Monthly Archives: November 2013

giving thanks for rain

a very polite and well-timed rain arrived after the Thanksgiving holiday, sometime after midnight.
On Wednesday I brought in chairs that summered in the garden for holiday duty.

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The new rain gutters gurgled musically as they efficiently carried rain away from the 100-year-old foundations, a happy ending to the month-long gutter ordeal.
(Marty fell off the roof, ass over tea kettle, but amazingly emerged with only muscle soreness for a couple weeks. Thank you, gods of calamity!)
Listening to the orchestral rhapsody of rain in the gutters, on corrugated roofs, on pavement, kept me busy most of Friday morning.

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I was awake at 5 a.m. today, anticipating the early morning patrol after the rain.

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Prowling the garden to see what the rain brought, I found newly sprouted seedlings of Erodium pelargoniflorum. Rain makes fast work of germination.

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And then I remembered I shook the seed pods of the South African bulb Albuca maxima in this area of the front gravel garden and searched for signs of germination.
These tiny strands may just be baby albucas.


In bloom it resembles a 5-foot snowdrop.

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A couple of leaves of nearby Agave ‘Jaws’ provide support when it blooms. Rain-soaked agave leaves unfurl quickly, leaving ghostly imprint patterns.

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What the skies looked like late Friday afternoon over the back garden. Could a day be any more perfect?
Wishing you perfection this holiday weekend. And it doesn’t even have to be a whole day. Moments count.

where would Holly Golightly keep her tillandsias?

For the holidays, it’s okay to ditch the earnest glass orbs that imprison tillandsias the rest of the year and take a leaf from Holly Golightly’s decorating book, the one that epitomizes her insouciant glamour. The one each of us imagines Holly would have written. And of course in my book Holly writes about plants and has the savvy to know that those glass orbs are more like glass coffins than suitable digs for any respectable tillandsia. Even champagne glasses would be preferable, where they’d get more beneficial air circulation (being “air” plants and all). And Holly would want to keep things easy for moving the tillandsias around the apartment as the light and humidity changes, or to dunk in the kitchen sink once a week, or mist occasionally with water in her favorite perfume atomizer, possibly the one from Tiffany’s.

So where would Holly keep her tillandsias?

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These vintage purses with that irresistibly satisfying click and snap to close, little time capsules of the art of the alluring, are a possibility.
The handle makes it easy to carry onto the fire escape to accompany Holly and Cat when they feel like singing to the moon.

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I’ve got a shelf of old cameras, some in working order, some not, like the one above, which will certainly glam up the mantle with that tillandsia rakishly festooned in the gap where it’s missing some forgotten but vital functioning piece. And cameras simply adore Holly.

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Sometimes it’s an incredibly useful exercise to ask: What would Ms. Golightly do?

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the awkward age

My garden has lived through lots of them and will most likely continue to do so while I’m in charge. The latest awkward age involves a flowering agave and a young tree. Or maybe it will be a shrub. Neither the Acacia podalyrfolia nor myself can make up our minds yet. So far the Pearl Acacia is a little too beamy widthwise to prune out the lower branches and train as a tree, which will become an important issue when all the aloes I’ve planted here are ready to bloom. At that point (maybe this year?) there ideally should be a high canopy. Even so, for now I think we’re both leaning more toward shrub than tree and possibly moving the aloes elsewhere. What’s certain is that until the agave finishes flowering and expires, things will be looking a bit chaotic in this corner of the front garden. Watching the agave send that bloom stalk roof-high, I was reminded of a chat I had with a nurseryman, who felt that aloes were gaining favor over agaves with the public because they didn’t inflict such drama on a garden (flowering, death, and then a gaping blankness). I prefer to view the death of an agave as an act of creative destruction, and can’t wait til I haul out the carcass.

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Here’s the awkward part, the Pearl Acacia and agave getting in each other’s grilles.

While I’ve been distracted by the flag pole of an agave bloom outside the front door, I failed to notice what the acacia was up to. Was I catching a glint of lemony yellow as I raced from the car to the back office to deal with the merciless deadlines I’ve had the past couple weeks? Nah, must be eyestrain.

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Not yet two years old, planted as a small cutting, the Pearl Acacia was already budding up for a late winter/spring bloom. After all, this Australian evergreen is well know for its fast growth.
Still, it was a bit surprising to see the branches already studded with flower buds in November.

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Early this morning I took a closer look at the flashes of yellow and found these.

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Watching its mad dash to bloom, I can confirm that this tree/shrub’s reputation for speedy growth is well-deserved

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What’s that catty old saying, “Your lack of planning is not my problem”? This beautiful, quicksilver tree reminds me of it every time I pass it now.

on the subject of the southern hemisphere…

Remember the old surfing movie The Endless Summer, where summer is chased around the globe? Well, I do. My older brothers took me to all the surfing movies.
You can see where I’m going with this…it’s summer in Australia, and that’s a fact.

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one of the grass trees of Australia, Xanthorrhoea australis, photo found here

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photo from Botany Photo of the Day

Back to our regular hemispheric reporting (sigh…)

Bernard Trainor’s Landprints

Ages and ages ago (last July in fact) a bunch of us garden bloggers visited gardens in Northern California at last summer’s meetup known as the Fling. For the temperate Bay Area, it was an incredibly hot day, and we were all slightly wilted as we trooped into the Testa-Vought garden, designed by Bernard Trainor, where the gracious hosts offered refreshments and bade us to cool our feet in their pool. At that point, we were probably all dangerously close to begging for bathing suits. Not surprisingly, this was a garden I had to be pried from and forcibly scooted back onto the bus by our patient tour organizer, landscape designer Kelly Kilpatrck of Floradora. Amazing how quickly we revert to kindergartenish behavior when there’s a bus involved. Eventually, I did put down my glass of wine and made some lame attempts at photos. What I really wanted was to forget the camera entirely, have another glass of wine, and learn how to play the game of bocce.

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The Testa Vought garden had quite a few Australian plants, like acacia and grevillea, many selected by the owner, who according to Trainor is a hands-on plant devotee.

Never mind any of my other sunstruck photos because there’s a new book out on this designer’s work, “Landprints; The Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor,” text by Susan Heeger, photography by Jason Liske and Marion Brenner. There’s so many interesting homes on design blogs now, but more often than not my reaction is predictably: How could such exquisite taste be so indifferent to what’s outside the house? For those who consider the landscape a low priority, this book is a primer on how, in the right hands, the landscape design just might change your life.

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Photo on the book’s cover

Mr. Trainor was the speaker at the November meeting of the Southern California Horticultural Society. The Aussie accent is barely perceptible now, but his boyhood spent surfing and sailing the Morningside Peninsula south of Melbourne, where silver banksia (Banksia marginata) presses in on coastal trails, is ultimately what attracted him to the western coast of North America, and specifically another peninsula, the Monterey Peninsula. Many of the following photos accompanied Mr. Trainor’s talk.

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Testa-Vought garden

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The “meadow” pool. After this project, many of his clients are now clamoring for a meadow pool of their own.
What looks like native scrub/chapparal planting is all the work of Trainor, which after settling in is sustained on rainfall alone.

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In this garden, Trainor had to persuade the stone masons that leaving pockets for plants would not destabilize the stairs.

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Though the book predominantly documents properties of extensive acreage, with insistent views of land, forest, ocean and sky, here’s an example of Trainor at work in a small space.

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On the bigger properties, low walls frame views, slow winds, and guide the eye, but are rarely used to completely enclose or isolate one from the surrounding landscape.

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(The next Fling for 2014 heads to Portland!)

Bloom Day November 2013

By November my garden has turned into a curiosity shop of oddities and seedpods.

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Like the racks of antler-like blooms on tetrapanax, seemingly more blooms than leaves this years after I clipped away some of the sunburnt foliage.

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Limbing it up allows for maximum shovage of other plants.
(I may have just invented that word shovage, but if you’re participating in Carol’s Bloom Day in November, I know you’ll understand the concept.)

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Such as shovage of this mangave, a gift from Dustin Gimbel, which is just about at the base of the tetrapanax near the path

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And indoors the rooms become altered in November too. The house is beginning to look like a natural history museum, with vases filled with stalks of nubby stuff like dyckia seedpods

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A tender salvia new to me, Salvia curviflora, was brought home from Annie’s Annuals this summer. Many of the Mexican salvias just grow too large, so their time in my garden is often limited to a couple seasons. And from what I read, this one won’t like very dry conditions. But when they bloom this freely at a small size, it’s worth growing as an annual.

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Besides, it’s my job to trial every hot pink salvia I come across.

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Just like last fall, Nan Ondra’s strain of chocolate-colored nicotiana is roused to life by the cooler temps.

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Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket’ and the yellow form of the firecracker plant, Russelia equisetiformis, are keeping things bouncy and fluffy outside the office.
A lot of the various succulent offsets are finding their way here, as have most of the potted agaves, which I can view from my desk. (More shovage.)
Just occasionally there’s more gazing at plants than working on the computer.

As always, profuse thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting our Bloom Days each and every month.

glass artist Amanda Dziedzic

As someone who has had the same Vilmorin Andrieux prints of oversized vegetables in the kitchen since we moved in 20 years ago, I’ve always admired artists who respect vegetables.
The Design Files recently did one of their signature, long-form interviews on Australian glass artist Amanda Dziedzic that has all the breadth and detail required for understanding how Amanda arrived at the moment in her life where she was able to create works of glass such as this:

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The biggest influence in my work as a whole is nature. I think plant life is fascinating. Probably the most beautiful design out there. The pattern and colours found in plants will always inspire me.”

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The series of work with vegetables is a result of a “six-week residency at reknowned glass studio Northlands Creative Glass in Lybster, Scotland earlier this year.”

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These bell jars were a collaborative project Amanda undertook with The Design Files for one of their upcoming open houses

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The bell jars with their wooden bases

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If I had to choose a favorite, it just might be these stoppers.

November garden dispatches

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We all have our favorite months in the garden. Our sentiments aside, the November garden continues sending out dispatches, oblivious to any seasonal bias.

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dispatches from plectranthus

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and cryptbergias

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urgent communications from Echeveria gigantea

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Candy-corn-colored Morse code from Mina lobata, Spanish flag

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Smoky signals from Verbena bonariensis

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Subtle messages from pelargoniums and aeoniums

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And then there’s evergreens like Corokia virgata ‘Sunplash’ that couldn’t care less what time of year it is

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And November is always a good month to talk up agaves. Ever-gorgeous Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’

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Agave geminiflora

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Favorite season? Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ shrugs those enormous shoulders with exquisite indifference.

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It’s when things quiet down in November that I notice how the patio off the kitchen is book-ended with Agave ‘Blue Flame,’ and marvel at how I managed to pull off a bit of symmetry

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Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak,’ still pristine in November before mollusk season starts in earnest. I’m hoping the five pups I potted up will be of good size in time for the December flea market.

So Cal Hort’s “Coffee in the Nash Garden”

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Potted dwarf pomegranate

Southern California Horticultural Society sent out a “Coffee in the Garden” invitation to its members for a late October visit to Donivee Nash’s garden in Arcadia, redesigned by Judy Horton in 2009. Participation in hort. society events in the past always seemed to founder on the anticipated sludge of freeway traffic, but this one was 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a cool, foggy Sunday. Most of LA would still be gently snoring under the covers, I reasoned. That I ended up being an hour and a half late as a consequence of the 710 freeway shutting down when two semis caught fire just stiffened my resolve to attend as many such events as possible, whenever and wherever, because there’s really no grace period on the freeways anyway. Arriving late and rattled, I fell in with a group following the designer Judy Horton around the garden, trying to gauge what topics had been covered so I wouldn’t annoyingly repeat the same questions. If I did, Ms. Horton was gracious enough not to let on.

The Garden Conservancy provides some illuminating background on the Nash Garden in their Open Days Program from April 2013:

Donivee Taylor Nash was brought up in Delaware surrounded by the rich culture of nineteenth-century estate gardens—Winterthur and Longwood included. She brought these gardening roots to this 1938 New England-style saltbox thirty years ago. Although the house and landscape have grown and changed, its park-like graciousness is still very much in evidence. Donivee is a collector of beautiful specimen plants; over the years she added roses and perennials to the existing English-style gardens. She added a poolside pavilion (a miniature version of a Beatrix Farrand design at Dumbarton Oaks) to the west end of the pool, which is a cool oasis in hot summers. In 2009, when the couple wanted to unify the backyard and reduce water consumption, they called upon well-known garden designer Judy Horton who accomplished the transformation of their landscape. Out went much of the lawn, in came eighteen trees, including a sycamore grove to screen the tennis court, a birch grove underplanted with hundreds of Japanese anemones, and a mixed grove surrounding an antique Japanese lantern. A fig tree garden was added east of the tennis court, and an olive terrace south of the house. Mediterranean plants are now artfully planted near the living and dining rooms. The golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) still shades the patio as it has for decades, but now is accompanied by a fresh palette of lavender, silver, white, and chartreuse.”

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In its current form, this is a mediterranean-inspired garden that celebrates the light that pours in and bathes the earth 33 degrees north of the equator.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this brilliant light all my life.
(When I was young and wanted nothing but to leave, it was intrusive, unforgiving, a relentless glare. Now love has the upper hand. Just keep a lime green umbrella handy.)

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The estate-like spaciousness is emphasized by broad, low hedges of westringia, teucrium and rosemary, which are also sometimes clipped into balls or left to run in long bands along the lawn that has been greatly reduced and reproportioned by Ms. Horton. These tough shrubs require little supplemental irrigation. It’s interesting to view this garden’s recent transition to a more water thrifty profile in light of November being the 100-year anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The aqueduct’s chief designer William Mulholland envisioned semi-arid Los Angeles would “blossom like a rose,” a prophecy many of us have come to realize became fulfilled at much too high a cost.

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I love the trick of breaking free from the belt of trees at the perimeter and planting new trees forward into the lawn, adding more depth and interplay with shapes and planes.
The remaining lawn seems to become less assertive a feature in its own right and is integrated into the overall landscape as just another choice of ground cover.

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The golden light of the foothills sets the fine-leaved mediterranean plantings shimmering.
Strong, smooth blades of iris pierce the gravel, which the Santa Barbara daisy Erigeron karvinskianus freely seeds into, as does Verbena bonariensis.

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Ms. Horton said this supposed non-fruiting olive tree fruited this year.

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The sweep of a glittering landscape is everywhere emphasized as with this choice of underplanting with Cerastium tomentosum.

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Near the house the garden was full of salvias in bloom. Japanese anemones too.

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Detail of the Dumbarton Oaks-inspired pool pavilion

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The planting of roses fronting the property along the street speaks to the evolution of the garden from English-inspired rose garden to its sleek and lean lines today.

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Having arrived late, I stayed until the coffee things had been cleared away. Some gardens are just hard to leave.

AGO/non-secateur flea market pop-up shop 12/15/13

I’ve been checking out local flea markets to get a sense of how this whole thing works from a seller’s perspective, which is totally foreign to me. I still have stuff from flea markets I bought when I was in my teens but have never been a seller. All that will change on December 15, 2013, when Dustin and I will have our own stall at the Long Beach Antique Market, a combined AGO/non-secateur pop-up shop. Dustin wants to change his garden, so expect lots of his concrete orbs and buddha heads, plus new crete work. And plants, of course. Meanwhile, the flea market research is getting expensive, because I can’t stop bringing home more stuff, which is why I needed to sell at flea markets in the first place. I found these pots at the Downtown Flea, which meets every fourth Sunday, from a vendor whose card I’ve since lost, a very nice invertebrate biologist who apparently has an amazing garden that he’s promised I can visit. (I bought only one, the green with the rosette design.) I’m hoping he might stumble onto this post and leave his name and address.

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This Sunday, November 10, 2013, I’ll be checking out one of the biggest in Los Angeles, if not the country, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, and hoping to draw upon previously untapped reserves of self-control.