friday clippings 7/22/16

What I wanted to do tonight was attend an event I’ve been hearing about on NPR as I drove the freeways this week, Summer Nights in the Garden, hosted by the Natural History Museum.
It’s free but RSVP is required, so I checked online this afternoon. No go, they’re already full up. There are a few spots set aside for walk-ins. Maybe another time. There’s a couple dates in August too.


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I was really hoping to get an early evening, soft light opportunity to photograph the NHM garden designed by landscape architect Mia Lehrer.
I stumbled into a Lehrer-led, mid-day tour of this garden at the last Natural Discourse symposium 10/17/15 and have been meaning to go back for another look.
That’s Mia Lehrer on the far left. (I only wish my hair was still this short. It’s 95 degrees as I type at 5 p.m. today. The whole house fan has been a big help with this heat wave.)
The Los Angeles Times recently announced her firm’s winning the design competition for the proposed 2-acre park downtown at 1st and Broadway.
Along with the new design approval for Pershing Square, LA seems to have gone uncharacteristically park mad lately.
It’s about time, I say. Christopher Hawthorne has done excellent reporting on the progress of both parks, see here.
(To complete the trifecta, the progress on one of LA’s biggest environmental/design challenges, our beleaguered, concrete-bottomed LA River, was recently covered by Hawthorne here.)

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Back to one of my favorite events of the year, Natural Discourse.
This year Shirley Watts has chosen Fire! as the theme for the upcoming Natural Discourse to be held at the Huntington September 30 and October 1, 2016.
Like much of the West, the foothills around LA burn regularly and fiercely, so we are no strangers to the immediate perils of uncontrolled fire.
As usual, Shirley finds the most interesting minds to weigh in on her chosen subject, so you’ll want to check your calendar early to save the date for this one.

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But that still leaves me without a plan for Friday night. Guess I’ll just hang out in the garden.
The heat has transformed the solanum into a drapery of purply bloom.

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Have a great weekend.

my new earrings (via collaboration of Molly M Designs & Roberto Burle Marx)

You know how one thing leads to another, and before you know it there’s a new pair of earrings coming in the mail? Let me explain.
There’s a Roberto Burle Marx exhibit right now at the Jewish Museum in New York (review here, “The Builder of Jungles” by Martin Filler.)
I admit to being slightly confused as to how a museum exhibit could possibly do justice to the work of the great Brazilian modernist landscape architect.
But Burle Marx was an outsized, protean artist, “a painter and sculptor; a designer of textiles, jewelry, theater sets, and costumes; a ceramicist and stained-glass artist.”
Therefore, he’s eminently worthy of an indoor exhibit, though I have to agree with Mr. Filler that:
The primal presence of nature—even in this designer’s highly stylized manner—is needed to fully explain the atavistic magic that emerged from his jungle fervor.”
(If you’re going to the Olympics in Rio this August, in addition to the famous Avenida Atlântica, the Copacabana boardwalk, you’ll want to research some Burle Marx-themed road trips.)


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Avenida Atlântica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, via The New York Times

After reading the NYRB review, I confess my next thought was on the low-brow side: museum shop!
Maybe there were some special prints for sale made for the show, such as a print of this:


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Burle Marx’s design for a rooftop garden, Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1938, via NYRB

or this:

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“A detail of Roberto Burle Marx’s design for the garden of the Ministry of the Army in Brasília from the early 1970s.”
The New York Times – “Revisiting the Constructed Edens of Roberto Burle Marx

I didn’t find a print, but did experience an aha! moment discovering the jewelry of Molly M. I was beginning to think I was hopelessly tone deaf when it comes to jewelry.
It’s gotten so bad that I’ll find myself at work completely denuded of any ornament, having forgotten to wear even a wedding band before leaving the house. What’s wrong with me anyway?
My indifference to jewelry all my life never really bothered me much, but I’ve begun to notice the emotional attachment people feel to their rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
Frankly, I’m a little envious of that attachment. So I had a couple Etsy sessions recently, dutifully scanning the sites for something to spark an interest. Nothing. Hopeless.
Until I saw the laser-cut creations of architect-trained Molly M in the Jewish Museum Shop tying into the Burle Marx exhibition.

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Finally, jewelry I actually desired. Now I get it! The Tropicalissimo Quill Necklace made a convert of me.
But a necklace is a big step for the newly converted, formerly jewelry phobic. Maybe there were earrings on Molly M’s own site?
Yes, there are Quill earrings available, as shown in the above photo.

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But at almost 2 inches in diameter, I opted for something smaller in “Radial,” made of “natural and charcoal stained birch.”

You can read more about Molly M here. I think I may have found, via our beloved Roberto Burle Marx, the cure to my jewelry phobia.

beyond the lawn; part 2

Leave, my friend (for it is high time), the low and sordid pursuits of life to others, and in this safe and snug retreat emancipate yourself for your studies.” — Pliny the Younger

Another house on the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour in Los Angeles this early May had some wonderful ideas.
Right at the curb, the broad, decomposed granite parkway provided stark contrast to the neighboring turfed properties.
Even though this house and garden stand out among the others on its street and carry a bit of the shock of the new, the design principles upon which it draws are old.
Very old. Ancient, in fact. Indeed, the designer didn’t stray very far at all from the source materials for mediterranean homes and gardens.

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Step away from the street and the double rows of parked cars, up a short flight of steps, and we could be entering a Roman villa.

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And I’m talking about garden principles faithful in spirit. The Romans would have used myrtle and box, not the Australian westringia, but the latter’s small leaves fit in seamlessly.

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Landscape architect Joseph Marek began work in 2011, with more fine-tuning in 2014.

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By a cleverly strategic, stripped-down use of water and plants, a lushness and vitality is nevertheless communicated and felt.
Through gestures such as the rill in the front garden.

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From the tour notes: “[I]n 2014…the garden was re-graded and all lawn was removed from both the front garden and the wide parkway.
Once cleared, the house’s true scale and presence were revealed…
A gurgling iris-lined lily pond, intersecting a richly colored sandstone and gravel courtyard surrounded by Mediterranean,
Australian and native California plants now welcomes neighbors and visitors
.”

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Step through the portico, follow the path into the back garden, and we could be in Ibiza or Santorini.

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The side path leads to a trellised table area.

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Looking from the pergola, past a small fountain, to the pool.

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Looking down the length of the pool reveals a prioritized, economical use of space.
(And to further update a neoclassical setting, I believe that’s actress Rosalind Chao, nee Keiko O’Brien of Star Trek: TNG, under the olive.)

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The chairs and fire pit area are semi-screened from the pergola by citrus and from the neighbors by towering bamboo.
Ancient principles are clearly stated here, that irrigation should not be wasted on plants serving as shallow-rooted carpeting underfoot.
Water is prized, framed and contained, where its liquid abilities to brim and spill can be appreciated, but never squandered.

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Looking at the main house.
Buxom evergreen plants of box and citrus flesh out the patterned geometric surfaces underfoot.
This all just makes so much sense for hot and dry Los Angeles, a frenetic city that requires strong doses of sanctuary (and not just from the sun).
As Pliny the Younger puts it, in such a place as this we can leave the “low and sordid pursuits of life to others.” Amen, Pliny.

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Looking at the apartment/studio connected by the pergola to the main house.
Materials could be COR-Ten steel, recycled concrete, any neoclassical references on pergolas can be stripped away.
The basic premise remains that, weather permitting, it’s outside the home where mundane activities like napping, reading, eating, become heightened adventures
shared with the birds, the wind, the sun. Perhaps it’s a primal link to a time when we were outdoors far more than indoors?

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Under a surface luxury lies careful, conservative planning, strategic use of plants, water, shade, based on timeless design principles for summer-dry climates.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re treated to more about this garden.


potted@lazybones: the start of a beautiful relationship

If you jump out of bed on weekends and race past the old, cat-clawed couch in the living room to head outside, scanning for the perfect spot for your shiny new Fermob table and chairs, then you probably already know about Potted, Los Angeles’ premiere outdoor living shop in Atwater Village, birthed by Annette Gutierrez and Mary Gray. Their design-savvy baby has grown by leaps and bounds in 12 years and is making new friends in Santa Monica, the boho clothing and housewares retailer Lazybones.

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Potted and Lazybones are so proud of their new collaboration, they’re throwing a party this weekend, with raffles, tarot readings, demos.

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The big outdoor space at Lazybones gives Potted the opportunity to really strut its stuff. Which means lots of new ideas for the garden for us.

I see it as a curated Potted West,” said co-owner Annette Gutierrez, “with unusual plants, our own products, ready-made planters and gifts for the garden.” — Los Angeles Times

Potted@Lazybones
opens this Memorial Day Weekend, May 28th and 29th, 2016
2929 Main St., Santa Monica, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
schedule of events here

(Tip: If you get there early, you’ll be leaving with free tillandsias in your hair!)

beyond the lawn; notes on 2016 LA Garden Conservancy Open Days

Since the 5/7/16 tour, Gov. Jerry Brown surprised us all by announcing that mandatory water restrictions are now suspended except for agriculture. Water use policies will revert back to the local level.
So pat yourself on the back for enduring those spartan showers, ditching the lawn, adding in more permeability to your garden, and overall diligent water use reduction efforts.
(But you still can’t hose down your driveway, so get over that.) Even so, this might be a good moment to emphasize the big picture. From The California Weather Blog:

Nearly all of California is still ‘missing’ at least 1 year’s worth of precipitation over the past 4 years, and in Southern California the numbers suggest closer to 2-3 years’ worth of ‘missing’ rain and snow.
These numbers, of course, don’t even begin to account for the effect of consecutive years of record-high temperatures, which have dramatically increased evaporation in our already drought-stressed region.”

And the bigger, possibly more sobering picture is that even in non-drought years, Los Angeles averages only 15 inches of rainfall. So the problem of too little water for too many people is not going away. Ever. And it was a problem long before the governor hit the red alert button. But you know what? Other cultures have already figured this out, this business of crowding ourselves into hot, dry lands. And there’s great examples all around town. Landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power’s garden on the recent GC Open Days tour is a case study of these principles. And while we all obsess over what to do with the lawn, her almost 20-year-old garden suggests we might also think about where outdoors to eat, nap, cook, read, chat with friends, daydream, warm by a fire, take shelter from the sun, catch an ocean breeze, inhale clouds of jasmine — the scope of possibilities extends far beyond the boundaries of that poster child for this drought, the lawn, and what replaces it.

I liked this line from that keen observer of all things Southern Californian, Joan Didion, in the 5/26/16 New York Review of Books. It easily applies to our attitudes about water in Los Angeles:

I have lived most of my life under misapprehensions of one kind or another.” Boy howdy, you said it, Ms. Didion. Don’t we all? (“California Notes” NYRB 5/26/16)

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This little table and chairs is at the front of Ms. Power’s small Santa Monica house, just off the street, entirely screened by plantings.
A short staircase zig-zags up from the sidewalk through retaining-wall beds filled with agaves and matilija poppies, depositing visitors in this shady “foyer.”
A potted cussonia at the entrance to a garden is always an auspicious sign of good things to come.

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Also in the front courtyard is the first of many small fountains and pools. Implicit is the strong affirmative that, yes, water is precious stuff.
Watch it glisten and sparkle in the sun, ripple in the wind, draw in birds. Just don’t ever take it for granted.

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Narrow passage to the back of the house, a jasmine-scented journey this time of year.

The forgotten spaces in most people’s houses — the side yards and setbacks — I look at as opportunities.”
(all quoted material from “Power of Gardens” by Nancy Goslee Power)

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Already you can sense the strong interplay between indoors and outdoors, the feeling of shelter extending beyond the house, eager to envelope and claim the outdoors as well.

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Up those distant steps leads to the banquette in the photo below.

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Ms. Power’s “napatorium.”

Walled gardens offer so many solutions still relevant in the modern world.
They give privacy and safety from the outside environment, often perceived as hostile.
The living spaces of the house open onto exterior spaces, and outdoor dining is possible in courtyards in good weather most of the year
.”

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[T]he more you define a space, the larger it becomes.”

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The view from the kitchen door.

I designed the water to be seen all the way through the house and make a strong central axis that pulls you outside.”

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A small apartment/cottage shares the wall with the rill.

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Dining area off the kitchen, where the colors warm up.

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The kitchen, windows open to the narrow, pebbled side passageway, a nook in the wall for a potted plant just visible through the window.

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More shaded seating just off the kitchen.

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Everywhere were the tell-tale signs that the outdoors were as lived in as the indoors, if not more so.

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From the street, you’d have no idea what lay up that small flight of steps off the sidewalk, so tours like this are much appreciated.
I wanted Casa Nancina to reveal herself slowly…I didn’t want my landscape to stand out.
It needed to be discreet and feel as if it belonged to the neigbhorhood
.”

an abbreviated look at the 4/17/2016 Los Angeles APLD tour

Of the eight gardens on the tour, divided into four in the morning, four in the afternoon, I visited six and drove by all of them.
I’m including photos of just three gardens from this tour themed “The Watershed Approach to Landscape Design.” (Another garden I visited was posted on here.)
This excellent tour was well organized, with the designer and owner available for questions at each garden. Smart phones and clear maps make driving tours like this a breeze now.
The tour occurred mid-day during another record-breaking heat wave, which meant a strong sun, deep shadows. I was mostly looking and listening, with the camera idle at my side.
Marty has always said I’ve got good “radar,” a trait that renders me a sometimes silent companion when dining in a restaurant.
For example, I can suddenly seem to go catatonic, staring off into the mid distance as I focus on an interesting conversation. (Eavesdropping, some might call it.)
During the tour I eavesdropped on questions asked of the designer or garden owner, figuring it would spare them answering the same questions from me.
I noticed that the owners were often blissfully unaware of plant names, irrigation systems. They loved their gardens as a whole and didn’t obsess over the components.
Once again, that relationship of trust between designer and client was an impressive thing to behold.

And sometimes the designer and client nail it, that chimerical vision of the garden-to-be, from inception, like the first garden on the tour.
Designed by Joel Lichtenwalter & Ryan Gates/Grow Outdoor Design, “Brentwood Mid-Century Woodland Garden.”
Everything was exactly the same as when I first toured it three years ago (here).
Which speaks volumes about the powerful mind meld that is possible between client and designer.

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Continue reading

a garden by Urbafloria

It’s a rare opportunity for me to be able to provide before-after photos of a dramatic garden transformation
Garden designer Jacky Surber of Urbafloria sent me this “before” photo after touring this garden on the Greater Los Angeles APLD Garden Tour 4/17/16.

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With the kids grown and the backyard no longer needed for their activities, it lost its importance in the family universe and looked like this for a while.
(There’s a very nice desert tortoise that lives in that igloo against the fence.)

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And now, garden despair happily averted.


This tour impressed me on many levels, one of which was the amazing results possible when there is a strong bond of trust between designer and client.
Living day in and out with this barren lunarscape, the owner still managed to dream big. She asked the designer to transform it into a small piece of the Arlington Garden in Pasadena, a strolling, dry garden of seasonal sights and sounds filled with California natives and mediterranean climate-appropriate plants. And within that alchemical bond that can sometimes — not always — form between designer and client, Jacky grasped her longing and made manifest that vision. The owner said she still walks her garden in wide-eyed wonder, in a “pinch me, I’m dreaming” state.

I grabbed just this one photo before racing off to other gardens on the tour. Several seating and napping areas are tucked in throughout the garden, and a small grove of the Catalina Ironwood, Lyonothamnus floribundus, are planted beyond the rose arch. If I remember correctly, the rose is ‘Social Climber.’
Rest assured, the desert tortoise is still there, a little bleary-eyed coming off of winter hibernation, but he tore into his first meal of lettuce with gusto.

Notes on this garden from the tour:

This backyard garden was inspired by the client’s love of the Arlington Garden in Pasadena. The garden features numerous seating nooks, an informal decomposed granite bocce ball court, as well as a mix of natives and other climate-appropriate plants. The main design challenge was remediating a yard that flooded every time it rained. The design solution was to create a large rain garden that is working fabulously! Planted in late 2014, the garden is growing in nicely and a small front yard was also recently installed.”

Greater Los Angeles APLD GardenTour 4/17/16


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On the tour: A garden designed by Joel Lichtenwalter and Ryan Gates of Grow Outdoor Design embodies the tour’s theme:
“The Watershed Approach to Landscape Design”
photo by MB Maher

The garden I posted about here in 2013 will be one of the eight gardens featured on the Greater Los Angeles APLD Garden Tour this Sunday, April 17, 2016.
You can pre-order your ticket online here.

After last week’s rains, the gardens should be sparklingly fresh.
Perfect timing for a first-hand look at landscapes built with water, or the lack thereof, on the brain.

I think I can grow these

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Not sure what goes with your new AstroTurf lawn?
Since 2004 Czech artist Veronika Richterova’s has cultivated a playful love affair with repurposing polyethylene teraphthalate (PET)


Since 2004 she has devoted herself systematically to serious artistic work with PET bottles. The easily malleable PET has surprisingly proved to be an excellent material for fulfilling her artistic intentions. For this offshoot of her artistic aspirations she has chosen the designation PET-ART…[Her] aim is to capture the fundamental principle of the human desire for creative recycling. And it is not in the least important whether the work in question is purely functional, or is simply a decorative object… .”

Flora & Bee


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In Sunset magazine this March 2016 is a profile of the home of garden designer Manda Galbraith, principal of Flora & Bee, located in Burien, Washington.
(“How to design a vibrantly colorful garden.“) I’ll be looking again and again at these luscious photos by David Perry all month. Enjoy.

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