(baby, it’s cold outside…)
The cold front that’s been scaring the bejeezus out of Central Valley citrus growers hit new lows last night. The back garden temperature gauge registered 40 degrees at 7ish a.m., but that’s our moderating coastal influence looking after us. I can remember maybe once in 25 years at this house waking to a skin of ice on the cats’ outdoor water bowl, and that was the year the bedded-out ‘Zwartkop’ aeoniums turned to blackened mush at the Huntington. A salutary effect of the colder temps is getting to play-act at enduring a real winter, which means I don’t go out without my brown corduroy trench coat and have even taken to wearing Marty’s Kangol/Samuel L. woolen cap. (That would be me channeling Samuel L. in Pulp Fiction, not Snakes on Planes.) The cold weather has been liberating in the sense that we can pretend we’ve finally joined the clan of the cold-weather tribes, even if those hardy tribes would probably scoff at what they’d consider still shirt-sleeve and flip-flops weather.
The first hellebore flowers in the back garden this morning
Yesterday we mapquested ourselves to Big Daddy’s in Culver City, not that far away but always tricky for me to find on La Cienega Place and not on the boulevard. Remodelista was hosting a holiday market at Big Daddy’s, and it was wonderful to see it so well-attended. I’d been noticing among friends and family that holiday cheer is at best tepid this year. My mom is the ultimate holiday cheer barometer and uncharacteristically hasn’t unpacked any of her boxes and boxes of decorations yet, though I noted last night her little collapsible tree had finally been shaken from its box, string of lights intact and ready to glow. My haircutter’s theory yesterday is that having a Thanksgiving so late in the month is to blame for any holiday fatigue. Taking my own holiday-cheer pulse, I seem to feel the same about this holiday as I do every year, which is generally positive towards a seasonal celebration that endorses bringing trees and branches and cones and seedpods indoors, with one notable variation. I seem to want to go, get out, see stuff this year, and have even bought tickets for a Nutcracker ballet. I’ve also bought tickets for the Peter Pan-inspired play Peter and the Starcatcher, so for me there seems to be a definite childhood regression theme to the holidays this year.
A few photos from Big Daddy’s yesterday:
We had to park a couple blocks away, and on the way back I noticed a thick, overgrown stand of horsetail reed planted in a narrow band between a commercial building and sidewalk, a common urban deployment of this linearly sculptural but invasive rush. I grabbed the pen knife from the glove box and cut as many of the cone-producing stems as I could shove into a grocery bag. I find the new, dark brown/black cones on the forest green stems, punctuated by black bars at regular intervals, exceptionally beautiful. From those cones, spores
will be launched to further the survival of this aggressive, expansionist, eons-old plant, so cutting it back when in early bloom is a public service, the way I see it.
And, boy, do they look great in a vase, in a holiday-cheerful sort of way.
Where & When: Find us Sunday, December 15, 2013, at the Long Beach Antique Market. It opens early (6:30 a.m.!), so it won’t take too big of a bite out of your day.
Who: Me, garden designer Dustin Gimbel (non-secateur), and graphic artist Reuben Munoz (RanchoReubidoux) will be manning the stall for a winter blogger meetup and pop-up shop at one of the best flea markets in Southern California. Our little flea market just became even merrier, now that Reuben has joined the festivities.
Why: Holiday shopping at the malls has always been a no-go zone for me, and online shopping can get a little…well, sterile. I’ve made it a tradition to hit the fleas in December, for the people watching, for the serendipitous flea-bagging, for the sheer spectacle of it all. I can’t wait to find out what it’s like on the other side of the table, not that I won’t be squeezing in a good browse too…
What: There’ll be some industrial salvage, pots and plants, along with some hand-made stuff created just for this flea, including mural pieces by Reuben.
Dustin’s concrete gems continue to proliferate, short and squat gems, elongated pyramidal gems, sea urchin gems…
(Diamonds are an agave’s best friend.)
And I’m coaxing more and more sailor knotwork out of Marty now that his summer job on the Catalina Island ferries is on hiatus, the huge doorstops that take incredible muscle to tighten (I can’t do it yet, dammit!) as well as smaller sizes for bookshelves, paper weights — wherever the eye would like to trace the lines of a briny, ropy orb, or a computer-fatigued hand needs to grasp and weigh something reassuringly solid, or a reminder is needed that fresh breezes and adventures are on the way. The office is more rigging loft now, with rope strewn everywhere. We found some beautiful vintage line at a marine salvage yard in Newport Beach, including some lovely honey colors and subtle variegateds.
I can hardly bear to sell any of it, so even if I have to reload the car with it all, it’s a win/win. At least we’ll get the chance to meet up with some of you, our comrades and fellow devotees of the impeccable design work done by the plant kindgdom. We’re gathering up simple textures and shapes that people with an eye for beautiful plants would like to have nearby, especially in winter. I can’t speak for Reuben, though — no telling what he’s up to! And I have no idea how we’re going to fit it all into one stall, especially since Dustin wants to bring some big specimen plants. But it promises to be a very merry flea indeed, if slightly shambolic as the best fleas are, with hot cider and cookies. We’d all love to meet up with you there. (Marty dared me to fit in the word shambolic. He should know I never back away from a dare.
These gazanias were pulled up last spring to make room for the manfredas, but obviously some roots escaped my trowel.
whoa. I’m rubbing my eyes after looking at just two flowers. Imagine fields of them in South Africa.
I have to say I do like how the manfreda’s spots pick up the red in the gazania.
What they say about good bones for faces and houses applies to gardens too. Good bones will see you through some tough times. I’ve posted just a couple photos on this sweet little house and garden before. The front facade is entirely of glass, so one can’t be too obnoxious with the camera under such circumstances. But walking Ein on the park across the street from this house a couple days ago, I noticed that the landscape was being worked on, and heaps of aloes and agaves were strewn on the walkways. I gave the leash to Marty and looked closer. The house was empty. No more George Nelson bubble lamps or butterfly chairs on the balcony. The house had sold! And what on earth were the new owners doing to the garden? Did they have a deep-seated aversion to desert plants? If so, I needed to talk to them about those enormous Yucca rostrata ASAP.
Yucca rostrata March 2012, presale
I am normally not an overly bold person, but I found myself striding across the street and up to a couple of surprised men standing amongst masses of discarded Agave attenuata. It was the new owner and the gardener, who wasn’t removing the plants but merely thinning them. The owner was an architect and loved the house and garden but said both were in terrible shape. He told me he had been seduced by the furniture seen through the glass wall, too, but when it was all removed and he gained ownership of the house, his heart sank. The magic was gone. Now he wondered if he hadn’t made a terrible mistake. The place was a mess and had not been well cared for. Amazing what a spell all the classic mid century modern furnishings had cast, and how well even a neglected desert garden looks after itself. I told him it had always been my favorite house among the much bigger mansions that lined the street opposite the park, and this seemed to brighten him up considerably. He even showed me into the backyard, which was graveled and already had mature privacy screens of clumping bamboo. It was a gem, even if the interior’s cork floors were in terrible shape. The new owner was knowledgeable about plants (clumping vs. running bamboo) and energetic. There might be a few more dragons to slay than he bargained for, but the house and garden would no doubt surpass what was here before.
March 2012, presale
“One of my favorite houses on the street opposite our bluff walk. Yucca rostrata, butterfly chairs, and George Nelson bubble lamps. Note glimpse of baby blue piano through the window.”
As I was leaving, I stopped to admire again the work already done in the front garden. The trunks of the multiple Yucca rostrata had been cleaned of dead leaves, the underplanting thinned. It was going to be fabulous. And then I saw the dragon trees set back deep in a recess between the balcony railing and the house. I hadn’t noticed them before. The owner said the dragon trees had been completely buried, probably under the pittosporum that was still peeking through the trunks. The dragon trees had been cleaned up, too, and the burnt orange trunks gleamed against the blue leaves sunning themselves luxuriantly as the sun set over the harbor. I asked the owner’s permission to take a couple photos.
There’s lots of work still to be done. And I think the dasylirion leaning at the base of the dragon trees needs to go. It has not fared well being buried under the pittosporum. I’d ditch the pitt too. But with the dragons set free, this little house and garden are on their way to being reborn. Walking Ein at the park across the street, it’ll be exciting to watch its progress.
Leaves, leaves, extravagantly shaped, juicy leaves. It’s all about the leaves with succulents. Or is it? There are a couple kalanchoes in bloom now I’ve been noticing around town, Kalanchoe luciae with striking vertical spires, and Kalanchoe orgyalis, with lime green candelabras hoisted over its copper spoon leaves. Subtle blooms? Maybe. But in flowering, these plants become shape shifters that present entirely new outlines in landscapes where there’s no danger from frost.
Of the two, the leaves of the flapjack kalanchoe are by far the attention grabber. You rosy-cheeked devil.
This is a selfie from my garden of Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic,’ the variegated sport of K. luciae, but I’ve been noticing the flapjacks coming into bloom all over town.
The flapjack kalanchoes, K. luciae and K. thyrsiflora, are distinguished from each other by the shocking pink color rimming K. luciae when the weather turns chilly. (Chilly but not frosty.)
The bloom spires also have subtle differences. San Marcos Growers discusses the differences and shows comparative photos here.
As the bloom stalk elongates, it acts like a flag pole, sending chunky, earthbound leaves aloft at intervals like pennants. Or flying flapjacks.
Either way, it’s a very different look for this succulent, turning the plant into a tiered, fleshy pagoda.
The solitary spire in my garden. Mature clumps are the most striking, with multiple spires.
The variegated ‘Fantastic’ is so new in nurseries, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as blooms.
As far as the Copper Spoons plant, Kalanchoe orgyalis, I’ve passed this shrubby succulent up for sale countless times.
I’ve always admired the fuzzy, cinnamon-colored leaves and the two-tone effect, but throw in some finely drawn, chartreuse floral architecture and now you have my undivided attention.
The Copper Spoons kalanchoe was mass-planted under a magnolia in a parkway/hell strip. I’d never seen mature specimens of this succulent before, just a couple leaves in 2-inch pots.
I have nothing but admiration for the designer who made the commitment to repeat multiples of this succulent under the magnolia. Maybe it wasn’t as difficult a decision for them as it would be for me, but that simple gesture really sold me on this otherwise almost nondescript plant. Thank goodness we’re not all rabid plant collectors. Though I did note a few aeonium and some newly emerging bulb foliage. It’s so hard to resist complicating things, isn’t it?
Almost any succulent can be grown as a single, spectacular specimen. The Copper Spoons succulent really shines when planted en masse.
I did admit the blooms were subtle. After all, what initially drew my attention to this little hell strip was not the kalanchoe.
a very polite and well-timed rain arrived after the Thanksgiving holiday, sometime after midnight.
On Wednesday I brought in chairs that summered in the garden for holiday duty.
The new rain gutters gurgled musically as they efficiently carried rain away from the 100-year-old foundations, a happy ending to the month-long gutter ordeal.
(Marty fell off the roof, ass over tea kettle, but amazingly emerged with only muscle soreness for a couple weeks. Thank you, gods of calamity!)
Listening to the orchestral rhapsody of rain in the gutters, on corrugated roofs, on pavement, kept me busy most of Friday morning.
I was awake at 5 a.m. today, anticipating the early morning patrol after the rain.
Prowling the garden to see what the rain brought, I found newly sprouted seedlings of Erodium pelargoniflorum. Rain makes fast work of germination.
And then I remembered I shook the seed pods of the South African bulb Albuca maxima in this area of the front gravel garden and searched for signs of germination.
These tiny strands may just be baby albucas.
In bloom it resembles a 5-foot snowdrop.
A couple of leaves of nearby Agave ‘Jaws’ provide support when it blooms. Rain-soaked agave leaves unfurl quickly, leaving ghostly imprint patterns.
What the skies looked like late Friday afternoon over the back garden. Could a day be any more perfect?
Wishing you perfection this holiday weekend. And it doesn’t even have to be a whole day. Moments count.
For the holidays, it’s okay to ditch the earnest glass orbs that imprison tillandsias the rest of the year and take a leaf from Holly Golightly’s decorating book, the one that epitomizes her insouciant glamour. The one each of us imagines Holly would have written. And of course in my book Holly writes about plants and has the savvy to know that those glass orbs are more like glass coffins than suitable digs for any respectable tillandsia. Even champagne glasses would be preferable, where they’d get more beneficial air circulation (being “air” plants and all). And Holly would want to keep things easy for moving the tillandsias around the apartment as the light and humidity changes, or to dunk in the kitchen sink once a week, or mist occasionally with water in her favorite perfume atomizer, possibly the one from Tiffany’s.
So where would Holly keep her tillandsias?
These vintage purses with that irresistibly satisfying click and snap to close, little time capsules of the art of the alluring, are a possibility.
The handle makes it easy to carry onto the fire escape to accompany Holly and Cat when they feel like singing to the moon.
I’ve got a shelf of old cameras, some in working order, some not, like the one above, which will certainly glam up the mantle with that tillandsia rakishly festooned in the gap where it’s missing some forgotten but vital functioning piece. And cameras simply adore Holly.
Sometimes it’s an incredibly useful exercise to ask: What would Ms. Golightly do?
My garden has lived through lots of them and will most likely continue to do so while I’m in charge. The latest awkward age involves a flowering agave and a young tree. Or maybe it will be a shrub. Neither the Acacia podalyrfolia nor myself can make up our minds yet. So far the Pearl Acacia is a little too beamy widthwise to prune out the lower branches and train as a tree, which will become an important issue when all the aloes I’ve planted here are ready to bloom. At that point (maybe this year?) there ideally should be a high canopy. Even so, for now I think we’re both leaning more toward shrub than tree and possibly moving the aloes elsewhere. What’s certain is that until the agave finishes flowering and expires, things will be looking a bit chaotic in this corner of the front garden. Watching the agave send that bloom stalk roof-high, I was reminded of a chat I had with a nurseryman, who felt that aloes were gaining favor over agaves with the public because they didn’t inflict such drama on a garden (flowering, death, and then a gaping blankness). I prefer to view the death of an agave as an act of creative destruction, and can’t wait til I haul out the carcass.
Here’s the awkward part, the Pearl Acacia and agave getting in each other’s grilles.
While I’ve been distracted by the flag pole of an agave bloom outside the front door, I failed to notice what the acacia was up to. Was I catching a glint of lemony yellow as I raced from the car to the back office to deal with the merciless deadlines I’ve had the past couple weeks? Nah, must be eyestrain.
Not yet two years old, planted as a small cutting, the Pearl Acacia was already budding up for a late winter/spring bloom. After all, this Australian evergreen is well know for its fast growth.
Still, it was a bit surprising to see the branches already studded with flower buds in November.
Early this morning I took a closer look at the flashes of yellow and found these.
Watching its mad dash to bloom, I can confirm that this tree/shrub’s reputation for speedy growth is well-deserved
What’s that catty old saying, “Your lack of planning is not my problem”? This beautiful, quicksilver tree reminds me of it every time I pass it now.
Remember the old surfing movie The Endless Summer, where summer is chased around the globe? Well, I do. My older brothers took me to all the surfing movies.
You can see where I’m going with this…it’s summer in Australia, and that’s a fact.
one of the grass trees of Australia, Xanthorrhoea australis, photo found here
photo from Botany Photo of the Day
Back to our regular hemispheric reporting (sigh…)
Ages and ages ago (last July in fact) a bunch of us garden bloggers visited gardens in Northern California at last summer’s meetup known as the Fling. For the temperate Bay Area, it was an incredibly hot day, and we were all slightly wilted as we trooped into the Testa-Vought garden, designed by Bernard Trainor, where the gracious hosts offered refreshments and bade us to cool our feet in their pool. At that point, we were probably all dangerously close to begging for bathing suits. Not surprisingly, this was a garden I had to be pried from and forcibly scooted back onto the bus by our patient tour organizer, landscape designer Kelly Kilpatrck of Floradora. Amazing how quickly we revert to kindergartenish behavior when there’s a bus involved. Eventually, I did put down my glass of wine and made some lame attempts at photos. What I really wanted was to forget the camera entirely, have another glass of wine, and learn how to play the game of bocce.
The Testa Vought garden had quite a few Australian plants, like acacia and grevillea, many selected by the owner, who according to Trainor is a hands-on plant devotee.
Never mind any of my other sunstruck photos because there’s a new book out on this designer’s work, “Landprints; The Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor,” text by Susan Heeger, photography by Jason Liske and Marion Brenner. There’s so many interesting homes on design blogs now, but more often than not my reaction is predictably: How could such exquisite taste be so indifferent to what’s outside the house? For those who consider the landscape a low priority, this book is a primer on how, in the right hands, the landscape design just might change your life.
Photo on the book’s cover
Mr. Trainor was the speaker at the November meeting of the Southern California Horticultural Society. The Aussie accent is barely perceptible now, but his boyhood spent surfing and sailing the Morningside Peninsula south of Melbourne, where silver banksia (Banksia marginata) presses in on coastal trails, is ultimately what attracted him to the western coast of North America, and specifically another peninsula, the Monterey Peninsula. Many of the following photos accompanied Mr. Trainor’s talk.
The “meadow” pool. After this project, many of his clients are now clamoring for a meadow pool of their own.
What looks like native scrub/chapparal planting is all the work of Trainor, which after settling in is sustained on rainfall alone.
In this garden, Trainor had to persuade the stone masons that leaving pockets for plants would not destabilize the stairs.
Though the book predominantly documents properties of extensive acreage, with insistent views of land, forest, ocean and sky, here’s an example of Trainor at work in a small space.
On the bigger properties, low walls frame views, slow winds, and guide the eye, but are rarely used to completely enclose or isolate one from the surrounding landscape.
(The next Fling for 2014 heads to Portland!)