High Line jeremiad

Some interesting Sunday reading to be found in another nuanced, contrarian view of the High Line Park in New York City. I know, not another post on the High Line! I can’t help it, I’m utterly fascinated by this subject. So many twists and turns down those old railway tracks. Jeremiah Moss, who blogs at Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, had his Op-Ed on the High Line, “Disney World on the Hudson,” published in the New York Times on August 21, 2012.


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Some sample paragraphs:

Not yet four years old, the High Line has already become another stop on the must-see list for out-of-towners, another chapter in the story of New York City’s transformation into Disney World. According to the park’s Web site, 3.7 million people visited the High Line in 2011, only half of them New Yorkers. It’s this overcrowding, not just of the High Line, but of the streets around it, that’s beginning to turn the tide of sentiment.”

Originally meant for running freight trains, the High Line now runs people, except where those people jam together like spawning salmon crammed in a bottleneck. The park is narrow, and there are few escape routes. I’ve gotten close to a panic attack, stuck in a pool of stagnant tourists at the park’s most congested points.”

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The High Line was certainly on this out-of-towner’s must-see list when visiting New York. In fact, it was the prospect of walking the High Line Park that finally induced me to stay a few days in this astonishing city and have my first look around, a trip I had put off year after year. Just the first section was open when I visited in the autumn of 2010, and there were no stagnant pools of tourists to be avoided at that time. It was fairly empty. Who could have imagined that the High Line Park would be so successful that it would stir up some New York nativist blowback? Rezoning the surrounding Chelsea neighborhood to allow for an influx of expensive, fish-bowl high-rises adjacent to the High Line seems to be the cause of much of the animus. (“Close Quarters,” New York Times 8/1/12)

Gain a park, lose a neighborhood?


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Unintended or otherwise, one of the consequences of the repurposing of the abandoned elevated railway trestle into the High Line Park has been to spur a juggernaut of gentrification, a fate the city of Los Angeles has long been praying will be visited upon its downtown. We’re finally getting a park, too, the 12-acre, much-delayed Grand Park, scaled back from pre-recession ambitions.


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Los Angeles is woefully in need of public parks, found to rank 17th among major U.S. cities in public space devoted to parks. Yes, we have our public beaches, but there’s currently no Metro Rail service that runs to the beaches.

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Image from LA Times
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A tale of two cities, a tale of two parks: As a park, the High Line brilliantly captures the innovative optimism and skyward character of New York, taking up no new space at the ground level, whereas Grand Park is an awkward fit around parking garages, interrupted Los Angeles-style by streets breaking it into sections, just as our freeways isolate neighborhoods. But for now it’s all we’ve got. From Christopher Hawthorne’s review in the LA Times 7/24/12:

Mostly what we’ve had is a collection of thousands upon thousands of privately owned and miniature Central Parks, one for every suburban backyard. Grand Park represents something else: an attempt, imperfect but encouraging, to chip away at the rigid infrastructure of the car-dominated city and make a private city a little more public.”

Like the newly gentrified Chelsea neighborhood surrounding the High Line, Los Angeles developers originally had big plans for the area surrounding the Grand Park:

Under the original plan, which backers said would help create a “Champs Elysees” for Los Angeles, a dramatic Frank Gehry-designed complex of high-rise towers, shops, upscale condos and a five-star hotel should have been completed by now.”

Unlike the grass-roots efforts that got the High Line Park rolling, big-money developers have always been in charge of Grand Park, and developers will always aim for the Beverly Hills jackpot.

During the height of the real estate boom, developers unveiled numerous luxury projects, believing the downtown revitalization was so strong that it could support Beverly Hills-level retailers and residences.”

Then there was that pesky 2008 recession. At least New York got the High Line out of their devil’s bargain. We did get some nice hot-pink chairs though.


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And who knows? In the big picture, maybe we’re actually lucky that the recession knocked the glitz out of our park and left us with a modest, workday space instead of a tourist magnet like the High Line. I do have to warn Mr. Moss, though, that I plan to once again join the throngs of tourists clogging the High Line Park to see the completion of its subsequent phases. The High Line’s success is just another example of the price that great cities — London, Paris, Venice, New York — pay for their daring, walkable beauty.

sit

Dear Chair, oh, how I love thee! I scored a couple garden chairs on sale recently, which pitched my low simmer of constant chair love back into a full boil. These are mostly photos of chairs and benches previously posted from garden shows, garden tours. Where the designer and/or setting is unknown, no attribution is given, making this a chair tear sheet. At the end of August, with temperatures hopefully cooling, some of the best chair weather is still ahead.

Fermob at Dunn Gardens, Seattle, Washington
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Recliners on the High Line, New York City
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Venice Home and Garden Tour 2012
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Bend Seating
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Maarten Baas plastic chair in wood
Maarten Baas plastic chair in wood

Emeco Broom chair by Philip Starck
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Venice Home and Garden Tour
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From Damian Velasquez’s Half13 collection, Dwell on Design, Los Angeles 2012
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Bend Seating
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Chairs at Villa Mundo Nuevo, by Jarrod Baumann of Zeterre Landscape Architecture
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Chaise at Villa Mundo Nuevo, by Jarrod Baumann of Zeterre Landscape Architecture

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Long Beach Antique Market
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Loll Designs, 100% recycled plastic
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Fermob, South Coast Plaza Spring Garden Show 2012, garden designer Dustin Gimbel
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South Coast Plaza Spring Garden Show 2012
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San Francisco Flower and Garden Show 2012
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Battery Park, New York City
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Battery Park, New York City
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Garden of Katherine Spitz and Daniel Rhodes, Mar Vista, California
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Sue Dadd and James Griffith’s “Folly Bowl,” Altadena, California
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Venice Home and Garden Tour 2012
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private garden
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private garden
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private garden
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private garden
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private garden
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San Francisco Flower and Garden Show
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private garden
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private garden
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San Francisco Flower and Garden Show 2012
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Venice Home and Garden Tour 2012
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Rancho Los Alamitos, California
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summer 2012 award for best-looking agave

Though they may give the appearance of being unchanging and monumental, agaves are ever in flux, whether it’s bad-leaf days from snail damage or a clean outline marred by a congestion of pups. So when an agave somehow pulls it all together to present a pristine vision of pure agave loveliness it deserves an award. This summer that award goes to Agave desmetiana ‘Variegata.’


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This summer you have achieved perfection.

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In bestowing this award, perhaps it may induce you into considering possibly postponing flowering, which I have a feeling you’re thinking about doing very soon. After you flower and die retire, it will take one of your pups quite some time to win a Best-Looking Agave award. No, that’s not a threat, just a fact.

UCBG’s Natural Discourse; an epilogue

I was reminded by some recent network news stories on UCBG’s “Natural Discourse” that I’ve yet to post photos from opening night back on July 14, 2012.


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Did you have to read that sentence twice for full comprehension? “Recent network news stories”?
Network news, as in Fox and CBS, covering “Natural Discourse,” a collaboration between artists and a botanical garden?
(Quick, duck! There goes a flying pig!)
Surely, the world must have slipped off its axis. But it’s all true.

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Was network news there to cover the opening? Well, no, not exactly.

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Which is entirely their loss. The St. Germain cocktails were divine.

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And the sarracenia were an exquisite choice for table centerpieces.

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What a happy, celebratory evening it was.

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MB Maher and his banner for the event.

So what exactly has attracted the attention of Fox News and the various feeder blogs that amplify its content in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record?

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The answer lies in this structure, which I described back on June 23, 2012. SOL Grotto


The work of Rael San Fratello Architects, SOL refers not only to the name of the now-bankrupt solar cell manufacturer Solyndra, but also to its fate as being Shit Out of Luck when silicon prices fell. At that point, its unique thin film technology, which obviated the need for silicon, could not compete against China’s much cheaper, silicon-based solar panels heavily subsidized by the Chinese government.

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It is a story with many facets.

The accusations include charges that President Obama is picking “winners and losers” in the field of green technology.
Never mind that former President George W. Bush “picked” the hydrogen fuel cell and sank $1.5 billion into its development during his presidency.

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As to charges that government has no role in fostering technological innovation, “[T]he government has played a key role, either as an early investor or a demanding customer, in the development of virtually every advanced technology we take for granted today, from aviation to biotechnology, to computers and the Internet, microchips, and now clean energy. Indeed, without a visionary government investing in key strategic industries, world-leading companies like Google, Genentech and Boeing would not exist.” (Forbes, “Solyndra’s Failure Is No Reason To Abandon Federal Energy Innovation Policy” 9/2/11)

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This much at least is clear: Improbable as it sounds, UCBG’s “Natural Discourse” has become one of the hottest tickets in the Bay Area.
Go there and see the controversial tubes for yourself.

friday clippings 8/17/12

August is not a month to be trifled with. Spring comes so early here, with winter more a brief, rainy intermission than a season, that by August I really need to 1) loosen compacted clay soil that refuses to absorb another drop of moisture 2) add some compost/manure 3) water thoroughly 4) mulch again. Yes, it’s August, miserably hot and ant-ridden, but to ensure I have a garden worth looking at in October, these chores can’t be avoided. At the very worst, for a few days I look like the Wild Woman of Borneo and require three showers before nightfall. Maneuvering under the tetrapanax to water and mulch always brings down a shower of ants, and finding them later crawling on my arms and neck becomes commonplace in August, to calmly flick off like dandruff. While accomplishing Nos. 1 through 4, a huge amount of plant material is cut back and even some transplanting done if slightly cooler weather is expected. It has cooled down a bit, so anything that looks like it won’t survive until that optimal window in autumn for transplanting gets dug up and relocated, like the Digitalis ferruginea buried under Pennisetum spathiolatum. As I worked, I uncovered a few more plants of the buried-alive variety that had to be moved, to hell with the consequences. The Echeveria agavoides much prefers life freed from that heavy-breathing mass of variegated sisyrinchium. The sisyrinchium was the one moved in this instance, split into about five pieces, a small fan left behind.


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Paraphrasing garden writer Christopher Lloyd, who fielded many anxious queries about the best time to move plants, “[T]he task should be deferred until spring. That is my official pronouncement. Don’t expect me to follow it myself, because I’m also a great believer in doing a job when I want to do it, and to hell with the consequences.”

Any of the potted pelargoniums I collect can be popped into bare spots after the clean-up, like this ivy-leaved Pelargonium ‘Crocodile.’


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The local Home Despot had good prices on Aeonium nobile, a monocarpic species.
So nice to have something shiny new in August, which handily gets my vote for the cruelest of months.

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More shiny happy new. Local nurseries stock interesting selections of begonias in August. Rhizomatous Begonia ‘Silver Jewel’

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You’d think it would be impossible to lose track of plants in a small garden, but I do it all the time. This grass or, more likely, sedge, wasn’t moved but left where it was discovered growing under the Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish.’ The blooms are just peeking through the top of the salvia, which are what alerted me to its existence. It probably reseeded here. Any possible ID’s welcome.

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This mystery grass/sedge comes from the old Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, California, probably the last plant I purchased from them, and I don’t want to risk losing it. I vividly remember asking then-owner Maggie Wych what was the grass with the plumey inflorescence dotted throughout the sunny borders, but I just can’t remember the name she gave me. I’ll wait until autumn to move it to a spot where it can be better admired. The blooms stand about 3 feet above the nondescript leaves.

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Last task for August: Order tulips!


Bloom Day August 2012

Some quick photos to make it on August’s roster for Bloom Day hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.
It feels slightly hypocritical to include this ceratostigma in a Bloom Day post, since last spring I single-mindedly pursued its complete annihilation.
I’m all for sparkling, gentian-blue flowers, just stop throttling the Agave celsii already.

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Glaucium flavum and Agave bracteosa
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Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ is starting another flush of bloom.

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Grapes from the vine on the pergola, inedible and bitter, but still beautiful.
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Wishing everyone a cooler, breezier Bloom Day. First day out of the 90s here in at least a week.

something different in an alstroemeria

The Alstromeria isabellana that I brought home from Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington, opened its first bloom in my garden in Southern California a couple days ago. Sean Hogan had pointed it out to me in a display garden at his wonderful nursery Cistus on Sauvie Island outside Portland, Oregon.


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From the Pacific Bulb Society website: “A lovely species with a distribution from eastern/southern Brazil to northeastern Argentina. It has striking convergence in flower morphology with many Central/South American plants like Phaedranassa and Fuchsia elegans…Seeds planted in the fall sprouted in February. Plants go dormant in winter and return in spring.”


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I’m feeling really optimistic about this one. Dancing Oaks Nursery’s description is very reassuring: “Exquisite pendulous flowers of orange, green and black on 2-3′ tall stems. Stiff narrow gray blue leaves. Slowly creates a colony.”

The emphasis on stiff leaves, medium height, and a slow-growing nature is mine, attributes I’m hoping will hold true in my zone 10 garden. My last encounter with an alstromeria, ‘The Third Harmonic,’ was a tempestuous, drama-laden affair that ended unhappily. (As unhappy as these encounters can end, as in complete eradication.) I wrote about ‘The Third Harmonic’ here and here. It’s way too soon to tell, but this A. isabellana may just be the easy-going, well-mannered alstroemeria I’ve been looking for. And who knew an alstroemeria could possess such grace, character, and that rarest of attributes often lacking in hybrids, subtlety?

snapshot of August 2012

August is always a truth-telling time in the life of a garden and a good month to take a snapshot of it. The hoses have been deployed this week to deep water the trees and soak the now bone-dry soil. Most irrigating up to this point has focused on containers and new plantings, but the mature plants can’t be ignored any longer. As far as the actual layout, it can be tricky to get lay-of-the-land photos in such close quarters, which is why I rarely perform this photo exercise. But some minor changes are planned for fall, so now’s the only time to make a journal of the garden as it exists this summer.


Agaves and succulents at the back porch are easy on supplemental irrigation
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But I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. First some context and lay-of-the-land descriptions and photos to get oriented for the August snapshot, hopefully not repeating too much from previous posts. There is no lawn or foundation plantings, in the back garden or the front. Though the garden is close to the house because the lot is small, we don’t grow plants up against this wooden bungalow. There’s trouble enough with termites and wood rot as it is. The plantings are mainly on the north and south sides of the house, and to a lesser extent the east side, which is currently getting the gate and hardscape cleaned up and is mainly dominated by a Chinese fringe tree. On the west beyond the garden gate is the business end, the driveway mess of cars, trash cans, tool sheds. The lot size is 5,750 square feet.

These photos are all of the back garden. I always describe photos at the top of the photo, which can get confusing, or so I’ve been told. From the garage and looking east at the back porch and pergola. The pergola attaches to the back of the house and also supports a roof over the back porch. A small “lookout” deck is atop the shed which houses the washer and dryer. Cushions on the lookout are just visible. We do favor a bit of multi-use, Swiss Family Robinson spirit in our projects. Amicia zygomeris in the foreground with Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline,’ a dominant presence in the garden this summer.


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From the opposite side, looking roughly southwest. Ladder leads to the lookout.
Canopies of smoke tree ‘Grace’ and Caribbean Copper Plant, Euphorbia cotinifolia, nearly touch by August.
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Crithmum maritimum and aeoniums with a potted bay.
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The little bath house on the east side of the house, which now doubles as an aviary, potted bay in front.
A parakeet showed up exhausted and hungry in July.
More Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’ at this end too.
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The wayward parakeet has been tentatively named “Wingnut. So far, no reports of a missing parakeet in the neighborhood.
Wingnut does have a cage, but the wide-spaced bars give him free range of the bath house.
The fringe tree, Chionanthus retusus, can be seen just under the shade.
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The narrow east side is mainly for tables and chairs. And pots too, natch.
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Hello, kitty
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The iron trough at the east boundary, which is the blue-stained fence. The Verberna bonariensis was neglected and died while I was away and has been replaced with some variegated pampas grass, red-leaved Hibiscus acetosella, and a chocolate salpiglossis from Annie’s Annuals, never an easy annual to grow, for me at least.
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Salpiglossis likes rich soil but seems really sensitive to overwatering (and high temps — collapsed 8/13/12)
When I’m feeling brave I grow them, but just a few and only in pots.
Annie’s Annuals carries this dark selection ‘Chocolate Royal.’
Chartreuse background is from one of the three Monterey cypresses planted at the eastern boundary.
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Looking to the west under the pergola, with the office door and garage wall visible. The huge burgundy grass blocking a view of the office doorway is again the Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline,’ which just had a much-needed thinning. It badly needs splitting later this fall, at which point a blog give-away may be in order. (Hoov, Dustin, any interest?) Stipa arundinacea in the foreground with a glimpse of tetrapanax.
The pot-bellied pig corgi Ein seems to have found an errant morsel of kitty kibble, an important part of his daily to-do list.

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More of the tetrapanax. Just visible is the creeping fig-covered southern boundary wall and glimpse of neighbor’s roof beyond.
The burgundy bromeliad nestled under a tetrapanax leaf seems airborne because it’s part of a mossed basket on a tripod whose legs are buried in that Stipa arundinacea.
A grapevine threads through the top of the pergola.
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Again looking west. The agave sits in a tall wrought iron plant stand that was probably made in Tijuana.
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Lepismium cruciforme coloring up nicely in the sun.
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Looking east under the pergola from a photo taken in June, but it still looks pretty much the same, if a bit fuller.
The kangaroo paws, fresh in the June photo, have been thinned out as they age and topple over.
Plantings in the foreground are just in front of the back porch and along the walkway.
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In front of the porch looking west to the garage. Agave ‘Blue Flame.’
Flowers of the kangaroo paws have lost their clean June outline by August.
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Behind the anigozanthos can be seen the Australian mintbush, Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’
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Slim, leaning trunk belongs to the tapioca, Manihot grahamii, in a large pot with Sedum confusum.
The intervals of yearly growth can be seen at the bends and angles to its trunk.
Wonder what happens if I cut it back hard next spring.
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So many pots here under the pergola, a few hanging, but I never count.
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The variegated grass is new to me this year, Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket,’ shown here with Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’
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By August, plantings near the porch are starting to crowd the walkway that runs against the house.
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Feather grass, centranthus, Sedum nussbaumeranium, Senecio anteuphorbium.
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And this unnamed, Chrysanthemoides incana, a trailing, silvery succulent that spills onto the pavement in fascinating patterns.
A gift from garden designer Dustin Gimbel.
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This Cotyledon orbiculata has really gained size this summer and also bulges onto the walkway.
The burgundy flowers of Lotus jacobaeus are threading through the Australian mintbush. Office/garage in background.
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Euphorbia rigida is happy here as well.
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White Centranthus ruber reseeds along the walkway too. I love the surge of plants at my feet, not to everyone’s taste, I know.
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The walkway along the house heading west leads to a gate to the driveway or turns south into the patio in front of the garage/office.
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This summer, in the border behind the agave in the beehive pot, grows canna, castor bean, ornamental corn, Helenium puberulum.
(Teucrium hircanicum bloomed here earlier, mostly bloomed out now. Very glad to have made this teucrium’s acquaintance this year. It’s already started to reseed into the brick patio.)
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And Lysmachia ephemerum, a couple blooms its first year. Uncertain whether it will thrive here in zone 10. Scabiosa ochroleuca in the background.
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Potted agaves on the office patio, house now in the background.
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Burnished result from mistreating a potted jade plant.
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It can be difficult to distinguish what’s growing in pots and what’s in the ground here, a feature of the garden in August.
Pots are for flexibility in changing things up. There are no hardiness issues with any of these plants.
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This aeonium is in the ground. Though it came unnamed, by its furry leaves I’m guessing it’s A. canariense.
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Swooping branches are Senecio anteuphorbium. Blue succulent is the Mexican Snowball, Echeveria elegans.
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Sonchus and Agave attenuata ‘Kara’s Stripes,’ a pup from the front garden.
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The pathway off the office patio ends abruptly now, but used to run east/west through the entire length of the border behind the pergola. I needed the space for more plants, and there’s still a bricked access path against the southern boundary wall to reach the compost bins.
Who needs redundant paths, anyway?
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Self-sown Mirabilis jalapa ‘Limelight’ loves August
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Looking west at the garage/office wall from deep in the border that curves around behind the pergola, through Persicaria amplexicaulis to the potted agaves on the small brick patio in front of the office. Slim trunk is the Caribbean Copper Plant, Euphorbia cotinifolia, a 15-foot tree here.
On hot summer days, you can hear the crackle of its seeds exploding, a sound I heard quite a bit last week.


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Looking east through the persicaria at the trunks of the smoke tree ‘Grace’
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As I’ve mentioned many times, this knotweed is an amazingly good perennial for zone 10, which puts it at the top of a very short list. Never complains when the border gets too dry, as it invariably does by July. Reliably returns every spring. The bees are all over it. Doesn’t get knocked down by summer rain because we never get any, which means I’d be able to grow the new Belgium varieties whose spectacularly dark flowers are so full and brushy they are considered fit only for cut flowers — if and when they finally make it to the States.
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Looking east from the border behind the pergola and its grapevine.
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Still in the border behind the pergola, looking west, sideritis in the foreground. This one may be Sideritis oroteneriffae.
I’m trying out quite a few of these Canary Island shrubs. From Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.
A nearby 6-foot Salvia canariensis and some other stuff was removed late July, and a barked access path was temporarily reinstalled to assist in the removal of the smoke tree ‘Grace.’ Either removal or a severe pruning.
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Looking west past a yucca to the enormous girth of Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’
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Which completes, more or less, the snapshot of the back garden in August 2012. I know I’ll be glad that I did this sometime in January 2013.

melianthus at the getty and other controversies

The incomparable Herb Ritts and Titian were also at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and some of Marie Antoinette’s hand-me-down furniture too. I think it can be safely said that gardeners are connoisseurs of the perfect moment, and last Sunday was that most exquisite of summer days, not too hot, just senusally warm and breezy, appreciated even more today for the fleeting rarity it was now that this week has brought the first real heat wave we’ve had this summer, along the coast at least. I’ve had such a strong itch to get to a museum lately. Must be all the press about the new *Barnes museum that’s been trickling in since its unveiling this spring in Philadelphia, which I hear includes a garden also, though there’s been little press so far about that. What few photos I’ve seen of the new Barnes’ garden depict a contemplative, austere space, the antithesis of Robert Irwin’s kinetic, kaleidoscopic maze at the Getty Center (to distinguish it from the Getty Villa in Malibu). But the controversy surrounding the new home of the Barnes Foundation reminds me of the raging controversy that Irwin’s garden for the Getty provoked at its unveiling in 1997.

And then there’s art controversies of the compound leafy kind. Here’s the melianthus in question. With those narrow leaflets, it’s definitely not M. major, and I’m inclined to think it’s M. comosus.


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One of the lazy assumptions I’m inclined to make, and unfortunately there are many, has been to assume that the other species of melianthus are not really worth growing if you can have M. major, but this one at the Getty might be changing my mind. Slimmer leaflets, not as lush but a little more succulent in feel, create an even stronger rhythmic pattern. I’m pretty sure the dense effect must have been obtained by cutting it back hard, because although it’s reputedly smaller in size than M. major, it does tend toward lankiness. (San Marcos Growers: “This plant looks best if pruned hard and is often treated more like a perennial than a shrub.”)


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The melianthus was planted at the top of the walkway leading down to the maze. This sylvan walkway flanking a tumbling stream is redolent with the fragrance of the London Plane trees lining either side, that strong scent of sycamore which to me will always be the perfume of summer and rivers.

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The stream hidden by the London Plane trees runs the entire length of the garden, ending in a dramatic spill into the azalea labyrinth.

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At the top, under the dappled shade of the sycamores, the Cor-Ten-bounded walkway plantings are filled with the strong leafy shapes of succulents, begonias, hellebores.

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Hirsute Echeveria setosa, silvery dyckias, paddle plant Kalanchoe luciae, and a few blades of ophiopogon, the Black Mondo Grass.

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Begonias and variegated ginger

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Astelia and persicaria

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That lovely sycamore scent eventually gets supplanted by the overpoweringly skunky notes of variegated tulbaghia as you descend down the walkway toward the Central Garden. The mass planting of society garlic shimmering in the shifting light amidst the slender trunks of crepe myrtle trees is an undeniably powerful effect after the complex plantings of the upper walkway.

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The improbable azalea maze in blinding full sun. Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’ on the left. Purple blur in the distant background on the left is tibouchina, the princess flower, whose leaves were burning in the strong sunlight. The maze garden started looking its best towards closing time at 5:30 p.m. During the summer, this Getty is open til 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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I can’t say the summer plantings of mostly dahlias were my favorite part of the garden, probably because I had just seen dahlias grown to perfection under the kinder skies of the Pacific Northwest. The effect was more of a shabby cutting garden, but the public seemed happy enough with the results. Irwin’s design calls for these labor-intensive, concentric borders surrounding the azalea pool to provide a triumphant and dizzying swirl of shape and color under a strong Mediterranean sun, and that’s a tall order. I think it’d be fantastic as a semi-desert garden, but the public might call foul. Art critic Christopher Knight had this to say about Irwin’s “folly” when it faced a barrage of criticism at its unveiling over a decade ago, and not for the plantings but for its very existence and the exuberant, almost comic contrast it presented to Meier’s stark, monumental architecture: “The great thing about a garden folly is that it’s, well, a folly. In a world of practical decorum, rationalism suddenly doesn’t apply. When the folly is conceived as the garden itself, rather than a discrete structure within a garden, then be prepared to suspend every expectation.” (Quote obtained here.)

On the path behind the massed society garlic, overlooking brugmansias, cannas, and a pomegranate tree to the giant bougainvillea rebar arbors.


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Always fascinating to uncover the multiple, shifting perspectives in Robert Irwin’s garden.

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This visit I was struck by the sensitive treatment of trees, whether silhouetted against Meier’s exquisite travertine limestone or weeping into clean-swept expanses of decomposed granite, like these California pepper trees.

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On the upper terraces closer to the museum, a bank of large pots massed together were planted simply and effectively with tough, scrubby stuff like helichrysum and Pelargonium sidoides.

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Museum fatigue usually hits me after an hour or so, but not this day. Even after five hours, I had to be reminded by security guards that the museum was closing and it was time to get a move on. The Herb Ritts photography exhibit closes September 2, 2012.

*Christopher Knight, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, is one of the diehard defenders of Albert Barnes’ original vision for his art collection. His review of the relocation of the collection to a new building in Philadelphia includes some helpful context for some of the timeless issues encapsulated in the debate over the Barnes collection: “Typical museums juxtapose art objects according to traditional knowledge categories like period, style or place. Not Barnes. His irreverent inventiveness used formal qualities — physical context, color, line, composition, texture, scale, space, etc. — to jump-start imagination. The result demanded that a visitor look and look hard.”

For more background on the Barnes, here’s a trailer to the controversial documentary entitled “The Art of the Steal.”

bringing it home

Visiting first-rate plant nurseries necessarily involves purchasing plants, or so I’ve always believed — even if the purchaser is thousands of miles from home and has to shove the pots into an already bursting suitcase and then into the cramped overhead compartment of an airplane. Even if the nursery offers the sensible alternative of mail order. This is a long-standing, deep-seated compulsion of mine, and no trip is considered a success without some newly discovered plant settling its roots into my garden the day after I return. A gardener’s equivalent to trophy refrigerator magnets with images of the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower, I suppose. During the recent visit to the Pacific Northwest, under the mistaken impression I wouldn’t be able to fly plants back into California, I fought off this compulsion and resisted many fine plants. After being repeatedly assured that it was safe/legal to fly plants home with me, I caved on the last day, at Far Reaches Farm. We had been urged everywhere we visited that we absolutely must squeeze in a trip to Port Townsend to check out Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson’s nursery Far Reaches Farm, where rare plants abound, like this very cool, black-eyed Aster souliei in their display gardens.


Aster aff. soulieu

As luck would have it, Far Reaches Farm had stock of the fabulous Alstroemeria isabellana that Sean Hogan had pointed out to me in a display garden at his nursery Cistus earlier in the week. Meeting some plants for the first time can be like making the acquaintance of that person with whom you have an instantaneous, natural rapport, and so it was with this alstroemeria: Thick, succulent, pleated leaves and dangling, aloe-esque flowers — we were instantly best friends. It’s already throwing out a bloom stalk and, knock wood, I should have a photo in a week or so. This photo was found here, the ebay plant seller Strange Wonderful Things.

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Following the timeworn, axiomatic advice “In for a penny, in for a pound,” it made sense at that point to add seven more plants into the bargain, mostly shrubby stuff like corokias and olearias but also the hardy ginger Cautleya gracilis and this ruddy form of Saxifraga stolonifera named ‘Maroon Beauty.’

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The description on Far Reaches Farm’s alstroemeria plant ID tag dredged up decades-old memories of stuffing our Honda Civic with loot from Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery in Occidental, California, pots sandwiched in between an always-drooling Newfoundland, two kids, two adults, and assorted other gear:

“We got this from Maggie at Western Hills some years ago as an Alstroemeria x Bomarea hybrid called ‘Fred Meyer.’ Thanks to Martin Grantham at UC Davis, we finally have the correct name. This is a rare and surprisingly hardy species from Brazil which does great outside for us. Pink corolla with green petals and yellow throat…Average to drier. July-August. Zone 7. Sun/part sun.”

(Garden Conservancy writes about the recent change in owners of Western Hills here.) Sean Hogan, who is related to one of the new owners of Western Hills, says he has high hopes for the garden now, with much work already accomplished in clearing out the overgrowth of brambles and cataloguing the garden. What an interconnected, supportive and generous world plant nursery people inhabit.

What else did I bring home? The now unshakeable conviction that a water garden must be next on the list. The Little & Lewis garden, which is not at all a large space, seamlessly incorporates many water containers and gardens. George Little described how this water garden rimmed in baby’s tears has been in existence a mere three months, starting out life as a stock tank, which was painted on the interior a dark green to minimize the shine from the new tank, then surrounded with dry-stacked rocks filled with little pockets of soil for plants to colonize, in keeping with their naturalistic approach. And plants do colonize swiftly in the advantageous growing conditions of the Pacific Northwest! Summer-dry, Mediterranean climates like mine, whether in Southern California or Greece, the source of much of Little & Lewis’ inspiration, have long relied on water gardens to convey a sense of lushness and plenty via this most precise and controlled use of water. Their book “A Garden Gallery” also gives lots of reassuring advice on starting a water garden, as well as being a photographic journal of their celebrated first garden, which is just next-door to their current garden.

The waterlily ‘Ultraviolet’ was just beginning to bloom. We were maybe only hours too early.

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(Kathy at Gardenbook has a great post on our visit to the astonishing garden of these warm, generous artists.
Anyone with even a passing interest in archaeology will immediately recognize kindred souls in George Little and David Lewis.)

Some of the best souvenirs are the memories of meeting plants I’d only read about before, like this anemonopsis at the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

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Or this celmisia just about to bloom at Dunn Gardens. There wasn’t a name tag, but it couldn’t be anything but a member of the tribe of New Zealand Daisies. I don’t really have an Actor’s-Studio favorite swear word, but upon seeing a huge celmisia for the first time, an involuntary eff me escaped my lips — luckily, the docent wasn’t around.

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Edited to add possible ID: Pachystegia insignis

At Linda Cochran’s renowned garden on Bainbridge Island, I discovered what a 15-year-old stand of Lobelia tupa looks like.

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After years of gardening for mainly foliage effects, Linda said her interest in photography is increasingly drawing her towards flowers.

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Lilies were another signature plant in bloom everywhere we visited. Regal lilies at Dunn Gardens.

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Melianthus was also widely planted, seen here at Linda’s garden with potted Japanese forest grass hakonechloa.

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Hostas of course were everywhere.

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And brilliantly planted containers, like this one at Dunn Gardens. Acid yellow, corrugated leaves of Pelargonium ‘Golden Lemon Crispum’ against the smooth blue chalk fingers of Senecio mandraliscae. I’ve outright stolen this bit of genius, no doubt the work of curators Charles Price and Glenn Withey, and have already found the pelargonium at a local nursery. Senecio mandralsicae is too rampant here, so I’m trialing the similar but more restrained Senecio serpens.

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The same pelargonium, like bolts of zig-zagging, foliar electricity, used elsewhere at Dunn Gardens.

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Potted lewisia at Dunn Gardens.

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More potted beauties at Dunn Gardens. No idea what these are.

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Linda Cochran prefers clay pots for spiky plants, which she simply shatters when it’s time to move on to a larger pot size instead of struggling to remove the plant, risking gashes and scratches.

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I also discovered that all nursery dogs are unfailingly good-natured. One of the Blue Heeler cattle dogs at Dragonfly Farms.

Dragonfly's Blue Healer

I hadn’t seen perennials grown this well since visiting England. The colors gleam and remain vibrant under overcast skies. From the display garden at Dragonfly Farms.

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To everyone whose nursery and/or garden we toured, the warmest thanks for the generous gifts of your time and knowledge.