Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012’s end

What a beautiful, tragic, maddening, saddening, intoxicating, infuriating, sublime and silly year 2012 was.
While I indulge a bittersweet mood with Picasa’s collage editor, I’m wishing you the very, very best for 2013 — heavy on the sublime, light on the saddening.


Photobucket

Photos taken at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, the Desert Garden Conservatory, on June 30, 2012.


starting over with Kalanchoe ‘Pink Butterflies’

Its lifespan as fleeting and evanescent as a butterfly’s, the mother plant’s single stalk ultimately elongated to over 4 feet tall, bloomed, and dropped all but the topmost leaves. All in less than two years’ time. Seen here in better days.

Photobucket


One of the parents of this hybrid is excessively weedy, known by the cautionary name ‘Mother of Thousands,’ but true to ‘Pink Butterflies’ reputation it absolutely was not weedy. Quite the opposite. The kalanchoe shed the ruffly plantlets along the leaf margins seen in photos in the older post, but they did not take root in the potting soil, even though they covered the top of the container like mulch. I waited to see if the tall, leafless main stem would grow new leaves, but it didn’t. Tempted though I was to just toss it on the compost pile by this point, I instead chopped the long stalk into 2 to 3 inch pieces at leaf nodes, rooted them in sand, and after a hit-and-miss summer watering regimen now have just two cuttings slowly making size again.

Photobucket

I’m wondering how others have fared with this remarkable kalanchoe, but haven’t come across much information on its growth habits so far. I never expected it to behave like an annual and am frankly underwhelmed by its gangly performance. Should it be pinched back? Hopefully, more cultural reports will be coming in on this fairly new hybrid.

The agave on the table with the never-camera-shy Evie is ‘Kissho Kan.’

passionflower

Passiflora loefgrenii, also known as the garlic passionfruit vine from Brazil, is making an unlikely, late-December flowering debut in my garden. This December show is probably a one-time fluke for a summer bloomer that will settle down to a more predictable routine after its first year. Then again, it may actually prefer to bloom in a zone 10, cool, drizzly winter than during our long, hot, drought-scourged summers. It’s a rare passion flower, without much horticultural information available.


Photobucket


An architectural marvel, the structure of a passion flower was long ago co-opted as a kind of 3-D precursor to a theological Power Point presentation on Christianity: From Wikipedia: “In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion,” a rather funereal association for a vine that attracts and sustains so much life.


Photobucket

I share photographer Andrew Zuckerman’s assessment: “Then there is the purple passionflower, which is an incredibly beautiful, vibrant, flamboyant flower, but its narrative qualities are not that interesting to me.” (quoted from the Smithsonian’s blog Collage of Arts and Sciences, “Flower Power, Redefined.”)

Passiflora’s relationship with various butterflies is well known, but its attractions are manifold; the garlic passionfruit’s “Remarkable flowers…are thought to appeal to hummingbirds when first open then to bees later in the day as their shape changes.” (From Passiflora Online)

My plant is from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. Logee’s has a good selection, as does Kartuz Greenhouses. In Southern California, some passion flowers are fast, rampant growers, so keep ultimate size in mind when making a selection. (Bear in mind that they are a frequent choice to quickly cover chain link fences.) Pollination is thought to be a job for large bees, which works out nicely since our wooden fence is loaded with carpenter bees.


Photobucket

you are here

Don’t laugh, but it was cold, relatively speaking, in Los Angeles yesterday. Last night was down into the low 40’s. Marty and I took the Metro up to the ArcLight in Hollywood to see Hyde Park on Hudson, and the boots, scarves, sweaters, umbrellas and heavy coats were out in full force on train travelers. Which might be why I can’t stop looking at the portfolio of South African garden designer Franchesca Watson, and the light-flooded photos from one some of her gardens found at desiretoinspire.

Franchesca Watson (via desiretoinspireSouth African garden designer

Photobucket

The dome-shaped plants in the huge gray pots are intriguing and remind me of the bromeliad Abromeitiella brevifolia, (description via plantlust) but they just can’t be, right? Must be something shrubby clipped tight. Wonderful effect, whatever it is.

Photobucket
repeat as often as necessary:
you are here

driveby gardens 12/17/12; studies in textures

It’s been chronically drizzly the past few days, perfect weather for thinning and transplanting some broccoli rabe seedlings at my community garden plot. On the drive home I slowed for some interesting front gardens of contrasting character, some shrubby, some sleek and geometric.


Photobucket

Some collector’s gardens, elaborately planted, like this one.

Photobucket

Or spare and simple, like this well-defined study in textures.
The shrub behind the fountain is Phylica pubescens (or possibly Adenanthos sericeus) Agave attenuata, aeonium, maybe ‘Kiwi’ and in the foreground Cotyledon orbiculata. Where lawn is traditionally rolled out from the front porch to the sidewalk, this bungalow has set a gridwork of crisp pavers on a bed of pebbles

Photobucket

Photobucket

The cotyledon and aloes were planted on a severe horizontal line running parallel to the house, perpendicular to the pavers.
There was a third row of aloes planted alongside that I didn’t photograph or even notice until I was leaving, the leaves so charcoal grey they became camouflaged against the pebbles.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Agave attenuata underplanted with what looks like Oscularia deltoides. I’m not sure what the golden-leaved succulent is in the small rock outcropping, but possibly a sedum.

Photobucket

Another front garden had excavated below street grade to lead down into a small amphitheater/anteroom where the front lawn once grew, now surfaced in decomposed granite, bounded by dry-stacked stone retaining walls.

Photobucket

Photobucket

This garden was the opposite of sleek and spare and was very shrubby in character, planted with aromatic and drought-tolerant plants like Salvia apiana, Romneya coulterii, buddleia, westringia, manzanita, pittosporum.

pittosporum, Salvia apiana, Romneya coulterii, creeping strawberry, Euphorb Diamon Frost, buddleia, westringia, manzanita, lantana

The little amphitheater/courtyard ended in steps leading to the back of the house through a deep cocoa brown door.


Three very different gardens displaying strong, idiosyncratic preferences, all planted for low water needs. Bravo!

sunday clippings 12/16/12

I was skimming through the design archives of the Wall Street Journal online yesterday, a wonderful trove of good reading, and recognized the pressed leaves of Macleaya cordata, the plume poppy, used by the shoe designer Christian Louboutin to decorate the walls of his “shoe archive” in France. Mr. Louboutin was mischievously photographed here in his socks.


macleaya leaveshttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443855804577601320688414072.html?mod=slideshow_overlay_mod

The shelving in the archive is decorated with botanicals from his garden that have been pressed by a local artisan.”

Photobucket

Leaves of the plume poppy in my garden


Often articles like this one, “The Collector,” are as worth reading as any written specifically for a particular branch of design, landscape or otherwise, because good designers draw from a wide array of influences.

More quotes from the article:

A constant source of ideas is his garden in the French countryside.
He learned about botany during the roaming years of his youth, when he
worked as a self-taught freelance landscaper. ‘The garden allowed me
to see colors, blends of colors and materials, juxtapositions of gloss
and matte surfaces—it was highly instructive,’ he says in Christian
Louboutin, a book celebrating his 20th anniversary, published by
Rizzoli. ‘Still today, if I close my eyes I don’t see satin combined
with velvet; I see the thickness of a pansy, which is deep purple
bordered with white, set against the texture of another plant, and
this combination gives me my colors
.'”


http://www.oasishorticulture.com.au/pansy-purple-lace/prd575

Image found here


And:

Louboutin spends spring and fall weekends and the month of August at
his home in the Vendée, puttering about in his garden—it’s become his
haven, a place his mind can wander for design ideas as he pulls weeds.
‘The magnolia leaf is like patent leather,’ he notes, ‘and it always
looks beautiful with a deep purple, like prunus purple. There are few
plants that are ugly. It’s how you use them that may not be pretty
.'”


Photobucket

Patent leather sheen of magnolia, image found here


What else merits a clipping? Oh, yes, that great chair at Terrain, in case Marty checks the blog before Christmas. I wonder if they do layaway.

from Terrainhttp://www.shopterrain.com/outdoor-furniture/steel-wire-chair/productOptionIDs/bd0459cc-8958-45c4-b120-330bd8a8856a

Out in the garden, it always makes me giddy to see a plant bloom for the first time, and when it happens mid-December it threatens to surpass any excitement for presents found under the tree. This morning I noted buds on the Brazilian garlic passion fruit, Passiflora loefgrenii, which should be unwrapping themselves sometime this week.

Photobucket
Passiflora loefgrenii


I get seed requests now and then, but don’t necessarily save seed every year. Currently, I don’t really have to, since the garden has built up a rich storehouse of seeds, including:

Orlaya grandiflora
Crithmum maritimum, samphire
nicotiana varietes
Erodium pelargoniflorum
Papaver species, P. setigerum being most predominant
Mirabilis jalapa, the Miracle of Peru, in the lime-green leaf variety
Geranium maderense ‘Alba’
Centranthus ruber ‘Alba’
Teucrium hiranicum
Senecio stellata
Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’
Nasturtiums
Solanum pyracantha
Mina lobata

Another favorite winter/spring pursuit is to inspect the garden each day and find the ingredients for spring popping up of their own accord, like having a full pantry ready to support the next feast without having to do the grocery shopping.


P1015039

It’s always a surprise who settles in and gets really happy in the garden. Teucrium hircanicum has been in the garden just two years, but is already popping up everywhere, including between the bricks in the pathways. The pottery shards are used as cat baffles, to prevent disturbance from digging while the seedlings are small. Note the little poppy seedlings close by.

Photobucket
The first leaves of Geranium maderense are as recognizable small as they are large

I can only use a few of each kind, so once the seedlings look strong enough to survive disturbance from cats and grub-seeking possums, it becomes a matter of thinning the multitudes. Some reseed in minute amounts, and the seedlings are found unexpectedly, while absent-mindedly admiring something or other, only to notice nearby two tiny leaves pushing up from the cold brown earth. I’ve found a total of two Solanum pyracantha this way recently, but no more, so these are carefully looked for and potted up. And then there’s the exuberant procreators, like poppies and castor bean, that would prefer to have the garden just to themselves. The only self-sowers not welcomed are morning glories; the seductively dark purple variety ‘Grandpa Otts’ was planted just one season, and I’ve regretted it ever since. The seeds reputedly stay viable for 100 years. I’m told colder zones don’t have this problem with them.

I do have some fresh Mina lobata seeds right now. Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is a source for some of the self-sowers mentioned above.


Photobucket
Mina lobata

Some seeds currently on sale at Thompson & Morgan.

Bloom Day December 2012

The last Bloom Day in 2012 — I’m keeping this one short, but if interested you can use the search function on the blog for more information/photos on any of these.


Photobucket
Helleborus argutifolius

Photobucket
Perlargonium echinatum

Photobucket
Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Carmine’

Photobucket
Senecio medley-woodii, shrubby, grey-leaved succulent, its yellow daisies beginning to bloom this month

Photobucket
Oenothera macrocarpa ssp. incana’s blindingly yellow blooms an unexpected December surprise


Amsterdam houseboat gardens

Can you string together three other words that conjure as much bliss as those?
Perhaps you can. But having been obsessed with some garden or other most of my life, and having lived with a boat captain most of my life as well, I’ve had more than a few daydreams about living on a houseboat — where there must be plants too, of course. I’m using the word “garden” liberally here — that irresistible impulse to keep the plant world close at hand, responsible for it, bound to it.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Calm down…surely not the houseboat of that Piet. Remember, it’s a very common name in The Netherlands.

Photobucket

MB Maher left Iceland and has been roaming the canals of Amsterdam the past week. He sent these photos along with a little note:

there seems to be some unspoken agreement that houseboat decks will
function as the city’s metaphor of green space. all dutch houses have
extensive gardens but all are hidden by the inner-courtyard structure
of the city blocks…there are also certain visual
jokes like papering the portholes and skylights with plant-themed
wallpaper to maintain an illusion that the entire houseboat is filled
with greenery. not sure if the weber grill and garden gnomes are in
earnest or jest as well.


Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket


Agave titanota (crush with eyeliner)

Let me change the holiday music channel, if ever so briefly, by sharing the soundtrack that plays every time I walk by this agave, my crush with eyeliner.

Photobucket

Agave titanota hybrid ‘Lanky Wanky’

A silly, last-round-at-the-pub name for a sideways-leaning hybrid of an elusive agave, an agave I’ve unknowingly owned for some years.

Photobucket

Here’s the real thing, Agave titanota.
This agave is famous for it’s pale white leaves, though I would argue that Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’ may now hold that honor.

Photobucket

Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’


Agave titanota has been one of my long-standing mystery agaves. While it gained size, growing nameless, anonymous, and let’s face it unloved, I occasionally pursued the legendary Agave titanota elsewhere, on eBay for example, where I was saddled with an impostor (who is now the new mystery agave). I didn’t know what my old mystery agave was, but it didn’t strike me as anything special. It took a long time to become smitten with Agave titanota, because it doesn’t form that tight, breathtaking, world-within-world form that I expect to admire in agaves. The sharkskin-like leaves jut out at odd angles, and I mistook its pale coloring for bleached-out sunburn. Its famous natural qualities I attributed to grower error. (Someone needs more reference books.)

Photobucket

Fortunately for me, this agave chugged along amidst all that neglect, forgotten in a rarely watered pot in full sun.
Agaves Yuccas and Related Plants” by Mary & Gary Irish helped with the final ID, as well as seeing a labeled A. titanota at a nursery recently. The similarity of the hybrid ‘Lanky Wanky’ also confirms the ID, and I love how its more congested form accentuates the black eyeliner on the leaf margins and spine tips. The new book on agaves, “Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers,” by Greg Starr, would be handy in a reference library too.

Agave titanota — still not a favorite, but no longer a mystery.

(Yeah, life is strange.)

I