Monthly Archives: June 2010

Ruth Bancroft Garden

If you have an Internet connection and a love of plants, you probably also have many unmet friends with those same two attributes.
Finally meeting up with them is thrilling. When they arrange to take you to marvelous gardens you’ve never visited before, life doesn’t get any better.

Just such a friend arranged for a group of gardeners to visit the Ruth Bancroft Garden, located in Walnut Creek, California, one I’ve long wanted to explore. The garden didn’t disappoint.

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I’m guessing Agave lophantha.

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This guy in the center looks a lot like my Mr. Ripple, which is an A. salmiana hybrid.

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Thrilling enough, no? But what I didn’t expect to find was garden scenes like this.

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Free is Worth Your Time

Bloggers need no convincing on this point. And I’m not opening up a can of worms regarding, for example, whether or not to pay for online music or journalism. Obviously, we have to. I’m probably one of the few people in the nation who can claim to have ponied up $50 for subscription to the online New York Times Select during its experimental and brief existence just so I could read Paul Krugman’s columns when they were behind the Select firewall. This is a purely noncontroversial free, in the context of outdoor summer concerts, something everyone can get on board with.

So even though it’s high summer, I urge you to leave your horticultural symphony for just an evening, to lay down the garden baton and head for some outdoor concerts. If you’re in Los Angeles, the premiere outdoor concert venue is Grand Performances in Downtown Los Angeles. This is not pop standards at your local park, though there’s nothing wrong with that, but some of the most exciting music and performing artists the world has to offer. And it’s free. Take the Metro Blue Line to the Metro Station at 7th and Flower, walk past our glorious library to the California Plaza at 350 South Grand Avenue. The city’s soft glow against the night sky, the performing artists, the neo-noirish, balmy air scented by the bloom du jour — summer in Los Angeles at its finest.

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Second Nature Garden Design

MB Maher paid a visit to the home of Southern California landscape designer Dustin Gimbel of Second Nature Garden Design, as part of an ongoing series of photographic house calls to landscape designers.

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Dustin has an amazingly stellar background in horticulture, including stints working with John Greenlee, at Heronswood, Great Dixter, and taking a diploma from the Royal Horticultural Society’s main garden at Wisley (or “Wizzers” as the locals call it).

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His recently purchased home serves as both nursery and design laboratory.

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I actually bought plants from Dustin when he was no more than a kid working at the late Mary Lou Heard’s wonderful nursery in Westminster, California, over a decade ago, and even then it was obvious that this was a person clearly besotted with plants.

Dahlias, Dahling

I have this one dahlia that came back this spring. Bought at a spring 2009 garden show. I’ve pored over the skimpy 2009 garden notebook but apparently didn’t write down the name, if it was even labeled. A font of information as usual, but aren’t dahlias nice? Doesn’t its exotic looks make you want to wrap your head in a turban like Gloria Swanson and throw on a caftan? Or maybe since the dahlia is from Mexico, perhaps dressing Tehuana style like Frida Kahlo would be more appropriate. Heck, if summer finds me in anything other than dirty gardening jeans, it counts as festive.

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The dahlia is deep mid bed, so the oblique view is not artistic but just a reluctance to step into the garden for a better shot. Clay compacts surprisingly fast. And don’t let this long-necked beauty’s voluptuous looks blind you to the essential requirement of firm support. Unseen in this photo is the gauche use of a length of rebar for staking. One well-grown, well-supported dahlia can put on quite a lengthy show in a small garden.

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Some dahlias do well wintering over in the garden in zone 10. Frost isn’t a problem because there isn’t any, but heavy, wet soil can be. I had a ‘Thomas Edison’ who loved wintering over in situ, and I see dahlias grown in the ground year-round in the neighborhood. It’s case-by-case experimentation, because some dahlias simply will not tolerate overwintering in the ground. All three tubers from 2009 were wintered in pots, all came through firm and looked ready to grow, but only this one wasn’t kidding. They were all this color, so no matter really. I’d guess this one might be classified a waterlily type, but I could be wrong since I don’t bother much with the various classifications. My only requirement is that the flower be on the smaller side, not the ginormous dinnerplate dahlias, and I confess to pursuing the darker-petaled, burgundy colors. The height of luxury is choosing them “in the petal,” which I had the good fortune to do many years ago at Swan Island’s annual Dahlia Festival, which is held later in the summer, August and September.

And these exotic beauties are absolute pigs for compost, the more manure in the compost the better.

Monkey Business

The monkey flower planted into the ground has clambered up into the arms of a potted helichrysum.

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I like promoting such intimate relationships between the grounded and the potted. The mimulus thrives in the slightly heavy clay of the garden. Pot life would suit it fine as well, but it’d want a lot more water. The Helichrysum petiolare is a dwarf and is getting a bit woody, so may have to be restarted soon from cuttings, but I prefer the dwarf’s light tracery of branches to the engulfing growth of the species. Living in the pot year-round with the helichrysum are some aeoniums and a little manihot tree, unseen in the photo, whose leaves sprout comically at the end of its very slender 4-foot trunk. The manihot is nothing but a stick to look at all winter, so I probably won’t plant it into the garden. But what fantastic shadow play its leaves will make in summer with just a bit more heat to bring on growth. Just a few blooms of the mimulus really livens things up. Later on in the season a red iochroma will be in bloom behind the pot, the big leaves to the left. I really enjoy these small, incremental changes summer brings. In a long growing season, summer doesn’t have to be about masses of blooming annuals, especially not with our current water restrictions.

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A photo of the aeoniums and helichrysum taken earlier in January this year shows a much greener aeonium.

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The dark red mimulus is probably a hybrid of our native Mimulus aurantiacus.

Succulents on Ice

Glass mulch can be a pricy indulgence, one I don’t often make. But I was recently given a pound of some icy mulch from Building REsources in San Francisco. Why can’t I always get presents like this? What luxury to plunge one’s hands into a whole sack of this stuff and dress up whatever pot needs a little icing. Rich as Croesus is how I feel.

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Icy chips for Senecio medley-woodii and Sedum dasyphyllum var. major.

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This Aeonium balsamiferum used to be upright, a tower of leafy rosettes, but then maturity and gravity caused its branches to tumble down (happens to plants too), which exposed bare soil on the surface of the pot.

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Today when I passed by the collapsed aeonium pot, I remembered that, for the moment at least, I was flush with glass mulch. This hand-thrown pot, brought back in a suitcase from an English pottery, made the trip back intact, only to get chipped here at home, but the aeonium now happily exploits the flaw and spills through the breach. I ultimately decided to tuck in a couple echeverias I had handy into the soil around its collapsed branches. And then I topped it off with a little glass mulch for good measure.

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Just like everything else horticultural, fine glass and stone mulches can be addicting. There’s a new store in town, Exotic Pebbles & Aggregates that I can’t wait to check out.

June 2010 Bloom Day

A 2-year-old mossed basket with sedums, agave, and oregano ‘Kent Beauty.’ I was surprised to see the oregano return this year. Life in a mossed basket can be rough.

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The urns of arctoctis. Hopefully, the next time I replant the urns will be the day after Thanksgiving, to fill them with tulips. July is not too early to get a tulip order in for the best bulbs!

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Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’ and Libertia peregrinans. This libertia actually is in bloom, tiny and white, but it’s the tawny leaves I’m after.

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Crocosmia just budding up, different kinds of forgotten names. Running in ribbons throughout, not in big clumps. I’m always amazed they find their way up and through at all in June.

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Continue reading June 2010 Bloom Day

Poppy Music

I’ve held on to these little poppies as long as possible, and tonight they were given a photographic bon voyage by MB Maher.
When it’s twilight, magic hour, the garden becomes an open-air studio. I handled the linen backdrop. A few blades of Miscanthus ‘Gold Bar’ strayed into frame.

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Poppy ruprifragum still blooms in the front garden, but the back garden’s poppies are all rustling seedpods. These are the seedpods of Papaver setigerum, left to decline in situ, although lower leaves are stripped off when decrepitude becomes too unsightly or insect ridden. As I’ve written before, this little poppy tucks itself in unobtrusively and doesn’t lean on or brawl with neighbors like so many of the bigger somniferum varieties, so a few plants have been allowed to remain. Not that I need any more seed, but running a hand along the pods releases their percussive music, different tones emanating from seedpods of plants of varying age.