Monthly Archives: March 2014

compound interest

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Image found here


I don’t have a lot of botanical vocabulary at my fingertips anymore, but I do know a compound leaf when I see one*, since I’ve always had a pronounced weakness for them. If you’ve got a potted Fatsia japonica tucked in against the baseboards near a south-facing window, chances are you do too. A compound leaf guarantees a lushly dramatic presence. Aralia, tetrapanax, angelica are some examples that come quickly to mind, all with great shaggy leaves that unleash heaps of transverse, horizontal energy into the garden. I’ve got some good examples at the moment, three that I’ve planted almost on top of each other.

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Palmately compound Not compound, but palmate leaves of tetrapanax with that jagged, horizontal energy I was trying to describe.
Edited to add: See Saucydog’s comment below.

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Tetrapanax overhanging melianthus, starting to invade each other’s spatial planes

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Pinnately compound, Melianthus major ‘Purple Haze’**

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And completing the compound trifecta this spring, an umbellifer from Maderia, Melanoselinum decipiens, its trial run in the garden this year.
(All those umbellifers we love to cut for vases, like Queen Anne’s Lace (Ammi majus) are characterized by compound leaves.)

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For floating, hovering, shadow-making mystery suspended mid-air, go compound.

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Dustin Gimbel brought his buddy, photographer Joshua McCullough, over recently, and as we both stood before the melanoselinum, or “Black Parsley” as it’s also known by, I mentioned, possibly a little nervously, that I hear it gets pretty big. Joshua responded that he’s seen it growing in the wild, and big might be an understatement. Huge would be getting somewhat closer to the truth. I’ve already started removing some of its lower leaves to reduce some of the congestion and crowding as it flings those great leaves wide.

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I keep the tetrapanax limbed up, too, so I can plant every square inch around its trunk.

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The filtered light is perfect for things like bromeliads.

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If I had a larger garden, I doubt I’d choose to plant this much complicated, jagged beauty in such close proximity.
But I really don’t think it’s possible for a garden to have too much compound interest.



*except not really. See Saucydog’s comment re tetrapanax’s palmate leaf, not palmately compound leaf.
**(And I just noticed another example, the golden tansy Tanacetum vulgare ‘Isla Gold’ in the lower right.)

onesies (Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’)

I had the best time nursery hopping over the weekend, looking for my mom’s summer tomato plants and gleefully indulging in a practice we’re always sternly advised against:
Never buy one of this and that. Always plant in threes and fives. Make sweeps, make waves, go big or go home, etc., etc.
Well, I had a sweep of agastache, but one plant didn’t make it through winter, leaving a hole for a onesie. That’s the excuse I’m sticking with, anyway.
Besides, somebody has to trial plants for those eventual great sweeps, right? So you’re welcome.


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And what a onesie it is. Stachys ‘Bella Grigio.’

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At the nursery it drew me in from quite a distance, the slim, tapered, silvery leaves fooling me for a moment into thinking a New Zealand celmisia like C. densiflora had wandered into a Los Angeles nursery. Fat chance. I haven’t seen a celmisia since Dunn Gardens in the Pacific Northwest and won’t likely see another until a return visit to the PNW. This stachys would seem to be a sure bet for sun and dry soil, a new tissue-culture lamb’s ears, tallish to a foot and a half. And if it’s as vigorous as its reputation, I’ll have a sweep out of this onesie in no time.

Alstroemeria ‘Rock & Roll’ (consider yourself warned)

A mind-numbing, eye-hemorrhaging, variegated alstroemeria has been unleashed at Southern California nurseries this spring.
I reached for the camera phone when I saw big displays at two nurseries over the weekend.
Alstroemeria ‘Rock & Roll.’
The tag predicts that it will be “Sure to attract attention.”
Ya think?

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But I suppose if we can’t grow those crazy, high-contrast hostas, why not a variegated alstroemeria? This one needs a frost-free winter to be happy; otherwise, container culture only.

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It’s not like I’m immune to the charms of the variegated. Alstroemeria psittacina spent some time in my garden in years past.

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Introduced by Tesselaar International of Victoria, Australia, in 2011, for sale at local nurseries under Monrovia’s label.

If you dare…


colors of Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them.” — John Ruskin

Such solemn earnestness was a hallmark of the Victorian age and much lampooned, but you won’t find me arguing with those sentiments.


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Lots of good reading on the Metro yesterday from the April issue of The New York Review of Books, including Garry Wills’ piece on a new exhibit in Ottawa of the paintings and drawings of the eminent Victorian, John Ruskin, “Ruskin: The Great Artist Emerges.” Mr. Wills describes Ruskin’s preoccupation with color, quoting from the Elements of Drawing: ‘He said there is no such thing in nature as a solid color, but colors are ‘continually passing one into the other.'”

And the slate/blue/purple/grey/pink Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ obligingly illustrated Ruskin’s observations on color just before sunset last night.

There is a website devoted to Ruskin’s Elements of Drawing, for anyone itching to get their pencils and sketchbook out today. I’ve got a fishing tackle box filled with mine around here somewhere.

the desert gardens of Steve Martino


I’m checking the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days website daily now, anxiously awaiting full publication of this year’s schedule. I’m expanding my radius to include Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, Palm Springs, California, New Mexico, anyplace I’ll be likely to find some inspiring desert gardens. I’m hoping gardens designed by Steve Martino will be included on the tour. Here’s why:


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From Mr. Martin’s Palm Springs Garden Pinterest board.


Meet The Midge

I don’t know about you, but my thoughts in spring typically turn to…tables. Chairs, too, always chairs, but that’s another post.
But I have enough big tables. I just had this discussion with Marty at the flea market last Sunday when I spied a fantastic German beer garden table and benches.
Slim, narrow, with a deep orange top and long slender benches. What a cool and potentially raucous table/seating arrangement to end a long summer day.
I hovered, I asked the price, I lingered, I sighed, I walked away. I regretted.
But, seriously, where would I put it? Nowhere, that’s where.
It’s a sad day when you come face to face with the realization that you’re out of space for beer garden tables.

What I really need…

Oh, hello!


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Leave it to Potted to anticipate what I really need this summer. The Midge.

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So very Potted. Modern slouching into boho, with the subtle gleam and pattern of glass tiles.
It is for this very reason that I’ve never acquired a shoe habit. Two pairs of uncomfortable shoes or a Midge? Um, no contest.

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The Midge Table was designed by Annette Goliti Gutierrez and Mary Gray, the co-owners of Potted, who’ve brought us such new classics as The Circle Pot, The City Planter.

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And Annette and Mary really have our number, the bespoke one that loves the unique but hates the DIY mess. They’ve given us the option to customize Midge with contrasting “pixels.”
I know they’re looking forward to our endless deliberations on building and pixelating the perfect Midge.
Can the inner row be orange pixels, the outer row grey? No, wait, reverse that.
Okay, that’s my projection on customer relations. Potted’s version is girls going shopping.
They are the nicest, friendliest, cleverest, most helpful, ship-it-anywhere, yes-it-can-be-orange duo you’ll ever have the good fortune to know.

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Potted resolutely insists that their designs be made in the U.S. and that they never be something you’d even think of stowing in the garden shed at the end of summer.
You’ll bring them into your bedroom, your bathroom, your living room. Maybe your Midge never makes it outdoors at all.

We believe outdoor living is as important as indoor living. We are committed to seeking out and designing products that embrace this attitude and bring it home to your garden.”

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It’s been such a thrill to watch how Annette and Mary have taken the energy and enthusiasm for good design that blossomed in California mid-20th century, channeled it, personalized it, and focused it on the garden.
Their little shop in Atwater Village has now become one of the biggest and best sources for the well-designed garden.

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Beer garden table? What beer garden table? Hello, Midge…

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Bloom Day March 2014



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Typical for March, the reseeding poppies are the biggest showboats in my garden at the moment.

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Anticipating where and against what backdrop another loopy-necked bloom will open each morning is a huge part of their appeal.

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Summer-dormant Pelargonium echinatum has been so easy to rouse from its dormancy. Always in a pot, I keep it dry from late spring/early summer until around Novemberish.

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No blooms here, but to me it’s just as exciting to see the manihot leaf out again in March.

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Long, pale green, fading to buttery yellow stems send out these shocking pink flowers. Silky petals against furry stems, the rat-tailed cactus really nails it for me.

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Two of the three clumps of the digitalis/isoplexis union, Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame,’ are throwing rainbow sherbert-colored spikes.
This summer will be the first garden trials for those of us plant geeks enthusiasts who chased down this literally brand-new perennial.

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A self-sown Solanum pyracanthum wintered over and is early to bloom.

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One of the three Phlomis lanata I planted in fall.

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After seeing a photo by Andrew Lawson of Tom Stuart-Smith’s use of phlomis at Broughton Grange, I knew I wanted phlomis back in the garden. I’ve tried lots of kinds of phlomis over the years, and if this P. lanata lives up to its reputation for compactness, it just might be the one. Bigger gardens than mine can tackle the oversize, leafy ones like russeliana and fruticosa.

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But Phlomis lanata doesn’t grow up, it grows out, bulging sideways as much as 4-6 feet across while topping out at about 2 feet in height.
(Maybe I’ll eventually need just one of the three I’ve planted…)

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I think it’s no secret that we’re all attracted to Pelargonium ‘Crocodile’ because of those gold-fretted leaves and not its flowers.

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But I suppose the flowers are tolerable when there’s not much else blooming. And blue oat grass in the background makes anything look good.

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A lot of the self-sowers like Orlaya grandiflora are just getting revved up.

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Nasturtiums are mostly pulled out and composted to give some of the other volunteers runnning room.

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Not for lack of trying, but this is the best photo I could get of a very promising salvia, what Annie’s Annuals & Perennials sold as Salvia flava. The photo on her website is much better.
I really, reeeally hope it likes my garden.

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The front garden has very little but dyckias in bloom, which is actually reassuring since if any of the agaves bloom, it means their demise isn’t far behind.

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For the butterflies, Verbena lilacina

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Euphorbia rigida, claiming quite a bit of the roadway just outside the kitchen door, also claims all the bees’ attention. Always lots of good bee watching here.

May Dreams Gardens to thank for inducing us to keep these monthly records of our gardens. I can now easily check back to March 2013 and see what plants I’ve since killed or evicted, not to mention potentially discover some sort of pattern to the erratic blooming habits of Scilla peruviana, which seems to have taken this year off after blooming in 2013.

soon now

Some visual encouragement from my garden today and gardens I’ve visited in the past. Just in case spring still seems impossibly far away.


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private garden, Los Angeles

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private garden, Los Angeles

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the Taft Garden


Ancient geologic forces shaped the Ojai Valley that modern-day visitors find so attractive. This part of Ventura County lies in a region geologists call the Transverse Range Province. Transverse means “lying across,” and the mountains and valleys in these parts have been moved by seismic and other forces out of California’s usual north-south orientation into an east-west configuration.” — The Los Angeles Times 2/17/90


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Late afternoon, crossing the seismic detritus of a rock-strewn stream on the entrance road to the Taft

The Taft Garden is a 265-acre botanical garden near Ojai, California, that was open to the public from 1994 to 2001, when the Ventura County Board of Supervisors closed it, citing neighbor complaints and permit use violations. A particularly toxic case of NIMBY, it seems. It can still be visited via plant and garden societies, such as the Mediterranean Garden Society, which is visiting this month, March 14 and 15, including in the tour other local gardens such as Lotusland. When I shopped at Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery last week, she invited me to have a look around this garden where so many of her nursery plants have found a home. I knew none of its turbulent history at the time, but even before arriving I was experiencing more than the usual pre-garden visit jitters. It’s a bit difficult to find, and Jo’s cheery caution to talk to no one along the long, hilly entrance road added an unexpected layer of intrigue to the visit.

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Marty dropped me off at this pavilion/visitor center then drove back through the garden to find a place to unobtrusively stow the car.
His next task was to sign the visitor book kept in one of the three “huts” at the entrance. Jo was very emphatic that we sign the book.

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Osteospermums, with Aloe striata blooming in urns. Against the pergola grows bougainvillea, with what looked to be parthenocissus overhead catching the late afternoon sun.

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The spiky outlines to the right of the fountain mark a desert garden.
Plants from all over the world fill the Taft, with special emphasis on Australian, South African, California natives.

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There was a Jurassic Park feel to the place, of an impossibly ambitious dream made real, built and then abandoned after the dinosaurs had dispatched the last of the eco-tourists.
It was a truly eerie sensation to be seemingly the only person experiencing such a dense concentration of botanical riches. The last eco-tourist standing, so to speak.

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A broad path off the pergola. All the paths were broad, deeply mulched or graveled, weed-free. Acacias were in bloom, but the proteas peak fall/winter.
The Taft reputedly has the largest collection of proteas outside of South Africa.

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The Taft is a garden where the rare becomes commonplace, like the fabulous xanthorrhoeas, the Australian grass trees, dotted throughout, with their distinctive deep brown, catkin-like blooms.

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And xanthorrhoeas again, here with bottle trees, Brachychiton rupestris.

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I had less than an hour to visit before the garden closed at 5 p.m, but still lingered quite a while with the bottle trees.

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Paths were deep with the leaf fall of grevilleas, banksias.

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I’m guessing cabbage palms/cussonias.

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Leucospermum. I just planted an orange leucospermum at home, ‘Sunrise’

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Had there been an aerial record of my visit to this garden, you would have seen me scuttling across the landscape like a demented beetle, following any turn in a path that presented itself, erratically reversing course to chase a glimpse of something remarkable in the distance. I covered about as much ground as a beetle could, too, of this vast place. After 45 minutes, I began to hear the distinctive whistle Marty and I use, which I knew signaled the end to our visit. At this point I began to jog along the paths, took a couple of wrong turns, then finally had to stop and listen for the whistle call to lead me out. I wasn’t trying to get lost. Really.

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The many rocks tumbling through this valley 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean have been collected to line paths and create low retaining walls

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Following Marty’s whistle, a glimpse of the windshield emerged just beyond some aloes.

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The car was parked near this little garden at the entrance.

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So instead of heading for the car, I lingered here while the minutes ticked closer to 5 o’clock and the whistle grew more insistent.
The sun was setting and the gates were closing on the first of what I hope to be many visits to the Taft Garden.

(Can’t thank you enough, Jo!)

For more background on the Taft, see this reprint of a 1996 article from Pacific Horticulture