Category Archives: garden travel

spring rush


Last Sunday we roadtripped up the coast about two hours near Carpinteria, where Seaside Gardens was having a “Spring Fling.”
The day before, Saturday, I drove myself two hours south to check out the San Diego Horticultural Society’s spring garden tour.
All told, I put 400 miles on the car. The spring rush is definitely on, and already I’m wondering if I’ve got the stamina to keep up.

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But it was so worth it. Everywhere I went the spectacular pin cushion flowers of leucospermum were stealing the show.
A Del Mar garden on the San Diego Horticultural Society tour was filled with these South African shrubs arrayed against a backdrop of Torrey pines.
Australian plants like grevilleas, isopogon, and banksias were well represented too.

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Even though it was a two-hour drive south, I took a chance on the San Diego Hort. Society tour this spring and was not at all disappointed.
Leucospermum and other members of the proteaceae family are grown commercially as cut flowers in San Diego, so it’s no wonder they flourish in private gardens too.
The steep banks of the owner’s ravine were a particularly favorable site.

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Looking down onto the floor of the ravine

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Grevillea ‘Peaches & Cream’ alongside the driveway at the entrance to the house and garden

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For a closeup view of these flamboyant pin cushions, these were some of the beauties Seaside Gardens had for sale on Sunday, about 200 miles north of San Diego.

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‘Tango’

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I think this one was labeled ‘Spider’

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This one was leaning on Leucadendron ‘Ebony’

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Leucospermum reflexum hybrid

in a hothouse

Or a greenhouse, hoop house. Located on Long Island, NY, visited in June 2013.
What I remember most was the all-engulfing moistness of the environment. Evapotranspiration so intense as to make one giddy.
Which is undoubtedly why I lingered for a very long time, to take photos of familiar plants grown so beautifully as summer bedding in that heated greenhouse on Long Island.
Moving slowly between the growing benches, I drifted into reveries of shopping for the summer home in Montauk, to fill the conservatory with lush hanging baskets.
Another life, another garden (another bank account). Would I leave my sunny, arid home for a Gatsbyesque estate with plentiful summer rainfall?
These are the questions that arise when visiting a Long Island hothouse on a lovely day in June. (It’s good to be home.)
Except for the begonias, it wasn’t a botanically palpitating experience.
To me begonias are still the boss for summer containers, light on water, arresting in leaf. I need to find a Begonia luxurians again pronto.
(No need for winter protection here in zone 10. I stack my potted begonias under dry eaves for the winter.)
But it was impressive enough just checking out the growing operations and the boisterous health of well-cared for plants coming out of a winter’s sleep.

Have a great weekend. Maybe visit a local greenhouse?

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notes on spring planting

Though it may not be readily apparent, there really is something positive to say about the garden in January. I’ve been cutting back the grasses, and even allowing for the dozens of poppy seedlings that are emerging and staking a claim on spring, there’s still an impressive amount of vacant planting space opening up. All of which adds zest to a favorite wintertime game, a game played by a mortal pretending to be a god: What do I want spring through fall to look like in my little garden in 2016? In all honesty, a lot of it will look like a dead ringer for 2015, but January is when optimism for the new gardening year is at its zenith and anything feels possible. Astonishing, never-before-seen visions of extraordinary plant beauty are surely to come.


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Like the Catalina Silverlace, Constancea nevinii, seen recently at the Theodore Payne Nursery.


Like envisioning a delicious meal, I daydream in textures, aromas, flavors sweet and sharp. For those few planting places opening up, will it be smooth or crunchy? I have lots of smooth succulents, so let’s find something crunchy, shrubby. It can’t be anything too rich and water dependent, so no traditional, overbred, cordon bleu garden plants. And I’d like something whose flavor won’t overwhelm the rest of this mulligan’s stew, which is heavy on variegated plants and spicy agaves. What’s needed is something in a quietly textural, supporting role. Maybe something in herbs? Isn’t winter savory an attractive little shrub, or is that summer savory? Maybe dracocephalum? Or lavender again, but it’s always iffy in this clay, and I just don’t want to play those odds this year. Plus I want something that billows, smallish in stature. Nepeta has been disappointing, even the much-lauded ‘Walker’s Low.’ What about calamints? Resource lean, aromatic, shrubby. I’ve grown a few kinds before but eventually backed away from their wildly prolific reseeding tendencies. Maybe there’s something new in calamints I haven’t tried?

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Eriogonum crocatum

Some light research turns up Calamintha nepeta ‘Montrose White,’ a calamint discoverd by Nancy Godwin at her Montrose Nursery. Long-blooming, doesn’t reseed, a summer-long feast for pollinators. It’s even won top honors as Perennial of the Year in 2010. Okay, then, calamint it is. Digging Dog Nursery in Albion, California, carries it, along with an intriguing perovskia called ‘Lacey Blue,’ a dwarf form of Russian Sage. With plants like these, summer 2016 can turn up the heat all it wants. We’ll be ready.

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Aristida purpurea

An order to Digging Dog is dispatched, and that settles that. But what else? Wasn’t there an eriogonum I’ve been itching to grow? I have plant notes around here somewhere. Yes, there it is, a smallish native buckwheat with silver leaves and chartreuse flowers, tolerates clay. Eriogonum crocatum! I think I can squeeze in maybe two. Now, who carries it? Why, Theodore Payne does, a mere hour’s drive to Sun Valley, just past Glendale. So be it. (And what should be playing on the radio the whole trip, there and back, but a tribute to David Bowie. I jump in the car, turn on KCRW, and there’s the thumping bass of Panic in Detroit. An auspicious beginning for any road trip.)


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At the entrance to the nursery is an impressive stand of our native Agave shawii

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See that slender, bright green column behind the pots?

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Catalina Ironwood in a ceramic container. Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius.
I stared at this tree long enough that a nursery person approached to warn me not to try this at home.
She explained this was basically tree abuse that they practiced to obtain cuttings for the nursery.
Trees in containers always seem like such a good idea in January, long before they become a miserable chore in July.

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So I wandered the grounds near the nursery. With just an hour before closing, there wasn’t time to explore the canyon (22 acres!)

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Arctostaphylos cruzensis

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Pinus sabiniana, Grey Pine, Foothill Pine, Ghost Pine (lovely pine!)

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I was recently cleaning up this grass in my garden, Aristida purpurea, and inadvertently pulled up the whole clump.

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Not a regimented, upright grass but ethereal, wispy to the point of disorganized. There are more purple tones than the photos show.

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Dudleya densiflora

Riding in the back, serenaded by Bowie all the way home, were two Eriogonum crocatum and a Catalina Silverlace, Constancea nevinii.
2016 is really starting to take shape.


blogger meetup at the Huntington

I should have talked less and picked up the camera more at the meetup this past Saturday at the Huntington Botanical Garden, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun as our nonstop gabfest. The occasion for the meetup was Gerhard (Succulents & More) visiting Los Angeles at the end of a week-long winter sabbatical — a plant-centric sabbatical, of course, which he will be blogging about forthwith. Gail (Piece of Eden), Gail’s husband Alan, Luisa (Crow & Raven), and I were the Southern California welcoming committee.


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Also part of Gerhard’s welcoming committee were the winter-blooming aloes.

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With so many aloes in bloom, the desert garden absorbed all our time and attention.

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Aloe sinkatana

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Aloe rubroviolacea

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We’re all pretty fond of agaves too.

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And hechtias.

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In fact, there’s very little about the desert garden that we’re not all crazy in love with.
I hope Luisa does a post on her beloved opuntias. Alan admirably fulfilled documentary duties.


The desert garden is always jaw-droppingly amazing, but this time I wish I had more photos to substantiate my enthusiasm for the plantings in the new entrance garden. I grabbed a couple photos as I left in the early afternoon, which just hint at the large swathes of the landscape made predominantly of muhly grasses interspersed with kniphofia and aloes. The grasses carry the scene nearly year-round and are especially stunning fall and winter, at their shimmering best in the low angled light. The Huntington’s own hybrid Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ is in bloom now, and then the torch will be handed over to Aloe ‘David Verity.’ Very minimalist but strategically smart succession planting on a waterwise budget, with washes of blue supplied by the mallee shrub Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ The grasses are Muhlenbergia dubia, Muhlenbergia rigens, and Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails.’ There was also a small massed planting of Hesperaloe ‘Brakelights,’ and lots of other things like verbascum and glaucium, but the overall mood of the landscape is governed by swaying, glittering sweeps of grass.

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More like a quick watercolor sketch than a photo, but the general idea is conveyed.
The blue wash is from Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon.’ Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ is in bloom, like little signal fires dotted amongst the grasses.
After the kniphofia fires die down, Aloe ‘David Verity’ will light up the Muhlenbergia dubia. Really smart, gorgeously simple planting.

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Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ is a hybrid of Kniphofia rooperi that emerged from the Huntington in the 1970s.
From San Marcos Growers website:
John MacGregor, long-time horticulturist at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, noted that this plant is one of the best winter hummingbird plants he knew of for mild climates.”

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The new entrance garden warrants another, much more comprehensive visit.
And without my blogger friends, there’ll be less talk and more photos. But not nearly as much fun.

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.

Continue reading Seaside Gardens, Carpinteria, Calif.

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.