I’ve been checking out local nurseries the past couple weeks, both independents and chains/franchises, which isn’t news since I do this quite a lot, but bringing a serious intent to change some of the garden late in May is news. I know a lot of gardens are just beginning to send out their personal shoppers (us) in May, but a zone 10 summer garden should ideally be settled by now, planned and planted last fall, which always gives superior results compared to a spring planting, much less a late spring planting. There should be no more fiddling with it after May, because summer will knock most new plantings on their ass. But the Diascia personata really had to go. I think it’s a good plant with great potential, maybe a bit more afternoon shade. (Grace, I think you’d love it if the leaves stay clean for you.) And maybe it’s suited for larger gardens, not because of it’s size but because it’s best seen massed, and from a distance. That pinky-coral color never stopped grating on me, which is odd because I don’t mind it on the smaller diascias. On the whole, I prefer Diascia integerrima.
As a replacement, I was leaning towards something blue/violet, in agastaches maybe, but none were to be found local, and small-sized mail order plants would be of no use this late in the season. I settled on Salvia greggii ‘Salmon Dance,’ a) because, well, there it was in 4-inch pots; b) they’re tough as old boots; c) they’re not pink; and d) as a sloppy-seconds planting, at the very least the hummingbirds will be happy. Although it’s not a conscious plan, pink continues to be purged from the garden and the reign of orange goes on.
This morning I split off some pieces from a large clump of Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket,’ which is just getting its burgundy plumes, to fill the gap along with the salvia. This pennisetum, planted last year, thickens fast but the blades seem to top out at a relatively modest height of 2 and half feet or so. If it holds to this height, it will prove to be a valuable grass indeed. Grown as an annual in zones below 8.
And though I didn’t find exactly what I needed, as is typical of plant nursery jaunts, I found lots that I wanted. There was a cordyline I haven’t seen before, Cordyline ‘Electric Star,’ the clumping kind with subtle, phormium-like coloration. I’d have been all over this cordyline in a smaller, cheaper size.
Another surprise was Isoplexis canariensis for sale locally, exquisitely in bloom in gallon containers at H&H Nursery, under their label. Always exciting to see a plant make the leap and graduate from rare and desirable to readily available and dependable. It’s still a little early to know just how dependable or long-lived. The photo is from my garden in April, but it’s still in bloom and sending out fresh spikes. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes as ubiquitous as that other strong orange, leonotis. Keeping with my orange/warm color fetish, there were a couple kniphofias at H&H I haven’t seen available local before, ‘Alcazar’ and ‘Nancy’s Red.’ Selections like these have previously been found only in Digging Dog’s catalogue.
Also at H&H was an unusual, smooth-skinned Kalanchoe beharensis appropriately named ‘Furless.’ I still can’t decide if smooth leaves are necessarily desirable in a Kalanchoe beharensis. Checking around, I find Glasshouse Works lists something similar called ‘Baby’s Bottom.’ I had no idea there was such variety with this kalanchoe, with some leaves deeply lobed. Mine pictured above was brought home from a plant sale last year, supposedly variegated. It hasn’t shown very strong variegation so far, but the edges do seem a bit more incised and ruffled than the species as I remember growing it.
I ran into this beauty, one of the annual Chilean bellflowers, nolana, at Brita’s nursery in Seal Beach, where it was growing in the ground, possibly from self-sowing.
A big, sprawling thing, with black stems and black splotches on the flower capsules. The nolana commonly available from seed is Nolana paradoxa, but an image search didn’t produce photos showing those sexy black markings.
And I was thrilled to score a couple Digitalis trojana in bloom and hopefully ready to throw some seed around. This is one I don’t mind planting in late spring, because if it’s anything like that other tawny foxglove from Turkey, Digitalis ferruginea, it will hate hanging on sleepless through a mild winter. If it self-sows, it just might find the perfect spot, the one I never seem to find for it.
I got a very late start on the self-guided Lawn-to-Garden tour Saturday, thirty gardens from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., just because Friday was an unusually odd workday and I lingered and wallowed far too long in the glory of being home Saturday morning.
There might have been some extended Saturday morning puttering with hanging tillandsias on maritime salvage.
It’s our blue period again, and not just ours. Jacaranda mimosifolia trees are painting the whole town blue.
Spiky plants in the front garden will fly these pennants until July, when the blue period ends, and the trees in the parkway will be fully leafed out.
In the back garden, two-year-old clumps of Penstemon ‘Enor’ have started to bloom.
I had a big penstemon phase about five years ago, then attention wandered elsewhere.
I like this one’s tall, slim spikes and smallish flowers.
Some of the new plants I’m trying this year, like this umbellifer Cenolophium denudatum, will be encouraged to stay and self-sow.
It fulfills the important requirement of tolerating fairly dry soil, while still keeping lush good looks.
Same deal with the blue-flowered Aristea ecklonii, a South African iris relative.
Diascia personata, tall and pink in the background behind Orlaya grandiflora, is more problematic. Good height and promising growth habit, open and loose, but had a difficult time with recent hot days, not to mention the leaves have been curled and disfigured since active growth started a couple months ago. Looks like thrips damage, a problem I’ve never had in the garden before. And though I love its height and structure, I’m not crazy enough about that color to put up with deformed leaves.
All the lacy white orlaya this year were self-sown volunteers.
I should probably stop experimenting and just grow anigozanthos. These bloom stalks will last into fall.
There’s a couple clumps, one gold and the other a rusty orange. I’d love to add a chartreuse-flowered clump too.
Another experiment was Verbascum ‘Clementine.’ Lovely plant but a bit of a lightweight as far as sun and drought tolerance.
I’ll probably stick to the silver-leaved verbascums in the future.
Silvery Sideritis syriaca on the left, dark green clump in the foreground is Persicaria amplexicaulis.
I’m very glad to be growing nepeta again, a few clumps of ‘Walker’s Low.’ It’s as drought tolerant as ballota, whose white wands are just behind the nepeta.
And it’s nice to have a few of these Senecio stellata self-sowing, though they absolutely must have afternoon shade.
Eryngium planum is blooming this year in a couple spots. Once I stopped crowding them and gave them sun at their bases, they complied.
Pelargoniums continue to work their charm on me and are tough as nails in pots.
This one is Pelargonium caffrum X ‘Diana,’ whose flowers remind me of lewisias.
Just one bloom on a couple plants of Coreopsis tinctoria ‘Mahogany’ opened for Bloom Day.
A few plants of Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ self-sowed this spring.
There are some amazingly fresh spring gardens to wander through at our host’s site for Bloom Day, Carol at May Dreams Gardens, filled with all sorts of plants and bulbs I can only dream of growing. May dreams indeed!
I’ve gone through a couple online plant catalogues this morning and checked out the online index to John Greenlee’s Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses. Nada. Still no ID. I brought this grass home from Western Hills long ago, when Maggie Wych was running the Northern Californian nursery after the original owners bequeathed it to her. The grass has been an afterthought since then, not much more than a memento from Western Hills straggling along in too much shade, placed too close to pathways where it gets a good stomping, never watered. Blades are dark green. I usually forget about it until a few of these sparkly, tassel-like flowers appear.
Like the nursery Western Hills, this grass is a survivor. Last fall I moved it into a full-sun position, just to test its mettle even further. I also wanted to get it away from my clumsy feet trodding on it, breaking those beautiful tassels. It handled with aplomb temps that precipitously climbed into the 90s the past two days. I think it’s proven itself. It deserves a name. Any grassophiles out there, help would be appreciated. About a foot high, topping 2 feet when in bloom. Evergreen here. A small division this fall is offered in exchange for a name. Email me if you don’t want to guess in public.
unknown grass with Orlaya grandiflora and Ursinia sericea
Edited 5/17/13: Thanks to Stacie at Western Hills for contacting Maggie Wych (former owner of Western Hills). The grass is Chloris virgata, the feather windmill grass.
There’s an attention grabber. No, that’s not a recent tabloid headline and, yes, I am being facetious, but I find it amazing that the High Line (and switchgrass!) is casually slipped into a bit of puffery about the current goings-on of Ethan Hawke.
From the May 13, 2013, issue of The New Yorker: “Ethan Hawke traipsed the High Line with his hands in his pockets, his blue-gray eyes wide in the strong morning light…Knifing through a bed of switchgrass, he observed…”
No further explanation of what the High Line is, or what switchgrass is for that matter (panicum). It’s just assumed we’ll know — or should know.
In the land of public opinion, the High Line has been an idea in transit, moving relatively swiftly from an impossible feat to a controversial instigator of gentrification, now coasting and settling into a beloved space mentioned in articles about film stars. I’ve been a fan every step of the way. Will the High Line be the impetus for plants and landscapes to begin to share a little space in the collective cultural mind, alongside film stars and cat videos? Wouldn’t that be something? Can headlines like “Autumn crocus now in bloom at the High Line!” be far off?
I’ll always read any piece on Ethan Hawke, because of all the Chekhov plays he’s been doing, because of the Before Sunrise/Sunset movies and Gattaca, and because of the film version he made of Jack London’s White Fang, in which at 21 he costarred with the incomparable Klaus Maria Brandauer and that equally incomparable actor Jed, the wolf mix that played White Fang. The scene where Jed rescues Ethan from a mine collapse is especially riveting, as is the scene when Jed dispatches the bad guys.
But I had no idea Ethan Hawke had narrated a history of the High Line. I suppose his movie Chelsea Walls was a tipoff to his involvement in the neighborhood.
There is something so emotionally satisfying about moving through a landscape — which is why I think there’s something uniquely American about the High Line and its contribution to landscape design. Footfall after footfall expectation builds, scent and sound are stirred, memories too. Memories like walking to and from school on paths through empty fields, an interlude of intense freedom bracketed by responsibility at both departure and arrival. Even in a tiny garden like mine, moving through a landscape is embarking on a journey of discovery. Cutting a little path through the main border and scaling the plants down to knee-high at the path’s edge has been an interesting and rewarding experiment this year.
Where the bricks end is where the new path begins, maybe 8 feet in curved length. It’s really just a dog track in width now that summer growth is spilling onto it, fit for corgi-sized adventures.
Summer gardens and parks, coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
Lawns are vanishing all over town. The chief ringleader and instigator is the Long Beach Water Department, with their irresistible Lawn-to-Garden Turf Replacement Program. Quite a few of my neighbors have already taken advantage of this program the past couple years, and more applications for the $3K rebate are being accepted now. There will be an upcoming tour May 18 to showcase some of the gardens that have taken up LBWD’s offer. Last evening I snuck a driveby look at one of the houses on the tour.
Close to the house, behind the potted orange tree is a tall, diaphonous Pittosporum tenuifolium. In back of the Tibouchina urvilleana, center, is an olive tree.
Blue Chalk Fingers, Senecio vitalis, Festuca glauca, lavender, and a glimpse of Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’
There were Iceberg roses, gaillardia, aeonium, daylilies — lots of blooms to come for summer.
Lots to interest people, birds, insects.
The parkway has been deturfed too.
And losing the lawn seems to be going viral in this neighborhood. Dark green ceanothus swirls around an aloe and Salvia chamaedryoides
A fountain of the firecracker plant, Russelia equisetiformis
Cylindropuntia and echeverias
When lawn is removed the fun begins, and these garden makers really seem to be enjoying themselves.
I’m guessing this little bulb is a babiana. (Dustin Gimbel confirmed in a comment Triteleia ‘Ruby’)
This lawn is being nibbled away at the margins, but I’m predicting it won’t be long before it vanishes completely too.
Agave potatorum nestled up against verbena.
I noticed this intriguing beauty growing in the parkway a couple houses away.
Not the sago palm, but that foaming, pencil-stemmed wonder with the wax flower-like blooms. The Baja spurge, Euphorbia xanti
Try to imagine it not squished against a telephone pole.
There were three of these euphorbias in the parkway, one around the corner.
Everyone’s love affair with Calandrinia spectabilis continues. A couple blocks away, an entire lawn was replaced with this plant.
The landscape cloth used around the crowns of the young plants was too hideous for a photo
An interesting contrast to these personal gardens lies diagonal across the street from them.
Just four months ago, architects Abramson Teiger finished a major renovation of the Temple Israel, including the landscape.
Long sweeps of feather grass, a problematic self-sower, and nepeta anchor the front of the temple.
With the prominence succulents continue to enjoy for their evergreen, year-round good looks, it’s unusual for new landscaping projects to include perennials, even evergreen shrubby ones like Verbena lilacina, a California native. I love the needlepoint detail against the concrete work and their billowing effect. Despite their many attractions, billow is one verb that can’t be used with succulents.
Though succulents are included here too: Senecio mandraliscae, aloes, aeonium. Meyer’s asparagus fern in the back.
What looks like red-dyed mulch are fallen petals from the callistemon bottlebrush trees overhead in the parkway.
Anigozanthos, the kangaroo paws, in the foreground.
I couldn’t get close enough to these trees for an ID, but they had an Australian look to them.
In the fading light, against the building can just be seen the slim outline of more anigozanthos, the shrubby Teucrium azureum to the left.
Feather grass, phlomis, with Teucrium azureum in the rear. All these plants are as drought tolerant as succulents, though their upkeep and cutback needs differ.
A few streets away, a front lawn has been usurped by Achillea ‘Moonshine.’
All over town, whether commercial projects or residential, the hissing of summer lawns during the hot, dry days of summer is becoming a relic of the past.
And another lawn vanishes under succulents, pennisetum, and a cloud of Gomphrena decumbens.
Any garden/home tour that incites me to clean out the office is money well spent. Cleaning for me has never been a daily spritz here, a light bit of dusting there, but a long-delayed, ferocious, all-out assault when conditions become unbearable, when the work surfaces disappear under piles of magazines. The house keeps itself going fairly well, but the office, where we spend most of our time, becomes a sty in no time at all. The judgments are always excruciating. Keep the stacks of unread New Yorkers? Look, here’s a piece by Adam Gopnik I missed. They stay.
But cleaning has its rewards. A 20-year-old photo of Pamela Toby,* probably watching my boys playing in the shallow pools on an Oregon beach.
(Every Newf is Nana in Peter Pan.)
Garden magazines are just as hard to toss. And I have to put myself in the mindset of the self that last cleaned the office and gave all this stuff a pass. Why was this Garden Design spared, the September/October 2009 issue? Was it oversight or deliberate choice to keep it? Flipping through I find an interview with landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck and this question: What has inspired you? And her answer: “Brimming bowls, as in Moorish gardens, inspire me by using the least amount of water for the most effect. They suggest that water is abundant, which of course it isn’t in an arid climate.”
As if commanded by unseen forces, I immediately drop the magazine, rise up and head for the copper fire pot that was used a few summers ago as a brimming bowl. It was collecting algae by the hose spigot in the front garden. A quick rinse and it was back in place. Evie and I love a good brimming bowl. I just needed a cleaning day to remind me.
*I was corrected by both boys, on Mother’s Day in fact, that this is not a photo of Pamela after all, but her puppy Toby, who was half-Newf.
Today in Los Angeles temperatures downtown hit the 90s, with red-flag fires burning in nearby Ventura and Riverside Counties. Fire season has arrived, hot, heavy, and early, after a disappointing rainfall only 40 percent of average this past winter.
The landscaping at the Lewis Brisbois building, 221 North Figueroa, where I worked today, was ready for anything the weather gods had up their sleeves.
May days are also hot and heavy with garden tours, two this weekend, the Venice Home & Garden Tour on Saturday, May 4, and the Garden Conservancy Open Days for Los Angeles on Sunday, May 5. Both days are well worth ditching any previous plans for, and my ambition is to do both, especially since “A Potted Garden,” will be on the Sunday GC Open Days tour. This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to visit the home of one of the co-owners of Los Angeles’ best-curated outdoor living shop Potted. You can read Annette’s blog post on preparing for the tour here.
And who better to give some perspective on Venice, California, than Jay Griffith, landscape architect and one of the original founders of the Venice Garden and Home Tour. I still maintain he’s Derek Jacobi’s lost twin brother. Video by KCET.
If you get blasted by a bike bell in Venice on Saturday, it’s probably me navigating the crowds on wheels instead of feet, a new strategy I’m trying this year so I don’t miss a single garden. The temperatures forecast for the weekend will be much cooler, perfect garden touring weather.