Monthly Archives: April 2014

isoplexis and digiplexis side by side

There’s no telling which of these, if either, will be around for photos next year, so now’s the time for a side-by-side color comparison.
According to this article, it was Isoplexis canariensis that was crossed with Digitalis purpurea to give us Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame.’ The photo on the right is of Isoplexis isabelliana, but the color if not the flower shape is a good semblance of I. canariensis, with probably less gold and more burnt orange. (Being ever on the lookout for the tall, spiky, and orange, I’ve trialed a few isoplexis. I. canariensis was short-lived in my garden.) The shocking pink, apricot-throated digiplexis to my eye exudes a Jonathan Adler-inspired play with colors. In its new guise, dear old digitalis has been liberated from the genteel confines of the shady cottage garden. Even though able to handle full sun, especially near the coast, the unseasonal 20-degree jump into the 90s today and for the rest of the week is not to either plant’s liking, or mine for that matter. I’ve had verbascums collapse under similar conditions. They both held up surprisingly well this first day of the heat wave. Some lateral spikes broke off a few days ago but were saved for a vase.

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If it lives up to its sturdy reputation, I wouldn’t be surprised if digiplexis has a future as a florist’s pet.


this is my brain on spring

Spring is such a massive distraction, and that’s coming from just my own little garden, which apart from work* I rarely want to leave. For the first time in my adult life, I drove by a multiplex theater on Sunday and wasn’t familiar with a single movie title on the marquee. I can’t keep plant show dates straight and nearly missed attending the Spring Garden Show over the weekend, which always has great vendors like B&D Lilies and Franchi Seeds of Italy, though if they were at the show this year, I didn’t find them. I had no idea there were speakers or who they would be (Dan Hinkley). Spring, I give up. You win. I know by summer the infatuation will have cooled.

At the show I speed-walked past the display gardens and headed straight for the plant vendors. My overall impression was that a neo-19th century orchid mania has gripped this show. But since these plants are born scene-stealers, it’s hard to tell if the show has a creeping orchid bias or not. High-dollar orchids bobbed out of shopping bags, rode up and down escalators in the arms of their new, terribly excited owners. Masses of orchids in exquisitely perfect bloom added a concentrated and disorienting “In The Realm of The Senses” mood to the show.

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Every color of epiphyllum, the orchid cactus, was on offer.

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Every color of epidendrum, the reed orchids

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The techno-hobbyists also had plenty to admire, like a bonsai’d boug

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As usual, the bromeliads were my biggest temptation. I’ve really wanted an alcantarea, but this lovely thing had just won some award and so carried a trophy price.

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One of my favorite vendors at the show carried exotic bulbs and gorgeous tropical seed pods, like this entada species.

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Cerbera odollam, the Pong-pong tree, also know as the “Suicide Tree,” once used in Madagascar in the ritual “trial by ordeal” to prove guilt or innocence.
Justice was irrelevant because, guilty or innocent, the tree is invariably lethal (related to the oleander).

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The succulent tables are always worth a browse.

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I wrote about this succulent not long ago, Graptopetalum superbum. This one has slight variegation to the leaf and has been named ‘Cotton Candy.’ $50 for a one-rosette plant.

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I spent a lot of time with the tillandsias and hanging plants, trussed with fishing line, performing delicate aerial ballets.

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What did I buy? More rhipsalis, of course, that shaggy, mop-headed epiphytic cacti. Andy’s Orchids had a nice selection.

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And being on a hanging plant binge, you know there was some experimenting yesterday on some old topiary forms.

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After the show I had a craving for simplicity and found these ‘Yellow Garden’ cosmos at a local nursery.

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I don’t know how those orchid people stand the excitement.

*In this video ‘Verbatim: What Is a Photocopier?’ the NYT recreated a scene from my day job. My stand-in is the woman at the end of the table with the shocked expression, writing it all down. Which partly explains why I like plants so much…

waxflowers in bloom at Grand Park

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The last time I worked at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse prompted this post on Grand Park*.
Yesterday the waxflowers were in bloom, an Australian shrub that most likely passed completely unnoticed at my last visit.
The waxflower, or chamelaucium, is a member of the myrtle family. Its tiny, needle-like, evergreen leaves are arguably past the point of subtlety, but wonderfully adapted to sun and drought.
From a distance, for a moment the foamy mass had me guessing Baja spurge, Euphorbia xanti.

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Branches of the waxflower are familiar to everyone as a perfunctory addition to mixed bunches from grocery stores.
But they are not seen in gardens much anymore. A single shrub is possibly a bit too precious.

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Massed in the landscape they are wild things again, as good with concrete as they are with a vase.


*August 30-31, 2014, 50,000 Made in America Festival attendees will sprawl across Grand Park. Watch out for the plants, people.

planting notes 2014

Every year brings a new crop of preoccupations in the garden, such as:
Will the beschorneria choose this spring for their first bloom? How about the puya in the gravel garden? Feel like blooming this year?
Some plants really do take their sweet time. Judging by my own temperament, I’d say garden makers have a unique blend of philosophical stoicism that co-exists uneasily with a raging, barely controlled impatience.

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At Annie’s Annuals & Perennials/AAP over the weekend, impatience had the upper hand. I splurged on Puya mirabilis, a smaller puya reputed to be the one for blooming at a young age.
I don’t remember which one I planted in the gravel garden and won’t know until it blooms, which may be eons away still.

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Still waiting for blooms on this beschorneria, and I’m pretty sure we can write off 2014. AAP’s display gardens had enormous, towering bloom trusses that had to be tied to the fence for support.

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I’ve been trying to establish asphodels for some time and finally have a few clumps with potential. This morning I noticed a bloom snout in one of the clumps, which is almost unbearably exciting. I think too often I subject potentially tough plants to overly harsh conditions initially, when what they need is some babying for a good start. And I’m trying to remember to mulch like crazy, which is easy this year since there’s piles of it. These are Asphodeline lutea (syn. Asphodelus luteus). Enormous clumps were in bloom in AAP’s display beds. I knew they were tall plants in bloom but wasn’t sure about their width, so seeing them at Annie’s helped fill in the blanks on the eventual size of this ‘Jacob’s Rod.’ A medium-sized phormium is a good visual reference for girth. A white asphodel, Asphodelus albus, was also in bloom, and though I’ve always wanted the yellow I have to say the white is probably even more stunning. (No time for photos at AAP since it was the last stop before heading back down to Los Angeles.)

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Lessertia montana made the cut for the ride home.

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As did a couple Glaucium grandiflorum. I pulled out some of the annual poppies to find a home for these.

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Useful for protecting small plants and young seedlings from digging cats. And to remind my itchy digging fingers that this spot is already taken.

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A couple self-sown sideritis turned up this spring, which I greedily potted up at first sight and just planted back into the garden yesterday.
Looking at AAP’s extensive offering of sideritis, I think it’s S. oroteneriffae.

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One sunny spot happened to be available near Leucadendron ‘Ebony,’ but I’d be a fool to let the sideritis crowd the young conebush, so the sideritis may have to be moved.

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I also saw mature plants of this native thistle, Cirsium occidentale, at AAP’s last weekend. The mother plant was very short-lived in my garden, so I was surprised to find a seedling early this spring.
Knock wood, this one produces a few more seedlings. (5/9/14 edited to add that this thistle died in the recent heat wave.)

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Crambe maritima, hopefully a future depositor in my garden’s seed bank. Maintaining a choice and interesting crew of potential self-sowers is my favorite kind of garden making at the moment.
They bring elements of surprise, serendipity, adaptability, fitting in with rainfall patterns. And let’s be honest, getting beautiful things for free never loses its appeal.

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One of the surprise benefits of keeping pots near the garden proper is that occasionally plants will self-seed into the softer potting soil.
In early spring I found several seedlings of nearby Eryngium padanifolium in this container of alonsoa but nowhere else in the garden.
I noticed yesterday ballota had done the same thing in the container of Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate.’ I never find ballota seedlings in the garden.

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Only one plant of Castor Bean ‘New Zealand Purple’ was overwintered, so there’s very few volunteers this year.

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The dry-loving kangaroo paws will rule summer. A favorite for massed plantings, I like them dotted throughout the garden for their incredibly long-lasting vertical lines.
The hybrids grown for compact growth don’t have the same appeal to me.

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This chartreuse kangaroo paw’s flowers are not as flamboyant as the ‘Yellow Gem’ above, but as with all things chartreuse, they complement everything.

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Cistus ‘Snow Fire’ is a smallish-growing shrub planted last fall that hasn’t made me wait long for blooms.

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I’m envious of gardens with separate growing beds to trial plants and grow some on to a bigger size, like this Aloe marlothii x castanea hybrid, which is temporarily tucked in near the base of the ‘Yellow Gem’ kangaroo paws. But along with the endless lessons in patience the garden doles out, working with what you’ve got is another of its favorite recurring themes.


rhipsalis in the Bay Area

I was up in the Bay Area for two days, helping to launch a vegetable garden, which was just enough time to squeeze in a couple brief plant shopping forays at Flora Grubb Gardens and Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. At both nurseries I found rhipsalis, that filmy epiphytic cactus that was born to spill from hanging pots under my shady pergola. Unknowingly, I bought Rhipsalis burchellii from both nurseries, which is fine with me since rhipsalis has been generally not easy to find.


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Rhipsalis burchellii

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Both burchelliis were planted into this low bowl to bulk up to a substantial, hangable size.

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Flora Grubb’s also had a rhipsalis with a slightly chunkier leaf, Rhipsalis sulcata, bottom rung on the left.
Top rung, on the right, Colocasia esculenta ‘Lime Fizzy’ was found at Flora Grubb’s. Stumbling on desirable plants in small, inexpensive sizes is my kind of plant lottery.
Bottom rung, on the right, Sedum x adolphii ‘Golden Sedum’ was from Annie’s. There was an aureate, pulsating glow emanating from the table holding pots of this succulent.
Another lime-green/gold succulent, top rung on the left, Sedum treleasi, was also found at Annie’s, and about a half dozen other things I’ve been planting all morning.
More soon on them, but just wanted to give a head’s up on the rhipsalis.

(get ’em while they’re hot)


Bloom Day April 2014

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A day late for the Bloom Day report, with the above photo of the back garden taken this overcast morning and most of the closeups taken the past couple days. It’s all shockingly rumpled and disheveled already, but I still love waking up to it every morning. I’ll use this photo as a point of reference. Verbena bonariensis is already pushing 6 feet, almost as tall as the tetrapanax. The poppies were the first to bloom, followed this month by the self-sowing umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora, the little pops of white. All this blowsy madness will be over too soon, by May probably, and then we’ll be tidy and respectable again, refreshed and ready to dig in for a long, hot and very dry summer. Deep blue on the left is the fernleaf lavender Lavandula multifida, which will be a mainstay throughout summer. There’s about six clumps of this lavender throughout the back garden. (A couple days ago I bumped into an old 2012 article in The Telegraph in which designer Tom Stuart-Smith uses the words “exotic meadow” to describe some planting ideas he’s playing with, and those two words pretty much sum up the back garden this spring.)

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To the left of the tall verbena, the monocarpic umbellifer Melanoselinum decipiens is in bloom.
Since it’s supposed to make great size first, I’m guessing this is a hurried, premature bloom, hastened possibly by conditions not expressly to its liking.
Maybe it’s been too warm already.

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Scrolling back up to the first photo for reference, the orange spears in the background on the right are Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

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And furthest right, nearest the arundo, the Kniphofia thompsonii I moved from the front gravel garden last fall. An aloe that actually prefers nicer, cushier digs than the gravel garden.
I finally noticed all those suckering green shoots on the potted Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’ and removed them yesterday.

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Also in this area, near Stipa gigantea, Salvia curviflora has started to bloom, with more photobombing poppies.

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The salvia is surrounded by the leaves of summer-blooming Agastache ‘Blue Blazes’

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The little 4-inch pot of Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii’ I brought back from Far Reaches Farm is turning into a graceful shrub.
(Under the wire basket I’m protecting some newly planted corms of the Gladiolus papilio hybrid ‘Ruby,’ tall and graceful as a dierama.
There’s no current U.S. source, but Sue Mann of Priory Plants very kindly and graciously sent me a few corms.)
Towering Euphorbia lambii is in bloom in the background.

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This plectranthus is doing a great job as a stump-smotherer.
The stump of the smoke tree ‘Grace’ was still sending out shoots last year, not so much anymore.

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Second (or third?) year in the garden for the Baltic parsley, Cenolophium denudatum, so it’s quite tough as well as graceful. I think the seed came from Derry Watkins.
Who knew umbels could have such variation in color: the orlaya is the whitest umbel, the melanoselinum a pale pink, the Baltic parsley more green than white.

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Last year the pergola had draped canvas for shade, and this year Marty rigged up something more permanent.
It’s shady all day, except for late afternoon, when the sun slants in from the west, and is my favorite spot for viewing all the aerial pollinator activity on the garden.
I’ve been pulling most of the poppies from this area that was reworked last fall, which is now mostly grasses, calamint, phlomis, the Cistus ‘Snow Fire,’ isoplexis.
A big clump of kangaroo paws is just coming into bloom out of frame to the left.

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I doubt if the isoplexis lasts long in this strong western exposure. Everything else will be fine.

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Salvia pulchella x involucrata blooming into Senecio viravira

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The irises again, with the big leaves of the clary sage just behind.

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The little annual Linaria reticulata just happened to self-sow near the dark iris and the Coprosma ‘Plum Hussy.’ You just can’t make this stuff up.

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Closer to the house, looking down through the pergola, with the shrubby Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’ in the foreground.
The mint bushes are notoriously short-lived, and I’ve already got a replacement in mind, the smallish mallee Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ I brought back from Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery.

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Flash of pink at the far end of the pergola comes from a stand of pelargoniums, including this P. caffrum X ‘Diana’ from Robin Parer’s nursery Geraniaceae.

And that’s what April looks like in my tiny corner of Long Beach, California. More Bloom Day reports are collected by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.


I’ve frontloaded my tumblr (under “Follow“) with lots of old photos and have been adding new ones too.

Iris a l’Orange

With certain heavily hybridized plants that people have been tinkering with for centuries, like irises, dahlias, and tulips, for instance, you only have to say Let there be orange, click the keys or fill in the catalogue order with your pen, and then forget all about it until orange erupts like Vesuvius in the garden in spring. (Iris was named for the Greek word for “rainbow.”)


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Which is apparently what I did when I ordered bearded iris last fall, probably sometime around Halloween, judging by the colors. I skipped tulips this year but ordered a few bearded iris even though their bloom period amounts to a very brief if ostentatious flyby. Dahlias bloom all summer but need as much water as farm animals. Bearded iris can take the hottest and driest of conditions, which is what I’ve got in spades. Their one big drawback is how fast they multiply, needing to be divided constantly for best bloom. The only time I ever worked on my horticultural certificate for a private party was splitting up enormous clumps of bearded iris for an elderly lady. Or maybe it was elderly iris for a bearded lady? Whatever the case, it was my last job in the field, other than installing plants in offices. And I’d rather work for the bearded lady than do that again.

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The other half of the order purchased under the influence of a Halloween moon, very black in bud.

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Maturing to a deep cabernet.

(Happy, joyous, boisterous Friday to us all.)


favorites 4/10/14

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Loree at Danger Garden shares her favorite plants in the garden every week, and spring is a good time to join in, when so much is fleeting and the turnover in favorites comes at a rapid pace.
True, that’s not the case with Stipa gigantea, a clumping grass from Spain which will grace a garden from spring until late fall.

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But it is the case with ephemerals like the South African bulb Albuca maxima (also goes by Albuca canadensis) which will go dormant after flowering, when it needs to be kept dry. For this reason, it thrives in the gravel garden amongst agaves and dasylirions, where it reliably pushes up its elegant 5-foot blooms amongst all those jagged leaves every spring. (The beast directly behind this beauty is the Agave ‘Jaws.’) The blooms do last surprisingly long, and it does seem to be self-sowing too. More would be nice to cut for vases, since I hate to rob the garden of those swaying, statuesque flowers that remind me of a snowdrop crossed with a fritillary.
For zones 8 to 11.


green walls around town

The Smog Shoppe, a special event venue in Culver City owned by Woolly Pocket creator Miguel Nelson, famously deployed the pockets on its cinder-block facade in 2009, which has since been regularly reported on by local media and blogs. I’d previously only seen Woolly Pockets at garden shows, with always more pocket than plant visible, and filed the product away as a novelty for the garden deprived. Green walls have only gained momentum since 2009, and are famously curtaining the buildings in many cities around the world, with spectacular examples in the city state of Singapore, which has dubbed itself the Garden City, but these are highly engineered, soil-less, hydroponic affairs. (And why wouldn’t Singapore take advantage of their approx. 2,300 inches of rainfall a year? I’d love to some day take a “rain” vacation there.) The modular, soil-based Woolly Pockets I remembered from garden shows were targeting interiors and exteriors of homes and small offices, the DIY version of green walls. How were the Woollys faring in arid Los Angeles? With admittedly low expectations, traveling through Culver City on La Cienega Boulevard enroute to the Pacific Design Center back in March, as I drove by The Smog Shoppe, I was taken aback at the five-year-old plantings, with nary an edge of Woolly Pocket in sight, just undulating greenery.

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Above photo from the Woolly Pockets website. I didn’t dare risk stepping into La Cienega’s brutal traffic.
The linear band of plants dramatically envelopes the corner-lot building on the three street-facing sides, linked to the ground plane by many similar plants in the narrow border below.
These WPs have no reservoir, so plants in the ground benefit from the runoff.

With the plantings mature, this little corner in Culver City has the exotic air of a lost Mesoamerican jungle temple. A neatly maintained lost temple.

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And what a surprise to see the big, fleshy rosettes of Agave attenuata both in the ground and on the wall.

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The pink foamy flowers I believe are Crassula multicava, which reseeds like mad and doesn’t mind shade on the northern exposure. The blue succulent is Senecio mandraliscae

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Aeoniums, Agave attenuata, Senecio vitalis, Erigeron karvinskianus, and possibly rosemary too.
The naturalistic blue-green palette would take on an entirely different character if, for example, deep burgundy or variegated ‘Sunburst’ aeoniums were used, or the chartreuse and variegated forms of Agave attenuata. On such a broad wall, the visual flow would be jumpy and interrupted.

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Senecio vitalis is dominant in this photo. Drip irrigation is used on big projects like The Smog Shoppe.

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Even maidenhair ferns were mixing it up with the succulents

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I subsequently contacted Woolly Pockets with some basic upkeep questions regarding the plantings at The Smog Shoppe.

We have a team of professionals that maintain our gardens twice per month. Our plants our thriving which means they need a bit of maintenance to trim them back. There’s a lot of growth! Trimming them back is our biggest challenge. Also it took some trial and error initially selecting the right plants since our interior exterior living wall is over 120ft x 15ft and faces north south east and west! Basically, we had to determine different plant mixes for 4 different aspects of the wall which also shift slightly depending on the season.”

Gina Goesse, Customer Service, Woolly Pockets, also confirmed that these are the original Woollys from 2009.

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And out to dinner with my mom this week, a new restaurant on Pine Avenue in downtown Long Beach was swagging their doorway with what looked like Woolly Pockets.

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In this installation, there seems to be emphasis on the pockets themselves as living drapery, accentuating the architectural lines of the facade. Many of these plants, such as aeoniums, have no trailing capabilities, and are instead geometrically spaced at rhythmic intervals.

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Woolly Pockets were also featured recently in an interior in Apartment Therapy

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This might be my favorite, and what really has me convinced that the Woollys have left novelty behind and are all “grown up,” the “Wally One” in camel in Mad Men actor Vincent Kartheiser’s Hollywood home, as seen in Dwell.

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At Ramekin’s in Los Feliz, from Woolly Pocket’s blog.

It’s pretty obvious that my dated view of Woolly Pockets hasn’t kept pace as this business adds new products and customers continue to engage and innovate with the Woollys.
Why, if our concrete wall wasn’t already shrouded in creeping fig…