Monthly Archives: January 2015

some kangaroo paws

Anigozanthos is becoming as common as agapanthus in Southern California, but I’m still a fan.
Blooms for months, fine on the dry side, handles full sun, dramatically vertical. You’d think there’d be a huge selection available. But it’s pretty much orange, yellow, red, pink.
Ocasionally that amazing black one turns up in nurseries, which goes by Macropidia fuliginosa, but it’s notoriously touchy.

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‘Harmony’ anigozanthos, May 2013

For the longest time I steered clear of red kangaroo paws. Orange and yellow, yes. Red, no.
There really is no accounting for taste. Maybe there’s this fear that if we kept no rules at all, a vortex of chaos would swallow us up.
All I know is that I’m now suddenly fine with red anigozanthos. (But pink, um, no.)
The first red I brought home was, appropriately enough, ‘Big Red,’ whose first bloom in the garden will be this spring.
Then I recently brought home some petite red no-names in 4-inch pots that were a good price at the big box store.

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And then there was that momentous day I found ‘Little Jean’ (two days ago).
I immediately plucked her from a stand of mixed blooming kangaroo paws after one look at her rich interplay of colors.

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Compare the complexity of bloom on ‘Little Jean’ (red/green/black/yellow on bright red fuzzy stems) to the no-name red kangaroo paw above.

Now a new band of red anigozanthos is taking shape in the garden, snaking around the base of Yucca ‘Margaritaville.’
Interspersed with the kangaroo paws are some lomandra I’m trying out like ‘Breeze’ and ‘Lime Tuff.’
I’ve pulled out all the blue oat grass (Helicotrichon) to give lomandra, this startling green New Zealander, a try.

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Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff.’
I know at some point it will have an ugly phase, all grasses do, but wow, what bright clean beauty it’s shown all fall/winter.

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The now-departed blue oat grass, looking fine in April 2013 but always ratty in winter. The tree, Euphorbia cotinifolia, is gone too. Wind snapped its trunk.
That thug Arundo donax ‘Golden Chain,’ way in the back, has also unwillingly vacated the garden. In fact, except for the yucca, the garden has been completely changed up again.
The long-leaved carex on the left, Carex trifida ‘Rekohu Sunrise,’ has been moved to more shade. A really good carex with a big arching presence like hakonechloa, but for drier soil.
(And I really, really wish I could find another source for seed or plant of Argemone munita, the tall thistly looker with romneya-type flowers.)


Anigozanthos ‘Yellow Harmony’

But getting back to kangaroo paws, just letting you nurseries know that some of us love seeing different kinds of them, like ‘Little Jean.’

Venice Garden & Home Tour suspended for 2015

Last year I mixed up the dates and foolishly missed the Venice Garden & Home Tour.
So tonight, tra la la, I’m diligently checking the date early to mark in bold letters on my brand-new 2015 desktop calendar…which is when I discover that the tour has been canceled.
Indefinitely. “For the foreseeable future.” There goes one of my favorite rites of spring. (Here’s a post of the tour from 2011. 2012 was fun too.)

Venice GHT, you’ll be missed.

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Although a couple of Mitch’s photos were from the tour, the majority were taken just walking the streets of Venice.
And it helps to remember that that’s something we can still do any time.

Bloom Day January 2015

It wouldn’t do to start the new year off skipping the first Bloom Day, which is technically the 15th of every month, but our host Carol (May Dreams Gardens) doesn’t seem to mind slackers.

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Helleborus argutifolius, the last plant remaining, sown into the bricks against the back wall. I pulled the others in the garden to make room for new stuff.
That’s me, the savage gardener. It reseeds like crazy, so there’s no danger in losing it entirely.

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Subtle, jewelry-like flower buds from a climbing kalanchoe that was a gift.

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The flowers’ little bells are the exact same slatey-grey color as the buds. I think it’s Kalanchoe beauverdii

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Aloe capitata a couple days ago. The bloom was just about finished today

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Bocconia frutescens, the Tree Poppy, keeps sending out flowers

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Bloom truss from Bocconia frutescens

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I just planted these osteospermum last week, a variety called ‘Zion Orange’ (the name was inspired by the colors of Zion National Park)

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Phlomis lanata is getting woolly with new growth, at the same time sending out occasional flowers

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Lavandula multifida is rarely without flowers

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Euphorbia milii appreciated the recent rain. Planted in September 2014

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Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ just planted in December

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Mangave bloom spike, technically no flowers yet

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I’ll close it out with Kalanchoe beauverdii again, threading its way along the pipe rack/junk collector .
The hanging pot was a Christmas present, temporarily filled with Pachypodium namaquanum, the “Halfmens.”

Lastly, we had the great pleasure of a visit in December by Andrew and Loree, who blogs at Danger Garden. Loree wrote a wonderfully kind account of her visit here.

Blue-Podded Blauwschokkers

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The modest haul from my little community garden plot yesterday. I’ve got the smallest size plot available, 10X10, but so far it’s just big enough.
I am so not a serious grower of edibles. I don’t can, pickle, or freeze. There are never massive, bounteous harvests to deal with. It’s all eaten fresh.
I don’t get to this garden daily, so I plant things that crop over a long period of time, like these “Blue-Podded Blauwschokkers.” peas from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

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The vegetable garden is where I really get my fix of digging, sowing seeds, planning new things to grow. I love the whoosh of growth vegetables make in a short period of time.
Crazy as it sounds, even with vegetables I give good looks strong consideration.
The promise of blue-purple pods was all the inducement I needed to give this variety a try, and it’s proved to be a strong grower.
I dipped a few raw ones in hummus yesterday for lunch. Sooo sweet.
It’s a Dutch heirloom reputedly grown for soups, which means allowing the pods to develop peas for shelling and not eating the young pods as I’ve been doing.

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Planted in fall for winter/spring, this year I chose the cool-season vegetables kale, peas, Swiss chard, fava beans, and a few sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) for cutting.
Which is pretty much what I grew last winter too. There’s many other cool-season vegetables I don’t bother with. I could be growing lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts.
The cabbage family vegetables stay fresh for so long, market to table, that I prefer to buy them and use my plot for other things (like blue-podded peas).
The fava beans are just past the stepping stones, halfway up the trellis. (The fava beans are not climbers, but that trellis stays in place year-round.)
Fava beans are a lot of work to prepare for eating (as noted here), but the plants are great for the soil and make a good cover crop if you prefer not to sample the beans.
It’s a legume that loves the cool growing season of our mild winters and one I rarely see in stores, so a half dozen plants always make the cut for a few special meals in spring.
The tall vines in the foreground are the “Blue-Podded Blauwschokkers.

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We consume vast amounts of kale, so a row of these is essential. The last bunch of kale lived well over a year in the garden, and leaves were picked several times a week.
A few sweet peas for cutting in spring is another essential. I bought the plants late in the year, in December, so they haven’t started to climb yet.
I should have started sweet pea seeds in September. Renee Shepherd (Renee’s Garden) has a strong sweet pea listing.
In the past I’ve grown her ‘Winter Elegance’ strain, which crops in the shorter day lengths of early spring, but I don’t see it listed on her site currently.

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The Blauwschokkers pea vines (Pisum sativum) are almost as ornamental as sweet peas. Their flowers are not the typical white, but this two-tone pink/purple.
(It might be appropriate to note here that the ornamental sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus, are poisonous and should never be used in association with food, such as garnish on plates, for example.)

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During a road trip to Northern California, I bought the Blauwschokkers on site in the old bank that Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has taken over for their shop in Petaluma, California.
Of course they offer mail order as well, but you really should see their “seed bank” if you’re in the area.

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I’ve noticed that a lot of my fellow growers seem inclined to take the winter off.
We’re obligated to grow year-round or forfeit our plots, so there’s always something growing in every plot, but the enthusiasm just isn’t the same as for the summer season.
But the fall/winter/spring is my very favorite time in the vegetable garden. With just a reasonable amount of winter rain, there’s usually little need for supplemental irrigation.
I love summer vegetables but hate spending time in the heat that ripens them. And lots of times during summer I mess up with crucial irrigation.

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A lot of local nurseries are discounting 2014 seeds, and maybe yours do the same.
Like my Blauwschokkers peas bought in summer 2013, many of the seeds will be perfectly viable for spring/summer 2015, so there’s some good bargains.
A search for “vegetable seeds” will bring up dozens of specialist seed companies, all with tempting lists of the tried-and-true as well as the offbeat and blue-podded.

floral fireworks

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Oooh…it looks just like…Calluna vulgaris !

At fireworks shows, I’m the one that keeps up a running commentary of free associations, so this “Flowerwork” by artist Sarah Illenberger for The Plant journal was an instant hit with me.

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From her website: “Sarah is renowned for creating vivid, witty images that open up new perspectives on seemingly familiar subjects.”

thanks to Jessica at Thread & Bones. Via Miss Moss

Occasional Daily Weather Report 1/11/15 (the rainy day song)

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image found here

We all know that famous paean to a rainy day. But there’s another rainy day tribute, done by Sesame Street in the 1980s, that is every bit as much an earworm.
Decades later, everyone at our house still knows it by heart. So consider yourself warned and listen to the dated and grainy video at the end at your peril.
(It has softly rained nonstop for nearly two days now, casually, matter-of-factly, just the way I remember winter rain, pre-drought.)

It’s a rainy day;
It’s a rainy day.
It’s raining outside,
And I can’t go out and play.
Why do we need the rain anyway?

Rain falls everywhere,
Fills the rivers and streams,
Flows into the reservoirs
Purified and clean.
Water to do the wash,
Water to drink,
Water is flowing
Through the pipes into our sink.

It’s a rainy day;
It’s a rainy day.
It’s raining outside,
And I can’t go out and play.
I guess I’ll stay at home today.

Every living thing needs water;
Every living thing needs the rain.
Every living thing needs water;
I guess I really can’t complain.

It’s a rainy day;
It’s a rainy day.
It’s raining outside,
And I can’t go out and play.
Why do we need the rain anyway?

Water to do the dishes,
Water to brush your teeth,
Water to take a shower,
Water to wash the street.

Water for the forest,
Millions of thirsty roots;
Water for the garden,
Flowers, vegetables, and fruits.

It’s a rainy day;
It’s a rainy day.
It’s raining outside,
And I can’t go out and play.
Don’t you know I love the rain anyway?!

Written by Benjamin Goldstein, Michael Karp
Publisher Filmus Inc.
Michael Karp Music Inc.
Sesame Street Inc.
EKA Episode 1740

Cinema Botanica: Only Lovers Left Alive

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If time is an ocean, then 2015 is already bobbing with the detritus of Best-of-2014 lists. I usually love these lists but just don’t have any idea where to look now that there’s so many out there. There was a time when the year ended was avidly commemorated with just The Los Angeles Times print edition, with Charles Champlin (who passed away November 2014) recounting the best movies, Robert Hilburn handling music, and the Book Review insert filled with enough of interest to fill an afternoon. This would have been in the LAT’s heyday up to 1980, when Otis Chandler shaped it into a world-class newspaper, fortuitously a period that overlapped my childhood. Strange how exciting it once was to read the papers! Now I’m sounding as wistful, if slightly less cranky, as a character from a favorite film of 2014, Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston, in Only Lovers Left Alive by director Jim Jarmusch. Yes, it’s another addition to the trendy vampire genre, which could be seen as cynical calculation for instant box office, except Mr. Jarmusch swears he was unaware of the recent blood-sucking cultural touchstones like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, and the Twilight series. (I know it’s possible to have somehow missed them because I have too.) And it’s pretty obvious by now that Jarmusch never thinks of box office receipts anyway. For Mr. Jarmusch, having vampires as protagonists allows him to play around with some of the best set design outside a Wes Anderson movie, backed by his own brooding musical score, setting the stage for a slow, moody, and meandering exploration of lives that are not book-ended or back-stopped by the usually inevitable counterpart. That implacable open-endedness to existence has bested vampire Adam, a musician, capital R Romantic, and collector of rare musical instruments (like Jarmusch).

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Adam’s house in Detroit, image found here

Lives spanning centuries will of course have their favorites, and Adam seems to have become emotionally stuck in the beginning of the 19th Century with the Romantics, even if he does admit Lord Byron was a “bastard.” Adam has temporarily found a solitary haven to sulk in the post-recession ruins of Detroit, while his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) favors Tangier. Where Adam has become disgusted by everything 21st century, with all of us non-vampire “zombies” literally ruining and poisoning his world, Eve, esconced in Tangier, seems to have managed to glide gracefully through the centuries, philosophically treasuring the best they have to offer, such as in the many books with which she surrounds herself, appreciating and including modern writers like David Foster Wallace. (And when I say Eve glides gracefully, just watch her walk through the streets of Tangier in her boots and cream trousers.) Adam and Eve are tall and lean, pale and gorgeous, with only their hair betraying the many centuries under their belts. Vampire hair shows its age, becoming stiff and coarse, in case you didn’t know.

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image found here

As with a lot of our occupations, the actual “work” of being vampires has changed too; with human blood mostly too poisoned to gamble on, the nocturnal hunt for victims has turned into a discreet and relatively bloodless affair of bribing local medical professionals for regular infusions of plasma that has been scrubbed, screened, and vetted by the best practices of modern science. Their best friend is vampire/Elizabethan playwright Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe, just one example of the literary insider humor that suffuses the film. Many conspiracy-minded scholars have long suspected that someone other than William must be the true author of Shakespeare’s work, with the contemporaneous playwright Marlowe always a prime candidate. Jarmusch has professed himself a believer in the fraud theory, which feeds his strong opinions about our misguided notions of celebrity.

If Eve is adroitly surfing the waves of time, Adam has hit the rocks and wishes only for release, especially when his hideaway in Detroit is discovered by his unwanted music fans. When the two vampires eventually meet up in Detroit, watching them drive through its empty streets at night is another of the slow pleasures of the film (“look, it’s little Jack White’s house!”) I’ve heard a lot of complaints that not much really happens in the movie, whereas I feel that an excess of plot would only break the exquisite mood the movie builds up. But through a couple of mishaps, a bit of forward momentum does develop and carries our two vampires out of the comfort and safety they have so carefully constructed, once again having to reinvent themselves anew and get out there and bite some necks. Eve’s wisdom and a night out on the town in Tangier ultimately lessens Adam’s ennui. The best summation of the movie I’ve found is this: “Read broadly and learn many things. Appreciate and cherish the old but be constantly open to the new. Immerse yourself in the arts. Dance. Make friends.Find love and give love. Be aware of the state of the world but don’t dwell on it. Doing great work and getting it out there is better than – and sometimes antithetical to – being famous. And frozen blood on a stick is a surprisingly refreshing treat.” (by Devin Faraci, Badass Digest)

And why does a vampire movie (the best, in my admittedly narrow opinion, since Let The Right One In) merit entry in the Cinema Botanica? There’s actually a couple reasons. For one, the vampires are keenly aware of the natural world, which they address in proper scientific Latin, as when Eve encounters a grapevine and purrs with tender familiarity, “Ah, Vitis vinifera!” Not to mention their absorption in an outcropping of mushrooms they stumble on in one of their night-time rambles. Crouching down for a closer look, Adam laments ruefully “We don’t know shit about fungi.” So the vampires’ hyperawareness of the natural world will strike a familiar chord with plant lovers. The collector mania exhibited by Adam will have a familiar ring for agave lovers too. But there’s also Tilda Swinton, who has quite a few links to garden culture and could even be considered something of a garden muse. Early in her acting career, she worked with film maker Derek Jarman, who is also revered for his shingle garden known as Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Kent.

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Phoot of Derek Jarman by Howard Sooley

Another link would be Swinton’s role in the movie Orlando, based on the book Virgina Woolf wrote about her great friend Vita Sackville-West. Woolf doesn’t bother to develop a framing device of vampirism to explain how her hero/heroine Orlando manages to live many centuries, as well as switch gender, but it was all meant as an affectionate tribute to her friend Vita, who was not allowed to inherit her beloved ancestral home Knole because she was inconveniently the wrong gender. Vita Sackville-West went on to create one of the most celebrated gardens in the world at Sissinghurst, also in Kent, England. (Garden maker and writer Sarah Raven, married to the grandson of Vita, has a new book out on Sissinghurst, “The Creation of a Garden.”) photo dsc_0132.jpg

Evidence of Vita and Virginia’s friendship can still be found at Sissisnghurst today, in the portrait of her friend that is still kept on Vita’s desk (found here)

Of Tilda Swinton, Jarmusch has this to say: “She has an ability to prioritise what’s really important in life. Once I was listening to her, I think we were at lunch with Patti Smith, and I thought: ‘Oh boy, if all culture breaks down, I’m following them. They’re my leaders, the women are the way to go.'”

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Occasional Daily Weather Report 1/2/15

The thrumming of little portable heaters has been the constant background noise here at home in these brand-new days of the new year. A post-holiday chest cold has descended on the entire household, which has left me fit for nothing but shuffling around the garden in between extended bouts on the couch, getting up only to make more tea. The recent rains have brought on a wealth of germination, with new self-sown seedlings turning up every day to inspect and identify as friend or foe. The self-sown poppies are already small plants. A new book is the perfect companion when home sick, and I’ve had this Christmas present, Vintage Industrial, at my side quite a bit, relieved to discover lots of in-depth history amongst the beautiful photos. Temps the past couple nights made a rare and alarming descent into the mid 30s, setting a record at Los Angeles International Airport on January 1, 2015, of 36 degrees. (Please stop snickering, because that passes for cold in January in Los Angeles.)

But thankfully that’s not low enough to cause any real trouble in the garden.

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The hybrid Aeonium ‘Cyclops,’ for example, is hardy down to 25 degreees.

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The cold does a nice job of inducing even more ruffling of the leaves

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Unlabeled, but what looks like Aloe capitata in bloom at the base of the potted aeonium.

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Bromeliads and potted succulents unphased by temps in the mid 30s.

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More warmth in the orangey overlay to newly acquired Aloe elgonica

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Last photo before I return to the kitchen to warm the kettle again. Some bright winter color on the paler version of the pork and beans plant, Sedum rubrotinctum ‘Aurora’

Wishing you a happy, healthy New Year!