Monthly Archives: May 2012

“Natural Discourse” July 2012

On July 13, 2012, Natural Discourse, the “collaborative project between the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley (UCBG) and a multidisciplinary group of artists,” will introduce the artists’ installations to the public. MB Maher has been up to some mysterious photo work in conjunction with this project involving a photographic technique known as “light painting.” A rarely seen technique, Maher tells me it involves nothing more complex than going out after dark with a flashlight and your camera. Light painting first came to his notice via the legendary photographer (and Maher’s personal hero) Paolo Roversi, who used the technique to create studio effects such as this:

It is like using a pencil in a way. A writer or a painter or a composer of music is filling a white canvas. But, for me, photography is a black canvas. And on this black page, I use the Mag-Lite to write with the light.”

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When asked how he arrived at this technique, sometimes called “Roversi lighting,” Roversi explained: “Everything in photography is very old. Perhaps this technique had not yet been adapted for fashion photography because the model cannot move too much because of the very long exposure. It is not so simple, but it is easy for me because I work with Polaroid Film. I can see the result immediately. The most difficult thing is establishing the exposure time, how long you keep the light on the subject. Sometimes it is difficult to judge, and with the Mag-Lite it is a matter of a second. So you have to move the flashlight very quickly. But I like this light because it is completely irregular. You never know what will happen.” – from “Paolo Roversi on the Mysteries of Light

Even the monumental agave takes on an ethereal cast with light painting, setting the thorn imprints aglow. Unlike Roversi’s models, the agave is motionless and therefore gives a crisper result.

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Maher tells me he’s light-painted a gunnera too, so hopefully he’ll kick loose some more of these stunning “light paintings.”
I can’t wait to find out how this all ties in with the upcoming July 2012 opening of “Natural Discourse” at UCBG.



Previous posts on Natural Discourse can be found here and here.

summer camp for locavores

From the Wikipedia entry: “A locavore is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market.”

I’ve been hinting without going into too many gory details that my new little community vegetable garden plot is languishing for uncertain reasons. While I’ve been mildly obsessing over soil and vegetable gardens, photographer MB Maher and friends were vacationing for a few days last week at the idyllic Mar Vista Cottages and Edible Gardens in Mendocino, California, a former fishing camp turned into a locavore’s paradise.

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All of which happened on the weekend of the eclipse. (Wes Anderson could’ve directed this vacation.)

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I’d never heard of Mar Vista Cottages before, nor any hotel like it for that matter, but for over ten years owners Renata and Tom have offered guests literally a taste of country life, centered around the 4,000 square foot organic vegetable garden they maintain from which guests select and then cook their own meals. The garden anchors and is the heart of the compound which holds 12 cottages. Whatever tools necessary to gather your dinner can be found hanging on pegs at the entrance to the screened-in garden. Screens keep the gardens secure from marauding raids by local wildlife.

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Dine indoors

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or outdoors in the grass-bottomed conservatory, kept warm by the adjacent greenhouses.

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Ceramic heaters also warm the Northern Californian nights.

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No TV. No rules — add your own ingredients too.

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Cut fresh flowers from the gardens.

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Or bring your own.

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A kaleidoscope of eggs delivered every morning to your door.

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Participate as much or as little as you like. Help feed the chickens if you’re so inclined.

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Or just generally goof off, summer camp style.

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And make new friends, summer camp style.

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Friends who can’t bear to part, like Lola (the goat). Gives a whole new meaning to the cliche of blurring the line between indoors and outdoors.

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And there’s always the beach at Anchor Bay beckoning.

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Sleep on line-dried sheets.

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A big part of Renata and Tom’s vision was saving this land from development, electing to retain and rehab the circa 1920 fishing cottages.

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But what incidental magic they’ve created as Mar Vista’s caretakers.
(Pygmy goat “Pygmalion”)

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For more on Mendocino, California, here’s my post on a vacation there last August.

Teucrium hircanicum ‘Paradise Delight’

Summer-blooming spiky flowering plants under 3 feet. In garden design parlance, the verticals. We all need some, right? Herbaceous varieties of salvias and veronicas include lots of contenders. Although I’ve had some success with veronica, herbaceous salvias often melt away after a zone 10 winter. In addition to trying out Lysimachia ephemerum (again) and some penstemons, this summer I’m filling the spike void with a teucrium hardy to zone 6, maybe even 5, Teucrium hircanicum ‘Paradise Delight.’ The Iranian Wood sage is shrubby in character, crinkly rugose leaves, red-violet spikes. More drought tolerant than herbaceous spiky stuff and better suited to a summer-dryish garden, or so I’m hoping. The pale green inflorescences started deepening to violet this week.


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I can already see that it won’t have that upright, regimental discipline that is characteristic of the herbaceous salvias. This teucrium wants to dip and twist. Admitting to a mad crush on a plant its first summer in the garden is not at all sensible or prudent, so I’ll just say the Iranian Wood Sage is looking very promising.

Mine are from Digging Dog Nursery in Mendocino, California.

raise the red lantern

More photos from MB Maher as he meanders north of San Francisco, these from Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma, California, a collection of outdoor gardens inspired by the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire, curated by owner Teresa Raffo.

I haven’t been back yet to Cornerstone to see Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot’s “Red Lantern,” the second of their chicken-wire-and-crystal installations at Cornerstone, a companion piece to “Bai Yun” (“White Cloud”), so I was excited to see what Mitch’s photos would reveal. Andy Cao says “Red Lantern,” installed summer 2011, was probably inspired by his empathy for the experiences of Chinese railroad laborers in 19th Century America, in which he found an echo for his own sense of displacement as a Vietnamese refugee. (For me a red lantern will forever be associated with the 1991 Chinese film by Zhang Yimou, “Raise the Red Lantern,” on the queue for repeat viewing tonight.) Railroad tracks lead to a giant lantern glittering with red crystals, which may or may not allude to traditional Chinese wedding headdresses. While I’m strongly attracted to the seductive, sparkling details of “Red Lantern,” overall I prefer “White Cloud” in a landscape — less specific, more dreamy.

This photo from the Cornerstone website conveys the general outlines of “Red Lantern.”


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But as these photos from MB Maher illustrate, Cao and Perrot’s intention is to create a work where the viewer can “Step inside a painting and experience it themselves.” Lauren Reed-Guy for San Francisco Chronicle.

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In the end, the only thing I need is my intuition and how I see and that’s it. The rest? I just make things,’ says Cao, who draws his inspiration from art, poetry, music, fashion and photography.” (Meg McConahey for the Press Democrat)

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I don’t find sculptural art essential to a garden, but appreciate how a garden — the horizon, earth, water, wind, sunlight and shadow — can be essential to the expression of some artists, and I love how Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot play with these elements.

“White Cloud”

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When you see these two materials, crystals and chicken wire, they have nothing in common, he says. But when you put them together, something happens. By taking things out of their context, you give them a whole new application and association.
(Meg McConahey for the Press Democrat)

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Cao and Perrot work out of Cao Perrot Studio.

Pandemonium Aviaries

Photographer MB Maher sent in some photos from a visit he paid to an exotic bird sanctuary in Northern California called Pandemonium Aviaries, which hosted a fund-raising Birdhouse Design Contest on May 6, 2012, and he described the owner’s zeal on behalf of the birds as worthy of a Werner Herzog documentary. Mitch also told me that Pandemonium Aviaries won the San Francisco Garden Show’s raffle* of the Savannah! exhibit created by John Greenlee for the recent 2012 garden show, with the grasses from the exhibit now in the process of being installed at the aviaries.


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Continue reading Pandemonium Aviaries

tobacco-free zone

Note to self: Stop planting Nicotiana mutabilis in full afternoon sun.
Note to garden: Stop spitting out my favorite plants.

Friday morning my Nicotiana mutabilis that wintered over from last year looked like this. Obviously still trying to get the hang of photographing this beautiful plant to its best advantage. Tiny, changeable-colored tubular bells (mutant/mutate/mutabilis) arrayed over a candelabra-like edifice that when built up and mature is as twinkling and swaying a piece of complex plant architecture as you’re ever likely to see.

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But I won’t be getting any more photo practice on this ornamental tobacco from southern Brazil this year. Returning Friday evening, I found it in a dead faint after enduring temps in the mid 80s, full afternoon sun. Hoping it would revive and be fresh and dewy once again the next morning, it was instead in total collapse, leaves draped in flaccid curtains along the stems. I have lots of Nicotiana alata seedlings in different colors coming on, but mutabilis is in a league of its own. So annoying. The soil was laced with white threads, so there may have been a fungus involved that killed the plant when the soil warmed, some kind of fusarium wilt. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to overwinter nicotianas in my heavy clay soil for that reason alone and grow even this tender perennial as strictly an annual. But that’s just speculation and guesswork at this point. Yet the theory makes sense, since the stress of intense afternoon sun would set in motion a sequence of events where “the plant transpires more than it can transport, the stomata close, the leaves wilt, and the plant dies.” Just in case, any new nicotianas will be planted at the far side of the garden, in afternoon shade, in very free-draining soil.

Bike to Work Day

Today, 5/18/12, is Bike to Work Day, which I heard over the car radio stuck in traffic. So I have no cycling adventure to recount, but it’s the perfect opportunity to share this very cool photo of Humphrey Bogart cycling on a Warner Brothers Studio backlot circa 1945.


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The photograph comes from The Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Steven Rea’s book Hollywood Rides A Bike; Cycling With The Stars, published by Angel City Press, and is also on Rea’s blog Rides A Bike. My town of Long Beach has invested in cycling in a big way, with designated one-way streets and bike lanes. Bike thievery is at an all-time high, too, as my husband will woefully attest. I’ve been looking forward to choosing a basket for my bike to load up with all the tomatoes and beans from my little community garden plot about a mile away — except that tomatoes now seem a long shot this summer. The plants are dying, and the soil, after no supplemental irrigation for two weeks, continues to be a squelchy, heavy mud. Explanations range among (A) I’m the worst vegetable gardener that’s ever lived; (B) a fellow gardener has been surreptitiously turning my plot into a bog for reasons unknown; or (C) there’s a leaky pipe. More on this sad state of affairs later.

But what a nice photo of Bogie. Which also illustrates that funny biking clothing is strictly optional.

Wrapping Up the Venice Garden & Home Tour 2012

The Venice Garden & Home Tour is an annual fundraising event, benefiting the children of the Neighborhood Youth Association’s (NYA) Las Doradas Children’s Center in Venice, CA. This self-guided walking tour showcases the unique homes and gardens of the creative Venice Beach community, with original homeowner style as well as the designs of renowned architects and landscapers. The Tour was conceived by Venice landscape designer Jay Griffith and Venice community leaders Linda Lucks and Jan Brilliot. NYA was founded in 1906, and has served thousands of “at risk” children and families in its 106 years.”

The last of the posts on this year’s abbreviated tour, having seen just a handful of the 32 homes and gardens. Maybe it was the food trucks that slowed us down this year, the scent of Korean BBQ and Indian curry wafting through the streets, seducing us to spend at least a full hour for lunch, unlike the forced marches of prior tours. This garden was originally designed by Jay Griffith, redesigned by Russ Cleta, so I’m not sure which designer deserves the award for largest agaves in a small garden setting. (The tour is a little Hollywoodish, after all.) These heroic agaves were such a force to be reckoned with that lemons were stuck on some of the spines near high-traffic areas for the tour.


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Continue reading Wrapping Up the Venice Garden & Home Tour 2012

Bloom Day May 2012

Carol’s hosting of Bloom Day is one of the highlights of the month in garden blogdom. Yes, blooms can be had year-round, but instead of scratching around to find them as we do some months, May delivers them by the truckload. With the the South African aloe blooms almost finished and now the stirring of the classic garden perennials, flowering trees and shrubs, along with the quicksilver appearance and departure of the woodland ephemerals, the California natives just about to tuck in before the onset of summer drought — apart from moving your garden into a different climate zone every few years, a May Bloom Day is the best alternative and one of the great virtual garden tour opportunities around.

Granted, there’s a weird rhythm to spring in my own garden, where tulips appear in containers in February after six weeks of chilling in the fridge, and if you’re not careful the year-round growing conditions can make it a challenge to remember to save a few spots for summer stuff. After leaning in a direction that was getting a bit evergreen-heavy, the garden’s currently see-sawing toward leaving space for summer opportunities, a kind of Mediterranean Oudolf-lite. Umbellifers of any kind are an enduring favorite, and those that can squeeze into existing plantings are treasured most. Orlaya grandiflora has proven itself an ingenious self-sower, even if the most robust plant is the one seeded into dry paving.


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Continue reading Bloom Day May 2012

mother’s day 2012

And my mom is on a bus heading north on the Atlantic seaboard to join up with a cruise off the coast of Canada. But there were birthdays to shop for yesterday, so naturally (selfishly?) I headed for a destination that included plants as well as possible gifts, Roger’s Gardens in Orange County, California. I always find a little plant shopping helpful before diving into the murky waters of gift shopping.

Harpochloa falx ‘Compact Black,’ Black Caterpillar Grass, in small 4-inch pots, was too interesting to pass up.
Photo and description from High Country Gardens.

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Aloes and agaves planted in the display beds

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Some of the agaves, like this A. potatorum, are underplanted with a variegated ceanothus (possibly this one).
Self-sown Geranium maderense getting a little too chummy.

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And possibly because the jacarandas in the hell strip are treating us to a couple months of purple rain, I’m finding myself suddenly attracted to brooms and lingered to check these out at Roger’s. I’ve made a vow to sweep every day, and sometimes twice a day, lest the dreaded buildup of sticky petals is carried underfoot into every nook and cranny of our lives.


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Brooms and women go waaay back, to the antecedent besom broom, simple twigs tied to a handle.

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Some simple ideas that caught my eye. Possible display for tillandsias.

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And the very clever florists at Roger’s hung glass lanterns filled with water and leaves.

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and mossed a beat-up chair, turning it into a fernery

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Happy Sunday to moms and kids everywhere, a greeting which leaves out absolutely no one and means everyone is entitled to a nice brunch today.