Monthly Archives: October 2011

seeing double

At Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery in West Los Angeles yesterday, I was surprised to find double blooms on a couple of popular summer tropicals, abutilon and mandevilla, something to keep in mind for next summer’s containers. (Abutilon for shade, mandevilla for sun.)

Abutilon ‘Victorian Lady’


Perfect for those who enjoy grooming containers after a long day, secateurs in one hand, glass of wine or mixological concoction du jour in the other. I didn’t find a label on the mandevilla, but it’s most likely Monrovia’s ‘Tango Twirl.’


Aging double flowers famously do not go gently into the night, and like Norma Desmond they stubbornly cling to the stems of their youth whether on roses, daylilies, abutilons, hibiscus or mandevillas. So like all divas, they do require some extra maintenance. Personally, I put up with very few diva tantrums in the garden, but I concede there is something undeniably sumptuous about all those petals, especially as the buds swell.


Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery, despite the name, is an all-around general purpose nursery, with fine selections in pottery, annuals, perennials, shade plants and succulents. Bonsai allows for close-up appreciation of a ginkgo’s leaves turned buttery yellow in autumn.


This little block of Sawtelle Boulevard had me seeing double in nurseries too. Right across the street from Yamaguchi’s is The Jungle, which has one of the best succulent selections around town. And just down the street is Hashimoto Nursery, but dwindling lunch break time prevented a visit. Tucked in among multistory office buildings, all three nurseries are enduring examples of neighborhood nurseries, each as useful as a Swiss Army knife and all worthy of a nod at the tail end of Support Your Independent Nursery Month. I’ve blogged about these West LA nurseries before here.

Occasional Daily Weather Report 10/28/11

Days in the mid to high 70s (Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion), nights in the low to mid 50s.
Finding just the right angle of morning sun and then holding absolutely still for maximum absorption is a morning’s work for Evie.
My furry iguana.


And another little sun-loving beauty greeted me this morning, a pale pink Nerine bowdenii.


A brief description of these autumn-flowering, South African bulbs from Hortus III:

Nerines are tender and are grown mostly in pots in the
greenhouse, or outdoors in Zone 9. They should be
given plenty of water until after flowering, and the
bulbs should then be rested for a few months.
Propagated by offsets.

Bulbs are the cheapest jewels a girl can buy.

the uninvited

we are all on watch, just a little on edge here.


closer and closer to the gloaming, only the fiercest colors now pierce the gathering dark
while shy creatures creep out of hiding, feeling emboldened to assert their elemental natures


This Monday we’ll be locking the gates, shutting off the porch lights, and watching The Uninvited (1944). Beautiful old house on a cliff in Cornwall offered for sale at impossibly cheap prices for reasons that none of the town folk care to discuss. A lost dog. Amazing staircase that animals refuse to ascend. A seance with an Ouija board and shattering glass. Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland impeccably dressed for life in a country house. My kind of scary movie.

Oh, and the haunting scent of mimosa reaching into cold rooms, reaching across time…


(Photo of Acacia pravissima by Forest Farm. The mimosa scent from the perfume worn by Stella’s mother probably derived from Acacia dealbata.)

Chionanthus retusus

The Chinese Fringe Tree. A deciduous tree beloved by both gardener and birds for clouds of bloom in spring.


Followed by those indigo autumn berries. Now about 15 feet in height, at maturity reaching 20-25 feet.


True story: The fringe tree was dragged to its current spot in the back garden by an ’82 Jeep Wagoneer straining on the ropes, tires tearing up the front lawn pre-gravel garden, inching it slowly from the west side of the house to the east, neighbors agape at the sight. First mistake was planting this wider-than-tall tree in a narrow strip along the driveway. By the time this mistake became apparent, the sapling didn’t impress as too big to transplant, but after freeing up the root ball there was no way for man or beast to lift that root ball up and out of that deep, deep hole. Wagoneer to the rescue. One of the more foolish garden escapades I’ve initiated but with a “berry” happy ending. Bought as a tiny seedling from Burkard’s Nursery in Pasadena.

Gardeners’ World by Julian Barnes

Hearing the news this week that Julian Barnes won this year’s Man Booker prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending had me searching for my unread copy of Barnes’ Arthur & George buried somewhere in a disgracefully cluttered bookshelf amidst rhinos, rabbits and a snapshot of Madame Ganna Walska. Also brought to mind was his short story, “Gardeners’ World,” from the collection Pulse, which presents a portrait of a marriage via the garden as battlefield, with gardening the banal pursuit of a couple whose relationship has gone a bit soggy. I’ve only read reviews and snippets of this mordant piece on a shared garden and haven’t yet bought the collection, since I freely admit that what little I’ve read of this story, although very funny, gives me the willies.

A brief exchange from the story:

“What have you done with the blackberry?”
“What blackberry?”
This made him more tense. Their garden was hardly that big.
“The one along the back wall.”
“Oh, that briar.”
“That briar was a blackberry with blackberries on it. I brought you two and personally fed them into your mouth.”
“I’m planning something along that wall. Maybe a Russian vine, but that’s a bit cowardly. I was thinking a clematis.”
“You dug up my blackberry.’
Your blackberry?” She was always at her coolest when she knew, and knew that he knew, that she’d done something without consultation.

Other memorable lines include: “Can we please, please not call it a water feature?”

Only a British writer would be capable of producing such a withering, lacerating look at the territoriality issues in a relationship spilling over and turning gardening into a blood sport. If it seems like your cup of tea in fiction, more excerpts from “Gardeners’ World” can be found here.

Garden Party in Westwood, CA Oct 22 & 23

With speakers the likes of such SoCal horticultural heroes as Bart O’Brien from the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which is hosting this inaugural event, Lili Singer, Emily Green, John Greenlee, all whose talks will be spread across both days, making it almost impossible to choose which day to attend…

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden invites you to celebrate gardens, gardening and gardeners at Grow Native Nursery Westwood’s Autumn Garden Party. Four California native plant experts will present lectures at the two-day event at RSABG’s Los Angeles retail nursery location.”

I’m fairly sure the seslerias are European, not native, so this photo of Sesleria ‘Greenlee’ in my garden is not precisely on topic. But it is an amazingly good grass.


I have so many questions about gardening with natives, whether exclusively or partially, so now must get to the hard work of deciding which day to attend. In case you missed it embedded above, the link to the event is here.

Anatomy of a Pot of Tender Plants

There’s some great names in the plant world, and Cussonia is up there with some of my favorites.
And for pure enjoyment, no history of the name is necessary, just an appreciation for vowels and syllables.
Also lends itself to a good name for a cat (Pussonia?). And then there’s the visual enjoyment they provide.


Some scant history. Small evergreen trees from South Africa. Right there you know they’ll be tender, but still eminently desirable for containers. Members of the Araliaceae family, another name with a good complement of vowels. I’m hesitant to write their common name, Cabbage Tree, since it might then be confused for an edible, which it emphatically is not. Don’t you dare go near this with a dinner fork.

From plantzafrica, describing C. paniculata: “The name Cussonia was given by Carl Peter Thunberg to commemorate the French botanist Pierre Cusson (1727-1783).”


I have a small, struggling pot of Cussonia paniculata, but these photos are of the splendid Cussonia gamtoosensis, or Gamboos Cabbage Tree, which has done the most rewarding thing any plant can do, and that is to seem genuinely glad to be under your care. C. gamtoosensis has flourished, zooming ahead of C. paniculata in leafage and trunk. Purchased from a local nursery spring 2011. I had passed it by in autumn 2010, but noted the exuberant little guy again the following spring, after it had spent the winter sitting in an aisle of remaindered plants, now offered at discount. My Cussonia paniculata is such a malingering, cranky, trouble child that I hesitated briefly on bringing home another, but this Gamboos Cabbage Tree’s vigor and lust for life after a long winter in a gallon can solidly won me over.

Since Pam/Digging has declared this Support Your Independent Nursery month, a nod is in order to this great local nursery, International Garden Center & Floral Design and their amazing selection of pottery, succulents, water plants. I pop in every time I work near the airport/LAX. (The grower of this cussonia was Northern California’s Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.) Both these cussonias I’m discussing are caudiciform, growing from a swollen stem or caudex, but this is only apparent on my C. paniculata. The gamtoosensis shows no caudex at all. But that tells you how tough and drought tolerant these little trees are, which makes them perfect candidates for container culture.


Which brings us to the succulents planted at the base of the cussonia, Delosperma sphalmanthoides, bought from another wonderful independent Northern California nursery, Cottage Gardens of Petaluma. This little succulent was growing in a gorgeous display garden at CGP. One of the very helpful nurserymen led me to it and pointed it out as his favorite. Also known as the Tufted Ice Plant, High Country Gardens lists it for zones 5-9, so this little one is not tender at all.


flowers for tori

A single nerine stem of congratulations for being the first woman artist whose new album simultaneously listed in the Top 10 of Billboard’s alternative, classical, and rock categories. A listen to the new Night of Hunters can be found at that link.


Because I find Tori Amos one of those nourishing artists, along with Bjork, PJ Harvey, who on first listen you wonder, Where does this come from, these sounds and words? Always the start of a great relationship between artist and audience. In Tori’s case, for me many of the words never do become very clear, but just enough syllables (and especially long e’s) gleam through to create incantatory songscapes.

Liquid Diamonds is one of my favorites from 1998’s From The Choirgirl Hotel. (I drove my then 15-year-old son and a girlfriend and dropped them off to see Tori at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, part of her tour for this record in 1998. It was his first “date.”)