Monthly Archives: November 2016

rainy day clippings 11/27/16

I’ve been up in my rainy “fort,” the open air, half-roofed lookout over the laundry shed, piles of soggy New Yorkers and Gardens Illustrated at my side, overindulging in a reading feast this blessedly stormy weekend. A copy of conversations with Robert Irwin, “seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees” has managed to stay semi-dry, and there’s also an assortment of other stuff I alternately pick up and put down, foraging for some badly needed inspiration. I found a couple pieces on the blog from several years back that coincidentally also feature Mr. Irwin in one guise or another.


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photo of lookout/rainy day fort from sunny August 2012. Coincidentally, Amicia zygomeris has been ordered and planted again for 2017


So just a quick hello, wishing you a happy Sunday and offering a couple accounts of some local jaunts in case you’re in need of some rainy day reading as well.

Following is a repost from August 2012 “melianthus at the getty and other controversies.”

The incomparable Herb Ritts and Titian were also at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and some of Marie Antoinette’s hand-me-down furniture too. I think it can be safely said that gardeners are connoisseurs of the perfect moment, and last Sunday was that most exquisite of summer days, not too hot, just senusally warm and breezy, appreciated even more today for the fleeting rarity it was now that this week has brought the first real heat wave we’ve had this summer, along the coast at least. I’ve had such a strong itch to get to a museum lately. Must be all the press about the new *Barnes museum that’s been trickling in since its unveiling this spring in Philadelphia, which I hear includes a garden also, though there’s been little press so far about that. What few photos I’ve seen of the new Barnes’ garden depict a contemplative, austere space, the antithesis of Robert Irwin’s kinetic, kaleidoscopic maze at the Getty Center (to distinguish it from the Getty Villa in Malibu). But the controversy surrounding the new home of the Barnes Foundation reminds me of the raging controversy that Irwin’s garden for the Getty provoked at its unveiling in 1997.

And then there’s art controversies of the compound leafy kind. Here’s the melianthus in question. With those narrow leaflets, it’s definitely not M. major, and I’m inclined to think it’s M. comosus.


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One of the lazy assumptions I’m inclined to make, and unfortunately there are many, has been to assume that the other species of melianthus are not really worth growing if you can have M. major, but this one at the Getty might be changing my mind. Slimmer leaflets, not as lush but a little more succulent in feel, create an even stronger rhythmic pattern. I’m pretty sure the dense effect must have been obtained by cutting it back hard, because although it’s reputedly smaller in size than M. major, it does tend toward lankiness. (San Marcos Growers: “This plant looks best if pruned hard and is often treated more like a perennial than a shrub.”)


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The melianthus was planted at the top of the walkway leading down to the maze. This sylvan walkway flanking a tumbling stream is redolent with the fragrance of the London Plane trees lining either side, that strong scent of sycamore which to me will always be the perfume of summer and rivers.

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The stream hidden by the London Plane trees runs the entire length of the garden, ending in a dramatic spill into the azalea labyrinth.

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At the top, under the dappled shade of the sycamores, the Cor-Ten-bounded walkway plantings are filled with the strong leafy shapes of succulents, begonias, hellebores.

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Hirsute Echeveria setosa, silvery dyckias, paddle plant Kalanchoe luciae, and a few blades of ophiopogon, the Black Mondo Grass.

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Begonias and variegated ginger

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Astelia and persicaria

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That lovely sycamore scent eventually gets supplanted by the overpoweringly skunky notes of variegated tulbaghia as you descend down the walkway toward the Central Garden. The mass planting of society garlic shimmering in the shifting light amidst the slender trunks of crepe myrtle trees is an undeniably powerful effect after the complex plantings of the upper walkway.

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The improbable azalea maze in blinding full sun. Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’ on the left. Purple blur in the distant background on the left is tibouchina, the princess flower, whose leaves were burning in the strong sunlight. The maze garden started looking its best towards closing time at 5:30 p.m. During the summer, this Getty is open til 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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I can’t say the summer plantings of mostly dahlias were my favorite part of the garden, probably because I had just seen dahlias grown to perfection under the kinder skies of the Pacific Northwest. The effect was more of a shabby cutting garden, but the public seemed happy enough with the results. Irwin’s design calls for these labor-intensive, concentric borders surrounding the azalea pool to provide a triumphant and dizzying swirl of shape and color under a strong Mediterranean sun, and that’s a tall order. I think it’d be fantastic as a semi-desert garden, but the public might call foul. Art critic Christopher Knight had this to say about Irwin’s “folly” when it faced a barrage of criticism at its unveiling over a decade ago, and not for the plantings but for its very existence and the exuberant, almost comic contrast it presented to Meier’s stark, monumental architecture: “The great thing about a garden folly is that it’s, well, a folly. In a world of practical decorum, rationalism suddenly doesn’t apply. When the folly is conceived as the garden itself, rather than a discrete structure within a garden, then be prepared to suspend every expectation.” (Quote obtained here.)

On the path behind the massed society garlic, overlooking brugmansias, cannas, and a pomegranate tree to the giant bougainvillea rebar arbors.


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Always fascinating to uncover the multiple, shifting perspectives in Robert Irwin’s garden.

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This visit I was struck by the sensitive treatment of trees, whether silhouetted against Meier’s exquisite travertine limestone or weeping into clean-swept expanses of decomposed granite, like these California pepper trees.

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On the upper terraces closer to the museum, a bank of large pots massed together were planted simply and effectively with tough, scrubby stuff like helichrysum and Pelargonium sidoides.

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Museum fatigue usually hits me after an hour or so, but not this day. Even after five hours, I had to be reminded by security guards that the museum was closing and it was time to get a move on. The Herb Ritts photography exhibit closes September 2, 2012.

*Christopher Knight, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, is one of the diehard defenders of Albert Barnes’ original vision for his art collection. His review of the relocation of the collection to a new building in Philadelphia includes some helpful context for some of the timeless issues encapsulated in the debate over the Barnes collection: “Typical museums juxtapose art objects according to traditional knowledge categories like period, style or place. Not Barnes. His irreverent inventiveness used formal qualities — physical context, color, line, composition, texture, scale, space, etc. — to jump-start imagination. The result demanded that a visitor look and look hard.”

For more background on the Barnes, here’s a trailer to the controversial documentary entitled “The Art of the Steal.”

More of Robert Irwin’s work at LACMA, from August 2011 “Palms & Lawn” at this link.

Bloom Day November 2016

Daylight Saving Time and the electoral college. I think we can agree that these are two areas worthy of further study.
May Dreams Gardens collects Bloom Day reports the 15th of every month.
My excuse for posting on the 16th? The DST ate my report. I don’t know how you all manage with these shortened days.

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For November we’ll begin with N, for nerines, truly a miracle bulb. I get it that all bulbs are miraculous, but they are not, unlike my nerines, kill-proof.
But go ahead and forget nerines in a dry bowl all summer long (like I do a lot of other plants, come to think of it).

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In the case of nerines, you will be rewarded, not punished. They require that dry summer dormancy.
Think of nerines as bulbs that actually encourage bad behavior.

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Okay, nobody gets excited by the drab composite flowers of a senecio, but I do like how the blooms extend the leaf-stacked lines of the stems.
And November is not a bad month for a shot of yellow. (Senecio medley-woodi)

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More November yellow from Tagetes lemmonnii, the Copper Canyon Daisy.
What a great common name, right out of a John Ford western. Some plants get stuck with unfortunate names like “lungwort.”
Maybe I’m weird (ya think?) but I actually like the smell of the leaves.

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Bocconia is sending forth those frothy bloom panicles.
Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea,’ the blue wash in the background, is also budded up with bloom.
The acacia just underwent an intervention and had some Tanglefoot smeared around its trunk to stop the ants from massing cottony cushiony scale along its branches.
As difficult as it is to imagine winners where climate change is concerned, there will be those who come out victorious, and I’m certain they will be bugs.
Each one of those cottony, pillowy encrustations on my acacia holds over 600 eggs.

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I’m loving this tawny, oatsy look the garden has taken on in November. ‘Fairy Tails’ pennisetum in the foreground, oatsy-colored bloom trusses of tetrapanax in the background.

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One clump of melinus, the Ruby Grass, is still sending out rich-colored blooms. The other two clumps have only faded stalks. More oatsy theme.

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Once the grevilleas reach blooming size, look out. It’s just another ‘Moonlight’ mile, as far as continuity of blooms. It really does take on a lunar glow around sunrise.

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Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ backed by the claret tones of ‘Hallelujah’ bilbergia.
And since Dustin Gimbel burst into Mr. Cohen’s immortal song when he gave me these pups, that’s the gorgeous earworm I’m stuck with in their company.
(I have to admit my earworm is sung by Jeff Buckley, though. I can’t help it — that’s where I heard the song first.)

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I don’t think I’ve given a shout-out to Plectranthus neochilus all summer. Ever stinky of leaf, but a sturdy friend to hummingbirds.
The stump of the smoke tree ‘Grace,’ that improbably grew branches as thick and far-flung as a sycamore, still lies underneath.
A little more decomposition of the stump, and I can dig it up and plant something more exciting. I know the hummers are going to hate me, though.

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And yet another entry in the category “Every Bloom Counts in November,” the little euphorbia that took containers by storm 5 or 6 years ago, now greeted mostly with yawns.
Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ is perennial here and doesn’t get into much trouble. Nothing eats it and hot, dry summers don’t faze it.

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Another view of it wrapping around the other side of the containers, with another survivor, a climbing kalanchoe. The euphorbia loves that root run between garden and bricks.

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Berkheya’s feeble attempt at a weak-necked bloom this November highlights why it’s equally appreciated for those great, serrated leaves.

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Aloe “Kujo’ is just about spent, but the red-tipped aloe to the left, cameronii, was discovered to have two buds still tucked in close to the leaves this morning. (Woot!)
The other aloe to the right is allegedly elgonica. I’ve searched the blog and find no reference to a bloom yet.

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And the little passiflora ‘Flying V’ is still displaying all those fine qualities, unstoppable, indomitable, etc. this November, on the day after Bloom Day.

This is no game

(This piece by Jack Handey, which appeared in The New Yorker January 9, 2006, made us laugh just as hard again this morning. Thank you, Mr. Handey!)

This is no game. You might think this is a game, but, trust me, this is no game.

This is not something where rock beats scissors or paper covers rock or rock wraps itself up in paper and gives itself as a present to scissors. This isn’t anything like that. Or where paper types something on itself and sues scissors.

This isn’t something where you yell “Bingo!” and then it turns out you don’t have bingo after all, and what are the rules again? This isn’t that, my friend.

This isn’t something where you roll the dice and move your battleship around a board and land on a hotel and act like your battleship is having sex with the hotel.

This isn’t tiddlywinks, where you flip your tiddly over another player’s tiddly and an old man winks at you because he thought it was a good move. This isn’t that at all.

This isn’t something where you sink a birdie or hit a badminton birdie or do anything at all with birdies. Look, just forget birdies, O.K.?

Maybe you think this is all one big joke, like the farmer with the beautiful but promiscuous daughter. But what they don’t tell you is the farmer became so depressed that he eventually took his own life.

This is not some brightly colored, sugarcoated piece of candy that you can brush the ants off of and pop in your mouth.

This is not playtime or make-believe. This is real. It’s as real as a beggar squatting by the side of the road, begging, and then you realize, Uh-oh, he’s not begging.

This is as real as a baby deer calling out for his mother. But his mother won’t be coming home anytime soon, because she is drunk in a bar somewhere.

It’s as real as a mummy who still thinks he’s inside a pyramid, but he’s actually in a museum in Ohio.

This is not something where you can dress your kid up like a hobo and send him out trick-or-treating, because, first of all, your kid’s twenty-three, and, secondly, he really is a hobo.

All of this probably sounds oldfashioned and “square” to you. But if loving your wife, your country, your cats, your girlfriend, your girlfriend’s sister, and your girlfriend’s sister’s cat is “square,” then so be it.

You go skipping and prancing through life, skipping through a field of dandelions. But what you don’t see is that on each dandelion is a bee, and on each bee is an ant, and the ant is biting the bee and the bee is biting the flower, and if that shocks you then I’m sorry.

You have never had to struggle to put food on the table, let alone put food on a plate and try to balance it on a spoon until it gets to your mouth.

You will never know what it’s like to work on a farm until your hands are raw, just so people can have fresh marijuana. Or what it’s like to go to a factory and put in eight long hours and then go home and realize that you went to the wrong factory.

I don’t hate you; I pity you. You will never appreciate the magnificent beauty of a double rainbow, or the plainness of a regular rainbow.

You will never grasp the quiet joy of holding your own baby, or the quiet comedy of handing him back to his “father.”

I used to be like you. I would put my napkin in my lap, instead of folding it into a little tent over my plate, like I do now, with a door for the fork to go in.

I would go to parties and laugh—and laugh and laugh—every time somebody said something, in case it was supposed to be funny. I would walk in someplace and slap down a five-dollar bill and say, “Give me all you got,” and not even know what they had there. And whenever I found two of anything I would hold them up to my head like antlers, and then pretend that one “antler” fell off.

I went waltzing along, not caring where I stepped or if the other person even wanted to waltz.

Food seemed to taste better back then. Potatoes were more potatoey, and turnips less turnippy.

But then something happened, something that would make me understand that this is no game. I was walking past a building and I saw a man standing high up on a ledge. “Jump! Jump!” I started yelling. What happened next would haunt me for the rest of my days: the man came down from the building and beat the living daylights out of me. Ever since then, I’ve realized that this is no game.

Maybe one day it will be a game again. Maybe you’ll be able to run up and kick a pumpkin without people asking why you did that and if you’re going to pay for it.

Perhaps one day the Indian will put down his tomahawk and the white man will put down his gun, and the white man will pick up his gun again because, Ha-ha, sucker.

One day we’ll just sit by the fire, chew some tobacky, toast some marshmackies, and maybe strum a tune on the ole guitacky.

And maybe one day we’ll tip our hats to the mockingbird, not out of fear but out of friendliness.

If there’s one single idea I’d like you to take away from this, it is: This is no game. The other thing I’d like you to think about is, could I borrow five hundred dollars?

(Author’s Note: Since finishing this article, I have been informed that this is, in fact, a game. I would like to apologize for everything I said above. But please think about the five hundred dollars.) ♦

Wednesday vignette 11/2/16

Ever wonder what Huntington Botanical Garden employees display on their file cabinets?

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Luisa Serrano (Crow & Raven) and I got a tiny glimpse when we visited the Huntington in early October.

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The rest of these photos come from that visit as well, mostly the desert conservatory and then the new entrance garden, part of my Wednesday vignette hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum.

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