Category Archives: driveby gardens

streetside; rainy day house & gardens

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

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

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

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The clouds did open at Big Daddy’s

The itinerary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pots on spiral staircase at Big Daddy’s

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

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

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

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And fabulous streetside succulent gardens like this one.

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Big clump of the slipper plant, Pedilanthus bracteatus

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

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

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Aloe marlothii

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The coral aloe, A. striata

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

a Mission Revival garden

I wasn’t exactly lost in Beverly Hills today, but traffic was terrible enough that I left the main arteries like San Vicente and dove into surrounding neighborhood streets, looking for a less congested way home. Around Sweetzer I found this small Mission Revival home with what looked to be a fairly new front landscape.


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Although it may sometimes seem so, I’m really not stalking Mission Revival homes, but this architectural style does seem to inspire its share of spare, elegant gardens.
This one is dominated by the lacy shade of a mature California Pepper Tree, Schinus molle (from the Peruvian Andes).

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A blue jar, possibly Bauer, pennisetum grasses and agaves surrounding a central area of decomposed granite
(formerly place of honor for lawns but not anymore, now that it’s drought o’clock)

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The agaves are mainly the common americana and attenuata, with salmon-colored Crown of Thorns, Euphorbia milii.
The blue flowers might be the Ground Morning Glory, Convolvulus sabatius.

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A form of Opuntia erinacea possibly?
Those look to be young bougainvilleas struggling up stakes against the low wall, a wall which I personally would hate to see smothered in vine. The cactus itself is presence enough.

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A sweet house, with its thick walls and deep-set casement windows.
The surrounding mansions in various architectural guises, and their gardens, could learn a lot about stylishly coping with heat and drought from this modest little beauty.


terraced gardens and the Cow Horn agave

I love terraced gardens, with their multiple shifting perspectives from up, down, side to side. I can probably trace this appreciation to an aunt’s hilltop home in the harbor town of San Pedro, Calif. My dad’s sister had a house that overlooked Los Angeles Harbor, bought with fishing money, when there were still big local schools of sardine and albacore. The hill was buttressed by multiple terraces. The plantings were nondescript, but the idea intrigued me even as a kid, this modest example of domestic-scale geoengineering, with the land falling away beneath you, yet there always being level ground underfoot provided by the terracing. Visiting the terraced villages of the Cinque Terre in Italy many years later was a continuation of this childhood fascination. Terraced gardens still pull me in to this day, as this local one did featuring a favorite agave from western Mexico, the Cow Horn agave.


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Agave bovicornuta here being harassed by a bougainvillea. Yucca rostrata on the topmost terrace.

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Aeoniums and lavender, Kalanchoe tomentosa, Aloe striata, with an attempt to tame and train bougainvillea against a retaining wall.
A Dragon Tree holds a corner of the upper terrace.

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Another feature of terrace gardens: incredibly satisfied-looking plants in the free drainage and warmth from the stone in this eastern exposure.
This house and garden is just a couple blocks from the ocean.

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Deep green and blue again, this time the green provided by the Pencil Cactus, Euphorbia tirucalli
The blue agave looks like possibly Agave celsii ‘Nova’ (now going by A. mitis.) except that solitary agave is not known for pupping so many offsets.
It also looks a lot like my ‘Dragon Toes,’ which does offset freely.

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Seems like I gravitate for a while to the powder blue agaves or variegated agaves, but there will always be room for the deep emerald green of the Cowhorn Agave.
Mine succumbed to overwatering in the back garden a couple years ago, and I haven’t seen it on offer locally since.
The back garden is becoming almost as dry as the front gravel garden, so I’ve started planting agaves in the ground in the back again. We’ll see how they fare.

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With rosemary and Echeveria agavoides.

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What the bougainvillea really wants is the terraces all to itself.
I’d never unleash it in this situation, where keeping it in bounds will require frequent trimming, putting the succulents in danger of being trampled if not smothered first.
I do admire the horizontal line of its dark green leaves snaking across the retaining walls in the upper photos, but the amount of labor and leaf litter…
All that clipping sacrifices the flowers anyway, turning what’s normally a study in scarlet to a minor meditation on magenta.

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A glimpse of the sloping front lawn of the house next-door, which shows how the Cow Horn agave matches the depth of color of green grass.

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With the paddle plant, Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fascination.’

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Another bonus of terraces is the fact that agaves are not at shin level, which is where I frequently engaged with my Cow Horn agave —
but always in cowboy jeans, of course.


streetside with grasses and succulents

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Because of this house, I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon trying to source a flat of Sesleria autumnalis or Sesleria ‘Greenlee.’
No luck yet, but I will not be deterred.

Continue reading streetside with grasses and succulents

backdrops for plants

Some interesting backdrops I found around town, some intentional, some borrowed, some just sheer serendipity.

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I’m wondering what came first here, the choice of color for the house and then the Lion’s Tail?
Or did the Leonotis leonurus start the ball rolling?

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This is a borrowed backdrop. From the angle where I was standing, I picked up the color of the house next-door.

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This is the house where the agave lives, beige in color, not persimmon.

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The parkway picking up that same persimmon-colored house next-door. Mattress vine, restios, helichrysum, small grasses.

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I’m thinking there’s a lot of clip, clip, clipping to keep the muehlenbeckia off those lovely low-lying rocks.

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Agave vilmoriniana without a backdrop. Well, I suppose asphalt could be considered a backdrop, the default urban kind.
I wish I had the space for this one to let those tentacles unfurl (also called the Octopus Agave).

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The Cow Horn Agave against a stone backdrop. Agave bovicornuta. Oh, I do miss mine.
There’ll be more photos of these terraces to come, just because one can never have too many photos of the Cow Horn Agave.
With aeoniums and Kalanchoe tomentosa.

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A missed opportunity to add a colored backdrop? Hard to say. The entire Spanish house/villa is white. I’ll be posting some more photos of this one too.
I need to track down the name of the grass in the foreground, most likely a sesleria. Amazing with the bulbinella.


streetside; your own personal prairie

When my job canceled today, I knew exactly where I wanted to go before breakfast, before even the first cup of coffee. The local neighborhood prairie.

It’s something you don’t see everyday in my coastal neighborhood in Los Angeles County, where a mix of succulents are usually the first landscape choice for stylishly beating the drought. This is a very new, waterwise, lawn-to-garden conversion built around a matrix of grasses, with the eyebrow grass, Bouteloua gracilis, predominating. There are zero succulents included. The folksy, barn-red color of the bungalow and wood-and-cattle-panel fence reinforce the expression of pioneer spirit reflected in their choice of landscape.

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This is prairie Southern California style. The blue against the pillars is from plumbago trained on cattle panel.

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A native cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora’

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Easy to tell that the house faces east.

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On the south side, Pittosporum is planted along the outside of the fence near the sidewalk. The dark leaves are a Euphorbia cotinifolia. White roses are most likely ‘Iceberg.’

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Young cypresses behind the fence. So this open, inviting view is only temporary until the privacy screens mature.

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There’s some sort of mesh shade cloth hanging behind the bell.

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The climber Solanum jasminoides will fill in here too.

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Detail of cattle panel fence, last night’s party lights still lit. Paper bags as shades for battery-powered votives maybe?

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I should have waited for sunrise before taking this photo, but it shows how the fence fits into the side entrance. From this side I could hear sounds in the kitchen of the household waking, so it seemed impolite to linger.

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Unlike my admittedly superficial trial of the eyebrow grass, these are proving that it will thrive in Southern California. Bouteloua gracilis is the smallest of the prairie grasses. Their size sets the scale for the rest of the garden, with plants in bloom just grazing above the knee on a walk from the front door to the mailbox.

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Informal paths of decomposed granite wind through the plantings. We’re often warned against using d.g. where it might be tracked indoors onto wooden floors. Maybe a shoes-off policy is a house rule here. I like that the porch paint is in the same color range as the d.g.

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Among the big sweeps of eyebrow grass are also carex, phormium, lavender, caryopteris, gaura, Salvia greggii, yarrow.

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And a couple clumps of the ruby grass, Melinus nerviglumis

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How much “down” time a prairie-style landscape imposes is a key issue in a climate that handles dormancy almost imperceptibly. There are many plant choices that will see a zone 10 landscape through the year without any bare soil visible at any time or need for radical haircuts. Roughly calculating, if the grasses are cut back, say, before Christmas, they’ll be making growth again in February. On the other hand, many succulents also have periods where they’re not at their best, high summer for example. Knowing the trade-offs when choosing how and with what plants to replace the front lawn is a crucial consideration. What I like about this house and garden is that it seems to know exactly what it wants.

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Old California Style

Yeah, the architecture is really consistent, isn’t it? French next to Spanish, next to Tudor, next to Japanese.” Alvy Singer musing on Los Angeles architecture in “Annie Hall.”

Adobe-style house in a polyglot landscape. California pepper tree, Schinus molle (from Peru), acacia, and pale Variegated Pride of Madeira, agaves and cactus, feather grass.
Next-door to homes in the Tudor style, mediterranean villa, Cape Cod. I have to say I do prefer this adobe dream to the others.

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streetside: succulent garden 6/24/14

Another gem of a garden found via a traffic shortcut.* I’ve been admiring it for some time and stopped by last night for photos. Driving by, the tall succulents, a Furcraea macdougalii about the size of mine, Euphorbia ammak and ocotillo, were the first striking outlines to capture my attention traveling at the speed of a car, all three plants being good enough reasons to later investigate on foot. Maybe I’m biased, but from a purely aesthetic point of view, to me some of the most successful lawn-free front gardens I’ve seen locally have featured succulents. Their strong outlines are perfectly suited to conform to that tyrannical template we all inherit with these small houses — the path slicing through the middle of a geometric grid enroute to the front door. Succulents have an inherent formalism of structure that suit the rigidity of these ubiquitous layouts that were designed to be horizontally dominated by smooth turf, but their diversity, supercharged dynamism, strong colors and shapes subvert the traditional notion of a staid front garden. All while still managing to be neat and tidy 365 days a year (here in zone 10) and incredibly easy on the monthly water bill. A love of beautiful plants and a strong eye for design can produce startling effects even within this typical suburban design framework. I’ve tagged most of the agaves but leave the ID of the opuntia and other cacti up for discussion.


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Agaves included are ‘Blue Glow,’ desmettiana ‘Variegata,’ macroacantha, parryi, stricta, bracteosa.

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My own Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ bloomed this year, its space already taken by smaller, if less dramatic agaves.

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I’m blanking on this writhing, silvery mass with serrated leaves. Dasylirion? Puya? Nolina? Silvery shrub in the background is a westringia.

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Along with the Pelargonium sidoides, pollinators can find something of interest in flowering ground covers and a big native buckwheat near the front window, St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum).

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The pencil stems with orange flowers on the far left looks like a pedilanthus.

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Small-scale ground covers eloquently underplant the rosettes including this Agave potatorum.

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Aptly named squid agave, A. bracteosa. The strewn leaves are from a neighbor’s parkway magnolia.

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Agaves nestled snugly into the well-placed rocks.

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Ocotillo and a pencil euphorbia, possibly E. leucodendron.

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I mostly avoided taking photos of the house, but the Furcraea macdougalii was smack in the middle of a front window, backed by eriogonum.

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Wreathed in aloes at its base.

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The parkway/hell strip was all helichrysum silver.

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Except for this one, which I’m pretty sure is a sideritis, the first I’ve seen locally outside my own garden.

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Front gardens like this always beg the tantalizing question: What on earth did they save for the back?


*Once again a traffic jam forced me into taking a lesser-traveled route. So I’ve been admiring this newly found garden since spring, during the recent Stanley Cup playoffs and final series, driving en route to watch the games with my mom. After my dad died, we all took up the one sport he never followed, initially as a means to get together frequently during the week. I’d never been a fan of any sport before but knew that televised sports had been an important part of their marriage. I caught an Olympic hockey game in 2010 and admired the speed and athleticism, and thus we started following the fortunes of our beleaguered, star-crossed local team. At first we were unable to even keep an eye trained on the whizzing puck and found the unspoken rules mystifying. But then the Los Angeles Kings did the unimaginable, winning their first Stanley Cup not long after we became fans, keeping their diehard fans waiting over 40 years. In 2012 we still barely understood the concept of icing the puck. This last season, stretching from October to June, was an endurance test for the fans, too, but astonishingly ended in another Stanley Cup. Unlike me, my mom can recite the jersey number and stats on every team member, and she now finds golf and baseball unbearably slow to watch. Go Mom! Go Kings!

driveby agave garden details

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Some details from Jud’s garden.
It was this beet red crassula and Coppertone Stonecrop (Sedum nussbaumerianum) that first drew my attention to this bit of detailed planting.
The crassula looks like C. pubescens ssp. radicans.

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The longer I looked, the more apparent the garden maker’s intentions became. A golden barrel cactus picks up the gleam of the Coppertone Stonecrop.
This is also a fine example of how rocks are simultaneously used to create flow through the garden and also to highlight specific plants.

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Playing with texture and color, the garden maker starts a dialogue with the viewer. When you begin to hear it, as if by magic the vignette enlarges, expands, and ripples outward.
Sedum, barrel cactus, and now playing along, I noted the biscuit-colored blooms of the crassula. Nearby are the saw-toothed, lance-shaped bursts of deep green Agave lophantha.

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I trace the lines of another pale-colored cactus arching over the Agave lophantha

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Whose long arms playfully frame shifting views.

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A coral-colored aloe comes into focus.

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Step back, and the details become the whole.


driveby agave garden revisited

I’ve been thinking of Jud’s garden. Did the recent unseasonal heat waves bruise any agaves?
I didn’t memorize the address, so it took a while to find again, which seems to be a recurring theme with this garden.
Was it on Colorado or Fourth Street? East or west of Termino?
After about a half hour’s meandering, suddenly there it was again, rising up out of the suburbs like a desert oasis mirage.

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It certainly holds its corner like no other house I know.

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The driveby view is splendid enough, but seeing it on foot is the only way to appreciate the multiple shifting perspectives of rosettes and spikes.

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I’ve never seen Sticks on Fire as tall and narrow as cypresses. I wonder if they had to be pruned into these columnar shapes.

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The agaves were indeed left unblemished by the 100-degree temps.

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I’ll post a few more detailed photos of Jud’s garden this week.