Category Archives: The Hortorialist

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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driveby garden 11/2/12

Bicycling past this house a couple days ago, I made a hard U-turn to check out the swath of silvery groundcover running alongside the sidewalk underplanting a couple shrubs. It’s probably a variety of Gazania rigens. As an inveterate plant collector who tends to overly complicate things, I love to see simple ideas executed so well. (See and admire them, not necessarily live with them. I’d probably require extensive psychoanalysis if I couldn’t continually mess around and complicate things in the garden.)


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Parking the bike is when I noticed the nice detail of the two mustard-colored, square ceramic containers holding a collection of various orbs flanking the pathway.

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The flagstone/decomposed granite pathway runs through what would traditionally be the front lawn, bisecting the silvery gazanias adjacent to the sidewalk on one side and low-lying grasses and other ground covers adjacent to the house on the other side, taking one to the main front walkway. This is a corner lot, which allows for lots of scope to build up the simple rhythm of rivers of silver, shrubs, and a couple small crepe myrtle trees on either side of the front walkway.

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The shrubs underplanted with gazania might be Melaleuca nesophila. Further down can be seen the bark of crepe myrtles.

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Large pots planted with succulents including Kalanchoe luciae and Senecio radicans, flank the steps to the front door.
The container harmonizes with the beautiful bark of the crepe myrtle.

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That same day, at a different house, I found a parkway squared away with Dymondia margaretae and succulents. Marty has complained bitterly about the feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) I’ve planted in our parkway, whose seedheads completely engulf and attach to lower legs exiting cars. Clever seed dispersal tactic, but really annoying when you’re dressed for work. The gazania or dymondia are definitely being considered as replacements, but the dymondia has the edge since it can tolerate light foot traffic.


Rolling Greens opens in Orange County

I’m so very glad that owner Greg Salmeri and creative director Angela Hicks have opened another location where they can express their unique “global nomad” outlook on indoor/outdoor rooms and gardens, bringing the total to three locations in Southern California: The original Rolling Greens Culver City location, the second location on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood, and now Costa Mesa in Orange County, which just might be the easiest one for me to visit. Each location is different enough from the others to merit visiting all three. The new Costa Mesa location continues the global nomad theme but with the accent heavy on French influences.


A salvaged French greenhouse displays indoor plants.

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Maybe it’s the latent dry goods grocer in me, but I’ve always found neatly stacked displays of hand-made goods and curios utterly compelling. Rolling Greens excels at stirring up primal dry goods lust with its wonderful, award-winning displays on salvaged cabinets and trunks.

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The last time I saw tablecloth linens by Garnier Thiebaut was at the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville in Paris. I brought stacks of Garnier Thiebaut dish towels home from Paris as gifts — lightweight, easy to pack, beautiful, durable fabric. Nice to see them again at Rolling Greens.
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Each new location seems to move more in the direction of garden-inspired home furnishings. I did ask and was told that the Costa Mesa location intends to sell outdoor plants as well. They just hadn’t arrived yet. Although open for business, the official grand opening will take place September 15th, when the Arrangement Bar will be waiting to help customers unleash their botanical creativity.

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Lamps I covet hanging over the Arrangement Bar, which will also hold future workshops. All fixtures are for sale.

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More lamps to covet.

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This sputnik of a plant stand was a real charmer

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Terrariums and tillandsia orbs
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What I didn’t get photos of was their wide selection of containers, silk flowers and plants.
Even though I asked permission first, I was still slightly embarrassed at the number of photos I was taking.

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The very kind sales staff handed me a post card listing special events at the Grand Opening on Saturday, September 15, 2012.

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Special Events to include:
fresh flower mart and custom bouquets
custom terrariums and succulent arrangements
learn+grow terrarium workshop (RSVP)*
gourmet tasting with Sasha Hagenlock

*RSVP to events@rg-ca.com
Rolling Greens Costa Mesa is located at 3315-A Hyland Avenue at South Coast Collection. (714) 444-4425


scenes from San Pedro, Calif.

I want to show you a house and garden I found earlier today, but first you’ll need to look at the Pacific Ocean, just as I did before I found the house.


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No, this wasn’t a vacation. I had a couple hours between jobs in San Pedro, California, a small town just over a couple bridges from Long Beach.


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San Pedro is possibly one of the oddest cities in Los Angeles County, a little harbor town in which the mighty Port of Los Angeles is located that still manages to retain the look and feel of an Italian fishing village. It is as psychologically isolated from the rest of Los Angeles as the Cinque Terre is physically cut off from the rest of Italy. A town immune to endless attempts at gentrification. Town of my father and countless relatives. I lived here in an apartment house overlooking the waterfront in my mid to late twenties. Both my sons were born here. My first community garden was here. So when I got a 2-hour break between work assignments in San Pedro this morning, it was with an insider’s knowledge that I headed to Point Fermin Park, to see if I could maybe sneak into the Sunken City, the apocalyptic remains of a 20th century neighborhood that slumped and slid on geologic waves into the sea.


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But I couldn’t very well crawl underneath the security fencing surrounding the Sunken City in work clothes. That would be silly! (and coincidentally illegal but nobody cares.) So I settled for a walk amongst the huge magnolias in adjacent Point Fermin Park, the southernmost point of Los Angeles County, land’s end high up on vertiginous bluffs overlooking the seaweed-strewn tidepools of the Pacific Ocean.

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This hilly little town has numerous microclimates. I left hot, clear skies at 6th Street, disappointed that at noon there’d be little chance for decent photos, and traveled less than a mile to find the park shrouded in a moody, dense fog. The cliffs smelled of anise, the fog horns blew, and I happily practiced my rusty native plant ID skills on the coastal scrub. Lemonberry (Rhus integrifolia), coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis). And the dreaded exotic invasive tamarisk (Tamarix aphylla).


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Continue reading scenes from San Pedro, Calif.

No. 9 on the Venice Garden & Home Tour

Design gem by artist/architect homeowners; live, work, home studio & gardens. Architect: Molly Reid Studio. Garden Dry Design & Cliff Garten Studio.”

Blurbs like these on a one-page map were the only guides to selecting which homes and gardens to tour among the 32 on offer. Any gardens described as “minimalist,” “simple” or “zen,” or worse yet, “simple and zen” were scratched off the list. And who knows? Maybe we missed some simple, zen gems. Because the garden at No. 9 on the tour was both simple and minimalist, a tidy space for entertaining and relaxation nestled between the house and studio.

Corrugated steel-clad studio, wisteria arbor, decks, raised beds for vegetables, lawn.


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I’d have taken it all in with one appreciative glance, pivoted, and headed for the next stop on the tour, if not for the interior of the house.

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Continue reading No. 9 on the Venice Garden & Home Tour

Venice Garden & Home Tour 2012 (street view)

A little prelude to upcoming posts on this tour held last Saturday in Venice, California. None of these homes were on the tour. They just happened to be located in the neighborhoods we toured through. Venice oozes a love of plants and gardens. This is the third year I’ve posted on this tour for the blog, and previous posts can be found here and here. The few photos not bearing photographer MB Maher’s watermark were taken by me.

The weighty symmetry of two large agaves flanking the walkway to this front door we passed slowed me down. Agaves look a lot like A. salmiana, possibly ‘Green Giant’ or ‘Mr. Ripple.’ Dark red leaves from Euphorbia cotinifolia. Also with Euphorbia characias and coral aloes.


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Euphorbia cotinifolia at another house, cut back hard or “stooled.” In my back garden a 15-foot Euphorbia cotinifolia is given the space to grow as a tree and is just now leafing out. With Agave attentuata and Mexican feather grass, Stipa tenuissima.

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Same house. Chartreuse shrub is the common tender bedding plant Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight.’ Silvery succulents probably dudleyas.

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Concrete pavers outlined in Dymondia margaretae. A front-yard lawn in Venice is a rare sight.

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Graveled-over front garden. Pirate foot locker for seating on the porch.

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More dymondia, which tolerates light foot traffic.

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Some of the sidewalks almost required a machete to navigate. Orange blur at the end is Thunbergia gregorii.
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Echiums in the parkway/hell strip.
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Agaves underplanted with succulents and gazanias.

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Must be an acacia.

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Lots of Euphorbia characias on the tour. This one in a hell strip looked like it might be the selection ‘Portugese Velvet’

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More posts later this week on houses and gardens on the tour. Out of 32 houses on the tour, we saw maybe a half dozen. Some we just couldn’t bear to leave. Like Molly Reid and Cliff Garten’s home and studio, up next.


Preview: San Francisco Flower & Garden Show 2012


Only the first day of spring, yet garden show season has already arrived in many parts of the country.
MB Maher
was in attendance today at the preview to this year’s San Francisco Flower & Garden Show.
Just a couple photos to whet, not spoil, the excitement.


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Have you guessed the name of this designer/nurseryman yet?
(Hint: An American meadow gardener was let loose in the exhibit hall.)

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Sculptures by Bay Area artist Marcia Donahue.


see you there.

winter walkabout

Les of A Tidewater Gardener frequently posts some of the most beautiful landscape photography to be found on garden blogs. On his blog you may be introduced, as I was, to John Irving-esque names of natural phenomena like The Great Dismal Swamp and canoe rides a la James Fenimore Cooper down local waterways. Through Les’ eye, the environs of Norfolk, Virginia, look like some of the most beautiful land and waterscapes on earth. For the second year running, Les has challenged bloggers to a Winter Walk-Off, wherein we step out our front doors carrying nothing but a camera. No car keys, just walking shoes, to document “what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home.” Les is accepting entries through March 19. And there will be prizes!

Right off the bat, I have to admit we fudged and therefore forfeit any prizes. We drove. Time constraints and all. Plus, although we have walked the mile or so to this bluff overlooking Long Beach’s commercial harbor, the corgi would have been wiped out by the time we arrived, and this morning’s walk was mainly for the corgi. (He had his teeth cleaned recently and a tooth pulled, but I digress.)


Ready?

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One of my favorite houses on the street opposite our bluff walk. Yucca rostrata, butterfly chairs, and George Nelson bubble lamps.

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Note glimpse of baby blue piano through the window.

Different house. Some of the largest furcraeas I’ve ever seen, as big as the Agave americanas further down.

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Same house, a little further down from the furcraeas are sotols, agaves, rosemary, and fiery arctotis.

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In bloom in a cutting garden in a parkway/hellstrip were these ranunculus, along with Dutch iris, stock, anemones, sweet peas.

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From the same hellstrip, Salvia spathacea.

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From the bluff, coast prickly pear, Opuntia littoralis.

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Coral aloe, A. striata, from the mid-century modern/blue piano home.

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One of a trio of urns planted with lemon trees flanking the stairway of an apartment building.

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It may not be The Great Dismal Swamp, but hey, it’s home. Thanks, Les!


poinsettia hangover

I was up early with the possums this morning after Christmas.

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Seconds before we startled each other, my attentions had been directed at the Euphorbia milii, or Crown of Thorns, on the other side of the hedge.

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A couple neighbors have outlined their front lawns and walkways with extensive potted collections of this euphorbia. An interesting choice for a collection.

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Apart from the very scary thorns, I suppose I can see the attraction. Tough, drought tolerant. Blooms in an array of colors.

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What really had me up early, prowling the still-drowsy neighborhood like my possum friend, was another euphorbia, the large poinsettia trees a couple streets over.

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There’s a rare, concentrated mood in a neighborhood just after a holiday, just beginning to dissolve away until it rebuilds next year, but still palpable, especially before sunrise. Most days, it’s anyone’s guess what occupies my neighbors’ hearts and minds. The possible range of concerns is too vast to fathom. Whether we’re happy, sad, or indifferent to the winter holidays, they have the unique ability to narrow that range for a brief time, and that overlap of shared concerns can be very warming indeed.

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Think of these poinsettias as visual “hair of the dog” for the holidays.

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Although belated, the very warmest season’s greetings!

fountain with fishnet and text

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The matted, black material at the base of this fountain merited closer inspection. Was it trash? Or perhaps something had gone terribly wrong with the water chemistry.

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Not at all, just fishing net. A wonderful touch which brought a smile of recognition. This is Manhattan Beach, California, after all. Apart from utilitarian use made of this netting by the commercial fishing industry, it was a big part of the surf culture decor and once hung from the ceiling of many a shabby beach apartment, including the one I lived in not far from this plaza in the early ’80s. In this town’s determined evolution from funky to upscale, my old apartment building, where I made my first and only rooftop garden, was torn down. All vestiges of this beach town’s former fishnet decor seem to have been successfully obliterated — except for fugitive memories of shag carpet and macramed glass fishing floats snared by this fountain, which anchors a large, new plaza, sharing a wall with the parking structure built on the site of the old Metlox Potteries and bounded on another side by the new Shade Hotel. The shopping complex down the street is the work of Tolkin & Associates and Wade Graham Landscape Studio. I’m not sure if the fishnet fountain is their work as well.

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Standing close enough to identify the fishnet in the fountain, I could now see the text running parallel in the paving along the front of the fountain, like the opening to a childhood story told by an old-timer like me:

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All of us kids would walk barefoot through the wild areas covered with wildflowers, buttercups, daisies, lupines, brush, statice and other flowers