Category Archives: garden visit

the light is left on at Rancho Reubidoux


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I’ve been dreading completing this post, but since Reuben and Paul have officially decamped from their house and garden at Rancho Reubidoux as of last week and moved into their new home, it’s time to unpack these last images and move on as well. Continue reading the light is left on at Rancho Reubidoux

a Hollywood Hills garden in three acts

(This Sunday, May 7th, you have another opportunity to visit this extraordinary garden. Details here.)

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The recent APLD watershed garden tour was exemplary in every way that such tours should be; lots of interesting and pertinent design solutions for SoCal dry gardens that illustrated ways to channel and marshall water and plant according to optimal conservation principles without sacrificing design. And there was one garden on the tour which was the home of designers, which is an entirely different animal than a designer-client collaboration. In their own gardens, designers constantly edit and replant, sharpen the focus, ruthlessly remove weak performers.

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This garden is a personal laboratory, a freewheeling, unfettered deployment of adventurous planting and design ideas nestled snugly into the Hollywood Hills. During a subsequent late afternoon visit, over glasses of prosecco, I learned a bit of the garden’s story as it evolved over the three major phases of its existence.

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The garden in its current iteration is between three to four years old. The terracing is believed to have been started back in 1947, just a few years after the house was built. The first owners unleashed ivy on the terraces and turfed what level areas they could, what you might call defensive landscaping. When Eugene McCarthy and Carla Fry moved in, the ivy and turf became short-timers. Eugene, a property master for many films, is instinctively attracted to the strong, sculptural outlines of plants such as tree aloes, and began clearing and planting as he collected specimens from farmers markets and even the big box stores. A trio of Aloe marlothii he planted are now ten years old and were in spectacularly synchronous bloom for the first time earlier this year.

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Sadly, Carla died in 2002, and it wasn’t until Eugene and Johanna Woollcott found each other that the garden’s current form began to take shape maybe three to four years ago. Needless to say, it was their mutual love of plants that brought them together, and the garden vividly celebrates every bit of that bond.

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Checking the blog after the visit, I realized I had already seen some of Johanna Woollcott’s design work (Wild Gardens LA) via the Venice Home & Garden Tour some years ago. Johanna brought clarity and coherence to the terraces and planting. Some terraces were knocked down and leveled for larger planting areas, new paths and retaining walls poured. Unless I miscounted, there are now three main terraces holding back the hillside.

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In the new framework, with all ivy and turf now banished, only the best of nonthirsty plants were allowed admittance to the garden.

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There’s more detailed photos of the stair plantings in a previous post here.

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The sitting area at the topmost terrace. Unfortunately, none of us thought to straighten the rug.

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Looking down on the big patio on what I’m calling the second or mid-level terrace.

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Detail of the original retaining wall, which I’m told is holding up amazingly well decades later. Eugene said a nearby Wallace Neff house gave them the idea of pairing the retaining walls with big saucers of aeoniums.

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Serpentine, sinuous, sexy. I love terracing. And so do these deliriously happy plants.

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A new retaining wall/bench/flight of stairs starts at ground level at the street-level entrance to the garden and runs up the hillside alongside the house, meeting up with the first terrace. I’ve seen some incredible concrete projects this spring, and this two-tiered retaining wall, done in one pour, ranks up there with the most impressive.

The young trees to the left of the wall are a trio of gingkos planted to shade the house. Other trees include acacias, including the Pearl Acacia, P. podalyrifolia, Palo Verde trees, a cork oak, and an impressively august specimen of the ‘Dr. Hurd’ manzanita.

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Upon asking, Johanna said Eugene simply came home one day with the horse, as if that was the most ordinary of occurrences. And for them, I’m sure it is.

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Underfoot is alternatively gravel and decomposed concrete, and on the terraces broken concrete is used for paths. Johanna says that, despite appearances, the boundary metal fence is not CorTen.

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Many of the objects are collected from their travels.

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Like this ornate urn from Morocco, holding back a vast sea of foaming peppermint pelargoniums.

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View of the house rising out of the lush planting, with the gingkos mentioned above.

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A gabion bench in the lower garden is filled with more treasures and mementos.

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The garden unfolds in discovery after discovery of myriad details and autobiographical incidents.

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The fireplace on the large patio at the back of the house holds many such trophies from travels.

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The large patio seen from overhead. Those are four potted smoke trees against the house. Lots of entertaining/partying happens here. I’m told celebratory prosecco is freely poured on Friday nights, just as it was on this one.

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Ruby, the current canine mistress of the garden, is a ringer for this garden statue.

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And everywhere, fabulous planting.

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If you go (details here), let me know what else you find out about this remarkable hillside garden.

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Johanna and Eugene are the nicest garden hosts and historians and will tirelessly answer any questions.

photos by MB Maher.

APLD steps up

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers 2nd Annual Watershed Approach Garden Tour this past April 9th was a solid, smoothly run success and a great addition to Los Angeles garden culture. I hope they do it again next year. Most of the gardens on the tour were interesting case studies in the delicate collaboration between client and designer, with sustainable practices beautifully incorporated into residential landscapes. The after-party was held at the home of garden designer Johanna Woollcott (Wild Gardens LA) and film industry Property Master Eugene McCarthy. I’ll be getting more photos up of this garden on the blog soon. There’s just too much creative expression packed into this Hollywood Hills terraced garden for one post. Here’s a teaser of some of the exquisite planting details:

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I miss Ruby the garden dog already. More on this amazing garden to come.

April don’t go

Bathed in soft light and 70ish temps, April, you’re so dreamy. But can you slow down and linger just a bit longer?

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Open gardens, plant shows. April in Southern California gets the heart of the plant obsessed beating fast. Last weekend included a visit to the superb Mallen/Vincent dry garden in Fallbrook through the San Diego Horticultural Society. Some of Debra Lee Baldwin’s book photos were taken in this garden.

Above is a specimen in the climate-controlled euphorbia greenhouse. Because Fallbrook’s average low temp is 45 degrees in January, I’m guessing the motors I heard whirring into action in the euphorbia greenhouse were for ventilation purposes, not heating. Container after container framing perfectly manicured, exquisitely grown plants fill several greenhouses and are scattered throughout the 2-acre garden as well. This was my second visit (maybe third?), and it was as disorienting as the last. Perfection is hard for me to process. In my own garden, good enough is always the enemy of perfection.

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Out in the garden, some plants are ID tagged but not all. If you ask Wanda Mallen, she knows every name, including previous superceded names and contested names. I didn’t always ask because there were lots of other visitors asking what’s this or that.

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But I so wish I had asked the name of this spectacular euphorb.

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The gorgeous variegated ponytail palm is an easy ID.
(Immutable Law of Horticulture: If you kill a plant, you never forget it.)

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Years of careful study and observation are the only way to uncover how to display plants to their best advantage, e.g., elevating the caput-medusae type euphorbias so their sinuous dreadlocks drape down the pot. This might be my favorite planter in the garden.

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There’s a greenhouse devoted to rhipsalis. I’m not lying. But this one was hanging from the patio. (More photos of this patio from my previous visit here.)

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Bromeliads and Elephant Food/Portulacaria afra, a container to plant then do nothing much else with but admire all summer.

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Another favorite planter, a trio of young Euphorbia ammak.

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More caput-medusae euphorbia.

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Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’

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There were several strawberry jars filled with gasteria.

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Gasteria is a succulent that stands a lot of neglect, which is what it gets from me. I just haven’t really bonded with gasteria yet like I have aloes and agaves.

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Cool, stomach-shaped flowers on elegant racemes, sturdy leaves, tolerant of low light. I should treat mine with a little more respect.

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“Squid” pot (from Tentacle Arts) with Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras’

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At first glance the garden seems to favor palms, agaves, and aloes, but the owners have wide-ranging interests, like conifers, callistemon, acacia, bamboo, maples, cycads.

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Another gorgeous April day in this Fallbrook plant collectors’ garden.

catching up with Dustin Gimbel

This has really been Dustin’s year, and I think a recap is in order.

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Dustin Gimbel, Second Nature Garden Design

In early 2017 Dustin and Potted launched his Point Pot.

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Long Beach’s own “communal dining space,” Steelcraft, let us play around with some Point Pots at their shiny new outdoor venue, which cleverly repurposes multiple shipping containers to house food vendors. (Thank you, Kimberly!)

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After all, Long Beach is one of the biggest ports in the world, and containers stacked and stretching seemingly to the horizon is a familiar sight now. (But it wasn’t always so. I vividly remember my dad’s “On The Waterfront” cargo hook in the back of our VW bug before the harbor was fully containerized and goods still came in burlap sacks or loose piles in ships’ holds that had to be stevedored by big muscles. Malcom McLean forever changed all that.)

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The Point Pot at Steelcraft seemed like a good fit. I’m a fan of the potential of empty vessels of all kinds, whether filled with tillandsias or ramen shops. It’s all a matter of scale.

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Love the name of this microbrewery. (Los Angeles aka Smog City — might as well own it.)

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Dustin’s pace this year makes me feel like I’m moving at the speed of an old Galapagos tortoise. He’s a one-man artists’ colony. Luckily, there will be a couple opportunities for you to catch up with Dustin this spring.

The first opportunity will be April 27-30 at the Southern California Spring Garden Show, where he’s been a frequent contributor. I have no idea what he’s whipping up this year so I’ll be as surprised as you.

The second opportunity will be a tour of his private garden May 6-7 via the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour. It was at Mary Lou’s legendary, much-loved nursery many years ago that I first met teen-aged Dustin, before he apprenticed at Great Dixter, Heronswood, Greenlee’s nursery, etc, etc.

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And his private garden is currently looking exceptionally fine, having been primped and and tricked out for a photo shoot that will grace the pages sometime next year of one of the West Coast’s premiere garden/lifestyle magazines. Ferrying Mitch to the airport a couple days ago, I took a detour to Dustin’s and pushed Mitch out the door to grab some quick photos. Because everything was just so perfect.

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Fermob with matching California poppies. Perfect, right?
Dustin was hoping the Aristolochia gigantea would be in full bloom for the shoot, but alas gardens don’t always cooperate with such human timetables. But I bet it’s in bloom for the upcoming tour.

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Orange planter in back is vintage, the low white bowls in foreground are Dustin’s.

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This might be my favorite out of his new Robby the Robot/Forbidden Planet series.

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The shelving was newly built to accommodate the burgeoning number of pieces coming out of his studio just behind that wall.
The center, legged piece has been dubbed, if I remember correctly, “lambypants.” (Or maybe I just made that up.)

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Ripe lemons snuggle up to the totems now.

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The aristolochia vine just coming into bloom.

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The front garden this year is predominantly white, silver and green, with touches of orange from aloes, leucospermum, and leonotis.
Linen-white Minoan lace, the umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora, is just coming into bloom among agaves, weeping acacias, and lots of other treasures.
See for yourself this May. Check out the maps and other info on the self-guided tour here.

All photos by MB Maher

notes on spring

I’ve taken some time off work while the family regroups from assorted medical issues, and since they seem to be more or less on the mend I’m sopping up spare time with plant sales and garden tours. Some nurse, huh? Living without back-to-back work deadlines is a heady, liberating experience, kind of a mini-preview of retiring from the day job, and I confess I’ve been running just a bit amok. Imagine a hummingbird’s interests and metabolism in a 5’8″ woman with a car and a smart phone making up for the lack of wings.

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There will be plenty of time for the mundane tasks indoors of cleaning out junk rooms, attending to the paint-starved main room, but right now I’m as mad about spring as any bird or six-legged creature, and hopping around gardens just as furiously. And then there’s this new camera to get the hang of, not to mention a blood-red poppy that’s greeted me the past few mornings, new to my garden, Papaver commutatum, aka ladybird poppy. Devilishly tricky to capture in portrait due to its intense color saturation.

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The morning sun effects an astonishing transformation when it touches those translucent petals, igniting them into molten chalices, and that’s the full-throated portrait of a ladybird poppy that eludes me.

Please, please reseed.

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My old standby, the Poppy of Troy, is much less shy around a camera.

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I still love everything about poppies. Crinkly buds on reedy stems carefully unpack their wrinkled folds to unfurl full-sail, silky blooms. A springtime performance that never gets old.

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More intense red is coming from the scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum rubrum. The cool spring weather has been exceptionally kind to this annual from Algeria.

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I’ve never known Yucca pallida to be recommended for its blooms, and in fact it may be somewhat shy and unreliable in flowering, but the winter rains seem to be convincing a couple of mine to throw bloom spikes. Now we’ll see firsthand what the pale yucca in flower is all about. I think Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ may be intending to bloom as well.

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The milky white ‘Jade Frost’ eryngium bloom trusses are now bluing up. This dry garden perennial has been challenging to establish in spring. It was nursery grown in nearly pure sand, so it readily wilts if overlooked for a few days. Major planting in Southern California gardens, because of our long dry summer/wet winter mediterranean climate, is strongly advised for fall. But then the drought made timing for planting a moot point, and we switched gears to survival mode. And I’ve always tended to flout the planting rules anyway, with occasional failures but some successes too.

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I did get this Leucadendron meridianum ‘More Silver’ planted late fall, so it had a wonderful time settling in throughout the drought-breaking, rainy winter.

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Leucadendron galpinii was also a candidate for the spot but didn’t make the cut, so will spend a second year in a pot, part of my ongoing Shrubs in Pots experiment.

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The acanthus hybrid ‘Morning Candle’ had most of the rainy winter to settle in too.

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For some plants, the epic winter rain was a challenge. I opted to remove a large octopus agave from the back garden when its leaves began to disfigure with black spots from the soggy ground. And I can finally stop worrying about this verbascum planted in a low-lying area.

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The Theodore Payne native plants garden tour a couple weeks ago made me realize that the lack of a flannel bush in the garden was a serious oversight. Spring is definitely not the time to plant California natives, so I made a mental note to order the compact Fremontodendron ‘Ken Taylor’ for fall planting. But you know how it goes. At my neighborhood nursery last week I noticed a couple of beautifully grown flannel bushes. No name, in 3- gallons. The difference in eventual size between ‘Ken Taylor’ and ‘California Glory’ is substantial, at least 10 feet in girth and height. A small garden needs ‘Ken Taylor.’ But California natives planted in spring risk succumbing to warm-weather soil pathogens as water is poured on hoping to revive wilting, summer-stressed plants. Still, I had to ask, so I pestered an employee: Any chance you can source the ID of that flannel bush through your database?

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The one Echium simplex was perfect this year. Last time they bloomed the spikes were deformed by fasciation, an affliction where parts of a plant fuse together and take on bizarre, unnatural shapes. I say affliction, but some people adore fasciation. I admit in some cactus it’s kind of cool.

But, yes, I did plant the flannel bush. After asking for help with the ID, a lengthy line of customers began to queue up, so I told the clerk never mind and continued wandering. What was I thinking, buying a large flannel bush in spring anyway? But who should come running up maybe 10 minutes later to tell me both were ‘Ken Taylor’ — I hadn’t even mentioned which variety I was after. I think I may have hugged him at that point. So of course I bought it and planted it in spring, which is ill-advised. But that’s how these ill-advised things happen.

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Morning glories are scary invasive plants in Southern California, but this relative, Calystegia macrostegia, is a non-invasive native of our Channel Islands off Ventura County. It outlined some impressive arabesques against a dark fence. I had never heard of it, which I mentioned to a nearby Theodore Payne tour-goer, to which she replied, “I’ve got four at home.” I clearly have some catching up to do with our native plants community.

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Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue,’ also from the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour.

Cheers to spring!

Friday clippings 4/7/17

The two young leucospermums in my garden have each thrown a couple blooms, which only made me greedy for a mass display. But where to find such a display outside of South Africa?

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Leucospermum ‘Blanche Ito’ in the east patio.

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Leucospermum ‘High Gold’ outside my office.

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My mileage points aren’t where they need to be yet for international travel, so I opted for a 2-hour drive up the coast to the Taft Garden. The mid-day sun was intense, so I took very few photos.

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The garden closes at 4:30, so no chance for a kinder, gentler light for photos.

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And, yes, the garden is as deserted and eerie as ever. Once again, I was the only visitor.

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Many aloes were in bloom as well, along with all the Cape daisies and bulbs. I even saw some pale pink dierama in bloom, wafting in the breeze just as their namesake implies, the Angel’s Fishing Rods.

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It was a near-blinding display.

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And many Australian plants were representing too, like isopogon.

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And the waxflowers, chamelaucium, beloved of florists.

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This weekend will be busy, with the San Diego Horticultural Society Spring Garden tour on Saturday, April 8, and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Second Annual Watershed Approach Garden Tour on Sunday, April 9, 2017. These are both self-guided tours, which means you can dip in and out of the tour for local tasty food or other diversions.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Have a great weekend.

a garden visit with bixbybotanicals

It all started with a very sweet and generous offer of some foliage for vases. Via bixbybotanicals Instagram, I learned that his Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ was in full winter dress, and he was willing to share some of the largesse with anyone in Long Beach. The South African conebushes are prized for their long vase life, and since my leucadendrons at home are too young to pillage for vases, I jumped at the chance to pick up some ruddy-leaved branches.

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The Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ in question, so you’ll know in case you’re ever offered some branches. Just say yes. And you never know — not only did we leave with a bucket stuffed with cone bush branches, but also some delicious duck eggs, which were ravenously consumed for dinner that night.

Okay, great taste in shrubs and garden fowl — who is this guy anyway?

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The shorthand answer to that question? Just an Italian Renaissance art scholar/teacher and incredibly busy father of two with a big love of dry garden plants and a strong affinity for garden design.

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Of course, I immediately began pestering Jeremy for a return visit with the AGO crew (Mitch), and he graciously agreed to let us explore.

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And on an average suburban lot, there is an incredible amount to explore. The parkway is filled with California natives, including milkweed and self-sowing Calif. poppies, making a plant-rich corridor between the hell strip and the front garden.

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And here’s where Jeremy’s garden and other front-yard lawn conversions part ways. Just behind that thick band of plants bordering the sidewalk is this surprisingly private piece of serenity, just feet from the street. I don’t think I’ve seen a river of blue chalk sticks/Senecio mandralsicae used to better effect. And, yes, Jeremy says they do require a stern hand to keep them in check. A ‘Creme Brulee’ agave peeks through salvia, the red echoed by callistemon in bloom opposite.

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All anchored by the shiny simplicity of that lone stock tank. (There’s another one in the back garden.)

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I love how he took featureless, flat panels of lawn and sculpted the space into a multi-faceted garden that works for the family, wildlife, and the neighborhood. A strong sense of enclosure without a fence — who knew? My own street-side (and mangy) box hedges are striking me as unnecessarily claustrophobic now.

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Jeremy seems to have effortlessly managed balancing the broad strokes that strongly lead the eye with the detailed planting that rewards closer inspection. I counted a total of three Yucca rostrata, but there may be more.

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The front garden was started in 2012, when it was nothing but a flat expanse of lawn and a couple palms. Not a trace of either is left. (Those are a neighbor’s palms in the background.)

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Now there’s nooks to watch the kids chase butterflies.

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That Salvia canariensis on the corner of the house behind the nasturtiums is going to be stunning in bloom.

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Mixed in amongst the nasturtiums is the charmingly nubby Helenium puberulum, a Calif. native.

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And opposite the chairs and table is another gorgeous bit of planting, deftly angled to screen the house on the driveway side. Obviously a collector of choice plants, nevertheless his design instincts are manifest in subtle screening and massing for privacy balanced by openness/negative space. A sentinel arbutus stands apart, with the strong afternoon sun blurring the outline of a 5-foot Leucadendron discolor ‘Pom Pom’ to the arbutus’ left, one I’ve killed a couple times. Jeremy admitted to lots of failures, too, but his successes are envy-inducing.

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Encircling ‘Pom Pom’ is a detailed planting of aloes, yucca, golden coleonema, senecio, Euphorbia lambii. Like me, he browses for plants at local H&H Nursery as well as flea markets.

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Detail of arbutus bloom.

But where are those ducks? we asked, hoping to steal a peek into the back garden. The ruse worked.

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To visit the ducks, we were led behind a sleek black fence at the end of the driveway guarded by Acacia cognata.

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And a dombeya, the highly scented Tropical Hydrangea. Jeremy said he chased this small tree’s identity for years.

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All was finally revealed during a visit to Disneyland, where the dombeya was growing, and labeled, in Toontown. In an instant, the silly and the sublime converged.

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Meet the ducks. Mural in the background was done by Jeremy’s brother.

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I want ducks!

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I asked how the gardens were handling the recent (relatively) heavy rain, and Jeremy said the front garden came through like a champ. But there has been a bit of flooding in the back garden.

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I’m sure I was told but can’t remember who built the duck enclosure. What duck wouldn’t obligingly lay as many eggs as possible in such cheerful digs?

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There’s a serious container fanatic at work here too…

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A termite-infested pergola attached to the house had to be knocked down when they moved in, leaving this low wall along the driveway as the perfect spot for staging containers.

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In case you bloggers are feeling that it’s all about Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, Jeremy is a faithful reader of blogs.

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Melianthus major

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Winter-blooming Dahlia imperialis, after several moves, in a spot obviously to its liking.

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For the leucadendron branches, the duck eggs, and the inspiring garden visit, thank you so much, Jeremy!

All photos by MB Maher.

a holiday visit with Dustin Gimbel

Now that garden designer Dustin Gimbel has branched off into ceramics, I can buy a few holiday presents and visit his incredibly inspiring garden.

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Coming in the little side gate, there’s this silvery vision of Acacia pendula, faced down by a mature leucospermum loaded with flower buds. A new planting of aloes catches the light.
I still get palpitations every time I visit.

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Acacia podalyrifolia on the opposite side of the porch has replaced the Arbutus ‘Marina’ that stubbornly failed to thrive here.
It was uncharacteristically windy today, the first real “weather” we’ve had in Los Angeles, starting off with the previous night’s measurable rainfall.
Note the Acacia podalyrifolia bowing in the wind.
The totem sentinels seem to have proliferated since my last visit, accentuating a really strong, syncopated flow he’s been working on in the front garden with octagonal pavers and festuca.

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The view under Acacia pendula, trained beautifully on a rebar arbor, looking down the main path at the front of the house toward the driveway

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In this view, to the right of the main path, is where his signature totems congregate.
The small pavers allow for a “custom” journey through the garden, an intimate, immersive engagement with the plants.
Dustin uses berms to build topographical interest into the front garden. The stones to the left rim the berm containing the leucospermum.
At the far end is a berm built up with “urbanite” aka broken concrete, which abuts the driveway. Of course, drainage in the berms is excellent too.

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The berm by the driveway, planted with echium, adenanthos, centaurea, kalanchoe, and lots of other treasures.
The dark green ground cover is Frankenia thymifolia.
Luminous Yucca ‘Bright Star’ needs no introduction.

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We played around with his new “tinker toy” ceramic pieces in the front garden.

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I continually nag him about getting a shop website up for his ceramic pieces. He promised it will happen in the new year.
Wonderful shapes and texture from box balls, grasses, Agave mitis var. albidior through a scrim of dripping acacia.

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The Gaudi-esque tinker toys among pavers, grasses, small succulents.

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I’m always impressed by the captivating visual power of Dustin’s garden, the compounding effect of the pure geometric, organic shapes and forms he favors.
Just beyond that hedge, it’s almost a shock to the system when the magic quickly dissolves into ordinary sidewalk, street, cars, etc., etc.

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Everywhere you look the planting is almost unbearably gorgeous.

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In the back garden, I was able to check on the progress of the wood screen which hides the propagation tables.

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I gathered my holiday purchases (which must remain a secret for now), very pleased with myself for combining business and inspiration in one visit.
You can find more of Dustin’s ceramics and garden designs on his Instagram feed.
Have a great weekend.