Monthly Archives: February 2010

Miracle on 28th Street

A minor miracle, just an urban meadow.

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This is a large medical complex that has been undergoing lots of construction and expansion of new hospital wings. The meadow,
although just adjacent to the entrance, is slightly below grade and ringed with big plants like phormium and strelitzia, so unless
you’re on the sidewalk, it remains unseen from the street.

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A decomposed granite path winds through the center.

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Anigozanthus, kangaroo paws, is planted on the perimeter at this viewing area. It will be interesting to see how these bulky
perimeter plantings mitigate the lack of interest the meadow will hold in its off season, which would seem to be the intent.

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A glimpse of the Purple Orchid tree, bauhinia, to the left of the corrugated palm trunks.

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One of Nancy Goslee Power’s favorite plants, strelitzia, the Bird of Paradise. I confess it has never been one of mine,
most likely a simple case of familiarity breeding contempt.

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I could find no information on this meadow, how or why it was planted, if it’s temporary or a permanent feature.
Although deceptively simple in appearance, a meadow can be tricky to get started.
This one had a few bare patches where germination was poor. Although lupines and California poppies predominate, there was clarkia, gilia, dimorpotheca.

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But oh, those lupines!

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March of the Tulips

They are a bit regimental in appearance, aren’t they? I’m not sure I’d want to accentuate that
trait by lining them out with geometric precision in bedding-out schemes. I prefer to see
these little soldiers cavorting with fennel and linaria and Buddleia ‘Silver Anniversary.’

From Tulips’ Progress on the 19th of February:

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A little too early for snapshots this morning, the 23rd of February, but here’s the color progression.
I flicked off some aphis from the tulip on the far left and inflicted irreparable damage on the tender petals
with that careless fillip. Oops. Perhaps a small jet of water next time.

But I am glad for the forethought last July to imagine the thrill a couple dozen tulip bulbs would give
seven months later, a display powered by winter rains alone.

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And edited 2/28/10 to include the now fully saturated ‘Beauty of Apeldoorn,’ classed as a mid to late hybrid Darwin tulip.
The Moroccan toadflax/linaria in the second photo color-echoes the streaks of magenta now visible in the tulip in full bloom.
What rule dictates spring has to be gentle pastels anyway?

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Further edited 3/6/10 for the denouement:

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Poppies in February


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Of the many things I don’t do that cause me a small pang from time to time, like speak a language other than English,
keeping a book of poetry on my reading table ranks probably in the mid to low range on the list of regrets. A small twinge, barely a pang,
unless someone quotes Rilke or Rimbaud or really any poet they truly love. Then my twinge swells to a full-size pang. For a while at least.
Soon I’ll be back to my mostly non-fiction reading habits.

Yet I can’t look at a poppy without having the incantation “little hell flames,” pop in my head, from Sylvia Plath’s poem on poppies from Ariel.
And I’m one that never remembers anything I’ve read verbatim, so this doubly astonishes me. In fact, I had to look up the title, which
is “Poppies in July,” a cold, bitter poem of betrayal, of which I retained just those three words that, 20 years later, incongruously enough,
I still mentally recite in delight at the sight of….poppies.

Which just proves that, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, when asked to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence, you can lead a horticulturist
to culture….but you can’t make her miserable with sad poems when spring is here.

Erodium pelargoniflorum

This little self-sowing erodium owns the front gravel garden in spring. Just yesterday I pulled handfuls of it up to give some nerines a bit of breathing room.
Weedy, yes, but cheerful and controllable. A quick Internet search tells me that it is considered by many charming, which it is, and that it blooms all
summer, which it does not here in zone 10, at least in the austere environs of the gravel garden, with very little supplemental irrigation.

But where’s it from? Nice to know that my trusty Hortus III still has an answer faster than prowling the Internet, which necessarily includes being
waylaid by enticing images and descriptions and forgetting what you were looking for to begin with. Asia Minor is the swift, dry answer from Hortus.
Add Asia Minor to the search string, and we’re getting somewhere. Somewhere probably in Turkey.

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A few feet away a young smoke tree stirs into leaf again:

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Tulips’ Progress

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Look at that stem length! This is the best length I’ve achieved yet from the regimen of prechilling six weeks in fall,
then potting them up the day after Thanksgiving. The fishhook senecio experiment has been dismantled, and the
black pots hidden behind a frothy container of linaria, Euphorbia ‘Breathless Blush’ and grasses. Bulbs planted into
clay pots are way behind in size, just a few inches high, which is fine for a staggered bloom time.
Will they truly be the bulbs I ordered from Bluestone in July, Queen of the Night and Beauty of Apeldoorn?

A Grate Idea

Up early, prowling around with the camera, Mr. Agave has an eerie glow in his new, most likely temporary quarters:

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Lately I’m feeling a little salvage goes a long way in a small garden. But one more, cast concrete rather than iron, that’s been overrun by creeping
fig on the back wall: (edited to add this is a salvaged concrete urn, not a grate, just slightly off the topic of grates and into general salvage)

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Where I found more labrador violets and hellebores seeded into the brick terrace at the base of the wall (and where a friend found me):

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Old Garden Notebooks

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Found this entry from April 1985, when all things horticultural were then confined to a small plot in a community garden a couple miles from our apartment:

“Gophers running amok, seemingly in my garden alone. Can this mean my lettuce tastier due to higher fertility? Such hubris over humus…”
An alliteration affliction evident back then and a slightly skewed way of looking at garden problems. Some things never change.

Along with veggies for us, I was attempting a small-scale (okay, micro) commercial flower-growing enterprise, yes, in the community garden, for local
restaurant vases and such, and growing every possible vase candidate I could find seeds for. Surrounding garden plots were tended by mostly temporarily
land-locked fishermen from the local fishing boats out of LA Harbor, Italians or Slavs like my uncle who climbed up the crow’s nest as lookout for the schools
of tuna that have now disappeared from local waters. (I was once warned by one of their wives not to pick my tomatoes at that “time of the month” or
I’d ruin their flavor. It was always a shock to find her occasionally sitting in a chair near the garden, arms crossed in front of her, enforcing the monthly ban
from touching tomatoes while her husband gathered the vegetables.)

Other than the odd questionable folk tale, a community garden is an excellent place to learn the craft of gardening. And we had Earl, the gopher hunter,
whose traps were always placed with lethal accuracy and his pants held up with a length of rope. His skill, if not his wardrobe, merited him top standing
in the community garden hierarchy.

Here’s May 13, 1985. Note the heart-breaking quantities of ones and twos:

“Cut a pink larkspur spike, the first. The red yarrow has been blooming some two weeks — have cut two flower heads. The coreopsis
is almost unbearably prolific. Have been reduced to merely 4 agrostemmas in the garden, starting out nearly double, due to that
curious wilting which I think is due to too much nitrogen or maybe overwatering. They bloomed fine in the planter box last year,
no casualties remembered. I’m sure there will be others that need to be segregated into a bed of less luxurious conditions.”

An entire notebook of page after page of such entries. Yawwwn. And I fairly soon thereafter began buying in flowers at the downtown
flower market for the vases, rinsing out and washing the vases in a VW camper van, soapy water streaming out the sink drain onto the
restaurants’ parking lot. And then not long after went out of business entirely. I’ve had no gopher problems or commercial production
ambitions since. But I’m still a solid community garden fan and mean to get on a waiting list again this year.

And the agrostemma is behaving exactly like that now, 25 years later, so factoring in all the rain this winter, I’d say it was overwatering.

Brachysema praemorsum ‘Bronze Butterfly’

All I could remember about this beauty was the name ‘Bronze Butterfly’ and that he was a California native, but I was
only half right.

Brachysema praemorsum ‘Bronze Butterfly’ is from Australia. Takes the harsh conditions of the front gravel garden in stride,
which include minimal irrigation in summer but also low light levels in winter. The odd-shaped red flowers are superfluous,
to me anyway. Hummingbirds say otherwise. Low growing to 2 feet, lightly clipped to keep it about 2-3 feet wide.
I’ve only once seen it in commerce here in Southern California — the day I bought it, now some years ago.
Spring growth brings that tart chartreuse edge to the dark leaf. Beautiful shrubby texture for the agaves, phormiums
and sedums surrounding it.


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February Bloom Day/Foliage Day

This will be a hybrid post, a muddle of the two categories, by no means an exhaustive inventory of what’s in
bloom and leaf here, early spring in zone 10. There’s salvias, annual poppies, succulents throwing out the odd
flower, even a long-awaited bloom on a dyckia, but it seems to be less and less about flowers in my garden these days.
(Which hurts my stomach to type that.) What will happen to my former obsession with a symphony of flowers for spring
and summer? Has my obsession foundered on the shoals of middle age? Will my agastaches survive these El Nino winter
rainstorms? Such weighty matters are inappropriate considerations for Bloom Day, so off for a stroll among the flowers.

Well, that was a short stroll. Five feet out the back door and we find Orlaya grandiflora, Minoan Lace,
a charming umbellifer from Crete, who has been the devil to photograph. The intriguing fretwork of its flower
is more often than not buried in an undifferentiated white smudge of pixels. But I keep trying.

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The flower bud is a slightly less difficult subject:

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The orlayas will hopefully self-sow as happily as plants like haloragis and labrador violets. That is to say, those last two are the happy ones,
not me, with their fecundity — I’m so-so about the haloragis and absolutely in despair over the violets.

Another “happy” plant, Corydalis heterocarpa, garden thuggery disguised in an ornately compound leaf, has the most vile, sickly sweet,
retch-inducing smell when handled. No doubt a major factor in failures at eradication and its continued success in my garden.

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The orlayas have been planted among ‘Blackbird’ euphorbias, all grown from cuttings last summer.
They are not yet the good-sized plants envisioned as boon companions for the wispier transient stuff but are still just a few inches high:

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From Annie’s Annuals, the seed strain Giovanni’s Select of cineraria has reached 3 feet and is budding:

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Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra,’ the Tulip Tree. I seem to be doing everything wrong with this magnolia — not enough water,
too much pruning needed due to poor siting — but still it thrives. For over 15 years, its big leathery leaves have screened and shaded
the west side of the house in summer, and for this it is forgiven the unsightly mildew (water stress?) it succumbs to without fail every year.
I doubt I’d plant him again. I’m normally not a sentimental gardener but make an exception in this case. The magnolia stays.

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Hardenbergia violacea

I seem to be on a roll with the trailing and tendrily crowd lately, and this little evergreen Australian vine is in bloom around the neighborhood so he definitely rates inclusion.
There’s two blurs of purple as I drive out of my neighborhood to work and errands, one on each of the north/south avenues that bookend my street.
This mailbox planting faces west. The effect is of a diminutive wisteria, a dainty variety that won’t tear the eaves from your house. Easily kept to under 10 feet.
It blooms early spring here in zone 10, which is apparently now. After bloom, cut back by as much as half to keep the scragglies at bay and for more uniform bloom, i.e.,
not all concentrated at the top of the vine.

It is close to violently violaceous, but growing the pink or white varieties would seem to be missing the point. Hardy to the low 20’s.

Also answers to Purple Coral Pea, Australian Lilac, False Sarsaparilla (I’d like to know the story behind that last one):

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