the case of the disappearing hebes

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I was in San Francisco recently for several days cat-sitting a charming fraidycat in the Mission district named Banksy.
It was during this trip that I solved the case of the disappearing hebes, those lovely little shrubs from New Zealand.
Because I just can’t seem to acquire a photojournaling habit of anything but plants, I’m borrowing some of Jessica’s wonderfully expressive photos to fill in the cast of characters.

photo from Thread and Bones

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photo from Thread and Bones

This hallway was definitely a character on the trip. Since this photo was taken a couple years ago, it has been covered, and I mean every inch of it, with throw rugs.
Because of the rugs, the apartment has taken on the personality of 221B Baker Street.
Also because of the rugs, the downstairs neighbors were spared the deafening knowledge that a corgi had taken up temporary residence and was delighting in thundering up and down that hallway.
After a quick visit with Mitch and Jessica the night before they left for some lengthy photo work, we had the “railroad” apartment to ourselves for five days.
Banksy pretty much kept to his room, the middle bedroom, and we had the front, streetside bedroom.

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So it was the four of us, me, Marty, Ein, and Banksy, and that long hallway, where the curtain billows all day just as in the photo.
Ein emptied out the kibble from the cat bowl only twice, showing amazing self-restraint…for a corgi.

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photo from Thread and Bones

Banksy and Ein, while not exactly enemies, didn’t become best friends either.

We were thrilled to be leaving the stifling heat in Los Angeles for the legendary cool summer environs of San Francisco.
Surprising both us and the mostly non-air-conditioned residents of San Francisco, the heat was stifling there as well. The Mission hit 100 degrees the day we arrived.

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While in the city, of course, there was the ritual trip to Flora Grubb Gardens

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and the required visit to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, timed nicely with fall planting.

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I also horned in on a tour of the Reid garden near Sebastopol via my very nice contact at the American Conifer Society, Sara Malone, whose own fabulous garden at Circle Oak Ranch was also on the tour.
Unfortunately, I only had time for the early morning visit to the Reid garden and had to get the car back to the city.

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Glimpse of a mature leucadendron on the upper left. I think the garden is likely in zone 9.
Penstemons, zauschnerias/epilobiums, ceratostigma and salvias were in bloom, with some roses having a late-summer flush.

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The garden has incredible atmosphere and spatial presence built up over decades of deeply informed selection and placement of beautifully appropriate plants.

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The Reid garden is not at all conifer-centric, but a wonderful mix of dry-adapted trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials.

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I believe the rose on the arbor behind the potted agave is ‘Mme Alfred Carriere,’ a creamy, very fragrant climbing noisette.

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The blue pool on the lower left is Crambe maritima. Mine have done remarkably well all summer on restricted irrigation.

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I’ve wanted to see this garden since learning of it through Pacific Horticulture.

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Back to the case of the disappearing hebes. I confess I hadn’t thought about hebes in years and hadn’t even noted their disappearance from SoCal.

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Along with traipsing through spectacular gardens, there were mundane chores to do in the city as well, like laundry.
Needing the services of a Laundromat and finding the one familiar to us in the Mission shuttered, we headed to the Marina district.
Which is where I found this majestic stand of Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’
I dropped off Marty and Ein at a nearby Laundromat and promised to bring back food. But first I needed to examine these enormous clumps of salvia.
They were admirably dense and uniform in habit, unlike the rangy specimens I grow. This planting is at the George Moscone Recreation Center.

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The shrubs surrounding the salvias were just as remarkable. Hebes! Beautiful New Zealanders. I haven’t seen hebes for ages.

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Ruddy coprosmas with pale, variegated hebes.

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There used to be hebes in Southern California. Where had they all gone? Is changing fashion ruthless enough to cause complete eradication?
Possibly, but even more ruthless is Fusarium oxysporum v. hebei. From the Monterey Bay Nursery website:

[F]ormerly important stalwarts in California landscaping, but now essentially extirpated due to the introduction of Fusarium oxysporum v. hebei. This disease persists in soils and nursery beds for years, and induces systemic, incurable stem infections which ravage landscapes and commercial crops. By the early 1990’s hebes had essentially left the commercial trade in California.”

Rather than choosing for flowers, my favorites have always been “those with tight, dense, box-like foliage in grey or green, and the whipcord types with minute, scale like leaves and stringy branches…
Some of the smaller leaved types can be more resistant, may be tested in the ground, but don’t come crying to us if they die. You have been forewarned
!”

I have no idea what chances for longevity the hebes at the Moscone Rec Center have, but they appear for now to be in robust good health.
I personally have no problem with short-lived plants, say three to five years. I love the changeover. But public landscapes are on different timetables.

Upon returning home, awaiting me was the July issue of Gardens Illustrated with, of all things, an article on hebes by Noel Kingsbury.
Famous for championing the “new naturalism,” comprised of perennials and grasses, Mr. Kingsbury struck me as an unlikely proponent of these tidy shrubs, but the man knows his hebes.
He describes the changing fortunes of hebes as falling in and out of favor relative to garden styles, whereas in California the reason for their disappearance is not mercurial tastes but insidious pathogens.

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Hebe ‘Quicksilver,’ photo from 2010

The next time I find a Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ at a nursery, I’ll know its chances for survival face much better odds in a container than in the garden.

Natural Discourse: Flora & Fauna; A Day at the Natural History Museum 10/17/15

From the Natural Discourse event registration page:

Natural Discourse has been invited to explore the Natural History Museum! The Museum opens its doors for a day-long conversation about gardens, art, science, and collections.

Natural Discourse is an ongoing series of symposia, publications, and site-specific art installations that explores the connections between art, architecture, and science within the framework of botanical gardens and natural history museums.”

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Image above from Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium at Houghton Library at Harvard University
Maura C. Flannery, Professor of Biology at St John’s University, will reveal the secret lives of herbarium specimens

Living (and suffering) as we do in a mostly plant-blind world, there are precious few opportunities to further our appreciation of plants as the real engine that drives our world. The Natural Discourse series of lectures has evolved into an invigorating and must-see event for plant lovers since its inception in 2012. Whether the theme is Form & Function, Culture & Cultivation, Light & Image, or 2015’s Flora & Fauna, garden designer and symposium curator Shirley Watts unfailingly assembles a deep bench of artists, designers, writers, and scientists whose work, in surprising and brilliantly idiosyncratic ways, celebrates the primacy of plants. My geek love for plants not only finds a natural echo but is amplified and expanded in undreamt of ways. As well as being located in Southern California again, I appreciate the timing in the month of October as a kind of requiem to Los Angeles’ long summer.

If you haven’t attended a Natural Discourse before, there’s so many reasons to make the event this year your first.
The setting in Exposition Park means not only are there a number of other museums to visit and gardens to explore, but the strategic Metro stop at Exposition Park means you can leave the car home.
In Los Angeles, that counts as an arms-raised-in-a-V triumph.
The vast complex of museums means if a pal would rather ogle dinosaur bones or visit the California Science Center to view the majestic space shuttle Endeavour, you can easily part ways and reunite off and on throughout the day.

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James Griffith, From the Infinite to the Particular 4, tar on panel
Image courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery

Personally, I’m wildly excited to hear the official “tar story.” I’ve blogged several times on James Griffith’s use of local tar as a medium for his current work.
Due to Shirley’s formidable persuasive powers, now we can all hear his remarkable account in person.
(James’ tar painting theme dovetails nicely with the Keynote Lecture given by Rosamond Purcell at La Brea Tar Pits and Museum on Friday, October 16, at 6:30 p.m.)

Long-standing champion of restoration of the cement-bottomed Los Angeles River, landscape architect Mia Lehrer is another speaker I won’t want to miss.
Ms. Lehrer recently converted a four-acre parking lot at Exposition Park into garden:

We created a four-acre garden on what was once the parking lot for both staff and visitors on the side of the museum that faces Exposition Boulevard. There was an ambition to open up the museum to the community, and to the Metro that traverses Exposition Boulevard to become not just a museum of natural history but also become more relevant through its exploration into urban ecology by creating gardens that allow a better way to live in the city.” – L.A. Designer: Mia Lehrer, Shaping The City Through Public Space

Jim Folsom, Director of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, will speak on plant exploration and collections. Another example of Shirley’s curatorial genius, photographer Rosamond Purcell’s resume includes work with comedian/magician/actor Ricky Jay as well as naturalist Stephen Jay Gould. These are not solemn, fidget-in-your-seat lectures but bracing, wide-ranging, wholly engrossing explorations of culture intersecting with plants from myriad vantage points. I promise you, for the price of a dinner for two, your plant-loving soul will be fed and nurtured enough to see you through winter and into spring. I’m going to try to remember to wear a name tag, so please grab my elbow and say hello.


The complete list of speakers:

JoAnne Northrup, Director of Contemporary Art Initiatives at the Nevada Museum of Art, on taxidermy, contemporary art, and 19th century wildlife painting
Maura C. Flannery, Professor of Biology at St John’s University, on the secret lives of herbarium specimens
Jim Folsom, Director of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, on plant exploration and collections
James Griffith, Painter, on using tar from the LaBrea Tar Pits as an artistic medium
Mia Lehrer, Landscape Architect, on the creation of the Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum
Rosamond Purcell, Photographer, on her images of Natural History collections around the world
Natania Meeker & Antonia Szabari, Associate Professors of French, Italian and Comparative Literature at USC, on animated plants and vegetal cinema


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Lotusland, garden provocateur

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More from that June visit to Lotusland, Ganna Walska’s 37-acre estate near Santa Barbara, California.

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In the comments to this post, Emily kindly provided a link to an English series “Around the World in 80 Gardens,” in which a visit to Lotusland is covered in Episode 5.

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The host’s reaction to Lotusland, where everything is “unfettered, including taste,” is worth the viewing.
He had a virulent reaction to the abalone-rimmed pool, deeming it a “monstrous hideosity,” which is not unusual. Many hate the kitschy clam shells.
But Walska’s maverick emphasis on climate-appropriate, architectural plants, de-emphasizing flowers, escapes him.
Her precocious, early adoption of the dramatic massing of plants goes unnoticed.

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In the same episode, the Huntington Desert Garden also confounds him. Indeed, no context for the influence of climate is offered in the episode I watched.
Gardens are seen as nothing but a triumph of style, a groundless expression of taste.

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One of my favorite moments is when our exasperated host quizzes James van Sweden, a pioneer in naturalistic planting, as to why there’s not much garden culture in the U.S.
Mr. van Sweden, whose work succeeded in the sweltering heat of Washington, D.C., coolly eyes his theory-hungry British guest before dryly responding, “Because it’s hot.”

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But the provocative garden legacy of Madame Walska may appear more pioneering today than is historically accurate.
Lotusland’s originality may be by default, as other estate gardens of that era failed to financially survive.
Just about the time Lotusland was taking its present form in the early 1940s, a nearby cactus garden was being dismantled, victim of a fortune lost in the Great Depression.
From 1928 to 1942, Ysabel Wright made a garden in Montecito that in its brief lifespan held the world’s largest collection of cactus, with visitors like Albert Einstein.
The March-April 2015 Cactus and Succulent Journal has a wonderful piece on this garden by Catherine Phillips entitled “The Lost Cactus Garden of ‘Quien Sabe.’”
Both Lotusland and the Huntington Desert Garden procured plants from Quien Sabe as the collection was dispersed.
Ms. Phillips quotes a naturalist’s first impression of the garden after Ms. Wright had abandoned it and left for the East Coast, never to return:
Not all the breadth of the continent had prepared me for anything like this, and I stood lost in it,
staring at the rigid architectural beauty of the cacti and at the mountains that reared behind them turning blue with the dusk
.” — Donald Culross Peattie

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Ms. Phillips’ article on Quien Sabe describes “a particularly Californian ‘cactus-feminism’…a gendered response to the desert that ‘calls to women.'”

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Wright’s garden was built at the dawn of a gentle resistance to the exotic plant introductions and European garden designs that the city was famous for, inaugurating a move towards an advocacy of local flora (The Santa Barbara botanic Garden began in 1926). Through foreign introductions the cactus craze perpetuated the Santa Barbara tradition for botanical diversity, but at the same time the cactus enthusiasm suited a more ‘modern,’ more spontaneous genre with an affinity to a landscape that was not the Mediterranean but was California. Gardeners were looking to incorporate cactus harmoniously and naturally into design, without the crowded minutiae of the rock garden or the formality and artifice of earlier cactus garden models…” — “The Lost Cactus Garden of ‘Quien Sabe'”

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The Ventura and Santa Barbara counties are filled with the stories, if no longer the extant gardens, of women transformed by the climate into plant obsessives.
In his notes on Lotusland, Geoff Stein (aka “palmbob”) alludes to another extraordinary plantswoman, the “Palm Queen,” Pauleen Sullivan, who died in 2012:
(“One of my favorite palm people, Pauleen Sullivan, a leader in her own field of palm collecting and growing in California, was approached by Madame Walska in the late 1970s,
offering to buy many of Pauleen’s favorite palms for Lotusland.
Pauleen refused, of course (another stubborn plant personality), sending Madame Walska off in disbelief, as she had offered Pauleen a substantial amount of money
.”)

scenes from Lotusland; the Lemon Arbor

Since I snapped hundreds, I’ll probably be trickling out photos of my June visit to Lotusland for months to come.

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The Eureka lemon tree arbor, planted in 1988, is probably one of the more sedate and traditional features of Lotusland.
This arbor might be a good place to start, showing as it does how Ganna Walska had absorbed the principles of the many formal gardens she knew from Europe.
Disappointed in love, and knowing an allee from an arbor, she came to California in her fifties ready to create a bold, brave garden unlike any before it. Or since, for that matter.

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The garden had experienced a rare June rainstorm, receiving .6 inches just before my visit.
The buffs, tans, dark greens, bright yellows and greys were especially vivid under an overcast sky and cleansed of accumulated grime.

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I’ve delayed posting on this visit, hoping to find and read her memoir “Always Room at the Top” before I do.
Written before she made Lotusland, I’m not sure what insights the account of her six husbands and minor opera career would reveal about her character that her garden doesn’t.

This article by The Los Angeles Times from 2005 is one of the best background pieces I’ve read on her.

Seaside Gardens, Carpinteria, Calif.

By now it’s fairly obvious that visiting plant nurseries and gardens are two of my favorite pursuits.
The ultimate in garden touring is possible when occasionally, though all too rarely, both pursuits can be accomplished at one location.
The list of West Coast nurseries with attached gardens include the fabled Western Hills and Heronswood, (both now undergoing a renaissance under new ownership), Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, the Ruth Bancroft Garden, and quite a few nurseries in the Pacific Northwest, including Cistus, Joy Creek Nursery, Far Reaches Farm, Dragonfly Farms, Dancing Oaks.
I’m sure there are local favorites near you, such as Plant Delights in North Carolina and White Flower Farms in Connecticut.
And now many botanical gardens keep a good selection of plants on sale year-round.

I spent a couple intensely enjoyable, moodily overcast days last week visiting nurseries and gardens in and around Santa Barbara, including Seaside Gardens near Carpinteria, which is one of those rare nurseries with excellent display gardens that is fast becoming a well-blogged nursery/garden destination. It has the kind of garden you dash in and out of to check stock at the nursery of a particular plant just seen in full, dazzling growth in the garden. In my case, it was Alstroemeria ‘The Third Harmonic.’ I grew it once, panicked at its gigantic ways, eradicated every tuber, and have missed it ever since.
And it’s not been easy to find again. But there it was in bloom in a garden at Seaside.

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The following photos of the growing grounds are a result of asking a nice gentleman to check if he had this alstroemeria after spotting it in the garden.
None were for sale in the retail section, so we took a stroll through the growing grounds to find if any were ready for sale.
During our walk through row after row of the seductive building blocks of future gardens, I bemoaned my experience with TTH, its enormous size and sprawling ways.
My guide said I had given it too much water, that it never tops 4 feet at the nursery and is in fact a good candidate for dry gardens.
Discussing problem plants with nursery people is the best kind of talk therapy.

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He said he began to grow these plants because nobody else would, gesturing to the many proteaceae family members.
Seeing this incredible inventory of mediterranean, dry garden plants, I mentioned that the nursery was in the catbird seat now with the advent of the recent water restrictions.
My guide shook his head and said he’s seen it all before. People begin to adapt to drier conditions, and then the rains return, causing the best water-wise intentions to wither away.

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I remember the drought in the late ’70s, and this one just feels different, like a true tipping point.

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visiting Ms. Fish’s garden


In 1993, when my boys were 5 and 10, we took our first vacation without them. It was a big emotional deal for all of us to be apart some 10 days, but I needed to see if there really existed such gardens as those I knew of only through books. Gardens where plants were king. They certainly didn’t exist in my part of the U.S. (Back then I had very little understanding of climactic influence on garden style.) But how did one find such places pre-Internet? By running one’s finger down the indices of garden books and making copious lists cross-referenced against maps, of course. This is how our itinerary was born. The majority of destinations were in England, with a few outliers such as Powis Castle in Wales and Logan Botanic Garden in Scotland. We all know the names. Kew Gardens, Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, Barrington Court, Hidcote, Hestercombe, Mottisfont, Barnsley House, Tintinhull, Packwood House, Wakehurst Place, East Lambrook Manor and many more. We chose September because it was cheaper than spring or summer, joined the National Trust, which is an incredible deal when visiting lots of gardens, and rented a car. England is such a small country that 3 or 4 gardens can be seen in a day, and having gone vacationless for so long, both Marty and I had quite the pent-up need for an adventurous road trip. (Or as adventurous as a road trip can be in England.) The miles of immaculate hedges, Lutyens’ stonework at Great Dixter and Hestercombe, deer in the early morning Italianate mist at Powis Castle, it was all incredibly rich, in multiple senses of that word, but what mainly resonated with me was the fierce love of plants everywhere in evidence. And at East Lambrook Manor at least was a smallish garden, not too grand, with a little attached plant nursery. I’m sure I carried a few of that nursery’s plants back home in my suitcase, maybe even Astrantia ‘Margery Fish,’ when I was still trialing such SoCal-averse plants in my garden. But I took no photos so have nothing to post, and I can’t seem to locate the journal I kept of our travels, though the letters I wrote to the boys are around here somewhere. I’ve never been one to desire an “English” garden or even a “cottage garden,” but I can still point to that trip for abetting a tendency to crowd far too many plants in one garden.

What reminded me of this trip today, apart from the holiday, is a piece on Margery Fish in Slate entitled “A Gardener’s Revenge,’ by Rachel Cooke, extracted from her book “Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties.” I had no idea that Ms. Fish’s garden at East Lambrook started out as a conjugal battle of wills:

The ideological battle must commence. In the red (and yellow and orange) corner is Walter, with his Tudorbethan ideas about tidiness and color. In the green corner is Margery, all sculptural seed pods and luxuriant foliage. Walter is alarmed. He hadn’t taken his wife for a modernist. So he goes on the attack, arguing for, and winning, his much-desired lawn, a province with which he is soon quite obsessed. ‘Walter would no more have left his grass uncut or the edges untrimmed than he would have neglected to shave,’ writes Margery, who at this stage in the book is still doing her best impression of a loyal wife.”

Sounds like a great read, doesn’t it? Walter would be appalled at the annihilation of lawns currently taking place in California. Margery, on the other hand, I’m sure would be cheering us on.

notes on some spring plant sales

Is that a water pistol in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?


I’ve been hearing from friends in the retail nursery business that the new water restrictions have them very worried. Indeed, I’ve been told retail sales for April were most discouraging.
Yet botanical garden plant sales this spring, which understandably bring out the most avid plant lovers, have been mobbed.
Undaunted, unbowed, we’re still in search of a new plant love, just like every spring before this momentous one, but keeping a closer eye on our latest infatuation’s potential drinking problem.
(At Fullerton Arboretum’s outdoor Green Scene, this year’s darling was Pimelia ferruginea, helpfully in full bloom. It seemed to be in everyone’s cart.)

But since the announcement, the confusion and dismay of the lawn-and-foundation-shrub crowd is palpable. There’s even panicked talk of deploying Astroturf.
A simple, reasonably easy-to-maintain, preferably inexpensive solution to the space between the sidewalk and front door is wanted now.
Local nurseries have a huge opportunity to lead the masses into a dry garden oasis, possibly by more focus on small display gardens instead of benches and benches of summer “color.”

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Now, this is a plant sale. San Francisco Botanical Garden plant sale 5/2/15. Shopping carts!

Along with Fullerton Arboretum’s Green Scene, I’ve attended the Huntington and the San Francisco Botanical Garden sales.
These photos are all from SF, a plant sale I’d never attended before. Was it worth the 6-hour drive? Absolutely, every minute of it.
(Plus, I got to stop in and give Mitch a hug for his birthday later in the week.)

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Prices were unbelievably low, the selection much more rarified than the plant sales in SoCal.
I lingered long and hard at the proteaceae table. That’s Grevillea juniperina ‘Molonglo’ in the foreground.

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Here was the Leucadendron argenteum I’ve been waiting for, but ultimately I passed. It’s a big beast.
I took a chance instead on a Protea neriifolia, which probably won’t get very big in my garden, if you take my meaning…

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A book table was a nice touch, but I didn’t spend too much time here (any!). The variety of plants was way too distracting.

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Some desirables were sitting not on sales tables anymore but in somebody else’s cart, like this bomarea. In somebody’s unattended cart.
That moral dilemma might be too much for some attendees. Fortunately, I was forearmed with the knowledge that life in Los Angeles for bomareas is a struggle for survival.
After a couple years, mine is still alive, but just barely. Sometimes it’s so hard to distinguish that fine line between still getting established and fading away entirely.

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Oh, there was plenty of juicy looking stuff, like Mukdenia rossii. Walk away, just walk away.

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Now we’re talking. There was a huge California native section too.

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Lemony flutterby poppies.

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And a big succulent selection, of course.. I think the only area SoCal has SF beat is in agaves. Not a big selection in SF.
But then that’s what the Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sales are for. I wish there had been time to stop by this trip, but there just wasn’t.

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I’ve been thinking of lavenders a lot too. Absolutely nowhere to put them at the moment.

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Plant sale haul at home. Protea neriifolia, Leucadendron laxum, Plectranthus zuluensis. The white dierama in bloom was too cheap to pass up.
(But I do apologize in advance for moving you to my garden, the renowned graveyard of dieramas.)
The dierama was planted near Eryngium pandanifolium and Rudbeckia maxima, both of which wouldn’t mind it moist but tolerate drier conditions when established.
(Rudbeckia maxima was found at the Green Scene plant sale.
I spotted the rudbeckia’s big silvery paddle leaves at a display garden at Fullerton Arboretum and tracked it down to their store, The Potting Shed.)

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And this marvelous creature came home from SF, too, a species watsonia.

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I’ve grown the garden hybrids of this South African bulb off and on, which bulk up fast and get bigger than phormiums.
I got a bit bored with the pink and white selections of those. This one’s color reminds me of Nerine sarniensis.

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With a pronounced seductive red flush on the stems and leaves.

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Coincidentally, I bumped into a Protea neriifolia in bloom that weekend at Flora Grubb Gardens.
FGG is where I found my Mother’s Day present, a new container for my Cussonia spicata, which literally busted through the old one.

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And a happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers of invention, gardens, kids and/or animals. May you find a new pot for your growing cussonia!
The skies have turned cloudy and, believe it or not, slightly rainy, so I’ve turned my attention to getting the vegetable garden sorted out, beans planted, tomatoes tied up, etc.

CSSA 2015 Biennial Convention, June 14-19, 2015

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agave at South Coast Botanic Garden, a former open pit mine for diatomite extraction, then landfill, now botanic garden

I should probably split this glut of information into several posts, but if I don’t sit down right now and do it, the churning river of obligations that is my life at the moment will whisk me away again.
And there I’ll be, bobbing out of sight, heading for tumbling rapids and waterfalls unknown, while important, time-sensitive information goes unmentioned.

So here’s the really important news, conveniently placed at the top of what may turn into a very long post:

The Cactus and Succulent Society of America/CSSA is holding its 2015 biennial convention in Claremont, California, at Pitzer College, June 14-19.
There hasn’t been a convention in my hometown Los Angeles since 2001, so I’m looking at this as basically a gift from the CSSA to me. (Thank you so much!)
Since 2000, the grounds of Pitzer College have been in the capable hands of Joe Clements, who formerly headed the desert garden at the Huntington.
So, needless to say, the surroundings for the convention will be extraordinary. (You can read Nan Sterman’s article on Pitzer for Pacific Horticulture here.)

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2015 Dates to Remember

I’ve been working on 2015 plants sales and plant show dates under the heading Dates to Remember, top of the page.
Please feel free to send along info on anything I’ve missed or something worthy that must not go unmentioned.
And in the spirit of anticipating 2015 road trips, I’m reprising a 2013 visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, which is having their spring sale March 20-22, 2015.

It’s pushing the concept of a day trip to its limit when it takes five hours each way, there and back, but the DBG was having their spring plant sale and, dammit, I needed to go. So the math worked out neatly in multiples of five, including five hours spent at the garden, making it a 15-hour day trip. More math: Phoenix’s average rainfall is about 8 inches a year, while Los Angeles nearly doubles that at 15 or 16 inches, though current LA rainfall totals are below average. Phoenix like Los Angeles was in the middle of a warm spell this past week, and temperatures in the garden were over 90. For whatever reason, the plant sale, the weather, the early spring season, it was a mob scene, and lots of appreciatively awestruck comments were overheard like, “Can you believe this place?!”

Believe it.

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So what five plants did I bring home? There the math broke down, and we traveled light. Most of the smaller plants had been bought, and I can’t in all conscience rip up the headliner in yet another car. Mark your calendars and do the math for a day trip/road trip to Phoenix’s DBG for their next plant sale in October. Oh, and you might want to borrow a friend’s truck.

“The Artful Garden” featuring Shirley Watts, Portland, Oregon 2/15/15


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Detail of mural in the new reception hall at Rancho Los Alamitos.


I don’t suppose there’s the smallest chance we’ll ever see a “bullet train” built that runs to Portland, Oregon, since the voter-approved Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed train has been delayed two years and still faces an uphill political battle. Whether by train or plane, a girl can dream of buying a ticket for next weekend to hear Bay Area artist and garden designer Shirley Watts give a talk sponsored by the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon entitled “The Artful Garden” at Portland State University’s Hoffman Hall, 1 p.m., Sunday, February 15, 2015. Coincidentally, Shirley was in Los Angeles briefly last week, and we met up at Rancho Los Alamitos, where I had the benefit of her discerning perspective as we strolled the grounds. Typical for me, I see plants, plants, agaves, plants, more plants, where Shirley will remark, What an odd figure-eight amoeba shape they put the lawn into here! Must be California modernism seeping into the early rancho style. The low adobe walls, the original cement pottery, the placement of a bench, none of it escaped her quick eye, and my visit was that much richer for her comments and musings. With her deep knowledge of plants and antennae exquisitely tuned to the romance and atmosphere of a place, I couldn’t have enjoyed the visit more if it had been led by one of the Rancho’s docents.

That Saturday I arrived an hour early to wander the gardens, so I’ll leave you with my photos of plants and more plants, and the occasional horse (Preston, the two-year-old Shire).
For the full-bodied pleasure of viewing gardens through Shirley’s eyes, you’ll have to hear her speak this Sunday.

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