Monthly Archives: January 2012

Inner Gardens, Los Angeles


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Hat tip to Miss Rumphius’ Rules for recently blogging on Inner Gardens, which put the sliver in my brain to check out *Stephen Block’s garden antiques emporium in Culver City. Today I worked just a couple miles down the road so popped in for a quick visit. (I’ve been a long-time fan of Susan Cohan’s excellent blog, whose title is a delightful reminder of the beloved children’s book “Miss Rumphius,” which was in heavy reading rotation in our house over 20 years ago.)

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Neoclassical, modern, rustic — every kind of garden ornament and pottery can be found at Inner Gardens, but overall the objects speak less to a specific period or style and more to the timeless, primal connection we have to gardens. My visit was much too short and ended abruptly due to a work emergency, just as I discovered the plant nursery portion of Inner Gardens.

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There is most definitely a keen, plant-hungry eye at work here.
Golden club moss? (Selaginella kraussiana)

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This large concrete bowl was a textural tour de force.
Dramatic kalanchoes were nearly upstaged by the intensely crinkled and contorted trailing hoya.

Kalanchoe orgyalis, the Copper Spoons.

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Closer look of what I think must be some kind of hoya, the “Hindu rope,” not a plant seen much locally. Must be the Florida influence seeping into Mr. Block’s designs. Brilliant choice for echoing the furry, crinkly leaves of K. beharensis.

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From the website:
*”Stephen Block’s fancy for foliage took root during his study of horticulture at the University of Florida. At the time, he owned one of the first mall kiosks in Florida selling plants and flowers. That business blossomed when Block moved to Los Angeles and opened INNER GARDENS.

Stephen’s plant knowledge is vast and he schooled himself on all aspects of flora and foliage. Always seeking large specimens and the most unusual varieties obtainable, his design approach is to create plantings that look as though they have been planted long ago.

In addition, Stephen has a love affair with beautiful and unique containers; ancient, modern and one-of-a-kind containers that when planted with the perfect plant becomes something more. Stephen’s belief that “the perfect plant or plants placed lovingly into the perfect container located in the perfect setting becomes an entity in and of itself…a piece unlike any other.”

For over 18 years, Stephen Block has been fine-tuning INNER GARDENS. Traveling the world himself and developing a network of antique dealers who know to call him immediately when they find something that is on his vast watch list: INNER GARDENS is a visual dream. He has gathered together the finest designers, technicians and installation crews to perform every aspect of plant care, flora and orchid design, installation and service at the highest level.

As a result of Stephen’s guidance and dedication to consistent excellence, INNER GARDENS has grown into the West Coast’s leading resource for everything garden, now with 2 showrooms in the Los Angeles area.’

more garden

I just couldn’t make the leap to water gardening last year and still don’t feel the undeniable urge this year to find the answers to all the questions I still have, so the intended water garden, a 3X2 foot steel tank found at a local flea market, has been planted.

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The few small holes in the bottom that were plugged for the water garden were unplugged, some gravel added, then lots of compost and bagged potting soil.

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Easy stuff like the dwarf Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ will be part of the experiment, plus a couple Eryngium tripartitum, which I’m not even sure will bloom their first year. Tough, slim, and diaphanous is the idea.

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I just hate having a perfectly good container go unplanted.
Besides, that wonderful patina cries out for a mini-urban-prairie-in-a-boxcar experiment.
Funny how I thought there’d be room for lots more than just five plants, at least a couple grasses.
Research on a 3X2 water garden continues…

fertilizer and its discontents


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My dainty coronilla reminds me of Cytisus battandieri a little bit, which is another member of the vast legume family.
All legumes have the ability to convert and “fix” atmospheric nitrogen, making it available to plants as a natural fertilizer.

Although it is the most abundant element in the atmosphere, nitrogen from the air cannot be used by plants until it is
chemically transformed, or fixed, into ammonium or nitrate compounds that plants can metabolize. In nature, only certain
bacteria and algae (and, to a lesser extent, lightning) have this ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, and the amount that
they make available to plants is comparatively small. Other bacteria break down nitrogen compounds in dead matter and
release it to the atmosphere again. As a consequence, nitrogen is a precious commodity – a limiting nutrient – in most
undisturbed natural systems
.” (“Nutrient Overload; Unbalancing the Global Nitrogen Cycle” – World Resources Institute)

I caught a report Thursday on nitrogen runoff by Public Radio International’s The World: “Nitrogen compounds running off farmland have led to water pollution problems around the world, while nitrogen emissions from industry, agriculture and vehicles make a big contribution to air pollution.” (“Farms, Factories, and a Dangerous Nitrogen Overload,” by Laura Lynch, 1/26/12.)

Vast ocean “dead zones” are linked to runoff from agricultural reliance on nitrogen, especially in support of King Corn, but excess fertilizer polluting waterways comes from many sources. Last spring a local marina experienced a dramatic fish die-off, reported here by The Los Angeles Times (“The episode…follows unusually heavy rainfall in Southern California, which washed lawn fertilizer, dog droppings and similar nutrients into coastal waters.”)

Fertilizers have been quite the topic of discussion on blogs this week.

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The National Wildlife Federation really kicked the hornet’s nest when they announced they’d accepted corporate sponsorship from Scotts of Miracle-Gro and Roundup herbicide fame. The move seemed cynically calibrated to upgrade Scotts image and shore up dwindling sales/contributions of both entities. But at what cost now to NWF’s brand, which is experiencing near-extinction overnight? I suppose both sides are betting that the controversy will be forgotten by the public by the time NWF’s friendly logo appears on Scotts’ bags of bird seed. The public does have an infamously short memory, but will it really be able to forget that Scotts was fined millions of dollars for knowingly selling pesticide-tainted birdseed between 2005-2008? On the surface, it looks like both sides have garnered a big lose/lose out of the transaction. The question now becomes, what did NWF know about the tainted birdseed, and when did they know it?

According to reporter Johanna Hari, this isn’t the first instance of such a partnership, and she alleges that the beginning of similar conflicts of interest can be traced back to Jay Hair, president of the National Wildlife Federation from 1981 to 1995: “It is simply a fact that Jay Hair kick-started the process of environmental groups partnering with and taking money from the world’s worst polluters. It is also a fact that this process has been taken much further by other groups like Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy, and has ended with their missions becoming deeply corrupted, in ways I described in great detail in my article.” (The Nation, 3/10/10. “Conservation Groups & Corporate Cash: An Exchange.”)

How much fertilizer my garden needs is a constant mystery to me. Some years I’m convinced I’ve “exhausted” the soil. Still, it basically gets only compost, rarely some blood and bone meal, but then I don’t grow many vegetables or prize-winning flowers either. Admittedly, dahlias are having a comeback in my garden, and they are hogs for manure and compost.

The merits and demerits of the Green Revolution will be argued for decades to come. In ratcheting up agricultural productivity to fight hunger, the GE’s downstream effects have been nitrogen pollution and unsustainable agricultural practices — leaving me, the home gardener, feeling altogether ambivalent about fertilizer. I realize that what I choose to do in my tiny garden doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans when compared to the practices of agribusiness. Even so, mostly I just say no to fertilizers and don’t grow plants bred to expect lavish amounts of the stuff.

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Delosperma sphalmanthoides

Growing quietly last October

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And startling me yesterday by erupting with these tiny, starry blooms.

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The flower buds go unnoticed until bloom, buried deep like sea anemones. Along with Tufted Iceplant, another of its common names is Sea Anemone Iceplant, a diminutive cushion from South Africa that doesn’t favor the bone-dry conditions one usually associates with succulents. Comes from winter rainfall, alpine regions, preferring free-draining, gravelly soil with steady moisture. Pot culture suits it well. High Country Gardens has it hardy to zone 5. Mine are from Cottage Gardens of Petaluma, California (no mail order).

What a cutie.

what’s growing in the lab

Science = Illumination

(via Design Sponge)
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Scientists deserve the highest praise for illuminating the world around us.
Designer Pani Jurek seems to feel the same way, naming this test-tube chandelier in honor of scientist Maria Skłodowska-Curie.

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To borrow a word Ms. Curie coined (“radioactivity”), I find these chandeliers, well, simply radiant.

From Pani Jurek’s Facebook page: “Maria S.C. lamp is made from chemistry test tubes, set in two plywood bands. This surprising material and geometric shape makes this lamp both classic and innovative. The double glass cylinder recalls Art Deco forms in a unique contemporary way. The use of ready-made objects gives an appearance with a Duchamp idea. The tubes are detachable and the lamp provides the opportunity for visual experiment by creating a variety of configurations and arrangements.”

Slightly reminiscent of UC Berkeley’s hydroponics exhibit at last year’s San Francisco Flower & Garden that confounded and/or delighted attendees. (Which, by the way, will be held this year March 21-25.)

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I am so drawn to modern takes on chandeliers.
(This little number hanging from our bathroom ceiling fan has yet to be wired for light.)

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And while we’re on the subject of innovative chandeliers, sfgirlbybay recently wrote about her Patrick Townsend “White Orbit Chandelier” that had me gasping in admiration, shown in black in this photo from her website, “a tension + compression design based on the same principle as a suspension bridge.”

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For more information on the Maria S.C. chandelier, contact Monika at monika@gangdesign

Tuesday’s children

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

I don’t even know on which day of the week I was born, but just guessing, I think I must be a Thursday’s child.
There must be a way to check…and of course there is. Seems I was born on a Sunday. Well, how about that!
You can find out whether you’re full of woe, hard-working, etc., here.

Checking what’s stirring this bright Tuesday morning after a full day of rain.

Tulips and dutch iris

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Cape Hyacinth, Lachenalia ‘Romaud’ (Brent and Becky’s Bulbs).
Clusterhead pinks, Dianthus carthusianorum (from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials).
A tall dianthus, reputedly to 2 feet, but still best planted with good circulation at pathway edges. Trust me on this.

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First bloom on Salvia karwinskii, from the 2010 Fullerton Arboretum salvia sale. Flower color is notoriously variable, ranging from brick red through orange to rosy pink.
Haloragis’ January leaves are the bronziest of the year. Flowers insignificant to invisible. An enthusiastic reseeder, Digging Dog Nursery has plants in stock to get the ball rolling.

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Variegated Sisyrinchium striatum ‘Aunt May,’ a favorite plant I haven’t grown in a while. Its flowers are nice but not essential.
And new this year, showing its first bloom, also from Annie’s, the exquisite Black-Flowered Lotus, Lotus jacobaeus. Finely dissected, silvery leaves, deep maroon-black flowers. Usually it takes two plants to bring silver and burgundy together. Pelargonium sidoides comes close to the same performance. (Geraniaceae carries P. sidoides.)

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I think that lotus deserves one more look.
I hereby nominate it for Tuesday’s child (“Tuesday’s child is full of grace.”)

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Closing with a sweet little echeveria from Guerrero, Mexico, that I’d never seen offered locally before, but which has supposedly been around for a long while. Echeveria multicaulis ‘Copper Roses.’

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The long-awaited winter rainstorms now routinely bring a buzz-killing advisory:

The Interim City Health Officer, Dr. Mauro Torno, has issued an advisory for the beaches in the City of Long Beach following today’s rain. After any significant rainfall (0.10″ or more) high levels of bacteria from storm drains, rivers, and polluted runoff enter into our ocean. It is recommended to avoid all ocean water contact for at least 72 hours after rainfall, especially at storm drain outlets, river mouths, streams, and lagoons. People should always pay particular attention to any warning signs posted at the beach for their safety.”

Onward with Tuesday…

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“The god Týr or Tiw, identified with Mars, after whom Tuesday is named.”

houseboat

Life aboard an old, creaky 1919 bungalow often feels like living on a boat to me.
Many years ago we were actually this close to buying an old wooden boat to live on and sail, called the “Anteak.”
I’m still not sure which antique would have been more labor intensive to maintain, the old wooden boat or this old wooden house.


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I’m never more under the illusion of living on a boat than on a rainy day like today.
The view through the “bath house” windows (a small, glassed-in porch built off the master bedroom) feels especially like being on the bridge or “wheelhouse” of a boat, notwithstanding the impressionistic blur of the garden outside.

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Some of the similarities: I’ve felt this house roll and sway gently on the waves that earthquakes bring. Termites would be the equivalent of dry rot chewing away at the ribs of a vessel. And with quarters similarly confined in a 1,100-square foot house, there has to be optimal cooperation among its crew. Also like boats, our house has built-ins for efficiency of storage. In a lot of the old bungalows, these built-ins were removed some time mid-20th century when television arrived, and placing the t.v. set became the supreme design consideration for living areas. The built-ins became cumbersome obstacles to prime viewing placement. Our house still has most of the old built-ins, though admittedly scuffed around the edges. We figure at least two prior owners stood firm and resisted tearing out the hand-made cabinetry — or maybe they just didn’t care enough either way. Maybe they enjoyed a certain amount of stasis in life. Who can say?

Living room built-in bookcase and bathroom built-ins (and bulk head lights, another nautical similarity)

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Maybe this house is training me for a life aquatic in the confined quarters of a real houseboat some day. Imagine a rainy day on a real houseboat…with a choice collection of potted plants on the foredeck, of course.

Image found here.
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an afternoon at the museum

Modern design was born from the marriage of art and industry.” – “The Architect and the Painter,” Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey

I was worried the exhibit would be over by the time I finally scooted over to Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “Living in a Modern Way,” open until June 3, 2012, part of Pacific Standard Time, an ongoing celebration of the works of Los Angeles artists between roughly 1945 and 1980, when the utopian notion of better living through design was taken very seriously.

I could look at chairs all day. This aluminum chair by R. M. Schindler, made for Sardi’s Restaurant, Hollywood, 1932-33, could easily inspire an adaptation for weatherproof garden seating.


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Pottery from Pacific Clay Products and Catalina Pottery

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Planted cocktail table by Milo Baughman, 1950.

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Clothes, textiles.

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Image of textile by Paul Laszlo from Dwell, which also includes photos of LACMA’s re-creation of Charles and Ray Eames’ Case Study House #8 living room.
Photos were not allowed of this portion of the exhibit.

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The Eames’ DCW (Dining Chair Wood).

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Like Steve Jobs, Charles Eames often appropriated other designers’ ideas and called them his own. But let’s not quibble — there’s genius in knowing what to take.
For more on the Eames, check out the documentary “The Architect and the Painter.”



Foliage Followup January 2012

Out of all the smooth-leaved attractions from agaves and succulents, Ozothamnus hookeri ‘Sussex Silver’ gets the nod this January for Pam at Digging’s Foliage Followup. Divine shrubbiness. I never noticed its bloom last year, just the aftermath — the dried, beige flowers hung on forever and ever. This is the most pristine I’ve seen it yet, silvery clean, with the tiny new flower buds scattered evenly like holiday ornaments. Still in large clay pots, the two are being considered for rotation into the front garden to fill some recent gaps.

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Bloom Day January 2012

Bloom Day brought the rain back. A solid month of dry weather and blue skies was getting very tedious.
Thank you, Carol! And congratulations on five years of hosting Bloom Days at May Dreams Gardens.

Much of what was blooming in December still holds. The cloud forest salvias from Mexico like S. chiapensis flower well in a zone 10 winter. And there’s a handful of plants of Helleborus argutifolius now in bloom. (The fancy hybrids still scare me. I imagine a very expensive, painfully slow trial period with them, at the end of which I’ll inevitably conclude that they prefer more winter chill than I can give them.)

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Although its leaves aren’t much to look at for the moment, Cotyledon macrantha’s flowers are doing their part to promote Pantone’s color of the year for 2012, Tangerine Tango. The new flowers on a kangaroo paw, Anigozanthos ‘Gold Velvet,’ are brushed in Tangerine Tango too. In fact, orange is old news to this garden.

Sophisticated, dramatic and seductive, Tangerine Tango marries the vivaciousness and adrenalin rush of red with the friendliness and warmth of yellow, to form a high-visibility, magnetic hue that emanates heat and energy.”

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January is the month for peering in close at odd and subtle means of pollination, like the flowers on the String of Pearls, Senecio rowleyanus. In June I doubt they’d get a second look. And I’m wondering if the inflorescence on Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’ will consistently arrive this late once the grass settles in after a year or so.

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Begonia luxurians in flower this Bloom Day, just as it was in 2011. Euphorbias are budding up, including E. rigida.

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Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian Buttons, is always willing to bloom in January, usually overwilling. Just one plant was spared and allowed to grow. Some years the brick pathways are overrun by it. Nice, fruity smell to the leaves too.

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The Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Carmine’ hasn’t mushed out or fainted in the heavy, cold soil of December and January but instead seems to be thriving, pushing out more blooms daily. I’m impressed, even though the blooms swivel in several directions like distracted geese.

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Echeveria agavoides with twin antennae bloom spikes, annual linaria in the background.

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And closing out Bloom Day January 2012 with broad bands of lantana and Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ from a local municipal planting.

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