one of my favorite topics. But in other important cultural, scientific, and political matters, I often feel that with the digital floodgates open on seemingly every topic and opinion, many vital issues fall prey to a lack of inflection or emphasis and are thereby deemed irrelevant in the popular imagination. Yes, platforms like the TED talks help give marginally popular issues a voice, but for those of us always scanning the sky, the land, thermometers and rain gauges, I do feel our concerns are woefully underrepresented in popular media. And what’s incredibly frustrating is that these concerns of ours are not narrowly personal but important and central to everything we love (life!). So when programming like Natural Discourse came along back in 2012, I immediately sensed this is the focus that’s been lacking.
Photo above taken by photographer George Bennett, when fire was threatening the 747 Wing House in the Malibu hills.
The house, designed by architect David Hertz from the wings of a decommissioned Boeing 747, is on the site of Tony Duquette’s Ranch, which itself was destroyed in a brush fire in the 1990’s.
When fire was menacing the Wing House in 2013, George was on site with his camera. He has been invited him to show us these stunning images and recount this close brush with destruction.
Shirley Watts has brought Natural Discourse, an “ongoing series of symposia, publications, and site-specific art installations that explores the connections between art, architecture, and science within the framework of botanical gardens and natural history museums,” this year to the Huntington on September 30 and October 1, aiming her intensely curious, curatorial mind on a subject of both regional and timely importance. Apart from record drought continuing in the West, July has been pronounced the hottest month on record, and our notorious fire season has leaped its usual seasonal boundaries and has morphed into an ongoing conflagration. The subject of fire is, well, hot. If ever there was a time to shout Fire! — this is it. Fire in all its guises, destructive, regenerative, inspirational, will be discussed by a fascinating group of scientists and artists at this year’s Natural Discourse at the Huntington September 30th and October 1st:
Friday evening from 7:30 to 8:30:
John Doyle, Jean-Lou Chameau Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems at Caltech. His talk Fire and Life, will highlight Southern California’s particularly complex relationship with fire.
Mia Feuer, artist, Assistant Professor of Sculpture at CA College of the Arts, will talk about her work at the tar sands in Alberta, CA.
Saturday from 9 to 4:
Thomas Fenn, Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Ancient Pyro-technology. Tom is an archaeologist who specializes in examining early technologies. His research combines chemistry, geology, archeology, cultural anthropology and history. He will talk to us about the history of man’s discovery and use of fire.
George Bennett, photographer, will talk about fire at the Wing House in Malibu
Erica Newman, fire ecologist will talk about biodiversity in chaparral and what to expect with fire and climate change
William L. Fox, Director of the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art, will talk about fire as an outdoor spectacle and as art in the environment.
Sara Hiner, musician and Eric Elias, pyro-technician, will talk about their collaboration on the fireworks at Hollywood Bowl
Mark Briggs, river ecologist with the World Wildlife Fund’s Rio Grande/Bravo Programs will talk about controlled burns on the US/Mexican border
I do think it’s incredibly important to support this unique programming (written in my best, silkiest NPR/PBS-solicitous voice), and it’s just been made easier to do so.
Prices have been reduced; tickets can be ordered here.
Los Angeles, if ever there was a discourse designed specifically with you in mind, this is it. Come support Natural Discourse. I’d love to see you there.