Monthly Archives: December 2010

Happy New Year

The buses run free of charge tonight, there’s street music and food downtown, so we’re going to bundle up, step out, and see what the city has to offer this New Year’s Eve.

Reflecting on my first year in “narcissistic journalism” leaves me uncharacteristically mute.
All I can say is, these are truly interesting times. In spades.

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And looking at beautiful things like grevillea helps. A lot.

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Grevillea ‘Superb’ and I wish you all a warm, safe, superb New Year’s Eve. I’d wish us all happiness in 2011, but I tend to agree with Fran Lebowitz, that happiness is a sensation, not a condition that can be attained and then sustained indefinitely. That sounds plain exhausting.

Oh, for gosh sakes, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(P.S. MB Maher is looking for winter-luscious gardens in Orange and San Diego Counties to photograph, so drop AGO an email or comment if you have any suggestions.)

Red Pig Tools

Under a spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands. The smith, a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands. And the muscles of his brawny arms are as strong as iron bands.
The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Got everything you wanted for Christmas? Possibly while thoughtfully holiday-shopping for gardening friends at Dirt Couture, Cindy McNatt’s astutely curated boutique of hand-made garden sundries, you came across a couple of trowels whose tantalizing sturdiness and clever ergonomics gave you pause. You instantly desired one for yourself, of course. But, truly, this is the sort of indispensable tool we should be giving every man, woman, and child we know. There it gleams on Cindy’s website, the steely potential for a lifetime of digging, crisp and pristine, displayed against a clean white background. But have a look at the fire in which it was born.

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Continue reading Red Pig Tools

Under Oxalis

Sweeping up this morning’s clippings, the crimson reverse of Oxalis vulcanicola’s leaves released a startling infusion of color into the silver dustpan.

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This frost-tender “Volcanic sorrel” retreats almost to its crown in the heat and relative dryness of summer, just as the garden expands and throws off the girdle of winter, then always renews its gentle forward march in a zone 10 winter, especially so after the recent heavy rains. The magenta underside to the leaves colors up bright in winter.

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I’d much rather look at its leaves than bare ground, so this advance-and-retreat arrangement works out well for all concerned. When it threatens to overrun, for example, nearby anigozanthos and Lobelia tupa, a couple snips keeps the peace. Away from the coast, oxalis would prefer more afternoon shade.

Is It Too Late?

Too late to depose the poinsettia and install the leucadendron as the preferred bracts and leaves of Christmas? Please?

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Poinsettia has had a great run. Time for some fresh sap. (A sap that’s not caustic.)
If the polls are still open, I nominate Leucadendron salignum ‘Blush.” It’s got green-and-red covered. Zones 8 to 10.

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And wouldn’t you rather look at this in your greenhouse/windowsill/garden in January?

Memories of Rain

I didn’t get around to re-watching Blade Runner for the zillionth time the other night, that gorgeous cinematic meditation on memory.
(“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”)


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But these record-breaking rainstorms are doing a fine job of churning up childhood memories of past winter storms.

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Fountain from the Children’s Garden at the Huntington Botanical Garden


Memories of the seasonal winter rains of the Los Angeles of my childhood always depict them as biblical in scope. If memory is to be trusted, winter meant a perpetual rainy day schedule at school, which included both the agony of being deprived of playground time (no dodgeball!) and also the sweet relief of an early pickup by mom, maybe as much as a half hour. In other words, an eternity. One year after torrential winter rains, we were treated to the rare and wondrous spectacle of toads spawning in the shrubbery then hopping to freedom down suburban driveways. In spring, forts were built in the lush, tall grass of the empty field located at the end of the street, a negative space that absorbed any activity a childish imagination could conceive, in addition to efficiently absorbing runoff from winter storms. Commerce abhors such vacuums, and that open field, the protean kingdom of every kid in every house in that GI-Bill-mortgaged neighborhood, long ago disappeared under condominium developments.


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Aloe distans weathering the storm


Or such was my imperfect remembrance of rainy winters past. Keith Richards may remember everything, but I emphatically do not, and I know enough to be wary of my tendency to embellish. The soft clay of a child’s imagination makes for strong, indelible impressions that searingly imprint emotional truths which can sometimes lack strict historical accuracy. As I suspected, the statistics tell a slightly different story. There were a couple years of relatively heavy rain, 25 inches or more, when I was between the ages of 8 and 12, no doubt when I formed my vivid and lasting impression of Los Angeles’ Mighty Winter Rain, but the statistics also show there were plenty of low rainfall years interspersed too.

Rainfall in Los Angeles County, in inches per annum, shows the wide variability that factors into the county average of approximately 15 inches a year. To shorten it up, I’ve started at 1960, but the link goes back to 1878. Bear in mind, Los Angeles rainfall typically comes in short, dramatic, gully-washing bursts, not light drizzle over extended periods of time.

1960—9.57
1961—5.83
1962—15.37
1963—12.31
1964—7.98
1965—26.81
1966—12.91
1967—23.66
1968—7.58
1969—26.32
1970—16.54
1971—9.26
1972—6.54
1973—17.45
1974—16.69
1975—10.70
1976—11.01
1977—14.97
1978—30.57
1979—17.00
1980—26.33
1981—10.92
1982—14.41
1983—34.40
1984—8.90
1985—8.92
1986—18.00
1987—9.11
1988—11.57
1989—4.56
1990—6.49
1991—15.07
1992—22.65
1993—23.44
1994—8.69
1995—24.06
1996—17.75
1997—10.83
1998—27.85
1999—8.06
2000—11.97
2001—19.60
2002—7.29
2003—13.37
2004—20.10
2005—26.61
2006—11.61
2007—5.66
2008–14.43

Another Seattle Export?

The usual state of affairs, I’m told, is Southern Californian hordes invading the Pacific Northwest, or at least such was the case before the great real estate unraveling after 2008. This past week proves that Los Angeles can stay home and still embrace the misty charms of the PNW. Having become accustomed to the ubiquity of their home-grown coffee chain, we’re now getting a taste of Seattle-style weather.

Rain, rain, and more rain. Record rain. Rain interrupted by drizzle and topped with a soupçon of fog. Epic 10-year-tropical-storm rain. A-quarter-of-our-annual-rainfall rain. Rain that brings down the canyon mud that closes Pacific Coast Highway at Malibu. Rain that overflows storm drains and brings the accumulated city filth to the Pacific Ocean (and mystery rashes to surfers who venture out in winter storms). Rains that transform freeways into asphalt Slip ‘n Slides. Last night I had the relatively rare experience of watching a movie (I Am Love) in which the delicious sounds of rain were drumming on screen while those same delicious sounds echoed against our window panes.

All of which means there’ll be more wet plant photos this week taken during lulls between the storms.

Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta.’ This agave relative can handle the increased moisture.

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Senecio anteuphorbium turgid with rain.

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Winter-red stems of Senecio medley-woodii.

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Mystery cotyledon from flea market that resembles “Cotyledon orbiculata cylindrical lime green leaf” (found at Lifestyle Seeds website)

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Big storm predicted for tonight. Perfect night for baking cookies and re-viewing Blade Runner, which does great movie rain.

Wrapping Rainwater With A Bow

There’s not much of a system in place here yet to collect the annual average of 15 inches of rainfall that arrives fall/winter in Southern California.
This light but steady drizzle over the past couple days has already brimmed one 33-gallon trash barrel, but the other trash cans are too beat up to hold water.
All I want for Christmas is a 500-gallon cistern.

(Copper firepot/dipping basin/feline watering hole, dyckias, and furcraea.)

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The standard formula reveals what astonishing amounts of rainwater can be collected by homeowners.
An easy trick to remember is to divide the square footage of your roof by 2. That’s roughly the amount of rainwater that can be collected from one inch of rainfall.
(1 inch of rain on a 1,000 square feet (93 m2) roof yields 623 gallons of water)

(Chondropetalum tectorum’s elegant rainwater collection system)

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Snowmen and Poinsettia Trees

I bet my neighborhood is not unique in offering examples of a wide variety of garden styles. There is ample representation from the meticulous lawn-and-hedge contingent, a style that dovetails nicely into holiday decorating. Many argue that lawns, while not really ever put to much practical use by their owners, can be important for adding a psychological “breathing space,” but I have noted a practical adaptation in use during the holidays which must be acknowledged in their defense. And that is their utility as the perfect launchpad for oversize, inflatable holiday decorations. No photos of this style are available, since the snowmen and santas are currently collapsed in a heap on their lawns and come to life only at night, something like this snowman:

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It seems poor taste to mix a snarky tone with that lovely little movie, but that’s the holidays for you, a whiplash ride between the high and the low.

Back to the survey of neighborhood garden styles. Another popular local garden style might be described as “If it’s free, it’s going in the ground.” This style can derive from sentiment or cost effectiveness, or maybe a combination of the two. Whatever its origin, it can be identified by heavy reliance on florist gift plants, such as chrysanthemums and, yes, the poinsettia, such as this example of a poinsettia reaching tree-like proportions one street over from mine.

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Over 8 feet tall at least, the renegade poinsettia somehow shakes off the growth hormone hangover and re-acquires its natural rangy growth habit.

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The poinsettia has to be my least-favorite euphorbia, but I appreciate the culturally rich tradition giving rise to its becoming synonymous with Christmas.

Foliage Follow-Up December 2010

When asked only for a show of leaves, my zone 10 garden in December can give a much less angst-ridden performance than, for example, yesterday’s post, which was drawing solely on flower output. Today I realized I forgot to include some things in bloom, like anigozanthos, among others. That’s probably because, overall, drizzly, moisture-beaded leaves are winter’s revelation in my zone 10 garden.

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

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Continue reading Foliage Follow-Up December 2010