Monthly Archives: February 2013

the buzz on plants

Got home from work yesterday and was still in the process of dropping all my gear off in the office, when the first person to greet me did so briefly then in quick order uttered those anxiety-making words: “I’ve got to talk to you about a plant.” Usually those words are the bare introduction to an ensuing narration about some human/plant interaction gone awry, in which the plant always ends up the loser. Or a proclamation that such-and-such plant is ruining everyone’s lives for such-and-such reason — in which case the plant always ends up the loser as well.

I braced myself and followed him. He led me to this plant. (Ein is always in on the drama.)


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Euphorbia rigida

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What a plant! To my eye, nothing gets the cones and rods dancing like chartreuse green and slate blue.

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Such an improvement on Euphorbia myrsinites, which snakes along the ground, its stems more often naked than leafed out, flowering sporadically. Euphorbia rigida is always presentable, upright, and most of the year plain stunning. Pam in Austin, Texas, grows it and loves it, as does Loree in Portland, Oregon. Euphorbia rigida has scope (zones 7-11.) It’s one of those sociable plants that plays well with others. See how the orange/russet colors of Sedum nussbaumerianum only intensify the blue/grey. I’ve just noticed some light reseeding of the euphorb this spring.

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My first guilty thought was someone had tripped. The walkway has narrowed slightly, I suppose. But everything seemed fine.

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No evidence of a human/plant altercation here.

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Just lots of bees gorging on the early spring blooms.

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Eye witness: “This plant was covered in bees.”
Me: “Yes, I do see lots of bees here. So glad they like this euphorb!”
Eye witness: “No, you don’t understand. I mean, this plant was covered in bees. You couldn’t see the blooms, there were so many bees. I was heading to the garage fridge for some milk when I heard this roaring sound I couldn’t place. I looked down at my feet, and this plant was covered in bees.”

Of course, the phrase covered in bees will forever be linked at our house to Eddie Izzard’s monologue on beekeeping, so I couldn’t tell at first if the eye witness just liked having an opportunity to use the phrase, or if there was truly a midday garden event where a fantastic amount of bees descended on Euphorbia rigida. The eye witness seemed quite moved by what he had seen, so I’m inclined to believe him. And as I write this, it is to the thrumming backdrop of a steady hum emanating from the garden outside my office door. We’ll see if another epic bee event occurs later today involving Euphorbia rigida. With all the bad news on bees lately, it’s nice to find some thriving.

clippings 2/26/13

Work has piled up, so there’s little time for much else. But something I can always squeeze in while under deadlines are small breaks to read catalogue descriptions of plants. And with impeccable timing, a great Australian plant nursery catalogue was introduced recently by Studio G, so I’m actually looking forward to two more days spent at my desk, stealing occasional visits to Lambley Nursery:The huge palette of rare but garden worthy plants you have featured on the DVD is food for the soul to serious gardeners...” — Simon Rickard

(a DVD?! have mercy! here comes that whooshing sound of another deadline flying by)

It’s a bit of a paradox that, while I look to new catalogues for something exciting and unknown, it’s when I find they tout a plant I already deeply admire that I feel I’m in safe hands and ready to be led anywhere they want to take me. Here’s Lambley’s take on Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell,’ a plant I’ve grown off and on for many years:

“This plant, a hybrid between Anthemis tinctoria and the grey leaved spring flowered A. cupaniana, combines the good points of each. Flattish mounds of greyish fern like leaves are covered in the loveliest creamy lemon daisies for months on end from mid-spring to autumn. It makes a great display in our dry garden. A drought tolerant plant growing best in full sun.” Lambley’s photo.


http://lambley.com.au/plant/anthemis-susannah-mitchell

I’ve committed to this anthemis in a big way, making five plants the mainstay of my little “meadow” outside the office.
My anthemis, just budding up now, were planted last fall and come from that excellent nursery on California’s Mendocino Coast, Digging Dog Nursery.

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Aside from plant catalogues, there’s lots to distract out in the garden now too. This thistly beauty, Argemone munita, also planted last fall, is a California native offered by Annie’s Annuals & Perennials: “Large crepey pure white blooms 3-4” across with big round central golden “buttons” (much like Matilija Poppy) appear numerously from Spring to mid-Summer on multibranching stems 2-3’ tall & wide.”

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More distractions: first blooms are opening on Salvia africana-lutea. Minutes evaporate contemplating its color. Tawny, rusty, sable-ish.

Now, where’d I put that grindstone?


Les’ Winter Walk-Off


Les’ rules (A Tidewater Gardener).
Leave your home or workplace on foot. Bicycles are OK. Bring a camera along. Depending where you live, the Winter Walk-off challenge may be a snowy trek requiring a team of huskies and a sled (does that comply with the rules, Les?) or a sunny stroll in the park. I hope Les doesn’t mind multiple entries. This is just a warm-up, a test run, kicking the Winter Walk-off tires, so to speak.

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Biking to my community garden yesterday, as always I pass this tidy bungalow.
The house and garden looked as though it had primped and readied itself expressly for the the Winter Walk-off.

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At the base of the fence tumbles blue marguerite, Felicia amelloides, alternating with a coppery coprosma, shrubs from New Zealand also known as the Mirror Plant.

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A couple blocks away, hanging lanterns suspended from a California Pepper Tree, Schinus molle
The yellow flowers belong to an aeonium sitting in a pot on the fence

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This beautiful parkway agave stranded in weeds looks like a variegated Agave weberi.
(vintage black Chevy in the distance, tail fins hidden by the palm)

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At the community garden, purple cauliflower in a neighbor’s plot

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and sweet peas, also not mine. My sweet peas are just barely grabbing on to the bottom of the trellis.

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An abbreviated entry, but hopefully there’ll be time for a few more. And then it will be spring.
I think this is actually Les’ plan, to distract us until spring. I’m all for that. Thanks, Les!

bench

We’re in the early planning stages of another project, and I’ve started to notice a pattern here. Often projects start out with stuff we’ve found, which gets stored deep in the recesses of the garage and is completely forgotten, but gets triumphantly unearthed a couple years later, at which point we become infatuated all over again with its potential. Case in point, this solid-wood door, circa 1950s. It’s huge, leaning against the narrow side of the garage now, so a larger photo isn’t possible, but take my word, the door is pristine and a lovely golden color. One edge became slightly termite-chewed during storage, but that can be easily cleaned up with a saw.

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Like all our projects, the early stage revolves around deciding what it will be. There can be — let’s see. How can I put this? — spirited disagreement in these early stages and sometimes even — yes, it’s true — diametrically opposed opinions on the thing’s ultimate purpose.

For this door, I can vividly imagine a built-in bench for an awkward space against the east wall of the house in the biggest outdoor patio we have. Marty sees workbench. The common ground is, we both see a functional bench of some sort from this beautiful door, but in one version it gets the crap beat out of it as a workbench, riddled with gouges from hammers and saws. In another version, it has cushions and pillows and an iPad open to The New Yorker. It’s a conceptual gulf, to be sure, but one that can be bridged, as they all have been, by judicious argument and persuasion. Defending one’s position helps sharpen rhetorical chops too.

We are mad about benches here. Indoors a bench is a low bookshelf, both underneath and on top. A bench provides extra holiday seating around the table. A bench is a coffee table. A bench is anything you need it to be at the moment you need it most.

For small houses, small patios, I’m convinced a bench is the answer to nearly every spatial question.

I’m fairly certain the door was intially going to be a table. I’m even more certain that it will not be a workbench.
But since I’m only the persuader, not the builder, the outcome is still uncertain.

via Riazzoli 1/12

Every project starts with some aspirational/inspirational photos.
Although this isn’t a bench but more of a divan, this is the general idea of the envisioned use. (via Riazzoli)

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Although open and free-standing, a concrete bench at Reuben and Paul’s Rancho Reubidoux is about the right size.
Where does Reuben find this great stuff, and how does he get it home?

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Great seating at New York City’s Battery Park, but too municipal for a home.

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Water garden doubling as a bench from which a Narcissus can ignore the water lilies and gaze at his own reflection.
A bigger project than I can manage at the moment.
(Robert Smaus’ 1990’s Los Angeles garden)

Potted’s built-in bench for California Home+Design showhouse at The Hollywood Lofts has the proportions I’m after.

With each successive “planning session,” I can feel my opponent weakening. I’m not above using the blog as a bully pulpit. I’m Martha and he’s George arguing about what to do about the “baby” in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? except not quite that nasty and we laugh more.

Right now, I think bench has got the edge.

beauty’s best bargain

for me will always be plants.
401ks and SEPs may crash and burn, but I’ll always be able to live on the cheap surrounded by some of the most gorgeous patterns and shapes on earth.

Some of the results from a leisurely rummage through old photos, trying to jump-start a slow, President’s Day morning.


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Agave bovicornuta, Los Angeles County Arboretum

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Venice Garden & Home Tour 2011

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Melianthus major, Linda Cochrane’s Bainbridge Island garden

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California Cactus Center

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My dearly departed Agave guadalajarana

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Spanish poppies (Papaver rupifragum), furcraea and succulents, my garden April 2012


which way to the garden?


Ever click on a house tour article that opens with a photo like this, hoping to see a few more photos of the landscape?
If the article is about a house for sale on the island of Barbados, I’m betting on getting lucky.

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Hoping, at a minimum, that maybe the photographer got careless and inadvertently included a bit of the garden.

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Very nice. Now, let’s go outside, shall we?

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Four decks and patios in the backyard are shrouded by lush tropical gardens. The beach is just beyond a hedge.”
C’mon, show some of it, will you? Let’s see some of what puts the tropical in “tropical gardens.”

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Okay. The house will do. Now what about the garden?

contemporary house in Barbados via NYT, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/greathomesanddestinations/real-estate-in-barbados.html?WT.mc_id=RE-D-I-NYT-MOD-MOD-M293-ROS-0213-PH&WT.mc_ev=click&WT.mc_c=208674

Now we’re talking. That’s a pretty good start. More, please.
(Nice definition with the massed sansevieria at the patio’s edge, and that’s an impressive stand of ginger.)

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What you do automatically, everybody does, is walk straight into the garden, and straight to the sea,” said Peter Lewis, an owner.”

Of course we do.


But that’s it. All the rest of the photos are of immaculately clean, spare rooms in a house for sale in Barbados. I mean, the photographer is there already. Why not grab a few photos of the landscape? I admit I’m biased and don’t speak for the typical newspaper design reader, and I know this is a piece on real estate for sale, but at least get photos of all four patios. That’s what I’d need to see before thinking about spending $3.95 million, because that’s where I’d spend all my time. Hasn’t the concept of “outdoor rooms” reached the NYT yet? It’s Barbados, for chrissakes, an island I’ve had a crush on since reading an article about it in my teen-age brother’s Surfer magazine. I forget what I had for breakfast today, but I can easily recall the name of the surfer in the article, Claude Codgen, salt-and-sun bleached blond hair pouring out from underneath a cowboy hat, head tipped back against a wall, eyes squinting into the island sun…but I digress. Help me out here, New York Times. Magazines like Garden Design are calling it quits. A little more landscape with your house tours, please? Especially when the landscape figures so prominently in the appeal of the house. Sure, what the kitchen countertops are made of is important to know, I suppose, but in the owner’s words, with my emphasis:


Here, to be honest,’ he said, “we don’t live inside, we live outside.”

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What he said.

Bloom Day February 2013


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I admit I’m a vulgarian, if there was any doubt left. By February I’m starved for brash and garish, even though it violates the subtle order of nature that has spring unfolding with a delicacy that builds by degrees to a late summer, over-the-top crescendo. I go straight to over-the-top, and containers of gaudy tulips are the perfect vehicle for strong, fleeting boosts of color. I wouldn’t want masses of them, but a few in a pot are visual antidepressants on long stems, my go-to designer drug for jumpstarting spring. The species don’t like the chill-free winter here anyway, so that preempts any debate about the quiet beauty of species tulips versus the gypsy caravan hybrids. These hybrids are artificially chilled for six weeks in the garage fridge then go straight to the compost heap after blooming. This is the first pot of tulips to flower, the hybrid ‘Boston.’

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Lotus jacobaeus would be wonderful draping over a low wall. I’ve clipped this one back quite a bit to keep it from smothering plants below, like the tall Aeonium ‘Cyclops.’ Its shrubby-but-lax framework is about 3 feet high now, kept upright with a rebar stake. A light background propels the velvety dark blooms. I like it against the pale leaves of the variegated Australian mint bush (prostranthera), and the lotus is thin enough in growth to weave through the shrub without harming it.

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When there’s so many amazing succulents to grow, why choose the modest Crassula multicava? Because of its supernova show in spring, when it hoists those starry bloom structures over simple, dark green leaves. It would make an elegant ground cover at the base of palms. Here it’s sharing space with a potted cussonia. The crassula has a similar foamy effect to London’s Pride (Saxifraga umbrosa) or heuchera in bloom, neither of which grow in such rugged conditions for me.

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Like the lotus, another lax member of the pea family, coronilla, has really started to bloom in the mini heat wave we’re having the past couple days. This shrub is supported and wound through a tuteur and has grown past the eaves of the garage roof. Its overall effect is that of a gigantic rue, except rue stinks and coronilla smells lovely.

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More brash. Love the moroccan toadflax, an annual that blooms well through the winter and spring here. Hasn’t self-sown yet, so I keep bringing in a few plants in fall.

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I have just a few clumps of the Corsican hellebore, which is all the space I can spare, though I could have lots, lots more.
It carpet-bombs the garden with seedlings.


Lots of emerging gardens to explore at May Dreams Garden, where Carol is to be congratulated for hosting Bloom Days for seven years this February.

exploring a coastal garden with Lili Singer

This Pacific Palisades garden was the final garden we visited 1/24/13 with Lili Singer via the LA County Arboretum Thursday Garden Talk series. Despite being firmly in the grasp of winter this January morning, or as firm a grasp on winter as Los Angeles can manage, all three of the gardens sparkled on this rainy-day field trip. Posts on the other two gardens can be found here and here. Being born and raised in semi-arid Los Angeles means I doubt I’ll ever view a rainy day as an inconvenience. Rain is always a godsend, like an unexpected kindness. True, traffic becomes even more awful, if that’s possible, but then I generally expect the worst where that’s concerned.

This last garden celebrates water in true mediterranean fashion, with water gardens and fountains. Richard Hayden is the designer here, and I note from his site that we both attended the same UCLA horticulture certificate program. (Some of the excellent instructors for this program in the past have included Lili Singer.) The owner/client is a huge fan of not only Dan Hinkley, meaning she continually brings up new plant enthusiasms for the designer to consider, but also the garden antiquarian and salvage porn king Big Daddy’s. The full complexity of planting in any garden isn’t visible in the dormant month of January, but it’s an excellent opportunity to clearly appreciate the structure and layout. Listening to the client and Richard banter throughout the tour about some of this garden’s old projects, new projects, abandoned projects, was a fascinating peek into the close relationship that develops between client and designer.


leucadendron, arbutus opposite

It can only quicken anticipation of what’s further down the garden path when an enormous Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ greets you at the front door.


Continue reading exploring a coastal garden with Lili Singer

Occasional Daily Photo 2/12/13

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I just potted the Pelargonium echinatum into this chipped Bauer pot inherited from my grandmother. A chipped Bauer pot ceases to be a sacred cow and can definitely mix it up with the other garden pots. Just took me a while to realize that. I’m certain my grandmother would agree. The pink-limbed, trailing cactus in the clay pot is Lepismium cruciforme.


Aloes in Southern California

It’s that time of year again to catch the displays of these spectacular South African succulents in bloom around town.
These photos were taken mid-day at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden 2/7/13.

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Aloe vryheidensis.

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Many were of hybrid origin, no name given.

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En masse, the hot-blooded, scorched-earth effect of an aloe in bloom gets seriously ramped up.

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Another good bet to see a glorious display is at the Huntington Botanical Gardens.