Category Archives: cut flowers

isoplexis and digiplexis side by side

There’s no telling which of these, if either, will be around for photos next year, so now’s the time for a side-by-side color comparison.
According to this article, it was Isoplexis canariensis that was crossed with Digitalis purpurea to give us Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame.’ The photo on the right is of Isoplexis isabelliana, but the color if not the flower shape is a good semblance of I. canariensis, with probably less gold and more burnt orange. (Being ever on the lookout for the tall, spiky, and orange, I’ve trialed a few isoplexis. I. canariensis was short-lived in my garden.) The shocking pink, apricot-throated digiplexis to my eye exudes a Jonathan Adler-inspired play with colors. In its new guise, dear old digitalis has been liberated from the genteel confines of the shady cottage garden. Even though able to handle full sun, especially near the coast, the unseasonal 20-degree jump into the 90s today and for the rest of the week is not to either plant’s liking, or mine for that matter. I’ve had verbascums collapse under similar conditions. They both held up surprisingly well this first day of the heat wave. Some lateral spikes broke off a few days ago but were saved for a vase.

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If it lives up to its sturdy reputation, I wouldn’t be surprised if digiplexis has a future as a florist’s pet.

waxflowers in bloom at Grand Park

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The last time I worked at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse prompted this post on Grand Park*.
Yesterday the waxflowers were in bloom, an Australian shrub that most likely passed completely unnoticed at my last visit.
The waxflower, or chamelaucium, is a member of the myrtle family. Its tiny, needle-like, evergreen leaves are arguably past the point of subtlety, but wonderfully adapted to sun and drought.
From a distance, for a moment the foamy mass had me guessing Baja spurge, Euphorbia xanti.

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Branches of the waxflower are familiar to everyone as a perfunctory addition to mixed bunches from grocery stores.
But they are not seen in gardens much anymore. A single shrub is possibly a bit too precious.

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Massed in the landscape they are wild things again, as good with concrete as they are with a vase.

*August 30-31, 2014, 50,000 Made in America Festival attendees will sprawl across Grand Park. Watch out for the plants, people.

community garden 2/26/14

After sowing some borlotti beans late afternoon in anticipation of rain, I tracked down all the sweet peas in bloom in neighboring plots.
The results of my sweet pea safari:

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And I always stop to admire how Scarlet Flax has woven through some kale.

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A reseeding annual, Linum grandiflorum ‘Rubrum.’ So is this intentional or a happy accident?
One of the things I like most about reseeders is how they constantly offer new possibilities to consider, like scarlet and blue-green. Just rip it out if it’s not your taste.

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Self-sown sunflowers already in bloom. Reseeders are indifferent to planting guides and timetables.
I was going to wait until late March to start mine. (So many plans for my little 10X10 plot.)

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Sweet peas don’t reseed true to their stunning varieties, so new seed must be bought fresh every season.
Some of the best growing instructions for florist-grade sweet peas can be found at Floret.

echeverias in a vase

Valentine’s Day quiz:

A small vase holds the short stem of a ruffly rosette that’s not a flower. What can it be?
a) some kind of kale
b) I don’t know, but whatever it is it’s monstrous and obscene
c) an overgrown, long-necked echeveria

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Not much of a quiz, because of course it’s an echeveria with about half of its stem trimmed off. They do grow leggy in these parts. I’ll probably root these in sand in a few days, but for now am enjoying how these little vases are managing to support such top-heavy bouquets. The vase itself is what’s really quiz-worthy. In fact, they’re not vases at all, but actually something brought out in the ’70s called the “Uncandle.” The Pyrex name on the glass was the tipoff that this barbell-shaped glassware had some mysterious, heat-tolerant purpose in a past life. I was given a couple as a holiday present (thank you, Dustin!) and was told they were for forcing small bulbs. I later found a few more at a local thrift shop.

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It could have used a wash, but I was out the door. So smudgy fingerprints and all, this Valentine’s Day’s bouquet comes in a retro blast from the ’70s…the Uncandle.

tropical leaf under glass

Cleaning up the tropicals for their winter rest in early November, there remained an absolutely perfect leaf on Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii.’ I cut it for a vase, and when the water had evaporated and the leaf was still in good shape, I laid it on a book shelf. Now I was intrigued that such a soft leaf had endured this long. How much longer could it last? In late December I noticed that the texture of the leaf had turned from brittle to a suede-like feel and was still beautifully intact. The terrarium turned up at a garage sale, and I was drawn to its simplicity. No faux Edwardian flourishes. It was missing one of the rounded footings, but that could be easily fixed. (How fitting that a seedpod from the triangle palm was exactly the right size and shape. That’s the seedpod on the left in the photo.) I admit that out of all the uses I could imagine for the glass case, housing a colocasia leaf was not one of them. But then that’s the attraction of a transparent box — its endless possibilities. Since enclosing the leaf in the glass case, the texture has reverted back to potato-chip brittle. Keeping the case on the warm mantle over the fireplace might not be the best site for it, but it’s where I can see it most often. I moved it into the bright light of the kitchen for the photo. At this angle, doesn’t it resemble a giant tropical butterfly?

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Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii’

Plant Delights Nursery offers this colocasia via mail order. Mine was found locally. (PDN’s 2014 catalogue arrived in the mail yesterday and lists this colocasia.) If garage sales don’t prove fruitful in sourcing the case, Terrain offers a similarly simple version.

glass floral frog

There was some good-natured bartering done among ourselves at the end of the recent flea market/bloggers’ pop-up shop in December. I swapped Dustin one of Marty’s sailor knot creations for this glass floral frog. Floral frogs have an old-fashioned, tight-laced whiff about them — they are, after all, essentially a girdle for flower stems — and are not something I’ve ever worked with before, being more a proponent of the plop-it-in-a-vase school of flower arranging. But I was drawn to this glass frog as a beautiful object in its own right.

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But it would be silly to ignore its intended function. I thought it might be useful in supporting stems in vessels not necessarily meant as vases, like all the pottery I’ve accumulated that is either too wide or too low to hold stems upright effectively. And in winter particularly, a low bowl shape is ideal for holding seasonal, short-stemmed cut flowers like Helleborus argutifolius and all the other interesting odds and ends that lack long stems and need a little help standing up straight.

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Typically, the frog would be hidden deep in the container.

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After playing around with different containers, I don’t see why it can’t also be completely exposed, sitting on the rim of smaller pots.

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The shrub-like Corsican hellebore is the only one I grow, and it happens to be the longest lasting in vases. I’ve always been reluctant to rob the garden of flowers, but I really think it’s time I get over it. There’s really no better way to appreciate the intricacies of their structure. I followed conventional wisdom and dipped the freshly cut stems in boiling water for 20-30 seconds.

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flea market prep

I had so much fun yesterday organizing for the flea market this Sunday. Tapping poppy seeds into packets, gathering up all the lab beakers into a partitioned wooden box for a safe journey, making bunches of dried poppy seedpods to work their dessicated charms in old pharmacy jars.

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But then there was the crazy part too. The “You can’t sell that! It’s a first edition! What’s gotten into you? Not the antlers! You’re selling our history!

Okay, okay, calm down. See? It’s going back on the shelf. Better now? Just breathe deep.

It also occurred to me yesterday to add the stacks of garden books into the outgoing flea market pile. Thomas Hobbs, Sarah Raven, Christopher Lloyd, out they go.
The old Gardens Illustrated too. At the very least, Reuben, Dustin, and I will have something to read at the flea.

I had no idea flea market prep would be so…so very cleansing. I’ve been adding more photos under the Dates to Remember link at the top.

Sunday clippings 12/8/13

(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.

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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:

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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.

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And, boy, do they look great in a vase, in a holiday-cheerful sort of way.

tithonia for Clarice Cliff

I’m still cutting buckets of tithonia from the community garden plot and filling every vase in the house, even those I usually leave empty, like this museum reissue of a Clarice Cliff vase, the 20th century British ceramic artist famous for her post-WWI “Bizarre” line of ceramics. With her love of strong color, I think she’d approve of tithonia.

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I first became aware of her work through reading about the Bloomsbury group, the salon of British artists that surrounded Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell in pre-WWII England. If you’re looking for a literary rabbit hole to burrow into for a decade or so, I highly recommend the countless journals, letters, and fiction of this prolific, compulsively creative group. Must have been nice to have John Maynard Keynes as your personal stockbroker, too.

Back to Clarice, from Wikipedia: “Between 1932 and 1934 Cliff was the art director for a major project involving nearly 30 artists of the day (prompted by the Prince of Wales) to promote good design on tableware. The ‘Artists in Industry’ earthenware examples were produced under her direction, and the artists included such notable names as Duncan Grant, Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, Vanessa Bell, and Dame Laura Knight. The project ‘Modern Art for the Table’ was launched at Harrods London in October 1934 but received a mixed response from both the public and the press, though at the same time Cliff’s own patterns and shapes were selling in large quantities around the world.”