Stolen Garden Kisses

The one-foot tall agave and the giant Polygonum orientale, Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate, would seem fated never to meet, to exist in separate physical planes, forever divided by height and differing moisture needs.

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But meet they do, and even kiss, when the agave is grown in a mossed basket hung from a wire tripod about 5 feet high, and the 6-foot Polygonum orientale is bowed over by the weight of its tassels. They totally surprised me with their affection for each other today. Too much fun playing matchmaker to this unlikely duo.

More Talk About Buildings and Plants

I left work in Santa Monica yesterday afternoon and fought the traffic east down Wilshire to check out the new Rolling Greens store on Beverly.

Stopped at a light, I was very surprised to see these hard-core, drought tolerant containers and stone hardscaping outside the offices of the Beverly Hills Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors, so popped off a quick photo from the car, waiting for the light to change, paparazzi style. The dragon trees and cactus made for quite the spectacle on stately Wilshire Boulevard, the containers gleaming in the late afternoon sun. From the car, the hardscape of rust-colored stones or broken stained concrete appeared over-large and uneven, uninviting to pedestrian foot traffic. It does read well driving by, though. This is Los Angeles after all, where supposedly nobody ever walks.

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My stop at Rolling Greens was brief. Beautiful store, an inspired choice to adapt the former Town Tire Company building. Not much plant inventory this time of year, but still a wonderful horticultural asset for the neighborhood, heavy on pots, books, and furnishings.

Debra Prinzig blogged about the opening of Rolling Greens in December 2009.

Urge to Travel

Three very good posts recently on reclamation and repurposing of industrial sites, as well as public spaces, even if only temporarily, as in the case of the forest made of the Champs-Elysees.
From the Huffington Post 8/24/10, which includes mention of NYC’s High Line, which A Tidewater Gardener also visited recently, producing that stunning blog entry.
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Studio G found this converted water tower in the Netherlands, the Villa Augustus. Photos from VA’s website.

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Villa Augustus’ kitchen garden, supplying their restaurant:

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Posts like these are too good to let slip away without an encore.

(Autumn always brings a nearly irresistible urge to travel.)

Euphorbia Love

Euphorbia, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Perennial, shrub and tree.

You give a frost-free garden dappled shade and ruby tints high overhead. Euphorbia cotinifolia, about 15 feet, max.
I’ve been entertained by the sound of your ballistically exploding seeds as the temperature reached into the 90’s.

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As fresh in August as in spring. Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’

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Outdoing all other claims on green. Euphorbia mellifera.

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Safe to say your reputation is sound enough for some minor quibbling. There’s this small problem with scale you allow to congregate on E. characias. In fact, here in zone 10, E. characias never makes the large shrubs it does in zone 8. E. x martinii does much better, a natural hybrid of E. amygdaloides and E. characias. And I’ve heard E. myrsinites is tough, but apparently not tough enough for the gravel garden, so I’ve abused your good nature in that regard. E. lambii appears to be struggling in the gravel garden as well, yet I know you can pull it off — I’ve seen E. lambii grown xeric at the Huntington cactus garden. More water while you are getting established would be appreciated, wouldn’t it?

Back to your many fine qualities. Your ubiquitous cheeriness in Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost,’ perennial in zone 10, returning amongst the crush of plants I squeeze in around you, always forgetting you were there first.

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You never complain but only find ever more ingenious ways to outmaneuver the throng. Like climbing up the grapevine.

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And I’ve read you earn your keep just about everywhere you are planted, even if only for one summer. You’re getting quite the reputation for containers too, but it’s straight into the garden for you here.
(You are so good that buying the new, darker-leaved ‘Breathless Blush’ seemed a safe bet. How is it possible to create such a weakling from you?!)

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I’ve also read that some of your tribe are considered weedy. (E. dulcis ‘Chameleon,’ you may see yourself in this description. I’ve read about your antics elsewhere, although you despise zone 10.)
None are weedy for me, not even E. characias. Just a few seedlings I’m always grateful to have.

Euphorbia seguieriana ssp. niciciana, Siberian Spurge, has colonized bare spots in the gravel garden but never infiltrates into other plants. But I can’t remember when you last flowered. Have you ever flowered? Definitely not a euphorbia to be let loose in good garden conditions, but I appreciate the lushness you bring to the spiky growers around you.

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I know how euphorbias will shine all winter with hellebores and grasses, so I’ve been quietly slipping you in amidst the waning summer party. Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan.’
(Your kin, the ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ was no tiger in my garden.)

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Your bracts decorate the garden for ages, stippling patterns amongst leaves like the nubby textures from beads on plain 50’s sweaters.

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My love always swells for euphorbia in late summer and winter. Spring and summer too. Nonstop euphorbia love.

Fried Cannoli & The Banyan Tree

My aunts and cousins called my mom, who called me. Our bakery was back in business after what turned out to be just a brief hiatus of a couple years. The owner decided early retirement was not the answer, reopened his bakery at a new location, and started cranking out his Italian family recipes again. All is well with the world once more. The shelves were empty but for trays and trays of the house favorite, cannoli, by the time I got there mid-afternoon, yet there was still a long line at the door.

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The bakery is 3/4 of the way to the South Coast Botanic Garden, which I’ve been meaning to pay a visit ever since the July issue of Pacific Horticulture profiled the SCBG and mentioned their enormous banyan tree grove of Moreton Bay Figs, Ficus macrophylla, tucked deep into the garden, unbeknownst to me. The last time I visited the SCBG I had small kids in tow, and no wonder I never consulted their map or perused their garden in any kind of orderly fashion. Today’s agenda, the bakery reopening coupled with a visit to the SCBG, was sliding into place like beads on a string.

Banyan trees have the barked equivalent of “washboard ab’s,” seriouslycut. Sinuously sculptural. Latent arboreal lust surges forth at the sight of these towering, beautifully muscled giants that fling their enormous branches low and horizontal and ripple their massive roots through the forest floor like sea serpents.

Walking amongst a grove of these leviathans was worth the trip alone, but the cactus and succulent garden was much better than I remembered too. It was a hot, solitary, dusty tramp over pathways that dipped and billowed from methane settlement, this whole site being former landfill. What bliss. Though I did eventually bump into a film crew deep in the garden, which broke the spell just a little.

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Plant labeling was overall very good. A botanic garden is bound to have much of interest, even in mid-August, and the SCBG didn’t disappoint.

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Dicliptera suberecta, the Uruguayan Firecracker Plant. A beautiful, drought-tolerant subshrub, but too much for my small garden to handle. Here it has the room it needs to sprawl.

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A shrubby native euphorbia, E. xantii, Baja Spurge, billowing like baby’s breath in the cactus garden.

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I’m guessing this bromeliad winding around the base of this palm is an aechmea, possibly A. recurvata, but no name card for this one.

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Detail of an agave labeled A. toumeyana, a giant, bumpy, whiskery agave approximately 4×6. Plant Delights describes this agave’s habit as forming “a splendid tight colony resembling overweight hedgehogs at a feeding trough.” Zone 7-9. The variety Agave toumeyana var. bella is supposedly more compact, growing as a singleton rather than a herd of hedgehogs.

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Pumpkin. By this time, it occurs to me that sitting on the passenger seat of a closed-up car in the hot sun these past two hours might not be the best thing for my cannolis.

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So I headed for the exit, but was waylaid by lush vines of Dolichos lablab. (My one dolichos at home has withered away this August.)

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Scent was pouring out of this double datura, the jimson weed, perfuming quite a large area, making it impossible to leave.

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I did put the windshield shade up after all, so the cannolis were probably fine.

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I didn’t know it, but my visit coincided with their dahlia festival. Where is that exit anyway?

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The exit now in sight, but there’s a little fuchsia dell just off the gift store. Lots of shrubby species fuchsias, most of them labeled mite-resistant, though this one lacked ID.

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Almost there, but then there’s this beautiful shrub, spotted in a parking lot median as I was leaving. The car just in sight, cannolis probably dripping off the seat by now, but this shrub had to be investigated. Amazingly fresh looking for August. Nasturtium-like flowers, bi-lobed leaves. Maybe a bauhinia? Very graceful, scandent habit. A little Internet research later brought up Bauhinia galpinii, The Red Orchid Bush, a sprawler to over 20 feet.

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To paraphrase The Godfather (“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli“), it was past time to leave the banyan and take the cannoli, but I’m thrilled to have rediscovered the SCBG.
Next time the cannolis are coming inside for a picnic.

Dragon Fruit

The first bloom this year of the dragon fruit, that is, the first bloom that I can see, dangling over a boundary fence we share with a neighbor.

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Looking a bit more carefully, I could see more flowers and even a fruit was already forming.

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An epiphytic cactus, my neighbor grows it as a vine over trellising. This is a different genus than the epiphyllum, the more familiar orchid cactus with the wildly intense colors. These are enormous flowers, the bowl of the bloom at least 5 inches across, leaning against the fence bordering my neighbor’s property. His property has become quite shaded from the amazing jungle he’s planted, and this dragon fruit or pitaya seems to be reaching for some sun. Our driveway runs along this fence, so there must be good reflected heat as well.

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My neighbor’s dragon fruit must be Hylocereus undatus. I remember the flesh of the fruit being white when he’s given us dragon fruit in the past.
I’d never heard the name pitaya before today, from the Wikipedia entry on dragon fruit, nor knew that it is native to Mexico, Central America, and South America. Zone 10 or 11.
It is believed the French introduced this fruit to Vietnam.

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More flowers in bud. At the very lower left just a glimpse of the grey-painted pergola can be seen on which this cactus drapes, built over the walkway to his front door.

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Bivouaced With…Martha Stewart

Not knowing this was going to turn into a series, or I might have chosen my words a bit more carefully, the “Bivouaced With” posts started when I first dragged published gardening material into my new lair, an off-world bivouac 6 feet above the ground, and gnawed on the publication a bit longer than usual. Like most people who tend plants, unless I’m working at the day job, I just don’t sit still for long. Putting one’s self into a small place accessed only by a ladder seemingly results in a commitment to that space for at least 30 minutes. Bivouaced.

This episode began in the coffee room of an office I worked in this week, where there was a stack of magazines. I grabbed the top one while the coffee dripped, flipped through it, saw an agave, and took it back with my cup of coffee to the conference room. It was the current August 2010 issue of Martha Stewart. I left my New Yorker and traded it for MS. I think the office got a fair exchange.

These are my photographs of Richard Felber’s photos from the article “From My Home To Yours; A beautiful, thriving tropical garden is possible anywhere.”

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Magazine habits are a slippery subject to grasp. (Who knew the number one magazine in circulation is AARP?)
Currently, I don’t subscribe to any of the so-called lifestyle magazines. And the spartan interiors of our home attest to that. The last one I subscribed to was when we bought our house 20 years ago, Metropolitan Home. I had to Google to check if they are still in publication, and was regretfully informed they ceased publication in 2009. Nonsubscription is no excuse for complete ignorance, because I could be flipping through these magazines while waiting in line to buy groceries, and I don’t. Design blogs, though, I do find time for and appreciate their tear-sheet enthusiasm, and check up intermittently on a few. But I’ve completely missed out on the development of the Martha Stewart empire. There are bound to be a few big gaps in everyone’s life. All this background information on my reading habits is only relevant insofar as it conveys my unfamiliarity with MS. Presented with the opportunity, I was curious to find out how a flagship lifestyle magazine is holding up against the onslaught of blogs. Succulents seemed a good point of comparison, since they are frequently featured on blogs.

I must say her magazine is beautifully styled and photographed, but the arrangement of the plants struck me as more botanical garden than private residence. But then I don’t suppose MS’s residence is really private anymore.

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I found this piece about MS’s succulents very well done as an introduction to these plants but, at the same time, was kind of surprised at its quaintness, a kind of tentativeness, especially in the way she displays her plants. A certain stiffness or hesitancy, like in the triangle arrangement. There doesn’t seem to be a relaxed familiarity with these plants yet, even allowing for the formal setting. This seemed like a new enthusiasm, which it probably is.

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I’ve learned from garden friends in much colder zones the effort required to safeguard tender succulents during the winter, and I’m talking gardeners without a greenhouse. A basement, a garage, a windowsill. The careful calibration of projected frost dates, rushing out with sheets and blankets at dusk when temperatures drop precipitously. So any quibbling I have with display issues can arguably be explained away by the fact that these are carefully protected collections in colder zones and are displayed as such. I’d appreciate any input here too, for instance, if you think I’m wildly off the mark and adore the arrangements of these pots.

I thought this was a nice grouping. That’s an amazing size to achieve for an aloe that spends a good part of its life in semi-hibernation.

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Also impressive was what’s underneath and surrounding the pots, gravel and hedges, which would seem to be very practical, drought-tolerant choices, albeit for a moister East Coast garden. The perfect blank slate to start with each spring.

All in all, garden blogs really take the subject of succulents and run away with it. There is such a torrent of good information on succulents from blogs. But MS does employ a crack crew of stylists and photographers.

Here’s her short list of public gardens to see these plants:

New York Botanical Garden
Huntington Botanical Garden, San Marino, California
Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Miami, Florida
Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, California

For garden blogs with extensive posts on these plants, taken from my blogroll, I’d start with:

Danger Garden, Portland, Oregon
Digging, Austin, Texas
Rancho Reubidoux, Riverside, California
Far Out Flora, San Francisco, California
Garden Porn, Sonoma County, California

And if you have any favorite blogs I’ve left out on this topic, I’d love to hear about them.

Folly Bowl

Another garden preview for the upcoming Gardening Under Mediterranean Skies symposium to be held this September 23rd to the 26th through Pacific Horticulture.

Photographer MB Maher and designer Dustin Gimbel of Second Nature Garden Design visited artists Sue Dadd and James Griffith at their home and garden which will be on the upcoming tour. Since I wasn’t there for this preview, I wouldn’t presume to attempt an approximation in words. These amazing images more than suffice. If the tour isn’t already sold out, I’d make the effort.

What could be more evocative of the Mediterranean than to have your own amphitheater, where every summer, when the sun sets and the stars and twinkly lights start to glimmer, artists of your invitation entertain you and friends for a summer evening?


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Dadd and Griffith dragged and carted all the soil, all the broken concrete into this steep ravine, materials found strewn about their street when the civic plumbing lines were refurbished, to make this extraordinary place, what they call the Folly Bowl. Dadd and Griffith have said they had no particular plan in mind when they began the project after buying the property in 1999.

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I am at a complete loss for words.

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Apart from the astonishing physical creation of the steep amphitheater, the planting is sophisticated, appropriate, gorgeous, and flourishing.

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More photos at MB Maher’s slideshow.

How The West Is Won: Garden Visit – Hessing/Bonfigli Garden

I was invited to tag along with MB Maher on one of his garden photo assignments, this time to get some preview photos of the garden of artists Andreas Hessing and Karen Bonfigli, which is one of many to be featured in the upcoming Pacific Horticulture symposium to be held this September 23rd through the 26th, Gardening Under Mediterranean Skies.

This antique, Old World urn, however, is not from the Hessing and Bonfigli garden.

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Nor this one.

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There was a bit of a detour before we arrived at the Hessing/Bonfigli garden, a garden which illustrates sustainable land practices using mostly native and edible plants.

Continue reading

Foliage Followup August 2010

Jumping right in to some of the leaves I’ve been enjoying this summer. I’ve posted photos of this astelia before, but I’ve recently noticed that the astelia and blue vine salvia have a lot to say to each other, and their light requirements are similar too. I’ll probably not plant them together, as their vigor isn’t a good match, but this month I’m enjoying their shimmering silvery-blue conversation and thinking of other plants that might continue it. Astelia with blue grasses, blue succulents, blue agaves…

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I stopped growing miscanthus for some years, fearing for my back when it came time to divide the monsters, but ‘Gold Bar’ enticed me back into the miscanthus fold. It is just as slow growing as it’s reputed to be. I’ve even read some grumblings that it may be a little too slow growing, but it’s possible there’s just no middle ground with miscanthus. This one is very manageable, about 3 feet high this summer, its third summer in the garden. Haven’t seen flowers yet, but it’s building into a slim chartreuse column.

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I don’t think I’ve posted photos of my one and only palm before, Dypsis decaryi, the triangle palm from Madagascar, now at its mature size of approximately 20 feet tall, looking up the length of its three-sided, fuzzy, maroon trunk. The triangle palm’s fronds are also a frosty blue. When I bought it years ago, it was known as Neodypsis, but I see now it goes by both names.

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The little tropical terrace. Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ to the right of the aeoniums.

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Closeup of the Russelia equisetiformis lutea, the rush-like plant spilling from the pot.

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Pseuderanthemum ‘Black Varnish’ and Colocasia ‘Mojito.’ The novelty might have worn off on Mojitos, the drink, but ‘Mojitos,’ the plant, is hot.

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Purple rain of tibouchina flowers on the Marguerite sweet potato, which does fine in drier soil. No coleus this year in my garden, but I’ve been enjoying them on other blogs.

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Mixed succulents, including the trailing Crassula sarmentosa.

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This Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’ has taken years to get to this size, just over a foot and a half high. Snails love this one, and lots of damaged leaves have been cut off. This would seem to be a good plant for gardeners in colder zones to overwinter indoors, since it’s less sensitive to overwatering than agaves and wants some shade.

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Pam at Digging hosts the Foliage Follow-Up, a great chance to celebrate the photosynthetic pillars of our gardens.