Monthly Archives: February 2016

end of month February 2016

Since it’s the last day of February, I suppose it’s time to admit defeat and clear out all the drafts that never made it to proper posts.
There’s the draft post tying in to last night’s Oscars, where I muse about how each spring in the garden seems like a new production, with brand-new plot lines and star turns.
It’s possible that’s due to my background. Like one-half of all Angelenos, I’ve taken screenwriting courses and once worked for an Academy-Award winning screenwriter (Abby Mann, Judgment at Nuremberg). So my brain might be wired to see even gardens in a dramatic framework. To me even the smallest garden expresses themes about shelter, sanctuary, earth, sky and water, friendship, risk, yearning, fecundity, what it means to live a good life and really how minimal are the resources that actually requires. Light and space are big garden themes for me. Some garden productions are hardscape heavy, mine tend to be plant intensive. For me it’s always the most exciting production in town. All on an indie budget, of course

That draft was never developed, and now that the awards are over it’s a bit stale. (I did love Spotlight, so hooray for its best picture award. George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road was an awesome spectacle, deserving of all its technical awards. Marty saw The Revenant and loved it. I can’t take that kind of punshiment from a movie but admire the effort. Loved DiCaprio’s acceptance speech on the urgency of climate change.)

I had a draft post on how the back garden is getting heavy with aloe & anigozanthos. Aloe for winter bloom, kangaroo paws for summer.

 photo 1-P1011105.jpg

Little Aloe conifera’s bloom continues to reveal more luscious, custardy color.

 photo 1-P1011108.jpg

 photo 1-P1011141.jpg

No, my garden kangaroo paws aren’t showing bloom stalks yet.
Feeling a little anigozanthos-starved, I promised myself if I saw any in bloom at a nursery, I’d bring it home.
Meet ‘Bush Tango,’ medium in height, in comparison to a tall variety like ‘Big Red’ just a few feet away.

 photo 1-P1011200.jpg

At least I think this is ‘Big Red,’ hopefully correctly labeled. I can’t remember if I saw blooms on it last year.
The dark green, strappy leaves of ‘Big Red’ are in the foreground to the left of Leucadendron ‘Ebony’

 photo 1-P1011207.jpg

With a little bit of cheating, I can have a view with both anigozanthos and aloes in bloom. Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ in the distance.

 photo 1-P1011176.jpg

I wanted to write also on how well the santolina orbs are coming along. This summer they should really be…I don’t know. Profoundly orbful maybe.

 photo 1-P1011119.jpg

In that same mood of If I See It, I’m Buying It, I sprang for a big container of Phormium ‘Black Adder.’
Fooling around with this phormium in small sizes was getting nowhere.
Phormiums either become huge, unmanageable monsters or melt away after five leaves. No middle ground here.

 photo 1-P1011157.jpg

The phormium was planted into the spot held by a potted Agave ‘Ivory Curls.’

 photo 1-P1011187.jpg

I absent-mindedly left the hose trickling all day on this melianthus last week. First irrigation crime of the new year.
Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ slurped up every drop. This variety does appreciate more moisture than the species, in my experience.

 photo 1-P1011169.jpg

Then there was the post over the huge excitement of my first beschorneria coming into bloom.
I so rarely see them locally, I wasn’t sure if they liked Los Angeles enough to bloom. And then I found these one day, here

 photo 1-P1011193.jpg

It’s a little taller than this today. From Annie’s Annuals ‘Martin Grantham Hybrids.’

 photo 1-P1011145.jpg

This old table base got a new salvage top I had stashed away. Its previous top was succulents (see here and here.)

 photo 1-P1011149.jpg

I took this photo of the rhipsalis, but you can see more of the table in the background.
If I read myself right, I planted the table summer of 2013. Amazing how the succulents held on, with the table pushed out of the way between two cypresses at the fence.
I moved the table out to clear the area for…

 photo 1-P1011170.jpg

A stock tank I purchased last fall. It holds a couple salvias, an astelia and other things in pots as they show new growth.
Like lilies, a dahlia. A catch-all this year. Maybe next year there’ll be more of a plan. Another tank waits to be drilled.

 photo 1-P1011197.jpg

Poppy time continues into March.

 photo 1-P1011122.jpg

Gerberas too.

Onward into March!

trialing Rudbeckia maxima

Overnight rain had me up early to check out one of my favorite sights (leaves soaked in rain).

 photo 1-P1011037.jpg

After lots of trial and error, most of the plants in the back garden have earned my confidence in their ability to survive on once-a-month irrgation during our dry summer, and sometimes I neglect to provide even that much. But there’s always new plants to try, and some that are not renowned for tolerating dryish conditions can surprise you. I saw this Rudbeckia maxima at Fullerton Arboretum last spring, its big, silvery, paddle-like leaves growing amongst summer dry-tolerant California natives. (It’s native to southeast U.S.) I’d never seen this rudbeckia before but knew it from books, so recognized it immediately. They had a couple for sale in their shop, which are the two in the photo above. I reasoned if the smart folks at Fullerton Arb. were growing it, maybe they knew something I didn’t. It’s a giant of a plant for low-lying, wettish areas with heavy soil. But you never know what the configuration of a plant’s roots and your own soil’s chemistry and composition will say to each other until you introduce them. Many years ago I grew Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ well enough in this heavy clay, another rudbeckia with very un-rudbeckia-like leaves. The biennial Rudbeckia triloba, one of my favorites in the genus, was unhappy with the watering regimen here. But even if Rudbeckia maxima is too stressed to flower, that’s fine with me. It’s all about those leaves, the silverier the better.

 photo 1-P1011040.jpg

This year I seem to have loaded the back garden with big, silver leaves (verbascum in the foreground).

 photo 1-P1011045.jpg

I don’t mind the no-flowers thing and only ask for more of those big, luscious leaves all summer, preferably without bug damage.
Full sun might have been overoptimistic. We’ll see how it goes.

Agave xylonacantha near 6th & Fig

I have a lot of affection for Downtown LA, our underdog of a city center that lay fallow and forgotten for so many decades, its opulent old movie palaces abandoned or turned into dollar stores. It’s a boom town now, with brands like Urban Outfitters moving into those old movie palaces. I worked in DTLA in the decades pre-boom town, when there wasn’t a single grocery store for miles, when it emptied out at 5 p.m. like the zombies were coming with nightfall, and when the city and it’s beautiful but empty buildings (the Bradbury Building!) seemed to belong to me alone. I still work there quite often, now taking the Metro Blue Line from Long Beach to LA. Yes, contrary to popular opinion, we do have public transportation here in Los Angeles — just not enough yet. The trains to Santa Monica are slated to go online in spring 2016, and I can’t wait. Santa Monica and the west side of town are the worst commutes of all for me. Sitting in freeway traffic just seems like a crazily regressive way to start the 21st century, and I avoid it whenever possible.

But back to DTLA, where on Figueroa near 6th Street there’s this large planting of succulents that showcases some less frequently seen agaves, as far as public plantings go.

 photo 1-P1010952.jpg

Like Agave xylonacantha, with its high contrast, zig-zaggy leaf margins

 photo 1-P1010960.jpg

Backing Agave parryi var. truncata are enormous Kalanchoe beharensis, the size of small buffalos.
Nice touch to include some bromeliads. LA hasn’t really woken up to the potential of bromeliads yet in public landscapes.

 photo 1-P1010959.jpg

And as common as Agave parryi var. truncata is in private gardens, it too is rarely seen in commercial plantings around town. Mine at home send offsets several feet away.

 photo 1-P1010965.jpg

Aloe striata is widely planted.

 photo 1-P1010961.jpg

Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’ is one of those agaves that can be hit or miss. If one of those big, asymmetric leaves becomes damaged, the effect is pretty much ruined.
These look to be in fairly good shape. With aeoniums in the foreground.

Bloom Day February 2016

 photo 1-P1011022.jpg

This warm weather (90 again today!) is pushing an early spring. The first bloom of the many reseeded Papaver setigerum obligingly opened this morning for Bloom Day.

 photo 1-P1010982.jpg

Meanwhile, the winter-blooming aloes aren’t ready to yield the spotlight yet. Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is building up into its ladder-rung bloom formation.

 photo 1-P1010997.jpg

Aloe cameronii just this week started opening lower buds on its bloom truss, immediately setting off territorial hummingbird disputes.
You can make out the rosettes of reseeding poppies threading their way around a leucadendron.
I’ve been thinning poppies like mad. Editing the spring garden, leaving in poppies for punctuation, pulling out excess for clarity, is becoming a welcome recurring spring ritual.
The umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora resows, too, and is always at least a month later than this poppy. Tragically, I haven’t seen any orlaya seedlings at all this year.

 photo 1-P1011001.jpg

This year’s salvia will be Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara,’ a dwarfish variety with all-purple flowers and bracts.
It’s a widely grown salvia here. Left to its own devices, it quickly becomes overgrown and bare-legged. Pruning it down to the base late winter keeps it manageable.
It blooms so well here that it’s worth growing as an annual and restarting woody, overgrown plants frequently from cuttings.
An experiment this year with grass Leymus ‘Canyon Prince,’ to see how they match in size and vigor.
More poppies visible to the left, with white flowers of Melampodium leucanthum.

 photo 1-P1011003.jpg

Lots of yellow this February, from acacias, from the pyramidal-shaped blooms of aeoniums.

 photo 1-P1011006.jpg

More yellow from the Feathery Cassia, Senna artemisioides

 photo 1-P1011000.jpg

from Sedum dendroideum and other succulents

 photo 1-P1010814.jpg

Little golden trumpets from Eremophila glabra ‘Kalgoorlie,’ its first year in the garden.
I really, really admire this little shrub so far and can’t wait to see it bulk up into an even bigger, silvery, gold-flecked presence.

 photo 1-P1010841.jpg

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

 photo 1-P1011005_1.jpg

There’s been pink, too, from this anisodontea from Annie’s Annuals, ‘Strybing Beauty.’
It’s been blooming lightly all winter, despite being planted a couple feet from the back wall, in the band of shade that is now rapidly disappearing from the garden.
Each day sunlight spreads over more and more of the garden like an incoming tide.

That disappearing band of shade is my cue to get the Dates to Remember back up and running. (The Venice Home & Garden Tour is back this year!)

Happy Val Day

Interesting, isn’t it, that one of America’s most notorious authors of books banned under then-existing obscenity laws had the middle name Valentine? All true. Henry Valentine Miller.
“The publication of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in the United States in 1961 by Grove Press led to a series of obscenity trials that tested American laws on pornography. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Grove Press, Inc., v. Gerstein, citing Jacobellis v. Ohio (which was decided the same day in 1964), overruled the state court findings of obscenity and declared the book a work of literature…Following the trial, in 1964–65, other books of Miller’s which had also been banned in the US were published by Grove Press: Black Spring, Tropic of Capricorn, Quiet Days in Clichy, Sexus, Plexus and Nexus.” from the Wiki on Henry Miller

In my teens I loved Miller’s Quiet Days in Clichy, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.
I don’t think I made it through all the Tropics. But as a teenager, I generally read everything my brothers read.
Then in my early twenties, living on my own I unconsciously switched to reading books written almost solely by or about women, Woolf and Wharton, Austen and DeBeauvoir.
This Val Day, not necessarily in this order, I’m thinking of the power of love, of books, sons and brothers, a good breakfast, foggy mornings, and the power of SCOTUS too.
And I’m bringing a bouquet of sunflowers to you to celebrate the day. They arrived early this morning, all the way from Tanzania.
Mitch is traveling through East Africa with IPFRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) and in Tanzania they stopped at a sunflower oil factory. The photos are fairly self-explanatory. Enjoy!

 photo 1U6A2060.jpg

 photo 1U6A2065.jpg

 photo 1U6A1847.jpg

 photo 1U6A1320.jpg

 photo 1U6A1187.jpg

 photo 1U6A1318.jpg

 photo 1U6A1194.jpg

 photo 1U6A1290.jpg

 photo 1U6A1857.jpg

 photo 1U6A1867.jpg

 photo 1U6A1341.jpg

 photo 1U6A1455.jpg

 photo 1U6A1460.jpg

 photo 1U6A1476.jpg

 photo 1U6A1565.jpg

 photo 1U6A1493.jpg

 photo 1U6A1798.jpg

 photo 1U6A1831.jpg

Occasional Daily Weather Report 2/11/16

While it seems everyone else is diligently topping off their water table with generous rainfall and/or snowfall, there’s no use denying it’s already chair cushion season here.
Los Angeles in February decided to go high 80s, tipping into the 90s. It feels like a Peanuts/Charles Schultz setup, with Charlie Brown (me) trusting Lucy (weather people) not to pull the football (El Nino) away again as he winds up for a mighty kick of faith, only to fall on his ass for the umpteenth time. But it’s hard to be grumpy about the lack of rainfall when it’s so gosh-darn beautiful outside. When the drought-driven apocalypse comes to Southern California, we will all be wearing flip-flops and T-shirts and sipping the latest artisinal cocktail. Like the last days of Pompeii, we won’t know what hit us.

 photo 1-P1010702.jpg

 photo 1-P1010794.jpg

 photo 1-P1010942.jpg

Aloe ‘Safari Sunrise’

 photo 1-P1010938.jpg

Aloe conifera

 photo 1-P1010937.jpg

Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’

 photo 1-P1010933.jpg

Euphorbia atropurpurea

 photo 1-P1010945.jpg

Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’

 photo 1-P1010423.jpg

Glaucium grandiflorum

 photo 1-P1010839.jpg

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

 photo 1-P1010716.jpg

Helleborus argutifolius

 photo 1-P1010772.jpg

Bocconia frutescens

N.B. This seems like such a sensible idea. Maybe it’s been around for a while and I just haven’t noticed.
It goes like this: We get the special-order plants we want while avoiding the heavy shipping costs that mail order often entails, sometimes costing more than the plants themselves.
I just noticed that Monrovia is accepting online orders of their plants, which are delivered to a nursery near you for pickup.
However, since I haven’t tried it out yet, I’m not sure if there is a handling charge involved.
Now, if other wholesale growers like San Marcos Growers, Annie’s Annuals, and Native Sons jumped on this train, my plant budget would grow by leaps and bounds.

N.B.B. For spring plant orders, Chanticleer’s gravel garden plant list 2015.

growing a planet

Have you noticed how plants really seem to be having their moment on design blogs? Seems like there’s not a photoshoot now without a potted plant lurking somewhere in the frame.
Well, plants are getting their due from mainstream science, too, as the carbon dioxide-chugging, oxygen-giving cornerstone of life on earth.
In between binge-watching reruns of The West Wing, (which I never saw in its first run — btw, a great antidote to today’s poisonous political climate), a Scottish BBC documentary we really liked is “How To Grow a Planet.” Geologist Iain Stewart rapels down sheer cliff faces to show us fossil evidence of one of the earliest forests, visits a nameless California garden filled with cycads (Lotusland? The Huntington?), explains why the oceans didn’t stay purple, how angiosperms outcompeted gymnosperms, and offers scientific evidence in stunning locales as to why plants are the foundation and salvation of the planet. All wrapped up in a voice reminiscent of a cheerfully brilliant, outdoorsy Simon Pegg.

 photo 150319-news-son-doong-vietnam-cave-vin.jpg

An enormous shaft of sunlight plunges into the cave like a waterfall. The hole in the ceiling through which the light cascades is unbelievably large, at least 300 feet across. The light, penetrating deep into the cave, reveals for the first time the mind-blowing proportions of Hang Son Doong. The passage is perhaps 300 feet wide, the ceiling nearly 800 feet tall: room enough for an entire New York City block of 40-story buildings. There are actually wispy clouds up near the ceiling.” – “Vietnam Cave,” National Geographic

The documentary opens with a visit to Hang Sơn Đoòng cave in Viet Nam. Just discovered in 1991, it is the largest cave in the world. What especially excites Stewart is the rain forest that sprang up from the cave floor when light pierced through following a ceiling collapse. Trekking through darkness to come upon a blinding explosion of light and life is the visual metaphor for Stewart’s three-part documentary on the primacy of plants, which has to be one of the greatest stories never told. As a geologist, Dr. Stewart admits he always thought it was all about tectonic plates and rocks. Part of the show’s appeal is his enthusiastic conversion to a deeper appreciation of the central role of plants. Trust me, you’ll never look at a potted plant in the same way again.

the junk I keep

 photo 1-P1010732.jpg

I’m starting to see my old friend, the pipestand, in decidedly more upscale places than the louche environs of my backyard. (e.g. West Elm here)

 photo 1-P1010736.jpg

I still find a pipestand endlessly useful for framing pots and hanging essential stuff that has temporarily lost its purpose.
A girl’s gotta have a place to hang her tractor lights, right?

 photo 1-P1010728.jpg

It’s like having a dusty barn full of block and tackle, chains, come-alongs, all manner of potentially useful stuff…without the barn or the spiderwebs.

 photo P1017402.jpg

 photo P1017399.jpg

The only rule for inclusion is that the object be of a simple, basic shape. These make the best shadows.
The shadows all this junk casts are a big part of the attraction. I wish I had a photograph to demonstrate but I don’t.
Some days the shadows can remind me of the work of Olivia Parker.

 photo P1017405.jpg

These tongs we found at a flea market in Oregon seem to be the only permanent member of the piperack, which changes up frequently.
They are simply the most expressive tongs I have ever seen. Almost insect-like.

 photo 1-P1010845.jpg

And the pipestand holds assorted eye hooks and S hooks for hanging planters that I’d never be able to find in Marty’s garage when I need them.

I mean those tractor lights could come in handy some day as … well, I have no idea at the moment.
But if I move them into deep storage, there’s not much chance that I’ll ever figure it out, is there?

Just a testimonial to the humble pipestand. It’s on my mind this time of year as I contemplate building shelving for — what else? — a few more plants.

Thursday clippings 2/4/16 (love letters to trees)

 photo 170285d79150c6c8fa6a661f9e339f7e_4.jpg

Not my street. Our parkways are a hodge-podge of palms and jacarandas, magnolias, overgrown oleanders and scheffleras.

The City recently sent out crews to work on our street trees, and the snarl of power tools and episodic rise and fall of cherry picker machines in the sky like so many feeding brontosauri was a fact of life for a few weeks. No tree was overlooked, and they tackled palms 10-stories high, finishing right before the much-anticipated rainfall event last Sunday, which to me seemed like a non-event. One-quarter inch of rain? Seriously? The real story was the wind. No prediction for wind was given, no warning to secure top-heavy pots. Blackouts dotted the power grid across LA County, as winds up to 60 mph roared down the streets, veering tightly down narrow patios to upend pots and generally cause windy havoc. High winds are my least favorite weather event, but Marty always greets them with a cheery sailor’s welcome and becomes energized by their arrival, so there was nothing for me to do but make soup and wait them out. And pick up the breakage, pots and plants, on Monday. But our street trees were ready this time, by Jove, so the timing there was serendipitous. After a wind event like that, our street is usually littered with branches, but not this time. And there will be much less jacaranda litter on the agaves in the front garden this year. Huzzah!

 photo 1-P1010886.jpg

This is the one I was really worried about Sunday night. Though this pot may have that battered look that comes from toppling in high wind, its weight outmatched the wind, so it was untouched. I actually bought it in that decrepit state from an everything-must-go sale at the old Hotel Figueroa, where it was esconced on a pillar near the pool. The Euphorbia canariensis was too nice to pass up. After the winds abated, I did move it to a more sheltered position against the east fence. Each move brings off more paint and stucco, and a couple more will cause total disintegration

Speaking of the snarl (and bite) of power tools, we’ve gained new appreciation for their indifference to cutting wood for attic beams or the tip off an index finger. It’s all the same to power tools. Marty has been healing up the past couple weeks and was busy yesterday stablizing one of the Monterey cypresses that developed an alarming list after those ferocious winds on Sunday. And I now realize that I missed out on a successful career as an ambulance driver. The overwhelming mood around here the past week is thankfulness that it wasn’t much worse.

And since those fierce winds on Sunday, watching the trees bend and sway and emerge victorious, we’ve also gained new-found appreciation for our trees.
I love the idea behind this piece in The Atlantic’s CityLab “When You Give A Tree An Email Address.”

 photo 1-P1010860.jpg

If I sent my trees love letters, a valentine to my Fernleaf Acacia just coming into bloom would look something like this:

Dear young Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’:
I didn’t think your beauty could be improved upon, but now that you’re adding this subtle wash of yellow to those blue and purple tints, I see I was wrong. Superb!
P.S. Sorry about all that wind. I must say you’ve shown incredible resilience!

 photo P1012776.jpg

Jacaranda flowers and Agave geminiflora, May 2013